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A Storm Needs Lightning

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P.O.V Jackson Storm

Storm freezes. He looks behind him in shock, expecting to see familiar red and gold paint. He doesn’t see that though, it’s not Lightning. It’s someone else, a racer in a yellow car. They’re yelling at him, Taunting him. Trying to make him lose the race. It’s Cruz Ramirez, he realizes, Lightning’s trainer. Her car is bright yellow, and in his rearview mirror Storm can see Lightning’s number crudely painted on the side. He thinks its a joke at first, that its a sick joke designed to make him lose focus. If it is, it’s working, because Cruz Ramirez is able to easily catch up to him. Storm only watches as the bright yellow car drives up next to him. Storm is too distracted to focus on her though. His eyes rake through the stands searching for him. For Lightning.

Storm’s trainer is screaming at him through the headset, telling him to focus. Storm pays him no attention. He spots Lightning standing in the crew pit, blond hair glinting in the sunlight. He’s not on the track racing, but instead he’s in the crew pit. Why would Lightning be there? Why would he be in the crew pit?! Is he helping Cruz? Storm is losing speed, his foot is sliding off the petal, his eyes are glued to Lightning. Storm’s mind is reeling, he is trying to come up with a reason for Cruz Ramirez to be on the track while Lightning is up in the stands. He can’t come up with a scenario he likes.

Storm is too lost in thought to be angry, to even be concerned about winning this race. The black and white checkered finish line comes into view quicker than he imagined, but he can’t bring himself to care. Winning is no longer on his mind, not even when he sees Cruz pass him. Normally he would be angry, try to regain speed and quickly advance. If the situation were different Storm could see himself forcing her to the outskirts of the track, making her car slam against the wall. But he doesn’t. He hears the crowd screaming, hears the racing announcer say Cruz has won. Storm is still behind her, he finishes second but does not even realize it.

The other racers cross the finish line. They move off the track, but Storm stays. Storm looks at Lightning. Even from this distance Storm can see his eyes. Lightning is smiling at Cruz, congratulating her. Storm feels numb. It shouldn’t be her out there. She didn’t deserve that win.

Eventually, he moves his car out of the stadium. Only because his trainer tells him to. He is on autopilot now. Moving his car only because it is so natural to him. When he exits he sees swarms of people waiting outside. Many of them are reporters, who immediately rush to his car.

They yell out questions to him.

“STORM, what happened?!”

“How could you lose?!!”

“You had a 96% chance of winning!”

Storm can’t think, he can’t respond. It’s too loud, there are too many people around him, blocking his exit.

Storm can’t take it. He finally moves, slamming his hand on the horn. The crowd is shocked, people yell, they curse, they stare at him with confusion written all over their faces. Then they all part just enough to make a path he can fit his car through. Storm slams his foot on the gas and leaves the stadium.

He can still hear his trainer yelling at him to come back, saying that he isn’t supposed to take his car out of the stadium. Storm does not care. He rips his headset off, his helmet follows. He drives quickly. He needs to get away from the noise, from the people, from Cruz Ramirez basking in her victory. He can’t stand to think about her. About the smug smile she was wearing when Storm glanced at her. He needs to get off the streets. There are too many other people around, too many people watching him. He drives to his hotel, taking back roads whenever he can to avoid people.

His hotel is close to the Florida racetrack, and his racecar is much faster than the other cars outside of the stadium. Granted he probably shouldn’t be driving around in public with it, but Storm can’t bring himself to care about that now.

He hides his car in the parking garage downstairs, before stomping up the stairs to the lobby. He can feel the receptionist at the hotel desk staring at him, and he feels himself reaching the limit for what he can tolerate. “Stop staring at me!” He snaps, before closing the elevator door once he’s inside. Once he makes it to his hotel room he goes inside and slams the door shut behind him. His mind is running a million miles a minute and he can’t seem to focus on anything. He wants to scream. To break something. To march right up to Cruz Ramirez and tell her she didn’t deserve to win. Of course, he doesn’t end up doing any of these things.

He sits on his bed and turns on his tv, hands clenching at his sides. Footage of after the race is still going on and Storm watches intently. There are people interviewing Cruz and Lightning, reporters no doubt. Surely there to ask Lightning why he decided to let Cruz race for him.

Storm stares at Lightning’s face when he answers. Smiling brightly for the cameras like he always does. Lightning tells the reporters he is going to act as Cruz’s crew chief from now on.
Storm freezes. It is unspoken but the fact is still there. Lightning can’t be her crew chief and a racer. There is a brief moment when Lightning looks as if he will change his mind, but Storm watches him glance at Cruz and then the look is gone.

Storm feels sick. Lightning is quitting? He can’t! He won’t, Storm thinks. The reporters stop questioning them and he watches as Lightning leaves the stadium. Storm is so angry. He is so confused. More than anything he is tired, and when he leans his head back towards the pillow and buries his head in his hands he realizes this. He wants to sleep if only to escape the nightmare that just happened. He can’t stay awake. Not when he has been racing for the last few hours. He stares up at the ceiling, but it soon fades to black, and sleep consumes him.

 

When Storm wakes up he sits up rigidly. What time is it? It is dark in his room, and he can’t see anything. He looks toward the window but sees no sunlight, so he guesses it is night time. He fumbles for his phone in the darkness, and the screen lights up. 1:32 am, great. Not surprising as he fell asleep in the middle of the day. Storm sees notifications pop up on his phone. Three missed calls from his trainer, one from his cousin. That one’s a surprise. Kelly rarely contacts him.

Then it hits Storm like a sack of bricks. Lightning. He goes on the internet searching desperately to see if it is true. Still hanging onto a thin thread of hope that what he found out a few hours ago is not really true, that Lightning was just kidding. That it was all just a joke, a highly elaborate one at that, but still a joke. Every interview he finds states the indisputable truth. Lightning McQueen is done racing professionally. He is going to act as Cruz Ramirez’s crew chief once the next racing season starts. Storm feels empty. He worked so hard, and for so long to become a racer. He waited so long for this, to race with Lightning. To have it taken away so quickly is crushing. Storm’s disappointment turns quickly to anger. Anger towards Cruz Ramirez for taking Lightning’s place. Anger towards Lightning for giving up. Anger towards himself for not doing anything about it.

Then he has an idea. It strikes him suddenly, and out of the blue. it is more impulsive than most of his decisions, much more. But it quickly gains substance in his mind, fueled with the possibility of success. What if he were to convince Lightning to come back? Storm knows Lightning still wants to be a racer. If he could just talk to him, Storm is sure he could get through. He could remind Lightning of who he is! Lightning McQueen is a racer, Not a crew chief! Storm could explain that to him! Once he convinces Lightning everything else should be easy! Lightning would have no trouble getting his number back. No one would dare to deny him his place if he wanted it.

The plan is decided then before Storm has developed it completely. He fumbles around his hotel room, turning the lights on.

 

Storm grabs his phone, and it’s charger, shoving them into his pocket. He did not bring much else with him, as he was supposed to return to his apartment tonight. Storm grabs his wallet and keys on the way out the door and is holding his shoes in his hand. He feels giddy with excitement and hops around in the elevator on one foot trying to put his shoes on. Or it could be adrenaline after him not really sleeping enough.

He races past the front desk, dropping off his key, startling the receptionist. He bounds down the steps to the parking garage and finds his racecar. He gets inside quickly. Storm’s plan is kind of thrown together, but he is sure of it now. He will go to Lightning. Storm knows where Lightning lives, he’s mentioned it a few times in his career. Lightning lives in the Midwest, somewhere between New Mexico and Arizona, in a small town called Radiator Springs. Storm had never been there before, but it looked like now he was going to have the chance.

Storm debates driving his car to the airport and getting a plane. He knows that is what Lightning does when he finishes racing. Lightning flies to Radiator Springs and his truck driver brings his car back. Lightning has probably just got home since he flew. Storm considers his options. Flying would get him there quicker, but there was no guarantee on how he would get to Radiator Springs from whatever airport is closest to it, Storm doubts there is an airport in the town. Storm doesn’t even know if there is a flight at this time.

He decides on driving. In a normal car with normal stops, it would take roughly 30-35 hours. Storm is confident that in his racecar he can get there sooner, especially if he limits his stops. Storm puts his phone up on the dashboard and waits for his GPS to give directions on how to get to Radiator Springs. While it is loading he takes the time to quickly text Kelly. His cousin usually does not call unless it is an emergency, so she must be worried about him after seeing him on TV leave the stadium in his car. Storm has no intention of filling her in on his plan yet though, so he sends her a short message saying he is ok.

The GPS is done planning his route so Storm starts his car. He is going to get to Lightning. Nothing is going to stop him.

Storm is about 6 hours into his drive when he sees the sun start to rise. Damn, he thinks. The darkness has given him pretty good cover until now, and he has only passed a few cars on the road at this hour. Nighttime is also the best time for him to speed, as it's not as likely a cop will try to pull him over. Normally he wouldn’t speed this much but time is of the essence. Once it is daylight though he is sure someone is going to notice his racecar. Going 160 MPH down the interstate is sure to draw some attention. Storm slows down as he nears a convenience store, figuring he needs to use the restroom and get something to eat.

He ends up with two cans of red bull and a pop tart. The cashier raises his eyebrow questioningly, noticing his racing uniform and car outside. Storm gives the man a polite smile and pays for his things. He is back on the road quickly and takes a slightly longer route as to try and avoid more people. As expected people still see him, and they have their phones out, recording videos or taking pictures. Storm ignores them and speeds up. He does not care about this making the news. He only cares about getting to Radiator Springs, about getting Lightning to change his mind.

Storm continues driving. Sure enough, it gets dark after another few hours and Storm guesses he is somewhere in Texas, but he isn’t sure. Storm starts to feel the first signs of tiredness when the sun starts to set the next day. It makes sense, as by now he’s driven roughly 18 hours. He downs another red bull and ignores it. He still has a long way to go. If he was younger Storm would barely be able to keep his eyes open, but he’s had plenty of experience driving for long stretches of time. Storm plays his music through the car speaker, it helps him to stay awake. It’s difficult to fall asleep when loud club music is blaring through his speaker. He drives another few hours. It's 11 pm now. Storm’s been driving for 21 hours. He guesses he can make it to Radiator Springs in a few hours, but his eyes keep closing and he’s worried he won’t make it. Even red bull has its limits and Storm decides to take a little break. He pulls over to the side of the road and sleeps for an hour or so. As expected it wasn’t that easy to fall asleep sitting rigidly in the driver’s seat, and Storm is too tall to lay down in the back.

When he wakes up he sees another call from his trainer. Sooner or later he figures he’ll have to answer. Storm calls him. His trainer is a nice guy, but he gets exasperated whenever Storm doesn’t listen to him, which is actually quite often now that Storm thinks about it. After 2 rings, Tony answers. His voice is sluggish when he answers - he must be tired.

“Storm?” Tony asks questioningly.

“Yeah” Storm answers.

“What’s going on? Where are you?” he asks tiredly.

“I’m taking a vacation. You won’t hear from me for a few days.”

“Huh?! Wait! Storm! You have to practice! You have to come back and train! Next racing season starts in a few months and you need to be ready! You can’t just…”

Storm hangs up. He’s too tired and too irritated to deal with this right now.

Storm starts his car again and gets on the road. He’s still tired, but the nap helped him enough so that he is at least not closing his eyes every few seconds. Storm is close to Radiator Springs now. He’s driving through the barren desert in New Mexico, and he makes sure to check his gas because the last thing he needs is to be stranded here. As he continues driving Storm allows himself to reflect more on the race. Which doesn’t serve to make him feel better at all, It only agitates him more. Him being tired isn’t helping anything either.

Storm finds his ever-present anger returning again, He still can’t believe that he’s doing this. But if he doesn’t, what would that mean for Lightning? What would that mean for him? He waited so long to race with Lightning. It’s been his dream for as long as he can remember. Storm doesn’t know what he can say to Lightning to change things, but he is not going to let his entire purpose be stripped away from him so easily. Storm speeds up. He’s going fast in this desert wasteland, close to 180 Miles per hour. It isn’t as fast as he can go, but it’s incredibly dangerous and incredibly illegal outside of the racetrack. Storm doesn’t care. Every time he thinks of how easy it was for Lightning to just quit he fumes. Lightning McQueen is the world’s greatest racer! He’s still young! There’s still time for him to do so much more with his racing career!

Storm can feel himself frowning. He grips the steering wheel tighter. As he drives for another mile or so he sees a sign in the distance. Radiator Springs. This is it, he thinks. This is his chance. Storm debates stopping to check his reflection in the mirror but decides against it.

He slows down once he gets closer to town and pulls over to the side of the road. The town is larger then he imagined, Or at least it looks that way to him now. He grabs his phone and shoves it into his pocket before exiting his car. He looks around what he guesses is the center of town. The first thing he notices is that it’s hot outside. Storm is used to it, living in Florida, but it is still not that pleasant. Especially not when he’s wearing a full body black and blue racing uniform. The buildings surrounding him are not overly tall, they look like typical small town buildings. Storm spots two young men standing in front of a tire shop. He moves closer to them.

As he moves closer he sees a man in a firefighter’s uniform watering flowers between the tire shop and him. Storm calls out to him.

“Excuse me, sir! I’m looking for..”

The man yelps and literally runs off, leaving his watering can behind. Storm stares at him in shock. He doesn’t know what to think of that. Only that he’s never seen a firefighter scared of people before.

He hears laughter coming from the men sitting in front of the tire shop, and Storm turns toward them. The smaller one with black curly hair laughs, and the older one glances at him with a puzzled expression. Storm walks towards them.

The closer he gets he realizes he recognizes these two. The smaller man who’s laughing is Lightning’s pit crew. Normally a racer needs around four people to change the car’s tires and fill it with gas before the racer needs to get back to racing, but Storm has watched this guy change Lightning’s tires and fill up his gas tank just as fast as it takes four people. The taller man with brown hair calls out to him.

“Oh don’t mind Red, he just gets a little shy around strangers that’s all.” This man has a heavy Italian accent and Storm remembers that he is also a part of Lightning’s crew. Storm has seen this guy with Lightning before, he didn’t realize they all lived in the same town though.

“Oh,” Storm says stupidly.

The man introduces himself. “I’m Luigi and this is Guido,” he says gesturing to the smaller man. Luigi looks him up and down and then stares at his face for a minute.

“I’m Storm.”

Guido looks up at him with a frown. “Jackson Storm? The racer?” he asks.

Storm nods. Judging by the expressions on their faces, they are clearly not fans of him. Storm ignores it.

“Listen please help me. I need to find Lightning. Where is he?” Storm asks pleadingly.

Luigi and Guido look at him in shock before Guido answers.

“Go check Flo’s V8 Cafe. Lightning stops in there often” Guido says pointing towards the cafe.

Storm nods his head in thanks, then turns and runs toward it.

“Hey wait!” Luigi shouts. “Did you drive here from Florida?!”

Storm doesn’t respond. He runs faster. He is livid with Lightning for making him go through all this. Not to mention he’s tired as hell. Storm can see him through the window. Blond head turned away from him as he sits at the bar.

Storm pushes the door open with a force that was definitely not needed and shouts

“LIGHTNING MCQUEEN!”

Chapter Text

P.O.V Lightning McQueen

Lightning whips around in confusion as he hears someone scream out his name. His breakfast is quickly forgotten in order to look at the man standing in the doorway, glaring at him angrily. Lightning looks at him, He’s not a local in town that’s for sure. Lightning has never seen him here, although he does seem familiar for some reason.

Everyone in Flo’s V8 Cafe is looking at this guy, which doesn’t surprise Lightning at all. It’s not often that complete strangers come charging into the Cafe screaming at him. Lightning studies his features. This man is tall, taller than Lightning. He has to be at least 6ft. The man has very vibrant eyes as Lightning can make out the intense grey from his seat at the bar. His black hair looks disheveled and the bags under his eyes make it seem like the man hasn’t slept for a long time. As he looks at the rest of his body Lightning notices he’s wearing a racing uniform. Oh, so he’s a racer. Lightning eyes the blue and black uniform which looks so familiar but Lightning just can’t remember where he’s seen it before. He must know this racer from somewhere...he just can’t quite place where. The man stands with his feet apart and his hands clenched at his sides. He seems incredibly angry for some reason, though Lightning has no idea why. Lightning can see a number in the upper corner of the man’s uniform. It’s the number 20. Lightning freezes. In a moment it all suddenly dawns on him.

“Storm?!” Lightning asks in bewilderment.

Storm shifts awkwardly as the attention is brought to the two of them. If everyone in Flo’s wasn’t looking at them a minute ago, they are now. Lightning stares at him in shock. What is he doing here? Why the hell is Jackson Storm in Radiator Springs of all places?

“What are you doing here?!” Lightning asks incredulously.

Storm crosses his arms petulantly. “I came to get you.” Storm responds, irritated.

Lightning’s mind feels like it’s going to implode. This situation is so surreal to him that he can’t believe it’s happening. Why would Jackson Storm come here to get him? What does he want? What gives him the right to barge in here and yell at Lightning? Hasn’t he humiliated him enough? What more could he possibly want?

“What?!” Lightning says in confusion.

“I came here to get you to be a racer again! I came to take you back! You can’t be done! You can’t just give up like that!” Storm yells.

That was too much for Lightning. Give up? He didn’t give up. Even if he did decide to quit, what makes Storm think he can talk to Lightning like that here? He stands up rapidly in his chair, facial expression morphing into one of pure anger.

“HOW DARE YOU. How dare you come into my town, and yell at me! What gives you the right?!” Lightning yells back.

Storm looks baffled at this, like he didn’t expect Lightning to get so angry, but quickly regains composure. Lightning watches out of the corner of his eye as Luigi and Guido walk over from the tire shop and Guido gives him a mysterious smile. Lightning has no idea what he is even doing and doesn’t have the patience now to figure it out.

“I challenge you” Storm says voice quieter now.

“What?” Lightning asks.

“I challenge you to a race. If I win, you have to come back with me.”

Lightning stares at him again. He can’t be serious right now. Storm did not come here to Radiator Springs to humiliate him. He wouldn’t allow it. Lightning is not one to back away from a challenge though, and he will certainly not do that here in his hometown. He was too prideful for that.

“Fine” Lightning says. “I accept.”

Luigi and Guido walk in and have just caught the tail end of that conversation. The tension in the Cafe is so thick that it could be cut with a knife, and Luigi seems to register this based on the nervous glance he wears as he looks between Storm and Lightning.

Lightning walks briskly past Storm, to Luigi’s garage where Mack had just dropped off his car early this morning. He hears Storm following a few steps behind, but doesn’t turn to look at him. Luigi and Guido walk near them, and they are apparently going to attend this race as well. Lightning turns to Storm when they get to the garage.

“There’s a racetrack about 3 miles north of here, down that road there.” Lightning says pointing toward the road. He gets into his car wordlessly, shutting his door.

Storm nods and goes down the road to get his own car. Lightning grits his teeth in annoyance and starts his engine. Luigi and Guido get into the front and back seat of his car. Lightning doesn’t say anything to them, which is how they can tell he is angry. “Hey Lightning, are you ok?” Luigi asks, concerned.

“I’m fine!” Lightning says through gritted teeth.

“Sure you are.” Guido says, his voice laced with sarcasm.

Lightning grips the steering wheel tighter. “Maybe...maybe you should go easy on him Lightning. I think he drove all the way here from Florida.” Luigi says neutrally. Lightning says nothing. Storm has this coming.

They get to the track relatively quickly and Luigi and Guido exit his car. Lightning has to wait for Storm for a few seconds longer than he thought it would take him, making Lightning wonder if Storm had hesitated at all. He shakes that thought away and reminds himself that Storm challenged him. Lightning sees Storm’s car pull up next to his. He turns his head forward, toward the track. He can win this. Lightning knows he can. This is his home turf. This is Radiator Springs. He can’t lose here. He won’t lose here.

Luigi goes out to the track to stand in front of them while Guido sits on the side wearing a neutral expression. Luigi draws a line in the sand and announces that they will each have one lap and that whoever makes it around the track first and passes the “finish line” will win. Lightning looks over at Storm to see him grinning. It is clear that Storm thinks this challenge is only about speed, which would technically give Storm an advantage. Lightning smirks. He knows that on a track like this, speed can be your worst enemy.

Luigi raises his hands in the air and begins the countdown. Both racers grip their steering wheels.

“Ready? 3….2….1….GO!”

Luigi shouts, moving his arms down as a signal for them to begin. Both racers slam their feet onto the gas pedal. Storm speeds up rapidly, gaining ground quickly. Storm surpasses him with a large lead, but Lightning only smiles. He was right about Storm relying on his speed to win him this race. Storm increased his speed even more now that the finish line was only another a few seconds away, just one more turn to go. Storm was unaware though, that Lightning had been steadily slowing down.

Lightning watched as Storm drifted hard, probably expecting to be mere seconds from the finish line. Lightning watched as Storm made this same mistake Lightning had years ago as a rookie. He watched as Storm’s car veered off to the side, smashing through cactuses left and right. Lightning brings his focus back to the track and glides across the finish line easily. He allows himself a victory smile. Storm had not learned the same tricks he had racing along this track with Doc.

His triumph is short-lived though when he sees Luigi and Guido looking towards where Storm crashed with concerned expressions. Lightning stared at where Storm’s car had gone. He told himself Storm would be fine. When Lightning was in the same position years ago he had been fine, and his car had only suffered a few minor scratches. It is clear though when he gets closer to Storm’s car though, that is not the case. Storm’s car had gone much farther through the cactus patches than Lightning’s did, and it was clear the car smashed into a lot of them. Lightning’s conceit instantly turns to worry as he gets closer to the car.

“Storm?” He calls out.

There is no answer.

Lightning moves quickly to the driver’s side and pulls the door open. Storm’s head is slumped onto the steering wheel. Lightning has a moment of sheer panic and he reaches out to touch his shoulder.

“Storm?!” He asks.

Storm sits up rapidly, and Lightning sighs in relief. It looks like his head didn’t smash against the steering wheel like Lightning had feared. He moves away from the driver’s side so Storm can exit the car. Storm fumbles out of the car, and Lightning is relieved to see no bodily injury. Storm’s car, however, is another matter.

Lightning can see that the car has suffered a lot of external damage. Smashing into those Cactuses really made a lot of dents in his car and even ruined the paint job in some places. Storm walks around his car surveying the damage. Storm is clearly upset about his car, although he is trying not to let it show. Lightning instantly feels guilty. Storm’s car is a newer model, and its very clearly important to him.

Storm gets in the front seat again and tries to start the engine. It shudders but does not start. Storm tries again. The car doesn’t start.

“Are you okay?” Luigi says to Storm walking up to him.

“I’m fine.” Storm says bitterly.

“Your car isn’t starting?” Guido says looking at it.

Storm sighs. “No, it’s not.”

Guido gives Lightning a glare. Lightning shoots him an annoyed glance. It’s not like he asked for Storm to challenge him. It was humiliating enough to lose to Storm in front of millions of people, but to lose here in Radiator Springs would have been crushing.

Lightning moves towards Storm. He should probably apologize. Yes, it was Storm’s fault for being too cocky, but Lightning can sympathize with his beat-up car.

Lightning opens his mouth to say something when he’s interrupted by a loud voice with a heavy southern accent.

“McQueen is that you?!” He hears from behind him.

Lightning turns and can see his best friend Mater poking his head out of the driver’s side of his tow truck.

“Hey, Mater!” He greets. Mater’s friendly demeanor makes it near impossible for anyone to be angry around him.

Mater exits his truck and walks over to him. Mater’s brown curls are sticking out from underneath his hat, and he’s sporting a friendly grin.

Mater walks up to Storm’s car, surveying the damage. When Storm exits the vehicle, Mater offers him a hand.

“Well Hi there! I’m Mater!”

Storm examines the hand in front of him before offering his own and shaking it.

“I’m Storm. Nice to meet you.”

Lightning stares at them. So it seems Storm does possess the ability to be kind. Not everyone has the decency to be kind to Mater, so Lightning watches Storm carefully.

“I remember you! You were racing with Lightning and Cruz a few days ago!” Mater exclaims.

“I was.”

“Well, what are ya doing all the way out here! Shouldn’t you be training for a race?!”

“I probably should be.” Storm says. “But I’m not going back until I convince Lightning to come race again” Storm replies, turning his stare to Lightning.

“Not a chance!” Lightning says back. “As soon as your car gets fixed you’re out of here!”

Storm glares at him with a frown. Mater looks between the two of them, and then at Luigi and Guido doing their very best to pretend they aren’t listening intently. Mater places a hand on Lightning’s shoulder.

“Hey pal, calm down ok?” Lightning nods, Mater is right. He doesn’t need to keep getting angry over this. He just needs to get Storm out of Radiator Springs.

Mater drives his tow truck down closer to Storms race car. Once Mater is finished connecting his truck to it, he pulls Storm’s car out of the cactuses.

“We’ll have to bring your car into town to get it fixed Storm. You can ride with me in the tow truck” Mater says, still in a pleasant tone. Storm looks bewildered as if Mater speaking to him with kindness is unfathomable.

“Right, ok.” Storm says before walking over to Mater’s tow truck and getting into the back. Lightning glances at Mater walking to the driver’s side and decides he doesn’t want Storm to be alone with Mater. Lightning wants to make sure Storm doesn’t say anything offensive. About Mater’s tow truck or Radiator Springs or even about Mater.

Lightning tosses his keys to Guido and tells him to take his racecar back. Guido nods and he hears Luigi protesting that he should be the one to drive. Lightning ignores their bickering and hops in the front seat of the tow truck next to Mater, seeing as Storm sat in the back on his own.

Mater starts his truck and they drive away from the desert racetrack. Lightning hopes the drive will be quick and silent, but Mater seems to be intentionally taking the long way back.

“Mater, why are you taking the long way?”

Mater pauses and quirks his eyebrows.

“Oh? This is the long way? I thought we were taking the scenic route so we could show our guest around.”

Lightning glares at him. Sometimes Mater was just too nice.

“So Storm! What brings you to good old Radiator Springs?” Mater exclaims loudly.

Storm looks and turns away from the window he was staring out of.

“Oh, I um…” Storm starts then Mater interjects.

“I heard you came running into Flo’s Cafe screaming like a crazy person.” Mater says but laughs after it to show it was all in good nature.

Lightning waits for Storm to say something snarky. Or tell Mater to be quiet. He doesn’t do either of those things though. Lightning looks in the mirror and sees Storm rubbing the back of his neck, eyes downcasted. Oh. Was he embarrassed? Lightning surveyed him again. He really was different than Lightning expected. Lightning knew he would be young, it would explain why he was so cocky and arrogant. He didn’t expect Storm to look the way he did though. He looked good. Not that he would tell him that, but It made sense the more he thought about it. Storm’s popularity had skyrocketed after he started as a racer. Lightning had never seen him without his helmet on, and he pictured Storm with a more villainous face. Right now though he just looked tired. Lightning noticed the heavy bags under his eyes. Was it true then? Did he really drive here all the way from Florida?

Storm’s grey eyes glance up at him and Lightning whips his head away, pretending like he wasn’t just staring at him. He catches Mater smirking from the corner of his eye.

The drive is silent for another minute or two before Mater breaks the silence.
“You look pretty tired there pal. Been driving a long time?” Mater asks turning his head to look at Storm.

“Yeah, I have” Storm says, yawning after he says it.

Mater nods. Lightning notices they are finally arriving back in town. Thank God. Now they’ll just drop Storm’s car off at the shop in town, and he’ll be gone soon.

“Say, you look hungry.” Mater says looking at Storm. Lightning looks at Mater with his best Don’t you dare Mater face. In the end, it has no effect because Mater is immune to things like that.

“I’m not hungry.” Storm says, crossing his arms. Good, Lightning thinks. A second later his stomach growls loudly, and Lightning and Mater both turn around to look at him. They both burst out laughing. Storm responds to this by hiding his face between his legs and putting his arms over his head. Lightning gets the feeling Storm hates being embarrassed. Or showing any type of weakness. It had already hurt his pride to crash his car Lightning suspected. Then again, Lightning used to be the same way. Mater and Lightning exit the vehicle still laughing slightly. They then go to Storm’s car and detach it from the tow truck.

Lightning looks at the car in admiration. It is extremely well made. Sleek, capable of great speed. Lightning wonders who bought it for him.

Mater and Lightning wheel it into the shop where Ramone emerges. He was not in the cafe this morning, but Lightning is sure his wife filled him in on everything that happened. Ramone steps outside and looks at Storm’s car. It seems he is admiring Storm’s car as well.

Lightning looks over to see Mater talking to Storm. Storm emerges with a faint red tint on his cheeks. Lightning can see Mater’s mouth moving but he can’t hear him. After a minute Mater walks over to Lightning with a suspicious looking grin, and Storm is reluctantly trailing a few feet behind him.

“Storm’s going to come eat with us. I think we could all use some food. You didn’t get to finish all your breakfast this morning right?”

“No. I didn’t. Because Someone came into Flo’s yelling like a maniac and challenged me to a race” Lightning furiously whispers. Mater smiles and throws his arm around Lightning. “Let’s go buddy.” He says steering them toward Flo’s.

When they enter there are thankfully not that many people inside. Radiator Springs is not a popular destination by any means, but somehow Flo’s cafe is the most crowded around breakfast time. Lightning is displeased with this situation, but when he turns to look at Storm, he does look rather hungry. Lightning supposes the least he can do if Storm actually drove here from Florida and wrecked his car was to eat lunch with him.

Once they all sit down at a table a waitress immediately comes to help them. She’s not Flo, and Lightning doesn’t really remember her name. Lightning knows all of the locals in town, so she must have moved here after Radiator Springs got more popularity.

She pauses to take their orders. Mater takes the liberty of ordering for all of them which Lightning is used to by now and Storm doesn’t have any objections to. The waitress walks back to the kitchen to get their drinks. They all sit at the table for a few minutes in silence before Storm announces that he’s going to the bathroom.

Once Storm is gone Lightning rounds on Mater. “Mater why did you invite him here? And what’s with you taking the long route back to Radiator Springs?”

“I was just being polite. He seems like he’s a friendly guy. Plus he was really hungry I mean you heard his stomach growl.” Mater says defending himself.

“Yeah I did Mater but that’s not the point. We don’t need to show him any courtesy. He’s not a guest here Mater. You didn’t race with him like I did. He’s arrogant and rude. He’s cocky. He’s brash. He’s…

“Coming over here right now!” Mater interjects quickly.

Lightning sees Storm emerge from the bathroom. He watches at Storm pauses for a moment before pulling his phone out of his pocket and putting it up to his ear. Apparently, he’s talking to someone on the phone.

Mater leans over to whisper to him. “I wouldn’t be too hard on him Lightning. From what you just told me he sounds exactly like you did when you first got here.”

Lightning scowls at him. Mater laughs.

Storm walks over and rejoins them at the table. He placed his phone down on the table and reaches his hands up to rub his eyes. The waitress comes back with their drinks and Lightning watches as she looks at Storm a little longer than necessary.

She places Lightning and Mater’s drinks in front of them, and Lightning notices she hands it to Storm. Once he reaches to take it from her she brushes his fingers with her own and then apologizes sweetly.

She’s off a minute later saying she’ll be back with their meals soon. Storm looks at his hand like it’s been burned. Maybe he doesn’t like being touched. Lightning figured he’d be the type to enjoy attention from girls but Storm doesn’t look interested at all. If anything he looks offended she touched him.

Mater seemed to notice the interaction as well and raises his eyebrows at Lighting. Lightning shrugs back. He and Mater have learned after a few years of saying the wrong things to communicate silently. Especially if they were worried about saying something stupid in front of Sally.

Lightning turns back toward Storm when he hears the man’s phone vibrate. Storm picks it up, looks at the number and declines. Lightning wonders who called him. Another ten seconds later his phone rings again, and once again Storm declines it.

“Somebody really wants to talk to you.” Lightning says.

“It’s my trainer. He’s not pleased with my whereabouts.” Storm responds.

“Wonder why? It’s not like you should be preparing for a race or anything.” Lightning says with an edge of sarcasm.

“I’m not the only one who’s supposed to be preparing for a race” Storm snaps back quickly.

Lightning feels irritation building. Storm is pissing him off. Luckily the waitress has picked the right moment to intervene with their food as the atmosphere of the table instantly brightens. Mater ordered tons of food, which by the look of Storm’s hungry expression was a good idea.

Now that the food arrived the earlier tension disappeared. Lightning holds back a laugh as Storm tears into his burger. Jeez, he really must have been starving. Lightning didn’t really think they needed 3 orders of fries and onion rings but watching Storm devour the food in front of him changed his mind.

Once they had finished their meal everyone seemed to be in a brighter mood. Even Storm looked happier now that he had been fed. The three of them split the check and they now were waiting for the waitress to come and collect their tab. Lightning feels like this is a good time to talk about Storm’s car seeing as they are all pacified now.

