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Brian heard the voices coming on the other side of the metal door of the trailer, faint but getting closer. The hijackers had pulled the truck over a couple minutes ago, somewhere away from any noise of traffic outside. He stood up and cracked his neck from one side to the other, and took the pouch of blood out of his pocket. He peeled off the cold pack around it, shook it a few times and bit into it.

The blood tasted like congealed shit, like always. He drank it as fast as he could get it down. It still worked to push down the hunger that never went away anymore, and he was used to the taste; he drank them cold even when he was home. Brian planned to be one of the guys who made it, who got past the ten-year hump without going rogue, and fuck the odds against it. He wasn’t going to risk screwing that up just to have a microwaved bag of blood or suck down a rat.

“What do you think it’s going to be?” A young guy talking, excited.

“Insurance said $20 million, it’s got to be high-end stuff.”

“Quit talkin’ until the job’s done,” another voice, deeper. The door was rattling now; they were working on the lock outside. Brian crumpled up the empty pouch and tossed it aside, took a deep breath. He had a second to notice he was smelling something weird before the door rolled up.

There were five of them staring up at him, still wearing balaclavas over their heads, a big guy in the front. Brian waved his FBI badge at them. “Hey, guys,” he said. “Special Agent Brian O’Conner. Ready for that talk you missed in kindergarten, about how it’s not nice to take other people’s stuff?”

Go!” the guy in front snapped, the deep voice. The other four scattered instantly, to all sides, and the guy leaped off the ground at Brian, tackling him around the waist.

It should’ve worked as well as a toddler throwing himself at a brick wall. Brian yelped in surprise as he went over hard instead, badge flying out of his hand as he slammed back into the metal floor. He stared up at the guy’s face, yellow-gold eyes just as surprised back at him, and then he grabbed the guy with both hands and tossed him off. The guy twisted and landed on his feet even as Brian got up, and then charged again, slamming him into the far side of the truck hard enough to dent the metal.

“What the fuck!” Brian said, took hold of the guy’s arm with one hand and punched him, solid hit to the jaw, hard enough to knock out a heavyweight. The guy’s head snapped away for a moment, but the face that turned back and snarled at him was sprouting a whole lot more teeth than people were supposed to have, and the mask was fraying apart over a lengthening snout.

“Oh, shit, werewolf,” Brian said. And then he yelled, “Wait, no—!” and started to let go, shove the wolf away—too late: the guy was half gone over, running on instinct, and his claws ripped straight down Brian’s chest and gut, carving deep, blood spraying out over both of them.

Brian didn’t fall. He was still gripping the werewolf’s arm tight, clamped on. The teeth were fading away, snout pulling back into a human face staring at him horrified, about as freaked out as Brian was about to be. This was not going to end well. Brian tried to push the werewolf away, but he was grabbing on to Brian with both hands to hold him up, saying, “Shit, no, I didn’t mean—oh shit.” He was lowering him to the ground. “Jesus. Come on, cop, don’t die on me.”

His voice was going even more gravelly, stretched out. “Too late,” Brian said faintly, and then the hunger took over. Time slowed down, expanding: his body going into hunting mode. The guy was bending down over him, the mask riding up his neck, a beautiful target. Brian hit the jugular dead on with both fangs, through fur and skin and straight into the vein, and oh fuck. Oh fuck.

The blood hit his system like it was going three hundred miles per hour, hot and sweet and singing, alive. It was like water and heroin together: everything his body needed mixed up with the best high in the whole fucking world, and he’d never even imagined

Let go, let go, he had to let go. Brian tried to make his hands open, his teeth unlock, every training session, every lecture, every warning repeating in his ears. His jaw moved, loosening just a little, and then a thump echoed through him—the werewolf’s heartbeat, like a roll of thunder, slow and powerful. It drove the blood roaring across Brian’s fangs, faster than he could even drink: like pouring a gush of water over his head in the middle of the desert, everywhere, running over, sweet and endless, and he was gone. 

Brian cupped a hand dreamily around the werewolf’s neck, drew him tight to his mouth, nuzzling in. The werewolf made a noise, a slow huff of surprise as the high of the bite roped him in. The last of his fur was melting away to warm smooth skin, heartbeat picking up as time started to move for Brian again. The feedback loop was kicking in: the vampire’s high going right into the bloodstream, triggering the victim’s high, coming back out in the blood, a crazy run of pure acceleration that would keep going all the way until it crashed them both right off the track.

Brian couldn’t make himself think about that. There wasn’t anything else in the world but the bite. It was like being back in the sun, driving with the top down, everything he’d lost except ten times better, and oh fuck, he wasn’t going to be able to stop. He wasn’t going to be able to stop, and if he didn’t stop— He made a desperate straining effort and lifted his hand and planted it on the guy’s chest, over his heart. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done. When the heartbeat slowed—when it slowed—

But the werewolf’s heart wasn’t slowing down. It kept thumping, even and steady; the blood kept coming; the high kept going. “Holy fuck,” the guy said, deep and strained, and then he started moving. But he wasn’t trying to get away, he was—he was shredding Brian’s shirt, shredding the rest of his own, putting them skin to skin everywhere he could reach.

Oh, Christ. Brian moaned deep in his throat without lifting his lips from the skin. Sex and heat and lust were pouring into the feedback loop too, now, a kind of hunger he’d almost forgotten how to feel. He started helping frantically, heaving his hips off the floor of the truck, using his free hand to yank open his belt, rip off what was left of his pants—taser, gun, loose change scattering away across the metal floor like rain on the hood of a parked car. Then they were naked, rubbing against each other, and it was everything, every kind of high, every kind of good. Brian felt—hot, for the first time in a year, in every sense of the word—he was hot for it, he wanted it, he was even sweating, god.

“Enough already,” the werewolf muttered, twitching his head sideways, giving him a jostle—not trying to fight, just trying to get him to move, because they couldn’t fit together with Brian’s teeth in his neck. And just like that, it was abruptly, ridiculously easy to let go: Brian pulled out and sprawled back, opening up the room they needed. He didn’t want blood anymore. There were other things he wanted.

“Yeah, there we go,” the werewolf said, shoved his legs up and moved onto him. He pushed, Brian pushed back, and they slid together, easy as that. It didn’t hurt, nothing could hurt.

“Come on,” Brian said, suddenly crazy for it. “Come on already,” pushing his hips back, and the werewolf growled deep down and started thrusting into him, fast hard strokes Brian could actually feel all the way down to his bones, shaking his whole body. Oh, fuck it was amazing. “Fuck, yes, harder,” he groaned.

Harder?” the werewolf said. “You want it—oh fuck,” and then he was grabbing Brian under the thighs and heaving him up, backing him against the wall and oh Christ it got even better, the guy was slamming up, gravity pulling down, and every stroke was setting off fireworks in the back of Brian’s skull. The werewolf had one hand braced against the wall, next to his head, and Brian turned to his wrist and bit down again: not to drink, just to take it even higher.

“Oh, holy shit,” the guy said, and yeah, no kidding: the bite bringing the whole thing to them from both sides, getting fucked and fucking at the same time. They were rocking together, gasping, moving, flying down the open highway, and when they came it felt like coming back to life, only a thousand times  better.

The werewolf held them up for a while longer, shuddering through aftershocks. He finally sank down to the floor with Brian still in his lap and draped half over him, their foreheads resting limp against each other, both of them panting in deep gulping breaths. Brian finally collapsed backwards and slid off to the floor, still floating in the haze, and after a moment the werewolf tipped over and landed with a thump next to his side.

Brian stayed sprawled flat, his eyes mostly closed. His whole body felt heavy, satisfied all the way through. He managed to get enough of a hold on his brain to slide his hand down the guy’s arm, check his pulse—hard and steady but not hectic, his skin still warm, no sign he’d just donated what felt like at least a liter of blood zipping around Brian’s veins.

“What the fuck did I just do,” the werewolf said blankly.

Sounded pretty coherent, too. Brian let his hand slip off to the floor as the guy sat up and stared down at him. Most of the balaclava was still covering his head. His eyes had gone mostly brown, only a little flecked up with gold. He was built big and solid, shoulders a mile wide, veins standing out on his arms and chest. The bites had already closed over, and his bruises were fading away like they were smudges somebody was wiping off his skin. Brian took a deep breath, inhaled him in: he already smelled familiar, a trail he could’ve followed for a hundred years.

“Shit,” the werewolf said, and then he was up and gone, shifting even as he jumped out of the truck, and Brian pushed up on his elbows, wobbly, to see a grey-brown wolf the size of a pony disappearing off the side of the road.

#

Dom spent the whole next day at the garage, working determinedly in full sight of the street, nothing to see here, nothing wrong. If he was on a list somewhere to be picked out, he wasn’t going to give the cops any extra reasons to think it was him, like running before he had to. That cop O’Conner hadn’t seen his face. He’d seen a whole lot of the rest of him, but Dom wasn’t planning to think about that part of last night if he had to resort to taking apart the engine down to the cold bare block and hand-cleaning every part with a toothbrush.

He had to take half a dozen breaks the whole day just to eat, though, every last one a reminder he didn’t need. He was fucking starving. Thanks to the wolf, he could pack it away anytime, but this was a lot more urgent. He’d told everybody to lie low, but Leon showed up with a sack of egg sandwiches, Letty came in with meatball heroes, Vince stopped by with a stack of three loaded pizzas, like they all felt through the pack bond how bad he needed it. Mia came by on her way home from school with burgers, and then she sat and watched him work a while. “What happened, Dom?” she said.

“I already told you,” he said, keeping his head under the hood. “I managed to knock down the cop, we all got away clean. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

“Uh huh,” she said. “What part of that are you lying to me about?”

“Go do your homework,” Dom said.

She paused and said, a little warily, “Dom, are you—hurt?

He felt fucking fantastic. Like he’d had the best workout of his life, done things with his body he hadn’t known he could do, pushed it to a whole new level. Even being hungry felt good, somehow: he was hungry because his body had work to do. “No,” he said shortly. She could tell he wasn’t lying about that, so she sighed and gave up and left him.

He was under the car working on the suspension when somebody else came in, a few hours later. His gut said pack, loud and clear, and there was too much machine-oil stink in his face for his nose to get more specific. “Jesse, that you? Get the jack and lift her up a foot for me, willya.”

The car came up—three feet up, no jack involved, and Dom hauled ass out and shot to his feet, because it was the cop, O’Conner, lifting the car up with one hand like it was made out of legos. He put the car down again after Dom came out from under. “I’m kind of surprised you aren’t halfway to Mexico already,” the cop said.

“Not sure what you’re talking about,” Dom said flatly, his gut tightening into a knot. The wolf wanted to come out, real bad, and shit, Dom couldn’t even be sure why: to fight, to fuck, both. Dom put a hard leash on it.

O’Conner cocked his head and looked right past him. “Dominic Toretto, huh?” Dom looked around: he couldn’t see his name on anything, unless the guy was reading it off the business card holder sitting on the desk against the back wall.

Fuck, he probably was. He was a vampire. “What about it?” Dom said.

“Well, Toretto, after last night, I could pick you out of a lineup of ten thousand guys without breaking a sweat, and my sensory testimony’s admissible. So can we skip the crap? If I wanted to turn you in, I’d’ve done it by now.”

“Yeah?” Dom said, folding his arms. “So what do you want?”

O’Conner stared at him. “Are you kidding me?”

Dom stared at him, spent three seconds telling himself firmly no fucking way. Well, two seconds, maybe. Then he had O’Conner by the wrist and was dragging him around the side and shoving him into the back seat.

The bite didn’t obliterate Dom’s brain as much this time, which wasn’t a plus. He knew exactly what he was doing and who he was doing, every step of the way, and he had to deal with the fact that he kept on doing it anyway. He fucked O’Conner twice that time, teeth in his wrist and wolf in his blood—pounded the hell out of him, let go the way he’d never been able to let go with anyone in his whole life, and all O’Conner did was complain when he stopped for a minute to catch his breath.

“Give me a minute!” Dom said. “You’ve gotten yours, haven’t you?”

“Come on, man, you’re leaving me hanging here.” O’Conner nudged his hips up.

“Are all vampires this whiny, or is it just you?” Dom said.

O’Conner narrowed his eyes, and then he turned back to Dom’s wrist and brought it up to his mouth and scraped one fang over the pulse, just barely, not enough to break the skin.

“Oh, fuck you,” Dom said, and started pounding him again, kept going until they both went over again, and then he gave out and fell down on top of him.

“God, wow,” O’Conner said drunkenly. Dom heard it with a reverb, his head pillowed on O’Conner’s chest. He didn’t want to move even a little. O’Conner’s hand was on the back of his neck, sliding up and down, stroking him, and the wolf was loving it too, happy to lie there and get petted, satisfied, job well done. Oh, fuck that. Dom got his hands on the seat and struggled up.

O’Conner managed to lever himself upright into the other corner of the back seat, sprawled out, still breathing hard. He’d looked too-pretty even last night, behind the door of the truck, but now he was unreal: like somebody had just given him a fresh paint job and rolled him right into the glossy pages of a magazine. “So,” he said, blinking blue eyes at Dom. “Nice to meet you?”

“Like hell it is,” Dom said.

#

Dom handed over the menu. “Porterhouse for two, keep it bloody, and one of all the sides. And bring a Corona, too.”

O’Conner gave the waitress the winelist. “Let’s see a bottle of that 99 Pavie.”

She also took his menu, which he hadn’t opened. Because he’d already fucking eaten. Dom glared at him. “You’re buying dinner.”

“What, the heisting business doesn’t actually pay?” O’Conner shot back. “Yeah, fine, I’ve got it.”

Dom snorted. “So what do we do about this?”

O’Conner blew out a breath. “Uh. All right.” He rubbed his face. “We find an abandoned warehouse, one of those empty places downtown,” he said after a moment. “Whatever you haven’t fenced yet, we pile it all in there. Wipe down the cars, park them outside, torch them. Leave a set of tracks going out of town—” 

“What the hell are you talking about?” Dom said.

O’Conner stared at him. “Keeping your ass out of jail, Toretto. What are you talking about?”

This!” Dom said. “What the fuck do we do about this? Jesus.”

They sat back from the table glaring at each other as the waitress came back with his beer, and another waiter showed up with O’Conner’s bottle and a corkscrew and opened it up. O’Conner took the glass, took one sniff. “I ordered the 99,” he said. He handed it back.

“Yes, sir, the—oh, I’m sorry,” the waiter said, looking at the bottle, which said 1998. “One moment.”

Dom rolled his eyes as they swapped it out and went through the whole production again. “Makes that big a difference, huh?”

“The 99’s a better year, man,” O’Conner said. “Don’t werewolves have—” He waved his hand vaguely at Dom’s nose.

“Doesn’t make me fucking prissy,” Dom said.

“Yeah, well,” O’Conner said. “There’s not a lot that gets better on this side, I’ll take what I can get.”

Dom was getting a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. “How long have you even been a vampire?”

“About a year,” O’Conner said. “Last August.”

“So you don’t know shit about any of this, do you?”

O’Conner leaned back in his seat and gave Dom a look from under his lashes, smirk tacked on for good measure. “I didn’t notice you complaining a couple hours ago.”

Dom scowled at him. “Aren’t you supposed to have some master telling you how things work?”

“Yeah, because what the Bureau really wants to do is set up a master vampire with a small army of federal agents. No, man, I got turned on a lab table with an IV, not somebody biting me in a back alley somewhere.”

Jesus, lying on a table with somebody bleeding you out, on purpose. “What the fuck makes you go for that?”

“Metastatic brain tumor,” O’Conner said shortly. “Started seeing blurry one day, next day I had an MRI and four weeks to live.” He tipped up his wineglass.

Dom blew out a breath. All right, shit. “So you let them turn you into a vampire, huh?”

“The three percent odds beat the ones I had. Well, before I broke every fucking rule in the book last night, anyway,” O’Conner said, and sighed. He got his bottle of wine again.

“So back to the goddamn question: what do we do about it?”

O’Conner shrugged. “Keep doing it until we don’t want to anymore? I don’t know, what did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know what you used to do in your free time, but far as I’m concerned, this isn’t fucking natural.”

“The only thing that’s not natural about it is you’re not dead,” O’Conner said. “Fuck, I thought for sure I was going to—” He stopped and ran a hand over his face, sitting back.

Dom hunched forward over his Corona, a cold knot tightening in his stomach, too. He’d almost forgotten those first sick moments on the truck. People he hit once stayed down: he’d never even been tempted to really let the wolf out in a fight before. Then O’Conner had slammed him with that punch to the head, and for the first time in his life Dom had been cornered, knowing in his gut he wasn’t going to win this one, and the wolf had slipped the leash and come right on out. Blood all over his hands, O’Conner hanging on to him with that surprised look on his face, and Dom had thought—he’d thought—

“Yeah, well, you didn’t,” he said. “And I didn’t. So we’re square.”

“Square?” O’Conner said. “You hijacked the truck! You hijacked fourteen trucks. We’re not square. Jesus.”

Lucky for him, right then the Porterhouse landed. O’Conner drank the rest of the way through his bottle while Dom tore through the steak, three inches of rare and dripping and charred on the outside, perfect. After he’d downed it along with the rest of the sides, he didn’t feel like punching O’Conner’s in the head so badly anymore. “Fine,” Dom said, shoving back the mopped-clean plate, finally feeling full again: he’d even cracked the bones open to get the last of the juice out. “We put up with it for now. It’s got to wear off sooner or later.”

“Uh huh,” O’Conner said. “So what do you think about not going to jail before then? Because I don’t think they’re going to let us have conjugal visits.”

#

Brian managed to get back to the Bureau before two in the morning, mostly because Toretto had called in his crew to bring their cars and the leftover stolen goods to the warehouse, and he’d kicked him out before they got there. “I’m not letting you see any of them,” he’d said.

Brian rolled his eyes. “They were there last night, Toretto. I can track them down, too. There’s a reason the Bureau likes to keep some vampire agents in their pocket.”

“Yeah? Then you don’t need to meet them now,” Toretto said.

“You’re right, I don’t,” Brian said. “But we could have another round while we waited.”

Toretto had looked torn for a minute, but then he’d shaken himself all over. “Fuck you, O’Conner, not when it puts my pack on the line. Get out of here.”

Brian had sighed. “See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, fine,” Toretto had muttered.

Brian parked his car and flipped his ID to the guard and went down to the night shift level. He came off the stairs and pushed through the fire door just in time to hear Stasiak saying, “—knew he was going to go over the line! He’s probably out there eating junkies right now—”

“What the hell?” Brian said, and Stasiak jumped and turned around.

“Goddammit, O’Conner, where the hell have you been?” Penning demanded.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ve been out doing my job?” Brian said. “I thought you wanted those hijackers tracked down. Are you kidding me, Stasiak, I’m out in the field for less than 24 hours and you’re calling me rogue?”

Stasiak was leaning away from him, looking a little pale. “O’Conner!” Penning said. Brian rounded on him. “We found the truck this afternoon on the side of the road with a bloodstain the size of Texas, no word from you, no sign of the hijackers. What the hell happened?”

Oh, shit. Brian wanted to kick himself. After his little go-around with Toretto, he’d staggered out of the truck like a drunk on a two-day bender, and he’d just gone home and fallen into his box just before morning. And then the first thing he’d done when he woke up was head straight back to Toretto for more. He hadn’t even thought about the crime scene.

“They hit me,” he said, bullshitting as fast as he could go. “The winch they were using to get through the windshields, they shot it through me and ripped out half my guts and ran. I made it home to my stash, but morning hit while I was still healing. When I woke up tonight, I went around all the local suspects to try and get a scent match as fast as I could before they took off. Is there a problem with any of that?” He aimed that at Stasiak.

“O’Conner,” Penning said, but he was sounding milder about it.

“And hey, does anybody want to know what I found?” Brian said. “Assuming my work’s still good around here.”

“All right, all right, calm down,” Penning said, and good, he was headed back to the right level of annoyed-as-usual. “Let’s have it.”

“No hits on any of the locals,” Brian said, got that lie out of the way. “But I got something near Alameda Street. One of the closed up warehouses down there. I smelled smoke, too, so I went around back—”

“With no warrant?” Stasiak put in.

“I had cause by the time I went inside!” Brian said. “I found the cars outside around back: they’d torched them, they were still burning. There was another set of tracks I followed as far as I-5.”

“So they’re gone, huh?” Stasiak said. “That’s just great—”

Brian wheeled around on him, not having to even work at it to be pissed off at him anymore. “You done, Stasiak? Cause I’m done.”

For a second, Brian felt the world slowing down, moving into hunting time as easily as if it was where he belonged instead of someplace he had to be half-dead to go. Stasiak actually backed up a couple of steps that time, hands coming up in slow-mo, eyes going scared.  “O’Conner!” Penning said, syllables stretching like molasses, weirdly deep, and Brian jerked out of it, turning away from Stasiak.

“What’s the address on that warehouse?” Penning said, eyeing him a little oddly.

“665 East 4th,” Brian said, swallowing, telling himself nothing had happened. “On the bright side, it’s floor-to-ceiling electronics in there, probably at least a couple of hauls they hadn’t moved yet.”

Penning sighed. “Well, that’s something,” he said. “Stasiak, take Trinh and head down there, get started on collecting the evidence—”

“Hey, what the hell,” Brian said, but Penning was raising a hand.

“We need you on something else,” he said. “Orders came in a couple hours ago, special operation. That’s the other reason we were trying to figure out where you were. Come with me.”

Brian followed him, warily, because Penning was heading for the stairs, and the last time he’d been down on the lower levels had been the day he’d died. The security on the lower floors was a lot tougher than above: the door was three inches of solid steel, and it took a retinal scan of Penning’s eye before it opened up and let them through. The guards on the other side were wearing heavy-duty body armor and armed with crossbows, the kind that had wooden shafts and silver-plated arrowheads. Brian gave them a look as he went by, but he made sure to keep it a look in passing, not hey is that for me.

