Bone

It Takes One to Know One

Title: It Takes One to Know One

Author: Bone

Author's E-mail: thisisbone@aol.com

Author's URL: http://www.mrks.org/~bone/

Fandom/crossover: Point Break/The Fast & The Furious

Pairing: Johnny Utah/Brian O'Conner

Rating: NC-17

Type: Slash

Archive: Please do not archive or post without discussing it with me first.

Disclaimers: Written for pleasure, not profit. The characters do not belong to me. Duh. Intended for adult readers only, please.

Notes: This idea's been bouncing around in my head for a long time, and Rache finally helped jostle it out. Sometimes it takes a village to raise a story, and in this case, that includes Maygra, without whom there would be no sex, Khaleesian and KadyMae for their surfing intel (don't blame them for anything that's wrong; that's all on me), and Crysothemis for her beta abilities.

PART 1

John spotted the car outside the back door of the shop as he opened for the day. Wasn't like they were trying to be subtle; the unmarked sedan with the suits in the front seat didn't exactly blend in the sea of VW bugs and Wranglers.

His hand shook as he unlocked the door, his heart pumping with remembered dread. He'd looked over his shoulder for years, but they'd finally left him alone. So why now? As he turned on the lights, opened the broad awnings to let in morning air and light, and counted out cash for the register, he tried to think if he'd done anything to draw attention to himself.

God, his life was so simple now. He rented surfboards and taught people how to navigate the Pacific without killing themselves. He surfed. He hung out with friends. Got laid now and then. Ate. Slept. Did the books. He was an honest-to-God businessman who paid taxes on everything, even the lessons. He'd kept his nose clean for eight fucking years, and now they showed up again? What the fuck?

The indignation felt a lot better than the dread, so he went with it.

When the bell over the door sounded its alarm, he took a deep breath, closed the cash register and did his best to remember what it felt like to be fearless.

The big black guy on the threshold looked him up and down. John held his ground. He didn't look much like a surfer, he knew that. He still had the build of a football player, and a jarhead haircut that didn't go over too well with the beach bunnies, but made it easy to get up and out of the house in the morning.

"John Utah?" the guy asked.

John nodded.

"Special Agent Bilkins, FBI," the guy said, flashing his I.D.

John stood still, kept his hands visible. He remembered a lot, just hadn't had to practice any of it recently. He knew most people squirmed under the FBI's regard, and talked way more than they should. So he just stood there and waited for Special Agent Bilkins to tell him why the hell he'd come surfside.

Bilkins walked around the store, touching boards, picking things up and putting them down. He stopped closer to John than a stranger should—another tactic designed to knock him off-balance. John smiled at him and leaned forward, sliding down so he rested his forearms on the counter.

"You need a surfboard? Sir?" he asked.

Bilkins looked down at him, then backed up a step and chuckled.

"Nice place you've got here," he said, making a show of looking around.

John shrugged. "It pays the bills."

Bilkins looked out over the beach, the calm surf. Not many out today, at least not until the wind kicked up later. Looked like kids, mostly, coming out on a Saturday just because they could, whether the waves cooperated or not.

"Nice view," Bilkins said.

John assumed he'd eventually get to the point, and let himself enjoy the image of the guy in a wetsuit on a board.

"Be a shame if anything happened to it," Bilkins said softly, and John felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

No. Shit. Not after all this time. They'd had plenty of chances to fuck up his life, extract whatever pound of flesh they wanted for him not bringing Bodhi back in chains. Christ, maybe Harp had finally gotten himself promoted somewhere he could do some damage. More damage.

He straightened up as Bilkins turned back to him. "You're pretty cool, aren't you?"

John just looked at him.

"You want to know why I'm here?" Bilkins asked. Before John could respond, Bilkins pointed to a surfer paddling out, the water so glassy he made a wake. "Him."

John plucked a pair of binoculars off a hook behind the counter and went to stand beside Bilkins. Looking through the binocs brought some of his buried skills to the surface.

"Looks to be over six feet, say 6'2", 185 lbs, somewhere between twenty and thirty," he said. "Probably light eyes, given the coloring."

John watched him sit up on his board, then he turned and John could see his face. He sucked in a breath. He knew that guy. He'd started coming to the beach the week before in a beat-up Celica, always alone, always at different times. The randomness of the pattern caught John's attention because it felt all too familiar. Until he'd let down his guard and just started living his life again, he'd done that, too—varied his routines, his routes, never staying in one place for long.

They had themselves a wanderer.

John remembered him in part because of his unpredictable pattern—surfers tended to be territorial and pretty regular in terms of time of day—and in part because the bunnies had gone a little nuts over him. John had watched him wave off probably a dozen invites, from both bikinis and wetsuits, women and men. Looked like he'd been nice enough about it, but there was no question the guy wanted to be left alone. He always surfed by himself, which wasn't the smartest thing to do, even on a calm day, but he either didn't know, or didn't care.

Whoever he was, wherever he'd come from, he seemed determined to learn to surf, or die trying. He usually rented his board and gear from one of the hourly shacks right on the beach, but they didn't know shit and let him pick the one he wanted, and his choices showed that he didn't know shit, either. But he'd managed to overcome the initial awkwardness of a too-tall body on a too-short board pretty quickly with a combination of dogged persistence and reckless disregard for the effect of multiple wipeouts on his body.

John admired that in a man.

He stood out for one more reason—he didn't seem to be enjoying himself. He came, he surfed, he left. No socializing, no basking in the sun, no pick-up games of ultimate Frisbee. He looked like he was exorcising some demons on those cheapass boards, and damn if John didn't recognize that, too.

"Who is he? What'd he do?" John asked. He wanted to add, and what do I have to do with it? But he figured they'd get there, in Bilkins' own sweet time.

Bilkins motioned for the binoculars, so John handed them over.

Bilkins watched his quarry for a minute, then snorted. "Not much of a surfer."

John leaned on one of the posts holding up the awning. "Not much of a surf."

Bilkins glanced at him, pressed his lips together. "His name's Brian O'Conner. He's LAPD. Or was. His status is still undecided."

"Pending?"

"Pending Officer O'Conner's cooperation in an ongoing investigation," Bilkins said, and the clipped tone he used told John there was a lot more to it than that. Sounded like the guy had well and truly pissed Bilkins off, which automatically put John on his side.

"And?" None of this got to the reason Bilkins had arrived on his doorstep.

"We can't bring him in," Bilkins said. He sounded like the words gave him indigestion.

"Why not?"

"We're waiting for someone to contact him, don't want to spook him," Bilkins said.

"Spook O'Conner? Or whoever you think is contacting him?" John asked.

"Either one," Bilkins said, handing him back the binocs.

John shook his head. It didn't make any sense. If the guy was dirty, why not take him in? If he was clean, why the subterfuge? Why the tail? Why come to him?

"I don't get it," John finally said.

Bilkins turned to him, crossed his arms. "O'Conner went under, blew his cover, and let his mark go."

John felt the blood drain from his face.

Bilkins leaned in, breathed sour breath on his face. "You get it now, Utah?"

John took a deep breath, let it out slowly.

"All I get, sir, is that you've read my file," he said. "If you have something to say, say it."

Bilkins studied him for a minute, then seemed to come to a decision.

"Utah, we need your help," he said. He managed to make it sound sincere.

John felt himself back away and steeled himself. The veiled threat to his business hadn't made much of an impact, and neither had the intimidation factor, but Bilkins' simple statement rattled him. He turned away, hung the binoculars on their hook, and put a little distance between himself and Bilkins.

He looked out over the water again, watched O'Conner straddling his board like he could wait there all day for a wave.

"Did Harp send you?" he asked.

Bilkins shifted behind him. "Once we figured out O'Conner was coming here regularly, we did a canvass of business owners on the beach, looking for a way in. Your name came up. It sounded familiar, so I ran it. Harp's got nothing to do with it."

John looked at him over his shoulder. "Lucky you."

Bilkins tilted up one side of his mouth. "I'm not here to bust your balls, Utah."

"Could've fooled me," John said under his breath, but Bilkins rolled right over him.

"We want you to keep tabs on O'Conner, get to know him if you can, see if you can get him to open up. You're…well situated," he said.

"And if I don't?" Might as well hear it now. He had some money stashed. Not much; property taxes on beachfront were a bitch, but enough to hold him for a few months. Jesus, he hadn't thought in those terms for probably five years. It sucked rocks.

"Then his life's about to get a whole lot harder," Bilkins said.

John shivered. He'd been there, fuck it all, he'd been there. He'd been twenty-five and lost, trying to find someone who didn't want to be found, his shifting sense of right and wrong at odds with his job, his family, pretty much all of society.

And he'd pissed off the FBI. Really pissed them off. He'd had to build a credit rating from scratch because they fucked with his finances. He'd been tailed, bugged, and picked up three times for bullshit traffic violations that got thrown out in court. Tyler had testified and disappeared; someone knew where she was, but no one would tell him.

If the FBI wanted to make your life hard, they succeeded.

"He could use a friend," a new voice said near the door.

John whirled around. God, his instincts had gone to shit. He hadn't even heard the guy come in. He looked like a teacher, goateed with glasses. Bilkins snorted at him, so he probably wasn't a fed.

"Nick Tanner," the new guy said, putting out his hand.

John shook it. "John Utah."

"I saw you play," Tanner said. "Great arm."

John grinned briefly. "A lifetime ago. But thanks."

"I'm Brian's supervisor," Tanner said. "I assume Special Agent Bilkins gave you the details?

"We're getting there," Bilkins said. "Utah, you in or you out?"

John looked from one to the other. Something was off. They didn't look at each other, stood farther apart than they had to. Bad blood there; maybe just jurisdictional bullshit, maybe something more. No way to know without getting in deeper, and fuck, it looked like that's exactly where this was headed.

Tanner sized him up. "We're coming to you as a citizen, not former FBI, Utah. But you do have useful background, and you can't argue the similarities. You may be able to get Brian to help himself out."

Brian. Not O'Conner. Tanner concerned himself with the guy; Bilkins with the case. It made his decision easier.

John put his hands on the counter. "If you want me to do this, I'll do it my way. If you don't like it, you'll have to find someone else."

"What's your way?" Tanner asked over Bilkins' automatic protest.

"I'm not going undercover. I'm who I am, FBI history and all. I'm not lying to him, and I'm not jerking him around," he said.

John held Tanner's gaze. "I talk to you. Only you. I want the whole story. I want access to the files, audio, video, whatever you've got. I'm not going in blind."

Bilkins opened his mouth, but Tanner put a hand up. "Anything else?"

"No wires. You'd never get anything on the water anyway, and that's the only place I can approach him," John said, startled at how easily it all came back, and how his heart jumped at the prospect.

Once an adrenaline junkie, always an adrenaline junkie.

"And no tails. If he tells me anything useful, I'll let you know," John said.

Tanner looked at Bilkins, who clenched his jaw, then shrugged.

"Done," said Tanner. He handed John a card. "You can reach me there. If I need to reach you, I'll call the shop and leave a message." He turned to go. "I'll get you the file tomorrow."

Bilkins followed Tanner, but turned as he reached the door. "Starting Monday, you've got a week. If you can't get anything useful, we're doing it my way," he said. "Oh, and if you think Harp was a hardass, you ain't seen nothin' yet."

John put his hand on the door, restrained himself from shutting it on Bilkins' foot.

"I think he wanted to be a hardass," he said. "Mostly, he was a prick. Seems to go with the territory."

He closed the door on Bilkins' spluttering face.

***

Nice weather, sucky waves.

Still, it beat sitting at home worrying about shit he couldn't do anything about.

Ten days and counting. Ten days since Dom drove away in his car, broken and bleeding. Ten days since Tanner and Bilkins got into a screaming match over his head while he told them over and over that he had no idea where Dom had gone. He'd told them Dom rolled the Charger and when Brian stopped to see if he was still alive, Dom had pulled a gun and taken his car.

It sounded plausible, and it wasn't like it was the only hijacking charge Dom would face if they ever caught him. Neither Tanner or Bilkins seemed to believe him. Tanner wanted to, Brian could tell, but Bilkins wanted to rip his head off and spit down his throat.

It had been ten days since he'd left Mia crouched over Jesse's body.

Ten days since Leon and Letty disappeared.

Ten days since Vince died.

He'd blown his cover, and Vince had died anyway.

Bilkins had hammered that point home about a million times.

When they finally let him go, suspended without pay pending IA, telling him if he so much as sneezed wrong, they'd bring him in again, he hadn't known what to do with himself.

He'd gone home, looked at the mess they'd made "searching" his house, crawled onto the mattress they'd left on the bedroom floor, and laid awake looking at the ceiling until the sun came up.

