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Seb hears a faint whir as he opens his eyes, his vision snapping quickly into focus. His brain seems to take a while to catch up, slow and sluggish and hazy around the edges.

“This doesn’t look right.”

He moves his head, catches a glimpse of an x-ray on the wall. Someone’s a mess. He’s distantly aware that it must be him.

“I don’t understand this at all.”

He’s in Brazil. It feels like he has to drag that piece of information from somewhere deep down inside him. He doesn’t remember crashing, but he can’t think of any other reason he’d be here. It scares him that he can’t quite put the pieces together.

“It must be from a previous break. Do we have his medical records?”

Fernando must have won. Seb let the championship slip away from him at the last second. He feels something, someone poking his leg, and he shifts, his body seeming to come back to him in an instant. He moans in pain, the searing sensation coming over him so suddenly that he thinks he might vomit.

“It’s not supporting anything. It looks like a structure all of its own. It almost looks as if...”

“Get away from him. Step back. We have our own doctors, we’ll take it from here.”

Seb cranes his head, sees Dr. Marko standing in the doorway, two of the Red Bull medics with him. He’s not quite sure whether he’s relieved to see his team or not. He winces at the thought that he’s let them all down. He wishes he could at least remember what happened.

“You can’t move him right now,” one of the doctors tells Dr. Marko.

“We know what we’re doing,” Dr. Marko dismisses.

The medics are either side of Seb whose body feels all too uncomfortably his own again. He misses the fuzzy head. He misses the numbness. He’s moved roughly onto a stretcher, a sheet thrown over his lower half, and as he’s taken out of the room, he sees Dr. Marko rip the x-ray from the wall.

They don’t take him to the Red Bull medical facility, the place where he goes for his constant physicals that Mark never seems to have to go through. Instead he finds himself carried into the back of a truck and he wonders if he’s hallucinating. No one is talking to him. Maybe this isn’t real.

As one of the medics walks out, chatting to Dr. Marko, the other one flicks a switch. The room lights up and Seb realises they’re in some kind of lab. He watches as the medic holds his x-ray up to the light, frowning at it, then tosses it aside as he starts to look through the tools lined up along the bench. After a moment, he heads out of the door.

Heart pounding, Seb sits up. He expects his head to spin but it doesn’t. He leans over, looking at the bloody gash on his thigh. This could easily be a career ending injury. That’s not what concerns him the most though. He tilts his head, puts a hand to the open wound, trying to ignore the squeamish sensation that makes his skin crawl. There’s something shiny. Debris from the wreckage? It doesn’t look like carbon fibre. He leans in closer, fingertips exploring the hard, silver lines that seem imbedded in his skin, that seem almost like an intrinsic part of him.

He brings his other hand up to help the exploration, pulling almost thoughtlessly at his own skin to get a better view. He doesn’t care about the sharp, sickening pain, consumed with trying to work this out. He can’t see anything inside his own leg that doesn’t look like it belongs in some kind of science fiction film.

“You left him on his own?”

Dr. Marko’s voice is harsh and angry. Seb panics, wiping the blood from his hands as he lays back down, closing his eyes. Some primal instinct tells him to play dead.

“He’s not even fully online yet,” the medic dismisses as they come into the room. Seb can’t help but open his eyes, too scared to not be able to see what’s coming, but he tries to make it look as if their voices have roused him. “I doubt he’s even got his motor functions back yet.”

“I don’t care,” Dr. Marko says, stepping closer to Seb. “If you’re going to leave him unattended, you need to switch him off. We haven’t put all this work in to ruin it with one stupid mistake.”

He looks down at Seb, meeting his eyes, and Seb’s perfectly sure he’s pulling off looking like he has no idea what’s going on, but he hopes he looks groggily confused and not desperately panicky like he feels. Dr. Marko reaches out, touching a spot behind Seb’s left ear, and with a click, the room is gone.

He wakes in his hotel room, dull in the early morning light. He sits up, blinking at his surroundings, confused. He’s wearing the usual T-shirt and boxers he always sleeps in and nothing else seems amiss, but he has no idea how he got here. His leg feels tender and he pushes the sheets down to see a large dressing over his thigh. A dressing but no cast. That doesn’t seem right. He remembers the way his leg looked, the metal that was poking out of it. He picks at the corner of the dressing, needing to see what’s beneath it.

“You’re awake.”

Seb jumps at the voice, looking up to see Heikki at the entrance to the bedroom of his suite. He sighs with relief, letting his body sag slightly. He looks back down at the dressing.

“I was wondering if I should try and get you a later flight,” Heikki continues.

Seb looks up at him. “What happened?”

Heikki frowns. “You can’t remember?” Seb shakes his head, shrugging helplessly. Heikki moves further into the room, his face softer as he sits on the bed beside Seb. “They said you might have a concussion.”

They. Something about the word doesn’t sit right with Seb. He looks back down at the dressing on his leg, trying to piece it together. “Dr. Marko was there. He...” He looks up at Heikki’s confused expression and sighs. “Maybe not.”

“We should get you looked over again,” Heikki suggests.

“It’s fine,” Seb dismisses, shaking his head. Whether it was real or not, he knows he doesn’t want to go back into that truck. “I’m fine.”

“Fine to be at the airport in...” Heikki looks at his watch. “Just over an hour?”

Seb nods. He picks at the edge of the dressing again. Heikki knocks his hand away.

“You need to keep that on.”

Seb looks at him suspiciously then tells himself he’s being stupid. “Fine,” he agrees, his hand falling away.

“And no shower, you need to keep the stitches dry,” Heikki continues, getting up from the bed. “You’re lucky.”

Seb gives him an incredulous look. “Lucky?”

“Nothing broken,” Heikki says. “Nothing permanent.”

Seb nods. He knows that Heikki’s right but lucky is the furthest word in the world from his mind right now.

The atmosphere on the private jet that will take them straight to Hangar 7 is so different than it was in the previous two years. It’s clear that no one knows what to say to him, the disappoint hanging thick in the air, and he has no idea what to offer in way of conversation because he still has no idea what happened. The plane is mostly silent, only pockets of hushed conversations taking place, and it unnerves Seb, makes him feel like everyone’s talking about him behind his back.

He tells himself that he’s being stupid, that whatever he thinks happened last night with Dr. Marko and the medics in the back of that truck was just a hallucination brought on by a concussion and whatever drugs they had him on. They must be good, Seb thinks. His leg hurts, constantly throbbing, pulling painfully every time he moves, but it doesn’t seem to match the injury he saw last night. The pain feels shallow, almost superficial, even though he knows from what he saw that it goes much more than skin deep. Or from what he thinks he saw.

He watches as Dr. Marko finishes his conversation with Christian and heads towards the back of the plane, out of view. Seb pushes himself painfully to his feet, ignoring the concerned looks of the people around him as he limps after him. He drops himself down in the chair opposite Dr. Marko who barely bothers to look up, going over the sports pages of the global press. Fernando looks like he’s on top of the world. Seb winces. He doesn’t even know if the crash was his fault or not.

“Can I help you, Sebastian?” Dr. Marko prompts, his tone indicating that Seb’s mere presence is wearing his patience thin.

Seb shifts, the movement pulling his stitches again. He considers his words carefully, considers whether he should say them at all. If the worst comes to the worst maybe he can blame this concussion they all keep telling him he has.

“I saw my leg yesterday,” he says, watching carefully as Dr. Marko’s gaze lifts from the papers in front of him. “In the back of the truck.”

The devastation and panic on Dr. Marko’s face tells Seb everything he needs to know. There’s a sickening feeling in his gut and he really wishes he’d been wrong about this. Tears prick painfully at his eyes and he feels the furthest from home he’s ever felt in all his travels around the world. He blinks, tries to compose himself, but his voice still cracks as he tries to speak.

“What am I?”

“That’s confidential,” Dr. Marko responds brusquely, looking him dead in the eye with a clear challenge that makes Seb want to rise to it. He sits up a little taller, his eyes and mind clearer now.

“Confidential?” he asks. “How can it be confidential from me?”

“It’s classified information,” Dr. Marko states. “You don’t have clearance.”

Seb gapes at him. “But it’s about me.”

“That’s irrelevant,” Dr. Marko dismisses. “You’re not important enough to be given that information.”

“I’m not important enough to know what I am?” Seb asks. “I deserve to know what you did to me.”

Dr. Marko lowers the papers, looking at Seb with such pure contempt that it makes him shrink down in his chair. “We built you to win championships,” Dr. Marko says. “We did thousands of calculations to make you perfect. We gave you just the right amount of fear to drive closer to the edge than any of the others dare while still having the respect to not make stupid mistakes. We didn’t do all that so that you could crash your car and hand the championship over to our rivals. I don’t think you deserve anything right now.”

