Price You Pay

Maygra & Bone

The Price You Pay

Title: The Price You Pay

Author: Maygra and Bone

Maygra: E-mail maygra@bellsouth.net; URL for coauthored stuff http://www.assignations.org/maygra/speed/

Bone: E-mail thisisbone@aol.com; URL http://www.mrks.org/~bone/

Notes: Another corollary to Unfinished Business. Sequel to The Debt You Owe.

Fandom: The Fast & The Furious

Pairing: Dom/Brian

Rating: NC-17

Please do not archive or post without discussing it with us first. Written for pleasure, not profit. The characters do not belong to us. Duh. Thanks go to Kady Mae and Gwyneth Rhys for shouldering beta duty.

PART 1

Tanner set up the meet in some nondescript, half-abandoned manufacturing center east of LA that looked like a shipping office. The DEA had set up shop there and only they knew why, but the room looked like some post-apocalyptic, low-tech command center with maps and surveillance photos everywhere. It looked a lot like the set up Bilkins and Tanner had created for the truck-jacking case, only without the view. Or the pool. Or the espresso machine.

All Brian could think was that the DEA really should tap Tanner for logistics.

The three DEA agents had apparently been picked for their total lack of any sense of humor. They didn't crack a smile during the whole meet and greet. They didn't blink when Dom accompanied Brian into the cramped conference space. Bilkins might have been surprised but damned if he'd let it show.

Brian looked the room over—only one chair left at the table. He leaned against the wall next to the door instead, and Dom took a spot right next to him. Tanner gave him a look but didn't push it.

Bilkins started the show with an overview of what they had so far.

Straightforward: The feds had a guy in lock up, Jerry Knox, who'd been at the far end of the Trans' distribution line, working three or four East coast points—points that were no longer viable with the Trans out of action. He'd been moving toward setting up a meet with a seller in Mexico named Miguel Huerta; working the connection for a couple of months already. According to Knox, no one had met him and only a few had talked to him.

Then the lead DEA agent, Wade Moore, showed them a video of Knox.

If Brian squinted, he could maybe see why Bilkins' brain had wandered in Brian's direction. He had similar coloring and was built along the same lines. Knox looked bulkier, more from too much food than muscle. He looked like he wanted to be smooth and slick, and couldn't quite get there. But he was cool under pressure, kind of a hard-ass. Willing to give up the intel they needed, but only after he made it clear that he'd only give as much as he got.

Kind of a snake, but at least he held his own with the feds; not always easy to do, as Brian knew all too well.

"Knox's operations are small—he doesn't trust his business to many people," Moore said. "No network of underlings, just a few who in turn have a few of their own to move product onto the streets. Layers rather than numbers. Nobody who deals for him, or their contacts, has ever met him. He uses muscle but not much. He tends to take care of things himself, which makes it damn hard to find witnesses. He's got one second, a guy named Hack Lynn. We're still looking for him and Knox won't give us a damn thing on him. He's willing to deal everything else, but he won't give up Hack."

"So, his right hand guy is out running around, knows almost as much as Knox here, and you still want to send someone south?" Dom asked. Five people stared at him and Brian fought back a grin.

"You're here on sufferance, Mr. Toretto," Bilkins said.

"No, he's not," Brian said, straightening. "He's part of it or there's no deal."

Well, look at that. He'd learned something from Knox already. Tell them what you want and stick to it.

Everyone but Tanner looked surprised and the objections to Dom started almost immediately. It would have been ironic if Bilkins had just died of apoplexy, he was laughing so hard. No one else was, though, and Bilkins looked at the assembled people like they were too stupid to get the joke.

"Toretto, you're a two-time felon who's still on probation," Bilkins said, wiping his eyes with a big square handkerchief he pulled from his pants pocket. "You don't get to leave LA, much less the country—even if we were inclined to let an ex-con in on any part of this."

He turned to Tanner. "Why did you even bring him here, Tanner? You're pushing the limits of interagency cooperation."

Tanner regarded Bilkins with all the affection he might give a cockroach. "He's here because that's the deal and I'm pretty sure that, in the name of interagency cooperation, you could talk to his probation officer and the board of corrections."

"What were you in for?" Moore asked suddenly.

Bilkins didn't look like he appreciated being interrupted.

Dom met his gaze steadily. "First time I did two years for aggravated assault. The second was six months for hijacking, assault, interruption of interstate commerce."

Moore looked interested for the first time since they'd walked in the door.

"Six months?" Moore said. "Sounds pretty light for hijacking."

Bilkins made a sound like he'd swallowed something rancid.

"I got reduced time for good behavior," Dom said with a completely straight face.

That got the first hint of a smile from the DEA guy.

Time to move in for the kill, before the mood shifted again.

"Look, you don't want this on the books anyway, right?" Brian said easily. "Who cares who does the job, as long as it gets done?"

Brian looked at Tanner, who stood up and raised a hand. "O'Conner makes a good point. If you can get the rest of it set up, adding Toretto to the roster shouldn't slow you down."

Moore considered that for a minute, then nodded and turned to Bilkins. "Make it happen," he said.

Bilkins blinked at him.

"Now," Moore said.

Bilkins had something to say, probably none of it complimentary to the DEA, the LAPD or anyone in either Brian or Dom's family histories, but after a minute's hesitation, he nodded curtly, got up from the table and left the room, brushing none-too-gently against Brian as he walked out the door.

Wait until he figured out he might get two for the price of one, Brian thought. Or, worst case scenario, two trouble-makers out of his hair for good. That should make his day.

Moore looked at Bilkins' empty chair and gestured with his hand. "Gentlemen, have a seat. We could be here awhile."

***

If anybody asked Dom the hardest part of preparing for an off-the-books, multi-jurisdictional, federal undercover case, he'd have said it was the shopping.

Of course, nobody asked him. One of the DEA flunkies came along, told him what to do, where to go, when to be there. God, he hoped Bilkins secured his release from the bureaucracies that held his leash quick, because he couldn't wait to stop fucking around and just get on with it, and if Brian tried on one more pair of loafers, said the word "cordovan" one more time, honestly, he couldn't be held responsible for what might happen.

Christ, his feet hurt. And he was hungry.

They'd started as soon as the stores opened, outfitting Brian from head to toe.

"You look like a surfer," Moore had said to Brian as they were leaving the crappy logistics center. "You're like the poster child for California. Knox is one hundred percent East Coast. You've got some changes to make, dude."

Brian hadn't come up with any response to that, so Dom guessed he agreed with him.

Despite the reason they were there, Brian seemed to get into it, trying stuff on, making his new "Knox" face in the three-way mirror. One leather jacket actually seemed to arouse him—he closed his eyes, lifted the sides of the jacket up to his face, and made a sound he usually reserved for getting his dick sucked. Brian wasn't just into it; Brian was getting off on it.

Dom was okay with that. Brian didn't get that much: the attention, the time to spend on himself, and no way was his cop's salary ever gonna stretch to cover that jacket, so he might as well enjoy it while it lasted. Maybe they'd let him keep it once they were done.

Dom had been surprised at how quickly they'd rolled on bringing him in as part of the deal. Maybe it was the look on Brian's face—stubborn Irish to the bone—or maybe it was the rapport Dom seemed to have established with the DEA guy, what's his name, Moore. Whatever, they'd geared up for a battle that hadn't happened, and got to see Bilkins slink out with his tail between his legs as a bonus. Yeah, it had gone pretty well, all things considered.

Except now they were on their way to one more fucking department store, and okay, sure, he'd signed on as Brian's muscle, but never in a million years had he imagined that would someday mean he was walking around Buena Park Mall carrying an armful of shopping bags.

Felt like they'd been at it for hours, but when Dom checked the clock at the mall's information desk, it only showed 2:00 pm. Four hours shopping would cripple most men, but Brian looked like he could go all day.

"Hey, guys," Dom called from his spot ten paces back. Brian and the DEA guy turned around. "Any chance we can get something to eat? I'm starving."

Brian shrugged, looked at the DEA guy. The DEA guy looked at Dom and said, "Go ahead if you want. It's going to take a while to get his hair cut. You can meet us there."

Haircut?

They were gone before he could get the question out of his mouth. It made sense; he'd seen the video. Knox didn't have a head full of curls. It made sense in other ways, too. No point in making Brian more memorable than he already was, and that hair would stand out in Guadalajara.

Still, thinking about it made him feel funny. Many were the nights he'd gone to sleep with his hand tangled up in those curls. Suddenly, the assignment felt a lot more real.

He decided not to put himself through watching it happen. He got a bite to eat, then hung out on a planter outside the store, kicking the slats lightly, people watching while he waited.

Maybe half an hour later, there came the DEA guy, carrying yet another shopping bag, and some tall guy in a gray suit and shades, loose-limbed and powerful, followed him. Maybe they'd picked up another agent? Maybe—

Fuck.

No way.

Dom's heart jerked in his chest.

It was Brian, but not a Brian Dom knew.

Brian stopped in front of Dom, stuck one hand in the pocket of some wool suit pants that would stick to him like Saran Wrap in the heat of Mexico and had probably cost as much as a good crossover header. Then he slid off the suit jacket, hooked it over his shoulder, grinned at Dom, and fucking twirled for him, a quick spin to show him the back view.

Dom's pulse settled a little. Okay, so clothes didn't make the man. The man made the man.

And Brian looked damn good in five hundred dollar wool pants.

"So?" Brian said, full of himself, buzzing on some kind of freaky shopping high.

"Nice pants," Dom said.

Brian slid his shades down his nose, winked at Dom.

"You should get some," Brian said, his voice low.

"Oh, I'll get some," Dom said back, just as softly, and if the DEA guy didn't get the innuendo, he just wasn't paying attention.

Brian ran a hand across his head, drew Dom's eyes up. "What do you think?"

He'd pushed his sunglasses back up on his nose, and if Dom hadn't known him really well, he might have thought Brian didn't care one way or the other what Dom thought. But he did know Brian, so he took his time, looked him over carefully.

Underneath those California sun-smacked waves, darker hair had lurked, biding its time. Still had some curl in it, but it hugged close to Brian's head, instead of reaching out, like it did when his hair was longer. With his hair shorter, you spent more time looking at the bones in his face, at his mouth. His jaw looked stronger, his neck longer.

He looked like Knox's younger, better-looking brother. He looked like Brian's older, richer brother. He looked…

"Looks good," Dom said, finally. "Real good."

Brian relaxed a little, shifted from one foot to the other. Dom looked down at black dress shoes so shiny he could see his reflection in them.

"And those, those are good, too," he said, pointing to them. "Just the thing for the dustiest place since Death Valley."

"Water resistant," Brian said, and Dom stared at him. Brian smiled, showing teeth. "Guadalajara floods…you'll like it. It's like Santa Barbara only cheaper."

The DEA guy intervened, just like he had all day. "I think we're done for the day," he said.

Finally.

The guy handed his last package to Dom, sketched a half-salute to Brian, and said, "I'll call you in the morning, we'll start voice coaching. And you're getting fitted for contacts at eleven."

Oh, man. The hits just kept coming.

The DEA guy started to walk away, then turned back. "Oh, and O'Conner? You're gonna want to get outside or go to a tanning booth—your color's uneven."

They kept it together until the DEA guy turned at the Chick-Fil-A, then they both broke down, Brian laughing so hard he had to lean on Dom.

"God forbid your color be uneven when you're trying to take down some drug lord," Dom said, taking the excuse of propping Brian up to cop a feel on the back of Brian's spanking new suit pants.

"I think he means here," Brian said, pointing to the back of his neck and around his hairline.

Now that he said it, Dom could see what he was talking about. Smooth pale skin, shades lighter than the skin on Brian's face and neck, had been revealed by the cut. It was all Dom could do not to set his mouth there, at that place behind Brian's ear, where his new darker hair met his new paler neck, or there, at his temple, where a pulse throbbed strongly.

Brian seemed to read his thoughts. He stepped closer, close enough for Dom to see his own reflected face fill Brian's sunglasses lenses. Dom decided he liked this new Brian, shiny from face to feet.

"Let's go home," Brian said, his voice thick.

"Yeah," Dom said.

***

They weren't going to make it home.

Brian figured that out when Dom's hand slid from his knee up to the crotch of his new pants before they even left the mall parking garage.

Dom wasn't even looking at him exactly, just tracing his fingers over the soft wool, testing the placard pleat with one blunt finger. Dom's knuckle pressed the hidden zipper against the thin cotton of Brian's boxers in a way that made his pulse quicken and his dick jerk.

Brian pressed his hand over Dom's, stilling the exploration. He had planned to tell him to wait, that they could wait—only Dom's eyes flickered up and met his and it was like getting blasted by hot exhaust. He could feel the flush spread across his throat and face and suddenly flashed to the bathroom of the bar in Arizona.

"Here?" he asked, surprised his voice was steady because nothing else was.

"Right here, right now," Dom agreed in that low rumbling voice that Brian was pretty sure measured on somebody's Richter scale somewhere.

"Be kind of stupid to kill ourselves on the gearshift," Brian pointed out, making a last grasp for sanity. The front seat of a Mustang was not exactly prime necking—or fucking—real estate.

Dom seemed to consider it and his fingers dug into Brian's dick a little. Brian glanced around quickly. Back seat was no better…and they were in a fucking parking garage…but his eyes caught a brighter color against the stone grey concrete…fire door.

"Stairwell…" he said and Dom followed his gaze before nodding.

Dom slid out of the car like it was glass and he was water. Brian needed a second more, his dick hard and already aching. He was so going to make Toretto pay.

Both of them checked around; the lot was pretty full, plenty of shoppers but there were also elevators not too far away.

He couldn't believe they were doing this. Dom stopped and half turned, waiting for him, and there was no way Brian could miss the wood he was sporting even under those loose slacks. His mouth went dry and he picked up his pace.

The stairwell was cleaner than the bathroom had been. Lighter, too.

No way to lock the door. Duh. It was a fire escape.

Dom had his hand on Brian's hips before the door closed, fingers digging into the wool as he pushed Brian back into the inset wall.

Brian grabbed right back, startling Dom when he pulled him in and locked their mouths together. Dom's shirt was cotton, not silk, but it was warm and soft and worn and Brian could feel Dom's muscles pulling at the weave as his body tensed up with the same energy that was making his dick grind urgently against Brian's.

He pulled his head back, breathing hard, unable to fight the grin on his face. Only his eyes flickered up…"Shit…" he said softly. "Camera…"

Dom's head whipped around, eyes narrowed, and Brian could almost hear him weighing the consequences.

"You think anyone's actually monitoring it…"

"I think after spending a day with the feds, I don't want to find out the hard way," Brian said. "Hold on…" he said and pulled away, stripping off his suit jacket. He had to step up onto the railing to toss it, but it caught.

"And you don't think a camera going blank is going to be more obvious?" Dom asked.

Brian grinned at him. "Not as long as we're fast," he said. He jumped down and let himself collide with Dom, pushing him back. Dom gave a grunt and a chuckle, then sucked in a breath when Brian popped his pants open and dug his hand in fast. Hot, hard flesh met his fingers and for a second Dom was shocked to stillness.

My tax dollars at work, Brian thought with a snicker as he dropped to his knees. For what they'd paid for these pants, they should be able to stand up to a little dirt and rough concrete. Then he tugged Dom's cock out and forgot all about the pants, the silk shirt…the feds…

Dom smelled of sweat and musk and denim and he tasted like all of those with salt, the head of his cock fitting perfectly behind Brian's lips. He tasted bitter salt as he teased the slit with his tongue and felt Dom jerk and waited for it—groaning softly when Dom's hands finally settled on his skull.

They explored his new shorn head, and Brian explored, too, even though he knew Dom's dick better than his own. It was thick and firm, the heavy vein beneath not so straight, the thicker roll behind the crown from his circumcision teasing his tongue. Thick wiry hair caressed the side of his hand where he squeezed and pumped, closing the distance between hand and lips, and he felt Dom push a little, grunting when Brian's thumb shoved up right under the head, and Brian sucked him into his mouth.

Dom braced his legs wider and Brian came up a little, angling his head, closing his eyes as he let Dom's full length slide into his mouth, across his palate and strike the back of his throat. Dom's fingers shifted along his head to his jaw, thumbs stroking, and Brian knew if he looked up, Dom would be watching him, his thumb pressing gently into Brian's cheek as his dick slipped back.

Brian squeezed him a little harder and Dom jerked, his head falling back against the concrete. Brian's own dick was straining in his pants, the wool holding in all the heat.

Fingering Dom's balls, Brian kept up the pressure, the rhythm, and Dom followed him, pushing in, thrusting, but it was all about restraint, and given how hard Dom could shove his dick in Brian's ass, that was saying something. The taste of Dom's come got stronger, sharper, and he was breathing harshly now, through his nose, cupping the back of Brian's head, fingers scrabbling for a non-existent hold in his hair. He grabbed the back of Brian's neck instead and Brian swallowed, sucked air and caught a mouth full of come as Dom shook and jerked, trying to hold Brian still for his spasming dick.

Brian swallowed twice more, licked his lips and then licked Dom, catching the last few drops.

Dom's fingers twisted into the silk shirt, pulling him up, reaching for him, still braced against the wall. His mouth sought Brian's almost desperately, licking his taste out of Brian's mouth as he fumbled with Brian's pants.

Above them, another of the steel doors opened and closed, footsteps sounding hollow on the stairs. "Fuck' em…" Dom said, but Brian caught his wrist and shook his head.

"No…I want you to—Let's go home," he said, gritting his teeth when Dom's fingers grabbed his erection. For a minute Brian wasn't sure Dom would agree and he wasn't sure he could say no twice. His dick throbbed, Dom's taste still sharp and fresh on his tongue, and really, he'd like nothing more than to turn around, drop half-a-grand trou and get fucked up against the wall.

Two voices, an adult's and a child's, floated down the stairwell, and Dom swallowed and let Brian go, securing his own pants. Brian stood there and breathed deeply, closing his eyes when Dom brushed past him only to return with the jacket slung over his shoulder. His other arm came around Brian's shoulder as they pulled the door and headed back to the car.

"I'll drive," Dom said and Brian nodded, pulling the keys to the Mustang out and tossing them to him.

"Do not get stopped for speeding," Brian warned him and sank back into the seat, fingers digging into the vinyl.

Dom started the engine and reached over to grip Brian's neck. "If I get stopped, it won't be for speeding," he promised.

Brian put his head back and closed his eyes. He felt the muscular throb of the engine in his ass, his dick, the vibration making him so hard he had to undo the seatbelt to relieve some of the pressure. He writhed on the seat, trying to get comfortable, but there was no comfort to be found, just a deeper ache.

"Brian—" Dom started to say, but Brian cut him off.

"Just drive carefully," he said. "And talk to me."

Maybe, just maybe, if he concentrated on Dom's voice, he wouldn't reach for himself at some random stoplight.

He should have come up with some other strategy. Dom's voice didn't sound like Tuesday afternoon, driving down a sunny street. Dom's voice sounded like midnight Saturday, fucking slowly in a hot, dark room somewhere.

Dom's voice felt like something, like that sweet leather jacket, rubbed him like a rough tongue, reached down and strangled every bit of common sense Brian had, subdued every part of him that cared about anything besides getting some part of Dom—his hand, his mouth, his cock—on him as quickly as possible.

By the time Dom finally pulled in the driveway, Brian had already popped the button on his pants and slid the zipper down. Dom took his hand off the back of Brian's neck, but before he could even reach for the ignition, Brian grabbed his hand and shoved it down his pants.

Dom managed one tight startled squeeze before Brian shot all over his nice new clothes.

"Damn, Brian," Dom said, squeezing him through some wicked aftershocks.

Brian opened his eyes, blinked against the glare. "It's your fault," he said.

Dom shifted in his seat, turned his hand for a better angle, and sent it further down, stroking behind Brian's balls. Brian slid down in the seat, spread his legs, and groaned.

"What'd I do?" Dom asked, rubbing his nose in the side of Brian's neck.

"You talked to me," Brian said.

"You asked me to," Dom reminded him, pressing his hand up between Brian's legs in a way that made Brian want to trade what they had for an SUV, a minivan, hell, a station wagon—anything but this dick-trapping, pseudo race car.

"Well, it was a dumb idea," Brian grumbled.

Dom laughed against his skin, stroked lightly, his fingertips just grazing Brian's ass.

"I don't know, I kind of like you like this," Dom said.

Brian wrapped a hand around Dom's head, pulled him close. He needed to hear that, however Dom meant it. He couldn't get the word out for a minute, his throat felt tight, but he finally whispered, "Thanks," and kissed Dom's head.

Dom fondled his balls one more time, then pulled his hand out from between Brian's thighs and wiped it on his trousers.

"Hey!" Brian said, but Dom just raised an eyebrow. "These are dry clean only." He grabbed a rag from the glove compartment and brushing futilely at the stains that streaked the fabric.

Dom was still laughing as he got out of the car and popped the trunk, gathering all the bags they'd accumulated.

"You enjoyed yourself today," he said as Brian levered himself out of the car, tugging his shirttails out to cover the disaster area at his crotch. Brian reached for some of the bags.

"Yeah, I did," he said. "More than I thought I would. You will, too."

Dom stopped in the doorway, dropped his bags. "What do you mean, I will, too?"

"Didn't Snyder tell you? You're up tomorrow. I think he's got some Miami Vice thing in mind for you," Brian said as he made a running start for the bedroom.

Dom tackled him before Brian even made it to the hall. That was okay, though. The living room floor gave him plenty of room to stretch out, there were no cameras, and the neighbors had already heard all there was to hear from their house.

Let Dom do his worst. No, let Dom do his best.

PART 2

By the end of the day, Dom swore he'd never step foot in another mall. He'd thought they were done, but oh no…Agent Snyder, Moore's little Fashion Fed, took him through the same routine he'd run Brian through, without the hair cut. But he got a professional barber shave and polish, and he had to admit, pissed off as he was about the whole scene, new clothes and a shiny head made him feel good. He could almost understand the buzz Brian got from it.

He was grateful they'd scotched the idea of him trying to impersonate Hack Lynn—he was having trouble enough wrapping his brain around the idea he was working for the feds…for the DEA. Maybe only Brian had any idea how mind-blowingly weird it was for him to do this. Well, Brian and Tanner.

Tanner, who Dom kept catching looking at him like he was some puzzle to be figured out. It was an improvement over Bilkins, who looked at him like a bug that needed to be squashed.

He didn't look anything like Hack Lynn—another check in the gratitude column. He'd seen pictures: Lynn was a lot bigger than Dom—he'd have looked like one of the muscle guys from the WWF if he hadn't been quite so ugly. Somebody, sometime, had left a permanent mark on his face with something really sharp. Moore told him he'd been at the bad end of a broken bottle that had nearly cost him his eyesight.

But apparently he'd won the fight anyway.

Without knowing where he was, though, Moore and his profiler, Hayden, nixed the idea, but that meant a little extra work for Dom: mostly making sure he could handle himself, and be the muscle he was supposed to be. They hadn't quite gotten to the point of him trying to best some trainer from the FBI in the gym, but it was coming.

A lot of stuff was, and Dom, despite having his own reasons for wanting in on this, had started to find some grudging admiration for the amount of work that went into an operation like this. These guys were serious about what they were doing, like Brian was. It looked like Brian got the only fun he was going to during his shopping trip.

Dom would have gladly given him his shopping trip.

It wasn't the clothes, it was just the detail of it all. There was some look that Snyder was going for and he made Dom try on clothes until he found it. Nothing too tight, but there would be no jeans or coveralls on the plane to Guadalajara. He got nice pants after all, fitted polo shirts, and casual jackets—jackets loose enough for Snyder to work a shoulder holster under.

Yeah, the holster, that was another reality check.

Brian had seemed a little bothered by it—or maybe just bothered by the reminder that Dom was no stranger to guns at all. Dom wanted to ask him about it…but so far they hadn't really had the time or energy to do much except crash after a day with their handlers.

Worse for Brian than him, because when Brian wasn't studying Knox's pages of depositions, he was listening to him on a little MP3 player Moore had given him. It was working, too—his voice flattened out, losing the soft edges of his speech. Sometimes, if Dom wasn't looking at him, he didn't know it was Brian who was speaking.

It was a little creepy watching Brian dive into this. Creepier still to realize how very good Brian was at it. Made him wonder about Tanner again, get a better idea of what Tanner saw in Brian that kept prompting him to push or pull Brian into these kinds of cases.

Somehow, Dom thought he might feel better if he still believed Tanner was after a piece of Brian's ass. Like there was some kind of weird Svengali thing going on.

Dom didn't have to do the heavy studying Brian was doing, which left him with a lot of time to think. Not necessarily a good thing.

He hadn't realized it would take so much time. He'd been watching cop dramas on TV for too long with their condensed stories and perfect lighting. They didn't cut Dom out of any of it because Brian had insisted, and he supposed that was good, because otherwise, he doubted he'd have seen much of Brian at all until he fell into bed at night.

About a week into it they found themselves being ferried to a detention facility. It made Dom nervous to have the walls close around him like that. Brian stuck close, though, his arm brushing Dom's. With his new hair, the shift in his voice, and the darker contacts that hid his blue eyes, even in his own clothes he looked like a stranger.

They had Knox inside, isolated, wearing some version of prison blues as they led him into an observation area. Dom watched the guards seat him at the table—the cuffs on his hands and ankles probably made it hard to manage on his own. One of the guards took a small box out of his pocket and put it on the table.

He looked bigger in real life than on tape. He looked—shit.