“So Storm. Now that your car’s getting fixed up in the shop it should be done by the end of the day. Then you can go home.” Lightning says neutrally.

Storm narrows his eyes. Mater interjects. “Uh, actually Lightning I’m not sure it’ll be done that quickly. His car’s got some pretty new tech involved and Ramone just texted me that he’ll have to wait until the pieces get here before the car can be fixed.”

“Well, then he can just take the bus to a hotel. He can come back for the car once it’s ready.” Lightning says hotly.

“Uh, Lightning...that doesn’t seem very practical.” Mater replies.

“It doesn’t matter.” Storm adds. “Even if my car was fixed it wouldn’t matter. I already told you I’m not leaving till you come back with me.” Storm doesn’t say it angrily. More like a matter of fact. Like it is written in stone that Lightning will go back with him.

Lightning grits his teeth. “Well, you can’t stay here. There’s nowhere to stay. Sally’s not here to run the cozy cone.” Lightning argues.

Storm’s grey eyes are boring into his. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll sleep on a bench if I have to. But I’m not leaving.” He states loudly.

Lightning grits his teeth harder and stands up from the table.

“Do what you want.” Lightning says irritated.

He leaves after that, not wanting to be near Storm. Radiator Springs was his safe place. His home. Now that Storm was here Lightning felt on edge. He just wanted Storm to leave. Head back to his training center and race. Lightning doesn’t care. He just doesn’t want him here.

Lightning angrily stomps the short 5-minute walk to his house. Radiator Springs is a small town, and Lightning’s house is near the end of it. He walks inside and shuts the door behind him. Lightning is too angry to be around anyone right now, so he just lays down on the couch. The last thing he wants to do is snap at any of his friends so he figures it’s best to just calm down right now.

Lightning reassures himself. Storm said he wasn’t going to leave, but that was only his excessive pride. No way that Jackson Storm would stay here. He only wanted to get under Lightning’s skin. The only reason Storm probably wanted him to come back is so he could humiliate him all over again. Lightning sighed. Storm would be gone by nighttime. It would be too cold for him to stay, and his “doesn’t matter” attitude would wear out. He would take a bus to another town nearby and stay in a warm hotel room. He would wait a few days there doing whatever he felt like and then come back for his car later. Storm would realize it was a fruitless task and then he would be gone.

So will your chance to race again, a tiny part of him thought. He shook that thought away. No. He was still going to race...just not in the same way. Lightning didn’t need to be a professional racer anymore. It was just time for him to quit. A pang of sadness struck through him at that, but he ignored it. It was going to be hard but Lightning has his reasons. Besides, he was still going to race. He was still going to feel the wind on his skin and push himself farther than he thought he could. Just...without the professionalism.

Lightning needed something to take his mind off all this. He didn’t want to think about it. After flipping on the television Lightning was able to numb his mind for a few hours. He must have dozed off at some point because when he looked at his clock he looked up to see that it was 1 am. It wasn’t that surprising considering it was late afternoon when he, Mater and Storm had eaten lunch.

Storm. Lightning is sure he’s at a hotel right now. For some reason, a tiny pinch of worry materializes in his gut. He thinks back to the fierce determination in Storm’s eyes and wonders if he actually left town. Lightning knows he will be thinking about it the rest of the night if he doesn’t go check now. With a sigh, he puts on his shoes and grabs a jacket. In Radiator Springs the daytime is usually hot but since the town is located near the mountains and canyons it can get very cool at night.

Lightning steps outside and confirms that it is indeed cooler than he thought. This makes Lightning walk a little faster into town. Radiator Springs is dark at this time of night, but there are street lamps on the road so Lightning knows where he is going. As Lightning nears closer to the center of town he finds himself checking the benches. Once he has checked out the benches Lightning is relieved. Until he sees what looks like a person lying in the grass on the side of the road.

Oh no, Lighting thinks as he walks closer to it, worry eating at his mind. Once Lightning gets closer he confirms that it is indeed Storm. His tall figure Is curled up in the grass, probably because he was cold. Somehow Storm is sleeping though because when Lightning moves closer he can see his eyes are closed, and his chest is rising and falling slowly. How he managed to fall asleep here is beyond Lightning. He crouches down near him and places a hand on his shoulder.

“Storm?” Lightning says shaking him.

Storm doesn’t respond and for a minute Lightning panics, wondering if the cold had paralyzed him or something. He then thinks about how it’s not that cold outside. Storm must just be a heavy sleeper. Lightning says his name louder and shakes him again. This time Storm stirs slightly and Lightning watches as his eyes open. Storm looks at him for a moment and flinches away, startled. Lightning realizes that to him he probably looks like a black figure standing over him.

“Storm it’s me Lightning.” Lightning says softly.

“Lightning?” Storm murmurs softly before yawning. “What are you doing here?”

“Coming to get you.” Lightning mutters. “Here” Lightning says takes off his jacket and places it on Storm. Lightning may not particularly like him but Lightning is still a decent human being and he knows Storm is cold. “Thank you.” Storm murmurs sleepily.

“Come on. You can’t stay here.” Lightning says helping him up. “My house is this way. Let’s go.”

Lightning begins walking and turns to see that Storm is walking behind him, thankfully starting to wake up enough to recognize what is going on. After a few minutes of walking, they reach Lightning’s house and he and Storm enter. Storm still looks pretty cold even though he’s trying not to show it.

Lightning walks over to his bathroom in the hallway. Inside the bathroom, Lightning grabs a towel as well as shampoo and conditioner. Lightning turns around and passes them to Storm.

“Here. You should take a hot shower.”

“Thank you.” Storm said with a tone of voice that Lightning had not heard him use before. Thankful. It was nice to hear that. Lightning nods and steps away from the bathroom, allowing Storm to enter.

Lightning walks over to the kitchen. He’s pretty hungry and he thinks Storm will be when he gets out of the shower.

Lightning cooks something simple. He wraps two baked potatoes in foil and puts them in the oven. He pulls out chicken from his refrigerator and decides to make chicken cutlets, as they shouldn’t take long. He dips them in eggs and flour, and lastly bread crumbs. Lightning decides to wait to pan sear them as it shouldn’t take too long and he wants them to be hot. He then waits a few minutes before deciding to check on Storm. When he gets closer to the bathroom door he hears music playing. Lightning discovers Storm likes to listen to music in the shower as he hears Storm’s songs alternate from pop to techno to some other very loud songs.

Lightning goes into his room and pulls out one of his larger T-shirts as Storm is taller than him and a long pair of pajama bottoms. He thankfully also has a plastic pack of boxers he never opened so he places those along with a pair of socks and everything else in front of the bathroom door. Lightning figures Storm doesn’t have any clothes to change into as he was still wearing his racing uniform when he first came in.

Storm takes a long shower, which is fine by Lightning. Sally used to do the same thing before they would eat dinner, which gave him better time to prepare.

Lightning goes to his room again and pulls off his clothing in exchange for pajamas. They are more comfortable and he doubts Storm will mind. On his way back to the kitchen Lightning notices the shower has finally shut off.

He hears the door open from the kitchen and Lightning guesses Storm has seen the clothes and is changing.

Lightning puts olive oil in the pan and lets it become hot before placing the cutlets in and listening to the sizzle of them meeting the pan. While they are cooking he grabs cups from his cabinet and fills them up with ice water. He gets silverware and napkins too, along with butter, salt and pepper for the baked potatoes. Lightning sets the table and he hears Storm exit the bathroom door.

Lightning looks up to see Storm timidly standing in the kitchen looking at him. For all Lightning has seen of Jackson Storm he certainly doesn’t seem like his cocky self now. Lightning then thinks about what he would do if it were him in Storm’s position. Truthfully Mater was right earlier today. Storm did act like he used to when he was a rookie. Arrogant. Cocky. Like he could take on the world and no one could stop him. Seeing him now though he didn’t look like that. He just looked nervous. Lightning’s T-shirt was surprisingly kind of big on Storm, and it made him look younger. Storms hair was still wet from the shower, and it curled slightly at the ends. Like this Storm looked softer, friendlier to Lightning. It occurred to Lightning that he might be shy.

“Sit down.” Lightning offers, keeping his tone of voice friendly. It is easier to do that now that Storm is not arguing with him. Lightning is a good natured person and even though he didn’t like the impression Storm gave off before, he wasn’t going to be rude to him here in his house. Especially after seeing how tired and nervous Storm looked while he was sitting at the table. Lightning busies himself with getting the baked potatoes and of the oven, and he notices Storm is looking around his house. Storm’s eyes linger on the wall where there are pictures of his races on the wall. He and Mater are in a lot of them. Posing together in front of Lightning’s car with some goofy expression before the race.

Lightning hands Storm a plate. “Thank you.” Storm says, and lightning sees a small smile on his face. Lightning pauses. He hasn't seen Storm smile yet, but it looks good on him. Lightning can see now why the waitress in the diner was staring at him so much. Storm is good looking. Lightning thought that was the case, but he looks much better now that he’s showered and doesn’t have an angry scowl. They eat in relative silence, which is fine by Lightning. He doesn’t really know how any long conversation with Storm would go, so he sticks with short and polite. Once they finish eating Lightning clears the table. He motions for Storm to follow him down the hall. Lightning opens the door to his guest bedroom.

“You can stay here. It’s Sally’s. I mean my guest bedroom.” Lightning murmurs awkwardly.

Thankfully Storm doesn’t pry. He just thanks Lightning. Lightning nods and heads back down the hallway to his own room. Once he’s inside he sits on his bed and flops backwards onto it. At first, he thought Storm wasn’t serious about the whole convincing him to race again, but now…

Storm slept on the ground for crying out loud. He probably would have done the same thing the next night. Let’s add stubborn to the short list of adjectives that make up Storm. Lightning can’t help but wonder why he’s doing all this. Is it a ploy? Does he just want Lightning to come back so he can beat him? Lightning wouldn’t be surprised if Storm was paid by someone like Chick Hicks to convince him to come back, only to crush him into the ground.

But...Storm doesn’t seem like the type to do something like that. Brash and arrogant maybe...but not cruel. Not like that. Lightning rolls over and shoves his head into the pillow. What will he do? How will he convince Storm to leave? A small teeny part of Lightning’s brain broached the idea of going. What if he were to go with him? What if he tried again at racing? He could try harder! He could train better!

Lightning sighs. That won’t work. Besides, it’s for the best he doesn’t race anymore. At least, not professionally. Lightning pulled the covers up over himself. He didn’t want to think about this. He just wanted to sleep.

 

When Lightning wakes up, the sun is just beginning to rise. Lightning checks his alarm clock. 6:30 am. Well, he doesn’t feel that tired anyway. Lightning is usually a morning person, and he spent a long time sleeping yesterday, so it makes sense that he’s up now. Lightning stretches and walks out into the bathroom. He sees Storm’s racing uniform on the counter and figures he better wash it. After putting it in the washer, Lightning keeps himself busy with how early it is. Storm desperately needs a good night’s sleep so Lightning doubts he’s waking up anytime soon.

Lightning does chores. They are certainly not fun, but Lightning doesn’t really mind them. Since Sally left he lives here by himself, so there’s really never too much to clean. He does the dishes from last night and sweeps the floor. He debates vacuuming the carpets but decides against it because it might wake up Storm. Instead, he goes back into his room to change into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He probably shouldn’t be walking around in pajamas the whole day.

Lightning does a few other odd things around the house. He would start breakfast but decides to wait until Storm wakes up.

After another hour Storm wakes up, Lightning hears the door to the guest bedroom open. Storm looks better now. His hair looks kind of different because he slept on it. It looks curlier, like Lightning’s own hair. Lightning’s pajamas are a little big on him. He’s tall that’s for sure but lean. He still looks fit, just skinnier than Lightning expected. Lightning tells him he has a new toothbrush in the cabinet under the sink if he wants to use it. Storm nods and goes into the bathroom.

It dawns on Lightning that Storm will need more clothes. His racing uniform was being washed and he probably didn’t want to wear that around town. Lightning goes to his room to look for something. Since Storm is thinner than him, Lightning searches for a pair of pants that will fit. While he’s searching in the bottom of his drawer he finds a pair of black jeans. Lightning thinks they used to be skinny jeans but Lightning wore them enough when he was younger that they must be comfortable by now. He pulls them out. Lightning hasn’t worn these in a solid 10 years. He remembers wearing them when he was in his early 20s. His younger self probably thought he looked cool wearing them. Lightning thinks they will be long enough for Storm.

“Storm.” Lightning calls out when he sees Storm walk down the hallway. Storm turns around, grey eyes landing on Lightning crouched down in front of his dresser. Storm walks into the room and Lightning notices he’s looking around.

He holds up the pants. “What do you think of these?”

“For me or for you?” Storm asks.

Lightning laughs. “Seriously?” Lightning then stands up and holds the pants out in front of Storm’s waist. They look like they’ll fit.

“Why not?” Storm asks him with a serious look on his face.

“Because I haven’t worn these in ten years. Imagine how they would look.”

Storm pauses for a minute like he’s actually thinking about it. “Good.” He says, flashing his teeth in a smile. Lightning rolls his eyes and hands Storm the pants. Along with a plain white T-shirt and another pair of socks. The pack of boxers he had given Storm last night should be enough to last for a while.

Lightning shakes his head. They shouldn’t need to last a while. Storm will be leaving soon, he tells himself. He remembers how obnoxious Storm was when they were racing. Lightning reminds himself Storm is also one of the reasons he quit. He just isn’t fast enough to keep up with the newer generations of racers.

Lightning shakes those thoughts away. Storm will leave once his car is fixed. Without Lightning. There’s no reason for Lightning to be cruel to him.

While Storm is in the bathroom Lightning goes into the kitchen to start breakfast. He cracks eggs into a bowl, whisking them while the pan heats up. He grabs 2 other pan’s from the cabinet underneath his stove. Storm enters the room and sits at the bar in Lightning’s kitchen. He watches intently as lightning chops up potatoes to go in one pan and lays strips of bacon in the other. While that was cooking Lightning pops a few pieces of bread in the toaster, along with grabbing silverware and plates and putting them in front of Storm. Storm seems to understand he was supposed to set the table as he gets up to do that. When Storm sits down at the counter again Lightning passes him a knife.

“I want you to know my cooking capabilities are very limited.”

Lightning laughs. “You’re only going to butter the bread. Think you can handle it?” He says placing the plate of toast in front of Storm.

“I’ll do my best.” Storm says grinning.

Lightning turns around to the stove again to flip the bacon. Storm does have a sense of humor afterall. Lightning prefers him like this.

Once Lightning finishes putting the food on different plates, he brings it to the table. Storm grabs the butter, salt and pepper from the counter too. Lightning grabs two cups and once he asks Storm if he likes apple juice, fills both cups up.

They both sit at the table and start eating. It’s quiet again. The silence is alright now though, it’s no longer as awkward. A few minutes after they start eating Lightning hears the doorbell ring. He gets up to answer it. Once he pulls open the door he sees a familiar head of curly brown hair and a signature grin.

“Hey, buddy” Mater greets as Lightning moves back to let him enter.

“Hey,” Lightning says grinning. Mater goes to sit down at the table and Lightning goes to the kitchen to grab an extra plate and more silverware. Mater joining him for breakfast is pretty common. Mater usually stops by 2 to 3 times a week, so it wasn’t surprising that he showed up.

Once Lightning comes back to the table he sees Mater glance at Storm.

“Hey! Looks like you didn’t have to spend the whole night outside after all!” Mater exclaims.

Lightning’s face turns to a frown and he turns to Mater.

“Mater. Did you know he was sleeping outside.” Lightning says, voice deadpan.

“I sure did!” Mater says, taking a bite of toast. Mater is usually unfazed by any type of anger or irritation.

Lightning gives him a glare. “If you knew he was sleeping outside why didn’t you take him to your house?!”

Mater gives him an innocent smile. “Your house is bigger.” Mater says getting up to pour himself some apple juice.

Lightning turns to Storm to see that he is wearing a carefully neutral expression. Lightning sighs. It was probably Mater’s attempt at getting Lightning to be friendly with Storm. Which regrettingly is starting to work. Lightning distracts himself with the fact that Storm will leave soon. Lightning won’t need to hear him arrogantly telling Lightning to “Enjoy his retirement.”

They all finish up breakfast, with Mater engaging Storm in conversation. Lightning clears the table and throws away the trash. Mater suggests they should go into town, which Lightning was planning on doing anyway. He needs to pick up his car from Luigi’s. He also wants to see how progress is going on Storm’s car. If it’ll be fixed anytime soon.

They leave Lightning’s house and begin the short walk to town. It’s warm out today, and Lightning wonders if Storm will be too hot in those pants. He takes a quick glance over at him, but he looks fine to Lightning.

Once they make it into town, Mater insist on introducing Storm to the locals. Storm is very polite when he’s talking to them, and Lightning can tell they find him charming. Sarge and Fillmore enjoyed talking with him. Even Red gave Storm a timid smile from where he was watering plants. This irritates Lightning. If Storm was able to be polite and kind then why did he act so arrogantly when racing with Lightning? He was even obnoxious to Cruz. So Lightning can’t figure out his personality at all.

After they spend a few hours with Mater to see the “sights” in Radiator Springs, they make their way back to the center of town. Mater runs over to Luigi and Guido’s garage to talk to them for a minute, and Lightning takes Storm to Ramone. He wants to see if Ramone has made any progress on Storm’s car.

He sees Ramone from inside the shop. Bright tattoos peeking out from his arms.

“Hey, Ramone.” Lightning greets.

“Hey Lightning, oh and you must be Storm.” Ramone says, offering his hand.

Storm shakes it. “It’s nice to meet you.” Storm says politely.

Lightning feels his eye twitch. “So anyway Ramone. When do you think his car will be fixed?”

Ramone scratches his head. “It shouldn’t take me too much longer, probably another 2 days. His paint job is really something special so I wanted to make sure I fixed it up nice and good.

Lightning nods.

“Thank you.” Storm says kindly. Lightning feels his mouth twitching into a frown.

“Okay, thanks Ramone.” Lightning says to the man, bidding him farewell. Storm followed him. Once they were far enough away from people, Lightning turned to him.

“You can stay with me until your car is fixed. Then you’re leaving.” He says to Storm.

Storm nods. “Right. Once my car gets fixed we can drive back to the training center in Florida.”

Lightning frowns. “I’m not coming with you Storm.”

“Sure you are. You’re going to come back and be a racer again.”

“No, I’m not.” Lightning says, getting angrier.

“Yes, you are.” Storm says stubbornly.

“You lost the race Storm! You have to leave. That was the deal!” Lightning half shouted.

Storm protest loudly. “Only because you cheated!”

“I didn’t cheat!” Lightning says, voice rising.

“Yeah you did! You chose a track where you knew I’d spin out on!

“That was your own fault” Lightning says.

Lightning looks at Storm’s face. He watches as it changes from anger to defeat. Storm looks sadly at the ground and Lightning feels a pinch of guilt.

“I don’t understand…” Storm whispers. “I don’t understand why you can’t come back. I don’t understand why you left in the first place.”

Lightning doesn’t understand why Storm says that seeing as he wanted Lightning to leave racing not so long ago, but takes pity on him. Storm needs a reason so Lightning gives him one.

“Listen Storm,” Lightning says running a hand through his hair.

“I can’t be a racer anymore. My car just isn’t fast enough. I can’t beat the newer racers.”

Lightning looks at Storm. He expects Storm to reluctantly accept this news. So Lightning does a double take when he seems Storm grinning. His mouth is open wide, the smile is bigger than one Lightning has seen him make. It looked strange considering it’s the most emotion Storm has shown yet.

“That’s it? That’s all?!” Storm says, expression changing to a happy one.

Lightning didn’t have to expect to give another reason. Like how he doesn’t want to be humiliated again. Or the fact that he’s supposed to be Cruz’s crew chief. Or the fact that his racing ruined his relationship with Sally. That one hit Lightning the hardest, but he didn’t feel like sharing that with Storm.

“That’s not good enough for you?” Lightning asked, irritated.

“No no! I’m just glad that’s all there is!”

“Why’s that?” Lightning asks.

“Because that can be fixed!” Storm shouts in excitement.

Lightning looks at him in bewilderment. Before he had only seen Storm give off pretty much three basic emotions. Anger, pride and indifference. He guesses he’s seen a little bit of Storm’s kindness too, but that’s beside the point.

Watching Storm radiate such excitement was strange.

“What? Fixed? I don’t want to get a new car…” Lightning mutters, figuring Storm’s plan is to just get him a new car. Lightning could never. He wasn’t the same racer without his car. He could never trade it for some newer, high tech car. It wasn’t his style.

“You don’t need to!” Storm says, gripping Lightning’s shoulders.

It is the first time Storm has touched him. It’s a weird thing to think about but it’s what Lightning decided to focus on. Storm’s fingers are long and slender, and he is softly gripping Lightning’s shoulders. Lightning’s mind needs to get a grip. He brings himself back to the conversation.

“What are you talking about?” Lightning asked confused.

“I know someone who can make your car faster! He wouldn’t need to change anything significant about the car! All he would need to do is make some minor adjustments to the engine! Nothing on the exterior. The car would look completely the same! Then you could race again!” Storm shouts in excitement, talking more to himself than Lightning.

Lightning is so confused. He’s never heard of a way to make older race cars faster without changing the car completely. Storm is tugging on his arm now, pulling them towards Lightning’s car at Luigi’s garage.

“Come on! We’re going on a road trip!” he says to Lightning.

Chapter Text

Jackson Storm P.O.V

 

When Storm waited to hear Lightning’s reasons for not wanting to race he expected the worst. Like for Lightning to have some kind of terminal disease that would prevent him from racing. To Storm that’s the only thing he could think of that would have been enough to stop Lightning McQueen from racing. Actually the more he thinks about it he still pictures Lightning trying to race even if he DID have some kind of disease. Storm’s glad that’s not the case because he’s not sure what he could do about that. He can, however, do something about Lightning’s car.

Fixing Lightning’s car will be easy! All they have to do is drive to Nebraska. Storm knows exactly where they need to go. He knows someone that’ll be able to make Lightning’s car faster no problem! Then he can race again!

Storm turns around to see Lightning stumbling behind him, confused. Storm pulls him toward where Lightning’s car is parked, near Luigi’s garage. They’ll need to take Lightning’s car since Storm’s is getting fixed. They need to bring his car anyway if it’s going to be modified.

Storm turns to see Mater, Luigi and Guido standing in front of the tire shop. They all give him a curious expression, and Storm remembers that he’s grinning like a madman, pulling Lightning behind him. Storm let’s go of Lightning’s arm once they reach the shop.

“Hey, guys!” Mater greets.

“Hey,” Lightning says somewhat agitated.

Storm looks past them and sees Lightning’s car. Polished red and gold paint shining in the sun. The famous Rust-eze logo on the front and the signature Lightning bolts on the sides. Storm’s seen his car so many times. But he’s never really been this close to it. He’s never been inside of it. Storm turns to Guido. He was the one who drove Lightning’s car yesterday so he must have the keys.

“Guido give Lightning the keys.”

Guido complies, tossing the keys to Lightning.

“Hang on Storm.” Lightning says to him.

Storm doesn’t want to hold on. He wants to go now. Right now. The sooner they fix up Lightning’s car the better. Storm can see his plan falling into place perfectly now. He can do this.

“Why?! Let’s go now! It’ll only take a few hours!”

“We can’t just go now!” Lightning argues.

“Go where?” Mater interrupts. Which Storm is thankful for. If there’s anyone who could help him out with this he bets its Mater. He’s very close with Lightning, and he’s surprisingly perceptive.

“We’re going to make Lightning’s car faster! I know someone who can fix the engine up, without changing the car’s design or original manufacturing.” Storm says.

They all stare at him in shock.

Luigi is the first to speak. “What are you waiting for?! This is your chance! Go get a faster car Lightning!”

Lightning pauses. “I can’t just pick up and go! I’ve got things to do. Besides, I already quit racing. I don’t need to go back!”

Lightning yells the last part a little forcefully. Whether he’s angry because he can’t race any more or angry because Storm is trying to force him he doesn’t know. He hopes it’s the first thing.

Mater looks at him. “The choice is yours, Buddy. But what would Doc think? If he was here, and heard you had a chance to race again, but turned it down...well gee I think he’d be mighty disappointed in you.”

Storm watches Lightning’s resolve crumple at the mention of Doc. Who is he? Storm wonders. He must be someone important to Lightning if it’s enough to make him change his mind. Lightning sighs, and he turns to get into his car. Storm follows quickly, getting into the passenger side with a wide grin. Mater notices this and shoots him a smile.

Storm puts their destination into his phone and waits for it to load. This is perfect! Things are going smoothly for once! Storm thought there was something else troubling Lightning, something much more personal than just the speed of his race car. Otherwise, why would he quit? He’s never seen Lightning give up in any race before, so why would he start now? He doesn’t know if Lightning told the whole truth, but fixing his car will be the first step in getting Lightning’s racing career back. It is clear to Storm after hearing Lightning talk about how he can’t compete with the younger racers because his car wasn’t fast enough, that Lightning is in a weird state of mind right now. Maybe it’s because so many people are constantly asking him about retirement. Constantly reminding him of how old he is. Storm hates that. He hates the idea of people telling Lightning he needs to retire. He’s not even old! Just older than most racecar drivers. That wouldn’t even be the case if all Lightning’s friends didn’t give up before he did. Storm remembers seeing older racers like Cal Weathers and Bobby Swift on the track, then just like that they were gone. He raced against them maybe one time before they quit. Then Lightning was the only older racer left. Maybe that’s part of the reason he wanted to quit too.

Storm refuses to let Lightning quit like this. He refuses to watch Lightning McQueen, the greatest racer in history give up on his dream. He can’t let Lightning quit like this. He doesn’t want to see Lightning stop just because people believe he’s too old to race. He’s not going to give up, he can practically feel Lightning’s desire to race again. To prove to the world he isn’t finished. Storm wants to see that. He wants to make that happen.

Finally, the GPS loads and Storm puts it in the cup holder so Lightning can see it.

“Where are we going?” Lightning asks, staring at the GPS, Probably noticing how far their destination is.

“Nebraska.”

“Nebraska?” Lightning says, confused.

Storm nods. “That’s where we’ll go to make your car faster.”

Lightning stares at Storm before sighing. Apparently, he’s realized that he has to go. Otherwise, Mater and the rest of his friends, along with Doc, would be disappointed in him. Storm doesn’t particularly like that they needed to guilt Lightning into doing this...but then again if it’s the only thing that will make Lightning go then Storm thinks it’s necessary. Lightning starts the car and they pull out of the garage. In the rearview mirror, Storm can see Lightning’s friends waving him goodbye. They really care about him.

 

Once they leave Radiator Springs, Storm glances over at Lightning. If he is displeased about the 10-hour drive, his face doesn’t show it. Storm only sees Lightning’s eyes focused on the road ahead of him and his hands resting steadily on the wheel.

At first, it threw Storm off to see Lightning dressed so casually. He’s used to him always wearing his red and gold racing uniform. Always greeting fans with a wide grin or racing with a determined smirk on his face. Not used to him wearing blue jeans and a faded T-shirt sitting in a restaurant. Then Storm realized that even when he’s dressed casually Lightning still looks like a racer. He still looks like If at any moment there was a sudden need to race, it wouldn’t even faze him. Storm bets someone could put Lightning in the middle of god knows where and he would still be able to find his way wherever he needed to go, so long as he had his car. Storm likes driving, he loves driving. But, when Lightning’s driving it doesn’t look like he needs to think about it. It comes as naturally to him as breathing does. Love is too simple of a term to describe what driving is for Lightning.

Storm glances away, he’s been staring too long. He waits a few moments before he starts looking around the car in order to find a port.

“What are you looking for?” Lightning says glancing at Storm from the corner of his eye.

“Your USB port.” Storm says looking through different compartments in the front of Lightning’s car in order to find it.

“Oh, I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have a USB port in your car?” Storm asks in disbelief.

“I just never needed one.” Lightning answers.

“What?! How do you Navigate? Or listen to music in the car?” Storm questions.

“There’s a map in the glove compartment.” Lightning says, indifferent.

Storm pulls the map out of the glove compartment and stares at it. The text is very small and there’s no way Storm will be able to figure out the quickest way to get to Nebraska from it. How does he use this? Obviously, he doesn’t. He must know the roads around here like the back of his hand by now.

“Just pull over at the next convenience store we see. I’ll get a USB port and a charging cord once we stop.”

Lightning nods. While they continue driving Storm finds himself looking out the window. It’s still bright out, seeing as it’s late afternoon. Storm figures they’ll make it to Nebraska sometime tonight. 10 or 11pm.

Storm unconsciously plans out how things will go in the next few hours. Once they get to Charlie’s auto shop in Nebraska, Storm knows he’ll be able to figure out something in order to fix Lightning’s car. Storm’s known him all his life and he’s never seen Charlie get stumped by any type of car problem ever. The only real problem will be getting Lightning to agree to it, and to convince him to keep racing. For reasons Storm doesn’t understand, Lightning is reluctant to race again. Even though Storm knows he still wants to. So Storm will have to be smart about convincing him.

As they continue driving, he considers calling Charlie ahead of time to tell him of his visit but decides against it. Charlie likes to sleep in during the day, usually because he’s up all night tinkering with cars. Storm wants it to be a surprise anyway. He hasn’t seen Charlie in a while and Storm is just as excited to see him as he is to gets Lightning’s car fixed. It’s strange to think about the fact that Lightning is going to meet Charlie. He’ll have to if he wants to get his car fixed. It’s still strange. Almost like Lightning’s going to meet a member of his family. Though Charlie isn’t related to him, Storm much prefers Lightning meets him rather than his actual family.
And when he thinks about it, Storm’s met Lightning’s closest friends already. They seem more like a family though.

After a half hour or so they pull over to an empty gas station on the side of the road. Storm goes inside while Lightning fills up the car with gas. He quickly walks through the aisles scanning for a USB port and a cable. He grabs those and gets two bottles of water from the refrigerated section. On his way to the counter, Storm grabs a packet of sour gummy worms for himself. Sugar is his vice and he needs it to get through this. He gets a pack of pretzels for Lightning because he’s not sure what kind of snacks Lightning likes.

He places everything on the counter and watches as the middle-aged cashier raises an eyebrow at him.

“Roadtrip?” The man questions Storm before ringing his snacks up.

“Something like that”, he mutters. He grabs his bag from the counter and gets back into Lightning’s car. Lightning is waiting for him and Storm hands him a pack of pretzels along with a water. Lightning looks at them, surprised.

“...thank you,” He says and Storm nods.

Something Storm noticed with Lightning is how good-natured he was. Even if Lightning didn’t like him he was still so...nice to him. Overly nice. Very different from the rookie version of Lightning that Storm had seen plenty of. Storm had always seen him racing, but he looked different now. Lightning is more intense when he races. He looks intense before every race, not just the recent ones. Even when Lightning was still a rookie, that didn’t matter. He still challenged experienced racers with no hesitation. He was Lightning McQueen. The odds didn’t matter to him. He’s different now though.

It’s obvious that Lightning wasn’t going to keep the cocky and obnoxious attitude that he had as a rookie. Even though Storm actually liked him that way. He was obnoxious yes, but had every right to be. He was the youngest rookie ever to enter in a race for the piston cup. Lightning had been 18 when he entered. Storm had been 22 when he raced for his piston cup. That’s how old he was now.

 

Lightning was older now though, so it makes sense he acts differently. Age made him humbler. Or it could have been his friends. What Storm really doesn’t understand is why Lightning believes he’s too old to race. It baffles him completely. Lightning is only 35. He knows that for a fact. Which admittingly is old for a race car driver but he’s Lightning McQueen! He could race until he was eighty and people wouldn’t care. Granted it doesn’t help that Lightning acts like he’s 50 rather than 35. Storm can’t believe he uses a map for directions. Or the fact that he doesn’t have a charging port in his car.

Speaking of that Storm looks around in Lightning’s car before finding the charging station for the port underneath a compartment by the gear shift. Storm connects it to his phone so the battery doesn’t die. They’ve only been driving for about 2 hours now, and they probably have another 8 to go.

Storm doesn’t mind. He likes being in the car with Lightning. Normally he likes to be the driver, but he likes when Lightning drives. Storm never thought he’d be this close to him. He never thought he would get to sit in the car with him. Or sleep at his house. Or talk to him. Really talk to him.

He’s wanted to talk to Lightning for so long. And when he thought it would never happen Storm used to try and convince himself that Lightning was different in person. That he wasn’t this amazing idol Storm had grown up wanting to be. That it might have been a show for the cameras. But Lightning is exactly how Storm pictured him. He’s the same kind-hearted, humble, incredible racer that Storm pictured.