Seb feels like he’s been punched in the gut. The tears spring once again to his eyes and this time one rolls down his cheek. He wipes it self-consciously away. Dr. Marko lifts the papers back up again, a clear dismissal. Seb sniffs and instantly regrets it, feeling like a child. Humiliated he gets to his feet, no choice but to limp back to his seat, everyone thinking they know why he has wet eyes but none of them having a clue.

He gets through the media interviews and is finally shown the crash. When he watches it he can see why Dr. Marko is so disappointed in him. Passing a backmarker on a wet track Seb travelled too far off the racing line in his haste to catch up with the pack he was separated from by his spin on the first lap. The tyres lost traction and he did all the wrong things inside the cockpit, tensing when he should have been calm and controlled, and the car ended up in the wall, the concrete unforgiving against the carbon fibre. It reminds Seb of Ayrton Senna’s crash in Imola 1994. He wonders if all these F1 stats were programmed into him, a way to keep him focussed on the goals Red Bull have for him. The video turns off before the aftermath but Seb is certain from his own recollections of waking up in the medical centre that he definitely didn’t get out of that car on his own.

He’s finally released, the next obligation on his calendar the FIA prize giving ceremony. He tries to push it from his mind. He can’t imagine having to get up in front of all those people to accept his second place trophy now. It’s not that he feels like a failure; he feels like a fraud.

“Sebastian.”

Seb turns at the sound of Dr. Marko’s voice, everything in him tensing instantly. He wants to leave, wants more than anything to walk away, but he feels like he’s rooted to the spot. He wonders if that’s part of his programming, built in compliance.

“Can I have a word?” Dr. Marko continues.

Seb glances around. Mark and Christian are chatting to each other, neither of them paying any attention to him. He feels lost and alone and some part of him knows he’s not going to be able to leave until he follows Dr. Marko through that door. He heaves his bag onto his shoulder and does as he’s told.

“Why are you limping?” Dr. Marko asks him critically. “Is that leg not working right? The technicians assured me they fixed it.”

“It’s working fine,” Seb tells him. “It just hurts.”

“You can’t feel pain,” Dr. Marko dismisses.

“What?” Seb asks, frowning at him.

“Pain is something that humans feel,” Dr. Marko explains calmly. “You can’t experience it. What you’re felling is an electrical signal notifying you of damage.”

Seb glares at him. “It hurts,” he insists.

“You don’t know what pain is,” Dr. Marko tells him, and it sounds like a threat.

They sit down in a non-descript office, Dr. Marko pouring Seb a glass of water he ignores. He stares down at the carpet instead, not willing to partake in any niceties. He wants to just get to the point and get this over with.

“I just wanted to ensure that we can count on your discretion,” Dr. Marko states.

Seb looks up at him. “Discretion?”

“As I said before, this is classified information,” Dr. Marko says. “We’d like to keep it that way. We can’t risk any leaks, it will mean the end of all our careers.”

Seb knows that it’s a warning but he’s also pretty sure the people behind this have more to lose than he does. “Tell me what I am,” he says. “Tell me everything or I’ll go to the press.”

Dr. Marko places his elbows on the armrests of his chair, steepling his fingers together. “Let me tell you something,” he says, his voice so carefully measured that it makes Seb feel cold. “There’s a switch, right here in Hangar 7, that will disable you permanently. Do you understand what I’m saying? One flick of that switch and you’ll be offline before you realise anything’s wrong.”

Seb feels cold, a chill creeping up the back of his neck and making him want to shiver. He stares at Dr. Marko, that calm almost serene expression on his face, and he wants to curl up into a ball because it all just feels so hopeless. He wraps his arms tightly around himself, shrinking down in his chair.

“So I trust we can count on your discretion,” Dr. Marko says again, a smugness in his tone that makes Seb feel even smaller.

“Who knows?” he asks. “Christian must know.”

Dr. Marko snorts a laugh. “Christian? You think Christian is important? He just runs a race team, he has no idea what we do here. And he’s not going to find out. Do you really think he’d treat you with such warmth if he knew what you were?”

“I don’t know what I am!” Seb explodes.

Dr. Marko nods. “It’s better for everyone that it stays that way. I’ve spoken with Dietrich, he’s asked me to ensure that you understand your place in all this. It wasn’t my first choice. You’re getting off lucky.”

Lucky. There’s that word again. Seb wonders if Dr. Marko’s first choice was the switch or something else that Seb can’t even imagine right now.

“So, are we understanding each other?” Dr. Marko prompts.

Seb meets his eyes, nodding timidly. “Yes.”

Dr. Marko smiles. “Thank you for your cooperation, Sebastian. And if you have any more problems with that leg, talk to Heikki. He knows you inside and out.”

As Seb steps out of the office he feels shaky and weak. Mark takes one look at him and sighs, heading over.

“Don’t let the bastards get you down, mate,” he says, thinking he knows exactly what Seb’s just heard in that room, words that Mark probably heard two years ago. Not last year though, Mark wasn’t in with a chance then, and Seb suddenly feels guilty about that too. They’ve been using Mark as much as they’ve been using Seb, just in a very different way. “Dust yourself off and start over,” Mark tells him.

Seb nods, attempts a smile. He knows it’s good advice, whether Mark realises what it means to him right now or not. Mark pats him on the shoulder before walking away, leaving Seb to get his flight back to Switzerland.

It’s getting dark by the time Seb gets home and he turns on every light in his house in the hopes of chasing away the haunted feeling he’s been carrying around with him since he realised what was underneath his own skin. He wants to claw away at it, wants to cut himself open. Would that even kill him, if he bled himself dry? He can bleed, he knows that much, he’s organic up until a point, but he doesn’t know where that point is.

He strips off his trousers and picks at the edge of the dressing on his thigh until he can get a grip on it. He tries to yank it quickly, get it over with, but the adhesive is too strong and he wonders if it’s a deliberate attempt to stop him finding out what’s underneath. He’s forced to pull slowly, plucking out hairs, the stretch of his skin tugging at the stitches, making him grimace. When he finally manages to pull it free with a final wrench, everything looks normal and it feels like a bit of an anticlimax.

He runs a finger down the line of stitches. They’re tender, the skin pink and sore looking underneath. He thinks how easy it would be to get a knife and slice them open, take a look inside, but the thought turns his stomach. Does he have a stomach? He eats, he digests food to a certain degree, but what does he use it for? How complicated a system did they put inside him just to convince him that he’s real?

With a sigh he takes his hand away, laying back on the sofa. He remembers Dr. Marko telling him to ask Heikki if he has any problems with his leg. Heikki knows him. The message didn’t get through at the time, too many other things swimming around in his head, but suddenly the look Dr. Marko gave him makes perfect sense. Heikki knows. Heikki is someone he’s allowed to talk to about this.

Seb reaches for his phone and then realises that he can’t really call. If Heikki knows what Seb is then Heikki works for Dr. Marko, not Seb. He’s worked with Heikki for less than a year but he trusts him, he has to, so much of his well-being is down to Heikki, not just physically but mentally. He plays such an important role in Seb’s life and now he realises he was never really on his side at all.

Seb doesn’t feel lonely, doesn’t even feel disappointed, he just feels empty. His mind drifts to Tommi, the last man he trusted this much, and he realises that was a lie too. But Tommi left, went away when Seb was at his peak, when he needed Tommi’s grounding influence the most. It was a decision Seb never understood, but it’s beginning to make sense to him now.

He pulls his pants back on, grabs his car keys and heads for the door.

“Hei?”

“It’s Seb.”

There’s silence. Seb leans against the side of the phone booth, staring at his own reflection in the dark glass. He looks like a ghost.

“Hello,” Tommi finally says, his voice unsure. “How are you?”

“Have they been in touch?” Seb asks.

“Who?”

“You sound odd,” Seb says. Tommi doesn’t respond. “I know what I am.” He sighs. “That’s a lie, I don’t have a clue. But you know.” Still no response. “Tommi, speak to me.”

“They’ll be listening to your phone,” Tommi warns him.

“I’m using a payphone,” Seb replies.

“They’re probably keeping an eye on the payphones by your house too,” Tommi says.

“I drove for three hours,” Seb tells him. “Every time I came to a junction I chose a random turn. I’m not even sure I can get home.” Tommi is silent again. “What am I?”

“Why are you asking me?” Tommi asks.