Dom wasn't afraid of many people, none that he could think of who weren't doing life in Lompoc. And it wasn't even that Knox was all that physically imposing—he wasn't. He had a kind of pudgy middle and his arms looked stringy and weak. While he and Brian might share body types, he wasn't even close to being as in shape as Brian was, and Dom really didn't have any problem at all overpowering Brian if he really wanted to. Spending eight hours a day using an engine hoist as an exercise machine could do that for a guy.

But still, Knox was not someone Dom thought he'd ever want to meet in a dark alley, maybe not even in broad daylight. There was just something…dead…about his eyes. This guy might have started out as a street punk, but something had happened over the years. He smiled a lot, he never raised his voice. He was pretty polite to the agents talking to him. He sat down at the crappy table in a crappy chair and looked like they'd just seated him in the best spot at a five-star restaurant.

Maybe he couldn't see beyond the one-way mirror but he sure as hell knew someone was there and he smiled again, showing all his teeth.

A rabid dog could generate more warmth in his smile.

This was the guy they wanted Brian to be? Dom couldn't see it, couldn't even wrap his mind around it. When Brian smiled, Dom wanted to laugh; this guy smiled and Dom wanted to look around and see what nightmare was hiding behind him.

He looked at Brian instead. Brian, who wasn't smiling, who was leaning on the table set under the window with the speakers and intercom and phone, studying Knox the way he might study some tricky engine part.

The pale line at his neck was darkening, had moved past the first couple of days of redness after being exposed to the sun. It was still there but it was fading and Dom couldn't stop himself from reaching out to stroke his fingers lightly over that paler skin, the tension in his stomach settling a little when Brian tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement of the caress and gave Dom a little smile, a private one, but then he went back to studying Knox.

Dom dropped his hand and shifted his hip onto the edge of the table, crossing his arms. "You got some kind of…thing, process, you do for going under?" Dom asked. The question felt awkward, strained. He felt awkward and strained, which was unusual for him when Brian was close. "When you came after me?"

Brian looked at him, lips parted slightly and then he put his back to the mirror and sat next to Dom, hands braced on the table edge, one just close enough for his knuckles to brush Dom's thigh. "Not like this…" Brian said after a moment, serious, like he usually wasn't. The hair cut, the contacts, something—he looked older. When they'd first met, Dom could've have sworn Brian was younger than Mia, not by much, but a couple of years, all that eager puppy attitude at the street meet, like some kid barely out of high school. Goofy as an adolescent, intense as only teenagers could be, but even as Dom thought about it he realized Brian's age had kept edging up the more time they spent together, like maybe being that young gave him the in he needed for the racing set, but if he wanted to show up on Dom's team, he'd have to be a little more equal. It took weeks before Dom had realized that Brian was closer to his own age than Mia's.

"Do I seem that different?" Brian asked.

Dom thought about it. What he knew, what he remembered, it all blurred. "No, not really. You're not quite as nuts as I thought you were at first," Dom said, and Brian grinned. Dom did, too, remembering a very wild ride avoiding cops.

"Is this what you want, Bri? Is that what that gold badge is all about?"

Brian's grin faded and he shook his head. "No. Not really…this is—this is pretty outside the local cops, Dom. So were you. Detectives wear suits and talk to people. This," his hand moved, waving at their little room, glancing back at Knox. "This is bigger."

"Better?"

Brian wouldn't look at him, and Dom felt the tension build in his belly again. "I don't know. It's definitely different, interesting…"

"A rush."

The quick grin flashed and Brian nodded. "That too."

Dom wanted to push harder, because somewhere in all this had to be the reason why Brian was willing to risk so much for so little. Dom wasn't talking about the money. The amount the feds were willing to lay out for Brian's services, and by extension, Dom's, had been pretty eye opening. It wasn't even a fraction of what he suspected they were laying for the operation as a whole—and it still probably fell under petty cash. Hazard pay, Moore had called it. For the first time, Dom thought maybe, just maybe, somebody besides him was aware of what this could ultimately cost.

No net. They didn't have one. The Mexican government wouldn't even know they were there. The US didn't want them to know. With the amount of money they were planning to send Brian and Dom in with to make the buy, they could disappear into South America and never be heard of again.

Dom took a minute to enjoy that idea—palm trees, drinks with umbrellas in them, Brian with an all-over tan—then shook it off. Hell, right now he'd settle for coming back broke and in one piece.

Dom stood up, moving in front of Brian. They were alone in the observation room for now; there were cameras but Dom didn't really care. Brian lifted his head, not avoiding Dom's closeness, not showing any reluctance at all to be who they were, what they were. Tanner knew, Bilkins did, too, and Moore was smart enough to figure it out.

Brian's eyes were dark, brown, and it looked wrong. It felt wrong. Right now, Brian was here with him but every day, the further they got into this, the more distant he seemed. The hair, the face, his eyes.

The blue was reserved for private, for now, Brian working up to being able to wear the damn things 24/7, but right now by the end of the day, they made his eyes water and turn red so at night he would give his eyes a rest. He looked like he had the world's worst allergies.

Brian opened his legs for Dom to stand between and it all shifted back. "I'm not going to forget it's a job, Dom," Brian said quietly. "I'm not going to forget who I am."

"Aren't you?" Dom's voice felt thick, putting his fears into words. "Didn't you…way back when?"

"I knew what I was doing then. I still do." Brian sounded so sure, so certain. But he always did.

Dom wanted to believe him, but then he always had. Dom caught his face, not nearly as certain. He had to close his eyes though, when Brian's mouth opened under his, when his hands pressed into Dom's ass and tugged him closer.

The door opened and they pulled apart, but not quickly.

Tanner cleared his throat. "If you two could keep it zipped for five minutes," he said, sounding both pissed and amused. "Brian, they're ready for you."

Dom put his hands on Brian's shoulders, shook him a little. "Don't let him rattle you."

Brian gave his ass a last squeeze then slid past him. Dom didn't move and they left him alone for the moment. Not for long, he knew, but he stared at the stranger staring back at him and watched Brian walk in to meet the man he was going to become.

The hollow feeling in Dom's gut got stronger when Brian glanced up, and Dom flinched at the expression there.

Distant, cold…soulless. For the first time, Dom looked at Brian and saw…Knox.

The hair on the back of his neck stood up, sent racing chills down his arms.

Don't forget, Bri, Dom prayed silently and felt his own expression go cold and hard.

He hadn't felt this way since his first stint in prison.

***

Brian hadn't told Dom he'd requested the meet with Knox. Explaining why would have meant understanding it himself, and he didn't, not really. But sometime between the third and fourth days of the prep, when his sunburned neck had tried to out-itch his new contacts, and he realized he was worrying about whether he got taco sauce on one of his new shirts, he'd come to the conclusion that doing this particular job was going to take a lot more than the superficial crap they'd concentrated on so far.

Not that it didn't help; it did. Starting with the body to get in someone's head made a lot of sense, and he appreciated Moore's thoroughness.

It just wasn't enough. Didn't get him there, where he needed to be before he took their little dog-and-pony show on the road.

So he'd called Moore on the QT, asked him if he could talk to Knox. Moore hemmed and hawed, spouted some shit about contamination and distance, but he'd relented in the end, and now all Brian had to do was sit down, face the guy, and…talk.

It had sounded so easy on the phone, but the opening lines he'd rehearsed in his head all sounded so freaking lame he couldn't get them out, so he pulled out a chair opposite Knox, dropped himself into it, leaned back, stretched his legs in front of him, and looked at the man he was supposed to become.

His first good look at Jerry Knox made his heart jump in his chest.

Knox looked…mean. Brian had met enough perps to understand that a life of crime aged you before your time, but Knox looked a decade older than the thirty-four years his sheet listed, deep lines etched around his mouth, hard—hell, glacial—eyes set back deep in his head.

The video hadn't done him justice. This was one cold bastard.

He didn't dare look at the mirror, though he was certain Knox knew they were being observed. He'd only get one opportunity to do this, and Knox didn't look the type to respect an agent who needed backup for one stupid conversation.

While he'd been looking Knox over, he'd been getting the same treatment. A nasty little smile flickered across Knox's mouth.

"Peanut brittle?" Knox said.

Brian stared at him, thrown. "Excuse me?"

Knox pointed his cuffed hands at a box on the table. "A small indulgence, a treat for the performing seal."

Peanut brittle. He'd brought candy to the meet. Brian leaned in just enough to dig out a piece, popped it in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. Knox watched him the whole time, the freak.

"Would you mind," Knox asked, indicating the box. "I've got a sweet tooth."

The guard had placed it out of his reach, which frankly seemed kind of petty. Brian pushed the box closer, then leaned back in his chair again, wondered why he thought it would help him at all to be one foot farther away.

"So you're gonna be me," Knox said, methodically breaking a piece of brittle into one-nut pieces, then popping them in his mouth one by one.

Brian nodded. "That's the idea."

Knox leaned forward, put his forearms on the table. Brian steeled himself not to lean back even more.

"Yeah, I can see why they picked you. I used to look a lot like you," Knox said, still staring at Brian's face. He spoke softly, almost musing. "He would have loved you."

"Who?"

"Hack. You know, my second, my right-hand man, the guy they're turning Pennsylvania over looking for?"

"He's in Pennsylvania?" Brian asked, looking down at his hands like the answer didn't really matter, but it did. Knox had refused to say anything about Lynn thus far, and now, suddenly, he was being chatty? What was he doing?

"How the fuck should I know?" Knox said, leaning back and mirroring Brian's pose. "But he likes boys like you. I know, I was one myself once upon a time."

Brian waited, but Knox just kept smiling that eerie smile at him. "I'm sure that's really interesting, but—"

"The first time I met him, he bent me over a radiator and fucked me so hard I shit blood for a week," Knox said.

Brian swallowed hard, and he could tell by the triumph in Knox's eyes that he'd seen.

"Sounds rough," Brian said, reaching for something, anything not to show how much Knox had gotten to him in the first thirty seconds. Wasn't Brian supposed to be in charge, here? Wasn't Knox the one in handcuffs? "So, Pennsylvania—"

"The second time, he broke three ribs, dislocated my pelvis, and ruptured one testicle," Knox recited in a sing-song voice.

Brian felt a vibration through the bottom of his chair and realized something had hit the one-way so hard the room shook. He kept his expression as blank as he could; he hoped Knox hadn't felt it.

No such luck. Knox whipped his head to the side, licked his lips as he stared at the mirror.

"You got somebody back there?" Knox asked.

Brian kept quiet.

Knox turned back to him finally, and Brian said, "So he did all that, but he's still your go-to guy?"

"Was," Knox said, with a trace of bitterness. "I really don't know where he is."

Brian wanted to believe him, and learned in that second the kind of power Jerry Knox carried. He could talk blithely about ruptured testicles and psychopaths, and make you want to believe every word he said.

"Okay, you don't know where he is," Brian said. "But I'm still curious how he ended up working for you. He sounds a little…unstable."

Knox's still-handsome face hardened a little more. "After I recovered, I tracked him down, carved up his face with a whiskey bottle, and hired him."

Brian blinked at him. "A match made in heaven."

"You don't know anything, pretty boy," Knox said. "We worked together for twelve years. Have you ever worked with anyone for twelve weeks?"

Brian felt his face flush, but kept going; nothing he could do about that.

"Why him? What did he bring that you didn't already have?" Brian asked.

Knox considered him for a minute.

"Turned out I needed a guy like Hack now and then," Knox finally said. "Not everyone can be charmed."

No fucking shit.

"Enough about me, let's talk about you," Knox said, like they were two guys getting a beer.

"What do you mean?" Brian asked, stalling. Ugly as their little talk had been so far, he really didn't want to change direction, especially not in his direction.

"Why are you here? What did you hope to gain?" Knox asked.

"Nothing," Brian said. "I just wanted to meet you."

"Bullshit," Knox said, rapping one hand on the table. "They're still trying to get to Hack, and now they're sending in Ken dolls to do their work for them. I deserve better than that."

Knox stood, cold and implacable. "Moore, I'm done. If this is the best you've got, you're going to fail. Do you hear me? You will fail."

The door opened. Two impassive guards escorted Knox to the door.

Knox turned, pulled out of the guards' grasp and smiled at Brian one last time.

"You're not going to find what you're looking for," he said.

Brian put his right hand in his pants pocket, shifted his weight back, and started tapping his left foot.

Knox stilled.

Brian put his version of the Knox face on; it came easily now, after almost a week of practice and hours of studying Knox's video for even the slightest mannerism or gesture.

"I'm going to try," Brian said, his vowels flat and clipped. Knox-lite, but close enough.

Knox gaped at him like a fish before the guards yanked him off-balance and out the door.

As soon as the door closed, Brian sat down and put his head between his knees. Several deep breaths later, he lifted his head to see Dom poking his head in the door.

"Can I come in?" Dom asked.

Brian nodded. He didn't trust his voice yet, not given how shaky everything else felt.

Dom closed the door behind him, went to the chair where Knox had been, shoved it back, sat, and propped his feet on the table.

"Why don't you just piss on it," Brian said with a wobbly laugh.

Dom slanted a little smile at him. "Don't tempt me. I don't like that guy."

"Me, neither," Brian admitted.

He'd had this idea, okay, basically this fantasy that he'd meet Knox and see some other version of himself. A parallel universe Brian O'Conner, a self he might have been if he'd made a few different choices in juvie, after juvie. He'd been a mad-as-hell teenager who'd lifted cars and served time, and sometimes, late at night, when he was drunk or lonely, he'd imagine what else he could have done, where he might have ended up.

Getting the lowdown on Knox had fed into that, big time. It sounded like a plausible place for some other Brian O'Conner to have ended up.

But now? After that delightful little tea party, one thing had been made perfectly, absolutely crystal clear: Really, on the worst day of the worst life he could ever imagine, he'd never have been like Knox.

He just didn't have it in him.

But he had to go to Mexico and do it anyway.

***

Brian still looked like he might pass out. Or throw up. He actually looked worse than he had when Dom first walked in. Time to get him out of his head.

"Here," Dom said, tossing the box of candy to Brian. "Eat something. You'll feel better."

Brian caught it more by reflex than aim, looked down at the box in his hands and dropped it like it had worms in it. He shivered.

"Man, how weird was that?" he asked, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"Not as weird as his little lovefest with Hack," Dom said.

Brian nodded. "Yeah, good point, that was weirder."

"He was trying to mess with your head," Dom said.

Brian looked down at his hands. "He succeeded."

"So, you glad you did it? Talked to him?" Dom asked, dropping his feet to the floor and scooting his chair closer to Brian's. He reached for Brian's hands and found them ice cold. He put them between both his hands and blew warm air on them; an old trick his dad used to do when he got chilled as a kid.

"I don't know," Brian said slowly. "I think so. I mean, better to know what we're dealing with, right? We knew it wasn't a trip to Acapulco."

Brian looked up at him, and for a minute, Dom felt disoriented; what his eyes saw merging with what his heart had come to know. Brian was still in there, under the contacts and the swanky haircut. Underneath the changes, the core of him remained. Dom lifted Brian's hands to his mouth again, but instead of blowing, he kissed each palm.

"I can do this," Brian said.

"I know you can," Dom assured him.

He didn't know that; he wasn't at all sure. But they were in it now, weren't they? No point in undermining what Brian had already accomplished.

"You took the rug out from under him, there at the end," Dom said, clapping Brian's hands together. "You freaked him the fuck out."

Brian turned his hands, lacing his fingers with Dom's. He squeezed tightly, then pulled his hands away and stood.

"You want to know what freaks me the fuck out?" he asked, looking at his reflection in the one-way mirror.

"What?" Dom asked. It could be so many things…

"I never had control," Brian said, obviously embarrassed. "He played me like a fiddle, and I…it took me too long to get my shit together."

"But you did, Bri, remember that," Dom said.

Brian's shoulders relaxed a little.

Dom felt like they'd had a close call. Some scary shit had gone down, even by their own admittedly high scary shit barometers.

"At least you don't have to deal with him, Brian. You get to be him," Dom pointed out.

Brian turned and looked at him, familiar and strange both at once, a little smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "Just promise me one thing."

Dom lifted his head, waited for it.

"You see me coming at you with peanut brittle, run."

Before Dom could complete the noogie Brian was just begging for, Moore opened the door, looked at them each in turn.

"If you're done…debriefing…Snyder wants you in Arms. That's guns to you civilians," he said with a quick grin at Dom.

"Okay, we'll be right there," Brian said.

Moore hesitated at the door. "You did good, O'Conner," he finally said.

Brian barked a laugh. "You're kidding, right? I almost peed on myself."

Moore tapped his hand on the doorsill. "I'm serious. We hadn't gotten anything on Lynn before today. I didn't even know it was Knox who carved him up. You got him talking, and you showed him you know what you're doing. That's two more things than I thought we'd get out of the meet, so, yeah, you did good."

Brian dropped his chin. "Thanks."

"Scary guy, Knox," Moore said. "A real piece of work."

He patted the sill once again, and left, saying "You've got five minutes. Wrap it up."

Half an hour later, Brian seemed to have recovered a little of his cool, Dom wanted a beer so bad he could taste it, and they were armed to the teeth.

It turned out the only thing Snyder knew better than Hugo Boss was Glock. Dom watched, bemused, as the same guy who'd hossed them from one store to another and could actually feel the difference between wool and wool blend gave them a succinct and encompassing lesson on the appropriate use and care of a top-of-the-line handgun.

After careful deliberation and a stifled whistle of admiration at the sheer array of ladykillers the federal government had to offer them, Dom picked the 27, a .40 caliber subcompact that fit his hand like it had been made for it and was nearly invisible when he shouldered it in the holster under his jacket.

Brian went with the 32, a .357 caliber compact; it was a little bigger, a little heavier, packed more of a punch, and Snyder nodded approvingly when Brian said he thought Knox seemed like the kind of guy to overcompensate.

Snyder escorted them to the indoor target range, set them up with headgear and bullets, and left them to it.

They shared one target booth, one of them firing while the other stood back. Brian went first, scored six kills out of ten. Between his contacts and the residual adrenaline tremble from Knox, not batting a thousand wasn't a big surprise, but Dom knew better than to offer him that excuse—if Brian found himself in a position to kill, odds were he wouldn't be able to do it with clear eyes and steady hands.

Dom loaded his new best friend, stroked it a couple of times, practiced flipping off the three safeties until he could do it in one sweet, solid motion, and took aim.

Eight of ten. Not bad, when he considered just how long it had been since he'd had his finger on a trigger.

Brian's second attempt netted him eight of ten, too, and then it was on, just another race, headshots counting double, wingshots minus one.

He didn't know how long they stayed at it, loading and shooting until the smell of cordite made him dizzy and the gun burned in his palm, but he didn't want to stop.

Dom had it down now, the rhythm, the flex, letting his body absorb the kick of the recoil, taking the energy and dispersing it across his shoulders, down his legs, pooling it in his groin. He'd been hard since the first time he watched Brian center down for a shot, watched him will his hand to still, his face intent, body taut.

The only sound in the whole world was their muffled shots. The only things for Dom to look at were the targets, the gray walls, and Brian's body bracing for a shot, then relaxing, over and over, dancing to an unheard beat, fucking an unseen partner.

Dom wanted him. Right then, right there in the federal building, right there in the booth.

He wanted to walk up behind Brian, burn off their clothes and take him standing up, take him until his knees buckled and Dom's cock alone held him upright, fuck him until the room melted, until their bones welded together with heat and ferocious need. He wanted to fuck for hours and never come, never let Brian come, never let it end.

They'd gone through a lot for what they had, but have it they did, and by God, Dom would move heaven and earth to keep it.

He'd tried to break the one-way mirror. He'd gotten a good shot in with his body, rattling the glass in its frame, but Moore had grabbed him before he could reach the chair that would have done the trick.

"Save it, cowboy," Moore had said, twisting Dom's arm neatly behind his back.

Dom wondered if Brian would have appreciated him crashing in to save the day. Watching Brian's body contract again, his shoulders bunching, his pelvis rocking forward, focused and strong, Dom doubted it.

Brian finished his round, spun around to face him, the Glock dangling from one long finger. He stripped off his earphones and protective glasses.

"That time, I nailed you," he said, jubilant.

Dom sidled up to him, slid a hand under Brian's damp t-shirt and stroked his belly.

"Give me an hour or two, Bri," he whispered in his ear. "We'll see who's nailing who."

Brian sucked in a breath, hitched his hips up toward Dom's hand. Looked like Dom wasn't the only one turned on by gun-play.

Christ, they were predictable.

A door opened at the far end of the range and Snyder motioned them out. They left targets littering the floor like a paper massacre.

"How'd it go?" Snyder asked as he escorted them out.

"Good," Brian said, slanting a look at Dom that said 'good' didn't begin to cover it.

"How about you, Toretto? Feel like you can handle that?" Snyder asked.

Brian grinned at him, color high in his cheeks.

"No problem," Dom said. "I can definitely handle that."

***

They had their bags packed and waiting by the door, clothes for the trip hanging on the closet doors. Mia would come by and check their mail, even though she'd been a little hurt and confused when they couldn't tell her anything—anything that mattered. Dom had cleared out the refrigerator except for a couple of beers and the remains of the pizza they'd had for dinner. The rest would work just as well for breakfast.

They were kind of at a loss because both of them were jacked up, and it wasn't even nine o'clock. They'd spent close to an hour cleaning the guns, practicing loading, unloading, flipping the safeties on and off. The oil bugged Brian's eyes, but then everything seemed to, and it had to be done. Besides, it had been a great time-killer.

The car would be by at six but Brian had little hope he'd be sleeping much even though he felt tired, so tired his eyes itched and he had to remind himself not to rub them. Instead he went into the outside pocket of his bag and found the eye drops.

"Take 'em out, Bri," Dom said, giving up on the TV remote and sorting through CD's instead.

"I need to deal," Brian said.

"Ten minutes won't matter. You're making my eyes hurt," Dom said with a warning growl. "Stupid damn things. Huerta's never seen Knox, how the hell is he going to know what color his eyes are?"

"Maybe he won't but—"

"They're stupid!" Dom said sharply. "With our luck you'll be eating dinner and pop one out by accident and won't that do wonders for our cover?"

Brian stopped in the doorway and looked back at him, pretty sure the anger in Dom's voice wasn't aimed at him. "What's up?" he asked, like he couldn't guess—they were both wound pretty tight.

Dom gave up on the CDs and just punched the button, looking annoyed when Joan Baez started wailing about something, but he left it and rubbed at his temples.

Brian pushed off the wall with a shoulder and came up behind him. His hands had barely touched him when Dom was turning, catching his forearms. "Take 'em out…just for awhile," he said and the request was just that, a request.

"Okay," Brian said and nodded. "Okay…" Dom nodded too and Brian headed for the bathroom.

Dom followed him a couple of moments later, hovering behind him as Brian carefully fished out the lenses and put them in the case, covering them with solution. If nothing else, maybe his eyes wouldn't be so red in the morning. A wet washcloth eased the sting and he looked up, seeing Dom's face in the mirror.

"Gone," he said, and Dom's lips twitched into a smile.

"Thank you," Dom said and backed up, making room for Brian to leave.

Brian didn't get far because suddenly Dom was in front of him again, turning him so the bathroom light fell on his face. Dom studied him, lips pursed.

"They really bug you, huh?" Brian asked. He wasn't entirely oblivious to how the changes he'd made in himself affected Dom. He couldn't be. He didn't want to be. He'd meant it when he said he wouldn't forget.

Not just for Dom but for himself.

"Yeah, they really do," Dom admitted, not embarrassed, not denying it. His hand came up to rub through Brian's hair, that little frown persisting. Brian grinned at him and lifted his own hand to rub over Dom's freshly shaved skull.

"I have to admit, I wonder what you'd look like with hair."

That made Dom grin, chased the frown away. "Like a poodle. A badly groomed poodle," Dom said. "Trust me, the only one with good hair in my family is Mia."

"Oh yeah? You like my hair and I'm in your family." Brian said. He caught Dom's head and tilted it down, then pressed his lips to the smooth skin.

"That's true," Dom murmured and leaned in, lips and tongue smoothing along Brian's throat, wet and warm, nuzzling under the neck of the Brian's sweater. Brian rolled back—they needed the wall more than the light—and let his fingers slide down along the nape of Dom's neck, then moving to lift Dom's head back up to his.

He cradled Dom's skull, inclining his neck, meeting Dom's open mouth. His tongue traced over Dom's lips, and he sucked on the lower one, then Dom pulled back and Brian felt the scrape of Dom's teeth over his jaw. For a guy who didn't talk all that much, Dom definitely knew what to do with his mouth when he wanted to. Lips, teeth, tongue—Dom had a lot to say. He left comments all over Brian's face and throat, and emphasized his silent words with his hands.

Well, Brian could talk with his hands, too. He pushed them down Dom's back, kneading and rubbing until he reached his waist, then tugged Dom's shirt free so he could get underneath. Warm skin, firm and smooth, met his fingers all along Dom's back and then lower where Dom's muscles shifted and flexed as he turned a little to echo Brian's movement and lift his sweater. His fingers spread wide across Brian's waist and rode up, carrying the knit with him.

He pulled back just long enough for Brian to peel the sweater off and drop it. Then he tugged his own shirt off.

Brian was quicker, his thumbs rubbing over Dom's pectorals, watching his dark nipples peak at the lightest touch, and then harden under his tongue, until Dom tugged his head away and up to where he could reach Brian's mouth again.

They took a half step and stopped and Brian was sure the argument in his head was being shared by Dom. They could do this right here, against the wall, on the floor…the bed seemed too far away—at least another four feet.