If only Lightning actually liked him. Lightning had not been subtle at all about his feelings towards Storm. Which is another reason Storm wants to get Lightning back on the race track. Storm won’t accept that it was his fault that Lightning quit racing. He can’t be the reason. Or else he’d never forgive himself. Besides, he’s too selfish for that. Storm doesn’t want Lightning to hate him.

To be fair it didn’t seem like Lightning completely hated him. He had still been polite to Storm. He rescued him from sleeping on the grass. He had cooked for him and gave him clothes. He had even washed his uniform for him. So if Lightning doesn’t hate him completely that at least gives Storm some time to improve Lightning’s opinion of him.

The drive had been pretty silent so far, uncomfortably so. Storm wonders what he could say. It’s evident that Lightning is still displeased with the fact that Storm is here. So Storm doesn’t think he should talk about himself. Instead, he tries to bring up something Lightning will like talking about.

“Who’s Doc?” Storm asks him quietly, remembering how it was the mention of Doc that made Lightning decide to go with Storm on this trip.

Lightning looks startled at the question, and his blue eyes turn to rest on Storm’s. Lightning looks at him for a moment, studying his expression, then glances back toward the road.

“Doc was...well he was a lot of things to me. He was my friend. My mentor. My crew chief. Doc was the reason I became such a good racer. He’s the reason I belong in Radiator Springs. Doc gave me a place in life. He gave me a family. Doc Hudson was one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.” Lightning says smiling.

The name Hudson rings a bell in Storm’s mind.

“Doc Hudson...so you mean the Hudson Hornet! The racer?!”

Lightning stares at him in disbelief. “You know about Doc?” Lightning asks.

“Of course I do! The Hudson Hornet was a fantastic racer! He won three piston cups! I knew he was your crew chief for a few years, I just never knew his first name.”

Lightning seems pleasantly surprised by this as he smiles.

Storm feels a surge of triumph. Finally, he’s said something to make Lightning like him.

It’s dark outside now and they stop once more with about an hour or so to go before they reach Charlie’s shop. Storm gets himself an energy drink at the gas station which Lightning raises his eyebrows at.

“So I still don’t understand what’s going to happen when we get to this place in Nebraska.”
Lightning says, eyes focused on the road.

“We’re going to see Charlie. He’s going to fix your car. Then you can race again.”

Lightning nods. He looks displeased with the short answers. Or perhaps something else. That’s all the information Storm can give him though. He truthfully doesn’t know what Charlie will do to the car, only that he’ll do his best to fix it.

They sit in silence for the remaining hour, before Storm sees the familiar building come into view. Now Storm is excited.

Lightning pulls the car into a parking space and Storm practically jumps out of the car, rushing to the door. He’s yelling as he opens it, calling out to him.

“Charlie?! It’s me!”

Storm sees Lightning walking a few steps behind him glancing around. Then Storm watches as a familiar face steps into view. It’s Charlie. He still looks the same as Storm remembers. Dark hair covered with grey strands. A friendly easy going grin. He holds his arms open.

“Jackson!” He calls out.

Storm rushes over to him. He is not one to blatantly show affection, but this is Charlie. Charlie practically raised him. Storm hugs him and notices Lightning staring at them in surprise. Charlie ruffles Storm’s hair, and steps back to look at him. He then notices Lightning and turns his attention toward him.

“Well, I’ll be. Mr Lightning McQueen himself!” Charlie says, offering Lightning a broad smile.

“Nice to meet you!” Lightning says holding out his hand. Charlie grips it and shakes it.

“Of all the racers I’ve seen you certainly are a skilled one.”

Lightning smiles at this and says thank you. Storm can tell Lightning likes Charlie. Which makes sense, considering everyone likes Charlie.

Charlie turns his attention to Storm. “So Jackson, what brings you and Mr Lightning McQueen up to my neck of the woods,” he says knowingly. Storm does visit him occasionally but usually, Charlie will fly to Florida to come see him. Storm rarely comes unannounced, and whenever he does it’s because of car trouble.

“We’re here to make Lightning’s car faster.” Storm says.

Storm watches Lightning step forward. “I’m sorry Mister…”

“Charlie! Call me Charlie.” He says upbeat. Storm is thankful Charlie has a likeable personality, otherwise Lightning might get angrier than he is now. Storm can tell he’s angry just by looking at him. He’s standing rigidly, maybe he’s offended that he needs to make his car faster.

“Charlie...I already told Storm I don’t want to get a new car. My car is special to me…I can’t race in another one. I don’t see how it’s possible to make my car faster. It’s not possible.” Lightning says, with a slightly strained voice.

“Well, sure it is!” Charlie says, completely ignoring Lightning’s certainty that it’s not possible.

Lightning blinks at him in confusion.

“Why, you should’ve seen Jackson’s car before we fixed it up. It was the most beat up thing I’d ever seen on wheels. But we fixed it up. Jackson came after school every day and worked on it. He made his car!” Charlie remarked, patting Storm on the back.

Storm felt pride rising in him. Charlie was always proud of him, but it felt nice to hear him talk about him like that, especially to Lightning.

Lightning blinks again and looks at Storm in confusion. Maybe he’s surprised Storm built his car.

Charlie interjects. “I’ll just take a look at your car so I can get a feel for the parts I’ll need to fix it up.”

With that, Charlie walks outside with some of his tools, leaving Storm and Lightning in the shop.

Storm turns toward Lightning to see that he looks rather tense. Actually, scratch that, he looks super tense. Like he’s going to pop. Suddenly he rounds on Storm, eyebrows furrowed and a frown on his face.

“I don’t understand you Storm!” Lightning yells.

Storm pauses. Jeez, that came out of nowhere. Normally Storm is good with comebacks but this really came out of the blue. Thankfully Charlie is far enough away not to hear them.

“What are you talking about?” Storm says, confused. He isn’t sure what he said to make Lightning so angry.

“I don’t understand you! Why are you doing this! Why are you trying so desperately to get me to race again! Is it just so you can humiliate me?! Huh?! Is that what you want? To make my car faster and make me believe I have a chance at winning so you can beat me all over again?! Do you hate me that much?!” Lightning yells, hands clenched at his sides.

Storm stands there frozen. He is unsure of what to say. Unsure what could possibly fix the situation, but Storm has never really been good with self-control. So he finds himself yelling right back.

“Seriously?! You think everything I’m doing is for my own gain! That I would help you become a racer again just to humiliate you! What kind of a person do you think I am Lightning!”

Lightning bristles at that. “I don’t know Storm! That’s what I’m trying to figure out! I’ve seen you be nice to Mater! To my friends in Radiator Springs! I’ve seen you show kindness so I know you’re capable of it. I’ve never seen you show me any courtesy! Is it just me you hate then?!” Lightning yells to him.

Storm’s heart seizes in his chest, and he reaches forward. Slender fingers wrap around Lightning’s arm.

“Come on!” Storm says pulling Lightning behind him. Storm leads them to the back door of the auto shop, and he can feel Lightning stumbling behind him. He releases Lightning’s arm but starts walking at a quick pace down the dirt road behind the shop. It won’t take long. Only a few minutes to get there.

Storm hears Lightning a few steps behind him, Demanding to know what it is they’re doing. Storm doesn’t answer, he just keeps walking.

After another few minutes of walking, they reach a small neighborhood.

“Storm! What are we doing here!?” Lightning whispers.

Storm doesn’t respond. He walks down the street. Towards the very last house on the road. The lights are off, and the house looks deserted. It’s a small house. Only one story.

Lightning walks a few paces behind him and says “Storm, I really don’t think we should be this close to other people’s houses.”

Storm doesn’t respond. He reaches down to worn doormat in front of the door and grabs the key from underneath. Still in the same place he left it.

Lightning is anxious behind him, murmuring that he shouldn’t be touching other people’s things.

Storm picks up the rusted key and puts it into the lock, turning it so that the door opens. He turns to Lightning then.

“You want to know why I want you to come back so badly? Why I want you to keep racing? Go inside. You’ll find out soon enough.”

Chapter Text

Lightning McQueen P.O.V

 

Lightning stands there in bewilderment. Why are they here? This house is small. It’s in poor condition too, like nobody’s taken care of it in a long time. Lightning doesn’t know what to make of it. He doesn’t know why they’re here. Who could possibly live here? He watches Storm open the door.

Is this his house? No, It can’t be. Lightning expected Storm to live in a mansion or something. Not here. Storm holds the door open and tells him to go inside. Lightning doesn’t know what to do. Storm seems angry, but more than that he seems...upset. Did Lightning hurt his feelings? Lighting ponders refusing to go inside, but Storm is insistent. Plus, now he’s curious to know what’s inside. He wants to see what could possibly be in here that would prove Storm’s reasoning for wanting him to race again.

The house is dark inside, all the lights are off. Lightning steps inside and Storm moves further into the house. Lightning steps in more, towards the center of the room. The living room, he thinks. Lightning’s foot hits something as he fumbles through the dark. He hears a metallic clang of something like a soda can. Storm turns on a light and the room is illuminated. The living room is small and cramped. There’s a beat-up looking recliner in the corner and an old TV on the other side of the room. Lightning looks down to see what he kicked and discovers it was an empty beer can. Upon closer examination, there are 6 or 7 others littered on the ground. Lightning has a bad feeling about this.

If this is Storms house...then why does it look like this? Lighting has so many questions. He wonders how long Storm lived here, in this musty house. He looks around rapidly, but everything looks bare to him. There are no pictures, no decorations. If not for the beer cans, Lightning would think this house was abandoned. He turns toward Storm, but his expression is unreadable.

“Why did you bring me here Storm?” Lightning asks.

“Follow me.” Storm says. Storm hits the light switch off again before turning down a hallway on the other side of the room. The hallway is small with only three doors in it. Lightning assumes Storm will stop eventually, but Storm is walking toward the door at the end of the hallway. Storm turns the knob open and steps inside into the darkness. Lightning follows.

Once they are both inside Storm shuts the door. Even in the pitch blackness Lightning can tell the room is small. Lightning fills a twinge of nervousness pool in his gut. He doesn’t like this. Storm moves past Lightning to hit another light switch on the wall, and once it turns on Lightning is in complete shock.

This tiny room is covered with well...him. There are posters with Lightning in his race car, There are framed newspapers on the walls with his wins printed in bold, there are printed photographs of races and more. Lightning can even see a little-framed piece of paper on the dresser with what looks like his signature.

He turns to Storm bewildered. He doesn’t know what to think at all. Lightning looks at Storm’s face to see him looking down at the ground with a faint tint of red on his cheeks.

Lightning watches as Storm takes in a breath then turns to him, grey eyes locked on his. Storm is shaking, his hands are clenched at his sides.

Storm opens his mouth.

“I have never. NEVER hated you for even one second in my life Lightning McQueen.” Storm says.

Lightning opens his mouth in surprise. He’s pretty sure he looks like a fish gasping for water right now, but Storm doesn’t seem to notice. He’s too busy staring at Lightning with the most intense look he’s ever seen.

Lightning’s mind is rapidly thinking of what to say. He feels like he’s grasping at straws to come up with an appropriate response here. Apparently, he can’t even do that because the next words that come out of his mouth are

“W-what about when you t-told me to enjoy my retirement! If you’re such a big fan why were you so eager to get rid of me Storm!”

Storm’s face turns quickly to confusion, then realization.

“That wasn’t me!” Storm yells out quickly. “That was Danny!”

Lightning pauses. That wasn’t...Storm? Lightning tries to think back to when they had raced against each other. He remembers Storm passing him, but he remembers another car passing him too. A purple one. He could hear the words “enjoy your retirement!” Mockingly said to him. Lightning had been so focused then. So desperate to gain control of the race again, that he didn’t really think about it at the time. Lightning had just assumed Storm was the one to say it. Could it have really been someone else? Lightning is responding again before he really thinks about it.

“Well...what about all that other stuff you said! Like how it was so nice to finally beat me?! Or how you acted so cocky even though you were just starting as a racer?!”

The look on Storm’s face is certainly not one Lightning expected. He expected Storm’s face to be red with anger, but Storm doesn’t look angry. Storm looks embarrassed. Storms head is tilted down now, but Lightning can still see the bright red shade of his face now. Storms hands come up to his face and he groans into them.

 

“I...I never said those things to piss you off. I...I just wanted you to think I was a good racer. I wanted you to take me seriously.” Storm murmurs through his hands.

This hits Lightning like a sack of bricks. The more he thinks about it, the more everything makes sense. Storm’s cocky attitude was so similar to his own that it was almost disturbing. It makes sense though, that if Storm had grown up admiring him as a racer, he would want to prove himself. Lightning feels a tremendous punch of guilt hit him. If Storm really was just trying to impress him, then jeez Lightning was way crueler than he initially thought he was being.

Lightning’s impression of him was so wrong, Storm wasn’t a rich, obnoxious, young racer that had his car bought by him for his parents. Judging by his house, Storm wasn’t rich. Storm built his car. It wasn’t handed to him. He made it. Storm worked for it, maybe because it was his dream to be a racer. Maybe when Storm was younger he wanted to be a racer just like Lightning did.

“Storm…” Lightning starts. “You don’t need to act like that to try and impress me.” He feels awkward saying it.

Storm nods and his face is still pink with embarrassment, eyes still downcasted at the floor. Lightning needs to make things better. He reaches out with his hand.

“Friends?” Lightning offers.

He watched as Storms looks at Lightning’s extended hand, and then up at his face. For a minute Storm looks at him like he’s surreal, but then he smiles. Storms hand reaches out to shake his own.

“Friends.” Storm says back, pink tint fading.

Lightning gives him a friendly grin.

They stand in Storm’s room awkwardly for a few more moments, before Lightning thinks they need something to ease the tension.

“Is that my autograph?” Lightning says, with a slight smirk directed at Storm.

Storms hand reaches up and smacks his face, and he groans into it. Lightning laughs.

The laughter is short lived though, because Lightning watches as Storm’s face twitches from embarrassment to concern. Lightning quiets down and sees that Storm is listening for something. Now that it’s quiet, he can hear the faint sound of tires crunching the gravel outside. Storm’s face morphs into one of slight panic, and he reaches up toward a window in his room. Storm pulls it open after a few tries, and luckily it looks big enough for them to fit through. Lightning watches Storm motion for him to climb out. On one hand, the lengths they are going to avoid whoever is in this car seems really extreme, on the other Storm seems determined not to encounter them.

Lightning thinks it’s best to trust Storm in this case. He doesn’t know what type of situation this is. Only that Storm looks extremely uncomfortable. Lightning climbs out the window and sees that Storm has shut off the lights in his room. This window leads to the backside of Storm’s house, so it is thankfully shielding them. Even so, Lightning can hear the front door open and watches as Storm exits the window quickly and gracefully. He must have done this before, Lightning thinks. Storm slides the window back into place quietly, and then he quickly walks over to the main road, putting distance between them and the house.

Lightning is curious about what just happened. Or rather, what had happened to make Storm so on edge, especially in his own house. It is clear though from one look at Storm’s face that he does not want to talk about it. So they spend the 10-minute walk back to the auto shop in silence.

Once they get back to the auto shop, Charlie is sitting at a stool inside. He has a piece of paper in his hand, but he looks at them when they enter. He gives Storm a look. Lightning can’t quite determine what it means, only that Charlie seems to know exactly where they just were.

“I’ve got good news. The car’s still in great condition for such an older model. I’m confident I can design a new mechanism for the engine. I actually have blueprints for a similar model so I can have the part ready in a few months..”

That baffles Lightning. Just how good Is this guy? Even a professional corporation would take at least half a year to come up with a good solution for his engine. That being said Storm’s car was significantly faster than the other next gen racers. If Charlie did help Storm create it no wonder Storm’s car is so impressive. Lightning’s surprised Storm introduced them. If Storm had a mechanic this good designing his cars, well he could be the fastest racer of all time. He’s shocked Storm doesn’t want to keep this information private. Then again, it’s not like Storm advertised it to the world. Storm has only told him, Lightning thinks.

“Thanks, Charlie! You’re the greatest!” Storm exclaims. He even gives Charlie another hug, which intrigues Lightning. Storm doesn’t seem like the type of person who likes contact.

Lightning moves forward to shake his hand again. He thanks him again, and offers to write him a check now which Charlie politely refuses.

“Let’s make sure this actually works before you pay me anything,” Charlie says, laughing.

Lightning insists on writing a check anyway just in case Charlie should need it for anything. Racing is one of the most important things in Lightning’s life. If there’s anything he can do to make his car faster, just for the sake of giving it one last try, Lightning will do it.

 

Charlie eventually accepts it, after much negotiation. They talk for a while longer about Lightning’s car and Charlie talks to Storm privately for a few minutes. Lightning feels like he shouldn’t intrude as it’s obvious Charlie and Storm are like family to each other. By the time they’re finished It’s pretty late at night now, around 3 in the morning. Lightning feels pretty tired, but hunger is outweighing that for now.

After realizing how late it is Storm says goodbye to Charlie and promises to call him once in a while. Lightning says goodbye as well, and Charlie gives him a friendly smile as they leave. Once they get back into Lightning’s car, Lightning asks Storm if he’s hungry.

This time Storm says yes, so Lightning doesn’t have to wait to listen if his stomach will growl to see if he’s lying or not. After driving down the road a few miles, they come to a 24 hour diner. Storm seems to be full of energy while Lightning feels like he’s going to pass out when he gets to the booth and sits down.

An older woman takes their order, and later brings back a stack of chocolate chip pancakes for Storm and a waffle with bacon for Lightning. Normally having breakfast twice in the day is something Lightning wouldn’t do, but seeing as it’s 3 in the morning it feels closer to breakfast time anyway.

Lightning watches as Storm puts an unhealthy amount of syrup on his pancakes, then quirks his eyebrows up at Lightning when he catches him watching. Storm seems happier now. He’s not wearing the crazy grin that he had earlier in the day or the warm smile he had on his face when he saw Charlie, but he looks like he’s enjoying himself.

Lightning is glad for that. The silent car ride here was too awkward for his taste.

Once the waitress brings their check, Lightning’s eyes feel super sluggish. He wants to sleep in this booth, and that’s how he knows he’s tired.

Once they pay, the walk outside to the car. The air is chilly out, and all Lightning wants to do is collapse into his warm bed, and pull the covers over himself.

Storm glances at Lightning while he digs the keys out of his pocket.

“Lightning...If you want. I could drive.” Storm says softly.

Lightning ponders the idea. His car is special to him. Very special. Only his close friends have driven it before. Mack was the only driver he trusted to transport it. Lightning’s race car means a lot to him, but Storm knows that already. Storm probably feels the same way about his own car, especially since he was the one who built it. A few days ago, Lightning wouldn’t even entertain the idea of allowing Storm to be near his racecar. Right now though Lightning feels like he can trust Storm. If they are going to be friends then they have to trust each other. Plus, Lightning doesn’t feel like driving for another ten hours. He passes the keys to Storm.

“Okay. You drive.”

Storm’s uncertain expression quickly changes and he gives Lightning a grin.

“You got it.” Storm answered.

Lightning goes to the passenger's side, which feels kind of strange. He doesn’t mind though, Storm knows what he’s doing.

After Storm starts the car, Lightning presses his head against the back of the seat. He thinks Storm turns the heat up because he feels the cool air be replaced with warmth. After a few more seconds he can barely keep his eyes open, but Storm looks steady on the wheel. Lightning thinks he’ll be fine, so he lets himself recline against the seat and shut his eyes.

Lightning wakes up to something shaking his arm. Storm - he realizes when his eyes open a crack. Lightning is still tired, but he forces himself awake. He looks at the clock, it’s 10:00 am. He feels that the car isn’t moving, so there must be some kind of problem. Lightning looks around and realizes that the car is right outside of his garage.

“I need your garage code.” Storm says to him, taking his hand away now that he sees Lightning is awake.

“Its 0095” Lightning murmurs, still kind of disoriented. How did Storm get here so quickly? He must have been speeding like crazy to make it back in only seven hours. Lightning sees a can of red bull in his cup holder. Maybe that’s why Storm was so full of energy. He was amped up on energy drinks.

Lightning hears his garage door open and watches Storm get back into the car to pull it into the garage.

“Were you speeding?” Lightning asks Storm. Lightning will speed occasionally. He’s always liked going fast, but Storm must have been really speeding if they’re already at Lightning’s house.

“Only when nobody was around,” Storm says, giving him a sideways grin.

Lightning nods. They were driving at 3 am from Nebraska to Arizona on backroads. Lightning doubts they encountered that many people. Which most likely meant Storm was pushing 160 in his car. Highly illegal and dangerous, but Lightning didn’t really care. It’s not Lightning’s place to lecture Storm about slowing down, especially when sometimes Lightning will go that fast. Besides, Lightning was glad to be home.

Once Storm pulls his car inside Lightning drags himself out of the passenger's side. He just slept for seven hours, but his car wasn’t exactly built for sleeping in. Lightning yawns and notices Storm looking around his garage.

More specifically, Storm is looking at the Piston cups in his garage. The sunlight lights up his garage enough so that the gold trophies are clearly visible, and Storm walks up to them.

“It’s your Piston cups…” Storm mumbles, looking at them in amazement.

“Yeah…” Lightning mumbles awkwardly. Storm’s admiration for him, previously closeted is something new to Lightning. He’s had fans before, but not like Storm. Storm who at first gave off the cocky impression that he was far superior to Lightning, who now was standing in front of Lightning’s trophies in awe.

“Why aren’t they inside? Or displayed? You can barely see them in here” Storm says, frowning.

Storm said that like it was a grave sin that the trophies were out in the garage rather than in his house.

“I think that was the idea.” Lightning says.

Storm looks at him like the idea of not wanting to have his trophies displayed in a more visible location was unfathomable.

Lightning puts his hand behind his head and rubs his neck. “My um...girlfriend. Or she was my girlfriend. Uh...Sally didn’t want them in the house.”

Storm gives him a look like he can’t possibly believe the thought that there is anyone out there who wouldn’t want to see Lightning’s trophies. Lightning takes the opportunity to open the door to his house. He doesn’t really want to talk about this. Sally is a bit of a sore subject for him.

Lightning holds the door open for Storm and shuts the garage door. Lightning wants to go back to sleep, and he thinks Storm will want to eventually. He grabs more clothes for Storm and hands them to him in the hallway. Storm says thank you to him and Lightning nods. He hasn’t thought about what he’s going to do about racing again. Now that he knows his car has the potential to be faster...well that changes everything.

Lightning shuts the blinds in his room so it’s dark enough to sleep. He curls up under the covers and sighs when his back hits the soft mattress instead of the rigid seat of his car. Lightning decides all this thinking is a job for future Lightning, and he goes to sleep.

After Lightning sleeps for a few hours he wakes up in the middle of the day. The sun is shining through the cracks in his blinds on Lightning sees his phone resting on the table from when he left it earlier. He sees a call from Mater, another from Luigi. He calls them both and lets them know he made it back okay, and was just sleeping in. He figures Mater will decide to show up sooner or later to see about how getting Lightning’s car checked out went.

 

Lightning rouses himself from his bed after that and hops into the shower. Once he’s finished, he grabs a towel from the closet and wraps it around his waist. He forgot to bring clothes with him in the shower when he went in earlier. Normally Lightning will just get changed in his room anyway. He steps out of the bathroom and sees Storm sitting on the couch in the living room.

“Not tired yet?”

Storm turns around and he coughs a little bit. Lightning sees that he’s holding a glass of water so he guesses he startled Storm while he was drinking. His face looks kind of red to Lightning, probably because he can’t breathe.

Storm coughs again and hits himself on the chest. “No, I um. *cough* think I had too many Red Bull’s.”

Lightning nods. He didn’t think Storm had more than one but that explains why he’s not sleeping now.

Lightning walks back to his room to get changed, using his towel to dry his hair. Once he’s done he walks out into the living room and sits on the couch next to Storm.

Storm looks like he recovered from being startled earlier, as his face is no longer red from coughing.

“Are you okay?” He asks just to be sure.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Storm replies, nodding enthusiastically.

Storm almost seems more awkward around Lightning now. Then again if he idolized Lightning throughout his childhood, it’s probably weird for Storm to be sitting in Lightning’s house.

Now that Lightning thinks about it, Storm must have been thrilled to drive his car. Lightning is a racer after all, and Storm had most likely watched him race when he was younger.

A few seconds later Lightning hears the doorbell ring. He looks outside to see Mater, Luigi and Guido all waiting to be let in. Lightning opens the door.

Luigi and Mater are clearly eager to hear about how the trip went, and Guido just seems to be his usual self. Storm looks up as they enter. He looks tired now, with heavy bags under his eyes. Storm’s sleep schedule the past few days must have been completely off track.

After Lightning and Storm fill everyone in, they all seem ecstatic. Even Guido’s face lights up in a small smile once he hears the news that Lightning has the chance to race again. Everyone is sure about it...except for him. Lightning still isn’t sure. Even though Storm isn’t his rival, he’s still a pretty intense competitor. Not to mention the other next generation racers. Then there’s Cruz, who Lightning promised to be her crew chief.

Nobody can sense Lightning’s doubts. Not until Guido and Luigi go home and Storm decides he’s finally too tired to stay awake. Once Storm goes back into Sally’s old room, Mater glances at him.

They sit in comfortable silence for a few moments before Mater breaks it.

“Hey, buddy. I know everyone else is pretty excited about this. But what about you? How do you feel?”

Lightning is a little surprised by this. Sure he and Mater talk all the time. It’s rare for them to have a real heartfelt discussion though. Mater mostly jokes his way through things, and Lightning isn’t one to share personal information readily.

“I’m not sure Mater. I feel kind of conflicted about everything. I mean I quit racing already. It would look strange if I suddenly came back with a faster car. All the other racers are going to be so much younger than me...their cars will all be higher tech too. Not to mention there’s Cruz. I told her I would be her crew chief.

“How do you feel about it Lightning?” Mater asks him sincerely. It’s not often that Mater calls him Lightning. He usually calls him buddy or pal. Or McQueen. That’s how he knows Mater is being serious with him.

“Do you want to be a racer again?”, Mater asks.

“More than anything…” Lightning whispers.

Mater’s eyes soften and he puts a hand on Lightning’s shoulder.

“Then you should do it.” He says giving Lightning’s shoulder a squeeze.

“I know...I know I should try again but...should racing really be the most important thing in my life? I mean you saw how things turned out with Sally…”

“Listen Lightning. What happened with Sally wasn’t your fault. She wanted you to be someone you’re not.”

Lightning nods. Thinking about Sally makes his chest hurt.

“I’ll go. I’ll go back to the training center. I have to go anyway if I’m going to help Cruz.”

Mater nods. “Storm will be thrilled.” He says giving Lightning a smile.

Lightning rolls his eyes. “Come on pal. Dinner’s on me.” Mater says putting an arm around his shoulder and steering him out of the house. Storm doesn’t seem like he’ll wake up for a while so they leave him be.

He and Mater go to one of the more popular restaurants in Radiator Springs, up on the top of a canyon. Lightning remembers coming here with Sally quite often. He also remembers Mater inviting himself on a lot of their dates.

Luigi and Guido meet them there, and he fills them in on his decision.

“I’m glad you decided on doing this Lightning. Doc would be proud” Luigi says with an infectious smile.

“And we’re all coming with you.” Guido adds.

“What?! You guys don’t have to do that! I mean, who knows if I’ll even be able to get my spot back. Even if I do, I’m not sure when or where the next race will be...I’m not even sure I’ll be able to win and I…”

“Lightning. We’re coming with you.” Mater says, smiling at him.

“Yeah what’s a racer without his pit crew.” Guido says.

“And the manager of team Lightning!” Luigi chimes in.

“And his best friend!” Mater says, mouth forming into that signature Mater grin.

Lightning smiles at them all, and he feels so happy that everyone will be joining him once more. Even if this time he tries and fails. Even if this time there aren’t any crazy spies or explosions or obnoxious foreign racers. He knows they’ll always have his back. At the end of the day, what Lightning values more than anything else, is that he has such amazing friends.

Chapter Text

Jackson Storm P.O.V

 

Storm ends up sleeping longer than he means to. He knows that because when he checks his phone on the bedside table, he notices what day it is. He’s slept for sixteen or so hours. He was just so tired. The sugar and caffeine rush came to a crashing halt after a while, and he could barely keep his eyes open.

He lays in bed for a minute before getting up. This is Storm’s second night sleeping here, and because he was so tired the other night he didn’t have that much time to explore. Storm takes the time to search the bedroom. He still can’t believe he’s inside Lightning’s house. It feels so strange being here, but he likes it. Lightning’s house is nice too, It’s big. He continues his innocent exploration of the room and turns toward the dresser on one side. He sees a picture frame inside one of the drawers when he opens it. Storm pulls it out to examine it and notices It’s covered in dust. When he wipes it off he sees Lightning standing next to some girl. In the picture, Lightning looks younger, like he’s in his mid-twenties. The girl next to him is pretty. She is not to Storm’s taste, but she is good looking. She’s smiling wide, and she has vibrant blue eyes. Not blue like Lightning’s, they don’t look as friendly. She’s got long brown hair, and she looks slim in the picture. Storm can see why Lightning liked her. Young Lightning has his arm around her and is beaming brightly at the camera. He sees writing on the bottom of the picture. “Me and Sally 2006.” 2006! He’s known her that long?

Storm feels a tendril of jealousy coil in his stomach. He shakes it away. After all, “Sally” isn’t here now. She and Lightning clearly aren’t on good terms if he shoved the picture of them together into a drawer so he didn’t have to look at it. Storm tries to keep the smile on his face at bay. He shouldn’t be happy that things didn’t work out between them, but he is. Besides, what kind of girlfriend was she if she didn’t even let Lightning keep his trophies in the house. His House.

Storm tucks the frame back into its original spot and shuts the drawer. Good timing too, because he hears a knock on the bedroom door. He watches Lightning open it and greet him. He hands Storm another set of clothes and tells him he can shower if wants to.

Once Lightning leaves, Storm showers quickly. He dresses in Lightning’s clothes again. He’s given Storm another pair of faded jeans and a T-shirt. He likes wearing Lightning’s clothes. They feel loose and comfortable on him, very different from his normal attire of tight pants and dark clothing. Storm brushes his teeth with Lightning’s spare toothbrush and sweeps a hand through his hair before going out to the kitchen.

Lightning is sitting at the kitchen table when Storm comes out, and he’s reading a newspaper. He smiles at Storm, Storm smiles back. Now that Lightning no longer despises him, things have been very pleasant.

Lightning has a glass of orange juice on the table, and he pours a glass for Storm.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Storm’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He sees another missed call from Tony. Great. He silences his phone. He’ll deal with that later. Lightning notices but doesn’t say anything.

He tells Storm they’ll need to go into town and check on his car. Storm nods, and a few minutes later they begin the walk into town. Radiator Springs is a smaller town than Storm is used to. It’s not bad though. It gives off a friendly atmosphere. This is the type of town where everybody knows everybody, and most of the locals seemed welcoming to him now.

Storm even sees the firefighter who ran from him a few days ago give him a shy wave. Storm waves back. Lightning leads him back to the auto shop in the center of town. He thinks the man’s name is Ramone, and he’s got an interesting hairstyle. His hair is dyed yellow, orange and red. It looks like he tried to make it look like flames, but the tips are dyed purple. It’s an interesting look for sure and Storm admires the fact that he can pull it off.

Once Storm surveys his race car he can see Ramone did an excellent job repairing all the nicks and scratches his car’s paint job suffered from. It looks brand new to Storm. He gets into the car and starts it, pleased to find out it's running smoothly again.

“Thank you so much.” Storm says, shaking Ramone’s hand. Storm’s car being damaged did provide a convenient reason for him to stay in town, but Storm is glad it’s fixed. His race car is very precious to him.

Storm ends up making a check out to Ramone to pay for his car, and Ramone says he’d be honored to give Storm a fresh coat of paint whenever he wanted. He also tells Storm to contact him if he ever wants to do something different with the design.

Storm agrees, and then he and Lightning leave the shop to head to the diner in Radiator Springs. Apparently, this is one of Lightning’s favorite spots to go to. Once they’re inside Storm sees a lot of familiar faces from the town. He also sees an older looking woman behind the counter. He assumes this is Flo because the diner is named Flo’s V8 Cafe. Lightning tells him Flo is Ramone’s wife.

She walks up and introduces herself to Storm, smiling politely at him. Storm smiles back. He’s relieved the people in this town like him. He has a difficult time with good first impressions, that much is obvious from how Lightning completely hated him. Flo takes their breakfast orders, and this time they sit at the bar, instead of in a booth.

After a few minutes Mater joins them, giving Storm a friendly smile and clapping Lightning on the back. Storm likes Mater. He’s more aware of things than Storm initially gave him credit for. He’ll have to be cautious of what he says from now on. When Flo brings their food out, Storm digs into his french toast and he puts whipped cream on top of it. He isn’t really paying attention to his surroundings. He can hear the idle chatter of other customers in the diner, he can hear the TV in the corner and he catches bits and pieces of the conversation Lightning and Mater are having. It isn’t until Lightning taps him on the shoulder and tells him to look up at the TV that Storm notices something is out of the ordinary.

