Going through some of my old stuff and found this…a one-shot set after Fast Five while Mia and Dom and Brian and Elena are living on the beach. Ideally would have been posted around Christmas given that that's when it's set, but if I wait another nine months I'll probably lose it again.
Thanks in advance to everyone for reading, and if you've got a minute to review I'd appreciate it.
"No, that's not going to work." Mia stepped back, frowning. "I think that should go there, and this can go there, and we should put that up there while we've got the ladder out. And then that can go over there and even though we can't get a tree we can put…." She trailed off, her arm still raised, and swiveled towards the opposite wall. "No, you know, actually let's put that one there and stretch this across that. And then if that's long enough we can wrap the post too and add more up there, and I think I've got enough extra ribbon to—" A sudden beep cut her off, and she spun on her heel. "My pie!"
Brian stared after her as she dashed for the kitchen and then turned to look at Dom, a tangle of plastic garland in one hand and a red ribbon in the other. "What?"
Dom grinned and shook his head. "She always gets like this around Christmas. You should have seen her when she was a kid; if Dad had let her have her way the decorations would have started going up in July." As it was they'd always been the first house in the neighborhood to put them up and the last to pull them down, and even after Dad had died and he'd gone to prison she'd tried to keep up the tradition. This little house might not be their house—even if they had more money than any of them knew what to do with, they were still trying to come up with something resembling a long term plan—but this was the first opportunity that he and Mia had had to celebrate as a family in several years, and they were both determined to make the best of it.
He wished that Elena was here as well, but he'd have to have been blind to miss her desire to be back with her own family for the season, and it wasn't something that he'd been able to begrudge her when the opportunity had come up. This thing between them…it was going pretty well. Slow, but that was okay. It wasn't like what he'd had with Letty. He swallowed the lump that started to rise up in his throat automatically. Nothing would ever be like he'd had with Letty, that was just something that he had to live with. And Elena would be back after the first of the year. He waved a hand at the garland Brian was holding. "Just untangle that and wrap it around the stair rail. It looks like it should be long enough."
Brian nodded and set the ribbon aside, making his way up the staircase and wrapping as he went.
Dom turned back to the manger, trying to convince the wise men carrying frankincense and myrrh to stay standing despite their inclinations to the contrary. At least he thought it was the two with frankincense and myrrh, it was a little hard to say when the set was a cheap plastic thing from one of the tourist traps down the coast. It was the best he'd been able to find, though, and even in this airy little house on the beach he could hear his mother's voice—long ago and faint enough that he was pretty sure that Mia didn't remember at all despite her insistence to the contrary—saying that in the Toretto house at Christmas, there would always be a manger.
"We're out of nutmeg," Mia announced, hurrying back from the kitchen, a light brush against the table shaking it just enough to make the wise man carrying gold do a nose dive. "I'm going to the street market. Do we need anything else?"
"Glue," Dom muttered as he righted the man. What idiot had designed these pieces? Of course he was the idiot that had bought them, but….
"You were talking about whipped cream earlier," Brian said. "And marshmallows, I think. But would they have whipped cream and marshmallows at the market?"
"Right, thank you for remembering those." A frown. "And probably not so I might have to go down into the city. Damn, I wanted to get the pumpkin and pecan pies done this afternoon, too." She shook her head. "Well, I guess this way I can make it a big trip and pick up more milk and flour and everything else at the same time. I already know if I send you two out you'll come back with a couple bags of chips, some beer, and if I'm lucky maybe half of the items from my actual list."
"Hey," Brian objected at her teasing grin. "I remembered the marshmallows, didn't I?"
Dom smiled and didn't even try. "Might as well pick up a couple good bottles of wine while you're down there, and maybe some of the sparkling stuff for you." There might be a bottle or two around the house that Elena had bought, but most of the time he and Brian were beer people—that much of her complaint was accurate enough—and it wasn't like Mia was drinking much these days.
Mia nodded and dug her keys out of the basket. "If you remember anything else we need, call, otherwise I'll see you in a couple hours."