It was Dom's boots that decided it…because really…no easy way to get the damn things off unless he was sitting. And since they had to stop for the boots, the rest of their clothes seemed to be worth the extra two minutes.

Brian finished first and got a half minute's worth of just watching Dom move as he stripped off his pants and stood up, kicking them aside. Powerful thighs moved smoothly into hips that seemed almost too narrow for the breadth of Dom's chest and shoulders. His dick was already rising up, thick and heavy, and Brian reached for it, just letting the weight of it rest on his palm for a minute. He thumbed the head and Dom sucked in a breath, then reached out and pulled Brian hard against him, hands digging into the crack of his ass and spreading his cheeks with a rough massage.

"I want to fuck you," Dom said, voice a rough whisper, softer than the demand itself.

"I was going to say that," Brian teased, and watched Dom's eyes darken until they were almost all pupil, but he shook his head.

"You're gonna get to be top dog for a few days…" he said nuzzling under Brian's ear. "So, I'm asking—"

Brian shut him up, sucked on his tongue, and felt Dom's dick twitch against his own, which made his own dick just kind of want to compete in the hard and now category.

"So, fuck me," he said against Dom's lips. No way would he make Dom ask or beg, and he even understood it. Fucking Dom wasn't nearly as appealing as having Dom any way, all ways. Now. Forever.

Dom pulled him back, never let go even when he was pushing Brian down, letting him shift back, but he wouldn't let him roll over.

He hit the light beside the bed, so the room took on a smooth, low light.

He pulled out the lube and set it on the bed.

He jerked his pillow over and worked it under Brian's back.

Oh, shit…

Dom was only this careful when he had distance, not speed, in mind.

"Now, what is that look?" Dom asked him, a slow smile spreading over his face, the fine lines around his eyes deepening as he straddled Brian's legs, almost coming down on all fours to look at him.

Brian grinned more broadly. "Christmas morning, man. Birthday," he said, letting his own hand work up along Dom's thighs, pinching the corded muscles to test, feel, until he wrapped his hand around Dom's dick. "Presents!" He gave Dom's cock a long slow pull and watched the flush spread across his olive-toned chest. Dom clenched his jaw, his head coming back a little.

"What, you think this is for you?" he managed to hiss out, and Brian could only chuckle, using his free hand to fondle Dom's balls, roll them and stroke his thumb between the heavy sacks.

"I really hope so," Brian said fervently, and he tried to sit up, shifting a little to give himself more leverage, maybe even push Dom back and let the cock he was working fill his mouth and throat, then his ass if Dom could manage the long haul.

Dom made a low growling sound in his throat and grabbed for Brian's wrists, pulling his hands away firmly. The grip was tight but not painful, and Dom leaned in, the hard tip of his dick poking Brian in the belly. Dom's face was flushed, body tense, coiled like he might just leap or something. This could be like the night this all started, Brian realized, and everything from his neck down tensed in anticipation.

Dom misread it, let go of his wrists quickly and pulled back, an expression on his face that Brian didn't ever want to see there—realization and regret. Brian grabbed his forearms and pulled, jerking Dom off balance, a startled grunt escaping him as his full weight dropped onto Brian. Brian lost a chestful of air, but he had Dom and if Dom thought getting a little rough was the worst thing he could do, he needed to think again. Brian went after his mouth, his throat, his shoulders. He gripped Dom's upper arms as hard as he could and hooked a leg around one of Dom's, pulling him in until his erection ground into Brian's belly, leaving a smooth, wet trail to slide against.

A groan escaped Dom and he dropped his head, lips closing around Brian's left nipple, kissing, then licking, then biting, gentle and direct, and Brian pushed up, encouraging the contact.

Dom's strength didn't scare him; it never had. Maybe he'd been wary when they'd first met, but never since then. His tongue rasped against Dom's skull. Dom shuddered, and Brian had yet to figure out if it turned him on or just tickled—but Dom never told him not to do it, so he kept doing it until Dom lifted his head.

Dom moved upward, sliding along Brian's body, his hip and groin rubbing along Brian's dick until he had them roughly lined up. He settled, putting some weight on his elbows where they rested on either side of Brian's shoulders. His thumbs pressed in, stroking down from Brian's jaw and along his throat and Brian swallowed reflexively. He couldn't move much without making Dom move and he really didn't want that. He let his hands rub along Dom's sides, his back, smoothing over the firm rounded ass and tracing the crease in a way that made Dom blow out a slow breath.

Then Dom did move, levering himself up, and Brian shivered when cooler air broke between them, sweat making it feel icy.

Rocking back on his heels, Dom reached for the lube, opened it, his eyes never leaving Brian's face, not even when Brian pulled his knees up, planting his feet firmly on the bed.

"Hang on," Dom said, covering his fingers with the slick gel. "Up there," looking above Brian's head.

Brian did it, his mouth going a little dry. He wasn't entirely sure what Dom intended, because it didn't feel like anything they'd done before. He raised his arms and his fingers brushed over the flat top of the headboard. It was thick and solid, a bare inch between the wood and the wall, thick posts at the corners forcing the gap. Just enough room for him to twist his wrists and get a grip with his fingertips.

He felt embarrassingly wide open, physically, with his legs spread and his dick curving toward his belly. But he didn't actually feel vulnerable—he never felt safer on any level than when he was with Dom.

Dom set the bottle aside and moved between his legs, rubbing his fingers together so that when he reached down to touch Brian, his fingers and the gel were warm, warm enough that Brian didn't even tense, only gripped the bed harder and lifted his hips.

Dom teased him, slid a finger in and retreated, then pressed in two, and Brian rocked against them, the pressure even more welcome than the heat of it. Dom took his time, working around the edges before sliding in and massaging him a little more, fingertips brushing his prostate just enough to make Brian breathe deeply in anticipation. Then he eased out, slicked his fingers again and started all over, pressing more firmly until Brian was panting.

"You're trying to make me crazy," Brian breathed out, trying to use his hips to get Dom to go faster, but Dom had other ideas and the smile that spread over his face could only be described as evil.

"Something like that," Dom said. His own erection had flagged some but when he slipped Brian three fingers and worked up under his prostate with more pressure, Dom grabbed his dick and got its attention again.

Enough was enough. Brian reached for his own dick, but Dom caught his hand before he'd barely touched himself. "Uh uh," Dom said, pressing farther and deeper inside Brian's ass. Something a lot like an electric shock ran through Brian, shaking him, and he found himself bearing down, wanting more. Dom nudged his hand away and jerked his chin up. "Grab wood," he said.

"I was trying to," Brian said, jerking his hips so hard his dick bounced. "Why don't you grab wood?" he got out as his fingers closed over the headboard again.

"What, this?" Dom said innocently and wrapped his hand around the base of Brian's cock.

"Oh, yeah," Brian breathed and then grunted when Dom gripped the base of his cock hard and pressed hard on his prostate. He practically levitated off the bed, the shock of orgasm taking him without warning, only Dom didn't let him go and nothing escaped but a few dribbles of come.

And Dom didn't move, was still as a statue, holding Brian inside and out while small spasms rushed through Brian until he felt light-headed. He couldn't catch his breath for a second, taking in short gulps of air.

Dom watched him, the hunger on his face blatant and obvious, tension in every muscle, eyes bright and dark. He was rigid, his dick hard, chest filling with the deep, even breaths Dom was forcing himself to take.

"Where did you learn that?" Brian finally managed to get out, flexing his fingers a little. He was still hard, his dick throbbing, and it felt like he had come building up from his balls all the way to his throat

"Cosmopolitan, how to please your man…" Dom said, his voice low and rough, like if he spoke too loud he might set himself off. He eased his grip, pulled his fingers free and covered them with lube again. Brian bit his lip and tried not to move when Dom eased his fingers back in, stroking lightly.

Brian felt it all start to build again, faster this time, and he hissed out a breath. "Dom," he warned and jerked, bearing down, and Dom pulled back, gripping Brian's thighs and pushing them that much wider. "Are you going to fuck me or just fuck with me?" Brian asked, wanting to sound annoyed but the edge of need in his own voice startled them both.

Dom dropped his head then jerked at the pillow, shoved it higher under Brian's back and knelt between his thighs. Brian started to lift his legs but Dom gripped his ankles and pushed them down, tucking his knees up against the pillow, up under Brian's ass and covered his dick with so much lube it dripped off.

"Both," Dom said softly—no threat, just a promise, and he guided himself in. Three fingers or no, Dom was thick, solid, and slick. He pressed his dick inside Brian without a hitch, sliding in smoothly and steadily and pressing Brian down at the hips when he would have jerked up to meet him. Brian was panting by the time he was all the way in, and Dom was having just as much trouble breathing, blowing out shallow short breaths through his nose.

Some rebellious part of Brian's brain knew this was about control, not power, and maybe he could have analyzed it a little better, but at the moment, all he knew was that Dom was packed tight in his ass, that his dick was ready to explode and probably would have if Dom hadn't grabbed him hard again.

Dom wasn't rough, and didn't stroke him, but Brian's whole spine still wanted to contract down to the nerve endings in his balls and in his ass. His fingers were going numb, he was gripping the bed so hard. "Dom…" He wanted to ask, or protest or beg, but lost his chance when Dom leaned over, driving himself deeper than Brian thought physically possible and pulled Brian's hands down, locking their fingers together.

The first thrust was so small, Brian might have missed it if everything below his waist wasn't already throbbing and overly sensitive. Dom slid out and pushed in again, letting out a slow breath, breathing to mark his rhythm, and Brian found himself breathing with him, feeling the pressure build slowly, his toes curling into the bed. He wanted to hurry this up, hips flexing counter to the slow rhythm Dom set, and Dom had to stop while Brian panted as another shock, not as strong, raced through him.

Over and over Dom thrust, measured and deep, hard enough to keep Brian on the edge, but every time he got close, Dom would pull back, grab the base of his dick just like he had Brian's, grit his teeth and ride out the spasm of tightening muscles in Brian's ass. He did it twice, stopping himself from either pounding Brian's ass or flooding it. He dripped more lube on his dick and Brian's ass, and rubbed his thighs, stretched his own back. They were both covered in sweat and Brian was starting to lose the actual need to come in the flood of heat and sensation that washed over him in waves.

He didn't know what Dom was trying to do, other than kill him, because he'd stop, just rest lightly on Brian, buried balls deep, pet him until Brian's breathing evened out, whisper to him, make sure Brian wasn't hurting or straining anything.

"You taking something I should know about?" Brian asked him during a lull when Dom had just started rocking into him again.

"Just my Wheaties," Dom said, and the hungry smile had been long since been replaced by something else, something just as intense but softer, like every time Brian gasped or moaned or arched up to meet him, he'd won some kind of prize.

He actually whimpered when Dom pulled out completely and rocked back, only to groan when he felt his cock gripped again and Dom leaned over him, stretching out. "Roll over," he said in Brian's ear and bit it, giving him room to flip. Not as easy as it should have been because Brain's body felt leaden and even moving sent tremors and spasms through him that made him clench his jaw and try really hard not to scream.

Dom spread out over him, nudging a leg up. Cool slickness spread over Brains' ass again. "Dom…please…please finish it…" Brian said when Dom's hand snugged under his hip to stroke him. Dom pulled Brian's arms up again, lacing his fingers through Brian's over the backs of his hands, stretching him out further and easing aches in Brian's back and legs he hadn't even felt before now.

"You in a hurry, Brian?" Dom purred into his ear, and Brian didn't know where he got the energy or the strength. He was wrung out and starting to feel hollow, like maybe whatever it was Dom wanted, he wouldn't be able to deliver.

"N…no…just…what are you…you're killing me, Dom…" he said when he felt Dom's cock nudge his ass again.

"Thought about this all day…thought about it before," Dom said, his chest pressed to Brian's back. His hand slipped between them as he guided his dick into Brian's very slick hole with no resistance at all. Dom's lips pressed to the back of his neck, then his shoulder, as he pushed in, and Brian buried a moan in the sheets. Dom pulled out and pushed in slowly, his dick hitting Brian just right so he twitched and jerked and gasped for air.

Then Dom stopped again and Brian choked on his own breath, frustrated, hard enough to drill concrete, his chest feeling too tight and too full.

"Tomorrow, we're gonna walk out of here and get on a plane," Dom said, his voice washing over Brian and calming him, deep and soft and thick with some emotion Brian wasn't sure he could bear to see face to face.

"And…and you're gonna disappear." Dom finished and moved again, pushing a little harder. "I know you'll be there…" He said it but he didn't sound entirely convinced. "But I'm not going to be able to touch you…or…look at you the way I want to. And you…you can't," Dom said, and his voice dropped to a whisper even as he moved more quickly. "So I get this…to hold me over. Every move you've made here, every look, the way you are right now…this is mine, Brian. No matter who you have to be…this part of you is mine. I don't want you to forget that."

Brian squeezed his eyes shut and tightened his fingers on Dom's. He'd only heard that particular sound in Dom's voice once or twice—Dom was scared. Had he done such a good job of changing himself, remaking himself that Dom was afraid of…Dom was afraid of losing him. Maybe not even just to this case or this job…not even of Brian dying, although that was the fear that had driven Dom to being part of this. Fear like that ran deep, buried itself, but Dom had found a way to tell him.

Dom was moving firmly and steadily in him now, picking up the pace, as if he'd cast off his remaining restraint with his voice, and the knot in Brian's belly kept getting harder; his bones felt brittle, his skin loose, his breathing as ragged as Dom's. Brian pushed up to meet him, certain now that Dom wouldn't protest. He gave Dom everything his body had to reassure him and found it easier, now, to hold back. The will was there, the desire to come hard, but all the time Dom had spent—it was like his body was waiting for permission now, for some word or touch to trigger release. The twinges and aches faded, lost in the sound of Dom's breathing, Brian's name a part of every breath even when Dom made no sound at all. The sweat-slick heat of Dom's chest against his back was a full body caress because even now Dom wasn't rushing it, wasn't trying to hurry either of them, just driving them steadily toward some line that Brian knew he'd recognize as soon as they got there.

Dom lifted up and dragged Brian with him, raising his hips and driving home, no way was he stopping now. But he shifted, pulling Brian up further, sinking back on his calves once more, forcing Brian to spread himself wide. Dom held him up with one arm around his chest and his other hand pressing between Brian's thighs, under his cock, pressing that spot beneath his balls as Dom's dick settled deep and he didn't so much thrust as rock, moving in Brian without moving out.

Brian felt like he couldn't breathe, felt like he didn't want to, afraid something might shatter if he did. His whole body trembled; strain and emotion and maybe a little of his own fear finally forcing him to take a breath that sounded harsh and choked. He gripped Dom's arm, covered the hand between his thighs with his own and dropped his head back on Dom's shoulder, felt him breathe harshly against his throat. Dom was shaking, too.

Dom pulled his hand up, fingers raking firmly along the underside of Brian's cock, and Brian hit the limits of what he could endure. Finally, Dom gave him just enough. His body jerked, wrenching something free deep inside and he came, hard, come spattering their hands, the sheets, Brian's skin. Dom lasted only a few second more before he hugged Brian hard, a harsh guttural moan muffled against Brian's shoulder. Come filled Brian's ass and Dom's fingers dug into his arm, into his hip, leaving bruises, a map for him to follow home.

Things got blurry and white for a minute, spun dizzily before he felt Dom pressing him back down to the bed with the gentle force of his weight, and Brian gladly went with him. He fumbled for Dom's hand and pulled it under him.

He could feel the thunder of Dom's pulse beating heavy against his back, a powerful counterpoint to his own racing heart. He reached an unsteady hand around Dom's back and pulled him even closer, welcoming the weight crushing him into the mattress. When he was pretty sure they couldn't get any closer, their bodies still joined, skin humming on skin, Brian finally relaxed.

"Then this is mine," he whispered, unwilling to say it any louder. "I'll take this with me."

Dom rubbed his mouth on the back of Brian's neck.

"Fair enough," he whispered back.

PART 3

They tossed the sheets in the washing machine before they left for the airport, leaving a note to Mia, begging her to please, please put them in the dryer. Sometime after midnight Dom had finally pulled Brian into the shower with him and they'd bathed each other, then let the hot water pound on them until it ran out. Brian had slept like the dead, which had been a part of Dom's master plan.

Dom didn't sleep at all.

It wasn't tension, or even fear, really, or even the desire he had to keep touching at will, although he did that too, lightly stroking Brian's head where it rested on his chest, missing the thick curls. His hand would still when Brian moved or sighed. He didn't want Brian to wake. He wasn't sure he could stand to hear Brian's voice. He didn't want promises or reassurance. It was too much to ask now, maybe even too late.

He took in with his eyes and the light touches of his hands all the things he'd already claimed with his body: the width of Brian's shoulders, the sweet curve of his lower back where it merged into his ass, the hard line of his jaw. The way he breathed in sleep. It hardly helped, given where they were headed, to understand that Brian was a drug and Dom was well and truly addicted. It didn't even help to know it was mutual. He just prayed they both lived through the coming withdrawal.

Dom stayed close even when they got up at four, but the minute Brian put the contacts back in, Dom felt the change. Nothing overt, nothing spoken—Brian didn't suddenly become an asshole, but he erased any trace of the surrender he'd shown last night. Dom fixed him coffee the way he liked it, helped him get his tie settled perfectly on his new silk shirt—didn't hesitate to touch him, but there were no lingering caresses. Dom didn't meet his eyes if he could help it. Fuck, he hated those contacts more than the tiny slivers of plastic deserved.

Easier to fall into his own role, and Brian let him, maybe expected him to. Dom deferred, acted the employee, carried their bags out. The night before might have never happened except Dom could still feel Brian in every muscle. Not pain, just awareness that reached all the way to his bones, and he could tell by the way Brian moved sometimes that Brian could still feel him, too.

Even before they got to the airport, Brian "got his Knox on" with their driver, moreso when they finally reached the terminal where the private planes waited. He held on to it even when Moore showed up. Whatever humor they'd coaxed out of Moore in the last week or so disappeared as he pulled them into a secure room and showed them the shiny silver suitcase and its equally shiny computer, and the less than shiny but vastly more expensive hidden compartment with more cash than Dom had ever seen in one place. Even in relatively large bills, a million bucks was a lot of green. The suitcase was huge.

In this modern internet connected high-speed age, Huerta still dealt only in cash—a measure of his genius, or his greed. There were no wire transfers to trace, no shift of cash to gold or silver or gems—all of which would be easier to transport. The money moved like the drugs did, in packets that could be carried; large, bulk shipments. No mules swallowing balloons full of crap to be shit out later. If one shipment in five got out of Mexico, Huerta was a rich man. A richer man.

It explained why the feds were willing to toss so much money at this operation. Huerta and his multi-region, multi-person network of distributors weren't dicking around. Huerta was moving massive quantities of drugs into the US, and the whole southern border, from the Florida Keys to Baja, was his loading dock.

It floored Dom how much they knew about Miguel Huerta. Where he lived, who his friends were—not a few of them in Mexico's decidedly incestuous government. Moving on him directly was nearly impossible. In the war between the DEA and Miguel Huerta, the DEA was losing.

It was different though, on this side of the border. Because no matter how smart or rich or powerful Huerta was in Mexico, if he couldn't find distributors for his product, he was no threat. Why and how Dom's sentence had been reduced made a hell of a lot more sense.

The Trans had held the entire west coast distribution line. Busting them up had cut Huerta's supply lines by a third. Having Knox taken out would bring down another third. If they could find some way to get the low-down on who owned the middle of the country—well, it wasn't the war, but it would be a major battle won, at least for awhile. At least until Huerta found some other way or another group of people to open the US back up for business. Huerta wasn't the only drug supplier, but he was one of the biggest.

Even knowing that, though, Dom could see the futility of it all. Huerta and men like him would find other ways. Watching and listening to Moore and Tanner and even Bilkins showed him they knew it. This was never going to be over; the best they could hope for was to stop the bleeding a little. It seemed enough for them.

Dom wondered if it would be enough for Brian.

Dom looked at it all and just didn't get it. It was like entering a race that you knew you couldn't win, because you knew your car didn't have the power. You might have the skill, might even have the drive, but without the right equipment, without the right speed…you'd be eating dust the whole way.

He'd have sworn Brian felt the same way, but here he was—here they were—carrying a case with a million US dollars onto a private plane to meet a man who was probably responsible for more death and misery than any war in recent history.

Brian carried the case, his fingers wrapped tight around the handle, the shoulder strap messing with the line of his suit. Dom handled the other two bags. He expected some words of wisdom from Moore, but got nothing more than a handshake.

The plane was small, not too tricked out, and Dom didn't know if the pilot was a fed or not. If he wasn't, he was cool and pretty much uninterested in them. He didn't blink at the guns when he pulled the door up and told them to buckle up.

The flight was nearly four hours, no service, but the mini bar was stocked and Dom didn't hesitate to help himself to a beer. Brian accepted a soda and popped the case to open up Knox's little computer goldmine. He'd already spent a lot of time with the computer, familiarizing himself with Knox's file system.

Dom watched him for awhile, finished his beer, then slept.

He woke when the plane was descending, but it was Brian's hands that actually roused him as he carefully tried to re-secure Dom's seatbelt without waking him. He caught the briefest hint of a familiar smile, then it was gone. Brian went to his own seat, pulled the mirrored shades on and all the animation in his handsome face vanished.

They were picked up at the airport by a big lug in a Range Rover who only spoke Spanish and drove them straight to the hacienda. It looked like a resort, a big sprawling complex of red tile roofs and white stucco walls. Very traditional; smelled like old money, nothing slick or flashy about it, or its owner.

Mexicans of a certain social class are known for their hospitality, and Don Miguel Huerta was no exception. In his last communication, Brian had tried to convince Huerta he could take care of himself, but Huerta wouldn't hear of it, wouldn't hear of him staying at a hotel, wouldn't hear of him taking meals at a restaurant.

No, once Huerta had you on the compound, you were pretty much staying, or shooting your way out. Might come to that, but for the moment…If it weren't for the vague sense of dread and the life-on-the-line vibe the place had, Dom might have enjoyed himself. God knew the hacienda itself didn't lack for anything they might want or need.

They'd been given connecting rooms in what had to be a guest wing. Bedrooms opened in a row off an open-air porch that had big slatted rockers and ceiling fans. Bugs were bad all over Mexico, but he had yet to see anything flying or crawling, and that in itself was a miracle.

Huerta himself had shown them their rooms, taking a minute to center the flower arrangement on the table and adjust the wooden blinds while maids moved in and out, bringing pitchers of water, laying out towels in the bathrooms, taking care of each detail under Huerta's direction. Like the show of firepower from the guards outside, Huerta seemed to want to impress upon them that all things here were his to command. He motioned for Dom to put the luggage on big brass racks in the corner. Brian kept the suitcase of cash with him.

Huerta had said, "Did you bring me something?"

Brian had nodded, looking a little surprised as he indicated the silver suitcase.

"Yes, would you like to see?" Brian asked.

Huerta had waved a negligent hand. "No, no, bring it with you when we meet. Say, six o'clock?"

At no point did he ever speak directly to Dom; all his attention stayed on Brian. That suited Dom just fine.

And that had been about an hour ago. They'd unpacked a little, channel surfed, had some fruit from a basket left on Brian's dresser, and waited for showtime.

Just after six, Dom settled himself in one of the over-sized rockers on the porch, and watched Brian as he crossed the courtyard to the main house, swinging the suitcase in one hand. Their intel said Huerta disappeared for hours every night, and Brian hoped to be invited to go along. If he didn't, sometime soon they'd have to follow him, but not yet. Better to settle in first, get the lay of the land.

In the deepening light, Dom could track Brian as he went in the door, down a glassed-in hall, and into the house's enormous living area. Huerta stood up from behind a desk and motioned Brian into a chair. From his vantage point across from them, Dom could see the whole room clearly. All right, things looked okay for the second.

Unless Huerta had a gun. Or poisoned Brian's drink. Or propositioned him. There were just so many ways Dom could imagine it all going wrong.

He saw Brian lift the suitcase up on the desk, pop it open. Huerta just stared at the contents, then pointed to something out of sight. A safe, maybe? He probably wasn't showing off his artwork. Brian closed the case, and he and Huerta both disappeared from view. Dom counted. He'd give them three minutes; shouldn't take more than that to secure the cash. Any longer, and he'd go see why.

He'd just started shifting in his seat at the two-minute mark when they came back into the living room, Huerta leading the way.

He watched them sit back down and shoot the shit, Brian nodding occasionally, leaning back in his chair like he belonged in some rich dude's drug-fueled castle, for at least half an hour. Might as well get comfortable; didn't look like any of them were going anywhere.

Dom remembered something Huerta had said to Brian as he showed them their rooms. Dom snapped his fingers and within a minute, a young woman with hair like Mia's brought a tray with drinks and cigars. From the look she gave him, he got the impression that he could have had her as well, if he wanted.

He waved off the cigar but gratefully accepted the drink—whiskey, neat, strong and probably older than him. Couldn't drink much, didn't want to risk his reflexes, but damn, it felt good going down. He turned his head surreptitiously to the side, not wanting to send a tell about how tense he was.

Tense. Yeah, that was a good word for it.

Any place where pretty girls bearing alcohol came at the snap of the fingers undoubtedly also came with surveillance cameras, bugs that didn't crawl, and an army of guys bigger and meaner than Dominic Toretto. It meant that as long as they were "guests" of Senor Huerta, eating his food, drinking his liquor, sleeping in his beds, Brian couldn't be anyone but Knox. Not while there was any risk at all of blowing his cover, and Dom couldn't do anything about it. They couldn't let their guard down. Not even for a minute.