“Because I know that you know,” Seb replies. “And because you left so I think you feel bad about lying to me. You don’t have to lie now.”

Another silence. “I can’t tell you anything.”

“Please,” Seb begs. “You can tell me something.”

“They made me sign things,” Tommi says. “They took everything away, all the paperwork and the information I had, all the diagnostics and... they took it all.”

“But you know,” Seb insists. “Just tell me what you know.

Tommi doesn’t say anything. Seb pictures him, the serious expression that would be written on his face, that look of concentration that used to make Seb smile because Seb was too young to understand the kind of worry he saw there. He thinks he might understand it now.

“I have some notes,” Tommi says. “My personal folder, my own observations, they didn’t know about that. They didn’t take it.”

“Send me it,” Seb pleads.

There’s a pause. “They might be listening to my phone too.”

“Please send me it,” Seb says again.

Tommi doesn’t say anything, just hangs up the phone. The next day, a personal courier turns up at Seb’s door.

He sits down at the kitchen table, opening up the file, and his heart instantly sinks. It’s all in Finnish, every word. He flicks through the pages, eyes scanning Tommi’s handwriting, and it all means nothing to him. There’s some diagrams, full body sketches and close-ups of certain mechanical parts, but the labels mean nothing to Seb and there’s not enough detail for him to work out anything meaningful without them.

He slams the folder closed and is tempted to throw it across the room but he stops himself. He needs this. It’s the only clue he has to what he really is. With a heavy sigh he takes out his phone, scrolling through the list of names.

To: Kimi
16.27
Can you come over?

To: Seb
16.32
Walking the dogs.

To: Kimi
16.32
After that?

To: Seb
16.35
Mum’s making dinner.

To: Kimi
16.36
After that?

To: Seb
16.39
Friends coming over for drinks.

To: Kimi
16.40
I fucking need you!

To: Seb
16.47
I can come over for a bit but I’ll be leaving when dinner is ready.

To: Kimi
16.47
Fine.

Seb instantly feels bad for his tone, knowing that he shouldn’t take his impatience out on Kimi, no matter how infuriating he can be. Kimi is the only person who can help him, certainly the only person he can trust to ask. Tommi’s already risked enough sending him the file in the first place and he knows he can’t talk to Heikki about this. Kimi is his only chance at being able to understand this and he knows he can count on Kimi to not repeat anything he finds out about Seb. Drawing words out of Kimi is difficult at the best of times. Seb knows that he can keep a secret.

To: Kimi
16.49
Thank you.

Kimi turns up half an hour later. Seb leads him through to the kitchen.

“I think I’m a robot.”

“That’s what they say about me,” Kimi responds.

“No, really,” Seb says seriously. “I think I might be a robot.” Kimi shrugs. Seb motions to the file on the table. “Tommi sent me this.” Kimi steps over, lifting the cover. Seb watches his face carefully as his eyes scan over the words. “Can you translate it for me?”

Kimi looks up at him. “Why did he send it to you?”

“Because I asked him to,” Seb replies.

Kimi makes an indifferent gesture, heading to Seb’s fridge. “Then learn to speak Finnish.”

“Kimi,” Seb says, exasperated. Kimi scrutinises the contents of his fridge, squinting at the date on a yoghurt. Seb sighs. “This is important. I need to know what it says. They did something to me, at Red Bull. I’m not... I don’t know what I am. Please, read it to me, it’s my only chance at understanding all this.”

Kimi puts the yoghurt back and closes the fridge. He studies Seb for a moment. “You’ll owe me one?”

“I’ll owe you a million,” Seb says emphatically.

“I’m holding you to that,” Kimi tells him, stepping up to the table. He sits down in front of the file. “You need to make me a drink.”

Kimi reads in silence while Seb makes him a cup of coffee. He only uses the expensive machine when he has guests but he’s told it’s good. He wouldn’t know himself, he never touches the stuff. He wonders if that’s been programmed into him too, if there’s some bigger reason behind it. When he sits down beside Kimi at the table, placing the cup of coffee down, Kimi turns to face him, poking his cheek with a thoughtful look on his face. Seb leans back.

“What are you doing?”

“You’re very good quality,” Kimi states. Seb frowns. He doesn’t think he likes being described like that. “You were right,” Kimi says. “You’re a robot.”

Seb looks down at the page. “I am?” he asks, unable to hide his disappointment. Somehow he was still hoping this was some big misunderstanding.

“You’re a prototype,” Kimi tells him, looking back down at the page. “Built in Hangar 7 during 2004. He doesn’t know much about that.” He turns the page. Seb feels himself reeling.

“2004?” he asks, doing the maths. “I’m only 8?”

Kimi smiles, amused. “They do call you Baby Schumi.”

Seb shakes his head. “No, hang on, that can’t be right.”

“That’s what he says,” Kimi responds.

“I remember being a kid,” Seb insists. “I have a family. That can’t be true.”

“Shall I stop reading it then?” Kimi asks him.

Seb looks at him. “What else does it say?”

“They built you with the perfect personality for a racing driver,” Kimi says. “Basically the opposite of me.”

“What?” Seb asks.

Kimi smirks. “It says you have no sex drive.”

“I do,” Seb insists.

Kimi shakes his head. “No distractions. A media friendly personality who has total focus on the goal of winning.”

With a little huff Seb turns the pages, finding some of the diagrams. He jabs his finger at them. “Tell me about this.”

Kimi reads over it. He looks at Seb’s hand, resting on the table and picks it up, turning it over to look at his palm. He studies the diagram for a moment and then traces his finger over Seb’s hand, a light, tickly movement that makes Seb shudder. Kimi looks amused.

“What?” Seb asks defensively.

“That looked like a distraction,” Kimi says.

Seb pulls his hand away, cradling it to his body. He looks it over as though he’ll be able to see it differently now, see it for what it really is. It just looks like his hand. “What does it say?” he asks.

“Technical bullshit,” Kimi says, pushing the file away from himself. “It won’t help you.”

“I need to know,” Seb pleads. “Kimi, I don’t know what the fuck I am, you need to help me.”

“You’re a robot,” Kimi shrugs. “Doesn’t really change anything. You’re lucky, they did a good job.”

“That’s the third time someone’s called me lucky in the last two days,” Seb says.

“Maybe you should start listening to them,” Kimi tells him. Seb stares at him, lacking the energy to work out what’s wrong with that statement. Kimi’s phone beeps in his pocket. He pulls it out. “Dinner’s ready.” He gets to his feet.

“You’re leaving?” Seb asks.

“I said I would go when dinner is ready,” Kimi replies. He pauses, looking at Seb. “You’ll drive yourself crazy with this,” he says, gesturing towards the file. “Throw it out. Burn it. It won’t help.”

As Kimi lets himself out Seb pulls the folder back towards himself, unwilling to give up on the one truth he has, whether he can understand it or not.

Over the next couple of days he spends most of his time looking through the file, using the internet to translate certain phrases, but it doesn’t help him much. He’s drawn back to one page over and over, the date making sense to him in any language. 2004. Somehow it’s far easier to reconcile himself with the fact that he’s a robot than the fact that he’s only been alive for 8 years. He doesn’t understand the details but maybe he’s never been alive at all. He’s not a living thing.

But he remembers his childhood, remembers growing up in Heppenheim with his sisters, remembers feeling put out when his little brother came along. He remembers karting, remembers his bedroom with the posters of the three Michaels, remembers his impatience at school because he knew it was never going to be the thing that took him anywhere. It’s all so clear in his head that he can’t believe how any of it’s not real. He has parents, his father comes to his races. If he’s not a real boy, who are those people?

He grabs his car keys, knocking on Kimi’s door within ten minutes. Kimi answers it, offering nothing in the way of greeting as he looks at Seb.

“I need you to come to Germany with me,” Seb blurts out.

Kimi raises an eyebrow slightly and then turns around, walking back into the house. Seb knows that the still open door is all the invitation he’s going to get to follow. He steps inside the house, toeing off his trainers, knowing how surprisingly houseproud Kimi is, though it’s probably more his mum’s influence. He finds Kimi sitting on the sofa, waiting for him. Seb flops down beside him.

“Germany?” Kimi prompts.

“I want to go see my dad,” Seb says. He frowns. Robots don’t have dads. “I want to go see Norbert Vettel.”

“Why?” Kimi asks.

“Because I want to know why he’s pretending to be my father,” Seb says. “My whole life is a lie and I can understand Red Bull’s motives, but what’s in it for him? I trusted him. I looked up to him.” He looks down at his hands. “How can my whole childhood just be gone? Who am I?”

