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Driving With the Devil

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—-

“You can read, right?” Doc asks, like he’s not sure.

Lightning spits dirt from his mouth and rubs his sweaty face with the back of his hand, licking his sand-gritty teeth. Even inside the roll cage he feels filthy after racing the butte a few times, like the earth slips in through the cracks in the door, the netted windows, and finds him until he’s covered in a fine layer of dust. “I can read,” he snaps, kicking the packed-hard ground with his shoe to cover up the frothy wad of saliva he just spat at Doc’s feet. It’s then that the insult catches up with him. “Of course I can read. Doesn’t mean I like to.”

“Well I got a reading assignment for you,” Doc tells him, the corner of his mouth quirking up, aviators flashing in the sun. He’s beat Lightning at least ten times today and it’s starting to get frustrating, being shown up over and over again, not being able to figure out what isn’t working and change it.

“This isn’t school,” Lighting reminds him, but he’s also open to whatever he has to offer. He’s sick of losing, sick of spinning out. Besting Doc on the dirt still feels like a crapshoot whenever it happens, like a feat of luck rather than skill, and Lightning hates that so he makes a face when Doc’s expression remains impassive and says, “Fine, ok. A reading assignment. What is it?”

Doc makes a loose gesture in the air with his hand. “I’ll tell you back at mine. C’mon.” The salt and pepper hair on his arm glints, catching light, and Lighting’s squinting gaze snags on the way his sleeves are bunched around his elbows. He always does that before he races, unbuttons his cuffs and ritualistically rolls up his sleeves. Lightning likes to watch him, because there’s something soothing about the ways people move when they’re not in a hurry, but they’re still gonna outrace you. Lightning tries to move like this, but he always ends up barreling ahead, clumsy and impatient. He doesn’t believe he has all the time in the world. He feels like it’s always running out, even though Doc is the one so much closer to death. “You coming?” Doc says over his shoulder, and Lightning jogs to keep up.

—-

Once they’re back at Doc’s house, Lightning sucks down water from the sink, letting it pool in his hands and lapping it up like a dog. He loves doing this, loves the way he can splash cool palmfuls up onto his hot cheeks, loves the way he can duck his head under the faucet and let the cascade wash over his head. Doc watches from an indistinct place behind him, and when Lightning surfaces, dripping and panting, he hands him a shot of something cloudy and faintly green.

Lightning grins as he takes it, stares, sniffs. Then the sharp bite of vinegar fills his lungs and he coughs. “Damn, I thought this was something fun. What is it actually?”

“Pickle brine,” Doc says easily. “Restores sodium after a workout. Better than those sugary gatorade drinks you like.”

“Yeah, doesn’t taste half as good though,” Lightning mumbles after throwing it back, the faint ghosts of dill getting nearly lost in the overwhelm of salt. He sticks his tongue out, and returns to the sink. It’s weird, he decides, having a crew chief he trusts. A crew chief that’s an actual Doctor. Doc could bring him anything, tell him anything, and he’d probably believe it. He’d do whatever Doc told him to do, he thinks. Chug poison, drive off a cliff.

Lightning swore he’d never be such a sucker and just trust someone like that, but he’s working on letting people in since moving to Radiator Springs, working on convincing himself most folks aren’t out to steal from him, or make fun of him, or abandon him in the dust. Most folks just genuinely want to help. “Ok, so, what’s this assignment,” he asks, drying his hands on one of Doc’s hand towels. He has hand towels. Printed ones, with little pictures of herbs or olive oil or roosters on them. Lightning’s an adult, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever grow up enough to own printed hand towels, and something about that stirs up a weird sadness in him if he thinks about it too long.

Doc doesn't say anything, he just disappears into his study for a moment before returning with a well-worn paperback clasped in his hands. “I’ve read a lot of books about dirt racing, and this one is the only one that really captures how it is—how it was. And I want you to read it.”

Lightning takes it, studies the cover, which has a black and white photo of a man in front of 50s two door sedan, Detroit-style like the Hornet, only smaller. “I didn’t think you’d be the sort to think someone could learn racing from a book, old man.”

“M’not. You don’t need to learn how to drive on dirt, you need to learn how to love it. You’re still fighting it,” he explains, and Lightning gets a sinking feeling in his gut. “You fight, you doubt, and in that split second you lose control. I’ve told you about the feel of dirt under tires, the crunch, the give, the heat, and it didn’t work. So. You should read someone else’s take. Maybe it’ll stick.”

Lightning chews the inside of his cheek. He doesn’t tell Doc that it did stick, in fact it stuck too good. He thinks so much and so often and so invasively about the things Doc has told him about racing, the impossible sensory burn of his memories. The stories about Thomasville, the taste of moonshine, the fat cicadas and their relentless summer song, the way it was still hot in July even after the sunset. Sometimes Lightning lies awake in the Cozy Cone bed he sleeps in since he and Sally decided to take a break, staring at the vaulted ceiling and reflexively imagining Doc’s gravel and bourbon voice, the way it sounds when he says things like dig into the curve, hold fast, pitch it to the left, that’s it, dirt boy. Nonsense things that mean something to him. That eventually mean something to Lightning, once he repeats the motion enough it finally unlocks, becoming natural.

The thing is, he loves the way Doc says stuff. The puzzle, the rawness, the nebulous feeling behind it. He doesn’t know what a dirt boy is, but he wants to be one. He wants to love dirt, he wants to love the crunch under the tires, the haze of dust, the way he has to shake his jumpsuit out afterwards because that sifting of red earth has settled upon him like spring pollen. He wants to taste moonshine, and listen to the cicadas, and stargaze in the never-ending southern heat.

But there’s something Doc has he just—doesn’t. Something blood-deep, something elusive. Lightning thinks he could put his finger on it if he tried, but deep down he’s scared to. Just like he’s scared to really drive dirt, scared to love it. Scared to love it so much he never returns to the two hundred slick paved loops of the Piston Cup, loses his former self entirely out here in the formidable burn of the desert.

He takes the book anyway. “Thanks,” he says, pocketing it. “I’ll tell you what I think.”

Doc smiles and slaps his shoulder solidly, and it makes Lightning’s stomach plummet like a bird that’s just flown straight into a window and knocked itself out.

That night Lightning lies in his motel bed after showering, still damp, wearing nothing but his boxers. This is the time he would usually drink a beer and watch something mindless on TV before falling asleep, but he’s still thinking about dirt, about losing, so instead he rifles through his still-dusty clothes from earlier today and finds the paperback Doc lent him. It’s shoved into the pocket of his jumpsuit, making a small rectangular shape like a wallet, or a box of cigars. Lightning wishes it was cigars as he gets it out, and climbs back into bed.