Dom regretfully put the half-full whiskey glass on the floor and stood.

Brian and Huerta came out a side door and walked slowly out into the courtyard, stopping by a huge outdoor firepit. Most traditional hacienda courtyards had a fountain in that spot—a little water, something cool for the heat. It said a lot about Huerta that he just kept the fire coming.

Looked like they could barbecue a whole cow, or two shady out-of-towners, and still have room to smoke some corn on the cob. Huerta laughed at something Brian said and Dom gritted his teeth.

Brian was definitely getting his Knox on. He stood differently, had that habit of keeping his right hand in his pants pocket all the time, tapped a constant rhythm with one of those ridiculous shoes. He looked taller, bigger, with his bullet head and his monochrome clothes.

He didn't look anything like Brian O'Connor, beat cop and ex-racer.

Huerta leaned closer, pointed to something in the pit, and Dom felt suddenly, fiercely grateful for all the prep work they'd done, all the changes in Brian he'd hated so much in LA: the haircut, the contacts, the tan, all those goddamn clothes. What he hadn't seen then, what he saw so clearly now, was that Brian needed all that, needed those barriers in place between himself and Huerta. They separated him from the task at hand in some essential way.

Given the insecurity of their position, Brian might have to live in Knox's skin for days. Dom shuddered. How long could Brian do it before Knox started taking over? How long before the barriers he wore for protection started consuming him from the outside?

Brian was too damn good at his job.

Huerta turned and pointed at Dom, said something. Brian glanced at him, face blank, then he shrugged. Huerta beckoned Dom with an imperious hand. Dom took a quick look at Brian, and Brian gave him an infinitesimal nod.

"Do you have everything you need?" Huerta said when he reached them.

Dom nodded. "Yes, sir. Nice place you've got here."

Huerta inclined his head. "It's comfortable."

Yeah, amazing what millions of dollars in laundered drug money could do for your…comfort level.

"Mr. Knox tells me you're from Los Angeles," Huerta said.

Dom looked at Brian. The fuck? Brian just had that impassive thing going, and Dom hadn't learned to read Knox yet.

"Yeah, that's right," Dom said slowly.

"Forgive me, I didn't ask your name before," Huerta said, and waited.

Okay, time to try out Plan A. Plan B sat snug in its holster beneath his jacket.

He put his hand out. "Dominic Toretto."

Huerta shook his hand firmly, clasped Dom's hand in both of his. "Toretto. I know that name."

Dom wondered what the hell he and Brian had been talking about inside for all that time. Weren't they there to buy some shit? Couldn't they just do that and get the fuck out of Guadalajara, back to LA, to their little house with its stupid back yard and its wobbly grill?

Huerta released Dom's hand, stepped back and considered him for a minute. Then he nodded. "Yes, yes, I remember now. You drove sometimes for the Trans, am I right? You're a…what is it…a speedracer."

He didn't dare look at Brian.

"Yeah, I've done some driving for them," Dom said, shrugging.

Huerta said, "It's quite a bit different, what you're doing now."

Dom steeled himself. "I was ready for a change, especially with the Trans…well, you probably know more about what happened than I do."

Huerta nodded in acknowledgement. "So you contacted Mr. Knox?"

"He came to me," Dom said smoothly. That was the story and he was sticking to it. "Seemed like a good opportunity."

"Indeed," Huerta said, turning away, his interest in Dom apparently over.

He felt sweat break out in the small of his back. It was a fucking test. He'd passed, he was pretty sure about that, but, Jesus this shit was fucked up. What the fuck were they doing there?

And Brian, Brian looked…not like Brian. Like he wouldn't help even if he could, because Dom was just muscle. Dumb muscle. Bodyguard, valet, chauffer, and boot-licker, by the look on his face. He looked…bored.

Dom had to look away. Here he'd been so worried about Brian taking this gig, whether he could keep it together. Brian kept his shit together just fine, thank you very much. Dom was the one freaking out. Dom was the one who wanted to go home.

It was Dom who wondered if he could keep up the fa┴ade, then remembered he wasn't the one wearing someone else's face.

God, they were so fucked.

***

It hadn't taken long for Brian to realize that Don Miguel Eliade Huerta wouldn't be hurried about anything. Knox could demonstrate all the impatience that came standard with an American from the Northeast, but Huerta wouldn't rush to catch up; he'd wait until Brian backtracked. No matter who or what Jerry Knox might think of himself, his host and potential partner did things his own way and on his own damn timetable.

Brian couldn't prove it, but even on short acquaintance, he would have sworn Huerta was more interested in teaching Knox some manners than he was in opening up the supply routes for the crap he sold.

After Huerta had excused himself for the evening, leaving them by the dormant firepit, Brian looked at Dom and said, "Let's take a walk."

Brian turned away from the main house, letting Dom jog to catch up to him. They moved under the walkway that separated the guest wing from the main house, Brian ignoring the guards while Dom sized them up. Damn, there was a lot of fire power right out in the open. The walkway opened into the back gardens, carefully maintained paths leading around a semi-formal garden that even in the fading daylight almost made Brian's eyes water from the color—no sedate green boxwoods for the Don. Brian couldn't name half of them, but they bloomed and they smelled and his eyes were killing him.

Guards here, too, but not as many. They could catch glimpses of them through the trees and greenery, walking along the interior wall. Brian deliberately aimed them toward the center path; if nothing else they'd have a better chance of seeing someone coming.

"What do you think?" he asked quietly.

"I think this could be Disneyland south. Christ, this place is huge," Dom murmured, keeping his voice low as well, but the rumble of it was a balm to Brian's nerves.

"He's got the place wired like a bank vault," Brian warned. Nothing Knox wouldn't notice or talk to his bodyguard about. "Our rooms, too."

Dom glanced at him but Brian kept walking, his feet crunching on the gravel path. Ahead he could see one of the casually dressed guards, rifle slung over his shoulder, walkie-talkie in his hand. "Checkpoint," Brian warned, but they passed the guy with only a nod.

"Yeah, I figured the rooms had ears," Dom said.

"I'd bet money on it," Brian said, and glanced around. He hadn't seen anything as obvious as a camera out here yet, but they'd be harder to spot, could be up in the shade trees that lined the paths.

"So, you and Huerta talk about anything interesting before he left?"

"Talked about you some," Brian said. "And he asked about Lynn. No surprise."

It wasn't, and they'd built it into the cover that Lynn had been picked up for questioning, trying to hint at the thought that Lynn might be getting ready to roll on him. It was probably closer to the truth than not, even if the feds didn't have Lynn. Yet, Brian prayed. Of course if Huerta had ears inside the DEA or FBI, they were pretty much already dead and just waiting for the graves to be dug. "What have you seen?"

"The maids are pretty," Dom said, and Brian fought a smile.

"I'll bet," Brian said. "Use it if you can…I'm sure they're batting their eyes at you every time you look their way."

"Bullshit." Dom wasn't being modest. "They're servants, they're like wallpaper."

"Exactly. People say stuff around them because they're invisible. I'm not saying interrogate them, Toretto. Just be yourself…they might talk."

"Okay, okay. Sucks, though."

It did, but it was information Brian could use maybe, on how Huerta ran his operations. "I'm just saying don't miss an opportunity."

"I have a feeling that might end me up in bed with one of them. These chicks are bold."

"Whatever it takes," Brian said, although he gritted his teeth saying it. It took him a minute to realize Dom had stopped, and he turned to see him rubbing a hand over his scalp, looking troubled.

"I'm not one to take advantage, Mr. Knox," Dom said flatly, gaze darkening a little. Brian looked away, feeling a flush in his face. Like he had taken advantage of Mia. It wasn't something he thought Dom held against him, but reminders probably didn't help. It hadn't been one of his more shining moments. But he knew in a similar situation, he'd probably do it again.

"You're all about taking advantage, Toretto. That's how you ended up with me," Brian said after a moment. Coming from Knox it sounded pretty cold but he couldn't be sure Dom caught his meaning.

Dom gave him a stormy look, like maybe Brian had hit a line he didn't know shouldn't be crossed. He took in slow breath.

"I didn't say you should seduce one," Brian added a little more mildly. "Just if you have a chance to learn anything…"

Dom got a grip on himself, but his back was stiff, face set. "I've got a little action at home that I'm kinda fond of," he said tightly.

Brian's heart thumped in his chest. Swear to God, Dom's fierceness about them would undo him yet. "We're a long way from home, Dominic. You know what they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Your 'action' would understand."

"Yeah, well, that's part of the problem."

They rounded the back wall and hit another, more formal garden, roses this time, and a gazebo in the center with a ceiling fan spinning slowly. Brian stepped up under the slatted wood and looked around and up. Huerta hadn't even tried to be subtle—the red light of a camera winked at him.

He didn't linger. He did pull off his jacket, though. Lightweight linen or not, it was still hot and his shirt clung to his skin like wet tissue paper. Dom didn't look much better off, sweat on his skull, darkening the red fabric of his shirt under his arms even in the comparative cool of the evening.

It freaked him out a little bit, to be outside, out of view of the house, and know they could probably still be seen and heard. He'd never really been claustrophobic before, but Huerta's garden suddenly felt like a cave.

He left the gazebo and headed back to the house.

Huerta's compound gave all the appearance of a centuries-old hacienda, but the plumbing was blessedly new, and a shower sounded like heaven on earth.

"Any of those women catch your eye?" Dom asked, and Brian clenched his jaw. Turnabout was fair play and he probably deserved it.

"Maybe. Is that a problem?"

Dom wouldn't look him in the eye, but there was only a slight hesitation before he said, "No, sir."

They hit an open patch of gravel and Brian turned to him, keeping bare inches between them. He wanted to reassure Dom, but there was no easy way, nothing that might not be picked up on and misread.

"Maybe we could find one to share," Brian said, and watched the shock of it rock through Dom's body—a little put off, yeah, but not entirely.

"I don't share," Dom murmured.

Brian was sincerely grateful his trousers were loose. "Yeah, me neither. Guess we'll just have to deal."

"Guess so," Dom agreed and they kept walking. If Brian's shoulder brushed Dom's a little too often…well, the path was narrow.

***

Dom couldn't decide if Brian was possessed or just out and out trying to kill him. A threesome—just what his already overheated body needed to contemplate. And he had, for about ten seconds. No, he didn't want to take advantage of any of the girls working for Huerta. He'd meant it when he said the maids were bold. Saucy, flirty—Dom didn't have any problem with them mentally undressing him. If nothing else, they reminded him of Letty, who would laugh out loud at the thought that any man could take advantage of her if she didn't want them to.

Sharing one of these girls though, that would be taking advantage because Dom sure as hell wouldn't be all that captivated by pert breasts or creamy thighs, he'd be all about hard muscle and lean lines and a firm ass that fit his dick like it was made for it. Brian might even get off on it—but Dom was pretty sure that Knox wouldn't…not after what he'd told them about Hack Lynn.

Which would mean touching without actually having, and Dom wasn't sure he could handle that, which pretty much ended his ten-second debate. He'd thought maybe Brian was trying to deliberately provoke him, but that didn't seem to be it, not really.

Brian had been giving him permission, maybe even asking for it himself, and that gave Dom some rougher thoughts, thoughts that followed him all the way back to their rooms, where they split up without a word.

The room was at least ten degrees cooler and for a minute Dom just leaned against the door and let the wash of air from the fan have all his attention. It didn't take long for him to hear the shower start in Brian's room, and if he couldn't be with him physically, he could at least join him metaphorically. He stripped off his clothes quickly, and as an afterthought, carried his gun into the bathroom with him. He liked the gun, but the holster chafed like a son of a bitch.

Running the water cool, he led with his head, moaning at how good it felt. For a long moment he just stood and let the water wash over him, cooling his body and his temper a little.

He had few illusions about how possessive he could be: his family, his team, his house, his car, the garage. Letty and he had been a good match on that level—it was also the most consistent source of their arguments. But Brian wasn't Letty. Not in temperament or in any other way except one—Brian was his. Brian knew it and didn't seem bothered by it. But Dom was also pretty clear that he always had shared Brian with his job.

Which was how he ended up in Mexico in the hottest part of the year trying to pretend Brian wasn't the most important thing in his life.

He had always said he liked a challenge.

The challenge got bigger as the next day wore on. Huerta was out of pocket most of the day, so he and Brian explored the hacienda on their own.

Every now and then Dom got a glimpse of his Brian. It never lasted, but the moments were there when they walked in the gardens or when Brian went to do some exploring, counting on Dom to alert him if it looked like they might be interrupted. He didn't do anything as obvious as trying to open Huerta's safe or going through his desk. He made it seem natural curiosity to explore the garage a bit, to whistle softly at the stable of Mercedes and BMWs Don Miguel kept. Commenting on cars was all them…but it didn't last long. Just long enough to let Dom hold on for a bit longer, but with every hour that passed, every time Brian suddenly seemed to realize he was being too familiar and turned around and left without a word, the distance between them got bigger—and not just because Dom would wait to follow.

As the day wore on with no sign of Huerta, they watched some DVDs in Huerta's home theater room, ate dinner by themselves on a shaded patio. Brian kept telling him there was no rush, to relax and enjoy himself, but Dom wondered who he was trying to convince—Brian looked like a cat in a roomful of rockers.

Despite the big dinner, there was a knock on the door near nine that night, and one of the housemaids informed them that there was food and drink in the den. Good food, better drink, and a pool table, where he and Brian shot a couple of games. Diego and a few of the other men wandered in and offered to lay some money down. Brian took a seat in one of the deep leather chairs, drank the tequila the girl brought in, and watched. When he finally got up to leave, Dom stopped mid-game, forfeited his bet and followed him.

The day after that played out a little differently. Brian joined Huerta for breakfast served at the vast dining room table; in the next room a buffet was set out for his men and Dom. Never the twain shall meet, at least not in the formal dining room.

Don Miguel offered them a tour of his estate, which they accepted with all the enthusiasm of two men who really didn't want to watch any more subtitled movies. The estate was so huge that the tour required a golf cart. Brian looked politely impressed, but Dom was overwhelmed. Huerta wasn't just rich…Huerta was the king of his own little empire out here. As they drove, and drove, and drove, it became blatantly clear why the feds had been unable to promise any kind of assistance—short of dropping back-up in by parachute, there was no way to contact anyone once you were inside the compound. If Huerta got pissy, he could kill them and never have to leave his living room while his men hid the bodies.

Wednesday broke the routine a little. Don Miguel was obviously not sacrificing his regularly scheduled social life just because a business associate was visiting. Over breakfast, Huerta told Brian he'd planned a small party for the evening, just a few friends, and that he was welcome to join them. The veranda was cleared of patio furniture and nicer furniture set out, flower arrangements and food arrived.

Guests started arriving just after noon, and continued right up to dinnertime.

Brian pulled out the good stuff and made Dom dress up, too.

Dom stayed in the background with his coat on, sweating like the rest of the private attendants who came with Huerta's guests like other people carried purses. A band played and the men dutifully pulled their wives out for a few turns.

The ladies withdrew after the music ended, escorted to rooms in the guest wing and Dom realized that at least some of the party guests were staying the night. It helped explain why Huerta had a guest wing as big as the rest of his house.

If Dom needed any additional pointers on how to play the silent muscle, he got them from Diego, Huerta's right-hand man. It almost became a game. He learned the all-important "hover until called" technique from Diego, right down to the slight lean toward his employer.

Dom spent a lot of time standing around by himself.

The situation was unique to Dom's experience. He'd never not been part of something, never really had trouble with people—they seemed to come to him without him even really thinking about it. Mia teased him about it.

But here he found himself isolated, and it was not a comfortable feeling. Even in prison he'd managed to find a set, form his own little band of cons who posse'd up for their own protection. Here, he was the enemy—or if not an enemy, then certainly not a friend. Huerta's men were fanatically loyal to their boss and expected Dom to be the same about his own. The only ones who'd been truly friendly toward him were the servants and the kids that ran around doing errands.

After the ladies departed, the remaining men gathered in a dark-paneled parlor for drinks and cigars presented by more dark-eyed young girls, whose presence seemed as much to demonstrate their availability as their beauty. It looked like some bad drawing room drama in Spanish. The bodyguards were invisibly dismissed at the same time, as if a signal had sounded at a pitch only men of a certain muscle mass could hear.

Dom had slinked off with the other guards, gone back to his room and dropped onto the bed, closing his eyes on a pounding headache.

Brian's suggestion about engaging in a little tango with one of the maids was looking a whole lot more appealing. Not because he might learn something, but just for a little physical contact. He'd always been physical. He'd gotten more so when Brian became a permanent fixture in his life. Not even for the sex, just for the touch of him, brushing arms or reaching around each other in the bathroom. Trying to jack off in the heated stillness of his bedroom was no substitute.

At the end of each hot day he was exhausted from being on his guard, on his feet and off his game, but sleep brought no relief. More than once he'd found himself slipping into dreams that started off pleasant, feeling Brian against him and a warm heaviness in his groin or ass, only to have the whole thing slip and shatter when he'd find himself holding Knox in his dreams. Not Knox as Brian presented him, but the leering, greasy-souled original.

He found himself waking before dawn every morning trying to shake off the dreams his twisted subconscious had offered, exhausted from sleeping. No way was he at the top of his game, not with the dream Knox filling his nights and Brian's eerie daytime version treating him like he had an infectious disease.

He sat up, pounded his knee. Lying there feeling sorry for himself wasn't getting him anywhere. If Brian could spend the evening with those cigar-smoking jerks, Dom could talk up the jerks' guards.

He washed his face, checked the safeties on his Glock for the umpteenth time, adjusted his holster, and went to find the party where they were more likely to have beer than fifty-year old brandy.

PART 4

Playing guest to Miguel Huerta should have been easy. The food was excellent, the rooms comfortable, the servants responsive—even the guys with the guns who walked along the walls and guarded the hallways were polite.

It felt kind of like a high security resort. It was also more like a prison than Brian really felt comfortable with, and if it bugged him, it must be making Dom insane.

Dom had done good the first couple of days. It helped that he really wasn't supposed to know much. Moore and Tanner had both insisted they keep Dom's cover as simple as possible: Knox had hired him as muscle since Hack Lynn was supposedly being held for questioning.

Someone had tipped the feds off on where to pick up Jerry Knox with a bunch of cash and a shitload of drugs. There weren't too many people who would actually have that kind of information, and Hack Lynn was at the top of the list. If he'd done the dirty on Knox, he'd be smart to disappear for a bit.

It bothered Moore, it bothered Brian, that they couldn't pinpoint a location for Lynn, but not enough to stop any of this. In a proposition so dicey to begin with, it seemed like a pretty small additional risk.

Brian suspected he was more impressed by Huerta's home than Knox actually would have been. But maybe not—Huerta would represent all the things a man like Knox would aspire to. He was rich enough to be able relax into his life, a life where he wasn't dodging cops or twitchy pushers or competitors.

Rich enough that Dom seemed a little overwhelmed, more off-balance than Brian expected. When he tried to pinpoint when he thought it all started to get to Dom, he decided it was the tour. He'd have given a lot to be able to touch Dom's back, tease him about living the high life, but he'd had to just sit there, pretend he didn't give two shits what his bodyguard thought.

But the tour could be considered a high point compared to the goddamn party.

The party had sucked on so many levels. Dom had stood off in a corner, sweating and glowering, like a good bodyguard should. Brian deliberately kept his back to him; looking at Dom made him want to call the whole thing off, grab a car and just ride until they hit water or ran out of gas. Instead, he'd had to shut down everything inside that wasn't about Knox, and the job they were there to do, and done his best to concentrate.

He'd initiated very little conversation at the party, and missed more when the Spanish flew fast and furious as the men sat around later and got a little more drunk, but he picked up some—like the fact that one of the men owned a cargo service that ran from Guad to the east coast of Mexico, and that one of the men staying ran some kind of big plantation further south.

Brian had locked names in his brain and tried not to look too interested. There had to be a reason Huerta was introducing him to these men…he just hadn't figured it out yet. By one a.m. things were winding down, and Huerta saw those guests who were leaving to their cars. Brian escaped to his own room, checked in on Dom, but he wasn't there.

That made Brian a little nervous, but there was nothing he could do, and searching for a bodyguard would be really out of character for Knox.

Fifteen minutes later he heard a knock on his door, and Dom stood outside his door. "You done for the evening?"

Relief was primary in Brian's mind but it came out accusatory and aggressive. "Where have you been?"

"Tossing dice with the drivers, couple of Huerta's vaqueros. Shooting the shit," Dom said, and came in, closing the door behind him.

Brian wanted to talk to him, even wanted to know Dom's take on it all, but Knox wouldn't care what he thought, and aside from the cameras in the rooms they'd already found, he had no doubt they were bugged as well. Brian started getting undressed. "Anything interesting?"

Dom shrugged and put his back to the door, crossing his arms. He looked tired, dark circles under his eyes, and he was sweaty although the night had cooled off some. "Yeah…Diego can't toss dice for shit. Do I get to keep money I win?"

Brian glanced at him sharply.

"Any reason you shouldn't?" he snapped out harshly, and saw the startled look on Dom's face. Brian tugged his ear like it itched and watched the flush spread over Dom's face as he realized what he'd said.

"Seems unfair advantage," Dom filled in lamely and stood up. "You need anything, Mr. Knox?" he said. "Anything I need to know about tomorrow?"

"Just don't forget who you work for," Brian said, and turned his back. It was a slap and a reminder.

"Yes, sir," Dom said, and let himself back out.

Brian closed his eyes and tried not to feel like an asshole. He didn't have much success.

Dom was better the next day, if more tight-lipped than usual could be called better. They stayed close to the compound after Huerta's guests had left, and mid-afternoon, Huerta took a siesta out on the veranda in the back. Brian joined him, Dom standing silently in the shade.

Brian tried pressing for information and surprisingly enough Huerta talked. It took a couple of minutes for Brian to realize that Huerta's description of some of the more obscure areas along the US southern border were the drop points.

"You should visit them," Huerta said. "Especially on the night of a full moon."

"Sounds like a treasure hunt," Brian said, and Huerta chuckled.

"Very much a treasure hunt. And you, Senor Knox…you have your favorite places?"

Knox did, and that much Brian could speak to, talking about Philadelphia and Boston, Chicago…points west. "I could check out other places for you, too," he said, falling into the rhythm of their little dance.

"I believe you could, Senor Knox. It is always good to have friends in many places…" Huerta seemed satisfied.

At dinner that night he gave Brian a list. "Places to visit over the next few months," Huerta told him and moved his conversation onto other things, like sports.

When Huerta went to get ready for the evening, Brian took the list back to his room and entered it into the little computer, then took the list and tore it into eighths. He got up and went to find Dom.

Dom was sitting on the porch outside his room, hunched forward, hands clasped between his legs. There was a pitcher of something beside him and he'd taken off his jacket. He had on a lightweight polo shirt with an open neck, the leather of his shoulder harness stark against the white fabric, stained darker by sweat. The leather strap pulled taut across his back.

He looked up when he heard Brian's shoes on the tiles, and Brian almost broke his cover. It wasn't that Dom looked miserable—although between the heat and the strain, it was pretty obvious he wasn't sleeping that well. He didn't exactly flinch either—not physically—but the expression on his face made it feel like he had, like he had to steel himself to hear Brian's voice.

This was a whole lot harder on Dom than either of them had realized it would be. It was unfair, really, because Brian had no doubt that having Dom here made it easier for him. Yeah…there was risk here, and Brian had to be careful, but seriously, having Dom with him kept him grounded, reminded him not to slip, made him more alert, not less.

He had to be an asshole because Knox was an asshole to anyone he thought was beneath him. Knox didn't have anything close to Huerta's style.

But Dom was catching the edge of that, floundering in a role that really didn't suit him. He played second to no one—it was pretty fucking amazing that he was doing as well as he was.

Brian held out the carefully torn papers. "Put these in your wallet, would you, Toretto?" he said, and Dom took them silently, getting to his feet to pull his wallet out and tucking the paper away without looking. "Anything else?" he asked.

"I thought I might take a tour of Guadalajara. See the sights…check out the town. Be ready in an hour," Brian said, and Dom looked a little stunned.

Huerta showed the first signs of displeasure when Brian informed him of his plans, but it wasn't overt—more along the line of offering to procure whatever entertainments Senor Knox would prefer.

"You keep telling me what a beautiful city this is…I'd like to see it," Brian said. "Maybe you can provide me with some guides. I'm sure your boys know the best places—a little music, a little culture."

That mollified Huerta somewhat and he smiled. "Of course. I forget you are a young man, Senor Knox. I assume Mr. Toretto will be joining you."

"Yeah, I told him this would be a vacation," Brian said. "A walk in the park."

"I understand he can be…stubborn," Huerta said, and Brian had a flash of uneasiness. Huerta seemed to know a little too much about Dom for Brian's comfort.

"Really? I heard he was pretty reliable," Brian said.

"That as well. Los Angeles is a long way away from Philadelphia."

"So is Guadalajara," Brian said evenly. "I go where the business is, Don Miguel. Unlike you, I don't quite have the pull to have it come to me—yet."

That made Huerta laugh and clap Brian on the shoulder, and then he was off, suddenly full of information about the clubs, the night life, and like some weird father-thing, warning Brian away from the street whores.

Whatever reservations Huerta may have had didn't interfere with his own plans and he went off as usual. His little disappearing act bugged Brian, and he wondered if he was missing something important as he headed upstairs to change.

