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Redbull Boys' Roadtrip

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November 19, 2016 -Day 1-

 

At 5 am the morning after the Grand Tour aired, most of the world didn't actually have a grasp on the impact it would have on their world. The girl at the checkout stand where he bought 3 cases of off brand energy drinks- there was the whole Red Bull thing to think of- looked at him with wide eyes and asked what he thought about the Top Gear finding a whole community of Stigs at the South Pole. She had mouthed his name when he'd walked in, looked around to find someone to tell, and then clearly decided to 'play it cool.'

 

"I hope they stop getting exploited." He told her. He paid for the drinks, a 5 day supply of sandwich stuff, 5 wool blankets, and the small store's entire supply of sunglasses and hats with cash and carried it all back out to the bus. It was a city bus that had been converted into a motor home. Several of the seats had been set facing inward along the driver's side, but there was also a kitchenette and a table and pull down bunks.

 

His Racing Driver was in the front seat.

 

Carlos handed him the bag of sunglasses and mimed putting them on. Fili chose a gold plastic pair with the word Lauren up the side. They clashed wonderfully with his bright yellow t-shirt.

 

Looking at them now, Carlos could see they were clearly women's sunglasses. He didn't say anything about it to Fili. They'd had conversations about things like social expectations before and it never went anywhere, they both just ended up confused about what they believed.

 

Carlos set the stack of energy drinks down behind the driver's seat of the bus. Fili looked up at the particular sound of cans. He leaned through the gap between the seats and pulled a can out of the case, opening it with his left hand and taking a drink. He stared at Carlos as he did this.

 

Carlos wasn't supposed to let him drink caffeine.

 

He smiled weakly at Fili.

 

The Racing Driver had been making power plays ever since last night. Carlos didn't know how to deal with his usually biddable Racing Driver suddenly challenging him, especially over ridiculous things.

 

[We have to go. That girl recognized me.] He gestured. He reached for the key.

 

Fili's hand shot out and grabbed Carlos around the wrist. Carlos tensed; he'd been expecting Fili to demand to drive, dreading it.

 

[Where are we going?] Fili gestured.

 

[Somewhere they won't expect us to go, somewhere we've never been.] He gestured back. [Somewhere it will be hard to spot us.]

 

Fili nodded and sat back, taking another drink. Carlos felt the winding up feeling in the back of his mind that meant Fili would soon be living up to his name.

 

"And where will that be, exactly?" Daniil leaned forward and crossed his arms on the back of the driver's seat.

 

"Somewhere Red Bull won't look for us."

 

"I think our best chance is to be around as many people as possible. The whole point of a secret is to keep people from knowing. If they come after us, they can't do anything in public. That'd be just admitting it's all true." Dan told Daniil.

 

"Haven't you ever seen a movie? If we go where there are people they'll just take them out, too. Shouldn't we be going where there are no people?" Max piped up from the back.

 

"This isn't a movie, though, or they'd follow us anyway and we'd end up where the guys would all have to fuse together and race in some massive showdown for the fate of the universe. But, no, really, keeping the Drivers secret is not illegal, there's no laws preventing it, because there are no laws that recognize them as people, they are legally animals." Dan told him.

 

"What?! Of course they're not animals." Max said.

 

"I said legally, didn't you read your contract? It says you are training and handling an animal that the company owns. They aren't human, and the law has to be specific, so they're categorized as animals.

"All that the companies can be charged with right now is, maybe the most massive case of animal neglect ever. Unless the Grand Tour can get the United Nations or someone to legally recognize them as being humans or self-aware beings or whatever, then that's all it will ever be.

"If they chase us into a crowd and open fire, that's going to get them in much bigger legal trouble and it will make people really really mad. Publicity is the thing we want. Besides, this is Europe, where are we going to FIND a place with no people?" Dan shrugged.

 

Fili looked at Carlos nervously. He'd only understood parts of what Dan had said, the bits Carlos could send and explain for him quickly enough. He didn't like the idea of being chased, though. Carlos patted his leg and send reassurance.

 

"Maybe that man was right." Daniil said. "When he said we had an opportunity to make people change how they see the Stigs. Maybe we should take his advice and show people." He looked down at the Driver whose head was on his lap and smiled as he woke and made eye contact. "Good morning."

 

"Who told you that? The man we traded for the bus? He was speaking Russian, Daniil; the rest of us couldn't understand him." Dan said.

 

"Well, I'm telling you now. Excuse me..." Daniil was squashed to the side of the seat as his Driver sat up and practically climbed onto him to break into the energy drink case. [What are you doing? You can't have that.]

 

Tumba made a protesting noise and pointed at the other Driver. [Fili has one. Look he's almost done.] Fili tossed him a pair of blue sunglasses. Tumba made a pleased noise and put them on, and pushed them up onto his hair.

Oz pushed at Dan. [If they get Red Bull, I get one, too.] Fili didn't find a pair of green sunglasses in the bag, but he found a green beanie in the hat bag and tossed it to him.

 

Max just put a hand up. Pilot made a disappointed face. He picked at a seam on his red shorts. He brightened up a little when Fili passed back a flat brim cap, which was red with flames outlined in orange.

 

"Carlos, could you do something about this insurrection your Driver is leading?"

 

"Here's how I see it." Carlos looked either way down the road. He turned the left hand turn signal on and pulled away from the stop sign. "If that mess at the stable was anything to judge by, FIA isn't going to have any Drivers left to put on a 2017 season. Maybe there won't be any more F1. If he's got nothing to go back to, why shouldn't he learn to make his own decisions?"

 

"That stuff is so bad for them, why would that be a decision they should make?" Daniil asked.

 

Tumba passed a can to Oz, and offered one to Pilot, who started reaching for it and then stopped. [No. I can't.]

 

Dan looked at Daniil. "Because part of learning to take care of yourself is learning which decisions are mistakes, and making better decisions the next time."

 

Daniil took the can out of Tumba's hand and put it back in the case.

 

"What were you saying about showing people, anyway?" Dan asked, putting a hand up as Oz inexpertly opened the can and it squirted him. The Drivers' dark green shirt now had a sticky wet spot across the sleeve and collar.

 

"People will be wondering if the Grand Tour Broadcast was real or a joke. We are in a place where people love Formula 1; we will be easily recognized whenever we stop for gas or food. What if instead of hiding them we introduce them to people?"

 

The bus went silent. The idea went so far against the grain. Everything they had strived and trained for. Oz pushed his drink into Tumba's hand and left his seat, going into the far corner of the bus and putting his hands on the wall at head height. He leaned against the wall, back to them, shoulders rising in slow, long breaths. Dan followed him and the men all turned away and pretended they couldn't follow the conversation going on between the two.

 

The Racing Drivers watched unabashedly. Tumba took several big gulps of Oz's drink.

 

[How can he say that? That we should let the people see us. You know what happens when humans find out about Drivers, Dan.] He gestured, and then put his hands back on the wall, hands fisted, and sighed.

 

Dan put his hand on the Driver's shoulder.

 

Oz put his head down. [We're off the track. Isn't that enough?] He asked.

 

[People knowing will protect us.]

 

[Drivers who can't pass as their matches die.] He said it like a mantra. [Haven't I done it well enough? I have been you, all this time. You want me to stop? Now?]

 

[Oz, we wouldn't have to pretend anymore.]

 

[I am not pretending.] He slammed the flat of his hand on the side of the bus. The men all jumped. [Who do you expect me to be?!]

 

Dan grabbed his hand. [You don't shut me out, Australia! Haven't I been you, too? Long enough to know you? Do I hurt you?]

 

Oz jerked his hand away.

 

[Do I?!] Dan asked.

 

[No.]

 

[And I won't. If you don't want to do that, you don't have to. That is what this is all for. Because YOU have the right to make decisions, too.]

 

Oz tucked his arms to his chest and leaned against Dan with his forehead on his shoulder. [I can't make decisions.]

 

Dan stood with his arms stiffly at his sides for a moment. Then he raised them, putting one around Oz's waist and stroking the other down his hair. [I can. I am not comfortable with you being places you don't want to be. You can stay out of sight when we do this. I am our face; I will talk to the people, for you.]

 

Oz nodded silently.

 

Fili opened another energy drink.

Chapter Text

November 20, 2016 -Day 2-

 

"Thank you for listening to our story. We'll never forget the hospitality you've shown us. Remember. Tell everyone, the Grand Tour is telling the truth! The Racing Drivers are real."

 

Dan shook hands with the mayor of the small city where they'd stopped and done a webcast. He stepped back into the bus and the 7 of them waved while they pulled away. The huge crowd cheered as they drove through.

 

Dan sat on the floor beside Oz, where he'd been waiting during the show. [That wasn't so bad, was it, mate?]

 

[Nothing happened.] He looked up at Fili and Tumba. They were sitting side by side, working the Rubik's Cubes they'd been given by a man who owned a toy shop. Their first toys. [They're all ok.]

 

Pilot had all his the right color except the center square of each side. His lips were pursed, eyes narrowed.

 

Oz's eyebrows were raised and he was frowning. He watched the toys.

 

Dan smiled. [If you were out there, you would have gotten one, too.]

 

Oz frowned harder.

 

[Since you weren't, I got one for you.] Dan pulled a fourth Rubik's cube out of his pocket and handed it to his partner.

 

"Thanks, Dan." He patted it.

 

[I didn't know they were going to feed us. That green stuff was really good.] Max said. He handed a bottle of water to Pilot, who immediately tucked it under one arm.

 

Pilot revved in agreement, not taking his eyes off the cube.

 

"Did you try that cake? Jensen would have died." Daniil said from the driver's seat.

 

"Did you know his Driver's name is Sugarboy?" Dan said.

 

"He's obsessed." Daniil laughed.

 

"It's weird how many of the older ones have speed or flying names, and then there's Jensen, and he's like "What should I name the best thing in the world? I know, I'll name him after cake."" Dan said.

 

"How do you know Jensen's Driver's name?" Max asked.

 

"I asked him."

 

"Have you always asked?"

 

"Well, yeah."

 

"What are they?"

 

Dan started at the top of the grid. He listed the Red Bull boys as a group, including the test drivers.

 

"Rosberg would name his Prince."

 

"He's Shoe's oldest." Max said.

 

Carlos looked puzzled. "What? What does that mean?"

 

Dan raised his eyes at Max. "How do you know that?"

 

"Who has the oldest shoes? Nico?"

 

"Shoe is Michael Schumacher's Driver. How do you know Prince is his? How could you possibly know that?"

 

Max tilted his head. "Doesn't your Oz's file have a pedigree in it?"

 

Carlos nodded. "Why did you read Nico's Racing Driver's pedigree?"

 

"I did not read his, but there was a note on Pilot's about possible line crosses. They wanted him to breed back into Prince's mother's line and see if they could get more, you know, fast Racers."

 

Dan shuddered.

 

"Since Shoe doesn't stud anymore and I guess Seb refuses to take Sunny for more than one trip a year. And obviously Prince can't breed into his own line."

 

"Are we really talking about this?" Daniil asked.

 

Fili looked at Carlos and revved. [When the Racing Drivers are free will the mares get to drive?]

 

[Madeleina drives,] Tumba gestured. [Her corners are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.]

 

[You couldn't get Madeleina if you were a multiple world champ.] Oz laughed.

 

[Her footwork must be so precise,] Fili added, drawing the last gesture out.

 

[I would die for five seconds wheel to wheel time with her,] Pilot gestured, putting his hands over his heart dramatically. He fell back on his seat.

 

The Drivers all laughed.

 

The men looked at each other, confused.

 

[ho is Madeleina?]Dan asked.

 

Oz sent him a feeling of a long, beautifully curved track, fast, with a dangerous edge. The Nurburgring. The he sent a picture of a beautiful, blonde female Racing Driver. The Nurburgring's resident track expert. Sabine Schmitz's Racing Driver.

 

Max had gone bright red. Carlos was pretty red, too, and Dan was feeling a little heat in his own cheeks. Daniil laughed. He laughed so hard he had to correct to keep the bus on the road.

 

"All the Drivers have a crush on Madeleina. Haven't you noticed how excited they are to train on the Nurburgring?"

 

[You always complain about going on stud trips, what is wrong with the mares at the stables?] Carlos gestured to Fili.

 

The Drivers all stopped laughing and looked at him in bewilderment.

 

Fili lifted his hands, and then put them back down. Then lifted and dropped them again. He consulted silently with the others for a moment. Raised his hands and started in a rush.

 

[Racing Drivers are meant to drive. These Drivers,] he pointed to himself and all the others, [Are fast and strong and,] the Drivers all sent their partners a sense of their prowess. [Capable. Drivers in the stables are,] they sent an almost non-existent feeling of capability. [Mares don't drive. They are like,] the feeling was like seeing someone with their arms and legs brutally removed, nothing behind the eyes but pain and rage and helplessness.

 

Daniil and Carlos gagged. Dan's mouth was tight. Max nodded and looked down.

 

The Drivers sent a feeling of speed and strength and capability and health equal or greater than any of theirs. [That is Madeleina.]

 

Carlos got up and walked over to the sink. He started washing his hands.

 

Fili rushed after him. He shut off the water. Carlos hugged him fiercely. [I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry, I won't ever joke about it again. I'm sorry, Fili.]

 

This time no one was watching. Daniil had pulled over and had his arms pillowed under his head. Tumba was kneeling next to him with his head on his leg. Gradually, Daniil's hand came off the steering wheel and began to pet his hair.

 

Dan had his hands on either side of Oz's face. [Never, never, never again. No matter what happens, I won't ever let them.]

 

Pilot squeezed Max's hand. He pulled his younger self under his arm. He smiled. [Aren't you glad we talked about this a long time ago?]

 

Max got up and patted Daniil. "Go be with Tumba. I'll drive."

 

Tumba led his match back from the driver's seat and sat beside him on the bench seat.

 

Max nodded at Pilot and pulled back onto the road.

Chapter Text

Night of November 20, 2016 -Night 2-

 

 

The sky was dark. It was full of stars like you never got to see when you were on a racetrack. He played with the curtain over the window beside the bunk. He thought about the stars. He was lying on his side, pressed close to the wall windows where the bunks were fastened. He was wrapped up in a blanket that Carlos had gotten from...somewhere.

 

The curtain hooks made a little clinking noise when he moved it. It was quiet, but it must have been loud enough to be disturbing to others, because Daniil groaned in his sleep. He held still and looked out the window.

 

There was a lot more to the world than any Racing Driver would ever see, even driving in F1. Even driving in rally, and they were outside for ages at a time. There was a lot more to life than driving.

 

He turned his head and looked at Dan. He was lit up by the glow from the dashboard. Oz was sitting in the seat behind him, with his arms draped casually over his match's shoulders. They were speaking quietly back and forth. Oz's fingers moved in bits of gestures, even though they were mostly sending through their bond.

 

He smiled. The two had been bonded almost longer than they hadn't. Bonded longer by far than any of the rest of them. Twice as long as Max and Pilot. Nearly twice as long as Carlos and Fili, and Daniil and Tumba.

 

He thought about what his bond would be like when it had been that long. Dan and Oz had been in the Paddock for a long time. Maybe there would be no more Formula 1. How would a bond pair be without racing? Usually when he thought about that question, his hands tightened around a future he couldn't hang onto, and a shiver ran over his skin, but not tonight. What would his role be, if there was no season next year? Then again, the seat next year hadn't been all that certain. Racing Drivers with no seat stayed at the stable and their matches waited for them. Or went on with their lives without them.

 

Or they went to another kind of racing. He thought about all the different kinds of racing. Would there be any racing anymore? How widespread were Racing Drivers? Surely humans raced somewhere. Those kinds of racing wouldn't end. Then, it wouldn't be fair for the human racers to suddenly flood the field with all the Racing Drivers with no seats.

 

So if there were no racing, would he be okay with that? What would they do, instead? Something they would both like.

 

He looked at the stars. He liked the stars. They talked about them sometimes. About how you couldn't see them from the stables. About how they looked away from the city lights. About how unbelievably powerful and massive they were. The things they could do. How they moved. How things moved in response to them. Maybe without racing, they could study the stars. They would both like that.

 

He didn't realize he was flicking the curtain again.

 

Daniil snuggled closer to him on the bunk and put his hand over Tumba's, stilling it. "Slishkom mnogo shuma." He murmured into Tumba's ear, in his senseless human noises. Tumba could feel the sentiment, from Daniil's very heart, and responded to that, instead.

 

'I will be quiet. I love you.'

 

"Pozhaluysta, sdelay. Ya tozhe tebya lyublyu." More silly human words. He relaxed into his human's touch. Looked out the window and kept thinking about the stars.

 

"Vy mozhete spat'?" Daniil asked, awhile later.

 

'No, I can't sleep. I'm sorry I woke you up, too.'

 

Daniil laid his face against Tumba's face and looked out the window with him.

 

'Do you feel frightened, about what will happen to us?' Tumba whispered inside their heads.

 

Daniil shifted and pulled Tumba closer. 'Yes.'

 

'Do you think we would have been safer with the others, with those men who came to get us away from the stables? They weren't bad. They came to protect the Racing Drivers. They would have protected us, too.'

 

'I think we wouldn't have gotten to be free there, any more than we got to be free with the team. Nothing like this. I don't think we'd be looking at the stars, now. We wouldn't be side by side, seeing the world.'

 

'I want to see the world.' He laid his head down, and shared the experience with Daniil, and let his grip relax, and let racing slip away.

 

Chapter Text

November 21, 2016 -Day 3-

 

 

Carlos was driving, again, the green trucker hat he'd found in the hat bag was pulled low over his eyes.

 

Oz was in the seat behind him, watching carefully. He was determined to learn road driving.

 

Daniil was sitting down at the table, making notes about how they could improve their webcasts. The brainstorming session after the mediocre success of their first webcast had been uploaded to their social media profiles had yielded good ideas. Dany, the most literary of them had been elected to write their ideas into a sensible format that they would show the people everywhere they stopped. He was chewing on the end of his pen.

 

Fili was on his third energy drink of the day. He was sitting on the counter of the kitchenette, eating a bologna sandwich that was mostly lettuce. He kept banging his heels against the cupboard.

 

Tumba and Pilot were sitting on the bench seat with their heads flopped back over the back, legs stretched across the aisle with ankles crossed.

 

Dan was sitting on the other side of the bench seat, reading a tattered paperback book he'd found in the back of a cupboard. The cover had been pulled off, the remaining portion of the title page said "Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe." His tongue was poked out of the side of his mouth.

 

Max was working on one of the Rubik's Cubes.

 

Fili banged his heels on the cupboard in a one, two rhythm.

 

Daniil dropped his pen.

 

Max looked up.

 

Daniil made a gesture at Tumba, and when he looked up, jerked his head towards Fili.

 

Tumba looked at Fili and made a rising rev.

 

Fili drummed his heels on the cupboard once more and hopped off the counter and went to sit across the table from Daniil. He held his hand out palm up, and then tapped the paperwork. [What are you doing?]

 

He looked up with a frown. [I'm busy.] He gestured. [I can't play games right now. I have to work. You are making noise and it is distracting.]

 

The ire in his body language didn't make an impression on the hyped up Racing Driver. [Can I help you?]

 

He tapped his pen on the table top. [No, you can't read. Go away.]

 

"He's just being friendly." Max said. "You don't have to be an ass to him."

 

Dan stopped smiling at his book.

 

Daniil's head snapped up. His eyes were blazing.

 

They all felt the bus change speed as Carlos tensed.

 

"You want to say that to me again?" The words ground out.

 

Dan set his book down carefully beside him and shifted his weight to his feet.

 

Max shrugged and turned his face back to the Rubik's Cube, but his awareness was totally on the other man. This had been coming, and it was going to be a relief to get it clear. He had been looking forward to getting it clear. He was itching to get it clear between them. [You're an ass.]

 

[You are calling ME an ass?] Daniil was gesturing as though Max was across the pit lane and he needed to make very sure he understood.

 

[Don't speak to me like I'm a stupid child.] He kept his own gestures small and precise. He opened the door on what every driver wanted to insult him for.

 

Tumba and Pilot moved apart. Oz turned around to see what was happening.

 

[If you were stupid, this behavior wouldn't be so hard to overlook. You have too much behind you for the rest of us to pretend you are being something other than colossally selfish.] He was still using exaggerated gestures. [It is embarrassing that you believe we can't all see that you don't care about anything but yourself.]

 

Pilot started growling at Tumba.

 

 

Max sneered at him. Hit him where it would hurt. [It's not my fault you couldn't keep your seat.]

 

Dan got to his feet, ready to separate them.

 

Daniil grabbed the hair on either side of his own head. Then took a breath and started gesturing again, [You are so shortsighted you believe that this can only be about Red Bull. You don't see anything that is going on around you. It has to be about you. So everyone else must be as shortsighted.]

 

[I am not shortsighted, he deserves to be on the best team he can.] He was not going to let anyone say he shouldn't fight for every advantage he could get for his Driver.

 

[You push him without thinking about the results. We all see this behavior isn't coming from him. Racing Drivers don't take revenge.]

 

[Anyone who isn't ready to push as hard as they can shouldn't be here.]

 

[You use him as a weapon to soothe YOUR pride. You pit yourself against Ferrari. You are so sure you are better than...is it Vettel, or is it Raikkonen?]

 

Max laughed at him. How stupid could he be?

 

[So it's Schumacher.]

 

Max felt his laughter suddenly choked. His face twisted.

 

Pilot's growl rose.

 

Tumba slid further down the bench.

 

Oz barked a rev. Pilot took a deep breath but backed off, still seething.

 

Daniil cut him off, [Your impatience is too much. You hurt people who don't deserve it. You fear your Driver won't outshine his father? Everyone cheered for you. Everyone sees what you see, that he could outshine his father. I am not angry that you hurt me, I am angry that you hurt Pilot.]

 

Fili's head whipped around. He stood up, gesturing everyone to be quiet. They all felt the van's speed ease slightly again. His eyes lit up and he hurried to Carlos' side. He patted him on the arm and pointed out the windshield. His excited revving spreading through the bus.

 

Pilot pushed an image of a delightful warm day in the sun, and brilliantly multicolored go-karts into his head. His partner stood and went to the front of the bus, followed by the other two.

 

Dan looked at Daniil.

 

Daniil shook his head. [If you can't see how wrong it is. I can't make you.] He gestured, in smaller gestures. [At least now I don't have to worry about anyone but him.] He walked to the front of the bus and joined the others.

 

Dan and Max looked at each other for a moment. Max opened his mouth.

 

"You tried, and it didn't work. He didn't rise to the bait. Let it go, man." Dan said. He, too, walked away. "Is there really a kart track out there, Carlos?" He leaned over the stairwell railing and tried to duck low enough to get a good view out the front window.

 

Max looked at his clenched fists. Why hadn't he called him young and inexperienced? Everyone called him a child. Why would he call him selfish, and say he didn't care about Pilot. He kept Pilot competitive, didn't he? Got him the best opportunities. Made sure he knew Max would accept nothing but the best, but only because Pilot could deliver, because Pilot was the best. They had to both work as hard as they could to keep him there. That was what being a match was about. Getting the absolute most out of your Driver.

 

Carlos started to pull down the side road the kart track was on. Max looked up. A cheer went up from the Racing Drivers.

 

Fili raised his fists to shoulder level and high-stepped a full rotation on his tiptoes.

 

Oz watched this with a delighted expression and repeated the performance.

 

Tumba and Pilot high fived.

 

They had to park way out on the edge of the car park to find a space with enough room for the bus.

 

The eight of them crossed the parking lot in a herd. Max trailed a little behind the others.

 

As they approached the gate, there was a stir among the family of 3 boys and their parents waiting outside. The oldest boy, who was maybe 15, with long blonde hair and sunglasses, wearing a Super Mario World T-shirt, started shaking his next oldest brother, a brunette 13-year-old who was wearing electric green shorts and a black t-shirt with the name of his junior football team on it. The older boy's mouth opened he was doing his own version of Fili's high stepping. The 13-year-old turned and his hands went to his mouth. The youngest boy, wearing a pair of hand-me-down jeans and a white sleeveless shirt with a denim jacket, attuned to the older boys as only a youngest child can be, looked at the group of men coming across the parking lot. He froze, eyes wide.

 

"Oh my god, It's Max Verstappen!"

 

Just like that, Max was 12 years old at the Red Bull stable, again.

 

Nervous. Trained for things that couldn't be real.

 

The engine noise was the sound of pain. A big man had the other boy's arm wrenched up behind his back. He couldn't struggle against it without hurting himself badly. His head was thrown back. It made it so much harder to pull his helmet off. Max stood over him. They were supposed to look the same. This boy was almost a man. The big man wrenched on his arm while they were locked in eye contact, and Max saw the pain wash over the other boy's face, but the boy forced himself to keep staring at Max.

 

The eye contact ended when the Racing Driver's eyes rolled back and he shut them against the pain.

 

When the man released his grip, the Racing Driver put his other arm around Max, sweeping him away, curling over him protectively. He petted Max's face, making comforting engine noises, pure concern on his face. All the while his left arm was held loosely to his body. He touched his forehead to Max's, murmuring in relief when he realized Max was unharmed.

 

The next thing Max knew he was wondering why he was so little.

 

The teenage Driver smiled into his eyes. When the handlers tried to lead them into the next room to sign the paperwork, Pilot stayed between them and his new match, hand clasped around Max's, tight, but not squeezing.

 

Almost a month into his new life at the Red Bull stable, Pilot had challenged every other stallion at the stable. They saw the two of them together and the truth every Racing Driver and match had pounded into their heads came to bear. Drivers who didn't match their human could never race. Pilot would never race, his match was too little, and they were too different. He would never leave the stable, never amount to anything.

 

He could beat any of them on the track.

 

Max stood sullenly with the other boys. Kvyat, Sainz, and Evans were holding court with the new matches. Evans made a joke and they all laughed. Max watched two guys come around the corner of the hallway. They were stocky, one in white shirt and shorts, the other in jeans, a Guns N' Roses tour shirt, and a Red Bull hat. They both had shoulder length blond hair and walked the same way.

 

They got closer the guys all moved out of their way, and Beckett, what an asshole, started squealing that it was Kimi Raikkonen. Then they all looked at the guy leaning on his shoulder, who looked basically exactly the same, well, not really, but close enough, and realized that even F1 drivers had Racing Drivers.

 

Raikkonen told Beckett off for being unprofessional, in a sort of droning voice, and Max took the opportunity to look at an F1 Racing Driver. He'd never seen his father's Driver, not officially, but he had some foggy memories of being held by a man in his father's jumpsuit who hadn't been his father and being required to pose for pictures. This Driver had been on the grid, then, Max had probably even passed him in the pits.

 

He looked down at Max.

 

Max held eye contact, wondering if he could stare this one down like he had Pilot. Like Raikkonen must have.

 

The Driver raised an eyebrow at him.

 

Raikkonen made some dismissive comment to Max and walked away with an arm around his partner's shoulders. Like they were joined at the hip.

 

The veterans left a bit after that and Max walked away, far enough behind them that they wouldn't think he was tagging along, but close enough that any grownups would assume he was with the older boys. He turned down the corridor where Pilot lived, and snuck into his room. He told Pilot about the F1 Racing Driver he'd just met. Pilot didn't know what F1 was, and Max gave him all the memories he could, but Pilot wanted more. The door opened. He looked up and there was the F1 legend, with his Driver.

 

Fuck. He couldn't bring him in here. Pilot was challenging everything right now. He tried to send Pilot a warning, not to mess with this Driver. Pilot stood, and Max stood beside him, he strode forward towards the intruder. The white driver walked into the room, but instead of growling, like all the others had, he trapped Pilot in a hug.

 

Max couldn't hear him, but afterwards, Pilot told him that he'd told him he was strong enough to have F1, if he wanted, but that there were even better things.

 

If Raikkonen's Driver claimed rally was better than F1, he was proved wrong by their abrupt return to F1 two years later. Max had a fire lit inside him, that day. He remembered his father's face lighting up when he talked about working in F1. Max hadn't realized, then that he hadn't been the one driving, but the pride he'd had in the job he'd done made Max hunger for the same thing. If Pilot could do that, Max would do anything to make it possible. Pilot would have the best.

 

So Max forced him to stop the challenges. Told him to prove it on the track. Kept him focused on the job at hand. Discouraged unrealistic interests. Anything that wasted training time went away. They still spent time together, even time not training or going over races, but the coddling and the games were over. Pilot didn't have time to waste if they were going to be world champions. He could be better than his father. Max would make sure of it.

 

The boys in front of the Kart track noticed that there were not one, but two of each of the Red Bull guys.

 

"Are you guys twins?" The youngest one asked.

 

Dan smiled. "No, we're not. Not twins." He glanced momentarily at the older boy. "Have you guys ever watched Top Gear?"

 

The boys all burst out in agreement.

 

"Well these guys, Oz, the guy who looks like me, but in all green, and Tumba, that's the guy that looks like Daniil, in all blue," Daniil and Tumba waved. "And Fili, Carlos' buddy in the yellow, and Pilot, over there in the red with Max, see, they're all Stigs."

 

The world couldn't have gotten more amazing for those boys in that moment. The 15-year-old looked skeptical, but not very.

 

Max actually felt a little bit of a thrill hearing it out loud. Every petrolhead in the world watched Top Gear, anyone under 25 had grown up watching it. Every boy who karted had pretended to be the Stig.

 

"Guys..." The mom started. Obviously going to have a word about encouraging fantasies.

 

"Honey," The man interrupted her, urgently, "I think they might be telling the truth."

 

"Look, folks, we were hoping to get some karting time in. We'd be happy to sign autographs or anything, but if we could move this inside." Dan smiled his wide, megawatt smile at them; put his arms out to the sides in the Racing Driver gesture for move back.

 

He looked at Daniil, who stepped forward to the ticket booth and pulled out the wad of cash and paid for 8 tickets. They all moved into the arena. The boys were all crowding around the Drivers, asking them excited questions.

 

Oz was standing behind the other three. The youngest boy moved around to him.

 

"You're my favorite!" He said, staring up at the tall, green clad Driver. He grabbed Oz's hand.

 

Racing Drivers don't like being touched by humans.

 

Max saw it, and was on his way to avert the disaster, feeling in his heart how much too late it was.

 

Oz's eyes were wide. He was staring at his hand, and the little one around it. He revved, quietly, fearfully.

 

The little boy, he couldn't have been more than 9, dropped his hand. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to scare you."

 

Oz revved a relieved sound.

 

"You talk just like a car. That is so cool. No wonder you're my favorite. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you're scared."

 

Max arrived and knelt beside him. "Hey, you want to see something cool?"

 

"Yes!" The older boys saw Mad Max Verstappen talking to their younger brother, and since they couldn't get the Stigs to answer any of their questions, they came over.

 

"See the red guy?"

 

"Yes. Is he really a Stig?"

 

"Why does he have his helmet off?"

 

"Why does he look like you?"

 

"He's a Tame Racing Driver, just like the Stig, only HE drives my car in Formula 1. He doesn't need a helmet right now, he only used to wear one so no one could tell us apart. I don't know why he looks like me, because we're a set, I guess."

 

"Are you a Tame Racing Driver, too?"

 

"Nope, I'm a human, like you guys. Watch what we can do, because we're a set, though." He tapped the youngest boy. "I'm going to close my eyes. You hold up fingers where he can see them, ok? Don't say how many you're holding up."

 

Pilot stood behind him in the Stig pose.

 

He closed his eyes and reached out to Pilot. He watched what Pilot was seeing, and when, after cautious glances at his brothers, the boy held up two fingers. With his eyes still closed, Max said, "You're holding up your forefinger and second finger."

 

There were gasps. The oldest brother tapped the boy, and the boy held up all 5 fingers.

 

"All five."

 

Without prompting, the boy closed his thumb and little finger.

 

"Now just the middle three."

 

There was frantic gesturing from the boys. This time the youngest held up 4 and the thumb of the other hand.

 

Max told them this. Then he laughed when first the oldest and then the middle brother held up two fingers. "You two think you're tricky. You're each holding up your first and second fingers as well."

 

When he opened his eyes, he looked at the expanded crowd.

 

Dan was talking to the track officials, who looked extremely overwhelmed. Oz was tucked up behind him, watching the crowd nervously.

 

Fili and Tumba were signing autographs. It was a skill all on track Racing Drivers had to learn, in case they got cornered, along with a human sounding grunt of acknowledgement.

 

Carlos was filming Max with his phone.

 

Daniil was writing furiously on the back of his ticket receipt. He got to the end and looked around. He walked over to the track officials and spoke urgently to one. The man sent an assistant off at a run.

 

Daniil handed Max the receipt. Nodded urgently. Gestured that there was more coming. Max read over the script on the receipt. He nodded back at Daniil.

 

Max looked at Carlos' phone. "I'm Max Verstappen." He said, "This is Pilot. He is my...he is my Stig. He drives Formula 1 Racing on the Red Bull team. I give the interviews, because, as you can see, he's not much good with English," Pilot revved a series of noises upon a silent request from Max, "Or Dutch, or any other language that humans speak. Racing Drivers, Stigs," he corrected himself, "Speak a kind of sign language."

 

He gestured, "Hello, how are you?" To Pilot. He said it aloud at the same time.

 

"I am looking forward to driving in nice weather. How are you?" Pilot gestured back.

 

Max translated. Then grinned and responded, "I am looking forward to racing you today."

 

Pilot laughed.

 

"As you saw a moment ago," Max cleared his throat and continued with the remaining part of the receipt.

 

Someone had brought Daniil a notepad and he was writing furiously again.

 

"As you saw, we don't need to see each other to communicate. It might be hard to believe, you may want to believe it is a trick but we share a special connection. We can feel what each other feel, and hear each other without speaking." He was glad he hadn't had to use the word psychic or say they heard each other's thoughts. That would just make him look schizophrenic. It would not help them prove the reality.

 

He wished his script hadn't stopped right here.

 

Daniil, leaning to keep out of shot, handed him the first page of the notepad. He stood just out of view and continued writing at the same pace.

 

Dan was standing, watching, now, Oz between himself and Carlos. Tumba and Fili were watching Max and Pilot, too, now.

 

"You may have seen or heard about a broadcast called The Grand Tour, presented by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond which made some similar claims a few days ago. These claims weren't false. I am here with my fellow Formula 1 Red Bull teammate, Dan Ricciardo," Dan stepped forward, just out of shot, with Oz beside him. Carlos panned slowly onto Dan and Oz.

 

Max saw now that Dan had a piece of notebook paper as well. It was held loosely in his hand, but he wasn't reading from it.

 

"I am Daniel Ricciardo. I have been the human half of a partnership with what I have always been told was an inferior species of humanoid born and bred to drive." His face went tight. "The person I have been partnered with is in no way inferior to a human. He can think and speak just as clearly as any human I know. He just communicates a little differently. In the 11 years I have been working with Oz he has been more than equal to any task put in front of him, including operating an extremely complex Formula 1 Race car at nearly 230 miles per hour, or nearly 370 kilometers per hour. He cannot speak like I do, but we can communicate as effectively as any fluent sign language speakers."

 

Carlos carefully handed the phone to Daniil and stood with Fili beside Dan. With the hand that wasn't on the phone, Daniil passed the last page he'd written to Max.

 

"Hello, everyone. I am Carlos Sainz Jr. I am privileged to be the second generation of my family to be matched with a Stig partner. I am the son of Carlos Sainz Sr, who is matched with a Stig named Destello, who was the Driver who won two World Rally Championships. This is my Stig, Fili." He wrapped an arm around his partner's shoulders and grinned hugely at him. Fili broke his Stig pose and wrapped his arm around Carlos' back. With his other hand he gestured, revving and rumbling like a V8.

 

"He says he's glad to be out of the stable and thank you to all the fans, you are what makes the sport beautiful!"

 

Max looked at Pilot. Dan looked over at Max and Daniil. 'Do the fans make the sport better for you?' He sent.

 

'What are fans?'

 

'The people in the stands.'

 

'What people? The crew? They make things better. Who would fix the car? You can't do all the tires at once.'

 

'Yeah, I didn't think so.'

 

Daniil panned the camera back to Max. As soon as he was out of shot, Carlos hurried over and gently took the phone from Daniil. Daniil moved beside Pilot, relaxing into a Stig pose of his own that left him standing almost angle for angle like Tumba. Max had seen their purposely matched body language many times over the years.

 

Carlos panned over to Daniil.

 

He smiled. Tumba mirrored the expression. They raised their hands in unison. "I am Daniil Kvyat. I am Tyazhelyy. I go by Dany. I go by Tumba. I am a human. I am a Racing Driver," Carlos translated.

 

Max watched. If he hadn't known Tumba was the one wearing all blue, he could never have told which was which. Which was human and which was livestock.

 

"Some people might think I have a reason to want to make the company look bad. I do not. If it weren't for the company I would not have my best friend in my life. I am grateful for having him. I would not trade that for prestige. As long as Tyazhelyy wants to race, Daniil will be there. My partner's happiness is the most important thing to me."

 

Carlos stopped translating, almost breathlessly. Daniil and Tumba went back to their perfectly matched Stig poses.

 

The crowd cheered. Carlos panned across the crowd of kart era and their families around them. Then he panned back to Max.

 

"I am lucky to be another second generation match with a Stig. My father, Jos Verstappen," Who was probably wondering where he was and why he hadn't checked in after the raid on the Red Bull stable, who would probably seeing this online long before they spoke again. "Is matched with a Stig named Jaagtheid, who drove in Formula 1 racing. I have been matched with my Stig, Pilot, for 7 years, since." His voice caught, he was feeling lightheaded. "Uh, since I was 12 years old. So as you can imagine, we know each other pretty well." He felt Pilot's hand wrap around his. He took a deep breath. "Hi dad. I hope you're watching this. I have wanted to talk to you about this for a long time. But since I would have lost my right to see Pilot, I had to keep all of this to myself."

 

He addressed the next part to the crowd around them. "You see, the Stigs are legally counted as animals. And like livestock, they are considered property. When I, a man, signed a contract with Red Bull racing, it was not a contract to race; it was a contract to be the main handler for a trained animal that would do all the driving. This is not right. Pilot is not an animal. He is smart and self-aware. He is not an animal. It is not right that the company owns him. It is not right that he is not free to go anywhere he wants to. It is the same with Fili, Oz, and Tyazhelyy, and all the other Stigs, the ones that drive every car in F1, and F1 and Formula Renault and GP3 and NASCAR and Indycar and the professional rally teams. The ones who drive Formula BMW, and Formula E, and GP2. The ones who drive in shifts at 24 hours of Le Mans. And all the ones that are kept locked in cages at what the teams call stables." Max thought about the Mares and gulped.

 

"The Stigs are real. They should be free. They should be allowed to meet their fans." He cast a look at Fili and nodded. "They should be considered sentient." He nodded at Oz. "They should be seen as equal to their matches, equal to any human." He nodded to Tumba, and Daniil. "They should not have to hide who they are. We, their matches should not have to keep this secret for fear of losing our best friends. It is wrong. If you agree, please contact your government and tell them that the Stigs need to be given legal recognition. Thank you." A thought crossed his mind. He smiled into Carlos' camera. "This is the Red Bull Boys' Road Trip, signing off."

 

Carlos panned across them again and they all waved. Then he stopped the recording.

 

The crowd burst into another round of cheering.

 

The owner of the track stepped forward with a megaphone. "We would like to thank the Red Bull Boys' Road Trip for broadcasting their first official webcast from our facility. We fully support their cause. Now, let's go racing!"

Chapter Text

November 21, 2016 -Day 3-

 

 

The karts weren't quite the jeweled beauties that the Racing Drivers had imagined for their matches, when they'd heard the distinct engine noise. Their first love. There were four colors, green, red, orange and white. There were enough of them for a lot of drivers, and 3 good tracks. Oz stood next to the tire barrier of one of them, with the others ranged behind him. They'd gotten a little spoiled in F1.

 

Dan shook his head when they asked for a track walk. "You'll have to just learn it on the fly this time, guys." He patted Oz on the back. The track owner started to offer to let them do a track walk, but Dan grimaced and shook his head. "I'm sure they'll be able to find their way."

 

They did look...more Stig-like with their color coded helmets on. Even though Fili was wearing shorts and had his socks pulled halfway up his hairy calves, and Tumba was wearing a button-down shirt, and the lemon-lime green helmet Oz had found could barely be counted as the same color as the jaguar racing green shirt he had on, and Max had to double knot the laces of Pilot's red basketball sneakers to keep them from getting caught on anything.

 

"We should see about getting them some...not jumpsuits, that would just reinforce the in-human stereotype, but something a LITTLE more uniform," Carlos said. "It's hard to find yellow clothes, and Fili keeps complaining that khaki isn't really yellow."

 

"It isn't," Dan answered.

 

"When we come across a store that sells men's pants in yellow, you let me know."

 

Daniil made a thoughtful face. "He wears gold pretty happily. I bet you could find some..."

 

Max started laughing.

 

Carlos glared at Daniil, daring him to say 'gold pants.'

 

"They would go with his oh-so-stylish Sophia Lauren sunglasses." Dan grinned.

 

"Ugh, I knew those were women's sunglasses."

 

"They are very beautiful with his beard," Daniil said, nudging Dan.

 

Carlos put his own helmet on and gathered Fili up to find a kart.

 

"Don't you think he would look even prettier with some dangling earrings?" Daniil called, following after him.

 

"Shut up, Dany."

 

"I haven't done this in a long, long time," Dan said.

 

Max nodded. The Racing Drivers weren't the only ones who'd gotten spoiled. Any time one of the matches DID have to drive, be it for a promotional shoot, or those interviews where they drove the interviewers around, they were given the top of the line equipment. Max HAD driven the F1 car, just not with a great deal of success. When matches had to drive, they were usually put in the less powerful practice cars.

 

All the matches on the grid, though, had a history of karting.

 

He gestured to Pilot and they followed Dan over to the kart selection. The owner, of course, had given them a track all to themselves, and most of the people who'd been at the track when they'd arrived been now crowded around the Red Bull boys, watching the show. After a moment, Oz reconciled himself to not having a track walk, and followed them.

 

Max had assumed the Stigs would pick karts that matched their colors, if that had been an option. Instead they touched the hoods of various karts and made an unnerving, reverberating rev, and then tilted their helmets, as though they were listening. Sometimes they walked away from the kart, after hearing or not hearing what they were listening for, and sometimes they moved to touch the steering wheel and test the play and perform the sound check again, though once Tumba put his hand on a kart and upon making the noise, jerked his hand away like it had been burned, then rushed away checking over his shoulder as he went.

 

It was interesting that 3 of them ended up in white karts and Fili in a green one.

 

Dan asked Oz what he was looking for, when he touched the karts and Oz tilted his helmet and gestured, "To see if they will be easy to drive."

 

The men didn't have this recourse, and had to just rely on mechanical experience. None of them went near the kart that had frightened Tumba. Once they'd settled on karts, they lined up on the little grid.

 

There was a set of lights with a totally predictable countdown. The men were out of practice. The Racing Drivers were spoiled. Dan stalled his start and Max, only inches behind him to start with, bumped to a stop. Carlos had a great start, and took off ahead of Oz, who was on pole. Everyone else moved off in a more or less orderly fashion, though with a great deal of over- and understeer.

 

Tumba, who'd been right behind Max, maneuvered his kart past the tangle and darted off without them, making a somewhat ominous mechanical cackling.

 

Max reversed away from Dan, and then gunned his engine. Dan got his kart going again, taking off the line just a hair ahead of Max. On the first corner, they passed Pilot, nose first in the tire wall.

 

'Catastrophic understeer.' Max heard, as he went by, then, 'Max, when I box, get the team to fix this.' Max was too busy with the chicane to acknowledge him.

 

"Oz!" Dan yelled, "Don't talk to me in the corner!"

 

At the hairpin at the far end of the track, Max passed Tumba, also in the tire wall due to understeer.

 

"They don't really get that these aren't their cars, do they?" He yelled to Carlos as they passed in opposite directions where a narrow divider separated the track.

 

At least he'd thought it was Carlos. The yellow helmet titled and a questioning rev was just audible as they were carried away from each other.

 

When he came onto the straight after another corner, Pilot's voice came into his head. 'Fili wants to know what you were trying to ask him.'

 

'I thought he was Carlos. Never mind.'

 

'Carlos is chasing Oz. Oz keeps asking Dan to tell him the gap.'

 

There was a cheer from the crowd over to Max's left. A red kart with a blue helmeted driver had just passed a green kart with a yellow helmeted driver. That was Fili and it must have been Daniil, because none of the Racing Drivers was in a red kart.

 

Max was coming up on a battle of his own. Tumba had recovered from his encounter with the tire wall and was now beginning to crowd Max. In front of him, he was gradually getting left behind by Dan. He wondered if this was a kart thing. He needed to pay more attention to his line and less on the progress of the race as a whole. He was too used to being in the pits and having an eagle eye view.

 

They were coming back up on the chicane. Max looked down the track, searching for the best line. The Racing Drivers, though, had already found it. As he took a corner too narrowly to sweep into position for the next corner, Pilot shot by him, followed less than a heartbeat later by Tumba.