He’s not really expecting to read it. He thinks he’ll skim a few pages and the table of contents, just enough to get the general picture so he can fake it to Doc in a few days. It’s more than he ever did in school, so it seems fair. He tries to open the book to a random page to see if it has pictures, but as he sets it on the bed it naturally falls open where there’s a bookmark tucked into the yellowed pages.

Or Lightning thinks it’s a bookmark, for a split second. But then his vision shifts into focus and he realizes it’s actually a magazine clipping being used as a bookmark. Someone cut out a picture of a young man in very low-riding jeans. The image is captioned Slender Andre has one reader drooling all over the page!

Lightning stares. He squints. He feels numb all over, limbs oddly heavy and tingling, blood pounding in his ears making his own heartbeat sound exactly how it does when he’s under water: echoey, resounding, alien. He mindlessly flips over the flimsy piece of paper so he doesn’t have to look as slender Andre anymore, and then, he’s so abruptly no longer numb. Now he’s impossibly hot, cheeks burning, eyes watering the way they do when he’s stared at a screen for too long, or when he’s trying to hold back tears. Andre wasn't porn, but this boy, on the other side, definitely is. This clipping is clearly from a porn magazine.

He wants to look away, but he can’t. He drinks it in like he’s parched. This boy is reclined on a bed, eyes wide and dark blue, 90’s bleach blonde hair feathered over his forehead and several shades darker than his underarm hair and neat, trimmed pubes. All of that is in the background, though, barely in focus. The only important part of this picture is his cock.

It’s hard. It lays on his flat abs, the tip nearly up to his belly-button, making the shaft a good six or seven inches at least. It’s a big, pink, cut cock, the sort Lightning wishes he had, thick and veiny but still somehow scrubbed clean looking, balls heavy, hairless, and the same dusky brown color as this boy’s perfectly round nipples so the whole of him looks cohesive, picture perfect. Lighting wonders if the image is airbrushed. Then he wonders if some boys really look like that naked, so relaxed, so cocky. He’s cocky everywhere else, cocky in his dreams of himself, cocky on the track. But he’s not cocky naked. He always fucked Sally in the dark, and before that, when it was strange girls whose names he never asked or remembered, he made sure he was drunk enough to fake his way through with bravado.

Overwhelmed, he flips the clipping back over to look at Andre again, who he decides is the lesser of two evils. He then realizes Andre is off center, and whoever cut this out didn’t mean to feature him at all. He was incidental.

This means Lightning is suddenly stuck wondering who cut this out. Who was using some twinky blonde 90s boy with a huge cock as a bookmark.

The obvious answer is Doc. Lightning knows in the back of his mind it was him, this is his book after all. But it seems too crass, too base for Doc to mark pages with a naked boy. Lightning can hardly swallow the mess of feeling it brings up acrid in his throat to imagine him doing something like that.

Lightning knows Doc is gay. He’s known longer than he’s known, known in his gut well before Doc actually told him, sat him down and those words: kid, I’ve never been married and I never will be. Because m’a homosexual. He said it like that, used the word homosexual instead of gay, homosexual like something from a science book, or a Victorian shrink’s office, or an article about Greece. Maybe that’s why Lightning can’t imagine him flipping through a porn magazine. He’s sterilized Doc’s gayness in his mind, limited it to something clean and formal and scientific. It’s also maybe why he’s been able to separate Doc from the preexisting concepts of gayness he’s had in his mind: shame and fear and that awful squirmy feeling he’d get in his gut changing in the locker-room for P.E. In Lightning’s limited midwestern experience, the word gay wasn’t an identity or a thing you did, it was an insult, a fate worse than death, a sign you were failing to perform being a teenage boy adequately and might get choked in the hand-ball courts after the bell rang. But the word homosexual…it felt different. A fact, a term free of schoolyard politics. He was able to lock it away after Doc used it, and not think much about it anymore, until now.

And it strikes Lightning that he’s never imagined Doc as this sort of gay guy. The dirty sort no one wanted to be, the sort the locker-room bullies were imagining when they laughed and sniggered and accused their football opponents of being cocksuckers. The sort of gay guy who might subscribe to a magazine full of pretty twinks, the sort to drool on the pages over Andre’s slender physique. The thought of Doc carefully cutting out this image with his red-handled kitchen scissors, the ones he keeps in the same drawer as the clean, printed hand towels…It makes Lightning’s insights gather up tightly with something like mortification, like he’s seen too much, like he’s spying on Doc through the keyhole of his door.

He flips the paper back over to study the nameless blonde boy again, and finds himself inevitably, reflexively comparing his own body to that on the page. They’re about the same height, same build. This boy is obviously more hung than he is but their coloring is nearly identical, they flush in the same places. One notable difference is that this guy’s asshole is distractingly, observably puffy. There’s a brown fold under his balls where the pucker is swollen from use, from being fucked, and it makes a horrible fist of disgust tighten up in Lightning’s stomach, wind him taut and pull him back like a cat-gut strung on a violin. Dirt boy he thinks without even meaning to, eyes glued the dark, mysterious furl. He wonders what about this photo Doc liked enough to cut out and stick it in his book. Is it the narrow chest, the blue eyes, the golden skin? Or, is it the well fucked hole? The big cock?

Lightning realizes with a sudden and violent twist of his stomach that he hates either possibility, because they both say something about him. That he is either desirable enough to treasure inside a favorite paperback, or not.

He doesn’t want to think about it, but he can’t force it outside of himself now that it’s surfaced, like something too swollen and bloated to stay underwater. If this is the sort of boy Doc is attracted to, it means he’s theoretically attracted to Lightning, and that's such a strange, stomach-twisting notion to imagine. It’s never even crossed his mind that Doc could think about him that way, because the word homosexual didn’t leave room for potentials like desire in Lighting’s mind. It was what Doc simply was, free from the complex burden of what Doc wants, what Doc looks at, what he jacks off to.

Lightning thinks about Doc touching himself while he looks at this photo. His rough, weathered fingers smoothing over the edge of the clipping where the boy’s ribcage curves inelegantly against the denim of his pillows, and his face gets hot all over again, mouth dry, throat tight. He wants to be upset by the thought, but he’s just—not. He isn’t sure why, but there’s something distantly satisfying, or even comforting, about the idea of Doc thinking slim blonde boys like him are good looking. It’s probably a combination of his own profound insecurity alongside the way he values Doc’s opinion and relentlessly seeks his approval. Regardless, Lightning finds that he’s more unsettled by the thought of Doc cutting this photo out for the thick cock and raw hole and bawdy confidence. The things that are distinctly not Lightning, things that he can’t offer.

He tells himself he’d rather Doc prefer this boy for their similarities because the other option is more obscene, more carnal, more gay, and gay things make him uncomfortable, because he is not gay. But not even that feels like a lie right now, because he’s sitting here half-hard in a motel room while his beer gets warm, wondering what sort of thing makes his gay crew chief bust a nut.