Penning led him into a big conference room. “O’Conner made it in, Hobbs,” he said, and Brian stiffened. He’d met Hobbs once before: he’d been the last of the scare talks. The whole changeover program had a split personality: yeah, the Bureau wanted vampire agents on tap, but they didn’t want the guilt when they had to hunt down the ones that went rogue. So they only offered it to you in the first place if you had that nice shiny terminal diagnosis, and after they sold it to you, they tried to change your mind back.

Hobbs had done the best job of it, that was for sure. He’d gone up to the front of the last waiting room, put his hands on his hips and looked around the five people sitting there, all of them different shades of sick and fading. “Take a good look before you go through that last door,” he’d said. “Get to know my face. Because chances are, I’m the guy that’s going to kill you. We’ve had thirty-eight agents take changeover in the last ten years. I’ve had to take down thirty-four and counting, and don’t fool yourself that ten years is some kind of home-free zone, either, because the rogue I took out seven months ago was twelve years in before he went maneater on us.”

Hell, Brian had watched half the group wash out right then: the one with the stage III and the two guys on the transplant list. The only reason he’d stuck around himself was he had nowhere else to go but a hospice bed, and nobody to give a shit that he was in it, either.  Now Hobbs was turning around, fixing him with a hard eye. “Agent O’Conner. Where have you been?”

“Do I have to do this again?” Brian asked Penning.

“It’s all right, Hobbs,” Penning said. “He took a hit, had to go home, and got trapped by sunrise.”

“Is that so,” Hobbs said. He looked Brian up and down. “Looking pretty flush now, O’Conner.”

“I had to drink half my stash to knit my guts back together,” Brian fired back. “You want to dock my pay or what?”

“Alvarez!” Hobbs said. One of his people turned around from her station. “Get the kit and check him.”

“Check what?” Brian said.

Alvarez was coming over with a small medical box, gleaming silver needles and thin plastic tubing. “When a vampire takes a kill, it leaves traces in their blood for forty-eight hours afterwards,” she said coolly, holding out her hand for his arm.

“Are you kidding me?” Brian said, looking at Penning, but he could already tell he wasn’t getting anything there.

“I don’t have time for bullshit, O’Conner,” Hobbs said. He’d dropped a hand to his sidearm, and Brian knew that thing wasn’t loaded with ordinary bullets. “You’ve been AWOL for nineteen hours. Put out your arm and let’s check it.”

This is bullshit,” Brian said, unbuttoning his sleeve and rolling it up, his heart pounding. He held his arm out, suddenly aware of every other agent in the room, a dozen and more of them. Most of them had eyes on him right now, not friendly ones either. If there was something in werewolf blood that tripped the test—“Ow!” he said, as Alvarez shoved the needle in hard. “You mind?”

“Vampires don’t bleed all that easily,” she said. “Hold still.” The blood came out dark and slow and sluggishly, but she got her vials filled up and bagged the kit in a biohazard bag.

“So what’s going on that I was supposed to be here for, anyway?” Brian said, while she started working on the samples.

Hobbs didn’t answer, just kept staring at him narrowly, waiting. Alvarez put drops in the three vials and shook them up, checked each one against the light, then turned around and shook her head. “He’s clean. Triple negative.”

“Hm,” Hobbs said. He gave Brian one last suspicious squint. “All right, O’Conner. Let’s go,” he said abruptly. “This briefing’s been waiting on you for three hours already.”

“Briefing about what?” Brian said, but Hobbs was already leading him into a room with seven other agents scattered around the seats—seven other vampire agents. Brian stopped in the doorway. He knew Gonzales: they’d been in the same group. Huang had taken the change a year ahead of him. The other five he’d only seen in passing: senior agents, somewhere between three and eight years on. Vampires didn’t play all that well together if they didn’t have the same master calling the shots; the Bureau hooked them up with teams of human agents, not each other.

Except now, apparently. All of them looked back at him, eyes flicking up and down, and he knew they were running the same numbers going in his own head, the automatic instinct when you threw a whole bunch of territorial predators in together: anyone in this room I can’t take?

Brian’s gut said, no. He went into the room and sat down in the front row, stretched an arm over the empty seat next to him and let the rest of them have his back just to show them he wasn’t worried.

Hobbs scowled down at him from the podium one more time. “All right. As most of you already know, you’re all in here because we’re fucked.” He nodded to the guy behind the laptop, and an org chart went up. “Three weeks ago, there was a bloodbath at the top of the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, the guys who control the L.A. market. The DEA couldn’t get a whole lot of intel on the situation right away, but it’s shaken out enough at this point we know that all three of the heads of the cartel went down. Hector Guzman, the former operations officer, is now at the top.” Hobbs paused. “And he’s been turned.”

“Do we know who his master is?” Huang said.

“Yeah,” Hobbs said. “Guzman now answers to this charmer.” He flicked a switch and put up a headshot that was unquestionably a vampire, and not anything like a new one: her skin was so bleached it looked faintly blue, and her hair had gone completely white. In the picture it was piled up on her head in huge loops stuck through with blue jeweled pins, like something out of an old painting. “She goes by Urraca de Almanca,” Hobbs said. “Six hundred fifty-odd years, from what we’ve been able to trace. She’s got three tiers of descendants stacked up under her, and she’s got ambitions. Three guesses who she’s about to pick a fight with, and the first two don’t count.”

“She’s going after Chan?” Brian said.

“She’s going after Chan,” Hobbs said. “Which means this city’s about to be the site of a goddamn vampire war.”

#

Dom set up on a rooftop the next morning about six blocks away with a pair of binoculars to watch the cops swarm over the warehouse. “Goddammit,” he said out loud, watching them cart out the electronics: worth a good two or three million in cash, money they’d put their lives on the line for, and now he was just handing it back. The cars were a total loss, too. But O’Conner was right, fuck him anyway. No better way to convince the cops they’d really burned their bridges.

“They get back a good haul of stolen goods, see the cars totaled, and the hijackings stop cold, they’ll figure it was a professional crew from out of town who cut their losses and got out as soon as they got burned, because that’s what smart pros would do,” Brian had said. “They’ll leave a couple of rookies poking around for a few more weeks, then the case file will get closed, and you’ll be in the clear. But if you give them a reason to keep looking around here, you’re going down sooner or later, no matter what I tell them.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Dom had said, all the more pissed off because he knew it was right. It wasn’t making him feel any better now to watch the cops cart away his hard-stolen goods with his own two eyes, but he had to do something with the goddamn day: he wasn’t going to sit around waiting for sunset. His stomach kept rumbling, but he made himself ignore that too, just to prove that he could, until the cops finally cleared out around noon. He headed back home after a stop in at a diner for a triple cheeseburger, six eggs, two orders of pancakes, a chef salad, bacon, toast, and seven helpings of broccoli with cheese, because he saw it on the menu and abruptly couldn’t get enough of it. Fucking vampire.

Jesse was puttering around the garage, Letty and Vince outside perched on their cars: lying in wait for him. “The cops took the bait, it’s going down fine,” he told them shortly, and then he got down and pulled himself under the RX-7 before any of them could start trying to ask him questions.

He still hadn’t told any of them about O’Conner. He’d just ordered them to get the stuff to the warehouse, told them they were ditching the Civics and the goods to lay a false trail. Letty had argued with him over it, so had Vince, but he’d laid down the law and they’d gone along in the end. They could tell it was the smart move, too, even if they liked it about as much as he had. No reason to mention O’Conner.

Of course, they were pack, so they all knew there was something he wasn’t telling them about. They also knew he wasn’t going to tell them, which should’ve kept them off his back, except he had a goddamn annoying bunch of packmates. He glared at the undercarriage. They were going to sit around waiting expectantly at him until he did tell them, weren’t they? Yeah, he could tell that was the idea. Well, they could wait for a long while, then, because he was going to explain this thing with O’Conner to them soon as he explained it to himself, and that would be a couple of weeks after never.

“If you can’t find anything better to do than sit around, one of you go get some sandwiches,” he said from under the car.

Letty dropped a couple of grinder subs next to the car maybe fifteen minutes later. “We going racing tonight?” she said.

“Go if you want.” He reached out and reeled in the sandwiches. He tore into the first one without coming out.

“Fine, you know what, fuck you, Toretto,” she said, and kicked his ankle hard through his boot as she went by, collecting up Vince.

Dom cursed under his breath and kept working and eating, scowling up at the car between bites. He wasn’t going to watch the shadows getting longer on the sidewalk, and he wasn’t going to think about how long it was going to take O’Conner to come by, and he wasn’t going to think about fucking him on the hood, either.

Shit. Dom hauled himself out to get another beer and looked down the street at the sun going down, helpless not to want it and mad enough to punch his fist through a wall at the same time. It wasn’t even the goddamn bite, it was—it was giving it to somebody who could take it, who could handle everything he had to give, no matter how angry he got. Somebody he could let the leash off with. Like he really wanted to right now.

“You okay?” Jesse said, timidly, from behind the counter. Dom looked over: the kid had completely reorganized all the tools again. He sighed.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “Go on, Jesse, go hit the races. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Ah, I don’t care, there’s not gonna be anything new to see,” Jesse said. “I’ll hang around.”

“Go,” Dom said.

“Okay,” Jesse said. He hopped down and headed out, slinging his backpack over his shoulder.

Dom did a little more work on the car, just some bullshit poking around. The street was full dark now, and he couldn’t even fool himself anymore that he wasn’t just killing time. O’Conner maybe had needed to go to work first, maybe the cops were giving him shit for losing the hijackers. Or maybe O’Conner was handing him and his pack over right now, which was what Dom should’ve been worried about, except he just wasn’t. “Shit,” Dom muttered, throwing his rag into the bucket.

“Dominic Toretto?”

He turned, frowning. There was a girl standing in the entrance of the garage, just inside the light. She was short, not a long way past her teens, with long, long black hair in swinging braids with beads at the end and toasted skin under her blue sleeveless dress: something like a Mexicana look to her but not all the way; mixed with Native or something.

“What about it?” he said. She came into the shop and smiled at him over the hood of the car. Maybe he was just simmering, but something about her put his back up, even though she was beautiful—almost too beautiful; a burnished look to her skin. “We’re closed.”

“I don’t have a car,” she said.

“Yeah, well, this is a garage, so maybe you’re in the wrong place,” Dom said.

“I hope not,” she said. Her accent was funny, too, nothing he’d ever heard before. “You must forgive me for being so forward, Dominic. I have come to extend an invitation for you to come and meet my... boss, shall we say. He is very eager to meet you. I think you would find him an extremely valuable friend.”

“I got enough friends already,” Dom said. “I’m going to have to pass.” His hands were tight on the socket wrench, though she wouldn’t have come up to his shoulder standing next to him. His gut was telling him to back away fast. He ignored it and stood his ground.

“It is very unfortunate you should say so, Dominic. Might I persuade you with a small token of our esteem? Perhaps—one million, in cash?” she said.

Yeah, he didn’t like her at all. “I’m not for sale,” he said flatly. “Get out of my garage.”

She sighed. “I am afraid I will really have to insist.” Then she reached down and pushed the car lightly out of the way between them.

Dom hadn’t ever needed to be taught the same lesson twice: he didn’t try to tackle her. He backed up instead, shifting fast, fingers stretching into claws and teeth coming out. All the pack bonds had already lit up like Christmas in the back of his skull: everybody was coming, he could feel them distant but on the way. He grabbed the sledgehammer off the wall and swung, fast as he could, as she came at him.

It wasn’t fast enough. She moved under the swing as smooth as if they’d rehearsed it a hundred times, caught the head of the hammer in one hand and stopped it mid-air without even trying, the recoil vibrating all the way down the handle to his hands like an electric shock, stinging. She pulled it in, trying to reel him in towards her. He let go and jumped onto the hood of the Mazda, but she jumped right after him, and before he could back away any further, she’d kicked his legs out from under him and pinned him to the roof with one hand on his throat and a knee across his legs as easy as if he’d been a rag doll, the whole thing dented in beneath him. “Now, Dominic,” she said. “This could be much more pleasant if you didn’t fight. If you insist on struggling, I’ll have to restrain you—”

Brian hit her side-on, slammed her all the way across the garage and into the back wall and started punching her. Dom rolled up on his side and saw Brian had something on his hand, something like brass knuckles but shining silver instead, and when he slugged her with it, he got blood. But then she whipped him across the face with an open-hand backhand and knocked him to the floor, and she leaped after him moving so fast she was a blur. Brian barely twisted aside from her fist slamming two inches straight down into the concrete where his head had just been.

Dom shifted all the rest of the way, going full wolf, and the room went crisp and sharp-edged. Both the vampires were in bright color, like his brain was using a highlighter on them, and it made it easier to see the blur of them moving. The woman was driving Brian backwards all around the garage, and he was working all-out just to keep from getting his head ripped off, it looked to Dom. He jumped down to the floor.

She struck for Brian’s face, and when he managed to block that hit, she took his legs out with a sweep of her foot, sending him sprawling. As she bent down to grab him, Dom lunged at her and took out her right hamstring, taste of her blood stinging and rotten on his teeth, like a warning not to eat. She shrieked and went to one knee, and Brian sprang up and hit her again faster than Dom could even see, pounding her head back and forth, five or six more times maybe.

Then she got her feet back under her, grabbed the side of the Mazda, and she picked up the whole fucking car with one hand and clobbered Brian into the floor with it. He vanished out of sight under screaming metal as the whole car accordioned against the floor. Dom launched himself at her, snarling, and landed on her back. She staggered forward onto the wrecked heap, but even with his full weight on her shoulders, she caught herself on her hands and straightened back up. He ripped at her with his claws and teeth, shredding her clothes and skin, but she was healing as fast as he could tear her. She reached over and grabbed him with a hand like an iron clamp and threw him off. He managed to twist mid-air, landing on his feet, just as she turned around: her face bloodied and her eyes a red almost dark enough to be black, fangs out and glowing to his eyes.

But there were engines roaring closer. The whole pack came squealing right up to the garage door, bursting out of their cars already changing shape and falling into place behind him, spreading out. The vampire hissed. Vince roared and charged right at her,  but she darted under his swipes and grabbed him by a leg and just picked him up and threw him across the garage, half a ton of grizzly bear smashing into one of the cabinets, crushing it like an empty beer can. Letty and Leon came at her from opposite sides, the next wave, but she kicked them both away, hard. Dom snarled and pushed out the new game plan; they started feinting at her instead in waves, making her lean one way and then the other, jerking back before they got all the way in range.

He took his own shot, then, feinted in once, twice, and then the third time he went for it, same time as Mia and Jesse both went in, and he managed to get the same hamstring again: he didn’t know if vampire healing was a full reset-button, but it couldn’t hurt, and anyway it made him feel better, seeing her go to one knee again.

They went for another round of it: Dom wanted to try and get her again before the first injury healed up. But she’d figured out the game, and she was crouched and nursing the hurt leg, waiting. When Mia went for another dash, the vampire jumped forward and got her, hands pinning Mia at the base of the neck and the hips, and she looked up, fangs bared, and hissed at Dom, “Are you coming with me, or do I break her in half?”

He froze; they all froze, his rage and panic burning along the pack bond. She smiled, glowing white fangs, and then abruptly her face changed, mouth rounded, as the broken-off  wooden handle of the sledgehammer came shoving out of her chest, through her back. She dropped to her knees, letting Mia go, and Brian was standing panting behind her, half his head a mess like raw sausage. He was holding the handle with another hand on the other vampire’s shoulder, keeping her in place. “Grab her!” he said. “If she gets off the stake—”

Dom surged back out of wolf form onto two feet running for them and grabbed the vampire’s shoulders just as she started thrashing like crazy, keeping her on the handle. Mia twisted up from the floor and joined him, and then Vince was there too. It went on for what felt like forever: Brian holding the handle with both hands, teeth clenched and straining, and the rest of them keeping her from getting loose, until she finally stiffened all over and went still in their hands, the last of the color fading out of her body in Dom’s sight.

They all held on a little longer, shaking, and finally let her drop to the ground, handle still pushed the whole way through her chest. “Shit,” Brian said, hoarsely, and sank down onto the half-crushed hood of the Nissan, hand over his gut. He was covered in blood, deep gouges all over his body, a massive wound ripped through his whole left side, white bone gleaming out where the skin was only sluggishly knitting over it. The back left side of his head had been caved in and was slowly swelling back out under blood-matted hair like a tire being reinflated.

Dom got slowly up on his feet, shifting back down the rest of the way. Letty was shifting too, over by the closet; she threw him a pair of pants. The whole pack was getting back into their skins, shaking off snouts and claws and fur, panting. They all fell into a ring half circling Brian, staring at him, and then one by one they all turned the stares at Dom.

Fucking great. “This is Brian,” Dom said shortly, jerking the pants on.

“He’s a vampire!” Jesse said, captain fucking obvious.

“Yeah,” Dom said.

“He’s a cop,” Vince said loudly.

“That too,” Dom said, pinning him with a hard eye. Vince glared back, but he had about ten different things that wanted to come out of his mouth, and before he picked one Brian jerked his head up out of its sag against his chest and said suddenly, “Oh, shit, quick—cellphones, cameras—come on, quick, soon as the blood stops she’s gonna go—” He was scrambling through his own pockets, fumbling out a half-smashed cellphone, slapping it against his hand a couple of times like that was going to make it start working, and then he grabbed Jesse’s iPhone out of his warily extended hand and aimed it at the dead vampire and started the video.

“What do you mean, she’s gonna go?” Letty said, hand already going to grip one of the big socket wrenches leaning against the wall by her. “She’s gonna come back again after that?”

“No, I mean, she’s gonna go,” Brian said. “Delayed decomposition. However old she is, however long she’s been out of the ground, that’s how far she’ll—” He stopped, because it had started, and it was happening so fast it didn’t look real: skin rotting away, curling up; eyes sinking in, hair drying away from a desiccating skull, teeth bared in a grin as the last of the flesh went. Then the bones started going too: ribs and fingers and toes crumbling, edges of the big ones, teeth falling in one after another. The broken sledgehammer handle thumped to the floor as it kept going, all of her turning to crumbled bits and then crumbling some more to dust, and then the whole pile of her was blowing away, scattering across the floor, into the wind.

“Madre,” Leon muttered under his breath.

“Wow,” Jesse said, peering down at what wasn’t left. “That was wild, man. How old do you have to be, to go like that?”

Brian sank back down on the heap, panting as he turned off the video. “I don’t know. A few hundred years?” He reached around and rubbed at the giant bloodstain that was still the back curve of his skull.

“There a lot of vampires that old wandering around L.A.?” Dom said sharply.

“Hell, no,” Brian said. “Maybe five or six of them.” He rubbed his head again. He looked up at Dom, his face half confused, eyes blown. “What was she even doing here?”

“She said she wanted me to meet her boss,” Dom said. “Offered me a million in cash to go along with her.”

Brian seemed to be having to work to understand it. After a minute he asked, “Did she say if her boss was a guy or a woman?”

“A guy,” Dom said, folding his arms across his chest. “You know something about this?”

“I know there’s about to be a vampire war in L.A.” Brian looked down at the body. “And it looks like we just ended up in the middle of it. Fuck.” He tried his skull again, finally quit trying to rub away the bloodstain and dropped his hand slack in his lap. “I’m going to have to call this in.” He got up and staggered, swayed on his feet so hard Dom reached out instinctively to catch his arm. “Okay,” Brian said, wobbling, “You’re going to have to call this in.”

“The fuck I will,” Dom said. He sighed and glanced around at the pack, everybody still staring at him: no way were they going to do anything but listen in and give him all the shit in the world afterwards, but there wasn’t a choice. “Stay here, we’ll be back,” he told them all. “Come on, O’Conner.”

Brian started saying, “I don’t think—you took some hits in there—you sure you—” but he was following Dom out the back door like he was on a string, and when Dom turned around and put his back against the wall, Brian stopped talking completely, staring at him like he was water in the fucking desert.

“I’m fine, O’Conner,” Dom said. “Go ahead.”

It was only fair: O’Conner had put himself on the line, gotten busted up pretty bad on his account; he’d saved Mia. Dom wasn’t going to leave him hanging. Yeah, that was why, except his heart was picking up even as Brian took a step closer, another one, and it wasn’t because he was even a little bit scared. Brian bent down to his neck, and Dom shut his eyes, waiting for it. Brian’s mouth brushed against his skin, but he wasn’t biting: he was kissing him, soft lipping kisses, moving up and down his neck. Dom clenched his teeth. “Just do it,” he said.

“I don’t want to just do it,” Brian complained, talking against his throat. “I want to make you want it,” and Dom was going to say fuck you, but Brian was nuzzling at him, making sucking kisses on his neck now, licking sweat off his skin, all of it gasoline pumped straight to his engine. Shit, Dom did want it; wanted him, wanted everything. Brian groaned and his teeth slid in, slow, making a fucking tease out of it, a shiver along the edge of Dom’s nerves.

Dom had his hands on Brian’s hips, pulling him in tight against his cock, rubbing them up against each other. Brian finally settled in against him, went deep, and the high hit like a motherfucking freight train.  Dom held on with both hands, riding it the whole way, Brian’s body against him warming up, and just when Dom couldn’t wait anymore Brian let go, came off his throat, and they were going at it, Dom ripping Brian’s half-shredded clothes off. “Oh, fuck,” Brian gasped, kissing him, hands sliding over Dom’s body. “Fuck, Dom,” and Dom got behind him, shoved him up against the wall and was on him, pushing his own pants down. He buried his nose against Brian’s neck as he slid into him, breathed him in: he still felt like pack, like his pack, his to take care of, his to take.

#

Brian folded his arms against the wall and rested his head on them, dazed and smiling, coming down nice and slow and easy. Dom was still leaning against his back, a warm weight, breathing deep and dripping sweat. “Oh, shit,” Dom muttered suddenly, and reached a hand around to Brian’s side. “Are you—” He stopped, hand sliding smoothly back and forth.

“I’m good,” Brian said, dreamily. He felt—amazing, actually, and then most of the haze cleared away and he reached up gingerly and felt his head: flakes of blood rained down as he ran his fingers through his hair. He was pretty sure about half his skull had been taken out by that car, but there wasn’t so much as a dent anymore.