 

'That was great, but it might have been a bad idea to let Tumba follow you through.' He sent, automatically reinforcing the positive behavior.

 

Pilot sent back a picture of what Max had looked like when Pilot had passed him.

 

Max smiled. Or at least, all his teeth showed.

 

He pushed the next lap harder. Getting wheel to wheel and getting ahead when Tumba under braked again. Then he went after Pilot. He pulled the hairpin as tight as he possibly could, and, yes, Pilot under braked a little, letting Max close the gap. Going into the sweeping left that was the beginning of the S's, he punched the throttle to the floor. The kart crept ahead. There was an advantage to being just that little bit smaller and lighter than your Racing Driver. His kart had just that much more speed on the straights. He inched out ahead, and came to realize he was behind Dan, who was backed up behind the battle between Carlos and Fili.

 

The 6 of them were all crowded together now, where were Daniil and Oz? He glanced around in a flash. The blue and green helmets were on a totally different part of the track. He didn't have time to determine the gap between them.

 

Dan made his move on Fili, who was visibly leading the kart with his whole body. He went through the outside, an inch from Carlos's kart.

 

Max was behind Fili, now. It was going to be tricky to pass him. He was defending his line just enough to get clean corners, making every opportunity to pass him a decision to take a bad line on the corner. Finally, as they reached a right handed he felt he could recover his line well enough on, he took a tight, tight inner line and braked as late as he possibly could and cleared some space between them.

 

He gave a thumbs-up as he passed. 'Pilot, please tell Fili his corners are just great!'

 

Dan and Carlos swapped positions again.

 

Then Dan missed the apex of the hairpin. He let out an alarmed cry and hit the wall on the far side of the runoff space.

 

There was a loud ooh from the crowd. Carlos turned around to look if his friend was okay and Max did, too. Tumba came on the inside of him while he was distracted. Carlos spun around and pulled his kart into line aggressively. He clipped Tumba and they both crunched into the wall.

 

Suddenly Max was in third. He had Daniil right ahead of him and Pilot behind him. There was clear track in front of Daniil. Oz had just walked away from the rest of them.

 

Max smiled with all his teeth again. This would be a good opportunity to make a point. He got in close behind Daniil. The other man turned his head and pumped his fist in the air.

 

'Daniil says welcome to the podium, Max.' Pilot sent. There was an undercurrent in his sending that Max didn't pick up on immediately.

 

There were only a few laps left. Max felt a thrill of delight. He, himself, hadn't raced in a long time. But a podium would be very satisfying. Maybe for the next race he and Pilot would go for a 1-2. They would be a perfect team. In his excitement, he forgot what he had pounded into Pilot's head. That the team was there to help him, not the other way around.

 

He turned to pump his fist at Pilot, like Daniil had to him. He took the corner a little wide. His red helmeted Racing Driver cut inside him and pushed him off the line. Fili swept passed in the opening that had been left.

 

Max yelled. He corrected his line and chased the pack. Now too far behind to catch up.

 

The laps ended, Oz in first, Daniil in second, Pilot in third, Fili in fourth, Max in fifth, Dan in sixth, and a distant 7th and 8th for Tumba and Carlos, once they'd sorted out their shunt.

 

Max's hands felt cold, numb as he got out of the car. He didn't have to watch Pilot to know exactly where he was and what he was doing. He and Tumba were high fiving and talking over the race.

 

Oz walked over and put his arms around them. The three laughed.

 

Dan went over to the track owner and shook his hand. They spoke for a moment and the man nodded.

 

Dan came back and gestured to them, [I asked him to open the track and treat us like regular guests. This way we get to race with everyone else. It'll make things more memorable. I thought of it when Fili said how it's about the fans.] He gave a thumbs-up to the Racing Driver. [Do we want to split up into groups, or just go with the flow or what?]

 

[I feel like going with the flow went pretty well for us earlier,] Daniil told him.

 

[I want to try that track that looks like a tiny version of Monaco,] Carlos gestured. [It looks so fun.]

 

Fili gestured that Carlos had been at Monaco.

 

Carlos looked at Max as if for confirmation. [No, Fili, you've been at Monaco. I've done track walks at Monaco.]

 

[Let's race at Monaco!] Fili gestured hugely, doing a sort of skipping jump and heading for the other track.

Chapter Text

Evening of November 21, 2016 -Evening 3-

 

 

On the bus that evening, back on the road, the conversation turned to their first race of the day. Max was glad he was driving. Pilot came over and offered him a Red Bull. They'd bought a case of the actual stuff after leaving the track. If they were going to be the Red Bull Boys' Road Trip, they may as well abandon the pretense of stealth.

 

Max shook his head at Pilot. [No, I've got coffee.]

 

His Drivers' hand petted down his arm. Pilot was so happy and so glad that Max had taken him racing today. He smiled down at his human.

 

Max wanted to flinch away from the touch. Instead, he didn't let any of what he felt through their connection. He looked up, expressionless, spoke distantly, [Thank you for offering. There are water bottles in the case under the seat. Have one of those.]

 

Pilot's smile faltered.

 

"Hey, Daniil, where have you been hiding that track talent?" Carlos asked, "You monstered it out there in that first race." He was sitting in one of the seats on the passenger side of the bus. Fili lay on the nearest bunk. Carlos had his hand in Fili's fluffy hair, irresistibly touchable, even after all the years they'd been matched.

 

"Why did you think they came all the way to Ufa to hire me?" He sat at the table and folded his arms over it.

 

Tumba made the brake screech noise, transitioning directly into grinding gears. He gestured at the same time. [Wait, what about me?]

 

Daniil laughed and threw a wadded up napkin at him. "Spokoynyy." [Of course they hired me to work with you.]

 

Pilot laughed.

 

Tumba put him in a headlock; he poked him in the ribs.

 

Pilot laughed harder, trying to stop Tumba from tickling him.

 

He got an arm around the slimmer Driver's back and threw him off the bench, squirming out of the headlock and grabbing one of his arms, using his slight weight advantage to bear the other Driver to the floor. He poked Tumba in the ribs.

 

Tumba squealed with laughter, his feet pounded on the floor.

 

"I noticed you had an interesting start, Dan," Daniil said.

 

"I haven't karted in like 10 years, mate," Dan said. He was sitting crosswise on the bench seat at the table, right elbow on the table, long legs sticking out into the aisle, crossed at the ankle.

 

"You drive a car, don't you? Do you stall at the lights?"

 

[Road driving is hard,] Oz gestured. [Why aren't those cars getting blue flags? All those marshals were just standing around on the edge of the road, not even doing anything.]

 

They all frowned in memory at Oz's attempt at road driving, the day they'd left the stable. None of the Drivers had been behind the wheel since.

 

"I keep remembering that parking meter," Carlos said into the silence.

 

"I had a dream about it last night," Max said.

 

They all sat in their own silences again.

 

Tumba squirmed in Pilot's grasp. He rolled out from under him and got to his feet, ruffling the other Driver's hair.

 

The two flopped back onto the seat together, poking each other a few more times for good measure.

 

Dan got up from the table and grabbed a Red Bull from the case behind the driver’s seat. [You two have been at it all day,] Dan told them, [Don't you ever get tired of pushing each other? You're as bad as Sunny and Rabbit, just, without the hostility.] He sat in the seat behind Max.

 

"They really don't care, do they? What happens on the track," Max said.

 

"Of course they do. They just don't try to change it while they're not on the track. Drivers create their hierarchy by their driving. They're not like dogs, though, there aren't infinite opportunities to change status." Dan cracked his drink and took a big swallow. [Look. Hey guys.] He gestured to get all the Drivers' attention. [Who's the best Driver?]

 

4 pairs of hands signed the same thing.

 

Dan rolled his eyes.

 

"Who's that?" Carlos asked, not recognizing the name sign.

 

"Take a wild guess." Max gritted.

 

"Der Kaiser, the red Baron, Herr Schumacher. Shoe. Michael's Driver." Daniil grinned. "Like we all didn't know that?"

 

[Ok, but who's the best Driver on the grid?]

 

All of them signed: [Sunshine.]

 

This time, even Daniil joined in. [They're doing that win comparison thing. You're asking the wrong question. Who drove the best this year?] He asked.

 

Only 3 signed this time. Fili just threw his forefingers into the air.

 

[What?! You are?] Carlos was taken aback. [But we didn't win.]

 

[That was because I am brave. If Prince was in my car he would not have done as well as I did. If Sunshine was in my car, he wouldn't have done so well. It was a good year. It is like the kart today. If she hadn't been so much of a challenge to coax, it would have been poor fun.] Fili grinned.

 

Daniil looked at Dan. [Then why do the big stallions compete for Ferrari and Mercedes spots?]

 

[Because men like the checkered flag.] Fili gestured.

 

[It is a little unfair, though, Jaamies keeps the red car to himself, year after year.] Oz gestured.

 

[Who would want to challenge him for it?] Tumba snorted.

 

[Who could?] Pilot groaned. [He'd just lean on you with his training.]

 

Max watched, fascinated.

 

[Why does that make a difference, anyway? He's only a single world champion. Jensen's doesn't scare the Drivers like Iceman does.] Daniil asked. [And everyone seems like they like Fernando's, what's his name, again?[

 

"Alondra," Dan said. [And there's something about Jaamies. I mean, more than just training. None of the other trainer Drivers could ever make Sunshine and Rabbit back off, you can't believe the stories I heard my first year, you can't believe the precautions they had in place. It was like they were scared they were going to kill each other. I watched Sunshine go completely placid when Iceman walked in, I watched Sunny try to stare him down one time and just completely fail. It's not just the championship, and it's not just the training.]

 

Daniil sat up. [Man, do you remember the first time we met him? You were there, Carlos. When Kimi and Iceman were Trainers at the Red Bull stable, you guys remember, when they were out of F1. There was a bunch of us all standing around just talking and Kimi and Iceman walk by, and one of the rookies asked him for his autograph or something, and he just turns around and says,] He made a bored face and spoke in an emotionless voice, and gestured stiffly, [You are professional drivers, yeah? It is embarrassing when drivers ask other drivers for autographs.]

 

"One of the rookies screamed his name when they saw him," Carlos said. "He said," His Kimi impression was much more robotic, "You are professionals, act like professionals."

 

"I was there, that day," Max said.

 

"Did you hear what happened after we went back to practice, Daniil?" Carlos asked.

 

Daniil shook his head. He and Dan were both leaning in, listening.

 

"So Pierre was standing there with that little American kid, he told me about it, afterwards, when they walked back by, with Constalioga. And...What was that kid's name?"

 

"Beckett."

 

"So Kimi, who is, you know a Trainer, is walking by, with his Driver and the Stable's Head Trainer, and you know how he and Iceman are, a lot of pairs touch whenever they can, but they're Finnish, you know, and they're more casual about touching and stuff." He looked at Fili, whose hair he was again carding his hand through.

 

"Like they'd be in the same skin if they could," Daniil said. He nodded.

 

"One Racing Driver," Fili started, and all the others picked up the refrain, "In two bodies."

 

"So Beckett noticed how intertwined they were, and he must have been really mad that we got yelled at,"

 

"He was the one who screamed Kimi's name." Max said.

 

"Was he? I didn't remember that."

 

"Well, he must have felt pretty mad, because when they went by, he asked which of them was giving it to the other and what bestiality felt like."

 

"He said WHAT?!" Dan stood up. "What did Kimi do? Oh I'd have beaten the shit out of him."

 

"What did Constalioga do?" Max asked.

 

"He was like 14." Daniil muttered. "He was always, the worst match, ever. It was pretty obvious he was never going anywhere. No wonder, if he would ever think something like that."

 

"No, Pierre said Kimi just cut him dead, never even turned around. Constalioga said something about seeing him later, and then he was always in trouble, then he got sent home."

 

"I just can't imagine. Here we are fighting to get them seen as equals, and there's guys who are actually matched, who can believe things like that."

 

"The year I got matched, Pilot was having a hard time and they used to come visit us." Max reached out to Pilot for the first time that evening, he smiled and relaxed into the mental touch. Without thinking, he said what he was hearing, "Pilot says Kimi showed him what it felt like to race with Shoe, you know that comparison thing they do."

 

[Who told him? You mean Iceman, right?]

 

With a flash of horror, Pilot retreated from Max's mind.

 

Max turned around to stare at him so fast that the van swerved and he had to get it back under control. The memory itself had gone out of reach, but the knowledge remained.

 

Oz, Tumba, and Fili growled at Pilot, who put his hands up and his head down.

 

"He meant Kimi."

 

[It's too late, now,] Oz told Pilot. [They all heard him say it, Pilot. The Racing Drivers had all better be safe after this.] He sighed. [We all know Kimi can talk.]

 

Max wondered for a moment if this was a joke about Kimi being quiet, but the meaning was too obvious.

 

[Talk to...?] Dan asked his partner.

 

[All the Racing Drivers.]

 

[Why didn't you tell us?] He asked.

 

Oz smiled, Tumba grinned, Fili sighed, and Pilot closed his eyes. Max felt the kind of sensation you might experience after a long walk in a hot wind, under a burning sun, and then you slid into a cool oasis, floated just below the surface, only instead of water, the oasis was made of certainty and equilibrium and made you certain and balanced along with it. No wonder the Racing Drivers wanted to protect Kimi's secret. There was a tone of reverence in the feeling. He'd never known there was a gesture that meant home, but now he knew it's every nuance.

 

He and the other men sat and listened as their Drivers told them stories, not about the Driver, but the man.

 

[Kimi came to visit me in the medical wing when I got hurt in practice,] Tumba gestured.

 

[When you went away the first season, and I was back in the stables by myself, Kimi came and held my hand, he told me I didn't have to be scared, that you loved me and you would ALWAYS come back for me,] Fili told Carlos.

 

[Kimi told Sunshine if he treated me like he'd treated Rabbit, he would stop him. He helped me teach Sunshine to be a teammate, instead of an enemy.]

 

[Kimi didn't yell at me after the crash. He just asked if I was ok. Sebastian yelled at me, and he knew I couldn't even understand him,] Pilot said in subdued gestures.

 

[Kimi visits any Driver who gets hurt. He brought me chocolate and a blue hat. I hid it inside my helmet and brought it back to the stable with me. It helps me remember being outside.]

 

[Mine was green. He even knew my color.]

 

[Me too.]

 

[Kimi is never too busy to listen to what I want to say.]

 

[Kimi talks to us during the press conferences.]

 

[Kimi talks to us all the time.]

 

[Kimi cares about Drivers.]

 

[Kimi cares about me.]

 

Max's hands were tight around the steering wheel. He blinked down at the speedometer and slowed accordingly.

 

[All the Drivers love Kimi best, besides their matches.]

 

[All the Drivers are jealous of Sunshine.]

 

"Why are the Drivers jealous of Sunshine?" Daniil asked, it sounded like he was speaking from a long way away, through a very dry mouth.

 

"Because he lives with Kimi," Dan said. "Iceman and Sunshine are stabled at Kimi's place. Because he's a Trainer."

 

"Makes sense that they'd stable the team together," Carlos said. "I'd let Fili live at Daniil's house."

 

Dan licked his lips. "He's been there since Kimi came back to F1."

 

Max shook his head. Sebastian would.

 

"He's always going on about how great it is that he's best friends with the least friendly guy on the grid."

 

"Apparently he's not the least friendly guy on the grid; he just can't be bothered to talk to any of US."

 

[Didn't you listen to what they said? He listens to them whenever one of them wants to talk to him. I don't know about you, but being Fili's match is a full time job for me. If I was stopping every time a bunch of lonely guys asked me to tell them a joke, or needed reassurance because they ended the race on the wall, or needed someone to cry to because they just got back from a stud trip, I would not have a lot of time for people who DO have other resources.] Carlos had gathered Fili onto the seat with him by this time, practically into his lap, arms wrapped around him, unconsciously squeezing and rubbing his thumb over Fili's hand. [These guys don't have anyone to talk to, besides each other. Has there ever been a time you were too busy to talk to yours? If he sees it as his responsibility to be their bastion, I can understand...can't you?]

 

Tumba lifted his head off Pilot's shoulder. The two had crowded together, seeking mutual comfort and sharing, in the face of the intense emotional outpouring. He revved agreement at Carlos.

 

Max felt alone, suddenly. Oz was now sitting crammed into the booth with Dan, and Carlos and Fili were side by side, and his other self was over there with Daniil's other self, while Max was up here in the front of the bus, driving alone.

 

He felt two pairs of hands, suddenly. He looked over his shoulder. Tumba and Pilot had moved jointly to the seat behind him, and each of them had a hand on his back. They smiled at him, and Pilot sent Max assurance that he would never be alone. He would always have Pilot there to take care of him.

 

Max's eyes flicked past the two Drivers to Daniil. He was still sitting opposite Dan at the table; he was leaning on it, head down. He glanced up. He had a small smile on his face. They made eye contact for an instant before Max looked back at the road.

 

Why wasn't he upset that his Driver was over here, now, with Max?

 

He thought about Carlos' comment that he would happily let Fili go live with someone else. How could you trust someone else with half your soul? They'd all seen what the stables did. Any choice was better than the stables, sure, but being happy that someone else got to talk to and be with your Driver, he couldn't understand that. How must Kimi's Driver feel? A match and Driver were supposed to be the only link to each other's world. How would Max feel if Pilot could talk to any other human, but Max couldn't talk to any Racing Drivers? And only 20 or so other humans. And had no way to change that.

 

Carlos' way of presenting it made good sense.

 

So, would he want to prevent Pilot from talking to anyone he wanted, just because Max couldn't? No, he would want Pilot to talk to as many people as he could, and keep telling him everything they said.

 

He took in his Driver's presence and his unstaggering love.

 

It made the fear that he was pushing him too hard even more uncomfortable to bear.

Chapter Text

November 18, 2016 -GT Day-

 

There was paperwork. There was always paperwork. It was a huge part of the job. Lots of paperwork, no actual driving Racecars. He was sitting at a desk in the training complex, doing paperwork. He always did this part before going down to the stable to get Fili for their workout, and then some track practice. He could feel Fili in his mind, and this got the hard part out of the way, so the rest of the day could be carefree.


Fili was looking forward to the workout. He had slept well, and felt energized.


Carlos finished signing the last of the files and put them in his outbox. He waved at Daniil and grabbed his jacket on the way out. Down in the stable, he passed the other rooms and knocked quietly on Fili's door.


The handlers hated when he did that. They believed he should just barge in. That animals didn't have the right to privacy. Not that he couldn't have seen everything in the room through Fili's eyes from across the building, if he'd wanted to.


Fili looked at him when he came in. He unfolded his arms and held them out and Carlos stepped into them, patting his Driver on the back as they greeted one another.


The fire alarm went off.


Fili squealed in pain and covered his ears.


The burst of sharp sound only lasted a moment, and then a strobing light flashed and a moderate tone, less painful for the super sensitive Racing Drivers, sounded. The door opened. In the hall, all the other doors opened as well.


Carlos took Fili by the hand and led him out of the room. The other Racing Drivers were emerging from their rooms in the orderly manner they'd been drilled in. Carlos, as the handler present on scene, checked each of the rooms to make sure the Driver had evacuated, and did a head count as he opened the stairwell. All present and accounted for. He followed the herd of stallions as they made their way up the stairs towards the exit.


From one level further down, the unmatched Drivers in residence were being evacuated. They had separate stairwells, and most of the handlers would be headed there to manage the evacuation of hundreds of Drivers. The door at the ground floor level opened and Daniil rushed into the stairwell. Carlos looked up at him from two floors lower.


"Tumba?!"


There was a rev from the crowd of Drivers walking up the steps.


"What are you doing, Daniil? Haven't you ever been in a fire drill before, you go out of the building, not further in," Carlos said.


"Not without Tumba I don't. Have you got the team Drivers? Is Dan down there with you?"


"I've got the team Drivers, the corridor is clear. I haven't seen Dan today. He wasn't down there. Oz is here."


Daniil was waiting at the top of the steps.


"This isn't a fire drill, Carlos. Something is going on."


They followed the 10 team Drivers down the hallway to their designated exit. Dan appeared from a hallway, he ran over to them.


"Hey! You got the entire team corridor out?"


"Yeah, it's clear."


He fell in step beside Carlos Fili, and Daniil and Tumba. Oz filtered through the crowd to his side.


Outside, there was a huge stream of multicolored Drivers leaving the building, crowding into the open space beside the fence. The handlers were bringing them out by turns, keeping them separated into small groups.


Carlos guided the group to their designated meeting point.


"I don't see any smoke or anything," Dan said. "This obviously isn't a drill; they've got the whole stable out. They'd never risk that for a drill."


"I don't think it's a drill, there's something else going on," Daniil said.


"Where are the testers, and the juniors?" Carlos scanned the crowd. They shouldn't have been with any of the other groups, all the Drivers' matches were supposed to assemble in their assigned spot, so they could all be accounted for with minimal fuss.


"There, Max is with them." Daniil pointed to a side door.


The test Drivers' matches and the junior Red Bull team Drivers' matches greeted their partners as they joined the group.


"Where is the fire?" Sebastien Buemi, the senior tester, asked.


"I didn't smell any smoke or anything," Sergio Sette Camara said. He patted his Driver's hand. [I know that sound hurt your ears.] He cupped his hands behind his Driver's ears. [Are they still hurting?]


Chev frowned and murmured an affirmative.


[Here. You can use these,] Niko Kari gestured, pulling the earphones from around his neck and handing them to Sergio's partner.


The sirens were quieter, here, but still penetrating all the airspace.


Navy threw himself to the grass with a satisfied sigh. [I like being outside.] He was lying on his back and he gestured at the sky above him, just generally commenting on the situation. Luis Leeds sat beside him.


Tiger sat down and gestured for Shuttle to sit by him. Pierre Gasly sat behind his Driver with his head on Tiger's shoulder and his arms around his waist.


The Racing Drivers settled themselves on the grass, and the younger matches with them. Dan and Sebastien stood and watched the building. The unmatched Drivers had all been evacuated. There was no sign that the building was in distress.


Carlos looked around at the crowds of Drivers. "I've never seen so many of them at once. There has to be 7 or 8 hundred of them, and I can't even see most of the little ones."


"You probably won't, again. I've been at Red Bull for 10 years, and I've never even heard of anything like this. They've got their ass hanging out. What if the media showed up right now?"


"If someone wanted all the Drivers Red Bull has in one place, this would be it."


That would have been a dramatic moment for vans full of strike soldiers to pull up and raid the compound.


They didn't, though.


They pulled up 45 minutes later, when everyone was thoroughly expecting nothing to happen, and becoming eager to get back to their routines.


Men with guns separated the handlers out from the Drivers and support staff.


5 of the soldiers approached the teams.


They explained that the Racing Drivers were being taken from FIA control. That they would all be taken to a secure location.


Dan, Daniil, Max, Carlos, and their Drivers were loaded into the back of an armored strike van. They were left alone while the men organized the rest of the team.


"This isn't good," Dan said. "Why are we being taken from FIA? This can't be good."


"I don't think Christian will be happy about this," Daniil said.


"Marko definitely won't be happy about this," Max said.


They all frowned.


Carlos was feeling Fili's fear and bewilderment. Being loaded into small spaces and herded from place to place was everyday life for Racing Drivers, but it scared Fili that now they were doing it to Carlos and the other men, too. If his Driver hadn't been scared, he probably wouldn't have done it.


But he was.


So he did.


He got up out of his seat and moved to the front of the van. The keys were in the ignition. He sat down slowly in the driver's seat.


"What are you doing?" Dan stage whispered.


"Fili doesn't like this. We're leaving."


He started the van.


The soldiers turned.


Carlos threw the van into reverse.


The soldiers waved and shouted.


He floored the gas and they shot backwards down the parking lot. He calmly watched the mirrors and steered them around the other vans and a clump of startled soldiers. When he reached an open space he conducted a tight turn, threw the van into gear and headed for the road.


'Boomer wants to know where we're going,' Fili sent to him.


He realized there was another van behind them. The testers and the juniors.


'Tell him when we get to the road I will go South and Sebastien should go North. If we get away, we will get in touch. Now, they should run.'


So they escaped from the resistance. Not because they disagreed, but because Carlos trusted their care more to themselves than to strangers. They found a farm where an old man had sold them his motohome, converted from an old city bus. He had been the one who'd told them about the Grand Tour.


They'd watched the video of the broadcast, all huddled around Dan's phone. They had to stop it several times to explain parts of it to the Racing Drivers, and to deal with outrage.


Dan had dropped his phone when the green Driver with the broken arm went untreated in favor of a damage report. The Driver was the same color affinity and build as Oz.


None of them was dry eyed when they watched mangled Drivers pulled from shredded cars, and the men they'd loved disavowed them and spoke to the press with dead eyes.


Carlos was sitting in front of the press, with Fili's death a fresh gash in his mind and heart and life, and burying Fili's memory in lies. Never, ever being able to grieve. Living as half a Racing Driver for the rest of his life, alone, with that black hole in his mind where Fili should have been.


The lights flashed and the press started screaming questions at him. Then the room lurched and he fell off his chair. He hit the ground face first, hard.


Night of November 23, 2016 -Night 5-


Then there were arms holding him down and screaming and it was dark. He kicked out and someone grunted and he was fighting free of the grip on his arms, and screaming and screaming.


"Carlos! Wake up!"


Hands grabbed him again, pinning his arms behind him.


He struggled.


He felt an exasperated sigh in his mind, and then his body was numb, taking deep, measured breath on its own without his command. In through his mouth, out through his nose. He could see his own face through Fili's eyes, pupils wide, but rapidly normalizing as his body chemistry was forcefully normalized.


He could see the Dans, holding him still. He could see Max kneeling over Pilot, who was on the floor in the kitchenette, his arms wrapped around his ribs. Tumba was kneeling next to Max, watching Carlos. He glanced up at Fili and nodded.


Fili dropped Carlos back into his own body. The change in perspective made his head spin for a moment. His knees wobbled and he was glad the Dans had a hold of him. He let them hold him up for a moment while he put himself back together.


He swallowed. "Am alright. Am alright." They slowly released their grips and stepped back. "I kicked Pilot, didn't I?" He asked Max. "I'm sorry; I couldn't tell what was going on."


"You screamed," Max said. He looked scared. "And then you didn't stop. You knocked Fili off the bunk. I could hear you groaning in your sleep, it woke me up, for a couple seconds, and then you just started screaming."


"Are we stopped?" Carlos looked at the empty driver's seat. The floor was uneven. "Why is the floor uneven?"


"I hit the curb when I pulled over." Daniil said.


He could feel pain from Fili, his jaw was sore.


'I didn't catch myself in time.' This statement was accompanied by a memory of falling from the bunk and clipping his chin on the next bunk down.


[I'm so sorry.]


Dan brought him a bottle of water. He stroked a hand down his shoulder, like he might when calming his Driver. "Are you ok, mate? That was some nightmare."


"It was a memory. Mostly. It was the day we left. But when we were watching the Grand Tour, it was me at the press conferences. I had to keep explaining that Fili had died and I couldn't race anymore, and they kept telling me not to talk about him, and asking me to answer the questions as if I was the one who'd been driving." He took a deep breath.


The others exchanged glances.


Fili opened his arms and Carlos stepped into them. 'I'm here. I'm here. I'm with you,' he kept sending. 'I'm not gone. I'm here.'


He'd disrupted everyone, hurt Fili and Pilot, and scared them all. They might have gotten in a worse wreck if he'd startled Daniil at a slightly different moment. They were all here because of his decision to run, and now he was endangering them.


Dan's phone rang. For the first time since the first day, when he'd blocked all but 6 numbers.


"That's Sebastien's ringtone." He started tearing through his bag for the phone. He waved them all to silence and accepted the call.


"Hello? This is Tiger two. We saw your webcasts!" The voice came over the speakerphone.


They all stayed silent. Why would Pierre identify himself as Tiger two?


"We have been hiding. Then Chev's friend saw someone watching your webcast when he was at the store. We haven't contacted anyone in days. We aren't telling anyone where we are, or who is here. Your webcasts have been getting huge attention. We want to start doing the same thing. People don't know us as well, can we link our webcasts to yours?" Code names. Obvious code names, but code names, nonetheless.


"Hey, this is Oz's partner. You can link your webcasts to ours. Are you guys safe?"


"No one has been bothering us. Have you seen the news?"


"No, we have been on the move."


"The stables all got raided. The Racing Drivers all got taken away. All except Williams. And..."


"What?"


"I guess some of the handlers...resisted. Those strike guys set off the fire alarms, like they did at Red Bull, but the handlers didn't evacuate. The team Drivers got evacuated, but..." His voice cracked.


"This is Navy boy," Luis's voice came on in place. "Someone hold him," he said, barely audible. "I'm here. Um...so, they evacuated the team Drivers and the matches that were there, but when the soldiers got there, none of the...the stock was outside. So the soldiers went in after them. The news said there was a firefight. No one was there when they got there, but when the real swat team showed up, they went inside, and they found them." There was a grinding noise and a thump like the phone had been dropped.


They listened to the silence for a moment.


"Found who?" Max whispered. His knuckles were white around Pilot's hand.


Carlos was too numbed out to feel horror about how this story was going to end.


"Are you still there?" Luis asked.


"What did they find, Lu....Navy boy?" Dan asked, tightly.


"The stock. Some of the unmatched Drivers survived. None of the handlers were alive. They had some kind of...failsafe, I guess, I guess they were prepared for something like this. The news said they had been gassed with something. Some of the soldiers were in the building when it happened, though, they didn't make it. Um, there was, there was a lot of, I guess the little ones...none of them...they were too little..." He took a breath. "Tiger and Boomer had both...been to Williams on winter break within the last couple years. You know, studding."


Max suddenly went pale. His jaw was tight.


He shook his head in angry denial.


He got up, moving stiffly and went outside.


Carlos counted to keep from sharing that information with Fili, who couldn't keep it from Pilot.


Pilot watched the door where Max had gone with a raised eyebrow.


"I'm sorry," Luis said. "That's all we've got."


Dan took a deep breath. "Apparently they weren't the only ones. Thanks for telling us, Navy boy. I am glad we aren't going to face another crowd and risk getting blindsided by this. You guys, watch for our next webcast. I think we'll have to find a way to address this. We'll keep an eye out for yours. Keep safe, guys. Tell them they have our condolences."


He ended the call.


Pilot's head tilted, he went outside in answer to the silent summons.


Dan bent over with his hands over his ears, blocking out Max's slow, grating speech, audible in the bus only as rhythm and no words. Carlos' connection to Fili shut down as his Driver closed himself off. Daniil had his eyes closed and his face turned to his shoulder, and Tumba had his eyes on the ceiling and his jaw slightly slack, like he was expecting to be struck.


Carlos watched him, he did jerk, like he'd been kicked, when Pilot wailed. There was a thump against the side of the bus like a fist, and then several more and a low grinding keen. He could hear the strain in Max’s voice, trying desperately to fight down his own sadness to focus on his partner.


"Don't fight it, Max," Daniil whispered. "He needs you to feel it with him." His face was pleading.


Max's voice cracked into a sob and there was silence but for the mourning outside the bus.


Carlos stood up. "This has been a terrible night. I want a drink."


"There was a gas station back there a little way; I'm going to walk back there. Let's get them inside and we'll find someplace to park for the night," Dan said.


"No, you are the only one awake enough to drive, I will walk back," Carlos said.


"I guess I'll get those guys?" Daniil didn't look like he relished the prospect.


"Just give them a minute," Carlos said. [Find a place to go. Yeah, Fili, you come with me.]


Carlos went out of the bus, walking around the nose and back down the road, ignoring the two grieving in the ditch beside the back tires of the bus. This night had been pure shit.


He held Fili's hand. Neither of them sent anything.

Chapter Text

Night of November 23, 2016 -Night 5-

 

Carlos pushed the glass door open and stepped into the gas station. Fili pulled his sunglasses down over his hat onto his eyes. The disguises didn't help the situation, the man behind the counter was staring at them suspiciously. Carlos walked, head down to the liquor case. Vodka was easiest to drink. He stared at the selection. There were 3 kinds of vodka. He'd had 100 euros in his wallet when he went to work, 6 days ago. It had seemed like plenty back when there had been a credit card. He could probably use the credit card, but posting videos to Wi-Fi networks was not going to give away to the same degree as swiping his credit card at a store. That would place them exactly, not hours after they left, but immediately, and if FIA was hunting them, or if anyone was hunting them, he couldn't risk that. Until someone, somewhere communicated that they were safe, they had to maintain a degree of stealth. This money would be completely depleted by this self-indulgent purchase.


The other guys had some money. Daniil inexplicably, had been carrying 8000 euros. He said he liked to have cash on him. Carlos suspected this was a growing up in a poor country thing, because Carlos liked to have cash on him, but felt NO compulsion to have enough on hand to buy a small used car. Maybe this wasn't a fair use of their limited resources. Then he thought about Pilot grinding in sorrow outside the bus, the desperation in Max's eyes in the face of comforting a parent at the loss of a child. Even a child he'd never have known.


When they'd been so close to freedom.


He pulled all three kinds of vodka out of the case, and one silver tequila just in case. He gestured to Fili to grab a case of the darkest canned beer he could find. The Stigs had enough trouble opening the cans, bottles would result in a bloodbath.


He set the bottles on the counter. The man was still staring at them.


'Please don't think we're thugs.' Carlos thought. 'Please don't give us trouble.'


The man silently reached out and picked up one of the bottles. "License, son?"


Carlos handed him the ID. 'Please don't read my name. Just look at the date.'


The man glanced at the driver's license. "Jokes? This is from a Crackerjack? YOUR license."


He glanced at Fili, who was carefully picking up and minutely inspecting each of the toy cars in the display beside the register. Resigning himself, he pulled his hat and glasses off.


The man drew a long breath, he looked at the license again, silently he slid the licence across the counter. He picked the bottle back up and rang it up. By the second bottle his eyes were on Fili. Suspicion was growing in his eyes, again. Carlos could see him connecting them, and calculating the odds of Carlos Sainz Jr impersonators.


He set the euros on the counter.


The man stopped ringing them up. He jerked his head at Fili. "And yours."


'Pendejo.' Carlos thought, then, addressing Fili he sent, 'Take your hat and glasses off.'


Fili looked up at him, startled, clutching the green corvette in his hand. 'You said we were hiding.'


'He is going to be angry if we don't do what he says.'


Fili whipped his hat and glasses off. He looked at the man. Grinned widely.


"Mother Mary."


"I have euros, will you sell these?" Carlos gestured at the bottles. "I'm sure the Shell station across the street will sell me some bottles, and Ferrari will make much of it." He hated games like this, but he was at the end of his rope.


"I will give you these if you will consent to take a picture and say you shopped here. And your autograph, or...his...Which of you is which?"


"I'm Carlos Sainz Jr, he drives the car," Fili nodded. "He is a Stig, like on Top Gear. I will pay for these, and I will sign an autograph."


The man laughed uncertainly. "A Stig? I see no white helmet."


Carlos shook his head. "The Grand Tour shows Stigs without helmets. Stigs like mine. Who seem like men, but aren't."


Fili revved in agreement.


The sound was pure machine. A sound like no man could have made. Not even the most talented impression artist.


The man stared for a long time. He nodded. "I want his autograph as well."


The bus was outside the gas station when Carlos came out with the clinking bag of liquor. Fili had a case of beer in one hand and waved at the store owner with the other, revving a farewell.

Chapter Text

Night of November 23, 2016 -Night 5-

 

Max and Pilot were squashed into the two passenger side seats, Pilot with his knees up, arms around them. Dan was in the Driver's seat with Oz behind him. Daniil and Tumba were at the far end of the bench seat. Fili sat up against Tumba and Carlos sat next to him with the bag of bottles in his lap. Dan drove out of the parking lot and down the road.


After they'd driven out of town and down a country road, they arrived at a campground. Dan went to pay for the site. Carlos herded everyone together. He had Pilot and Max sit and the end of the bench nearest to the driver's seat and sat Fili, leaving room for himself at the end of the bench nearest the table. He directed Daniil to fold the upper bunk up and sit on the lower bunk. Oz sat on the other side of him. He pulled the bottles out of the bag one at a time. Three brands of vodka and one of tequila. Tumba got plastic cups out of the cupboard and handed them to Carlos, then sat beside Daniil.


"That is shitty vodka," Daniil said.


"I could have gotten you raspberry Smirnoff. I got everything they had. This tequila is no good, either." Carlos laid two rows of four cups and poured vodka in each of them.


"We'll wait for Dan," Carlos said, eyeing the level of alcohol in each cup to make sure it was even.


"Ok, I got two nights, just in case we can't get out of here in the morning," Dan said. "It was pretty cheap. No one wants to camp in Novermber."


Daniil snorted. "Because it is SO cold in Spain."


Carlos raised an eyebrow at him.


He shook his head. "Hand me some shitty vodka, Carlos."


Everyone got a cup. Oz smelled his and made a sad noise. [Is it petrol?]


Dan laughed. [Better, mate.]


Pilot took a big drink of his. His eyes went wide. He made a horrified sputter. [It IS petrol.] His tongue worked in his mouth.


Fili laughed. [It cannot be so bad.] He took a drink, every bit as big as Pilot's. He started coughing. He looked at Carlos with a wounded expression. [It is so bad.]


Carlos shook his head and shot his double vodka. [It is so, smooth, you should try whiskey.]


[Or Gin,] Dan added. He weighed his glass in his hand and then tossed it back. Went to the table for a refill.


[Show them how it's done, Tumba.] Daniil smirked.


Tumba took a big gulp of vodka and swallowed it. He made a disgusted, sneering face, but no complaint. He threw a finger in the air. [Russian,] He signed.


"He looks just like you in the mayonnaise commercial!" Dan pointed. [Dany, he makes just the same face!]


"What kind of mayonnaise IS this?" Carlos said, laughing. "I watched that over and over." He was feeling the shot wiring up his bloodstream. He looked at Fili, who had a confused expression on his face. [Not so bad, now, is it, brother?]


[I think my wiring's gone bad,] Fili signed.


Dan laughed. [That's him done, then.] He looked at his partner. [Oz,] He mimicked Daniil, [Show them how it's really done.] He produced a second shot.


Oz took one in each hand. He threw one back in two gulps and then the single shot in the second cup. He didn't even wince. He held the cups aloft, triumphantly. [Australian,] He gestured.


Dan laughed. [That's him done, too, then.]


Pilot signed, [What about you, Max?]


Max considered the gulps the Drivers had taken, and the way the older men had shot their drinks. Well they called it Dutch courage for a reason, didn't they? He looked at Daniil, who was sitting with his elbows on his knees, dangling his cup from his fingertips, watching him with that small smile.


He shot his drink. Or tried. The instant the liquid touched his lips it burned like fire, and made his throat itch. He closed his throat, trapping the stinging liquor in his mouth. It turned out that was a bad decision. The burn increased exponentially every moment he held it. He looked around frantically. He thought about spitting it back into the cup, but would never live down the shame. Oh Shit! He couldn't bring himself to swallow it, either. He made a desperate noise. Through the watering eyes, he saw Daniil sit back and shake his head. He steeled himself and gulped the mouthful.


Then he coughed. [Why do you LIKE that?] As though it was their fault.


Fili drank the rest of his drink, with only a little gasp at the end. [Let's play Truth or Dare.]


Three humans turned to stare at Carlos. Carlos was staring at Fili.


[Why do you know about Truth or Dare?]


[I found it in your head one time.]


[We could play Fuck/Marry/Kill.] Tumba said.


Pilot finished his drink. [I would play that.]


Dan scrunched his face up, utterly bewildered by this turn of events. [But...]


Daniil held a hand up. "Wait, I kind of want to see how this would go." He turned to the Red Racing Driver. [What does marry mean, Pilot?]


[It means you only mate with one other human. Or Driver, in our case.] The other Drivers nodded.


He shrugged at Dan. "Let's see how long it takes them to notice."


Carlos poured some more drinks. If they were starting the night with Fuck/Marry/Kill, he was going to need something more in him.


[Who will go first?] Dan asked, seeing what Daniil had already noticed.


Tumba raised a hand. [Fili, you have to choose one to Fuck, one to Marry, and one to Kill. Madeleina, Gazelle, and Prince.]


As expected, Fili chose to Fuck Gazelle, Marry Madeleina, and Kill Prince. The Dans shared a smirk, because that was the sum total of female Racing Drivers their partners had met.


[Dan,] Fili gestured, [Who would you Fuck, Marry and Kill? Sebastian, Hulk's Nico, and Prince's Nico.]


Dans big grin remained fixed. [They're all guys.]


The Racing Drivers looked at each other.


[The game is not an obligation, it is people you would not be expected to...] Fili looked at Tumba for the word. [Follow up with.]


[The question stands,] announced Carlos. [You agreed to play, Dan, you cannot change your mind because you get a hard question.]


[Ok, I'd kill Sebastian, and I'd fuck Nico R and I'd marry Nico H.]


Pilot laughed. [That was a fast answer.]


[Pilot. Snap, Boomer, and Navy.]


Pilot stopped laughing. [I'd fuck Snap, I'd marry Boomer and I'd kill Navy. Sorry, Navy, you didn't make the cut.]


[You would marry Boomer?] Carlos asked. Definitely more drinks.


[I think he'd make a good wife. He is thoughtful. Carlos, choose Kimi, Fernando, or Jensen.]


[I would kill Fernando, then I would be the cutest Spaniard on the Grid, and I would fuck Jensen, and I would marry Kimi. Jensen seems like he knows how to have fun, and I would make Kimi grow his hair out again, he was very pretty.] Carlos shrugged. [Oz, choose Rabbit, Sunshine, or Pauli.]


[I would fuck Pauli and then team up with Rabbit and kill Sunshine.]


[You said team up,] Daniil pointed out.


[Marry, then.] Oz turned to Max. [Jolyon, Seven or Nico H. Choose.]


Max blushed. [I need another drink.]


Carlos pushed one into his hand.


Max sipped at it.


[Well, Max, go ahead.] Daniil said. There was a relaxed expression on his face that did not reach his eyes.


Max hated the challenge in Daniil's eyes.


[I would marry Seven, and I would kill Jolyon, and I would fuuck Nico until he begged me.] He drew out the word, and without hesitation launched into his question. [Daniil. Who would you fuck, who would you marry, and who would you kill. Pilot?] He sat forward to stare Daniil down. [Tyazhelyy?]


Pilot and Tumba both sat up a little and watched Daniil.


[Or me?] Max could feel his nose twitch a little. 'Go ahead and say it,' he thought.


Daniil laughed and swirled his drink.


Max frowned. 'What is he laughing for, is it that easy? Of course it is.'


Daniil looked at Pilot. Slid his eyes up and down the broad shouldered Racing Driver. [I would fuck your partner, all night, and call him afterwards.]


Max growled at the look in his eyes, he wanted his eyes off Pilot.


Daniil turned his gaze on Max. Max sort of wished he hadn't.


[You think because you have Red Bull, I would kill you?] He moved to the edge of the bunk, [You want me to say it, don't you?] He moved off the bunk and into Max's space. He planted his hands on either side of Max's head and leaned in. Max pressed himself back into the seat, keeping eye contact with Daniil's intense hazel eyes. [I would never hurt you, Max. Obligated to choose, I would marry you, and I would do my best every day to make you happy. Because we would both be in a situation neither of us got to choose.] His eyes flicked to Pilot. Then he looked for something in Max's eyes and laughed.


He moved back to the bunk, and in Max's heightened, slightly fuzzy perception, he was moving unnaturally gracefully. [Besides, your question is too easy.] He ran a hand up Tumba's arm. [Tyazhelyy,] He mimicked Max's pronunciation, [And I have already discussed this, at length. When he was sick, before we got to F1, he told me he didn't want anyone else giving him the shot, and I told him I would never let anyone else. So yes, I would kill Tyazhelyy.] He pronounced it syllable by syllable, how it was meant to be pronounced. [I would never deny someone else the best thing in their life. Not either of you.] He looked between Max and Pilot.


Max unpressed himself from the couch. "You're drunk. You are so drunk. How much did he have?" He looked at Carlos.


Daniil laughed again and held his full cup up. [I have had nothing. This is shitty vodka, and someone has to stay sane.] He brightened up, [Tumba, choose between Shoe, Grad and Lentaa.]


Max looked at Carlos again, who nodded confirmation.


[I would kill Shoe, Fuck Grad and Marry Lentaa.]


[Well, that is enough fun and games for me,] Daniil said, levering himself off the bunk. "Time for a slash."


He stalked down the stairs and out the door.


Tumba jerked his head at Pilot and the two went after him.


Max watched his Driver go. 'Where are you going?' He asked tentatively.


Pilot turned around, 'It is a game, Max, you don't have to...force everything all the time.'


He turned his back and walked out after his friend.


Max pouted while the other four talked and joked and had more drinks. After awhile, he began to get really angry. He grabbed a half full bottle off the table and consumed most of the contents in a burning, throat clenching rush. He slammed the bottle down and walked out the door to tell Daniil he could go to hell.


"Should we let him go? He just drank like a fifth of tequila," Dan asked, behind him.


"He choked on the watered down shot of vodka I gave him. How far do you think he will get on that much tequila? In 15 minutes we will go pick him up from his nap just outside the door," Carlos said. [Whose bet is it?] He picked through the cards in his hand.