"The pregnancy certainly isn't slowing her down," Dom observed as the door shut behind her.
"I'm just glad the morning sickness hasn't been too bad. When Elena was going on about her cousins, I was getting worried. But how many pies does she plan on making? There's cherry and apple and I think peach in there now, and she still wants more? Plus that giant beast thawing on the counter."
"Please, that turkey is barely fifteen pounds," Dom said. "That's nothing compared to what we've made before. Half the time we used to get home from the store and head straight for the oven, just to make sure it would fit when it was time to cook it." He grinned at the memory. A few times it had been a tight squeeze. "Besides, it's tradition. We always have pie for dinner on Christmas Eve before church, and then you've got the Christmas pies too, and then…." He trailed off, feeling his smile fading into a slight frown as he remembered their current situation. "Well, okay, she probably is overdoing it a little this year with only the three of us to feed instead of half the neighborhood stopping by to visit, but you know how it goes."
Brian muttered something noncommittal and then stuck most of his upper body through the stair railing, putting his absurdly long arms to use as he snagged the red ribbon off the table below.
"What about yours, anyway?" Dom asked curiously.
"Your family. What did you do for the holidays? We've got the Toretto traditions with the manger and the pies…I wish we could manage a tree, but I haven't seen a spruce since we got here and I'm with Mia, those fake things are just wrong." The fake garland was bad enough; at least it made an attempt to mimic the real thing. The stack of fake trees he'd seen in the same store had been all colors of the rainbow except green and covered in even more brightly-colored glitter. He could have done better with some wire and a can of green automotive paint. If he'd thought of it before, he would have. "What are the O'Connor traditions we should be adding?"
"It was a long time ago, you know."
Dom gave up on his battle with the wise men for the moment, setting them down and crossing his arms over his chest as he looked up the staircase. Brian's focus was on the red ribbon he was trying to fashion into a bow at the top of the staircase to secure the garland, but there was no sign in his expression that he was joking. "Come on, you can't be serious," Dom pressed. "Ain't like holidays have an age limit." As the three of them were in the middle of proving.
"Never said they did, but there's still nothing that I remember." Brian paused and then grinned suddenly, giving a quick tug to the awkwardly-tied bow before meeting Dom's eyes. "No, actually, I take that back, there is Rome's nana's fudge, but that's not really a tradition that I'm interested in carrying on."
"When did Rome's nana get involved?" Dom had to ask.
Brian shrugged, grin still in place. "I spent some Christmases at his place when…well, I spent some Christmases at his place. Anyway, his nana used to make this fudge every year, and it was supposed to be some old family recipe that had been passed down from her grandmother or whatever, but I don't think there was once that it didn't end up either tasting like sawdust or having to be served out of an old catsup bottle because it never got around to firming up. We—Rome since he was the oldest grandkid, and me too when I was there—kept getting the 'honor' of trying the first piece, and she'd stand there scowling until we managed to choke it down and compliment her on how good it was. The rest of the food really was great, but we never could figure out if the fudge recipe was just that bad or if there was some secret ingredient that she didn't know about."
Dom smiled. "Bet on the secret ingredient, always. I mean, Dad could cook, but after Mom died we never managed to get the cranberry sauce right again. But what about you and your parents?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth it occurred to him that he should maybe have just asked about Brian's mother given what Brian had already said about his father, but Brian didn't even twitch at the phrasing so he continued. "Any snow angels on the front lawn? Caroling that made the neighbors turn up the stereo? Falling off the roof trying to put up the Santa decorations?"
Brian shook his head. "Man, I grew up in Barstow. It might be a little north of LA, but anytime white stuff fell from the sky people acted like it was the apocalypse. And as for the rest of it…." He trailed off with another shrug. "I guess maybe we had a tree or whatever at some point, same as you, but I was in the system before I was ten. That's not a lot of years to have traditions."
"Social services. Foster care."