“There was something in Tommi’s notes,” Kimi says. Seb looks up at him hopefully. “Your brain is just a CPU. Whenever you have downtime they can upload anything they want in there.”

Seb’s eyes fall downwards, threatened with tears. “I’m not real,” he whispers. “I can’t even trust my own head.”

“At least they gave you a happy childhood,” Kimi shrugs. “And they made sure you never doubted yourself.”

“I want to doubt myself,” Seb says. “I want to be fallible, flawed, human.” Kimi gets to his feet, walking around the sofa and into the kitchen. Seb turns to watch him. “What are you doing?”

Kimi opens the freezer, taking out a bottle of vodka. He grabs two glasses on his way back to the sofa. “I want to do an experiment.”

“An experiment involving vodka?” Seb asks.

“All the best experiments involve vodka,” Kimi insists.

Seb can’t help but smile slightly. “What’s the experiment?”

Kimi pours a generous measure of vodka into the glasses, offering one out to Seb. “I want to see if robots can get drunk.”

Seb gives him a look as he accepts the drink. “I’ve been drunk before,” he dismisses.

“Since 2004?” Kimi asks.

Seb feels himself falter. He stares down at his drink. 2004; the line between reality and everything else. He realises he’s been tricked, made to believe he’s had all those coming of age experiences, ticked the boxes, gotten it all out of his system. The first time he got drunk, the first time he kissed a girl, the first time he had sex, none of it really happened. By 2004 he was focused on racing and nothing else, all those other pursuits behind him.

“I think...” he begins haltingly. “In 2010, when I won the championship, I got drunk then.” He looks at Kimi, not trusting his own memories anymore. “Could they have put that in there? Could they have made me believe I got drunk, believe I had a good time?”

Kimi shrugs. He clinks his glass against Seb’s. “To science.”

Seb looks down at the clear liquid and figures that things can’t really get any worse for him right now. He takes a large swig and grimaces against the burn. He’s done shots before but not much more, alcohol has never interested him that much. He wonders if the burn is a deterrent designed into his system, something to stop him being tempted into drinking sessions that would compromise his focus and performance. Today he doesn’t give a fuck. Today he’s more interested in Kimi’s experiment than any of Red Bull’s.

Kimi watches him curiously as he drinks, matching him shot for shot. Seb finds himself grateful for Kimi’s vigilance; he’s not sure he trusts his own judgement anymore. It’s not just the fake memories, it’s the fact that he’s looking at himself too hard and he’s not even really sure what he’s looking for.

“Are you drunk yet?” Kimi asks four drinks later.

“I don’t know,” Seb replies. “I feel a bit... weird. Hot. A bit dizzy.”

“I hope it doesn’t rust your circuit boards,” Kimi says.

Seb starts to laugh, a spluttery little giggle, and he thinks, okay, maybe he’s a little bit drunk. He looks at Kimi, wanting to see that dry little smile, those shining eyes, but Kimi is looking down at the inside of his left forearm, his forehead creased in a frown.

“Do you know why Ron Dennis called me the Iceman?”

Seb shakes his head, confused at the change in direction. “No.”

Kimi leans forward, placing his drink down on the table. He turns his arm towards Seb, displaying his Iceman tattoo. The lines are dark on his pale skin, standing out boldly. Kimi wraps the fingers of his right hand around his wrist, gripping tight before he twists. Seb winces, watches the skin bunching up and pulled taut as Kimi continues to pull until, finally, there’s a sickening little click. The tattoo lights up, the insides of the letters turning into little LEDs. Seb can hear Kimi’s heartbeat sounding electronically, the flickering lights moving in time. He stares, his mouth open.

“You’re a robot too?”

Kimi laughs. “I’m not a robot.”

“Then what is that?” Seb asks, meeting his eyes.

“Ron let me do less media if I let him fit this,” Kimi explains. “It’s just a data collection device, it transmits statistics about what my body goes through during a race. McLaren used it to boost their physio programmes. It’s not connected to anything now. I didn’t tell Ferrari about it and I’m not going to tell Lotus.”

Seb reaches out, running his fingers over it. It feels smooth, feels just like the rest of Kimi’s warm skin, no clue as to what lies beneath. As his fingertips explore Kimi’s arm, the little lights start flashing faster, Kimi’s heart rate speeding up. Kimi slides his hand back around his wrist, twisting it the other way so that the display goes blank, nothing but the tattoo remaining.

“So you’re not alone,” Kimi says, pulling away from Seb’s hand that still absently rests on his arm. “F1 has always been about technology. You’re just the next step. Doesn’t make you any better or worse than the rest of us.”

Seb looks away. He sips at his drink. He’s not sure whether Kimi’s trying to belittle him or set him free.

“I think I might be a virgin,” he blurts out.

Kimi stares at him. “You’ve never had sex?”

“Not really,” Seb admits. “Not since 2004.”

“That’s a very long time,” Kimi muses. He reaches for his drink again. “I think we can say that robots can get drunk.” He looks over at Seb, his fingertips grazing Seb’s cheek. “And robots can blush.”

“Fuck off,” Seb mutters, brushing his hand off, embarrassed.

Kimi’s eyes trail up and down him, lingering, making him feel too hot all over. “Do you want to see what else robots can do?”

He touches Seb’s cheek again, hand moving back, curling behind his ear as he leans in, his intentions obvious. As his fingertips reach that spot behind Seb’s left ear he flinches, moving violently back.

“Careful,” he admonishes, his left shoulder hunching upwards to protect himself.

Kimi frowns. “What did I do?”

Seb relaxes his shoulder slightly, sagging back against the sofa cushions but keeping his distance. “There’s a switch there. Dr. Marko used it to turn me off.”

“I’m sure I could work out how to turn you on again,” Kimi responds, a smirk playing over his lips.

“This isn’t funny,” Seb tells him. Kimi takes a sip of his drink, looking bored now that the prospect of sex seems to have disappeared. Seb watches him for a moment. “You’re not coming to Germany with me are you?”

“Don’t go to Germany,” Kimi dismisses. “Use the phone.”

“I thought you might come along and give me a bit of moral support,” Seb says, embarrassed now because it sounds so childish and needy.

“Put it on speakerphone,” Kimi says. “I’ll listen with you.”

Seb rolls his eyes. “You're a shit best friend.” Kimi shrugs unapologetically. Seb considers him for a moment. “Where’s your mum?”

“Upstairs,” Kimi says.

Seb nods. “Do you want to watch a film?”

“Sure,” Kimi responds, reaching for the remote and tossing it towards Seb.

Seb loves how easy it is to just be with Kimi, no expectations and no bullshit. He likes the fact that, for all his money and success, Kimi still lives like a teenager, letting his mum pay his bills and cook his food while he refuses to learn the limits of his alcohol tolerance and gets fall down drunk far more often than someone his age should. It’s always such a nice atmosphere at Kimi’s house though, his mum coming downstairs halfway through the film and insisting that Seb stay for dinner.

Family is something that Seb finds himself thinking about a lot over the next few days. He doesn’t understand why his parents had chosen to adopt him, knowing what he was. Did Red Bull give them money to babysit their little project? They’ve never done anything to make Seb doubt the memories of his childhood that he’d been given as a backstory. That must have been a lot of work, learning everything that had supposedly ever happened to Seb and playing along with it.

The thing that really amazes him though is his sisters. He can maybe believe that Fabian had been so young when Sebastian turned up that he never really knew Sebastian wasn’t his real big brother, but Melanie and Stefanie, they’re older than him, they must have been very aware of what was happening when this teenage boy was thrown into their lives with memories that meant nothing to them. Why hadn’t they resented him? Why hadn’t they refused to play along? He doesn’t think he would have been so forgiving if it had happened to him.

When Kimi turns up at his house, the three dogs in tow, Seb’s glad for the company. Kimi ushers the dogs inside without asking permission but they’re not muddy so Seb doesn’t really mind. They sniff at him curiously and then wander around his house, tails wagging, before finally settling down on the rug in the lounge. Seb watches them from his place curled up on the sofa. They look so content, so peaceful in their easy slumber.

“Do you think they know?”

“Know what?” Kimi asks.

“That I’m not human,” Seb replies. “Dogs know that kind of thing, don’t they?”

“If they know, I don’t think they care,” Kimi shrugs, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Maybe I should get a dog,” Seb ponders out loud.

“Who would look after it while you were away?” Kimi asks.

Seb frowns, a heavy feeling settling over him. He was trying to distract himself from the fact that he suddenly has no one in the world to turn to. He shifts on the sofa, curling his legs more tightly underneath himself.

