Jackson Storm P.O.V
Storm can’t recall the last time he felt this way. The more he thinks about it the more it solidifies in front of him.
It comes to him at a peculiar moment. It’s late at night, maybe one or two in the morning when he has the realization.
Even while Lightning was in his apartment he couldn’t keep the smile on his face at bay.
He knows he’s in too deep already, he knows that. Still though, he can’t help but have the slightest speck of hope that Lightning feels the same way.
If, the other man feels anything at all towards him.
Lightning had only just started treating him as a friend, and Storm had no intention of jeopardizing that. He makes up his mind then. He’ll play things by ear. He has no problem with waiting.
After all, he’s been waiting for years to race with Lightning, what’s a little more time to that?
Especially now, when his desire is so close he can almost reach it.
Right now though he doesn’t mind. Storm will let time take its course. Patience is a virtue, and Storm is willing to adopt it so long as he can get what he wants in the end.
Storm drifts off to sleep easily that night
He wakes up to the high pitched ring tone of his phone, set that way because it’s the only way he’ll wake up early in the morning.
Storm brings the phone to his ear.
“Hello?” He mumbles.
“Hey Storm, It’s Me.”
For a second Storm thinks it’s Lightning, and he feels a surge of warmth rush up to his face before he realizes the voice is too low. Instead of Lightning’s bright tone it's deeper, and it sounds slightly aggravated with him. Must be his trainer.
“Hey, Tony.” Storm mumbles, shifting to sit upright on the bed.
“Don’t Hey Tony me. You’ve got a lot to explain to me Storm. Like why the hell you’ve been blowing off your training to go to Radiator Springs and pal around with Lightning McQueen. Or why you brought him on your interview with Chick Hicks.”
“Well, I did tell you I was going on vacation.”
Storm hears a sigh from the other end of the phone.
“Listen kid. I’m just trying to help you out, alright. You’re still a young racer. Yes, you’re popular, but in order to stay at the top, you need to be Training. Not driving to small towns way out in the midwest to bring back a retired racer who’s training Cruz Ramirez, soon to be your biggest competition.”
Storm pauses a moment, clenching the phone in his hand.
“You see that’s where you’re wrong Tony. Lightning isn’t training my biggest competition. He is my biggest competition.”
Tony says nothing for a moment, then speaks.
“Look Storm, if it wasn’t for all the next gen racers taking over I’d believe you. I’ve watched McQueen race for years and I know he’s still got the passion and the fire for it. I know it’s ridiculous to say he’s too old when he’s what? In his mid thirties? I get it Storm, but the thing is, once the public decides a racer's done, it’s practically set in stone.”
“Then I guess it’s up to me and Lightning to change that Tony because I’m not giving up. Now if you’d be so kind as to handle setting up my training at the Lightning McQueen racing center I’d appreciate it. Oh and set up a training plan for Lightning also.”
Storm hangs up in the middle of Tony protesting.
Oh well, he’d figure out something.
Storm rubs his eyes tiredly, well if he’s up now he might as well get up and get dressed. After all, early for him is afternoon for most people.
He gets dressed, wearing shorts and a T-shirt instead of his usual black jeans. He’s planning to go to the training center today. He’s been focused on other things recently, but he knows he needs to get back on his training plan to prepare for next season.
He gets in his car quickly, not his race car. That’s still being transported over with Mack. Though he’s pretty sure the cars are supposed to arrive here today, going by what Lightning told him.
Instead, he’s driving a black BMW that he saved up money for from all his racing. It can’t go nearly as fast as his custom race car but it’s a nice car all the same.
He drives it to Lightning’s house, unsurprised when he finds Mater sitting outside on the deck when he gets there.
“Hey Mater.” He greets.
“Howdy Storm.” Mater says, letting the thick country accent slide off his tongue.
Storm wonders if the accent is even real. If it is he must be exaggerating it a little bit right? No one has a voice that country.
Though after debating it, he decides not to ask. Storm does not want to be on Mater’s bad side.
“Is Lightning around?”
“Course he is. He’s inside the house.” Mater says giving him what looks like a smirk.
“Thanks.” Storm says brushing past him attempting to keep his face neutral.
Even if Lightning is completely oblivious to Storm’s feelings that doesn’t mean Mater is.
Storm walks into the house and is surprised to see it looks like a regular home.
Lightning and his friends wasted no time unpacking their things and making the house look lived in right away.