Storm sees a reporter talking with Natalie certain.

“The whereabouts of Jackson Storm, the up and coming next generation racer are currently unknown. After speaking with his trainer and numerous witnesses it’s been revealed that Storm recklessly left the Florida 500 track after the race was finished. Numerous reports have come in from people claiming they’ve seen Storm driving through the midwest in his race car, but it is unknown whether this information is true. All we do know is that Storm better start training before his next race, or things might not be looking good for this young racer.” With that, the program ends, and Storm finds that most of the people in the diner are staring at him, including Mater and Lightning.

“Storm?! You didn’t tell anyone where you were going?” Lightning asks, loudly.

Storm shrugs. “It didn’t seem important. The public doesn’t need to know where I am.”

Lightning groans and puts his head in his hand. “You could have at least told your trainer.”

Lightning is right. Storm should have at least let Tony know where he was going, but he didn’t want to. Storm wanted to come get Lightning on his own. He didn’t want all the craziness of the press figuring it out, and Tony wasn’t exactly the best at keeping his mouth shut.

“Well, you know what this means Lightning,” Mater says.

“What?”

“We’ll just have to get Storm back to Florida as soon as we can. We’ll actually have to get you both there Lightning, especially if you’re going to train too.”

Storm beams at him. “You’re going to come back?!”

Mater chimes in. “He sure is! Right buddy?”

Lightning hums in acknowledgement. “Yes, I’m going. I’m still not sure about being a racer again...but I’m going. We’ll see how things go. I need to talk with Cruz anyway.”

That answer isn’t perfect, but it’s sure as hell better than nothing. Now at least Lightning is not opposed to the idea of going back to Florida.

“We’re going too.” Storm hears from behind him. He turns around to see Luigi and Guido standing behind him. Their ability to appear seemingly out of nowhere is very puzzling to Storm. He’s also confused on how they know what’s going on even after only catching the endings of conversations.

Nevertheless, Storm is pleased. If Lightning’s friends are there with him, Storm knows he’ll be more compelled to race. Especially if they’re supporting him. Mater says he’s coming along too, which is even better. Storm likes this guy, and he thinks he can count on him to make sure Lightning gives racing another try. Not to mention Lightning will need a capable pit crew team once he starts racing again.

When the five of them finish eating they make plans to leave Radiator Springs tomorrow morning. It’s a little sudden to Storm but he’s not complaining. He’s just glad Lightning is actually going to come with him.

Once they get back to Lightning’s house Lightning makes arrangements with his truck driver Mack. Lightning tells Storm that Mack can take both of their cars down to Florida in his truck, and Storm and Lightning will drive down in Lightning’s other car. It’s not a race car, which means it won’t go nearly as fast. Storm doesn’t mind. He likes being in the car with Lightning. Luigi and Guido are apparently going to drive down in their own car and Mater is going to take his tow truck. Lightning informs him that Mater hates not having his tow truck and as a result, the rusty vehicle accompanies him everywhere.

 

Lightning spends the rest of the day packing various things into different suitcases. He packs rather light, but Storm figures Lightning has done this before. He knows what he’ll need. Besides, he can buy whatever he doesn’t bring in Florida. Storm takes the aux cord and the charging port out of Lightning’s racecar before they load it into Macks truck. He wants to show Lightning the joy of playing music in the car.

Once Lightning and Storm’s race cars have been safely secured inside Macs truck, Lightning and Storm spend the rest of the day planning for the trip to Florida. First, they load up the car with Lightning’s various belongings. Next Lightning communicates with the others about what routes to take and things like that. Lightning tells Storm he wants to leave early to drive as much as possible even though he has no intention of making it there with no sleep like Storm tried to do. Storm argues that he got a solid six or so hours combined and Lightning argues he’s not going to consume dangerous quantities of Redbull in order to get there faster.

Later on, Lightning cooks dinner for them. Storm wonders when he learned to do that. So far there does not seem to be anything Lightning isn’t good at. After they eat Storm insists they go to a convenience store to pick up road trip snacks. Lightning argues that junk food isn’t really good “Road trip” food but he eventually caves and drives them there because he needs gas. Lightning eyes Storm’s bag full of snacks suspiciously but doesn’t try to open it.

When they get back to Lightning’s house, Lightning hands Storm his folded racing uniform to make sure he doesn’t forget it. Lightning also gives him a bag to put some of his, and Lightning’s things inside for Storm to use.

Lightning retires to bed early because he plans on making it as far as they can tomorrow before he gets too tired. Storm accepts this and spends the next few hours in Lightning’s guest bedroom procrastinating on sleep. He texts his cousin Kelly, updating her on everything that happened. Storm doesn’t want her to worry about him as no doubt she’s been watching the news updates about his whereabouts. Storm also takes the opportunity to call his trainer and tell him he’ll be back in Florida in a few days and that he’ll get back to training as soon as he can.

After that Storm just spends some time listening to music and watching youtube videos, he eventually falls asleep.

 

When Storm wakes up he sees that it’s 9am. He doesn’t know if he’s slept in past Lightning’s desired time to leave but he suspected Lightning would wake him up if he did. When Storm wakes up he finds another change of clothes waiting for him outside the door. He changes quickly, stopping in the bathroom to brush his teeth and tidy himself up. He makes the bed in the guest room before he leaves, and is careful to make sure he remembers all of his belongings.

When he enters the kitchen he sees Lightning sitting at the table drinking coffee. He glances up at Storm when he enters and holds a doughnut out to him.

“Ready to go?” Lightning asks.

Storm nods and takes the doughnut from him.

He’s surprised Lightning got doughnuts seeing as he doesn’t like junk food. Or maybe he does like it and has it every so often? Storm doesn’t know.

Lightning goes to make sure all the lights are off in his house and he double checks to make sure all the windows and doors are locked. Storm doesn’t think anyone will try to break into his house in this town, but it’s probably better to be safe than sorry. Lightning shuts the garage door after he pulls the car out of it and then they are ready to go.

Once Lightning starts driving and they leave behind the small town of Radiator Springs, Storm finds himself a little sad that they’re leaving. He likes it there, Storm hopes he’ll be able to go back someday. He imagines Lightning also feels sad about leaving, but at least some of his friends are going to come with him to Florida. The sadness fades soon after that as the prospect of he and Lightning racing together again becomes more of a reality with each mile they drive.

He wants to know more about Lightning. He’s learned a lot about him from staying in his house. Storm wants to know more though. He never thought he’d get the opportunity to be this close to Lightning. Now that he is, he wants even more.

They drive for another few miles when Storm breaks the silence with “let’s play a game.”

Lightning raises who’s eyebrows quizzically for a minute, then says “ISpy?”

ISpy is an admittingly hard game to play in the desert. As there is really not much around them other than rocks and sand.

They have fun anyway, and both of them are decent at it.

After they spend a few hours playing various different car games Storm thinks it’s about time he introduces Lightning to the AUX cord.

Lightning is older so Storm thinks his 80’s playlist is a good choice for now. When Storm sets up his phone to blast popular 80’s hits he can tell Lightning is surprised by how loud it is.

Lightning doesn’t try to turn it down or off though, so Storm thinks he likes it. He looks over at Lightning a few times when different songs come on and he can see him mouthing along with the words silently. Lightning’s speed goes up a little bit too, which is what Storm does when he’s driving and blaring music too.

They listen to music for hours before it gets dark outside. They’ve probably driven for 12 hours if Storm had to guess, and they stopped at a decent amount of convenience stores and fast food restaurants during that time.

They stop at another store when Lightning insists he can keep going if he drinks coffee. When they stop Storm gets an energy drink and a pack of starburst. Lightning laughs at him while he’s standing at the counter.

“What’s funny?” Storm huffs.

“You eat like a six year old. That’s like your fourth pack of candy today.”

“I need sugar. It keeps me awake.” He says back. If Lightning thinks four packs of candy is bad then he’d be shocked to find out how much junk food Storm actually consumes.

“That’s not healthy.” Lightning says wrinkling his nose.

“Says the coffee addict.”

“Hey! It’s not an addiction! I’ve just been driving a long time.” Lightning protests.

Storm gives him a sarcastic nod and he watches Lightning glare at him before deciding to just get back in his car.

They drive a few more hours and Storm sees on the GPS they’re roughly a quarter of the way through Texas. They left Radiator Springs early this morning, and now its late at night. Lightning’s been driving for around 15 hours. Eventually Lightning gets tired and Storm wonders if he’ll ask him to drive. Instead of this though he calls Mater from his cell phone saying they’re going to stop at a hotel.

This is news to Storm. For some reason, the possibility of staying overnight at a hotel didn’t occur to him. Even though logically it made sense, Storm just thought they would keep driving. He hears Mater tell him that’s a good idea and he’ll do the same thing once he gets closer. Apparently Mater, Luigi and Guido are a few hours from where they are. That’s not surprising as Lightning had been speeding for most of the drive.

Stopping at a hotel does seem like a good idea though because Lightning’s eyes are starting to shut and he just finished his coffee.

Once they pull up to a random hotel in Texas, Lightning shuts off the car and grabs a backpack from it. Storm follows him into the Lobby and up to the front desk. Storm stands a few feet behind him as Lightning talks to the woman at the front desk.

Storm waits for Lightning to finish so he can get his own room. Once Lightning gets his key Storm walks up to the desk but hears Lightning say something to him.

“What are you doing?” He asks.

“I’m getting a room.” Storm states. That should be obvious.

“I already got us a room.” Lightning says.

Storm stares at him in confusion before giving him a jumbled response.

“O-oh...ok.”

Storm mentally kicks himself for the response he gave. Lightning doesn’t notice. He’s busy leaning against the elevator with his eyes shut as they wait for it to go to their floor. Storm wonders if Lightning even notices what he just did. He doubts Lightning gave the implications of them staying in the same room more than a second of thought. Not like Storm’s doing. Nervousness pooling in his mind. He was nervous to stay in Lightning’s house too, but that was different. There he wasn’t in the same bedroom as Lightning. When Lightning opens the door to their room Storm sees that there are two beds. He figured that would be the case, but he’s still way more on edge than he usually is. Lightning doesn’t notice though, he’s too tired to. Lightning goes to use the bathroom and change while Storm sits on the bed anxiously. He shouldn’t be anxious about this, Lightning certainly isn’t. Besides, it’s normal for two guys to share a room.

When Lightning comes out of the bathroom he hands Storm more clothing from his bag before flopping down on his bed. When Storm comes out of the bathroom after showering and changing Lightning is already asleep.

Storm lays in his bed and stares at the ceiling. Falling asleep right now is a futile task though. He can’t fall asleep when he’s listening to Lightning’s soft breathing. It’s not loud or anything, but it’s the only thing Storm can hear now.

He turns on his side to look at him. Storm never thought he would really be this close to him. All he ever wanted was to race next to him, but now that Lightning is this close, now that he knows him. Storm finds himself desiring more. He shouldn’t. He knows that. He knows that but he can’t stop his mind from conjuring up wild fantasies and desires that he shouldn’t think of. It’s not as easy to bury them down though. Not when Lightning is in the bed next to him.

He takes a deep breath in and shuts his eyes. It’s difficult to sleep at first, but he forces himself to.

 

When he wakes up Lightning is sitting up in his bed, and he’s looking at his phone. Storm didn’t notice at first, but it’s not a smartphone. It’s a flip phone, it looks like one an eighty year old man would have.

“What kind of phone is that?” He says, and Lightning turns his head toward him.

“Oh, I’m not sure. I think it’s a Samsung…”

Storm stares at him. He hasn’t seen anyone use a flip phone in years, he doesn’t know how Lightning makes do with it. Storm listens to music on his phone every day, he could never use a flip phone.

Lightning doesn’t seem bothered by it though. Storm knows he has enough money to buy a smartphone, so he must just not want one.

“Let’s go to breakfast.” Lightning says, offering him a smile.

When Storm looks at the clock on the table next to him he finds its closer to dinner than breakfast, but he gets up anyway. Last night they had driven well past the later hours of the night, and now they had slept in till late afternoon. Once he’s changed, he and Lightning walk downstairs to the lobby.

When they get there he can see Mater, Luigi and Guido sitting at a table.

Luigi looks dead tired, but Mater and Guido look full of energy. When they sit everyone greets them. Lightning immediately starts conversing with his friends and asks them how the drive was.

Guido responds that it would have been better if Luigi hadn’t been so adamant about them not breaking the speed limit.

Lightning laughs at them as they bicker, and Storm turns to see Mater take a sip of his apple juice and raise his eyebrows at Storm.

Storm raises them back and gives Mater a questioning glance.

Mater’s eyes move quickly. Resting on Storm then switching to Lightning then back to Storm. Storm might have missed it were he not staring right at him. Storm looks down quickly, pretending he doesn’t understand what Mater is doing.

That doesn’t work out well though, because when he risks taking a glance at Mater again, Mater is looking right at him. Mater gives him a smirk. He knows something. Storm feels his stomach knotting and heat beginning to pool in his cheeks. He turns away and thankfully Lightning engages Mater in a conversation. Storm takes the opportunity to get up and pour himself a bowl of cereal.

He needs to calm down. Stop overreacting. Mater doesn’t know anything. There’s nothing for him to know because Storm isn’t hiding anything. He puts milk in his cereal and sits down at the table. Mater leaves him alone for the rest of their “breakfast”, and before long everyone is making plans to get back on the road again.

He and Lightning go back upstairs to gather their things and they meet with everyone outside the hotel. This time they all have a plan to stop driving earlier in the night so everyone can get more rest.

Once they’re back in Lightning’s car on the road they listen to music for a while, before Storm wants to say something. He wants to have a conversation with Lightning. To hear more about his life. He starts with something simple. He doesn’t want to go too personal yet. He wants to respect Lightning’s privacy, ease into things slowly.

“How’d you learn to cook?” He asks.

Lightning looks up from driving. He looks surprised that Storm asked, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Now that they’re friends he’s been in a significantly brighter mood around him.

“Well, when I was just starting as a racer, I ate a lot of terrible food. Candy, cookies, chips, all sorts of unhealthy food because it was easy and cheap. I used to have a really bad TV in my first apartment. It had a total of three channels that weren’t filled with static. One of those was the cooking channel. So whenever I finished racing or training to race I would just go to my apartment and turn on the cooking channel. Then I would try to cook stuff.”

Storm listens intently. He likes hearing Lightning talk about his life. Lightning is so famous and successful now, that Storm forgets there was a time in his life where things weren’t easy for him. He admires Lightning for that. Not that many eighteen year olds are able to live completely on their own like Lightning did.

Lightning also informs him that many of his first attempts ended terribly. Like when he had tried to cook a chicken in the oven his first time it had blackened so badly that his entire apartment complex needed to evacuate because the smoke was so strong.

The conversation continues after that. Lightning asks things about him. Nothing too personal. They ask each other simple things. They talk about racing, about music, about cooking. It’s a nice conversation, and Storm doesn’t realize how long it actually ends up lasting until he sees it starts to get dark outside.

They stop somewhere to get coffee for Lightning and once they get back on the road again Lightning asks him another question.

“How long did you watch me race Storm?” It’s more personal than the questions have been so far, but Storm doesn’t even entertain the idea of not answering.

“Always. I watched you right from the beginning. I was five when I saw you race for the first time. You were younger then too. It wasn’t a big race either, not for the Piston Cup. It was an off season one, just for fun. Then when you raced against experienced racers and won, everyone could see your potential.”

Lightning nods and gives him a bright smile. “I remember that race! That was so long ago too! Back when I was just starting. Things were so different then...even my car looked different. I’m surprised you remember it being so young.”

Storm nods. He’s glad Lightning is pleased with his answer rather than creeped out. It must have been weird for him to see how much Storm worshipped him when he was younger. But Lightning doesn’t look like it bothers him at all. He actually looks happy that Storm remembers one of his first races.

The rest of the drive to the hotel is easy after that. Things are no longer awkward between them, which Storm is happy about.

When they arrive Storm help’s Lightning take in two of his bags for tonight. Once they check into another room and crash on the beds they discover its much earlier than the time they went to bed last night. Storm isn’t tired yet, and by the looks of it, neither is Lightning. He turns on the TV and flips through the channels to find a movie they can watch.

They tune into that for a few hours, before Lightning gets a call from Mater saying he’s here. Storm and Lightning go downstairs to the Lobby to great him, and they are all hungry enough to decide to go out for food. Mater says Luigi and Guido are not that far behind him, so they can meet them wherever they decide to get dinner.

 

Once they pick a restaurant Storm spends a considerable amount of the dinner attempting not to look at Mater. Despite this, he gives Mater a brief glance and sees that he’s no longer wearing a smirk. Just a regular smile. It’s unsettling to Storm. Mater is much more perceptive than he thought at first. He says nothing though, and even when he and Storm are alone at the table for a few moments he still says nothing.

 

Lightning is in an upbeat mood as usual, which Storm likes. It’s refreshing to have him around. Storm likes being with him.

 

Later, when everyone finishes dinner they go back to the hotel. Lightning is not as tired tonight, so he showers before going to bed. When he emerges from the bathroom Storm can see his damp blond head start to curl. Lightning’s hair is nice. It’s blonde, but not too intense. It’s almost golden, like the colors on his uniform. It looks soft.

Lightning turns to him. He takes a deep breath before he speaks.

“Storm...I know you want me to race again. I want that too...it’s just...if things don’t work out I don’t want you to be upset.

Lightning speaks with an almost strained voice. Like he’s worried he will fail. Storm doesn’t like this. He wants to see the confident Lightning McQueen that no one could beat. Seeing him like this makes him more relatable, but Storm likes when he’s confident. That’s the Lightning he wants to race against.

“I won’t be upset, because I’ll have no reason to be. I know you can do it Lightning.

Lightning brightens visibly, and it’s clear Storm’s words will have a positive effect on him.

“Right. Right, I can do this.” Lightning says with a smile.

Storm knew he said the right thing. Lightning is a confident person. Age and other racers have brought his confidence levels down, but he’s still the same racer he always ways. Storm knows Lightning can do this.

With that, Lightning turns off the lights in the room. He falls to sleep minutes later, leaving Storm at peace with his thoughts and Lightning’s soft breathing.

Storm is not nervous. He knows exactly what to do. He will help Lightning get his racing number back. Tomorrow they will go to the training center. Lightning will talk with his sponsors and get his racing number back. Then, he and Storm will race against each other, just like he always wanted.

...Originally the plan seemed perfect. But now Storm can feel himself asking, what then? He feels himself yearning. Unconsciously desiring more than he should. He wants to be more than a friend. He’s wanted that for a long time. He lets himself hold onto the desire in the back of his mind, but it will not distract him from his goal.

Lightning will race again.

Storm goes to sleep soon after.

Chapter Text

Lightning McQueen P.O.V

 

When Lightning wakes up he glances at the bed next to him and sees Storm sprawled out on it. Lightning can see his lanky figure curled up under the sheets. Storm’s turned towards Lightning, and his long black bangs are covering his face.

Storm likes to sleep. It’s Something Lightning’s discovered while he’s been with him. It makes sense considering Storm drinks energy drinks to stay up for unholy amounts of time until he pushes himself to the brink of exhaustion. He’s also young. Lightning doesn’t know how old he is, but when Lightning was younger he remembers sleeping for half the day if racing tired him out.

That being said he lets Storm sleep. They aren’t far from Florida at all now. It should only take them another two to three hours to get to the training center from here. Lightning changes his clothes once he goes into the bathroom. Storm is still sleeping heavily when he comes out so he leaves him be.

When Lightning walks down the hallway to the elevator he encounters Mater with his phone in his hand.

“Hey, Mater!”

“McQueen! How’d ya sleep?”

Lightning grins. Mater is enthusiastic as usual.

“Good.”

“How did Storm sleep?” Mater continues.

This throws him off a little, Mater could just ask Storm when he sees him later.

“Uh...good I think? He’s still sleeping now so I hope good.”

Mater nods.

They step into the elevator and head to the lobby. There they see Luigi and Guido eating breakfast.

“Hey guys!” Lightning says to his friends.

“Hi,” Luigi responds while Guido mumbles in acknowledgement. Guido’s eyes have heavy bags under them. He must have taken over driving in order to make up for all the miles they lost because Luigi actually obeyed the speed limit signs.

“Are you excited, buddy?” Mater asks, nudging him with his elbow.

Luigi and Guido lean forward intently, they look eager to hear his answer.

“Yeah!”

Lightning is more nervous than excited, but he doesn’t know what telling them will do. They’ll reassure him of course, but that won’t do much to ease his worry.

It might be difficult to get his number back. He’ll need to talk with his sponsors again, and he’ll need to talk to Mr Sterling and Cruz about training. He’s also nervous about what to do with Cruz. He told her he’d be her crew chief. Hell, he told the whole world that on camera. For him to go back on his word...just because he wants to race again, would that be too selfish? No. He has to give this another try. His friends are all counting on him, not to mention Storm would have a fit if Lightning decided to just leave.

No, that won’t work anyway. Part of him is too excited by the prospect of racing professionally again to give it up. He’ll just have to see what happens.

Mater decides on bagels for breakfast today and grabs Lightning one from the counter. They’ve been eating a lot of breakfast this week, which isn’t that surprising. The amount of fast food everyone’s been eating is concerning though, they’ll need to go to the grocery store soon to have actual food.

Actually, now that Lightning thinks about it, he’ll need to talk with his friends about what they’re going to do about a living situation. If everything goes well with Lightning’s racing, they’ll all need a place to stay. They can’t just stay in a hotel the whole time. This isn’t a short trip. It’ll take months for Lightning to be prepared for next season. They’ll need an apartment or house to stay in.

He addresses that issue with his friends, and they decide that in the next few days they’ll need to survey some houses/apartments to live in if Lightning plans to stay in Florida. He feels a little guilty for having to take his friends away from Radiator Springs for so long. Then again, It’s not like any of his friends have any urgent reasons to go home anyway, like a girlfriend. Besides, Radiator Springs will always be there for them to return to.

“Hey Lightning, watch this,” Mater says suddenly.

Lightning watches in confusion as he sees Mater grab a bagel from the counter. This one is chocolate and looks like it has chocolate chips in it. Lightning watches as Mater throws it across the dining room.

The bagel sails across the room before thankfully someone catches it. When Lightning looks closer he sees that Storm has caught it, and is staring at Mater with both annoyance and confusion written on his face.

Storm walks over and joins them at the table.

“Nice catch,” Mater says, taking a bite out of his own bagel.

Lightning rounds on him. “Mater. I thought we agreed you weren’t allowed to throw food across the room in public establishments.”

“Yeah, didn’t you learn your lesson after last time?” Guido chimes in.

Storm looks at everyone in confusion. Lightning decides to fill him.

“One time we were all eating lunch out at a restaurant a few years ago. We weren’t in Radiator Springs where something like that wouldn’t mean anything because everyone knows Mater. I was coming back from the bathroom, and Mater decided it would be a good idea to throw a dinner roll at me. When I backed up to try and catch it, a waiter who was carrying all sorts of different food bumped into me.”

Mater laughs. “I remember that it was so funny!”

“It wasn’t funny to me Mater! I had chocolate pudding in my hair!”

Everyone at the table laughs, and Lightning narrows his eyes at them.

“Sounds to me like you’re a little clumsy.” Storm says to him, giving him a cheeky smile.

Lightning gives him a glare. “I am not clumsy.” He insists, which only makes Guido and Mater laugh more.

Storm raises his eyebrows. Lightning glares at him. He waits till they finish breakfast to get his revenge. Once everyone is finished and Storm has his back to Lightning, he takes the opportunity to grab one of the sugar packets from the table and throw it at the back of Storm’s head.

Mater and he burst out in laughter when Storm whips his head around to find the source of the impact. Storm gives Lightning a smirk, and Lightning starts to think maybe he shouldn’t have thrown it. Storm looks around him first, to make sure there are no hotel employees or other people around them. Then he grabs a sugar packet and throws it at Lightning. Lightning catches it swiftly, proving he is NOT clumsy and then turns to Mater who’s having a laughing fit a few feet from him. Lightning tosses it at Mater as payback.

While Mater is busy staring at Lightning in mock surprise, Storm is distracted laughing this time. Lightning launches another one at him. Never say he isn’t an opportunist. This time Storm catches it and instead of throwing it back like Lightning expects, Storm rips it open and pours the sugar in his mouth. Lightning stops throwing them then.

As they’re getting into the elevator Storm gives him a goofy grin. Almost one a little kid would give. It's nice to see that Storm acts like that. Not always so competitive or intense.

Storm’s in a good mood while they pack up their bags and head to Lightning’s car. Now they don’t have long to go to the training center at all. Just another 3 hours or so. Lightning can tell Storm is pleased about that. Once he starts the car and gets on the road Storm smiles. Lightning decides he’s right. It’s better to go into this with a positive attitude. To do the best he can.

 

He drives quickly, making the ride seem a lot shorter than three hours. Though, compared to the other times they’ve been in the car three hours is short. Soon enough Lightning is minutes away from the training center. The Lightning McQueen training center. Lightning assumes Storm wants them to go there. After all, Storm hasn’t told him about any other one. Lightning is apprehensive about joining the center with Mr Sterling as the owner, but if Cruz is still there he’s sure it’s ok.

 

The familiar building pops into view and Lightning parks his car in a space near the front. There are lots of cars around them. Lots of racers he supposes. The Lightning McQueen training center is right in front of him. The silver building gleaming in the sun. It feels strange that this whole racing center is dedicated to him. Rusty and Dusty wanted it to be that way but...it feels wrong. Wrong that they aren’t the ones sponsoring him anymore.

Lightning watches as Storm eagerly gets out of the car, he sure isn’t hiding his excitement this time around. Lightning follows him as he makes long strides toward the training center. Cruz crosses his mind. He hasn’t told her he’s coming, he hasn’t told her about his recent decision to try racing professionally again either.

When they first walk through the glass doors of the training center Lightning is surprised that Cruz is the first person he sees. She’s literally standing like 3 feet from the door. Did she see them coming? No, because a second later he hears her yell,

“Lightning!!!” and rush over to give him a hug. She’s beaming at him, giving him a bright smile.

“What are you doing here?!” She asks, surprised.

“I, um” Lightning begins before Storm interrupts on his behalf.

“He’s here to race” Storm says, flashing Cruz a smirk.

Lightning watches as Cruz’s happy features twist into anger. Of course Storm had to act like this right off the bat.

“What’s he doing here!” She whispers to him.

Lightning doesn’t really know how to explain that Storm forced his way into Lightning’s town and life and now they’re sorta friends.

“He’s um. Here to race?” Lightning replies.

Cruz’s face shifts from anger to betrayal.

“I mean what’s he doing here Lightning, at your training center.”

Lightning shifts awkwardly. This isn’t his training center. It’s not like he paid for it. He doesn’t have the right to tell anyone they can’t be here.

Just then, the man who does have the authority to tell people who can and can’t be here walks down the steps. Mr Sterling is wearing a silver suit, his hair is neatly combed and he exclaims a greeting to all of them.

“Lightning McQueen! You didn’t tell me you were coming by!”

Mr Sterling walks up to him and slaps him on the back. Lightning gives him a warm greeting back. It’s true that Lightning didn’t really know where he stood with Sterling after the disagreement between he and Cruz. There was also the whole him trying to exploit Lightning’s popularity for profit, but he’s willing to overlook that if Cruz is. When Lightning spares a glance at her, she looks happy Mr Sterling is here. Lightning guesses they were able to sort everything out and Sterling allowed Cruz to pursue her dream of being a racer. He’s glad for that. Cruz will finally have her chance to be a racer.

Sterling shifts his attention to Storm. He seems puzzled for a moment, but then a brilliant smile replaces it. Sterling reaches out to shake Storm’s hand with a little too much enthusiasm if you ask Lightning. Though Storm is currently one of the best racers in this country, it makes sense that Mr Sterling would want to be on good terms with him.

“Jackson Storm! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person!”

Storm doesn’t say anything in response. He does, however, pull his hand away the second he’s able to. Though it didn’t seem like Mr Sterling took any offence. Cruz certainly looked offended though. When Lightning glanced over at her, she was staring at Storm with pure hatred. Lightning wonders why. I mean sure he disliked Storm at first too, but Lightning can’t really understand why she doesn’t like him. After all, it’s not like Storm ever said anything to her about retirement as far as Lightning knows.

 

“So,” Sterling continues, “What brings you here?”

“I’m interested in joining your training center.” Storm states.

That’s news to Lightning. Storm must like him more than he thought. Or maybe he’s doing it to make sure Lightning has no choice but to train for the next race.

“Really?!” Mr Sterling exclaims.

“What?!?!” Cruz yells in disbelief.

“Yep.” Storm responds

“Well, You’re most certainly welcome to! Of course, I’ll need to speak with your trainer, but I’d love to have you join my training center.

“There’s one more thing.” Storm says.

“Of course! What’s that?”

Storm looks at Lightning.

“I want Lightning to race again. you’re his sponsor. You can make it happen.”

Sterling stares at him, pondering what Storm has just said. He turns to Lightning.

“Well...I can certainly make that happen. If that’s what you want Lightning.” Mr Sterling says, turning to look at him.

Lightning looks at Cruz. She looks hurt. Like he’s betrayed her. He turns to Storm. Storm smiles at him. It’s a small one, one to motivate him he thinks.

Lightning takes a deep breath. It hurts to see Cruz sad, but he knows how much more it will hurt to be sitting in the crew pit when he just knows he isn’t finished racing yet. He can’t lie to himself.

“I...I want to race again”

It’s silent for a minute. Nobody says a word.

“Well then, I’m off to make some phone calls,” Sterling says, waving them goodbye.

Cruz turns to him. She needs an explanation. Lightning needs to give her one.

“Cruz I...I’m sorry.”

She looks at him in confusion. “But...I thought you would be my crew chief.”

Lightning opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. He doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what he can say to fix things. Storm apparently does not share the same sentiment.

“Don’t do that.” Storm states, annoyed. Lightning turns around, but Storm is not looking at him.

Cruz does not back down from his glare, brown eyes quivering with irritation.

“Do what?!” She spits back.

“Don’t make him feel bad for your problems. He wants to race again, and if you really care about him then you won’t make him feel bad that he can’t be your crew chief. It’s not his responsibility.”

Storm’s voice remains calm, but it’s easy to detect the clear anger in his voice.

Cruz’s eyebrows scrunch up and she frowns. Seeing her so agitated was not normal. Storm on the other hand usually looked that way. Lightning stood between the two and figured he needed to calm the situation before someone (Storm) escalated things too far.

“Okay guys calm down.” He says raising his hands up to pacify them. Storm shifts in acknowledgement and Cruz looks down at her shoes.

Thankfully a few seconds later, Storm’s phone rings in his pocket and he begrudgingly leaves them alone to take the call.

Cruz stares at him now, clearly wondering what Storm is doing here.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you Storm would be here.”

“What is he doing here Lightning?” She asks softly.

At first, Lightning didn’t know. Up until this point, Storm had come with him to make sure Lightning would make it to the training center. Now though Lightning isn’t sure what his intentions are. They’re friends now, but Lightning didn’t realize Storm felt strongly enough about being his friend to leave his own training center - if that’s even why he did it.

Maybe there was another reason. Like maybe Sterling's training center had more to offer in terms of technology. Though he doesn’t know if that’s right either, considering Storm has sponsors wealthy enough to provide him with the same equipment somewhere else.

In any case, Lightning doesn’t want to pry into it. It’s Storm’s choice. He doesn’t want to interfere with his decision.

“He wants to train here Cruz. I’m not sure why. But listen, he’s not as bad as he seems. I know initially he acted like an asshole but he’s just a little rough around the edges. Give him another chance, for me. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner about wanting to race again. I still want to help you train, I just can’t be your crew chief anymore.”

Lightning pauses once he’s finished, he waits for Cruz’s reaction.

She says nothing for a moment, then gives him a small smile.

“If you want to race again then I’ll support you Lightning!” She says, brightness returning

“And...I guess I’ll try to get along with Storm too.”

Lightning grins.

“I missed you by the way, McQueen!” She says loudly, reaching out to hug him.

He returns it and sees Storm watching them.

Cruz breaks away and tells Lightning she has some things to do so she’ll see him later.

When she leaves, Lightning walks over to Storm who’s still on the phone with his trainer. He seems to be in the middle of explaining the situation to his trainer.

He can hear the other man’s confusion through the phone. Storm’s eyes widen with something the man says then promptly ends the call.

“What’s up?” Lightning asks him.

“That was my trainer.”

“Oh. Is he you know, okay with you coming here?”

“Yeah he is, that’s not the problem.” Storm says brow furrowed

“He wants me to be on a talk show tonight.”

“Oh?” Lightning says.