He wants to crumple the picture up, he wants to burn it, to tear it into little bits and flush them down the toilet so he doesn’t have to think about any of this a single second longer. He wants to stop staring, to stop wondering what it feels like to have a big cock like that, how different his life might have been if he had not navigated it knowing he was lacking somehow, covering himself, changing in bathroom stalls to keep the older boys from seeing him and teasing him and calling him that unspeakable thing.

Lightning eventually stuffs the clipping back into the book, and takes a cold shower. Part of him wishes he still lived in a city so he could go to a 24 hour liquor store and pick up something stronger than beer, hit an adult video rental on the way back for some trashy gang bang porn to get himself off to just to feel normal again. Another part of him is glad he’s moved someplace where those options aren’t feasible anymore. It forces him to sit with himself, to let the polluted stream of his feelings run through him in a helpless rush.

When he goes to bed, he tries not to balk at the image burned into his retinas. The easy recline, the confident smirk, the thick vein rubbing from ball-sack to tip like a highway, like a river.

—-

Lightning does not mention the book or the thing he found inside of it for several days. He sees Doc for training, and he of course thinks about telling him, but the whole thing just seems too awkward and painful to bring up cold, so instead, he lets it haunt him.

He’s hyper aware of every time they touch, or every time Doc’s eyes linger on him for more than a few seconds. He realizes it’s often, that Doc is always studying him, sometimes with disappointment, sometimes with amusement, but always, with a lasting stickiness, like it’s hard for him to tear his gaze away. In the past Lightning chalked that up to his inability to read Doc, like Doc stared at him because he was forever failing to pick up the nuance of what he was saying, like he was waiting for something to dawn on Lightning, for it all to make sense.

Now, he wonders if it’s because Doc likes the way he looks. His overgrown blonde hair, the cut of his shoulders down to his waist, the way he’s fit but not built, muscular but not buff. He’s always sort of wished he could carry muscle differently, that the loads of pasta and protein shakes he eats actually stuck to his bones instead of getting immediately burnt off during workouts, but the notion there's someone out there who might actually prefer it makes him feel differently in his skin. Particularly if that someone is Doc, Doc who’s right about everything, who has printed hand-towels and the world's most beautiful car and a meticulously clean house with everything inside cohesive and simple and color-coordinated.

Lightning catches himself looking in the mirror sometimes wondering what Doc sees in him, what he likes about it if he likes it at all. He’ll stand naked after his shower, drying himself off waiting for the condensation to clear on the mirror so he can study himself, so he can mimic and recline how the boy in the image reclined, hands above his head, underarms exposed. He doesn’t look bad, he thinks. Not if Doc’s ideal is that magazine clipping. Not if that’s the low, strange, specific bar he’s being compared to.

Sometimes he twists around to look at his ass, wondering what his own hole looks like but too scared to palm himself apart and see for himself. He imagines it very tight and very pink, a virgin asshole like a girl in a porno, untouched and unfucked. When he finally does pull his cheeks apart shamefully one night after he’s polished off a six-pack and still can’t quit thinking about any of this, he’s surprised to find it dark, hairy, hidden. He's so hard and confused from the mere act of looking he ends up jacking off into the sink, imagining Doc watching him, getting breathless over him, cracking along a seam because of him. His rough, warm voice thinned out with wheezes, and as Lightning washes his come down the drain, cheeks shame-hot, he imagines Doc curling an arm around his waist, breath hot against the shell of his ear as he calls him dirt boy.

He sleeps troubled that night, waking up over and over again from a series of short and nearly identical dreams of Doc finding him out, walking in on him while he stares at the bookmark, touching his own chest with soft, idle fingers, how he imagines Doc might touch this boy’s chest before he kissed him. How he might touch Lightning’s chest before he kissed him, if he were to ever kiss Lightning. If he wanted to kiss Lightning. He keeps waking up sweating and gasping, and feeling like there’s a patina of dust settled onto his skin, like he’s just blasted around the butte and come in second like always.

You’re fantasizing about Doc, he tells himself, still drunk, but more capable of being honest since it’s the middle of the night and his heart is pounding in the chest and there’s no one but the stars and the fading fragments of his dream to watch him come to this realization. That’s what you’re doing.

But doesn’t feel like he’s fantasizing about Doc, because first and foremost he’s fantasizing about Doc fantasizing about him. That single layer should make a difference, and it did, for a few days. But the more obsessive he becomes, and the longer the bookmark burns a hole in those unread pages, the more inescapable this whole thing feels. The truth is chasing him, gaining on him, humid like a locker room, ugly like dead things he’s pushed down to rot. At the heart of it all, Lightning’s invented an entire fable around a single image but what if he’s wrong? What if the bookmark isn’t even Doc’s? What if it’s a former lover’s left behind, or a joke, something someone slipped into his book because they assumed he liked blonde twinks with big dicks? What if Doc actually is attracted to something entirely different and Lightning is losing sleep and spinning his wheels and drinking himself dizzy and staring at his own reflection with new, hazy eyes all because of a series of assumptions?

He needs to get rid of the book, he decides. He thinks about just handing it back and saying he didn’t have time to read it and hoping Doc won’t push it back into his palms insisting. Maybe he can convince Doc he never saw the clipping in the first place, so they don’t have to talk about it. But underneath it all, Lightning knows he has to come clean. He has to know what Doc wants, what Doc likes, because otherwise he’s gonna keep wondering and picking himself apart over it. He's gonna keep staring at his reflection, peering into his creases like he’ll find the answer hidden there in the secret folds of his own body.

He’s not sure what’ll happen, once he gets the answer. If Doc says no, not mine, book came with that thing and I kept it around because I got a good laugh out of it, he might be able to put all that’s happened away, stuff it into a dusty shelf with the other parts of himself he’s buried and forget he ever watched the pearlescent white shine of a load he just shot wash away in the sink while he struggled to catch his breath.

But if it is Doc’s, if Doc does look at him—he’s not sure what he’ll do. If it’s the sort of thing he knows how to run from. If it’s the sort of thing he knows how to touch.

—-

Later that week they race the butte, and Lightning loses every time, gloves soaked through with his palm-sweat by the time they do ten laps. Doc studies him with narrowed eyes when they take a break, leaning cross-armed against the shiny blue siding of the Hornet. He looks like the cover of his own paperback, and Lightning fights a powerful wave of nausea, hands on his knees. “You didn't read, I take it?”

He shakes his head. “I tried to.”

Doc’s quiet for a moment, thumbing over a scab on one of his knuckles. Lightning wonders how he got it, if he burnt himself cooking, if he sliced it with the box-cutter in the garage while he was breaking down old cardboard to recycle. Doc does one hundred mature adult routines one could rub a knuckle raw doing, and Lightning lives in his ex-girlfriend's motel, refusing to rent an apartment because he’s convinced something might change, someone might take him in like a stray. Or else, the town will decide they don’t want him anymore, and he’ll go back to the city, tail between his legs, mind stuck on the thought, I knew it all along.