“Maybe I can borrow one of yours,” he suggests. “Why do you need three?”

“Ask my mum,” Kimi replies, a note of amusement in his voice. “In fact, you can have one of hers. Annoying little shits.”

Seb laughs. “You don’t mean that.”

“Don’t I?” Kimi asks.

Seb smiles to himself, looking back at the dogs. “Did you ever think there was anything weird about me?”

“Only one thing?” Kimi smirks.

“I’m being serious,” Seb says. “I want to know.”

“No one can tell,” Kimi dismisses.

“When I got out of the shower this morning I stood in the front of the mirror for nearly an hour just staring at myself,” Seb tells him.

“Naked?” Kimi asks. Seb nods. Kimi seems to consider this for a moment. “Everything where it should be?”

“How would I know?” Seb replies.

Kimi’s face colours slightly as a grin lights up his eyes. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Seb gives him a look. “No thanks.”

“I kind of mean it,” Kimi tells him, taking a sip of his coffee. “I can look if you want.”

“You can look at my cock?” Seb asks incredulously.

“I can look at your body,” Kimi replies. “If you want to get your cock out, that’s really up to you.”

“I don’t,” Seb grumbles.

Kimi leans forward, putting his coffee cup on the table. “Take off your shirt.”

“It’s cold in here,” Seb complains, wrapping his arms around himself.

“It’s not cold,” Kimi responds. “Stop being a baby, take it off.”

Seb rolls his eyes. “Leave me alone, I’m sorry I mentioned it.”

“Don’t ask for my help if you don’t want it,” Kimi says and it sounds like a warning. Seb feels himself sag. Kimi reaches out, prodding his elbow. “You’re bony.”

“It’s metal,” Seb dismisses.

Kimi feels his own elbow and then feels Seb’s again. “Seems okay.”

Seb looks up at him, trying not to seem too pathetically hopeful. “Yeah?”

Kimi shrugs. He slides his hand up Seb’s arm, under the sleeve of his T-shirt, and Seb feels himself instantly tense up. Kimi’s fingertips dig experimentally into his shoulder blade. When his hand slides away, Seb misses the warmth.

“Anything weird?” Seb prompts.

“I’m sure you’re fine,” Kimi responds.

Seb looks at him sideways for a moment, feeling suddenly more insecure than when he brought it up in the first place. He unfolds his arms, playing with the hem of his T-shirt for a moment before taking a breath and pulling it over his head. He avoids Kimi’s gaze as he drops it to the floor.

“Tell me the truth.”

Kimi shifts on the sofa, moving closer, and Seb turns his head further away as the shame creeps in, making him want to disappear inside himself. He waits, his own breaths sounding too loud in the quietness of the room. Does everyone breathe like this? Do his lungs sound laboured and mechanical? Kimi doesn’t make any comment, doesn’t touch him, doesn’t even move. Seb feels as though he’s physically shrinking, consumed by all his doubts.

He turns, expecting disgust or at least disinterest, but Kimi’s face is open and soft, eyes sweeping over Seb’s naked torso before finally meeting his gaze. Seb raises his eyebrows in question. Kimi shrugs. He places his hand on Seb’s shoulder and leans him forward slightly before his fingertips are sweeping down the curve of his spine, catching on the little bumps. It makes Seb’s breath catch in the back of his throat.

“This is metal?” Kimi asks.

“I guess. I don’t know,” Seb murmurs, closing his eyes before he realises what he’s doing. “You read Tommi’s notes, you probably know more than me.”

“I didn’t read much,” Kimi dismisses. “Fucking boring.”

Seb opens his eyes, giving him a look. “Thanks.”

Kimi’s hand slides away and then he moves, straddling Seb’s lap without warning. Seb presses himself back against the sofa cushions, getting as far away from Kimi as he can. Kimi seems unconcerned by this, eyes scanning over Seb’s torso, fingertips following shortly afterwards. Seb sucks in his stomach muscles and wonders at the fact that he’s not ticklish. Did Red Bull think that was a weakness so they didn’t bother programming it in?

As Kimi’s exploration continues Seb finds himself relaxing slightly. He watches Kimi’s face intently, looking for any indications of bemusement or disgust, but Kimi is typically blank, the expression he wears one of careful concentration. It’s sort of hypnotising.

“Well?” Seb finally asks.

“Hmm?” Kimi responds, as though he’s forgotten what they’re supposed to be doing here.

“Do I look normal?” Seb prompts.

“You look fine,” Kimi shrugs. “But I’m not very fussy.”

Seb frowns. Maybe he’s forgotten what they’re doing here as well. Kimi pulls his own T-shirt over his head and Seb can’t help the way his mouth opens at the sight of all that creamy white flesh. It looks cold but Seb’s sure it must be warm to the touch. His fingertips itch to check.

“See,” Kimi says easily. “Same as me.”

Seb nods, startling when Kimi touches the side of his face, fingers pressing into his cheekbone. Seb tilts his head under the pressure, eyes falling back down to Kimi’s body, ignoring whatever Kimi’s doing now and letting himself absorb all the details, the little imperfections that set him apart in the same way a fingerprint would. Seb feels like his own body must be so dull in comparison; factory fresh and completely unremarkable.

Seb lifts his hand to touch a tiny scar on Kimi’s side, probably from some drunken fall that Kimi can’t even remember, when Kimi’s fingers hook under his chin, lifting his gaze upwards. Seb looks at him, feeling slightly disorientated, only realising at the last second that Kimi is leaning towards him. He leans back.

“What are you doing?”

“I need to taste,” Kimi says, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Seb nods, because Kimi makes it sound so reasonable just like he makes everything sound reasonable and straight forward and like it’s not a car crash of an idea that’s going to get Seb into so much trouble. Seb’s been down paths like this with him before. He wonders briefly if his trust in Kimi represents a glitch in his system; he’s fairly sure Dr. Marko would never have programmed him to have a friend like this.

Their lips meet and Seb feels self-conscious as Kimi’s tongue slides over his lower lip. Seb ignores the blush he can feel heating his cheeks, ignores how awkward and out of place he feels, because this is just another experiment, an answer that he was looking for. Kimi kisses him deeply, so greedy and demanding, his whole body surging forward with the power of it, and Seb makes a noise despite himself. He squeezes his eyes more tightly shut, telling himself he’s not supposed to be enjoying this. Science, he tells himself, it’s all in the name of science, but then Kimi grinds down against him, a hand sliding into Seb’s hair, raking over his scalp, and it suddenly doesn’t feel very scientific at all.

By the time Kimi pulls back, licking over his lips with a dark, hungry look in his eyes, Seb feels boneless and breathless and more than a little wasted, his face flushed for a completely different reason. He pants, staring at Kimi with wide eyes, Kimi’s lips quirking up into a smile at the sight of him.

“That’s how they programmed you to kiss?”

Seb falters, the unease creeping back in. “It wasn’t good?”

Kimi’s smile turns into a grin. He leans in, lining his mouth up with Seb’s ear. “You kiss like a whore.” Seb shrinks back, hunching his shoulders up protectively as he seeks out Kimi’s face. Kimi’s eyes shine with amusement. “Maybe if the racing didn’t work out they had something else in mind for you.”

Seb puts his hands on Kimi’s shoulders, trying to push him off. “That’s not funny. I’m done, get off.”

“Calm down,” Kimi tells him, completely unflustered, and completely immovable. He bats off Seb’s hands. “It’s just a joke. You used to like a joke.”

“Not about this,” Seb insists. “I can’t handle it, everything’s falling apart around me and all you do is take the piss. I’ve lost everything and you think it’s fucking hilarious. Just get off me.”

He pushes at Kimi again but Kimi catches his hands.

“You taste normal,” Kimi tells him. “Just like anyone else.” Seb frowns. He tries to stay angry but there’s a comfort in that fact. “Here at least,” Kimi says, letting go of one of Seb’s hands and touching his mouth. He leans in, licking at Seb’s neck. “And here.” He sucks gently at the place where Seb’s neck meets his shoulder. “And here.”

He kisses along Seb’s collarbone, shifting back to move his mouth lower, and Seb feels the tension start to drain out of him. By the time Kimi has slipped to the floor, lips moving over Seb’s stomach, Seb has his head rested back on the sofa, eyes half-closed.

“You only want to have sex with me because you think I’m a hooker-bot,” he says.

“I want to have sex with you because you’ve never done it before,” Kimi responds. “And I’m pretty sure I could blow your mind.”