“With Chick Hicks.”

“Oh.” He says sympathetically.

Storm grimaces then glances at Lightning. He looks at him for a moment, then he grins and says enthusiastically

“Come with me!”

“What?!”

“Come with me tonight for the talk show! It’ll be perfect! This way we can show the world you’re not done racing! It’ll be fantastic. It’ll be the great return all of your fans are waiting for!”

Lightning shifts. “I don’t know Storm...I mean, announcing that with thousands of people watching... Not to mention I wasn’t invited.”

He grabs Lightning’s shoulder in his excitement.

“Come on! It’ll be perfect! You don’t need an invitation to show up on a racing talk show! You’re Lightning McQueen! Plus...this would be a great way to stick it to Chick Hicks.” He says, grinning maliciously at the last part.

Lightning sighs. He isn’t sure about this. It feels too brash to just come onto the talk show and announce to the world he’s back. But...it would be nice to wipe that smug look off Chick Hicks face. Especially when he’s been talking shit about Lightning’s racing all season. That’s all he needs to push him towards this idea.

“Alright. I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

Jackson Storm P.O.V

 

Lightning looks hesitant about tonight. Not quite nervous, because Lightning McQueen is never nervous. Or at least, Storm has never seen him nervous.

But right now with he looks a little...not like his usual self. That’s nothing to be worried about though. He’s Lightning. He’ll be fine. Besides, Lightning agreed to this. He must want to show the world he’s not done racing yet. Either that or he really wants to one-up Chick Hicks. Storm knows the two have a rivalry. They always have. Chick Hicks has been jealous of Lightning since the first day he stepped onto the track.

He takes his hands off Lightning’s shoulders after a minute. Holding them there for too long would be suspicious. So he shoves them into his pockets.

Lightning looks like he might say something to him, but before he can they hear a loud

“MCQUEEN!” Come from the entrance.

Storm turns and sees Mater running up to them, Luigi and Guido in tow.

“Mater!” Lightning says smiling at him.

Lightning looks better now.

“How’d it go?!” Luigi asks.

Lightning fills the three of them in on everything that just happened.

“A talk show?” Guido asks, seeming to be more interested in checking out the technology in the training center.

“Yes,” Storm responds.

“THAT’S A GREAT IDEA” Mater yells, making Luigi wince next to him and Guido stare at him like he’s a child.

Lightning smiles. He must be used to Mater switching between Octaves at any given time. Storm, on the other hand, is a bit put off how he can switch from sly and silent to loud and boisterous without a thought.

“I think so too Mater. It was Storm’s idea actually.”

Mater turns to him. “Good thinking buddy!” He says, giving him a friendly slap on the back.

Storm nods. Not that many people have called him buddy. And he’s only been slapped on the back by one or two people in his life.

Mater is just naturally friendly to everyone he supposes.

Storm’s trainer has no idea Lightning is coming with him tonight. No one does. Storm figures the initial plan was to talk with Chick Hicks about his racing skill. Or perhaps where he had disappeared to the last few days. Storm has no intention of telling the public that though. It’s his business.

No one will want to talk about that anyway. Not when Lightning McQueen shows up out of the blue uninvited. Storm can imagine the excitement of the audience. He’s eager for it himself too. He wants to see Lightning confidently racing like he always has. He wants the world to see that.

He knows Lightning wants that too. He’s too humble to say it. Too kind to ever want something selfish. Not like Storm, Who has selfish desires running through his mind all the time. Lightning loves racing though. He loves when his fans are cheering him on, he loves the thrill of racing, the challenge of it. He likes to win, but that is not the be all, end all for him. After all, it wasn’t Lightning’s loss that crushed his hopes of racing. It was his fans.

The same people that cheered for him the moment he stepped onto the track, but now were searching for someone else. Someone newer. Perhaps that’s why the world accepted it so easily when racers like Cal Weathers and Bobby Swift left. The world grew tired of their mediocrity. Even Lightning, who had been their treasure for so long, fell out of favor.

But not to Storm. Lightning could never fall out of his favor. It wasn’t possible. When people simply accepted Lightning’s retirement he did not. He could not.

He won’t let the world stomp on Lightning’s dream. On his dream. He’s waited far too long for it to be taken from him.

That’s why tonight needs to go smoothly.

He gives Lightning a friendly smile. A supportive one. One he’s not used to giving to anyone. But Lightning grins back at him, he seems to appreciate the gesture.

“Hey what are you guys going to wear?” Luigi interjects.

Storm ponders that. He didn’t quite think about that.

“Uh...a suit?” Lightning says.

“Naw, I think you guys should wear your racing uniforms! Ya know, to get your fans excited!” Mater says suddenly.

It’s a good idea. People will certainly be excited when Lightning strolls out onto the stage in his uniform. Storm likes it.

“That’s a good idea Mater.” He says.

Mater winks at him.

To Storm’s surprise, Mater is already holding both of their uniforms. He must have asked Lightning for the key to his car.

They change quickly in the training center locker rooms.

Storm deliberately faces away, but out of the corner of his eye, he catches glimpses of Lightning’s tan skin. Only brief glances. Lasting no more than a second, but Storm forces himself to look away and put his racing uniform on.

Once he’s gotten dressed he turns toward Lightning. Lightning’s uniform is a little snug. He’s had the same one since he started racing, although it doesn’t look worse for wear. It looks good on him. Storm can easily see his solid build beneath it.

He follows him out of the locker room and back to the entrance of the center, where Lightning’s friends are waiting.

Mater turns to him eagerly. “I can’t wait to see the show, guys!”

Luigi and Guido nod in agreement, just as excited. He glances toward Lightning. He’s smiling, but Storm can see his posture is rigid.

Storm wants to say something to him, but he doesn’t know what. If he asks if he’s nervous he might offend him, and that’s the last thing he wants to do. Besides, Lightning’s a grown man. Storm’s sure he’s capable of handling himself. If Storm were nervous and Lightning could tell, he would feel embarrassed for sure.

So Storm says nothing. Instead, he follows Lightning to the car. It’s dark outside now, and the interview is supposed to start in thirty minutes. Storm puts the address into his phone and Lightning just starts driving. Storm hopes the drive will help to ease Lightning’s mind. He wonders if it’s the possibility of so many people watching the interview that is making Lightning nervous. That can’t be it, right? Lightning has done so many interviews over the years. Plus when he’s racing there are millions of people watching him. Though when Storm thinks back on all the interviews he’s seen with Lightning in them, he can never say he looked comfortable. He answered all the questions about racing of course but tended to shy away from more personal ones. He never really looked like he enjoyed being on T.V.

Storm wonders if it was a bad idea to invite Lightning to come with him. No, it won’t be. It’s still the perfect opportunity for Lightning to show the world he isn’t quitting. That he won’t go down without a fight just because the world decided he’s too old. Well, Storm didn’t decide that. He would never decide that. Lightning could be racing professionally as an eighty year old and Storm would still be cheering him on. Internally of course.

After a few minutes, they make it to the address Storm’s trainer sent them. There are security guards waiting to escort them in, although Storm doesn’t see any fans around. They did come in through the back entrance though. The security guards say nothing about Lightning’s presence, although one does tell him they’re a big fan. Lightning smiles sheepishly and tells them thanks while Storm snickers in front of him.

“I don’t see why you’re laughing Storm. I remember seeing my autograph back in your room.” Lightning whispers.

Storm falls silent. He has no comeback for that.

Instead, he resorts to “accidentally” stepping on Lightning’s foot while they walk, and he can feel Lightning playfully jab him in the arm. They are stumbling through the hallway before a loud voice erupts close to them, emphasized by a microphone.

Lightning groans. It appears Chick Hicks is opening the interview right now. Storm takes a deep breath. They are behind the curtains now, where security directed them to wait until they are called out onto the set. Storm can’t see anything from where they are standing now, although he can certainly hear the irritating voice of Chick Hicks.

 

“HELLO, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the CHICK HICKS show! Where today we’ll be joined by some special guest! Not as special as me of course!”

The audience is silent at the last part.

“Anyway our first guest is racing analyst expert NATALIE CERTAIN!”

Storm frowned. Tony didn’t mention anything to him about Natalie Certain being at this interview. He turns to Lightning who looks equally as confused as Storm.

They don’t really have time to think about it, because the next thing he hears is Chick Hicks introducing him as the next special guest. Storm walks out onstage, and the audience roars with approval. He waits a minute for the audience to quiet down before addressing them.

“I hope you don’t mind I brought a guest with me.” Storm states, flashing the audience a smile. The audience cheers even louder as Lightning steps at on the stage and he can hear people screaming Lightning’s name.

Lightning smiles at all of them and Storm finds himself staring. Lightning is always the charmer, even if he doesn’t know it.

Storm forces his eyes back to Chick Hicks who looks irritated and Natalie Certain who only regards him with curiosity. After someone from backstage brings out another chair, the audience had finally quieted down enough for them to begin.

Chick Hicks is the first to break the silence unsurprisingly. From what Storm’s seen of the man he never stops talking.

“So happy you could come all the way from your newly retired life to make it on my show McQueen.”

Chick says. It’s not a question. It’s not how this interview was supposed to go at all, but somehow Storm thinks the fans will like it better that way.

Lightning takes a moment to respond, always keeping a good natured grin on his face. Years of interviews must have taught him that. Storm still needs to work on that himself. He mostly gives the audience a look of disinterest or a cocky smile, though some people like that, girls in particular.

“Yeah, Chick! I’m happy to be here! I wish I could have done something a bit more interesting with my retirement though. Maybe you could get me a job as your co-host?” Lightning says.

The audience roars with laughter, and Chick’s face starts to turn red.

Chick continues. “Thank you for gracing us with your presence Mr. McQueen. Though I don’t see why you’re here. I thought the racing legend had finally died out.”

Lightning’s face gives off the slightest hint of irritation, but he still smiles for the camera. Storm, however, is not smiling. He thinks it’s high time his voice was heard at this stupid interview.

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong Chick.” Storm states, much to everyone’s surprise. Even Natalie Certain spares him a surprised look.

Storm continues. “Lightning’s not here to talk about his retirement.”
Storm turns to Lightning. This is his chance.

He watches as Lightning stills, choosing to turn his attention to the audience.

He waits a minute before speaking, and the entire audience has quieted down. Even Chick Hicks is silent, begrudgingly waiting for Lightning to speak.

 

Lightning stands up, and Storm can hear a few members of the audience murmur in surprise. Lightning’s face has a look of determination, one that Storm has seen him wear many times while racing, but never like this.

He hesitates for another moment before speaking.

“I...I know that I told everyone that I was done racing professionally… “

The audience stills, it is so quiet. It’s never been this quiet during one of Chick Hicks talk shows. Everyone is silent as they wait for Lightning to continue.

“I know that but, I can’t give up racing. I don’t believe that it’s over for me, and so long as my fans are out there to support me I will race again!”

He speaks up for the last part, letting his words echo out to the audience.

It is madness after that. Fans are screaming his name, clapping and yelling in support. Storm smiles. He knew Lightning’s fans were still out there.

He sees the corners of Lightning’s lips turn up in a small smile before he sits down.

Chick raises his hands for the audience to be quiet, but it takes a few minutes before everyone has calmed down enough for him to continue speaking. Storm catches Natalie Certain staring at Lightning with a curious expression, eyes cold and calculating.

He has a bad feeling about her.

Chick Hicks looks angry, perturbed that Lightning has managed to steal the audience so effortlessly. Storm’s not surprised. Even after all these years, Chick Hicks is still jealous of Lightning.

It is Natalie Certain who speaks next, smooth voice echoing to the crowd.

“An admirable goal Mr. McQueen. I’ll be curious to see how you can achieve such a feat when racing against the higher tech of the newer race cars.”

Lightning stills, blue eyes locking onto her brown ones.

He opens his mouth to say something, but Chick Hicks beats him to it.

“Yeah! Slow your roll there McQueen. As much as everyone loved hearing your speech about how you can’t give up racing, it sounds like a lot of hot air to me. I mean we all saw your last race! We all watched you give your place to Cruz Ramirez because you just couldn’t win. Isn’t that right McQueen?”

He laughs when he says it, and Storm freezes when he hears some members of the audience laugh too. There are not many, but Storm searches for them in the crowd, giving them the most venomous look he can muster.

It’s not many people. Maybe only a handful in a crowd of hundreds, but it is enough, Storm realizes. Enough to shake Lightning’s confidence.

He looks toward Lightning and sees that he looks visibly paler. His expression does not change, as to not give himself away to the audience. But Storm can see the first seeds of doubt appear in his mind.

Storm considers punching Chick in the face. The audience would laugh he’s sure, and he thinks it would gain him more popularity than he would lose, but he decides against it. Instead, he lays his hands flat on his thighs to not curl them into fists.

He then debates if he should say something, but rules that out for now. He does not want to upstage Lightning.

Lightning speaks then, voice steady. It would do no good to let them know they were getting to him.

“It was not my intention to give up. I wanted Cruz Ramirez to have a chance to be a racer, so I gave her the race to finish.”

Storm knows that. He knew that as soon as Lightning drove off the track during the Florida 500. He knows Lightning is not a quitter, but not everyone knows that. Lightning is a racer who would never simply give up because the odds were stacked against him, he wasn’t the type of person to do that. Storm knew that before he even met him in person, but it might not look like that to everyone.

To Storm, Lightning would always be the greatest racer. A legend on wheels, the fastest there was.

Except, he wasn’t technically the fastest anymore. But that didn’t matter! It’s not a racers speed that makes them a racer. Storm knows that. Lightning knows that. But...do his fans?

Storm surveys the crowd again. There is a mixture of reactions he can see. Some people are staring at Lightning in awe, to them he is the same racer he has always been, then there are those looking at him with doubt, doubting his reason for quitting, and there are others of course. Fans looking at him with confusion, or unreadable expressions.

Natalie Certain waits for him to finish before speaking again.

“Oh? I did not realize you were willing to do something so generous for Cruz Ramirez, even at the sake of your own career.”

Lightning freezes. Storm watches silently as Lightning listens to Natalie Certain speak. His shoulders seem to hunch in on themselves, making him look smaller.

It is so wrong. This is not like the Lightning he knows.

Natalie Certain does not stop. Not now that she knows she’s getting to Lightning. Manipulating the situation in order to make the audience side with her. That is how she operates, Storm realizes.

She continues once she has rendered Lightning silent, a sly smile taking place on her lips.

“Though, perhaps it’s for the best that you gave Cruz Ramirez your racing spot. Times have changed indeed Mr. McQueen.”

Lightning looks at her, eyebrows slightly downturned. He’s getting irritated.

She continues.

“I admire your determination in trying to race again, but to be honest you’re not in any position to win anymore.”

The crowd looks shocked, confused between the racing analyst expert and the champion of racing. Even Chick looks taken aback by her sudden demeanor. Lightning looks shocked by her statement, eyes no longer portraying anger.

Storm grits his teeth. He digs his hands into his legs as he sits there quietly. Natalie Certain is on a roll now, and she doesn’t have any intentions of stopping yet.

“Racing to put it quite simply, has advanced into a new Era. A racer like you could not possibly hope to win against the next generation racers. They are far too fast, the technology advanced beyond the old days of racing where simply anyone could enter a race.”

She pauses.

“You were a fabulous racer. But now it’s time to rest on your laurels and accept the fact that your time is up. The world won’t carry a torch for you forever, Mr. McQueen. Not when it’s found another racer to take your place.”

She looks at Storm as she says the last part, and Storm decides at that moment that he has never hated anyone more. He dislikes quite a lot of people, actually most people in general, but he has never been this filled with rage at a reporter.

All Storm can manage is a brief glance at Lightning. His dejected face and the slump of his shoulders are more than enough of a reason for Storm to take action.

He stands up rapidly, and hears the gasps from the audience. Up until this moment he has been mostly silent, but he will not listen to Natalie Certain put down Lightning for one more second. He stares at her, eyes cold in a menacing glare. For the first time tonight she looks uncomfortable.

He moves forward, towering over her.

“What would you know.”

He says it quietly, but everyone can hear the pure anger radiating from his voice. The crowd is completely silent, they have never seen this side of Storm before. They have seen him act cocky and indifferent up until now, but never truly angry.

She stares at him, mouth opening and closing like a fish. She scrambles for a response, and when she speaks it is broken. No longer backed by the confidence of her cruelty.

“I...I’m...a racing analyst...I know the statistics of the race...I know the chances he has at winning...and he can’t possibly…”

“You know nothing.” He says venomously.

She shrinks in her seat, losing the battle she started quite pitifully now.

Storm continues.

“I bet you’ve never even been in a racecar have you?” He says the last part mockingly, and she looks so shaken that she can’t even come up with an answer.

Storm is far from finished though. She wanted to break Lightning’s confidence, she had it coming.

“You don’t know anything. You sit in your seat on the sidelines and “analyze” the races. Pretending that the speed or the brand of the car is what makes all the difference in a race. Well, you’re so far from the truth it’s laughable.”

He turns to the audience then.

“It is not the car that makes the racer. Everyone who knows a thing about racing knows that. Lightning McQueen sits here, telling you that he wants to race again, and you think just because he doesn’t have a high tech car he can’t do it! Well, then I’ll give you all a valuable piece of advice. A racer’s speed does not determine his chance of winning!”

Storm yells the last part, wanting to convince the people who doubted Lightning are wrong. He turns back to look at Lightning, and Lightning is taken aback by Storm’s speech. His eyes are blown wide in surprise, but he doesn’t look sad anymore, so Storm will take it.

The audience absolutely loses it then, and Storm looks back to see them rushing towards the stage, security guards desperately trying to hold them back. They are screaming for Storm and Lightning, trying to get close to them. Some of the fans break through, and Storm feels like it’s a recreation of that scene from the Lion King where a stampede of wildebeest are rushing towards Mufasa and Simba.

One of the fans reaches up and grabs his leg. He is so surprised that he backs up quickly and stumbles.

He feels a palm catch him in an awkward trust fall and looks back to see Lightning, looking downright horrified at the fans rushing toward them. Many of them are trying to get to Lightning, and they’re getting awfully close.

A security guard grabs them by the arms and quickly escorts them off the stage and down the hallway. After making sure they aren’t followed he shows them back to the parking lot and advises them to get out as quick as they can.

Lightning just stares at him, and then back from where they came like he can’t fathom what just happened.

“What? Never had the fans go crazy like that? You’re Lightning McQueen! You must have had something like that happen before.” He says, half joking.

Lightning shakes his head. “I’ve had fans try to touch me before but that was just...insanity.”

Storm nods. If anything he should be the one surprised. Someone grabbed onto his leg for christ sake. He’s lucky he didn’t kick them off out of pure reflex. That’s all he needs. He can see the article now. Jackson Storm, up and coming racer brutally kicks fan for touching him.

“Let’s go before they find us.”

Lightning nods.

Before they can leave though, Storm spots three figures in the distance running toward them. He tenses, ready to fight off anyone who tries to touch him.

Lightning though, wears a puzzled expression as one of the figures slams into him. Storm gets ready to kick whoever this is off Lightning before he realizes he recognizes those brown curls.

“Mater!” Lightning exclaims. “You scared me!”

Mater laughs. “Great job buddy! It went great!”

“It did?” Lightning says, frowning.

“Of Course!” Luigi interjects. “The fans were going crazy in there! Everyone’s thrilled you’re going to race again.”

“I think that was more about Storm’s speech.” Lightning says laughing.

Mater turns to Storm and gives him a wide grin.

“And you Storm! Way to go buddy! That was amazing! Way to tell em how racers really are!” He yells, high fiving him.

Storm grins, Mater’s voice raising four octaves and possibly rendering him deaf isn’t enough to wipe the smile off his face now.

Luigi and Guido agree, commending Storm for what a great job he did.

Lightning smiles at him and Storm finds he doesn’t care about how he just yelled at Natalie Certain on national television. The media can paint whatever picture of him they want. Storm would yell at any reporter on earth if Lightning smiled at him like that.

They all stand around the parking lot for a while, laughing and talking before Mater decides that they really should leave before the fans figure out where they are. They part ways then, Luigi, Mater, and Guido run back toward the direction of their car, and Storm and Lightning quickly get inside Lightning’s car.

Once they leave the parking lot, they both let out a sigh of relief.

Storm steals a glance at Lightning, and he looks back to his normal self. Storm’s glad for that. He doesn’t ever want to see that dejected look again, it doesn’t suit him.

They sit in comfortable silence before Lighting breaks it.

“Where do you live?”

“Huh?” Storm responds, thrown off by the question.

“You have a place here in Orlando right? An apartment or something? Don’t you want me to take you there?”

Storm pauses, to be honest he didn’t give his apartment a second thought. The realization though, that he no longer has a reason to stay with Lightning hits him hard. It occurs to him now that he’s done what he set out to. He went to Radiator Springs and persuaded Lightning to come back, and he told the world about it. His original plan succeeded, but Storm isn’t feeling victorious right now.

He puts the address into a GPS for Lightning, the drive looking much shorter in comparison to the long drives across the country they’ve been making.

Storm feels a pang of sadness that reverberates through his entire being when he realizes that this could be it. The time he spent with Lightning could be quickly coming to an end, and now the only place he would see him would be on the track.

It feels cruel when he thinks about it. Cruel that fate would give him this chance, and that he was able to be a part of Lightning’s life, even for such a short time. The possibility of never sitting in Lightning’s car again, causes his throat to clam up with dryness. He doesn’t want that, and all too soon they’re pulling up to his apartment complex.

Storm keeps his face emotionless. He doesn’t know what else he can do, only that he won’t embarrass himself by saying anything strange.

His feet feel like lead, and he has to force himself to move them. His hand rests on the handle, about to push it open when Lightning speaks.

“Hey, Storm?”

“Yeah?” He says, thankful his voice kept its natural tone.

“Tomorrow we’re going to search for a place to stay. We need a temporary place to live if I’m going to train and race here. And I figured since you live here already you could help us out. You know, show us the good places around town.” He says, grinning.

Storm brightens. “Yeah, I’ll show you guys around.” He says with a grin of his own.

Storm knows so little information about real estate it’s laughable, but the thought of saying no didn’t cross his mind for a second.

Lightning nods, “Well then I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Yeah, see you then!”

Storm gets out of the car with his things then and shuts the door. When Lightning leaves, he walks up the steps to his apartment.

He grins like an idiot until he falls asleep that night.

Chapter Text

Lightning McQueen P.O.V

 

Lightning’s drive back to his hotel from Storm’s apartment was strange. During the past few days, he’s gotten used to Storm’s company in the car.

The drive is short though, and he’s made much longer ones by himself before. The more he seems to think about things though, the stranger the whole situation becomes. A few days ago Storm was his competitor. A hot-headed, cocky young racer, who admittedly was very similar to himself. Now though...Storm was quickly becoming a close friend.

Despite the rocky start, Lightning liked having him around. Storm has an interesting personality and he’s obviously a great racer.

Storm’s still quite the enigma to Lightning though. He doesn’t know that much about him at all. He knows Storm likes eating lots of junk food and sleeping, but most younger people like that. It also occurs to him he doesn’t know how old Storm is, but if he had to guess he’d say early twenties. If that’s the case then there’s a big age difference between them, but there’s an age difference between most of Lightning's friends. A lot of the people he’s close with in Radiator Springs are older than him. Doc was older than him.

But Doc and Storm...are very different people. Doc was more like his mentor and Storm? Well, Lightning doesn’t think Storm thinks of him as a mentor. Lightning prefers it that way. He’s not ready to be anyone’s mentor. Although it did occur to him he was technically supposed to be Cruz’s mentor.

Storm doesn’t strike him as the type of guy who needs a mentor though. He has his own apartment, his own life. He hasn’t said anything about his family, although Lightning did see his house. And from what he saw...Lightning’s not sure Storm’s family even knows what’s going on in his life. Or if he wants them to.

It’s obvious though that Storm moved to Florida for a reason. He’ll ask him sooner or later. Right now he needs to get back to his friends at the hotel. They need to figure out a living situation soon.

He pulls into the parking lot of the hotel they’re staying at. Unsurprisingly, he sees Mater sitting on the curb outside.

“Hey, Mater!”

Mater flashes him a grin.

“Hey, McQueen! Back so soon? I figured you’d be at Storm’s awhile.”
Lightning frowns and glances at Mater with a puzzled expression.

“Why would I be there?”

Mater shakes his head. “Nevermind.”

“Okay?”

Lightning follows Mater upstairs to their room. Now that he thinks about it, this is the first time all trip he’s shared a room with his best friend.

He’s seen him every day, but he and Mater always share a room when they’re away. Mater looks completely unoffended when he mentions it though, so Lightning figures it doesn’t bother him. Mater is rarely offended by such things. It takes a lot to make his best friend lose his cool.

Mater launches himself on one of the beds when he gets inside, and Lightning laughs. Mater hasn’t changed at all from when he first met him. It’s comforting. Lightning is about to get changed when Guido and Luigi burst through the door and throw themselves on Lightning’s bed.

“Hey! Do that in your own room!” Lightning says, which earns him a pillow to the face, courtesy of Guido.

Lightning retaliates by laying out across them and listens to Guido complain that he’s too heavy. Which Lightning disagrees with. He is most definitely not heavy. Though with Guido’s skinny frame, anyone could be heavy.

 

“So,” Luigi says from under Lightning “We need to figure where we’re staying right? Since Lightning’s training.”

“We don’t know I’m training Luigi.” Lightning mumbles, shifting off of them to sit upright on the bed.

“Oh please. Everyone can’t wait for you to make a comeback Lightning.”

“Yeah, and Storm can just give that evil glare to anyone who doesn’t like that idea.” Mater chimes in.

“What?” Luigi and Lightning ask simultaneously.

Mater then turns to Lightning and shows him a clip on his phone.

On it, he can see a video of the talk show they were just at last night. Jeez. The speed at which people upload things to the internet always amazes him.

In the clip, Lightning watches as he can hear some of the crowd laughing at his desire to race again. When it happened all Lightning could do was sit there and listen. It hadn’t even occurred to him that Storm would be angry about it.

Angry does not even begin to describe the menacing glare on Storm’s face as he stares into the crowd at whoever laughs. Lightning glances over at himself in the video and sees he’s completely unaware of Storm’s angry expression. Figures.

Lightning was a bit baffled by Storm’s behavior at the talk show. He hadn’t seen Storm get so angry before, except for when he challenged Lightning to a race right when he arrived in Radiator Springs. Even then, Storm’s facial expression was different. He didn’t look at Lightning with the same look he’s giving the crowd.

Storm’s angry speech during the talk show had come out of the blue, but Lightning was grateful for it. In the heat of the moment, it had saved him from an embarrassing defeat by Natalie Certain. She knew exactly what to say to make him nervous. To make him wonder if it was worth it to race again.

Then Storm stood up to defend him and all thoughts of quitting immediately fled his mind. He was no quitter. If Storm is this willing to fight for him to have another chance, Lightning can’t give up either.

No. He’s in this thing for the long run, like it or not.

“You know...in the beginning I wasn’t too sure about Storm. Seeing this though, he really cares about you Lightning.” Luigi says to him.

Lightning nods. It’s clear now that Storm does care about him. Even though Lightning’s only known him for a few days, he thinks he can trust him.

“I think you’re right Luigi. Actually, I invited Storm to come to look at houses with us tomorrow.”

“Yay!” Luigi and Guido say in sync, Mater laughing at them.

“Now get out of my bed, I want to sleep.” Lightning says, shooing them away.

They grumble and complain as they leave the room but it's evident the both of them are just as tired.

Mater grins at him once they leave.

 

“Way to go buddy! You’re well on your way to being the world’s greatest racer again!”

Lightning rolls his eyes while he’s changing into his pajamas.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say, Mater.” He says, reaching over to turn off the light.

He falls asleep soon after.

 

When Lightning wakes, it's due to the blaring loud country music coming from one side of the room. More specifically, Mater’s side of the room. That’s one thing he didn’t miss about sharing a room with Mater.

“Mater! Shut off your alarm!” He mutters, shoving his head under the pillow.

Mater usually sets his alarm early. For what reason Lightning still doesn’t know, but he’s always been an early bird as far as Lightning can remember.

Lightning has no problem getting up early, but there’s no reason for Take Me Home Country Roads to be playing at 6:00 am and jar him from his slumber. Especially when he’s been driving the past three days.

Mater grumbles and shuts it off, and Lightning pulls the blanket over his head in an effort to block out the sounds of Mater getting up and hopefully leaving the room for a few hours to give him time to sleep.

 

Eventually, when Lightning gets up again, he sees it’s now late morning. Mater is not in the room at all, but he’s probably close by.

Lightning figures he should give Storm a call.

He grabs his phone from the bedside table and calls him, Storm having put his number in a few days ago.

It rings a few times before Lightning hears him answer.

“...Hello…?” Storm mumbles. He sounds like he just woke up.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Lightning?”

“Yeah, it’s me. I figured I’d give you a call because we’ll probably go drive around town soon to look at houses once Mater comes back.”

“Okay.” Storm says, and Lightning can hear a thump from his phone. Most likely Storm rolling out of bed.

“We’ll pick you up in an hour.” Lightning says, checking his watch. That should be plenty of time to locate his friends and get to Storm’s apartment.

Lightning hangs up the phone and takes a quick shower.

When he gets out, he sees Mater sitting on his bed flipping through a binder.

“Hey” he greets.

“Hi.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, this? It’s a binder full of available properties. I went to a realtor in the area to see what our options were. She gave me this binder so we can have a look around.”

“That’s a great idea Mater! I’m glad someone was thinking ahead.”

“Have you seen Guido or Luigi?” Lightning adds.

“Mhhh nope.”

Lightning knew what that meant. They were both still sleeping no doubt, so it was up to Lightning or Mater to go wake them up.

“Rock, Paper, Scissors?” Mater suggests.

Lightning nods, and after three rounds it’s clear he has to go wake them up.

Lightning walks down the hall to their room, Mater had told him the number before he left.

He knocks against it once.

No answer.

He knocks again.

This time he gets a muffled “Be Quiet!” from the room. Guido no doubt.

After Lightning pounds on the door a considerable amount of time, Luigi answers it and invites him in.

“Guido get up! We’re looking for houses.” Luigi says to his friend.

“You’re annoying,” Guido mutters with no real bite to it, before grabbing his clothes and going into the bathroom to change.

When Lightning spares another glance at Luigi, he’s surprised to find his friend fully dressed. Clad in yellow of course.

“Storm’s coming with us right?”

“Yeah, I figured he could help us out.”

Luigi nods, and then Guido makes his way out of the bathroom. He’s got heavy bags under his eyes.

“Didn’t sleep much did you Guido?” Lightning asks as they make their way down to the Lobby.

“He was researching the racing center last night, and watching clips from the internet.”

“Oh yeah?” Lightning asks teasingly.

“Yeah. I was watching clips of you and Storm from the interview. The internet thinks you guys are best friends now.”

“What?!”

“Here look at this,” Guido says, passing him his phone.

The video of Storm defending Lightning last night at the Chick Hicks talk show is on the page, and the headline says…

“New Racer Jackson Storm defends Old Time Champ Lightning McQueen.”

He looks closer and sees an article trying to debunk the mystery of their friendship. It blows Lightning’s mind that the internet can catch on so quickly. Then again, it’s not like Storm was being subtle about his anger last night. Though Lightning was angry too. Natalie Certain knew how to get both of them angry, even if Storm’s response was unexpected.

“This is weird.” Lightning responds.

“Yeah Storm seems nice, but I doubt he’s your “close friend” like the article says,” Luigi mentions.

“No not that. It’s weird that the internet latched onto this so quickly. When Storm and I first met there was no article or anything. At least, not with both of us in it.”

“Well, that’s only natural buddy. It’s not often that a racer does something so selfless you know. The last time the internet reacted like this was when you got out of your car during the race for the Piston cup when you were a rookie and pushed The King of Dinoco across the racing line after his car was totaled.”

Mater says, appearing from the hallway.

Lightning nods. “I guess you have a point…”

Lightning remembers that race well. He had wanted to win badly. So very badly. He wanted to prove himself to his new friends in Radiator Springs. He wanted to prove himself to Doc, who already had three Piston cups of his own. He wanted to wipe that smug grin off Chick Hicks face most of all, but something changed all that.

When he watched the King crash, It’s like he was moving on autopilot. He drove over to him without even thinking about it. Winning meant nothing like this. At that moment the most important thing was to make sure the King got to finish the race. He had raced for so long, for so many years. For him to not cross the finish line of what could be his last professional race was unthinkable.

So Lightning did what he needed to do. He drove behind the King’s car and gently pushed it past the finish line. It didn’t matter that Chick Hicks had just won the Piston Cup. Lightning didn’t care about that. His time in Radiator Springs had changed him, shown him what it meant to be a racer. A real racer. Looking back he doesn’t regret it. Sure it would have been nice to win the Piston Cup when he was eighteen, but it didn’t really make a difference. He had won the next year, and the look on Chicks face when he passed him in the last lap was enough to make waiting worth the while.