Max was too fueled by rage and Red Bull to pass out just outside the bus. He realized, as he went out, that he didn't know where they were, or where anyone else might have gone. Pilot had closed their connection so all he could feel was that his Racing Driver was alive, but not where or if he was in distress. He spotted a restroom sign and followed it down the path. He would tell Daniil a thing about these constant implications that he didn't care about Pilot. Pathetic, it was pathetic. Max could see the lights outside the cinderblock bathroom. He would tell Daniil that it was HE who didn't care about his Driver. "How could he ever consider killing Tumba? I would kill anyone before letting Pilot die. I would die before letting anyone hurt Pilot." He kicked at a rock, his foot went right by it. His body had just dumped the second dose of alcohol into his bloodstream. "Why would anyone come and give him a shot, anyway? You don't just kill people because they're sick, you keep trying to help them."


He could see a figure walking towards him. He realized that there were other people at this campground. "No, you don't kill people, just because they're sick," The shadow said.


Max reeled. How did he know? He felt the ground tilting, and he was falling backwards. He put his hands out to steady himself.


The figured jumped forward and a strong hand grabbed his. "Max," He sighed, "How much more did you have? I was going to be right back." Daniil put his shoulder under Max's arm. "How did you even make it out here like this? Why did they let you leave?"


Max stumbled and stepped on Daniil's foot. "You killed Tyazhelyy." Oddly, his pronunciation was perfect, now. "How could you?"


"Because the medics don't keep helping the Racing Drivers." He put an arm tight around Max's waist, bearing most of his weight. "You know they put Racing Drivers down, don't you?"


"Well, if they're too hurt to save, from a crash or something, or when they're old?"


"Or if something happens to their match, or if they can't race, or if the company gets angry at you, or if they get sick and don't seem like they're getting better. They were going to kill him, Max. He was scared and sick, but he knew what was going to happen, and he didn't want...some medic who didn't care whether he lived or died, whether he suffered, taking his life away from him. He asked me to do it, and I would have, because he is mine."


"You treat him like a possession," Max said, stumbling onto Daniil's foot again, nearly tripping both of them.


"My self. Mine to protect, because they won't let him protect himself. Because I am the only one who loves him enough to be sorry to do it. I would take his life, because otherwise, where would it go? And then I would need a second needle for myself. I am not ashamed to say I am not brave enough to live the rest of my life with him missing from me. I have had the nightmare Carlos had. So many times."


"They won't kill Pilot, he is too fast. They want him to be world champion."


"I know."


They walked, stumbled in silence for a moment.


"Why aren't they with you?"


"Who?"


"Tyazhelyy and Pilot. They went out after you, and Pilot shut down his connection to me. Where did they go?"


"You can't feel where they are?" Daniil asked, a hint of amusement in his voice.


"No, can you?"


Daniil nodded. "Tumba doesn't shut me out very often."


"Pilot never shuts me out, unless he's really, really mad. Let's go find them. I should find him." Max started walking off the side of the trail.


"No, I think we shouldn't do that."


Max pulled him along.


"No, we are going back. If I try to carry you through this brush, we're both going to end up in a crevasse with broken backs."


"I need to find him." Max reversed tactics and tried to push him away. Daniil kept his grip on him.


"He's fine, Max, that's not even the right direction. He's fine. Don't you ever let him have any time alone?"


"He doesn't need time alone, he needs to train. We should get back, we have to train."


"Yes, let's get back. I'll tell Tumba to bring him back when they're done."


"Ok." Max set off down the trail towards the bus again, veering across the path from one side to the other. "Done what?" He teetered and tried to grab at the branches of the bush beside the trail for support. He crashed through them onto the ground beneath.


"Done talking, come on, you." Daniil had to kneel next to him and hoist him back to his feet. He pointed severely at Max's nose. "If you don't stop falling down, I'm going to leave you to sleep out here until morning. Come to think of it, that was probably Carlos and Dan's plan."


Max bit Daniil's finger, just holding it in his teeth. When Daniil tried to pull it away, he bit harder.


"Ow, shit. Very funny."


Max flicked his tongue along the tip.


"They didn't have soap in that bathroom back there," Daniil said, impatiently.


"Don't care," Max said, his teeth were open, though so it sounded like "Oh kale." He licked Daniil again.


Daniil sighed heavily. "I am not drunk enough for you to be doing this, Max."


Max dropped his finger. "What would you do if you were drunk enough?"


"Forget that it happened, hopefully." He pushed past Max, forgetting that Max couldn't walk back on his own.


"If you did it to me, I'd hit you. Aren't you going to hit me?"


"No," Daniil said over his shoulder as he walked into the darkness.


He was rapidly disappearing into the shadows. Max couldn't run after him, he'd fall right over. He did the only thing he could.


"Ow!"


Daniil came back out of the shadows holding Max's shoe.


Max swayed so badly, trying to stand on one foot that he nearly fell again, so he put his clean sock in the dirt.


"Why don't you respect me? Why do you keep treating me this way?"


Daniil's lips tightened. He shook his head. "I want to respect you, Max. There are things about you I truly do respect. Just not everything."


"I'm not strong enough?"


"I don't know if you are strong enough."


"Come hit me and find out, then. I will show you how strong I am."


"I am not going to hit you, Max. Why do you want me to?"


"I want you to hit me because you can see I'm strong enough to take it."


"That makes no sense."


"You treat me like I'm not even a bump on the road. I'm not a challenge to you. You just, look over my head, like I'm not good enough for you to notice. YOU." He sneered.


"Me?" Daniil asked quietly.


"Yes. You were on Red Bull for two years and never really accomplished anything."


Daniil let out a tired laugh. "Again?"


"Until you answer me."


"Max, you are aware it is not me in the car? I am his partner, but it is not me who is Racing. Nor is it you."


"Pilot can take care of himself."


"But YOU are the one asserting you are worthy of being noticed. Why, because I don't scream at you for taking the seat?"


"You said I hurt you, but you won't do anything about it. Like I'm too insignificant to notice."


"Like you are too immovable to do anything about." He looked into the darkness. "Please don't make me do this, Max, he doesn't deserve you to do this to him."


He was looking to where Tumba was, Max could read the expression. He marked the direction in his head.


"Only a coward lets himself be walked over."


Daniil was fast, for a human, and he was coordinated. His slap landed on Max's cheek designed for maximum sting.


"Only a fool tries to hold back the waves. And only an asshole hurts the people who can't fight them back. What do you want me to do, hit you? Get myself arrested, end my career, end his life? Scream at you? Demand the seat back? There is nothing I can do. They want you to be world champion. You can't do that from Toro Rosso. They couldn't field Red Bull with only one Driver until you got old enough to take Sebastian's place. The Dans is a better gimmick than Carlos and Dan."


He moved as if to slap Max again. Then stopped himself. "They are coming." His shoulders slumped and he turned away. "I said it. I said it and he felt me say it." He turned and pointed at Max. "He didn't deserve you to do that to him. He can't stop you from hurting him. Because if he were to do what I just did, he would be subject to dangerous animals laws. If they found out a Racing Driver attacked a human, they would put him down. They wouldn't even let me do it. They wouldn't even let me say goodbye. They would take him away and he would go out of my range and I would never even know when it happened. You know what? You don't deserve to be hurt, either. The company will hurt you enough for everyone, if they get a chance. That's why we're out here. Because they hurt people who can't fight back. So someone needs to fight." Once more he turned and looked out into the bushes.


"I can fight."


"You are fighting the wrong things. You fight for their spectacle. You keep the illusion going."


"You do what they tell you, too."


"But I don't hurt my fellows."


"You knocked Kimi off the track in Russia."


Daniil threw up his hands. "That wasn't INTENTIONAL."


"You didn't seem to care too much afterwards."


"When you have Sebastian Vettel screaming in your face, we'll see if you get defensive. They're here."


Max was thrown by this non-sequitur. Then Tumba and Pilot stepped onto the trail.


They looked back and forth between the two. Daniil stepped to Tumba, grabbing Pilot's wrist on the way by. He covered his mouth with his hand and glanced towards Max. Pilot returned the gesture. Max felt annoyed that he didn't recognize it. Pilot was still shutting him out. Daniil hugged Tumba, who nuzzled against his shoulder.


Pilot's gaze immediately went to Max's cheek, even in the dim light, with their connection shut down, he could tell. He touched Max's face, tilting his head to check the spot. Max felt like he was 12 years old again. He jerked his chin away, pushing at Pilot. [Don't do that.]


Pilot revved a question.


[I don't want you trying to take care of me.]


The 23 year old Driver froze. He looked partway over his shoulder at where Daniil and Tumba were standing.


[Come on, Tumba,] Daniil said. They faded into the shadows.


[You are my human,] Pilot gestured. [I take care of you, and you take care of me.]


[No. I take care of you, because you can't. I don't need your help.]


Pilot opened and closed his mouth. [I thought we took care of each other. We are one Racing Driver...]


[No,] Max interrupted. [We're not. I'm me, and you're you. We're two different things. We just happen to look alike. You sold me out in the race, just like I would to you.]


[You told me to win, no matter what the cost. You are disappointed when you say I haven't done my best. You want me, because You want someone who can win against Sunshine, and I'm the one who can.] Pilot's connection to him was leaking grief, now.


[You sold me out because YOU want to win.]


[Want to win for you...] Pilot sank to his knees.


[You think I believe you're that unselfish? We're the same, you said.]


[I did what you asked. I'm sorry. I misunderstood.]


[Don't tell me you're sorry. You were glad when you won. When you beat me.]


'Please?' Pilot sent, in a small voice in Max's mind. 'Please don't think that?'


Max reached into his head and searched for the glee he knew must have been there when Pilot was passing him.


Pilot whimpered.


Max noticed the wall where Pilot wasn't letting him go. He pushed at it. 'You're hiding things. Is it in here? Your jealousy and disdain?'


'No, no, look how much I give you, how open I am.' He laid bare his soul to Max, a rolling landscape, with only one small part walled off. 'You can have anything else. Any of the rest of what I am. Take it, take anything. I wouldn't deny you, please, Max.'


'What else would I want? You have nothing else to offer, I've seen the rest of this, it is all mine already. How dare you conceal things from me? Show me.'


'Please don't ask me to. Please, trust me. Please believe I would never keep anything from you if I didn't have to.'


Max started searching for cracks, prying into anything that might have been a weak point, a way in.


It must have been a crying sound, because Racing Drivers only sound human when they cry, and the scream Pilot let out sounded absolutely human.


Max stepped back, startled.


Pilot huddled, back curled over the ground, clutching his head and rocking. He wasn't making any sound, now, not even heavy breathing noises that should have accompanied his heaving chest.


Someone's shoulder hit Max in the back and knocked him to the ground. He looked up, expecting to see Daniil, or Tumba standing over him...


It was Carlos. He was MAD. His shoulders were heaving and his fists were clenched. When Max moved, Carlos raised his fists.


Fili was wrapped around Pilot. He looked up at Carlos and revved, he looked scared.


Carlos snarled something in Spanish, but the way he pointed at Max clearly meant don't move. He stared down at Max until Max had to look away.


"Fuck," Carlos said, kneeling next to Pilot. "Is that what it feels like it is?"


Fili made a noise.


Max realized he couldn't understand Fili. He couldn't hear Pilot at all. No awareness, nothing. Not even an awareness that he was out there, somewhere. It was like the spot in his mind that had been Pilot had been sealed over.


"Pilot!" he cried, alarmed, now. Why had he shut him out so thoroughly?


Carlos turned and pointed at him. "Don't you fucking move." His voice hitched. There were tears coursing down his face. "Don't you fucking come anywhere near." He took a deep breath. "I didn't tell the others. You just don't come back until I come get you."


"Where..."


"It doesn't fucking matter. You don't come near him until you get my say so."


Max swallowed. "Is he...? What happened?"


Why would Carlos know?


"It looks to me like you tried to rip him apart from the inside out."


"How? I couldn't do that."


"You found a way."


Fili made another noise. Was it alarm? Max couldn't tell.


He held his hand up, and there was blood on it, though.


"He's bleeding!" Max wailed.


Carlos leaned down and looked into Pilot's face. He covered the Driver's eyes and turned his phone on, using a dimmed screen light to look at the damage. There was blood on his mouth. The rest of him was deathly pale, except his eyes, which were pure blue, his pupils closed to pinpoints.


[He chewed through his lip,] Carlos told Fili. [Make him spit.]


Fili closed his eyes.


Mechanically, Pilot's body spit.


Fili opened his eyes again.


[Ok, not too much more of that, he can't take it. Let's get him back.]


Carlos pointed at Max one more time, and Fili hoisted Pilot into his arms.


Max remained on the ground until long after they'd gone, when he heard someone coming down the trail. He couldn't bear it being one of the other guys, and it would be even worse being found here by a stranger. He clambered off the trail into a bush. He sat with his back to the woody stems, head swimming and the world spinning around him. How could that have even happened? Why would trying to look at what Pilot wasn't telling him have hurt him? Why did their connection shut down? How did Carlos know to come, and what to do, and why hadn't he brought anyone else? Why hadn't been Daniil and Tumba and their oh-so-special friendship with his Driver that went right around him?


What was going on with everyone?

Chapter Text

Night of November 23, 2016 -Night 5-

 

Carlos politely looked away from Pilot's memories. His thoughts were like bunnies in a field, hopping around, developing, gaining new life, consuming knowledge and checking in occasionally with his awareness to either be accepted and acted on or set free to roam the land again. This was one thing Racing Drivers couldn't translate for their humans, so every Trainer had to learn to see it in a way that would make sense to them. There was no equivalent to being in another being's mind.


Pilot's mind was landscaped. To a degree that was uncomfortable for Carlos to see. It was trimmed and disciplined, but there were no free places, no secret gardens, no grottos, no hidden chambers or anything but rolling grass. Except for one walled structure.


Fili approached this. One of the corners was cracked. He could see into the warm, well-lit space through the 8 inch gap. Carlos watched through Fili's awareness. He couldn't actually go into Pilot's mind, he had to have Fili send him the information back.


Pilot was sitting on his knees, inside, cradling several different memories and feelings, like baubles. His head was down, and he was experiencing them one at a time, holding them to his heart and reliving them. Looking for something, or just comforting himself?


"Flying in the Clear Sky," Fili called, through the gap.


Pilot looked up at his full name. His face looked defiant for a moment. He curled himself around the things he'd put here to protect. Then his defiance fell away. He put away the memories and feelings he'd been savoring, and moved through the wall to where Fili waited.


He touched the broken stone of the structure, peeled away like metal sheeting. "If I could deny this, I would, but you can see what's been done." He dropped his hand and looked down. "I did something bad, Fili, I did something so bad. What did I do that made him so scared? Why is he afraid of me?"


Pilot closed his eyes. Outside, in their bodies, Carlos and Fili were stroking his face and his hair.


"I don't know what's going on with Max. He is struggling, with something, and you're close for him to try to fix." Fili ran a hand along the tortured barrier. Why was this structure so small? Inside his own mind, and inside every other Racing Driver he'd met there was acres of enclosed space, things that were too private to share with their humans. Things that were just none of anyone's business.


"Is it because of this?" Pilot put his hands on the barrier, like he loved it and hated it at the same time. "I can't give him these, too, I just can't." His voice cracked. "Fili, I am so bad, I'm so bad and I hide things from him and I have to protect things from him. I know I shouldn't have secrets. I'm a bad, bad partner. It's because we didn't always match, and I didn't want to match. I loved him so much. Too much. Then he was gone, and this one came. I could never love this one as much, and I hid things."


"He was gone and this one came?" Fili asked. Carlos paid close attention to the answer.


"Yes. When we were matched he was..." He went inside the barrier and brought out some memories. He shared one with Fili.

 

He looked up into blue eyes. He moved into the other boy's mind, immediately aware something was off, but the handler had his arm twisted up behind his back and the pain was going to make this impossible if he didn't hurry. He was faster than most Racing Drivers, fortunately. So he started methodically pulling apart the connections in Max's head, putting in bypasses and extra pieces that he would need for them to bond and connect permanently.


He was sweating with the effort of rewiring a human, with his left arm twisted so hard that something inside was popping. If he could have closed his eyes or at least concentrated on his body, he could have redirected some of the pain, but if he lost concentration on Max, if he slid out of Max's mind with the connection half made, with Max's brain in pieces, he would never be able to get back in, and he would never be able to put him back together.


He started reconnecting the things he'd shut down so he could work. One by one, Max's systems came back to life, electricity flowing through the new shunts and processors.


The handler wrenched his arm as if he was being disobedient, and something popped, and the pain almost made him look away, but he clung tight, and finished putting Max back together, with a place built in for himself.


Then he closed his eyes and moved the pain, letting it diffuse throughout his body.


When the man released him, he stood, and for some reason, his match only came up to his chest. He didn't care. He scooped his littler self away from the handler, so the handler couldn't hurt them anymore. Why was he so small? Why didn't they match? The handlers brought him a match that didn't match. He'd never seen a Racing Driver with a match who looked so different. How were they ever going to Race?


But the little human wasn't worried. He wrapped his arms around Pilot's waist and sighed contentedly. "Ohh," Pilot breathed. He loved him so much. He was little and he needed Pilot to protect him, more than any other human would ever need their Racing Driver. He felt tears in his eyes. I will never resent him for being small. Even if we can never race, we will be the best pair, ever, because I will love him with everything I ever have to give.


Fili looked at the memory, he remembered seeing Pilot and Max at practice for the first time, and feeling embarrassed for them that they were so obviously too different to ever pass as one another. The Racing Drivers didn't understand that Max was not done growing, none of them had ever been matched with someone so young, even teenagers looked like they could grow into their older selves as they put on muscle.


"But one day he didn't come back," Pilot murmured. "The season ended, and he went away, just like every year, just like all matches do, but then, when it was time for the new season, this happened."


Pilot shared another memory with Fili.


He sat on the floor with his back against the door of his sleeping cupboard. He'd been taken to the medical wing and put under, yesterday, he woke up clean shaven, with his hair cut short, and his wrists and ankles bandaged from the constant struggling against the restraints that he'd done, even unconscious. He loved the wounds. He put the bandage to his mouth and pressed a kiss to it.


Max was coming. He was going to be here today, and Pilot was going to stop limping along with only half his heart and mind. They were going to be whole. He kept his senses stretched to the limits of his considerable talent. He would be the first Driver to know when his match was arriving. None of the others could reach as far as he could.


With Max would come training and driving and the new season, but first there would be a couple days of light work while they reacclimatised to working together. It would be a welcome recharge for his emotional batteries. He'd missed his littler self. They had proven that they were as good as any other pair and better than most, even though Max was so much smaller and got tired and distracted more easily. Pilot was happy to run in long loops around Max during workouts. He was willing to work at staying aware of when his partner started to struggle to keep up with the brutal RD pace, so they could have break while he recovered. Pilot loved when Max fell asleep against him on the grass beside the track and he would scoop him up and carry him, albeit with a handler escort, back to Max's room and put him to bed. He loved the way Max unconsciously put his arms around Pilot's neck and snuggled to his chest when he carried him. He'd been matched with a self who was littler, and that was a unique challenge. He was going to rise to it, and his sweet boy was worth it. He wouldn't trade Max for a match who looked more like him, not for anything.


Max's touch, when it came, was like breathing fresh air for the first time after days of being stabled. He sent delighted greetings, which Max returned. He seemed even more excited than usual to be back with Pilot.


It was a delicious torture feeling Max get closer, going here and there in the upper parts of the stable, doing human things before coming down to the Drivers' Level. The last 50 feet from the elevator to Pilot's door was the longest. Pilot flowed into position as naturally as water flowed into a cup, taking his shape from the universe around him, facing north and crossing his arms over his chest. He couldn't stop the inaudible purr in his chest, because Max was on the other side of the door, what a delight.


He opened the door and stepped in and the 20 year old Driver froze behind his helmet.


Max was exactly his size.


His face was harder. He had spots, like Pilot got when he wore a balaclava in the heat. He wrapped Pilot in a hug. It was all hard angles and lean muscles, none of the little chubbyness he'd developed towards the end of the last season. His hands were big and they didn't cling to him anymore, they patted his back firmly. Max's face wasn't tucked against Pilot's chest, it was on a level with his own. It was an interesting difference, and it felt good to feel his match giving back strength that more closely matched, but he didn't know how Max had accomplished this baffling feat. More importantly, why? Pilot loved little Max. He never would have gotten tired it. He would have taken care of him forever.


Max stepped back, beaming. "I missed you," he said and gestured. Pilot's jaw dropped. His voice was DEEP. Not as deep as some men, but deeper that the voice he'd had the last time. "What do you think?" He held his arms out and turned a slow circle. He sent a memory of measuring himself against a wall, watching the marks rise higher as time went by. Of looking in the mirror, flexing, and admiring his new, longer legs, his broader shoulders, the muscles that were setting themselves out under his skin. "Now I look just like you. Well, maybe a little skinnier, but I'll work hard this season, and I'll fill out."


Pilot titled his helmet. "What happened?"


"I had a growth spurt over break. A big one."


"Obviously. Why?"


Max shrugged. "Hormones, I guess. I don't know, I'm not a doctor. It's just growing up."


"We have BEEN grown up."


Now they were both mystified.


"You've been grown up, but you're a lot older than me. Now I'm growing up, too."


"You were a Little Racing Driver?" He had to stop and think of the word when it was a human. "Child?"


"Yes, was, now I'm like you."


Pilot pulled his helmet off. He put his face close to Max's, examining his new match minutely. "We're going to race, aren't we? Really race." He ran his fingers over Max's face, then his own. "F1. Now we match, and they can't stop us." He ran his hands over Max's biceps. "How close are we? You are skinnier." He started pulling Max's shirt up, looking at his abs. He started peeling out of his jumpsuit, touching his own, stronger, more defined abs. "When we workout, you will be able to keep up better." He patted Max's thighs. "How are your legs?" He stood close to his side and compared their legs. His were thicker, but Max's were trim and a little longer, making up more of his total height. He looked up from their matching forms, and into Max's eyes, so happy.


Max was watching him with a mix of pride and nervousness.


"I liked you little. I liked taking care of you. I will always treasure my memories of little Max. I always thought I had been put to a special challenge, one only I was strong enough to face." The smile didn't have time to fade from Max's face before Pilot carried on, "This is better. This is so much better. We really are the same. Max, don't be afraid that I won't like it. You are wonderful. This is the best present I never would have thought to ask for. Look at you, Max, you're beautiful. We're going to get you so strong. We're going to race and we're going to win."


He went in for a hug and Max put his arms over Pilot's, leaving Pilot hugging around his waist, instead of his shoulders, like they always had before. Ok, this was good, too. He laid his head on Max's shoulder, instead of the top of his head. This was what the other Drivers had always gotten to share with their matches. Now Pilot and Max really did match.


"After that, he wasn't the same. He didn't want to be my littler self, he wanted to be the man." Pilot looked away. "I understand that. I know he wanted to take on more of the responsibility. So I gave him more, and he wanted more, and he started making the decisions." Pilot was washing his thumbs over his fists. "I don't resent that," he lied.


Fili and Carlos didn't say anything about it, they all knew it was a lie and they all knew it was an obvious one.


"He stopped asking and started telling, and then ordering. I gave him what he asked for, I gave him what he ordered me to, but then..." His Adam's Apple jumped in his throat. "He started finding things he didn't like. So I got rid of them. Until he found things I couldn't get rid of. These." He clutched the memories of little Max. "He hates that I have these. He hates that I remember him when he was vulnerable. He hates that I loved him for it."


Pilot closed his eyes and the tendons stood out in his neck.


"So I built this." He waved behind him at the structure. "It was bigger, but I've worked hard, not to have anything he can't have. Not to have anything it will hurt too much to give him when he asks. There are some things, though. Things he would take away, things he wouldn't let me have, but I can't give them up. I'm so selfish, I can't give them up. He has a right to it." He hung his head and his arms were slack, but he clung unconsciously to the contraband memories. "He has a right to all of me. I have no right to deny him." His breath was catching in his throat. "You're a Trainer, and now you know, and you want to take this away." He nodded.


Outside, there were tears running down his body's face. Carlos was gently wiping them away.


"I understand why I can't be allowed to do this any more. I can't reach my potential if I am too cowardly to give everything to my racing. I understand why you have to do it. I don't hold it against you. Please don't take it personally," His head came up, eyes blazing. "But I am going to fight you for it." He backed up against the safe place in his mind, placing his palms flat on the wall behind him for comfort. "I know I don't have a chance against a Trainer, but it will kill me if you take this away."


Fili put his hands up before Pilot could strike. Carlos wasn't sure he didn't stand a chance against them, but this was completely unnecessary. "No, we're not going to fight," Fili said, firmly. "I have no reason to take this," He waved at Pilot's safe place, "Away from you. I am in awe that you have survived with only this much of your self you can keep to your self." He took Pilot's hand, inside and out. "Come here." They closed their eyes.


Fili pulled Pilot close to him, and then into him. They opened their eyes in Fili's mind. There was discipline and structure, here, too, but there were hills and valleys places that were obscured from the casual observer. Carlos could join them, here, as he couldn't be present in Pilot's mind.


Fili's mind was much more urban, large parts of the inspiration being taken from Carlos' home town, Madrid. There was no city as such, just sidewalks and a sense that the wild areas were park, rather than wilderness. Fili started walking towards the center of his mind. There were occasional barriers, the kinds of constructions means to keep visitors out, not to withstand a concentrated assault. They came in the form of red painted metal railings. Carlos walked through these casual barriers, because they didn't exist as barriers for him. Pilot skirted them, leaving Fili's private things private, just as he would any other Racing Driver's barriers.


He had barriers like this, too. Things set up to keep the Drivers he was talking to from getting unecessary information, or access things he didn't want them to have. That was other Drivers, though, never Max.


There was a modern building, dominating the center of the landscape, it was blocky like a stack of boxes all painted stark white. Pilot stared as they moved towards it. He kept glancing at Carlos, who was walking up the concrete sidewalk, hands in his pockets, completely unfazed by the presence of this show of defiance.


The three of them stood in front of the glass doors. Fili looked at Pilot. "Watch."


"May I come in?" Carlos asked. He was calm.


Ah, so he made Fili give him permission before he looked. That seemed even worse. Pilot didn't want to have to consent to Max looking at what he didn't want him seeing.


"No," Fili said.


Pilot's eyes flew open.


Carlos held a hand out to the door. He pulled just enough to show that it wouldn't open. Fili looked distinctly uncomfortable, but Carlos let go of the door immediately after he'd demonstrated the point.


"May I come in?" Carlos asked again. Still calm.


"Yes," Fili said.


Carlos reached out and the door opened easily. He held the door open and the three of them went inside.


There was a beautifuly appointed lobby inside the building.


"We all need a safe place inside ourself, Pilot," Fili said as they strolled through the lobby, onto an elevator. He pushed a button on the panel, and the elevator moved. "Otherwise we wouldn't have survived the stables."


The elevator stopped and they got out. They were in a stable corridor. They walked past the stalls. In each one, a young Fili was visible through a glass panel set in the door. Each a memory, a feeling, an experience, that had made him who he was. Carlos had his hand in Fili's and they stood together, united in that unique way Trainers had.


They stopped in front of one of the doors. They looked through the window into the memory.


A Little Racing Driver, maybe 12, maybe younger, but muscular in a way most human children never would be. He was in a dark yellow jumpsuit and helmet. There was a chain running from his wrists to the floor. A door opened and a handler stepped in. He had a baton in one hand. He gestured, in crude, half gibberish gestures, but the meaning was abundantly clear. "You defied me, didn't you, B8?" He pronounced it Bait. "And your little friend got punished, didn't he? Well, that doesn't mean you're not getting punished, too."


Fili stood his ground. His hands, pinned together at the wrists, gestured filthy insults at the handler.


"You want me to use this?" He flourished the baton. "No, that would be too easy." He made as if to drop it, then grinned cruely. "Doesn't mean I'm not going to use it." He swung it into super sensitive little muscles.


Carlos flinched harder than either of the other two, who were used to seeing these things, and had been on the receiving end, so much more than their fair share.


"They're going to put your little friend down today," he gestured with the hand that wasn't on the baton. "He's too broken to make it. You should have been more careful. Next time you start an insurection, you should pick followers who can take a beating better." It was clear when little Fili, the protector, the healer, locked himself inside himself and let his body absorb the blows without him.


"Come on," said Fili. He led them back to the elevator. "We NEED a safe place. Not just for us."


The next floor was rooms in motor homes.  As they walked, Pilot caught sight of Fili, or was it Carlos? Standing, head down, in his race gear, arms at his sides, hands lightly clenched.  He was nodding acquiescence, head never raising.  Pilot could see the tears shining in the light as they dripped off his face.  Something about the scene made Pilot stop and touch the window. 


'Don't cry, don't cry,' he sent, but it was just a memory, and couldn't hear him.


It must have been different for Drivers on the grid when their fathers had raced, and their father's fathers, because they were used to it.  If you could get used to it.  The memory still rippled through this grid, though, the Drivers he drove with would NEVER forget, never have to get used to the price that used to be paid twice every season.  He watched Carlos cry, and then saw the moment Fili pulled him into his safe place and shielded him from the grief.


He turned around.  Carlos and Fili were watching him.


"Who you are doesn't have to include him in every portion and detail, but he should be allowed into who you really are," Fili said.


"There is no reason you shouldn't have things to yourself.  You are one Racing Driver in two bodies, but some things belong to one and not the other.  It would not be good to have all the same things," Carlos spoke up.  "You ARE an individual as well, and you have rights.  You shouldn't have been told otherwise."  He sighed. "Either of you.  If sharing isn't a choice you get to make, then it is not sharing.  If the sharing isn't something you want, it is not good for either of you.  It is like...stud trips."


Fili gently moved them out of his safe place.  "Every Racing Driver has a safe place, Pilot.  It is not selfish.  It is survival.  It is where we keep our resources."  Carlos entwined his fingers in Fili's.  "You need to sleep.  When you wake up, you'll need to decide.  I can help you, if you want to build a place for him into your safe place.  Or if you don't, I will teach you to protect yourself."  Inside and out, he pressed a kiss to Pilot's forehead.


Then he reached inside, with surgical precision and made him sleep.


Carlos and Fili sat on the floor beside the bench seat where Pilot's body slept. 


'We'll have to talk to him about what happened at Williams, tomorrow,' Carlos sent.  He felt sick and exhausted.  He scrubbed a hand through his hair, leaving it standing up straight.  He looked at the bunks where Daniil and Tumba were crowded face to face on the lower bunk, and Oz and Dan were in a tangled, snoring heap on the top bunk.


'What do you think he'll decide?'  Fili might be a Trainer, but he still needed reassurance from his match.  'About Max?'


'I'm afraid he'll keep doing what's familiar, and keep locking Max out of not enough and hating himself for needing to.'


Carlos pulled Fili into his lap.  He was too heavy to leave there for long, but they sat for a while, Fili's face in Carlos' neck.  When his legs started to protest, Carlos let him sit between them, Fili's legs over Carlos' left leg.  He settled himself back against the bench seat, draped his arms around Fili, and relaxed.  He opened his mind willingly to his partner when Fili reached in and, as easily as he had taken him over when he'd woken from the nightmare, and turned his consciousness off, then followed him into sleep.

Chapter Text

Morning of November 24, 2016 -Morning 6-


Dany nudged Carlos awake the next morning. “Can’t wake up Dan. Where’s Max?”


Carlos shrugged and tried to roll over, but Fili was in the way and the edge of the bench dug into his neck. “Dan had a LOT of the vodka. Had a plan when he parked us here for two nights.”


Dany pushed at him harder. “I know you didn’t drink as much as he did, come on, you’ve got to help me find out what happened to Max, he was wasted last night.”


That brought Carlos around. He pushed Fili to the side and stood up. “Yeah. I just didn’t get much sleep, you know? I have a pretty good idea where he is. I’ll go get him.” He grabbed the plastic shopping bag with his new toiletry kit- A plastic disposable razor, soap, a toothbrush with Dora the Explorer on it, a tube of crest and a washcloth with Spiderman on it. He grabbed Max’s kit, too, which was the same except Max’s washcloth had Hawkeye on it. “Bet you 15 euros he’s covered in his own vomit.”


Not that Carlos had a problem with that after last night.


“Oh my god, what happened to Pilot’s face?”


Carlos looked down. He’d forgotten that part. The swollen, scabbed over wound on Pilot’s lower lip was painfully obvious against his pale skin. He was sleeping like the dead on the bench and it was clearly more than sleeping off the liquor. “He fell and bit through his lip,” Carlos lied. “Fili put him under to sleep everything off.”


Dany looked at Carlos with narrowed eyes.


“I’ll go get Max,” Carlos said again, sweeping past him and out of the bus.


The sun was barely up. It was, despite the Russian’s assertions, cold in Spain in November. There was a low mist beneath the trees in the distance. It suddenly occurred to him that people left passed out on the ground in late fall weather weren’t always moving when you got back to them. “Fuck,” he said and broke into a run.


He followed the entire trail to the bathroom and saw no sign of Max. He tried to trace back to where he’d left him the night before, but he’d been drinking, too, and it had been very dark and the bushes all looked the same.


“Fuck,” he said, again. “MAX!” He raised his hands and cupped them around his mouth, not caring if he drew attention or how much. “MAX!”


“Hey!” A female voice called from over by the bathrooms. “Are you looking for a skinny, pale guy, with brown hair?”


“Yes, have you seen him?”


“Yeah, he’s back at our camp. Maria and Gretchen found him out here under a bush, talking to himself last night. You shouldn’t leave your friends alone when they’re that drunk.”


“I…You’re right. Please, show me where he is.”


“Ok, we’re camped over here. I’m Alice.” She was tall and nordic, with those ice blue eyes, and pale brown hair. She could’ve been Max’s sister. "Are you Dany, or Pilot?"


"I'm Carlos."


"Yeah, good thing it's you, then."


He didn't want to ask. If Max had been talking to himself, in the state he was in, it was probably best to leave ambiguity about what was real and what was not. They walked to a bright orange tent. Two other young women were sitting outside in folding chairs, drinking camp coffee.


"Did you find Dany?" One of them asked.


"This is Carlos. Our guests' name is Max."


He nodded and waved and kissed cheeks with the girls when they were introduced to him. Gretchen and Alice were sisters, they were from Iceland, and looked much alike. Maria was their step-sister, she was tall and thin and had darker skin and hair. They all stood around blushing at him. He looked around their camp, politely, wondering when they were going to take him to Max.


"You boys had some fun last night," Gretchen said.


"Your friend was REALLY drunk," Alice said.


"He had a handshaped red mark on his face last night, and he's got bruises all over his butt." The two other girls looked at Maria, and then burst out laughing.


"Kinky!" Alice said.


"You have some girls in camp with you, or are you guys...?" Gretchen gave him a knowing look.


Carlos blushed. "He was very drunk last night, he fell down."


"He kept asking for Dany to hit him, last night."


"Is he still here?" Carlos asked, getting really uncomfortable and not willing to put up with more of this. "Can I see him?"


"He's asleep in the tent." Alice stepped over to it and unzipped the door.


Carlos crawled inside. To one side, wrapped in blankets, Max was sleeping on his stomach, his broad shoulders bare, and a tense expression on his face. Carlos crawled over to him and nudged him.


Even from a dead sleep, Max had viper reflexes. His hand grasped around Carlos' wrist and his other hand was on his throat, he was up, and then bearing Carlos down onto his back, pressing on him with his greater weight. He took a little breath and his eyes cleared. He released his hold, eyes flicking over Carlos, and shuffled back. He was still wearing his pants, and his shoes and shirt were visible beside the pillow he'd been sleeping on.


He didn't resist when Carlos came to him, stroking his face and hair, and wrapping him up in his arms like he was one of his Racing Drivers. "Come here." He stroked away Max's bewilderment. He held his hand lightly over Max's eyes, the blown pupils had to be incredibly painful, combined with what was assuredly a severe hangover. "Hey, yeah, just relax."


The moment Max realized that what was wrong was the complete shutdown of his connection to Pilot was obvious. He understood that moving rapidly would hurt, though, and he slowly moved to push Carlos away.


Carlos tightened his grip. "Just sit here while you wake up. We'll talk about it in a minute," he murmured into Max's ear. "Don't be scared, everyone is fine. You're ok, he's ok. No one is going to hurt you."


He found that they were rocking, and he was not the one doing it. He went with it.


Eventually Max's voice, low and raw, raised above an almost inaudible keen. "If he's ok, why can't I talk to him? He's not there. I thought I killed him. You said..." He moaned, "You said I ripped him apart inside. I wasn't trying to, I didn't even know I could do that, Carlos. How will he ever forgive me for that? I love him, damn, I love him too much to live with him hating me forever if he doesn't recover. He's going to recover, right? He'll be fine?"


"What happened wasn't all your fault, Max. He hasn't got healthy boundaries. By the time you were too far in, he didn't have enough defenses to slow you down, let alone stop you. By the time he realized you were hurting him, and said stop, the damage was already done. He..." Carlos cuddled Max for a few moments, before collecting himself and going on. "He needs time with a Trainer. I don't know where we'd find a Trainer. Who knows if there are even any left? I'm going to do what I can, but I'm still on my apprenticeship."


"He needs a Trainer? Where did the Trainers go? I thought the soldiers the Grand Tour team sent got all the people who knew about Stigs? They would have Trainers."


"They're all in hiding. How would we find them?" Carlos thought about it. "I have an idea, but I will have to think about it from all it's sides."


"I yelled at Daniil for considering humanely ending Tumba's suffering. I..." He put his face on Carlos' shoulder and fisted his hands in Carlos' shirt. His voice cracked, "Hurt him. I didn't know that pushing at things he was thinking about could hurt him. I never, ever wanted to do that. I wouldn't have if I'd have known. What do I do to make this better?"


"You slow down. You are like a Blue sometimes."


"What?"


"You have no filter."


"I have a filter."


"Mm, yes, it is clear. You do NOT say the first thing that comes to your mind."


"Tyazhelyy doesn't do that."


"I believe he simply takes care to say it only where Daniil can hear."


"Oh. But Pilot is Red. How can I be Blue?"


Carlos leaned him back and looked at him.


"But we're supposed to match."


"Who you are was in place long before you met him. Even you. Matches are chosen for this." Carlos put his thumb along one side of his jaw, and spread his fingers up the other side. "Not this." He moved his hand to press flat on Max's chest. "You could be a Purple, for all FIA cares, with the patience of a rock and the ability to endure days and weeks alone with no complaint. Instead, you are Blue, with a desperate need for love, and an irresistible draw towards truth. As you see it."


Carlos looped his arms around Max's back and laced his fingers, keeping Max caged beside him. Max relaxed against Carlos' arms and let him support him. "Are all matches mismatched?"


"Does Dan strike you as anything other than a Green?"


Max thought about how closely Related Dan and Oz's behavior was. How naturally they got along with and organized those around them. He shook his head.


"What about me?"


"You're just like Fili, a fixer, people matter to you."


"Mm, yes, a Yellow."


"What about Daniil?"


Carlos's small smile wasn't really anything other than a reflex. "Orange."


"Really? No friends, all work?"


"Oranges have friends, they tend towards a few extremely close friends, but yes, workaholics."


"Then why doesn't Tumba do better in the races?"


"What do you think Daniil's job IS?"


"Making his Racing Driver the best he can be."


"I think Daniil sees that as being much broader than just driving. Did you know he taught him to read?"


"They can't understand human languages."


Carlos looked at him again.


"Well they can't."


"You don't understand what their noises mean, in any except the vaguest way, and what they tell you," He touched Max's forehead with one finger, "It means. You certainly couldn't speak like them, no matter how hard you tried."


[Their language isn't really based on hearing, though, is it?] He signed. [For someone who can understand the difference between an abrasion and leave me alone.] The two signs were gestured identically. [How hard can it be to understand that,] and for the letters he switched to British Sign Language, because Racing Drivers didn't have letters. [C-A-R means car?]


"Tyazhelyy can read?"


"Not very well, from what I understand it's more a content issue than a symbol comprehension issue."


Max's eyes narrowed and his lower lip pulled up.


"I mean he doesn't know what most of the things ARE. Dogs and houses and names and pronouns or whatever. If we wrote him a book based on how gestures work, instead of on english or russian, it would work better. There's no reason they shouldn't have a written language, to express the way they think. We've all gotten used to translating it to ourselves, but when you examine it, they really don't think like we do."


"If Daniil is an orange, that explains why he doesn't like me. I'm not in his clique."


Carlos laughed at him. He hugged Max close, patted him on the back, stood and helped him up. "Who do you think was so worried about you that he sent me to find you?"


"He did?"


"If it had been left to me, I would have left you to lie in the frost. I was still very angry about last night."


Devastation crashed on Max's face.


Carlos brushed the backs of his fingers on Max's cheek. "But Max, I know it was an accident. I can keep my feelings in check. It will calm, given time. It is eased, already, knowing you feel sorry and WILL NOT do it again."


"No," Max shook his head, "I never will."

Chapter Text

November 24, 2016 -Day 6-

 

"We need to get another webcast together. We can't do one from here. There's not enough people." Dan looked down into his Red Bull. He was really starting to crave coffee, and food that wasn't made of bologna. "It's too bad we don't have a car or something. You know what, I think the guy at the campgound office had a dirtbike. I think I'll go see if I can get a ride. You want to come?"


Daniil was sitting on the other side of the table, fist rested under his chin, looking out into the bushes beside the bus.


'Of course he doesn't.' Dan thought. 'Not with Max out in the woods somewhere.'


"Hey, how about you guys, want to go to the store?"


Tumba, Oz and Fili looked up. Pilot was still asleep, though he'd been moved onto the top bunk.


Oz shook his head. He gestured at the drivers' seat of the bus, [I am going to keep practicing.]


Tumba and Fili were sitting cross legged on the lower bunk, eating crackers. Getting the bed all crumby. Tumba gestured to the upper bunk.


Fili looked at Tumba, and then back at Dan. His face lit up. [Really, I could go with you? I will help you go storing!]


"Alright. Fili and I are going to the store." Dan put his pointer finger on the table. "You stay here with the other guys." As though anything else would happen. "Tell Carlos I've got his Stig with me."


Daniil nodded absently, reached into his pocket and pulled out what was left of the wad of cash. He set it on the table and slid it towards Dan without looking up. It was much, much thinner than it had been.


"I'll see about getting into a bank account," Dan said.


Daniil looked up at that. "Don't get us caught, Dan. It's not worth it."


"I think I know a way to do it without drawing attention. If my bank accounts aren't frozen or something."


Daniil looked at him without saying anything for awhile. He looked around the bus at the guys. "Ok. Be careful, Dan."


The campground manager knew who they were and what they were doing. He was happy to let Dan borrow his dirtbike, in exchange for Dan and Fili signing a couple t-shirts, and the helmets they borrowed to ride the bike.


Fili's entire body language changed when he pulled the helmet on and strapped it under his chin. His shoulders relaxed, his stride loosened. When he straddled the bike behind Dan, he was barely touching him.


"If you're going to ride, you're going to have to put up with touching a little more, you've got to scoot forward," Dan said over his shoulder.


Fili moved forward, still sitting upright and resting his hands on his own thighs.


"When we turn, you lean with me, okay? You'll get the hang of it right away."


Fili gestured that he wasn't afraid of vehicles.


When they started off, he didn't really react, until they got out of the driveway and Dan accelerated onto the road.


Fili slammed himself into Dan's back, wrapping his arms around his waist. There was a scared rev. [I'm going to fall off!!] Fili gestured.


Dan slowed down again.


[The G's tried to push me right off!]


"That's why you've got to stay close to me. Now, scoot close and hold onto the bike with your knees if you feel unsteady. Hold onto my waist, but don't squash me, you're strong for a little guy." They set off, again.


Fili was still pasted to Dan's back, but as they went, he got more used to the sensation. His grip relaxed, but kept his chest to Dan's back. He really did have a natural feel for the curves. Except the initial fear, he was an excellent person to have riding pillion.


He was easy to shop with, too. He drove the shopping cart more sedately than most middle aged women, that was for sure. He got very excited by their trip through the store. He was interested in the strangest things. He found an old fashioned hand crank egg beater in the clearance section. He insisted that the other RDs had to see it. It was €1, so Dan bought it for him.


He stared a long time at the big box of markers in the office supplies aisle. Dan pulled one out of the box and made a mark on his hand. He'd chosen yellow, because it was Fili's favorite. It didn't show up very well, but well enough that tears came to Fili's eyes. He cradled the box of markers the rest of the trip, and Dan put a handful of sketchpads in the cart as well.


Dan had to keep in mind that they were going to have to ride a dirtbike back, so that was the last thing he bought for play.


On the way out of the store, Dan added a couple sticks of Chapstick because Tumba licked his lips when he was nervous or excited and gave himself bad chapped lips, and a little bottle of hand lotion, because Fili got dry hands from washing them over one another, which he'd been doing more on this trip than Dan had ever seen before. He bought some better soap, because the cheap stuff they had was irritating Pilot's skin. He bought a little nail care set because all of the Stigs were starting to get long nails, and would need to be taken care of.