He spits foam into the sand again, looks for the streaks of red dirt through it like blood. “Your head’s not in the game today, kid,” Doc tells him then. He nods, because he knows. He knows exactly where his head is: pressed between brittle pages, reclined, fake-confident, rock-hard.

He swallows thickly, shakes his head. “I know,” he admits. “Can we call it a day?”

And normally Doc would push him, would wrestle him back into the roll-cage and demand they have one more lap. Or, he’d climb in shot-gun next to him and nitpick every little thing he was doing, tell him, don’t ease into the pedal like this is is asphalt, you’ve got to punch and stick, coming right out of that curve. Dirt gives, kid, dirt slides. You can’t rely on dirt to hold you, so, you’ve gotta hold yourself. And Lightning would say I know, I know dirt doesn’t hold, teach me how to do it, use a language I understand and then, next time they loop around, Doc would just reach for him, cover his hands in his own, twist the wheel with his mouth right up against Lightning’s ear growling like that, dirt boy. There you go. Hold her easy. I’ll tell you when you’re gonna gas her up. And Lightning’s heart would speed, his ears would ring, but he’d finish faster than he had all day, beat his best time to date.

But Doc must sense there’s something different today, because he doesn’t press the matter. He frowns, and nods, and reaches out to cuff and squeeze the back of Lightning’s neck like he’s scruffing a dog. “Hey. We can’t wake up every morning chomping at the bit, you know. You did good. It’ll be better tomorrow.”

But Lightning can’t even think about tomorrow. All he can think about is today, right now: Doc’s warm, scabbed fingers on his skin like sweat, like dirt clinging to that sweat. He shakes him off, shivering. There’s that heat building inside him he hasn’t been able to shake, the memory of it residing in his bones ever since he opened that book and saw what he saw. He’s been on fire ever since, he realizes. Sometimes it burns low, sometimes it’s nothing but a hidden smolder tucked under charcoal and ash, but still, it never goes out. That magazine clipping lit something, and he needs to put it out, or feed the blaze. He can’t stand lingering in the in-between like this, aching, so, he makes a decision.

—-

Once they’re back at Doc’s place, he drinks his pickle juice, wishing it was booze. It burns enough on the way down it could be, so he pretends he knows what he’s doing when he blurts upon swallowing, “I found porn in the book you left me.”

Doc raises his eyebrows, but he doesn’t flinch. He just crosses his arms, chews the inside of his cheek enough to hollow it out a bit before answering, “I beg your pardon?”

“Porn. Gay porn,” Lightning clarifies, cheeks so hot and eyes so watery now he doesn’t think he can look at Doc dead-on without freezing in the icy blue of that gaze, so he fumbles inside his racing duffle, pulling the book out of a mesh inside pocket and opening it to the page he knows the feel of by memory now. More than half-way through, not quite finished. “See?” he says, taking it out, feeling his fingers tingle as he hands it over. “I—I tried to read it but this sort of killed the mood.”

Doc takes the clipping, studies it, flipping it over and back again. “Hm,” he says, which is nothing. No confirmation, no end of the world, no closure, no question.

The sound of his voice sits lead-heavy in Lightning’s gut, and he can hardly breathe so he chokes out, “Well? Is it yours?”

“I reckon so,” Doc says, shrugging, folding it crisply in half before flicking it into the kitchen trash. Lightning feels betrayed as he does it, hating the line through his likeness’s flat stomach, hating the easy, effortless way Doc just disposed of something that’s caused him so much grief and confusion and sleeplessness over the last few nights. He hands the book back to Lightning, eyes hard and unreadable. “There. Cleaned it up, should be able to read without having your delicate sensibilities offended.”

Lighting takes it numbly, heart in his throat.

“Didn’t think you’d be so put off by something like that,” Doc says then, mouth flattening out into a defensive line. “The way you carried on I thought you were gonna show me some honest to god fucking. S’like you’ve never seen a naked man before. You own a mirror? They got those out at the Cozy Cone?”

And he’s joking, probably, trying to make light of something awkward like having his favorite centerfold stumbled upon and handed back to him in the mundanity of his own sun-streaked kitchen, but Lightning feels hurt all the same. It’s too on the money, too sharp and too cruel and too raw and too true for him to laugh about, so he turns away, braces his hands on the edge of the sink and inhales raggedly. “Is that—is that your type?” he asks point blank, because he needs to know. He’s less and less sure any of this is real, less and less sure Doc cares about him even as a friend and a mentee at this point, and his insides are gathering up, twisting, writhing at the notion of being mocked. Most folks just want to help he tries to tell himself, knuckles white and bloodless as he stares at them. Most folks aren’t out to steal from you, or make fun of you, or abandon you in the dust.

Doc is quiet, but Lightning feels like he can smell his shock, the way you can smell oncoming snow, or the electricity of thunderstorms before they actually hit. “Are we gonna have this conversation now?” Doc asks then, voice sounding cautious. “Because I’ll get out the good whiskey, if we are. Don’t want this to be any worse than it has to be.”

“Wait—what? What conversation?” Lightning asks as he whips around, feeling hot and dizzy and left in the dust. Doc shouldn’t move faster than him; Doc shouldn't speak in code. Lightning is tired of feeling slow, and stupid, and lost, and disposable.

“Look,” Doc says, methodically walking to the cupboard and pulling out a glass bottle of amber liquid, uncorking it. He pours them two careful shots, his own in the coffee cup he used this morning, Lightning’s in his still pickle-salty glass. “We’re both adults, right? And I know my place. I’d never do anything, I’d never expect anything, I’d never try anything. So, m’asking you trust that, because I’d rather we just move on. I want to skip to the part where we’re laughing about it.”

Lightning’s mouth opens, and closes, and opens again. He doesn’t want to skip to the part where they’re laughing. He doesn’t want to move on. He wants to know what the fuck Doc is talking about, he wants him to spell it out, to say brake into the curve and accelerate out of it instead of stick it and punch it when you feel the dirt give, so he shakes his head and says, “Why can’t we just talk?”

Doc looks bewildered for a moment and then he recovers, eyes getting glass-hard and cold again as he pushes the whiskey shot into Lightning’s palm. “What’s there to talk about? You know, now. Damn shame you didn’t figure it out sooner, maybe you would have left this fucking down before you hooked me so deep I couldn’t push you away anymore.”

Lightning recoils at that, even though he’s not sure what Doc means, if he means anything at all or if he’s just lashing out. He watches him throw back his shot and shudder, lips pursed as he starts to pace and—it hits him. Doc thinks he’s angry. That he’s angry about the porn, angry about the way he looks like this boy, angry that he’s a dirty old man. He laughs weakly, the layers of silence and assumption weighing upon him like stacked cards. “I’m not—why do you think I’m mad at you?”