He'd wanted to get in his car, find a highway and press the accelerator until the road screamed beneath him and the world blurred.

He'd wanted to talk to Dom so bad he could taste it.

He drifted through the first couple of days. He went to the movies the first day, choosing whatever started next. He found he could sleep really well there, so he went back for the late show and napped until the ushers threw him out.

He went to the mall, wandered the stores, sat at the food court and watched people. He even went to the library, but it was too quiet, gave him too much time to think—the last thing he needed. He was sure somebody was keeping track of where he went and what he did; he caught occasional glimpses of unmarked cars, felt eyes on him, but no one ever approached him.

He felt, sometimes, like he was invisible.

The next day he wandered to the beach, and a stoner with an umbrella asked him if he wanted to rent a surfboard, told him it was a real rush.

So he'd tried it. His first time out, he almost killed himself, swallowed about a gallon of water, got pounded on the shore like a starfish, and saw his life pass before his eyes. Some rush. But he tried it again, and again, kept coming back, though he wasn't sure why.

Every once in a while, he caught a glimpse of what it could be like—the first moment he stood up on the board was a good one, and a couple of times, when he got the board steady underneath him, felt the ocean bow before him, and he could almost feel it, almost. It wasn't NOS, but it was something, and something was better than nothing, and nobody had ever taught him how to do things halfway. He was pretty much an all-or-nothing kind of guy.

All the exertion helped him sleep, too. Surfing flat out wore him out. He'd go home at night, shovel down something from a can, work on the mess the feds had left, and only have an hour or two with his stomach in knots and his brain fired up again before he conked out, waking hours later from a dreamless sleep.

So he kept at it, day after day, letting his mind go blank for that time, concentrating on the task at hand, pushing away everything that wasn't the board, living alone with the water and the sky.

Wasn't like he had anything better to do.

No gun, no badge, no job to do.

No cops to talk to; they looked at him like they looked at perps—like he wasn't really there.

No cars. No engines to tweak, nothing to detail. No races.

No racers. When he went to Harry's to pick up his stuff, he'd seen Hector, but Hector looked at him like he was a cop and turned his back.

Nothing to do, no one to go to.

Every other time in his life he'd gotten knocked down, he'd gotten back up again.

He'd pulled his shit together after juvie. He'd taken his share of knocks at the Academy and never had trouble going back for more. Like wiping out on the surfboard, he just got up and went at it again.

But this time he couldn't fix what had gone wrong, and he wouldn't get another chance to make it right. He had no goals, no future he could imagine without wanting to puke, and nothing to look forward to in the present.

So he surfed.

***

What John learned over the next twenty-four hours shook him. Brian had been pulled from a regular beat, given a cursory "training" period, and thrown into a federal case within a matter of days.

Why? Basically, because he liked cars. Fast cars. Race cars.

He looked like an okay cop, had decent grades at the Academy despite something of an attitude problem, but the only thing that would have turned the eye of the FBI on him was a penchant for fast cars and anything to do with engines. That, and a juvie record he could use for street cred.

Maybe he'd change his mind when he met Brian, talked to him, but it looked like the feds had tossed him to the wolves. John couldn't really get a bead on anything about what made Brian tick from the info Tanner and Bilkins provided. Tanner said he'd fallen for the suspect's sister, and that it had screwed up his judgment, but she barely rated a mention in the file.

The file was a testament to one Dominic "Dom" Toretto, and every action Brian had taken looked like it had been precipitated by something Dom had done, or hadn't done, or what Brian had thought he'd do.

They thought he'd fallen for the sister, but from what John could tell from the file, Brian's focus had always been Dom.

Damn. Change the drug of choice and the hair color, and you had Johnny Utah, dumb fuck, circa 1991.

John cancelled his lessons, brought in extra staff to take over his hours at the shop, and early Monday morning, he hit the beach.

People knew him. He moved easily among the kids cutting school, the hardcore surfers, the beginners who got treated with a little more respect than he had, just because the hardcores knew he'd kick their asses otherwise. Nobody owned the ocean, or the beach beside it, but John had earned his credibility the hard way and he really, really hoped he wasn't about to cash it all in so the FBI could fuck up someone else's life the way they'd fucked up his.

John spent the day waxing his board, talking to people he knew—hanging out, basically, which he hadn't done for too long, and he reminded himself to thank Bilkins for the vacation. When he saw a familiar Celica pull in the beachfront parking in the late afternoon, he headed out in the surf so Brian could come to him instead of the other way around.

Brian had turned down every offer that came his way, even the thonged ones, but maybe John had something unique to give him: advice.

The waves were good, the current relatively stable. It seemed like a good sign.

As John watched, Brian took a few test runs, rolled his board a couple of times, then got a little cocky, stood up too fast and went splat. He came up almost at the beach, coughing, his board snapping at its leash.

Showtime.

John paddled into the shallows near where Brian was still spitting out sand.

"You're riding too short," John called out.

Brian's head came up. His eyes were red, and he looked like he'd swallowed some seawater on that last ride.

"What?"

Oh, yeah, he'd swallowed some salt.

"That board. It's too short for you," John said, coming out of the water and standing his own board on end to show him the difference. "That looks like a 6-8, maybe 6-10, and you probably need at least a 7-8, maybe even longer."

He and Brian were probably within an inch of each other in height, but Brian weighed about fifteen pounds less. Up close, in person, not distorted by binoculars or rendered two-dimensional, it was easy to see why certain searchers on the beach had focused on Brian—he was sort of ridiculously good looking, all bright light and clean lines. He looked like he belonged there under the sunny sky.

"What?" Brian asked again.

Had to be water in his ears, because despite Bilkins' protests to the contrary, Brian wasn't dumb.

John stepped closer, dropped his board down next to Brian's. "For your weight, you need a longer board. I'm old school—mine's 8 feet. You probably need one a little shorter, like, 7 feet, 8 inches. You'd get better balance, wipe out less."

"That would be good," Brian said with a faint grin. "I think I'm pretty good at it, though."

"Surfing?" John asked.

"Wiping out," Brian said.

John smiled back at him. "You want to try mine? See if it feels different?"

Brian looked at him, his smile fading. "Umˇ"

"Just the ride," John said, putting up his hands. "I've seen you fight off the boys and girls. Don't worry, it's not a proposition."

Brian looked a little abashed. "Sorry, man. It's just…I kind of like the solitude."

"I hear you," John said, and he did. "That's one great thing about surfing. Even with all these people around, it's still just you and the wave."

Brian's eyes focused on him. "How long have you been doing it?"

"Ten years. I started when I was twenty-five," John said. "Old."

Brian laughed. "Then I'm really fucked. I'm twenty-eight."

"You're never too old to learn to surf. It'll change your life, swear to God," John said. Hey, the line had worked like a charm on him.

At first look, Brian could have passed for twenty, easy, but at John's words, some of the light went out of his face and he looked his age. "That would be good."

"You're a searcher," John said, nodding.

He hadn't appreciated surfer lingo when he started, hadn't understood they had their own culture, no different, no better, no worse than the FBI's own shorthand subculture, but over time, he'd come to understand some of it, even embrace it. There was no question that he, too, had been a searcher. Still was. And so was Brian.

Brian shook his head like a dog, sending sand and salt water flying. Shaking off his mood, John thought.

"Really, you should try my board," John said. He pointed to the store. "I own the surf shop up there. I can rent you the right size board if you like it."

Brian raised his eyebrows. "You're scamming me for a rental?"

John snorted. "Yeah, I really need that twenty bucks. About as much as I need to use a surfboard to get a date."

Brian stared at him for a minute, then laughed under his breath. "Sorry. I'm not usually so…"

"Water-logged?" John said, walking a little closer, holding his board out for Brian to take. "You got your bell rung on that last one."

Brian took the board, tested its weight. "What do I do?"

John went over to him. "Ditch your board," he said, indicating the cuff tethering Brian's board to his ankle. Once he'd done that, John pushed his longboard out just beyond the shallows and said, "Lie down, like you would if you were in a pool."

Brian did, stretching out along the board. It looked a little long, but they could compensate for that, and get him the right board later. John went and grabbed a piece of rock from the beach. "Where's your chin feel like it fits best?" he asked. Brian stretched along the board, molded himself to it with a wetsuit shimmy that made John's gut clench. Jesus, he looked good doing that.

Focus, John.

"Here," Brian said, and John reached down, tilted Brian's chin up with one hand and scratched a mark with the other.

"Hey, dude, don't mess up your board for me," Brian said.

"Take a good look at the board," John said. His favorite board, freshly waxed or not, bore years' worth of nicks and gouges. Each one told a story, and now this scratch would, too. "Don't worry about it."

Brian looked skeptical, but put his chin back on the line.

"You line up your chin there every time," John said. "It should help you get a more consistent ride, give you better balance because you've got your weight distributed right."

Brian sat up, straddled the board. John felt his body react to the sight of those long thighs stretched wide. Good thing he was standing in waist-deep water. Fuck. It wasn't completely unexpected given the way Brian looked, but the timing sucked and it didn't look like he'd learned anything from experience: women were trouble enough; men turned his world upside down.

"Give it a try," he said, slapping the end of the board.

It took Brian a while to get the feel for the longer board, but when he got it, he got it good, and he lit up the sky with his smile.

"Good job," John said when Brian came in to the beach. "Feel the difference?"

"Oh, yeah," Brian said. He looked like he was vibrating, riding that sweet surfing rush. "Thanks, man. Really."

"Not a problem," John said. "I've seen you ride. You're pretty much a natural. You just need better equipment."

Brian flushed. "It's not like I'm going to be a surfer or anything."

"Yeah, that's what I said, too," John said, pointing over his shoulder at the shop. "Here I am, thirty-five years old. Surfing."

Brian grinned. "I guess I need a board."

"Right this way," John said. "But first, take that piece of shit back and tell them they suck."

As they walked up the beach, boards tucked under their arms, he said, "I'm John."

Brian tapped the tip of his board against John's. "Brian. Good to meet you."

John had good people working for him, and they set Brian up with a weekly rental on a decent, cheap board, then helped him lash it to the top of the Celica while John had a quick shower in the outdoor stalls they kept open for customers. He pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, hoping to catch Brian before he left. He ran into him coming down the stairs from the shop.

"Feel free to use the showers," John said, wondering why everything he said seemed to have some veiled double meaning. Maybe because in some other world, meeting up with Brian in some other place, it could have. Maybe in the next life.

"Thanks, I'm good. I appreciate your help," Brian said, putting out a hand for John to shake. When John took it, he could feel the scrapes and rough patches all new surfers got on the heels of their hands—the board scraped the shit out of your hands, feet, and knees until you got the hang of popping into position. Brian had a firm grip, long fingers. He felt…good. Then he was gone, walking towards his car.

"Hey, Brian," John called after him.

Brian turned.

"You want to get a beer? There's a place just down the beach."

Brian ducked his head, and John waited for Polite Brush-Off #43.

"I don't have shoes," Brian finally said.

Well, that was a new one.

"No need," John said, pointing to his own bare feet.

Brian looked at him for a minute, then nodded. "Okay. Let me see what I've got in the car for clothes. I will take that shower, if it's all right."

John nodded. "Just come get me when you're ready," he said, and turned, resisting taking one last look at Brian, scraped bare feet and all.

PART 2

What could it hurt? Who would care if he had a beer with some guy, talked about surfing, shot the shit someplace instead of heading home to another night of house cleaning and gut-gnawing anxiety?

Brian unlocked the trunk, scrounged around for a t-shirt that wasn't too wrinkled and a pair of khaki shorts. They weren't fancy, but they were clean, and if shoes were optional, nothing else he put on would probably raise an eyebrow.

He took a quick shower, washing the salt out of his hair, sloughing sand off his skin. He pulled on his clothes, tossed his wet towel in the car, patted his new board and turned to find John waiting for him at the edge of the parking lot.

John had an exotic look to him, part Japanese, maybe, or Hawaiian. He seemed completely at home in the water, like he should have been surfing his whole life, not coming to it late. Looked like he'd made up for lost time, anyway.

John had been right about the board, no question there. Just a few times on the longer board had made a world of difference, showed him the potential. He could see why people turned surfing into a life, not just a hobby. Even after just one good day, he could totally see that.

As they walked down the beach, John said, "So how's a California boy get to almost thirty without learning to surf?"

Brian glanced at him. "What makes you think I'm from around here?"

"Dude," John said, and yeah, Brian guessed he did sound kind of L.A.

"What about you?"