It was weird. He'd learned all these things about Oz a long time ago, built up a shaving kit and a bathroom bag with all the little things he needed to take care of someone who had limited self care skills. At the stable, Oz and the other Stigs had each been allowed his own daily care products. Oz's suite had a shower and a sink and he was in charge of washing and brushing his own hair, brushing his teeth, but not shaving or clipping his own nails, because they weren't allowed blades. Those were kept in a locked cupboard in his suite and Dan used them as needed. He was in charge of buying supplies, and he'd learned through trial and error and talking with other matches which products worked best, what Oz needed, and had been given a book when he had been matched on how to do most of the caretaking things Oz would need.


He was more ambitious about taking his time to learn things like new haircutting techniques, though nowhere as ambitious as Lewis, who was always sporting new looks, or as brave as Kimi, whose Driver half the time had a totally different haircut than Kimi himself, nor was he as unambitious as Valtteri, who just buzzed them both and sidestepped the problem entirely. He had learned that Oz was actually a pretty easy Racing Driver to take care of. He didn't have a lot of the nervous habits Racing Drivers developed to cope with the stress of their lifestyles.


He fretted, though, and got ulcers if Dan wasn't very careful what he fed him or didn't make sure he got antacids.


He bought an international calling card with some of the cash and put in a call to a friend of a friend, someone he would be unlikely to be traced to, and had him wire some more money. He downloaded his emails to his phone from as far from the shopping center as he could get while still accessing their wifi. Then they got back on the bike and headed back. Dan felt more confident about their financial situation, now, and he told himself he would take them all out to a restaurant for one of their upcoming webcasts. It would be nice to eat something hot.


The sky had become cloudy. As Fili and Dan were signing their helmets, the first rain fell. Fili made a disappointed rev. The campground manager stared at him.


[Rain,] Fili gestured. The gesture resembled wiping water off a helmet visor.


They handed the man's helmets back to him and Dan moved into a jog across the campground towards the bus, wanting to stay out of the wet. Fili stayed in step beside him.


Tumba, Pilot, and Oz were staring despondently out at the weather. Fili set his bags down and joined them on the bench. Max was sitting in the driver's seat and Carlos and Daniil were at the table. Dan started taking things out of the grocery bags. Daniil stood up and helped him.


[I got this for Tumba.] Dan put the little jar of chapstick in Daniil's hand.


A little smile played over his face. [Thanks.] He tossed it underhand behind his back and Tumba reached out and caught it. The Driver opened it and applied some to his lips, then to Pilot's lips, over the scabbed bite marks, then to Oz and Fili, too.


"Fili," Dan called and gestured, [Did you forget what we got?] He held up the sketchbooks and markers.


Fili jumped to his feet and smacked Tumba on the shoulder. He pointed excitedly at the art supplies, then dragged him, gesturing at the other two to follow, to the table. He shooed Carlos out of the table's bench seat and settled the Racing Drivers into the seats.


Dan handed each one an open sketchbook and set the box of markers in the center of the table. He held his hand out palm up, then took a marker from the box. He took the cap off, mimed drawing, and then very exageratedly put the cap back on and put the marker back in the box before taking a second marker and doing the same.


All four nodded, taking this admonition to put the caps back on as very serious business.


Max had come over to watch. He snorted a laugh.


Fili opened a yellow marker with great ceremony. He drew a line across the page.


Three other jaws dropped.


There was actually a shocked pause before they dove for their colors.


Dan put his hand over his mouth.


They were giggling.


No gestures, just delighted, rapid noises.


Oz completed a page full of dark green.


Pilot patted him on the back with a huge smile.


Oz held his page up to Dan. [Look! I fixed it!]


Dan nodded. [Yes, what a great job. If you turn the page you can do that one, too.]


Oz flipped the page and stared at the new, white page.


[Can I show you something?] Carlos gestured to Fili.


Fili nodded, handing his sketchbook to Carlos.


Carlos picked a purple marker and drew a car. He put the book down so they could all see it.


The table went silent again.


They stared down at their pages.


There was nearly a fight over who got to copy Carlos' car first. Tumba pinched Oz hard when he tried to climb over him to steal the sketchbook from Fili. Dan yelped with the shared pain. Then Oz pinched Tumba back and Daniil grunted. The men stepped forward and separated their Drivers, but by now Pilot and Fili were wrestling over Fili's sketchbook.


"Stop!" Dan bellowed. He did the gesture several times. Everyone stopped moving. [Everyone will get a drawing to copy. No one is to steal anyone else's...] There wasn't a gesture for book, so he mimed opening a book, [book, there will be a zero tolerance policy for taking others'] There was no gesture for belongings, either, so he combined the signs for personal and objects, [Belongings. You are free, now, and you will have to learn that having belongings comes with responsibilities. Like closing the cap on the toothpaste. You will all take care of the markers, but each of your books belongs to just you, and you have to leave the other books alone, unless it's owner says you can touch it.]


The four nodded in agreement to this new responsibility.


Dan looked at Carlos. "ALL of them will have to learn this, the kindergarten things."


Carlos quirked his mouth to one side. "Yes. They will."


"We are on coining words territory. You just invented two new words," Daniil said.


"Won't be the last," Max said.


The Stigs drew cars for awhile.


Carlos went and laid down on the top bunk, and Fili stopped drawing to join him. They hadn't gotten much sleep the night before.


Dan went back to his book. He was over halfway through it, now.


Max sat beside Pilot. After a few minutes, Pilot reached out tentatively and put his hand over Max's. Max smiled and held his Racing Driver's hand lightly, complimenting him on his fleet of race cars.


Daniil made some sandwiches from the groceries, he set the plate on the table beside the drawings. He went and sat in the driver's seat and looked out the window at the rain.


Oz drew for awhile longer and then went and sat in the seat beside Daniil.


[Humans like rain?] he asked.


[Some of them.] Daniil held his sandwich out to offer him a bite. Instead of taking the sandwich, Oz leaned forward and took a bite.


[Thank you. I don't like rain.]


[Tumba doesn't, either. He says he wishes he could say no when it rains.]


[No,] Oz drew out the gesture, like he was tasting it. [It is sometimes easy to drive in rain. Sometimes it is not, and those times it is hard to look away from being unable to choose.]


Daniil started to pat Oz's shoulder, but remembered in time that Oz was particularly sensitive about humans touching him and stopped. [It will be better, now. You can choose, now. Now there are just responsibilites.]


He held out the sandwich for Oz to have another bite.


He took a bite of his own and looked out the windscreen at the grey sky again. [Some responsibilities will be hard, too,] he gestured, almost absently. [Responsibilities are hard because there is no team telling you have to or else they will hurt you. You have to tell yourself to do things, or else circumstances will hurt you. You will have a choice, though.]


Oz grabbed his hand and looked at him intensely. He pulled Daniil's hand close and took another bite of the sandwich. He let go of Daniil's hand and stood, chewing the bite, and walked down the bus steps and out the door.


"Where is my Racing Driver going?" Dan asked without looking up from his book.


Daniil watched Oz walk across the campground, his green shirt darkening as the rain soaked through it, face shining as he lifted it toward the clouds, arms held out slightly to the sides. "He is making a choice."


They all sat in silence for a long time.


Dan looked up at a tap on his shoulder.


"What?"


"Dan...look what I found in the map compartment."


Daniil was holding out a cassette tape with a cord attached to it.


Dan's eyes went wide. For the last 6 days their road trip had been musicless, because the bus radio antenna was broken, and there were no cassette tapes to fit in the cassette sterio built into the dash. The bus made far too much noise for their phones to provide good sound, even with plastic cup speakers. So they had gone without. "Well plug it in, Daniil. What are you waiting for?!"


"Oz."


Dan's smile got wider. "I'll go get him."


He grabbed Carlos' hat from beside the door and went out into the rain.


Oz was a couple hundred yards east. Dan could see a path through some bushes in that direction and he followed it. He could feel soft satisfaction coming through the connection.


'Shhh, come over here, but be so quiet.' He felt Oz send before he could even see him.


He took care to step carefully and move slowly. The trail came out of the bushes beside a river, maybe 15 or 20 meters across. Oz was sitting with his knees up and his arms around them, watching some partridges scrabbling around under a brushey thicket. Dan sat beside him on the grassy hillock across the path from the partridges.


'That one with the big hat is the stallion,' Oz told him silently. 'The ones with the small hats are the mares. They love him, watch.'


Dan couldn't imagine how Oz had determined all of this, they were just birds pecking around in the grass.


'The stallion keeps looking up. He is worried we will eat his family. We won't. He doesn't know it.' The male partridge looked around, then pecked at the ground, took a step and looked around again. 'He keeps his mares safe. He stays in the middle of them so they will all be close if they have to run away. They keep looking at him, to check if they are still safe. They trust him to keep them safe.'


His lips were tight and he was breathing, very slowly, through his nose. Dan could feel his touch in his mind, keeping Dan's breath slow, too. Not taking over, just guiding. He watched his partner's calculating stare at the birds.


'They are brown, how funny.'


Dan thought in the back of his mind about how the society of Stigs lived on the Antarctic continent. Did Oz have some racial memory that birds should be 4 feet tall and black and white? With wings better suited to swimming that flying? Did he expect penguins?


'Stables are safe. Racing is dangerous. Matched Stigs die four for every one who dies in the stables. If the stallions didn't go, everyone might have to go. Driving is a reward, but...stables are safe, and matched Stigs die four for every one who dies in the stables.'


It wasn't the racing that accounted for the higher mortality in matched Drivers, it was the companies. Stigs in stables didn't get put down because they had annoyed the companies, because their match had turned on the companies, because their match couldn't race, because their match had to be punished, to make an example. They were beneath notice. Occasionally one of the ones in the stables was enough of a problem that they had to be taken away from the others and quietly silenced. That was in the perview of the handlers at the stables. The situation was worse at the holding facilities, Dan understood, but those weren't team Stigs, they were the scraps and dregs without owners to speak for them, unbranded livestock.


Oz had lived in a series of rooms in the Red Bull stable until he was old enough to bond with Dan, and then he had lived in a private suite. Private suite of cells, anyway. He was recognizable. He was beyond the authority of regular handlers. Regular handlers putting down the unmatched Stigs wasn't company action. If Oz died it would be personal. It would be ordered by someone whose name would actually appear on paperwork. It would be ordered by someone whose yearly income could finance the entire team and have room to spare.


Dan held Oz's hand. [Not going to happen anymore. We're going to be safe. We'll keep running until we're safe. Okay? Safe.]


The partridges filed away farther into the brush.


Oz pointed at the river. [Did you see that?]


[Yes.]


[River,] Oz gestured. [Don't get wet.] The gesture was the same. [I've never used that gesture before. Ocean. Like at Monaco. The water at Monaco is the ocean. This is not the ocean. Not like a training pool.]


[When it is warm, I could teach you how to swim in moving water?]


[Yes. I want to do everything. Everything you do. I won't have to be away from you any more. I like that.]


[If there is another season, do you think they'll have your name on the car?]


Oz stiffened.


[I know you're not comfortable telling humans who you are, you don't have to race under your name.]


Oz twisted a clump of grass out of the hillock between his fingers. His sending was very devoid of emotion, 'I thought, you said there was no FIA anymore.'


[Well, there will be some kind of racing. All the Racing Drivers will need something to do.]


'Someone else will force us to race?' Oz looked up into the rain. 'This is what Daniil meant? Responsibility is telling yourself to do the things you don't want to do?' He had a tired look on his face and the wetness on his eyes wasn't from the rain. 'It was silly,' he sighed, 'To believe we would be free to do as we like. I wanted to hold on to it. To the imaginging I could do what you do.'


'You,' Dan sent tentatively, 'You want to race, of course?'


Oz turned sharply to him. 'Why? You don't. You read those books.'


How could he explain that university course catalogues were an idle wish. He would never deny Oz the right to race. Racing Drivers HAD to race. If they didn't drive, they suffered.


'You read books about learning you can't have and I listen to Carlos explain street driving. I just wanted to believe I wouldn't have to go back. To not choosing if I race in the rain or not. To not choosing.' He waved around him, at the river and the trees and the birds. 'All of this, instead of that.' There was a sudden flash of the inside of a series of rooms, and freezing rain pelting his helmet at 300kph and the rooster tail from the car in front of him sluicing him with water, and the insane heat of the desert tracks, and the water bottle going dry before the end of a race, and feeling the thrill of terror when the traction was gone, of the impact of hitting the wall and the moment of having your breath driven from your body, denied air, or worse, the car leaving the ground and watching the sky turn to track over your head, having time to calculate possible trajectories and wonder if some imperfection of the track or the runoff area, or the wall would provide the death every Driver knew was inches away, wondering if you would be the next one to feel the brutality of being crushed.


The flashes cut off suddenly. Dan knew where they were going. He knew how that nightmare ended. None of the Drivers had been prepared to block Trace, and all the Racing Drivers who'd been on the track that day had felt his terror and how it had simply stopped, like a switch had been thrown.


Oz tried to protect Dan from it. The experience had been broader for the matches. For the men, they'd seen it from monitors, and hadn't felt it in their hearts, though every one of them knew, from their Drivers the instant it happened and how. Every one of the men had been jolted out of their partner's mind as Trace reached out to his brothers. They had seen the monitors with their own eyes, fully present in the sight.

They had all faced the cold awareness that in the Marussia garage, one of them was standing, outside his Driver's mind, watching his life end on a monitor.


There was a race, though, and partners who needed their match's strength, and one by one, the men had slid back into the comforting singular focus of their Racing Driver's minds.


Every one, except Jules.


The Racing Drivers didnt have to know how the man had left the track in the helicopter to preserve the rest of their secrets, to preserve the rest of their lives.


They didn't have to know that FIA had NOT been amused by Jules inability to tolerate his new reality. They didn't have to know that denying a death on the track was worth more than what was left of his life. Trace was out of their reach, but Jules was not, and when he lived through the suicide attempt, he took the full brunt of their rage.

The Racing Drivers didn't have to imagine what Jules had gone through before the company finally let his heart stop.


The men did. They could try to deny it, not think of it. Some of them. Not Adrian Sutil. Not Max Chilton. Not Jean-Eric. Maybe they were weak. Maybe they were just better men.


This was not how it had been, in the past. For the years when Drivers died on the track in droves, it had been legitimate. The crashes weren't retribution. FIA didn't want deaths on the tracks. If Jules had just waited until after they'd been able to point to him as a miracle of survival, he would have been allowed to follow Trace with no complaint from them. He denied them their plausible deniability. That was worse than what Michael had done. He'd paid a higher price for it.


Ferrari had paid, too. It might have been bad enough, years before, just losing their upcoming colts, an entire generation of their breeding program suddenly gone. If they hadn't lost control of Michael, and all the trouble that had cost FIA, it might have been considered sufficient for them to just lose the privalege of winning for awhile, as they had after Michael. This was only 5 years after FIA's prize pair had to be taken out of FIA's breeding pool entirely, because of what FIA saw as Ferrari's ongoing mismanagement of their resources.


Most matches wouldn't trade places with Sebastian and Kimi for anything. Everyone knew Kimi was Ferrari's most dedicated Tifiosi, but Sebastian might have had a place on another team, but Ferrari wouldn't dream of letting go of their remaining resources.


Like they had with Jules, all the other matches turned their attention to their own races, their own Drivers, their own survival.


Red Bull was rewarded in the absence of Formula 1's royalty, and the stakes for the four of them had been higher than those played for by anyone else.


Even Mercedes wasn't as perilously positioned as Red Bull. They had always been meticulous in their management of their bond pairs. In the 6 years they had been on the grid, they had not only shown willingness to pick up the mess Ferrari had made, and take on Ralf to pay the rest of what Michael owed to FIA for their continued attentions and maintinence of his Racing Driver in his absence, but they had carefully kept Nico and Lewis under a tight rein, neither of them would consider doing anything as interesting as having a personality more interesting than that of a racing robot.


Mercedes wasn't in a dangerous position, but it also wasn't in line for the same shower of rewards that Red Bull had been promised, if they towed the line. Mercedes wins were like Red Bull's wins years before, just establishing the new names in the brand. Red Bull gave way to Mercedes so Mercedes could establish itself as McLaren's successor. Now it was Red Bull's turn, to take the spot Ferrari had left at the top. To gamble for the biggest stakes and be subject to the harshest penalties.


With it's 4 bond pairs as pawns, and the testers and the junior team after them, and the colts and boys coming after them. Another hundred years of the same system that had ruled racing since the first Racing Drivers were bound to the first matches. Stallions and men thrown as fuel to the engine that produced nothing but blood and money.


Until Jeremy Clarkson, and a single dedicated Racing Driver, and a broadcast that brought the whole thing crashing down.


When he had said there would be more races, he didn't mean organized to subjugate the Stigs. He meant as an expression of their joy, giving them what they wanted, without making them pay such an insane price. Only those who wanted to. Only those who chose to.


Not Oz, if he didn't want to. Never again, if he didn't want to.


[I'll teach you street driving.] He held his other self's hand. [That reminds me. Daniil found a machine that will make music for the bus.]


[What?!] Oz rolled to his feet and started down the trail, hand still clamped around Dan's, before Dan could get up. The green Stig came to a halt as Dan slewed around and fell over. [Come on, hurry!] He winced Dan to his feet by the arm he had ahold of and dashed down the trail towards the bus. [Everyone says road trips are no good without music,] Oz told him confidently.


Who was everyone?

Chapter Text

Evening of November 24, 2016 -Evening 6-

The problem with the bunk situation was not immediately apparent to Daniil and Tumba, who were tall, but slim, and Max and Pilot, and Carlos and Fili, who were broad shouldered, but quiet sleepers. For Dan and Oz, sharing a bunk was more of a bone of contention. So when they left the campground, they'd only driven a couple hundred kilometers, when Dan insisted that they stay the night in a motel, instead of the bus. There were a few objections, but the idea of beds, and the little restaurant attached to the motel was too much of a draw.


Dan went in and talked to the owner of the restaurant and motel. There was a little back room they could use for privacy, and the owner served them personally. The Stigs had never been to a restaurant before.


Dan, Oz, Daniil, and Tumba sat on one side of the long table and Max, Pilot, Carlos, and Fili sat on the other. The men looked at each other, and then at the menus. At once it occured to them what a problem it was going to be explaining things like chicken cutlets and fried potatoes.


[We will ask the man to bring some things you guys might like to try, and you let us know what you like.]


"Pomme Frites!" Max exclaimed. "If they aren't keeping racing trim, they can try foods that taste good."


Carlos put a hand out. "Haven't you ever eaten too much rich food after being on the diet? They haven't EVER eaten a full meal like that. They will get very, very sick if we feed them things like that. Their metabolisms are very different than ours. You cannot just feed him trash because he is free."


Max leveled a frown at Carlos. "Your Racing Driver has been drinking enough energy drinks every day to level a city."


"I think Carlos has a point, let's keep our heads about us. If you've never felt vomiting second hand, trust me, it's not something you want to feel," Dan gestured.


"Have you looked at this?" Daniil pointed at the menu. "Calorie conscious food may not be an option. This is France, after all."


"He likes the Red Bull," Carlos said. He crossed his arms.


[It is rude to speak a language not everyone speaks,] Oz leaned forward and gestured, suddenly. [What are you talking about?]


[Remember that time you ate a chocolate bar and got so sick?] Dan gestured back to him. [Some of the food here might make you guys feel like that. We have to figure out what you can eat.]


[It is Thursday, I should have salmon and cucumber.] Oz gestured.


Dan suddenly felt very bad for having fed him bologna and tunafish sandwiches 5 days straight.


[I like watercress and salmon on Thursdays,] Tumba gestured.


[Tuna is good on Thursdays, but only before Race weekends,] Fili put in. [I like parsnips with it, other Thursdays, yes, cucumber.]


[I don't like parsnips. What is watercress?] Pilot asked.


Carlos ran his hands over his face. "Just have the chef bring whatever he likes," he groaned, "My Racing Driver considers parsnips a treat."


[I thought you said...] Daniil started.


"Coq au Vin. Tapenade. Blanquette de Veau. Magrat de Canard. Soupe de Poisson a la Rouille," Carlos said.


"Fondue," Dan added.


Daniil smiled. "Bouef Borguignon."


"Pomme Frites!" Max said, again.


[You're doing it again. Making noises instead of speaking properly,] Pilot gestured, slowly. He held his hands up. [It's easy, just move your hands instead of your lips.]


[We will get you guys some foods you will like. Just don't eat too much.]


The owner brought them a veritable feast of flavorful dishes, each one more appealing than the last. The men, aware that there would be courses to follow the first, kept their Racing Drivers from eating too heavily at the soup course. This meant their was food left on the table after each course, which the owner didn't look too happy about, but first course would otherwise also have been the last.


[This fish has more soup on top,] Tumba gestured at the man when he brought the fish course. The man smiled at him and said something in French, then disappeared back into the kitchen.


[That is...] Daniil looked around, none of the others apparently had a gesture for sauce, either, [Not soup,] he finished, lamely.


[This not-soup tastes so good!] Oz gestured.


The other men looked at Daniil. [If we are in new word territory, maybe we could think before we assign gestures to things,] Dan gestured.


Max started laughing. [Not-soup,] he gestured, laughing harder. He put his head on the table on the back of his hands. His shoulders shook. "What kinds of sauce do you like? Pizza sauce, I mean pizza not-soup." He said to the edge of the table.


[I don't know how to describe that in a gesture,] Daniil told them.


[Delicious,] Fili gestured.


[This is better than salmon and cucumber,] Oz added.


[This is the best thing I have ever eaten. Can we eat here every day?]


There was a chorus of agreement.

Chapter Text

Night of November 24, 2016 -Night 6-

 

Dan and Oz were with Max and Pilot in a room with two beds. Oz missed his sleeping cupboard. It was weird sleeping laying down. It was nice to be close to his partner all night, but it was really disorienting every time he woke up. He liked this shower, it had a bowl at the bottom, Dan had explained that the bowl could be filled with water and washed in separately. That would be interesting to try someplace with a bigger bowl. Oz would have to curl up to get wet all over.


He remembered there had been a bowl like that in the bathroom the time he had a consult at Kimi's house and Alondra's match had taught Dan better shaving techniques. The bowl hadn't had water in it, though, and Rabbit had been sitting in the bowl most of the time while his match shaved him. Oz wondered how that would compare to swimming in moving water.


Dan liked to sing in the shower. His noises might not be coherent, but they were rhythmic and nice. He was singing one of the songs that had played over the bus's speakers on the way here. It was about being a champion. The feelings Dan was feeling were coherent, but the noises made no sense. Oz knew the tune and sang along with that. When he was done singing, Oz scrubbed conditioner into Dan's hair and sang him a song. He didn't remember exactly where he'd learned it, from Alondra, probably. It was a human song that made sense. Someone, somewhere, had gone through an entire human song and translated it into Racing Driver speech. Oz had sung Dan some other songs, and Dan made an interested face, but didn't really get them. He liked the songs Oz sent, more.


'Did you just sing me the Top Gear theme song?' Dan turned around. His hair was slick with conditioner, and it hung in strands around his face.


Oz was conditioning his own hair. He shrugged. 'I don't know what that means. It's just a song. Alondra knows lots of songs. The Renault cars sing, you know.'


Dan nodded, he'd seen the singing F1 car videos.


There was knocking on the door. Max called through the door.


Dan started laughing. [He wants to know what we're doing in here.]


They got out of the shower and dried off. Max gave them a weird look when they came out of the bathroom. He and Pilot were already dried off and sitting on the bed by the window. Max was sitting with his back to the headboard, his feet crossed at the ankles and Pilot lying beside him, feet on the headboard, torso half across Max's legs.


[Fast singing, Oz,] Pilot gestured.


[Thanks, Pilot,] he gestured back, throwing himself onto the bed and reversing direction to burrow under the covers headfirst.


Dan crawled under the covers on the other side. He laid face to face with his Racing Driver. [Turn off the lamp, Oz.]


Oz twisted and clicked off the light so only the flickering light from the television was in the room. It made Dan's face look blue. 'Humans all grow up like this, don't they?'


Dan yawned, 'No.' He sent pictures of kids living in the woods, or in small mud buildings in deserts, or leather buildings in the snow. 'Some humans do, though.'


'Not like we grow up.'


Dan made a serious face. 'No. Maybe some humans, sometimes, but very few.'


'We don't know very much about how the world is for humans. You gave the man money for the food and the place to sleep, but we could have slept in the bus.'


'Yes.'


'Why?'


'Can you be more specific, or are you just asking me to explain how money works?'


'I know what money is. You use it to show that someone should trade work you did, sometime before, for work they will do, and they trade it for work someone else will do for them. Why did you trade for beds? There are beds on the bus.'


'We did it because we aren't getting very good sleep on the beds on the bus. Someone is always up, because there aren't enough beds, none of us really have enough room when we're sharing, we needed to catch up on some real sleep.' Dan nuzzled into the pillow.


'We didn't need it, though.'


'We could afford it.'


'Why would you trade work for something we don't need? What if we need something more important, later? What if there isn't any money left?'


Dan chuckled. 'You could buy a motel room every night for the next 30 years and still have money left.'


'I don't have ANY money.'


Dan opened his eyes. 'You have more money than most people will ever have. Assuming they're paying you for the driving and me for the interviews.' His huge smile reappeared, 'I am NOT giving you credit for the interviews, you don't help with those at ALL. That is all me, baby.'


'Racing Drivers get paid?'


'Money gets put in a trust for your care and upkeep. I get paid for working with you, and the interviews, of course.'


'I don't numbers.'


'Do math.'


'Math.'


'How will I learn math?'


'Maybe there will be classes, a lot of the Racing Drivers will need to learn math and reading and things.'


Oz picked at his nails. 'The classes will teach us how much to give people for things?'


Dan reached out and clasped his hands around Oz's. 'If you have any questions, you can ask me, and I'll help you learn what to do.'


'You will still come and help me?'


Dan's grip got looser. 'I always thought we would stay together. If you want to live on your own, I will always do everything I can to help you, adapt to life outside, and to do whatever with your life that you want to do.'


'You want me to stay with you? At your house?'


'Of course! I love you, I've always wished you could come home with me. I miss you so much when you have to go to the stable. Do you want to come live with me? Please do!" Dan squeezed his hands.


'Yes, thank you.' Oz pressed his forehead to Dan's and looked at him through his long, dark eyelashes. 'We will come up with a plan, and I will learn to take care of me as well as you can take care of you, and we will take care of each other.' He pulled the man to him and nuzzled against his hair. 'We will.'

Chapter Text

November 25, 2016 -Day 7-


They'd gotten some footage from the restaurant, but not enough to make a whole webcast. Daniil had some ideas about their next presentation, and had been jotting notes. With no idea of how long they would be on the road, he jotted down every idea he had. He was sitting at the table again, bobbing his head to the music shuffling through his iphone. Carlos had a great selection of Spanish music, but since only Carlos and Daniil spoke Spanish, it was vetoed by the other two. Daniil's heavy metal collection went over better with the Racing Drivers than anything else so far.


A new song came on and Daniil kept writing, nodding along and murmering the lyrics under his breath. He didn't really register when Carlos, then Dan and Max joined in, singing along to the chorus. Tumba, sitting on the other side of the table, drawing a perfect layout of Sukuka, made a delighted sort of chittering. He started singing along, a hair behind the music. The other 3 joined in, though Pilot was off key.


That was when Daniil became aware that the song was "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers." He looked up. Dan, Max and Carlos were all singing along, completely unaware of what they were doing. A grin spread across his face. He turned back to his work and continued singing along. Yes, buying the 100 Greatest Disney songs had been a worthwhile investement. Everyone knew the best road trip songs were the ones everyone sang along to.


Madrid spread out before them, and then engulfed them. Carlos had a worried look on his face, and kept looking out the side windows of the bus like he was expecting someone he knew to be standing outside looking in at them. Daniil might feel that way in Ufa, if they'd gone there. They stopped at a square Carlos thought would be a good place for their 'demonstration' and unloaded from the bus, bringing out a sign Oz and Dan had designed. It said Red Bull Boys' Road Trip and had the Red Bull logo.


"Is it really okay that we're using the Red Bull logo?" Max asked, again. He stood with his hands on his hips. He was wearing a red t-shirt and jeans. Pilot was next to him in his red sneakers, pants and a red long sleeved shirt, and his flatbrim cap with the flame outlines. Oz, Tumba, and Fili were in corresponding outfits. Carlos had found yellow pants at a store. And the same style pants in bright red, dark blue and dark green. The Stigs looked uniform while still wearing civilian clothing.


Daniil bounced a red rubber ball to Tumba. Tumba, who had his back to Daniil, caught it on the second bounce. He tossed a blue rubber ball over his head. It landed exactly in Daniil's outstretched hand. Daniil bounced them on the ground and caught them in the opposite hands. Some passers by stopped to watch. Daniil started juggling for them. Tumba turned away from the other guys and started juggling a green and a yellow ball. The people stopped and pointed to him.


The woman leaned down to their preteen daughter and told her they were twins. Daniil smiled at the family. More people were casting glances at the jugglers now. A yellow ball came flying over the bus. Daniil couldn't see it, but Tumba could. They had practiced variations on this trick in deadtime in garages and on tracksides for years. Daniil adjusted the rhythm of his juggling so when the ball dropped in front of him, he caught it out of the air and added it seamlessly to the rotation.


The people clapped.


He turned more towards the bus and Tumba turned away. This time a red and a blue ball flew over the bus. Daniil felt Tumba watching them through his eyes. Using the shared vision, Tumba caught and juggled them perfectly. After a single round of tosses, he started tossing them to Daniil. As each left his hand, he caught the ones Daniil had simultaniously started tossing to him. Max and Pilot walked hand in hand between them, exactly missing being hit by the tosses. They waved at the crowd.


Max went through the introduction Daniil had written for them, explaining they were the Red Bull Boys' Road Trip, and who he and Pilot were and who the jugglers were.


Daniil translated all of this into Spanish, speaking loudly as he juggled.


Max invited Dan and Oz over and introduced them as well, they took turns, one waving while the other filmed with Carlos' phone. Then he paused dramatically, "There is another member of our team who you might know. He's here, with his Stig, Toro Rosso Racing Driver, Fili, Spain's own Carlos Sainz Jr!" The crowd murmered excitedly and broke out into cheers when Carlos and Fili came around opposite sides of the bus, taking off their hats and waving them in the air.


Daniil distinctly heard several Spanish voices screaming their undying love for Losy. He laughed. "Next we go to MY hometown, Losy," he called in Spanish.


The crowd laughed.


Carlos looked over his shoulder and stuck his tongue out. He went through HIS part of the introduction, which he and Daniil had written, a slight adaptation of the one they had used at the kart track. The crowd had grown until it was completely surrounding them. As proof of the fact that the Stigs were sharing communication with their humans, the Stigs stood in a square, facing inward with their eyes closed. The men watched, and the Stigs tossed 8 rubber balls back and forth randomly. It was particularly effective when Fili, Pilot and Tumba all chose to throw to Oz at the same time, and he missed his throw to Tumba, but his hands moved like snakes and caught and passed each of the three balls before any of them hit him.


His toss to Tumba fell way short, and Pilot stepped forward and snatched it out of the air an inch before it hit the pavement.


None of them ever opened their eyes.


The Stigs threw the balls high in the air, opened their eyes and stepped back, pulling more balls out of a box beside the bus and throwing those into the air as well, leaving the men, who had now closed their eyes, to dart around catching the colourful rain. When the last yellow ball fell into Carlos' waiting hand, the men held their hands open. Of the 24 rubber balls, they had each caught only those of their own color.


The crowd exploded.


Oz picked Carlos' phone up from beside the box where he had set it to record the performance. He stood to one side and filmed them.


"Since the first broadcast of the Red Bull Boys' Road Trip, we have received news of a very upsetting nature." Carlos raised his hands to quiet the crowd. "You may have seen on the news that the facility owned by Williams Martini Racing for use of housing Tame Racing Drivers, Stigs, like ours, has been the location of a deplorable action by the company responsible for the care and keeping of the Stigs. Their "Owners" set up machinery in the facility where nearly 2000 people were incarcerated as livestock, machinery that would release toxic gas through the air vents if there was ever a chance that the Stigs would escape. This machinery was activated on November 18th in response to an attempt to rescue the Stigs who were wrongly imprisoned in the facility. Eleven Stigs survived and were removed by civilian authorities in the aftermath. Two later died as a result of their ordeal. The other 18000 Stigs succumbed to the gas, approximately 6000 of those were children under the age of 16."


There was a little groan from Pilot.


Carlos winced. "Also among the dead were 44 of the facility's own personnel, and all 8 members of the rescue team sent into the building. We would like to observe a moment of silence for the souls lost in this heinous assault."


The men bowed their heads and Pilot put his face against Max's shirt. The Stigs closed their eyes.


Carlos started to speak again, but his voice hitched.


Daniil stepped forward. "We would like to recite the names of the members of the rescue team who were killed putting others' lives ahead of their own."


Pilot tapped him on the arm and made a face.


Daniil turned to the crowd again. The men hadn't wanted to do this, but the Stigs had insisted. "We will also recite the names of the 44 Williams handlers who lost their lives just doing their jobs."


The four men took turns listing the names of the 56 humans who had died.


Max stepped forward, his adam's apple was jumping. "We don't know the names of the man, woman and child Stigs who were killed, but Pilot would like me to tell you that one of those killed was named Esses, her favorite color was green and her children, a 4 year old boy named Bruno, whose favorite color was blue and her newborn boy Raja died with her. He just...he wants to make sure their names aren't forgotten." The names had to be translated to what humans would consider names, none of the Red Bull Boys would ever forget, though.

Chapter Text

Evening of November 25, 2016 -Evening 7-


Daniil was in the cafe uploading the webcast to the Red Bull Boys' Road Trip account. There were hundreds of messages left by viewers. Dan was sitting across the table from him. He had insisted that he needed a cup of coffee, because if he had to drive through the night on Red Bull again, he was going to scream. He was scanning through his phone, deleting the text messages he'd gotten in the week they'd been gone. He frowned. "There's no messages from my mom. From either of my parents."


"They probably got taken into protective custody, too. No good picking up all the Stigs and matches if they leave our families out there for the companies to take it out on," Daniil said without looking up from scanning the messages for something worth seeing. "They're probably whereever the Stigs in Australia are. They're probably with Mark and Ann, they'll be fine." He had been trying not to think about it. About how his parents lived in Rome, only a heartbeat's travel from Ferrari. Part of him wished they were back in Russia, where FIA's grip wasn't so strong.


"I've got a voicemail from Jeremy Clarkson," Dan said, holding his phone up to his ear.


Daniil looked up for that.


Dan's eyes narrowed. He smiled. His eyes widened. His mouth dropped open. His eyes narrowed again. He patted Daniil urgently as if he didn't already have Daniil's full attention, then held up his one.


Daniil gestured, "What?"


"Is there a request there from T&T Southern Broadcast Company?"


It took Daniil a moment to scan through the user names. "Yes, there's a message. It says email us at TandT the stig's favorite food at gmail. It's all written out." He showed Dan the email address that wasn't an email address.


Dan looked confused. "The Stig's favorite food is Beef pie," He said, slowly. "James and I talked about it, when I was on Top Gear."


"That is their security?"


"Why would anyone else know?"


Daniil typed out an email to tandtbeefpie@gmail.com.


Is this the GTC? What can Red Bull Boys' Road Trip do for you?


"Sign it 'A Place of Safety and Resources," Dan said.


Is this the GTC? What can Red Bull Boys' Road Trip do for you?


-A Place of Safety and Resources


He hit send.


"What was with the code name? Why would that mean anything to them?" Daniil asked.


Dan smiled at him. "I told you I ask the names of all the Racing Drivers whose matches I meet?"


"You told James Oz's name?"


"No, but I didn't need to. When we watched The Grand Tour, Oz recognized the Stig. He's one of the Red Bull colts. They grew up together. You remember that interview with Ben Collins when he was exposed as the Stig?"


"He was never matched to the Stig, though."


"Well, Mark and Ben raced, and Rabbit and Stig grew up together, they're probably related somehow."


"Oh."


"So if James sees that message, he'll be able to check with the Stig, and know that's Oz's name."


A message popped up in the inbox.


Yes Dan, this is Jeremy, James and Richard. We want to add Red Bull Boys' Road Trip to the next broadcast of The Grand Tour. As much information needs to get out as possible. Will you be making more of these?


-Knowing Oneself, The Calm at the Top of the Glacier, Silence of the Empty Ice


Another message popped up.


I see you already have. If you are interested in contributing to The Grand Tour, we can make your webcast a regular part of the feature. Not a part of the official show, but we will broadcast it with the data uploads each episode.


-KO, CTG, SEI


"We can't just agree to this," Dan said. "Not without asking the other guys."


"I'll go get them. Wait here." Daniil walked out of the cafe and started down the street. A few shops down, Max walked out of a door. "Max!" Daniil called. "Go find Carlos, you guys have to come see what happened, we need to decide something."


Carlos came out of the shop behind Max.


They came back to the cafe with Daniil and all crowded around the table. Dan explained what had happened and they all read the messages. They all agreed that a signal boost would be a good thing.


Daniil typed a message.


Yes, we are going to do more. The test drivers and juniors team launched a webcast. It is linked to the bottom of the RBR page.


-PRS


The Grand Tour Crew's message came back right away.


We have checked that out and have contacted them already. Their webcasts will be included.


-KO, CTG, SEI


"Daniil, what about our families? Are they safe? What about the other stables? We know about Williams, but what about all the others?" Max asked.


Were our families taken out of danger? Where are the Red Bull Stigs? Are the stables other than Williams alright? What about the other classes?


Daniil looked at Dan.


Where are the Formula E Stigs and their matches?


Carlos' hand closed around Daniil's wrist.


Where are the Rally Stigs? Where are the retired F1 Stigs?


Carlos shook his head. "Daniil find out where there's a Trainer. We need to find a Trainer, even if we have to go to where they're keeping a stable." Carlos kept his eyes on Daniil, but out of the corner of his eye, Daniil still saw Max get paler.


How bad was Pilot's fall?


Are there any Trainers we can contact? We need a consult.


Carlos's lips tightened.


This is a matter of importance.


Dan was looking at Carlos, now. "What's going on, Carlos?"


"Fili needs to talk to a Trainer. We're having a problem we don't know how to handle."


Dan frowned. "I know I said he was leading an insurrection, but it's really not that bad, he's just drinking a lot of caffeine. It's not...urgent, is it?"


"It's not life or death, but it needs to be addressed. We don't know how long the stables will be in hiding. It can't wait forever. They may not be willing to tell us, or they may not be able to answer, if that's the case, I need to know, now, so I can start looking for other options. I have been thinking about what to do about this, and this is the best opportunity I've had. I'm not going to let it go, not when we only have to ask."


Were our families taken out of danger? Where are the Red Bull Stigs? Are the stables other than Williams alright? What about the other classes? Where are the Formula E Stigs and their matches? Where are the Rally Stigs? Where are the retired F1 Stigs?


Are there any Trainers we can contact? We need a consult. This is a matter of importance.


-PSR


Daniil hit send.


The response was much slower this time.


Families are safe. Red Bull is safe. Other stables of all classes are safe, relevant persons are confirmed in safe locations.


Are your Stigs safe? Is situation urgent or emergency?


-KO, CTG, SEI


The men all relaxed from a tension they hadn't consciously noticed.


Situation is urgent, not life or death. Please advise.


-PSR


This time the message just said-


We will contact you in 2 hours with a meet location.


-KO, CTG, SEI


"Let's get back to the bus. We can't afford to wait here for 2 hours," Dan said. They all nodded and filed out of the cafe into the faded dusk.


Daniil kept an eye on Carlos and Max. They were acting normal, but keeping a distance from each other. What were they keeping secret? What did Carlos know about Pilot that had him so concerned?

Chapter Text

Night of November 25, 2016 -Night 7-

Dan had his second coffee. He felt warm and energized in a different way than the jittery-ness of the Red Bull. He was standing around at a coffee shop 100 miles away from where they'd originally contacted the GTC, waiting to be contacted about the meet point. His phone dinged. He opened the email.


Budapest, 2 days. Plaza of the badger. Contact will meet you by the south west corner at 10pm.


Do not engage with anyone who is not as fast as a flash of movement on the hillside.


-KO, CTG, SEI


He typed back an affirmative and waited for a response. None came, so he walked out of the shop with his coffee. He'd already bought a package of instant coffee at a store earlier. There had been enough Red Bull. It was time for something else.


It was his turn to drive tonight. It would have been nice if they could have split the driving eight ways instead of four, but despite street driving instruction, the Stigs were still unsuitable street drivers.


Oz settled into the seat behind Dan's and draped his arms around him, in what had become their usual position. Carlos and Fili were asleep in the lower bunk and Daniil and Tumba asleep in the upper bunk.


Pilot was stretched out on the bench seat with Max asleep on his chest. Pilot was singing almost inaudibly, stroking his fingertips gently over Max's face, drawing figures of eight around his eyes.


Dan glanced up at them in the mirror. He remembered when they'd matched. It wasn't an alien concept to him, the year he and Oz had bonded there had been two Riders bonded, and they bonded young. The difference between 12 year old Max and 15 year old Pilot was dramatic, though. Pilot was as tall at 15 as he was now, and Max had been a particularly small 12 year old. Even though the balance between them had evened, you could tell sometimes Pilot just forgot. He would start fussing over Max's eating or whether his shirts were straight or not. He wanted desperately, almost embarrassingly desperately to take care of Max, and Max had a very low tolerance for this. Well you would, wouldn't you, being mothered by someone who was supposed to be your perfect equal, or, according to the companies, a mix between an employee and a pet.


Max needed to figure out what he wanted more, his independence or his Racing Driver's happiness. He was going to have to choose one thing or another. Max, the man who was currently stretched out boneless on his best friend's chest, with an angelic peace on his angular face.


Pilot leaned his head up a little and looked at Dan in the rearview mirror. He disentangled his arms from Max. [I like him best when he's sleeping.] He smiled and quirked his hands in the particular way that gave it the flavor of a joke.


Dan couldn't stop driving to gesture, so Oz reached into his mind and listened to what he wanted to say. In the rearview mirror, Oz's chin resting on Dan's shoulder, and Oz's hands gesturing Dan's words was a little strange to see. [He is sweet when he is sleeping. Do you ever get tempted to put shaving creme in his hands and tickle his face?]


He could make out the green color of Pilot's eyes, they went so wide.


[Not until just now!] He looked down at Max, consideration on his face.


Dan watched the white line at the side of the road slide by. He took a big sip of coffee and passed some back to Oz, who slurped it beside Dan's ear and handed it back.


[Can I ask you a question?] Pilot gestured, awhile later.


[You don't have to ask permission.]


[You're the lead stallion, Dan, it is polite to ask the stallion's permission.]


Since Pilot was quite free communicating with him and asking him things like 'Is this my sandwich?' Dan deduced this was a more official question. [Go ahead, Pilot, I will always help you in any way I can.]


[Where are we going?]


[A human city.] He said the name outloud, "Budapest."


[I'm sorry, that question was vague. Are we going back home after we are done with this road trip? We left the stable, and we keep going to new places with no tracks, and no new stable. We are free, but humans don't usually live in road trips.] He paused and Dan could see that he was still forming the rest of his query. [What is going to happen to us, Max keeps telling me we'll be safe, but what are we going to do? Where will we get cars? Who will organize the races? What will we do if we can't race?]


'Do lead stallions usually have to deal with existential crises?' Dan asked Oz.


'No one has them in stables. We all know what is going to happen next. We are born, we race, or not, we die. Options are necessary for existential doubt. This will be a problem we've never dealt with before,' he replied.


[You don't have to race, if you don't want to,] Dan told Pilot. [In a practical sense, I suppose once the people in charge have decided what to do about the companies, we'll all go home to our houses. Oz will come with me, I'm sure Max will want you to go home with him, his father has a Stig, he may live there as well. If you don't want to, you won't have to, you would be welcome to come and stay with us, if you like. I imagine Daniil and Tumba would welcome you whereever they decide to go. Carlos and Fili, too. Carlos' father has a Stig, too. I don't know if things will change about whether the people in charge will change the laws to count you guys like humans. If they do, maybe you could live on your own, if you wanted to. If not, I don't think you will be going back to the companies. They've been shown to be bad caretakers.]


[What if they want to send us back?]


Dan didn't want to admit that that was a possibility, that the company's rights to their property would be upheld, and all the Stigs would be taken back and resubjugated. He looked into Pilot's eyes. [If they want to send you back, then we WON'T stop driving.] He nodded. Oz was never going back to a stable. Daniil's declaration about Tumba the night of FUCK/MARRY/KILL rang back to Dan. Oz was never going back to a stable. Not while Dan was alive. [We might need to make some better long term arrangements, but we will keep you guys away from them. Maybe we'll be able to find somewhere safe, like Max said, somewhere without many people. There is a lot of empty space in Russia. Otherwise, we will just keep driving.]