Doc presses the rim of his coffee cup into his lower lip before he thoughtfully refills it with another slosh of whiskey. “Because most men would be.”

And Lightning knows that, to some degree. He knows he’s not reacting how he should react, he knows something’s wrong with him. But it doesn’t matter, not now. He’s already sunk so low, drifted so far out to sea, there’s no hope to claw back to the shore. So, he takes the shot, and then with his throat burning, he stumbles to the trashcan and fishes out the picture. “You like this guy?” he asks then, slurring a little, adrenaline drunk, dizzy.

Doc scoffs, shakes his head. “He’s alright.”

“Just alright? You cut him out of a magazine,” Lightning reminds him, whiskey going to his head as he smoothes the image out on the counter, stares as it. He can feel Doc watching him, and it hurts somehow. He doesn’t want to skirt around this anymore, he wants answers, he wants confessions, he wants the truth. So he walks over to Doc, heart pounding. “Will you tell me what you like about him?” he pleads, wishing he knew how to touch Doc. Wishing he could crowd him up against the cupboards, put his hands on his broad, cut shoulders, his fingers at the place his pulse is speeding, so he knows for sure that they’re both scared. Instead he lingers there on the linoleum, wavering a foot or so away, arrested by the criminal blue of Doc’s eyes.

There’s a terrible sadness to him as he inhales a long, whistling breath. “Jesus, Lightning,” he murmurs. “You really gonna make me do this?”

“Just tell me, please,” Lightning mumbles, getting closer, eyes climbing all over Doc. His rolled up sleeves, his strong forearms, the spot of crusted blood on his hands. He imagines sucking his fingers into his mouth and softening the scab up with spit, and his cock twitches in his briefs at the dream of copper. “Please.”

“Fine,” Doc says, closing his eyes resolutely. And Lightning expects him to start listing attributes. I like this blonde hair. His smirk. His big cock, those heavy balls. I like the way his nipples are so round, so even, such a pale brown. And Lightning is imagining taking it all in and then saying, Ok, I’ve got some of that, m’not so different. Have you thought about it? Thought about me? Do you want to see the color of my nipples? Or have you already noticed? But instead, Doc takes a deep breath and says, “I cut out that picture because he looked a little like you.”

It sits in the air, bleeding out. Lightning’s stomach drops so hard he almost pitches into Doc’s arms right there, begs for him. He’s never fucking felt so bowled over and messed up from something so small in the whole of his life, and it makes it so that he cannot speak or move so for a few moments he just stands there, trying to breathe.

Doc licks his lips and continues. “He’s not even close to the real thing, though. Not half as good,” he murmurs, gaze skidding over Lightning for a hot, charged second. “But I didn’t know that at the time. It was before I’d seen you in person.”

“Oh,” Lightning mumbles, scrubbing his hands through his hair, feeling the grit of butte dust, grainy between soft strands. This whole time, he thought maybe he was just lucky enough to cross over with Doc’s type. It never occurred to him Doc’s type could have possibly been shaped by him. It’s such an overwhelming thought he feels sick with the way it tugs in his gut, makes his cock hard, his cheeks hot. Not half as good, Doc said, voice dark with self-recrimination. With shame.

“You mad at me now?” Doc asks. “Wouldn’t blame you.”

It’s so far away from what Lightning is actually feeling he forgets words all together, forgets what he meant to admit, what dark secret he was poised to confess. Now he’s just drunk and hot and trembling and so fucking hard, and it doesn’t matter he’s not hung and he’s never been fucked because Doc liked that boy because he liked him. Because Doc thinks he’s good. Because Doc wants him.

“Touch me,” he chokes out, because it’s all he can think of. He closes the distance between their bodies and puts himself up against Doc gracelessly, pressing into the heat of him, hands splayed wide and messy on his chest even as Doc flinches. The fire is burning, and Lightning can’t think, because the whole of his body is engulfed in flame. “Please Doc, touch me, if you want to touch me. M’not mad,” he promises, heart stopping as Doc grabs his hips fiercely, grip bruising.

He feels himself coming apart as Doc steers him into the counter, flips him around and pushes his hands under the collar of his shirt to touch skin, cursing all the while. His breath is whiskey-hot as he huffs over Lightning’s mouth, and the taste makes him drool. “Do you know what you’re doing?” he whispers, voice nothing but a snagged growl. His fingers are slotted into Lightning’s ribs, holding him fast, kneading him, and god, this is all Lightning’s wanted, possibly this whole entire life: to be craved. To be desired. To be coveted so much he can’t mess up, he can’t disappoint. “God, you’re so fucking beautiful,” Doc mumbles then, rubbing his now-bleeding knuckle over Lightning’s panting mouth, the wound freshly reopened as they grappled, perhaps.

Lightning licks the metallic bite off his own lips and says, “Doc,” just to feel the single-beat comfort of it on his tongue, this person he trusts, this person he’ll swallow anything for. Chug poison, drive off a cliff. “I’ll do whatever you tell me to. Whatever you want,” he promises, grinding against the leg between his own, heart thundering in his chest.

And then Doc’s cupping his cheeks and kissing him, rough and deep with no-preamble of softness, everything so suddenly slick Lightning feels like he’s drowning. He crumples onto the counter, laid waste to by Doc’s wandering hands as he hoists him up, swipes aside some dishes and his French press with a clatter so he can flatten Lightning out there in his kitchen.

“Jesus fucking christ,” Lightning grinds out, gasping for air, lips feeling raw and bruised already. He’s not scared, though, because he doesn’t have to make the decisions. He can just lie here feeling loved while Doc loves him: unzips his jumpsuit down past his navel and rucks it open, pushes his sweat-stained tank top up around his throat so he can kiss down his chest, swirl his tongue over his nipples.

The whole thing feels like a miracle. How good it is, how right. Lightning keeps looking down at his own hand in Doc’s thinning silver hair, his own fingers gripping the memorized shape of Doc’s shoulder, and he realizes over and over again like waves crashing onto packed sand that he’s wanted this. He’s not let himself think about it in detail, but the ghosts of that hunger are there, like fragments of an old dream. In the scrape of Doc’s mustache against his heartbeat, the slick, burning suck of his mouth as he leaves marks. These are all things he’s imagined drunk, or half-asleep, or so quickly and violently he was able to silence it just as fast as it came. This is why he was always noticing Doc’s rolled sleeves and hand towels. This, here, was everything all along.

He sobs messily as Doc touches him. Touches his throat, his shoulders, his sternum, his ribcage, his hips. Grips his thighs as he stands between then, grinding against Lightning’s so solidly he can feel that he’s made him hard, feel the heat of his cock pressing into his own through layers of nylon and cotton. “Do you know what I want to do to you?” Doc asks then, between wet, suffocating kisses that make Lightning’s eyes sting with tears they’re so unbelievably good.