"Huerta's gone again," he told Dom through the connecting door. Dom got dressed faster than he did, throwing on a pair of chinos and a black shirt that hugged his chest like it was painted on. Dom eased in while Brian changed, and took a seat in the chair near the door.

"He's got a mistress—he keeps a house for her in the hills," Dom said, and Brian looked at him. Dom smiled. "I asked the girl who cleans the rooms."

"Well, well…the old dog," Brian said. "We're gonna have company on our little tour."

"Color me surprised," Dom said and spread his hands out, checking his nails. "You want me armed or just ready?" he said. He wasn't looking at Brian but his voice sent something hot and electric right into Brian's groin. Asshole.

"Armed, but be discreet about it. We wouldn't want to scare the locals…and I'm sure our guides will be packing enough to ward off any pickpockets. Let's go," Brian said, and grabbed his coat. Dom got up and followed him.

Diego saw them off after introducing them to Alonzo and Joaquin. Alonzo was tall and narrow and spare and looked like he needed a few extra brain cells. Joaquin seemed sharper, but had a face that had seen a lot of miles and not a few fights. Brian didn't miss the fact that he was Dom's size or better. Their keepers looked like Laurel and Hardy with tans.

They started out at a local bar. He could have done without the inevitable mariachis but there was enough going on that both he and Dom managed to relax a little, taking in what would be, under other circumstances, a nice place to visit.

He kept himself a little aloof, but when a girl came up to ask Dom to dance, he nudged him forward. "Think of it as stress relief," he told him and tried not to enjoy watching Dom dance with her too much.

Brian found himself smiling a little too broadly and clamped down on his own reaction, glancing at Joaquin to find the man watching him. Alonzo was on the floor with some other woman. "You don't dance, Joaquin?"

Joaquin fluttered his flat hand. "Not so much, Senor," he said. "And you…you don't like our women?"

It was an odd question and Joaquin's expression seemed more suspicious than maybe was warranted, making Brian wonder just what the hell had been on his face when he was watching Dom. "Your women are fine," Brian said. "I can't dance for shit…"

Joaquin nodded after moment. "Perhaps a different kind of entertainment," he suggested.

"Like what?"

"Perhaps a fight…Bulls, dogs…cocks…"Joaquin said, and Brian had to really fight not to take the last one wrong. Joaquin had to be talking about animals. At least he hoped so; otherwise, Joaquin was way too smart for his own good.

The idea made Brian a little sick but it would be just the kind of thing Knox would love. "Far away?" he asked.

"Not so far. Or maybe…you like other fighting. Your man…he would do well in the ring." He tilted his head toward Dom. "He would make good money…" Joaquin smiled. "I would like to see…"

See Dom get beat, probably, and Brian reminded himself to warn Dom, just in case. The last thing they needed was for one of Huerta's men to get into a pissing contest with Dom—not the least of the reasons being that Dom would probably enjoy it.

"Maybe…" Brian allowed. "I'm thinking more along the lines of a different kind of show. Why don't we find some of Guadalajara's pretty women, preferably with fewer clothes on," Brian said, and Joaquin grinned.

Brian almost hated having to pull Dom away, but he did it and they got back in the car, Joaquin driving them to a part of town Brian wasn't sure he'd want to visit in daylight much less at night, but the Club Ramses sign flashed neon and kind of sleazy—it could have been any strip joint anywhere.

Or maybe not. The inside was loud and dark. The club boasted three stages, but they were small and close and poorly lit. Definitely more Joaquin's speed than Huerta's. It also told him more about Joaquin's tastes than he wanted to know. None of the three strippers looked close to legal age, even with their heavy makeup and pretty well developed bodies. Brian felt a little sick just looking at them, and beside him, Dom looked like he wanted to take the place apart.

Or take Joaquin apart for bringing them here. Before Brian even realized he'd moved, Dom was in the man's face, his voice loud enough to be heard over the crappy music.

"What the fuck are we doing here?" Dom snarled, giving Joaquin a shove. "You got a thing for little girls, big man? What? Maybe you got a sister looks like one of them? Maybe a daughter?"

Brian didn't hear any more, because Joaquin threw the first punch. And then they were into it. Patrons scattered, the girls scampered back, and damn, they didn't need this kind of attention. Without even thinking about his cover or Dom's, he waded in. Suicidal maybe, if it had been any other bar fight—but it wasn't, and showing his face to Dom was enough to get him to back off a little bit.

Brian hadn't learned all his fighting skills at the academy, and chances were Knox had learned his the hard way. The chairs were made of aluminum and steel and even somebody as big as Joaquin staggered when it came down across his back. He went to his knees, and before he could recover, Brian got in his face, his gun jammed under Joaquin's jaw.

"We're not staying," Brian ground out, and pulled Joaquin to his feet. "Comprende?" he asked, and waited for Joaquin to nod. With that, Brian shoved him toward the door and followed, seething, holstering his gun. He didn't look to see if Dom or Alonzo were behind him, just paused long enough to pull a couple of bills from his wallet and drop them on the bar. With any luck, they'd cover the damages and keep the staff quiet.

Out in the parking lot, Brian stopped near the car and the other three stopped with him. What felt like an hour had taken only minutes.

He felt entirely justified turning on Dom, rocking him back with a punch that sent a shock wave up his arm. Dom was too startled to even try and go with it.

"You work for me, Toretto," he said, pointing a finger at Dom. "You fight when I say, if I say, and if you've got a problem, you keep it to yourself," he said. "Do. Not. Forget. It." Dom looked shocked and pissed, but Brian didn't give him a chance to say anything before he turned on Joaquin.

Brian used both hands to grab Joaquin's shirt and slam him up against the car. Dom looked startled and tensed up, hand near his gun, warning Alonzo with a look to stay out of it.

"You're on my time now, Joaquin," Brian said, getting up in the man's face. "You want to ogle little girls, do it on your own time. Now, have you got a better suggestion?"

Joaquin looked both pissed off and chagrined. "Si…si…" he said, but he viewed Brian with wary respect, gestured him into the car. During the ride, Brian fumed, wondering if he'd blown it…scared to death he had. Knox wasn't likely to be that discerning, or to intervene in a fight on his bodyguard's behalf.

He comforted himself with the thought that Knox would be that direct; if nothing else, Joaquin would have a pretty colorful story to take back to his boss.

Beside him, Dom rubbed at his jaw, still tense. Their little outing, which Brian had hoped would ease some of the stress off Dom, had only made it worse.

He used the drive to calm himself down, and felt better by the time Alonzo drove them back to a better part of town, to a club that actually had some style. Shit. They'd gone from trash to treasure.

"The Men's Club" sign was elegant, the place well lit, and despite the name, Brian could see both men and women entering through glass doors held open by uniformed doormen.

"You wait…I must call," Joaquin said, and pulled out his cell phone.

As sleazy as the other club had been, they were hardly dressed for this one, but Joaquin finished his call and led them to the doors. Brian apparently passed muster, as did Dom, but even so they had to wait until the manager came out. The club was private.

"I understand you are guests of Don Miguel Huerta?" he said, eyeing Brian and Dom with polite interest. His eyes raked over their keepers with less tolerance.

"We are. Just out seeing the sights." Brian said smoothly. "I didn't realize the dress code was so formal," he said.

"Please do not worry yourself. Guests of the Don are always welcome," the man said, and gestured Brian in, Dom on his heels. "We have a more public and less formal bar," the manager said. "Or private rooms…"

"Public's fine," Brian said, and smoothly exchanged a hundred dollar bill for the guest pass. The manager smiled more broadly and escorted them in.

Every ounce of Knox he had in him had to come forward, because confident as Brian could be, this was way outside his experience. The dancers were beautiful and certainly willing to strip down pretty severely, but not to the extent other clubs would, not here in the public rooms. "Hostesses" moved among the guests, wearing everything from microskirts to thongs, breasts barely covered either by low cut halters or gauzy strips that could hardly be called clothing.

Brian wanted more than a beer and ordered a Chivas, settling in to watch the show. Dom ordered beer, as did their two keepers.

It didn't take long for a more modestly dressed young woman to approach and settle in next to Brian, introducing herself as Sonia. "Don Miguel visits us often. It is only polite we treat his friends well," she told him.

Brian ordered her a drink and then he sent Alonzo, Joaquin and Dom to the bar.

Dom gave him a look that would have peeled paint, but Brian ignored him, letting Sonia's excellent conversational skills soothe some of the tension out of him. She was beautiful and obviously well read, if not formally educated, and she was friendly without being too bold. Well…she was bold but discreet about it, her hand brushing along Brian's arm and her foot rubbing along his calf. If he hadn't spent close to a year learning to appreciate far different attributes, he might have enjoyed something beyond just their conversation, but Sonia wasn't offering him anything he wanted anymore. It didn't help to know that Dom was staring daggers at him every time he glanced back.

Brian didn't know if it was jealousy or Dom hitting his limits, but he felt himself tense when Dom finally got up and stalked toward him. It also made him hard in a way Sonia's attentions hadn't quite managed.

Dom was at least polite to Sonia. "Excuse me, miss. I need a word with my boss."

She seemed startled and looked to Brian, who smiled at her. "Excuse me…" he said, and got up, taking a couple of steps away. "What?" he demanded.

The muscle in Dom's jaw tensed, but he kept his voice low. "What are we doing, Bri—"

"Shut up—" Brian said. He looked around, found the sign he was looking for and shoved Dom toward the men's room. His own jaw clenched hard as he passed the pair at the bar, aware that Sonia was watching with her mouth open. He slammed the door open and pushed Dom inside, checking it quickly. It was a big room with six doors. No open urinals here; each stall was really a bathroom of its own, complete with sink, and Brian shoved Dom into the nearest. No way to tell if the others were occupied.

"Are you trying to get us killed?" he hissed .

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Dom snarled back.

"You're losing it, Dom. You just called me Brian," he said, voice barely a whisper. He watched the realization wash over Dom, the anger replaced by a slow flush to his face.

"Fuck."

"How much have you had to drink?" Brian demanded, and saw the anger flash again.

"Not that much," Dom shot back.

"Then what the fuck is your problem tonight?"

"Those girls…"

Brian swore softly. "I know. I'm sorry…I didn't know where we were going. It was that or a dog-fight, or let you get it on with Joaquin—which happened anyway," he said, glaring. Then he dropped his gaze. This was not entirely Dom's fault, but they needed to deal with it and do it now.

"Stay here. Get it together," Brian said, defaulting to his Knox voice. "I'll be back in a minute."

He stalked off, leaving Dom looking shook up and pissed off.

Well, fine. That made two of them.

***

Dom used the urinal, washed his hands, and splashed water on his face. He couldn't blame Brian for getting in his face. He'd almost blown it back there, for no good reason. Brian had cause to be mad.

And yeah, Brian had been through the academy, Brian had experience, but all Dom had to do was be himself and not screw things up for Brian, and he couldn't even do that?

Fucked up just scratched the surface.

Brian came back alone. He still looked pissed.

"Okay, I bought us maybe fifteen minutes."

"What did you tell them?"

"That you had a bad tamale," Brian said with a completely straight face.

Dom huffed out a breath. "Man, that's the oldest excuse in the books."

"I told them you had Montezuma's revenge and needed new pants," Brian said.

Dom dropped his head in his hands.

"No, you didn't," he said, but he could tell by Brian's smug look that he had. Great. So much for being the big bad.

"Can you think of anything else that's guaranteed to keep them from coming back here?" Brian asked as he stepped right up in Dom's space, so close Dom could smell Knox's aftershave. So close Dom backed up a step before he could stop himself, and found himself trapped between the sink and the bathroom wall.

"Alonzo went back to the house to get your pants and Joaquin's eyeing my new friend Sonia," Brian said. "I'm telling you, we've got a window here. Use it. Talk to me. What the hell's wrong with you?"

"Bri—"

Brian knocked whatever else he might have said out of him, pushing him hard against the bathroom wall, pinning him there. "Don't say it again, Dom," he warned.

"I won't," Dom said, trying not to lean toward the heat he felt pouring off Brian. "I'm good. It's cool."

Brian's hand smacked the wall beside his head. Knox wouldn't have done that. Knox wouldn't care if his bodyguard had the runs. Knox didn't get mad; Knox got even. Dom felt something tight in his chest loosen a little bit, but he knew they were bad off if Brian's anger made him feel better about things.

"You don't look good," Brian said, his hips pressing against Dom's, trapping him against the wall. "You don't look cool."

Brian was hard. Really hard. Dom pushed against Brian's chest, felt Brian's heartbeat shaking his ribs. God, it didn't matter where they were, how irritated they were, it still took absolutely nothing to fire them up.

"Don't mistake what I'm doing for who I am, Dom. You know better than that," Brian said, his voice low and tight, Knox dropping out in the lower register. "I'm still me."

Dom moved his hands to Brian's waist, tilted his hips up into Brian's until he saw Brian's brown eyes go wide.

"Prove it," Dom said, and yanked away that last inch of air between them.

Brian pulled against his hold for maybe a second, then shoved him sideways, and Dom felt the door handle dig hard into his back. He flinched. Brian breathed out a quick "sorry" against his neck, pushed him a little further right, until Dom pressed back solidly against the door.

"No lock," Brian said, tugging Dom's shirt out of his pants, reaching under it for his belt. "Can you be quick?" he asked.

"Try me," Dom said, lust and relief duking it out until Brian's hand wrapped tightly around his dick, and lust won by a nose, did a little victory dance.

Brian leaned his head on Dom's shoulder, and Dom realized he was looking down, watching his hand jerk on Dom's dick. Dom thrust hard, digging into the tight well of Brian's hand, his grasp almost firm enough.

"Harder," he gasped into Brian's ear.

Brian moaned, tightened his grip and sped it up, really working it now, friction and heat mixing with the wet stuff Dom could feel already leaking out the top.

Oh, yeah. Perfect, that was it, that was exactly what he'd…needed.

He braced his hands on the door, afraid he'd fly right off if he didn't ground himself somehow. Quick wasn't going to be a problem, and any other time, Dom might have been embarrassed at just how fast he got to that point of no return. Huerta's goons could have pushed the door open and sold tickets, and Dom would still have kept pushing his dick into Brian's hot, knowing hand.

"You look so good," Brian murmured, and that did it—the hand, Brian's familiar voice, those four little words—it all combined to have him pumping like he hadn't come for a month.

Brian didn't stop, Brian kept right on going, his soaked hand still forming a rigid tunnel for Dom to plow, and Dom didn't push him away until his dick was soft in Brian's hand.

Dom lifted his hands from the door, wondered if his legs would hold him, then didn't worry about it; he was already sinking to his knees, unzipping Brian's pants.

"Hold the door," he said, and he took the time to watch Brian put his other hand, the dry one, on the door, then reached in Brian's pants, pulled out his cock, and stuffed it in his mouth.

Brian lunged forward, almost knocking Dom right on his ass. He locked his elbow and dropped his chin to his chest, watching. Dom's dick twitched resentfully, wanting back in on the action, but it was all about Brian now.

Brian, not Knox, thank the good Lord. Just his own Brian, the one who made noises Dom recognized when he used his tongue on that one spot, who gritted his teeth and rocked in a rhythm Dom knew very well.

Dom liked being watched, Brian liked watching, and hell, they were in a nightclub bathroom with no lock, waiting for a guy they didn't trust an inch to bring them some pants, so why drag it out?

Dom flattened his tongue, drove one hand under Brian's balls and pushed hard while he dove forward, sucking Brian's dick deep, deep down his throat.

Brian threw his head back, choked something at the ceiling, and Dom felt his dick swell in his throat, more than Dom could really handle, but he stayed put, drew down hard on the bulk in his mouth, and heard Brian gasp just as the first shot hit the back of his throat.

He pulled off, held the tip of Brian's dick just inside his mouth, took everything Brian wanted to give him.

"I guess I needed that," Dom said when Brian pulled his dick out of his mouth.

Brian looked down at him, completely himself in the aftermath.

"Yeah, me, too." Brian paused, took a breath. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Dom said, rising to his feet. "Don't worry. I've got your back."

Brian nodded. He went to the sink and washed his hands, rearranged his clothes, smoothed a hand down his shirt, and just like that, Dom could see Knox slide back in, see the Brian he'd just knocked the breath out of fade deep inside somewhere.

Dom breathed in deep, exhaled. He could do this. He didn't have any choice.

"Okay, then," Brian said. "Ditch those pants. I'll go see if Alonzo is back."

And then he was gone.

Dom stripped quickly, used one pant leg to clean himself up. He rolled the pants in a ball and stuffed them in the trash can.

Shit. He'd liked those pants.

***

By the time they got back to Huerta's, Brian was pretty sure the risk had been worth it—for both of them. Dom was subdued after he'd changed clothes. He looked just like a man who'd had an unfortunate and uncomfortable run in with a second-world water system.

Huerta was predictably concerned and apologetic, sending up soda water and waking up his cook to prepare a pot of something that smelled noxious but he assured them would take care of the problem.

Brian wasn't surprised to hear the toilet flush two seconds after Huerta left them.

Dom was far less tense when Brian saw him the next morning, smiling, even taking the good natured teasing from both Huerta and his own guards with a little self-deprecating humor. Huerta seemed charmed. He suggested that he himself would show them some of Guadalajara's historic sights.

There was no graceful way to get out of it, so they played tourist for the better part of the morning and Brian had to admit, by the bright light of day, Guadalajara was lovely. For his own part he kept it to polite interest, but Dom went him one better.

Huerta loved to talk and Dom, Brian knew really well, was a great listener. Somewhere between the Cathedral and the Governor's Palace, Dom moved from barely remarked upon muscle to an associate of sorts. Brian took advantage of the additional opportunity to get Huerta to talk about himself. As far as he could tell, Huerta wasn't trying for any information from either Dom or himself that wouldn't fall under the "general" category. Nothing about their private lives, not even their opinions about art and architecture. He did ask Dom how he liked working for Brian, if the job was what was expected, better than the Trans, and Brian couldn't help Dom at all, just prayed that the essential truth of Dom's cover would hold up. But Huerta never got down to the details, the whens and wheres and how longs, just seemed impressed at Dom's knowledge of all things mechanical, and probed his interest and knowledge of the NASCAR circuit.

If his interest in Dom was feigned, he was a better actor than Brian. In a weird way, it was almost like an interview, like maybe Huerta had taken a shine to Dom and was testing to see if he could be persuaded away from his current employer.

But mostly Huerta talked about himself, his late wife, his appreciation for fine cigars and the "old" ways, and Dom made all the polite inquiries that Knox probably never would.

That thought made Brian realize that in all truth, had Jerry Knox actually been here, he might not have done nearly as well with Huerta as Brian himself had. Knox, for all his attempts at taking on a veneer of civility, really didn't give two shits about other people, and for a man like Miguel Huerta, the social aspect of his business dealings probably drove a lot more of his decisions than mere opportunity. This meet would have been a real test for Jerry Knox, and Brian wasn't sure he could have passed. It wasn't exactly a reassuring thought as far as their entire reason for coming here, but some small part of Brain found a certain relief in knowing that no matter how many changes Dom had seen, no matter how much of a jerk Brian thought he was being in the name of law enforcement…it didn't run all that deep. He was still himself, and there was some comfort in finding pieces of his own personality that were making it work.

They returned home for a late lunch, for the inevitable siesta, and Huerta suggested they take advantage of the grounds and pool during the hottest part of the day.

The pool appealed to Brian, but he hadn't expected it, didn't know if Knox could swim or not, but not even Knox would turn down a chance to get out of the heat. The hacienda itself wasn't air conditioned except in the kitchen, relying on broad balconies and ceiling fans to keep it cool.

Don Miguel provided them with swimsuits, something neither of them had bothered to pack. He even joined them at first, summoning up pitchers of margaritas and a box of cigars. They talked about nothing much and Brian suggested that as much as he'd enjoyed his host's hospitality, it was time for him to return to the States and get back to work.

"It seems you've hardly had time to visit—if we are to be business partners, it's important to know one another…trust one another," Huerta said.

Brain smiled. "In our business, Don Miguel…trust is something better built over time, don't you think? Maybe you should come see me in Philly, I'll show you the sights…the Liberty Bell, make a run over to Atlantic City."

"I think you would be surprised if I took you up on your offer," Huerta said. "I think America is a wonderful place. I do not visit nearly often enough. But…stay one more day. There is someone I would like you to meet who may further enhance our business relationship," he said, letting out a long plume of cigar smoke.

"Who would that be?"

Huerta waved his hand in dismissal. "His name is less important than the benefit he would bring for knowing him," he said.

His vagueness made Brian uncomfortable, and he struggled to find a way for Knox to express it. "I'm not big on surprises, Don Miguel."

"Think of it as an unexpected opportunity. For myself…I need to find a distributor to replace Senor Tran. The west coast is the land of many prospects. If you are to take on a bigger slice of the pie…it would be a good thing to know where your colleagues have their business, yes? We would not want to waste time or product in overlapping territories."

Brain forced himself to relax, wondering if was possible that Huerta's visitor could give them a jump on whoever was looking to take over the Trans' operation. It would be a bonus, something they hadn't even hoped to accomplish. As far as the feds knew, the west coast lines were in disarray—it sounded as if they might be clearing up a whole lot faster than any of them thought possible.

"Whatever's good for business," Brian said easily. "One more day…but then, I really need to get back."

"Of course," Huerta said ducking his head. "I, too, have business I have been neglecting—not that I haven't enjoyed your company," he said.

"You're a great host, Don Miguel. You may have spoiled me for life," Brian said, and Huerta looked pleased and went on to talk about other things.

When Dom came out to join them, Brian was extremely glad he had on shades to hide his expression. Dom never wore shorts, and seeing him stroll out of the cabana in a pair of flip-flops, his habitual polo shirt and a pair of very short swim trunks almost made Brian lose his train of thought. Yeah, he'd seen Dom's legs before, about a million times, but there was something about those thighs in those trunks…

Dom didn't swim much. Brian wasn't sure if Dom didn't know how or just didn't like it. They'd been to the beach, horsed around in the surf, but while Brian was more than willing to strike out on a borrowed surfboard, Dom stayed in water to his waist and then hit the sand.

He did the same thing here, stripping off his shirt before wading into the water and dunking himself. The black swim trunks he'd borrowed were modest enough but they hugged his hips and ass and other parts like a second skin. It took no effort at all for Brian to transpose what he saw to an image of Dom under the shower, naked…

"…will you join me, Senor Knox?"

Huerta was getting up to go into the water, and Brian gritted his teeth, thought seriously about knocking the pitcher of margaritas in his lap, but then just chose a more direct approach: he stripped off his shades, then pushed himself from the chair and made a long clean dive into the water before anyone could glimpse the hard-on he was sporting.

The water was cold, and shocking enough to re-secure his cover, so to speak. He didn't regret the night before at all, but it had made him painfully aware of how much he missed having Dom in his bed, just being able to touch him, to take his street-tough, strong, stoic, stubborn, near-silent partner in hand and shatter every one of those adjectives with a touch or a word.

If he ever called Dom beautiful to his face, Dom would probably roll his eyes, or pop him on the top of the head. He wasn't, at least not in any classical sense, but he was better than handsome, and built was a word reserved better for houses. Dom was more than that. Dom was…damn it, beautiful. He made Brian think of all kinds of poetic shit, like mountains, and sunsets, and that glass that's stronger than steel, and he knew Dom would keel over laughing if he knew Brian thought of him like that. But from the power in his body to the clearness of his gaze, Dom pretty much made Brian lose any ability to think rationally, and had from almost the minute they met.

Brian gave himself time to swim a couple of laps, short ones. Don Miguel's pool was built to fit in with the gardens and patio, not encourage fitness. By the time he'd done four, Huerta was already moving toward the steps, pausing only long enough to enquire about Dom's health.

By the time Brian had worked off his reaction to a nearly naked Dominic Toretto, Huerta had left for the relative shade of the veranda, and Dom had pulled himself out of the pool and onto a lounge chair. His only nod to the bright equatorial sun was a pair of sunglasses, his natural olive skin tone absorbing the light and turning his skin darker, bronzing it. Stretched out with his arms above his head and his legs splayed, there was no way anyone could miss, or would want to miss, the well-defined muscles of his arms and chest, his belly—not pumped and overbuilt to impress, but the result of honest hard labor.

Hugging the side of the pool near Dom, Brian let the sun beat down on his back and just looked at him, drinking him in. For just a minute, he let himself imagine they were somewhere else, Jamaica, maybe, or Cabo, on a real vacation, just the two of them, in a place where they didn't need swimsuits…or guns.

There wasn't water in the world cold enough to keep his dick from filling at the thought of getting out of the pool, standing over Dom, dripping water on his smooth hot skin. He'd straddle him, use his hand to get Dom's dick hard, then sink down on him, take all that thick, hard heat inside him, let it stretch him impossibly wide, let it dig deep, and then he'd rock on him, keep him in there, squeeze him so tight he'd feel Dom in his thighs, in his lungs, in his mouth. He'd hold him there, take him as long and slow as he could, hold him physically the way Brian felt Dom inside him all the time, in every thought and breath.

Brian ducked his head, resting his forehead against his arms on the side of the pool. He blew out a breath, tried to get his racing heart to slow down.

"You're gonna burn," Dom said. "Mr. Knox."

Brian lifted his head. Somehow, Dom knew. He'd tucked up one knee and had pulled his shirt in his lap.

Brian's heart jumped again, still caught up in his silent little fantasy, still seeing himself impaled in the sun. Dom's mouth opened and he licked his lips.

"You keep looking at me that way, Mr. Knox, people are going to talk," Dom rumbled softly, not moving.