He straightened up from the wall and turned around. Dom had let go and was pulling his pants back up. “What?” Dom said.

“Thanks,” Brian said.

Dom shrugged with a shoulder. “Yeah.”

They went back into the garage: Toretto’s entire pack was standing in a knot around the wreckage of the Nissan, different levels of pissed-off and freaked out. “Are we seriously gonna let him call the cops?” the big guy demanded, the one with the beard. “What the fuck, Dom.”

“Yeah, what were you planning to do when the next one showed up?” Brian said, and got the glare transferred over, not that he cared. He walked to the phone on the desk and called Hobbs’ line. “I don’t know this number, so you better not be wasting my time,” Hobbs said when he picked up.

“It’s O’Conner,” Brian said. “I’m at 1327 Kensington, and they just got attacked by an elder vampire. How’s that?”

“Start talking,” Hobbs said. Brian gave him the quick version, along with a thirty-second bullshit story for why he’d been passing by the garage. Hobbs was silent on the other end a long moment, then he said, “Stay there,” and hung up.

Dom didn’t have hackles to raise when Hobbs climbed out of his Humvee in front of the garage, but Brian could tell they would’ve be around his ears. He’d sent his pack away home, but he stood in the middle of the garage with his arms folded and his face hard as Hobbs’ team swarmed all around him, taking photos and pulling the decomp video off the iPhone. “Shit, Hobbs, check this out,” his man Wilkes said, pointing to the screen, and Hobbs came over and watched the decomposition with an unmoving expression.

He turned back to Dom. “What are you and your people? Wolves? Cats?”

“Explain to me why it’s your business,” Dom said.

“Boy, you best believe a vampire turf war about to blow up this city is my business, and the first pitched battle just took place at your garage,” Hobbs said. “You can either answer my questions, or I can round up you and the rest of your pack and hold you for being unlicensed weres until you feel like changing your mind. Nobody’s going to be in a hurry to get you seen by a judge.”

Dom’s eyes narrowed, and he was ready to tell Hobbs to take his best shot, Brian knew he was. He threw Dom an elbow: not fucking worth it! Dom scowled, but he folded his arms and said grudgingly, “We’re a mix. I’m a wolf.”

Hobbs grunted. “Alpha wolf with a cross-breed pack? Haven’t heard of that one before. When was your first change?”

“About a month after I was conceived,” Dom said flatly.

“Mother was a shifter,” Hobbs said. “Father, too?”

“No,” Dom said.

“Hobbs,” Brian said, because he could tell Dom was getting madder by the second. He jerked his head towards the video. “She tried to get Toretto to come meet her boss, said it was a guy. Figure she was one of Chan’s?”

“Hell, yeah, she was one of Chan’s,” Hobbs said. “You boys just threw down with Gabriela Garcia Murieta. She was Chan’s number four: he turned her in Frisco back in forty-nine, and I don’t mean nineteen.”

“Shit,” Brian said.

“That’s about the size of it,” Hobbs said. “So what I want to know, Toretto, is what makes you important enough for Chan to send one of his direct spawn out to recruit you.”

Dom shrugged. “He wanted a late-night snack?”

“Chan wants a nightcap, he stops in at one of the six legal vampire bars he owns,” Hobbs said.

“Then I got no fucking idea,” Dom said. “We done here? Cause I got a hell of a mess to clean up.”

“Not by a long shot,” Hobbs said. “Get this through your head: this is gonna get a lot worse before it gets better. And you’ll have a different kind of mess on your hands if Chan decides he wants revenge.”

“Nobody asked his girl to come after me,” Dom said.

“He’s the master vampire of L.A.,” Hobbs said. “He doesn’t wait for invitations.” He looked at Brian, broodingly, then turned back to Dom. “Who’d you fence those stolen goods through?”

Brian darted a fast look, but Dom handled it fine, not a bat of an eye. “What stolen goods?”

“Why don’t the two of you save me a lot of time and quit acting like you think I’m an idiot.” Hobbs said. He looked at Brian. “You know, O’Conner, half the agents who go rogue, they just can’t hack it. Not enough willpower. They slip up, they start in on the rats, graduate to the vampire bars, and then it’s just a matter of time. The other half, like you? It’s almost always the same thing. Some asshole out in the field scores an unlucky hit, they lose too much blood, and then it doesn’t matter squat how much willpower they’ve got, they’re just not calling the shots anymore. I’ve seen it more than twenty times.

“So when I got the initial on your crime scene yesterday, the only question I had was how much time it was gonna take me to hunt you down in the middle of all this other bullshit. Then you walk back into headquarters last night, putting out a thousand kilowatts and scaring your coworkers like you just had a three-course helping of victims, and your kill-screen still comes up negative.”

He jerked a chin at Dom. “Now all of a sudden you just happen to be palling around with an alpha werewolf, one of the very few human beings out there who can spare two liters of blood without even breaking a cold sweat, who just happens to be a top suspect from your case, at the same time that case falls the long way down a well. Doesn’t take a goddamn rocket scientist to put one and one together, so quit trying to shovel me a load of crap. You want immunity, Toretto, you’ve got immunity. I got better things to do with you right now than send you to the kennels at Lompoc. Who’d you fence the goods with?”

Dom was silent a moment. “I don’t narc,” he said, low.

“This isn’t about narcing,” Hobbs said. “This is about finding out who told Chan you were here to be gotten, so we can ask them why the fuck he’d spend time coming for you when he’s about to be at war.”

Dom looked at Brian, then back at Hobbs. “You want to know, we’ll find it out,” he said, and jerked his head at Brian. “Me and him. He’s one of yours, isn’t he? And I want immunity for my whole pack, if you want us cooperating.”

Hobbs snorted. “You want O’Conner? He’s all yours.” He pointed at Brian. “Find a basement room or clear out a closet, I don’t care which; he’s going to be your babysitter until this gets cleared up. Whatever a master vampire wants out of you, I’m not inclined for them to get it.”

#

So now Dom was going to have police cars camped outside his front door and a goddamn vampire living in his basement. O’Conner drove off and came back an hour later, just before sunrise, with a long empty crate he carried down there. He stepped inside the box, looked up at the ceiling, then looked at Dom and said, “Anybody draws a mustache on my face or something, man, payback’s gonna suck, I’m just putting that out there.”

“Yeah?” Dom said, and then O’Conner fell down like somebody had cut his strings, dead. Not sleeping, not faking it, dead, and Dom shot across the room, sliding to his knees at the side of the crate and grabbing on to O’Conner’s body with both hands before he’d even had a chance to think about it. His heart was pounding, and there was something fucking stupid in his mouth trying to get out, like maybe don’t you fucking leave me.

Only that close, with his hands right on Brian’s body, could Dom feel something still there: the faintest smell like the exhaust from a tailpipe that’d been cold for two hours and the barest thin presence along the pack bond. Then his brain started working again and he remembered O’Conner was a goddamn fucking vampire, and Dom slammed the lid down over his dead and still-pretty face and stormed back upstairs, pissed off at himself and the world and every last fucking person in it.

To cap it all off, he found his entire pack sitting around the living room waiting for him, all of them pissed off too—and worse than that, freaked out and scared underneath it, so he couldn’t even just blow up at them and let off some of the steam. He stopped at the top of the basement stairs and shut his eyes and pulled in a breath long and slow, because he had to; they needed him, and he’d got them all here in the first place. He kicked the basement door closed behind him and walked into the middle of the living room, sunrise coming in from the east windows over the driveway, and held out his arms. “All right, get on over here,” he said, opening up the bond. “I’ve got you. C’mere.”

Mia and Jesse were over to him, quick, sliding in close and deep; Leon next, then Letty after him, a little grudging, and finally Vince, scowling hard. They all settled into the circle, arms around each other, heads leaned in and touching, the pack bond a warm glow almost like a line he could see: gold running from his heart to each of theirs and back, latticed all around. He didn’t hold back. No secrets here, not anymore, and anyway all of them could feel Brian at the other end of the last faint line leading away from him, sinking down through the floor at their feet, just barely anchored beneath them.

Mia leaned against his side, and he felt her worry for him bright and clear. Meanwhile Letty was more than a little pissed off: he’d been making time with a vampire on the side, huh? Fuck him anyway, and maybe she’d take Leon for a ride or two instead, since Dom didn’t know a good fucking thing when he had it.

Leon’s eyes darted between her and Dom; he couldn’t help but think that sounded pretty great to him, as long as Dom wasn’t going to chase him around the block or anything. Dom swallowed his first three reactions and didn’t make a fuss. It wasn’t his damn fault, but what the hell was he gonna do, keep Letty hanging while he worked through his sudden hard-on for Brian? Yeah, she’d take that lying down, if he shot her ten times through the gut first.

Vince was the one who was really angry, though, way down deep. Dom had gone out and got himself a new number two—a number two with a fucking FBI badge and a pair of fangs, and it only made things worse that Brian was apparently calling some of the shots. “So we fucking work for this vampire now?” he demanded out loud, anger pulling against the bond hard enough to make it fray a little, and Dom felt everyone shifting around, uneasy.

“Or maybe the vampire’s working for us,” Dom said. “Come on, Vince, think about it. We’re not going to jail, are we? That look to you like he’s in charge?”

“Maybe he’s just getting in good,” Vince said, and Dom got loud and clear that he meant in him, some idea like Dom was going to bend over because he let Brian put teeth in him.

“Shut your fucking mouth,” Dom said, his own anger boiling up fresh. He almost pulled out of the circle and went at Vince, but Mia had a hand on his chest and another reaching towards Vince, her own strength and bonds to both of them flaring.

“We’re not doing this!” she said. “Our pack is in danger. We’re not doing this now,” and made both of them feel her sense of the danger, how big it was: enemies all around them, just out of sight, big hulking ones, ready to pick them off one after another if they didn’t hang together. Jesse shivered, leaning a little closer in, and Letty put a hand on his back and rubbed comfortingly, giving Dom a hard look: she was with Mia, this wasn’t the time for this bullshit.

Dom took a deep breath and let the anger go. He reached out and caught Vince by the back of the neck, shook him gently. “This wasn’t anything I planned on,” he said, as much of an apology as he could give, and Vince shrugged a grouchy shoulder back: still mad about it, but yeah, okay, not even Dom would’ve planned on hooking up with a vampire.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dom said, mock angry, giving him a shove, and then all of them were snickering and tossing images back at him: heisting trucks on the freeway, night running in the canyons through the White Wolves’ turf, swimming through the Pacific surf in the middle of the night to sneak aboard a billionaire’s yacht—

“All right, all right,” he said, pretending to be stern, but they were all grinning, and then Mia gently put one more image in there: all of them sailing into the most crazy fight you could get into, against a two-century vampire, the kind of monster people told campfire stories about. Going into it together, and winning.

“As a pack,” Dom said, and hard, satisfied agreement came back to him from all around the circle. They settled in deep again, gave strength and took it, and when they finally straightened up and let the pack bond settle down again, Dom knew they were going to be okay: no more fear, even though they all knew they were in serious trouble; no more clawing at each other. They were going to make it, or they weren’t, but they were pack either way.

“All right,” he said, a hand still gripping Vince’s neck, an arm around Mia’s shoulders. “I want everybody staying here until this thing is over. Pair up. Go home, grab whatever you need for a couple weeks, any weapons you’ve got, and get back here quick. We’ll take shifts on guard, sleep in the day, get up at night.”

“I’ve got classes,” Mia said.

“Not for now you don’t,” Dom said, and she nodded after a moment.

They scattered out across the city, and Dom went to the back and started in on the woodpile with an axe and a couple of files while Mia worked on putting together food for everybody. He had about fifty stakes smoothed and sharpened by the time Vince and Jesse got back, back seats loaded up with food and a big carton full of Jesse’s computer shit. “We gotta get out in front of this, man,” Jesse said, cables already exploding over half the living room. “I’m gonna get on Wikipedia and start reading up.”

“Yeah, you have fun with that,” Dom said, dumping his pile by the door. “Vince, stay here, keep an eye on Jesse and Mia. We need some better weapons.”

He got some of the emergency stash from under the stairs, took Mia’s Integra, and drove down to the flea market at Long Beach. There were always a handful of antique gun dealers down there, and they had a bunch of stuff that stayed under the table unless they knew you. Dom picked up a few crossbows and a sack of bolts, and a guy who’d been selling since Dom was about ten years old looked at his haul and said, “Vampire trouble?”

“You could say that,” Dom said.

The guy nodded and brought out a double-barrelled shotgun from under the table with a mini crossbow rigged on the top and a box of bullets plated with silver. “You knock them down with the shotgun blast,” he said, “then you put the bolt in their heart, and they usually can’t get up again in time to get off it. You know not to let them get their teeth in you, right? Once they start biting you, you don’t wanna fight anymore, and then you’re really fucking screwed.”

Dom sighed. “Yeah, no kidding.”

He hauled everything back to the house. Letty and Leon had got back too, and they all loaded up and practiced with the crossbows in the yard while they ate a second lunch: he’d grabbed food on the way but he was still starving again, and everybody else was hungry too, reserves run down from shifting around in a hurry and healing up. Lunch didn’t really end: even before they were all finished eating, Dom had fired up the grill, and they pretty much ate their way through the afternoon, going in and out of the house sometimes to take naps and work on the defenses, then coming back out for more. “We’re going to need more food,” Mia said, surveying the wreckage.

“Tomorrow,” Dom said, looking past the garage. The sun was starting to get low. “Nobody leaves the house after dark without me.”

They cleaned up and got inside, and lined the back door with salt after they’d bolted it down; they’d already got all the windows. Mia and Letty and Leon went to crash. Dom made sure Vince was on watch, then went downstairs with a beer and sat next to the crate and kicked the lid off and waited. It still fucking sucked to see O’Conner lying there dead, it had sucked all day. He needed it out of his head.

Every minute dragged, and then all of a sudden Brian was just there again, sitting up in the crate as he took a breath. He blinked at Dom, looked up at the ceiling and back to him. “Dude, did you sit down here all day?”

“Are you kidding me?” Dom said. “No, I’ve had a shitload of work to do.”

“That much fun to watch, huh?” Brian heaved himself to his feet and got out of the box.

Dom stood up and glared at him. “O’Conner, you were fucking dead, do you get that? You were dead the whole goddamn day.”

Brian looked away from him. A muscle along his jaw was jumping, tight. “Yeah, Dom,” he said. “Yeah, I get it. I’m dead. I’ve been dead for a year, all right? I’ve been dead for a whole fucking year, and the only time I’ve felt anything like alive—” He stopped and swallowed, and then he stalked for the stairs.

Dom cursed under his breath and followed him up. Vince was by the door with one of the crossbows, already scowling at Brian and rubbing one of the pointed bolts like he was thinking of putting it where it counted. Brian threw him a hard look, and Dom got between them, putting a hand out on Brian’s chest before he even thought about it. Vince moved the glare to him, going flushed at the temples: Brian was the one he was holding back? Dom glared right back at him, fuck yes, making Vince remember Brian climbing out of a wrecked car with half his skull missing. “We’re going out,” he said. “Anybody tries to come through that door, shoot them.”

“Yeah, go already,” Vince said sullenly. “I can take care of things here without fucking instructions.”

Dom swallowed a growl. Vince was pushing it, but he’d been pushed first. “Come on,” he told Brian—his hand was still on Brian’s chest, and Brian was still looking at Vince, cold unblinking look. Dom gave him a little shove, and Brian moved, followed him without ever looking away from Vince. Dom opened the door and gave him another shove through, slammed it shut behind him. “Keep the fuck off Vince,” he said.

Brian glanced at him. “Keep him the fuck off me.” Dom rolled his eyes, Jesus, how did he wind up with this shit in his lap. “So where are we going?”

They took Brian’s car, an Eclipse that could’ve been a decent racer with some more work under the hood. Nick’s body shop was closed up for the night, but the red light was on over the door, which meant he was open for business in the back. “Park around there, out of the light,” Dom said.

He banged on the back door with a fist, hard, until the spy panel slid open and Nick peered out. He jerked back a little as soon as he saw Dom’s face. “Dom—? Listen, man, I was about to turn off the light—”

“Open the fucking door,” Dom said.

“I’m sorry, man, it’s late,” Nick said. “I really got to get some numbers done.”

“Let me put it this way,” Dom said. “You got some questions to answer, and if I don’t like the answers, you’re not going to want me to be more pissed off than I already am. Open the door, unless you want me to come in through the glass in front.”

“I could just rip it off the hinges,” Brian offered. He was leaning against the wall of the building, arms folded.

Nick’s eyes darted over to him. “I don’t know him, Dom! Who is he?”

Brian smiled at him brightly. “Special Agent Brian O’Conner. Want to see my badge?”

Dom rolled his eyes to holy heaven; for Chrissakes. Nick started squawking about cops and narcing and—“Shut the fuck up and open the door!” Dom bellowed, and Nick jumped and opened the door, eyes still darting at Brian as he retreated into his office. Dom backed him all the way up to his desk.

“All right,” he said. “Start talking.”

“I—I don’t—” Nick said, scooting around the desk to the other side. 

“Surprised to see me, weren’t you,” Dom said. “Yeah, it’s not everybody walks away after an elder vampire shows up on their fucking doorstep. So what I want to know, Nick, is why that vamp showed up, and who the fuck set her on my house.”

“Look, Dom,” Nick said. “You know I wouldn’t, I’m not, I don’t,” just babbling, swallowing between words, and then Brian perched on the desk and leaned in.

“Nick,” he said, weird and soft and gentle, and Nick completely shut up in the middle of a sentence, mouth gaping open. Brian smiled at him—blue-eyed shining smile, and Dom’s fists were clenching at his sides, rage climbing up his whole spine, fur breaking out on his shoulders. “Why don’t you just tell us all about it?” Brian said.

“It was the Tran crew,” Nick said vaguely, still staring at Brian with his fucking fish-mouth slack and his eyes glassy. “I keep my ear to the ground, you know? I hear stuff that doesn’t go through the official channels.”

“Yeah?” Brian said, encouraging. Dom gritted his teeth.

 “Yeah,” Nick said. “They were asking around, wanted to know everything going on. Totally confidential, nothing they were going to share, just wanted to know the lay of the land. I didn’t really want to tell them, but Johnny Tran got his step.”

“His step?” Brian said.

“Yeah, he got turned, man,” Nick said. “The Tran family, they’re in the Chan hierarchy. Johnny’s dad was in line to get the step, but Chan’s opening up the ranks all of a sudden. I heard he made like twelve people last weekend. Both Johnny’s parents got it and him, too, and Lance is on deck. So, I mean, what was I supposed to do?”

“Yeah, sounds like a tough spot,” Brian said. “So what did you tell them?”

“Just, you know, this and that,” Nick said. “They wanted to know who was operating. They already knew somebody was jacking trucks and they knew I was passing the goods, so I had to tell them about Dom’s gang, I just didn’t have a choice. He cooled off when I said they were a pack—asked a whole bunch of questions about them, how long they’d been running, what animals they were, that kind of shit. I didn’t know a lot more, I knew Letty was a panther and Dom was a wolf, that was it, but that made them happy.”

“Yeah?” Dom said sharply. “Why?”

“No idea, man,” Nick said, without looking away from Brian. “No idea, I swear. Look, I didn’t mean to make trouble for Dom,” he said earnestly, as if he wanted Brian to like him, the fucking weasel. “You gotta see that.”

“Yeah, I do,” Brian said. “Listen, Nick, I want you to do me a favor, okay? Soon as I’m out that door, I want you to forget we had this conversation, all right? Just let it slip out of your head. But if Johnny or anybody else comes back and asks you more questions, you’re going to give Dom a call, okay? Will you do that for me?”

Nick was nodding eagerly. “Will you come back?” he blurted, and that was fucking it. Dom grabbed Brian and hauled him off the table and out the door. Nick actually came out from behind the desk and trailed them towards the door until Brian crossed the threshold, and then Nick stopped in the middle of the room as Dom slammed the door shut on his confused face.

Dom dragged Brian all the way back to the car, getting more pissed off with every step because he could tell Brian was letting himself get dragged, just humoring him. “What the hell, man,” Brian said, sounding—amused, and Dom hurled him up against the side of the car and jabbed a finger at his face. “You don’t fucking smile like that at anybody but me,” he snarled.

Brian stared at him in total surprise, and Dom couldn’t exactly blame him as soon as he heard what had just come out of his own mouth, because what the fucking hell. Then the surprise went right out of Brian’s face, along with anything like laughter. He grabbed Dom by the arms and spun them around, shoved him against the car and pressed his whole body right up against him, full length, bending him back against the metal. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Brian snarled. “Nobody fucking exists but you.”

He ripped open Dom’s clothes from his collar straight down through belt and jeans and shorts, shredded his own just as fast and ground up against him, fucking incredible. Dom managed to heave Brian forward and get the door open so they could fall into the back seat, Brian all over him, on top of him, kissing him, and Jesus fucking Christ, Brian was jerking his own cock, getting hard in his fist, and Dom wanted to say no, wanted to say get the fuck off me, wanted not to want it, but fuck, he did want it, he wanted—he wanted—He threw his leg over Brian’s shoulder, let Brian get on him and shove inside, working him open, Jesus, Jesus—Vince had been right, he was fucking taking it, he was giving it up like Brian owned it, owned him. Brian’s cock was sliding into him, Brian braced up over him and gasping, and Dom reached up and gave Brian his wrist, too, gave him all of it, everything.

Dom lay flat under him after, his hands clenched into fists resting on Brian’s shoulders, satisfied and furious, sick with anger. Brian had his head lying on Dom’s chest, eyes closed, still breathing hard—breathing hard after fucking him, every way there was.

Brian said, “You have to promise me,” like he had the right to make demands. Dom was ready to grab his neck and break it with his bare hands, and then Brian said, “Dom, if you’re ever done, you have to promise you’ll kill me first.”

The whole world twisted sideways while Brian just kept talking, his voice thin and tight, “While I’m down for the day. Don’t tell me beforehand, don’t tell me you’re done, just—”

“Go to hell,” Dom said, his entire body and brain a furious howl of no.