 

And now, something new was happening. Now it was about Storm. Now the press was all over the new racer. He was popular for sure, though Storm didn’t look like he enjoyed the attention. Not that Lightning enjoyed it. He’d prefer if the reporters would stay out of his personal life. That seemed to be one of the biggest things they would always ask him about.

At times it felt like the world was more interested in finding out if he had a girlfriend then asking about his racing career. Though that was to be expected. Fans wanted to know these things.
Lightning was always reluctant to mention anything personal in his interviews. He rarely talked about Sally. Though it wasn’t that hard for fans to figure out they were together. In the beginning, Sally had always come to his races. She sat in the reserved section for his friends. It didn’t take long at all once they had started seeing each other for the world to figure it out.

 

In recent years though...Sally hasn’t been around. The reporters asked him, but he could never bring himself to say anything. Not about Sally. That was his life. His private life.

He couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. To talk about why she left. For the first few months, it killed him for her to not be there. To walk around Radiator Springs and not see her, to know that she was somewhere else. Possibly with someone else crushed him.

Mater and his friends had to build him back up. After she left he was like a shell of himself. He didn’t even feel like Lightning McQueen anymore. For the first time in so long, he felt like nothing. It had taken time for him to get back where he was.

Sally had been gone for two years now, and sometimes he still felt the rawness of it like it was yesterday. To be honest though. When Lightning met Storm...he didn’t think about Sally for a while. He was busy training, busy trying to figure out how he would beat Storm in a race.

That was when he was finally himself again. He was angry he wasn’t faster than Storm. Of course he was, he was too prideful not to be. Even though he had lost, he finally felt...alive again. Racing on the track was where he was meant to be.

Looking back now, he doesn’t know what he was thinking saying he was going to stop racing professionally. He knows it was for Cruz. To give her a chance at racing was worth more than his own selfish desire to continue.

But even though he decided that... Storm was right in the end. He was Lightning McQueen, and he was no quitter. Now it was time to get back on track. It was time to race again. He owes that to himself and to Storm.

So the sooner they get a house here the better.

That being said Lightning gets into his car. Mater takes Shotgun, and Luigi and Guido decide to take their own car so they don’t need to cram into Lightning’s backseat with Storm.

Lightning drives the short distance to Storm’s apartment, having remembered how to get there from last night.

When he pulls up to the apartment complex, he grabs his phone to call Storm, but Mater nudges his elbow and points to the building. He sees Storm leaning back against the wall with his phone in hand. He’s dressed in tight looking jeans and a black T-shirt. He looks pretty recognizable from here, though without his racing uniform on he looks like a regular kid. Lightning shouldn’t say kid because it’s obvious Storm is older than eighteen. Or at least, Lightning thinks he’s older than eighteen.

Mater rolls down the window and waves to Storm who grins when he sees them and gets into the backseat.

“Hey.”

“Hi.” Lightning greets back.

“Howdy y'all! Let’s get this show on the road.” Mater says in one of the thickest country accents he can do.

Storm snickers in the backseat and after a second Lightning and Mater start cracking up too.

Their laughter is broken a few minutes later when Lightning hears a thump come from the window on Mater’s side.

The three of them look at the window in confusion before they see Guido in the driver’s side of the car next to them. Mater rolls down the window.

“Can we please go find a house so I can get some sleep already!” Guido yells at them.

Lightning glances back at Storm to see him wearing an amused grin.

“Sure thing Guido!” Lightning says.

“Don’t mind him, he just needs coffee or something,” Mater says to Storm.

Storm nods. “I know the feeling.” Lightning watches as he takes a sip from a Red Bull. He didn’t even see Storm holding it!

Lightning figures it’s best not to start an argument right now about why Storm shouldn’t be drinking so much Red Bull.

Instead Lightning asks Mater where they’re going first.

Mater says the address out loud so Storm can put it into his phone. They follow the GPS to a neighborhood that’s probably fifteen minutes from the trainer center.

The first house they look at is just...not for them. Luigi and Guido both hate the kitchen. Mater is displeased with the lack of a pool.

Storm then informs him that contrary to his belief, not all houses in Florida have pools.

This goes on for a while. Each of the houses has one or two distinct things that they don’t like. They drive to houses all over the area and Lightning is convinced they must have driven in a large circle five times at this point.

They stop for lunch at a restaurant and in between sipping a large Dr. Pepper, Storm is trying to convince Mater to give up on the idea of a pool. A futile task if Lightning’s ever seen one.

Guido looks pacified now that he’s eaten something. He’s back to looking at Mater with a glare whenever he does or says anything particularly strange. Luigi busies himself by looking through the binder and trying to find a house they’ll actually like instead of going to every address in it.

Lightning tries to help him in between talking to Storm about building a pool. Or buying a cheap inflatable pool from the store.

Knowing Mater, he’d most likely be just as fine with an inflatable pool.

Whether or not it’s a good idea to buy a house based off that is the real question.

Eventually, after traveling what Lightning believes is the majority of Orlando, they find what could potentially be a good house for the four of them. It’s on the outskirts of the city, located closer to the Florida suburbs. It’s a relatively big house once they go inside, and it has everything they could want. More than four bedrooms, a nice kitchen and living room, three bathrooms, a patio, and a pool.

It’s a nice house, affordable for them. Though Lightning did have plenty of money to cover most of the house regardless of price. He’s been a professional racer for a long time now.

The house is in a good location too. It’s roughly twenty minutes from the training center. From what Lightning can tell it’s not that far from Storm’s house either.

After a general agreement that this house is the right one, Mater proceeds to call the real estate agent and enter a lengthy discussion with her.

Once he’s finished on the phone he turns to them. “Okay, guys well the realtor says as soon as we meet with her to sign the rental agreements and sort out the payment we can move in here.”

Lightning’s surprised things went relatively smoothly for them. Now all they need to do is finish the paperwork and they could probably move in as soon as tomorrow depending on how things go.

It’s late afternoon now, and it becomes apparent that now that the house has been sorted out, they don’t know what to do with themselves for the rest of the day.

Mater speaks up though, usually the one to break the silence. “Hey so now that we don’t have anything to do today...Why don’t we go check out your apartment!” Mater says looking at Storm.

“My apartment?” Storm repeats in confusion.

“Yeah! I’m curious what it’s like!” Mater continues.

Lightning frowns. “Mater, relax. We don’t need to see his apartment.” Of course Lightning’s curious too, but he doesn’t want to invite himself to Storm’s apartment.

Mater doesn’t look discouraged at all by Lightning’s comment. Instead, he looks at Storm, eager for an answer.

“Yeah, you guys can come over.” Storm says after a minute.

“Are you sure?” Lightning asks.

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want to invade your privacy!” Guido says staring at Mater.

Mater smiles, completely unfazed.

“Yeah, it’s no problem.” Storm says again.

So the next thing they know the five of them are driving back to Storm’s apartment complex.

Once they get there Lightning realizes the complex is bigger than he expected. There are four floors, and Storm apparently lives on the top floor.

The hallways are very sleek and modern, and Lightning is unsurprised Storm decided to pick an apartment here.

Of course on the way up in the elevator Lightning is unsure of what he should be expecting. Though even from the outside of the room Lightning can tell when Storm slides his key into the door his apartment will be nothing like Lightning’s first apartment.

 

When Storm opens the door, the first thing Lightning sees is darkness. Even when Storm turns on the Light, there is still lots of black in his apartment.

Everything Lightning looks at is sleek and shiny. Storm seems to have a common theme going as most of the furniture Lightning sees in the living room is black. The apartment is more spacious than Lightning originally thought it would be, especially since he’s almost positive Storm lives here by himself.

The living room has a large flat screen TV on the wall, and Lightning can see a bunch of controllers and things beneath it. When Lightning turns toward the kitchen which Luigi and Guido are currently inspecting, he sees a lot of sleek new appliances, all seemingly black as well. Lightning can see a hallway connecting to his living room with more doors in it. On the other side of the living room there’s a large aquarium too, though from this far away Lightning can't see what's inside it.

“Wow! You’ve got a cool apartment Storm!” Guido murmurs as he’s looking at all the stuff in the kitchen.

“Thanks.” Storm says, looking a bit relieved at the comment.

Guido is right, Storm does have a nice apartment for his age.

Luigi and Guido, now apparently finished looking around, announce they have things to do and will catch up with them later. A bit surprising to Lightning as he has no idea what they would need to do, but it’s not uncommon for them to go off by themselves.

Soon enough they leave in their own car leaving Lightning, Storm, and Mater sitting in Storm’s living room. The silence is a little awkward, and Mater being himself wasn’t really doing anything to lighten the atmosphere.

Thankfully, Storm speaks up after a minute.

“So...you guys want to play a game?”

“Game?” Lightning asks in confusion. He doesn’t know what kind of game they could play inside. Well, other than a board game.

Lightning doesn’t think Storm’s ready for a board game with Mater yet. You need to clear a large chunk of time in advance, especially if they play monopoly.

“Yeah.” Storm says, getting up from his chair to rummage around in the bin he has underneath the TV. When he gets up, he’s holding three video game controllers. Although Lightning has never seen controllers like these.

Storm passes one to Lightning, and then to Mater.

“What are we playing?” Mater asks.

“I have a game you guys might like. It’s a racing game.”

Lightning studies the controller in his hands. It’s been a long time since he played a video game, but hey if it’s a racing game he should be able to figure it out.

Lightning watches as Storm puts a disc in whatever game system this is and looks up at the bright colors and loud music that appears a minute later.

“Mario Kart?” Mater reads aloud.

Lightning knows Mario. Or he at least knows the old versions of the game. The original one from the 1980s. He played those games when he was younger, but looking at this he knows it will be nothing like what he used to play.

This game involves a lot more choices. Storm explains to him that the car you choose can increase your speed depending on which one you pick. The irony isn’t lost on him.

After a few minutes of Storm explaining how the game works, Lightning finally thinks he’s grasping it.

Until they actually start to play.

As soon as the racing count down begins on the TV screen Lightning feels like he’s entered a different universe. Nothing makes any sense in this racing game. When he turns the controller his race car launches toward one direction quicker than he can stop it.

Storm and Mater are laughing at him as he complains about how a race car shouldn’t be stopped by a banana peel of all things.

They play a variety of different races, and just when Lightning finally thinks he’s getting the hang of it, they play a course where the race track is in space! Every time he turns his car it flies off the edge, and though Mater isn’t doing any better he’s still cracking up.

Then Lightning finally gets into first place, and he’s so close to the finish line. Then he sees something appear above his car. It looks so strange to him, like a blue turtle shell with spikes on it? He’s about to ask Storm what he should do when the turtle shell slams down onto his car, kicking him out of first place.

Lightning stares at the screen in shock and yells out “This is insane!”

Mater and Storm absolutely lose it then and are laughing hysterically. Lightning is fuming about the stupid blue turtle shell while Mater is busy tearing up so much that he excuses himself and steps outside of the apartment for a minute.

Storm stops laughing after a minute, noticing Lightning’s annoyed expression.

“Hey, it’s just a game. It has nothing to do with real racing.”

Lightning nods. He knows that. Of course he knows that. Mario Kart is nothing like a real race at all, but he still can’t help the little twinge of doubt that roots itself in his mind. Even if Mario Kart is nothing life real racing...Racing is different now than it used to be. Natalie Certain’s words from the previous night echo in his mind.

If he were younger the words would not have bothered him at all. He would have laughed in Natalie Certain’s face. He would have shown up to the next race and won without a doubt. Now...he’s not a rookie anymore.

Lightning stares distantly at the controller in his hands, mind elsewhere.

Then he feels it pulled from his grasp. Startled, he looks up.

Storm’s grey eyes are staring at him, eyebrows creased with worry.

“Lightning?”

Lightning shakes himself out of it, face brightening.

“I’m fine.” He says

Storm looks at him for a moment without saying anything, though he doesn’t break eye contact.

“I know you are because you’re Lightning McQueen.”

Lightning smiles then, bordering on a laugh.

“Lightning, you shouldn’t let anyone else tell you what you can do. In the end, you’re the only one who gets to make that choice.”

Storm says these words to him firmly. Storm is much more observant than he thought, but right now he is grateful for it.

“Thank you Storm. That means a lot.”

Storm looks back at him, mouths turning up slowly into a smile.

“Don’t mention it.”

Lightning wants to say something else, but the words fall short on his lips. Storm is sitting close to him, and they haven’t broken eye contact yet. They just sit there in silence for a few seconds before Storm’s apartment door swings open, and Mater strolls through it with a bright grin.

“Hey buddy, guess what.”

“What?” Lightning asks. He almost forgot Mater was here.

“Luigi and Guido called and they need some help. Apparently they went to go talk to the realtor anyway, and said they need you there to sign the papers.”

“Oh great.” Lightning mutters, accepting Mater’s extended hand to help him up.

Mater then turns his attention to Storm, who’s looking up at him from the ground despite his tall figure. Lightning didn’t think about it before, but Storm must be taller than Mater.

“Hey Storm, tomorrow we could use some help moving in and all that. You should give us a hand.”

“Oh, um. Sure.” Storm says to Mater, still looking kind of baffled at Mater’s entrance.

Then Mater is motioning for Lightning to follow him outside. Lightning turns around to Storm.

“Uh, bye Storm, see you tomorrow. Thanks for having us!”

“Yeah, no problem.” Storm says, almost drowned out by Mater yelling his thanks from out the door.

Lightning doesn’t have much time to think about what just happened because Mater is suddenly asking him a ton of questions on their way down the steps. Stuff that Lightning doesn’t know the answer to.

“Wow Storm’s apartment is nice huh?!” Mater says.
“Yeah, it’s way nicer than my old one was.”

“He’s a nice guy! And that game was super fun! What was it called again? Mario Kart?”

“Mhm” Lightning hums in confirmation.

“Do you think he has a girlfriend?” Mater asks.

Lightning stops in his movement. The question caught him off guard. Truthfully he doesn’t know. Storm hasn’t mentioned anything about a girlfriend, and his apartment hardly looks like a girl lives there.

“I’m not sure Mater.”

The more he thinks about it, he really isn’t sure. Storm could get a girlfriend easily if he wanted to, no doubt about that. He’s handsome enough, and he’s a young, successful racer. What’s not to like about that?

He and Mater get into his car and drive quickly to the realtor’s office, per Luigi and Guido’s request.

He thinks about it for the drive over, though he’s not sure why. If Storm does have a girlfriend, it doesn’t really concern him. So he opts to not think about it.

When Mater and he walk into the realtor’s office and see a middle-aged woman at the counter with a bright smile.

“Hi there, you must be Mr. McQueen.” She says, reaching out her hand to shake his.

“Nice to meet you.”

“I’m a big fan of yours, Mr. McQueen.” She says, smiling.

“Oh, Um. Thank you!”

Ah, so that’s how Guido and Luigi were able to set up a meeting with her so quickly.

Once she turns away, Lightning glares at his friends. He hates when they use his name for stuff like this.

Of course he can’t really say no to them. They might be irritating but they’re still his friends.

“Mr. McQueen if you could just initial these forms here.”
Lightning shoots Guido a look as he raises his eyebrows toward the realtor and then back to Lightning.

Lightning rolls his eyes at him. It’s no surprise his friends have been not so subtly trying to get him to date someone again. Now Lightning understands that his friends don’t want him to be alone. After all, they had seen how rough he was the first few weeks without Sally.

It’s not that he’s against dating anyone. It’s just that he’s...waiting for the right person.

What’s most surprising is that Mater hasn’t done anything yet. Normally Mater will be the first one out of the three of his friends to harass Lightning about a love interest.

After his break up with Sally, Mater had actually gone up to some of the girls in Radiator Springs and asked if they would take his best friend on a date, much to Lightning’s chagrin.

Now though, Mater is just sitting there uninterested.

They finish signing all of the papers the realtor gives to them, and after about a half hour, all of their payments are approved. The realtor then gives Lightning a set of keys, flashing him a bright smile as she does so.

“It was such a pleasure meeting you and your friends, Mr. McQueen.”

“Thank you for all your help.” Lightning says politely.

Once they pass through the doors of the building, Luigi immediately turns to him.

“Lightning why didn’t you get her number? She was totally into you!”

Lightning sighs. “Luigi, as much as I appreciate you saying that, I’m really okay.”

Luigi groans. “Mater back me up here! She was nice! Pretty too!”

“I don’t think she’s Lightning’s type. Right pal?”

Lightning doesn’t know what Mater’s talking about. He doesn’t think he really ever had a “type” and even if he did...Lightning’s not sure he would tell Mater. Then if they ever saw anyone who fit the description Mater would immediately go talk to them. Regardless he’s thankful for Mater’s excuse.

“Yeah, she’s not my type.” Lightning says.

Luigi sighs but thankfully drops it.
When they look up at the sky, it's dark, so they plan on staying in the hotel for one more night then moving in the next day.

After dinner in the hotel restaurant, Lightning is beat. He crashes on his bed in the hotel room.

After a minute Mater emerges from the doorway and flops onto his own bed.

Lightning’s eyes are closing and he’s about to sleep when Mater speaks.

“So earlier, I was just saying you had a type to get Luigi and Guido off your case.”

Lightning nods, “Yeah I figured.”

Mater pauses for a moment before speaking.

“Do you have a type?” Mater asks, voice quieter than usual.

It throws him off a little.

“Do I have a type?” Lightning repeats, uncertain about Mater’s question. They don’t usually talk about this stuff. They talk about racing and Radiator Springs and people, but not usually this.

“Yeah. Well, I just have never heard ya say if you had one before.”

Lightning thinks about it. He had never really given it much thought, choosing to date people based on their personality rather than what they looked like. Though if he had to choose…

“Well, I guess I like people with darker hair.”

“Darker hair?” Mater questions.

A pinch of awkwardness hit him in the gut. He didn’t expect to need to back up his claim, then again it’s Mater who he’s talking to here.

“Yeah I mean, I wouldn’t mind dating someone with light hair or anything. It’s just that my hair is blond so I’d prefer to date someone with brown or black hair.”

“Interesting,” Mater says back.

Lightning chooses not to keep the conversation going after that. It was already weird enough and Lightning’s not sure he wants to hear Mater describe his ideal type to him at the moment.

Instead, he chooses to sleep it off and tries not to think about what Mater could do with that information.

Chapter Text

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.”

Lightning nods.

“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!”

Lightning nods.

“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.

Lightning nods.

“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.

“Thanks.”

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.”

Lightning nods.

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.

“Thanks.”

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.”

Liar.

“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!”

Chapter Text

Lightning McQueen P.O.V.

 

Lightning looks between Storm and Cruz waiting for them to accept his proposition. Luigi and Guido insisted he invite Storm, so he’s got no choice either way.

Storm says yes anyway, so Lightning doesn’t need to worry about Luigi and Guido bringing the party to Storm’s house if he neglected to come. Now he’s just waiting on Cruz, who looks slightly irritated Storm said he’d be going.

That’s not good for Lightning. He’s friends with both of them and would prefer if they could get along. It’s mostly Storm who’s creating the problem with Cruz. He’s acting so cocky towards her. So eager to impress her with his racing skill. It’s kind of strange...almost as if, he likes her.

It would make sense if that were the case. Lightning remembers when he was a rookie and thought he was a hotshot, he talked to girls like that too. Before he realized what a jerk he was being. He never tried any of that when he was with Sally, but Storm’s still young. Maybe no one’s told him the best way to get a girl yet?

Cruz speaks, startling him from his train of thought.

“Sure Lightning! I’d love to come.”

“Alright great! I’ll see you tonight.”

With that, they part ways. Cruz going back inside.

Storm turns to him.

“So what’s the plan. Are we going back to your house?”

Lightning nods.

“Yeah, then we have to go to the store. They all want to go together.”

Storm smiles. “That should be interesting.”

Shopping with Guido, Luigi and Mater is certainly more than just interesting. Storm has no idea what he’s getting into.

Lightning’s mind wanders back to the race as they walk to Storm’s car. It doesn’t make sense. Storm has the faster car, He also has more experiencing racing than Cruz does. Thinking back to the Florida 500, Lightning wonders why he didn’t win. Since he wasn’t on the track with them, he couldn’t tell what was going on. He remembers Storm slowing down intentionally during the race...but why? Did he...want Cruz to win? No. That’s unlike him. Even if he did like Cruz there’s no way Storm would just let her win. That brings up the question then, why did he lose?

Lightning doesn’t want to bring it up, in case it bothers Storm he didn’t win.

They get in Storm’s BMW and start driving.

“Hey Lightning?”

Lightning looks up.

“Yeah?”

“When you were training, did you ever use that track outside?”

Lightning frowns. He didn’t think about it before, but he’s never seen that track. Originally he had never seen all of those other rooms in the center. He had just assumed they weren’t for racing and they were just storage or something. It is strange though, especially since he struggled with the simulator that Mr. Sterling didn’t mention the race track they had outside. Maybe it just wasn’t built yet.

“No, I never did.”

Storm nods.

The whole thing is a little strange when he thinks about it, but Mr. Sterling probably wanted him to learn to race like the next gen racers.

Before Lightning can dwell on it, they are back at the house.

Luigi and Mater immediately rush out to them.

“LET’S GO SHOPPING!” They yell, Guido following them.

Storm stares at them, probably not expecting their enthusiasm to go shopping. Lightning can see Guido holding a piece of paper that’s got around a hundred things written on it. They all push past him and get into his car.

“Well...I guess we’re taking my car then.” Storm mumbles.

Lightning laughs as he walks to the driver’s side. Mater, Luigi, and Guido have crammed into the back, Guido in the middle looking unhappy with his placement.
“You know we could take another car guys.” Lightning says to them.

“No way! It’s more fun this way.” Luigi says.

“Yeah, and if we take another car Storm might try to leave.” Mater adds.

Storm mumbles “I could still leave.” Just quiet enough for him to hear.

Lightning winks at him.

Storm stares at him, before turning back to the road.

“So, why would I want to leave?” Storm asks.

Lightning sighs in sympathy. “Because this will probably be a 3 hour production.”

“3 hours?!”

“You’ll see.”

Storm raises his eyebrows as if there’s no way a shopping trip for one night’s dinner would take that long.

Everything goes well for the first half hour. They reach the closest supermarket and all go inside. Guido and Luigi immediately disappear down one aisle, and Mater follows them. Leaving Lightning and Storm behind.

“They’re like little kids.” Storm says in disbelief as he watches Luigi and Mater lift Guido up and put him into the cart, despite him cursing them out.

Lightning nods. He’s given up on trying to make his friends act like adults in the grocery store. He calls out to them.

“Guys don’t you dare tip another cart over!”

Luigi and Mater nod, and push the cart out of his line of vision. Probably so when they push the cart over Lightning won’t see it.

Lightning sighs. “Oh well. It’s best we just leave them to it. Why don’t we get your groceries since we’re here.”

“My groceries?” Storm repeats.

“Yeah, don’t you need to get any?”

Storm ponders it for a minute, then nods leaving to get another cart.

After they walk around the store for a half hour, Lightning’s starting to regret offering for Storm to get his groceries. It’s one thing knowing how much junk Storm’s eating, it’s another watching him toss it into the cart.

He surveys the contents. A case of Red Bull and Dr. Pepper. Various chips, candy, cookies, and pastries. He even watches as Storm looks at the Dinosaur chicken nuggets in the frozen section. Something a little kid would buy.

“You can’t be serious Storm.”

Storm grins. “I like chicken nuggets.” He says, completely serious.

“Like that’s even chicken in there. If you want to eat chicken nuggets then make your own, it’ll be healthier.”

Storm groans. “That’s too much work.”

Lightning won’t hear it though. He’s already tossing vegetable oil, eggs, flour, bread crumbs and chicken into the cart so Storm can make his own.

“I don’t even know how to make chicken nuggets Lightning.”

“Then I’ll make them for you.” He says, taking some of the worst of Storm’s candy and chips and putting them back on the shelves.

“Oh, you will huh?” Storm says, and Lightning catches his teeth showing in a smile.

Lightning nods. “Next time I’m over I will.”

“You’re going to come to my apartment?” Storm asks.

“Yeah...if I’m invited.” Lightning mutters, feeling embarrassed for inviting himself over out of the blue.

Lightning looks up at Storm, who’s grey eyes are staring right at him.

“You’re always invited.” Storm says, not breaking eye contact.

Lightning feels warmth rushing to his cheeks, “Thanks.”

Then Storm’s eyes move towards Lightning’s hand, staring at what he’s holding.

“Hey! Not my Gummy worms! I need those!”

Lightning rolls his eyes and tosses them back into the cart. After another twenty minutes, Luigi and Guido meet up with them at the register.

Lightning catches Storm glancing at their cart. It’s completely full.

“Jeez, do you think you got enough stuff?” Storm asks.

Luigi and Guido say no simultaneously. Storm frowns.

“What else do you need?” he asks.

Mater interjects. “Oh Storm. No one gave ya a heads up about how we do things. Luigi and Guido are very particular about what ingredients go into their Italian cuisine. See, right now this is all the stuff we need to make the dough for the pasta from scratch. We still need to get other stuff from the produce market, the butcher, and the liquor store, then they start cooking.”

Storm stares at him, eyes wide in disbelief.

“You can’t be serious.”

Lightning laughs.

He puts a hand on Storm’s shoulder in sympathy.

Storm makes no move to lean away from his hand, which Lightning notices though he isn’t sure why.

At the center, he certainly didn’t seem to enjoy shaking Mr. Sterling’s hand. Though he did shake hands with Cruz after the race. Maybe he doesn’t mind being touched by the people he likes?

Lightning can’t think on it, because his friends are demanding they hurry it up walking back to the car so they can keep moving and get all of their supplies.

The next few hours consist of Storm begrudgingly trailing behind them while Luigi and Guido flat out start to argue with various workers. Storm quite frankly looks like he’d be anywhere else when he hears Luigi argue with the vendor that he’s hiding the better quality tomatoes somewhere else.

Lightning doesn’t believe it at first, but then the Vendor, with a somewhat sheepish look on his face goes back into the store and comes out with a box. Inside the box, are tons of tomatoes that look much better than the ones on display.

Luigi pays him and takes about half the box. Lightning turns to Storm to see him staring in disbelief.

“How did you know that?” Storm asks Luigi.

Luigi looks quite proud of himself when he answers.

“Back in Italy, the vendors would pull the same tricks. If you wanted the best produce you’d need to push them around a bit.”

Guido glares at him. “That was your mother who did that and you know it!”

Mater and Storm laugh at that comment and Luigi’s face turns as red as the tomatoes he’s holding.

Of course Guido would know that. He and Luigi grew up together in Italy before coming here. Luigi can’t embellish any story while Guido’s present. Lightning’s witnessed his fair share of embarrassing moments for Luigi.

After one more stop they are finally heading back to the house, all groceries accounted for. Storm looks more exhausted after those 3 hours of shopping then he did after driving all night a few days ago when they came back from Nebraska.

When Lightning mentions this to him, Storm just pauses to make direct eye contact with him and then opens another can of Red Bull.

In the rearview mirror, Lightning can see Mater digging through some of the bags.

“Hey Storm, looks like you got some real healthy food back at the grocery store.” Mater says, sarcasm thick in his voice.

Mater then passes one of the bags to Luigi and Guido, who look disgusted at the contents.

“Seriously Storm? There’s so much candy in here!” Luigi yells.

Storm says nothing from the driver’s seat, just takes another sip of his drink.

Mater noticing this decides to speak up, “Maybe Storm should just come eat with us every night then.”

Storm immediately goes into a coughing fit, probably trying to swallow his drink instead of spitting it out. There’s a mixture of laughing and screaming coming from the backseat as Lightning realizes the car is swerving a bit due to Storm’s reaction.

On reflex, his hand shoots out to the steering wheel to straighten them out. Once everyone quiets down and Storm regains control over the wheel Lightning realizes his hand is covering Storm’s.

“Sorry.” He mutters and removes his hand.

Storm shakes his head, looking flustered from his coughing fit.

“It’s no problem.”

Lightning turns around to the backseat.

“Alright new rule. When people are drinking, we do NOT say something to startle them. Got it?”

Luigi and Guido nod, while Mater just gives him back an innocent look.

Thankfully, Storm just pulled into the driveway meaning there shouldn’t be anymore driving incidents. Well, for today at least.

Lightning and his friends bring the multiple bags from the shopping trip inside, which took them more than a few trips to accomplish.

It’s close to dinnertime now, but Lightning knows his friends will still need a long time to prepare dinner. Still, he thinks he should call Cruz and let her know.

Lightning puts his hand over his ear trying to block out the noises of pots and pans clanging together in the kitchen as he calls her.

After a few rings, Cruz picks up.

“Hey Lightning!”

“Hey, Cruz! How are you?”

“I’m good! Am I still coming over for dinner?” Cruz asks.

“Yeah of course! Luigi and Guido just got started so it probably won’t be ready for another hour but you’re welcome to come sooner.”

“Okay great! See you soon.”

Cruz hangs up and Lightning sends her the address.

After he’s finished he walks into the kitchen to see Luigi and Guido laying out what looks like every cooking appliance they own.

“Where are Mater and Storm?”

“They went to the living room.” Guido states, looking pretty occupied measuring out cups of flour.

Lightning nods, turning to leave his friends in the kitchen. They should handle dinner alone. It gets too chaotic with everyone cooking at once.

Mater and Storm are sitting on the couch in silence when Lightning walks in.

“Is Cruz coming?” Mater asks.

“Yeah, she is. I just talked to her.”

Mater nods, and when Lightning looks over at Storm his expression doesn’t change.

Lightning takes a seat in a chair opposite them.

“So.” Mater begins. “You like living in Florida, Storm?”

“Mmm. It’s alright. Though it’s not like I’m here year round.” Storm responds, brushing a hand through his hair.

Lightning frowns. He’s never asked if Storm raced internationally before. He just assumed since Storm was younger he stayed in the states. Though it occurs to him Storm could have the potential to race internationally with such a high racing speed.

“Have you raced internationally before Storm?” Lightning says.

Storm shakes his head. “No I’ve only raced in other states so far. I’d like to race internationally.”

Lightning nods. Racing internationally is something all racers should experience if they want to be successful. To prove yourself not only as a great racer in the states but to the whole world. Lightning had...an interesting time when he raced in the International Grand Prix a few years ago, though he could have done without the whole espionage thing Mater had somehow gotten himself into.

“OH, I remember that! Lightning you was racing against that Italian guy! Mr. San Francisco! Mater yells.

Storm’s face morphs into confusion.

“No Mater, that’s not his name. He’s Francesco Bernoulli remember?” Lightning corrects.

“Doesn’t ring a bell!” Mater responds.

Lightning rolls his eyes. “Well, it’s not like you were paying attention. You were too busy on your secret spy mission with your girlfriend.”

Mater coughs, actually looking startled for once.

“Well McQueen, you were too busy worrying your girlfriend would ditch you for Mr. San Francisco and his fancy-schmancy open-wheeled tires.” Mater throws back.

Lightning feels his face heating up. He wasn’t worrying about Francesco Bernoulli at the time. He was just...irritated by him.

“Wait a second.” Storm interjects. “Lightning’s girlfriend had a crush on Francesco Bernoulli?”

With that, Mater bursts out into laughter, and Lightning even hears Luigi and Guido laughing from the kitchen.

Lightning groans.

“Was she okay...You know like mentally?” Storm asks, prompting even more laughter from the Kitchen and Mater, who’s practically on the ground at this point.

Lightning’s face is burning. “What are you saying Storm?” He challenges. Even if he and Sally did break up, Lightning doesn’t want to hear anyone say anything rude about her.

Storm backs down immediately, speaking softer.

“That’s not what I meant Lightning. I just meant she’d have to be crazy to leave you for him. It’s her loss.”

If Lightning wasn’t red before he certainly was now. Storm’s compliment makes him burn with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

An awkward silence follows again before a look of complete shock passes Storm’s face.

“WAIT. Mater, you have a girlfriend?!” Storm almost yells. It’s the loudest he’s ever been Lightning thinks.

Mater jolts up from the ground like he’s been electrocuted.

“I Don’t!” He denies.

Luigi pops his head out from the kitchen. “He totally does! And she’s a bombshell too.”

“She isn’t my girlfriend!” Mater insists, getting flustered.

This then prompts an argument between Luigi and Mater that Lightning tunes out of because he hears the doorbell ring. Oh god. Poor Cruz has no idea what craziness she’s about to witness.

Lightning won’t leave her stranded outside though, so he goes to get the door.

When he opens it he finds Cruz dressed in yellow clothing, no surprise there.

“Hey Cruz.”

“Hey Lightning!” She says, smiling until she starts to hear the high pitched yelling taking place behind them.

“Uh, what’s going on?”

Lightning sighs. “Come on in, you’ll see for yourself.”