"I'm from Ohio," John said with a grin. "But I talk to surfers a lot. After a while, it rubs off."

John made small talk about beach erosion, surf conditions, stuff Brian had never thought about before, let alone try to hold up one end of a conversation, but John made it easy for him, didn't ask him any questions he couldn't answer, glossed over his silences.

He was out of practice, he realized. With the exception of food mart cashiers and the kid who'd rented him boards, Brian hadn't really talked to anybody since he left Bilkins' office with his tail between his legs. It felt…weird.

He watched John as covertly as he could. He seemed familiar, or something. The way he moved, the way he talked. Like Brian knew him, which was crazy. But it felt wonderful to think about something else for a while, to pay attention to someone else, and yeah, to have someone pay attention to him.

He realized John had stopped a few steps back, and turned to look at him. "Sorry, what was that?"

"There's no good way to ask this, but do you have a place to stay? You're not living in your car?" John asked.

When had anyone last concerned themselves with his welfare? He couldn't even remember. To have this…stranger…care enough to ask did funny things to his stomach.

"I've got a place," Brian said. "It's just…easier not to be there."

John studied him.

"Seriously, I'm good. I can even spring for beer," Brian said, turning away before he did something stupid, like hug the guy.

The bar looked like a shack someone should have condemned long ago, but the place was packed. The bartender raised his hand when they walked in.

"Yo, Utah! What'll it be, man?"

"Corona, Deke," John said, glancing at Brian. At his nod, he said, "Two."

Brian heard Dom's voice in his head—You can have anything you want, long as it's a Corona. It was one of his happier memories, and he let it wash over him.

They settled at a table outside, watched the sun stroke its way toward the horizon, giving everything a faint pink glow. A breeze kicked up. The air felt great, and Brian felt himself relax, really relax, more than he had in months. Even his sore muscles felt good.

John stretched out his legs and tilted his head back. "Man. This beats the crap out of paying bills."

"That's what you're supposed to be doing?" Brian asked.

"Yup. Payroll and bills. It's a drag, but it's worth it to be my own boss."

Brian nodded. "I can imagine."

"So, what about you?" John asked.

Brian shrugged. "I'm kind of at loose ends right now."

The bartender brought them their beers, which saved Brian from having to say anything else, and once they finished arguing over who was paying, John moved on to a different topic.

"If you don't plan to surf, how come you're surfing?" he asked.

Brian took a long drink. How much to say? And how to say it? He met John's steady gaze. You're a searcher, John had said on the beach. Yeah, but he didn't know what he hoped to find. Maybe John, who seemed to have his shit together in a big old way, could shed some light.

"You know how when people quit smoking, they chew gum or something? That's what surfing is supposed to be. The gum."

"What's the cigarette?" John asked.

"Cars," Brian said after a minute. "Racing. I need to…I can't do that right now. Or, you know, ever, probably. So I'm trying something else."

"How's that going for you?" John asked.

"Not too good, until today," Brian said. "You were right about the board. I had no idea. It felt…great."

John lifted his bottle. "To longboards."

Brian raised his own bottle. "To longboards."

John rolled his beer bottle between his palms. "So you're an adrenaline junkie."

Brian started and looked up. Damn, that was spooky. "Pretty much."

John downed his beer in three long gulps, set the empty bottle on the table, and said, "Takes one to know one."

Brian tried to smile, but it got caught halfway across his mouth, then faded.

"Adrenaline's harder to kick than heroin because it's legal, and there's always something else you could try," John said, motioning to Deke for another round.

Brian nodded. "I guess."

"So racing's your heroin and surfing's the methadone you're using to kick the habit?"

"Yeah. Seemed healthier than Russian roulette." He meant it to sound funny, but he didn't think he quite got there.

"Surfing's more than adrenaline, Brian. More than just a board between your body and the water. That's just the surface," John said, his expression open and earnest. "I'm not going to try to sell you on some eastern transcendental shit, but when you're there, and it's all clicking, and you're one with the wave, you're one with the universe. You're nothing and everything all at the same time. You're part of eternity."

"That's your idea of not selling transcendental shit? You need to get off the beach more," Brian said, caught off-guard. John believed it, that was certain, but for Brian, surfing was still mostly about proving to the ocean that he wouldn't be its bitch.

John leaned across the table, picked up Brian's beer and took a sip. "I'm off the beach now."

Brian took a deep breath and shifted in his seat when John raised the bottle to his mouth, heat racing to his groin. Oh, shit, if that wasn't a come on, then Brian was the one who needed to get out more. John was weird and hot.

There'd been a minute back on the water, when he'd looked at John and felt like someone had knocked the breath out of him. John had been standing in the shallows, taller than everyone around him, darker, more…solid…and so damn confident about his place in the world, Brian had envied him.

Wanted him.

Another thing he had no idea how he felt about. God, his life had way too many unknowns.

Deke brought two more beers. "Here, Utah. I'll put them on your tab."

"What tab?" John asked, grinning.

Deke brushed against his shoulder. "The one you keep saying you'll pay later."

"Keep dreaming, Deke," John said, handing him a ten. Deke laughed and patted his cheek as he left.

Okay, so if John wasn't gay, at least he didn't seem to mind getting hit on. Like, a lot.

"I thought you said you were from Ohio," Brian said as he reached for a beer.

"Yeah, that's right," John said.

"So what's Utah? A nickname?" Brian asked.

John laughed. "It's my last name."

Wait. Whoa.

"Utah? John Utah. You're Johnny Utah?" Holy shit.

John nodded. "Yup."

"As in Ohio State, all-American quarterback, Heisman hopeful Johnny Utah? Damn, I watched you play on TV. I was, what, thirteen or fourteen. I thought you were God and all my friends gave me shit because they pulled for USC," Brian said, blown away to think the guy who'd spent the afternoon teaching him to surf once played in the Rose Bowl.

"Yeah, well, that was a long time ago," John said.

"When did you lose the Johnny and just become John?" Brian asked.

"When I applied for my business loan, the loan officer thought 'Johnny' didn't give off that serious, I'll-pay-my-mortgage tone," John said. He shrugged. "I was thirty. It was time."

"And how in the hell did you end up here?" Brian asked, laughing, looking around.

John's smile disappeared. He was quiet for so long that Brian almost told him to forget it, it didn't matter, but then John sat up, leaned toward him, and said, "Short version: I blew out my knee, lost my chance at the NFL, went to law school, went to work for the FBI, blew that, too, and now I rent boards and teach little kids and old ladies how to surf."

Brian spilled his beer. He barely noticed, rocking back in his chair.

"You're a fed?" he asked, his voice tight. He looked around for the suits, wondered what he'd missed, tried to remember what he'd said.

Jesus Christ.

"Used to be. Like I said, I blew it," John said evenly.

Jesus. Christ.

"This isn't a coincidence, is it? You coming up to me on the beach," Brian said, hands clenching hard on the iron chair.

"No."

"You know about me?" Brian said it so softly John leaned across the table to hear him.

"Yeah," he said, just as low.

"How?"

"A dickweed named Bilkins came to see me," John said.

How could he be so cool about all this? How could he sit there and drink his beer like he hadn't just ripped the rug out from under him? It made no sense. Why tell him? It broke all the rules.

"I didn't think much of him," John was saying. "But your boss came, too. Him, I liked."

"Tanner."

John nodded. "They pulled the tail, gave me a week."

Fuck. Fuck. He wondered why he hadn't seen the fuckers the last couple days.

"You're tailing me now? Fuck, this sucks. I—."

"I'm not tailing you, Brian. I'm sitting across the table from you, having a Corona," John said.

Which just made the whole thing even weirder. What the fuck.

"You know everything?" Brian asked.

"I doubt it," John said. "I only know what they told me. My guess is there's a lot more to it than that."

Brian opened his mouth. Closed it again. "You wired?"

John shook his head.

"I'm just supposed to believe you?" Brian asked. He could feel his face flush.

"Feel free to frisk me, but let me tell you something," John said. "We could have known each other for months, for years, and you never would have known if I hadn't told you. Nobody knows. It was in a…different life. I'm telling you because I'm a lot like you. I see a lot of myself in you."

Brian blew out a breath. "I don't fucking believe this. How are you like me?"

"I fucked up, too, Brian. I really fucked up," John said. "I fucked up and people died who didn't have to. People I cared about."

God, he was so fucked. How had Bilkins found John? Was he right? Was the universe so connected, he'd been destined to find what had to be the only beach in southern California with a former fed in residence? One who sounded like he hadn't just read Brian's file, he'd lived it?

"What happened?" he asked before he could stop himself.

Deke appeared at the table with a rag. "Geez, guys, get a room already. You're setting off sparks."

John backed off, and Brian mirrored him. Deke cleaned the table, looked from one to the other, then shrugged and headed back to the bar.

"Look—" John started, but Brian cut him off.

"I should get up, walk away…" Brian said. He could picture doing it, but couldn't make himself move.

"I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but, honestly, I only want to help," John said.

"Help them," Brian said. "What, do they still have something on you?"

"I want to help you," John said. "If you're smart, you'll let me."

With that, John pushed back his chair and got up. "If you want to know what happened, you know where to find me."

Brian watched him walk away and wondered how he could feel so goddamn alone in a bar full of people.

***

John didn't see him for three days.

A couple of times, he felt like someone was watching him, triggered by that sixth sense he'd never quite lost after all that time pursuing and being pursued. He dreamed that feeling sometimes, woke up in a sweat. Probably Brian, checking out his story, or just his own overactive imagination; all sorts of things he'd buried long ago had surfaced since Bilkins disrupted his nice peaceful life. It finally bugged him enough that he called Tanner, told him what was what, asked if he had a tail. Tanner denied it, steered him toward Bilkins, then proceeded to flip out over John losing track of Brian.

John hung up on him.

Over the next twenty-four hours, he fielded two more frantic calls from Tanner, told him to chill, he knew what he was doing. Bilkins also called, but John hung up on him once he, too, denied the tail. He didn't believe a word the man said, just on principle. He had four more days to do it his way, and until then, Bilkins could take his fire-breathing shit and shove it.

Confessing his history to Brian hadn't gone down the way he expected, but it could have been worse. Nothing to do now but wait. Going after him wouldn't gain him any more of Brian's trust, and he sort of enjoyed hearing the suits tie themselves up in knots.

With his lessons cancelled for the week, he had more time to surf than he had for a long time, and he took advantage of it, keeping an eye out for Brian at the same time. He stretched muscles that hadn't had a good workout, got into the groove in ways he hadn't had time for, and as the hours passed, he remembered again just how much he loved to surf.

He'd thank Brian, when he saw him again, for that gift.

He'd closed the store for the night, pleasantly tired, the rhythm of the surf still humming in his body every time he closed his eyes, when he saw a car pull in the parking lot.

Brian's Celica.

John unlocked the door, opened it as Brian jogged up the steps.

"Hey," John said.

Brian looked a little startled. "Um, hi."

"Come on in," John said, motioning him in. "Want a beer?"

Brian stared at him for a minute, then a smile tilted up one corner of his mouth. "Got Corona?"

"Dumb question," John said, reaching down in the mini-fridge for two bottles.

"You okay?" John asked, handing one to Brian.

"Dumb question," Brian said, but his voice didn't have any edge, and when John tilted his bottle toward Brian's, he bumped it with his own.

"You alone?" Brian asked.

"Yeah, everyone's gone. What's on your mind?" John asked, starting his typical close-down tasks.

Brian boosted himself up on the counter. "What do you want?"

"You came to me, Brian." John continued sorting wax into neat rows.

"Cut the crap. You know what I mean. What does Bilkins want?"

John put the wax down, turned to Brian. All right, time to give a little, see what he'd get in return.

"He thinks Toretto's going to contact you."

"Why?"

He'd surprised Brian. Man, Bilkins really was barking up the wrong tree.

"To help get his sister to him. He also thinks if he plays it right, there's a chance you'll roll on Dom to help Mia," John said. It sounded ludicrous, even to him.

"She didn't have anything to do with it," Brian protested, his voice sullen. It sounded like something he'd said many times, probably in some federal interrogation room.

"But without Dom, they could charge her as an accessory. She knew what was going on, and she didn't stop him," John said.

"The only person who could stop Dom was Dom," Brian said flatly.

"She's leverage, you know how it works," John said. He shrugged. "If they can't get him, they'll use what they've got."

"Dom's not going to contact me," Brian said. "He's got a whole network of people he'd trust before he'd ever call me. Believe me, I'm the last person he'd ask for help."

Brian sat silent for a minute, then said, "If that's why you're doing this, if that's what this zen surfer bullshit is all about, you're wasting your time. Even if he did call, I wouldn't give him to Bilkins."