“What?” he asks, feeling out the top-most knob of Doc’s spine, brushing his fingers back and forth over the jut of it, like he’s trying to rub out a stain. “Tell me.”

“Everything, for starters,” he murmurs, licking over the corner of Lightning’s gasping mouth. “But more than anything else I want to taste you. Roll you over onto your stomach and prop up your hips and eat you out until you’re dripping.”

Lightning’s cheeks are so hot, each word tugging so low in his gut he can feel his cock-slit flexing open, precum leaking out into his briefs. He can’t even speak so he just makes a wordless sound in his throat, shifting his hips on the counter, stunned at the sudden, hungry ache in his hole like he’s only just become aware it’s empty. “Please,” he whimpers, the world reduced to single syllables.

“Yeah? You’ll let me do that?” Doc asks, brushing his bloody knuckles up Lightning’s cheek. He imagines the red-brown smudge the motion leaves in his stubble, and it makes his heart pound, his cock twitch.

“Told you, I’ll let you do anything,” he admits. Then, because he’s a dirt boy and it’s all he can think of, being filthy and being used and being wanted so bad it leaves bruises, he adds, “You could fuck me afterwards. No one—no one’s ever touched me there. But if you wanted to. You could take me like that. I want you to.

Doc cups his cheeks hard, squeezes his jaw so hard he pushes the shape of his mouth into something unrecognizable before he kisses it. “God. We’ll see,” he murmurs between bites, between pulsing sucks. Everything is salt and whiskey and Lightning wants to be lost in it forever, wants to forget what the inside of his mouth tastes like without the ghost of Doc’s spit. “First let me touch you there. Let me see how you open up. Want it to feel good for you, don’t want to scare you away.”

And there’s no chance of that, none at all. Not with the combination of his own profound insecurity alongside the way he values Doc’s opinion and relentlessly seeks his approval. The way that has, without his consent or even his full knowledge, twisted into a thicket, a briar-patch. Now, it’s love. It’s a hunger all his own. His desire to be desired has looped back around and chewed itself bloody so he’s the one left desiring, and now, it’s all he is.

It’s ok, though, because Doc is right there with him. Combing fingers through his hair, getting blood all over the collar of his jumpsuit. “You won’t scare me anywhere,” Lightning tells him, palms shifting loose skin, touching what he can reach. Doc is so much softer than he expected, like age smoothed parts of him out, melted them so they’d fit perfect in Lightning’s searching hands. “Take me to bed,” he begs, hole flexing again, untouched and longing in a way he never knew his body could be. “Please.”

So Doc holds him close before hauling him to his feet and together, they stumble.

—-

Being in Doc’s room fucks with Lightning’s head.

It’s a place he’s imagined before, the hazy interior of his fantasies when he’d drunkenly think about Doc touching himself, Doc’s big hand on his big cock and some Twink magazine open on the bedspread.

The reality is not so different from the version he conjured up in his mind, but being taken there, being spread out on the sheets while Doc kicks off his own shoes and unloops his belt is positively maddening. This is where you thought of me Lightning thinks as Doc peels the jumpsuit from his shoulders, pulls his tank-top over his head and leaves him bare chested and shivering on the comforter. This is where you imagined me. Do I look as good as your dreams? Is it how you wished it would be? There’s a momentary spike of insecurity in his chest as Doc gazes down on him, unbuttoning his own dress shirt in that measured, unhurried way of his the always makes Lightning feel like he’s going crazy. “Do you still want me?” he asks quietly, hooking his thumb under the waistband of his briefs, embarassed by how lewdly he’s tenting them, the wet spot in the thin cotton, the way he’s not half as big as the boy in the magazine clipping.

Doc shakes his head with a muted smile, lays a gentle hand over Lightning’s throat like he’s feeling for the flutter of his pulse as it speeds. “I’ve never wanted anyone more in my life,” he murmurs. Then, with his thumb digging in a little to the rush of blood just under the skin, “Can’t you tell?”

Lightning’s inhalation shudders; it won’t fill his lungs all the way because breathing is hard when someone is looking at you like you hung the moon. Like you are the moon. The moon and all the stars and the whole fucking night sky. “I love you,” he murmurs, the truth of it spilling out of him like he slit his own jugular.

Doc curses and kisses him, holds his hips and rubs into the junction where he’s split. “God, I love you,” he prays into his mouth. “I’ve been loving you so fucking hard I thought it might kill me. And here you are.”

Here I am Lightning thinks like a revelation, like all the threads of confusion in his life are converging, knotting together indecipherably into a mess of twine right here in his curled tight fist.

“Roll over and let me see that ass, kid,” Doc says then, sweetness giving way to heat giving way to sweetness, like they are the same sugar-sticky thing.

Lightning’s stomach drops as he does what he’s told, shifting so his back is arched and his cock is pressed and rutting into Doc’s bedspread. He involuntarily whines when Doc peels his briefs down, kneading deep and and steady on either side of his spine. “Look at you,” he whispers, pressing lingering kisses to Lightning’s scapulae, into the sweat-damp ditch between them, working his way steadily down. “Goddamn, so perfect,” he mumbles. Then Lightning’s heart stops because Doc is touching him there, rubbing into the humid crack of his ass like he’s precious, like it’s something he’s dreamed of.

“Fuck,” Lightning whines, arching his back, bucking back against the pressure. It’s—it’s indescribable, being touched there, how raw and invasive and overwhelmingly hot it feels. “I made myself come thinking about you,” he confesses, crumpling to dust as Doc starts to make little circles against his hole, spreading him apart, holding him open. “I looked at myself in the mirror, like this. At my spread ass because—because I wanted to see what you’d see, if you ever looked at me like this.”

“God, and it was so pretty, wasn’t it?” Doc growls against his ear, bringing his fingers up to suck the taste of Lightning off, the musk and the spice and the sweat and the darkness. When he touches him again it’s filthy-wet, sloppy with a palmful of spit. “Most perfect little hole. Want to fuck it with my tongue so bad.”

Lightning sobs into his pillow, astounded someone wants him this blindly, astounded Doc wants him so blindly. Doc with his printed hand-towels, his effortless speed, his years and years with which he's cultivated something clean, and respectable, and orderly. Lightning feels filthy in comparison right now and wondered how exactly he fits into Doc’s world, broken open and dripping and hungry. It doesn’t matter, though, because he knows he fits in. Somewhere central. Somewhere important. Creased into a favorite book, adored.

His hole is fluttering by the time Doc situates himself between his pushed-open thighs, hands all over his back, his pale cheeks. He kisses all over his ass tenderly before he holds him open to lick, so Lightning already knows the feel of his breath, has grown drunk and desperate with it, wanting more.