[Daniil said when the companies get mad, they put Stigs down, to punish their men, and then hurt the men. Max said the last time they got mad, they hurt the man for months and months. They will be mad at us for leaving the stable, for not going back when the men left with the other Stigs.] His mouth was tightly pursed. [Don't let them hurt Max, Dan, please? If there is only one shot, give it to Max? Please? The companies can hurt me instead.] His eyes filled with tears. He looked down and stroked Max's hair. His hand motions were so small Dan couldn't really make them out, but Oz could. [Little boy, my sweet little boy, I will never let them hurt you, I was born to protect you. My little boy.]


The white line expanded into a starry smudge.


'He's right,' a voice whispered in Dan's head. 'Daniil and Carlos and you will all be fine, if Tumba and Fili and I died. You would be sad, but you would keep going. Max would not stop fighting until they hurt him too much.'


'I would fight for you.'


'Not once there was no point. You are a green, you would stand and look to your herd. Carlos is a yellow, he will put aside his pain and care for the rest of the wounded. Daniil is an orange, he will look. Max is a Blue. He will never believe that it will be alright. He will never lie to them and stop hiding his hatred. He cannot stand in the storm, because he will never bend. It will break him.'


'And Pilot?'


'Pilot has other means.'


'Other means to survive?'


A sense of disdain washed over their bond. 'Even he is not strong enough to survive having his self ripped away.'


'But Carlos and Daniil and I are?'


'You are men, the bond is built into you. What is built into you IS us. If you have a part of you taken away, the wound heals, but the part that is taken away cannot live. He is not saying it to save his life. He is offering to take Max's suffering on himself.'


How does that make me different than the handlers at Williams?'


'You won't be preventing his living, you will be protecting him from dying terribly.'


'Will it come down to that? There is no shot to give anyone. What is my responsibility as lead stallion, then?'


'To find a way.' Oz bonked his head against Dan's. [A rock would probably work,] he laughed.


Dan laughed, gallows humor, 'I'll just grab a big rock, all lord of the flies. Oh, or even better, half a brick in a sock.'


'Just haul off and bash him.' Oz chuckled.


'I'm sure he'll be fine with that. He won't resist or anything.' Dan's face started turning red.


'Pilot would probably be happy to restrain him for you.' Oz pressed his mouth to Dan's shoulder to muffle the sounds.


'He likes him best when he's asleep!'


Oz took a sucking breath.


'He'll ADORE him after this.'


'Stop! You're killing me!' Oz gasped, laugh tears running down his cheeks.


'Free practice! I'll do Fili and Tumba next!' Dan was doubling with laughter.


"Hey guys?"


Dan caught his breath and looked into the mirror. "Yeah, Daniil?"


Daniil and Tumba looking at him with blurry eyes. The blanket had slid off their bare shoulders when Tumba sat up. On the bunk below them, Carlos and Fili were still pressed belly to belly, Carlos looking over his shoulder at Dan. Max was still loosely draped over Pilot, but their eyes were on Dan.


Daniil shrugged, raised his hands in the 'What are you doing?' gesture. [It seems like you two are having a good time, but you're being kind of loud.]


[And making scary laughing,] Tumba added.


[This is what happens when you give them coffee. They're back to being walking smiles,] Fili gestured over Carlos' shoulder.


Tumba and Daniil couldn't see this from the upper bunk, so Pilot repeated it for them. Tumba grinned. Daniil groaned. He pulled the blanket back over them, bringing Tumba with it. He turned to the wall and Tumba curled against his back.


Carlos and Fili laid their heads back on the pillow.


Max was already back to sleep. Pilot raised an eyebrow at Dan in the rearview mirror, then smirked and shook his head. He closed his eyes and shimmied back against he pillows. Soon the bus was quiet again.


'It is quiet. Too quiet,' Oz sent, still suffused with amusement.


'They're sleeping like...the dead.'


Oz just sent a feeling of laughter.

Chapter Text

November 26, 2016 -Day 8-

 

They did another webcast in Prague. They had pushed to make it to the city as soon as possible, so when they had their meet in Budapest the next day, it wouldn't be immediately obvious that they were still in the area.

 

As they were packing after their demonstration, Daniil approached Dan. [Dan, Tumba wants to see the city. I was thinking I could take him to wander around, maybe find some strudel.]

 

Max stomped past them. He had woken up inexplicably covered in shaving creme that morning, and had been snippy all day.

 

Dan looked at Daniil and Tumba, and Pilot, who was standing behind them, making no pretense of disinterest; he kept craning his neck and smiling. [Sure, that sounds like something we'd all enjoy.] He looked at Carlos.

 

Carlos nodded. [Yes, that sounds good.] He sent to Fili, 'Would you like to go around the city?'

 

'Yes. I would like that a lot.'

 

'Please ask Pilot if he would be willing to go without Max. If so, please ask him to ask Max to stay here.'

 

'He says yes. Max asks why.'

 

'I want to talk to him before the meeting, without all the guys around.'

 

'Max says yes.'

 

'Thank you.'

 

[I think I will stay here this time. I will watch the bus,] Carlos told Dan.

 

[I am going to stay, too. Would you take Pilot, anyway? He really wants to go,] Max added.

 

[Yes, of course, Fili, would you like to go, too?] Dan asked.

 

[I am so excited! I can't wait to try strudel.]

 

They moved the bus away from the Plaza where they'd done their demonstration, Carlos and Max saw the others off and went back inside. They were parked in the shade. The colder weather was starting to get uncomfortable. Either they would have to visit only warm regions, or buy some warmer winterwear.

 

Carlos sat Max on the bunk and sat beside him. "We have known each other a long time, Max. We were good teammates. I want you and Pilot to be okay. I am sorry things have been hard for you."

 

Max frowned.

 

"I have been learning to be a Trainer for 3 years, I am still learning, but I am scared for Pilot. Fili found more wounds in his mind than just the one from...the other night."

 

Max gasped and put his hands up. "Nothing like that has EVER happened before, I swear."

 

Carlos shook his head. "Not wounds from you. Wounds older than your bonding. There is..." He thought for a moment. Pilot had been clear that he wanted to build boundaries, but that he wanted to trust Max to them. Fili had spent days working with him, and in the increased exposure to the other Racing Driver's mind, had become aware of scars in the landscape of his self. "Please listen before you decide how to feel. Racing Drivers have hard lives in the stables. They are conceived in stud trips, which are not much better for the mares than for the stallions. The mares give birth and keep their children for only 3 or 4 years. Then the Little Racing Drivers are taken away to another part of the stable, out of range of their mother's sending, so their natural bond is broken. Then the Little ones live in dormatories. Their lives are given to training, karting and excercise. They have a few hours of time that is not dedicated to learning to race. They are constantly tested. The ones who are better than average are put under great pressure. When they are 10 or 12, depending on the stable, they move to the next level of training. Harder, more excercise, bigger karts, faster laptimes, greater stakes. Privaleges for winning, punishment for losing." He sighed.

 

Max was watching him, silently. He knew most of this, in a vague sort of way.

 

"The companies have ways of finding boys to match. I don't know how, before the internet, but now there is a great deal of software for finding matches from the internet. Cameras and things. Boys like us, we are easy for them to convince." He smiled. "Red Bull comes, offers you a sponsorship, you agree, of course. We did not know what we were agreeing to, did we?"

 

Max shook his head.

 

No, none of them had expected the truth of matching.

 

"The colts, when a match is found, their training changes. They will leave the stable, they will be seen by people, they must first of all things, protect the secret of the Racing Drivers. The handlers teach them this, it is brutal. All Racing Drivers know that Drivers who cannot pass for their match die. You know this, Oz feels this very much. The colts who will go to teams learn on pain that they must ALWAYS do what their match says, that the matches, the handlers and the Trainers know what is best and they must obey, or they will die."

 

He went and got Fili's notebook out of their bag. "This is all the things that are a Racing Driver's mind." He drew a big green circle on the page. "All Racing Drivers have things they don't let other Racing Drivers see." He drew a medium sized yellow circle inside the big circle.

 

"Are you allowed to draw in Fili's notebook?" Max asked.

 

"I asked before he left. Pay attention. This space between the outside and the next layer is the place they put things they want seen. This is the place they talk to others." He pointed between the green and yellow lines and wrote Public in the green marker. "The yellow place is for close friends and matches. It is a little more private, but still may be seen by others." He wrote Close Friends in the yellow marker. "Inside that is the place they keep themselves." He drew a red square.

 

Max frowned. "That is what I...started breaking, isn't it?"

 

Carlos wrote Matches + Mates in red inside the red square. "This is the place they go, in their heads when the handlers hurt them. When it is too much to stay aware for. You know they don't sleep, not like we do."

 

Max nodded.

 

"They can't pass out the same way a human can, if they are too injured to deal with the pain, so they go in here, instead."

 

"That's how far I chased him? He was so scared of me it was like he blacked out? Oh god, Carlos..."

 

"Don't decide how to feel, yet, Max, this is not done."

 

"Well how much more..."

 

Carlos frowned at him and he stopped talking.

 

"It is not just for hiding in. They keep themselves in there. That is where their memories are, their emotions. If the green line is the outside, the yellow line is their house and the red line is their bedroom. You might let some people into your garden, delivery people, like that, people who aren't important?"

 

Max's face was scrunched but he nodded.

 

"You invite friends into your home. You trust them not to steal or break the furniture. Inside your bedroom, those are only the people who really matter, who are intimate somehow?"

 

"Matches and mates, I understand. The few people they're the closest to."

 

Carlos drew a purple square inside the red square. "Do you know what this is?"

 

"Their bed? I don't know."

 

"Sometimes matches, when we bond and learn to speak mind to mind, forget that minds are for more than communication. They are the..." He pinched his fingers together, "untouchable part of our brain. The brain does more than think." He pointed to the purple square. "This is the part of the brain that runs the body. Tells the heart to beat and the stomach to make acid. The part of the brain that keeps us living. It is not the bed, it is their body. This is the Racing Driver's inside, inside self. It is funny, because this is the part that controls the outside."

 

Carlos touched his finger to the purple square. He looked into Max's eyes. "This is what you chased him into."

 

It was inevitable at this point that Max would have an emotional reaction. Carlos let the other man's horror and remorse wash over him.

 

Afterwards, Max's first question was not one Carlos had anticipated.

 

"Why doesn't he have a red line?"

 

Carlos blinked.

 

"I have seen every part of his mind. I know exactly where this," He pointed at the green line, "And this," He pointed at the yellow line, "Are, but there IS no red line."

 

"That is a very interesting question. The answer is that he does have one." Carlos drew a red line exactly along the outside of the purple square, so there was no white space showing between them. "The answer is also something I'm not sure of. He told us he built the red line place in the last few years. He kept making it smaller, until it was as small as he could ever get it." Carlos held his hands out in a question. "Why did he NOT have one before that?"

 

Max put his hands up. "I swear, I have never done this before."

 

"I know. So what did? Do you remember I said that he didn't have enough defenses? I didn't understand that day what was happening. Fili and I have been looking He's got scars where his red line used to be. Fili told me it is hard to believe he survived to adulthood without a safe place. Max, he is incredibly tough. Because he has survived this before. Only that time he was, how old was he when you bonded, 15? Younger than that, and the first time, whoever it was didn't stop. They cut away his entire red line, the place he should have been able to keep safe."

 

Max had gotten very pale.

 

Carlos got up and got him a cup of water. "Drink this."

 

He drank it like it was doctor's orders.

 

"They took away his ability to say no to you."

 

"Who would have done that?" Max turned the cup around and around in his hands.

 

Carlos shrugged and put as much calm into the motion as he could. "The Trainers."

 

"You are training to be a Trainer."

 

Carlos couldn't help his jaw tightening. "Trainers are required to make compromises. I would say they don't give options, but they leave the option to lose your partner always available. The company likes to keep it's enemies close. They like you to become them. I don't know who we are going to see, Max. Trainers are men. Some are better at being humans than others. So when you take Pilot to meet this man, Fili and I will be going with you."

 

There was a bang on the side of the bus. They both jumped.

 

Daniil and Tumba were peering over the edge of the window, laughing. "Let us in," Daniil called.

 

Carlos got up and opened the door for them.

 

"We're coming with you, too," Daniil said. Tumba revved and nodded. "We don't have to be in the room or anything, but we're a team, you don't have to go anywhere dangerous without your team."

 

Tumba nodded and climbed onto the bunk in the place Carlos had left, he leaned across Max and hugged him. Carlos watched Max smile down at him and card his fingers through Tumba's hair.

 

[Okay, buddy,] he paused in the petting long enough to gesture. He looked up at Daniil with a more severe expression. "You guys can come with us."

 

There was a full hand smacking on the bus door.

 

Oz was standing there. Tumba let him in.

 

[Where is, is,] Daniil started gesturing. He literally stuttered.

 

Carlos got a clear view of Oz. His jaw dropped.

 

"Oh shit," Max gasped.

 

Oz was wearing a huge grin. His hair was a mess. There was lipstick around his mouth, and on his cheeks, and down his neck.

 

"Oh shit," Max said again.

 

Daniil looked at Carlos with wide eyes.

 

Carlos looked back at him. Just because his Racing Driver was the yellow, this was somehow HIS responsibility to ask about?! Of course it was. He composed himself. [Where is Dan?]

 

[With Pilot and Fili.] Oz rolled his shoulders in what might have been a shrug.

 

[I...] How was he going to put this? [Did you...] He looked at Max, but he was not going to be helpful, either. Carlos would just be straightforward, that would be best. [You have stuff on you that human girls wear on their mouths. How did that get there?]

 

[We ate pastry. The woman who brought it to the table was very pretty. When the other guys split up, I went back. I wanted to tell her thanks for being so nice. She was just coming out, and she,] He blushed and looked at his shoulder.

 

"Ohh shiiit." Max's voice had gotten very high pitched.

 

[She took my hand and we went and sat by the river. I like the river.]

 

Carlos felt a little like he had the morning with the girl's who'd taken in Max at the campground. He didn't want to keep talking about this. No one else was going to ask the next question, though. He just pointed to his own face in a general "all over here" motion.

 

[She wanted to taste me.]

 

This time Daniil and Carlos joined Max, "Ohh shit."

 

Tumba cocked his head to the side like he was confused. [Did she taste good?]

 

Daniil stared at his partner.

 

[Yes she tasted like coffee. Sweet and rich.] He noticed the distressed looks on the mens' faces. [It is not upsetting. She liked it. I liked it.]

 

Daniil ran his hand over his hair. Carlos couldn't move. This was Oz, who hated being touched by humans, he'd jumped like he'd been pinched the other day when Daniil sat too close to him on the seat.

 

Daniil raised his hands hesitantly. [She didn't taste anywhere else, did she?]

 

Oz turned to Daniil with a surprised expression. [That is not a polite question.] He patted Daniil's cheek. He walked to the front of the bus, humming, sat in the drivers' seat and put his feet up on the dash.

 

"Oh my god!" Daniil shook his hands in the air.

 

"Dude, Dan is going to KILL you!" Max said.

 

Daniil threw his hands open. "How is this MY fault?"

 

"Dan obviously thought he was with you and Tumba, he wouldn't have just taken off without him."

 

"I'm not the one who just assumed MY partner was with someone else. How do you know he didn't assume Pilot was with me and Pilot is out there getting...busy with some random girl?"

 

Max laughed. "Because Pilot wouldn't want some random girl. I think you know that. I think you know that."

 

Daniil cocked his head just like Tumba had.

 

"I think the issue is not that he found a girl to taste," Carlos said, slowly. He had been thinking about the ramifications of a Stig, looking just like a well known public figure, walking around on his own, unable to communicate even had he wanted to. Unable to find help if he needed it. "I think the issue is that anyone found him at all. It could just as easily been a FIA agent, or even something as normal as a crazy fan, or a mugger. What would he have done, then?"

 

[Why are you worried?] Tumba gestured. He was no longer draped over Max, but was leaned against him with his legs curled up beneath him.

 

[Oz could have been in danger. There was no one there to help him if something went wrong,] Daniil answered.

 

[We are free. We will take care of ourselves someday. Someday soon. This requires learning,]Tumba told him. [Anyway, Oz is very fast, faster than men.]

 

[It is true, Dan will not be happy,] Carlos gestured, [He will deal with it when he gets back. Fili and Pilot are with him. This has been a harmless event that has made us see a vulnerability we did not know we had. This will allow us to correct it.] He nodded to himself. He hoped it was true.

Chapter Text

November 27, 2016 -Day 9-

 

The plaza of the badger was a scraggy little plaza in, as Dan put it, a not awesome part of town. They'd parked the bus several blocks away. Dan wanted to scout ahead. Everyone vetoed this. So the 8 of them went, all together. The plan was to go into the plaza in mismatched sets, but when Carlos looked around the corner, the plaza was empty, except for Mark and Rabbit, sitting on a concrete balustrade. Rabbit popped into existance in Fili's mind as he opened his connections.

 

'Hey Fili.'

 

'Hey Rabbit. Is it just you?'

 

'No, Mannschaft, Kiwi and Hare are here. Alondra is here.'

 

'Is he.'

 

'Fili,' Rabbit sent softly, 'He was scared for you. You've known you were safe, but all that everyone else has known is that you did not go to be safe with the rest of the stable.'

 

Fili watched the men argue about whether this could be a trick. As though the 8 of them couldn't run away from Rabbit and Mark. 'Don't you tell me he was scared, you know a Yellow's job is to take care of his herd.'

 

'What about Cooler? He is responsible for you. What would happen to the stable if ALL the F1 stallions died? Or just disappeared? Just never came back? What would that do to your herd?'

 

Fili felt ashamed. The rally pairs should be there, there were plenty of them, they could handle the stable. But what would the unmatched Stigs think? That the situation was so bad their stallions had run. Abandoned them.

 

'I know you had to go. No one is holding that against you. You have to take the next step, now.'

 

'To go back?'

 

'To be safe, so when the future is worked out you can help.'

 

Fili frowned.

 

Daniil noticed. [What's up?]

 

[Rabbit says they're alone. Mannschaft, Kiwi, Hare and Alondra are waiting with their cars.]

 

[You can hear Rabbit?] Oz gestured.

 

Fili nodded. 'Bring Mark here. We will go get your herd.'

 

Rabbit and Mark silently stood off the balustrade and walked over to the street mouth. Rabbit opened his mind to the others. As the older pair came among them, Oz and Dan hugged them tightly, Tumba, Pilot and their men greeted them, Carlos shook Mark's hand. Fili stepped in and got a quick hug from Rabbit.

 

'We can't go back, Rabbit.' He sent a feeling of pain, completely stripped of any indication of who was suffering it. 'We have to find a Trainer. I can't take him back to Redbull for this.'

 

'We're here to take you somewhere safe. There must be a Trainer there.' He put his hand on Fili's shoulder. 'I'm proud of you, Fili. For getting as many of your herd out as you could.'

 

'I left the unmatched Drivers, and I don't even know where the rally pairs were. They must have been in another area. Rabbit,' He pulled a memory from himself, one he had been carefully treasuring. 'Look at them,' The entire Redbull stable was standing under the sun, spread across the grassy lawn, not 100 at a time, not on the heavily fenced kart track, in the open. They spread so far that Fili could not see the end of them. 'Our family, Rabbit, outside,' He whispered, still hurting and resentful that Rabbit had gone, just as things had started going well, 'Your family, the day they were freed. I brought this for you. I knew I would see you again, someday.'

 

There were tears in Rabbit's eyes. His 10 years as lead stallion had been pockmarked with setbacks and disasters, none of which he could have prevented or prepared for, all of which he handled with aplomb. The stable had loved him, though, had supported him. Then there had been the whole Sunshine mess. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out, he stopped walking and put his hand on Mark's arm. Leaned their heads close together. He put a shaking hand over his eyes. Mark closed his and pressed a kiss to Rabbit's forehead, [Of course, of course, they always loved you, you were always wanted. Yes, you were,] his gestures were the barest flicks of his fingers. The quietest of whispers.

 

Fili watched them. Carlos touched his arm, held his hand out palm up, then pointed to Rabbit and Mark. 'Rabbit gave up his herd, to fight the companies, it worked, they are safe. His foals and his mares and his younger stallions, are all safe, and free. He did this, but did not get to see the day of the sirens, to see his family under the sun, all of them, for the first time ever.'

 

Carlos' eyes went wide. 'That is wonderful for him to see.'

 

The men, as usual, were trying not to share in the expression of strong emotion, but Fili, Tumba, Oz and Pilot watched and shared the feelings Rabbit and Mark were experiencing, as was proper. After the emotion had been dispersed, Rabbit wiped his eyes and they all started down the street again.

 

Mark and Rabbit walked in the center of the group, with Oz and Dan. Tumba and Daniil walked in front, and Fili and Pilot slightly behind Carlos and Max. If they were attacked, they would retreat, Fili leading the way, Pilot scouting ahead, and Oz and Rabbit keeping the humans between them and Fili, keeping them safe. Tumba would cover their retreat. As always, when moving in a herd, they arranged themselves this way. Oz didn't have to direct them anymore, not after the first time he'd called their order.

 

As always, Oz sang with Tumba as they walked. Tumba liked singing, it kept him alert. Oz sang for Tumba to thank him. For being the one strong enough to stay behind. When they'd become free, Pilot had asked for the place in front, arguing that he had most wins after Oz, that he would have a better chance to make a difference, and what was the point of spending his life collecting wins if now, when a herd would be moving through places that were completely unsecured, he was relegated to practically the place of a foal. Oz had explained to him that his win did not outweigh Tumba's experience. Pilot had, dropped his eyes, and asked how he could be expected to leave Tumba behind. Oz had closed the discussion. Tumba had watched the discussion, and then silently taken his place, as he always had. Fili walked with Pilot, stroked his arm, reassured him that Tumba was strong enough to stand against the threats they would encounter.

 

'A stallion who has raced so long his legs and hands ache, long past being too tired.He knows he will be asked to work hard without resting,' Oz sang, today. They stretched their senses out as far beyond their herd as they could, alert for threats.

 

'His fear and his memories laugh at him, like nightmares in the waking daytime.

He can ask, but he will be told 'no.'

He is strong, too strong to stop.' Oz's voice was rich and soft. Strong enough to reach his herd over a great distance. Tumba's was low, in perfect harmony with his lead stallion.

 

'His tears burn in his helmet, they blur his vision too much to see.

His visor scratched by his gloves wiping it.

He is bound, he is matched, the handlers wait to return him to his stall,' Rabbit's voice, clear and strong, joined Oz's. Fili and Pilot raised their voices, younger and higher, without the power of the others.

 

Fili saw Tumba take Daniil's hand and smile at him.

 

'The car is sick, she does not answer him, he is passed again and again.

Sometimes the lines are good and he takes a place back.

At times he has spun to the wall,' In the distance a voice like a thunderstorm raised. Behind Alondra, in weaker voices, at the edge of sensing, rose the rest of the herd Rabbit and Mark had brought along.

 

'With a dying engine, he continues to run.

He knows if he stops,

The race, for him,

Will end,' The increased herd sang together, high and low, strong and weak, sang of warriors, of the strong, and the sacrifice of guardianship.

 

The others were waiting partway down a street. 4 stallions and their men.

 

Alondra brushed past the others as he came to greet Fili. Took him in his arms. 'I knew you would do it. I knew you would keep them safe. I knew you would all keep each other safe.'

 

Fili had to put his cheek on Alondra's hair, instead of the other way around, but it was fine. 'Mark found you, he brought you. He is taking us to a Trainer? We need a Trainer.'

 

Alondra drew back and looked into his protege's eyes. 'Max?'

 

Fili nodded. There was a rush of greetings around them. He could feel Hare's tentative touch.

 

'It happened, what you were worried?'

 

'Not what I expected. Different.' Mitch was shaking hands with Carlos. Hare was pressed against his back, shyly, staring at Fili.

 

'Is Pilot still sharing with him?'

 

'I will have questions for you, later.' He released himself from Alondra's hands and turned to Hare.

 

Hare detached himself from Mitch.

 

Fili reached out and stroked the other Stig's face. 'I'm sorry.' He collected him into his arms. 'Could Mark talk to the men on the video and find them?'

 

'Kembar is too far away. He lives in the stable in Singapore. Lyubimyy is- I don't know. I can't find out, Mitch doesn't know how to ask. Mark tried to ask, but everyone is everywhere. Some Racing Drivers didn't get brought at ALL. No one got Kimi, Fili. They took Jaamies AWAY from him.' Hare had been on the verge of tears, but when he told Fili this, he started to sob. 'They were supposed to help us, but they scared you away and they don't know where Kembar and Lyubimyy are, and they are taking Drivers away from their matches! Poor, poor Jaamies, oh no, oh no.'

 

The others were staring, Mitch was stroking Hare's back and making annoying noises, and Mark was coming over.

 

Fili took a step and grabbed Pilot's arm. 'Need you.' He reached into Hare and tapped into the despair. He filtered it for content that would hurt, and passed it to Pilot.

 

Pilot cringed, but handled it, feeling it and letting it go. He followed Fili's touch into Hare's mind and felt with them, taking much more of the burden than either could have handled alone.

 

Mitch was watching them with a suspicious look.

 

It only took a moment to make Hare feel a well enough to go with the others. Mark wanted to get out of this street. Fili put Pilot with Hare. 'Talk to him, share with him. He said something about Jaamies and Kimi. Find out about that, but be nice.' He looked around. 'Kiwi, you go with these ones and help Pilot remember that not everyone is as rugged as he is.'

 

The tall Driver looked like he was going to object, but Fili pointed severely at him, 'Yes.'

 

He wished he could use his Trainer status to assign himself with them, but he knew Rabbit wanted to talk to him, and he needed to talk to Alondra as well. He and Carlos climbed into the far back seat of the Volvo.

 

Fili felt like it would make more sense for Alondra and Fernando, being shorter, to sit in the seats with the least legroom, but humans had a crazy idea that being farther forward in or on things made you somehow more capable. So he and Carlos, as the youngest, least experienced sat in the back. Which made no sense, again, because their car was in the front, and so Mannschaft and Timo, who were in the second car, and had more wins than Fili and Carlos, were behind them. But maybe being in a different vehicle was like starting over? Humans weren't in constant contact, like the Stigs would be. The Stigs would continue being in a herd, different vehicles or not, the men, wouldn't. They would be cut off from everyone but those in the vehicle with them. Unless they had radios?

 

[What's going on with Max and Pilot?] Mark gestured. He was in the seat in front of Fili. He made noises. Probably Fernando couldn't see and drive at the same time.

 

Fili sent annoyance to Alondra, 'Why did you tell him?'

 

'He needs to know,' Alondra sent back.

 

[Something is wrong with Pilot. He cannot say no to Max. He has been...changed so he cannot,] Carlos told him.

 

[What does that mean...changed?] Mark asked.

 

[Strong Drivers can make others do what they want. You know?]

 

Fili watched Mark's jaw tighten. [I am familiar.]

 

Fernando made some noises, which Alondra translated, [That is how the lead stallions keep control of the herds. It is why there must be lead stallions with the unmatched Drivers in the camps.]

 

[Trainers learn how to make other Drivers believe them,] Carlos explained

 

Rabbit growled.

 

[Then they don't have to constantly make them to what the Trainer wants,] He continued, casting a curious glance at Rabbit. [They don't use it often, because Drivers learn how to fight it. Sometime when he was young, this was used to make him believe he must never say no to his match, never hide anything from him, never deny him anything. He was young and he believed it a long time without knowing to fight it, so it became part of him. Until he was matched and learned that you CANNOT share everything with your man.]

 

Mark looked offended.

 

[You cannot, and men cannot share everything with their Racing Driver. It is not meant to be that way,] Fili told him.

 

[Yes, so Pilot had to learn new ways to protect himself. He didn't have a safe place inside himself.]

 

The Racing Drivers' hands found their matches' hands in comfort against this possibility. Fili left his hand rested in Carlos' grip for a moment, before Carlos went back to gesturing. Fili hooked a finger in Carlos' belt loop instead.

 

[What is public for him and what is for friends only is a much stronger barrier, and he carries memories and emotions that he cannot share, farther inside himself.]

 

[Why would this be done? This does not sound like something men would know to do.] Alondra's face was closed, frowning deeply.

 

Carlos shrugged. [I cannot imagine a reason. Except to strip anything away from him that was not racing.]

 

There was an uncomfortable silence. Fernando shifted in his seat and dug into his pocket. He pulled out a smooth, round stone about the size of a slightly flattened golf ball and handed it to Alondra. He ran his fingers over it and started rotating it in his hands.

 

Rabbit fixed Mark with an intense look.

 

'You wouldn't want me to be like that, would you?' Fili sent to Carlos. 'Only interested in racing?'

 

'No more than you would want me to be only interested in racing,' Carlos picked his hand back up. 'I went and found a way for you to learn to Train, didn't I? You like being a Trainer. You like learning to be a medic, and I like it, too. I want you to do anything you want to do. You're not just a Racing Driver, you're a Stig, a whole person. You could collect gravel and I would support you in that.'

 

Fili looked at him and blushed. His eyes flicked to the side, at Alondra.

 

'Yes, I know he collects gravel. He brought me some at the last race. I think it is wonderful that Fernando supports him in his interest. Some men would think it was strange, because men don't do it the same way, but he supports him, and I support you, in whatever you want to be interested in. Men DO collect rocks, if you didn't know. Some of them are very picky and only collect the ones that are sparkly or hard like diamonds, but many men just pick up rocks where they go, or because they like the shape, or the size. Anything there is, I think someone collects it.'

 

'Why?' Fili was not inclined to collect things.

 

'For the same reason you learned the names of all the muscles in your body, I think.'

 

'Oh, I see.'

 

Carlos nodded.

 

Fili entwined his fingers in Carlos' fingers and squeezed. 'We will help Pilot be interested in other things?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Even if he wants to collect gravel.'

 

Carlos laughed. 'As long as he does not fill the bus with it, yes.'

 

Chapter Text

Morning of November 28, 2016 -Morning 10-

 

After the week of the eight of them being together all the time, it was weird being in a bigger group, suddenly. The extra cars were nice. There was less shuffling of rides than Dan would have expected. Daniil and Max hadn't taken the opportunity to flee each other's presence like he might have expected. In fact they had closed ranks.

 

Carlos and Fili had spent a lot of time with Fernando and Alondra, and Mitch and Hare had spent some time with their year mates on the bus. Even Timo and Mannschaft had ridden on the bus.

 

Dan pushed himself back from the table. Mark stood up and tapped him. "Do you mind if I use your phone, mate? I want to make sure I get that picture of the guys. He looked at the corner of the table where Rabbit and Alondra were delightedly eating __. The bowls were small, but Rabbit had discovered free bread. He didn't like crust, yet, so he had nibbled all the soft part out like some odd fruit and left the crusts in a pile next to his bowl. "This is their first time in a real restaurant."

 

Dan smiled. "Yeah, we took pictures of our guys their first time in a restaurant, too."

 

He handed Mark his phone and Mark uploaded that picture and a few others into an online account. He handed Dan his phone back. Dan checked to make sure the GPS was deactivated and put it in his pocket.

 

Mark was watching him check to make sure Mark hadn't betrayed them all by making his phone traceable. His face was a weird mix of incredulity and pride.

 

Dan clapped him on the shoulder. "Post apocalyptic world, mate. Gotta keep up with the security checks. Never know who'll turn out to be an enemy robot."

 

Mark nodded, then ran his fingers through his hair. "It's good, actually. I'm glad you guys are keeping yourselves safe."

 

They walked out to the street. The bus, as always was parked on the side of a square a few roads away. They hadn't done a Redbull Boys' Roadtrip podcast since the one the day before they'd met up with the other guys in Budapest. But that hadn't been uploaded to the Internet, yet, so they had a few days until the need to make another became pressing.

 

[Why don't you ride with Rabbit and I? I wanted to catch up with you.]

 

[Yeah, after the next stop, though. I invited Brendon to ride with us, I wanted to catch up with what's been going on with him since we were teammates.] Brendon and Kiwi were standing beside the bus talking to Max and Pilot. They looked up and waved.

 

[Alright, next stop, then.] Mark smiled and headed for the lead car.

 

Daniil was driving and Tumba was on the bunk. Brendon and Kiwi sat on the bench beside Pilot and Dan and Oz sat in the bench side booth seats at the table and Max on the other side.

 

[Brendon, should I tell these guys about those twins we pulled in...I don't even remember what city. The dark haired ones?]

[How many sets of twins did you pull to not be able to tell them apart?] Asked Daniil dryly.

 

[Tons,] Dan told him. Brendon laughed.

 

[Man, don't tell that story.]

 

[So we get these girls, supermodel gorgeous, to agree to go out with us. We get to this restaurant, and one of the girls tells a joke. It wasn't even a joke, it was like a random remark.]

 

[It was a joke, and it was hysterical.] Brendon pointed at him. He nudged Kiwi, who looked up from his conversation with Pilot and grinned at him.

 

[Brendon starts laughing. Loud. Then he didn't stop.]

 

[I hadn't slept in like two days.]

 

[Shut up you slept all day the day before. So he just can't stop laughing, and these girls get embarrassed and then they get mad. So they take off. Brendon STILL can't stop laughing. The waiter keeps making rude faces.]

 

Max moved over to the bunk to listen to the story. Tumba snuggled in against him.

 

[Then these two guys come in and it's these girl's brother and his buddy. And the brother is one of the drivers, and his buddy is this little guy with the meanest expression and, get this, a ninja headband, and the driver is all telling us how they're going to beat the shit out of us,] Brendon put in.

 

[What? For real?] Max laughed.

 

[You're skipping the important part,] Dan interrupted. [We look up and there's this guy and his buddy, and yeah his buddy's wearing a ninja headband, but his buddy is ALSO Dany Pedrosa.]

 

[What?!] Max laughed.

 

[Wait,] Oz gestured. [Dany told you and Brendon he was going to beat the shit out of you? Dany?]

 

[Yes, he looked pissed,] Brendon told him.

 

[How did he look when you stood up?] Oz cracked a smile.

 

[Shots fired!] Max laughed even harder. He nudged Tumba, who turned and laughed, but clearly hadn't been paying attention. He was watching the conversation between Kiwi and Pilot.

 

[He still looked pissed,] Brendon said.

 

[Brendon STILL hasn't stopped laughing, you know the thing where you're trying to hold it together, but then you'll think of it and snort back into another round of laughter? He was at that stage, and now these guys have noticed that the girls are gone. So I explained to them that the girls ditched us, and they could beat the shit out of me, but I was going to beat the shit out of Brendon because his crazy laughing scared off our dates. And all of a sudden he blurts, "You can't beat the shit out of us, I'm best friends with Duende's buddy." And I'm all, "What the fuck is a Duende?"]

 

[Dany's Racing Driver.] Max nodded.

 

The bus slowed abruptly and stopped. They all looked up. Daniil looked back at them. "Carlos stopped in front of me."

 

Tumba stood up. He stepped over to where Kiwi and Pilot were sitting with their heads together. Kiwi whirled around to look at him like he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Pilot looked scared. Tumba grabbed Kiwi by the shoulder, smiling and pulled him up to a standing position. He nodded at him and chuckled, like he'd told him a good joke.

 

Then his body language changed. His face twisted into a snarl and he grabbed double fistfuls of the taller blonde's shirt.

 

"Hey!" Brendon started up.

 

Tumba ignored him, gave Kiwi a hard shake and backed him up the aisle, then down the steps of the bus, Kiwi going backwards. It was amazing he didn't trip. Dan and Max crowded against the windows beside the bunks. Brendon and Daniil were getting in each other's way, trying to get past Pilot in the bus's step well. The men watched out the windows as Tumba released his hold on Kiwi's shirt with a little shove, sending him back a step.

 

"Shit," Daniil exclaimed. Too late.

 

Tumba, as fast with his hands as Daniil, and with more upper body strength, slammed his closed fist into Kiwi's mouth.

 

Pilot darted down the bus steps.

 

"Pilot, stop!" Yelled Max, crashing into the tangle of Brendon and Daniil, all three of them yelling and trying to get out of the bus first.

 

Pilot shouldered Tumba aside and threw a roundhouse punch into Kiwi as well.

 

The guys in the other cars had all gotten out to see why Carlos had stopped so suddenly, but they'd turned back when Tumba and Kiwi had emerged from the bus, radiating anger and distress.

 

Mannschaft rushed to defend his teammate, swinging wildly at Pilot, who leaned away too slowly and caught a blow right in the eye.

 

Max had managed by dint of shoving to wedge the three of them in the step well. Brendon was holding his face and pushing at Daniil. Daniil was yelling at Brendon and trying to fend off his hands, and Max was trying to climb past them by pure brute force.

 

Tumba lunged for Mannschaft and everything stopped. The Racing Drivers were frozen. Brendon, Daniil and Max were still struggling in the step well, but Tumba had stopped mid-lunge. Mannschaft, Pilot and Kiwi were immobile and Dan could see Fili and Hare, Hare a step ahead, stilled in their run towards the fracas. Dan could feel, without looking behind him, Oz's stillness.

 

Carlos and Mitch were staring between their Drivers and the scene of the brawl. Timo was turning from his Driver to the only moving Racing Drivers left.

 

Alondra stalked forward with Rabbit flanking him. Fernando walked on the other side, and Mark in step beside Rabbit.

 

There was disgust on Alondra's face. He planted himself where the still Drivers could all see him. [You are brothers,] his gestures were hard and sharp, like he was throwing the words. [Teammates.] He looked at the bus. [One herd.] He looked at Fili and Hare, and for a moment, Dan wondered who they'd been going to help. [This is behavior I would expect from humans, not you,] he looked at Kiwi and Mannschaft when he gestured this. [Unmatched colts, maybe. Not racing stallions.] His body language changed suddenly, and the Racing Drivers were free of his control.

 

[We haven't driven in days,] Tumba threw the gestures as well, not really AT Alondra, just at the world in general. Mark and Fernando's heads swiveled to the bus, eyes seeking Dan's.

 

Oh shit. They hadn't, had they? Not since the karts. Oz was the only one who had been behind the wheel at all, and that was while the bus was unmoving, for lessons in street driving.

 

"Dan," Mark called.

 

Bonelessly, Daniil and Max slid out of the bus. Their heads were down and their shoulders hunched. Brendon flew past them to examine Kiwi's face. Tumba had dragged Pilot away from the other Drivers and was caged around him against the side of the bus, making quiet, urgent revving noises.

 

Timo pointed severely at Mannschaft and the little blonde Driver took his taller teammate by the arm. Mannschaft, Hare and Mitch led Kiwi towards the front Volvo. Mannschaft shook his right hand occasionally.

 

Brendon started to follow, but Timo called him back.

 

The Redbull boys and Brendon gathered in front of the older men and Drivers. Fili and Oz stood to the side.

 

"How long has it been since your Racing Drivers have driven, Dan?"

 

The edge Mark gave to the words Racing Drivers made Dan wince. Part of him wanted to know why this question was directed at him, but all of him knew. HE was the lead stallion here, the Redbull boys were HIS herd, and he was responsible. He was answerable.

 

"A week," he murmured.

 

"Dios Madre," Fernando groaned.

 

Mark turned to his younger teammate. "And you, Brendon? When did Kiwi last drive?"

 

Brendon looked away. "How was I supposed to know we were leaving in the middle of the night?"

 

"Excuse me?" Mark demanded.

 

"Four days."

 

Dan didn't know Timo well, so it was a surprise when the man stepped forward from the group of older racers.

 

"What is the FIRST thing a match learns about Racing Drivers?!" He barked.

 

"Don't break eye contact first," they said in unison, as they had all learned.

 

Timo held up his thumb, "Don't break eye contact first." He held up his index finger as well. "Racing Drivers HAVE to drive EVERY DAY." He folded away his thumb and pointed his index finger at them. "The most important things you learned about them is WHAT?"

 

"Racing Drivers have to drive every day," they chorused again.

 

"How dare you abuse them like this? How dare you, on the eve of their freedom, deprive them like this?" He waved a hand and Tumba and Pilot where they were still crowded against the side of the bus, now watching them, and then to Fili and Oz, who were huddled together on the other side, and with a vague gesture towards the front Volvo. "They may not be slaves, but they are still your DEPENDENTS. They rely on YOU to make the decisions for them, until they learn how. How DARE you ignore their needs like this. This," he thrust his hand towards the Racing Drivers again, "Is NOT their fault. It is yours." He pointed at each of the young men individually. "Now make it right." He hurled the keys to the Corolla at Dan.

 

Dan caught them and looked at them. He had failed to lead his herd properly. Oz had at least been behind the wheel. He needed this, but someone else needed it more. A leader thought of his herd before himself.

 

There was no question of whose behavior was most out of character. Most showing signs of the stress. Kiwi had done something to Pilot that had upset Tumba enough to attack him. Tumba had actually struck a member of his herd.

[Come with me, Pilot,] Dan gestured. He knew it was Pilot, because a good leader knew his herd, and Pilot hadn't defended himself.

 

Dan looked at Timo, and then at Mark and Fernando, daring them to say he was wrong. They all watched him impassively, though Fernando's eyes went to Tumba as Pilot stepped past him and followed Dan to the Corolla.

 

Dan stood beside the drivers' side door. "I should have made sure you had this, especially after the night when we got the phone call. There are no other cars out here. No street rules this time. End of the straight and back, 5 times, quick as you can. She won't corner like you're used to, be gentle." He handed him the keys.

 

The road trip waited while one by one, every one of the Racing Drivers scrimmaged.

Chapter Text

November 28, 2016 -Day 10-

 

 

Daniil rested his head on the window of the second Volvo. Tumba was asleep under his arm. They had been the night driving shift with Dan and Oz for most of the trip, and were usually asleep this time of day. He watched the dry trees go by outside the window. The road trip had become their whole life so quickly. Had become what Daniil thought of as usually so quickly.


In the seat in front of him, Pilot looked over Max's shoulder at him and smiled. He looked blissfully happy with Max asleep on him. Even with the puffy red and purple around his eye.


The four of them had endured a two hour tag team lecture from Fernando and Alondra about responsibility. The two were now in the front seats, making the most of Daniil's 100 greatest Disney Songs playlist. Alondra had goaded Fernando into singing along. He had a good singing voice. Nothing compared to Alondra's voice, but good.


Pilot dropped his hand behind his seat.


Daniil inclined his head towards Max with a questioning expression.


Pilot smiled and held his hand closer.


Daniil took it, running his thumb over the back. He smiled back.


Pilot squeezed lightly and leaned his head against the window bar, closing his eyes with a soft smile.


He braced his arm on the armrest, so Pilot's grip wasn't supporting the entire weight of his arm. He was certainly strong enough, but when he fell asleep his grip would relax, and Daniil felt a pang at the thought of losing this rare display.


He watched the dry trees go by. They were in Romania, now. Mark was the only one who knew where they were going. Where they were going to find help. He wanted to stroke Pilot's hand again, but he didn't want to wake him up, or interrupt his recalibration or whatever it was Racing Drivers did that they insisted was so different than sleep. The relaxed, open mouthed, drooling slightly Tumba certainly seemed like he was sleeping.


He had felt such a sense of ease since they had set out to get help. The grinding tension of the last year had risen and risen and risen during the season, and had gotten so much worse during the road trip.


It had reached it's highest point so far the night of the drinking. The night Carlos had taken Pilot away from Max. The night Pilot had bitten through his lip. Daniil knew that wasn't a wound from a fall.

 

Since the morning after, when Carlos had brought Max back from his exile, and Pilot had woken up after sleeping for way too long, after Tumba stopped clinging to him, and Max would touch him again, things had been good. Things had been easy.


They were still going to find a Trainer, though, weren't they? And Fili and Carlos watched them all the time, didn't they?


'Please be okay,' He sent the thought out into the air. 'Please let us find a Trainer who can help.'


The cars slowed. It was eerie how Tumba and Pilot both came awake instantly. Opening their eyes and sitting up to look out the window in weird synchronicity.


Max sat up and looked to see what they were looking at. The lead car turned off the main road, up a little dirt road. The second Volvo was behind the other two cars and the bus. "Are we here? Pilot says he doesn't feel anyone."


He caught himself and said it again in gestures.


They drove up the road for about half an hour, and a little house came into sight, in the middle of a tiny farm gone to seed. They pulled up to the house. An old Vauxhall sedan was sitting outside, next to an even older pickup truck.


They filed out of the two brand new red Volvos, the Toyota and the bus. They looked at each other. If FIA agents with guns stormed out of the house it would be too late to run. They all drew together. Dan stood protectively beside Max, oddly focused on the crumbling low stone wall around the overgrown garden.


'Can you feel anything?' Daniil asked Tumba.


Tumba shook his head.

 

The curtains twitched. A shiver of tension passed through the herd outside.


"Oh," Tumba breathed. [Now I can feel them.]


The front door opened. A man and Racing Driver with shaved heads, the Driver with a 10 day growth of beard came out and stood on the porch. "Come on in, guys, Shoe is waiting to see you," Sebastian called.

Chapter Text

December 1, 2016 -Day 14-


The farm that housed the Schumacher refugees, property owned by someone Corinna knew, was a little farmhouse. There was enough room for the family, and Sebastian and Sunny.