John looked at him. Brian looked awful, like he'd just revisited some ugly, ugly territory.

"It wasn't Mia you fell for, was it?" John asked. "It was Dom."

Brian launched himself off the counter, but John caught him before he got to the door. He took Brian by the arm, turned him, then put a hand flat on his chest and backed him up against the wall by the door. Brian's face looked set, his color high.

"What difference does it make?" Brian said.

"You tell me," John said. "No, wait. I'll tell you."

He leaned closer, waited for Brian to look at him.

"You don't understand how it happened. You had this beautiful girl, who wasn't even part of it. If you really wanted to, you could have gotten her out, left at any time. But you didn't. Because there's also this guy, and he's charismatic as shit, and he's as beautiful in his own way as that girl you're treating so badly. And maybe you never thought about a guy like that before, but the more you get to know him, the more you want to believe he can't be what every instinct in your body is screaming to you about him. Because he's a crook. He's a bad guy by any definition of the word. A guy who justifies his actions by some standard of morality you can't begin to understand. But he's also showed you some part of yourself you never even knew existed, and you love him for it," John said.

He pressed his hand on Brian's chest, where he could feel Brian's heart tripping over itself.

"You love him," he said. "But he loves something else more."

Brian stared at him.

"Freedom," John said. "No matter the cost."

Brian's throat worked. "Dom cares about Mia, his team."

"He left, Brian," John reminded him. "He drove away and left them to clean up his mess."

"You don't know anything about it," Brian said, pushing his hand away, shoving past him.

"What part did I get wrong?" John asked, following him. "Convince me."

Brian paced the store, not seeming to see anything. He stopped at the front, looked out over the ocean. "Whose side are you on?"

"Yours," John said quietly, coming to stand beside him.

"I let him go," Brian said, his voice low and rough. "I told Bilkins and Tanner he took the car at gunpoint, but I gave him the keys."

"They know," John said.

Brian turned to him sharply. "Are you sure?"

"The first thing Bilkins told me was that you'd blown your cover and let your mark go," John said.

Brian swallowed hard. "Shit."

"It doesn't change anything," John said. "He still left."

"He won't go to prison. He'd rather die," Brian said.

"Yeah. I knew a guy like that once," John said.

"So?"

John swallowed. After all this time, he still had trouble saying it out loud. "I tracked him for two years, and when I finally found him, had him in cuffs…I let him go."

Brian's eyes widened. "Shit. What happened to him?"

"He killed himself."

Brian paled. "Why?"

"Because I wasn't the only person trying to find him. Because eventually, he was going to get caught again. Because this way, he got to choose his death. He died doing what he loved, but he's still dead," John said.

Brian dropped his chin to his chest. "I don't want that to happen to Dom."

"You couldn't have stopped him, and you don't have to save him," John said. "You said it yourself—the only person responsible for Dom is Dom."

"You don't understand…" Brian didn't finish. "Okay, you do understand."

John smiled. "One more thing, as long as you're listening. The role you played wasn't real. But what you felt was real. Nothing changes that. On some level, you're always you."

Brian lifted his head, looked John in the eye. "I have no fucking idea who that is."

John put his hand on the back of Brian's neck, pulled him close. Brian stiffened against him for a minute, then shuddered and let John take his weight.

"You'll get there," John said, wrapping both arms around Brian, holding him tight. "Keep surfing. You'll figure it out."

Brian rubbed his forehead on John's shoulder, his fingers digging in John's back, and laughed shakily. "You're a crazy surfer dude, why should I listen to you?"

John reached up, took Brian's face in his hands and lifted it from his shoulder. "Because you know I'm right."

Brian looked at him like he wanted to believe him.

"Look. This isn't the best place for a big heart-to-heart or anything," John said, reluctant to let him go. "Come home with me. I'll make us something to eat, and we can talk."

Brian pulled away from John's hands, giving his shoulders a quick squeeze as he stepped back. "I don't know, John."

John pressed his point. "Fine, come home with me and we won't talk. Just…come on. You got someplace else to be?"

Brian slanted him a look. "You know I don't."

"Okay, then. Get your ass in gear. I'm hungry," John said, flipping off the lights, not giving Brian another chance to duck out.

Brian followed him home.

The board the Celica roof sported made it easy to keep track of him, and John was laughing as he got out of his Jeep at the little bungalow he called home.

"Who's tailing who?" he asked, pointing to the board. "If you ever decide to do that for a living, you might want to ditch the surfboard."

Brian stepped out, looked up at the board and gave John the finger, which just made John laugh harder, and soon enough, Brian joined in.

"Mi casa es su casa," John said, unlocking the door. "You like spaghetti? It's pretty much the only thing I know how to make."

"Sure, sounds good," Brian said, stepping past him, looking around.

Not much to see: A tiny living room, a tiny bedroom, a tiny kitchen. Given real estate prices, John had been lucky to find anything within easy drive of the beach, and this 1940s house, all 700 square feet of it, suited him just fine.

"Have a seat," John said, indicating the couch. Brian sat down, put his head back. He had a shitload of stuff he had to be working out in his head. Given everything, John thought he seemed to be holding up pretty well. Better than he had, in his time. He'd been a messed-up ball of frustration, fury and pain, lashing out at everyone and everything. He sure hadn't been ready less than two weeks later to talk to anybody about it all, and Brian probably wasn't, either.

No sense pushing it. He knew what he needed to know, and he didn't particularly care if the FBI learned anything more.

John handed him another Corona from the fridge, then pulled spaghetti sauce out of the freezer, put it in the microwave to thaw and filled a pot of water for the stove.

Brian drained his beer and reached for John's. John handed it over and went to get another. At this rate, Brian would end up sleeping on the couch.

"So…" Brian said. John waited. "Thanks. For being straight with me, at the bar. Like you said, you could've played me, and you didn't. So. Thanks."

Brian didn't look at him while he said it, but he sounded sincere enough.

"I could've told you on the beach, but I was afraid you'd bolt," John said.

Brian nodded. "Probably would have. It's been a… rough couple of weeks, and the last thing I want is more feds breathing down my neck."

"They're supposed to have backed off," John said. "For now, anyway."

"Something else I should thank you for?" Brian asked.

"Your guy, Tanner, and I made a little deal," John said.

Brian watched him work, cradling his beer against his chest, then said, "How do you know no one's listening in?"

"I don't. Do you trust Tanner to keep his word?" John asked.

Brian shrugged. "I guess."

"Then we're probably cool," John said.

Brian nodded sleepily. "It's weird, knowing somebody's watching you all the time."

"Yeah, it is," John said, and Brian gave him a strange look.

"You really tracked a guy for two years?" he asked.

"I tracked him, and they tracked me. Across three continents," John said. "Join the FBI, see the world."

Brian seemed to see through his flippancy. "Do you ever wish you hadn't found him?"

John made himself meet Brian's serious gaze. "Every day."

Brian's face fell, and if John had wondered whether Brian was considering going after Dom, Brian's face gave him his answer. Yeah, he'd thought about it. Yeah, he wanted to. It wasn't easy letting go of someone you loved. John knew that all too well.

But sometimes, it was the only thing to do.

Brian finished his beer and came to join John in the kitchen. "Okay, so you know my story. Most of it, anyway. Tell me yours."

So John made spaghetti, served it up with some bread and more beer, and over supper at his little kitchen table, watching Brian put away astonishing amounts of spaghetti, John told him the whole sad story—being recruited by the FBI out of law school, Angelo, learning to surf, Tyler, the rush, the dizzying downward spiral of lies and need and ugliness, the people who died, the people he'd lost, and at the center of it all, Bodhi.

He told his story, and thought to himself as he watched Brian's stricken face, that it was just as well Bodhi had died; otherwise, he'd probably still be wandering the world looking for him. Even after all this time, knowing what he knew, odds were good that if Bodhi walked in the door at that moment, John would still leave the spaghetti on the table and follow him.

Because that's what love did.

It made you stupid.

Not that it would do any good to tell Brian that.

Love also tended to make you deaf.

PART 3

Damn. Once again, when John was right, he was right. Change a few details, set it a decade later, and history had basically repeated itself. The similarities were startling, to put it mildly.

Except John's guy had died.

The spaghetti that had tasted so good going down threatened to rebound on him, and he sat back in his chair, pushed away his plate.

John gave him a long look. "Yeah, it's not pretty."

"You don't know what happened to Tyler? After they tried the others?" Brian asked.

John shook his head, didn't seem inclined to say anything more.

"So. You and Bodhi, you guys, you were…" He couldn't say it.

John looked at him steadily. "We shared time."

"What does that mean?" Brian asked. "Jesus, John, speak English."

John clenched his jaw, the first time Brian had seen his calm broken. "It's just how I talk. That's how Bodhi described it. You want to know if I slept with him? Yeah, I did, but it was more than that. It was more than a physical connection. It's like he saw something in me that I'd never seen before. Like, if I let him in, I'd be…more."

Brian pushed back his chair, took his plate to the sink and started running hot water. It was too much, too close to his own experience. Shit. When John started to protest, Brian reached for his plate. "The cook doesn't clean," he said simply.

John got up, brought his plate to the sink and started putting pots and pans in Brian's reach.

"All these years later, you still talk like him. You don't talk like a fed, or a guy who runs a business. You talk like Bodhi, don't you?" Brian said.

"He said a lot of things that made sense to me," John said, leaning against the counter, watching him. "The things that made him bad don't take away the things that were good."

Brian didn't know what John saw on his face, but a minute later, he felt John's hand on his back.

"Bodhi's dead, but you still haven't let go. You're still here, doing what he wanted," Brian said, trying not to lean back into John's touch.

"It's what I want, too," John said.

Brian could feel each finger distinctly, five warm brands just below his shoulder. He could have shaken them off, shaken him off. But he didn't. He kept washing dishes, and John didn't move away.

"But you're not me, and Dom's not Bodhi. Only you can say whether he gave you anything worth keeping," John said quietly.

Brian's hands started to shake.

God, he wished he hadn't come, wished he'd told John to fuck off the first time he'd seen him, wished he didn't have to listen to John say everything he'd been trying not to think about, not to feel, like John had something on him, some way of seeing things Brian thought he'd managed to hide, even from himself.

John moved closer, steadied him with a hand on his hip, and reached over to turn off the water.

Brian watched his wet hands reach for John, fist in his shirt, like they belonged to someone else, someone who wasn't afraid.

John smelled good, like the beach, spaghetti and beer. More familiar than he should, given how little time they'd spent together. Comfortable in ways that made Brian uncomfortable. He watched John's shirt darken under his hands, patches of water making a pattern on John's hard stomach. He pressed one hand flat, felt muscle contract under his touch.

John shifted, his hands turning Brian to face him, and Brian made himself look up. John looked intent, focused completely on him. John licked his lips, and Brian's gaze dropped helplessly to his mouth. His jeans suddenly felt way too tight, his dick so abruptly hard it ached, and the comfort John seemed to offer morphed into something a lot darker, hotter. Better.

John's hands flexed on his hips, drawing him closer, then he turned his back to the counter, bringing Brian between his thighs.

"John, this isn't fair, I shouldn't ˝"

"There's nothing wrong with wanting some human companionship," John said.

"It should feel wrong. I don't even know…"

"I'm offering," John said, rubbing his cheek along Brian's like a cat. "Take whatever you need. We all need that sometimes. Just, that proof that we're not alone. We're not really meant to be alone."

Christ, he felt good. Brian struggled to remember why they shouldn't do this, why it shouldn't be easy like this.

"But you don't seem to have anyone," he said, grunting when John's mouth ducked beneath his ear, nipped his neck.

Which seemed a shame, a crime almost, when he thought about how much John had to give, seemed to want to give.

"I made my choices. Yours can be different," John said, groping Brian's ass.

Damn, those hands were distracting. What were they talking about?

"Don't you think you've paid enough?"

"It's not about that," John said, real calmly, like Brian wasn't tunneling up under his shirt, thumbing his nipples.

"Isn't it?"

"Shut up," John said, a grin taking the sting out of his voice.

"Make me," Brian mock-growled, some unknown weight slipping off his shoulders when John jerked him in. Their hips collided, setting off flares that streaked down Brian's legs. John groaned, taking his mouth roughly, expertly, showing him that surfing and football weren't the only things he did really well.

Brian opened for him, let him in, John's tongue just as sweet, just as strong, as the rest of him. John's body felt amazing against him, hard and smooth. More than that, he seemed to know what he was doing, what he wanted. It made it easier for Brian to want back. Just this, just for a little while when everything else he wanted was so far away.