Seb snorts a laugh but somehow he doesn’t doubt it. Kimi’s fingers open the button on Seb’s jeans. Seb hesitates but doesn’t quite find the will to stop him. As Kimi slides down his zipper, Seb lifts his head, leaning over to peer around Kimi, a hand coming up to block the fingers that are trying to sneak inside his underwear.

“Kimi.”

Kimi looks up. Seb nods behind him, Kimi turning to look at the dogs.

“They’ve seen me fuck before,” Kimi dismisses. “They don’t care.”

I care,” Seb insists.

“Prude,” Kimi mutters, getting to his feet.

“I thought I was a whore,” Seb responds.

Kimi shrugs, holding out a hand to help him up. “Let’s go find out.”

Seb leads Kimi up the stairs to his bedroom, closing the door behind them to stop any of the dogs wandering in. Kimi gives him an amused look and pulls Seb with him towards the bed, falling backwards with little design so that Seb lands on top of him. It leaves Seb feeling strangely exposed and completely unsure of himself. He doesn’t think he knows enough about this to lead. Kimi’s hands slide to his arse, forcing his hips downwards, and Seb makes an appreciative noise at the heat between them, leaning in for another kiss.

Kimi opens his legs, giving Seb the perfect space to fall into, pushing Seb down again so that their crotches rub together. He hitches his own hips up, moaning into Seb’s mouth at the friction it sparks between them. Seb’s jeans are still open, giving Kimi plenty of space to slide his hands inside and grope shamelessly at the flesh of Seb’s arse.

Seb catches onto the rhythm of Kimi’s hips, feeling slightly dizzy with everything that’s going on, his brain not quite sure what to focus on, a problem that’s solved fairly quickly once they start to properly grind together, every tiny bit of consciousness Seb has heading rapidly to his cock. He gasps as he pulls out of the kiss, pressing his forehead against Kimi as they keep moving together, Kimi’s hands inside his pants keeping the momentum going. Through his slightly blurred vision he sees Kimi grinning up at him.

“I told you,” he says, his hands sliding disappointingly away before Seb finds himself flipped onto his back, Kimi’s weight pressing him down into the mattress. Kimi’s hands find his wrists, pinning them by his head. “And we’re just getting started.”

He dives in for another kiss, hungry and insistent, his hips pressing down more harshly against Seb’s. Seb can feel the hard line of his cock pressing against him, the pure, unforgiving sexuality of it, and it makes him feel somehow powerful. He pushes his hips up as much as he can, rubbing against him, wanting to feel Kimi start to waver and fall apart. Kimi grips his wrists more firmly, practically growling at him, and Seb tilts his head back, unable to stop the wanton moan that falls from his lips.

With the space between them Kimi studies Seb for a moment, eyes half-shut and pupils blown wide, his hair damp with sweat that leaves a sheen over his skin. His cheeks are flushed, his lips parted and slightly swollen. Seb’s not sure what he’s looking for but he doesn’t feel embarrassed about being watched, not when he can look back and see all the little subtleties that tell him just how under Kimi’s skin he is.

Kimi shifts back, moving down between Seb’s legs and tugging his trousers down. Once he’s naked, Seb reaches for him again but Kimi stays where he is between Seb’s legs, his eyes fixed on Seb’s cock, and Seb feels a little bit embarrassed now. He wonders how he measures up. It seems unfair that Kimi’s jeans are in the way of him finding out.

Kimi wraps his hand around Seb’s cock, looking up at Seb’s face as he watches for a reaction. He squeezes a little too tight, making Seb whine, before he eases off on the pressure and starts to stroke him, a steady rhythm up and down. Seb tilts his head back, wanting to close his eyes, being so on display stopping him from letting his guard down, but he can’t help but watch the way that Kimi watches him. He looks interested but there’s something else there too. He looks hungry, not like a man who’s starving but maybe like a man who’s just spotted his favourite treat at the buffet and can’t wait to indulge.

Seb’s done this before, touched himself like Kimi is touching him now, but it’s never really led anywhere. He has memories of it leading somewhere, memories of girls stroking and sucking him, memories of fucking them into the mattress and trying to stay quiet because his parents were downstairs, memories of pulling the covers up over himself and getting himself off to typical teenage fantasies, but he knows now that none of that’s real. The real times, the times since 2004, he’s gotten himself hard but he’s never gotten himself off. He’s always lost interest long before he’s gotten to that point, his touches more experimental than deliberate, and he wonders now if some tiny part of him knew.

Kimi dips his head, eyes still locked with Seb’s, sticking out his tongue and licking flatly over the tip of Seb’s cock. It sends a shock of powerful arousal up Seb’s spine, making his breath stutter and his eyelids threaten to flutter closed. He forces them open, watching as Kimi licks wetly around the head of his cock before closing his lips around it and sucking. Seb gasps. He’s certain nothing has ever felt as good as this before, not even in his memories. Something softens in Kimi’s eyes and he looks pleased as he slowly sinks down on Seb’s cock, taking him in deeper.

Seb makes a helpless noise, shuffling his hips until Kimi grabs hold of them with an irritated look, forcing his arse onto the bed. Squirming around is probably bad etiquette. Seb feels like he’s coming out of his skin though, feels too hot all over, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He reaches down, touches Kimi’s hair, then feels like maybe he’s being annoying. He finds Kimi’s hand on his hip instead, touches that, then moves it awkwardly away, taking hold of a fistful of blanket as a substitute.

Kimi’s mouth slides effortlessly up and down his length, tongue working all the right places, and Seb wants to echo Kimi’s words back at him, tell him he sucks cock like a whore, but it probably won’t sound as clever as he wants it to and he’s not sure he can breathe properly right now anyway. The fact remains that Kimi is really fucking good at this though, so much so that Kimi’s fingers are digging into his hips in an attempt to keep him still. He finally seems to get bored of the effort, pulling his mouth away, and Seb finds himself mesmerised by the thin line of saliva that stretches from the tip of his cock to Kimi’s bottom lip as Kimi hovers over him. Kimi smiles and the thread snaps. Seb meets his eyes.

“Your turn?” Kimi suggests.

Seb blinks. “My turn what?”

Kimi gives him a look and then raises himself up to his knees, unfastening his jeans. Seb feels his tongue poke out from between his lips as he watches Kimi pull his cock out, the deep colour of it as it curves upwards in stark contrast to his pale abdomen that it bounces against. He holds it in his hand, giving a couple of strokes before moving up Seb’s body, offering it to him. Seb licks his lips, opens his mouth.

“Do you need to breathe?” Kimi asks. Seb lifts his eyes, giving him a questioning look. Kimi shrugs. “Would come in handy if you didn’t.”

Seb wants to say something but Kimi’s cock presses against his lips and suddenly he can’t think of a single complaint he might have. He makes a tiny noise in the back of his throat, his hands going to Kimi’s hips to help guide him forward. The smell hits him first, a strong musk that sticks to his tongue as soon as Kimi’s cock passes his lips. He laps at it experimentally, watching the pleasure pass over Kimi’s face as he does so. It spurs him on, makes him a little bit braver, and he closes his lips around the head of Kimi’s cock and sucks the same way Kimi had sucked him.

Kimi groans, meeting Seb’s eyes as he reaches down to run a hand through Seb’s hair, and Seb realises that this is why people do this. Sex is sex and his body has never craved it very strongly to begin with, but this connection is something he suddenly realises he’s been missing out on. He’s never felt anything as intense as this before and it makes him moan around Kimi’s cock, tugging at his hips to take him in a little deeper.

Kimi clearly sees this as an invitation, practically shoving his cock down Seb’s throat. Seb presses his head back into the pillow to try and find some space, pushing at Kimi’s hips to get him to ease off a bit. Kimi goes with it, follows his lead, but even when he’s not as deep Seb finds it difficult to keep up with the pace, not able to do much but suck until he finally has to shove Kimi backwards, gasping for air and feeling a little dizzy.

“You need to breathe?” Kimi asks, sounding a little disappointed.

“Yeah,” Seb responds, punching one of Kimi’s hips. “Idiot.”

Kimi just smirks at him. “It’s okay, I can do this instead.” He wraps his hand around his own cock, still perilously close to Seb’s face, beginning to jerk himself off.

“Don’t,” Seb whines, eyes half-closed as he grimaces.

“It’s hot,” Kimi says, voice slightly strained as he arches his back into what he’s doing.

“It’s... disrespectful,” Seb says. Kimi sighs, letting go of his cock. He touches Seb’s face with the same hand and Seb tries not to cringe. He gives Kimi’s hips a little shove. “Take your jeans off.”