Brian hoped the flush he felt in his cheeks would be chalked up to the sun. He shook his head, willed his erection to subside.

"We're gonna head out, day after tomorrow," he said.

Dom sat up at that. "Business done?"

"As far as I'm concerned. Don Miguel's got someone he wants me to meet tomorrow. May be part of the supply chain on the west coast."

Dom's brows furrowed. "Anybody we know?"

"Don't have a name yet."

"You think that's smart?" Dom asked, his tone making it pretty clear he didn't think it was smart.

"It's not really my call. The Don already set up the meet. I do think I need to learn as much about the competition as possible," Brian said, lifting his head.

Dom sucked on his teeth for a minute, then leaned back in the chair again. "Just as long as the competition doesn't learn too much about you, Mr. Knox," he said.

It was a warning on a couple of levels and Brian took it for what it was, both for his cover and as a reminder that his gaze had been lingering way too long on Dom. He pushed off the side of the pool, swam another couple of laps and got out, never letting himself look in Dom's direction.

PART 5

Huerta's visitor hadn't shown up by lunch, and Dom watched Brian try to mask his frustration. It read like pure Knox, but after nearly a week, Dom could see Brian bleed through a bit. Over-achiever, he thought, watching Huerta placate his guest. By mid-afternoon, Brian was calmer, polite again. He spent an hour or so with Huerta in the shade and accepted whatever explanation Huerta gave for the delay.

Dinner was amicable enough, and Huerta put on the prodigal feed, inviting Dom to join them, toasting the success of their business; then just like clockwork, he excused himself like he always did.

"You want to hang out at the house? See if the mystery guest shows?" Dom asked Brian as they walked back to their rooms.

Brian considered it, then shook his head. "No…no. Let's pack it up. It's not my style to sit twiddling my thumbs." He didn't look happy about it, but Dom wasn't going to argue with him. The best part about this place would be leaving it.

Not even a half hour later, just as Dom finished with his shower, he heard a commotion in the courtyard—wheels on the cobblestones, the rumble of a late model engine that shut off abruptly and knocked and pinged for a couple of seconds as the engine cooled, raised voices. By the time he managed to get a towel wrapped around himself and do a quick check, all he could see in the yard were a couple of servants and a none too clean Ford LTD that had seen better days. Whoever had come calling had already made it inside the house.

He got dressed quickly and finished packing his clothes, then stuck his head through the door connecting his room to Brian's. The shower was still running and Dom would bet that Brian had popped the contacts out to give his eyes a rest rather than testing the limits of Huerta's hot water tank. It was the only time he dared. Guad might not be dusty but it was a fucking hot house for blooming shit, and Brian was starting to look like someone on a four day drunk. Good that they were leaving tomorrow or he'd go blind. Huerta had been ever so concerned, offering allergy medicine, drops, even cucumber masks to ease Senor Knox's allergic reactions to the flora.

A knock at his own door drew him back and he went to answer it, looking down at one of the adolescent boys who ran errands in the house. Estevan, Dom thought this one was. "Yeah, what's up kid?" he asked echoing it in rough Spanish—he couldn't keep straight which of the servants spoke English or even understood it.

"Don Miguel want you. Come, si?" he said and Dom frowned. He thought Huerta was gone for the evening.

"Me? Or Senor Knox?"

"No. He say invite Senor Toretto," Estevan said with a smile, and Dom shrugged.

"Hold on." He got his holster, his jacket; Estevan didn't blink, and why would he? There were more guns being toted around this place than the guards carried at Lompoc. Dom was pretty sure even the cook had an automatic tucked in the pantry.

Estevan was still waiting at the door and Dom glanced at him, but took the time to go to the connecting door and push it open, then went into Brian's bathroom.

He probably shouldn't keep Huerta waiting, but that didn't stop him from leaning on the door frame. Brian was still in the shower, but he looked up when the light changed and jerked the glass door back. "What do you need?" he asked. He sounded like Knox, and his eyes were brown.

Damn. Dom's gaze lingered a little too long, and Brian smiled. "Yo, Toretto? What do you need?" he asked again, and the smile and the mocking tease were more familiar.

So was his body, and Dom had to consciously wrest his gaze back to Brian's face. "Huerta wants to see me."

"Do you know why?"

"Maybe be wants to hire me, steal me from you," Dom said.

Brian gave him a look that was half Knox, half Brian. "Let him try."

Dom grinned, then straightened up a little. Oh," he added. "A car pulled in awhile ago. Maybe this guy you're supposed to meet."

Brian frowned at that. "Maybe. But he wants to see you? That's weird."

"Yeah, kind of. I have no idea. Should I wait?" Dom would love to wait. Dom would be pretty happy to stand right here for the next couple of hours and just look. He folded his arms across his chest to keep from doing more than just looking.

Brian rolled his eyes at the gaze but considered the question. "No…no. I'll get dressed, though, and you…you be careful," he added almost under his breath, shutting off the water. More loudly he added, "Hey, did you confirm the time for tomorrow with the pilot?"

Dom nodded. "Yeah, nine. We'll need to leave here by seven."

Dom handed him a towel and lingered a little longer before blowing out a breath and turning away when Brian started rubbing the towel over his chest. One more day. It would be over in one more day and when they got home, he wouldn't let Brian out of bed for a week.

He went out Brian's door and called to the boy. "Let's go, kid. Take me to your boss," he said, and Estevan hurried to lead him down the hallway.

Estevan's bare feet made no sounds against the tiles, where Dom's boots rang hollowly. The kid didn't run, just kept a half pace ahead of Dom, taking him past the front hall and back along the south wing. A passage led to another open courtyard and Dom realized he was heading for a part of the hacienda he hadn't actually been in. Out of habit, he noted it was the higher end of the drive, what Dom had thought was part of the garages.

Estevan headed up a narrow flight of stairs, and Dom followed more slowly, the added height giving him a better view of Huerta's compound than he could get on the ground. At the top of the stairs was a door and Estevan knocked, calling out to "Don Miguel". It was only one of the weird things about this whole scene, about Huerta. There were at least a dozen kids running around, doing odd jobs, probably paid only pesos but fed, clothed—they had no fear of Miguel Huerta and he seemed genuinely fond of them, encouraging their laughter, but expecting their obedience.

Kids no older than Estevan were probably choking to death on the shit Huerta was selling in the States, but here he was a one-man Catholic Children's Fund.

It wasn't Huerta who opened the door but one of his vaqueros, his own gun more obvious than Dom's, dark eyes raking over Dom, pausing at the glimpse of holster. But he stepped back, sent Estevan on his way, and Dom entered the room.

Nothing much here, just a sparsely furnished sitting room that smelled of cigarette smoke and tequila. The vaquero opened another door and Dom hesitated at seeing Huerta, who was smiling, and because the room was totally at odds with anything else Dom had seen.

He was nudged forward, and didn't resist. Shit. They'd known their rooms were bugged, cameras in the corners—Huerta hadn't even tried to hide any of it. This room was where those little bits of technology paid off.

The feds didn't have set-ups this good. The room was big, not crowded, despite the long low desk that held a half-dozen monitors, each showing flickering images in grainy color that changed view every few seconds: the main entrance, the front hall, the kitchens, the yards, empty guest rooms, hallways…there was a murmur of sound, voices, that weren't sourced from Huerta or the four guys he had watching over all the hardware. There were more TVs along the back wall, picking up satellite broadcasts from a dozen international channels.

CNN would be fucking envious.

Toward the garden side was another sitting area and a bed—this room was never empty of someone keeping an eye on things. Christ, no wonder Huerta and his people seemed to just appear wherever he and Brian were. They'd been watching every move they made. Dom's stomach knotted up when he realized how very close they'd come to blowing it, thinking no one could see or hear them in some hallway corner or in the back end of the gardens.

"Dominic," Huerta said, smiling broadly and beckoning him in. "Come, come…" he said, looking like a proud papa showing off his toys "Impressive, isn't it?"

Dom took a slow breath and nodded. "Really amazing, Don Miguel…planning on opening your own TV station?"

Huerta laughed, amused. "I had not thought of that, but maybe I should? I could, perhaps, bring a little Hollywood to Guadalajara? If we can have Bollywood, why not? Guada-wood!"

Dom smiled and glanced around again, feeling a little sick. Why bring him here now? To see this? What? Did Huerta want to offer him a job?

Huerta cupped his hand, beckoning Dom closer and nudged one of the men. He got up, vacating the chair, and Huerta pulled it out for Dom, gesturing for him to sit. "I bought only the best…a necessity, you know? To protect what is mine. Guadalajara is a beautiful city, the jewel of Mexico, but every jewel has its flaws. People who want to take what is not theirs. You understand this, I think, to protect what is yours."

His hands rested on Dom's shoulders, lightly, patting him, taking his agreement for granted. "But this…all this…it lets me keep an eye on things, lets me protect what I have without…violence."

"Looks like a great set-up," Dom finally said.

"These monitors, in color! To record, to store…I'm getting old, so sometimes, I need to remember a conversation, a meeting, perhaps even a guest's name. I get forgetful," he said. "Perhaps you can help me…" he said. "Diego," he said to the man sitting next to Dom.

Diego typed something on a keyboard and the monitor in front of Dom went black, then flickered, came up with multi-colored pixels that smoothed out into a view of…

The Ford.

It rolled into the driveway and stopped and a man got out. Big, tall, dark haired, but the camera was set too far back to really see.

"You recognize him?"

Dom shook his head. "No…I can't see him too well. But no, I don't think so."

"Ah…" another command in Spanish from Huerta, and Diego did something with the computer so the image played frame by frame, each frame zooming in a little closer.

Dom's throat closed up, his mouth going dry. It wasn't the greatest picture but there was no mistaking the profile, the jagged line of red that bisected the man's face, or the massive set of his shoulders.

Fuck…fuck…fuck…

"Now?"

Dom cleared his throat, forced himself not to reach for his gun. "No. Nope…ugly son of a bitch," he said. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"I have not yet decided," Huerta said. "Yesterday, he called me…he told me he is an associate of Senor Knox. Mr. Lynn?"

"Hack Lynn," Dom said, amazed he could even think at all. "Jerry's…partner. Former partner. I never met him. You should ask Knox if you don't think that's him."

"I don't know. He had an interesting story to tell me…" Huerta said, and he moved away, into the little living area, decanting a bottle and pouring two tumblers of tequila. He brought one back to Dom. "This man…he tells me the US DEA has Senor Knox…Interesting, I thought, since Senor Knox tells me the same thing about Mr. Lynn. Who do I believe?"

Dom made himself sip at the tequila, let the burn give him a voice again.

"The man with the money," he said, but all the while his mind was threatening to shut down on him.

Huerta smiled and sipped his own drink. "That would be one approach. Your approach. You have worked for Senor Knox for…a few weeks?"

"About that," Dom said.

"Replacing Mr. Lynn?"

Dom shook his head. "I work for Mr. Knox…Lynn, from what I heard, worked with him."

"And you found Senor Knox, how?"

"He found me," Dom said, clinging to the cover. Christ, consistency might be the only thing to get them through this. Where the hell was Lynn right now? "He said he'd sometimes hire through the Trans when he needed somebody."

"That's my understanding as well, but you had not met Senor Knox before then?"

"No. I knew him by reputation only…we met when he hired me, and Lynn was gone by then. I don't know much about him. Mr. Knox doesn't talk about him much."

Fucking Knox hadn't talked about him at all until he was trying to shake Brian up…fuck. They were fucked. Had Knox known Lynn was making his way here? Had he set them up? Set the feds up? Dom took another swallow of tequila and felt it burn; it hit his stomach and he felt sick. "You should ask Mr. Knox. He'd know."

"Yes, he would," Huerta said, and lifted his chin. The frozen portrait of Hack Lynn blanked out and the live feed came back, the pictures flicking rapidly until it settled on an interior room, bed and door and broad window, computer case on the bed. Suit jacket and packed holster hung over the back of a chair.

Brian's room.

And there was Brian…white towel slung around lean hips, using another to dry off his short hair as he pulled clothes from his suitcase.

"I thought perhaps…I should have Mr. Lynn ask him," Huerta purred.

It was over. Dom didn't remember setting the glass down, almost dropped it when the sound came up, a knock on the door, and he saw Brian jerk around to stare at it. He heard someone calling out. The volume was low, but Dom could hear, "Yo, Knox? You in there?"

Brian tensed. "Yeah, who is it?"

"Strange that Mr. Knox does not know his friend's voice. Or perhaps it is Mr. Lynn who is a stranger?" Huerta said quietly.

Dom didn't hear Lynn answer, he just saw Brian go to the door. No…no, Bri…go for your gun…

"Who the hell do you think it is? It's Hack…" The door was pushed open.

Brian went for the gun.

Too late. Brian's gun was too far away…shit, fuck…

Dom couldn't watch, didn't want to see it, but couldn't take his eyes off the screen. Hack got one clear look at his "partner" and started moving. Brian dove at the chair, pulling his gun from its holster and fumbling with the safety. Hack crashed into him before he could turn.

The single shot made Dom jump, watching as Hack took Brian down, the gun pointing at nothing more vital than the wall. The chair went over, the table tipped as they hit it, and the sound of shattering glass obscured whatever Hack was yelling.

On his best day, Brian couldn't take out a man of Hack's size on pure strength. Neither could Dom. Hack's fist flew out, catching Brian first in the face, then in the belly, and Hack was wrestling him for the gun, slamming Brian's arm against the tile until he lost it and it skittered away.

It was the only chance Brian ever had and it was gone. Hack hit him again and again until Brian went limp, and Hack rocked back, staring down at the unconscious man under him, his breathing harsh. "What the fuck is going on?" he said loudly, levering himself up, going after the gun, finding it and swinging it around to aim at Brian's head.

Dom was on his feet without thinking about it, reaching for his own gun—not that he had any chance to use it. Huerta hardly even moved as three men took Dom down, wrenching the gun from his hand. Dom kicked out, managed to shrug one off, then snapped his head back when a doubled fist caught him across the jaw. His arms were jerked behind him with enough force to make the old injury in his shoulder twinge in warning. Someone kicked the back of his knee and he went down on one and found a cocked gun pressed to the back of his skull.

He was right in front of the monitors, breathing harshly. It had taken only seconds for Huerta's men to regain control.

Brian was still on the floor, his face intact, no more blood than there had been before. Hack was studying him, walking around him. He glanced at the open door and then checked the hall before coming back in and closing it. He checked the room and found the computer, glanced back at Brian again, then chuckled, the laughter building as he closed the computer and packed it. He tucked the gun into the back of his pants and squatted over Brian, studying him again, before shifting around to grab him under the arms and drag him toward the bed.

The towel slipped away when Hack hauled him up to the bed and dropped him on the comforter.

Hack ran his hand up between Brian's legs, and Dom jerked against the restraining arms, getting another punch in the kidneys for his trouble. The gun pressed to his temple in warning.

"What do you want, Huerta?" Dom demanded. He didn't try to pull away again. He was tensed to move, to fight, but he was no good to Brian dead.

"I have what I want, Senor Toretto. Everything else—it's what do you say. Icing? What do you want, Senor Toretto?"

"I'm supposed to protect him," Dom snarled out.

Huerta glanced at the screen, and Dom let his eyes flicker that way as well. He thought he might throw up because Hack was touching Brian, shifting him. Hack tugged at his belt and pulled it off, grabbing Brian's wrists and looping the leather around them. Then he rolled Brian over on his stomach and pushed his legs apart.

Hack had to set the gun aside to unfasten his trousers.

"Please," Dom said, tearing his eyes away, glaring at Huerta.

Huerta returned his gaze, calm, almost thoughtful.

"Usted permite que ╚l vaya," Huerta said finally, jerking his chin up. "Diego, release him." The hands fell away, and he heard the gun at his head click as the safety reset. Diego offered him his gun back, butt first.

Dom grabbed it and ran, shoving the men out of his way, slamming out of the room and down the stairs, running like he was running for his life.

He was running for his life.

The guest wing felt miles away. He cleared the stairs three at a time, and hit the hallway, sliding and nearly falling on the tile. Hack had a gun. Hack had Brian.

He heard the shot just as he passed his room, more glass shattering and a man's choked-off gurgling scream. The unlocked door slammed back into the room. Dom had the gun up and out, expecting to see Hack's back.

No one was standing. The pristine coverlet was covered in blood, half pulled off, bare skin and darker clothing tangled in it, tangled in a pile on the floor. Dom had never seen so much blood. The dresser, mirror, and the wall behind Hack all dripped blood and bits of stuff Dom really didn't want to identify.

Nothing moved and Dom swallowed, rushing forward, gripping Hack's shoulder to pull him back, gun aimed but not steady. Hack was heavy, leaden, and when Dom pulled him free, he could see that Hack was very very dead. His face and front were soaked in blood and it took Dom a moment to see the wound in Hack's throat. The one shot Brian got had somehow ripped into Hack's neck and then up through his brain. One shot, in and out. He wondered where the bullet ended up.

Brian's eyes were open, but he wasn't seeing anything, barely seemed to be breathing. There was blood all over Brian, too, and flecks of more solid gore that Dom didn't want to think about on his chest, across his face, turning his hair darker, a line of blood crawling across his face from a gash in his scalp.

Dom heard a remnant from his childhood rise unbidden from his throat, a primitive instinct when faced with something impossible to understand. "Holy Mary, Mother of God," console all earthly mothers who are now weeping over their children.

Brian didn't look at him. Dom dropped to his knees, covered Brian's hands and pried the gun free from Brian's white fingers. As soon as Dom took the gun, Brian's eyes closed.

"Brian? Oh, Christ, Brian?" Dom said, then remembered the microphones, the cameras.

The room smelled like shit—literally. Dom shoved Hack's body further away, so he could cradle Brian's bound hands in his own. The leather belt was soaked with blood and Dom had to work to loosen it. When he was done, blood covered him as well, staining his shirt almost up to his elbows as he pulled Brian away from the tangled bits of cloth and blood and gore, away from Hack's body.

Dom was almost too glad to find Brian alive to worry about wounds, but Brian gave a sharp gasp when Dom tried to lift him. Brian had killed Hack, but at what point?

It was like he'd woken Brian from a nightmare. He was missing a contact lens, and it was even creepier to see one blue and one brown eye focus in on Dom's face.

"Come on, Bri…come on…" Dom coaxed under his breath. "Are you hurt?"

In shock, more like. Brian grabbed his arm and got a knee under him, then looked down. He must have had a pretty clear view of the shattered face and sloppy remains of Hack. He made a retching sound and pushed himself away from the sheets, up off the floor. Dom caught him around the waist, held him while he returned the excellent dinner Huerta had provided into the ruined pile of bedding.

Not hurt badly then, not that Dom could see at least, but he was scared to touch Brian, afraid to look too close to see if any of the blood on his legs and back was his own. But he had to…he hauled Brian up bodily, pulled him toward the bathroom and turned on the shower. First, they had to get the blood off, then he'd check for injuries.

He got soaked himself trying to hold Brian up, rinsing him off. The water seemed to help clear Brian's head. He leaned over, put a heavy hand on Dom's shoulder, pulled his ear down, and breathed, "Shit…shit…Hack…does Huerta know?"

"Yes," Dom said, and snagged a towel, dragging Brian from the shower and wrapping him up. "He knows…he…we were watching."

Brian stared at him, and what little color had come back to his face from the hot water drained away.

He's gonna pass out, was all Dom could think. There was still blood on Brian's face, his own, from a gash on his head that was still bleeding. "Brian…did he…did Hack…" Dom didn't want to ask, but better to ask than to have to bend Brian over and check. "Did he rape you?"

Brian looked confused for a minute, gripping Dom's arm, like he didn't know what Dom was talking about. "No…no…I came to when…" Dom could see it flash across Brian's face, memory, realization, Brian so out of it he hadn't remembered until Dom made him. Brian's hand came to his mouth but he just bent over, dry heaves this time, and Dom wrapped his arms around him, buried his face in Brian's neck until Brian was breathing more steadily.

"Where's Huerta?" Brian finally asked.

"Back in with the monitors…probably still watching, I guess. I don't know. He let me go…" Dom said, not understanding any of it. "He had a gun in my face and he let me go."

"I need clothes…" Brian was pulling it together, face still pale, but he was steadier. He took a deep breath and reached for the doorframe.

"I'll get them," Dom said, not really wanting to look at Hack again, either, but at least he hadn't just killed the man. He didn't bother sorting through anything, just grabbed the whole suitcase and pulled out what first came to hand, pants and a shirt, passing them off to Brian and then making sure he could stay on his feet well enough to pull his pants on. He changed his own shirt as well, shuddering as he threw out the blood-soaked one. He grabbed one of Brian's t-shirts. It was tight, but better than being half naked and he sure as hell wasn't going to his room to find clean clothes.

"We need to get out of here," he said, the urge strong, but he had no fucking clue how they'd manage it. He had his gun and Brian's, but they were hardly up to taking on Huerta's miniature army.

Then the window of opportunity slammed shut.

"Senor Toretto. Senor…Knox." Huerta's voice, from the hall. "I am sending my men in to deal with Mr. Lynn. I would prefer you didn't shoot them. I hope you are not badly hurt, Senor Knox."

Under Dom's hand, Brian started shaking, but he took a deep breath and made his way to the doorway. "I apologize for the mess," he called out.

Huerta laughed, and Dom stepped forward, nudging Brian behind him as three of Huerta's men—armed but not holding their weapons up, came in. Brian's hand closed like a vise on the waistband of Dom's pants, so tight his knuckles dug in the skin of Dom's back.

The guards rolled Hack into the soiled bedding and then hauled him out like the garbage he was, leaving a thick, wide smear of blood on the floor. When they were gone, Huerta came in, with Diego and another man flanking him. They were both holding AK-47s a whole lot more steadily than Dom felt capable of holding his own gun, but he raised it anyway, pointed it at Huerta.

"Are you going to shoot me, Dominic?" Huerta asked softly.

"I might." His voice was no steadier than the gun in his hand.

"Ah…well if you shoot me, you will certainly be dead. If you don't, it's possible that you and Senor…Knox, may yet get out of this alive."

Dom scared himself by actually considering it. If he'd been able to reach his gun in Huerta's little shop of technological horrors, he'd have killed him then, just revenge for the gamble he'd taken with Brian's life. And he'd have had no trouble at all killing Hack Lynn six different ways. But to raise his gun and shoot a man who still spoke to him civilly, no matter what else he'd done…

He dropped the gun. He couldn't do it.

Huerta nodded at him gravely, then stared past his shoulder at Brian for a long time, but came no closer. "Not Senor Knox, I think…" he said.

Brian said nothing.

"Though there seems to be no question that was Senor Lynn," Huerta continued.

Brian seemed frozen in place behind him. Dom finally nodded.

"And you," Huerta said, pinning a hooded gaze on Dom. "You are Dominic Toretto, are you not?"

"Yes, sir," Dom said. Brian staggered a little behind him, and Dom put a hand back, caught him by the hip, steadied him.

Huerta studied them. "It's most puzzling."

He walked closer, taking in Dom's protective…hell, possessive stance.

"Ah," he said. "Perhaps it's not so strange, after all. I do not understand the illness, but I recognize the symptoms."

Dom felt the blood leave his face, and behind him, he heard Brian inhale sharply.

Huerta gave them a final comprehensive once-over, then said with a slow grin, "You have very interesting eyes, Senor…whoever you are."

"What now, Huerta?" Brian asked, and Dom didn't even know how Brian could think. He sure as hell couldn't.

"I believe it would be best for all of us if you leave here, tonight," Huerta said. "I will have the car prepared…your flight, as I recall, leaves tomorrow."

"You're letting us go?" Dom asked.

Huerta spread his hands. "As opposed to killing you? Yes, Dominic…I am not a violent man," he said. "As well, I think the death of a federal agent might cause problems for me—I do love America. It is a wonderful country. I enjoy visiting. I gain nothing by your deaths and I could lose much. I would recommend the Mis╠on Carlton. It is close to the airport," Huerta said. "You can be my guests. I insist." He was still smiling but there was steel in his voice. "Diego will see to your bags," he said, and gestured to the door.

Not that they had much choice. Brian was barely dressed, no shoes, but he moved anyway, back straightening. Huerta's guards didn't let them close enough to him to try anything.

Brian almost tripped on the stairs but gripped the railing, walking slowly down to where the car waited. One of the other men stepped in front of Dom and held out his hand, tapping his own gun. Dom gave him the handgun without a word and tucked his hand under Brian's elbow.

They got in the back seat, the car surrounded by armed men. Beyond that, the rest of the staff went about their business with barely a glance.

It took a few minutes for Diego to get their bags down, and it was only their bags. The computer wasn't making the trip. Their bags were loaded into the trunk, and Diego tossed them their wallets. Dom caught his, Brian missed, and when Dom leaned over to pick it up, he saw blood on Brian's feet. The broken table…shattered glass and Brian barefoot…Brian didn't even seem to notice. Diego dropped Brian's loafers onto the floor of the car.

Only then did Huerta come closer, his armed shadow hovering while he offered their passports. "When you get to the hotel, you give them my name, tell them that you are guests of Don Miguel Huerta. There is a doctor at the hotel should you need him. When you get home, you will give my regards to…Mr. Knox, si?" he said. Dom took the passports. Huerta closed the door, the driver started the car and they were off.