John's lips and tongue met his with almost bruising strength, the edges of his teeth sharp, but Brian felt the ache a lot further down, felt need rip through him like pain. He pushed John's shirt up, his palms skating across firm muscle and sun-browned skin. John lifted his hands and pulled his mouth away long enough to yank his shirt off and reach for Brian's before letting his fingers dig into the skin at Brian's shoulders and along his back.

Still not enough, and Brian fumbled with John's pants, only to feel his wrists caught. He thought for a moment he'd pushed too hard, too far, too fast. But John let him go, sucked in a breath and shimmied out of his pants in one quick graceful move. His dick was so hard it lay flush up against a thick thatch of dark hair, and Brian had about two seconds to realize John was really tan all over before he sank to his knees. He plunged a hand down the front of his own shorts, wrapped the other around John's heavy cock and took him in without even glancing up for permission.

John hitched his hips and spread his legs a little, taking a breath that stopped halfway when Brian licked around the head of his dick, testing the width of him. Brian's hand moved smoothly over the stretched-thin skin, which was a minor miracle in itself since Brian felt like he was shaking all over. Funny the things you never forget. And he hadn't forgotten how to do this, if the appreciative groan and throttled "yeah" John let out were anything to go by. Brian took a deep breath and swallowed, closed his eyes for a second as John's thick length filled his mouth and throat. The scent of him—seawater and salt and clean skin—filled his nostrils. He tasted clean, too, and Brian squeezed himself when he got the first taste of pre-come on his tongue.

John put one hand on his head, not holding, more like petting his hair, his hips moving in a small hitch and glide, like he wanted to thrust, but wouldn't let himself. Brian appreciated his restraint and gave him more of what he was looking for—firm stokes and the tight squeeze of his palm, his fingertips just grazing Johns balls, which drew up into hard spheres at the touch. He let his tongue and thumb apply opposing lines of pressure on the ridged veins that ran on the underside of John's dick and adjusted when it finally made John thrust. He looked up, and John slammed both hands on the counter, watching Brian, his chest tight and hard, stomach fluttering, and Brian felt his thighs start to tremble.

That's it, that's it. Lose it, John, let me feel you lose it, he thought.

He let go of his own dick with a soft hiss so he could come up higher on his knees, dig his fingers in the tanned skin of John's hips and really take him deep, let the hard flesh hit the back of his throat, and John spit more pre-come for him to swallow .

He'd almost forgotten how much he loved this, loved men with all their strength and undeniable urges. Even in LA, it was too stupid for words and too much of a hassle for a cop to play this side of the fence, not unless you found someone really special, something solid. He'd have risked it for Dom, let him power through all those carefully constructed rationales the same way he'd upended all Brian's ideas about good and bad, right and wrong.

Brian choked a little and backed off, felt John's hand on his hair again, soothing now, felt John struggle to control the thrust of his hips. Nice, but not necessary. Brian forced his mind to blank, like he did when he surfed, pushed away memories of Dom, pushed back the residual anger he felt at his own loss of control, and the shitstorm that had followed it, and concentrated on the motion of John's hips, the sea smell of him, the weight and heat pulsing in his mouth.

Brian closed his lips more tightly around him and John jerked, digging into his mouth when Brian's tongue looked for ridges to tease, to please, enjoying the way John's cool finally shattered, the first spurt of come exploding in his mouth. Not so smart, but he swallowed anyway, savoring the rare taste, then eased back and let his hand finish what his mouth had started. He closed his eyes when another shot of come hit his face, the smell sharp and fresh and hot. The rest of it hit his throat and chest and Brian couldn't help it, had already reached down his shorts again when John dragged him upward.

John was panting harshly, his skin flushed, eyes wide and dark. His hand pulled Brian's out of his shorts and managed to find the button and zipper, pulling both open. Brian let them fall and stepped out of them while John caught his neck, thrusting his tongue in deep in Brian's mouth and brushing the come from his cheek with his thumb. Brian thrust against him, his dick blindly seeking something to thrust against besides his own hand.

"You want someplace better to put that?" John asked him, sounding a little breathless.

Oh, hell yeah. He must have nodded, because John pushed his hand away and guided him, sucking kisses and whispered promises onto his neck and shoulders as they took the whole ten steps it took them to get from the small kitchen to the smaller bedroom. Brian almost fell over when John ducked a little, jerked open a drawer in the bedside table and fumbled a bit before coming up with a condom.

"Ease up, dude," John said, white teeth flashing in the low light, and Brian took a deep breath, gritted his teeth, because yeah, if they were going to do this, using a condom made all the sense in the world and if he didn't calm down, he'd never get it on.

It took less time than it should, maybe, but then they were on the bed and John tore the packet open carefully with his teeth and passed it over, along with some lube. Then he rolled over and stretched out on his belly.

That was not helping. Nor was the hand that stroked across his thigh easily, gently, like it might keep Brian from just coming all over his back and being done with it.

Brian moved out of his reach and finally managed to slide the latex over his less than cooperative dick, breathing heavily through his nose for a few seconds before kneeling up and really looking at the long, muscular stretch of the body beside him. John spread his legs a little and folded his hands under his cheek. Looked back and grinned at him.

His amused patience helped. No finish line here, no time trial to beat. Brian swallowed and moved over, letting his fingers run along the long line of John's spine and watched the contracting ripple of muscle under the skin. John's ass was firm and hard and as tanned as the rest of him. Brian dripped a little lube on his fingers and traced the crease between John's cheeks. He was tight, but he shifted a knee accommodatingly, opening himself wider, and Brian used more lube to ease a finger in, feeling John tighten down then relax, and John grunted softly when Brian found the little nub of nerves. More lube and a second finger and John squirmed a little.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. Been awhile, but yeah," John said. "No complaints here, man," he said, and Brian caught a glimpse of teeth again.

Spreading lube on his dick was all it took to bring the edge back, and Brian settled between John's legs, found his target and eased in.

Oh, shit. He hadn't forgotten this, either, no matter how long it had been and it hadn't been that long, two weeks and a couple of days since Mia and he had… he shunted the thought aside because guilt was a great way for him to get nowhere fast.

He curved his knee to fit behind John's and pushed in deeper, one hand on John's hip to both steady him and give him some leverage. John pushed back with another little grunt, then pulled his pelvis forward and Brian was in, then out, a jerky movement. No way to find a smooth rhythm because it all felt so incredibly good, good enough to make him stop thinking and just move, then the rhythm found them all on its own.

Brian stretched a little more, gripping John's shoulder as he rocked against his back, thrusting his dick in and out of the compressed heat and friction of John's ass. It felt like surfing…no, really, surfing was more like fucking, and Brian dropped his forehead to John's back and just went with it, feeling the tension build in his belly, the sweet pulling sensation, heat balling into a tight knot in his groin.

The release hit him from nowhere, threw him out of himself, rushing out of him like one of those big waves he hadn't quite mastered yet, swamping him and tumbling him down and it still felt so amazing and a little scary, but mostly just amazing.

He shuddered through the last of it and felt John shudder with him, his ass gripping him tight once again before Brian pulled out and flopped over onto his back, sucking in air, pretty sure his heart might just pound out of his chest.

He barely felt it when John rolled over, skated a hand across his still fluttering stomach and stripped the condom off him, dropping it out of sight. Brian opened his eyes but John's face was all in shadow and he wasn't sure he really wanted to see what might be there. So he reached for him instead, and then didn't have to move or think as John's mouth covered his.

God, he had a great mouth, great tongue. Skilled as hell, hot and mobile. Brian let John pull him across his chest, his hands sliding on sweat-slick skin, let himself get sucked under, losing himself in John's mouth for long, languorous minutes.

When John let him go, Brian's mouth tingled, and his dick had already started expressing interest in gearing up for another round. Brian rolled over instead, did his best to ignore it.

He listened to the sound of John's steady breathing, tried to synch his own breath to the same rhythm, bring his heartbeat back down where it might not kill him. It didn't take long. Damn, John should patent this zen shit, take it on the road. He could probably make some money, build a little cult following.

Of course, he didn't think John put out quite this much effort for most people.

The thought made him smile, but it made him sad, too. John had given him a lot to think about, twisted his brain and cradled his body, giving him way more than a virtual stranger deserved. And what thanks would he get for it? Shit, shit, and more shit, if history provided any clues.

"I should go," Brian murmured.

John shifted against him. "Why?"

"You didn't have to take on my shit," Brian said.

"I don't do much I don't want to do," John said, turning so he had his back to Brian. "Not anymore. Get some sleep."

Brian lay there for awhile, listening to John's breathing get deeper, slower, then he rolled, put an arm around John's waist, bending his knees to align his thighs with John's.

Then he tucked his head against the back of John's neck and slept.

PART 4

When John woke, bright sun already streamed in the blinds. Brian slept on beside him, the oblivious, deep sleep of the truly exhausted. He slept on his side, with one hand tucked beneath his cheek, breathing quietly through his mouth. He looked years younger than he had the night before, sleep smoothing the tension from his face.

He'd needed the sleep, and he'd needed the fuck.

John was glad he'd been able to provide both. He smiled, remembering how quickly Brian's reluctance had disappeared once they'd gotten their hands on each other. Good hands, good mouth, Brian had it all going on, and he fucked like he didn't get to do it often enough, and really appreciated the opportunity when it came to him.

John stretched, feeling different muscles protest than he was used to, and that made him smile, too. Probably not the brightest thing either of them had ever done, but it had felt great, and he just couldn't convince himself it had been such a terrible idea.

In the greater scheme of things, given where things stood for Brian, a little reaming between friends barely blipped on the radar.

John slid silently out of bed, showered and went to the kitchen to see what he could find to make for breakfast. He couldn't remember the last time someone had spent the night at his house, let alone one who ate as much as Brian.

Either the noise or the smell of bacon brought Brian to the kitchen a few minutes later. He still looked half-asleep, a red handprint visible on one cheek. His hair stuck out every which way, his mouth still looked swollen from kissing, and John wanted to jump him and have him right there on the kitchen table.

Instead, he held up his spatula, pointed it at Brian and said, "Surf's up, sunshine."

"Huh?"

"You know, if you want to surf, you're gonna have to become a morning person," John said, admiring the view as Brian turned to go to the bathroom.

A yawn muffled the "Fuck you" Brian threw over his shoulder.

Over breakfast, Brian said, "You said Tanner gave you a week. A week to do what?"

"Bilkins is the one who put a time limit on it. He's an ass," John said around a mouthful of toast. "He wanted me to keep tabs on you. He seemed pretty sure Toretto would contact you."

Brian took a drink of juice, put the glass down carefully. "Not going to happen," he said.

John looked at him. He seemed pretty certain. Could be a line, but Brian didn't have much reason to lie to him.

"What happens when your week's up?" Brian asked.

John shrugged. "I don't know. Bilkins really wants Dom."

Brian put his fork down. Shit. Should have waited until he'd finished eating.

"Look, we've got until Monday before Bilkins starts rattling your cage again," John said. "I say we take advantage of it. Take a little vacation. I'll make a surfer out of you yet."

Brian looked at him, gave him a slow smile. "You know that'll bug the shit out of him."

John smiled back. "Good."

They loaded both boards and a cooler in John's Blazer. They managed to arrive just as the morning runners were finishing up their claim on the beach, and the sand was relatively empty. They'd been given a beautiful day, clear and warm, and even the tide worked in their favor, offering up near perfect waves.

Brian still had more guts than skill, but he kept it together, no matter how many times he wiped out, and he listened to everything John told him, trying things over and over until he got them right. He always pushed the envelope, for speed, for length of the ride; he wanted the rush, John could see, almost taste how much he wanted it.

Watching Brian attack the surf, riding every wave he caught like he could outrun it if he just tried hard enough, John remembered what it felt like to do something he truly loved.

"I bet you're a hell of a driver," he said, watching Brian splutter to the surface yet again.

Brian smiled at him—no shadows, not today, not here. "I like anything fast."

"I bet you do," John said, swimming over to kiss Brian's grinning mouth, tasting salt water and momentary joy.

After a while, John felt comfortable leaving Brian to it—he might disgrace himself, but he was unlikely to need mouth-to-mouth—and went a little further out, riding the swells until he caught one great ride after another and let everything else disappear, let himself forget everything except the feel of the water, the power rising underneath him, lifting him up, lifting his spirit. For all the time he spent in the water, near it, on it, he didn't do this enough, didn't give himself up to it anymore. Like, he let himself have what he wanted, but only so much, only so far, and really, that was kind of fucked up.