Cruz follows him in and Lightning shuts the door behind her.

He tunes back in to hear Luigi screaming “How do you think Holly would feel about you denying her existence as your girlfriend?!”

Mater is yelling right back “She’s not my girlfriend she’s my PARTNER.”

Cruz is staring at the situation in shock while Storm looks like he’s struggling to contain his laughter.

“Who’s Holly?” Cruz asks in curiosity, thankfully making Luigi and Mater stop yelling.

“Mater’s girlfriend.” Luigi says.

“I already told you. She isn’t my girlfriend.” Mater states calmly.

Cruz frowns. “Why are you guys even fighting about this?”

“Don’t look at me, Storm brought it up.” Luigi says.

Cruz narrows her eyes at him. “Of course he did.”

Storm’s pleasant look fades quickly, replaced by a steely look of annoyance.

Oh god. Lightning better step in and fix things otherwise his friends will be at each other's throats in a few seconds. It won’t do Storm any good trying to impress Cruz if she hates him.

“Alright guys everybody calm down okay? I brought it up. Storm only asked because he was curious. We’re all friends here and we’re all getting along alright?” Lightning says, trying to be the peacemaker.

Everybody nods.

Lightning is about to let out a breath of relief before he hears Guido scream

“LUIGI!!” from the kitchen.

They all rush to the kitchen, Lightning’s thinking the worst. Like the Kitchen’s on fire because they rarely hear Guido scream.

Once they enter the Kitchen he sees Guido standing at the stove trying to stir one pot and add ingredients to another. At first, he thinks Guido is mad Luigi left him to handle the cooking alone.

“What do you want Guido?” Luigi asks his friend.

Guido turns to him, looking hilarious in his oversized white apron.

“What is THIS?!” Guido asks, holding a box of store-bought pasta.

Lightning stares at it, wondering why that possibly set Guido off.

Luigi though just rolls his eyes. “Oh calm down! It tastes fine! It takes too long to make the pasta from scratch. Besides everyone knows it’s the sauce that makes the dish.”

From Guido’s expression alone you would think Luigi had just told him to jump off a cliff.

A string of Italian curse words falls from Guido’s lips. Or at least Lightning thinks they are curse words judging from Luigi’s look of deep offense.

“You know what! I’m calling your mother. I wonder what she’d think of this store-bought pasta!” Guido yells, dashing for his phone.

Luigi’s face turns white.

“Don’t you dare call my Mama! Guido!” He shouts, then chases after him.

Mater has a little smirk on his face, no doubt relishing the fact Luigi’s about to get grilled by his mother.

Lightning’s only met Luigi’s family once or twice but they are very traditional Italians. He only hopes his mother doesn’t yell at Luigi for too long.

Cruz and Storm for once have a shared expression of surprise, and Lightning thinks its best to get out of the kitchen for now. So Luigi and Guido can finish dinner once they finish their screaming match upstairs.

Cruz is the first to speak. “Is it usually that um...crazy around here?”

Mater laughs. “Sure is! That’s how we Radiator Spring folk like it.”

She nods.

“So Cruz? How’s it feel to be a racer?” Mater asks, keeping up the conversation.

“It’s great Mater! It’s so nice being able to race! To really race and not to train. It’s much more fun.”

Lightning ponders it. He knew Cruz wasn’t happy as a trainer, he knew she wanted to be a racer. That was why he wanted her to finish the Florida 500 for him.

“It’s funny how being a trainer isn’t fun isn’t it?” Storm says from his chair, looking at Cruz.

“What’s funny about it?” Cruz retorts back.

God, Storm’s dying out here. Even his basic attempts to start a conversation aren’t working. Lightning needs to give him a lesson on how to talk to girls. Even if he doesn’t like Cruz it’s something he needs to learn.

“Relax Ramirez. I’ve never been a trainer so I wouldn’t know what it’s like. I’m just making conversation.” Storm says, throwing a glance at Lightning.

Cruz doesn’t look happy, but she doesn’t respond angrily back, which Lightning guesses is a step in the right direction? He doesn’t know. He treated girls the same way when he was younger, and even though it worked on some it just wasn’t right. It wasn’t until he changed his attitude that he had a chance with Sally. Even if that didn’t work out.

Lightning considers bringing up a subject they could all talk about without causing any conflict. Before he can though Luigi and Guido walk into the living room announcing that Dinner’s ready.

The dining room table is set with expensive china. Probably the china Luigi’s family sent over to him for his birthday. The amount of food they cooked is downright ridiculous for what six people? There are at least four different types of pasta Lightning can see, all cooked from scratch. There’s a huge pot of tomato sauce in front of him, possibly containing several dozen meatballs inside of it.

They all sit around the table and Mater mutters “Do you think we have enough?” Albeit sarcastically, it makes Guido frown and look over everything on the table.

“Dio Mio Guido. Will you just sit, there’s plenty.” Luigi says, yanking him down to sit.

Lightning’s learned from the numerous times it’s been said around him that means oh my god.

Luigi and Guido waste no time serving everyone a huge portion of food after that, and Lightning watches Guido replace Storm’s Redbull with water.

“Hey, I was drinking that!” Storm protests.

“It ruins the taste. Drink water.”

Storm’s face shifts into a pouting look at the removal of his Red Bull.

“How is it?” Luigi asks after a minute, he and Guido both anticipating judgment on their food.

“It’s delicious as usual guys.” Lightning says, smiling at them.

Storm and Cruz nod in agreement and Storm adds that it’s probably the best Italian food he’s ever had, which Lightning knows made their day.

Dinner then devolves into them eating and the tension from earlier dissipates.

Luigi even offers Mater a half fledged apology. “Mater. I am sorry for insisting Holly is your girlfriend.”

“No problem.”

“Though I don’t know why you deny it instead of bragging, she’s a bombshell” Luigi whispers soft enough that only the people sitting right near him, AKA He and Storm hear.

Storm quirks his eyebrows up at Lightning, and Lightning gives him his best don’t start anything look.

Luckily Mater didn’t hear him, so they don’t need to rehash that argument.

After it’s clear everyone is finished eating they all clear the table and go to the living room. Mater flops down on the couch, and everyone else on the chairs or the floor around it.

“We should play a game!” Mater suggests after a minute.

“Monopoly!” Luigi shouts to which everyone responds with a harsh no. Monopoly with this crew will be a five hour ordeal. Lightning knows that first hand and he doubts Storm or Cruz will want to do that.

“Hey I’ve got an idea!” Mater says, sitting up from the couch.

“What is it?” Lightning asks.

“The other day I was on the interweb and I saw a quiz about McQueen! We should take it!”

“You mean internet Mater.” Guido corrects.

Taking a quiz about himself seems like the opposite of fun, but Cruz is already interested.

“That sounds fun!” She says, solidifying the idea.

Mater starts sending the link to everybody, though Lightning isn’t even sure his phone can connect to the internet. Let alone support a quiz from a website.

It seems Storm has already thought about that though because he passes Lightning his phone.

“What will you use?” Lightning asks.

“My smartwatch.” Storm responds, tapping the square watch on his wrist Lightning didn’t even see before.

“That can connect to the internet?” Lightning asks, impressed.

“Technology is the future Lightning. Time for a phone upgrade.” Storm says, clapping him on the back.

Lightning likes his flip phone. It’s simple and he’s a bit old fashioned anyway, he’ll keep it for now.

Once everyone has the link to the quiz titled “How well do you know Lightning McQueen” they all start to take it.

Lightning has to say looking at some of these questions he’s got no idea what the right answer is. He can tell by looking at some of his friends they’re struggling just as much.

One of the questions asks what his first time was finishing a race. Time as in how quickly he finished the race. In the choices they do have the correct time for both his first race and the correct time for his first ever recorded race, so Lightning could see how a lot of people might get these questions wrong.

Unless the people taking this quiz were there for the race or paid extreme attention to a talk show Lightning was on as a rookie, there’s no way they could get these answers right. Lightning himself got a 90%, thinking it pretty ironic he couldn’t get a perfect score even when the quiz was about himself.

His friends finish, and by the looks of confusion and disappointment on their faces it’s clear the quiz was much harder for them then they anticipated.

“Relax guys, I’m not worried about the score. That quiz was hard! I don’t expect you to know that stuff. Hell, some of it I didn’t even remember.” Lightning says.

His friends look visibly relaxed at that.

“What did you guys score?” Cruz asks.

“I got a 60%” Mater replies.

“We got 50%” Luigi say gesturing to himself and Guido.

“What about you Cruz?” Lightning asks.

“I got an 80%” She says, smiling.

That’s pretty impressive, Lightning thinks. Though Cruz did say she grew up watching him. Then again so did Storm.

Speaking of which Cruz turns to Storm.

“What about you Storm? What did you get?” She asks.

The way she said it sounded weird. Not like typical happy Cruz. More like Cruz when she was drafting him during the Florida 500. Then she had been trying to get under his skin on purpose, to win the race. Now though, there’s no reason for it. Lightning thinks he’s just reading too much into it. If Storm’s going to act cocky towards Cruz then it’s no surprise she would act that way back. That’s how younger people are these days.

Storm says nothing in response, only turns his watch toward them to display the result. A 90%.
For some reason, it’s surprising to him. It’s just a silly quiz online, but still. The idea that Storm knows him better than his other friends...or as well as himself definitely comes as a surprise.

“Nice one Storm!” Mater exclaims.

Luigi and Guido look impressed, but when he turns to Cruz she looks a little bit annoyed. Maybe she’s just upset about how Storm acted back during the Florida 500. Afterall she hasn’t spent as much time with Storm the past few days as Lightning has, she hasn’t seen his personality other than on the Racetrack. Maybe she just needs to get to know him better.

Cruz stares at Storm, then turns to Lightning.

“Hey Lightning! I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we all go down to Fireball beach tomorrow? We could practice racing there!”

Lightning thinks it over. It’s not a bad idea. He would much rather take his car out for a spin on the beach first before the training center where everything he does is analyzed and recorded.

“Yeah sure Cruz! That sounds great.”

She nods. “Alright well I better head home, It’s getting kind of late. Thanks for dinner guys! See ya later!”

A chorus of goodbye’s echoes from the living room when she leaves and Lightning finds himself distracted a bit.

He zones back in when he hears Storm saying he should probably go home too. Lightning hands him his phone.

“Thanks.” Storm says.

“Yeah, no problem. Are you joining us tomorrow at the beach?” Lightning asks, curious if Storm wants to race on the beach. Maybe he’d prefer to just stay at the training center.

“Sure I’ll go.” He says, so Lightning doesn’t have to question whether he wants to go any longer.

“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” Lightning says.

“Oh don’t forget your groceries!” He continues, grabbing the bags from the kitchen and passing them to Storm.

“Thanks, Lightning. See you tomorrow.”

Storm leaves and Lightning shuts the door behind him. He walks over to the couch and flops down beside Mater, Luigi and Guido having gone upstairs.

“Tired out pal?” Mater asks.

“Mhmm” Lightning murmurs in agreement. It had been a pretty tiring day. Touring the racing center, shopping, stopping his friends from fighting and all that.

“It’s pretty interesting you know.” Mater says.

“What’s that?”

“That Storm did so well on the quiz.”

Lightning nods.

“I don’t think Miss Sally would have gotten a 90%”

That one makes Lightning laugh.

“Yeah right Mater. I’d be surprised if she got half right.” He says, the words trailing off bitterly.

Mater sighs. “She should have been better.”

“No. No, It’s not her fault. She shouldn’t have needed to know that stuff Mater. I shouldn’t have tried so hard to make her like racing. I shouldn’t have been gone all those seasons.”

“Lightning.” Mater says, moving to sit up on the couch at look at him.

“Listen to me Lightning. That wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t have controlled that. Sally was the one who grew tired of racing. It was her choice to leave.”

“I should have been better Mater.” Lightning whispers.

“Maybe if I just had the courage to stop racing then she’d still be around.”

Mater looks at him sadly.

“Come on Lightning. You wouldn’t be you without the racing. Someone who loves you, who really loves you won’t ask for you to give up racing. I know they’re out there, someone who’s gonna treat you better than Miss Sally did.”

Lightning nods. “I hope you’re right buddy.”

Mater nods. “Course I’m right. I’m always right. Besides, if Storm heard ya saying you wished you’d quit all those years ago he’d kick your sorry behind.”

Lightning laughs. “Yeah, I know.”

Then Mater saunters off upstairs, leaving Lightning on his own.

He doesn’t think about Sally again tonight. He just drifts off to sleep with Mater’s words of wisdom still echoing in his ears.

Chapter Text

Jackson Storm P.O.V

 

When Storm wakes up to the harsh pitch of his alarm, he’s not annoyed for once. Normally he’ll hit the snooze button and choose to go late to wherever he was supposed to be.

Not today though, when he’ll gladly sacrifice a few hours of sleep to go to the beach with Lightning. Not just so he can see Lightning shirtless either. Though that is a bonus, he’s more excited that Lightning specifically asked him to go.

It’s almost unbelievable how now he’s just a member of the gang. And to think all he needed to do was make one seriously RedBull induced drive to Radiator Springs to do it. God, he should have done this forever ago.

Storm throws open the drawers of his dresser digging through it to find his swim trunks. He can’t remember the last time he went to the beach. Sure he lives in Florida, but he’s not going on fun trips to the beach. It's constant training until he has to race again, most of the time.

From what he could tell last night though they are going to be racing on the beach, so Storm picked his car up last night.

After a few more seconds of digging through his rather large pile of mostly black clothing, he finds his swim trunks (black no surprise there) and puts them on.

He puts on a shirt too, and sandals. Since its early enough in the morning he doubts many people will see him driving. Though his racecar is more recognizable now, the few people he passes on the road will probably just chalk it up to typical Florida weirdness.

He hasn’t been to Fireball beach before, but he knows it’s less popular than the other Florida beaches. He thinks its private property, which explains why Cruz wants to race there.

Storm’s more or less happy with her presence there. On one hand, he doesn’t like her but on the other, the trip wouldn’t be happening without her.

She was pleasant enough last night, even if it’s evident she dislikes him. Storm knows Lightning likes her though, so he’s doing his best to not engage.

Thinking about Lightning liking people has Storm wondering about his last girlfriend. He’s pretty sure her name was Sally if the photo back at Lightning’s house in Radiator Springs was anything to go by.

Lightning hasn’t talked about her much, or at least not talked about her to Storm. Making him wonder what she was like. All Storm knows is that she didn’t want Lightning’s trophies in the house and that she used to live in Radiator Springs. Oh, and that she liked Francesco Bernoulli. Which is completely crazy in Storm’s opinion. She scored Lightning freaking McQueen then decided she had the hots for one of the biggest playboy Italian racers alive? Storm doesn’t get it at all. Though he can’t say he’s unhappy she’s gone.

He makes it to Fireball beach before he can relive all the excitement of last night.

When he parks his car up near the dunes he sees Lightning’s racecar in the distance. He realizes that Lightning’s racing right now alongside a yellow car. Cruz’s car, he remembers.
He watches as the red and yellow cars fly across the sand leaving a cloud of sand behind them. He sees a line in the sand drawn significantly close to where he’s standing which must be the finish line.

Both cars pass it at a similar time, but Storm can see Lightning’s car pass it a second before Cruz.

The cars come to a stop and Cruz and Lightning exit their Race cars.

“I beat you again Old Man!” Cruz says jokingly.

“Yeah yeah, sure you did Cruz.” Lightning says back.

Storm frowns. Lightning isn’t old.

Lightning turns and notices him.

“Hey, Storm!”

“Hi.” Storm responds.

Lightning looks good today. The sun reflecting off his hair makes it look more golden than blond. Lightning’s also got a Red swimsuit and T-shirt on to match with his car.

He turns to Cruz. She narrows her eyes looking at him.

“Storm.” She greets.

“Cruz.” He responds.

Lightning glances further along the beach, spotting three figures walking over to them.

“Hey, guys I’ll be back in a sec.” Lightning says, walking off waving to the figures in the distance. Storm’s assuming its Luigi, Guido, and Mater. Once Lightning leaves, Cruz turns to him.

“You’re here to train on the beach?” She asks, eyebrows raised.

“Sure why not? I like the beach.”

“I just figured you’d rather be racing at the center since you were so eager to transfer there.”

Storm would have to be an idiot to miss the irritation in her tone. Nevertheless, he’ll play along.

“Yes well, the Lightning McQueen training center does have some amazing technology available.”

He leans in closer, voice dropping with his next line.

“Funny how Lightning didn’t know about it.” He states, insinuation clear in his voice.

Cruz's face turns angry quickly after that. “What are you saying Storm?”

Storm shrugs his shoulders. “Nothing.”

Before Cruz can retort, Lightning and his friends appear a few steps away from them. Her face is quick to revert to a smile. She meets his eyes and a look of silent agreement passes through them, not in front of Lightning.

“Hey, guys! What are ya talking about over here?” Mater says, and Storm can see he, Luigi and Guido are lugging beach carts and chairs behind them. Guess they plan to make a day of it.

Cruz smiles at him. “Not much Mater! Storm was just saying how he wanted to race me on the beach.”

Storm is careful not to let his face change. So that’s how she wants to play it.

“Really?” Mater asks, looking at Storm.

Storm nods. “Yeah.”

Lightning looks puzzled before he nods. “Well, we did come here to race. You and Cruz will drive to that pier in the distance then back. Here’s the finish line.” Lightning says pointing to the sand drawn line.

Storm nods.

He gets in his car and drives it down next to Cruz’s car.

Lightning stands between the two of them, arms raised. He gives them a countdown too.

“3...2...1...GO!” He yellow, throwing his arms down.

Storm slams his foot on the gas, ready to smoke her before he realizes his car isn’t moving. His wheels are digging into the sand but not moving. He sees Cruz already has a good lead on him and then lightens up on the gas a little bit in surprise. Then the car does start to move through the sand, quickly gaining speed. He sees Cruz in the distance already past the pier and making a U-turn to go back.

Storm grits his teeth and pushes harder against the gas pedal, making a very quick turn that could have easily sent him into the ocean if he spun out. He’s gaining good ground, but he realizes that there isn’t enough time to catch her. His mistake in the beginning cost him the race, and he watches as she passes the finish line.

Storm’s pissed. Regardless though he takes a deep breath before he gets out of his car.

Cruz throws him a smile as she gets out of her car. “Nice try.” She offers. It sounds nice and polite to anyone else who hears it, but it makes Storm bite his tongue to keep from saying anything.

She leaves then, as Storm sees her walk over to where Luigi and Guido are suntanning. Mater following suit.

Lightning walks up to him.

“Hey, get back in your car I want to show you something.”

Storm pauses for a second but complies. He gets back into the Driver’s seat and Lightning gets in the passenger’s side. It’s the first time Lightning’s been in his car, Storm thinks.

Lightning looks around the vehicle, admiring it Storm can tell.

He turns to him. “Have you ever drove in the sand before?” Lightning asks.

Storm shakes his head.

Lightning sighs. “Yeah, I figured. I don’t know why you wanted to race Cruz when you’ve never raced in the sand before.”

Storm says nothing.

“But anyway, I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Lightning starts looking around his car then, carefully reading some of the labels and symbols on some of the buttons in his car that Storm himself has never even used.

“Here it is!” Lightning says, pointing to a blue button in the middle of storm’s dash. Upon closer inspection, there’s a wheel half buried in sand inked into the button.

Storm frowns at it. “What’s that?”

“This, Storm, is what you use whenever you race on the sand.”

Lightning continues. “When you race on the sand your wheels can’t get enough traction on the ground if you just step on the gas right away. You need to push this button first so that your wheels dig into the sand. The ground is softer, different than the track at the racing center or a real track. Ease into it first, then you’ll get it.”

That’s news to Storm. No trainer he’s ever had told him he would need to do that if he raced on the sand. He realizes after a minute though that none of his trainers have what Lightning’s had. Experience. Real experience for years of racing. Lightning’s raced on tracks around the globe, or course he knows what he’s doing.

“That’s probably why Cruz beat you. I already showed her how to race in the sand.” Lightning adds.

Storm nods. It made sense now, Cruz saying Storm wanted to race when it was really because she knew she had an advantage. He doesn’t tell Lightning that though.

“Well go on. Try it.” Lightning insists.

Storm grips the steering wheel. He pushes the button, giving it a few seconds. Even from his seat, he can feel the tires digging into the sand. Charlie thought of everything when he helped Storm build the car.

Now he tries the gas, and the car easily flies through the sand. He’s off to a much better start now that the tires didn’t get stuck. Storm stops the car once they get to the pier.

Lightning smiles. “See? Now you’ve got it.”

Storm feels a warm bubble rising in his chest. It’s nice to hear praise from Lightning. It’s not the constant cheering from his fans or the pay induced positivity of his trainers. It’s more personal, special because Storm knows Lightning is a great racer. He won’t just give any racer his approval, but Storm earned it now.

“Thanks, Lightning.” Storm says.

Lightning nods. “Your Race Car is pretty awesome you know. Most of the other newer cars I’ve seen are too flashy for me. Plus they end up not having a lot of essential things like the sand button built in. They’re made purely for the track. Yours though is something special.”

Storm feels his face get warmer at Lightning’s compliment. It’s nice to hear Lightning’s impressed with his car. It did take years for him and Charlie to finish it. Storm’s glad Lightning admires it.

“You want to drive it back?” Storm offers.

Lightning grins and a second later he and Storm are switching seats. Lightning’s face lights up as he looks at all the different gears and buttons in Storm’s car. It reminds him of a kid in a candy store, but he’s thrilled Lightning’s enjoying himself.

Lightning presses down on the gas, and he rolls the windows down so Storm can feel the wind whipping through his hair. It’s exhilarating, and Storm wishes he had done it sooner. Experiencing racing like this, with the winds whipping around him and Lightning’s blinding smile makes him feel a whole new level of excitement than when he’s racing on the track.

“This car can really fly!” Lightning yells to him over the wind.

Too soon, they make it back to where they started and Lightning parks Storm’s car near his own.

They exit the vehicle and Stom’s sees Luigi and Guido still suntanning where they were previously. Cruz sitting next to them.

Lightning greets them. “Hey guys.”

“Hey.” Luigi mutters from his position face down in the sand.

Cruz stares at Storm, then her eyes move to Lightning.

“Did you race?” She asks.

“No” Lightning answers. “I was just showing Storm how to race in the sand.”

She frowns. “You told him about that?”

Lightning stares at her, grin from before fading.

God, Storm wants to kick sand at her.

“Well, it’s not like it’s a big secret. Ask any old racer, they’d tell you the same thing I would. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t show him. Then he’d lose to you every time you raced on the beach.” Lightning responds.

Cruz purses her lips. “Fine.”

Lightning frowns, looking a little lost for what to do now.

Storm is having a difficult time doing nothing. He’s biting his tongue hard to distract himself. Cruz doesn’t have any right to act like Lightning’s advice is hers alone. He’s not her trainer, he’s her friend.

“Where’s Mater?” Lightning asks, thankfully switching the topic.

Luigi lifts his head up from the sand. “He said something about surfing?”

Storm’s never surfed in his entire life, he hopes Mater was only kidding.

Unfortunately, he sees Mater at the top of the sand dunes lugging multiple surfboards down the hill. Lightning runs off to help him and Storm begrudgingly follows suit.

Storm takes one of the boards from Mater.

“Where did you get these?” Storm asks, positive he didn’t see them earlier.

Mater throws him a side grin. “From the surf shop about a mile down the road. I’ve always wanted to try it, and there ain’t no ocean nearby Radiator Springs, so why not?”

Storm grimaces. Mater has a point, it is something Storm’s always been curious about. Growing up in Nebraska never presented many opportunities for him to go to the beach and surf.

Mater drags the boards over to Luigi and Guido, who’ve now set up the chairs they brought in a circle. Both men are shirtless, and when Storm gets closer he can see Luigi spraying himself with what he thinks is sunscreen until Guido starts talking.

“Ugh. Luigi keep that fake tanning spray away from me. I’d rather get my tan naturally.” Guido says, putting on a pair of dark shades.

“I’m telling you Guido, it’s not enough. You always look like a pale baby ghost even after you stay out in the sun all day.” Luigi mumbles.

“I do not.” Guido mutters, but Storm watches as he picks up the tanning spray and starts reading the labels on the back.

Mater, ignoring them, strips off his shirt and grabs a board. Then he heads toward the ocean. Lightning takes off his shirt too, and Storm makes himself look away at first. There’s too many people around them right now.

Lightning turns to face Cruz. “Are you coming in Cruz?”

“No thanks. I’ll race Storm again if he thinks he can handle the sand this time.”

Storm doesn’t take the bait this time. “No thanks, I think I’d rather surf.” He says, stripping off his shirt and tossing it aside. He grabs a board and follows Mater.

He doesn’t look back at Cruz, but he does hear Lightning a few steps behind him. Storm slows his gait so Lightning can catch up.

Lightning’s distracted looking ahead of him at the ocean, so Storm spares a brief glance over at him. The first thing he notices is Lightning’s abs. He’s seen them before for brief seconds, but that didn’t do them enough justice. Storm’s never seen abs that defined before on a racer Lightning’s age. Holy hell he doesn’t even look old. If people looked at him without knowing he was Lightning, Storm’s sure they would think he’s in his early twenties. His skin is so tan too. Storm doesn’t know how he managed to get such an even tan line when he wears T-shirts and jeans so often but damn Lightning looks good.

He rips his eyes away a second later, not wanting Lightning to see him staring at his chest.

When Storm turns his attention back to the water he sees Mater already in the ocean. He didn’t waste any time at all.

“I’ve never been surfing before.” Storm admits.

“You think I have? I live in Arizona.”

“I grew up in Nebraska!”

Lightning laughs. “Well, we can be bad at it together then.”

 

After a few minutes of being in the ocean, it’s evident that Storm and Lightning are not going to be bad at it together.

Because Lightning is crushing it. It’s completely unfair. He hasn’t fallen yet, while that seems to be the only thing Storm can do.

He and Mater watch as Lightning almost effortlessly stands up, making it look like he’s had years of experience surfing. Of course, he’d be amazing at it.

Mater suddenly pops his head out from underwater right near Storm, startling him.

“Hey!” Mater shouts.

Storm stares at him.

“Hey Storm, I’ve got an idea.”

He leans in and whispers in Storm’s ear.

When Lightning starts going out deeper to get another wave, Storm swims over to him.

“Hey, I thought you’ve never done this before!” Storm shouts, making Lightning glance over.

“I’m a fast learner.” Lightning says, smirking back at him.

Oh, now he’s in for it. Lightning stands up right when another wave is beginning to form, Storm moves closer for a better view.

He watches a look of complete shock pass on Lightning’s face as Mater pops out and grabs his foot. Lightning yelps and starts tilting to the side. Storm is too busy laughing to realize where Lightning’s falling. No, he doesn’t figure it out until Lightning falls right on top of him, and they both go under.

Storm guesses it’s instant karma that his mouth fills with salt water, and he comes up sputtering and coughing, hair covering his eyes.

He can hear Lightning yelling at Mater, but it doesn’t sound like he’s really mad.

Lightning turns to him, or at least Storm thinks he does. He can’t see past the dark of his hair covering his eyes.

“You alright Storm?” Lightning says, and Storm feels his hand brush Storm’s bangs aside so he can see.

Storm coughs. “I’m fine. Might have swallowed some salt water.”

“That’s what you get for conspiring with Mater.”

Storm narrows his eyes and splashes Lightning in retaliation.

Then an all-out war breaks out between the three of them for the next half hour or so. They pull each other off the boards, splash each other, and there was one horrifying moment where Mater was headed right for Storm as he finally stood up on the board, which ended up sending them both crashing into the sand.

They tire themselves out eventually and walk back to the shore, dragging the boards behind them.

Storm sits in one of the chairs and reclines it back, letting the sun warm his skin.

Lightning and Mater take a seat beside him and Storm hears Mater rustling around in what sounds like a cooler. Good, he needs a drink.

Storm can hear the metallic clink of bottles as Mater digs around in his bag.

“Want a beer Storm?” Mater asks.

It wasn’t the drink he was expecting, but he’ll take it.

“Yeah, sure I’ll have one.”

Mater passes it to him, and when Storm reaches out to take it he notices everyone is staring at him.

Storm raises his eyebrows at them. “Can I help you?”

Lightning clears his throat. “How old are you again Storm?”

Storm smirks. “Just turned seventeen.” Then he cracks open the beer and takes a huge sip, making everyone else laugh at Lightning’s expression.

“You believed him Lightning!” Luigi says, continuing to crack up.

“Haha, very funny guys.” Lightning says, looking unamused.

Storm makes eye contact with him. “No, I’m twenty two really. I can drink.”

Lightning nods. “You had me worried I was friends with a seventeen year old Storm.”

“Yeah that 18 year age gap wouldn’t have been awkward at all” Cruz remarks, looking up from a magazine.

Storm pauses. 18 years. If he was seventeen an additional eighteen years would put Lightning at around 35 years old.

Since Storm’s twenty two, that puts their age gap at 13 years. That’s not a lot. Not to him. Would other people think it was a lot, he wonders. Would Lightning think it was a lot?

He looks over to Lightning, who takes a long sip of his drink then gives him a crooked smile.

No.

Storm doesn’t think so.

Even if Lightning’s not thinking about it like Storm’s thinking about it.

He’s the youngest out of everyone in the group, though Cruz doesn’t seem much older than he is. Lightning’s friends hardly act their age and Lightning doesn’t look old at all. So it’s not like he feels out of place being with them. It’s quite the opposite. Storm fits in more with Lightning and his friends better than most people his own age.

 

They all sit on the beach together for a while before Cruz leaves to go train, which Storm had no issue with.

Instead, he sits in the circle with Lightning and his friends, drinking beer, eating snacks and letting the sun shine on him.

Mater passes him another beer and he feels a pleasant buzz running through his veins. He thinks it’s a mixture of the alcohol and genuine happiness.

Sitting with Lightning like this. Talking with him and laughing with him and his friends makes Storm wonder how he ever thought racing would be enough.

How he ever thought he would be fine with watching Lightning in the racecar next to him. Seeming so close but so far in reality.

Deciding to drive to Radiator Springs was the best idea he’s ever had.

Mater talks then, stopping Storm’s wandering mind.

“Alright y’all we better get this show on the road. Beach is getting dark soon and I’ve got to take the surfboards back.”

Lightning nods. “Yeah, we should head back.”

Luigi and Guido sigh in irritation. Storm can’t blame them.

He puts his shirt on over his now dry swim trunks and gets his keys.

Or at least tries to get his keys, because Lightning intercepts them.

“Hey!” Storm protests, reaching for his keys.

“No way you’re driving. I have no idea what your tolerance is and the last thing your car needs is to get wrecked again. I’m driving you back.”

Lightning says firmly.

Lightning tosses Guido his own keys. “Guido drive my car back.”

Guido nods.

Storm sulks, and when they’re far enough away he whispers

“Admit it. You just wanted to drive my car again.” Storm teases.

Lightning firmly denies it, but the bottom of his mouth curves up in a smile so Storm knows he was partially right.

Lightning gets in the driver’s seat and Storm gets into the passenger’s side. It feels strange. No doubt Lightning felt the same way when Storm drove his car.

A Racer’s car is sacred to them, Storm’s the only one who’s ever drove his car before.

He has no doubts about it though. No worries letting Lightning drive his car.

He just leans back in the seat as Lightning drives.

“You’re the only person besides me who’s driven this car you know.” Storm says after a moment.

“Really?” Lightning asks, eyes reflecting surprise.
Storm nods.

“Well, thanks for trusting me.”

“You trusted me.” Storm adds.

Lightning turns to glance at him, turning away to face the road.

He gets quieter.

“Sally never drove my car before. She never wanted to.” Lightning says, frowning like he didn’t mean to say it.

“Your girlfriend?” Storm asks quietly. He treads carefully here, not wanting to offend Lightning or make him stop talking.

“Well, ex girlfriend now.” Lightning says with a certain bitterness to it. Storm frowns. It feels wrong for Lightning to be bitter. He’s usually so happy, so confident.

“What happened?” Storm asks, curiosity overpowering the knowledge that he should be respectful.

“She...she didn’t. I didn’t want to give up racing.” Lightning corrects, blaming himself instead of her.

Lightning selfless that way. Of course he would take the blame.

Lightning continues. “I thought...I thought we’d get married you know.”

Storm digs his nails into the seat.

He takes a deep breath.

“It wouldn’t have been a good marriage then. Not if she didn’t want you to race. That’s who you are Lightning. Racing will always be a part of you.” Storm replies softly.

Lightning eyes are on the distance, and they reflect sadness in them.

He shakes it off after a moment.

“You’re right Storm. Sally and I just weren’t meant to be together. I guess nothing’s more important to us racers than racing.” Lightning says at the end, trying to ease the tension.