Storm sees dishes from breakfast already in the sink, and he doesn’t see any boxes or bags lying around. Making him think they’ve already unpacked everything.
Luigi is the first to notice him from his spot at the dining room table.
“Hi Storm.” He greets, which makes Lightning and Guido turn around from their seats.
“Hey, Storm! Come have a seat.” Lightning says.
He gives Storm a blinding smile, and Storm tries not to stare back at him for too long as he walks over to join them at the table.
“What brings you here?” Lightning asks.
Storm stares at him. Lightning’s curls are matted down to his head. Probably from him sleeping on them. The curls look pretty soft, he wonders if they are.
He has half a mind to reach across the table and touch them before he snaps himself back to reality.
“Well...I uh just got off the phone with my trainer a little while ago. He wants me to get back on my training schedule because I’ve been away for a few days.”
“You told him about your secret trip to Radiator Springs?” He says, a playful grin on his face.
“No way. It’s not his business. That’s between us.” Storm says firmly.
Lightning looks confused, then responds.
“Right! Wouldn’t want your fans to know you’ve been aiding your biggest competition huh Storm?”
No, he thinks. Storm quite frankly doesn’t care what his fans think about that, he didn’t do it for them.
He nods anyway.
“Well. I was also thinking that my trainer could make a training plan for you if you’re alright with it. I think it would help a lot. His plan is specialized to deal with the ins and outs of the new next generation racing.”
Lightning ponders it, looking deeply in thought.
“Well. Cruz already tried to show me some of the new techniques...and I couldn’t really get the hang of them.” Lightning says, rubbing the back of his neck.
Storm bites his tongue in order to not say something like how Cruz Ramirez is the least qualified person Lightning probably knows to train him on the new techniques. Hell, she’d never even been in a real race before the Florida 500. Storm has no earthly idea how she’d gotten the qualifications to be a racing trainer when she’s not even a real racer, but Storm neglects to mention that to Lightning.
After a minute Lightning continues.
“...but if you think it’ll help, then I’ll give it another shot.”
Storm grins. “Great! I think it’s a good idea!”
“So. When do we start?” Lightning says to him.
Huh. Storm hadn’t gotten that far. Though by the urgency in Tony’s voice when Storm talked to him makes him think the sooner the better.
“Well...how about right now?”
“Now?” Lightning repeats.
“Why not?” Luigi chimes in.
“Yeah didn’t Mack drop the race cars off at the training center this morning anyway?” Guido adds.
“Then let’s go now.” Storm says.
“You can ride with me if you want.” Storm adds before he can stop himself. He doesn’t know why. Lightning has his own car and can certainly make the trip to the center alone.
“Yeah okay!” Lightning says, stopping Storm from overthinking.
Minutes later he and Lightning are in his BMW, driving down the road.
“Nice car.” Lightning says, admiring the vehicle.
Of course the race cars they own are far nicer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate a nice car when they see one.
The ride to the training center is short, and he and Lightning spend it talking about the hottest cars on the non racing market. Lightning’s a great conversationalist, and Storm is almost disappointed when they get to the training center.
When Storm parks he can see the training center is already more active than it was the other day. He sees way more cars in the parking lot today. He suspects more of the next generation racers decided to train here after learning Cruz Ramirez trained here.
They walk through the glass doors and see the giant 95 sitting there as a dedication to Lightning. Storm catches Lightning rolling his eyes at it.
“Aw come on, it’s made in your honor. Why don’t you like it?”
Lightning sighs. “It’s not that I don’t like it. Rusty and Dusty made this whole center to honor me but it just feels strange. It feels like I’m already done. I think Mr. Sterling wanted this to be more like a tourist museum than a racing center.”
Storm frowns. He looks around the training center. It is true that there is a lot of Lightning memorabilia in here. Storm has no issue with that himself, but if it makes Lightning uncomfortable he doesn’t like it.
“Don’t stress too much about it. You’re the one who decides when you’re done Lightning.”
They continue to walk further into the training center, away from the main doors and towards the different sections of the center. Storm doesn’t know his way around the center yet, but it’s apparently just as advanced as the private center he was training at before.
Storm is noticing the other racers now. Well, notice is a strong word because he doesn’t care about any of them. He’s not even sure what some of them look like without their helmets on. The same could be said for him he supposes.
He sees them in various stages of training. Most of the newer racers are on the simulators. There are some of them doing physical exercises though. Cardio, weight lifting. Hell some of them are biking.