They spent the morning in the water, came out starving and a little wired, and for the first time since John had known him, Brian actually relaxed. He skimmed his wetsuit down to his hips and stretched out on a towel, opening his arms wide, baking out the salt, heat-treating the bruises he'd earned.

And he talked, asked questions. He wanted to know how John ended up in law school when football tanked. It all felt like a million years ago, and once John would have felt awkward talking about it, even pained, but he understood the curiosity and returned it with his own: Most juvenile offenders didn't do a complete turnaround and end up in the academy for one of the largest and most dangerous police forces on the planet.

When he asked the question, John wasn't sure Brian would answer him, and when the silence went on too long, John told him to forget it, Brian didn't owe him anything.

"It's not that," Brian said. "I don't mind talking about it. But it was just…luck. Right place, right time. The right guy said the right things." He shrugged. "No big deal."

He rolled, shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted at John. "And just so you know, I do owe you. I owe you big. I was…drowning."

John swallowed, knew Brian wasn't talking about surfing.

Time to get back to that happy place they'd found, and talking wasn't getting it done. Fuck talking.

John reached in the cooler, pulled out a bottle of water, and poured it over Brian's sun-warmed belly. Brian jack-knifed up, got him in a head-lock and dragged him into the water, dunking him until he cried uncle.

They spent a good half hour playing in the water like kids, shedding wetsuits for swim trunks, and even played with a group of kids trying out skimboards in the shallows, until John thought seriously about whether he knew anyone who had a hot tub. Hitting the sand was a hell of a lot more painful than hitting the water, and he quit before too long, sat on the beach and watched Brian continue to try for the elusive ten foot coast on a skimmer, trailing kids behind him like some kind of Pacific pied piper.

Brian finally quit, too, and they walked along the shoreline as the tide shifted and the after-work crowd started showing up.

John caught himself watching Brian as they walked, and he really liked what he saw. Brian's skin had a slight pink tinge, across his shoulders mostly, and he hadn't stopped smiling in a while. Confidence and a meet-the-world-head-on attitude seemed to be Brian's natural state, and damn, it looked good on him. John wasn't the only one looking, either—no surprise there. Heads turned down the beach and back when they passed by. Given the number of people who'd hit on Brian when he was all moody and brooding, it was a wonder he wasn't having to beat them off with sticks today. Brian cranked up that thousand watt smile and you couldn't help but respond. John certainly couldn't help responding, even though Brian seemed oblivious to the attention, rambling on about the waves and how John learned to judge them, like there was something magic about it all.

He couldn't be entirely unaware, had to know people looked at him like he was ice cream on a hot day, but maybe he just didn't let it get to him—psyche him up or out. Or maybe he'd learned good looks could bring him just as much bad attention as good; juvie probably hadn't been a picnic for him.

John silently cursed the LAPD, the FBI, and Dominic Toretto, because as good as it felt to get away from it all, the shit was still hitting the fan somewhere and unless something pretty drastic changed in the next forty-eight hours, Brian was probably going to find out how prison compared to a stint in juvie, and that couldn't be good.

John shook it off. No point in worrying about it now, and no point ruining a perfect day.

"I'm ready for some shade and something better than tacos," he said as they packed up their stuff and headed back to the shop.

"Sounds good. I'm buying though," Brian warned. "Someplace where they bring us food."

"Fair enough. You want to shower first?" John asked, and Brian agreed as they stored the boards, emptied the slushy ice from the bottom of the cooler.

With the last of the gear stowed, Brain grabbed a towel and shook it out, sending sand everywhere, and John flinched.

"Shit. Put that back. I've got cleaner ones in the shop," he said, and Brian grinned at him. They parted company at the stairs, and John checked in with his people, then grabbed towels out of the tiny closet he sometimes called an office but was mostly storage…lost and found. He glanced out the small vented window. He could see Brian from here, pretty much everything from the calves up. Brian stood under the shower head, his arms braced on either side of the stall, just letting the water rinse sand and salt water from his hair and down his back. The dark blue swim briefs he wore looked almost black against his tan and John's mouth went dry when Brian straightened and shucked them off, using his cupped hand to toss water on his groin, inner thighs, and ass, where sand inevitably got caught.

John tucked the towels under his arm and headed out again at a speed once reserved for making end zone runs.

The shower door latched, but it was a cheap-ass thing, half-rusted, and John popped it, tossing the towels over the high sides.

Brian had just reached for his swim trunks again. "I'm nearly done—" he said, but John caught his wrist, latched the shower behind him and gave Brian a long look from head to toe.

"You're a babe, O'Conner," he said. "No wonder half the beach is after your ass."

Brian shook his head, thumped one side, like he had water in his ear. "My ass? It's not me they're looking at, Utah."

John reached over, poked one of the pink spots on Brian's shoulder and watched his fingerprint flare white. "You're obviously suffering from sunstroke," he said.

Brian stared at him for a long minute, then that smile, the one John had been dazzled by all day, showed up, and Brian leaned into him, opened John's mouth with his tongue and did his best to suck John's brain out through his mouth.

It worked pretty well. John skimmed his own shorts off, let the cool water wash over him, and felt Brian's hand on his dick the minute the cloth was clear. Another long hungry kiss and Brian pulled back, started to drop to his knees.

John caught him, tugged Brian's hand off his dick and turned him, coming up behind him, using the water to help seal their bodies together. Brian melted back against him, his dick rising tight and heavy in the palm of John's hand. John pressed against him, loving the contrast between Brian's hot, sun-soaked skin and the cool water pouring down on them. Brian gripped the long pole of the shower with one hand and braced his other hand along the wooden wall of the shower. He spread his legs, balanced on the balls of his feet, and lifted his hips, moving against John, pushing back against his crotch, circling until he caught John's dick between the cheeks of his ass.

Fuck. No. No fuck. No condoms.

Brian moved again, that same shimmy he'd done on the board the first time they'd met.

Shit. Maybe they could…

No. They could have the whole condom talk later, God willing, but not now, not here, when time felt like over-stretched elastic, like one sharp pull could drag them down, screaming.

John laid his cheek on Brian's shoulder blade, licked the reddened skin while he tried to catch his breath and get his impatient dick to chill out. When Brian moaned, John felt the vibration in his own chest, in his stomach, lower, and his hips snapped, his dick stretching, and instinct drove him against Brian, dragging another moan from him. John squeezed him tight, and Brian groaned louder, dropping back to his feet abruptly, his legs shaking, his knuckles white against the pole.

Much more of that and someone was going to hear what they were doing right there by the parking lot, so John covered Brian's mouth with his other hand and leaned forward, set his teeth in Brian's earlobe and shushed him.

If possible, Brian sagged even more. John didn't know whether it was the hand on his mouth or the bite, but whatever prompted Brian's abrupt and complete surrender almost took John over the edge before they really got anywhere. Having Brian's warm, hard, pliant body in his arms made him want so much more than an outdoor shower could offer him. He wanted to lay Brian down, stretch him out on clean sheets, tunnel his dick in that hot, tight ass, wanted to make it last, and Christ, none of that was happening here, none of it.

Brian started muttering a stifled monotone against his hand, his cock swelling in John's other hand, pulsing hot, really close to coming, it felt like, and John closed his eyes, closed out the sound of cars passing by, laughter way too close, gulls shrieking overhead, and let his body take over, lodging his dick in the groove of Brian's back, just above his ass. He moved his hands, wrapping them around Brian's body, holding him tighter and tighter, until the balance between the resistance of skin and the slide of water made the space he'd settled for seem like enough.

Brian's head lolled back against his shoulder. "Shit, shit," he whispered. "God, just fuck me, please."

John clenched his jaw, held on tighter. "This is good," he said, soothing one hand down Brian's belly, stroking the sleek skin, the silky hair his fingers found. "You feel so good I'm not gonna last."

Brian grabbed one of his hands and forced it down, wrapping it around his dick again. He wound his fingers through John's and started jerking himself hard and fast, the rhythm setting off a wave that crashed through Brian into John, Brian's ribcage expanding and contracting with each harsh breath he took, giving John's dick something to rub against on his back.

John pulled him back out of the spray, needing more friction. The change in position made Brian shudder, and John shuddered with him, desperate now, trapping his insistent dick against the heat of Brian's smooth back and lunging again and again, moving one hand to Brian's hip, holding him still, forcing his own fast rhythm until he came, stifling his groan on a mouthful of Brian's shoulder.

Brian choked off another raw sound, his dick lurching in John's hand, a spurt of pre-come seeping onto John's fingers. Okay, okay, that could work. John swiped two fingers across the head of Brian's dick, took what he found, reached down and thrust his fingers in Brian's ass. Brian jerked like he'd been shot, his dick tunneling into John's other hand. John twisted his fingers, pushed deeper, and had to hold Brian up when he came with the force of an explosion, his whole body convulsing, knees buckling. Come jetted over their joined fingers, hotter than the shower, thicker.

John felt a little shaky himself, so he leaned back against the shower wall, bringing Brian with him, wrapping his arms around him again. He could feel Brian's heartbeat like a wild thing trapped in his chest, lungs still heaving.

"Jesus, John," Brian finally said, sliding his hands down John's hips to his thighs, petting him absently. "That was—" he took another deep breath. "That was better than surfing."

John smiled against his neck. "Says the man who'd rather be racing."

Brian laughed, and John let the laugh settle over him, warm him.

John didn't move until Brian did. No need to rush, nowhere to be, and holding him there in the last lingering heat of their perfect day felt as good as the sex. When Brian eventually roused against him, John let him go, reached for a towel and draped it across his shoulders.

Brian turned clear eyes on him, smiled his bright smile, and John felt something give inside, feelings he'd walled up and locked away piercing through like light through water.

"I wish I could do more for you," he heard himself say.

Brian's eyes darkened, his smile slipped.

"You're doing plenty," he said. "You don't even know."

He pulled the towel from his neck, snapped it in John's direction. "What I really want you to do is feed me," he said. "I'm starving."

John reached for his own towel, wrapped it around his hips and stepped out of the shower. "Then I'm glad you're buying," he said, striving to reach Brian's same nonchalance.

They still had two more days to play, and he wouldn't waste another minute wishing things could be different, for either one of them.

Enjoy what you have, take what you're given, he reminded himself.

Bodhi had taught him that.

***

The next two days were mirrors of the first, except without any more risks of arrest for public indecency. By late Sunday, though, a wind-blown and sunburned Brian had started feeling like he was having a last meal before his execution—hard to enjoy the moment when he understood just how fleeting it was.

John's growing seriousness didn't help. As they drove back from the beach to John's house in the gathering dusk, John kept looking in the rearview mirror.

Once they got in the house, Brian asked, "You think someone followed us?"

"Maybe. I didn't see anybody, it's just…" John shrugged.

"…a feeling," Brian finished for him.

"Yeah. If not today, then tomorrow, for sure. Bilkins isn't messing around," John said.

"So I guess the vacation's over," Brian said.

John tucked a hand in the front of Brian's jeans. "Not quite yet," he said, pulling Brian to the bedroom.

A couple of sweaty, satisfying hours later, Brian tied off his second condom, threw it in the trash, and struggled to get his brain out of his dick and off John's truly spectacular ass and back on things that were far less interesting, but much more likely to fuck up his life.

"Thanks for the vacation," he said, rolling to face John, tucking one hand beneath his head. "It might have to hold me for awhile."

John still lay sprawled on his stomach, his strong thighs spread wide, gorgeous and dark against the white sheets.

"I needed it, too," John said, stretching. "Life's a beach, and all that crap, but sometimes, a job's just a job."

He sat up, grimacing when he rolled into the wet spot. "You go shower, I'll change the sheets."

Once they were clean, they sat at the kitchen table, eating cereal and mapping out possible scenarios.

None of them looked good. They ranged from jail time (which, depending on how far the feds wanted to push it, could be for anything from aiding and abetting to manslaughter) on the really ugly end to demotion and reassignment on the not-so-bad end. Depended on whether the LAPD decided to claim him and keep it within the ranks, or tossed him to the feds in return for getting them off the Department's back about the screw-up.

Which meant a lot depended on Tanner's willingness to step up for him with Bilkins.

"What's your sense of that?" John asked, refilling his bowl.

"Hard to say," Brian said, reaching over to pour milk in John's bowl. "He gave me a pretty long leash, but then I hung myself with it, so…"

"You know, it's possible they were just doing good-cop-bad-cop, but from what I could tell, Tanner seemed genuinely concerned for your welfare, which is more than I can say for Bilkins," John said.

"Tanner's a good guy. He tried to tell me about Dom—" Brian's throat closed, and he had to take a drink before he continued. "I didn't want to hear it. If he's cutting me any slack at all, it's probably because he thinks he should have pulled me sooner."