“Some things are.” Storm echoes, carefully choosing to look away. He doesn’t know if it’s the liquid courage from the beer that made him say that, but he knows he can’t look at Lightning. Everything would show in his eyes.

Lightning nods in agreement and Storm wishes for a moment he had another beer. Maybe that would have been enough for him to confess.

He bites his tongue, saving it for another day.

Instead, he drives to his house and gets out.

“You’re good to drive home right Storm?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” Storm nods.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lightning leaves him then.

Storm starts his car and starts the drive back to his apartment.

He’s not worried. There will be a perfect time in the future for him to reveal how he feels. Right now, he's got all the time in the world.

Chapter Text

Lightning McQueen P.O.V.

 

Lightning doesn’t always sleep in, but today he knows he did because he can hear Guido yelling downstairs.

Normally Guido sleeps in the latest, but when Lightning looks over at the alarm clock by his bed he sees that it’s late morning. Meaning he did sleep in.

He goes downstairs quickly, trying to find the source of why Guido’s yelling.

He gets his answer after he walks into the kitchen to see Guido holding a phone to his ear, spatula in one hand and phone in the other as he’s trying to make pancakes and yell at whoever’s on the phone.

Lightning isn’t sure what’s going on until he hears Guido yell,

“I ALREADY TOLD YOU HE’S ASLEEP.”

Lightning grabs the phone away from him assuming whoever’s on the line wants to speak with him.

“Hello?” Lightning asks.

“Ah, Lightning. I knew I’d reach you eventually.”

The calm, collected voice identifies the caller as Mr. Sterling.

Lightning doesn’t know many other people that could listen to Guido scream at them and not lose their temper.

“Mr. Sterling?”

“Yes, that’s me. Sorry to bother you and your...friend Lightning but I just wanted to let you know I’m assigning a special trainer to help you on the simulator’s later.”

Lightning grimaces. The Simulator. He thought he was done with that already. It must be necessary for him to learn then if Mr. Sterling is assigning him a special trainer for it.

“Alright thank you, Mr. Sterling. I’ll be there shortly.”

Lightning hangs up, walking past Guido.

“Hey, I’m making pancakes!” He protests.

Luigi and Mater raise their eyes at him from the table.

“Sorry guys I’ve got to head out. I’ll catch up with you later.” Lightning says.

After a short trip, Lightning arrives in the training center.

When he walks into the main entrance he can see many young racers upstairs working out at the gym.

It’s not surprising. Racers need to be in good condition to handle racing. Not everything’s about the car.

He wonders if Storm’s here and has half a mind to go look for him when he hears someone introduce themselves.

“Hello, Mr. McQueen. I’ll be your personal trainer starting today.” A young man says to him.

Lightning gives him a glance over. He doesn’t look like somebody qualified to be his trainer. He looks young.

“Um, how old are you?” Lightning asks. He doesn’t want to be rude, but the last time he had a young trainer Lightning was the one doing the training. Though Cruz did help him the best she could.

His trainer laughs. “I’m 26 sir.”

Oh, so he’s around the same age as Cruz. It makes sense, considering most of the racers he’s seen here are young. No doubt Mr. Sterling wanted to hire young trainers to make it easier on them.

Because they understand next gen racing.

Not like him or Smokey, stuck in the racing of the past.

Lightning wonders what Doc would tell him if he was here. If there was ever a time he needed Doc’s advice...boy if this wasn’t it.

His trainer is young for sure, but it’s best to give him a chance. Storm’s four years younger than this guy, and he’s one of the best racers Lightning’s ever seen.

“If you’ll follow me this way Mr. McQueen.”
His trainer says.

Lightning follows him down the hallway. He’s a little confused. Last time he used the simulator near the main entrance.

“Hey, um what’s your name?”

“My name is Brian sir.”

Lightning winces. He could do without the sir. He’s not that old right?

“Brian, why are we going back here? I thought the simulator was in the main gym near the entrance.”

Brian laughs, which Lightning thinks is strange because he didn’t say anything funny.

“That simulator is a tad too advanced for you Mr. McQueen. I was instructed to start you at a beginner’s level.”

Now that hurt. Lightning isn’t used to handling anything from a beginner’s level, let alone racing.

“We’ll begin over here.” Brian says, opening the door to a room containing a smaller simulator.

Lightning walks over, noting how this one looks similar to a video game. He’s supposed to sit in front of it and pretend to drive rather than actually driving.

It doesn’t make much sense to him, but that’s why he was assigned a trainer he guesses.

Lightning sits down in the chair, immediately frowning. The screen in front of him is meant to resemble the track, but it looks far from a real track. All the bright lights and icons on the screen are making him dizzy.

“Alright, Mr. McQueen. I want you to handle this just like you’re in a real race car.”

Brian starts the simulator and Lightning struggles right off the bat. He thought it would be easier this time around since he’s done it before, but apparently, his actual skill hasn’t improved.

He’s crashing into walls and other racers left and right, and somehow he accidentally drives off the track...again.

The icons on the screen tell him he’s running out of fuel, but instead of stopping in the pit like he would during a real race, the simulator tells him to push buttons.

He must look like he’s got no idea what to do with how he’s blindly pushing buttons to find the right ones and fumbling around the screen.

Eventually, he does so terribly that the simulator ends the race before he finishes.

“Most racers get the hang of this simulator rather quickly Mr. McQueen.”

Lightning feels his cheeks turn warm with embarrassment.

“You just need to think of it as real racing. That’s what’s holding you back. You aren’t treating the simulator for what it is.”

Lightning winces. He is trying to handle this like real racing, but it just isn’t making sense.

“Wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything as wrong as that.” Lightning hears from the door frame.

He whips his head around and sees Storm standing there.

He grins at him before he realizes Storm looks mad. He looks pissed, but not at him. Lightning follows Storm’s grey eyes to Brian, who looks considerably paler than before.

Storm’s arms are crossed, and he’s completely blocking the door. His height gives him quite the intimidating look and he gives Brian a fierce glare.

Brain stammers. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” Storm states, not moving.

Lightning stands up.

“Storm, this is my personal trainer.”

Storm turns to glance at Lightning for a second, then turns back to Brian. Face colder than before.

“Oh, a personal trainer? Get lost. Lightning doesn’t need you.”

Brian looks like Storm just punched him in the gut, then regains his composure.

“Mr. Sterling assigned me as Lightning’s personal trainer.”

“Well, you can tell him Jackson Storm dismissed you from your duties. Now Get. Lost.” Storm says, firmly stating his last two words.

Brian leaves then, practically running out the door.

When he’s gone Lightning turns to Storm.

“What the hell was that Storm? He was training me!”

Storm turns to face him, grey eyes meeting his own.

“He was training you the wrong way Lightning.”

“What are you talking about?” Lightning asks.

Storm walks over to the simulator. “This isn’t anything like real racing.”

Lightning knew that. He knew that when he first sat down, but he listened to the trainer anyway.

Lightning sighs. “Yeah, I know. It wasn’t his fault though Storm. Mr. Sterling tried to help me but I’m just not good at the simulator. I never was.”

“That’s not true!” Storm insists, grabbing Lightning’s arm and pulling him over to the chair.

Lightning sits, or more like falls into the chair because Storm is so eager to have him sit on it.

Lightning frowns. “Storm…” he starts, but its clear Storm isn’t listening.

Storm’s hands land firmly on his shoulders, and Lightning stills beneath them. He leans past Lightning to set a race up for him on the simulator. From this distance, Lightning can smell his cologne. It’s nice, smells cool to him. Like winter or mint.

Storm leans back and puts his hands back on Lightning’s shoulders.

The race starts and Lightning begins to steer when Storm’s hands squeeze down.

“You’re too tense for starters.” Storm remarks, and Lightning realizes he’s right.

He’s never this tense during real racing. He must have been focusing too hard on trying to connect it to real racing.

Lightning takes a breath, trying to ease the tension in his body.

His car in the simulator is coming up on a turn, and Lightning readies himself to steer. He starts and probably gets only a quarter of the way through the motion before Storm squeezes his shoulder again, making him go still.

To his surprise, the car on the screen makes the turn perfectly. It doesn’t spin off the track like the last few times.

Lightning stares. “How did you…”

“It’s not like real racing at all Lightning. You’ve got to think of it more like a video game. When you steer in real life, you have to steer hard, otherwise, your car won’t make the turn in time. Here on the simulators though, even the slightest motion of a turn is enough for it to register.”

Lightning stares at the screen in awe. Storm’s right, and his simulator car easily glides on the track now.

For the next few races, Storm shows Lightning what to do on the simulator. When Lightning makes too harsh of a turn or motion Storm will squeeze his shoulder as an indicator to slow down.

And when his simulator car starts having icons appear on the screen, Storm shows Lightning exactly what buttons to push to get him more fuel, check his tire pressure, or anything else he might need.

After Lightning starts to get the hang of it, Storm removes his hands, letting Lightning race on his own.

He wins then, crossing the finish line of the simulator just like he would in a real race. He turns around, grinning like a madman at Storm.

“Storm! You’re a genius!”

Storm laughs. “I don’t know about that, but I have spent a lot of time on the simulator.”

Lightning grins. “Thanks for helping me.”

Storm nods. “Sure. Just for the record Lightning, no racer gets that on their first try.”

Lightning feels his face grow warm.

“You heard that?” Lightning asks, thinking back to when Brian told him most racers figure out the simulator pretty quickly.

Storm nods and Lightning wonders how long Storm stood outside before entering. He shakes it off though. He shouldn’t feel embarrassed. Storm wasn’t embarrassed yesterday when Lightning showed him how to race on the beach.

“Yeah well, he may have been right.” Lightning says.

Storm shakes his head. “No, he wasn’t. I’ve about had it with Mr. Sterling’s trainer’s.”

Lightning protests. “Hey come on, they do the best they can. Cruz wasn’t bad.”

It’s true that the trainer’s Lightning’s been offered so far had been...well less than helpful if he was being honest. Cruz did what she could, but his learning style had been different than what she tried to show him.

Storm says nothing to counter that, he does however add to it.

“The best they can isn’t good enough. You’ll be better off with this.” Storm adds, showing Lightning a copy of the training schedule Storm’s trainer made for them.

Looking at it, it already looks more efficient than what the other trainers planned for him.

“Well, let’s get started then.” Lightning says.

Storm shoots him a grin, and a few minutes later they’re both standing in the fitness center in workout clothes.

Lightning sees the other racers in here too, making him wonder what Sterling had been thinking. If everyone else was training this way, why wasn’t he?

He doesn’t waste time pondering it. Instead choosing to join Storm on the treadmill. The schedule is planned out to the T. A half hour of cardio to start, followed by weightlifting and other exercises.

Storm is on the treadmill next to him, but the amount of things he’s trying to do at once makes Lightning wonder how he’s staying focused.

In addition to running, Storm’s also listening to music and trying to have a conversation with him.

Lightning turns over to ask Storm a question when he sees Storm throwing candy up in the air and catching it in his mouth. While he’s running.

“What are you doing?!” Lightning asks, question forgotten.

“Eating Skittles. Why, want one?” Storm asks, holding out the bag.

Lightning stares at him in disbelief.

“No, I don’t want one! Don’t eat those while you’re running you’ll choke!” Lightning yells.

Storm smiles. “You’re the one who’s choking. Why don’t you get your speed up?” Storm teases.

Lightning takes this as a challenge and makes the treadmill go faster than Storm’s.

Storm doesn’t change his own settings but instead starts throwing skittles at him.

“Hey!” Lightning yells, and Storm doesn’t waste the opportunity. He launches a skittle into Lightning’s mouth and starts cracking up. Lightning, too busy trying not to choke on the orange candy, stumbles on the treadmill and almost falls face first.

Storm laughs even louder, and Lightning opens his water bottle and sloshes the water at Storm in retaliation.

Storm stares at him in surprise as a streak of water hits him and makes his shirt wet.

He doesn’t say anything though, he just gets off the treadmill and switches to weight lifting. Lightning follows suit as he notices their cardio time is up.

He moves to weightlifting and notices he’s lifting a good 50 pounds more than Storm.

“Hey Storm, looking a little light over there.” Lightning teases, nodding to the amount on Storm’s bar.

Storm immediately adds more weight to it, and then when he tries to lift it back up can’t do it. Lightning is quick to stop laughing and help him lift it when he catches Storm’s face looking red with effort.

They have a truce after that and make their way to the cafeteria for a break.

The cafeteria is much nicer than Lightning expected. They’ve got personal chefs that will make anything you ask for, so why is Lightning not surprised that he sees Storm eating chocolate cake.

“Why are you eating cake? They’ll make anything you ask for.” Lightning says, gesturing to his much healthier looking plate.

Storm scrunches his face. “That doesn’t taste as good.”
Lightning rolls his eyes.

“Are you ever going to eat right?” He asks.

“I’ll eat healthy if you’re the one cooking.” Storm says, taking a bite of pure frosting.

Lightning winces at the taste of pure sugar.

“If that’s what it takes for you to eat right then I guess I’ll have to cook for you sometime.” Lightning says, half kidding.

“Sounds good to me.” Storm says, completely serious.

Lightning ponders saying something else before he looks up to see Cruz take a seat next to them.

“Hey, Cruz!” He greets.

“Hi, Lightning.”

She sits next to him, glancing over at Storm.

“Hello, Cruz.” Storm greets.

“Hey.” She responds, rather unenthusiastic if you ask Lightning. Storm’s face takes on a look of displeasure.

Maybe he’s upset Cruz isn’t more excited to see him. It would make sense if he liked her.

Cruz joins them for lunch and the table is very quiet. Actually, the whole cafeteria is quiet, even the other racers.

Until Lightning hears it.

A very feminine voice screech out “STORMMMMMM!!!”

Lightning looks over to see a flash of bright pink, slam into Storm in a backwards hug. Storm’s eyes are blown wide and he turns around opening his mouth to yell at the girl before a look of recognition passes his face.

Then he turns around with a look of disinterest.

When Lightning gets a better look at the girl he sees she has bright blonde hair with streaks of pink in it. She’s also wearing a fully pink racing uniform, with little stars and galaxies on it.

“Um. Who are you?” Lightning asks, looking at her in surprise.

He can’t believe this girl just hugged Storm, because from what Lightning’s seen Storm doesn’t like to be touched.

“Oh My Gosh! I’m sorry I should have introduced myself!!! My name’s Emily, and my racing name is Pink Cosmos! But I’m better known as Storm’s best friend!!!

“She’s not my best friend.” Storm states, looking annoyed.

“Yeah he’s right...I’m his only friend!” Emily adds, to which Storm says nothing to.

Lightning invites her to sit with him, which she gladly accepts.

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you Mr. McQueen! I heard you were coming to train here! I didn’t know Storm was coming too!”

Lightning stares at her. To be honest he’s in shock Storm knows somebody this friendly and bubbly. She seems like the type of person Storm would go out of his way to avoid. Let alone be best friends with.

“How do you know each other?” Lightning asks.

“Well!” She starts.

“Stop...I’ll tell them.” Storm interjects. “You’ll never stop talking if you tell the story.”

Emily doesn’t look upset at all about his interruption, making Lightning wonder if she’s the type of person to be so happy nothing could faze her. Which is the only way he could see her being able to be around Storm.

“We went to a racing academy together.” Storm mumbles.

“You went together?” Cruz asks, seeming to share Lightning’s disbelief that they’re friends.

“Well, we met at the academy! Storm was always alone because he looked at everybody with that scary glare of his, but he’s really nice underneath! One day my race car broke down in the rain and Storm helped me fix it!!! After he fixed it I said thank you and that I would treat him to coffee and he said leave me alone. We’ve been best friends ever since!!!”

Lightning has a very difficult time containing his laughter when he looks at Storm’s face. Judging by his expression everything she said is true.

“Sounds like you.” He says to Storm, and Storm responds by sticking his tongue out at him.

“What are you doing here?” Storm asks, turning to Emily.

“I’m going to start training here! Isn’t that great?!!!”

The look on Storm’s face was implication enough.

“I’m out of here. See you guys later.” Storm says, getting up and leaving.

Emily’s bright smile doesn’t falter as she says bye to him.

Lightning frowns, “Sorry about him.” He mutters. Someone really needs to explain to him how to talk to girls.

She shakes her head. “No, he’s always like that! But don’t let it fool you he does enjoy my company. Back at the academy, we would always hang out together!”

Lightning nods. He believes Storm does enjoy her company. Otherwise, there’s no way he would have let her hug him.

“Anyway! I just wanted to come say hi! I’ll catch you guys later!” Emily says, running off.

Leaving Lightning and Cruz wondering what just happened.

“That was bizarre.” Lightning states.

Cruz nods. “Yeah can’t believe he even has one friend. Poor girl should get away while she can.”

Lightning frowns. “Storm’s not that bad. He’s nice once you get to know him Cruz.” He says.

Lightning knew Cruz wasn’t exactly fond of Storm, but it almost sounds like she doesn’t like him at all.

Cruz rolls her eyes.

Lightning winces, thinking of Storm and how he might like her.

“Come on Cruz, you said you’d give him a chance.”
Cruz nods. “Yeah you’re right I’ll give him a chance.”

She says, smiling.

“Anyway, I’ll see you later Lightning.” She says, leaving the table.

Lightning figures he might as well leave too. His training schedule alternates between physical exercises and racing, so it’s not like he has to stay.

Instead, he walks through the training center and back to his car.

On the way he finds himself thinking about Storm.

Before he thought Storm might like Cruz. Now though he isn’t sure. Especially with this new girl. She and Storm knew each other before this, and Emily said they would hang out a lot. Maybe they were...together?

Lightning doesn’t think so. He doesn’t know though, and for some reason, a tiny part of him resents the idea of Storm dating either of them.

He shakes it off, figuring it was a brief moment of wanting Storm to have a nice girlfriend. Both of them are plenty nice though, so Lightning gets rid of the resentment.

After all, what reason does he have to resent that?

Chapter Text

P.O.V Jackson Storm

 

Storm isn’t one to talk about his feelings. No, he bottles them up inside keeping them from everything and everyone. He’s usually good at hiding it too. It takes a very observant person to figure out Storm. And by the looks of this text message, it didn’t take long for someone to figure it out.

Storm wakes up greeted by the light of his phone, and a message.

He reads it.

“Lightning’s looking cute today.”

That’s all it says, with the smirking emoji next to it.

Shit.

Who could it be? Who figured him out?

He looks up at the name and lets out a sigh of relief when he sees it’s from Emily.

Loud and bubbly as she is she won’t say anything about this. Storm knows that.

Shut your mouth. He texts back and starts getting dressed to go to the training center. Judging by her text, Lightning’s already there.

Storm gets a late start today, and it’s already lunchtime by the time he gets to the center.

He makes his way to the cafeteria to find Lightning and Cruz sitting at a table.

He walks over and sits next to Lightning, wondering where Emily is.

“Where’s Pink Cosmos?” he asks, and he sees Lightning smile at the name. It’s a little ridiculous no matter how you look at it, though it does suit her personality well.

“She said something about getting coffee?” Lightning says looking around.

A few minutes later she does indeed walk in with coffee. It’s not from the center though. She went out to Starbucks to get it.

She sits down at the table and passes him a Caramel Frappuccino with extra whipped cream. Looks like she hasn’t forgotten his favorite drink.

Lightning stares at it.
“What is that?” He asks.

Storm smiles. “Try a sip.”

Lightning raises his eyebrow and takes the smallest sip of his drink.

He makes a face. “That is pure sugar.”

“That’s the idea.” Storm says grinning.

“Oh, I brought one for you too, and for you!” Emily says, handing Lightning and Cruz a coffee.

“Oh um, thank you.” Lightning says, staring at it.

Lightning makes a face at the coffee and Storm leans over to nudge his shoulder.

“That one should be normal.” Storm says with a playful grin.

Lightning rolls his eyes and takes a sip, and nods his head to confirm it is just regular coffee.

Its black coffee though so Lightning gets up to go get a packet of sugar.

“Lightning get me a cookie!” Storm calls out, watching Lightning shake his head at the request.

Cruz frowns.

“Is everything okay Cruz?” Emily asks, concern written on her face.

Cruz smiles. “Everything’s fine. I was just wondering if Storm’s capable of doing anything on his own.”

Storm’s teeth grit together. Cruz is turning out to be a real pain, and he’s got to be careful with her. Lightning is very close with her, all it would take is for Lightning to catch Storm do something mean to her, then he’s in for it.

Emily blinks, confusion written on her face.

Storm frowns. When he looks over he sees Lightning’s still preoccupied, which presents him with a good opportunity here. If Cruz is looking for him to be obnoxious, then oh boy he’ll be obnoxious.

He laughs. “Why would I need to do anything on my own? I’ve got it all. Rich sponsors, fancy car, fame, hell I’ve even got the woman who lives next door to cook for me.” Storm says cockily, adding that part in on a whim. It’s technically true, just not that way she’ll take it.

Cruz looks like she’s about to explode.

Storm doesn’t say anything else, instead, he takes a large sip of his drink just in time for when Lightning rejoins them.

“Hey guys what’s going on.” Lightning says, passing Storm a cookie.

Cruz frowns at the interaction.

“Oh not much. Storm was just telling us about the woman who lives next door to him and cooks for him.” Cruz says smiling.

Shit.

Karma’s a bitch, Storm thinks when he watches Lightning’s eyebrows crease together.

“Really? That’s nice of her.” Lightning remarks, ripping his sugar packet open.

God, now he’s done it.

He catches Emily throw him a glance that reads clear enough, nice one idiot.

He meets Cruz’s gaze and sees her raise her eyebrows as if to say your move Storm.

Oh it’s on.

Storm has half a mind to challenge her to another race right here, but he’s interrupted by someone joining the table.

Mr. Sterling, clad in a shiny grey suit, who takes a seat next to Cruz.

“How are my favorite racers doing today?” Mr. Sterling asks.

Storm fights the urge to be sarcastic.

“Good.” the three other racers say, while Storm levels Mr. Sterling with a glare.

He doesn’t notice though, seeming more interested in turning his attention toward Lightning.

“Lightning, Brian told me you were...displeased with the simulator training.” Mr. Sterling says.

Lightning opens his mouth to respond, but Storm beats him to it.

“Clearly he didn’t listen very well then, because I was the one displeased with the way he was training Lightning.”

Mr. Sterling turns to him, a pleasant look on his face despite the obvious anger in his eyes at being challenged.

“Ah, Storm. He did indeed tell me it was you who dismissed him, but with all due respect, you don’t have the authority to do that.”

Lightning looks nervously between them, Cruz and Emily both silent in their seats.

“You’re right of course Mr. Sterling. I don’t have the authority to do that, but believe me when I say I can tell the difference between a real trainer and a fraud.” Storm says, glancing at Cruz for the last part.

Mr. Sterling’s face remains calm, but Storm can see he’s angry. It’s not likely many people challenge him.

Lightning speaks up then. “Sorry Mr. Sterling, Storm didn’t mean to cause any problems. He just found an easier way to train me on the simulator without a trainer. We didn’t mean to insult anyone right Storm?”

Lightning says, kicking his foot.

Storm nods.

Mr. Sterling face shifts completely back to its happy look.

“Ah well, don’t worry about it Lightning. You should train whichever way you see fit. If Storm is so displeased with your training, perhaps he can oversee it instead”

Mr. Sterling turns to him, with an Icy glare in his eyes.

He leaves then, and Storm watches relief flicker over Lightning’s face.

He elbows Storm. “Cool it! He owns this place you know.” Lightning whispers.

“I thought it was your training center.” Storm teases.

Lightning raises an eyebrow. “It might be dedicated to me but it’s not mine. Now you’re stuck training me you know.”

Storm smiles. “Fine by me.”

Cruz clears her throat.

“You shouldn’t make Mr. Sterling angry Storm.”

Storm rolls his eyes. “Whatever.”

Cruz gets up and walks off leaving the three of them.

“Be nice to her.” lightning warns.

“I’m very nice.” Storm says, taking a bite of his cookie.

He almost spits it out.

“Ew! This is raisin!”

Emily laughs.

“Oatmeal raisin.” Lightning corrects.

Storm pushes the cookie away and takes an extra large sip of his drink, making Lightning scrunch up his face.

“Alright, that’s enough sugar for you. You’re training me now remember? I don’t need you bouncing off the walls.”

Lightning stands up and Storm follows. It’s back to the training schedule for them

Storm looks at the schedule, today instead of physical training they’re supposed to be racing. Real racing on the track instead of the simulators.

Lightning looks pleased about it, and Storm’s not complaining.

Until they get to the track and Storm sees Cruz’s bright yellow car on it.

Storm takes it back. He’d much rather be on the simulators.

She pulls off to the side for a pit stop and Lightning calls out to her.

“Hey, Cruz!” He says, despite seeing her a few minutes ago.

Cruz notices them and walks over.

“Are you guys going to race?” Cruz asks.

Lightning nods. “Yeah, we were going to do a few laps.”

“I wouldn’t bother Lightning. There’s no point in these short distance races when someone’s got a faster car than you.” Cruz looks at him.

Storm’s hands curl into fists. So what if his car is faster? That doesn’t mean he’s a better racer.

Lightning frowns, and he brings his hand up to rub the back of his head. Storm’s worried he’s hurt by that before he speaks.

“Well, I don’t think that’s entirely true Cruz. I mean you beat Storm in the Florida 500, and his car’s faster.”

Storm’s still pissed about that by the way. His first Piston Cup was so close and it was ripped away by Cruz. He never told Lightning about why he really lost the race, because I was so scared you were done racing forever, he thinks.

When he saw Lightning in the crew pit...out of his own car and talking to Cruz through his headset Storm was much too busy worrying about the implications of that than winning the race. Winning the Florida 500 hadn’t mattered to him at the time, not when he thought about how Lightning was forced from his place just like that. How after all those years of racing he was going to give it up.

Storm’s worked too hard to get Lightning back here, and he’s not about to let Cruz, or Mr. Sterling, or anyone else make Lightning doubt himself.

Cruz speaks up. “Yes, I did beat Storm before, but I’ve got a newer car Lightning. It’s much more suited to Today’s racing.”

Storm can feel his fingernails indenting his skin with how hard he’s forming a fist right now.

“I’ve got a proposition then.” Storm says, trying to keep his voice even.

Cruz turns to look at him. “Since you think my car’s so fast, I’ll take Lightning’s car.”

“So, I race in my car, and you race in Lightning’s?” Cruz asks.

“What makes you think you’re allowed to drive Lightning’s car?” Cruz asks, and for once something she said makes sense.

Storm turns to Lightning, frown on his face.

Shoot. He should have asked him first.

“Lightning I..” He starts before Lightning interrupts.

“No it’s alright. You can drive my car, I trust you.” Lightning says, holding out the keys.

Storm takes them and mentally kicks himself. Next time he needs to ask, not just assume. This is Lightning’s racecar, not a toy.

“You’re on Storm.” Cruz says going to her car.

Oh it’s on, alright.

Storm gets in Lightning’s car, admiring it as the strong engine roars to life when he starts it. Storm’s car is designed to be lighter, faster, quieter, but Lightning’s car is a thing of beauty. It’s exactly what a traditional race car should be, and Storm’s spent a good amount of his childhood wanting to drive this exact car.

He places his hands on the steering wheel in preparation. Before he’s only driven Lightning’s car off the track, which is very different from racing. He didn’t have to worry about speed or gas or any of that, but now he does.

Fortunately though, Cruz signals that they’ll do five laps around the track.

Oh, Storm sees what she’s doing. To be honest five laps is the perfect set up for her plan. Technically speaking Cruz’s car should be a little faster than Lightning’s, meaning if she got a large enough lead in the beginning, she’d have this race in the bag. Storm isn’t too keen on letting that happen.

This race is serious. If he loses in Lightning’s car, Storm won’t be the only one feeling that loss. He has to win this. He has to.

This time, they won’t need Lightning to announce the start of the race. They’ve got an automatic timer and countdown clock up on one of the stands next to the finish line. There should be cameras too, so there will be no confusion to who wins.

The timer counts down, and Storm watches it intensely. He’s fully focused right now, foot on the pedal just waiting for the clock to get to zero.

As soon as the number appears, Storm’s foot slams the gas pedal. He gains speed rapidly and takes a brief second to see Cruz practically next to him. Damn, he was hoping to have a better lead. Storm’s in the middle of the track now. He doesn’t want Cruz to take the inside, but he knows full well he’d need to speed up if she did.

Cruz comes dangerously close to the car, forcing Storm to move out of the way unless he wants to scratch up Lightning’s car. She continues moving past him to the inside of the track, and Storm realizes what a genius move it was.

He can’t risk getting too close, because he’s driving Lightning’s car. Lightning who just minutes before told him he trusted Storm enough to drive his car. Storm imagines Lightning’s face if he sees his race car scratched all along the side. It’s easy enough to fix, but Storm doesn’t want any damage coming to the car. Not at all.

Cursing, he steers the car further to the outside when Cruz threatens to scrape the car again, moving her car towards the middle.

Damn it, She’s playing him.

The second lap comes up quickly, and Cruz passes him completely now that she’s taken the inside route.

Every time he gets close she slows down and threatens to hit him.

He’s running out of options as the number of laps gets higher.

Then he thinks of something.

Storm speeds up taking the inside.

He watches Cruz notice him, and then all too predictably brake in front of him.

Missing her car by mere inches, Storm swerves to the side and speeds up, willing Lightning’s car to go faster.

Faster it goes, the car flies by, leaving Cruz a good distance behind.

Though when Storm looks to see how fast he’s going, he’s shocked to see the number above the steering wheel.

196 Miles Per Hour.

Storm frowns, It’s fast alright, but not Lightning’s top speed. Storm’s watched Lightning go over 200 Miles Per Hour before, so why is it under that? Storm frowns and pushes down on the gas pedal. To his surprise, he’s pushing it down as far as it can go.

Storm doesn’t have time to dwell on it, because the finish line comes into view. Cruz is gaining on him, he realizes. Her car speeds up and is now only a few feet behind Lightning’s.

Storm presses harder on the pedal, but the speed stays the same.

He passes the finish line, winning by around a second.

He pulls the car off to the side and gets out. He catches Lightning grinning at him.

He gets out and watches Cruz look at him in frustration, before leaving angrily.

Lightning walks over.

“Hey nicely done. Though I wish Cruz wasn’t so upset by it.” He says, trailing off to see Cruz walking away.

“She’ll get over it.” Storm says, thinking of how she tried to purposely damage Lightning’s car.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Lightning says.

“Anyway. Here’s your keys back.” Storm says passing Lightning them.

“Did you want to race?” Lightning asks him, unsure.

Storm shakes his head, “No but I’d like to sit in the car while you race if you don’t mind.”

Lightning shrugs. “Fine by me.”

So Storm follows him to his car.

Once Lightning starts driving his suspicions are confirmed. Even when Lightning is pushing all the way down on the gas the numbers remain the same. 196.

Something isn’t right.

“Hey, um can’t your car go faster?” Storm asks.

Lightning shakes his head. “When it was newer it could go faster. I guess now it’s just too old.” Lightning says.

Storm stays silent. He doesn’t know everything about cars, but he does know some things about Race cars. As far as he knows, Race cars aren’t built to slowly lose speed over the years. Especially ones as well made as Lightning’s car. Race cars are built to last, or they just completely break down. There are usually no in betweens. Normally he would shake it off and think it’s nothing, but he can’t help the strange feeling in his gut that maybe something is wrong.

Storm keeps quiet for now, it wouldn’t do any good to worry Lightning. Especially if there was nothing wrong.

Lightning drives around the track a few times, and Storm notes his car is much better at drifting than his own. Though that’s already been proven by Lightning not spinning off the desert track when they raced in Radiator Springs.

Lightning calls it quits after a few more minutes and returns his car to its spot off the track.

Storm and Lightning leave the training center after that, Lightning calls out to him he’ll see him later.

Storm waste no time, he pulls out his phone and dials a number, waiting patiently for it to ring.

He holds his breath as he waits for the other person to answer, praying Charlie isn’t asleep right now.

After another two rings a familiar voice answers.

“Hello?”

Storm lets out a breath of relief. “Oh good, Charlie. Listen, how much longer before you make a new engine for Lightning?”

Storm asks, remembering how a few weeks ago he and Lightning drove to Nebraska wanting Charlie to make a new part for Lightning’s car.

Storm can practically hear Charlie’s concern through the phone. “Is everything alright?”

Storm nods. “Everything’s fine I just...I think something’s wrong with Lightning’s car. Maybe it’s the engine I’m not sure. The next racing season’s going to start soon and I just...look the sooner you can get here to check it out the better.”

Charlie’s silent for a moment. “Alright Jackson, I’ll get there as soon as I can. Try not to worry too much.”

Charlie hangs up, leaving Storm to his thoughts. He tries not to worry about it on the drive home. Things will work themselves out. He has no doubt Charlie will get here and figure out what’s wrong with Lightning’s car. He’s got nothing to worry about.