And then, so suddenly, it happens, and his universe is nothing but wet. The whole ocean, hot springs, summer rain. Lightning didn’t know something could be so wet. He didn’t know it would feel like that, to have someone lick him out like he’s a girl, but now that he knows he’s bucking under it, writhing and gasping with tears in his eyes, wondering how in the hell he denied this for so long, when he could have been soaked, and overflowing. Doc holds him open and licks relentlessly: wide and thorough, then in hungry circles, then prodding and pushing until something gives. Lightning feels himself part like the Red Sea, hears Doc’s stifled moan as he spears him open and fucks inside, mustache rough against the swollen rim of muscle. “Oh god, Doc, fuck, please, pease,” Lightning whines, backing himself up into it, totally lost. “Feels so good.”

Doc pulls back, gasping as he thumbs over Lightning’s sloppy, desperate pucker. “You like that, don't you?” he murmurs, rubbing deeper, pushing inside. “You like having your ass played with.”

Lightning nods frantically, drooling on the bedspread, back arched deeper than he ever knew it could go. “You like playing with my ass?” he asks, voice so ripped it’s almost unrecognizable.

“I could come in my pants like a teenager doing it,” Doc murmurs against him before he hooks an arm under his bent knee and flips him over easy, like he’s done this before, like manhandling boys is as practiced as racing dirt. “You taste so fucking good,” he says then, kissing all over Lightning’s stomach, the trail of hair under his navel that leads down to his aching cock. “I want to feel inside you, if that’s ok. Suck your cock while I finger that pretty hole.”

Lightning loves that Doc thinks his hole is pretty. He needs that, needs the reassurance his body is desirable, that he’s meeting some standard, filling some void. He’s pretty sure whatever else happens in the meantime hardly matters, as long as Doc keeps telling him how good he looks, touching him like he can’t believe his luck. “Yeah, it’s ok,” Lightning slurs, scrubbing his hands over his face, the skin fire-hot beneath his palms. “Told you, you can do whatever the fuck you want to me.”

“Goddamn,” Doc breathes, getting up on his hands and knees to fumble inside his bedside table. For a brief illogical moment, Lightning wants to see. If there are books and magazines to read up there, if Doc keeps medications in a weekly pill-sorter under his lamp, or if they're in the bathroom, with his cologne, his toothpaste. Lightning wants in on so many quiet, private details in Doc’s life, now that he knows there’s no chance of him stumbling upon something painful. He retrospectively realizes he was terrified to dig too deeply, because the idea of Doc loving someone more than he loved him was unbearable. But now, the floodgates are open. Now, he feels obligated to it all.

Doc brings him back down to earth by uncapping his lube, coating his fingers with it so they shine. The sight alone makes Lightning gasp, bend his knees and spread his thighs wider to open himself up. His cock is flexing and dripping onto his stomach and Doc is staring down at it while he licks his lips, and Lighting tears his gaze away for a moment, lets it fall blurry and unfocused on the opposite wall. “I’m not big,” he announces. He thinks of the magazine clipping, that fat, pink cock, and wonders if that was what Doc had been hoping for.

“I hadn't noticed,” Doc murmurs, thumbing reverently up the underside, before smearing precum all over the crown and making it shine. “Lightning, everything about you—you’re perfect to me,” he murmurs then, voice as soft and careful as Lightning’s ever heard it. Like he’s talking to an animal, or a plant. Some soft little curl of new green, being urged to grow. “I’m so fucking in love with you,” he says then, bending to kiss him, slicking his hole up in lube, pushing until he flickers open with a gasp. “That’s it, baby. My good boy,” Doc mumbles against his ear, pushing deeper so Lightning feels like he’s being cored, split apart. The words burn him up from the inside out and he shudders, settling back towards the intrusion, loving the filthy, pleasure-hot burn of Doc inside him, full and tight.

“Oh god, please, fuck me,” he whimpers with his eyes scrunched tight, clawing at Doc to keep him close. “And keep—keep talking. Everything you say fucking kills me. S’all I’ve ever wanted. What I need.”

Doc thrusts deeper, crooks his fingers, moans along with Lightning. “Yeah? You need an old man telling you how fucking beautiful you are, falling apart over you? Fucking you exactly how a pretty dirt boy like you deserves to be fucked?”

Fuck,” Lightning grinds out, stomach in knots, cock flexing against his stomach like he might come without even being sucked. Pretty dirt boy, he thinks on a loop, sure it’s exactly what he is, what he’s wanted to be his whole life. He just never had the words, the understanding. This is how he wants to race, this is how he wants to win. Clenched tight like a heart-beat around Doc Hudson’s bleeding fingers. His pretty, dirty boy, everything he ever wanted, so much so he cut it out and slipped it into his favorite book.

Doc must sense he’s close, that he’s plummeting off of some irreparably eroded edge, so he lowers himself to his stomach between Lightning’s splayed thighs, fingers pumping in and out all the while. “You’re so hot inside,” he mumbles, lips brushing against his cock before the wet flesh of his tongue. “Burning me up.”

And then, just like that, he’s sucking Lightning’s cock. Wet and hungry and loud, moaning his way through it as he bobs up and down the length like it feels as good to have that musky searing weight on his tongue as it does to be sucked. Lightning can’t see; there’s nothing but white eclipsing his gaze. Static and snow and the foam at the crest of storm-aves, so he allows himself to fall into it, capsize like a boat, fingers scrambling for purchase at the hinge off Doc’s spread-wide jaw. And before he can even accept its inevitable build he’s coming. So hard it’s seismic and right into the slick of Doc’s sucking mouth, but that feels almost secondary to the way his ass is pulsing. He assumes it’s always done that but he’s never had something inside to draw awareness to the wild, hungry spasm, so it feels totally new, a revelation. An involuntary clench, tight around Doc’s crooked knuckles, heaven if heaven were fire-hot and filthy. “Oh my god, god, fuck,” he hears himself say, voice hoarse with tears and overwhelm, such a far away thing.

Doc Keeps sucking him long after he’s come, licking the mess up, rubbing his stubbled cheek into sensitive skin, smiling wide and stunned at the way Lightning cries out, but does not squirm away. “You came so easy for me,” he might say, voice muffled against Lightning’s stomach, then his hip-bone, then his neck. He withdraws his fingers and it hurts good and dirty, makes Lightning wince and cry out. “Hey, baby. I got you, don’t worry, you just hold on,” Doc mumbles and then, without asking he’s pushing his steel-hard cockhead against Lightning’s used hole, working himself against the puffy flesh until it gives way, and he pops inside.