Dom half-expected them to be driven someplace remote and shot anyway, but the car stayed in the traffic flow, making its way toward the airport. Beside him, Brian was rigid, trembling, fighting off shock. Dom could only imagine what was going through his mind, and there was too goddamn little he could do for him. One of the guys up front half-turned in the seat, watching them, but even so Dom put an arm around Brian and rubbed his shoulder, his upper arm, trying to remind Brian he wasn't alone. When they pulled up in front of a pretty fancy hotel a half an hour later, Brian had stopped shaking, but Dom wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

"Brian," Dom said quietly. "Shoes…"

Brian was glassy-eyed, blood drying on his forehead, but he slipped his feet into the loafers, then winced and sucked in a breath. It was the first sound of pain he'd made since Dom tried to lift him out of the pile of death on Huerta's guestroom floor. Dom helped him out of the car while one of the two men pulled out their bags and left them at the curb for the doorman.

They were being stared at and it was no wonder, because despite the quick shower, they both still had blood on them and between them they were starting to show a pretty spectacular array of bruises. Dom ignored the looks, ignored everything except keeping Brian moving. The young woman behind the registration desk looked nervous.

"There should be rooms for us…called in by Don Miguel Huerta," Dom said, trying not to spit out the name. The girl's eyes got rounder and she hunted up the reservation, then passed over the key. She didn't even ask Dom to sign anything. Behind them, a bell boy pulled a cart with their luggage, and Dom just handed him the key and followed him.

Whatever else Huerta was, he was generous. The room was a suite with a king-sized bed, a separate sitting area and a full spa bath. The view beyond the windows was a panorama of downtown Guadalajara. Dom barely glanced at it, just checked his wallet and found money there, tipped the bellboy, chased him out and locked the door. He left Brian standing in the middle of the room, and he didn't move the whole time Dom dealt with the kid.

"Bathroom, Bri…" Dom said, tugging his arm, and Brian let himself be led. Whatever rallying will he'd found at the hacienda had disappeared. Dom started the shower, glanced down at the tub and wondered if letting Brian soak wouldn't be a better idea. He sat Brian down on the toilet and pulled off his shoes, hissing softly at the blood slicking the leather.

He got a washcloth and carefully wiped at Brian's feet, pulling out the largest slivers, but he wasn't sure he got them all. They might need the house doctor after all, and that decided it. He turned off the shower and started filling the tub instead.

He helped Brian peel out of the shirt, taking some comfort in the fact that Brian tried to help after a few seconds delay, like he was catching up with the program, but slowly. Dom stripped off his own shirt and tossed it aside. He hated to make Brian stand again but he didn't have a choice. He might be able to physically carry Brian to the bed if he passed out but no way could he undress him. "Brian…" Dom said softly, and Brian's eyes flicked up to meet his, then focused. He blinked, and his lips parted like he would say something, but then his jaw snapped shut.

His gaze was remote and cool again, but this wasn't Knox…this was all Brian, Brian trying to hold his shit together. He helped with more purpose, jaw clenching when he stood, but got his pants unfastened and gripped Dom's shoulder to steady himself when he stepped out of them, then let Dom help him to the bath.

"Sit on the edge first," Dom instructed, laying hands on Brian's waist so he could turn.

He felt his own stomach churn at the bruises on Brian's hips, the distinct mark of fingernails leaving livid lines on his ass, all the way along the firm muscle to the crease of his cheeks. His brain flashed onto what he'd barely had time to register on busting into the room: that Hack's pants had been open, dick as exposed as his brain matter.

He almost knocked Brian down getting to the toilet.

He heaved until he thought his stomach was clawing up his throat. He barely noticed when Brian eased down beside him, when his hand came up to rub the back of Dom's neck, up over his skull. Dom braced his elbows on the edge of the toilet, covered his eyes and tried to take deep breaths, but they kept coming up short. It took Brian heaving himself up once more, leaning on the sink to wet a washcloth, to get him to finally force himself up, onto his feet, feeling sick again at the little smears of blood Brian's feet had left on the floor. He wiped his face, drank a cupped handful of water and spat it out again. Brian leaned on the counter, arms corded, fingers white from his grip on the marble. He looked up when Dom did, eyes still a lopsided color. Again, he opened his mouth, then closed it. Closed his eyes.

How many times had Dom idly wished Brian would be quiet? Rarely viciously, just that sometimes Brian used talking to cover other things.

Right now Dom could use some cover and he didn't know why this was freaking him out so much. He'd fought for his life before, or close to it…in bar fights, in prison…but he'd never had to watch someone he loved fight for his own life. Never had to literally fight for someone he loved, and been so very certain he would fail.

The only reason they were alive had nothing to do with him, his will or strength or experience, and nothing to do with Brian's determination or courage or smarts.

They were alive because a Mexican drug lord probably didn't want to have to clean that much blood off his hand-molded terracotta tiles. Because Miguel Huerta considered himself a civilized man despite how he made his living.

Under different circumstances, Huerta could just as easily have ordered his men to put bullets in their brains on some dusty road outside of Guadalajara and let the coyotes and the buzzards dispose of the evidence. He'd been willing to sit there and let Lynn rape Brian while he watched. He'd have let Lynn kill him, Dom would bet, and he couldn't even begin to get his brain around why Huerta had changed his mind. Dom was grateful he had, but Don Miguel was no fucking better than Lynn, no better than Knox…he just didn't like getting his hands dirty.

"Brian…" His voice sounded like a rusty door.

"I'm sorry…"

Dom wasn't sure he actually heard anything, Brian's voice was so soft, just a breath—not even a whisper. "God, Dom…I'm sorry…I—" his voice broke, sharp and hard, like glass shattering.

No. No. He didn't want that. If Brian lost it now…"No," he said, and turned quickly, catching Brian's face in his hands, his thumb brushing the moisture away from one red-rimmed brown eye.

Dom buried Brian's choked sob in his shoulder, pulled him in, hooking his arms under Brian's to spread his fingers over Brian's back, while Brian just wrapped his arms around Dom's neck and held on. Dom didn't move until he heard Brian hiss and felt him shift.

"Come on…get off your feet," Dom said, his voice sounding strangled, but he felt better, despite all evidence to the contrary. He took more of Brian's weight until he was on the edge of the tub again, and Dom helped him swing his feet into the water. Brian hissed again, his fingernails digging into Dom's arm while the initial shock and sharp pain eased. Dom steadied him as slid into the water, his jaw clenching as cuts and scrapes made themselves known.

Certain that Brian wouldn't just slide under and drown, Dom finished stripping his clothes off and levered himself onto the edge of the tub as well. The damn thing was big enough for both of them. Brian made room when Dom settled behind him, water sloshing over the sides. Wrapping his arms around Brian from behind, Dom closed his eyes, wanting nothing more than this for now, dropping his forehead on Brian's shoulder. Brian's hand rubbed and flexed across his knee, the tension gradually easing from him and Dom as well.

They stayed like that until the water cooled, not talking, never losing contact. Slowly, more slowly than Dom would have believed, his head cleared. They were still alive, and really, given what could have happened, that was pretty much all he could have hoped for. Whether it was enough for Brian, they'd get to later, but Dom could be satisfied for the moment. He briefly tightened his grip on Brian, then hauled himself out of the water.

"I'm calling the hotel doc," he said.

"Dom…"

"Unless you want a wheelchair tomorrow," Dom said, unwilling to argue. He found towels and dried off quickly, spreading the wet one on the floor to cover the drying spots of blood.

Brian needed a hand to get out, but the water had helped, maybe even helped get rid of more of the glass. Brian still stood gingerly, limped and left little red polka dots, but he made it out of the bathroom without looking like he'd keel over. There were two robes—but only one big enough for either of them, and Dom wrapped it around Brian and got him settled in a chair. Clean khakis were as far as he went for himself before calling down to the desk to ask about the doctor, then he ordered food and juice and coffee. The doctor called the room only minutes later, and Dom described the problem.

The food came first. Dom made Brian drink a big glass of the juice and took some himself. By the time the doctor arrived, Brian had color back in his face, but he was still too quiet for Dom's liking. The doctor seemed competent, cleaning the gash on his forehead, but not stitching it, brushing something over Brian's feet and using a magnifying glass with something like a black light built into the frame to find the glass, pulling out half a dozen more slivers.

Sure the doctor knew what he was doing, Dom went to the room phone and found the international dialing code. The only number he knew by heart was Tanner's, but the call never made it past the switchboard.

"I'm sorry, Senor. Senor Huerta was very insistent on not allowing any phone charges on the bill," the operator told him apologetically.

Dom clenched his teeth and blew out a breath. "I'll pay for it myself."

"Nothing but local calls, senor, I'm sorry," she said again.

"What, does he own the hotel?" Dom growled.

"Si, senor…"

He could go downstairs, go out and find another phone, but he had the sinking feeling that Huerta hadn't stopped watching them. There might not be any cameras in this room, but in a busy hotel lobby, anyone could be waiting.

And it would mean leaving Brian alone. Alert or not, that wasn't something Dom was willing to do, and as he watched the doctor finish applying antibiotic cream to Brian's feet, then wrap them lightly with gauze, he knew he couldn't ask Brian to go on a possibly futile hike…because Brian would probably say yes.

The doctor finished and warned Brian to stay off his feet as much as possible for a few days. At Dom's request he left the tube of antibiotic. Dom thanked him, tipped him generously, then locked the door behind him.

"Better?" Dom asked.

Brian nodded, sitting up on the bed. "Did you get through?" he asked quietly.

Dom shook his head. "Huerta owns the fucking place…"

Brian raked a hand through his short hair. "Shit…we can go to another hotel—"

Dom sat in front of him and shook his head. "Leave it, Bri. If he wanted us dead, he'd have done it already…Let's try not to give him reason now." He rubbed a hand along Brian's calf. "How're you doing?"

Brian considered. "Sore…but okay…you?"

"Sore, scared shitless, but okay," Dom said, and felt the tension ease when Brian smiled. "Will you please, please, please take that goddamn contact out now?"

Brian gave him a lop-sided grin, lifted a practiced hand to his eye, then dropped the contact in Dom's hand.

"Flush it," Brian said.

"With pleasure," Dom said, and did just that, taking an extraordinary amount of satisfaction in watching the damn thing disappear forever into the Guadalajara water treatment system.

He came back into the room to see Brian shifting uncomfortably on the bed. Dom went to the dresser and picked up the antibiotic cream.

"Can I…you've got some scratches on your…" Dom closed his eyes until he felt Brian's hand on his own.

Pale again, but steady. "Thanks," Brian said. "Better you than the doctor, nice as he was," he said, and shrugged off the robe without hesitation. He rolled over on his belly, cradling his head on his arms.

Sometimes Brian's courage made Dom ashamed.

The bath had helped; the scratches weren't so livid, but they were deep, and Dom still felt queasy about their location. Brian flinched a little, but it was involuntary. When Dom had covered all he could see he set the cream aside and let his fingers spread over Brian's lower back, both to work out the lingering tension and to finally satisfy his need to touch, breathing easier at the thought that he could once more.

He stretched his arms up, rubbing all along Brian's back, and leaned down, pressing his lips to the shallow hollow between his shoulder blades, then the nape of his neck, resting his forehead there for a moment.

"Lie down," Brian said quietly, pushing up a little and looking back over his shoulder.

Dom stretched out on his back next to Brian, made room for him, his chest tightening when Brian moved over him, studying his face. He tucked an arm under his head and tried to look calm.

"I'm okay," he said, as much for himself as for Brian. Saying it helped make it feel more real. Brian studied him for another minute, then nodded and leaned down. His lips brushed over Dom's, barely a touch, and the tightness in Dom's chest increased, the pressure building, his heart pounding so harshly he was surprised the pictures on the wall weren't rattling. He lifted his hand, cupping the back of Brian's neck, fingering the short hairs there.

"We're gonna be okay," Brian said, and kissed him again with a little more certainty, using his open lips and his tongue to soothe Dom's silent protest. Brian's lips moved up, brushing his closed eyes, his forehead, then coming back to his mouth.

Dom pulled him down, turning on his side so they were facing each other. Brian's fingers traced over the bruise on his jaw, testing the swelling, and Dom swallowed, not resisting when Brian rolled him to his back and settled along his side. His hand rubbed Dom's skull and over his shoulders.

"We're okay, Dom." Brian sounded more sure this time, his voice soft but strong.

Dom still wasn't sure he believed him, but right now, trusting Brian was all he had. He wrapped his arms around him and felt Brian return the pressure. Fake it 'til you make it.

***

Brian thought maybe they should talk about it, but he didn't know where to start. The money was gone, the deal busted, they didn't have one thing to take back with them except their lives. Not necessarily a bad thing, but probably not enough for the DEA.

Their only other potential piece of good news was Hack Lynn's death. Brian had killed him, apparently, and if he closed his eyes, he could almost see it, but honestly, he remembered very little of what happened between hitting the floor, pain exploding in his head, and then finding Dom tugging the gun away and freeing his hands.

He could feel the scratches on his ass and knew he'd gotten off lightly. He didn't know what Dom had seen, but he could imagine it, and imagination alone was scary enough. Every time he started to drift off to sleep, he jerked awake as half-remembered images stormed through the dreamgate he left open.

He never got past the point of feeling the fear though, because Dom interrupted it every time. Touched him, whispered his name, hugged him hard. Brian was sure it would all come back to him eventually, but he wasn't in any hurry. Not for that.

It took nearly an hour for Dom to relax enough to doze. Every small sound seemed too loud; both of them jerked when the A/C kicked in, but no one disturbed them, no one knocked.

They did sleep eventually, not well, but Brian felt less disoriented when he woke up, badly needing to piss. The bed in the room was huge, but he and Dom had kept to one side, tucked up against each other so closely they didn't even disturb the bed clothes on the other side.

He couldn't move without waking Dom, but there wasn't any choice, so Brian did it as gently as possible. He wasn't surprised when Dom got up and followed him.

Brian found clothes, pants, anyway, and looked around to see Dom watching him, his dark eyes half-closed, jaw darkening. Somebody had hit him hard. He checked Dom as well then, both of them steadier, feeling less like they might break—or break something. In addition to the jaw, there were some nasty bruises on Dom's lower back, but Dom swore he was okay.

Dom was more concerned about Brian, but aside from Brian's feet and a pounding headache, the rest of it was just an overall dull ache, and he was surprised to realize that, all things considered, he felt more or less all right. Sore, yes, and he still had odd moments of disconnect where nothing around him seemed quite real, but Dom's voice kept bringing him back.

It wasn't even quite dawn, but they called up room service for coffee and breakfast anyway. Dom said he couldn't eat, and Brian didn't feel all that hungry, but when the food arrived neither of them had any trouble at all clearing their plates of eggs, bacon and potatoes, and a whole pot of coffee. Maybe because the food was familiar or because their bodies knew something their brains were too busy to notice.

It was almost embarrassing to realize how much they kept occupying each other's space. Embarrassing and unnerving, because any other time, touching each other as much as they were would have led to other things, but even joining Dom in the shower didn't arouse anything more than concern over the bruises he saw. It didn't keep him from getting a mouthful of soap when he kissed Dom's head, though.

They gave half a thought to just leaving with the clothes they had on, their wallets, and their passports, but in the end they just consolidated everything that wasn't bloodstained into one bag. Dom carried it and Brian felt that weird disassociation again as they fell back into their roles.

They had one tense moment in the lobby when they recognized Diego, but he barely acknowledged them as they got a cab and headed for the airport. Brian refused to turn around and see if they were being followed. Dom looked so tense he could have been made of stone.

Nothing happened—not on the ride, not at the airport. They had no problem with their passports despite Brian's sudden change in eye color.

The pilot said nothing. His gaze lingered a little when he told them to buckle up…then they were airborne. The minute the plane stopped climbing, Dom fell asleep. Really fell asleep, mouth lax, the shadows on his jaw and under his eyes making a tight knot form in Brian's throat again.

Never again.

He never, ever wanted to see that much fear in Dom's face again. Never wanted to be the reason it was there. It wasn't worth it—not his job, not whatever idea he had that he could make a difference.

…"we were watching…"

Brian closed his eyes tightly. He didn't have to imagine what that felt like. He knew. Knew when Dom rolled the Charger, felt it when he'd seen Dom racing along the dock in LA, full throttle with a sniper ready to take him out…heart in his throat both times.

He'd felt it without seeing it in the hour he'd known Dom was walking back into prison. Chino might not be Lompoc, but it was still a prison, with plenty of guys who would feel right at home with people like Jerry Knox and Hack Lynn. People who would admire them.

He'd wanted so badly to be part of Dom's world, his life…had been willing to chuck everything, his job, the respect of his peers, his own expectations. Why had he forgotten that? Dom kept asking him the same thing, only in different ways, and Brian had never been able to explain it…what it was about this job, this life, that kept sucking him back in when there was nothing missing in his life with Dom. Why did Brian keep acting like there was? Like there was something he needed that Dom couldn't provide. Something he needed that between them, they couldn't fulfill.

It was total and utter bullshit. Yeah, the world needed cops. But it needed mechanics, too, and teachers, doctors, grocery check-out clerks.

He tried to see it, his life without his job. He'd tried before, once, and hadn't been too thrilled, but Dom hadn't been the sure thing he was now. And maybe that was the problem…it really wasn't just his life any more. If nothing else, the past week had made that fact impossibly, painfully clear.

Dom had seemed to know that from the start. His dad had known that once and forgotten and Brian swallowed convulsively. His dad had been part of something, both on the job and with his family, and he'd shoved it all away. It didn't matter why, it didn't matter if he had reasons, the result had been a wife who still loved him but couldn't live with him, a son who lived with him but didn't love him, and a bunch of guys he'd once trusted with his life standing by his graveside wondering what more they could have done. Wondering what had happened to the man they knew.

Brian didn't want to be his father. What he had, he wanted to hold onto. He hadn't taken a bullet, but close enough…

Making a living wasn't nearly as important as living. He'd stayed a cop because of Tanner, and, more importantly, because Dom had made it easy for him. Dom hadn't asked him to change. Dom had changed. Not so much who he was, but how he thought. He'd done it for Brian—he'd done it for them, because it wasn't just about each of them anymore; it was about both of them.

Maybe what he and Dom had wasn't quite the same as being married, but it was close enough that Brian really needed to rethink a huge portion of his priorities.

Married cops didn't do this shit…or if they did, they didn't stay married long. Tanner was a blinding example of that.

It wasn't like Dom would ask him to choose. He never had, and Brian realized he never would. Brian was the first to admit that if the rest of his career as a policeman meant riding around in a patrol car, the appeal dimmed. But being a detective would have its levels of tedium, long hours…frustrating results. He'd still be dealing with the aftermath. What had appealed to him about this case…about this job, was the whole idea of stopping something before it happened.

Stopping Huerta from moving more heroin onto the streets. Stopping Dom from hijacking one more truck before he got himself or anyone else killed. Stopping the punk who'd shot his father before it happened.

The beginning, not the end. He dug his fingers into the arm of his seat and swore softly.

You can't win a race that's already over.

It was time to move on. He could work with Dom in the garage or find something else. Dom did a good business, but he already had Vince and Leon on the payroll, and Brian had no intention of displacing them. However peripherally, they were part of this, too, as was Mia. They were part of Dom's life, and it was time Brian remembered that. What affected him, affected Dom; what affected Dom, affected him.

It didn't even matter if the DEA or the FBI came through with their end of the deal, and it was possible they wouldn't—this had been a spectacular crash and burn.

He glanced over at Dom again, studying his face, frowning at the bruise on his jaw, the shadows under his eyes, the full lips that looked dry. Asleep, Dom had relaxed, the strain finally gone from his face.

Brian had apologized once; he doubted Dom wanted to hear another one. He looked away and rubbed at his eyes. Never again. Dom deserved a hell of a lot better from Brian than apologies.

He unbuckled his seat belt and moved stiffly. Hot baths, hot showers or not…the aches were settling in. He hunted around the service area and found instant coffee and a little hot pot. It would be terrible but it would keep him awake. He also found paper and a pen, so he settled in at the inset desk across from Dom and started writing. Everything he could remember, names, dates, the people they'd met…things he noticed at Huerta's and particularly every place and time he and Huerta had discussed. He didn't really think the drop points were worth anything, but he had them in his head.

His hand was cramping and his head ached by the time he was finished. They had maybe another hour until they landed. Brian had an idea of what to expect and wondered if he should wake Dom to prepare him. He could only pray that Moore and Bilkins would recognize what kind of shape there were in and keep the debriefing short. He didn't think he was up to another marathon interrogation like he'd faced after he'd let Dom go, and he doubted Dom was, either.

He gave Dom another half hour, then sat beside him, picking up his large hand, stroking over Dom's palm until he started to surface.

"Dom…we're about thirty minutes out of LAX," he said, watching the dark eyes blink open and focus. Dom rubbed a hand over his face.

"What?"

"We're about thirty minutes out of LA," Brian said again, threading his fingers through Dom's. "How're you doing?"

Dom stretched his neck and pulled his hand away so he could unbuckle his seat belt. "Stiff. Need to piss," he mumbled and pushed up, wincing as his back stretched, but he glanced down at Brian before making his way to the head. "You okay? You sleep at all?" he asked

"No. Wrote up some notes."

When Dom returned from the lavatory, Brian said, "I need to tell you what to expect when we land."

Dom's brows drew together. "This is gonna hurt, isn't it?"

"I don't know, Dom. I honestly don't know what they'll say or do," he added. "That was a lot of money."

Dom's lips thinned, and he squatted down carefully, looked up at Brian's face and rested a big hand on his thigh.

"That was their choice, Brian," Dom said. "They came to you, remember?"

Brian sighed. "Yeah, I know. And we knew Hack was a potential kink in the works."

"A big kink," Dom said, drawing a tired smile from Brian. "None of that was your fault."

"I know, I know, I just wonder what we could have done differently. I owed—"

Dom's hand clenched tight on his thigh. He didn't look mad, exactly, just really intense.

"Brian, whatever you think you owed them, you've paid."

Brian leaned forward, searched out Dom's mouth and kissed him, hard. "Will you tell Tanner that?" he asked.

Dom wrapped a hand around Brian's neck, kept him right there at mouth level.

"I'm thinking about tattooing "Paid In Full" on his ass. Maybe then he'd stop calling you."

Somehow, even as the plane took them closer and closer to a confrontation with several federal agencies that Brian didn't really want to have, his mood lightened. They were together, they were pretty much whole, and they were going home.

PART 6

By the time the plane touched down, Dom was giving serious thought to hitching a ride on a passing baggage tram, snagging a cab, and making sure he and Brian didn't surface for a couple of days. No doubt the feds would be waiting for them in the terminal, but he wasn't particularly worried about their anxiety level. He was more worried about Brian falling face first onto the tarmac.

Three hours of sleep on the plane left Dom feeling stiff, but Brian hadn't managed to grab even that much and even as he tried to give Dom some idea of what they'd be facing, he was hunching forward, his voice getting hoarser with each passing minute, blinking like his vision was none too clear.

They didn't get that lucky because a limo met them on the frigging runway. On the one hand, anything that kept Brian from having to walk too far was a good thing, on the other hand, it meant the grilling could start almost immediately.

Wade Moore, thank God, showed more sense than that. Even as Dom threw him dark looks, Moore asked if they needed a hospital. Brian shook his head, stubborn man. His call, though; Dom couldn't force him to go.

Moore let them get settled, Snyder pulling open the small bar and offering them both water as the car pulled away from the plane. "From the pilot's description of you two, I'm guessing this was rougher than we'd hoped," Moore said.

Brian took the bottle. "Our cover got blown yesterday. Huerta thinks I'm a fed. Hack Lynn showed up," he said.

"Hack Lynn," Moore repeated, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "We got word three days ago that he'd been seen in Nevada, but we couldn't confirm it."

"Three days—" Dom started, only to have Brain's fingers dig into his leg.

"There was no way to get word to you," Moore said. "And we didn't have anything concrete to tell you. I'd say you're lucky to be alive."

Lucky. That was one way to put it.

"So, Lynn fingered you."

"He's dead," Brian said quietly, looking out the window. "Huerta has the money and the computer. The computer won't do him much good…but I don't have it."

"We have a copy of the hard drive," Moore said.

Brian shifted forward and reached into his pocket, pulling out folded sheets of paper." I wrote down what I could remember, who I met, what he talked about…drop points."

Moore took them. "Who killed Lynn?"

Brian hesitated briefly before answering, a frown on his face. "I did."

"It was self-defense," Dom said swiftly.

"I'm sure it was," Moore said, and Dom glanced at him sharply but Moore looked sincere. "You sure we don't need to make a swing by an emergency room?"

"I'd rather get this over with," Brian said and leaned back.

"All right. I'll have someone from medical meet us," Moore said and got on his cell phone to do just that. Snyder dug out a couple of packets of ibuprofen and both Dom and Brian took them.

Then Brian started talking. Haltingly but steadily, chronologically, and Dom stared out the window to keep from telling him to shut up and give it a rest. Snyder took notes.

They had hit a more familiar part of LA when Brian stopped suddenly, frowned again and glanced at Dom. "What day did Huerta have his dinner party?" he asked

Dom had to think about it. "The third day, Wednesday," he said. Brian looked down, fell silent…he'd lost track of what he was saying, Dom realized.

"Wednesday…he brought a band in, there were like ten people, five guys with their wives," Dom said. He didn't know much more that that and Brian couldn't seem to grasp the details.

"Save the rest," Moore said smoothly. "We're almost there."

They ended up at the same logistics center where the shit had started its one-way trip into the fan. Two suits took Brian off down some other corridor to see the doc, and Dom followed Moore and Snyder into the conference room. It felt like he'd left an arm or leg behind, watching Brian go; he rubbed an ache in his chest and reminded himself that Brian was in good hands, that they were safe. It didn't help much, but it kept him from bolting down the hall after him.