"Would you have let him?" John asked.

"Hell, no," Brian said. "Me? Listen to a voice of reason? Never."

John shook his head. "We're freakishly alike, you know that, right?"

"I can think of worse things," Brian said, nudging John's elbow with his own.

John gave him a flash of warm dark eyes, a quick smile, but he couldn't keep it up, and he dropped his eyes, his mouth thinning to its serious line again.

John probably knew way better than he did what could happen, how his life was about to change. But however bad it had been, John had come through to the other side strong, capable, compassionate. Things Brian wasn't sure he'd ever been, not really, but if that's what it took to get John where he was, it couldn't have been all bad.

"You did this for two years? Being watched, not knowing what was going to happen next?" Brian asked. "It's only been a couple of weeks, but I'm ready for it to be done, one way or the other. I can't live in this…limbo. How did you do it?"

John put down his spoon, pushed away his bowl. He picked up his glass of juice and drained it, then wiped his mouth with a napkin. Taking time to choose his words, probably trying to figure out how not to scare the shit out of him.

"You have to be true to yourself. They can take away a lot, but they can't take that," he finally said. "The feds and the police department can tell you all day long that you did the wrong thing, but if it felt right to you, and if you'd do it again given the same circumstances, then you were true to yourself."

Brian thought about it. Would he have done anything differently if he'd really thought it through, instead of going on his instincts? He could have let Dom take that last truck, could have stayed with Jesse instead of following Dom, could have just stood and waited for the uniforms to get there, put cuffs on him and take him away.

Some other guy might have done that. But some other guy might not have gone under in the first place, might not have seen what Brian saw, learned what he learned.

Talk about a guy who stayed true to himself—Dom had it down.

"Is that what you did?" Brian asked.

John blew out a long breath. "I tried. Some days, I think it was the dumbest thing I ever did, some days I'm grateful, because I ended up here, and that wouldn't have happened without all the other stuff that led up to it." He glanced up at Brian. "Today's one of the grateful days."

Brian's throat got tight again, and he couldn't say anything, but he nodded, and John seemed to understand what he meant.

"You're just going to have to wait and see how things play out. You had some extenuating circumstances," John said.

"Somehow, I don't think IA's going to accept stupidity as an extenuating circumstance. They'll see it as more of a lifelong affliction," Brian said.

John shook his head. "You stopped at least one hijacking, and you took out two of Tran's guys. Those should both be considered as mitigating factors in any decision on disciplinary action."

"But I violated protocol both times, and they know that. I'm fucked," Brian said.

John looked at him.

"You could run."

Brian's heart jumped. "I could."

But he wouldn't. He knew it, and looking at John's face, John knew it, too.

"Come visit me, okay?" Brian asked.

John put a hand on the back of his neck, shook him gently. "I'll bring cookies."

Brian grinned at him, and John smiled back.

"I need to start thinking about stuff. Get some things in order, just in case," Brian said, standing up, taking his dishes to the sink. "I should go."

John stood, a frown on his face. "You want me to come with you?"

Brian shook his head. "No, but thanks, man. My place is still kind of trashed."

"I don't care what your house looks like, dumbass," John said. "If I can help, I will."

What a good guy Bilkins had found for him. It made whatever was coming next almost palatable, to have had this, found this…friend…in such a crazy chaotic time.

"I can handle it," Brian said, and John nodded, stepped back.

John walked him out, gave his board an affectionate pat. "You know, this board's due back tomorrow," he said. "Don't want to get a late fee."

Shit, he was right. Brian hadn't given it a thought. "You should take it now, just in case," he said.

John laughed. "Bring it back yourself. If you can't, believe me, I'm not going to be worried about the board."

Good point. They could talk all night and still not be any closer to knowing what the next few days and weeks held for him. Like John said, he'd have to just wait and see. Zen it, maybe. Just let it be.

"Then I'll see you tomorrow," Brian said. "Thanks, John."

"See you," John said, raising his hand as Brian pulled out of the driveway and headed back home.

PART 5

After Brian left, John went to the kitchen, pulled two beers from the fridge and went out on the deck off the living room. He couldn't see anything in the bamboo that bordered his postage-stamp yard, but he felt it on the back of his neck.

He walked to the edge of the deck and put down one of the beers. Quietly, he said, "I'm going inside and turning off the lights. Whenever you're ready."

He turned his back, waited one breathless minute for the sound of a hammer being cocked. God, he couldn't deny he loved that moment when he didn't know if he'd live or die, if the risk he'd taken would kill him or open up another new world. When nothing happened, he pressed his hand to his chest, reminded his heart it only had so many beats left, and walked back into the house, leaving the back door open.

He turned off the lights and waited.

Five minutes.

Ten.

Twelve minutes later, a shadow slowly crossed the yard, glass brushed wood, then footsteps crossed the deck, and he was in.

"Leave the lights off," a deep voice rumbled, very close, close enough for John to smell his sweat. The voice alone was enough to identify him, but John's eyes had adjusted well enough to the dark to see the size, the power of him in dark pants, dark jacket, a baseball cap slung backwards on his shaved head.

John could hear him drinking the beer. He heard the empty bottle hit the floor, then, almost a growl, "Thanks for the beer."

"De nada."

"You're too cool with this. You a fed? You wired? You set me up?" He rasped the words right in John's ear, then hands as rough as the voice pushed him back against the wall, ran hard over his body, down his sides, between his legs, touched in his ears, below the waistband of his jeans. Impersonal, but not really. Hard not to take it personally.

John stood his ground, resisted punching the guy in the nose.

He heard hitched breaths, felt a tremor in the hands that fastened hard on his arms.

"Toretto. You gonna pass out on me?"

He'd reached out before he knew it, steered the guy to a chair, and pushed his head between his knees.

"You're not too bright, are you?" John said. "If you're gonna intimidate somebody, try to stay conscious."

Toretto groaned and lifted his head. "Fuckin' ribs," was all he said.

"To answer your question, I'm not a fed. Once upon a time I was, but that's a really long story I only tell people I like. And no, I didn't set you up," John said. "I don't care about you. I don't care what you did, or whether you get away with it. I care about Brian, and he's about to take a long walk off a short pier for you, so you could at least have had the decency to let him see you."

Toretto eased back in the chair with another stifled moan.

"Why come when he's not here?" John pressed.

"I just wanted… I wanted to know if he's okay," Toretto said. "Before I left. I wanted to know."

"You're kidding," John said. God, the whole scene was surreal. He had a wanted felon in his living room, talking about Brian like he was a dog he'd left for the weekend. "He's not okay. He's stuck in some weird jurisdictional limbo, emphasis on the dick, suspended without pay, and IA and the FBI are fighting over who gets to kick his ass first. But who's he worried about? You."

"He's better off without me," Toretto said, his voice sounding strangled.

"I know that, and you know that, but he's not quite there yet," John said.

"He'll figure it out," Toretto said, but he sounded…bad. Really bad.

John almost felt sorry for him.

"He's got bigger stuff he ought to be worrying about," John said.

"What do you mean?"

"What did you think would happen when you took the car? That the FBI would pat Brian on the head and say, 'sorry, kid, better luck next time?' If he doesn't come up with something useful, they're taking him down for aiding and abetting."

"I can give him the car," Toretto said quickly. "I'll get it called in on the tips line."

"Big of you," John said with a snort. "But that's not good enough. He's facing time. What do you think it'd be like inside for a dirty cop with a face like that?"

Toretto shifted. "He's not dirty."

"He's not exactly clean, either," John said with a sigh.

"Brian's resourceful. He'll work it," Toretto said, and his confidence made John wonder what bill of goods Brian had sold him.

"The cops think he turned, and your buddies know he's LAPD. He's got nobody," John reminded him.

"Looks like he's got you."

Hard to tell, in the dark, what Toretto's tone meant to convey. Relief? Bitterness? Jealousy? John couldn't pin it down, but something in his voice made John want to push it, push him.

"Yeah, he does," John said.

"You known him a long time?" Toretto asked. A thread of danger in his tone now, pushing back.

"Oh, yeah, me and Brian go way back," John said.

"You been fucking him all that time?"

No problem interpreting Toretto's gritted teeth, the knife-edge in his tone. That hammer-cocked feeling crept up John's spine, signaling danger, fight or flight. John stilled, watched him carefully.

"You might want to save the tough talk until you can back it up, buddy. I'll let that one go," he said.

Toretto growled at him.

"This time," John warned. "Where are you going?"

Silence. John heard two rough breaths, then, "Like I'm gonna tell you that."

"Give me something," John said, moving to crouch in front of the chair. Toretto drew back, lifted his hands. "Give me something or he's going down, and I don't think you want that to happen, or you wouldn't be here."

Toretto bent over, close enough for John to feel the heat of his body. "How do I know I can trust you?"

John got right in his face. "You don't. But I could have five feds here in three minutes, and there's damn little you could do to stop me. You're just going to have to have a little faith."

Toretto took a breath that rattled in his lungs and made him cough. He coughed so hard John thought seriously about dialing 911, not for the cops, but for an ambulance. The guy was hurting. It told him Brian wasn't just out there waving in the breeze with a crush on a perp—whatever was going on with him and Toretto, it was mutual. No one in this bad shape would go to the trouble Toretto was if he didn't care.

"Look," John said, "You're a wreck. And you stink. Go take a shower and I'll wrap your ribs."

"You trying to stall me?" Toretto snarled.

"Don't be an ass," John said. "The shape you're in, if you left now, the feds could just scrape you off my front sidewalk, because that's about how far you'd get."

"Isn't that what you want?" Toretto asked, struggling to get out of the chair.

John put a hand under his arm, braced him once he got to his feet.

"It's not what Brian wants, so…"

"You really are on his side?" Toretto asked. "That's not some line?"

John stepped closer, whispered in his ear. "I don't let just anybody fuck me, Toretto. How about you?"

He ducked away from Toretto's swing, caught him before he fell. Once he was steady, John went to the kitchen, turned on the light over the stove.

His first good look at Toretto shook him. He'd seen everything from mug shots to video, and in all of them, Toretto had this larger than life vibe going on, so alive he seemed to move even in stills. He didn't resemble the man who stood weaving on his feet in John's living room, holding his ribs, his face pinched and gray.

"Bathroom's that way," John said. "You like your eggs scrambled or up?"

Toretto just stood there looking at him for a long minute, then he moved slowly toward the bathroom. "Up," he said with a grunt, and closed the door behind him.

After making a plate of eggs and toast, John reached into the cabinet above the microwave and took down a bottle of pills—heavy duty painkillers he used when his knee gave him fits. He didn't need them much anymore, didn't spend as much time doing the stuff that used to aggravate his knee, and Toretto obviously needed something to take the edge off.

He got a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt from the bedroom, opened the bathroom door and set them on the counter. Steam filled the tiny room, and he could just make out Toretto's silhouette behind the shower curtain.

"You need anything?" he asked.

"How about some privacy," Toretto said, but he already sounded a little better.

"Yell when you're ready to get wrapped," John said.

He got another grunt.

Wrapping Toretto's ribs gave John an up close and personal look at why Brian might have been attracted to him. The guy was built, smooth brown skin layered over strong slabs of muscle. Even shaky as he was, he still radiated raw charisma and a sense of entitlement that had probably helped land him where he was.

He moved more easily once his ribs were taped, and the clean clothes didn't hurt, either. A much different man settled gingerly at the table, started shoveling eggs in his mouth.

John sat in silence with him while he ate.

"Take these once you're done," John said, handing over the bottle of pills. "Don't take them on an empty stomach, and for God's sake, don't drink while you're on them."

Toretto set his fork down, picked up the pills. "Why are you doing this?"

John knew he didn't mean the pills. "Because this way I can tell Brian I did what I could."

Toretto looked at him for a minute, then nodded. "You take care of him," he said.

John clenched his fist on the table, saw Dom's eyes follow the movement. "There's only so much I can do, man."

Toretto washed down two pills with water, pushed his chair back. He stared down at the table, seemed to come to some sort of decision, and looked up at John.

"There's a U-Store-It on La Brea, north of Wilshire," Toretto said, wiping his mouth with his hand. "Unit 132. There's two, maybe three million worth of stuff in there from the trucks. Will that do it? Get the feds off him?"

Bingo.

"It'll help," John said. "Thanks."

Toretto didn't say anything more, his expression bleak, and John didn't help him out. Whatever demons Toretto faced, he'd brought every one upon himself, and dragged Brian along for the ride.

It looked like the millions he'd just handed over might only be the beginning of what he'd lost.

"Do you have a cell phone?" John asked.