Kimi stands up right there on the bed over Seb’s body, pushing his jeans down while he towers over him. It’s more than a little intimidating, not least because Kimi’s balance isn’t great at the best of times. Kimi finally frees himself, dropping back down to his knees between Seb’s thighs and looking over him.

“This you’ll like,” he promises.

He leans forward, lying atop Seb, their cocks coming into contact. Kimi presses his hips down, capturing their dicks in the small space between slim hips and flat stomachs, pressing them together and lighting up the most delicious friction that makes Seb’s mouth open in a silent moan.

“Better?” Kimi asks.

Seb nods. “Okay,” he agrees, not caring how smug Kimi looks.

He hitches his own hips upwards and they fall into a rhythm, a push and pull that comes so naturally to Seb he can’t imagine he’s never done this before. He wraps his arms around Kimi’s neck to bring him closer, brushing their lips together, but he doesn’t have the concentration to work out how to kiss him properly, not when Kimi’s cock is sliding against his own like that, the drops of precome making everything even more fluid and wonderful.

He tries to wrap his legs around Kimi’s hips, needing there to be no space between he and Kimi and that slick slide of skin, but the stitches pull uncomfortably with the movement so he settles for hooking his left leg over Kimi’s, using the leverage to thrust more fully against him. Kimi has one hand in his hair, not tugging, just resting with his fingers threaded through the strands, and it makes Seb’s scalp tickle, makes him feel somehow even closer to him.

The noises Kimi is making are understated but somehow completely obscene. With every exhale he makes a sound between a grunt and a groan, something honest and raw and tapped directly into his pleasure. It makes Seb feel something fluttery in his stomach, makes him far too hot all over. Kimi’s hips move faster and Seb stares at his face, mesmerised by the way it shifts and changes, the hot flush seeming to reach right up to his ears, right down to his chest. He gasps, his fingers tightening in Seb’s hair before he grits his teeth, making a noise that’s almost pained before everything in him goes slack with pure pleasure, his mouth falling open with a shuddery exhale as he falls limply against Seb, his come painted over Seb’s abs.

Seb isn’t quite sure what to do, his own body still buzzing so much that he feels like he must be vibrating, but he likes this, likes Kimi’s hot, uneven breaths falling against his neck, likes the way that Kimi flinches slightly at the feel of Seb’s fingers against the nape of his neck, like it’s all too much for him, like Seb is actually that good. Seb allows himself a tiny smile, breathing in deeply and feeling his whole body swell with it, fit to burst.

Kimi collects himself, a smirk on his lips as he props himself up on one arm. He runs his fingers through his own come where it lays in ribbons over Seb’s body and then wraps his hand around Seb’s cock, using the slickness to move more rapidly, making Seb whine and shudder. He closes his eyes, tries to connect with the pleasure, but it feels almost alien to him. It’s overwhelming, the pressure deep in his gut, in his skull, and he’s not sure what’s going to happen next, how it’s going to break. He feels like he might snap in two, like he might shatter, and even as he moans at how intrinsically good it feels, at how his body tells him more more more, he’s scared of what might happen. This doesn’t feel safe.

“Stop,” he says, breathless, trying to push Kimi’s hand away. Kimi’s fingers still before their grip loosens and they fall away completely. Seb frowns, wondering if he just made the wrong decision, his cock still throbbing and needy.

“What’s wrong?” Kimi asks.

“I don’t think I... can,” Seb struggles. “Doesn’t feel right.”

Kimi frowns slightly. “What does it feel like?”

Seb shrugs helplessly. “Pressure. Low down. Too much.”

Kimi smirks. “You have to push through that. Then it feels good.”

Seb shakes his head. “Not now. It’s too intense, I don’t know if it’s supposed to feel like that.”

Kimi looks amused now. “It’s definitely supposed to feel like that.”

“We can try again another time?” He turns the statement into a question at the last second, realising it’s presumptuous of him to assume Kimi will want to do this with him again.

“Your loss,” Kimi tells him, looking completely unconcerned as he flops down beside Seb on the bed, his left arm a heavy weight over Seb’s stomach. He chuckles to himself, eyes closed. “I’m too intense for you.”

Seb glares at him but Kimi’s not paying attention so he wraps his fingers around Kimi’s wrist, twisting until he hears that click. Kimi’s heartbeat echoes around the quiet room, still racing, ruining his stoic composure.

“Pretty intense for you too,” Seb says smugly.

Kimi pouts, turning the device off again. “That’s just sex.”

“Sure,” Seb says sarcastically, shifting himself to press against Kimi’s side, his body still craving something that he’s not quite sure how to give it yet. He closes his eyes with a sigh, smiling when Kimi’s fingers curl around his hip.

He wakes to the soft sound of scratching at the bedroom door. The dogs. He turns his head to look at Kimi who’s still sleeping soundly, body pressed up against Seb’s, one arm wrapped around him. Seb can’t help but smile at how warm and comfortable it feels, like coming home.

One of the dogs gives a small bark and Seb’s afraid they’re going to pee on something if he doesn’t get up now. He untangles himself regretfully from Kimi, taking a moment to appreciate how young and carefree he looks in his easy slumber, so totally abandoned to it without a care in the world. He makes it look so simple to just let go.

Seb throws on some clothes and opens the door, the dogs scattering. He rolls his eyes and goes down the stairs after them, opening the door to the back garden and letting them out. The air is cold outside, making Seb miss the warmth of his bed and Kimi’s body even more. He wraps his arms around himself, wishing he’d thought to put a sweater on, the toes of his bare feet curling against the cold.

The dogs finally agree to come back in again, sniffing at him and nuzzling his legs in acceptance, and Seb feels lucky. Kimi’s right, they don’t care what he is. It’s a straightforwardness that Kimi himself has shown ever since he found out what Seb really was and Seb hasn’t really stopped to realise how grateful he is for that fact. Really, if all this hadn’t happened, Kimi probably wouldn’t have ended up in his bed last night and Seb could have gone a lifetime without realising what he was missing out on.

That word, lucky, it echoes around his head again and he realises that maybe everyone who’s been saying it was right. He’s lucky he wasn’t left to fall apart on his own. He’s lucky that what comes next is starting to look easier.

He picks up a photograph from the sideboard, a cheesy family shot from a holiday by the beach. Seb is sitting in the sand with his two sisters, his mother holding baby Fabian on a beach chair, his father standing by her side. It was taken before 2004 and so Seb wonders how it even exists at all. He also wonders why he’s so drawn to the photograph that he keeps it in such a privileged spot. It’s out of date, so long ago, but Seb remembers that holiday as one of the last times they were all together, before his sisters decided they were too old to go on family holidays and before Seb’s karting took over his life. He feels sorry for Fabian; he missed out on all those years really. Seb realises regretfully that he missed out on them too.

He looks in his fridge, finding some meat for the dogs and putting it into a couple of bowls for them to squabble over while he goes in search of a pen.

Gone to Heppenheim to talk to Norbert Vettel. I know you think it’s a bad idea but there’s some things I need to know. If I don’t come back, keep Tommi’s notes safe for me and don’t let them get away with it.

Seb

He considers putting a kiss at the end but decides to place it on Kimi’s cheek instead, watching his nose crinkle up in his sleep as Seb’s lips brush against him. He leaves the note on the pillow, shoving a few things into an overnight back before he grabs his passport and keys, heading for the door.

He’s just getting into a taxi at Frankfurt airport when he gets the text from Kimi, letting Seb know that he’s finally awake.

To: Seb
10.46
I’m not Batman. I’m not going to avenge you.

Seb can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the message. He misses Kimi already.

To: Kimi
10.47
At least try to be sad if I die.

To: Seb
10.49
I’ll try.

Pulling up outside his childhood home feels strange. He spends so much of his year travelling around the world, but this has always felt like the one place he belonged. Now he feels as though there’s something sinister lurking just below the surface, the façade slowly slipping away to leave something dark and uncertain behind.

He pays the taxi driver and climbs out of the cab, slinging his bag over his shoulder as he walks up the path. He knows that as soon as he knocks in this door everything is about to change and somehow he’s not sure if he’s ready. Part of him wants so desperately to believe in this, but he knows it’s falling down around him. He needs to get to the truth. He lifts his hand and knocks on the door. A moment later, Norbert Vettel pulls it open, not looking particularly surprised by his unannounced arrival.

“Come in,” he says simply. “It’s nice to see you.”