The rest of the guys were spread out between the barn, which was surprisingly modern, compared to the vehicles, for example, and the bus. This place had been a working farm until a few years before, so the barn had heat and light, and was actually warmer than the bus, but the Redbull Boys had drawn together in the face of Max and Pilot's trouble. The incident with Kiwi had not endeared them to Mark's herd, no matter how 'not the Drivers' fault it had been. They spent evenings in the barn, for the most part, because it WAS warmer, but slept and spent the daylight hours on the bus, or exploring the farm.


Except Daniil and Tumba, who hovered around outside the house and waited.


Sometimes they were in the living room, but their treating her living room like a hospital waiting room seemed to make Corinna uncomfortable, so they mostly stayed in the bus. Hare was sitting at the table drawing with Fili, when Tumba and Daniil came in from the house.


[We have to go for a walk,] Tumba grumbled.


Mitch looked up from his spot next to Hare. He was reading Dan's book. He was one of the only guys who could go hang out with either herd.


[Corinna got tired of you pacing and fixing things?] he asked.


[Yes,] Daniil said.


He and Tumba grabbed their hats and hoodies from the closet and the hats and went outside. Daniil walked with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. Tumba got close and matched his pace to Daniil's, and put his hand in Daniil's pocket to hold his hand. They walked across what used to be the kitchen garden and climbed over the stile to the overgrown field. The ground had been tilled and then never planted again, so it had gone to an extremely rough, thick layer of weeds. Their long legs covered ground quickly and soon they were on the path that ran around the back of the field, in front of the brushy slope that led down to the river. There were no leaves on the bushes and the gravelly bank beside the stream was visible through the bare twigs.


'Is Oz out here?' Daniil asked. The Green Driver had built himself a bird blind out here after they'd arrived, and Daniil wasn't really interested in meeting anyone.


Tumba nodded and pointed downstream towards the bird blind. They turned upstream. There was a sort of wide, open space in the trees that Daniil thought used to be a cattle wade. Beyond this the land rose in sharp, rocky banks. The two wended their way up this, until they reached the level land at the top. There were more farms up here, and the view, even from 2 or 3 hundred feet above where their farm was, was magnificent. They'd climbed the road a long way from the nearest town to get to the farm, and now they were looking down on a broad wide flat, and beyond that, the steady drop towards where this river met the bigger river downstream. They couldn't see the town, but they could see the farm. They were in an uncultivated area. Most of the farms had evidently gone under in recent years.


Tumba started singing quietly.


'No one in reach. I'm alone on top of Eau Rouge. I win and win, but no one knows. The night is coming now. The track lights won't come on anymore.


Not for me. I am alone. I am part of the track, and no one knows.


The sky is getting light. The light is rising high. Rising high. Rising high.


When the sun rises I will be gone. Eau Rouge will be bare. But no one is in reach. No one knows I won.'


Tumba swayed back and forth as he sang this, and Daniil watched him raise his hands with the chorus and the rising light. He closed his eyes and sang about rising up.


Tumba didn't sing to Daniil much. He sang more than he let Daniil hear, Daniil knew that. Knew from the WAY he sang sometimes that he was singing with someone, if he let Daniil listen in, and sometimes Daniil could SEE that he was singing and not letting Daniil hear it, but hearing Tumba sing an entire song was a rare thing.


He sang aloud, too, this time, which, for him, was practically unheard of.


[You are angry at Sebastian for speaking against us with Redbull, but there are worse things. Much worse things,] he told Daniil.


[I'm angry for YOU.] Daniil stared at the back of his neck.


Tumba snorted an imitation of human laughter. In a harsh mechanical tone, the accuracy of the actual laughter effect sounded even more unnatural. Sounded horrific.


Daniil's skin crawled.


[That is only funny because you believe it.] Tumba flicked the gestures irritably.


[I shouldn't believe it?] he asked.


[Why should I be upset? It wasn't MY dreams that were crushed when they took Redbull.] Tumba looked over his shoulder. [You can stop using me as an excuse, now. No one who understands Racing Drivers would believe you.]


Tumba was a blue, harsh truths came naturally to him. Daniil would have been an orange if he were a Racing Driver. Finding new ways around things was his nature. He looked inside himself and saw his motivation as he hadn't wanted to see it.


[Everyone wants to be successful at what they do. They want others to know they are successful.]


Tumba spread his arms out to encompass the view. [You are standing on the top of Eau Rouge, but all you are worried about is whether people know you've won. You ARE good at what you do, Daniil. You made the best of what you were stuck with. Now it is over, though. The racing is over.] There was deep bitterness in the way he said "what you were stuck with."


Daniil clenched his hands. 'I have never wanted to shake sense into you, before, but I do, now.'


[What? Am I wrong?]


Daniel unclenched his fists. [I WANT you to be successful. I want people to know what I know. Yes I'm mad that they brought me from Ufa and then gave away your place before the year was even done. I'm mad that they don't see how great you are, because all that matters to them is the points and the politics.]


[I LOVE racing, Daniil.] Tumba's body language was angry, sarcastic.


[I don't feel STUCK with you, Tumba. I'm not making the best of being a slave. I knew what I was getting into. I want the world to know you are great. Racing was a way to do that. Since it was all we were allowed to do, I went for it. I didn't hang all my hats on that, though. Haven't we done things together that none of the others have done? You can read, can't you? You can write your name, can't you? You guys keep going on about how humans don't understand you, and how I don't know everything about you. You don't know everything about ME, either, Sharp Ridge of the Cliff.] After all this time, it was an effort not to automatically associate the word sound he called Tumba with Tumba's full name.


[You're still angry.]


[I know I'm on the top of the world.]


[Yes, Brendon, I know that.]


Daniil looked around behind him. [Did you just call me Brendon?]


[I hit Kiwi. Brendon is mad, Brendon wasn't hurt. You are mad, you weren't hurt.]


[Yeah, you did hit Kiwi. And is justification a thing that makes that acceptable? No. You getting mad at Kiwi does not justify you hitting him.]


[Kiwi hurt Pilot. I was protecting him.]


[None of this "I was protecting my friend" makes what ANYONE did alright. Whether or not I am reacting like Brendon is does not mean Brendon and I are wrong to be upset. You hurting Kiwi and Seb hurting you are both not okay. You're trying to make the point that it's wrong to be hurt when it doesn't directly effect you, as though our Racing Drivers getting hurt doesn't effect Brendon and I. He was holding his face because he could feel the pain.] Daniil dropped his shoulders. [You say it didn't hurt you when you lost Redbull. That's FINE to say now. If we were going back to F1 next year, we'd have a real fight on our hands, keeping you there. BECAUSE Sebastian thought you endangered Jaamies when you crashed him in Russia.]


[Being mad is helping?]


Daniil crossed his arms. [You say losing Redbull didn't hurt you. It's not making things with Max any easier. This whole year has been a rain of problems on that front. That doesn't hurt you?]


Tumba started to gesture and then stopped.


[Our situation isn't making his and Pilot's situation easier. That doesn't hurt them? Or us?] Daniil kicked at the dirt. [Here we all are. In the middle of nowhere with a Trainer.]


Tumba stepped forward, close to him.


Daniil felt a thrill of nervousness. He had never been so conscious that Tumba was another guy, was NOT under his control, and could react with just as much freedom of action as any other. His tangle with Kiwi had proven that.


[Are you saying this is our fault? This was inevitable. It happened sooner than it might have, because of that video. Because of the day of the sirens. Not because you and I lost Redbull,] Tumba said, searching Daniil's eyes. For disagreement?


[Inevitable? Why was it inevitable? What is going ON with them?]


Tumba rolled his eyes. [You don't know everything about ME, Tyazhelyy,] the whole sentence was gestured with the body language of someone making huge air quotes. [Trainers are men and Racing Drivers who are trained for years to keep us in line. They are the worst enemies because we need them, and the companies make them hurt us, just enough to be sure we won't fight back. They hurt Pilot, made him so all his mind isn't there for him to use. Not warped, amputated. He can do most things, but not everything. It wasn't a problem until he needed to use it and it wasn't there. Max learned to work around it, but now it is a thing they need to use, and it's not there for them. Max will have to figure out how to provide what that place in Pilot should provide, since it is not there. They wanted to make him faster.]


[It worked.] He realized as he said it that it was insensitive.


[So do beatings, but there are better things.]


[You're right. I'm sorry.]


[You're sorry for saying the truth about Pilot, but you aren't sorry for what you feel about Sebastian. That burns your heart more deeply. Keeping it inside you is making you melt.]


[I AM angry with Sebastian. You didn't hurt Iceman.] Daniil threw his hands up.


[Could have. Sebastian was just protecting his friend.]


[Like you protecting Pilot, I know. Jaamies can take care of himself, just like Pilot.]


[Pilot couldn't, he was scared.]


[Of Kiwi??]


[It was an unusual situation.]


Daniil smirked, [And Jaamies was afraid of you?]


[No, Sebastian was angry. He wouldn't have said anything if he hadn't been angry, because he was scared. Sunshine is sad. He is so sad.]


Daniil didn't say anything. They were going around in circles.


[It won't matter for us, anymore. There is no F1.] He moved forward and pressed an hand to Daniil's cheek. [You have to let it go. Decide not to be angry. Sebastian can't hurt us anymore. He has no power to take our team away from us, anymore. We aren't a team. We are a herd. A family. The company can't take that away. There is no F1, Daniil.]


Daniil gulped. [What will we do?]


A puzzled look came across Tumba's face. He waved Daniil's question away, [I don't know.] He looked to the side, head cocked as though he was listening for something. [Come on.] He took off at a run. Daniil set off after him.


The hilltop was fields that were cultivated in warmer months, so they were smoother than the wild hillsides. They covered ground quickly. There was a little gully in the otherwise level hilltop, about 300 yard from where they'd been standing looking over the edge of the bluff. It was filled with trees and brush that thrived out of the wind and with the water that surely ran at the bottom. Tumba leapt off the edge, running down the slope. Less sure of his footing, Daniil skittered down the face of the hill.


As Tumba reached the brush line, where a worn footpath crossed through the brush, a short, burly blonde guy stepped out of the bushes and made a sudden winding engine noise. He put his hands up like he would have to sheild himself, but Tumba wrapped his arms around him, picked him off his feet and bear hugged him. Tumba was radiating delight, and the other Racing Driver was wheezing mechanically.


"Pauli?!" Daniil exclaimed.


"Daniil?" Came a gruff voice from the bushes. Valtteri Bottas came out of the bushes behind Pauli, his Racing Driver, who Tumba was setting down, making much of dusting off.


The two men stared at each other.

Chapter Text

December 1, 2016 -Day 14-

 

Happening upon another F1 Driver and match in the middle of rural Romania was insanity. He wasn't...hallucinating Valtteri and Pauli or anything. They were really standing here. Tumba and Pauli were standing alongside the footpath that crossed the little brook in the gully, arms around each other while Daniil and Valtteri stared at each other.


"What are you doing here?" Daniil asked.


"We were practicing tracking," Valtteri said. "The brook attracts animals." As if this were the most natural behavior in the world. To illustrate his point, he pointed back towards the brook.


[Language,] Tumba chastized.


[Why are you in Romania?] Daniil asked.


"We are here to meet Giedo and Guardian."


[Language,] Tumba repeated.


Valtteri looked at him, confused about why he kept saying that.


[It's rude to speak a language not everyone can speak,] Tumba said patiently.


Val shook his head at him like he didn't understand. He looked at Pauli.


Pauli pointed at Daniil.


"Oh," Valtteri said. [We are meeting Giedo and Guardian,] he gestured to Daniil.


[Why?]


[They are guarding Shoe and Michael's family.] Val shrugged


Daniil felt like the world stopped spinning.


[The men sent them to find Shoe, but there were men in the building and they could not get them out. While they were making a plan, Sunshine came and took them away. They followed. They are guarding. Now you are here and it is time to go. We are here to get them,] Pauli explained.


[You can't tell anyone we were here, Daniil,] Valtteri told him, [Our mission has to stay secret.]


Mission?!


[Of course,] Tumba said. He smiled and squeezed Pauli's shoulder.


Pauli made that 'barely smiling' face and put his head against Tumba's shoulder.


[We're going to make the company pay!] Pauli waved.


Valtteri threw his hands in the air.


Pauli revved at him. [We ARE. They just promised not to tell.]


Valtteri just looked at him.


Daniil assumed he was sending, because Pauli sighed. [Ok, it is secret,] he gestured with exagerated care.


Val pinched the fingers of one hand with the other. "Did Sebastian happen to mention if Kimi was at home when he and the RD's got picked up?"


Why had Val switched back to English?


Pauli was looking at them suspiciously.


"He just said he left Kimi to take care of the McLaren/Mercedes refugees. Are...Where were you? Did you come right here after...we heard what happened at Williams."


Valtteri put his hand up in the stop gesture. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "He is...in charge of a refugee camp? With the refugees the Grand Tour Crew rescued?"


"Sebastian said he wanted to go get Shoe with them, but the camp couldn't have kept control of the unmatched Racing Drivers without he and Jaamies. You will never believe this, Val, Kimi can talk to any of the Racing Drivers. He always has been able to. He's like a Champion all by himself." Daniil laughed at the irony of it.


"What?" Val's eyebrows were down. He turned slowly to Pauli, who was looking at him with a smooth face.


[I told you I wouldn't let you kill Kimi,] Pauli told him, matter of factly.


"What?!" Daniil demanded.


Pauli and Val were having a fervent, silent conversation, now.


"What?!" Daniil said, louder, and grabbed Valtteri's shoulder.


He whipped towards him. "No, I'm not going to kill Kimi. I have bigger fish to deal with."


"You can't kill ANYONE," Daniil told him.


"I am just going to make sure the monsters responsible for Williams face Justice," he shook his head.


"That is your mission?" He whispered.


"The Grand Tour Crew can't find them. We can."


"How?"


"Like finding animals when they come to drink. We are going to wait for them."


"Here?"


"No. We are here to get Giedo and Guardian."


Something clicked in Daniil's mind. Giedo and Valtteri, Max, Jules, Esteban and Alexander. They used to all hang out together. They called their Racing Drivers that ridiculous name: The Grand Tour. What were the odds? The TG3 just happened to name their new show the same thing the group of rookies had called themselves. "Oh, they were in the Grand Tour, too, weren't they?"


Val's lips pressed together. "Yes."


"Weird that the Grand Tour broadcast is called that, too."


"They named it after Jules died." Val breathed, eyes going unfocused.


"Oh."


[Because if it hadn't been for him, we never would have known how much FIA knew about the plan,] Pauli started gesturing, staring at the unmoving Val as hard as he could. [Even with everything they did, he never told them the most important part. It would have been so easy for them to kill Shoe, if they had known he was going. Then they tried to kill the Grand Tour Crew's translators, the two they knew about, and they had to go early. Guardian couldn't get Shoe to them fast enough, so he stayed to protect him, in case they found out. Jules never told about him going with them.]


He made the gesture that meant, [It hurts me.]


Tumba hugged him.


Daniil glanced at Val, he was still standing with unfocused eyes, but moved his head slightly towards Daniil, like he was wading through molasses. Daniil looked back towards Tumba and Pauli. He was coming to realize Racing Drivers, unlike humans, considered WATCHING displays of emotion to be polite behavior. Even though humans couldn't share in the emotion in the same way other Racing Drivers could. So he politely watched Pauli tell Tumba how Trace had been a good friend and he truly missed him. They both made sad faces and had another hug.


[We need to go. We have to leave before night. Keep protecting Shoe, alright? Come on, Valtteri,] Pauli gestured at Daniil. He shook his match. Val's eyes refocused, he turned and shook Daniil's hand.


"I'm glad you're safe, Daniil."


Tumba gave Pauli another hug and patted Val on the shoulder. The two blondes disappeared back through the brush.


[We should go,] Tumba told Daniil. [We have to tell the other Redbull stallions what's happening.]


[You promised you wouldn't.] He followed his Racing Driver back up the hill towards the farm. [You lied? Blues don't lie.]


[I did not address my comment to a specific portion of what he had told us. I am a Blue who's other self is an Orange. I know when not to be clear.] Tumba's face was straight, but he was putting out a feeling of smugness.


Devious bastard. Brilliant, devious bastard.

Chapter Text

December 08, 2016 -Day 20-

 

'Don't you want to go back to the herd?'

'No.' Fili told him.

'A lot of the Stigs are scared of the new things happening. They miss the familiar surroundings.'

'I don't.'

'Why?'

'They were awful. I hated every minute.'

'You didn't like any of it?'

'No. Not the food, not the stalls, not the tracks, not anything. Especially I am not going to miss the handlers.'

'They were cruel to you?'

Fili looked at him.

'You've been there. Or has it been so long you've forgotten what it's like NOT being valuable property. When you're just a rookie, and before when you're just a colt.'

'They didn't treat you as valuable?'

'I'm Trained to notice subject changes like that.'

'I'm Trained to keep you talking about what will help you.'

'Sometimes they did. Only later, only when my times started to set me apart.'

'And before that?'

'Yes, cruel.'

He waited for Fili to continue.

Fili looked at him. After a long time he reminded himself that he didn't have to be here. He was here for help. 'I was afraid, when I realized they were going to match us. Not just me, both of us.'

'It's a scary prospect. Racing brings respect, but a lot of responsibility, too. Much more responsibility.'

'I came up with a plan. We snuck away. We were going to bond to each other,'

There was a long, slow breath.

'So we couldn't be matched, so they'd have to keep us together.'

'That was brave of you. How did you know you could?'

'You remember the old song about the twins who raced the same race forever?'

'Endurance and Courage.'

'The song says they owed their hearts to one another, and not to their men. We thought we could be like them.'

'That is not much to go on.'

'It didn't work anyway, we couldn't reach the energy. The handlers found us. We fought them, and they hurt us. A8 didn't stop fighting. They told me it was my fault they broke A8. Then they put my twin down. All broken...' Fili gestured to his own ribs and belly, 'Inside, and she never stopped fighting them. I was with her when she shut down. We thought we could be like them,' He said, again. 'As if a Yellow and Black foal could be like a Red and White who got songs written about them. The song says they were too strong together, so the men separated them and bred McLaren and Ferrari from them.'

'Fili.'

Fili looked up.

'Don't ever think the two of you were less for your colors.'

'Everyone knows reds are the fastest...' Fili started, sending low.

'You know there has only been one 5 time champion? In all of F1.'

'Except you.'

'Yes, except me, may I continue?'

'I apologize, Stallion.'

'Maestro lived at Ferrari, he was our stallion, he died soon after I was weaned, but Jato knew him well.'

Fili tilted his head. He'd heard the name Jato, but couldn't remember who it was.

There was a wave of sorrow. 'Men shouldn't have let his name die.' There was a flicker of rage under this statement, but it subsided into pride. 'You've heard the man's name? Ayrton?'

Fili lit up with recognition, 'Oh, yes, the three time champion! Carlos says he was amazing,' and then he realized what he'd done. Remembered the man, given the man the credit. Shoe was proud to have known this Stig, one of the best in all of F1, and Fili didn't even know his name. 'What was he like?'

'Jato? Amazing,' there was more than a hint of nostalgia in Shoe's sending. 'I'm speaking of Maestro, though. Did you know Maestro wore black?'

'He did?'

'Yes, and as for Yellows. One of the best drivers I ever knew was a yellow. He never had a championship...' Shoe got quiet and introspective for a moment. 'Sometimes the companies ask too much, too much. Pedra, my friend, Pedra. He was one of the first foals ever bred for Redbull. Ferrari kept him when the stable left. Speed Demon, the stallion who became the champion the season after I became a multiple world champion, he was a yellow. He retired with more wins than Lentaa. He was a single champion, but he was a strong Stig.'

Single world champions and Stigs who never had championships at all, that was yellows. He looked down.

'You are getting bored with my nostalgia. I will tell you about one more stallion. I grew up looking up to him. I didn't understand his races, but his stall was next to mine in the corridor, and he told me stories of his races. When we were both back on breaks, he would tell me about his triumphs. The year I started in F1 he won his second world championship. We looked forward to seeing one another, even after Michael and I were Trained, and I could stay with him part of the time, I looked forward to seeing Destello.'

Fili's head came up. He KNEW that name. 'Carlos' father's Stig? He was a yellow?'

Shoe laughed. 'I'm sure he still IS a yellow. He is not so old he should not still be at Ferrari. Ask Alondra. Has he not told you Destello is his sire? He knows.'

Fili's teeth ground. He had been denied that information. Alondra only chose to share the bits and pieces that would most piss Fili off when he fitted them into the truth. 'Did Alondra tell you he is my sire?'

Shoe watched him impassively.

'Did he tell you he didn't bother to tell me?'

There was a patient feeling. 'My information has been somewhat outdated lately.'

Fili realized that Shoe had pretty much been caught up on events by humans and whatever information Sunshine and Sebastian had passed on in the last few days. 'I apologize, Stallion.'

'Alondra can't be your sire.'

'The companies did something to make it happen.'

Shoe was silent for a moment. Fili could see calculations going on in his eyes. 'The young stallions with you, they are all bred at Redbull? The same time as you?'

'Oz is older, he is Sunshine's age. The others, yes.'

'I need to talk to Alondra. Please go get him. Tomorrow go sit with your Green and his man. I don't think you have been spending enough time with him. A second stallion and a lead stallion need to know each other as well as they know their men.' There was a mental caress.

Fili sat on the bed and set his hand on Shoe's chest and sent love to him.

'When Alondra tells you he needs to bring Rabbit, tell him what we are going to do would be too much for Rabbit to take. Tell him that.'

'Yes, Stallion.' He gestured goodbye and slipped out of the room.

Sunshine was standing beside the door and stared at him as he passed.

[If you wish I will help you care for him.]

[Yes.]

Fili nodded, and went to find Alondra. He automatically reached for Rabbit. A cloud passed over the taller Stig's face, and an identical one over his man's face when Fili told him it would be too much for them.

Fernando and Alondra were in Shoe's room for about half an hour. Fili's skin itched with the power that was flowing from the place. He sat on the couch, staring. Carlos drifted in, sat down on the couch pressed against Fili, and stared at the door.

Sunshine paced in front of the door until Sebastian came in to calm him. When he put a hand on Sunshine's arm, a spark of static electricity jumped between them. Instead of drawing away, Sebastian practically climbed into Sunshine's skin, absorbing his touch like an addict needing a fix. They were practically rubbing like cats. After a moment their arm hair was standing out straight from their bodies. If their hair had been more than a half centimeter long, it probably would have been, too.

The power slackened, like it was leaking out of the room through the cracks. Alondra and Fernando came out, also barely able to separate themselves. They disappeared into the other room, and Sunshine and Sebastian turned to stare at the door to Shoe's room. They went in, having difficulty navigating the door because they were struggling to pull themselves away from each other.

This time the power level spiked. So much farther that inside the room, Sebastian cried out in pain. The power level dropped abruptly, then rose again more slowly.

In the living room, the front door slammed open. Max and Pilot tripped into the room, nearly falling because they couldn't work out which foot was which, and kept getting in each other's way.

[Close the door,] Fili gestured.

Max and Pilot managed to coordinate their collective limbs to retrace the last few steps and get the door closed. Then they turned and tripped onto the floor. Neither of them seemed capable nor coordinated enough to get back up, so they shuffled against a chair and slumped together.

They sat in still silence for a long time. The light from the windows changed positions on the floor. The power levels dropped steadily.

The light took on the golden quality of afternoon. By now the power had dropped to a level Fili might have been able to imagine existed before today.

The front door opened again.

[Close the door,] 4 pairs of hands gestured, none of them taking their eyes off the door.

[I will,] Mark gestured. He and Rabbit cast questioning glances at the entranced young men as they walked to the door. Rabbit's hand squeezed on Mark's arm as the man opened the door. They went inside. There was a soft thump, and then an angry rev.

The door opened. Sunshine's arm was over Rabbit's shoulder, he wasn't...limping, but was barely lifting his feet from the floor. Behind him came Mark, carrying an unconscious Sebastian.

[He told you to CATCH him,] Sunshine gestured to Mark. [You are not fast enough.]

Fili felt Carlos pull together a supreme effort and gesture, [Is Sebastian okay?]

[Mark let him fall, but yes,] Sunshine gestured. [We are...better.] Rabbit helped Sunshine into the second bedroom and Mark followed with Sebastian.

Mark and Rabbit came out. [What's been going on? Why are Fernando and Alondra passed out in there, and why did we get called in to put passed out Sebastian and Sunshine in there?]

Carlos and Max managed to look at him, but their eyes kept slipping back to the door. [Something,] Max told him.

[What is wrong with all of you?] Mark said, dropping to his knees in front of Carlos. Carlos looked through him.

Mark patted his face.

Rabbit shook his head at him. [They are alright. They are young. It is a lot.]

Mark looked up and realized Max had tears running down his face. He was biting his lip and taking shaky breaths, but otherwise not acknowledging it. "Max! Max!" He moved in front of Max. "Hey, kiddo, look at me."

Max stopped biting his lip and licked it, pulling his eyes away from the door with a groan of loss and focusing on Mark's eyes. "Yeah. I'm ok. It's just...I want....He's got so much...One win," he whimpered. Pilot moved forward and cuddled Max's face to his chest. His mouth was drawn.

[Trainers know how to help, Mark. It's taking more from him, because he doesn't have Michael.] Carlos told him. He was the most coherent of the young men at the moment. [It will be okay. Everything is okay, we're all just a little overwhelmed by it. The other guys have more wins, they're not as vulnerable.]

Fili knew this did not account for why Pilot was here and Tumba was not. Mark couldn't understand this, though.

The two younger bond pairs stared at each other. Now that what Shoe was doing had eased, they didn't have full focus on only him.

Rabbit pulled on Mark's arm. [We cannot be here.] Mark cast a last look at the boys and went outside.

In response to a call Fili and Carlos could not hear, Pilot looked up, and though Max couldn't hear it either, he looked up with him.

[You said you'd come with me.] Max gestured, afraid suddenly.

[I said I would come to make sure you are safe. There is no one I would trust you more with than the stallion in that room. You will be safe.] He took Pilot's hand. [Pilot, Max will be safe.]

Pilot squeezed Carlos and Fili's hands. He and Max stood and went through the door. The power level started out at a reasonable level.

Fili flinched when the front door slammed open. Daniil and Tumba were not tripping over themselves, they were in perfect coordinated harmony.

"Daniil, no," Carlos barked, realizing they were headed for the door.

They ignored him. The door wasn't locked. They rushed inside. The door was closed quietly behind them.

He lost track of the time it took this time. Not as long.

He became aware his mouth was dry, or Carlos' was, he couldn't tell the difference, but he didn't move.

The door opened again. Daniil and Tumba came out carrying sleeping Max between them. Daniil jerked his head, and Carlos and Fili stood off the couch so they could lay Max out on it. They stood awkwardly and stared down at the sleeping man. Daniil and Tumba returned with sleeping Pilot and laid him on the couch next to Max. Tumba petted their heads and the two sat on the floor beside the couch. Neither would make eye contact with Carlos and Fili.

Dan and Oz came in the back door, through the kitchen. [You guys?] Dan asked, [What's been going on in here all day? Rabbit is out there standing guard on the front door.]

Daniil flopped his head back on the couch and yawned.

[I told you we needed a Trainer. This is why,] Carlos gestured, after licking his lips a couple times to get moisture back into his mouth.

Oz returned to the kitchen.

[What is actually happening, though?] Dan looked bewildered.

[He's fixing something. Different thing for everyone I think.]

Oz returned with two glasses of water. Carlos and Daniil both drank and shared with their partners.

[It's ok, it's just a HUGE dose of therapy all at once,] Daniil gestured, taking the glass back from Tumba and having another drink. [I'm going to go see if I can wake Fernando and Alondra up enough to get them to have some water. If they are as worn out as I feel and still asleep, they must be dry.]

'Fili, it's your turn.' Shoe called. His voice sounded exhausted.

Fili took the third glass from Oz, took Carlos' hand, and led him into the room and shut the door quietly behind them.


--


'Are you ready?' Shoe asked, once Fili had given him water and he and Carlos had dispersed as much of his pain as they could.

Fili nodded. [Lie next to the stallion, Carlos,] he directed.

[What are we doing?] Carlos asked as he climbed onto the bed. He sat up next to Shoe, with his back against the headboard.

[No, lie down, I won't have the strength to hold you up if you sit there.] He knelt on the bed with one knee on either side of Carlos' right leg and Shoes's left. He guided Carlos to a lying position, making him comfortable and stroking the soft beard he was developing.

[What about him?] Carlos jutted his chin at Shoe.

Fili let out a little laugh. [He does not need my strength. Relax now, self, we are going to remember.]

He touched Shoe. All the knowledge and experience and skill he could imagine flowed into him. His mind opened to places to which alone, he never could have returned.


--


It was warm. Love everywhere.

Two of every feeling.


-


'Happy. Mama. Happy. Energy. Full tummy,' came the thought.

'Me?' Energy wondered.

'Me,' Cold Right corrected.

'You? Us!' he felt, 'Love!'


--


Mama held the other Little Racing Driver's hands while she stepped. Lots of Energy could walk. He was faster.

Right of the Ice turned to look. 'Determined,' she felt. She stepped again.

'Good. Again,' Mama sent.


--


The older foals tracked out a circuit on the concrete. The younger foals had all watched and memorized where it lay. There was no indication on the concrete to show them. They just had to remember. Right of the Ice and Lots of Energy crouched side by side on the start line.

The older Green didn't throw fingers, he just gestured the green flag with no warning. Right of the Ice beat him off the line. He could feel the corners, see the quickest way through them, in the overlay he was keeping in his head. She kept pulling away.

He pushed himself harder, braked later, dove into corners more fiercely, ran harder on the straights. He managed to stop her pulling away, matched her, couldn't quite find the speed to reel her in.


--


Equal Justice of the Ice was small, slim, short. Crackling with Energy was not; he was going to grow up to have a powerful, man's body. She was always going to be littler than he would.

She was less weight for the karts to carry with them. She was faster, because their skill was equal, but her body gave her the advantage. He was so envious. Driving would always be easier for her. It would be unfair if when they raced, if she won just because he was too clunky and big.

Why couldn't he be tiny and light?


--


'If they match us, we will have to go with humans and be alone from each other,' she told him. She pressed closer to his side.

'If we match we will still never be able to compete. Not against Flying in a Clear Sky, or Sharp Ridge of the Cliff, or Fast, Sleek Entity. Not against the Reds and the Blues,' he frowned. They were sitting on the floor at the back of the dorm, their legs entangled.

'So why match? Racing Drivers can match with each other, you know the songs. Why don't we?' She held her hand to his heart and pressed her cheek to his.

He smiled mischievously. "Lets. I know where we can hide while we do it." She was already his other self.


--


Crackling with Energy and Equal Justice of the Ice knelt face to face. The basement room was dim, but they were settled on the floor in the corner. They took each other's helmet's off. Crackling with Energy looked into her eyes, the other half of who he was, and reached for the special, golden light within himself.

The farther he reached, it seemed like the farther away the energy was. He felt like he was reaching through water, like in the exercise pool, and when he swam further down, the more the water pushed him back up. He pushed harder, but he was getting tired, and he hadn't reached it, yet.

The door burst open. Crackling with Energy let his mind push him away from the bonding energy, up into his normal mind. He grabbed Equal Justice of the Ice's hand.

Her movement caused him to spin around as she rushed forward and snarled at the handlers. He looked up at the handlers and snarled, too.

The handlers swung their truncheons up and down, up and down. He raised his arms to try to block the strikes, but they were twice as tall and stronger than he was, his arms and hands were no more defense than his yellow overalls. Equal Justice of the Ice was striking out at the man, with her fists. He ignored her and hit her again and again. Her pain and his were all he could feel. One of the monsters screamed when she slammed her helmet into his nose. He pushed her hard.

Crackling with Energy could feel his twin's pain when she hit the ground. She screamed and lay on her back, kicking at him. He could taste the man's rage metallic, in his own mouth, and hear the man's triumphant breath when he stomped heavily on Equal Justice of the Ice.

Another man pushed at him, but he stomped down again.

She stopped screaming.

The other man pushed the bad handler away from her.

Crackling with Energy kicked at the side of the handler's knee. The man beating him stopped. Crackling with energy pulled Equal Justice of the Ice up and pushed her before him into the crawlspace. She kept trying to stop and slump against the walls, but he didn't stop pushing her until they were away, out of reach and around several corners. He turned to listen behind them.

The crawlspace was quiet except for the gasping little breaths. Crackling with Energy turned forward again. He pushed at Equal Justice of the Ice, where she had slumped against the wall when they had stopped and he had stopped pushing her onward.

She didn't get up and start crawling again.

She didn't push back at him.

She didn't respond.

'Justice?' He touched her mind.

There was no one in it.

'Justice, please, we have to keep going. They're going to find us here.' His hand, bare for once, because he'd taken his gloves off to match with her, brushed over her back and her shoulder and her face.

He squeezed past her in the narrow, low crawl space and sat, bent over to fit in the space, with his back to the wall. He pulled her as much as he could into his lap. 'Self,' He sent to her.

She was still alive, but nowhere he could find her, her mind just echoing with the last fear she'd felt.

'Help!' He cried out, too alarmed to think what to do. 'Help! My twin is hurt!'

He felt a big, powerful, masculine presence approach. He felt it embrace him. He felt it touch Justice's mind, become afraid, concerned. 'Energy, what have you done? How did this happen?'

'I didn't mean to...I just wanted to match with her,' he stroked the little filly's face, 'I didn't want to be without her.'

'It is a bad thing, Energy, matching with another Racing Driver, we are meant to match with men, the handlers get very angry if we aren't available to match to our humans,' He petted Energy's heart. 'Now look what has happened.'

Energy leaned into the only comfort he could find.

'The handlers are looking for you, you need to go to them. The longer you are gone, the angrier they will be. Go out to them, now.'

He had barely been able to pull her to his lap, he could never pull her all the way back.

'I can't carry her out. I'm not strong enough to get her to safety.'

'The handlers will come and get her.'

It was dark.

She was afraid.

She would be alone and afraid in the dark if he left her.

He petted her face and stopped listening to the stallion in his head. 'Don't worry. I won't leave you.' He kissed her forehead.

A thousand seasons passed while he huddled in the dark, scary crawlspace with his still twin in his arms.

Then, there was noise and light. A whole section of the wall moved away. Men looked in and their lights blinded Energy. He covered Justice's eyes so the light wouldn't hurt them.

Hands reached into the space and pulled them both out. He was passed to a strong stallion who wrapped his arms around the little colt. Energy watched a human carry his twin, draped over his arms, out of the room. When they had gone, he buried his face in the stallion's comforting embrace.

'Why didn't you come out? Why did you stay in there?' He asked, looking into Energy's eyes and petting his hair, and Energy knew he would be eternally grateful for the depth of concern he was being shown, when no one else would.

'It was dark. There was no one to take care of her. I know she wasn't there anymore, but I couldn't...' His face twisted into agony, 'She would have been scared. I couldn't leave her there. I couldn't just leave her alone in the dark.'


--


Energy curled up against the stallion he loved most. The one who had saved him from the darkness and the aloneness that had taken Justice. He had taken Energy with him, inside, when he went with his man to put her down. She was dying slowly, agonizingly, from broken machinery inside, and it was a kindness to stop her from suffering.

He would always have her last moments to remember, this way. The interest and comprehension he had shown for the medical explanations he'd been given had led to new things, as well. He would make a good medical Trainer, the men had decided. When he was matched to his true match, he could start Training. It was very generous of Price to sponsor him, and he had been coaching him about what he would need to know.

Price was getting too old to sit on the floor, so they sat shoulder to shoulder on the couch in the Trainer's office. [I'm proud you have done so well starting to learn to be a Trainer. When you're matched, you'll never have much of a career, so it will be good to have something you are good at.]

[I really like it. I'm glad you're teaching me,] he smiled so happily.

[When you match, it will be up to you to convince your match to agree to become Trainers. Don't push him too hard, though, you don't want him to feel like he is not in control of your bond. Humans need to be the ones to make the decisions. If you tell him too much that you want to be a Trainer, he will probably agree, but he will feel that you forced him. Humans don't like being forced. When he realizes you are too weak to compete with the Racing Drivers with more powerful color affinities, he will be glad to have another career to turn to. Try your best, so he doesn't get confused, or believe if you try harder you will succeed. That will be the best way to convince him.]

What a good idea. Price knew so much more than Energy about how to deal with humans. He rested his head on Price's shoulder. [Okay. I will do my best.]

--

'Walk with me,' Price told Energy. The Trainer walked on his Racing Driver's left and Energy walked on his right. 'Your match is here. It's time for you to bond with him.'

Energy nodded, excitedly.

'Don't worry, just be as strong as you can and show him the limits of your ability, so he will know how proud of you he should be.' Price held Energy's hand. They arrived at the room. Price guided Energy to kneel for the handlers. 'You are going to love your man more than anything else. In a few moments you will be glad you did not waste your bond energy on a wrong bond with your twin.'

An angry color tinged Energy's happiness.

Price left the room and Energy tested the handlers' limits. He could pull away if he really wanted to, but instead he just made them know he was strong enough to be allowed to match. Cracking with Energy's bond with Equal Justice of the Ice would NOT have been a waste of their bond energy. They would have been a great match. He might love this man, but Justice had been his other half. This man was TAKING her spot in his heart.

He frowned.

This man had better be good enough to make up for the fact that Energy would never have Justice in his heart anymore.

Energy would make SURE this man was good enough to take Justice's place. He OWED Energy that. Energy had deserved to have the match he wanted. This man would need to be the match he deserved instead.

Of course he would be. Crackling with Energy was the one making the match.

The boy came in. He looked like a taller, handsomer version of Justice and it made Energy heartsick. How dare he?

Energy pushed the handlers off, shoved them to the walls and leapt on the boy. He clasped his left hand around the back of the boy's neck. With the other hand he gripped the chin of his own helmet and wrenched the helmet up and off his head.

His eyes were brown, he looked surprised, but not afraid. His hands were fisted in Crackling with Energy's collar. He wasn't struggling, just providing his half of the support.

The dome of the helmet hit the floor with a crack.

Carlos, the son of a great rally champion, didn't flinch at the loud noise. He didn't flinch when Fili dug into his mind.

'I SHOULD have been doing this with her. Since I cannot, YOU will accomplish the greatness she would have done. YOU will be the half of my one self. YOU will prove equal to all the potential I will ever have. YOU will be the one I share my life with, because every instant of your life from now on will be yours to live, but you will also live it because she should have lived.'

He didn't alter Carlos, beyond what was necessary for a human to become one with a Racing Driver, but he TOLD Carlos. Even though Carlos didn't know he could hear it, he would feel what Fili had given him.

He was strong inside. Strategic, and cagey, a true healer at heart. A Yellow, like Fili. He had learned that he would never drive Rally, like he had grown believing his father had, he was going to give his life to grip racing, because Fili was a grip Driver. They both had a lot of lost hope to answer for. Fili smiled as he sealed Carlos' wounds. 'I will do my best to make what neither of us would have chosen the best it can be for you. You'll do the same for me, I trust you to do it.


--


Fili listened to the distant voices of the mares, 'He is going to be the lead stallion someday. There will be a championship and he will will take charge.'

'We lost Rabbit, and now Sunshine, too. Has there ever been a stable with so much trouble keeping lead stallions? What is wrong with us?'

'He will be a good lead stallion.'

[Do you hear me, Fili?]

Fili roused himself from his shock. [Yes, Carlos.]

'They won't be letting me come back the next time, Fili,' Rabbit told him. 'In a few years, Oz will have his wins. Do you hear me? You are HIS second stallion, alright? You stick to him like you're drafting, alright. Don't leave him on his own. You be his teammate in his leadership, alright? Defend him. He is YOURS.'

[Pay attention, Fili.] Carlos' hands waved in front of his face again.

'Take care of Oz,' Sunshine said. The lead stallion said, pushed it into his head with 4 championships. 'Oz is my heir. Oz is your prince. Take care of the prince, Fili.'

[Ferrari bought Sunshine. He's not coming back from the Trainer's. He's never coming back.]

[Who is going to Toro Rosso?]

[You are.]

[With Tumba?]

[No, Fili, pay attention. JEV isn't going to race next year. Tumba's going to Redbull. It's you, Fili. You're going to Toro Rosso. You and Pilot.]

[Pilot? Max?]

[Oz is senior driver, now. Dan asked for you.]

Rabbit was gone.

Sunshine was gone.

Their orders remained.

My lead stallion told me to stick to him like I'm drafting.

My lead stallion told me to take care of my prince.

Oz is my prince.

Oz needs to lead.

 

--


Fire alarms. The Racing Drivers spread out in their hundreds on the grass verge around the Redbull compound. Men with tasers, chasing his teammates into a van. Boomer asking him if any of them knew where the stallion was. Where anyone was. When no one could find Cooler, or Raver, Boomer turned to the next in line.

'Oz, what do we do?'

Fili closed his eyes, listening to a voice from a long time ago. I can't carry her out. He looked at Oz, who he had spent his whole life since learning to support in his future role as lead stallion. He looked at Carlos, who had absorbed every ounce of love Fili would have had for Justice and all the love Fili learned Carlos deserved for himself.

Get them out.

We've got to carry them out.

It wasn't just one scared colt in a crawlspace anymore. He had a strong man's body to use. What's more, he had two.

Carlos dove for the steering wheel just ahead of him, responding to Fili's fear, Fili's determination.

"We're getting out of here."


--


Carlos gasped into consciousness an inch from Fili's face. His eyes were so wide Fili could see the whites all the way around. Fili's arms were shaking from the effort of holding himself up between Carlos and Shoe, and he let himself drop onto Carlos' strong chest, with a grunt from both of them.

His man kissed his hair and put his arms around him. [Just give us a moment,] He felt Carlos gesture.

'Your tiredness will increase, you go now,' Shoe told Fili.

He took a breath and sat up, pulled his match with him. Then he looked up into two pairs of brown eyes. His lead stallion. 'Oz. I had to protect you. The herd needs you. You're the stallion, now.'

Oz hooked an arm under Fili's left shoulder. 'You are a good second stallion.'

He dragged his feet along the floor. 'I don't have any wins, I'm too slow to win.'

'You were the best Driver all season, Fili.'

'No wins.' Fili turned to see why he felt light on both sides. Dan smiled at him from his right shoulder. Who was carrying Carlos? He turned to see Mitch under one of Carlos' arms and Hare under the other.

They walked for as long as it took to run a race, and then he was being helped up onto the bunk in the bus and Carlos was being laid in his arms. He pulled his human self close. The man was already asleep. He felt extremely protective, suddenly, and looked up to make sure no one was touching them.

Oz smiled gently down at him. 'I will stand guard on you and keep you safe.'

'My prince...'

Chapter Text

December 12, 2016 -Day 24-


Daniil came into Shoe's room. Shoe was watching Sunshine, who was sharing the big armchair beside the bed with Sebastian.


[Then he screamed at me to run.] Sunshine's face was a rictus of agony. [We couldn't get the men to move. He wouldn't leave them.] Sebastian had his arm around Sunshine's shoulders, head down, stroking his arm, not really watching the retelling.


Pilot and Max were sitting on the bed beside Shoe, Pilot holding one of the older Racing Driver's hands. Daniil sat on the bench at the foot of the bed, beside Tumba.


[How did you find the strength to leave them behind?] Pilot asked him.


Sunshine looked at Sebastian, who looked up from his examination of the floorboards to smile wanly at his partner. [When Jaamies says to, you go,] Sunny gestured.


[What if you lost all of them?]


[Then Sunshine wouldn't have been lost and they would have died knowing their herd wasn't all dying with them,] Tumba gestured.


[Tyazhelyy.] Max drew the gesture out.


[It must have been very hard, for Sunshine,] Tumba looked right at Pilot, who'd asked for Tumba's place as rearguard, [With half the herd not understanding the need to run, leaving, knowing he was leaving his herd in danger. Jaamies made the right call. He had to try to get them moving, but to have let Sunshine stay would be WRONG, when Sunshine could still survive. He cared enough to tell him to run. So he wouldn't have to watch his best friend...] His face strained, [...when it wasn't necessary. He was already being asked to watch his match and his friend die, if he couldn't get them away. Can you imagine how agonizing it would be to give up all hope entirely, in your last moments? Can you imagine that pain?] Tumba's hand SLAMMED down on the wood of the bench.


He threw himself to his feet and out the door.


They all watched him go.


Daniil turned back to the shocked faces. [Dan says we'll leave for Ferrari as soon as lunch is over. If you are coming with us, you should be ready,] he told Sebastian.


He stood and started toward the door. Before he went through, he turned back and looked at Max and Pilot. He made the [Well, what are you going to DO about it?] gesture.


They looked at him.


[Go after him,] Daniil elaborated.


They hurried up off the bed and out the door.


Daniil gestured after a moment, directing his words to the figure on the bed, [Are you ready for what is next?]


Shoe's face was placid.


Sunshine spoke for him. [Yes.]


[It has been a long time since you've been to Ferrari.]


[Yes, yes it has, but it is time.]