"What?" After what Brian had admitted down in Rio, Dom had figured that his situation had been like Vince's. A single mother doing the best she could. Not that there hadn't been any parents at all. "You're serious?"
Brian gave him an odd look. "Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"
Dom continued to stare.
"I don't know." It was more an automatic reaction to the question than anything else, but when he thought about it, it was actually pretty damn accurate. He didn't know. The last time—the only time—that he'd tried digging around in Brian's past had been back when Brian had first dated Mia, and back then what little Brian had told them about himself had been coached in half-truths at best. And the background check that Jesse had run for him had been on a shell named Spilner. "What happened?"
"What happened what?"
"To your family."
Dom kept looking at him.
Brian sighed. "You really want to hear about this crap now? I was a kid, it's not like I even think about it anymore."
"Yeah, I want to hear. Does Mia know any of this?"
"Some, I guess, I mean we talked a little while we were waiting for your hearing. She knows my parents are dead and that I didn't have anyone that would miss me or that I'd want to contact after we crossed the border. But we had more important things to talk about at the time than ancient history, and it hasn't come up since." He started to run a hand through his hair only to stop, grimacing. "You know, fine, you can ask me whatever you want, but do you mind if I wash my hands and grab a beer first? I think that fake garland included some fake sap."
He didn't wait for Dom's okay, passing him at the bottom of the stairs as he headed for the kitchen, but that was Brian and after a moment Dom followed him. A beer sounded pretty good after the decorating they'd been doing all morning, and if Brian thought that Dom was just going to let the question slide he had another thing coming. Brian didn't seem to be making much of an attempt to get away though, scrubbing his hands off against a dish towel before poking at the pies cooling on the counter, and Dom grabbed a couple of beers out of the fridge and smacked his arm with one of them. "Don't go messing with those; it's not Christmas Eve yet."
"I'm not messing, just looking. They smell good."
"Mia'll call it messing. Come on."
Brian accepted the beer and followed him out the front door, sinking down on one of the porch chairs. "You get we aren't exactly talking anything inspiring here, Dom."
"Not what I'm asking for."
Brian shrugged, popping the top off his beer and taking a long drink. "All right, well, like I told you before, my dad wasn't around much. I don't know what he did or where he went when he wasn't with us, but when I was like five or six—old enough to be in school, anyway—I got home one day and my mom was there. It was weird because she was always waitressing at the diner or cleaning houses or whatever to make the rent and mostly I was by myself after school, but this time she was home and she was crying. And when I asked why she said that daddy wouldn't be coming home again. He'd gone to Heaven." Brian snorted. "Think that was the first time that Heaven ever came up in our house because I thought she meant some city up north and couldn't figure out what the big deal was."
Not exactly a church family, then, but that wasn't really a surprise. "How did it happen?"
"No clue. If Mom ever said I've long since forgotten, and the funeral is just a blur. Graveside, not a lot of people…it was raining, I remember that. I looked for his obituary once when I was older and we were supposed to be doing this stupid family tree project for school, but all I could find was one line in the local paper that said that Christopher O'Connor had passed away on Tuesday and was survived by a wife and son."
"What about your mom?"
Brian's gaze dropped to his hands, rubbing a thumb absently through the condensation on his beer bottle. "She worked a lot, like I said. Smoked a lot, too. Said it was the only way she could take the edge off. I think…I think I was eight or so when she started having trouble breathing. Not all the time or anything, but she'd have these episodes where she'd start wheezing, feel lightheaded, that kind of thing, and usually she'd have to sit down for a few minutes to catch her breath. Kept saying it was nothing, though, just a chest cold she couldn't shake. Maybe if she'd gone to the doctor right at the beginning…." He shook his head. "I don't know. Probably wouldn't have changed anything."
"Lung cancer?" Dom guessed.
"Yeah. One day she had one of her spells and collapsed at the diner. Hit her head on the counter on the way down so the manager made her go to the hospital to get checked out, and that's when they found the tumor. Tumors. They operated the next day, but there were too many of them and it had spread too far. Couple weeks later she was gone and I was on my own." A pause. "It, uh, it wasn't a good couple weeks."