Seb steps inside, a sense of apprehension closing in on him as Norbert pulls the door shut. Seb looks around the living room with fresh eyes but it’s hard to shift all his old impressions of the place. He remembers playing with his toy cars on that rug, remembers doing his homework sat at that table, remembers fighting for the best spot in front of the fire on cold winter nights. He remembers growing up here, all the milestones, and seeing it all in front of him makes it so hard to believe that it wasn’t real.

“Helmut told me that you knew,” Norbert says, something like regret in his voice. “I thought you’d be paying me a visit before too long.”

Seb spins around to face him. “Why did you do it?”

“Do what?” Norbert asks, the question careful like he needs to be sure what he’s answering before he gives a response.

“Pretend to be my father,” Seb says, the hurt coming through in his voice even though a part him tells himself he should be grateful. “Pretend to be my family.”

“We never pretended,” Norbert says, his voice earnest.

Seb frowns. He can’t think of an argument against something that sounds so reasonable and heartfelt. He looks around again, spotting the family photographs that sit by the fireplace. There’s one of himself, around 7 years old, sitting on his bike and posing with a cheesy grin. He has shorts on and there’s a scab on his knee that reminds of the stitches that are holding his thigh together now. He points at it.

“Who is that?”

“That’s Sebastian,” Norbert answers calmly.

“That’s not me,” Seb argues, turning to look at him.

“No, it’s not you,” Norbert agrees. “It’s Sebastian.”

Seb looks at the photograph again, trying to make sense of what he’s being told. He’s missing a connection somewhere and he can’t quite work it out but he’s suddenly unsure whether he wants to know. He turns back to face Norbert.

“What do you mean?”

Norbert sighs and he looks filled with sadness and regret. He sits down in his chair, the one by the window that Seb could always remember him sitting in, sketching in his notebook while the kids argued over what to watch on TV.

Norbert looks up at Seb. “Why don’t you take a seat,” he suggests.

Seb hesitates, scared by the look on Norbert’s face. He seems so hopeless, so lost. His father would never have looked at him like that.

“Please,” Norbert implores.

Seb gives a tiny nod, sitting on the sofa that he used to cram onto with his sisters and mother. It seems huge now. He feels lonely.

“I had a son,” Norbert tells him. “His name was Sebastian. He died when he was 15.”

Seb stares at him, the words hitting him like a punch to the gut. His eyes fill with tears but he blinks them away. He doesn’t even know whether he wants to cry for himself or this other Sebastian or maybe for Norbert who lost his son. He looks across the room.

“So the photos are...”

“Him,” Norbert agrees.

Seb meets his gaze and he looks utterly broken. “I’m sorry.” It seems like such a strange thing to say about himself. He has to look away.

“We were at the beach,” Norbert tells him, his voice slightly distant as he shifts to gaze out of the window. “The girls were fussing over Fabian so me and you... him... Sebastian and I went for a swim. I remember everything, the riptide, the fear in his eyes, the fact that I couldn’t save him.”

Seb remembers the photo he was looking at that morning, the beach shot, the family holiday, and he wonders if that’s why it’s always meant so much to him. That was the day he died.

“I’d heard about Red Bull for a while,” Norbert continues. “What they wanted to do. With that much money, you can play God any way you want. I signed up for their new robotics programme and before I knew it I was leading a team. They told me what they needed from you, the attributes of a winner, but everything else, your looks, your personality, that was up to me.”

“So you used me to rebuild your son,” Seb says. It feels like a lot of pressure and yet, how can he not be touched?

“I gave you his childhood,” Norbert agrees. “They’re real, all those memories, every one of them. You’re him.”

Seb shakes his head. He doesn’t feel comfortable with this. “I’m not.”

“I just wanted to make it right,” Norbert says. “I couldn’t save him that day. I wanted a second chance, for both of us.”

Seb rubs a hand over his face, scrubbing at his damp eyes. He can’t handle this. He came here to demand answers from the person he thought had cheated him but instead he finds the hopes and dreams and hearts of a family pinned to him. He draws his feet up onto the sofa, hugging his knees to himself.

“I never wanted you to find out,” Norbert tells him. “I thought you’d never be able to trust anything again. But I’m glad that you know. Now you get to see just how much you mean to us.”

Seb blinks at him, everything so tight he can barely breathe. A tear falls down his cheek and he knows the floodgates are about to open. Norbert seems to sense it too and he gets to his feet, joining Seb on the sofa. He pulls him into his arms, holding him close, and Seb clings to him, sobbing like a child.

“Daddy,” he says into the fabric of Norbert’s shirt.

“It’s okay,” Norbert soothes. “Everything’s going to be okay. I promise.”

Seb goes limp in his arms, somehow knowing that, after everything, this is finally the place where it’s safe to fall apart. Norbert’s arms are warm and strong around him, his voice filtering through but Seb’s not really listening to the words anymore. He cries until he has nothing left and then he closes his eyes and just stays there a while longer, knowing that once he lifts his head up, everything will be different.

He finds it difficult to meet Norbert’s gaze, embarrassed by his own childishness. He can’t help but wonder if he’s really living up to the ideal Norbert tried to create in him. When he finally looks into Norbert’s eyes he sees nothing but kindness there, the expression making his own lips tug into a tiny smile.

He excuses himself to the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face and trying to pull himself together. He stares into the bathroom mirror and he doesn’t just see himself in his reflection but this other boy, this Sebastian. Somehow it makes him feel less alone.

When he returns to the living room his father is sat in his chair by the window again, looking out at the street, and Seb leans in the doorway, watching him. Without his sketchbook it seems like there’s something missing. Seb always thought he was drawing up carpentry ideas but now he feels like maybe he never knew his father at all.

“Can you change me?” he asks.

His voice takes Norbert by surprise, jumping slightly before turning to look at him. “Change you?”

“Make adjustments,” Seb clarifies. “To how I work.” Norbert just stares at him like he still doesn’t understand. “I want you to take out whatever advantages Red Bull made you put in. I want you to make me normal, like everyone else on the grid. Change the reaction times, the responses, the autopilot, whatever they did to me. Take it out. I don’t want to be different.”

Norbert considers him for a moment. “You won’t win,” he says. He’s not being cruel, just honest, and it sounds like such a fatherly thing to say.

“I’ll learn to win,” Seb insists. He wonders if this drive and determination is just one more thing Red Bull insisted on or if the real Sebastian was this stubborn too.

Norbert presses his lips together, his eyes scanning up and down, and Seb wonders what he sees there. His son? His creation? Something in between?

“Let me set everything up,” Norbert says, getting to his feet.

Seb was never allowed in his father’s workshop when he was growing up and now he understands why. Rather than the tools and sawdust he was imagining behind the door he finds a high tech laboratory that wouldn’t look out of place in a science fiction film. He looks around, trying to take it all in, while Norbert moves around the place like he’s perfectly at home.

“Lay down,” he invites, gesturing towards the table.

Seb nods, but suddenly feels apprehensive. “Will this hurt?”

Norbert shakes his head. “You won’t feel a thing.”

Seb climbs onto the hard surface, lying down on his back and fidgeting slightly, trying to get comfortable. He’s not sure what to do with his hands, folding them over his stomach before placing them by his sides. Norbert moves over to him, turning on a bright overhead light, and Seb winces, squinting against the brightness. Norbert adjusts it, focussed on what he’s doing, and Seb is starting to feel more like a science project than a son.

When Norbert is finally set up though he meets Seb’s eyes and he looks down at him with such love and adoration that it makes Seb’s heart flutter a bit. He reaches down, touching the side of Seb’s face tenderly and Seb relaxes against the table, smiling at him, trying to find the right words to say how grateful he is, but Norbert speaks first, his voice a hushed whisper like he’s afraid he’ll be overhead.

“I told them not to hurt Kimi too much.”

Seb’s eyes go wide and it all comes crashing down around him. Norbert isn’t going to help him, he’s going to take everything away.

He imagines Kimi, probably still lazing around Seb’s house, surrounded by his dogs’ love and high from what they shared last night. He imagines rough hands grabbing Kimi, forcing him to the ground, taking Tommi’s book from the kitchen table. He imagines whimpers from the dogs as they’re subdued, imagines Kimi’s arm twisted behind his back as the threats begin. What would it take to make Kimi deny him? How much pain before he puts Seb behind him and agrees to pretend that it never happened?

But at least Kimi will have the memories. Seb will have nothing. Everything from the crash onwards, his discovery in the back of the truck, the intimacy he shared with Kimi, the realisation of what he really represented to his family, all of it would be gone, ripped from him without his permission. He opens his mouth to say something, willing his body to move, to fight, but Norbert’s hand slides back behind his ear before he gets a chance.

Click. Gone.