Lightning’s crying down his cheeks with how good it feels. Not just the inescapable stretch, the way it feels too big, too wide, but the fact Doc is just doing it. Like he figured out Lightning is all his, that he doesn’t have to check first, to ease into anything. He tries to bear down but Doc is holding him fast with one hand at his throat, murmuring sweetly as he jacks himself off furiously with the other. And then, in seconds, he’s coming inside him. Slicking his insides, panting messy into the open wound of his mouth as Lightning lies motionless, baptized. “God, feel so good, so perfect, so tight and sweet for me,” Doc prays into his lips, somehow managing to keep from fucking deeper inside of him before he pulls out still pulsing, and shoves his fingers back up into lighting to plant his seed, bury it deeper.

“Please,” Lightning whispers, since he’s the only word he seems to remember. His hole is used and raw and fluttering, alternating between slutty slackness and tight, hungry clutches around Doc’s come-sticky fingers, and he doesn’t know how to stop it, how to control himself, so he just lets the tide carry his body. “There you go. Where it belongs,” Doc tells him as he rubs the mess of come into his walls, kisses him graceless and rough and spit-wet.

Lightning can hardly breathe, but he doesn’t care. He sucks Doc’s tongue, lets himself be filled up and hollowed out all at once. “I love you,” he mumbles between hiccuping sobs and having all his air stolen. “Love you. Love you.”

“God, keep saying that and you’re gonna ruin me. I thought maybe you’d let me blow you some night when you were drunk and curious, but that was all. Never thought I’d get this. How am I so goddamned lucky?” Doc murmurs, inhaling from Lightning’s hair before he kisses him deep again, shoves his fingers deeper. “I thought—for a second today, I thought you were gonna fire me. Thought you were gonna just up and leave me cold, because you’d figured it all out. M’so glad I was wrong.”

“Me too,” Lightning agrees,, thinking about his own personal host of assumptions, or fears, or misunderstandings. Thinking about transgressions he imagined Doc might allow him, and the way they pale in comparison to the fever of the truth. “Me too.”

—-

They clean up, but they don't get out of Doc’s bed. Lightning won’t let them. Once he’s wiped his ass clean and mopped up the sweat from his thighs he falls back onto the mattress, flinging an arm over Doc’s waist to hold him there. Eventually, once he’s sure Doc isn’t changing his mind about anything, he softens up. Fits himself to his side, lets his hand drift experimentally up and down his bare chest, fingers tangling in the thatch of chest hair. “It’s hot you fucked me in your dress shirt,” he says, tugging absently at the hem of Doc’s once-crisp Oxford he just unbuttoned to get underneath. “Your dress shirts are hot.”

These are obvious, simple, things to say, but he’s buried them so deeply for so long that giving them voice and allowing them to touch the air feels like confession. He frees each statement one by one, always shocked at the way the words feel in his mouth. How different the truth tastes, when you’re used to sucking down self-fed lie after lie. “I was—I was so scared you wouldn’t want me. That I wouldn’t live up to that boy in the picture,” he adds, rubbing his face into Doc’s underarm, where he smells like deodorant and sweat and laundry detergent.

Doc murmurs wordlessly, rubs his lips into Lightning’s hair. He’s just been holding him close, inhaling greedily from his roots this whole time, and nothing in Lightning’s life has ever felt so good. He never thought anyone he ever fucked would like the way his dirty hair smelled. He thought they’d put up with it, maybe. That the gross, human, banal things about someone become tolerable when you love them, but never desirable. But he can tell, with every cell in his body, that Doc loves the way his dirty hair smells. Loves the way his asshole tastes. Loves the way he cried out when his unimpressive cock shot off in the heat of his mouth. Loves every little thing about him. It’s like letting out the longest, most agonizing breath, to be held by Doc. “I don’t even remember what the boy in the picture really looked like,” Doc admits after a while, pressing his mouth to Lightning’s sweat-damp brow. “It wasn’t about him. I—I’d take my glasses off, squint at that picture, let it get all fuzzy and out of focus. Imagine it was my favorite rookie racer from TV.”

Lightning’s smile is the sort of thing he can’t fight. It spikes at the same time his stomach drops, his whole body a war zone of sensation. Stop fighting, he tells his heart, splaying a palm atop the beat of it. We’re home. Then, after a moment, when he’s gotten his grin under control he asks, “You watched me on TV? Before you met me?”

“Sure did,” Doc admits, reaching over, tracing idly up the line of Lightning’s arm, where his bicep slopes down to the ditch of his elbow. “Religiously. I liked the way you drove, at first. But then—I liked you. Wanted to touch you so bad. Wanted to fuck that stupid cocky grin right off your face,” he mumbles, voice tapering off into a breathy laugh. “So when I saw you in my courtroom for the first time—thought I imagined you up. You’re never expecting to see the thing you fantasize turn flesh and blood in your tiny shit-kicking town.” After a moment of silence he squeezes Lightning’s wrist punishingly. “You were so ridiculous, and such an asshole. Snapped me out of it.”

“Out of what? Liking me? Thinking I was hot?” Lightning asks, smoothing his fingers up to Doc’s throat, feeling out the loose, crinkled skin there. It’s strange, to touch places on his body he’s not let himself think about touching, because he knew, somehow, it was crossing a line to notice them at all. He feels out his pulse, the bob of his Adam’s apple, the scrub of his stubble, and commits them all to memory.

“No, I definitely still liked you. I just eventually quit thinking of you as just some Piston Cup rookie from TV,” Doc says, voice rumbling under Lightning’s tough. “You were a real kid, then. Young and messed up and—I dunno. You were shorter than I thought you’d be. Softer. More scared. And I still wanted you so goddamn bad.”

“To fuck my mouth?” Lightning asks, because Doc said it first, brought it up like it was nothing, like it’s not gonna haunt Lightning until he tries it out. He licks his lips experimentally, wondering what it would be like, how he would breathe. His spent cock twitches against his thigh, and he shifts closer to Doc, amazed by how easy it is to get lost in something when you let yourself look at it dead on.

“I think after I knew you it changed, because—it was easy, to see through your act. I didn’t want to slap you around anymore, I wanted—Christ. To hold you. To lay you out and put my mouth all over you. God fucking damn, Lightning. I fell in love with you so fast,” he mumbles, dragging him close, burying his face into the wreck of his hair. “I thought was going crazy.”

Lightning soaks him up, palms over his skin, wonders how in the fuck he’s lived without this. How in the fuck he’s lived without realizing he wants this. It was like racing with one eye open, and now, he’s staring at the sun. “I haven't been able to sleep for days,” he mumbles into Doc’s throat. “I came into my sink thinking about you. I feel jealous of your hand towels because—because you touch them. Fold them. I dunno,” he finishes, breath coming out so unsteady he’s not sure it isn’t a sob yet. “I love dirt.”

Doc sifts his fingers through his hair, loosening butte grit, the faint red of it staining his fingers. “My dirt boy,” he mumbles, making a fist. “You’re gonna make me proud out there tomorrow, aren’t you? You’re gonna beat me. Stick it hard and leave me in the dust, huh?”

And Lightning nods, because he finally thinks he understands.