He looked around the conference room. Somebody had sprung for juice and pastries this time, but otherwise, nothing had changed. Even the cast of characters was the same, right down to Bilkins and Tanner, with the important exception of Brian.

Important because it meant Dom didn't have to do a snowjob, didn't have to remember the coaching Brian had given him on the plane, didn't have to watch his language, respect authority, or salute the flag of any country but the Island of Toretto and O'Conner, where he planned to live out his days with plenty of cold beer and no phones.

One of them, Moore, maybe, started to invite Dom to take a seat, but he said he'd rather stand, and then pounced.

"I can't believe how badly you guys fucked this up. It's no wonder the country's going to hell," Dom said, anger making his voice shake. "Two federal agencies and the largest police department in the world, and between you, you don't have the brains to put together a three-piece puzzle."

Silence met his outburst. Snyder looked like he wanted to say something, but Moore put his hand out, shushed him.

The movement drew Dom's wrath to Moore. "You knew, you bastard. You knew Hack Lynn was still out there, and you sent Brian down there anyway. When you finally nail Huerta, and you take apart that little compound of his, there's a video you need to see. It's Brian, this close to being raped wide open by that psycho. And that would just have been the warm-up. Getting killed would have been a kindness."

"From what we've seen, Officer O'Conner performed extremely well, given the circumstances," Moore said, and Dom had to give him a point for taking abuse well.

"You'd better tell him that," Dom said. "Tell him, tell his boss, take out a full-page ad in the LA Times."

"Settle down, Toretto," Bilkins said. Big mistake.

"And you," Dom said, jabbing a finger in his direction. "I know you don't like me, I know you don't like Brian, and I'm sorry we ruined your little fantasy by coming back, but if you ever try to tap Brian for one of your sorry cases again, I'll make you wish you could go into witness protection."

Bilkins pursed his lips, looked like he might let it go, but that wasn't Bilkins' way, and Dom actually took a sliver of comfort from the fact that some things hadn't changed.

"If you'll recall, Toretto, I chose Brian for his experience," Bilkins said.

"Yeah, and the possibility of him turning into coyote food just made it that much more appealing. Let's see who we can get who's both smart enough to do it and dumb enough to do it," Dom snarled.

Tanner interjected. "It was his choice, Toretto."

Dom rounded on him. "Yeah, just like it was his choice to give himself up for my sister, his choice to blow his cover to save a guy he didn't even like. You can't give Brian choices like that, Tanner. He'll always choose what's best for somebody else."

Dom stopped cold. Shit.

Many a truth is said in anger, and damn, he'd found a whole well of wisdom with that one.

Dom suddenly felt unsteady on his feet, and when Snyder got up and motioned him to a chair, he went, sinking gratefully into it.

Moore took advantage of his momentary silence to explain how the debrief would go, asking him some general questions.

Moore didn't press him for much in the way of details, which was just as well. Honestly, Brian was the one who'd done the work, remembered the important stuff, ferreted out what they needed to know.

It didn't take long, and despite Dom's outbursts, the men in the room treated him with…respect. It gave him the courage to say one more thing to the group as a whole.

"You guys might have found somebody who could have worked this case better than Brian did, but I don't know how. He put Knox on like a mask and wore it until it got ripped off him," he said quietly. "I can't imagine the strength it takes to do that. I didn't even have a cover, didn't have to be anyone but myself, and I still didn't come back the same person I was when I left."

Before he had a chance to say anything else, the door opened and Brian entered. He looked gray, expressionless. He managed a smile for Dom, and Dom felt a little dizzy. He wanted to toss Brian over his shoulder and only let him down once they'd gotten to their own bed, but there was no rest for these particular weary.

Moore got up from his seat and offered it to Brian—another gesture of respect that Dom appreciated.

Brian sat gingerly, stretched his legs out in front of him.

Snyder slid a plate of food and a steaming cup of coffee in front of Brian. He nodded his thanks and sipped the coffee.

All eyes in the room stayed on Brian, watching while he picked apart a cherry Danish and pretended to eat it. Finally, he looked up. "What? I'm here, let's get on with it."

Tanner looked at Bilkins and Bilkins looked at Moore.

"Why don't you start at the beginning," Moore said, and Snyder clicked on a recorder.

Brian talked. He sounded clear, he sounded firm; they didn't interrupt him much. When he faltered, Moore went over the notes Brian had already given him, coaxing the story out. People left and came in, bringing papers, taking out others. Moore barely glanced at them, occasionally exchanged whispered comments but never really lost track of his questions or Brian's answers.

Then Dom's turn came. Brian had tried to prepare him but Dom found himself thinking he'd been through interrogations as a criminal that had been easier than this. Not so much because Moore didn't believe what he was saying as much as he tried to eke every detail out of Dom he could.

When Dom faltered on Hack's assault on Brian, Moore called for a break, gave them time enough to go to the bathroom, splash some water on their faces. Dom watched Brian worriedly, but the break helped.

He wanted to tell them it was enough, he wanted Brian to tell them that, but Brian wouldn't. He caught Dom looking at him in the mirror over the sink, reached over and gripped the back of his neck. "I only want to do this once," he said, pressing his forehead to Dom's.

"You think they'll let it go at that?" Dom asked.

"I think I don't care," Brian said, squeezed his neck and headed back.

The second round was more detailed, with a few more interjections from Bilkins. No one but he dared—or was tacky enough—to say it out loud, but it was there. At the end of it, Dom pretty much realized they'd been on the losing team. Drug lords and psychopaths two, good guys, one.

It took a couple of hours. Dom's head was pounding and Brian was pale again, but steadier than he had any right to be.

"That's enough." Moore finally called it. Bilkins was pacing like an aggravated bear. Tanner was rubbing at his eyes. Moore talked quietly with a few of his team before turning back.

Dom had the uneasy feeling that everyone knew more than they did—which was probably true.

"Gentlemen," Moore said. "Given what you've been through the last few days, I've tried to make it as short and as painless as possible. If we need more details later, we know where to find you."

Fucker, Dom thought. If Moore thought they'd live in a vacuum, waiting for another federal shoe to drop, he had another think coming.

And if that was Moore's idea of short and painless, Dom didn't want to see him when he was really on a roll. Beside him, Brian was leaning forward again, staring at the table top, looking at his coffee cup like he wanted more, but didn't have the energy to even ask for it.

"O'Conner, Toretto," Moore caught Dom's attention again. "I was reluctant to even have you in on this. But you two did the job asked of you, and you did it extremely well. Far exceeded my—our," he said spreading his hands to include the room. "Expectations. Regardless of the specific outcome, we are very much aware that you did more than was asked of you. Thank you, from me as the head of this task force and from your government. Your payment, as promised. Nick," he gestured again, and Tanner pulled an envelope from his pocket and slid it to Brian.

Dom leaned over to see the check. What they'd been promised, plus some, and he looked sharply at Tanner, then Moore.

"Having both of you there was worth the extra," Moore said. "It's a government check. Cash it when you leave," he said with a wry quirk of his lips. "Agent Bilkins, I believe you have something for Mr. Toretto."

Bilkins actually looked a little less disgruntled than Dom expected, and he got up without huffing, offering Dom a thick envelope.

"In that packet are papers providing you with a full manumission of all sentences served and unserved. The State Board of Corrections has been informed and the filing made with the California judiciary, and by the end of the week, the national record will be updated. I can't undo or make the time you served, the trials, sentencing or other public records disappear. But if you get pulled over for a speeding ticket—and you will," Bilkins said with something that looked like a genuine smile, "your record will be clean. You'll still have to pay the fine…but if anyone gives you a hard time it will be because of your attitude, not your past criminal history."

"It's a post-facto pardon, Toretto. The balance of your reparations has also been paid," Moore said. "You have a clean slate. I'd advise you try to keep it that way this time around."

Dom had a hard time following it all, and from the stunned look on his face, so did Brian.

"Wait…wait…I mean…thank you," Brian said. "But didn't this…I mean it was all for shit, right? That's what you said." He turned to Bilkins, who looked a little uncomfortable.

"The information Huerta gave you was pretty worthless. They may have been drop points at one time, but they aren't being used now," Bilkins admitted.

"It still gave us information on how Huerta sets up his operations, what's important to him. The drop points might not have played out, but the contact names you gave us may get us somewhere," Moore said. "Maybe not quite worth the million you two left with him," he said with a shrug, "but we're going to see if we can make his life a little harder. And you two still did good…you had bad information. We all did."

"Knox played us," Dom said quietly.

"Yes, he did," Moore said. "He played all of us. But that was our mistake, not yours or O'Conner's."

There was more, but Dom had heard what he wanted to hear, and tuned a lot of it out.

Moore kept to his word—the closing was short and relatively painless—a good thing since Brian looked like he might fall asleep right there in the leftover Danish if they didn't get him home soon.

"Everything you got is better than the nothing we were going on," Moore said as he walked them out. Snyder offered them a ride home, and Dom decided that of all the choices, the guy with the encyclopedic knowledge of menswear and weaponry seemed a pretty decent pick.

Dom wasn't sure either of them would even have remembered how to get themselves home, but the house looked familiar and the porch light was on. Snyder carried their bags in and let Dom deal with Brian. He didn't linger beyond accepting Brian's mumbled thanks and echoing Moore's praise—they'd done a good job. Then he was gone, and Dom managed to get the hall light on, steer them toward the bedroom and pull the sheets back. He pulled off Brian's shoes and his own, unplugged the alarm clock and the phone, and they both crashed hard.

It was still full dark when Dom woke up, dry-mouthed and shaking. Beside him, Brian was half on his stomach, still dead to the world, and just the common phrase made Dom a little queasy.

Leaving the hall light on was sheer brilliance. He made his way to the kitchen stiffly, wanting water or something, but checked the fridge, and somebody, he'd bet on Snyder, had actually left them some food. Juice. Beer.

The Corona tasted like a promise that things would get better. Dom snagged a couple of bottles of water and headed back, stopped in the doorway to watch Brian sleep for a minute, then moved to settle down beside him, lightly touching his face. He was warm but not sweating. Dom thought about trying to undress him, but settled for stripping off his own shirt and lying down again. He fell asleep with Brian's breath leaving a warm spot on his collarbone.

Dom woke again to Brian struggling to get out of bed, making noises it took Dom a second to recognize. Without a word, he helped him to the bathroom and held him while Brian retched. Nothing but bile and spit and Dom thought seriously about calling an ambulance but Brian grabbed his wrist and shook his head. "Too much coffee," he offered up weakly.

Coffee. Riiiight.

It passed, though, and after another shower they fell back into bed. They dozed fitfully; every time Brian woke up, Dom made sure he drank some water, drank more himself and sometime in the middle of the afternoon Dom got up to make them sandwiches. He was a little surprised no one had called, then remembered he'd pulled the line on the phone and their cells were turned off. Fine. It wasn't like anyone who needed them didn't know where they lived. He fired up his own cell long enough to let Mia know they were back and did some fast talking to make sure she didn't come over. Not yet…he loved his sister but dealing with himself and Brian was all he could handle.

Amazingly enough, no one showed until the next day. Brian moved from the bed to the living room, shuffling like an old man. Dom still hadn't plugged in the phone and Brian didn't notice. The knock at the door made them both jump.

Tanner, no surprise. Dom thought about shutting the door in his face, and Tanner must have seen it, because he pushed in just as Brian was getting to his feet.

"Sit down." Both Tanner and Dom said it at the same time.

Tanner didn't stay long—he had some papers for Brian to sign to cover short term disability, then dropped an appointment card on the coffee table. "Psychologist—it's required, Brian," he said glancing at Dom. "Make sure he goes."

Dom walked him to the door. Tanner stepped out onto the porch and signaled for Dom to follow him.

"He need anything?" Tanner asked, indicating Brian with a hitch of his head.

"A better job," Dom said darkly.

Tanner pressed his lips together, obviously wanted to say something, but seemed to think better of it. He paused for a minute, then said, "You might think about talking to somebody, too, Toretto."

Dom folded his arms. "Aw, Tanner, I didn't know you cared."

Tanner looked him dead in the eye. "You never were too bright."

He left before Dom could come up with anything close to a decent retort.

Hell, maybe Tanner was right.

They were back in bed by seven, but didn't sleep long. Dom woke at the beginning of a bad dream that threatened to get worse. Beside him Brian was curled up, face buried in a pillow, shaking in his sleep until he came up swinging. It took an hour for Dom to get him to lie back down. That routine got really familiar really quick.

Brian's feet weren't beat ready for a couple of weeks, so in the meantime, they worked on the cuts and bruises that weren't as visible.

He met four times in as many days with Thad Geisen, the department psychologist. At the end of the fourth appointment, Geisen declared Brian to be a pain-in-the-ass, but admitted that he seemed to be coping appropriately with the aftermath of an obviously stressful situation. Brian made sure he sent Tanner a copy of the report.

Coping. What a crappy word. Dom decided Brian had just done enough undercover work to put on a really good show. Geisen might have revised his opinion if he'd seen what Dom had seen: Nightmares, complete with sweats and screaming. Fadeouts, complete with blank stares and tremors. All of it perfectly normal, nothing Geisen hadn't told Brian to expect, but fucking hard to watch, especially when it didn't feel like anything he did really helped Brian.

Dom had a few nightmares of his own, and one night about a week after they got home, he jerked awake to find his hands repeatedly making the motion of releasing the safety on his Glock. He shook out his cramping hands and patted the bed beside him, but Brian wasn't there.

Dom found him in the kitchen, making tea. Geisen had strongly suggested cutting back on caffeine and alcohol for the time being. Brian had groused about it so much that Mia had gone and found him some herbal tea shit, chamomile or comfrey or something, that Brian drank by the pot. At least it smelled good.

Brian had two cups out on the counter already.

"Hey," Dom said softly.

Brian looked up, his eyes as red as they'd been when he wore the contacts.

"Want some?" Brian asked.

Dom staggered into the kitchen, dropped into a seat at the table. "Sure. Hook me up."

Brian stayed at the counter, tapping his fingers on the tea box. "I heard you making some noise," Brian said. "I figured you'd be up soon."

So they sat up nights in their kitchen, drinking tea and talking. If Dom'd had any sense of humor about it at all, he might have been amused at the picture they made. They used to stay up nights denting the walls and outraging the neighbors; now they'd both have given a lot just for a good night's sleep, let alone a nice long fuck.

That would come back, too. Brian said Geisen said so, and since Geisen was the expert here, Dom decided to believe him. They touched a lot, still ended up sharing a shower most of the time, and slept naked in each other's arms. But Dom didn't want to push it, and Brian hadn't shown by any word or deed that he was ready to have his just-healed ass touched by anything other than his own boxer shorts, so Dom jerked off when he had to, and otherwise left it alone.

Wasn't like they had anything but time, and of the things Dom worried about, their sex life was pretty close to the bottom of the list.

Brian's mental state topped the list. He'd kept it together so unbelievably freakin' well, through shit Dom knew would have broken a weaker man, but now that they were home, now that the danger was behind them, now Brian kind of let it all go.

Dom found himself reminding Brian to eat and coaxing him into the shower with him, like the everyday things were still sometimes too much for Brian to deal with, or his mind was somewhere else, and he just…forgot. Dom knew from chatting with some of Brian's cop friends that he did fine at the station, but at home, Brian just…turned off…a lot of the time. Watched TV, listened to music, tuned everything out except Dom.

It wasn't that they weren't talking about what had happened in Guadalajara; they probably talked about it too much. Brian seemed to find it therapeutic to go over it all again and again, everything except those few minutes with Hack that he'd never recovered.

God willing, he never would.

For all the time they spent together, for all the talking they were doing, neither one talked about anything resembling the future. It was like they were in a weird time warp of today and yesterday, nothing farther back than Mexico, nothing farther ahead than the weekend.

Dom still didn't let Brian out of his sight much. He'd gone with him to his shrink appointments, sat outside Geisen's office reading National Geographic while he listened to the familiar cadences of Brian's voice, then the doc's deeper voice, back and forth for an hour, like a tennis game with no ball.

Geisen had wanted to prescribe sleeping pills for Brian. "A mild sedative," he'd called it, all hoity-toity. But Brian wouldn't hear of it.

"I'd just as soon get it out," he'd told Dom as he tore up the prescription. "Like food poisoning, you know? No point keeping the bad stuff in any longer than you have to."

Dom wasn't sure trauma worked like bad fish, but if it worked for Brian, who was he to muck up the plan?

So Dom sat up with him when he woke up yelling, kept an eye on Brian's healing feet and the scratches on his ass, and went with him to the follow-up appointment with the doctor, not because he didn't trust Brian to tell him the truth, but because he wanted to hear for himself how the doctor thought Brian was doing.

Physically, he was much, much better, the doc said. Emotionally, he probably had a ways to go. Give it time, he said.

Brian might not have been ready to walk the beat, but after getting the go-ahead from Geisen, Tanner decided he was healthy enough for desk riding, good enough for exam studying. They were giving Brian another shot at the detective's shield and daytime hours to prepare for it; a little gift from Tanner.

Dom managed to keep his mouth shut about the job. He drove Brian to work, drove him home, listened to him chatter on about the daily routine at the station and never once pulled the car to the side of the road and screamed, "Why the fucking fuck would you still want to be a cop?!" like he wanted to.

He'd learned in Mexico that he could no longer face a world that didn't have Brian O'Conner in it. He'd made his peace with that; he kept it to himself, didn't burden Brian with it. Dom loved his family, his friends, his job, but at some unknown, invisible point, Brian had become his world.

He'd also learned in Mexico that Brian didn't think like him. Brian didn't separate himself from what he did. It wasn't just a job; it was who he was.

Dom could live with it, or live without it, and that decision had already been made.

One week melted into two, then three.

The nightmares came less frequently, at less volume, and with less violence.

They started sleeping in stretches of hours again instead of minutes.

The teapot went back in the cupboard and the chamomile sat lonely on the counter.

Brian started eating without being reminded, showered without being coaxed, and basically started looking more like himself every day.

Dom stopped worrying so much, stopped carrying his cell phone with him everywhere, even the men's room, in case Brian called him, started working longer hours at the garage.

Life returned to…normal.

Both the medical doc and Geisen had said it would take time, and damn if they hadn't been right. Maybe there was a nice long fuck in Dom's future after all.

Nobody hassled Brian about getting back in a patrol car, so he stayed put at his desk, studying his fool head off. They might as well have just given him a test with the answers filled out—with all that time to study and with no distractions beyond the occasional twinges of his body and mind, Brian aced the sucker. Highest grade in fifteen years. Gold shield, here we come.

It took about a week after the final test phase for the assignments to come through. Those that made it got a nice little ceremony and a reception, but the day the postings came out was really like any other. Dom thought maybe he was more hyped about it than Brian. "Call me," he said when Brian left that morning.

Brian didn't call in the morning, or even at lunch. Dom worked his cars on auto-pilot, thought he was lucky he didn't put a NOS tank in somebody's glove compartment, he was so distracted. Time and again he checked the clock on the garage's office wall. He even double-checked the bars on his cell phone; sometimes when he was under a car, he didn't get a signal. Basically, waiting was making him crazy. He wondered if Brian was too busy, or if the unthinkable had happened and they'd screwed him again.

When he saw Brian pull up in civvies around two in the afternoon, he thought seriously about heading down to the precinct and breaking a few chairs or heads. Not that he'd actually do it, but just thinking about it made him feel good.

Well, better.

Brian didn't look mad though, or disappointed. He was grinning as he trotted into the big garage bay. "Hey…"

"You were going to call," Dom reminded him.

The grin faded a little bit and Brian nodded. "I know. Things got a little…crazy."

"So?" Dom said. "They posted the promotions," he prompted.

Brian grinned again, and Dom felt the simmering anger fade. "They did."

"And? You're being a jerk, Bri."

Laughter burst from Brian and he reached out to pinch the front of Dom's coveralls. "I am. I made it."

Dom felt a grin spread over his face and held out his hand, flexing his fingers. "C'mon. You got it…let me see it," he said.

Brian's gaze dropped and he reached in his pocket to pull out his shield and I.D. Dom took it, flipping open the cheap leather.

The shield was silver, just like Brian's old one, and his eyes flicked up to Brian's face. The smile was still there—this made no sense. "This isn't gold."

"No, it's not," Brian said. "Look again."

Dom did, studying the badge, then the ID, then the badge again. "Community Liaison—Senior Lead officer. What is that?"

"It's a community policing thing. They used to do it, then ran out of money, but somebody finally figured out how to fund it, and now they're back," Brian said, his voice light and a little trippy. "It's still a detective's pay grade, just a different division."

"But I thought you wanted to be a detective?" Dom said, wondering how, in the hours of talking talking talking they'd done in the past month, Brian had never once mentioned this.

"I thought I did, too" he admitted. "But being a detective—it's a lot of desk time, a lot of paperwork, and you're always cleaning up something, coming in when the body's already cold and the cash gone. Detectives solve crimes."

Dom nodded. "Um, yeah? Isn't that what you want to do? Solve crimes? Get the bad guys? What am I missing?"

Brian just kept giving him that goofy grin. "Think about it. Messed up as the stuff with Huerta was, we still screwed up his supply chain for a while, kept some shit off the streets. I know it wasn't exactly what we hoped for, but we prevented something."

"And these, what, these senior lead officers, they prevent shit?" asked Dom. Shifting gears was one thing, but ditching the thing you'd worked for, bled for, almost died for, well, it made him wonder if maybe Brian needed a few more sessions with Geisen.

"Exactly. Dom, it's perfect. Each area has its own officer, a liaison between the police department and the community," Brian said. "Depending on what the area needs, you can tailor what you do. Some areas do a lot of gang-prevention, others focus on teen-pregnancy and HIV."

Dom thought Brian sounded better, happier, in that moment, than he'd heard him since the phone rang during dinner one night a couple of months before.

"I had a lot of time to read up on it the last few weeks," Brian said, "and it just spoke to me. How cool would it be to stop stuff before it even happened? Community policing's all about crime prevention; that's their whole deal."

Brian walked over to him, put his hands on Dom's shoulders. His hair had grown out enough to start curling again, and the ends were already lightening. With the color back in his cheeks and his bright blue eyes, he was one hundred percent Brian O'Conner again, and that was a sight to see.

Dom cupped Brian's face in his hands. "Oh, my God. You're McGruff the Crime Dog."

Brian laughed and hugged him. "Now you're getting it."

"Why didn't you tell me you were thinking about this?" Dom asked. It wasn't like Brian owed him every thought or anything, but they had shared so much, it seemed strange.

"I wasn't sure I could pull it off," Brian said.

Dom leaned back and looked at him. How he could still question his abilities was beyond Dom, but if Mexico didn't give Brian confidence in what he could pull off, nothing would, so he let it slide.

"It doesn't sound very…um…exciting," Dom said. He wondered how long Brian had been considering the move; hoped it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision.

"Well, no, it's not like taking a million in cash across the border to interrupt an international drug ring," Brian admitted. "It's more like training seniors how to use walkie-talkies."

Dom raised his eyebrows.

"Neighborhood Watch. These guys invented it," Brian said, and Dom could already hear a note of proprietary pride in his voice.

"I had no idea," Dom said.

"Me, neither," Brian said. "That's why it feels so right. I was just looking for something to read one day, came across some old ValleyVote updates and wham, there was this article about how they were reinstating the program. It seemed like fate."

"Fate," Dom said skeptically. "To spend your days training senior citizens and trying to get teenagers not to have sex? This is really what you want?"

"Dom, if I want a rush, I know where to find it," Brian said, his face serious. He stepped closer, totally invaded Dom's space, and his voice went to that place that made Dom think of sweat and screaming, but had absolutely nothing to do with nightmares. "I don't even have to leave my house for it."

Dom groaned under his breath. Brian didn't even have to touch him if he didn't want to. After a month of waiting, Brian could stand on the opposite side of the room and talk him to orgasm.

"So what else do these guys do?" he asked.

Brian got a funny look on his face, like he had a secret he couldn't keep. "Some areas choose job training as their thing," he said in a rush.

Dom waited.

"Vocational training," Brian said, punctuating the words with light punches to Dom's chest. "Data entry, clerical stuff, and trade skills, like…mechanics."

It took Dom a minute, but when the light came on, it almost blinded him.

"How long have you been thinking about this?" he asked.

"I knew on the plane ride home that I didn't want to be a detective," Brian said.

That long? And he'd never said anything. "Then why go through with the exam? Why get the badge at all?"

"It gave me time to think," Brian said simply. "Weigh some options. And I wanted the bargaining power. This way, I wasn't a patrol officer looking for a step up; I was a detective asking for a specific assignment in a specific area. It made it easier for Tanner to get it approved."

Tanner. Of course Tanner was in on it. Looked like those dinnertime calls weren't going to stop coming, but maybe they wouldn't lead to mayhem and death anymore, either.

"And where exactly is your area, Bri?" he asked, catching Brian's hands and wrapping them around his waist, lining up their hips.

Brian ducked his head into Dom's neck, licked him. "Uh…we're gonna have to find a new place to live…like, over this way."

Dom pulled Brian tight against him. "I bet you'll want me to bring you lunch," he grumbled.

He felt Brian's whole body relax against him, his arms wrapped tight around Dom's back.

"Is it okay?" he whispered.

He meant all of it, present and future; Dom could hear it in his voice.

Brian had what he wanted, and Dom had Brian.

One whole world, delivered to his door.

"Yeah," Dom whispered back, sliding his hand under Brian's t-shirt to feel the smooth skin of his back. "I hope you like bologna."

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