Storm doesn’t know what biking has to do with training to be a race car driver, but hey he’s not going to correct anybody. If these racers are doing stuff like that they most likely don’t have a steady training schedule, meaning for him and Lightning it should be easy to crush the competition.
Speaking of Lightning he unfortunately seems to have found Cruz in the training center.
Storm watches her eagerly come over to them, bright grin directed at Lightning. Storm narrows his eyes, he’s still a little bitter about how she almost ruined Lightning’s racing career forever, no matter what Lightning says.
“Hey Lightning!” She says.
“Hey, Cruz! How are you?” Lightning greets back with a smile.
“I’m good! I’m finally able to train instead of being the trainer!”
“That’s great! I’m happy for you Cruz!”
Storm glances around the training center. Partly because he’s trying to block out Cruz and also because their conversation has attracted the attention of lots of other racers in the room. Storm doesn’t recognize most of them, but it’s not like he pays attention to them anyway. Even so, he can still tell almost all of them are next gen racers.
He doesn’t see a single pro here other than Lightning.
He sees the other racers talking to each other. Whispering. Whether it’s about him or Lightning he can’t tell, but it’s annoying him regardless.
He tunes back into the conversation when he hears Cruz say something about how fast her times have been on the practice track outside the center.
“That’s great Cruz!”
“Thanks, Lightning! You should come watch me today, I’ll show you how it’s done, old man!” She laughs after, indicating it was a joke.
Joke or no, Storm won’t stand for it. He opens his mouth to say something before Lightning flashes him a side glance. His eyes hold a clear message. Say nothing.
Storm huffs and crosses his arms. Cruz is oblivious to that of course. No surprise there.
Lightning answers anyway though. “Sure Cruz I’d love to see you race later!”
Cruz grins. “Bye Lightning! I’ll see you later!”
She didn’t say a word to Storm, maybe she’s pretending to not care about his presence? Storm couldn’t care less.
Lightning turns to him as if to say something but before he can he’s interrupted by a hand clapping down on his shoulder.
Lightning looks behind him in surprise, only to be greeted by Mr. Sterling wearing a pristine grey suit with equally grey hair combed back neatly on his head.
“Ah, there they are! My two favorite racers! Jackson Storm and Lightning McQueen.” Sterling announces loudly.
Lightning frowns, probably concerned Cruz or the other racers might hear. Storm on the other hand, decides to challenge him.
“Favorite? How can I be your favorite, you just met me.” Storm says sarcasm laced thick in his voice.
Storm doesn’t know much about this Sterling character, but he doesn’t like what he’s been told. His trainer told him Sterling was the one pushing Lightning to retire, so Storm’s playing his cards carefully for now.
Sterling laughs it off, flashing a brilliant smile with pearly white teeth. A business smile of course. Sterling can’t do anything to piss him off if he wants Storm to stay here. Which he most likely does as he’s making tons of profit off of Storm’s sponsors.
“Oh Storm! Here these are for you, your trainer had them faxed over.” Sterling says, handing him two sheets of paper.
Sterling smiles at the two of them, then turns to address the other racers.
“Keep up the good work everyone!” He calls out before heading upstairs.
The attention disperses away from them after that, and Lightning turns to him.
“What are those?” He asks, looking at the papers in Storm’s hands.
“These are our training schedules. One for you, and one for me.”
Storm hands him his. He doubts the schedules are any different. Maybe Lightning has a bit more time on the simulator to get used to it, other than that they should be identical.
“Your trainer sent these?” Lightning asks him, eyes scanning the paper.
“Mhm” Storm mumbles in confirmation.
Storm glances at the schedule. It doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, so it looks like they have a little free time at the moment.
“Hey, why don’t we go on a tour?” Storm says.
“You know your way around this place?”
“No, but you do don’t you?”
Lightning shrugs. “Well, I guess I know it better than you do.”
With that Lightning starts walking down the hallway, motioning for Storm to follow him.
The training center is huge, Storm realizes as they walk through it. There are multiple hallways and rooms in it leading to god knows where.
He and Lightning do a fair share of exploring and manage to find a weight room, yoga rooms, the cafeteria (which they stopped in to get lunch), an indoor pool, a second gym, a simulator room, multiple bathrooms and the outdoor track.
“Wow, this place is way bigger than I thought it was.” Lightning mumbles.