“I can’t, Dom,” Brian said, raw. “I can’t go back to—I won’t go back. You end it any other way, I’ll just—I’ll fucking break, do you understand? I’ll go out there and get it again, even if I have to kill for it—”

He was trembling. “Shut the hell up,” Dom muttered helplessly, his hands slowly unclenching open on Brian’s back, smoothing out the shakes; anger was running out of him like a river. “Shut up, O’Conner. You're not getting it anywhere but here.”

#

So that was awesome, flipping out and pouring all of his guts right into Toretto’s lap. Brian lay shivering under Dom’s hands for another fucking half hour, trying to pull his shit together and failing. Jesus, he was dead. He’d been doing a good job not noticing, pretending everything was okay. Nothing was fucking okay. One year ago they’d put a needle in his vein down on Lower Level 4, and he’d watched a crappy A-Team rerun through his blurry vision while his blood ran out into the bags—the donation bags, because waste not, want not, and his blood had stayed good right up until he started to fade out, his heart pounding in his ears, and the doctor had bent over him and said over the roaring noise, “Brian, this is your last chance to withdraw consent.”

Then they’d put the needle right into his heart and shot him full of vampire serum, and the next night when he’d opened his eyes he’d been able to see again, to walk a straight line again, to punch through walls and bench press ten times his body weight, and he’d talked himself into believing that meant he was still something like alive.

Fucking bullshit. Hobbs was right: the only difference between him and the maneaters was he’d gotten lucky. Anybody but Dom, pretty much anyone else in all of fucking Los Angeles, and he’d be cruising the vampire bars looking for his next snack right now, because this was being alive. Blood running hot in his veins, the world back in color. Dom’s heartbeat under his ear, sweat sticking their bodies together and Dom’s hands steady on him, saying you’re mine like he was worth having, like he was something besides a corpse that had forgotten to rot. 

Brian finally managed to get it under control and sat up. He ran a hand through his hair, sweat and dirt already flaking off him, because it helped to be pretty when you hunted people. Dom was still lying sprawled over the seat, an arm under his head, staring up at the roof of the car almost blankly, like he had no idea what to do.

Brian looked away. “Look, man, I mean it,” he said. “If you need to cut me loose—I don’t give a shit why; you get bored, your pack throws a fit, you want to see other vampires—”

Dom snorted.

“I’m just—asking you,” Brian said, tightly. “I don’t want to know about it. I just don’t want to get up again. Please, just—”

“O’Conner, did you hear me tell you to shut up or not?” Dom muttered, pushing himself up on his arms. “Christ. I let you fuck me, and you’re talking about me cutting you loose. I’m not cutting you loose if you drag me to the bottom of the fucking Pacific.”

“I’m not your fucking responsibility!” Brian said; it didn’t feel like something he could believe, because he wanted to so fucking much.

Dom rolled his eyes. “Like hell you’re not. You’re mine, O’Conner. Now get the fuck off me, we need to go find some fucking clothes and get to the races.”

Brian stared at him. “What?”

“Nick doesn’t know shit,” Dom said. “So we need to find somebody who does.”

#

Dom hated being this fucking confused. He didn’t still feel a burning desire to kill Brian, himself, and any bystanders in a ten-mile radius, but he did feel like maybe that could change with the right word, and he had zero intentions of doing the walk of shame past Vince and giving him the chance to find out. He made Brian drive them back to the house and pull into the driveway, then they tied their torn shirts around their waists to keep from flashing the neighborhood and snuck into the back garage. He grabbed some old oil-stained coveralls out of a rag-bag in the corner and tossed a pair to Brian.

“So who are we after?” Brian asked, pulling them on. They were baggy as shit on him, but then he rolled up his sleeves and ran a hand through his hair and it didn’t fucking matter; he could’ve walked straight onto the Oscars carpet and nobody would’ve batted an eye. The Toretto nametag on his lapel was a nice fucking touch, made him look like property-of. Dom tried not to like that and failed.

“If Johnny Tran’s got his step, the first thing he’s going to do is show up at the races and try and use it to fuck with everyone who’s beaten him anytime in the last five years,” Dom said. “That guy’s been waiting to get changed his whole life.”

“Poor bastard,” Brian said flatly.

That was a whole new way to look at it. Dom shook his head. “I’m not wasting any time feeling sorry for Johnny Tran after he sicced that chick on us last night.”

“What are the odds he’s got older company tonight, too?” Brian said.

Dom had stowed one of the crossbows in the garage. He picked it up. “If he does, we’ll just have to deal with them. Let’s go.”

“You want to take this one?” Brian said. “I’m game, but you didn’t seem to think all that much of my car.”

Dom stopped in his tracks and looked at the Charger, sitting there in the garage like a slumbering beast. He hadn’t so much as sat down at the wheel for seven years: he’d been a fucking kid back then, thinking there was nothing he couldn’t beat; his dad had still been alive, and he hadn’t spent two years in Lompoc, the wolf inside howling the whole time. He’d left her here in the garage since then, some part of him afraid to put himself behind all that power, and some part of him feeling like she was too big to use for racing, for anything that didn’t really matter.

Brian came to stand next to him, shoulder to shoulder, glancing up at his face like he’d gotten some of what was running through Dom’s head. “Sorry,” he said quietly.

“Don’t be,” Dom said, and opened the door. “Get in.”

When they got downtown, people cleared out of the way as he rolled through the crowd, making room and murmuring, hands reaching out to touch her sides. “Holy shit, man,” Hector said, coming to shake hands through the window. “I was starting to think she was just an urban legend or something.”

“She’s real enough,” Dom said.

“You gonna run her tonight?” Hector said. “We’re having a little trouble putting together a race.” He dropped his voice. “Johnny’s been changed, man,” he said quiet, under his breath. “Nobody wants to line up against him, and he won’t step out. He’s getting in some faces pretty hard.” 

“Yeah?” Dom said. “Let’s see if he wants to get into mine.”

He rolled up to the starting line: Johnny’s S2000 was waiting alone, and he was leaning against the side, Lance and the rest of his posse hanging around him like he was even more the center of the group than he’d always been. Dom glanced over at Brian, feeling something prickling along the pack bond: Brian’s eyes were fixed on Johnny. “What is it?”

“He’s displaying,” Brian said. “It’s pissing me off.”

“Displaying what?” Dom said. Brian shrugged.

“What a big fucking deal vampire he is? I don’t know what else to call it. Feels like he’s trying to claim the turf or something.”

“Can he tell you’re here?” Dom said.

“Not yet he can’t,” Brian said, a glitter in his eye that said he wanted to change that in the near future.

Yeah, great. “Keep it under your hood and stay in the car for now,” Dom said, and climbed out.

“Look who showed up, boys,” Johnny said, smiling at him with bared teeth.

“Surprised to see me, Johnny?” Dom said, folding his arms over his chest. He wasn’t surprised nobody was pulling up to run: who wanted to race a vampire who could keep control at two hundred fifty miles around a hairpin and walk away if the car fireballed against a wall.

“Wasn’t sure if you’d make it, Toretto,” Tran said. “But I’m ready to race with all comers.” He spread his arms wide. “At least, anyone who’s ready to step up and race with me.” He dropped his arms and his smile turned sharp, his fangs sliding out. Even his own crew edged back from him a little, except Lance. 

Dom didn’t feel like backing up at all. “Wasn’t sure myself,” he said, watching Johnny’s face. “We had a little trouble at my place last night. Turns out somebody got the idea they could put a leash around my neck. The wrong idea. I’ve been wondering how it got around.”

Johnny’s eyes narrowed, suddenly wary: surprised. Which, shit, probably meant he hadn’t known exactly what was going down. No reason Chan would’ve trusted a brand-new wet-behind-the-fangs vampire to know what his number four was doing. “Sounds like you might have a serious problem on your hands,” Johnny said. “Too bad. Are we racing or not?”

“We’re racing,” Dom said. “What’s the buy-in?”

“Let’s skip the penny-ante shit,” Johnny said. “Car against car, Toretto. What do you say? I think that ride of yours would look sweet in my driveway.”

A low pissed-off murmuring went around the crowd. “Don’t do it, man,” somebody called from in back, and somebody else yelled, “Fucking bullshit!”

Lena Rios was holding the starter kerchief; she walked over like she was going to ask him if he wanted to go and murmured, “Dom, he had her jacked way up at Miguel’s place during the day, don’t do it.”

Dom glanced at her, then looked at Johnny. “Yeah, all right,” he said. “I might be able to use some parts out of yours.”

Johnny’s eyes glittered. “So get in and let’s go.”

“Oh, I’m not going to be driving,” Dom said. He thumped the door, and Brian got out of the passenger side and came around the front of the car with a slow prowling walk and leaned against the hood next to him, never taking his eyes off Johnny. Johnny straightened up, stiffening, as the crowd muttered all around them. Dom held out the keys, and Brian reached out and took them. “That a problem for you, Tran?” Dom said.

Johnny scowled. “You pick whoever you want me to beat, Toretto, I got no problem with it.” He went around the Honda and got in.

Dom looked at Brian. “Take her straight to ten thousand RPMs and smoke his ass right off the road.”

The beautiful thing was, cop or not, Brian didn’t ask any questions like whether this was a good idea, if it was going to help them get any answers. He just nodded and got in the car. Dom walked down to the finish line along with most of the crowd, hearing the Charger roar up ready for battle behind him, and stood waiting for Brian to get her back to him. He’d seen enough of Brian’s reflexes not to worry, but it was still a rush watching the cars smoke up and come roaring out, the Charger’s front wheels coming all the fucking way off the ground as she blasted out of the gate, slamming down to earth with a jolt that made Tran actually jerk his car to the side for a second. The Honda slid over the road while he wrestled with her, and Dom smiled as Brian gunned the engine and took her all the way up, people flattening themselves against the buildings all along the strip as she passed, the roar like a dragon coming down the road.

Johnny blew all his nitrous trying to catch up and still couldn’t make it. Both cars flew past the finish line and sailed right on out into the giant empty lot behind the factory, the Honda finally stopping in the middle with the Charger leaving a smoking trail the whole way to the far end of the lot. Dom walked over at the head of the cheering crowd, Lance throwing him a glowering look as he and the rest of Johnny’s crew paced him out to the cars and gathered around the Honda. Johnny climbed out looking pissed-off, and Dom went to meet him. “I think you owe me some keys,” he said, and Johnny glared at him, furious. “You want to keep them, I’ll trade them for some answers.”

Johnny looked at him narrowly, and then he said slowly, “That’s a nice offer, Toretto. Maybe we should go for a ride together. Maybe I could find you somebody who can help you out.”

He was doing something weird—tilting his head, staring directly at Dom, his eyes glittering. Dom raised an eyebrow: did Johnny seriously think Dom was getting in his car and going somewhere with him? Then a blast of wind blew past his face, and all of a sudden Brian was just—there, right between them like he’d popped out of thin air and looming over Johnny, and he slammed his hands against the Honda on either side of Johnny’s head. 

“Or maybe you should answer the questions yourself, asshole, and maybe I won’t rip your fucking throat out with my teeth,” Brian snarled, leaning in: his fangs were out. Johnny tried to jerk away from him, wide-eyed and startled, but Brian grabbed him by the throat and held him in place. Dom took a step towards them; shit, Brian was right in the middle of Johnny’s whole fucking crowd.

But none of them were making a move; they’d all frozen, looking to Johnny, and he was holding completely still and watching Brian like he was face to face with a tiger and waiting to see if he was going to get his head torn off. Brian shook him again, banged him hard against the car. “What were you looking for? What the hell does Chan want?”

“He’s looking for an alpha were,” Johnny said without so much as twitching, eyes still locked on Brian. “Outside the big packs.”

“Why?” Brian said. “He’s not short on blood, not even live blood. And why Dom?”

“He’s holding a mixed pack,” Johnny said. “Makes some kind of difference. That’s all I know.”

Brian let go of him and straightened, backed a couple of steps up. He glared at Johnny. “Take your people and get the fuck out of here. You ever come near Dom again, I’ll fucking end you.” He turned and swept his eyes over all of his crew, and it was like watching a ripple spread out in a pond, every one of them backing away; even the rest of the crowd backed up like Brian had literally shoved them all away. He turned his back on Johnny and stalked over to Dom. “Dead end,” he said.

Dom eyed him. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “Maybe it is.”

#

Dom didn’t talk while he drove them back to the house, frowning over the wheel, and that was fine with Brian; he was still running hot, jitters along all his nerves, his leg bouncing under his hand as he stared out the window and watched the city sliding by. He didn’t exactly need to refer back to the five-hundred-page FBI vampire manual to know why he was so pissed-off: Johnny had stepped onto his turf, and Brian would’ve wanted to slug him even if he’d just been an ordinary guy. The flip side of Dom getting pissed off about Nick, and Brian was glad for all of it; he wanted to be just this angry, wanted Dom to be angry over him. Made it feel like he was Dom’s, that Dom was his, and fuck he wanted that to be true. 

But he wasn’t sure he wanted the side effects. He didn’t even know how he’d done it. The Charger had been a quarter mile past the Honda. He’d felt Tran try to slip that hold onto Dom, and so he’d needed to be over there, and then he had been over there. Just like that, the whole world skipping past him between one second and the next, not even a blur to show it going by.

He didn’t know how he’d made Johnny cave like that, either. He’d felt the scrape of Johnny’s display from the minute they’d rolled up near him. It hadn’t felt like a real threat, more like—a bunch of teenagers blasting a radio outside his window while he was trying to sleep, just fucking annoying. He’d shoved Johnny down the same way he’d have put down a kid like that pulling a knife on him, almost without thinking about it.

Except that didn’t make fucking sense, because yeah, he was a year older, but a year didn’t mean shit, and Johnny had a whole line of ancestor vampires running straight to the fucking master of Los Angeles. And it wasn’t like Johnny was drinking blood from cold bags, either. Johnny was getting it live from the vampire-high groupies at his master’s clubs, with that whole line of elder vampires riding herd on him to keep him from going overboard.

Brian looked over at Dom. Maybe they hadn’t gotten a straight answer, but it was starting to look pretty fucking obvious: this was what Chan was after, some kind of turbocharged effect a vampire could get out of an alpha werewolf. He’d stumbled onto a fucking vampire jackpot, apparently, and shit, that didn’t make him feel any better about it. He looked away again.

“Quit it,” Dom said.

“What?” Brian said.

That,” Dom said. “I’m not fucking babysitting a mopey vampire.”

“I didn’t say anything!” Brian said.

“You’re pack, you don’t need to say anything,” Dom said. “Get the fuck over it. Yeah, you’re goddamn right you got lucky. Try being happy about it for a change.”

Okay, that was a decent point. Dom turned the Charger into the driveway and pulled into the garage and reached for the keys. Brian put his hand out and stopped him. Dom looked at him. “You could leave the engine running,” Brian said.

“Get on the hood right the fuck now,” Dom said, and they wrestled out of the coveralls and Dom pushed him down on his stomach right next to the blower and fucked him, almost patiently this time, giving it to him inch by slow thick inch like he wanted to make sure Brian felt it going in the whole way. Brian groaned and rode it all the way through, lying sprawled over the hood with his head pillowed on his arms and his legs spread wide to make room for Dom between his thighs. “Dom, oh God, Dom,” he said, moaning.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Dom said, hand slid onto the back of his neck, pinning him down like Brian had any plans to go anywhere in the fucking world when he could be here. The Charger was still humming away under them, engine rumble vibrating through his bones.

And then the garage light came on. “Dom?” a woman said. “What’s going on, are you—oh my God,” she squeaked, as Dom said strangled, “Goddammit, Mia!” and flattened himself on top of Brian to get out of sight.

“I thought you had to be hurt, or dying of carbon monoxide! Why is the engine—oh, for God’s sake, Dom!” she said, then hit the light off again and stalked away muttering under her breath all the way until the back door slammed behind her.

“Jesus Christ, what does a guy have to do to just get laid in peace around here,” Dom said, and Brian cracked up under him, helplessly. Dom smacked him on the flank. “Yeah, fuck you too.”

“Any time now,” Brian said, and worked a couple of muscles, experimentally.

Shit,” Dom said, strangled, and finally went to town on him, fucked him all the way up to the edge and then gave him the bite, and oh Christ, Brian was happy, he was so fucking happy. He turned over when Dom finally slid out of him, pulled him into his arms and kissed him, kissed him thank you and yes please and loved all over him, nuzzling at his head, kissing his mouth, his neck, until Dom started going flushed and red, almost squirming. “Yeah, okay,” he muttered.

“Aw, Toretto, am I embarrassing you,” Brian said, and bit his earlobe with just one fang, sank it through and made Dom gasp out, strangled, and jerk his hips against him.

“I swear, O’Conner,” Dom said, heaving himself away and grabbing for his pants like he was annoyed, except his mouth was half curving, twitching like he was trying to fight a smile off and losing.

Brian sighed deep and stretched himself out, long and hard, and leaned back on his elbows. The Charger was still rumbling away. He almost felt sleepy, even though it was still another eighty-three minutes to sunrise. “Is this going to be a problem with your pack?”

“Fuck if I know,” Dom said. “It’s pretty fucking strange, O’Conner.”

“I guess,” Brian said. He couldn’t even care a little.

Dom looked down at him, shaking his head. “Were you even queer before this?”

Brian huffed a short laugh. “I haven’t been able to get it up for a year, so the question was pretty fucking moot.”

“Jesus,” Dom said with a shudder. “I thought vampires got it all the fucking time.”

“Yeah, well,” Brian said. “I think it’s different if you get brought across. If you’ve got a master holding on to your leash, you can drink live blood and stop.”

You stop all the fucking time, O’Conner,” Dom said.

Brian rolled his eyes. “I’m not hungry anymore.”

“Why are you being starved in the first place, then?” Dom said. “Why doesn’t the Bureau take you guys down to the vampire bars and keep a gun to your heads while you drink. A crossbow to your hearts, whatever.”

 “Because they’d have to use the fucking crossbow every other time,” Brian said. “It doesn’t work, Dom. Even regular vampires, if they lose their masters too soon, it turns out they almost always go rogue and start killing. The Bureau’s done studies, okay? The smart money’s on not drinking live blood. If you can hold out ten years drinking from bags, your odds of making it to fifty go way up.”

Dom was silent a moment. “So what does this mean for you?” he said.

Brian shrugged a little. “I know I was freaking out on you before, but I meant it. One way or another, when this ends, I’m done. And I’m fine with that. I’m a hell of a lot more fine with that than I am with going out of my head and eating a whole bunch of people.”

Dom scowled, like he wasn’t fine with it. Brian pushed himself up, cupped Dom’s cheek towards him. “I never wanted to live forever, man,” he said. “I just didn’t want to die in a hospital bed at twenty-six. And now I won’t have.” He kissed Dom again, and after a moment, Dom reached up and took hold of his head and kissed him back, sweet and deep. 

Mia was on guard duty when they got back inside, sitting in the living room with a chemistry textbook and a crossbow. She glared at Dom again. “I’m, uh, going to get something to eat,” Dom said, and fled into the kitchen.

“Hey,” Brian said, sitting down, and smiled at her hopefully. “I’m Brian.” 

She eyed him. “Uh huh,” she said. She didn’t sound all that encouraging, but Brian was determined to get Dom’s pack on board. Fuck it, he’d make nice with the grizzly if Dom wanted him to; he’d make nice with Stalin and Darth Vader if Dom wanted him to.

“Pre-med?” he asked, nodding at the textbook.

“If I don’t flunk out on account of vampire warfare,” she said pointedly.

“Aw, come on, that’s not my fault,” Brian said. 

“It’s kind of a coincidence all of you vampires showed up at the same time,” she said.

“I’ve got to be the cutest one, though, right?” Brian offered.

“I hadn’t really thought about it, what with you having sex with my brother,” she said, pitching it loud enough for Dom to hear it from the kitchen.

“That’s not my fault either?” Brian said. She gave him an indignant look. “No, I’m serious, he started it.”

Dom appeared in the kitchen doorway with a giant half-eaten sandwich in his hand and outrage on his face. “What the fuck are you telling my sister!”

“Hey, man, come on, that’s the gospel truth!” Brian said. He looked at Mia. “I just did the whole, you know, thing,” and made a tooth-bitey gesture with two fingers on his hand, and she burst into giggles. Brian grinned at her: yes, he was totally in, and then he had to duck as Dom swatted him hard up the head. “Ow!”

“Get into the kitchen and make me something else to eat for after I’m done with this, that’s sure as hell your fault,” Dom growled, dropping into the chair next to him with the sandwich and a beer.

“Uh, sure, you want ramen, toast, or scrambled eggs? Because that’s about it for my repertoire,” Brian said.

“Are you kidding me?” Dom said. “And you lived twenty-six years on this earth?”

“Hey, man, I can order a mean pizza and a six-pack,” Brian said.

Mia laughed and stood up. “I’ll make you some pasta,” she said, and then pointed a finger at Brian. “You can do the dishes. All the dishes.”

Brian beamed at her. “No problem.” Then he followed her into the kitchen, and holy shit. “Who were you feeding, the Marines?” He didn’t even see how to get into the sink, there wasn’t room on the counters to move enough dishes out of the way to start washing.

“Two wolves, two panthers, a coyote, a grizzly bear, and six people,” she said, fishing a pot out of a cabinet and putting it on the stove. “And a vampire,” she added, with a hard look at him.

Brian raised his hands. “Fair enough.” He managed to find one clear spot on the windowsill and put a stack of plates on it and dived in. Mia moved around getting a pot of sauce on the stove along with the pasta, and threw in some meat out of the freezer. She kept glancing over like she was surprised to see he was actually making it through the dishes without breaking anything. “So why are you guys all different kinds, anyway?”

“Oh,” she said. “Well, me and Dom, our mom was a wolf. We just got it from her, I guess. She had to leave her pack behind when she came to the U.S., so we were just on our own.”

“She didn’t join any of the big packs?” Brian said.

Mia shook her head. “Dom was born before they settled down,” she said. “He was too much of an alpha to join anyone else’s pack.”

“No kidding,” Brian said.