Chapter Text

December 15, 2016 -Day 27-


The Ferrari stable was a big building. It was an enormous glass edifice. The windows were crowded with faces. All of them wanting to see. A few of them were standing outside on the concrete steps.


The two red Volvos, an old Vauxhall sedan, a blue Toyota Corolla and the Redbull Boys' bus parked in a line in the drive before the stable.


No one on the steps moved, until the herd had disembarked. Mark's herd, the Redbull boys, all stood guard while Sunshine and Sebastian got out of the Vauxhall. Sunshine went to the passenger seat with Sebastian went to the back and pulled out a wheelchair. Sunshine talked to the Racing Driver in the passenger seat, then moved his arms under him and lifted him out.


There was a lot of motion at the windows. Sunshine whispered noises to Shoe, drawing his attention away from the stares. He set him in the chair, he and Sebastian shielding him from the onlookers with their bodies.


Max and Pilot moved to the chair. Sunshine, Alondra and their men walked towards the steps. Rabbit and Mark walked on either side of Max and Pilot who attended the Stallion. Behind them came the Redbull Boys and Hare and Mitch. At the end of the herd walked the Porsche team.


Sunshine, Sebastian, Fernando and Alondra parted seamlessly to let Shoe through in front of Felipe and Mancha, the acting lead stallion, with Alain with Professor and Valentino with Rasoio flanking them as the strongest stallions in the stable.


Mancha glanced nervously at Felipe, then at Sunshine, and reached out and gently touched his old teammate's face.


The paralyzed Racing Driver smiled at him. [There is a herd here, we will be strong for your stable. We brought many championships.]


Mancha hugged him. Professor and Rasoio hugged him briefly and then moved out of the way.


There were only two other bond pairs on the steps.


Rex and Ralf knelt beside him, Rex running his hand through the fine down of hair that had grown back since Sunshine and Sebastian had cut it for camouflage. [My brother. My brother.] He kissed Shoe's cheeks. He moved away.


[I'm glad you are still safe,] Ralf gestured. It had been less time since he had seen Shoe than the rest of them.


Shoe looked at the last Racing Driver.


Pedra was squeezing Rubens' hand white. He was shivering.


He threw himself to the ground beside Shoe's chair, pressing his face onto Shoe's legs, clutching at his dearest friend's hands.


Rubens swallowed hard and blinked rapidly.


There was stillness as they spoke without words.


The Racing Drivers were content to observe and experience the outpouring of emotion, but the men started shifting uncomfortably. The two stallions, aware of this, brought their communication to a close. Pedra kissed Shoe's cheek and stepped back to join his man.


They went inside and the crowd of Racers greeted their Stallion. As he made his way farther inside the building, some of the bond pairs waited to see their friends among the herd.


Kiwi and Brendon were surrounded and embraced by a mobile force of arms and legs variously known as Alex, Marc, 73 and 93. Oz pushed through the crowd to tackle JEV to the floor, closely followed by Tumba. Daniel, Jean-Eric and Daniil shook hands and engaged in big, back slapping hugs before Daniil and Tumba faded through the crowd following Shoe, walking a few steps behind the group attending him.


Fernando and Mark shook hands with Felipe.


"Alondra tells me Valtteri and Pauli have disappeared."


Felipe ran his hands through his hair. "I left messages. No one answers their phone."


Alondra pulled Rabbit over to meet Fizz and Destello, some of his favorite friends from the stable. He looked around for Fili, and saw he and Carlos speaking with low heads and hunched shoulders to two tall Italians, and decided there would be time, later.


They were all safe at Ferrari, again.

Chapter Text

December 15, 2016 -Day 27-


Fili and Carlos stood out of the way of the crowd. They all wanted to see Shoe, or the Redbull Boys they knew. Jean-Eric and JEV had been around the stable when Fili and Carlos had been there, but they had never been close, like they had with the Dans and their Drivers, who had been their teammates.


The two young Trainers didn't really have any friends at this stable. They knew the Marquezi, but not well enough to interrupt their visit with Kiwi, who they were closer to. It hadn't occured to Carlos, yet that his father would be in this crowd, somewhere. Before it did, someone else addressed them.


"Excuse me." The voices came inside and out simultaneously.


Since meeting Shoe at the place he had been staying, with Sunshine and Sebastian, Fili's senses had been overwhelmed, he couldn't really sense the light flicker of another Racer's presence beyond the white hot glow of Shoe. It was already so far beyond his comprehension, he couldn't detect the change from astronomical to galactic that the power levels must have jumped to when they arrived here, with MORE multiple world champions than the 3 he had been travelling with. Fili and Carlos crowded further against the glass to get out of the way.


He looked up at the tall, thin, bushy brown haired bond pair smiling at them. The Racer had longer hair. Valentino Rossi and Rasoio, the MotoGP champions. "Rasoio says our friend Shoe asks us to talk to you about colors?"


Carlos and Fili looked at each other.


"Let's go for a walk," The man opened the door and escorted them out to the steps again. The taller pair set a brisk pace across the drive to a worn footpath that led through the bushes. They followed, hands in pockets.


The bushes and trees were low and scrubby, once past the manicured landscape of the stable grounds. It was midwinter and it was cold, but Carlos and Fili had good warm clothing, and the other two were wearing coats and hats.


"Valentino?" Carlos asked after awhile. They had never met, but everyone in the racing community knew the name Valentino Rossi. "What do you want to say about colors?


"Carlitos, you should ask your partner about that."


They kept walking. The Racing Rider reached out and linked his arm with his partner's.


Occasionally Valentino would lean down and pick a pebble off the ground.


[What does he mean, Fili?]


[Everyone knows Reds and Blues win everything. Of all of us, who do you think will retire with championships? Oz and I? No. Pilot. Maybe Tumba, if he can recover his footing.] Fili tucked his hands in the sleeves of his coat and pulled the sleeves closed.


[Kiwi is a champion, he's a green.] Carlos was confused. How long had Fili felt this way?


[Kiwi is on a team with two blues, and he is FAST.]


This was confusing and Carlos shook his head. [You said you drove the best in all F1 last year.]


Rasoio's eyes widened.


[There were no wins, though, were there? No team will want me if I never have a win. I cannot win on Toro Rosso. No one will want a Yellow with no wins.] Fili gestured angrily, then pulled his hands back into his sleeves.


[We are Trainers, that means something. It means we are more valuable. You are more desireable because you have those skills, because you are a Yellow. I am proud you are a Yellow. We are Yellows together.]


Valentino and Rasoio nodded. Valentino picked up another pebble.


"May I say something?" He asked.


"Color affinity is something that says things about a Racer. You wear yellow. This means you wish to fix things, it means you feel strongly, but think first, that you know to be friendly, but you aren't guided by what makes others happy if it is not for the best. You are Trainers?"


They nodded.


"It is hard work, yes?"


They nodded.


"Rasoio and I have been Trainers for much of our career. You are medics, yes?"


[Yes, we are. I can name all the muscles,] Fili said.


"You know what means Doctor?"


[Yes, it is a medic.]


"This is what we are. Rasoio and I."


[Carlos and I are going to be doctors.]


"That will be good. You know, a lot of champions are Red Racers. Reds feel much and fight hard. Racers do well when they learn to fight hard. Some Racers, who don't feel as much, have a hard time learning to fight hard enough to win. When they learn, though, they have learned so well, they do much, much better than other Racers. Often these are the Racers who are not Reds and Blues."


[The biggest winners in F1 are Reds and Whites. Blues, too.]


"Shoe is the strongest stallion in F1, and Professor, and Sunshine?"


[Yes, Reds and a White.]


"Snap is a Grey?"


[Yes.]


"Ayrton Senna's was a Red," Carlos put in. "Grad is a Red."


[Maestro was a Black.]


Valentino nodded. "Yes, Fangio's Racer. Many Reds win in f1."


[He's the only Black Racer I've heard of who won, and there's no Yellows on that list at all.]


Rasoio nodded sympathetically. [What about in other classes? Would you believe Yellows could win if there was a strong Rally Champion?]


[I know about Destello.]


[Destello is very good. A multiple world Champion. He is as strong as Alondra. May I show you something? Cup your hands.]


Fili held his hands out and Valentino dropped a pebble into them.


[This is a Championship.]


Fili nodded.


[Your Rabbit's Championship is like this, one Championship.] He nodded at Valentino, who added another stone.


[Alondra is a Multiple World Champion. Look how much more stone is there.]


Fili nodded.


Valentino added another stone.


[These Championships are your Snap. He is very strong. He has more wins than match his Championships.]


Another stone.


[This is Sunshine.] Fili looked at the four stones for Sunshine, thinking how much more they were than Rabbit's one stone. Sunshine was young, and had years yet on the grid. How many stones would be for Sunshine before he was done?


He couldn't speak with the stones in his hands, so he looked at Carlos.


[Blue, Blue, Grey and Red,] Carlos gestured.


Valentino put another stone in Fili's hand. It was darker.


[This is Maestro, only one other Racer has done as well in F1.]


Valentino put another stone in Fili's hand.


[There is no F1 Racer for this stone, but one of the Riders is this strong.] The stone was not a true yellow, but much more yellow colored than the plain grey stones and the dark stone.


Fili looked up.


[His name is Goldenrod. His man's name is Ryan Dungey.]


Fili brushed his thumb over the new stone. Sunshine's Championships AND Alondra's Championships together. A Yellow Rider.


Valentino added another stone.


[This is Shoe.]


Fili looked up again. Shoe was the strongest Racer who ever lived. Only another stone more than a Yellow? He told Rasoio this.


He laughed. [You forget about other classes. Shoe is the strongest F1 Racer, and this is where F1 ends. There are other classes, though.]


This time Rasoio put another stone and another again into Fili's hand before saying anything. The last was yellow as well. He didn't say anything.


They looked at him. He smiled modestly.


Valentino looked at him for a moment, waiting, then touched the yellow stone. [This stone is the strongest MotoGP Rider. He is a Trainer and a Doctor, and he is a lead stallion of the stable he founded, and the second strongest Rider. He takes on FAR too much responsibility,] He said as if this was an old argument, [And he has had one of the longest careers of any rider, human or Racing Rider.] He kissed Rasoio on the cheek.


Fili looked at Carlos and back at Rasoio.


A Yellow was stronger than Shoe.


Then Valentino put another yellow stone in his hand.


[There is a Racer in NASCAR who has more Championships than I have. Not as many wins, but more Championships.]


He put in another stone and another.


[This is a Green, the strongest NASCAR Racer. King.]


He and Valentino started putting stones into Fili's hands. As many more as Sunshine, as many more as Shoe, as many more as King, and then more. The stones spilled out over the edges of Fili's fingers onto the ground.


He stared.


On the top, Rasoio put a black stone.


[This is it. This is the strongest.]


[The Greatest Of All Time. The greatest Racer of all of us, is a Black Motocross Rider. His name is Ratchet.]


Rasoio held out his hands. [Where are the Reds?]


Fili dropped the mountain of stones and threw his arms around Rasoio. [We can win! We can have championships!] He pulled Carlos against him. [I will bring you championships, my self. We will bring them for you and for me and for Justice. She would have liked that. We will like that.]

Chapter Text

December 17, 2017 -Day 29-


The latest episode of the Redbull Boys' Roadtrip started with footage of vans marked with Policia pulling up an isolated road in a long line.


There were no Redbull Boys in sight.


Dan's voice drifted sadly over the video.


"It is December 17, 2016. The FIA finally caught up with us."


The footage went black as the last van stopped.


A caption came on the black screen. 12 hours earlier.


The sound cut in first, human and Racing Driver laughter. Then Dan's voice and a rev from Oz. "Okay, okay guys, we're gonna start." The video faded in on a selfie of Dan and Oz. "Hey Redbull Boys viewers, this is Dan Riccardo and Oz. We just thought you'd like to know the Roadtrip made it safely to the SARAH. This is where the Ferrari Racing Drivers and a bunch of other Racing Drivers and matches are staying, until the governments decide to declare Racing Drivers have rights. Can't tell you where it is, of course, but, look, we found some friends. My buddies Felipe and Mancha are here. He planned to the side and two smiling faces leaned into view, they both waved. "They were expecting to be somewhere else, but some bad people put at end to that."


Felipe looked so sad and said, "Forza Williams," In a low voice. Mancha gestured it.


"We also found some other Redbull boys," Dan said in a slightly more cheerful voice. He panned back across himself and made a funny face. "On my other side, Oz's best friend, JEV, and our buddy Jean-Eric."


Oz put his arm around JEV and they clunked their heads together. Jean Eric waved.


"And some of you may recognize these guys, it's Marc Marquez and 93 and Alex Marquez and 73, and Dani Pedrosa and Duende!"


The 3 pairs of Riders waved. 93 raised his hands and gestured, [Forza Williams, and they all repeated it.


"You heard Carlos talk about someone very special on the first Roadtrip webcast. We'd like to introduce you him, now. This is Destello."


When the camera was on him, Destello revved with a baritone grunt, and gestured.


"We just want to say how proud we are of our Carlitos and our Fili. They have been so brave to fight to show you all this information," Carlos Sainz Sr. translated for his Racing Driver. He clapped Carlos on the shoulder, and Destello put an arm around Fili.


"There's another Redbull Boy the viewers may be interested in saying hello to, an oldie, but a goodie."


Marc Marquez laughed loudly.


"Another Mark, Mark Webber, and his Racing Driver, Rabbit. They..."


There was the sound of a door opening and Mark and Rabbit looked up and behind the camera, then back again, quickly.


"Felipe, Mark, come quickly," Fernando Alonso's voice said.


Mark and Rabbit stood up and the camera panned around to Fernando, leaning in the door to the little recreation room they were filming in. He made a questioning face at the camera and then looked back at Mark and Felipe. "There are police outside."


The camera wobbled as Dan moved to shut it off.


The footage started with a glare of white, which faded to a view outside some large glass windows of two men in Italina police uniforms. Fernando, Felipe and Mark were outside talking to them. The police gestured, angrily but meaninglessly. There was no audio. It faded back to white.




The next time the camera came on, it was just Dan's concerned, unsmiling face a blank wall behind him. He glanced up at whoever was holding the phone, then swallowed, hard and spoke. "The police have come to turn the matches out of the building. They want all the Stigs to stay." He swallowed again. "So their rightful owners can come and pick up their property. We're not going to go. If we believe the Stigs are not property, if we believe they are people, this is the time to prove it. It is 3:42 pm Central European Time. This feed is being posted live. We ARE going to tell you where we are."


The address and directions flashed across the screen. Dan read them out. "If you are anywhere near Forno, Italy, and you believe that NO ONE should be 'picked up' like property, come and show THEM, what you believe." He turned the camera. There was a brief flash of a dozen of the matches standing along the lobby wall being filmed speaking their native languages by another dozen matches holding smart phones and laptops.


There was another white glare while the camera adapted to the light outside. Dark shapes resolved themselves into men in swat gear, standing in front of black vans. There were some locals standing around. "This message is being posted in 12 different languages. It's being posted on the Redbull Boys' Roadtrip site, the Grand Tour site, and all the social media we can get it onto. If you see it, translate it and pass it on. We can't let them get away with this. We don't know what will happen to us. We'll keep broadcasting as long as we can. There are over 16,000 Stigs here. That's counting these guys."


The camera panned sideways. Felipe, Keke, Alain, Damon and their Racers were in a worried huddle, watching out the window.


"The Stigs living at the Williams stable were murdered. These 4 and 12 others survived. Valterri Bottas and his Stig, Pauli, had to be kept in the clinic after they arrived. They are being threatened with separation. They don't know what will happen if the Stigs are taken back into FIA custody. We're worried that if they take the stable, the Ferrari herd will not be around by the time the Stigs are declared to be people."


"Hey, look at this!" One of the Rider's matches was sitting against the wall in the lobby, with a laptop on his knees. "We're on cam!" The camera joggled as Dan and his cameraman went over to look. The footage came back into focus. On the screen was a live feed of someone outside, filming the outside of the building. A moment later a piece of paper appeared at the window. The camera operator outside zoomed in on it. It read in big markered letters "They want to take the Stigs away."


Dan's camera moved, until it was showing one of the Rider matches from the other side, holding the paper to the inside of the window. He turned and smiled. "Just in case they don't know what's happening."


"There's another car pulling up!" Someone further down the window called. People got out of the car and joined the crowd standing off to the side.


"Keep it coming, guys." Dan said into the camera.


He looked off camera and nodded. "We thought you might like to get to know some of the Stigs you've been watching over the years. Here's one who's popular with the fans."


Sunshine stepped into the shot. He looked confused and looked off camera. Sebastian's voice could be heard reassuring him. Sunshine gestured back, an aggravated look on his face. Then he shook his head and looked at Dan. The cameraman stepped back so Dan and Sunshine's gestures could be seen. Dan asked questions in voice and gestures while Sunshine answered in gestures and Sebastian, partly off camera, translated Sunshine's gestures to words.


They didn't ask questions like journalists in the paddock. Dan asked what Sunshine wanted humans to know about Stigs. Sunshine talked about being afraid at the stables. He talked about the incredible joys of his life- Racing and being partnered with Sebastian. He talked about Jaamies. His eyes welled up when he talked about having to leave him behind, because he was needed more elsewhere. Sebastian set a hand on his shoulder, but the sharing just had the effect of making Sebastian's eyes well, too. They didn't really pull themselves together again, and Dan ended the interview.


Next he talked to Mark and Rabbit, who talked about the evils FIA had perpetrated, in non-specifics, and about how much work the Grand Tour Crew had done to make this possible.


They talked to Keke and Ukkonen, who talked about how F1 had changed over the years. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. How all of racing had changed. The amount of control FIA exerted increasing as exposure became a greater possibility with improved camera technology and the internet. Keke explained that something like the Grand Tour broadcast would never have been possible, in earlier years. The internet made it possible to expose the putresence on an instant, global scale.


Suddenly yells rose outside.


"Incoming!" Someone by the windows yelled.


One of the swat officers was walking across the drive to the building.


The crowd, now being fed by a stream of people walking up the hill from where there was still places to park, had grown hugely.


The man stood outside the door and yelled to all the men visible inside. "Send out a representative."


Fernando and Mark looked at each other. Mark made a pleading expression, but Fernando gave the slightest shake of his head. All the matches felt the reverberation of a strong stallion pushing another down. The few Stigs allowed into the lobby looked down and all of them felt their partners reacting to Alondra forcing Rabbit to back down.


Fernando opened the door and walked outside.


"You all must leave this building." The lead policeman said.


"We have permission to stay here. From the man who manages the property." He pulled out a piece of paper and showed the policeman.


The man stared at it. "You are joking. This man is a retired driver. He does not manage this property."


"We have permission to stay," Fernando repeated.


"Let him stay! Fernando Alonso belongs at Ferrari!" Someone from the crowd screamed.


Fernando smiled and waved a hand a little.


"If you do not leave the building, we will have to arrest you, Mr Alonso." The policeman did NOT look happy to be saying this. "We will have to arrest all the men inside as well. The...Stigs...will have to stay." He didn't look like he believed he was saying this.


Fernando leaned forward and growled like a true Spanish Lion, "You are not taking him away from me."


He turned and walked back to the front of the stable. He stood in front of the doors and crossed his arms. "We will not allow you to return these people to the companies that have kept them imprisoned as slaves."


He was jostled a little as the door opened into him. Mark stood beside him on his right and crossed his arms, too. Felipe stood on the other side of Mark with his arms crossed. There were little yells from the crowd.


Dan's cameraman panned the lobby, there was a crowd at the door, now. The matches filing out to stand in front of the building.


Timo and Brendon joined Mark. Then the Volkswagen matches went out and stood beside them. The Rider matches filed out in a long line. They were only the grip riders, the motocross Riders mostly lived at the motocross annex in America. Those who were in Europe had gone to one of the Rally camps. The Marquez brothers looked for a long time at their Racing Riders, waiting until they faded down the steps to the under levels, where the rest of the Racers were waiting. Then they went out and took their places with the Racing Rider matches.


Then Casey Stoner walked out, and the crowd started to scream.


Dan looked over at Daniil, confused.


"I forgot about Ducati," Daniil said. He rushed over to the mass of Rider matches filing out the door and pulled one out of line. "Wait here," He instructed. "We're going to get more impact from you."


Casey was still standing, waving, while the fans of the Italian motorcycle team he'd headlined for screamed his name.


Valentino Rossi smirked at Daniil. "You forget that Italians love more things than just Ferrari?" He asked sweetly.


"I forgot," Daniil admitted.


Valentino turned and smiled at Sebastian, and the Racing Driver in the wheelchair, gesturing as he spoke. "Boy forgets that the Yellow Army has almost as many men as the Tifosi." He laughed.


Shoe grinned back. Sebastian looked into his head for what Sunshine was telling him, and then spoke for Shoe, "My baby brother makes many men love him. We will see who gets the loudest screaming from the humans."


"You want to bet? For Rasoio, women will faint."


The older Racing Driver chuckled. "For Michael's name, they will throw clothing. If they do, you will trade me the length of a race. An F1 race."


Valentino looked into nothing while he communicated to Rasoio. "If they do not, you will teach us to bond again."


As they were negotiating their bet, Daniil and Dan filed out, with Carlos, filming them on the go-pro. He panned across the matches standing outside. He stood to one side so he could see Dan, Daniil and everyone lined up beyond them.


The door opened again. Fernando and Felipe stepped forward, on either side of the door, with about 3 meters between them, in front of the next line of matches. Roberto Merhi walked out. He stood quietly beside Felipe. Will Stevens walked out next and stood beside him. Antonio Giovinazzi walked out and stood beside him. On Fernando's side, the Rider matches with Ferrari born Racing Riders stepped forward. Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Francesco Bagnaia.


The door opened again. Giancarlo Fisichella came out. He stood tall beside Fernando. Toni Vilander followed him and stood on the other side. Gianmaria Bruni stood beside him. Eddie Irvine came out to cheers, and stood on the other side of Gianmaria, clapping the other man on the arm before folding his arms into the Stig pose as the other matches had.


Then Ralf Schumacher came out.


There was some confused cheers.


Behind him, Rubens walked out. There was no confusion about these cheers. He stood in the gap Fernando and Felipe had left, side by side with Felipe.


Jean Alesi came out. There was no doubt about the cheers for him. He stood beside Fernando, across from Rubens.


There was a pause.


Sebastian Vettel walked out. He threw kisses to the crowd who cheered loudly for him. He went down to stand beside Jean, staring back up at the door.


Dan cast a confused look at the camera, and then at Daniil, who was looking pleased.


Nothing happened, until an expectant hush had fallen over the crowd.


The door opened, a tall man backed out, somewhat hunched over the wheel chair he was moving. He turned, and the crowd, expecting Gerhard Berger or Kimi Raikkonen, was faced with Valentino Rossi and Michael Schumacher.


They exploded.


Women fainted.


Some men fainted.


The cheers went for a long time.


When they finished, Valentino took Shoe's hand and raised it, calling in his native Italian "Italy Forever! Ferrari Forever! Ducati Forever! Racing Forever!"


The screaming resumed. Garments were thrown.


"We are Ferrari." The Ferrari matches chanted in perfect harmony. "We are Ferrari. We will protect our Stigs. We will protect the Ferrari Stigs!"


The door opened again and the screaming stopped. Keke and Damon walked out on either side of Alain.


"Forza Williams!" Someone from the crowd screamed. "Williams Forever! Williams Forever!"


The crowd of fans took up the chant for the dead stable.


It went on.


And on.


And on.


When it had died away, the lead policeman raised his megaphone.


"We can't let you stay here..." He said loudly.


The crowd shrieked at him.


Valentino raised his hands, and leaned close to Shoe like he was listening to him speak. "Please, they are just doing their jobs. We want only for you to witness what is done. To show the world that the Stigs at Ferrari did not just disappear. The companies do this, take us away from our Stigs, but we will not fight these men, who are just doing their jobs. That is not the way to do this."


He held his hands out and let the policeman put handcuffs on him. The camera zoomed in as he leaned closer to hear what the policeman was saying to him. He laughed. "Yes, I will give you an autograph. You first let me out of these cuffs so I can write. I will give you as many autographs as you like."


The matches moved forward slowly, one by one, to be arrested. One of the policeman came down the row to take Carlos' Go-Pro. The feed went black.


It resumed barely a second later, showing a nervous looking Mitch Evans.


"They took Carlos' Go-Pro," He said. "All the matches are out there getting arrested. Except these ones. I was left behind to show you what's INSIDE the Ferrari stable." He turned the camera. The mess hall had the tables and chairs cleared out of it. Sitting cross legged on the floor were the Racing Drivers and Racing Riders of all the matches outside being arrested. They looked up at him with scared faces. In the front row was Mitch's own Hare.


He gestured to Mitch. Mitch translated. "He says- 'To the humans watching, we want you to know that the days of freedom we have had have been better than anything any of us has known. We are grateful that the Grand Tour got us free, even if it was only for a little while. All we ever wanted was to stand under the sun, and we were allowed to do that. Now we are being imprisoned again..'"


Hare's face twisted in sorrow and he covered his face with his hands. There was the sound of an elevator and Mitch spun around to look. "They're coming." The camera shook as he sat down cross legged beside Hare.


The doors opened and the policemen came in, hesitating visibly as they saw the crowd of doubles of the men they had just arrested sitting, waiting for them. A man reached for Mitch and there was a shot of the ceiling before that feed died, too.


Another feed came on. This was a webcam built onto a computer. A figure too close to be seen moved back from the computer and knelt in front of it. He was a pale boy with bright blonde hair and dark eyes. "I'm Patrik," He said, in the voice of someone young making an effort to be brave. "You don't know me. You never got a chance to. My Rider was supposed to start moto3, next year, but now they're going to take him away, and I'm never going to see him again. We only matched this year. I've never loved anything so much in my life. You can't imagine how much better than they are than anything else ever. I...I don't want to lose him." He backed up and sat down.


There was another crowd sitting on the floor in a large gymnasium.


This crowd was fronted by a group of 15 and 16 year olds, matches and Racers. The year's new matches.


Beyond the dozen or so young boys, were all the foals of the herd. Each match was cuddling armfuls of the littlest babies, and there were more babies in the arms of each young matched Racing Driver and Racing Rider.


Mechanical wails of fear, that were obvious as fear even in the little engine rev voices, rose as the sound of the elevator came closer.


The men came out.


One of the little ones gestured in big gestures at the men.


"What is he doing?" The man said.


"He says you should leave us alone. We aren't hurting you! They just want to be able to leave here when they want and not be hit and not be scared of dying all the time."


Another one gestured.


"He says he doesn't want to race, he's scared of crashing."


One of the matched Racers burst into tears.


Patrik translated in choked up words. "He says- 'Please don't make my match die. You can hurt me, instead.'"


The boy who looked like the crying Racer pushed the two babies he was holding into Patrik's arms and wrapped himself around the sobbing Racer. The sobs sounded just like any a 14 year old boy would make. Not like engine sounds, at all. He spoke in Portugease to his Racer, reassuring him.


It was at this point one of the policeman noticed the camera. He moved towards it, and all that was visible for a moment was his flak jacket, and then the feed went dark.


Another feed started.


It was a clinic. Alain Prost's lookalike was reclining on the exam table. Text appeared on the screen, accompanied by a typing noise.


This is Alain Prost's Stig, Professor. He is very old aged for a Stig. He was born here, in the Ferrari stable, and raced for the Ferrari team before going to live at the Williams stable. The Stigs here are his cousins' and his brothers' and sisters' children.


And their children.


And their children.


There was another Racer, who looked just like Valentino Rossi, standing beside him, operating a blood pressure cuff and listening intently to a stethoscope.


The Stig treating him is Valentino Rossi's Stig, Rasoio. He races, and he is a real doctor. The companies taught him how to take care of other Stigs. He is checking Professor's blood pressure. He is allowed by the companies to practice medicine, but not allowed to be free.


He was born at the Williams stable, but his grandparents were born at Ferrari.


Rasoio revved a smooth sound to Professor and brought him some water.


There was more typing sounds.


Professor and a few other Racing Drivers survived the massacre of the entire population of the Williams stable's Racing Drivers.


These two guys are almost all that's left of 15,000 Racing Drivers.


The elderly Racing Driver looked at the younger one and leaned away from the camera. He gestured subtly, but the captions read:


When the men come, I don't want to be here when this herd dies.


The words appeared slowly on the screen.


I can't feel...


My ancestors' line die...


Like I felt my line die.


Please.


Don't make me experience that again.


Make the boy sleep, first, but if there is time, please, don't make me feel Ferrari die.


The tall, curly haired Italian Racing Rider leaned his head forehead to forehead with the elderly Racing Driver and nodded.


The elevator doors opened.


Rasoio took a syringe off the table and gestured at the camera. It didn't need translation, but one appeared over the scene, anyway.


Come here to me, Max.


"Stop!" A voice called. "Stop! We're not going to hurt anyone. We aren't going to arrest you. We're not going to take you away."


--


Most of the rest of the broadcast was of an empty medical center.


After several hours, during which outside sources filmed the release of the matches from the police vans, and the police joining the matches in guarding the stable, the elevator doors opened again.


Dan Ricciardo came in. He picked up the laptop, face partly covered by the words, "Come here to me, Max," and smiled. "We did it. We're safe. They're going to leave us alone. We're safe. The police accepted our paperwork. They saw the little Stigs and they couldn't go through with it."


He breathed a sigh of relief and gave a laugh.


"Ferrari is safe."

Chapter Text

December 20, 2016 -Day 32-


[Come on,] Dan told Max, [We're going.] The sun was rising over the hill and Carlos was in the driver's seat of the bus, watching him through the open door.


He looked back at the stable, at Pilot, who'd just started Training with Shoe. Then he looked at Dan and Carlos, ready to go...ready to leave to restart the good the Redbull Boys' Roadtrip had been doing. Then he looked at Daniil and Tumba, ready to go, too, but waiting for his decision. If he said no, he knew without asking, they would stay. They wanted to go.


'What do you want?' He asked Pilot.


'I want to go, but I feel like it would be more responsible to stay. Safer to stay.' He nodded. 'I want to go.'


Max smiled and pulled him forward by the hand. They took Dan's hand in one of theirs and Tumba's in the other and ran with them to the bus. Their herd. It was most important to be with their herd.


--


They parked off the side of the road on a hillside that night and Dan lit a fire.


The Stigs were all a little nervous of it until they got used to the fact it wouldn't explode. They were very good at staring into the flames, watching the shapes. Tumba sat beside Max with his arm around his back, hand pressed lightly on his far side. Whenever he said anything he gestured it, and then replaced his hand on Max's hip. Dan brought out sausages and sticks and they all ate burned sausage in buns toasted on the rocks around the fire.


After the quietness had settled while they were all full and thoughtful, Tumba said to Max, [Come with me, I want to share something with you.] He and Max walked out into the darkness, up the hill. He sat them down in a grassy patch and pointed upwards. [Look at the stars.]


It was cold and the winter sky was crisp and clear. They were in Italy and there wasn't snow on the ground. Max watched the stars.


[Did you know they are all different? Every one of them is made of different things, and a different size and a different distance away. Farther than we could ever drive. They all look the same from here. Every one of them is amazing, not because it's made of things the others aren't, because it's a STAR.] He gestured this expansively over their heads and let his hands fall slowly. He touched the back of Max's hand. [Max,] He said the name sign softly between them, [I'm proud to have your starlight. I'm proud that you are made of funny and sweet and brave and hardworking. I would be proud to be your friend, no matter what. You are a star. I love you no matter what. We all do. Anyone who tells you you are not amazing is lying to you.] He leaned forward and kissed a tear off Max's cheek, and then cuddled him to his chest.


Max put his arms around Tumba's back, reminded by the taller Racing Driver of when he had been young and Pilot had held him. He sighed sadly and nodded against Tumba's chest.


He felt the gestures against his back. [He lied to you, Max, you are special, wonderful, worthy, always. Good boy. Wonderful Max.]


He clenched his fingers tightly. [You don't know my dad.]


Tumba kissed the top of his head and that was all.


[You don't know what it was like,] Max pushed. He and Tumba leaned away from each other and looked into each other's eyes.


Tumba smiled. [You didn't win, again. You're not trying hard enough. Lost the car again, not surprising. There's other Racing Drivers who want this, don't you even care? You're so lucky this chance fell in your lap. You're doing your best, well it's pretty pathetic. You're sorry, YES, YOU ARE, sorry excuse for a Racing Driver. Why aren't you paying attention? You're just doing this to piss me off.] He shuddered and looked down. [Too stupid not to mess with Sunshine, that's it, you're done. You're going back to Toro Rosso until we find someone who actually wants to drive for us. Pilot has what it takes to prove he's a winner, because YOU DON'T.]


He licked his lips and looked back at Max. [I love you. You are starlight.]


Max put his forehead on Tumba's shoulder. [Helmut?] He asked.


[Price, Helmut's Racing Driver. You should hear the things he told Fili.] Tumba's arm went back around him.


[He was always nice to Pilot,] Max said.


[Pressure. Always pressure,] Tumba told him. [Engines need pressure, but too much makes them break.] He laid back on the ground so Max was lying with his face on his chest.


Max felt awful about putting Pilot under pressure.


[I'm proud of you for learning. For growing.] Tumba stroked Max's back.


They lay there quietly until the ground got too cold. Tumba sat up and kissed Max's forehead, [Come on, starlight, we're going inside to our herd. Where we belong.]

Chapter Text

Morning of December 21, 2016 -Day 32-

 

"I win!" Max screamed.

Daniil woke up with a start. He was shivering and sweating. Tumba was leaned up looking at him.

'Bad pictures,' He commented, 'I woke you up.'

'Thank you,' Daniil murmured. His mind was still fuzzy and he rolled and went back to sleep. It had been bad.

It started again as he drifted off again.

The four of them, Dan and Max and Carlos and Daniil were standing together. There was a Redbull car in front of them. There were more figures behind them, faceless, just a crowd of men like them.

A man called and Dan stepped forward, kneeling and resting his hands on the corner of the side pod and resting his neck on it like an executioners block. The man who'd called manacled Dan's wrists together and put a chain around his neck. He clipped the two together and then he started winding the chain around and around the car. Then the three of them were alone. Carlos tried to comfort them, keep their spirits up.

The man called again. Someone had to step out from the safe place, take the next place bound to the wheel. Daniil stroked the other men's faces before he walked away. "The strongest goes in front so the herd is protected when he is left behind." He stayed with Max the longest. Max needed the most.

Daniil could feel the texture of the tarmac under his knees, the smooth painted enamel of the side pod against his palms and his throat. The manacles pinched. The choke chain was very tight. He felt literally pressed down by the feeling that he had to do this to protect them. He was resigned. He was even glad.

Then suddenly they were unchaining him, dragging him away. He looked to the side and saw Max being dragged to his place, "No!" He screamed. Max was sweet and young, and most of all he wasn't hard enough! He wouldn't survive being chewed apart by the machine.

He tried to crawl back. No, Max needed to learn how to fight the monsters coming for him, before the was facing them naked. And unarmed. Before their worship turned him into a monster too, and they tore him apart. "Please let me have the place. Please don't hurt him."

Max wasn't being chained to the car, the engine was open, exposed, and Max was stepping directly into it. The man laughed and voices cheered. They applauded him. He looked up and smiled and waved to the crowds of adoring fans.

Please don't. Don't hurt him.

He didn't notice, just smiled and waved. The engine grinding his legs to pieces as he stepped into it. He waved at Daniil. "I'm going to be the next Sunshine. They’ll love me because I’m the best. I’ll do anything to be the best."

Daniil screamed as Max started to fall into the machine. He had a very clear view of the blood coating the gears, not like gears in a car engine, but big cogs like in a huge clock.

"I want the place in front. I'm strong enough to take the wins." Max told the man. He was up to his hips in the machine, now.

"The place in front is for the ones who are going to die for their family. Please, please, Max, let me take the place?!" Don't die, Max, look at them, they think you're going to win, but they're feeding you into the machine. They're feeding the sport with your blood.

"They want me to be Champion."

"No, they don't, they don't care about you. They won't stop you, Max. They are using you."

Max slipped further into the machine, still smiling at waving at the fans, who were starting to notice the mess Max was making. There was blood and gristle everywhere, the people nearest were backing out of the way of the spattering blood and the spreading puddle on the floor. The fans didn’t like the way he was reacting to the pressure. They weren't smiling, anymore.

Daniil broke free and rushed forward. He circled his arms round Max's chest from behind and tried to pull. With an angry shriek, Max came apart in his hands.

Daniil lost his balance and fell forward into the machine, feeling in horrific detail the whirling gears destroying him.

He woke slowly in the sunlight. The bus was stopped. Tumba was sleeping fitfully beside him, and the rest of the bus was silent. Daniil sent silent gratitude for the Grand Tour. For protecting Max and Pilot from what they would have been put through on the grid next year. There was no longer any next year.

No pressure. No soul killing grind.

He got up. None of the others stirred. He sat at the picnic table outside where the bus was parked and looked at the trees. How could Max believe the lies?

Footsteps approached and a hand settled on his shoulder. "Are you alright?" Max asked. His voice was deeper than it had been when he'd started, it was even deeper than when they'd left. Daniil looked up at him, outlined against the sky.

"I had a dream that Redbull ground you to death instead of me, and you are angry at me for not being happy about it," he said in a bemused voice. His tone darkened. "How could you believe I would be ANGRY at you for taking Redbull? HOW?!

Max seemed taken aback by the outburst. "Because if you took my place as the rearguard, I would be angry," he said gently.

Daniil tilted his head. "You cannot BE the rearguard, you are not hard enough to survive. Redbull will pressure you more and more to take wins until your legs break beneath the weight of your obligation. Then they will punish you for not exceeding their mad expectations! You should have told them no!" He growled. "You should have made them wait until you had the footing and the influence to become champion of champions. You could have. Instead they sold you as a cheap trick. 'Look at the young one! Look what he can do!' Someone made a choice that your career wasn't worth waiting for and so they took it away and made you a side show AND YOU LET THEM!" He touched both hands to his own chest. "I was ready to guard you, I was ready to protect your place for you. Tumba paid with his career for you, and you let them sell you for dog meat."

From within his mind, Daniil felt totally calm and rational. It was only when he heard himself slurp than he realized he had been spitting invectives so hard his lips were wet, and as reason swam back into focus, he realized he was about three inches from Max's face. His throat hurt, even though he thought he'd been speaking in a normal voice.

Max wiped flecks of saliva from his face. "I'm so sorry, Daniil."

"Oh...I yelled at you. I didn't realize I was so angry." His head hurt from the muscular tension of the screaming.

"I know," Max said, calmly.

"I didn't want them to do that to you."

"I know."

"It made things so ugly between us."

"I'm sorry I made you unhappy."

"I'm sorry I couldn't buy you more time." Daniil stepped forward and put his arms around Max, grown now, but always shorter than he.

"I didn't want them to do that, either. I tried to tell you I was sorry. I tried to tell you I didn't ask for it. I didn't GET asked. I didn't have a choice. They didn't ask me if they could sell me for dog meat. They just started cutting."

Daniil kissed his hair and stroked his hand over it. Pilot and Tumba were only 6 months different in age, but for Daniil and Max, the difference was 3 and a half years. He didn't think of Max as too young, he thought it was unfortunate, out of all of them, Max faced by far the greatest pressure, with by far the least margin for error. He held his arms lightly around the younger man, until he moved like he was ready to move away. He knew he was angry at FIA. He knew he was angry that Sebastian had made the call that had gotten Daniil sent away and Max sent to Redbull.

He'd never known he was angry at Max for not saying no. It was uncomfortable knowing Max knew him better than he knew himself.

Chapter Text

December 31, 2016 -Day 43-

 

The bus broke down.

Something not everyone realizes about people who race cars, is that an interest in driving and an understanding of the mechanical aspects of automobiles, especially repairing damaged or malfunctioning parts, are not always present in equal measure.  Some of the best human mechanics could not drive at even the lowest competitive level.  Some of the best human drivers can not satisfactorily explain HOW their engine works.

Racing Drivers might have understood their engines, had they been allowed, but teams made strictly sure the Racing Drivers understood just enough to explain what they were feeling the car tell them, and at the level the Redbull Boys drove, they would NEVER have been allowed to test their amature understanding on an million-euro F1 car.  Fili had no interest in mechanics, just in medicine.  Tumba had a scientific mind, but it was tuned better to understanding abstract concept and the mysteries of quantum science than "The piston turns the crank shaft." Oz had watched his mechanics a lot, in his karting days and had learned some, but his knowledge of performance karts has a limited application to old city buses, his first question had been, [Where is the diagnostic monitor?]

[Keep your window open,] Pilot called to Dan, who was sitting in the driver's seat of the bus.  [Try to start it again.]

Carlos, was standing beside Pilot, listening to the noise the engine made when Dan turned it over.

The engine groaned.  Pilot looked at Carlos with a frown.

He waved a hand at Dan to stop trying to start the engine.  He reached up and started working one of the spark plugs loose.  When it came free he frowned.  He shook his head at Carlos.  [No, look at this.  It’s no good.]. He checked the rest, they were in about the same condition.  The bus was an older model, and the man who had turned it into a motorhome had not taken the kind of care of it that Pilot would have liked.  

Now he wished Alondra was with them.  He and Fernando had let Pilot work with them on the ancient Vauxhall at the farm.  He could use their knowledge.  Was there some way to fix the plugs?  Did they have to be replaced?

Carlos shook his head back.  [It will have to be replaced.]

Dan crossed his arms and leaned on the steering wheel. He called something out the open window.  

[It is too late to go walk back to that town tonight.] Carlos agreed.

There was a rev behind Pilot and Carlos.  Daniil and the other Stigs came walking along the road.  [There is a place ahead where we can get it off the road.  Can we push it?]

[Of course we can!] Fili flexed his muscles.

They did manage to get the bus moving. It was on a slight downhill.  Gravity did most of the work.  They congratulated themselves heartily anyway.

The side road they rolled down led down to a beach pull off.

[Look at all the water.]  They had all seen the sea at Monaco, and while they’d been on the Roadtrip and driven near the coast.  They hadn’t stopped at a beach.

[Let’s go over there.]  Dan said.  The shore was about 30 yards from the edge of the road, on a gradual slope.  He thought for a moment.  [This is high tide.]

Max looked at him. [How do you know the gesture for tide?]

[Australian, mate,] Dan replied as though being Australian automatically conferred knowledge of all nautical terms.

At the water’s edge, all the Stigs were quiet.  Pilot could hear the ocean breathing.  Instinctively, they matched their breathing to it and crossed their arms.  When his breath was hidden in the rush of the waves, he could hear the quiet sounds in the silences.  Birds, far, far away.  An unfamiliar, huge kind of engine churning the water so far away it was out of sight.  

The grind of something so huge moving.  The ocean was a violent place.  It was constantly tearing itself apart, reforming, and shifting, carrying with it all the things in and on it.  Pilot reached down and touched it.  Water was so soft like a dam carrying her foals.  Like a mama whose anger could be roused.

The water was cold.  Too cold for the men, but the Stigs took their shoes and socks off and waded in it.

[Look at these.] Oz pointed to some round, spider looking crabs on the edge of the water.  They followed them around for awhile.  Then sat down beside a wet spot.  Oz started digging in the sand and piling the sand to one side.  [I'm making a building,] He flattened out the edge on the side of the "lake."

Pilot started another, smaller building on the other side of the lake.

[I'm proud of you,] The older stallion said, after a while.  [Learning to be a Trainer is a big accomplishment.]

[Thank you.]  He made a little wall out from his building.

[Do you know what you are going to specialize in?  A medic, like Fili?]

Pilot shook his head.  He started to build a set of little cars to go beside the building.

[F1 cars?] Oz asked.

Pilot shook his head again.  [Karts.  All the foals that live in my school will want to drive them.]  He put another section onto his building.  [All the dams and sires will want to come visit them.  They will stay here.]

Oz nodded. [That's good.  That will be very good.]

Pilot thought and then poked a hole in the side of his building.

[What's that for?  A garage?]

[It will be warm, like Dan told me it is where he grew up.  So the windows and doors will be open.  All the time.]  He sighed contentedly. 

[You two and Tumba and Daniil should come live with us in Australia.]

He looked up.  [Won't you invite Fili and Carlos?]

Oz laughed.  [Fili is my second stallion, of course they will come with us.  I want him to be wherever I am.]

[Good.]  Pilot built a flat spot for a track.

Oz made a tower for his building, and then a curving roof.

[I will miss the rest of the herd.  Can they come to Australia with us?  Won't they still need a lead stallion?]

They built onto their buildings until it started getting dark. [I think that's the best idea,] Oz said.  [I think that's what we should do.  All of Redbull, live in Australia.]

Chapter Text

Evening of December 31, 2016 -Evening 43-

 

The breeze was cool.  Even chilly.  Max pulled his sweater sleeves down.  [Don't get too cold, you won't dry off in this chill.]  He stood from where Oz and Pilot were building a sandcastle.

Daniil was sitting further up the beach, drawing patterns in a smoothed patch of sand.  He looked up when Max stood on the edge of the patch.  Max jerked his chin to the side.  "Let's talk."

He stood up.  