"Jesus, Bri." Losing his mother and the little brother he should have had had been a complete surprise even for the doctors in the delivery room and for a while he and Dad—hell, even Mia who'd still been pretty damn young herself then—had gone about their lives in a state of shock. It had taken a lot of time for any of them to come to terms with their grief. Dad, too, he'd been there and then gone so quick and still those few seconds were etched into Dom's memory forever. He couldn't imagine seeing something like that coming weeks in advance and not being able to do anything but watch.
Brian lifted his head, staring past Dom for a moment, and then he shook himself slightly. "It was what it was. Anyway, after that I bounced around foster care and group homes and Rome's floor when I couldn't take it anymore or no one else would have me. Holidays…." He shrugged. "They just aren't my thing. I mean, I'll try not to mess it up for you and Mia or anything, but I really don't have anything to add to your family's traditions."
"Hey. You're family too." He had been for a while, even if there had been a pretty good stretch where Dom wouldn't have admitted it. "Best get that through your skull."
Brian's lips twitched up in a quick smile. "You know what I mean."
For a minute Dom debated pushing, but there would be time for that later if it came to it. "What about those foster homes? I mean, you hear stuff in the news sometimes, but there must have been some of them that were good."
Brian's smile turned wry. "Fortunately the stuff that makes the news isn't exactly the norm. The homes I was in were fine. I got food and a bed and was never burned with cigarettes or kept locked in a cellar or anything twisted like that. I just wasn't…I did a lot of bouncing. Was already mostly too old when I went into the system anyway, but even if I hadn't been I didn't know how to be what they wanted. And by the time I learned to lie it was too late."
"Learned that one pretty well, fucking Spilner," Dom had to say, although it didn't have the edge it would have had a few years ago. The two of them had made their peace over Fenix. And Braga. A pause. "Still sounds like a serial killer name."
"Told you, I'm not the one who picked it. But yeah, that's where it's from. I mean, there was this one guy who wanted his kid to be the star quarterback with the college football scholarship and whatever and that was pretty obviously never going to happen—"
Dom snorted. Brian carried more muscle on his skinny frame than most people would think, but not to that level.
"—and for the record I'm not winning any prizes for my chess game either. But once I figured out how to just let things slide, it was actually pretty easy to be whoever the people I was with wanted me to be. Sixteen and after juvie was too late, it was never going to be more than temporary placements then, but in the end it made me damn good undercover."
"So the stint in juvie from your records was legit?" Then again, when Dom thought about it Brian had said something about meeting Roman in juvie.
"Hm? Oh, for boosting cars? Yeah. Wasn't in Tucson, though, and they doctored it up a little so it didn't sound as stupid as it was."
"Eh, I'd been with this foster family for almost a year and I liked them and kind of thought they liked me—adoption was never going to happen given how old I was, but that's not something they ever come right out and tell you, and you hope, sometimes—but then she got pregnant and there suddenly wasn't room anymore. Just 'good to know you, have a good life, here's your trash bag of clothes' and I was back on the porch of the group home. It was my second or third night back and I just…I don't know. I got angry, stole the director's van, and took it for a joy ride. Which lasted all of a block and a half since I'd never driven anything before." A faint grin returned. "Crashed it straight into a bus stop."
"They locked you up for two years for that?" That was some bullshit. Just about as much as the idea of returning a kid like a library book, and never mind the whole trash bag comment.
"Nah, not for that. Or at least mostly not for that. There was an old four-door parked pretty close to the bus stop, and I was still pissed after I crashed the van so I smashed the window in and stole that next. Made it halfway across the city before I clipped a truck on a bad turn. Spun a few times and next thing I know this big guy is out of his truck and coming towards me, and I couldn't get the car back in gear so I jumped out and took off running. Ended up hopping in a modded up Chevy a few blocks down, and I guess I'd sort of gotten the hang of the whole driving thing because it took a couple police units and a fair amount of property damage to pin me down. They weren't real happy afterwards."