Storm frowns. He knows Lightning didn’t train here that much, preferring to go outside for real training. He finds it odd though that neither Cruz nor Mr. Sterling thought it would be a good idea to show Lightning the whole facility and not just the main gym near the entrance. He keeps that to himself though, not wanting to imply bad intentions on their part.
“Yeah, there’s nothing I love more than training to drive my race car in the pool.”
Lightning cracks up at his last comment, making a surge of pride rush through Storm because he managed to make him laugh. Lightning pauses then, glancing at his watch.
“Hey let’s go check the outdoor track. Cruz wanted me to watch her race there today.” Storm nods. He has zero desire to watch Cruz race, but he’s not going to say no to going.
He follows Lightning down the hall to the door leading outside. The outside track is big, not quite the size of a real race track, but close enough. When Storm gets closer he sees his car parked in one of the garages lining the outside of the track, Lightning’s car right next to his. Mack must have dropped them off this morning.
He also sees Cruz driving around the track in her yellow car. Dinoco logo on the side of it. They must be her new sponsor along with Sterling.
Cruz is going fast, around 200 miles per hour around the track. Storm sees the numbers on the speed meter they have next to the finish line, so racers can keep track of their speed.
Cruz probably has a personal speed meter in her car though, considering its a newer model.
She pulls over to the side when she sees Lightning.
“Hey, Lightning! Did you see me?” She asks, like a child fishing for compliments.
“Yeah, I did! You were flying!”
Well. That’s an exaggeration if Storm’s ever seen one.
“I’d offer you to race too, but I don’t think you could keep up.” She says with a smirk. Her tone is playful, just enough for Lightning to know she’s kidding. Storm takes it for what it is. A jibe. At Lightning and his car.
“I’ll race with you.” Storm says, voice neutral.
“What?” Cruz asks, face frowning.
“I’ll. Race. You.” he repeats as if he’s talking to a toddler.
Cruz scoffs. “No thanks, Storm.”
She says, glaring at him. Lightning glances between the two of them, a concerned look on his face.
“Are you scared?” Storm says, smirking.
“I’m not scared! I beat you before remember!”
It’s true, she did beat him before. It’s not something she would need to bring up if she was confident in her racing abilities though.
“Then let’s race.” He states calmly.
He watches Cruz narrow her eyes at him, then accept the challenge.
“Come on guys really?” Lightning says, trying to pacify them.
“Don’t worry Lightning, you can watch me beat him.” Cruz says, smiling at him.
Lightning nods reluctantly and goes to stand at the finish line. He’ll signal when the race starts.
Storm gets his car from the garage, it feels good to be back in his race car again.
He drives out to the track, taking his place next to Cruz.
Lightning stands in front of them between the cars.
“Alright. Three laps. On my signal.” he calls out to them.
Storm puts on his helmet.
“3...2...1...GO!” Lightning yells, throwing his hands down as the indicator for them to start.
They both hit the gas pedal hard. This will be a cakewalk. Lightning was smart when he challenged Storm to a race back in Radiator Springs. He knew that too much speed would be a disadvantage, but here on this track made specifically for racing, Storm knew he had it in the bag.
For the first lap, Cruz hugged the inside of the track. A smart move on her part. Storm would either need to draft her or pass her from the outside. He was capable of both, but he didn’t need to stoop to drafting like she had done during the Florida 500.
The second lap came up fast, and Storm was right next to her, despite his position on the outside. The third lap was right on the horizon, and Storm took the chance to speed up, the opposite of what he had done in the Florida 500. She’s around 5 seconds behind him when he finishes. Not bad for three laps, but Storm’s more interested in the annoyance on her face when she realizes she lost.
He wants to rub it in her face, but he refrains when he catches Lightning looking at him. Lightning glances at Cruz then, noting her annoyed face.
“Hey Cruz, are you alright?”
She snaps out of it then, reverting to normal.
“Oh yeah, I’m fine! Sorry I spaced out.”
“Oh alright. You did great though, and it’ll be different during a real race. There will be plenty of laps to catch up.” Lightning says, reassuring her.
She nods. Storm walks over to her.
“Good match.” He even shakes her hand.
Lightning witnesses this and seems to relax. Noting Cruz looks happy again and Storm isn’t rubbing his victory in.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Lightning says to both of them.
“While you guys were racing, Luigi and Guido called and said they wanted to make a huge Italian dinner tonight to celebrate. You should come, both of you!”