Toretto nodded.

John got up, found a pen and wrote down the shop's number on a piece of paper. He handed it to Toretto.

"Have someone call me at the surf shop tomorrow morning. Tell them to stay on the line four or five minutes, then ditch the phone, like, permanently. I'm going to need a record of the contact," John said.

Toretto folded the slip of paper and put it in with the pills. "Okay," he said. "I can do that." He winced as he twisted in the chair.

"You got somebody looking after those ribs?" John asked.

"Yeah. Well, I did," Toretto said. "But it's time to get moving. I'm all right."

God, what a fucked-up situation. "That's what I'm supposed to tell Brian? That you're all right?"

Toretto struggled out of the chair, holding his ribs with one hand. "Tell him anything you want. Don't tell him. I don't know," he said, gasping for breath.

They were a pair, no question about it. Stubborn. Hard-headed. Born risk-takers with everything except each other. If Toretto had spun Brian's world out of its orbit, it was pretty clear looking at Toretto that he was no better off. Worse, probably, because he was getting ready to walk away.

Toretto lowered his head. "If you tell him…tell him I appreciate what he did."

Shit. Wasn't it always the way? Shouldn't he know, after all this time, thirty-five years of life on the planet, that nothing was as simple as it appeared? Nothing pure black and white, just muddy, ugly swirls of gray. He didn't want to feel for Toretto, didn't want to know that he felt, that he loved, just as deeply as anyone else. He sighed.

"I can have him here in ten minutes and you can tell him yourself," John said.

"No," Toretto said. He took another deep breath. "No."

He lifted his head, looked at John. "I can't."

John saw everything Toretto couldn't bring himself to say written clearly on his face. His physical pain barely scraped the surface of the ways he hurt.

Toretto walked slowly out the back door, onto the deck. As he reached the steps, John said, "Dom."

He stiffened at the nickname, turned slowly to face him.

"Where are you headed?"

John could see him weighing his answer. Finally, turning away, he said, "Baja."

Then he disappeared in the dark.

PART 6

A knock on the door in the middle of the night never brought good news.

Brian put down the pile of pans and mismatched cups he'd been trying to get back where they belonged, dropped them back on the kitchen floor where Bilkins' goons had strewn them, and went to face the music.

Seeing John's face instead of a badge made him almost dizzy with relief, until he saw John's expression. Something had rattled him, badly.

"I hear there's good breaks at Spike's," John said, reaching for Brian's arm, pulling him out of the house. "Grab your board."

John hadn't given him his fancy former-FBI decoder ring, but it didn't take a genius to figure out what he wanted. Okay, fine, he'd go.

When he stepped out on the porch, he saw an unmarked parked about three doors down, and another on the corner. He looked at his watch: 12:09 AM. "Today's tomorrow," he said, tension knotting his stomach.

John just nodded. "Come on, we don't want to lose the moon."

Together, they unstrapped Brian's board and put it with John's in the Blazer, and within a minute, they were on the road. The two unmarkeds pulled in right behind them. John drove competently, fast, but not too fast. No point giving their obvious tail a reason to pull them over.

John reached in the glove compartment, pulled out a pen and a Chinese take-out menu. He scribbled something, then passed the menu to Brian. Amp mike, it said. Brian scribbled back. On a moving car??. John shrugged. Yeah, he was right—not worth the risk.

John turned north, got on the 101 and hit cruise control.

"How long does it take to get there?" Brian asked.

"Three or four hours. Depends on traffic," he said.

God, what the hell had happened in the last two hours to bring John to him like this, leaking adrenaline, wearing a face that had to be what he would have looked like if he'd stayed with the FBI instead of running a surf shop.

"So, tell me about the spikes," Brian said, hoping he sounded calmer than he felt.

John glanced over at him. "Not the Spike's," he said. "Just Spike's. They named it after a dog."

"Really. How interesting," Brian said, except, really? Not. What the fuck?

John spent the next hour giving Brian a lesson in California surf history. It seemed to calm him, and it kept Brian from exploding into a million bloody stressed-out pieces in the passenger seat. He closed his eyes and let John's voice wash over him, added a "Huh" or a "I didn't know that" now and then, just to hold up his end of the conversation, and tried to tell himself it was better this way. If he was going down, better to be with John headed for a beach than cleaning up Tupperware in his kitchen. At some point he must have slept, because he started when John slowed, then turned.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"North of San Luis Obispo. Not far now," John said.

Brian looked out the window. They'd turned onto the 1, a narrow strip of road with the ocean on one side and cliffs on the other. The full moon made the water look like a snowscape, light bouncing off the chop.

He looked back over his shoulder. Traffic was light and though they'd dropped pretty far back, Brian had no trouble picking out the two cars following them.

John wove his way north like he'd made the trip many times, and Brian felt himself relax a little bit. John knew where he was going. John knew what he was doing. Brian couldn't ask for more than that. Not now.

Eventually, John pulled off the road. Brian didn't see anything, but followed John out of the car, stood behind it and pulled on the wetsuit John gave him. They put their shoes back on, grabbed the boards, and John led him down a narrow path lit only by the moon. The treacherous descent felt like a great metaphor for his life, except the moon really did give off a decent amount of light, and John walked ahead of him, telling him exactly where to put his feet.

So maybe his life wasn't quite as shitty as he'd thought.

When they got down to the rocky beach, they pulled off their shoes and John led him to the water. The surf pounded the rocks, threw up spray, made a lot of noise, but once they were beyond the chop, Brian saw that it was mostly show. Further out, it seemed to be mostly swells, nothing scary about it, though the water was at least ten degrees colder than what he'd been surfing in farther south. Except for his hands and feet, the wetsuit insulated him, but it still felt damn cold.

John paddled out probably a hundred yards, checking constantly to see that Brian was still with him. Yeah, like he'd let John lose him out here. If he could, he'd have lashed himself to John's board instead of his own.

Finally, John sat up, straddled his board. Brian paddled next to him and John reached out, helped him settle securely on his board.

Brian had a hard time catching his breath, nerves, cold, and exertion rolling together in his body. John kept a hand on his arm, told him to breathe, held onto him until the dizziness passed and he could concentrate on something besides his lungs.

God, it was beautiful. The moon turned everything silver. Lights bobbed on the cliff ˝ the guys who'd followed them, making their slow way down to the beach. Damn, John was smart.

He patted John's hand on his arm. "I'm all right," he said, and John let him go.

"That's the Graveyard," John said, pointing to an outcropping of truck-sized rocks. "You want to stay away from there."

Man, that was an understatement. "You ever been here during a storm?" Brian asked.

"A couple of times. It's some scary shit," John said. "Beautiful. The waves are like skyscrapers."

"But not tonight," Brian pointed out, feeling his board rock smoothly in the swells.

John grinned. "You're not ready for Spike's, Brian. But I figured a mushy surf should be safe enough. One thing's for sure—we won't be overheard. Even if they're amped, they won't get anything. The surf's too loud, and we're out too far," John said.

"What's going on? What happened?" Brian asked. He'd waited four hours and a couple hundred miles and he didn't feel like waiting anymore. John sat silent on his board, moving with it like it was an extension of himself. Usually, Brian liked that, liked Zen John chilling out, but at the moment, it made him want to pop him one.

"Christ, just tell me. Did they find him?" His voice cracked.

John turned his head, looked over at the rocks. "He found me."

What? What did he say? He didn't say…

"What did you say?"

John turned back to him. "After you left, Dom came to see me."

Brian could still hardly make sense of the words. That feeling on the back of his neck hadn't been feds, or at least not all the time. Not this week, probably. It had been Dom.

"Shit. Why?"

Brian tracked the bobbing lights. They were about halfway down the cliff, and they seemed to have stalled. If he knew suits, they were in dress shoes, slick soles. Could be a while before they hit the beach.

"He wanted to make sure you were okay," John said. Brian stared at him. "He said to tell you he appreciated what you did."

Brian shook his head. "He did what?"

"I think he wanted to make things right," John said, steering closer to Brian, holding the boards together. "He gave me information about a place where they stored some of the shit from the hijackings. It's big. Ought to give Tanner plenty of leverage. I'll call him in the morning."

"What will you tell him?" Brian asked. Jesus. Dom hadn't bailed, hadn't just driven away…

"I'll tell him Dom must've been watching us, that he called me and I leaned on him until he gave it up," John said. "Hell, I'll tell him I used Mia as the lever, make Bilkins think he was right all along. If the stuff's gone, it's gone, but by then Dom should be gone, too, so…"

Holy shit. It all felt like a dream, a cold, wet, unbelievable dream. "So it wasn't the feds we had on us? It was Dom?"

"Looks like it," John said.

Oh. Oh, shit.

"So, I guess he knows what we've…" Brian couldn't finish it.

John actually grinned, damn him. "Yeah, he wasn't too happy about that." John didn't seem bothered one bit. "I think maybe he's jealous."

Brian looked closely at John's face, clear under the bright moon. Some of the hardness had slipped away. "But he didn't want to see me," he said.

John pressed his lips together. "I think if he had, he might not have left. And he needed to go."

Brian blinked hard, tried to blame the sting in his eyes on the salt water.

"Is he okay?" he asked.

John nodded. "Yeah, considering. Looks like he's got some broken ribs, but he's moving around. Somebody's been looking after him."

"Until now," Brian said.

John shrugged. "He made his choices, Brian."

Yeah, hadn't they all. Brian shivered, as cold inside as he was outside. Dom had been there, seen him and…left.

"Did he say anything else?" Brian asked. His voice sounded strange in his ears, distant.

"You mean, like the fact that he's headed for Baja?" John said, a slow smile stretching his mouth.

A trickle of warmth penetrated the chill. "Yeah, that," Brian said, bending over to lay his cheek on the board, dizzy again, too much happening too fast, too many things to think about, too much to feel.

He felt John's hand on his back, rubbing in strong circles in the same rhythm as the swells that lifted them. He closed his eyes, let himself drift in the space between the sea and John's steadying hand. "He didn't have to tell you that. Any of it. He didn't have to do that."

"No, he didn't. That was his choice, too," John said, leaning close enough for Brian to feel his warm breath on his cheek. "He cares about you."

All the discordant pieces started to come together, his brain filling in some gaps. John had Dom in his house, and he'd let him go.

"You gave him a head start," Brian said. "You pulled their attention to us, gave him some room."

"I hope so," John said.

"Why? Why put yourself in their sights again? You could lose everything," Brian said, his heart tripping in his chest. He didn't want that, didn't want to see this good, good guy lose what he'd gained because of him.

"Because it felt right," John said. He moved his hand from Brian's back up to his head, tangled his fingers in Brian's hair. "Starting over isn't so bad."

Brian lifted his head, moved against John's hand. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," John said, untangling his fingers, shifting back. "I doubt it'll come to that. Bilkins will love getting his hands on the goods, Tanner will get the credit, and, hopefully, some bargaining power."

"And what do I do? Just sit around, wait for IA to finish up, see where I land?" Brian asked. Hard to imagine it now, knowing what he knew.

"You'd have more options if you can do that, if you can wait," John said. "Better to be on the level; you'd have a lot more freedom to move."

John knew. John knew he wanted to get in his car and drive and not stop until he found Dom. But John also spoke from a wealth of experience, and Brian tried to listen.

"It's not a race. If he wants you to find him, you will," John said.

Yeah, tonight had proved that.

Brian sat up on his board again, looked at the beach. They were just now getting there, their flashlights blinking like fireflies on the dark beach.

"So this is it," Brian said.

"I think so," John said. "It's weird, this circle we've made, starting out on the water, ending up there. My life, your life, the way our paths crossed. Like, our journeys brought us together."

"You're going zen on me, aren't you?" Brian said, swallowing over the lump in his throat.

John laughed. "I'm just trying to say that you may end up here again someday. We found each other once, it could happen again."

Brian reached out and brought John's lips to his. His mouth felt blistering hot in contrast to the cold water; even his hands felt warm on Brian's cold face.

"I won't forget this," Brian said. "If I can ever do anything, anything, you tell me."

John pulled him in tight, their boards colliding. He kissed Brian again, then pushed him back.

"Just be true to yourself," John said.

Brian took a deep breath, nodded.

John turned his board, started toward the beach. "You know, surfers migrate," he said, paddling in. He looked back over his shoulder. "Head south in the winter, looking for warmer water."

Brian smiled. "I didn't know that."

"Oh, yeah, there's breaks from here all the way to Mexico," John said, propelling himself with more purpose now, tracing a swell down to its breakpoint.

Brian followed him, tried to remember what John had taught him, and caught his own wave, riding it toward his fate.

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