Dom smiled and shook his head. That he could see; Brian was a pretty damn instinctual driver, and he had less concern for property damage than he probably should have even now.
"Anyway, I met Roman in there," Brian continued. "Think I told you that before. He was doing his usual, running his mouth, and I don't know if the guards were relieved or horrified when the two of us hit it off."
"With his mouth I'm surprised that you both made it out in one piece."
"Came closer than it should have a couple times. But there was this one older guy who volunteered with the school program that took an interest. Mr. Tyler. Kind of a hardass sometimes, but it helped."
"Scared you straight?"
Brian's grin widened again. "Not so much, but…I don't know. Rome wouldn't have anything to do with him, but it was kind of nice having someone paying attention. Kept after me after I got out, too. Finish school, don't get into any more trouble—least don't get caught—that kind of thing. And after I had finished school and had managed to stay out of any more major trouble he told me that he was a retired cop and that he'd put a word in for me at the academy if I wanted."
"That's how they got you, then." Dom hadn't expected to hear that story when he'd asked the question about Brian's family.
Brian shrugged. "Pretty much. Can't say I was real into the idea especially at first, but it wasn't like there was a lot else I could do. Economy wasn't going so great, and there wasn't much in the way of jobs in town even for people with a real education, never mind a less-than-impressive high school transcript and a juvenile file. About the only person who'd give me the time of day was Darius—Rome's uncle; he ran a dirt track, and we hung out there some, raced sometimes with cars people may or may not have known were borrowed—but he didn't even have the business to hire Rome full time never mind me."
"What about turning mechanic? You're a decent gearhead, and it's an honest living."
"Better than cop?"
Dom tipped his head at the hit, but Brian's voice didn't have the edge that it might have had a few years back either.
"Now, sure, I could pull that off," Brian said, not pressing the point. "Back then, though? Scrawny kid, didn't even look sixteen never mind my real age, no skills except what I picked up poking around Darius' place? People don't waste a lot of time on dumb kids off the street."
"What do you mean?" Dom asked. "I started full time at my dad's shop after I got out of high school with an education I doubt was any better than yours. Things weren't good, but there was work if you were looking for it." He knew that his father hadn't been entirely thrilled with his choice, but when Dom hadn't shown any interest in pursuing further education even at the community college he hadn't pressed.
"Kind of doubt you fit the description of 'dumb kid,' but even if you did it kind of makes my point, you know."
Dom frowned. He hadn't made any point except that he'd gotten a job.
"Contacts, Dom," Brian continued before he could ask. "You probably don't even think about it, but even if you hadn't already been as good as any other mechanic when you graduated—"
"How do you figure that?" Dom interrupted.
"I know you. You want to argue the point?"
He'd been better than the other full time mechanics except for his father so he didn't bother. "But even if I hadn't been?" he prompted.
"Even if you hadn't been you still had people who knew you. Your father, people he knew, hell, probably plenty of people just from the neighborhood who'd have vouched for you if you'd needed them to. Me, I'm a throwaway. A random kid who'd never even held an address long enough to get a job bagging groceries. Nobody was going to waste time training me when they could throw a stone and hit someone that…well, even if they weren't any more qualified, at least they had some references." He shrugged. "If I'd been able to hang around a shop for a few months, throw a hand in for free, maybe I could have worked something out, but when you turn eighteen you're out of the system and on the streets, and just hanging around somewhere wasn't going to put a roof over my head or food in my stomach. And Rome's family didn't have the money to be keeping another teenager around full time."
Dom opened his mouth and then shut it again. It was true enough that he'd always had people around. Family, friends…even in those two years in prison he'd found a couple guys he was okay with, and his time had been broken up with visits from Mia and the rest of the team. Even on the run he'd known that there were places he could go, people he could contact. The idea of being completely alone and not being able to put some kind of team together was completely foreign to him.