She smiled. “Anyway,” she said, “Leon got bitten when he was six, out on a camping trip. His parents didn’t realize, they thought it was just a wild animal, and the bite healed up really fast so they didn’t worry. They were in our church, and when he changed the next moon, they brought him to my mom to ask for help. He started to spend full moons at our place after that.

“Vince was in Dom’s second grade class. They fought the whole year—literally, they were in detention every other day, because any day they weren’t in detention they got in another fight. Then summer break came and after three days Vince showed up outside our house and Dom went out, and they started getting in fights with kids five years older than them together instead.”

“What about Letty?” Brian said. “Why’s she a panther?”

“Because panthers are fucking awesome,” Letty said, walking into the kitchen. She went past them to the fridge, took out a gallon of milk and drank right from the jug, glaring at him the whole time.

“Fair enough,” Brian said. “But how’d you get bitten?”

“I got Leon to do it when I was sixteen,” she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “I wasn’t going to be left on the sidelines.”

“And Jesse’s dad moved into town when he was fourteen,” Mia said. “He was already crazy about cars, that’s how we met him. And then he just—stayed.”

“What the fuck is this, history hour?” Dom said, carrying in his empty plate. He tossed it onto one of the stacks Brian was working through. He looked under the lid of the sauce pot. “Is that ready yet?”

“Stop poking at it,” Mia said, shoving him at a chair. Brian had gotten one half of the sink cleared out; after another couple minutes, she dumped the pasta into a strainer, then tossed it into the sauce, and put the whole pot on the kitchen table. “Dom!” she said, when Dom would’ve just dived right in; he rolled his eyes and went to a cabinet and got out a giant bowl, poured the whole pot into it, and started eating. Mia sighed and put the dirty pots into the sink.

“Wasn’t this some kind of Greek myth about hell or something?” Brian said, looking at the full sink again.

“You are supposed to be dead, right?” Letty said coolly. But somehow it didn’t get to him at all: here in this room with all of them around him, shooting shit back and forth, he felt more alive than—fuck, than he’d felt before he’d died.

“Dishes are not a big part of the vampire lifestyle,” he shot back.

She deliberately picked up the glass he’d just washed, poured some more milk into it, drank it off and put it down with a thump next to the sink. “Gotta earn your keep around here.”

“Oh, that’s just mean!” Brian said. “Now I’m glad I stole your boyfriend.”

Dom lifted his head up from the bowl with a mouthful of pasta and another incredulous I’m going to kick your ass expression. Letty glared at him, speechless for a second, trying to decide which way she was going to go, and then she suddenly snorted and said, “Oh, you’re going to be doing a lot of dishes, fang-boy.”

Mia laughed, and Dom folded his hands over the bowl and put his forehead down against them like he couldn’t even deal with all of them. He shook his head and finished shoveling in the pasta, and then he stood up and put the bowl in the sink on top of the new pile. “I’m going to sleep,” he said firmly. “Mia, you okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s been quiet the whole time,” she said.

“I’ll stay with her,” Brian said. “I’ve got another 43 minutes until sunrise.”

“Good,” Dom said.

“I’m going back to bed too,” Letty said abruptly, looking at Dom with a challenge in her face, and he paused. He didn’t move for a moment, and then he shot a fast look at Brian, like he half didn’t want to.

“I’m not the jealous type,” Brian said. Dom stared at him pointedly. “Unless she’s planning on drinking your blood, man.”

Letty was scowling a little at both of them, clearly pissed off that Dom had even checked in. “All bets are off,” she said coolly, but she grabbed Dom by the wrist and towed him away to the stairs.

Brian looked at Mia. “Forty-three minutes, huh?” she said brightly, looking at the dishes. “Better hurry.”

“Yeah, I think I let myself in for more than I was looking for, here,” Brian said.

He didn’t really mind, though. Mia went and got her textbook and sat with him while he worked through the dishes. She didn’t—he hadn’t even noticed before really, how everybody around him smelled a little bit afraid. Even in the office, or going around talking to witnesses; that smell had always been in the air. She wasn’t afraid at all. She was just—sitting with him, like he was a person. She told him a little more about their family—about their pack, the way they’d all fumbled their way together. “Ma died when I was still pretty young,” Mia said. “She never really got over leaving her pack, she didn’t really want to talk about it that much. And Dad was great, but he didn’t really know what to do for us. Dom had to pretty much figure it all out on his own.”

She paused and said, “What about you?”

Brian shrugged. “My parents split up when I was a kid. I mostly lived with my dad. He was a cop, I guess that’s how I got into it. He died a few years back, heart attack. My mom’s with somebody else, they’re all the way over in Canada on the east coast, have been since I was in high school. I used to go out there for Christmas sometimes, if I got it off.”

“Dom said you got sick,” she said after a moment.

“Yeah, well,” Brian said. He shut off the water and grabbed a dishtowel, started wiping the wet plates. “That’s how I ended up like this.”

He held up the first dry plate. She pointed to the cabinet three doors over. He opened it and started putting the plates in as he dried them off. “And you don’t—mind?” she said, tentatively.

“I mind a whole lot less now,” Brian said.

“Since you—met Dom.”

He grinned at her. “Yeah, is that what we’re going to call it?” and she laughed.

“Why don’t we,” she said, smiling, and it felt like something he’d never even known to want. Like home, only a new definition of the word.

He finished the last of the dishes while she worked through a couple more problems in her set. It was maybe ten minutes to sunrise. “Is there a phone I can use?” he said, realizing suddenly he hadn’t even thought about work all night long. “I should probably call in.”

“O’Conner, I’m cutting you about ten seconds of slack here, but you better be about to tell me that you made it a priority to get a new cellphone tonight,” Hobbs said.

“Uh,” Brian said.

“One’s getting dropped off for you during the day,” Hobbs said. “Use it, or I’m getting you tagged with a tracking device. What the fuck have you been doing, and why did you come back to the house naked at 2300 hours?”

Brian decided Dom wasn’t going to hear about them getting spotted by the protection detail. “We got to the fence, and to another couple of contacts,” he said, skipping right over the naked bit. “Chan’s interested in Dom because he’s the alpha of a mixed pack.”

Hobbs grunted. “Knew I didn’t like him being weird-ass for a werewolf. What difference does it make?”

Brian hesitated. “We don’t really know.”

“Don’t try that shit with me, O’Conner,” Hobbs said. “You’ve been sucking down his blood for four days now. You getting shinier or what? Talk.”

Son of a bitch. “Yeah,” Brian said, because shit, Hobbs probably did need to know, even if he didn’t want to tell him. “I’m—moving faster. Faced down another vampire. He was just turned, though.”

“One of Chan’s?” Hobbs said. 

“Yeah,” Brian said. “Johnny Tran.”

“He show his belly? How easy did he go down?” Hobbs said.

Brian cursed silently. “Easy.”

“All right,” Hobbs said. “Listen to me, O’Conner, I don’t know if you’re the one I’d have picked to get juiced up—scratch that, you’re not the one—but I’m a hell of a lot happier with you having the extra firepower instead of either Chan or De Almanca. You stay right on Toretto’s ass. Don’t you let any of them get their hands on him.”

“Yeah, thanks for the advice,” Brian said, icy: like fuck was he letting any other vampire get their hands on Dom.

“What else have you got?” Hobbs said.

“Chan’s been turning a bunch of humans in his hierarchy,” Brian said. “Rumor mill says twelve. The Tran family, they were suspects in the hijacking case—three of them got changed. Mother, father, eldest son.”

“Great,” Hobbs said. “Just what we needed in this city, more brand-new bloodsuckers running wild. All right. We’re pretty sure De Almanca has already moved a couple of lieutenants in and is testing Chan’s defenses: there was a skirmish downtown. We got there too late to pick up anything but the bystander bodies, but we’ve got our first two civilian casualties. They won’t be the last, either. Have Toretto’s people keep an eye out during the day. The Sinaloa cartel have a lot of people on the ground in this city.”

“What do you want me to do tomorrow night?” Brian said.

“Wait, Brian,” Mia said suddenly, looking up from the couch. “Tell him we need food deliveries.”

“Are you kidding me?” Hobbs said. “Tell them they’re lucky they’re not eating in a prison cafeteria.”

Mia got up and grabbed the phone right out of Brian’s hand. “That’s not going to cut it!” she said. “My brother’s feeding your agent out of his fucking veins, okay? He’s been eating about thirty thousand calories a day, and the rest of my pack needed almost as much after we dealt with that vampire for you. If you want us on your front lines, and it’s pretty clear you do, you had better start giving us some kind of support. I want five hundred dollars of groceries delivered every morning, and a credit card for takeout orders.”

“Jesus Christ, woman,” Brian heard Hobbs mutter on the other end. “Fine, we’ll feed you.”

“Good,” Mia said firmly, and put the phone back into Brian’s hand.

“You had to latch onto the single most annoying pack of weres in the entire state of California, O’Conner, didn’t you?” Hobbs said irritably.

“You’re not having to pay them,” Brian said, grinning at Mia, who mouthed yet at him and grinned back.

“Why do I get the feeling it’s just a matter of time?” Hobbs said. “I’ll have orders for you at sunset. Until then, you all lie low.”

#

Dom rolled over around four in the afternoon, yawning, and stretched. Letty was gone, bed cool next to him, and the sun was coming in sideways through the slats. Somebody had better have been cooking, but when he sniffed, he frowned and pushed up out of the bed and went downstairs and found the whole place stinking: somebody had hung up giant braids of garlic all over the first floor. “What the fuck,” he said, trying not to breathe through his nose.

“It’s in, like, all the legends!” Jesse said, earnest.

“Yeah?” Dom said. “And if it fucking chases Brian out?”

“Oh,” Jesse said, and darted a glance at the other end of the living room: Dom glared at Vince, who was sitting there with a smirk tugging at his mouth: yeah, somebody involved had thought about that.

He went into the kitchen: nothing on the stove, but there were ten grocery bags full of food piled up in the corner and the fridge was bursting at the seams. He ate a bunch of bananas and three bowls of cornflakes, then went upstairs and got the shower he needed almost as badly as he needed to eat, and by the time he got back downstairs Brian was standing at the top of the basement stairs with a hand over his pained face, saying muffled, “Dude.”

“Sorry, man,” Jesse said apologetically. “I figured it would, like, keep vampires away. Uh, other vampires.”

Nobody’s going to come visit if they don’t have to,” Brian said.

“Get all that shit down and toss it,” Dom said. “Everything quiet today?”

“Yeah, I’ve been looking into the whole mixed-pack thing,” Jesse said. “I don’t know, man, I’m not finding anything about giving vampires superpowers or nothing. Mixed packs need a really strong alpha, and, like, childhood bonds and shit, at least for the pack core. But that’s all I got, nothing about vampires.”

“Anything about vampires feeding on alphas in general?” Brian asked.

“Well, yeah, there’s loads of that,” Jesse said. “Werewolves hook up with vampires all the time, it’s symbiotic and shit. The vampire gets fed, protects the pack, the pack gets more turf, watches out for the vampire during the day. Everybody wins. But that’s, like, with lone vampires, like you. Once they get like Chan or this De Almanca, you know, with the vampire groupies and their vampire kids going, they don’t need to hang with a pack anymore.”

Brian looked at him. Dom shook his head. He didn’t give a shit if Jesse hadn’t found anything, there was something going on, that was loud and clear. “We’re gonna need to talk to somebody with more answers than a bunch of assholes on the internet,” he said.

“You have somebody in mind?” Brian said.

“Yeah,” Dom said. “Vince, you’re sticking here. We’re going take a ride over to the mountains.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Vince said.

“Uh, who’s in the mountains?” Brian said.

“The White Wolves,” Jesse said.

“Their pack leader, Ortega,” Dom said. “She’s been running in the Santa Monica mountains for more than a hundred years. If anybody’s got a clue about this shit, it’s gonna be her.”

“Yeah, except you’re never gonna get a word out of her, because they’re gonna fucking rip your head off the second you come over their boundary line, Dom, shit!” Vince said. “You’re not talking about running through a hole in their perimeter and peeing on a fucking bush.”

Brian looked over at him and raised his eyebrows. “Do you guys do that?”

Dom ignored him firmly. “They’re gonna listen,” he told Vince, “because I’m going to show up with a motherfucking vampire at my back.”

“There’s more than a hundred fucking wolves in that pack, they don’t give a shit about a vampire,” Vince said. 

“They’re still not going to pick a fight with one just for the hell of it,” Dom said. “Anyway, they got cause to talk to us. A vampire war in L.A. isn’t going to do them any favors either, especially if the bodies start piling up and the cops start getting antsy.”

“You need to take a present,” Mia said, coming down the stairs.

“What?” Dom said, eyeing her.

“A present!” she said. “If you want them to let you talk to Ortega, you’re going to have to show up there like a civilized person, not just puff your chest out at whoever’s on their boundary line. Go get her something.”

“What the fuck am I supposed to get her?” Dom demanded.

“I think she likes turquoise,” Mia said. “When the White Wolves come to the markets they always pick up something extra in turquoise, even if they don’t wear anything with it themselves.”

“Jesus, now I’m buying jewelry?” Dom said and sighed. “All right, O’Conner, come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, let’s,” Brian said. He still had a hand over his mouth and nose.

Brian called in to his bosses while Dom drove to the jewelry store Mia sent them to. “I want you down here for briefing in an hour,” Hobbs said.

“I need to go over to the hills with Dom,” Brian said.

“You need to get your ass into the office, O’Conner,” Hobbs said. “The Trans hit a Sinaloa cash house this morning, and the cartel retaliated with a hit on one of the vampire bars two hours ago: they firebombed the place and took out six groupies and a bartender and two waitresses along with it. The war’s on.”

“Yeah, and you don’t think the pack leader of the White Wolves might have anything useful to tell us about it?” Brian said. “Come on, Hobbs, I’ll make it in by 2300.”

Hobbs was silent a moment. “See that you do,” he said finally, and hung up.

“I got no fucking idea when we’ll be back,” Dom said, looking over at him.

 Brian shrugged. “Forgiveness beats permission, man.”

Even though Brian had a clock running, he turned picky on Dom when they got to the jewelry store, rejecting twenty pieces that looked just fine because the stones weren’t nice enough or the metal wasn’t pure or bullshit like that. “Fucking Christ, O’Conner, I don’t want her to marry me,” Dom said.

“You want to show up with a lame gift and look like a cheapskate?” Brian said, peering at a big blob of turquoise that looked like all the other big blobs of turquoise. “No, not this one. Hey, come on, man, do you have anything worth showing us or what?” he said to the sales clerk, and finally a little old guy came out of the back with a dozen boxes that had four-digit pricetags, and Brian settled on the single most expensive one, a big-ass necklace of solid gold and rounded disks of smooth blue.

Dom grimly handed over the credit card and the clerk wrapped it up. “She better talk to us after this.”

“Uh huh,” Brian said absently: he was looking in the other case. “Hey, we’ll take that too,” he said to the clerk, pointing to another four-figure set, necklace and big dangly earrings in green and blue stones and gold.

“The fuck we will,” Dom said. “Why are we getting that?”

“For Mia,” Brian said, taking out his wallet. “I’ll get it.”

Dom glared at him. “You’re buying jewelry for my sister now, O’Conner?”

“I sure am,” Brian said. “And you should get Letty something, man. I want fewer people in the house who might stake me in the night.”

Okay, it wasn’t a terrible idea. Dom picked out a solid gold choker for Letty of twisted up strands, not too tight: something that wasn’t going to get in her way. But he wasn’t goddamn looking at the cuff in the case, the one in blue and silver, sized for a guy; he wasn’t, except he abruptly remembered Brian in the jumpsuit with Toretto across his lapel, and shit. He muttered, “Let’s see that,” to the clerk, and then he reached out and took Brian’s wrist, and avoided meeting Brian’s wide-eyed stare while he put it on him.

“What do you think?” he said, and Brian swallowed and said, “It’s pretty nice,” a little shakily, and Jesus Christ, now he was getting fucking married or something.

Dom handed his credit card over a second time, feeling pretty fatalistic about the whole thing, and then after they paid and went outside, he drove around the corner, found a dark spot to park, and laid Brian in the back seat again, because fuck if he wasn’t at least going to get all the mileage in the world out of this.

Brian sprawled out under him afterwards practically glowing, rubbing over the cuff with the fingers of his other hand, as smug and satisfied as anybody he’d ever seen. Dom couldn’t even be irritated with him; he felt too pleased with himself, like he’d just blown across a finish line far out in front. Hell, maybe it was what Jesse had been talking about: he’d landed his pack a shiny new vampire all their own. All his own, and he gave up even holding out: slid a thumb along Brian’s cheek, smiling down at him, and bent down to kiss him.

The horrible jolt along the pack bond made him slam his head into the roof of the car, jerking up: Vince, Mia, Jesse, all of them flaring at once, Letty and Leon right behind them, and Brian was in the driver’s seat and peeling out even before the stars had cleared out of Dom’s vision. He hauled himself into the passenger seat and snapped, “Can you get there quicker?”

Brian was building up to a hundred fifty, roaring through the streets. His cellphone had started ringing, but he ignored it. “I don’t know!” He darted a fast look at Dom. “Take the wheel, I’ll try.”

Dom nodded, and got hold of the wheel, and Brian opened the door of the car and abruptly just wasn’t there anymore. Dom slid over and hauled the door shut and kept going, his heart pounding. The pack was fighting, he could feel it, and they were all scared; glimpses coming through—fire and smoke; people trying to grab them; guns and nets. Vince was trying to keep them all together, Letty was covering their back, they were running somewhere—

Dom pounded the steering wheel like he could make the car go faster or cut across the whole fucking city in a straight line. But then Brian landed with them, thank God: he felt it from Vince, a bright surge of vaguely pissed-off relief, and faint sirens in the distance, cops coming. Dom had never thought he would love that sound.

He took the turn onto Kensington on two wheels, blasting up the hill full-throttle. There was a van parked outside the house, right behind the cop car that had been watching them: the roof of the black and white was dented all the way down to the pavement. The back doors of the van were open, and he could see people inside: fuck, they had Letty. They were trying to get chains on her. She was fighting and snarling, but they’d done something to her, fucking bastards: her hind legs were going out, and her whole body was wobbling. Dom accelerated and spun out at the last second, slammed the rear corner with the full momentum of the Charger’s tail end, and the van skidded over the road in a hail of sparks, everybody inside staggering.

He burst out the open window as a wolf, the whole world going bright and clear, and threw himself inside the van. He left the four bastards on the floor in the heap of chains and nosed over Letty quick. She smelled okay, nothing more than scrapes, but she was almost completely limp. He shifted back halfway, got his arms under her body and heaved her up. He jumped out of the van and carried her into the bushes of the house next door. She managed to lift her head and lick at him quick as he set her down: I’m okay, go.

He shifted back down and ran for the garage. Brian was blocking the half-smashed garage door, just barely holding off three other vampires. They were all moving so fast they were blurring, but the one on the left, a white guy with a beard, had an edge; he was moving quicker than the other two, and he hadn’t taken any hits. Dom slammed into him from the back, full speed, and drove the guy to his knees. The vampire reached back to grab at him, but Dom got teeth in his neck and ripped: blood welled out, stinking and rotten to his nose.

A crossbow twanged from between two broken planks of the garage door. Mia was holding it, her eyes yellow and her teeth bared: the bolt thwacked solidly into the vampire’s chest, and Dom shoved him down onto the ground so he fell forward onto it, hard enough the point of the bolt came out his back. But gunfire was going off behind him, and Dom jerked with pain as three bullets ripped into his side: silver bullets, shit.

They weren’t going to be enough to stop him, though, not when these fucking assholes had come after his pack; he was already turning, leaping the ground between him and the gunmen, four of them. But they were just that, men with guns. He shredded their arms, and crushed their throats after and started looking for more; then he felt a thwack as something sharp took him in the shoulder.

His legs crumpled almost instantly, his vision blurring: tranquilizer dart. He tried to shift back to clear it, felt it working halfway, but he was still sinking to the ground, going dizzy and sick and cold, and there was a hard snubbed pistol barrel being put against his skull, someone who sounded far away shouting, “Surrender or we blow his fucking—”

He gathered himself and twisted over in a single move, and he grabbed the guy’s wrist with both hands and squeezed, the gun clattering away. The guy stared down at him for a second, and suddenly he disappeared, yanked away like a velociraptor had grabbed him: there was blood everywhere, a snarling like a pack of tigers. Dom pushed himself up from the ground: Brian was fucking destroying them, ripping limbs off, Jesus. 

Vince suddenly roared and led a charge out of the garage at the last two vampires, Mia and Leon flanking him, Jesse darting behind them all, half-shifted with stakes in his hands. Vince threw himself completely on the vampire in the lead, slamming her bodily to the ground. He rolled off and Jesse leaped on, shoved a stake through her.

The last vampire snarled, leaped over Mia and Leon and grabbed Jesse by the throat, jerked him away from the vampire on the ground. Leon dived for her though, shifting up to grab hold of the stake and keep it pinned through her body, and she was going suddenly, crumbling into rotting flesh. Mia jumped for the last vampire’s arm. He backhanded her into the door of the garage and she fell hard to the ground.

Brian was turning, letting the last of the gunmen drop. He was glowing, his eyes glittering, his fangs out. The last vampire looked over at him, around at all of them: he was surrounded, and Vince was advancing on him. He snarled furiously, and then he—then he turned and looked Brian straight in the face, like he was making some kind of fucking point, and he deliberately held Jesse up and shoved his hand into his gut, tore through skin and flesh, and ripped

Brian was on him, and the vampire’s head went rolling by, torn off his spine. Dom had staggered up to his feet—too late, too fucking late—

He stumbled across the yard, falling down every few steps. Letty was coming too, staggering down the driveway towards them. Vince had Jesse cradled in his arms, and Mia was sobbing next to him. Jesse was shivering all over, his eyes going glassy.

“Come on, Jesse, don’t you quit on us, man,” Vince was saying hoarsely.

Jesse’s eyes were filling with tears. “Dom?” he said, his voice wobbling; he was so scared, so fucking scared. Dom crawled the last few steps over and heaved himself up sitting, gathered Jesse into his arms. Jesse’s whole body was torn open, organs exposed and twitching, his guts shredded. Blood was puddling under him like rainwater.