Brian seemed to find something funny in his response. Or lack thereof. "Don't hurt yourself trying to figure it out, okay? How did you say it? It's my world."
Dom shook his head. Maybe it was, but the whole idea still didn't sit right with him. Brian didn't seem to have anything else to add, though, and since they'd touched on the subject earlier…. "So as long as we're talking about cop-Brian, how did you get from Barstow to LA? Can't believe they couldn't find a driver anywhere closer to drop in with us." He grinned slightly. "I mean, you ain't that good."
"Yeah, keep telling yourself that, man." Brian tilted his head back, tossing down the last of his beer. "And I left Barstow a while before that, after some shit went down." He thumbed the edge of the beer label, pressing a curl of paper back against the glass. "Like I said, Darius didn't make enough to hire Rome full time, and there wasn't much else going on so Rome got into some other stuff on the side. I was just a couple months out of the academy when it happened. Didn't even know about the raid going down. Hadn't even seen him for a month or two; he was damn pissed about me joining the force and if you missed it he's not one for keeping his mouth shut."
"You don't say."
Brian's grin reappeared, but only for an instant. It was gone when he started speaking again. "If I had known I'd have warned him and screw the consequences and whatever argument we were having and everything else. I wouldn't have…he stuck by me through too much to let him go down like that. But I didn't so I couldn't and he got caught in a garage with some stolen cars." He shook his head and set the empty beer bottle aside. "I couldn't stay there after that so I took the first shot at a transfer that I got. And LA was bigger so that was better, too. I was never great on a beat, but once they figured out what I could do undercover things smoothed out a little."
"How often did you go undercover? Can't have been that often or we'd have heard about you."
"Undercover like with you guys, that had never happened before. That was a big deal, especially given how new I was to the department. Still kind of feel bad for leaving Tanner on the hook like that after he'd pushed for me, although the fact was that there weren't any other guys on the force who could race decently so it's not like they had a lot of options." He shook his head again. "Nah, before that I was in vice. Street corner dealers, prostitution, gambling…minor league stuff, mostly. Once an illegal fishing ring. That was kind of weird."
"What do you know about fishing?"
"Not a damn thing. Still don't, actually; I think I made up more total shit that week than I have in my entire life. Which is saying something."
"And you were okay with that? Just being someone else all the time?" Dom didn't have a lot of illusions about himself, but he did believe in living his life by his code. He didn't even know how he'd put on someone else's face.
Brian shrugged. "Sure. I was useful, that was good enough. Course it meant not having a clue who I really was—Mia pointed that out once, and she wasn't real nice about it—but most people don't care about that anyway. The fact is I've been doing my best to be someone else since I was a kid so what the hell."
Again, totally and completely alien. Especially to say it so calmly. "And what about now?" he had to ask.
"What about now?"
"You pretending to be anyone else now?"
Another shrug. "Got no one else to be. Kind of nice. Kind of odd, too, but I'm getting used to it." He tilted his head, glancing back towards the kitchen. "Mia will really call it messing if we just take a piece? I can still smell the peach and it's making me hungry."
"You don't want to do that," Dom said.
A pause. "Can I lie and say that's a tradition?"
"You do and I'll kick your ass." He pushed himself to his feet. Now that Brian had mentioned it, his stomach was starting to rumble as well, and Brian seemed to be done talking. In all honesty Dom was too. He had some things to think about. "Come on, last I looked we still had plenty of sandwich supplies. And we'd better get some more of the decorating done before Mia gets back or we're going to hear about it."
Brian sighed as he got to his feet as well, snagging his bottle from the ground. "You realize that sandwiches aren't even in the same league."
"Nope," Dom agreed, ducking inside and opening the fridge. "Hey, Bri?"
Dom dug out the ham and tossed it over to where Brian was opening up the bread. "You ain't a throwaway, okay? Not anymore."
Brian froze for a moment and then dipped his head fractionally.
It was about as much of a response as Dom had expected, and he turned back to the fridge before the silence drew out. "So American or Swiss?"