“Jesse,” Dom said. He wanted to tell Jesse to change, to shift, but it was only going to send him quicker. There was nothing left to hold him with; he could feel the pack bond getting thinner and thinner.

He looked up at Brian, who was standing over them, the crazy light gone out of him; his face was stricken. “Can you change him?” Dom demanded.

Brian stared at him. “You want me to do this to him?”

“It’s gonna be different for him!” Dom shouted at him. “You’ll fucking be there, he’ll have a master—”

“I’m less than a year old, vampires don’t become masters until they’re a hundred or more!” Brian said.

“He hasn’t got any other fucking chance!” Dom said.

“Brian, please,” Mia said, looking up at him, desperate, and Brian looked between them, helpless, and then he got down on his knees next to Dom and leaned forward.

“Jesse,” he said. “Jesse, man, look at me, okay? Come on, Jesse, I need you to look at me.”

Jesse was wandering, almost gone, panic just about the only thing left in him. Dom grabbed him closer, put his hand over Jesse’s head and reached to Mia, to all of them. He stretched down the pack bond, got him, held him; he sent love and calm, gonna take care of you, gonna fix this, hard as he could. Jesse settled a little bit in his arms, his eyes focusing on Brian.

“Jesse,” Brian said, “you want me to bring you across? Only if you want me to. I’ll try if you want, but you’ve gotta tell me you want it.”

“I don’t wanna die,” Jessie I am whispered.

Brian swallowed. “I’m sorry, man,” he said, roughly. “That’s not one of the options. This is all I’ve got.”

Jesse looked up at Dom, helplessly, asking. “Tell him,” Dom said. “Tell him, Jesse. You’re not leaving us, not yet.”

Jesse nodded a tiny bit and looked up at Brian, who ran a hand over his face. “Okay,” Brian said. “Shit. Okay. I need a knife, something silver, with an edge—”

Leon ran into the garage for one of their silver-plated bolts. Brian put it at his wrist and ripped down, opening up a vein. Blood pulsed out, sluggish and thick, and he leaned over and pressed his wrist to Jesse’s mouth. “Okay, Jesse,” he said. “You’ve got to drink. One good swallow, man, you’ve got to get it down.”

Dom still had the sick, rotten taste of the other vampire’s blood on his own teeth, something to spit out, something poison. Jesse moaned and tried to get away, to push Brian’s arm away. Dom held him still, pinched his nose shut. “Swallow!” he said, leaning on the bond as hard as he dared, and Jesse gave a whimper and gulped; he retched weakly, but it went down.

“Okay,” Brian said. “Okay. Give him to me.”

#

Brian got Jesse stretched out on the ground. He was already getting a weird, doubled sense of Jesse’s body, like part of him was in there. It was—fucking terrifying, every instinct telling him this was not something he was supposed to be doing, not a good idea at all. He hadn’t felt anything like that in a long time. It almost went all the way out the other side and turned comforting, like yeah, here was the adrenaline rush back again, finally. Except for the fact that Jesse was dying, and Brian didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. The FBI hadn’t exactly included any class sessions on bringing people across, unless you counted the part where they told you not to even think about doing it.

“Brian!” Dom said, sharp and desperate. Jesse’s face was smoothing out, going dazed.

“Okay!” Brian said, and he bent down and sank his teeth into Jesse’s neck. It felt like trying to force down something he didn’t want to eat when he was already too full. The blood didn’t want to flow. He sucked it out anyway. Jesse was gasping, flailing one hand weakly at him, and Jesus, Brian didn’t want to keep drinking. Jesse was dying, Jesse was going to be dead in a second, and if he drank through that—

But he could tell he had to keep going. He didn’t even know what he was waiting for, but he kept going, and then suddenly that weird sense of Jesse’s body was coming back out through the bite, like the other end of a chain snapping into place, and Brian let go and jerked back as fast as he could, got loose from Jesse’s blood even as Jesse gave a last small gasp.

“Jesse!” Mia screamed, and threw herself down next to him, grabbing him; Dom was leaning over him, stricken. Jesse turned his head to look up at Dom, confused expression crossing his face, and then he went still and was gone.

“No, no, fuck no!” Vince was yelling, standing up and grabbing onto his head with both hands, stamping around, and Letty was crying, folded over her knees, Leon on his face in the ground next to her, unmoving.  

“It’s okay!” Brian shouted. “It’s okay. It took.”

“Are you sure?” Dom said.

Brian could feel the live current going from him to Jesse’s body and back, still weird, pulling on him. “Yeah,” he said tiredly. “Yeah. He’ll wake up with me, tomorrow night.” He rubbed his hands over his face and hoped he wasn’t lying.

Dom put his head into his hands. Mia wiped her face, still looking bruised, and then she pulled Jesse’s limp head into her lap. The others gathered in around the body and slowly sank down, all confused together. “He feels dead,” Leon said, bewildered. “If he’s coming back, why does he feel dead?”

Because he was dead, Brian didn’t say, because he figured they didn’t really need to deal with it yet. The sirens were getting louder, coming close. He pushed himself up to his feet. “We need to get him hidden. The Bureau’s not going be happy about this, and they’re going to be all over the house.”

“Leon,” Dom said, “where are you parked?”

Brian heaved Jesse up and they got him shoved into the trunk of Leon’s car, sitting halfway up the block across the street, and they slammed it shut just before Hobbs’ Humvee came squealing around the corner: four squad cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck in tow.

#

“All right,” Hobbs said finally.

The fires had been put out: they’d mostly been smoke bombs thrown in through the windows of the house to make everybody run out. The bodies had been collected out of the yard, and Jesus, there had been a lot of them. Brian had done his best not to watch. He hadn’t really known what he was doing while he’d been doing it, and he would really have liked to keep not knowing it now, no fucking thanks to the forensics guys discussing which body bag which parts went in.

He wasn’t sorry; if he thought about being sorry he just flashed right back to Dom on his knees with a gun against his head, and he stopped being sorry all over again. But fuck, he hadn’t known that was in him. Or maybe he had, and he just hadn’t wanted to face it.

“All right,” Hobbs said. “O’Conner, you’re coming back to HQ with us for debriefing. Tomorrow, we’ll—”

“No, I’m not,” Brian said.

Hobbs turned on him. “Excuse me?” he said dangerously.

But Hobbs hadn’t just ripped seven people into pieces, so what the fuck did he know about dangerous. “I’m not leaving the pack tonight,” Brian said. “They got hit, they got hit hard. They’re all freaked out, and the EMTs just dug three bullets out of Dom’s chest. You can fire me if you want to, I’m staying.”

Hobbs paused and looked at him narrowly. “What the fuck is that?”

Brian stared at him, and then he looked down at himself, following Hobbs’ line of sight: the cuff was still around his wrist, still shiny, even though the titanium and blue were spattered with blood. He felt like putting it behind his back, getting it out of Hobbs’ sight. He glared back defiantly instead. “None of your fucking business.”

“For Chrissakes, O’Conner, I feel like I should be calling your mother,” Hobbs said. “You met the guy four days ago in the midst of committing a major felony.” He sighed and waved a shooing hand. “All right, stay with your goddamn boyfriend. The coroner’s going to need a week on this mess anyway.”

“Who were they?” Brian said. “Do you know?”

“We’ve identified a few of the heads,” Hobbs said dryly. “Sinoloa muscle. So it’s a safe bet the vampires were De Almanca’s, but since they were bones and rot by the time we got here, we won’t get names until you can id them from photos.”

Brian didn’t give a shit about the names, personally: they didn’t matter anymore. The ones that mattered were the ones still out there, still a threat.

Dom was lying in bed upstairs, propped up on pillows and eating slowly from a tray Mia had brought him. His face was sunk into heavy lines, the first time Brian had ever seen him look anything like worn down, and it made him feel like ripping some more people apart. He sat down on the edge of the bed. “They were cartel muscle,” he said. “Looks like the other side is after us, too.”

Dom nodded a little. “What about Jesse?”

“After Hobbs pulls out, Leon will pull into the driveway where the protection detail can’t see, and I’ll get him into the basement,” Brian said. “Dom, he’s going to be hungry when he wakes up. Kill-the-first-person-he-sees hungry.”

Dom took a deep breath, nodded. “I’ll be waiting downstairs before the sun goes down.”

“Like hell you will,” Vince said, from the door. He stalked into the room and pointed a finger at Dom. “You got shot with silver, Dom, and anyway you’re not feeding two goddamn vampires off your veins! I’ll be waiting.”

Dom hesitated, frowning. “So will I,” Mia said, coming back into the room with a second helping. “We’ll all pitch in.” She looked at Brian. “Are you going to be able to help Jesse stop?”

Brian shook his head helplessly: he had no fucking clue how it was going to work. “We’re going to find out. I guess I can just pull him off if I have to.”

“All right,” Dom said after a moment. “We’ll give it a shot. But I’m going to be down there with you, just in case.”

“Fine,” Vince said. Then he eyed Brian sideways, frowning.

“What?” Brian said.

Vince blew a breath out of his nose like a snorting bull. “Am I gonna have to—” He jerked his hand meaningfully.

Brian choked out a laugh. “I keep telling you guys, that part was not me.”

Vince squinted down at Dom doubtfully, like he was finally starting to wonder. Mia stifled a giggle. Dom glared at all of them. “Get the hell out of my bedroom,” he growled. “I want some sleep.”

Brian waited until they’d gone. Mia glanced back at him a moment, hesitating, then she slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her. Dom scowled at him. “It was all me, huh?”

“Look, man, you need to just embrace your feelings,” Brian said, and kissed him. They ended up stretched out on the bed together, kissing slow and gentle, making out, Dom’s hands sliding all over his body. Brian didn’t want to bite even a little; he’d have broken his own fangs off first. He just wanted Dom under his hands, under his mouth; wanted to feel his heartbeat still thumping away through his skin.

“I’m fine,” Dom murmured into his temple, kissing him. He’d slid his thumb under the cuff, tucked it between the metal and Brian’s skin. “I’m fine, Brian.”

“You will be,” Brian said, burying his face in Dom’s neck, licking over the pulse, his whole body in tune with that beat.

#

Dom woke up sore, a deep ache lingering in his side where the silver bullets had gone in, and winced getting out of bed. He poked at the dressing the medics had put over the wound, but he didn’t peel it off: it felt like there was plenty of healing to go under there yet.

Everybody was downstairs huddled around the living room with Chinese takeout and the TV going. The walls were still stained with smoke, and the smell was going to last longer than that. Dom limped in and sank down onto the couch. “You okay?” Letty said.

“Yeah,” he said, and beckoned, because he could feel they needed it. Letty climbed into his lap, and Vince and Leon sat down on the couch on either side, Mia next to Vince. The couch creaked some, but so what. The hole where Jesse wasn’t felt raw and empty, only the faintest threads still connected: almost impossible, even thinner than his line to Brian.

“So now we’re gonna have two vampires in the pack, huh?” Letty said.

“Looks like it,” Dom said.

“We’re going to need even more food,” Mia said, and they all laughed a little.

“Speaking of which,” Dom said, and Leon reached over to the table and got him a box of lo mein. They all kept eating steadily while the sun crept lower and lower, until the alarm Mia had set in the kitchen chimed, ten minutes to sunset.

They all went downstairs. Dom was braced for it, but that didn’t really make it any easier, seeing Jesse and Brian lying there stretched out and cold and dead. Brian had put Jesse into the box, and he’d lain down on the floor next to him. Mia swallowed down a sob before it got out, looking away, and Dom said abruptly, “Don’t.”

They all looked at him. “Don’t fight it,” he said roughly. “We lost Jesse last night. It was the worst fucking thing that’s happened to us, to this pack. We lost him, and maybe we’re going to get him back, but either way it’s gonna be different. It’s okay to be sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry—” and he was crying, unashamed, and they all came into the circle with him, their own tears coming.

It took a while to calm down, from that, and they’d almost lost track of the time. “Only one more minute,” Mia said, looking at her cellphone, and they all waited, watching. Seconds ticked away in Dom’s head, close and getting closer, and then they kept going one after another, too many of them, and nothing was happening.

Mia jerked to look at him, getting it first. “Dom?” she said, and he was already moving, going to his knees between the—between the bodies. Something was wrong. His thread to Brian was getting thinner, like it was stretching out, about ready to snap. Jesse was fading even more.

“Brian!” Dom yelled, grabbing him, leaning over. He had a sense of him, distant: hanging off a cliffside with Jesse clinging on to a hand Brian had given him, except Brian’s own foothold wasn’t strong enough, and it was crumbling away underneath him. And oh shit, this was why vampires weren’t supposed to make new ones before they got to be older: Brian couldn’t make it back with Jesse dragging him down. 

“Everybody get around them!” Dom snapped. Mia dropped to her knees and put her hand on his shoulder, reached her other out to Letty. Vince got on his other side, Leon reached his hand across to close the circle. Dom shut his eyes, grabbed the pack bonds, the whole lattice around him, and—jumped; that was what it felt like, throwing himself down the line—all the way down to where Brian was, the cliff walls rising up black and endless, someplace he wasn’t supposed to be and only the stretching lines to pull him back.

But his line to Brian was getting brighter, thicker, as he shortened the distance, and there were other lines reaching out, parallel lines: Mia and Vince had started their own bonds out to Brian, Letty and Leon throwing in too, starting to lattice him in. “Brian!” Dom roared, and he didn’t know if he was saying it out loud or not. “Brian, get the fuck up here!”

Brian was reaching faintly back, groping. Dom reached for him, hauling on the lines of the pack bond as hard as he dared, pulling Brian up to him. “Come on, O’Conner, come back to me,” Dom said, yelling into the dark, and he could tell Brian was coming—little by little, still dragging Jesse up with him, grabbing at the lines when he couldn’t find a place to stand. Dom let his own lines pull him back up a little, kept yelling at Brian to come on, at Jesse to keep going. One more time, and abruptly he was back in the basement with Brian’s body under his hands, and he could feel a faint twitching in the skin, like an ignition trying to catch.

“Give me a knife!” Dom said, and Letty slapped her pocketknife into his hand. Dom cut his wrist and put it against Brian’s mouth. “Come on, O’Conner, come and get it,” and Brian’s whole body jerked and his fangs slid into Dom’s wrist.

#

It was like crawling out of a bad wreck, pulling himself through a twisted hole in the frame past broken glass. Brian put his hand out blindly around Dom’s wrist, warm against his mouth, Dom’s pulse thumping through the blood—except it stuttered, gave a little jump, and Brian jerked loose in a panic and shoved Dom away, snarling, “What the fuck are you doing!” Dom rocked back on his heels and fell into Mia’s arms. He was panting, his eyes looking dazed, and Brian wanted to fucking strangle him.

Then Jesse reared up in the box all at once, gasping, his eyes red and his fangs out. He was still a ruined mess, his guts hanging open, barely held in by the shirt they’d put on him. He surged to his feet and Brian just managed to grab him by the throat as he tried to dive right for Dom’s bloody wrist.

“No!” Brian snarled, furious, and slammed him bodily up against the wall of the basement, shelves toppling over, old basketballs and soccer gear tumbling across the floor. Everybody scattered out of the way. Jesse was snarling and thrashing, fighting his grip, wanting, wanting. Brian pulled back an arm, about to slug him, but his fist halted in mid-air. It felt like—like he was about to punch himself in the face, a weird why the fuck would I do that? moment. Like he could just not punch himself in the face.

Brian went with it, and—just stopped Jesse, as easy as letting his own hand drop, and Jesse quit fighting and went still, staring at him wide and red-eyed. Except that was like he’d opened up a line between them. The hunger hit, washing right down the connection to him: the first hunger. And fuck, Brian had forgotten why he’d been able to bullshit himself so long, why he’d been able to believe that he was something besides an empty pit; it was because this was so much fucking worse, and after it had stopped, everything else had felt easy for a while.

He wanted to bite, to drink; the smell of Dom’s blood was in the air, taste of it still in his mouth, more of it right over there, ready for him. “No!” he hissed, to himself, not just to Jesse, and then Vince was moving towards them, swallowing, saying, “Hey, kid, come on, we’re gonna give Dom a break,” and holding out his arm right there, right in front of Jesse’s face.

Jesse wasn’t really there yet; he was just the hunger, the pain. But he could smell the blood, wanted it. His desperation was yanking at Brian, begging him. Brian let him go, and in a second he was on Vince’s arm, biting deep, and the fucking relief of it, Jesus. Feelings started to come back into Jesse’s head, not quite thoughts yet, but something there. He was still scared, the memory of dying in his head, of fighting; he was scared and—Vince was scared, fear starting to come through the blood. “Vince!” Brian said, struggling to put words together. “Calm down—you’ve got to calm down for him, he’s getting it from you—”

Dom hauled himself back up to his feet and put his hand on the back of Vince’s neck, and Vince started to calm down. The sensation of it, a heavy warm weight, started coming to Jesse from the blood, and then Dom carefully reached out and put his other hand on Jesse’s neck, too, and the steadying pressure was coming from outside at the same time. The cycle kicked in and took it, amplified it, and all of a sudden Vince was blinking, saying, “Huh,” in a stoned voice, and Jesse was floating, getting so relaxed he could barely remember to keep drinking.

Brian staggered over to the wall. Letty had his arm, helping him down, and she looked him up and down and said abruptly, “You need any more?”

Brian licked his lips. Shit, he did need it; Jesse’s hunger was ebbing, but his own was triggered, and if he didn’t drink, he’d probably set Jesse off all over again. Letty didn’t wait for him to say it, just shoved her arm out in front of him, and Brian bent down and bit. Letty was solid determination with a lacing of anger, deep anger: the fuck were these assholes going to keep messing with her pack; she wanted to tear them all apart. That was something Brian could get behind no fucking problem, and when he let go, they looked at each other, and Letty gave him a sharp nod even as she pressed her fingers over the bite marks to stop the bleeding.

In the back of his head, he could feel that Jesse was okay, starting to really come back now. Brian remembered it taking—days, chained down with nurses swapping in a new blood bag on his IV every hour, two guards with crossbows watching him, only short brief glimpses of the world around him. But Jesse was almost there already, and underneath his shirt, his guts were pulling themselves back into place, skin knitting over the mess.

“Okay, man, time to get off the ride,” Brian said, pushing himself up to his feet. He was pretty sure that he could’ve just let go, but that felt freaking weird, like turning Jesse into a puppet or something.

Jesse made a small noise, he didn’t wanna let go! This was freaking awesome, he was so baked, and Brian almost laughed, catching it from him. But Jesse was gonna hurt Vince if he kept it up any longer, and Jesse got that and let go, all on his own, and straightened up. Then he lost his balance, windmilled back three steps, tripped backwards over the box in the middle of the floor, and did a one-handed handspring and managed to land on his feet.

They all stared at him. “Woahhh,” Jesse said, spreading his hands out for balance like a skateboarder, looking around at all of them. He still looked stoned out of his mind, but his fangs had pulled in and his eyes had cleared up, and the blood was already flaking off his skin.

Nobody moved a second, then Letty said, her voice cracking a little, “Jesse, holy shit,” and the whole pack went crowding in around him, laughing, hugging him. Brian grinned over at them, their happiness like sun on his skin, and then Letty turned around and hauled him in with them. Vince slung an arm around his neck, too, half a hug and half hanging on for support, with Dom holding him up on the other side and smiling at him fiercely; Leon was rubbing Jesse’s head, and Brian was with them; he was with them, part of them, and he was suddenly grateful to still be breathing, because he’d never felt like this even when he’d been alive.

Eventually Mia herded them all up to the living room and they collapsed on the couches. Brian was pretty glad to sit, himself; he felt like he’d been dragged over rough pavement for about a week. Coming back at sunset had always been—just like being underwater in a bathtub, all he had to do was sit up and let the water go running off his skin. This time it’d felt like clawing up through quicksand, no idea which way to go and Jesse clinging around his waist. Some part of his brain had been trying to make him kick Jesse loose, jettison the weight. And then Dom had thrown him a line—and then Brian frowned, putting a hand on his chest, because it was still there.

He looked down at himself and squinted, and if he turned his head and used his peripheral vision he could see it, like a gold line stretching like fine thread out to Dom. Wait—there were a whole bunch of gold lines, and they were going all over the apartment, one following Mia into the kitchen, the rest stretched around the living room to the rest of the pack, and they all had their own lines going to each other, too, like one of those designs you made as a kid, looping strings around nails in a wooden board.

“Hey, what are those things?” he said. “Those—lines?”

Dom was lying next to him on the couch, his head back against the pillows with his eyes closed. He craned his head up. “Are you talking about the pack bonds?”

“Why do I have them?” Brian said.

“I already told you, you’re pack,” Dom said. “You’ve felt like pack ever since you guzzled down half my fucking blood that first time, O’Conner.”

“That’s weird,” Jesse said. He was lying on the floor staring at the ceiling.

“Are you still high?” Dom said, nudging him with a foot.

 “Nah,” Jesse said. “Well, yeah, but, I mean, vampires don’t turn into pack just ’cause they drink your blood.”

Mia turned her head suddenly and looked down at Brian’s arm. The cuff was still there. A weird silence fell. It wasn’t just that nobody was talking, it was that Brian could suddenly tell all of them were thinking something, the same thing, really hard, and Dom was getting flustered and pissed off at them all. Brian couldn’t get it all, like something on a fuzzy channel almost coming through, but it was something to do with—him, and Dom, and another way that someone could join a pack, even if they weren’t a were at all—he slowly started grinning. He stretched out and put his arm along the couch behind Dom’s back.

Dom glared at him.

“So,” Brian said blandly. “I guess that means I’m your—”

“Goddamn pain in my ass,” Dom growled, but Brian just kept grinning at him, and yeah, Dom was going down; a little red color went creeping up his cheeks, and he looked away to try and hide the smile that was breaking out.

#

Dom didn’t like leaving his pack alone again, even with the three cop cars parked outside the house now. But he liked the idea of going on blind even less: he needed those fucking answers, and a weapon along with them, something he could use. It hadn’t even been too close this time, it had been over. Jesse was dead. Yeah, he was walking and talking, but he was still dead. Dom wasn’t going to sit around waiting for the next hit. One way or another, it was past time to carry this fight to the assholes taking aim at his pack. Whatever they were trying to get from him, whatever they wanted, he was going to find out what it was, and then he was going to give it to them right through their motherfucking chest walls.

“I want you to stay at the house,” he told Brian.

“You’ve still got three holes in your side and you’re walking into hostile territory,” Brian said. “I’m coming.” And apparently that was fucking that, because the whole pack got right behind Brian like a solid wall, so apparently Dom wasn’t even in charge of his own life anymore, what the hell.

Mia rolled her eyes and handed him a whole grocery sack full of bread and cheese and Polish sausages for the trip. “Let Brian drive.”

They parked the car down at the ranger station just inside the entrance to the state park and headed in. Dom had never gone up the front way before: they’d only tagged the borders on the northern edge, where the patrols got a little lazy, further from the city. It was scary enough doing that, heart racing and knowing you were in deep shit if the wind turned or you put a foot down in the wrong spot or missed a jump. This didn’t even feel scary, more like fucking stupid, the path full of the stink of a dozen alpha wolves putting his back up, and too many others for his nose to even pick them all apart. The wolf inside wanted out, now; wanted to be ready to put teeth in the first alpha he saw, make clear that he wasn’t coming in here to show his belly. 

Dom shoved it down and kept walking. Brian stayed right with him, on his right flank, like a sword at his side. They both knew when the wolves started to gather around them, at their backs at first, then to either side, pacing them out there in the dark as they climbed all the way to the territory limit. Dom didn’t look to either side.

He stopped in the clearing at the boundary rock. “I’m here in peace,” he said, loud enough to carry. “Any of you feel like coming out, or are you just gonna keep quiet back there?”

There was some rustling deep in the bushes all around. Brian shot him a look, we’re trying to make friends here, but Dom had no intention of letting anybody here get the idea he was a pushover, if the wolf would even have stood for that.

The bushes ahead broke open, and a big solid-black wolf came out, standing up on hind legs as he came closer. Dom recognized him by scent: one of the alphas who’d marked the trail—one of the alphas who’d been on those northern patrols, last year. The guy stayed half-shifted, looming tall, eyes glaring yellow and his teeth showing white. “You got some nerve showing your tail around here, cachorro,” he said, and Dom shifted up, stepped in close as he could get and leaned in to meet him eye to eye.

“You might be mixing me up with somebody else,” Dom said. “I guess you probably do get a lot of cachorros running over your border.”

The black wolf snarled, legs tensing.

“Don’t even fucking think about it,” Brian said sharply, and Dom felt the pack all around go tight, waiting.

“You bring a vampire to fight your battles for you, huh?” the black wolf hissed.

Dom let himself ease off. He’d gotten in close enough that he didn’t have to take a step back to do it; he could just lean back on his heels a little like he was relaxing, opening up some room without giving any ground. “I didn’t come here to fight. My pack just worries.” He shrugged and spread his arms, what can you do, and then he turned a little towards Brian, careful not to look away, and held out a hand. Brian gave him the package from the jewelry store, still all wrapped up in silver paper, and he turned around and held it out.

The pack had eased off along with him. They could tense back up if he provoked it, but nobody liked see-sawing back and forth, and they were all curious anyway now. The black wolf wasn’t too happy about it, scowling at him. He didn’t take the package. “What’s this?”

“What, are you afraid it’s gonna bite?” Dom said. “It’s a gift for Ortega. A token of respect.”

The black wolf had to shift down a little further and let his claws and teeth fade back to take the package without piercing it. He looked it over, sniffed it pointedly—Dom controlled his back going up—and finally ripped it open. He took out the necklace, and all right, fine, Mia and Brian had been right after all, because there was a bunch more rustling in the bushes. The pack was impressed: he could feel some of them thinking it was a really nice necklace, Ortega was going to like it. The black wolf scowled even harder. “What do you want?”

“To talk,” Dom said. “There’s been some trouble in the city. A couple of vampires throwing down, a lot of people are getting caught in the crossfire. An information exchange could be useful.”

“Yeah, we’re doing fine up here,” the black wolf said. “No problems. Not sure why we’d want to talk to you.”

Dom didn’t growl, though it was pretty close. “Yeah?” he said. “And I guess it’s not going to bother you when the cops put five thousand guys on the street at night with floodlights all over the city, start rounding up anybody without a license and tossing them in the kennels?”

“And why the fuck are they going to do that?” the guy said.

“Because two cops got murdered last night,” Brian said, before Dom could answer. He reached back into his pocket and pulled out his FBI badge, flipped it open and showed it. “We’re here right now because Dom made a case for treating you guys with respect. That’s not what you’d call the LAPD’s standing policy. You don’t want to talk to us, hey, we’ll go. But don’t be fucking surprised or anything if that makes the cops decide you’re picking a side in this war and it’s not theirs.”

#

Coming into the canyon made climbing the trail seem like a great idea by comparison. There were maybe thirty wolves around them by then, and they all got more and more edgy the further in they came. The black wolf had shifted back up and disappeared a while ago, running on ahead, and then he’d come back with his fur bristling: Ortega had okayed them coming in. The pack clearly wasn’t thrilled about it, and Dom could understand the unease: his pack wouldn’t have been thrilled about another alpha coming into their turf either, much less with a vampire at his back.

They were led to the mouth of a tunnel going into the canyon wall. There was a new scent on the stones here, an alpha scent, but different from any he’d ever smelled before: bitter and strong and old, so many layers it almost felt like more than one wolf. He paused at the dark mouth, wary, fur trying to prickle out along his spine. The pack had made a loose half-ring behind them, even more wolves melting out of the night to join them, a message that if they pulled any shit inside there, they weren’t getting away.

Dom squared his shoulders and ducked inside. There were a couple of big alphas lounging just on the other side, fur salted with white, with scents Dom only recognized from the canyon: wolves too high up in the hierarchy to bother with running patrols. They fixed on him with their yellow eyes, their bodies relaxed, letting him know they weren’t worried about him. Dom wanted to show them his teeth, wanted to growl, more than almost anything the wolf had wanted in his entire fucking life, because for the first time, there was a sneaking feeling somewhere down deep, that maybe he might want to consider lying down and rolling over in this situation, and like fucking hell.

Dom took a deep breath in through his nose, making sure his chest didn’t move too much, and let it out slow, keeping his shoulders down and his own body relaxed. Yeah, they didn’t need to worry about him, because he wasn’t here for any bullshit. And he wasn’t worried about them, either, so everything was fine all around. He gave them both a cool nod.

Their eyes narrowed a little, and then a low coughing laugh came down the tunnel towards them. “All right, young one,” a gravelly voice said. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

The two alphas fell in behind him and Brian. The tunnel opened up into a big cavern, rock polished down smooth and lined with sheepskins, a handful of pieces of wooden furniture around carved to hold wolves or people and draped with more of the skins. There was a fireplace built against one wall, a chimney going up and out, coals glowing red and throwing a little light into the room.

Ortega was sitting on a heavy wooden chair draped with skins, and she was naked, long white hair spilling over her creased brown skin. She’d put on the gold and turquoise necklace. Her scent was so strong in here it vanished: his nose stopped picking it up, even though she was right there in front of him. It was creepy as fuck, like she was a ghost or something, and he had to fight even harder not to let the fur break out over his shoulders.

She tilted her head. She wasn’t shifted at all, there wasn’t a scrap of fur anywhere on her, but her eyes were still solid yellow, bright. “Well, Dominic,” she said. “So you finally come to see me.”

Dom paused. “Wasn’t aware there was a standing invitation.” 

She didn’t laugh, not like a person: her eyes got just a little brighter, and her mouth moved a little, and somehow it was a wolf laughing at him. Dom fought down his bristling reaction. “Twenty-six years you’ve been running in this city, no pack leader to teach you; not even your dam,” she said. “Somebody might have had the idea of looking for a little guidance before now. Instead the only time you come, you go running my borders like a bandit, stirring up my young ones. Not very respectful.”

There were only two ways to go, and he wasn’t going to take the one that involved lying down in front of her. “If your patrols had been tight, I couldn’t have run your borders,” he said. “Could’ve been the Sierra pack trying a raid instead. They’d have been a lot less respectful.”

The alphas had come around flanking her seat, sitting on their haunches. They both flattened their ears back, annoyed at him. Ortega just kept laughing with her eyes. “You know, there’s a fine line with alphas,” she said. “Strong makes a strong pack. Strong heart, strong bonds, and no one running mad under the moon. But strong doesn’t like to bend. Strong can break.”

She leaned towards him suddenly, and she wasn’t laughing at all anymore. “Why are you here, Dominic?” she snarled, and her voice was like a whip cracked across his face, hot with contempt, her eyes flicking over him up and down, a flip of her fingers on the arm of the chair: yapping little puppy, bothering me.

His stomach clenched down into a knot. Rage swelled up out of it, ready to come rushing out with tooth and claw. He wanted to leap on her, snarling; he wanted to show her and those fucking alphas lolling at her feet—

Brian tensed at his back. Dom felt it across the pack bond, crossing over the rage, then felt the others, too; Mia bright and worried, Vince angry, I should be there; all of them reaching to him, anxiously. He wasn’t here for him. He was here for them. And if he walked out of here with nothing, or if he didn’t walk out of here at all, he’d have failed them.

He took three hard breaths, not bothering to hide them. She’d done it on fucking purpose, after all; she knew how hard she’d shoved him, how fucking close he’d gotten. He was still close; his jaw didn’t want to unlock. He had to speak between his teeth. “I’m here because I need help,” he said flatly. “I need answers. Are you going to give them to me or not?”

Ortega slowly straightened up and then leaned back in the chair again, her body moving in a perfect easy arc. “You should know better than that, Dominic. Give you anything? No, of course not. I have a large and hungry pack to think of.”

Dom took a few more breaths before he tried to talk again, his chest still loosening up. She was back to being fucking amused at him; and also a little pleased, which he wasn’t any happier with: fuck her and her condescending bullshit, she didn’t have a right to be pleased with him. But at least she wasn’t sneering anymore. “You seem to like the necklace,” he said.

“Respect bought you passage to the canyon,” she said. “Strength bought you passage to this room. Wisdom has bought you a little of my time. None of those buys you anything more.”

“All right,” he said. “You want to trade? Information for information?” She didn’t even answer that in words, just a flick of an eyebrow, a hint of getting bored: yeah, like he really had information she needed and couldn’t get. He folded his arms over his chest. “Help me out. What have I even got that you want? You want a racecar?”

She looked at Brian.

“Not in a million fucking years,” Dom said flatly, his hand going out between them, automatic; utter flat rage rising up in him, something beyond anger, with a horrible thought curling up underneath it: if Brian liked his blood, what would he think about hers

Dom,” Brian said behind him, and Dom jerked and looked at him. Brian had an eyebrow raised, are you fucking kidding me? He lifted his wrist and shook it, a little red firelight glinting off the cuff, and Dom swallowed and eased off the throttle. Then of course he got to feel like an idiot: he’d just shown her his entire fucking hand of cards, shit.

He turned back and scowled at her. She just gave him a look like a pat on the head, and Jesus, fine, she’d made her fucking point, he wasn’t going to win anything in this negotiation. “Fine. What do you want?”

She tilted her head. “A favor.”

“Okay, what is it?” Dom said.

“No,” she said. “Not like that.”

He frowned and got it, although it didn’t make a lot of sense: what, she just wanted him to—owe her one? She was watching him with her yellow eyes. “That’s it?”

She sighed a little, exasperated. “So reckless,” she said pointedly: she wanted him to owe her. Owe her fair value, something as important to her pack as this was to his. She was talking the kind of favor that could put him and his on her side in a pack war. And his included Brian—Jesse, now, too; all his people and any others who ever joined him, and this favor wasn’t going to have an expiration date, either. He and his pack were going to keep owing her pack until they collected.

Dom didn’t like it any, but she’d already made it clear: there was nothing else he had to put on the table that interested her. “How do I know what you’ve got is worth it?”

“You need it,” she said, “and you can’t get it anywhere else west of the Mississippi and south of Canada. Decide for yourself.”

Shit. He glanced at Brian, who shrugged a little: what else were they going to do?

“Done,” Dom said, grimly, turning back. “Now tell me what’s so fucking special about the alpha of a mixed pack?”

She huffed through her nose. “You’re hunting from upwind, Dominic. They’re looking for you. All they knew was that you were a very strong alpha, so that’s what they were looking for, and alphas with mixed packs have to be strong.”

The hell. “So what’s so fucking special about me?” Dom demanded.

“You’ve been busy,” she said. “Very, very busy. Tell me, what is a master vampire?”

“A vampire that’s brought across other vampires,” Brian said. Ortega raised an eyebrow and didn’t say anything. Dom traded a look with Brian, who shrugged a little, blank: what else? “They’ve usually got to be at least a hundred, according to the Bureau?” he offered. 

She laughed out loud for that one, a cackle. “Oh, yes, the FBI is so very well informed. Let me guess. Ten years to learn how to feed without killing. Fifty years to leave a master. A hundred years to bring another vampire across. That’s what you know, or think you know. But none of these things is true, not for a vampire without a master. Because a vampire without a master is dead.”

Dom stared at her. Brian had stiffened next to him.

“If you’d ever met a master, you’d understand at once,” she said. “A master isn’t simply an old vampire, or a vampire with children. A master is alive. And they anchor all their line in the world. Some of their children stay, some leave them, some bring others across. That doesn’t matter. The master is still holding the line, and if they die, their whole line passes with them. Whether that same day, in ten years, in a hundred at most—sooner or later all their children and their children’s children will go mad and die, too, unless they manage to root themselves into the world on their own, and become a master themselves.

“And you, Dominic, you found yourself a vampire.” She waved a hand at Brian. “A lone vampire is a real prize for a small, young pack like yours. Suddenly you have a weapon, you have protection. Cheap at the cost of a little blood, your instincts told you. And because you’re a very young pack leader, too proud to go asking advice, you didn’t realize the vampire you found was dead. The dead ones are very hungry, because they’re trying to fill up the hole where a master should be, but you’re so strong, you could feed him anyway, and he was young and strong, too, still yearning to live.

“So you fed him and you fucked him and he followed you home, and from the moment you decided to keep him, you and your pack have been hard at work anchoring him back into the world. Making a master vampire.”

That’s—why they’re after the pack?” Brian said.

She laughed out loud again. “Of course. Chan must have felt it at once: another master starting to grip onto the world, in the middle of his own territory? He and Urraca must be quite wild: they’d already declared against each other, but now they can’t start fighting properly. If they do, what happens when they’ve battered each other to pieces, one has fled and the other is triumphant—and here you come, with a pack of weres to protect you in the day and feed you at night, and you’re a policeman, with all the mortal world behind you! They don’t dare fight until they’ve destroyed you first. And that’s what they intend to do.”

#

Brian walked back to the car numbly. Dom wasn’t talking; he hadn’t said anything since they’d left Ortega’s cave, just stalked back out of the canyon and out of the park at a measured pace, back to the car sitting alone in the parking lot under the half moon. The rest of the mountain pack had vanished, even though Brian could hear them, smell them, feel them all around. He could have counted them by their heartbeats without even trying.

“I’m driving,” Dom said. Brian climbed into the passenger side on autopilot. He didn’t want to think. Thinking was only going to land him right back in the same place: the pack was being hunted because of him. Because Dom had given him—everything; had given him life.

And Dom had said he wasn’t going to take it away, but that was before he’d known that his pack was on the line. That they were being hunted, killed, because they’d picked the wrong vampire to take in. Brian shut his eyes. He knew what Dom had to do. He couldn’t even be mad about it. He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t even sorry. He would’ve made the trade in a heartbeat: even if the clock hadn’t been ticking, he would’ve walked away from immortality to have felt like this, again and for the first time; to have been alive again, to have had a pack, a home, a lover. Somebody he loved.

Everything was quiet at the house when they got back. Jesse was up and banging away at the Internet, everybody else had gone to sleep. “Yeah, I figured I could keep an eye out on my own, once we knew you were on the way back. Everybody was pretty wiped, man,” Jesse said, looking back and forth between them, like he wanted approval from both sides.

“Good,” Dom said, and Brian gave a nod.

“You mind keeping watch the rest of the night?” Brian asked him, before Dom could say anything else; Dom glanced at him, and when Jesse nodded Brian grabbed Dom by the arm and took him upstairs.

“What is it?” Dom said, frowning as he followed Brian into his bedroom, and Brian threw him onto the bed and climbed onto him, straddled his hips, and ripped his own shirt off over his head.

“Jesus Christ,” Dom gasped, four rounds later. “What’s gotten in to you, O’Conner? Oh, fuck,” his voice rose as Brian slid back into him.

The sunrise was getting close. Brian finally finished and lay down next to Dom in the bed, his head pillowed on Dom’s shoulder, panting. “Wait a second,” Dom said groggily. “What has gotten into you?” He pushed himself up from the pillow with an effort to squint at Brian with a suddenly suspicious look, and then he glared. “Goddammit, Brian! What the fuck do I have to do to get it through your fucking thick skull—”

“They’re coming after the pack because of me!” Brian said.

“Bullshit,” Dom said. “You weren’t paying fucking attention in there, were you. Tell me something, you get the idea this happens a lot?”

“What?” Brian stared at him.

“Anytime a master dies, there’s all these vamps cut loose,” Dom said. “So what about it, why don’t they all make a beeline for the nearest pack? Yeah, Ortega slipped it by you. Think about it. These vamps haven’t been trying to kill you, they’ve been trying to get us. Chan went after me, De Almanca went after the pack; either way, what they’re really trying to do is get their hands on the pack. Because we’re not just any fucking pack, we’re a pack that’s strong enough to make a master vampire, and that doesn’t come along every fucking day.”

“Why wouldn’t Ortega just say that?” 

“Oh, you think Ortega’s got this pack’s best interests at heart or something?” Dom said. “We’re her neighbors, you think she wants us to know we’re something special? I’m surprised she didn’t just try to take us out: the last thing she’s gotta want is a high-octane pack complete with a master vampire on her fucking doorstep.” He sighed and let himself fall back on the pillows. “She’s going to make us pay through the fucking nose for everything she did give us, you can bet on that.”

Brian shoved his hands into his hair. “So what the fuck are we going to do?

“Only thing we can do,” Dom said. “We’re going to teach both of those bloodsuckers not to mess with our pack, and if we have to, we’ll take them all the fuck out. And you’re not going anywhere,” he added, irritably. “Jesus, Brian, we’re pack. There’s no acceptable losses.”

“You’ve known me less than a fucking week,” Brian said.

“Sometimes that’s enough,” Dom said. “Anyway, tell me, smart guy, if you went, what the fuck would happen to Jesse? Yeah, you’re really thinking straight.” He shook his head. “You’re doing the opposite of going anywhere.”

“What does that mean?” Brian said.

“They don’t want another master vampire around? That’s exactly what they’re going to fucking get,” Dom said. “Call your buddy Hobbs. Tell him if he wants us to cancel this vampire war for him, we need a place to lie low the next twenty-four hours, somewhere they can’t get anywhere fucking near us. And then we’re going to speed things up.”

#

“This is not what I was looking for,” Dom muttered under his breath. The pack were all nervously bunched up behind him.

“What, Toretto, afraid you’re gonna have to get used to the scenery?” Hobbs said, snorting as he pushed open the heavy metal door out of the stairwell. “Federal buildings defensible against vampire attack aren’t all that thick on the ground.”

Thirty FBI agents all looked up from their stations as they came out onto the floor. The cops down here were in riot gear even sitting at their desks, machine guns racked on every wall like they’d hired a decorator from the NRA, silver-plated blades shining under the crappy office lighting next to nets made out of some kind of braided metal.

“Jesus,” Vince muttered behind him. He and Leon had the wooden crate slung across their shoulders, the one with Brian and Jesse crammed into it. Dom had thought that was a pretty clever idea, right up until Hobbs had driven them into the parking lot for the fucking FBI headquarters and told him they were going to be hanging out here for the next twenty-four. He didn’t have a lot of hope that Hobbs wasn’t going to notice when an extra man showed up at sunset, shit. Maybe Jesse could just stay inside the box.

Hobbs put them in a big conference room at the back, walls of solid concrete and air so recycled Dom couldn’t get a whiff of anything more natural than printer toner out of it. There was a closet with cots stacked up inside it. “Kitchen’s down the hall, bathrooms are next door,” Hobbs said. “Don’t go anywhere else.” He shut the door on them, and Dom blew out a breath and motioned Vince and Leon to put down the box.

“Dom, what about,” Vince said, and Dom waved him quiet.

“Just get some rest,” Dom said. “When you’re not sleeping, go down to the kitchen and eat as much as you can. I want everybody fueled up by tonight.” He sacked out himself, wiped out; Jesus, Brian had done a number on him. For some reason that didn’t piss him off anymore, and Dom didn’t care about figuring out why. He just rolled onto his side and crashed hard.

He didn’t really wake up for the next ten hours, although he had a vague memory of somebody putting down a tray of food next to his cot and him sitting up long enough to shovel it in, then straight back down. He finally rolled awake when Hobbs said, “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” and sat up for a look: Hobbs was standing over the big trash bag full of the wreckage of empty crumpled MRE bags, maybe fifty of them. Everybody else was still completely out, although Mia put her head up briefly to blink at him, make sure he was okay, and then go back down. 

“Are you kidding me?” Hobbs said. “I could feed a squadron of Marines for a week on this.”

“Yeah, and then we could kick their asses around the block in five minutes without trying, so what do you want?” Dom said, stretching. “How long until sunset?”

“An hour,” Hobbs said. “Which sounds like just about the right amount of time for you to fill me in, Toretto, since your better half was short on the details of this plan before he went down for the day.” He jerked his thumb towards the hallway. Dom got up and followed him, with a detour to the kitchen where he found the MRE closet: it wasn’t completely empty yet.

“I hope this shit doesn’t change the taste,” Dom said, eating. Hobbs was glaring at him. “O’Conner’s fucking picky. What?”

“Tell me something, Toretto, which of you two assholes is even driving this bus?” Hobbs said. “Vampires dominate by biting, alpha wolves dominate by fucking. What the hell’s going on between the two of you, I don’t even have a clue.”

Dom raised an eyebrow. “You really want to know?”

Hobbs frowned. “For once, that’s an excellent fucking point. Did you manage to get anything from Ortega?”

“Yeah, she told us a few things,” Dom said. He figured that was playing things close enough to the vest: he planned on letting Hobbs work for every detail he got, just in case he didn’t like the idea of a pack with a master vampire in his backyard.

But apparently he’d said something weird already, because Hobbs put a laser-beam stare on him. “She told you.”

“What?” Dom said warily.

“You saw her,” Hobbs said.

“That was the idea,” Dom said. Hobbs was still trying to burn holes through his skull with his eyes. “What?”

“Ortega’s four hundred years old, and she’s got the biggest and meanest pack south of Alaska,” Hobbs said. “We keep tabs on pack leader movements: if they come through town, they always go and pay their respects. The last one who got admitted to the presence was Josiah Rhodes, and he’s a hundred-year alpha out of Yellowstone. What the fuck makes you special?”

Dom would’ve liked to know himself. Hobbs had no reason to make any of that up, so why the fuck had Ortega let them in? “We’re her neighbors, she probably wanted a look,” he said. “She gave us plenty of shit along the way.”

“Uh huh,” Hobbs said. “So how the hell are you going to cancel my vampire war?”

“The vampires haven’t let loose on each other yet because they’re scared of O’Conner mopping up the pieces after they’re done.”

Hobbs grunted, eyes staying right on Dom. “Right. Two master vampires, both of them more than five hundred years old, worried about O’Conner.”

 “O’Conner’s got the fucking FBI on his side,” Dom said.

“Not for conquering himself a vampire territory he doesn’t,” Hobbs said.

“You sure about that?” Dom said. Hobbs stared at him. “Hobbs, you telling me you wouldn’t like to have one of your guys on top instead of Chan? You’re not gonna start a war to put him there, but if there’s already been a war and you know you can go in, bat cleanup, and then you don’t have to deal with all the shit the winner’s going to pull in the streets to make their losses good? Clean up all the vampire joints while you’re at it? And even if you wouldn’t, they don’t know that.”

“Hm.” Hobbs leaned forward and laced his hands on the table. “That’s a pretty good story, Toretto, with one small fucking problem.”

“What’s that?” Dom said.

“O’Conner’s gonna be rotting in less than ten years,” Hobbs said flatly.

It wasn’t going to happen and Dom knew it wasn’t going to happen, but that didn’t stop it making him stiffen up in a knot of like fuck he is, and he couldn’t keep it from showing on his face.

Hobbs nodded, still watching him. “Unless they and you know something I don’t. Now what would that be?” Dom sat back in his chair, eyeing him. “Let me be clear, Toretto. The two of you jokers aren’t close to the line, you’re on it. Sooner or later you actually might manage to slip something past me, and I’m about ready to quit taking that chance. You want to be a part of the solution here, you start working with me. You want to go out there on your own, set up O’Conner on a third side of this chessboard and see what you can get out of it, you best know I’m going to shitcan you first and worry about Chan and De Almanca after, just on goddamn principle. Now which is it going to be?”

“All right,” Dom said after a moment. “You want to be clear, let’s be fucking clear. You take your own agents at the worst fucking moment of their lives, tell them they got a chance to live forever, and then you turn them into walking corpses and use them for as long as you can keep them going. And when they can’t keep going, you take them out like the trash, and that’s just business fucking usual to you.”

Hobbs had sat back in his chair, eyes narrowing. Dom didn’t stop.

“Far as I can tell, you’ve been waiting for an excuse to end Brian since before all this began,” he said. “You threatened to throw me and my pack in the fucking kennels five minutes after I met you. So don’t act like there’s no reason we might not be square with you. You want us to work with you? I don’t work with people I don’t fucking trust. So you tell me. Can I trust you?”

Hobbs got up and walked out of the room. Dom waited, and a few minutes later he came back in, carrying a folder. Hobbs dropped it on the table and sat back down. “Every year,” he said, “I take off the week from Christmas to New Year’s. I don’t take any work home, I unplug, I don’t so much as take a phone call. The one piece of work that I do, in that week, is write up an annual report tallying the collateral damage of the vampire agent program and updating the survival statistics, which get worse and worse every year it keeps going. And every year, I send that report to every person I have an address for, trying to get them to shut it down.”

He opened up the folder and started taking out photographs. “Lily Anne Wales, age fourteen. Bob S. Chester, age fifty-four. Vanessa Choles, age twenty-nine. All killed by Agent Richard Yan in the twenty-four hours it took us to get him. Gabrielle James, age seventy-five. Pamela Suez, age eighty-six. Dean Pole, age ninety-two. Andrea Lane, age eighty-four, and her nurse, Imelda Ramos, age forty-seven. All killed in the Palm Slope nursing home by Agent Lisa Lane, who incidentally until she lost it was Andrea Lane’s loving granddaughter. She walked in while her grandmother was being given an IV and she went off, killed all of them. I won’t show you the pictures of what Agent Andrew Malone did to his wife and four small children, the reasons he wanted to stay alive in the first place. He didn’t even fight us when we came to get him. He’d started with the next door neighbors and their Labrador retriever. Before we staked him, he told us the dog was barking and it annoyed him, so he went and ate it, and after that he just couldn’t stop.”

He closed the folder. “That’s the folder for this year so far, Toretto. You don’t need to convince me that this program’s a shitshow. But there’s not a single agent who’s gotten to the other side since I came on this job who didn’t hear from my mouth that they were gonna die, and that I was gonna kill them. That’s all I can give them, Toretto. Because in the end, that’s what they do.” He nodded at the folder.

“That’s not what Brian’s gonna do,” Dom said.

“That’s what Malone’s wife thought,” Hobbs said. “O’Conner would’ve already sucked your veins dry by now if you were anything other than a werewolf. You have a reason for me to believe something’s changed, other than you’re the most convenient supply of the moment, go ahead and tell me. There’s nobody on this fucking earth wants to quit his job more than I do.”

Dom scowled a little. He still didn’t like Hobbs, but all right, the guy didn’t smell like a liar. “Master vampires don’t go nuts,” he said grudgingly.

“Yeah,” Hobbs said. “Unfortunately, the Bureau’s a little short on those.”

“It’s your lucky day,” Dom said.

#

“Are you sure about this?” Brian said.

“You got any better ideas?” Dom said. “It’s gotten you this far.”

“Uh,” Brian said. “That and—”

“Yeah, well you’re not doing that with my entire pack,” Dom said. “We’re going to give it a shot. Everybody’s fueled up, we’re all rested, and there’s no reason we have to go out looking for trouble after this gets done, either. If Chan and De Almanca could tell you were out there across the city, I’m betting they’ll pick it up when you cross the finish line, too, even if we stay put right here.”

“Dom, for all we know, I’m already over the finish line and it just takes time from here,” Brian said.

“Jesus, you’d think I was telling you we should see other people,” Dom said. “Will you quit arguing and get started? Worst-case, you get a six-course meal.”

“Fine!” Brian said, and turned around. Vince stepped forward and held out his wrist. 

“Wait a second,” Mia said. “We should all get around them,” and Dom nodded.

They all settled into the pack bond first, Brian in with them this time, his arm around Dom’s waist and Dom’s hand on the back of his neck. Dom could tell his lines to the rest of the pack were already stronger than yesterday, getting more solid: everyone was reaching out to him, and there was something else in the mix, a thick bond like a cable made out of solid steel going from Brian to Jesse, and all their lines to Jesse were wrapped around it like a pattern in gold, as if they’d all piggybacked on that line to keep their own bonds intact.

Jesse was suddenly a little anxious, wondering if he could still change, go coyote and run with them. Dom didn’t give a damn, personally: if he couldn’t run as a coyote, he could run as a vampire. And then Brian wondered what was so great about running, and everybody tried to show him at the same time and nearly washed themselves out of the bond with too much noise. Dom squashed it all down and gave Brian one night, one full moon: cool wind in their faces and city lights glittering as they flowed through the streets and over the rooftops they owned, a thousand smells slipping by to taste, everything from diesel to clean bright salt surf, racing each other in bursts with traffic lights as starting guns, all of them stretching as fast as they could go.

Brian was grinning helplessly, catching the joy of it from them all. Okay, he got it: it was a date, the next full moon, and they were all smiling as Vince took his arm from around Brian’s shoulders and held it out. Brian held it and bit down. He didn’t drink a lot; Dom could tell it didn’t feel like he needed to. It wasn’t about the blood, it was about what it meant to offer. He only took it long enough for the cycle to kick in: him and Vince connecting on respect, strength for strength, and Dom could feel Vince letting go of the last small grudging feeling of being replaced. Yeah, the pack had added a big fucking gun, but that didn’t mean they didn’t still need his muscle and his heart behind them. Anyway, Vince noted as Brian let go, he sure as hell didn’t want to fuck Dom, and since apparently somebody had to do it—

Dom glared at him, everyone stifling laughter as Letty stuck out her arm. Brian went around the circle, their bonds getting stronger the whole time: Letty meeting him on their shared anger; Leon on his uncomplicated relief to have someone around watching their backs. Mia held out her wrist smiling, and Brian grinned at her before he bit, and she shivered a little; something like sparks coming through—Brian was just so—pretty. That was bad enough, and then Brian was all for Mia thinking he was pretty, and—

Dom gave him a hard look: no, Brian did not get to collect the set. Mia started to giggle, eyes going a little smoky, and suggested maybe that was up to her, which it fucking was not, and then Dom could tell she was deliberately letting Brian have it, that feeling of want. Letty was on the other side of the circle laughing her ass off at him, and Brian was full of laughter and getting high on it at the same time, getting turned on.

“Okay, off my sister,” Dom growled, giving Brian a shove along the bond he hadn’t been thinking about, the one he wasn’t ready to put a name on yet: O’Conner, if you want it you know where you can get it, and Brian let go of Mia’s wrist and laughed and turned and kissed him, right there in front of them all, a sudden wave of love flowing through the bond, so bright Dom swallowed hard. He almost wanted to fucking hide. It didn’t feel like something you got to keep if anyone else knew you had it, except the whole pack was gathering in around them to protect it, getting even closer, and abruptly all their bonds were thickening a little more, going even deeper gold.

It took Dom by surprise, but Mia was suddenly remembering their mom telling them something—about a childhood pack going to full pack, something that didn’t always happen. It took all of them stepping up and buying in, and they were making the jump, they all felt it. They couldn’t take Brian in and keep fucking around; they were about to be operating on a whole different level.

“You all sure?” Dom said quietly, his throat tight, and felt them all shining back at him: trusting him, ready to follow. They wanted to do this, they wanted to bring Brian in; he was Dom’s, and he was theirs. Brian gasped next to him, shuddering all over, and he buried his face against Dom’s neck; Jesus, he’d been so fucking lonely. Even before he’d died: he’d never had something like this; he’d never had it, and he wanted it, wanted them, so much; he was reaching back, straining, he wanted

It was like an earthquake going off, right in the middle of their circle: a shockwave that rolled on through them, making them all sway so hard they nearly fell over: Dom barely managed to stay anchored, Vince too, holding the rest of them up. “Whoa, that’s, whoa,” Jesse was saying, shaking his head like a wet dog. Brian had stiffened up, frozen and trembling all over, and then all of a sudden he just collapsed and that was it: he dragged Dom down with him and all of them fell in a heap on top of him.

“Ow, shit,” Dom said muffled: Mia and Leon and Vince had all fallen on top of him, and none of them wanted to move all that much; they all felt like they could just stay right where they were for a while. Dom managed to get his hands on the floor and shoved up, and everyone rolled away more or less. “Brian!” he said sharply. Brian was just lying there with his eyes closed, breathing hard. He felt—he felt different, somehow; he felt—

Brian opened his eyes and looked at him, and he was—alive. Dom swallowed hard, staring down at him. Brian’s eyes were really fucking blue. Had they always been that blue? “Hey,” Dom said roughly.

“Hey,” Brian said, smiling up at him a little dopily, and it felt like seeing him for the first time; like Dom had only ever seen him through a pane of glass. Ortega had said if you’d ever met one you’d understand, and Dom did understand, just looking at him.

  He felt different himself, too. The pack bond had always lived somewhere in arm’s reach: something he’d been able to tap into when he needed it, something he’d been able to bring everybody into with him. Now it was inside, a part of him that wouldn’t ever come out again. Something scary about it: losing his pack had always been a low-down terror, something unthinkable; now it was something he just wouldn’t survive. That was okay, though, after a moment’s thought: it was something he didn’t want to survive.

The door banged open: Hobbs charged in with a dozen guys behind him, all of them carrying crossbows; there were even a couple of vampire agents with them. Dom was ready to jump up, but just like that Brian was standing, out in front of the pack, facing them all down. Nobody moved for a moment; Hobbs had a weird expression on his face. “Jesus, you really did it, didn’t you?” he said finally.

“I’d say so,” Dom said, climbing up to his feet. The other vampires in the room made it a million times more obvious: Dom almost wondered how he hadn’t been able to tell, just from the beginning. Both of them had that shiny, too-pretty vampire look: an Asian woman with dolphin-sleek hair and a Latin guy, high cheekbones and dark eyes, both of them fucking beautiful, but in the same room as Brian they both just looked like corpses, dead and empty, hollow at the core, while he shone like high beams down a long dark road, so far away from them he was on another planet.

And shit, Dom realized, they saw it, too: they were staring at Brian with hunger and despair in their eyes, all their illusions cracking, and all of a sudden they were leaping for him, fangs out, savage and ignoring Hobbs’s shout—

It didn’t matter. Dom almost dived in, but he could feel from Brian he didn’t need to. Brian put them both down, fast, just caught both of them by the throat and shoved them to their knees. They both hung in his grip on either side of him like they couldn’t do anything else, shivering, their eyes gone blank. Brian glanced back at him. “Dom,” he said. “Dom, they’re me,” and it sounded like an apology.

“Jesus, Brian,” Dom said, too late: Brian had held his wrist out, between them, and both of the vampires dived on him like he was a fucking blue plate special.

“What the fuck,” Hobbs said. He and all his guys had ringed around the vampires with crossbows ready. Dom barely had to send a thought down the pack bond, and everybody was with him, ringing them, each of them taking up positions on two guys while Brian—fed the two vampires.

“Their blood,” Brian said, lifting his head and staring at Hobbs. His eyes were glowing. “I need their blood, the blood you drained when they were dying. Tell me you’ve still got it here.”

Hobbs was staring down at the vampires. They’d only taken a few swallows and were still down on their knees, shivering, eyes dazed like they were waiting for execution—or maybe to be spared. He jerked up and looked at Brian and said slowly, “You’re—taking them on.”

“Yeah,” Brian said. “If I can,” and Hobbs looked down at them again and his jaw tightened and he turned and jerked his head at one of his agents. “Elena, go get all the blood bank stocks, and put out a call to all our vampire agents, bring them in.”

She darted a look from Brian to him, alarmed, but then she swallowed and said, “All right,” and went.

So about six hours later, Brian did have his own little FBI vampire army going. Dom couldn’t feel the other vampires the same way, they weren’t in the pack bond like Jesse or Brian, but he had a faint sense of them off in the distance, something like knowing you had a second cousin somewhere in a foreign country, and if you got in trouble over there, you could look them up and maybe get a hand.

“Well, I’m going to take a whole lot of shit for this,” Hobbs said, but he was closer to cheerful than anything Dom had ever seen him before. All the agents looked totally different: they weren’t on fire like Brian was, but they weren’t dead, either; lifeline firmly in place. “So now what? You have some kind of master vampire hotline, so you can give them notice, or do I need to send a raiding party or two out to the vampire bars?”

“I don’t know about a hotline, but I’m pretty sure all we need to do is put together some kind of neutral ground,” Brian said.

Hobbs staked out a field just outside the city limits and put white flags at the four corners, and Brian went and stood close to the middle of it waiting. It wasn’t even ten minutes before he said, “They’re coming.”

Dom stood by his side, and Hobbs had planted himself square in the middle. The rest of the pack and Brian’s collection of agents were off a little way in the woods: not a distance that would take them long to cross, if this turned into a fight, but far enough that anybody who came could just take off before they could attack.

He smelled them on the air just before they landed: each of them different, not quite like Brian’s lightning and smoke. Chan had a scent like stone under running water, cool and polished; De Almanca like iron, hard and metallic. But they both had the same heat beneath it, the same feeling soon as they hit, that they were tapped into bedrock, all the way down.

They didn’t exactly land: Dom couldn’t have said how they got there. He felt them coming, and then they were there, taking shape out of the dark. He felt their own backup coming in, too, taking up positions behind them at exactly the same distance as the pack.

Neither of them spoke. They just looked at Brian, who gave Hobbs a wave: all yours. Hobbs looked the two others up and down. “All right,” he said. “Let me spell out your worst nightmare. I shut down all your bars,” he pointed at Chan, “and I throw every low-level distributor and dealer I can find into jail for a few weeks,” he pointed at De Almanca, “and I get a warrant for every building your little clans like to sleep in, and then I let O’Conner and his buddies here loose on all of you until they get lucky and find out where one or both of you sleep yourselves. I’m guessing that doesn’t sound too great to either one of you.”

They still didn’t say anything, but nobody would’ve called their expressions happy. Hobbs nodded. “Right. So all I need to make that happen is about one more serious blowup, at which point the mayor, the governor, and every judge in this town are all going to quit caring how I stop you two going at each other.

“Now, I don’t really give a damn how you work things out between you,” he went on, “so I’m going to leave that up to you to figure out. But you’re on notice. Because if something does blow up around here, I’m not going to give a shit which of you was behind it. I’m going to wipe you both out and put O’Conner in charge instead. There anything else you need to hear?”

Turned out there wasn’t, because they both vanished about the same way they’d come, and everyone else took off behind them. Hobbs waited until one of his agents came on the headset. “Clear, sir, all heat signatures accounted for.”

He nodded and turned around and studied Brian. “So what about you, O’Conner? I need to tell you to keep your nose clean?”

Brian shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets. “Hobbs, you know why they do it?”

“What, fighting over turf?”

“Yeah,” Brian said. “It’s to prove which one of them would come out on top, and you just made it clear that would be me. So no, I’m not feeling any need to show off.”

“Hm,” Hobbs grunted. “See that it stays that way.” He turned back to his men. “All right everyone,” he said. “You’ve all been at DEFCON one for a week, and one hell of a week. Take it down a notch. Red team, take two days off. Blue team, you get the next two after. Then I want everyone back in the office Monday bright and early. Or as soon as the sun goes down,” he added, looking pointedly over at Brian. “And you can bring your furry pals along.”

“Excuse me?” Dom said.

Hobbs folded his arms across his chest. “How were you planning to keep that pack of yours fed, Toretto? With a dozen extra vampires on board, no less. You get three chances to answer that question, and none of your options include more major felonies.”

“Goddammit,” Dom muttered. “Fine. But we’re going on the payroll, too.”

“No pensions,” Hobbs said.

“Like hell no pensions,” Dom said. “You can skip the health insurance instead.”

#

Epilogue

There wasn’t any fuss about getting in to see Ortega, this time. They were met at the border and taken straight to her, and Dom scowled the whole way in. Brian nudged him. “You’re mad they’re not giving us a harder time?”

“Means last time was all a show,” Dom said. “She goddamn set us up, O’Conner.”

Brian shrugged. He wasn’t worried at all. If Ortega turned into a problem for the pack, they’d deal with her. “Anyway, she can’t collect on her favor unless we’re alive and well.”

“Depends on the favor she’s looking to ask for,” Dom growled.

“And what do you suppose that would be?” Ortega said, when they marched into her cave. Her two lapdog wolves were still sprawled by her feet, tongues lolling, eyes bright.

“Why don’t you just go ahead and tell me,” Dom said flatly. “Because bullshit you flipped a coin and decided to help us out just to have some future claim. You’re after something specific. So, fine. Here we are.” He spread his arms. “You got yourself an alpha wolf and a master vampire on the hook. What do you want?”

She sighed. “So young,” she said, pretending to be mournful. “On the other hand, I suppose that was the point.”

Dom eyed her. “You figure I’m going to be around a while or something?”

She fixed her yellow eyes on him. “Longer than I’ll be, anyway.”

“So you want me in hock to whoever takes over?” Dom said, warily, but he was already getting it, even before Ortega wolf-smiled at him, red. He glared at her.

“There’s not one alpha in ten thousand can hold a pack this big,” she said. “And I’m getting old. One night soon, ten years or twenty, my wolf and I will run beneath the moon for the last time, and not come back. The Sierras are waiting for that night, and so are the Yellowstone wolves. My children will fight among themselves, and the outsiders will come and join in, but none of them are strong enough, so when it’s all done, there will be a dozen packs left behind, squabbling and carving each other up for scraps of territory, with half my pack’s blood spilled on the rock.

“But you, you’re strong enough. You wouldn’t have survived making him if you weren’t.” She nodded to Brian. “And you’ve had to seal the heart of your pack to do it, a decade sooner than you might have. By the time I go, you’ll be holding all the city up to the ocean, and your mate will be the master of Los Angeles. And you’ll be ready.”

“Yeah, to take on every goddamn challenger inside her pack and for five hundred miles around for the privilege of taking it on,” Dom said, seething, as he drove back to L.A. “What are you grinning at?”

“You’re hot when you’re pissed-off,” Brian said, and just laughed when Dom glared at him. “Don’t try to front with me, man. You’re into it. Running the biggest pack in the entire fucking United States?”

Dom put his eyes on the road, trying to hang on to the scowl. All right, so it might be something to brag about. “Yeah, and how do you think that’s going to work out?”

Brian laughed. The windows were open, letting all the night air in; he put his hand out to cup the wind into the car, ruffling through his hair. “Are you kidding me, man? Drive faster.”

# End