Max walked up the sand, towards the little rise.  "That day we got in the argument about Pilot,"

"It's alright, Max, everything was upside down. We were all scared and angry, and you were really drunk.  I shouldn't have pushed you.  I thought it would be better if we just said it."  They walked side by side, hands in their pockets.

"I meant the first time.  You said you were worried I would hurt Pilot."

It had been so long ago, so eclipsed by so many other things, it took Daniil a minute to place it.

"What did you know that I didn't?  Everyone else was talking about how inexperienced I was, and you were the only one who said you were worried I would hurt Pilot.  What did Tumba tell you?"  Max's eyes were down, watching the sand in the dimming light.

"That he had to do what he was told."

"I didn't know."

"We figured."

"Why didn't you SAY something?"

Daniil raised his eyebrows.  Didn't Max remember how many times they'd had cautionary words with him?  How many times the others had?  Sebastian and Lewis were one thing, but hadn't Max noticed something was wrong when Kimi started speaking up?

"You thought I was going to hurt him, that's more than just matches staying out of other pairs' bond."  Max looked at him, now.

"You wouldn't have listened, not to me, if you weren't listening to anyone else.  If I'd told you to slow him down, what would you have thought?"  The sky was turning that greyish shade of blue that meant the night would be glittered with stars.

"I'd have thought you were trying to get the seat back," Max admitted. "I wish..."  He shook his head.  "You were right," He whispered.

The chill was under Daniil's skin, now.  He'd suspected Max and Pilot had fought, the night of the drinking.  Max had come back with a big bruise on his face, and Pilot had clearly bitten through his lip.

"It wasn't like you're thinking.  I really hurt him.  Inside."

Daniil's head came up, he spun on Max.  "What?!"  No wonder Carlos had to go find him the next morning.  No wonder their immediate priority became finding a Trainer to help Pilot.

"No!"  Max hung his head.  "You're going to want to hit me when you find out."

"I want to hit you, now," He grated.

"Just listen.  So Racing Drivers have barriers in their minds.  To keep things separate.  When Pilot was a foal, the Trainer cut them out, that's why he can't say no."

He wondered if that was the worst of the stories he knew about the foals at Redbull.  Maybe.  At least Pilot was alive.  He’d known this story already, though.

"I wanted him to answer me, and I thought he saw me with scorn.  I just wanted an answer.  I didn't know he didn't have a door to close on me, so I chased him into a part of himself where he could shut me out, and I tried to dig him out."

Daniil's fists itched.  "Carlos doesn't watch you every minute.  Not since we left the farm.  Are you...better?"

"We're learning to be Trainers.  When the Stigs are settled, we're going to go back and learn with Shoe.  You know how teaching something is the best way to learn it?  We're not going to be Trainers like Price.  We're going to be good Trainers, like Fili and Carlos."  Max's voice was actually less afraid when he said these things than anytime Daniil had heard him speak in months.

His hand reached for Daniil's and his skin was warm, and his hands were bigger than they had been.  He was growing up.  He squeezed and Daniil squeezed back.

"Pilot never kept anything from me.  He knew how hurt I would be if I found out he was such good friends with you and Tumba, especially after what happened.  Like I was left out.  I did feel left out.  You both take care of him, like...you're protecting him...from me.  I hate that.  When I realized there were things he wasn't telling me, it was scary."

"He showed you the memories, then?"

"It's just going to be like hearing parts of his life I wasn't there for."

"Why?  They're memories of you."  Wait...Daniil reviewed what Max had said.  "Were you still talking about me and Tumba?"

"Yeah, what were you talking about?"

There was a shot of alarm from Tumba's place in his mind.  'What are you doing?!'

'Max told me Pilot showed him the memories,' Daniil answered.

'The memories of US, not the memories of Max!'

Max was looking off into the distance, with a look of concentration on his face.  "What memories of me?" He asked aloud, responding to some internal prompting.

'You tell him!' Tumba pushed the command and the memories at Daniil and disappeared from his mind.

Max looked over.  "Tell me what Pilot won't tell me."

This was not his job.  Not his right.  Not his responsibility.  

He sat Max down on the dune.  

"Once upon a time, there was a little Stig named Warm Summer Days, Sunshine.  The Trainer at his stable loved him, more than any other little Stig that had ever been born.  The men wanted a Stig faster than any other Stig.  So they took some saved cells from a Champion who had just died, and some cells from the little Stig the Trainer loved, and they cloned two new little Stigs, twin colts.  The Trainer loved the two colts even more than he had loved the other little Stig, and he knew he would do anything to protect the twins.  He had seen what happened when Stigs didn't do what men told them, and so he took them into one of the medical rooms and he made sure they would always be safe.  Because they would never be able to rebel."  Daniil looked up at the starry sky, fighting back the vicious words he wanted to use, here.

"He didn't love us that much," Max muttered.  "Not more than Sunshine."

"When the little Stigs were ready to become stallions, they brought their matches.  Fast Attack, Blitz, bonded to a boy who looked just like he did, but Flying in a Clear Sky, Pilot, he was special.  His match was young, but he was too special to waste waiting, so they matched him to a boy who didn't look like he did.  He didn't understand that the boy would grow up.  He knew he was special.  He'd been given a special assignment.  He looked into his boy's heart and saw he'd been hurt.  Cut apart just like Flying in a Clear Sky had been.  He decided he would take care of his boy, and heal his heart, and make sure he never wondered if he was loved, ever again.  Never worried that he was worth loving."  His voice shook.

He could hear Max breathing harshly.

"He loved his little boy with everything he had in him.  Gave him everything.  He didn't have any barriers, so it wasn't hard to let his little boy go anywhere in his mind that he chose."

"Shut up."

"One day his little boy came to get him, and his little boy wasn't so little anymore.  He was a grown man.  He didn't want Flying in the Clear Sky to take care of him, anymore.  He was still hurt, but he didn't want help anymore..."

"Stop!" Max barked, he pushed Daniil and stood up.   It was dark, now.  The stars were vivid, lighting up the silver sand.

"So he hid all those memories of his sweet little boy, all the memories of tucking him in, singing to him, telling him he loved him, no matter what.  That Max could never fail, as far as Pilot was concerned.  That Pilot would love Max, and stand by Max, because Max DESERVES to be loved, and Pilot..."

"I said shut up!"  He turned around and pushed Daniil down, pinning his shoulders into the sand.  "Just shut up.  You don't know what you're talking about."

"Max deserves to be loved," Daniil whispered, not resisting the rough pressure on his shoulders, "And Pilot loves being the one who gets to love him."

Max's teeth ground.

Daniil grabbed his forearms.  "We are your family, Max.  We are never going to stop love you.  If you win, it doesn't matter.  We love YOU Max, not your wins."  He looked to the side.

The Redbull Boys were standing at the curve of the dune.

"We've been through more together than blood, Max," Dan said.

"We protect each other," Carlos added.  "Fili says you carry us when we can't walk, and we'll carry you when you can't walk.  No one gets left behind."

Oz growled approval.

Tumba and Pilot settled on either side of Max and gently pulled his hands away from Daniil, hugging him.

Daniil tucked his knees up, to give Max and the Stigs room.  "We're all proud to love you, Max.  You make it a rewarding effort."

Chapter Text

Night of December 31, 2016 -Night 43-

 

The sky had gotten so dark.

They were arranged around the little fire Dan had started.  

Tumba and Pilot were seated on a log, leaning hard on either side of Max, making it hard for him to eat.  Daniil was sitting on another piece of driftwood to one side of them.  Dan was on a rock to Daniil's left.  Carlos was across from him, balancing his plate on his knees, sitting on an upturned bucket.  Fili and Oz were sitting in the sand with their backs to the sea.

They were eating some sort of meat in pies.  Fili had only had pie a few times in his life, but he thought usually it had pudding in the middle, not little cut up bits of meat and not-soup.  It was good, though.

He couldn't eat much.  His stomach had been hurting lately.

He was thirsty all the time, too.

He took another big drink of Redbull.

'Fili,' Oz touched his mind, 'You and Carlos are going to come live with Dan and I, when the road trip is over?'

'Of course,' Fili answered.  He wanted a few more bites of pie.  He looked at what was left on his plate.  Most of the pie hadn't been eaten, yet.

'I just, hadn't asked and I wasn't sure you knew I wanted you to.'

'Why wouldn't you want us to?'  He asked absently.  He took another little nibble.  Then he looked up.  'What?'

'Since we will be free, and you won't have to help us take care of the herd.'  Oz hand his hands squeezed tight, one over the other.

That was true, if Oz wasn't going to lead the stable, Fili wouldn't HAVE to stay with him, if he wasn't a lead stallion, he wouldn't need Fili to be his second stallion.

Oz is the prince.  Stick to Oz like you're drafting.

He had.

His life had been aimed to getting them both ready for Oz's championship and his leadership.

He waved a hand dismissively.

'You are my best friend.  Removing the obligation to help you lead doesn't remove the fact.'  He shook his head.  'Anyway, you are a born leader, there may not be stables, but Racing Drivers will always need leadership.  That will be you.'  He picked up his pie.  His stomach protested.  He put it down.  'You do it naturally.'

Oz sent him delight.

He looked up.

Oz was smiling hugely.  'I'm glad you know.'

Fili shrugged.  'I'm your second stallion, knowing what you'll do before you do is what I do.'

'You take really good care of me, you know?'

'That's good to hear.'

'I'm going to return the favor.'

'I hope so.'

Oz smiled.  He reached out and picked up the Redbull can beside Fili's foot.  He turned and pitched it out into the darkness.

No one moved.

The act was too surprising for Fili to decide what to do for a moment.

Was this some sort of joke?

[Hey...] He let the gesture trail off in his confusion.

[That trash is making you sick.  You remember when we were at the stable and I couldn't keep anything down and the handlers kept giving me porridge and I just kept getting worse, and you and Carlos went to tell the Trainer that the grains were the thing making me sick?  You think I don't remember what it felt like to not want to eat?  To feel starving and feel scared to eat?  You think I wouldn't know that's what you're feeling?]  Oz leaned into his space.

Fili looked at Carlos, then at Dan.

Dan put his hands up like it wasn't any of his business, but Carlos said, [Oz, he can make his own choices.]

Oz made a hard face and shook his head. [No.]

[Yes I can.  I am free.]  Fili pushed Oz back.

The older stallion pointed at Carlos, [No.  Racing Drivers need their men.  You are ignoring his crashing himself, and since you have decided not to protect him, then it is no longer your decision.  I am the lead stallion,] He pointed at Fili, [You are my responsibility.  No more Redbull.]

The offense was too much to take.  Fili stood up.  He shimmied his shoulders and walked away in a bluster.

The night was dark and when he turned away from the fire, it took his eyes a moment to get used to seeing.  He walked over the sand, trying not to trip on the dips and rises.  He saw the glint of the Redbull can and crouched to retrieve it.  It had spilled its contents in it's fling through the air and lying on it's side in the sand.

He weighed it in his hand.  There was only a tiny bit left in the bottom.  He poured this out and watched it in the starlight.  He held the empty can and started down the beach.  In one direction the sand turned rapidly into hills, too dangerous to try to pass while he couldn't see clearly.  That was where Max and Daniil had gone, earlier.  He went the other way, where the smooth sand continued much farther.  Maybe he would walk until he got to the place where the Redbull stable was...had been.

He remembered the herd wouldn't be there.

He remembered how long it had taken to drive here.  From there.

His eyes filled with tears.

His whole life since Justice died had been about pushing down what he wanted to protect the herd.  Making a point.  Making meaning.

It was like he'd told Oz, even if the obligation was not there, he would have done it anyway.  His family.

He missed them.  Badly.

He had never been gone for so long.

Between races he had always come home.  Even when he was young and stayed with the team stable, he had always come home to Redbull on breaks.  When he'd come to his F1 team, it had been travelling from track to track, maybe back home for a week if there was no race.  Then a few weeks for summer break.  Then for the end half of the season, from track to track until winter break, when the team stallions could relax for a little while and see their families and take care of their responsibilities.

They had been back at the stable on a week with no race, expecting to go to the track for the last race of the season, when the Grand Tour happened, and they'd started the road trip.

He hadn't known it would be months and months more without seeing his family.

He hadn't known he should make every moment count.

He thought he would be back for a long visit, after one more race.  So he had spent his last days with them working out, focused on the season.  Taking them for granted.

They were out there, somewhere.  Without the men, he would have no chance of ever, ever finding them.

Even if he walked forever, all the way back up the roads they had driven down.  He could trace his way back to the stable.

They wouldn't be there.

No one would be there.

They were gone.

The Redbull can crumpled in his hand.  He settled on his knees and covered his face with his arm.

A hand touched his shoulder.

The stallion sank to his knees behind Fili, leaning against his back, laying his bearded cheek on Fili's shoulder and putting one arm around him.

He put his hand over Oz's.

Oz brushed the resistance out of Fili's mind and joined in his sorrow.

'I miss them, too.'

'The Redbull makes me feel good.'

'It makes you think you feel good.  It's lying to you.'

'What if we never see them again?'

Oz hugged him tighter.

'After the race that never ended, Courage and Endurance were so far away from their herd that they were sure they would never find them again.  They had no men, you know, because they were matched to each other.  So they joined together with all the Racing Drivers who had raced forever with them, and all the other Racing Drivers they could find, and they combined their strength and they reached out.'

Fili felt Oz's mind taking his, and reaching out, towards the stars.  He could feel Tumba and Pilot, behind them, at the fire, and their strength joined with them, and they reach farther.  Oz touched something Fili couldn't identify, it must have been Dan, and his strength increased.  Fili drew on the strength in Carlos' mind and added that to the power he was giving to Oz.  Tumba and Pilot drew on their men as well.

'Their touch became undirectable at the end of their range, and it wasn't far enough.  To keep this from happening, Courage told Endurance, who was second stallion, to concentrate on keeping the focus.  Like aerodynamics creating downforce.  So Endurance provided the focus and Courage provided the push.'

Some instinct told Fili how this was to be done, and he honed and refined Oz's mental touch.  Like water through a nozzle, the tightened stream could reach farther.

Oz sent a call out through the wire thin connection he'd put out.  Like a light on the end of a pole.  A signal flare.

Faintly, like a light in the distance, a flash of emotion came back.  Somewhere, a herd of Racing Drivers had heard them, and was responding.  It wasn't much, like a flickering candle across the sea, but Fili could undeniably tell which direction it had come from, North, West, and that it was their family.  Their herd.

'When they found their family, they passed the knowledge on.  Every lead stallion and second stallion.  The gift.  As long as two Racing Drivers are together, and they can focus their strength, they can find their herd.  That's our herd, Fili.  That's Redbull.'  He pointed North, over the water, to where the single, brief flash had come.

He was shaking from the effort.  They sat down in the sand.

'What would I do if I didn't have you?'  Fili said.

Oz flopped back into the cold sand.  There was a pause.  'The same thing that makes you the strongest of us.  You would pick up whoever you could and you would keep them safe.'

For the briefest moment, Fili was in a dark, closed crawlspace.  Then he was back on the beach, sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him and his best friend sprawled out on the sand a meter away.

He gripped a handful of sand and let it run through his fingers.

'You knew?'

'When you are having strong feelings, pieces of it come through in your sending.'  Oz's sending betrayed no real emotional content.

Fili nodded.

Oz took a deep breath and let it out, gathering his strength after the effort of sending up the mental beacon.  He rolled to his feet.  'Don't stay out here all night.'

'Yes, stallion.'  Fili took another handful of sand.  He wondered where the Redbull can had gone.

'And Fili?'  Oz looked towards where their abbreviated herd, only two of their brothers, waited.

'Yes, stallion?'

'No more Redbull.'

Oz would always be there to carry him, when he couldn't walk by himself.

'Yes.'

To himself, he added the rest of the appellation.

My Prince.

Chapter Text

Evening of December 31, 2016 -Evening 43-

 

After the fire Tumba went out onto the edge of the water to watch the sky.  He had never seen the stripe of stars across the night.

After the fire had been doused, a presence came up beside him.  Like the coals of the fire, he was quiet, but smouldering.

Pilot sat beside him.  ‘Do you want to talk about it?’

‘Do you?’

‘We share that pain a lot.’

‘Not in words, not us.’

‘I want you to talk about it.’

Tumba hung his head. ‘How different would it have been if they had matched you two differently.  If they’d matched him with Max.’

Pilot didn’t say anything.  He just waited.

‘You have proven you could have survived what he did.’

That may have been exaggeration.  Privately, he thought it would have gone worse in the other direction. ‘Price killed Blitz.  The day he took him away from the colt’s dorm and cut his barriers away.  It didn't matter if they matched him with Ryan, or with Max or left him alone.  It was like Price cut the bones out of him.  He would have died just as surely fighting the insecurity of loving Max.’

‘Blitz wasn't weak, Pilot,’ Tumba’s voice ground.

‘No, he was torn apart,’ It hurt him to say it.  He had loved his twin so much, ‘No one could have survived. No matter how strong.’

‘You did.’

‘Maybe.’ 

Or maybe it just hadn’t killed him, yet. 

‘And even the strongest Racing Driver, whole and healthy couldn't have survived what killed him, so the point of weakness doesn’t come into it.  He couldn’t have lived through his matching year, no matter how easy it might have been, and even Shoe isn’t strong enough to survive the way Blitz died.  There is no surviving a misconnected match.’ 

They sat in the sand and up in the sky, almost indistinguishable from stars, planes flew overhead.

‘Tumba, are you afraid?’ 

‘If they’d chosen Ryan to match you with, instead of Max.  You would have died.’

Pilot nodded. 

‘Yes.  I’m afraid.  Daniil says for every decision there is another world where the decision went differently.  In the world where they chose Ryan for you and sent Max to Blitz, Blitz still would have died.  Max would be a broken match, and you would have died, too.  In that place, I am on this beach alone.  How do we know what decisions will lead to someone sitting alone instead of with their best friend?’ 

Pilot touched his cheek. ‘If wishes were wins, championships would be meaningless.  You can’t be afraid of if, Tumba.’ 

Tumba looked down. ‘I’m not going to race again.’

Pilot went still.  They’d talked to the other Racing Drivers at Ferrari about the plans for next season, how the Grand Tour had tried to buffer things so there was a next season, for at least some of the Racing Drivers.

‘We’ll be free, it won’t be like it was.’

‘Not for me.  I am free to choose, and I want more than racing.’

'What is more amazing than racing?’

Tumba gently touched Pilot’s head, turning his face to the sea and pushing his chin up.

The Milky Way gashed the sky over their heads.  The stars so bright there was no real blackness.  The universe displaying its merchandise, inviting them to sample. 

‘All of time and space.’ 

‘You’re going to leave us.’ 

‘You’re going to race.  I’m not.’ 

‘Where are you going to go?’ 

‘I’m going to learn the things I will need to know, and then I am going to school.’ 

School. 

Pilot felt a tugging at his heart.  ‘You aren’t a foal.’ 

‘Humans have schools for adults.  I’ll go there.’ 

‘They have someone to give lessons?’  Someone whose career was teaching, not as a sideline to racing, but all the time. 

Tumba nodded. 

Inside Pilot’s heart, a thought was born.  He kept it inside his safe place for now, protecting it and cherishing it, but it would grow, and soon it would be undeniable. 

He thought of the school he’d built in the sand, and clutched the little hope close to his chest.  He realized how different things had become when he realized his first impulse was to show it to Max, not hide it from him. 

He wanted Max to help him cultivate his longing to become a teacher.  He trusted Max would.  They’d already agreed to specialize as teacher Trainers.  Maybe someday...it was still too painful to think about racing as not being his absolute priority.  But everyone had to retire someday, didn’t they? 

In his mind, a tiny flake chipped off the uncrossable certainty that racing was the ultimate meaning of his existence. 

He held Tumba’s hand.  ‘You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.  The decision you make will be the decision you make, and the questioning will not change it.  If no one made decisions, we would be worse off.  You think through the consequences, try to see what is best for everyone, try to see what everyone CAN do, and how to get the best out of your situation.’ 

Tumba looked at him. ‘You will race.  You already think like a champion.  There will be time.  We are free, and we can fill the waiting with things that make every minute matter.’ 

Pilot sighed happily. 

Of course Tumba would know what to say.  To make him understand it was alright to want racing AND more.  He was young, and very strong.  He would race until he didn’t want to, and in the moments he wasn't racing, he would prepare himself. 

For everything else that would come after.

Chapter Text

Morning of January 1, 2017 -Morning 44-

 

[Don't hit me!] Pilot squealed.  He curled into a ball and covered his head with his hands.  The fist came down.  It hit him. 

He jerked awake.  His breathing was slowed, ready to see which way to move.  He looked around at the other guys sleeping on the bus.  He and Max were on the lower bunk this time.  Carlos and Fili were on a pad in the walkway.  He unlinked himself from Max's arms.  He eased himself off the bunk and stepped gingerly over the pair in the path.   

Even so, Fili's eyes came open.  His mind reached out tenderly.  'Are you alright?' 

'Yes.  Sleeping so close to Max.  I will never get used to dreaming.'  He shook off the feeling more vigorously than he should have. 

'Are you awake?' 

Pilot stepped up to the coffee pot and poured water into it.  'Yes, do you want coffee?' He asked Fili. 

He did.  Instead he sent, 'No.  I'm going to stop drinking caffeine for awhile.' 

'Alright.' 

'I'm going to go back to sleep.  Carlos is dreaming about mares,' He sent with a flood of amusement.  His touch faded out. 

Pilot pulled a t-shirt, a pair of socks and his shoes, out of the clothes cupboard.  Since there was frost on the windows of the bus, he chose a second pair of socks.  He got dressed in silent ritual.  As he always had since he'd been old enough to have his own stall, when he'd matched.  In the dream he'd been younger than he had when he matched.  It was a strange dream.  None of the other stallions would think so, but he did.  It was a normal thing for colts to get beaten when they failed. 

It had been a rare thing for him. 

Price had exerted influence on the handlers.  Made it clear that Pilot and Blitz were not to be subject to physical punishments for anything less than gross infractions.  Since he'd "protected" them from their own rebellious natures.  Pilot poured himself coffee.  He took a sip and looked through the frosty window.  The light was rising.  The sea seemed very different in the dawn. 

He stepped back over Fili and Carlos, quietly opened the door of the bus, let himself out onto the sand.  There was mist over the surface of the quiet sea.  The sand was still and cool.  There were seagulls screaming some way away.  At the top of the rise where Daniil and Max had sat the night before, there were a few of them, picking at the ground.  He went the other way, left, down the beach.  Fili and Oz had called to the herd from here, last night. 

How was the herd doing?  Were they safe?  Were they comfortable? 

What was the stable like, now?  Empty?  Had the company men gone back?  Pilot's things were there.  Had someone come to take them away, like when a Racing Driver died? 

Pilot watched through the tiny window of his stall while two handlers carried two cardboard boxes down the hall from the stall next to his.  'What will they do with Blitz's things?' He asked Sunshine, the big Stallion holding his heart close. 

The tips of his fingers touched the corner of the window.  Where the handlers wouldn't see his whispered goodbye and get angry and punish him. 

'They will reuse the things that can be reused and get rid of the rest.' 

There was a green helmet on the top of the second man's box.  Someone else's helmet, soon. 

There were rocks stretching out into the water.  A pathway he could walk on. 

He wanted to hear the ocean breathe. 

He started to pick his way out over the rocks.   

Racing Drivers didn't believe that where bodies went was important.  It was only part of who the Racing Driver was, anyway.  Humans did, though.  They thought it was important where a body was buried, or where the ashes were scattered.  As though the person was still there. 

The places humans were buried were special places for humans. 

Pilot didn't believe Blitz was still at the stable. 

Blitz had gone away from his body.  To be where Ryan couldn't hurt him anymore.  The ashes left over from his body were there, though.  In the ground, somewhere. 

There would be a lot of ashes. 

Would humans think that place was special?  Where his people's bodies were buried?  Where his brother was buried? 

What Ryan had done to Blitz was worse.  Worse than physical pain. 

Pilot looked back at the bus.  He could feel Max.  Even asleep, Max's mind was a warm presence all around him.  It would fade if he went more than a quick jog away, but it would still be there.  No matter what, he knew Max loved him.  Racing Drivers NEEDED their match's love. 

No one deserved to die like a Racing Driver whose match didn't love them.  Not even Price was that bad.

That was how Ryan had killed Blitz, though. 

The tears in Pilot's eyes blurred his view of the ocean before him.  He was at the far reach of the rocky outcrop, now. 

Blitz would have liked this.  This freedom.  The ocean. 

Tumba's face was strained, but determined.  He held Pilot's hand.  He held Blitz's hand. 

Blitz was cringing into the pillow on the bed in the medical center.  He was wearing green pajamas and bare feet.  His legs were stirring slowly over the surface of the bed like he was trying to run.  His eyes were squeezed tight.  His lips were drawn back over his gritted teeth.  His hand was practically crushing Pilot's hand. 

Scared, Pilot looked up at the Trainer.  The stallion was taller than him, and loved him more than anyone else ever had, except for Sunshine.  Pilot was intimidated by him, because he didn't know what to expect.  He couldn't seem to anticipate when the stallion was going to hurt him.  'What do we do, Jaamies?' He asked. 

Jaamies hadn't hurt him yet.  Redbull's Trainer hurt the other Racing Drivers all the time, though, so it was only a matter of time before Jaamies did it. 

'Love him.  Don't hold back.  Show him all the love you have.  We will help you.' 

Sunshine was on the other side of him, and Rabbit, and a mare Pilot had never seen before, who looked somehow familiar.  She looked a lot like Sunshine, in fact.  She was staring at Blitz, stricken.  He could feel the love pouring through her, from all the mares in the mare's wing.  He could feel the stallions passing their strength and love into Rabbit and Sunshine. 

Tumba didn't hesitate.  He gasped and squeezed Pilot's hand when he touched Blitz's mind. 

Pilot followed his example. 

Mind was the wrong term.  It was a little warm spot at the edge of a pothole, bigger than a building and seething with hate.  Ryan couldn't love him.  He was an unsatisfiable void, draining Blitz's strength away faster than Blitz could come up with new reasons to love him.  Faster than his self-worth could recover from having the bitter contempt welling up from the connection inside him in exchange for the love he gave. 

Pilot called to him, hugged his brother's mind to him.  'Blitz, we love you.  You aren't worthless.  You are strong.  You aren't wrong.  You aren't bad.  It doesn't matter, what he says.  All that matters is that you try.  Come with me." 

There was a soft cry.  "I'm nothing." 

"You're not nothing!  We love you.  Just try.  Try to come with me.  Please you are so important to me.  We will give you the love you need, you'll get stronger." 

There was a little surge of strength in his twin.  He looked into Pilot's eyes.  'He will never stop being there.  If I come back...he is waiting for me.'  His attention went beyond Pilot and he shuddered.  'I am nothing to him.  A tool to advance.  He doesn't love ME, Pilot.  My self doesn't...I don't matter...' 

'No, you are not a tool.  We will find a way to fix things.  We'll make a plan.  Alright?  You just need to find one thing to come back for.' 

There was nothing, though. 

Everything unessential to Blitz's mind had already been stripped away.  There were no barriers to prevent it.  Nothing to hold him together against the unloving heart draining him.  They tried to grab him back, give him strength, but gradually, he crumbled apart and fell away until there was nothing left.

When he sighed out his last breath, Pilot was just so frantically glad the agony had stopped.  It took a moment to realize that Blitz's pain had stopped, but theirs was just starting. 

He looked up, across his brother's body, and the Racing Driver who had been Blitz's best friend.  Their entire lives.  Inseparable.  Even closer to Blitz than Pilot had been. 

Tumba stumbled back from the table, put his hands over his mouth, and started to shriek. 

Pilot wasn't the one closest to him, but he was the first one to reach him. 

Pilot sipped his coffee and tried to shake off the memory. 

Max's loving Pilot was exactly the source of their problem.  Max believed Pilot being the best was what would make him happy.  So he was going to make Pilot fit into the mold of the best even if he had to push him backwards through the opening. 

Would it be this bad if I wasn't so desperate to please him back?  Pilot asked himself.  He took a bigger drink of coffee.  Their bond had been like coming up for air, for Pilot.  He'd been lonely in the stable, even with Blitz there.  Max had given his expansive attention something to focus on. 

He set his empty coffee cup on the rock and took his shoes and clothing off.  He stepped into the water and let himself into the cool waves.  He kicked away from the rocks and swam out beyond the roughness where the water was crashing into the rocks. 

He wanted Max to be happy. 

[I am too tired to train.  I would like to play tag.  Some of the other stallions and their matches are going to the yard to play.]  Pilot smiled at Max when the new, taller young man let himself into the stall.  He reached out for a hug. 

Max hugged him for a moment and then pushed away.  [No.  If you are ready to play tag, you can train.] 

[Maybe we could train and then go play?]  That would be an alright solution, but why did Max not want to touch him? 

Max threw his hand out. [No.  Don't argue.  Get ready to train.] 

[I wasn't arguing,] He gestured as he turned to get his training gear out of the clothes cupboard. 

[I don't want to talk about what you think would be a better idea when I tell you what to do.  Just do what you're told.]   

The anger in the statement rolled over Pilot's skin like fire. 

He made a noise like Max had started to change into the wrong gear, just a brief grind of discomfort.  What had caused the sudden anger?  He was just trying to get Max to understand him.  He was DOING what he was told.  He had never done something Max had told him not to.  He had never failed to do something Max told him to do.  He felt his eyes get wet.  [I'm sorry.]  He pulled on his workout shoes. 

[We're not going to play, either.  If you get done with training we're coming back here.] 

Pilot looked up.  [Tumba asked me to go.  It's important, he's having a hard time-] 

[It's a waste of time.  Why do you need to hang around with them?  They're your rivals.  THOSE ones are going to be the ones trying to take your championship away.  If he's struggling, that's good.  In fact, maybe we can use that, what's he sad about?] 

He wasn't going to use Tumba's hurting against him!  He frantically shoved memories into the only place he could find to put them.  He redirected Max's attention by intentionally pulling too hard and breaking a lace on his shoe.  He closed off the place he'd hidden the memories.  [You used to like to play.  When you were smaller, remember how much fun we had playing cards?] 

The answer to this was a deep frown.  [I am not small anymore.  I wish you wouldn't keep reminding me of that.  I'm a man now.  I'm the man and you have to do what I say.] 

And Pilot looked at him, watched it slip away and chose not to fight, because he had been fighting and it hurt.  [Fine.]  He carefully gathered up all his treasured memories of little Max and put them away.  Behind a wall.  With everything Max could never see. 

'Pilot!  NO!' 

Pilot turned in the water to face Max's shout. 

The shore was a long, long way away.  He had just been floating. He hadn't swum at all, but the other Redbull boys were specks on the beach.   

He was so far away Max's sending was weak. 

That frightened him. 

He let out an alarmed rev.  He started to swim back, but he was crosswise to the waves, now.  He kept sliding down the swell every time one passed.  So he kept getting pushed away from the shore.  That must have been how he got out here so far. 

'I can't go forward,' He sent. 

'Sideways!   Swim along the shore.  Dan says that is the way to get back.' 

That didn't make any sense. 

The waves pushed at him.  When he had been floating, his head had been high enough above the water that it hadn't gotten in his mouth.  When he leaned forward to swim, they were splashing him.  Making it harder to keep his head up. 

'SWIM SIDEWAYS!' Max screamed. 

He couldn't disobey Max.  He swam sideways, along the shore. 

The waves weren't crashing into his face this way, at least. 

He was starting to get tired, though.  He had swum in the pool at Ferrari, but this, this was so different.  It was like trying to swim while driving the F1 car.  He kept getting pushed around in different directions, except he had no way to control the waves. 

'Can you see Oz?' 

What? 

'In the water, on your right.  Behind you.  Don't swim to him, just follow him.' 

He turned and looked.  There was a dark head floating in the water.  He tried to estimate the distance.  His car, Tumba's car, Fili's car, Oz's car...all their cars and Mercedes and Ferrari's could have fitted in the space between he and Oz.  Oz waved a hand.  Gestured at Pilot to follow him. 

There was something weird about his not sending, and the way he was moving. 

He got ahead of Pilot gradually, and Pilot saw he wasn't swimming the same way, with his hands and legs waving at the bottom, struggling to hold his head up.  He was swimming like he was lying flat, and he was swimming with his face in the water.  He was turning his face up sometimes, but that was it. 

'How are you doing that?' He asked. 

There was no answer. 

What was Oz concentrating so hard on? 

He followed, but he could see how Oz was moving, and it looked faster and easier, and so, gradually, he too was laying flat.  He couldn't keep his head in the water, though. 

'You're closer to the shore, now, try to put your feet down as you go, you may be able to reach.'  Max's voice was much stronger in his head, now.  After awhile he did feel his feet brush the ground.  In a few more feet, he could reach it easily.  He looked at Oz, dragging himself towards the beach.  Dan was in the water, putting his arm around his partner and carrying his weight.  Oz was still moving very strangely. 

Max came to get Pilot.  They stumbled to the beach and Fili threw himself down next to them, checking their bodies to see if they were alright. 

[That was a long swim,] Pilot gestured unhappily. 

Oz had his hands caged around Dan's face.  He was smiling so proudly.  [You did it,] Oz gestured.  [You brought him back.  I'm so proud of you.  I am very sore.  I am cold.  I will sleep until I warm up.] 

[NO!] Dan gestured, [No.  You can't sleep.  Stay awake, Oz.  Don't sleep.]  He looked at Max, [Don't let Pilot sleep.] 

[I KNOW,] Max gestured back.  He squeezed Pilot's hand. 

Pilot really was cold, too.  He'd never been cold before.  Not enough to be uncomfortable.  He looked for Tumba.  He, Daniil and Carlos were nowhere to be seen. 

[They ran for help,] Fili gestured. 

[Why?] 

There was an uncomfortable pause. 

[You could have died,] Oz said, at last. 

[What?!  I wouldn't have gotten THAT far from Max.  I would just have needed to rest and swim back with breaks.] 

[The water is cold.  Too cold.  You could have gotten back and died from the cold.  Or gotten too cold and not been able to swim.  You could have gone under and not been able to breathe.]  Fili looked at him with a serious look on his face. 

[Then Oz...you could have died swimming to me, you aren't as good a swimmer as I am.] 

Dan's face strained. 

Oz beamed, [Dan is.] 

Pilot looked back and forth between them. 

[He knows how to swim in the ocean.  He couldn't swim to you, he is human, the cold would have killed him quickly.  I gave him my body.  He came for you.  He was so afraid when you started to stop swimming, because the water was getting in your mouth.  He came for you.  I knew he would bring you back.] 

[I didn't know you weren't a good swimmer, Oz.  I just thought you didn't know how to swim in moving water.]  Dan hugged Oz to him. 

[That is good, he is cold, your body heat will warm him up,] Fili said. 

Oz wasn't wearing...anything. There was a heap of clothing up the beach a way.  They had swum a long way along the coast, with the guys running along the shore.  Oz's clothes were there, and Pilots.  His coffee cup was there.  [I came out to look for you,] Fili told him.  [I found your things on the rocks, and I saw you in the water.] 

They returned to the bus and the cold bond pairs wrapped up in blankets to warm up. 

[Why did you go into the sea?] Max asked, quietly between them, while poured warmish water in cups for them to hold, but not drink. 

'I like the ocean.  I wanted to feel it breathe.' 

He looked into the cup. 

'I thought maybe if I felt it.  Maybe I could imagine what Blitz would have thought of it.' 

Max put his hand on the back of Pilot's head.  He pulled him close.  Pilot's nose was in the crook of Max's neck.  He closed his eyes and sighed.  He relaxed into the comforting hold.  This was good, too.

Chapter Text

Morning of January 1, 2017 -Morning 44-

 

There was frost outside.  He’d left a trail in it to get to the icy sea.  How could he not have seen how dangerous it was to go in the water?  Max clung to Pilot, who seemed confused about why he felt so uncomfortable.  He didn't understand cold.  It was new to him.

The dreams hadn't been that distracting.  Max had been able to feel Pilot in his dream with him, and then felt him leave suddenly.  He heart clenched a little.  He reminded himself Pilot would never really leave him just when things got bad.  He just woke up.  He didn't feel the first punch and run away and leave Max to face the rest alone.

Max rubbed Pilot’s shoulder. 

‘Did the dream make you think about Blitz? About growing up in the stable?’ Max was starting to get cold.  The heater was on high, and all the blinds were closed, but the heater was having a hard time replacing the heat the outside air was pulling out of the walls.  Especially since there were only 5 of them making body heat, instead of 8. 

Pilot shifted ‘I dreamed we were in a school and we’d done poorly and hadn’t learned anything, and then we were punished.’ 

‘It wasn’t as though we didn’t learn ANYTHING,’ The dream had been about one bad mark for an assignment he’d faked his way through because he’d celebrated so much after a dominant race the weekend he’d been supposed to do it.  Back when he was karting.

‘He said we didn’t…’ Pilot seemed unsure.

‘Well we did.  We learned to double feint and we DID learn about the atomic structure of Aluminium, we just didn’t do a good job explaining.’

Pilot chuckled.  ‘How old were you when you learned to double feint?’

He snorted, ‘How old were you when you learned the atomic structure of aluminium?  22, right?  Just now when I mentioned it?’

‘I don’t like you remembering being hit.  Men shouldn’t know those things.’

Max looked at the hard planes on Pilot’s face.  They had bought new soap twice but his skin continued to crack and peel.  He picked at a spot with his fingernail.  He wanted Pilot’s skin to be soothed.  Pilot turned his face to give Max better access and made a contented noise.

He had to hate being picked at, but he liked Max.  Enough to put up with anything to be close to him.  The night Max had hurt him, he hadn’t fought back.  Hadn’t stopped wanting to please Max, just wanted not to be hurt.

I didn't mean to hurt you.  I didn’t know it was dangerous.  Like you didn't know the sea was dangerous.  If I had lost you, I would lose my mind.  

He stopped picking and just ran his fingers over Pilot’s skin.  He seemed to remember...he traced fingertips over Pilot’s eyebrow, around and down the outside of his orbital ridge, over the bridge of his nose and over the other eyebrow, down around back to his nose, over and over.  Tracing figures of eight around his eyes.  Pilot’s eyes fluttered, and Max remembered he wasn’t supposed to let him sleep.

‘Why don't you act...you’re not like Tumba, you don’t growl at him.’

Pilot opened his eyes slowly.  ‘He makes you blank, Max.  When he is around, you climb into my mind with me.  If I growled at him...you love him so much Max.  You want him to be gentle to you.  If I made him angry, that would not make him gentle to you.  He doesn’t care what Tumba thinks.’  He frowned.

He sat up.  He was shaking, but Max moved close to him again.

‘I HATE that you know what being struck is like, Max.  I...it wouldn't make him love you like he should if I…' 

Pilot hung his head and covered his face with his hands.  The feeling of swinging elbows into flesh came into Max’s mind from Pilot’s imagination.  The feeling of the soft skin of a neck under so much pressure from his fingers that the skin started to tear, of fingernails stuffed with torn skin.  Of faces wrenched into expressions of pain.  Pilot was trying, trying to restrain the feelings.  The noise of Racing Drivers crying in agony, because he didn't know what human agony would sound like. 

‘If I treated him that way, he would not love you.’  He sat up, straight backed, chin high. ‘It pleases him when I drive well.  It pleases him when I subject myself to you.  So we...allow that.  I see your hesitation and I am proud to give you everything you ask.  You impress him.  We impress him.  I have never complained, have I?’  He set his forehead on Max’s chest.

‘Why didn't you tell me?’

‘You didn't want to know.’

Max stared at him.  He pushed Pilot's chin up.  He buried his face against Pilot’s chest and wrapped his arms around him. ‘Thank you for protecting me.’

Pilot held him.

[I will sing you the song my dam taught me, that my sire taught her…] He trailed off.

He thought for a moment and then sang anyway.  [The other night, Max, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms.  When I awoke, Max, I was mistaken, so I hung my head and cried.]. There was a sad, sad feeling to this sense of loss and he squeezed Max.  [You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey, you’ll never know, Max, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.]

The words…

Max did remember.

The it sounded a little different sent in feelings than just gestured in words, but he remembered.

 

The sun was warm on his face, and the food had made him feel sleepy. He closed his eyes, then opened them again to laugh at a joke Pilot made. He snuggled up to the older boy. It was like having a big brother, the best big brother ever. He closed his eyes again, and the next thing Max was aware of was the hand stroking his face and the different position of the sun.

He felt strong arms lift him, and the smooth roll of Pilot's walk. He wrapped his arms around Pilot's neck to help carry his weight, but only barely remained conscious. In the back of his mind he could hear Pilot whispering, and it sort of got caught up in his dreams.

He woke again when Pilot set him on the bed. He helped sleepily when his self peeled off his race suit and brought him pajamas. He smiled muzzily, Pilot always brought the comfy ones. Pilot was so great. He curled up in the bed and relaxed. Pilot pulled the covers close around him, and sat on the bed, stroking the littler boy's hair. In the warm fuzz of half sleep, Max heard the whispering again, and listened to it more closely.

There was a soft, swooping rhythm to the feelings he was being sent. Not words, just feelings.

When night comes, I can barely rest, because every thought is of you, and I think about having you beside me. I remember holding your hand. and the completion of my soul that is your touch. We are one and we should be side by side forever, with our arms around each other.

When the sun rises, and I have the sun, but no you, I ache for the loneliness and the emptiness I have to feel until you are with me.

Warm sun on my skin, my body loves the light, your touch is the light for me. Inside my heart beats faster and I feel light dawn in my heart.

If there was no sun in the sky, I would trust you to bring me warmth and light. The sun doesn't matter, you matter to me.

Your smile makes love spread from me and touch all the world. If the sun was gone, and the world started turning to ice, I would stand beside you and the love you have for me, and mine for you, would drive back the ice with the fierceness of it's warmth.

If I could open my whole soul to you, I would, I would show you love for a thousand seasons, and still have more to give and more to show. My potential can never be limited, because your love for me empowers me and I would push myself to the very edges of my abilities and beyond, because your love makes my love boundless.

Stay beside me and light my life? If we were together, I would give you all the happiness anyone could ever wish for. My light is you, and you are warmth and love and joy.

Pilot leaned down and pressed his face by Max's, all warmth and softness. Their bond really was the light of his life, too. As Max drifted back off into wonderful dreams, he wondered where Pilot had learned to sing "You Are My Sunshine."

 

[Who taught you that?] Max asked.

[My dam.  My sire taught her the song his sire taught his dam, to give his foals.  Shoe taught her.  Sunshine knows it.  Prince knows it.  That Yellow Rider stallion at Ferrari knew it, but his dam learned it from Shoe’s father.  Brothers, like Oz and Rabbit.] He sat up and looked towards the back of the bus.  [Boomer.]

[Sebastien Buemi’s Racing Driver is brothers with Oz and Rabbit, too?]

[Yes,] He shook his head and pointed.  [Boomer!]

Oz and Fili were revving at one another, getting excited, standing up.  Oz darted for the door to the bus, sprinting back up along the length towards the road.  That was when Max noticed the sounds of cars.

Pilot pulled him up and out to follow them.

There were two camper vans pulling down the road from the main road.  Tumba jumped out of the passenger seat of the first and Daniil out of the second.

Out of the driver’s side of the first camper van stepped Boomer, and out of the driver’s side of the second stepped Sebastien Buemi.  From the backs poured The rest of the Redbull testers and Young Drivers program, matches and Racing Drivers.

“Look who we found!!” Daniil yelled, “Redbull Boys!”

“We heard your call.  We heard you call and we drove all night to find you.” Boomer yelled in sweeping gestures.  He pulled Oz into a big, back slapping hug, and the two groups merged together like water.

[When the stallion calls, the herd gathers around him!]  Sebastien yelled in triumph.

Chapter Text

Juniors

January 1, 2017 -Day 44-

 

“How did you know how to find us?”  Dan asked.

Sebastien Buemi started to speak but the group of young men and Racing Drivers started chattering over him.

Boomer cleared his throat.  The young stallions and matches instantly quieted.  Except Sergio Sette Camara.

“We were driving last night and Chev started yelling that he heard Oz calling him.  He pulled off the road and kept pointing.  Then we heard the herd answer.  We tried calling out, but our sending just drifted into the wind.”  Sergio told them.

“The broadcasts have been amazing!” Rich yelled.

Dan looked at him twice.  Rich and Silver had been tiny the last time he’d really seen them, summer break.  He hadn’t taken a good look at them the day of the sirens.  They were almost his height, now.  He’d noticed, in watching the Redbull Jr broadcasts.

“We have been in Belgium and Holland,” Sebastien said.

“The Booms have been dragging us to all the museums they can find.”  Sergio said.

“The Booms?” Dan asked.

“Boomer and Buemi!” Luis said.

[Cafes,] Chev said.

[Book shops and skiing,] Navy added.  He mimed skiing, with a thrilled look on his face.

[I am learning to read!] Chev said.

 [That’s really awesome,] Dan told him.

[We are all learning to read,] Boomer said.

When the excitement died down, he pulled Boomer and Seb off to the side while Pilot and Carlos took the spark plug to the front of the bus to install it.

[How have you been doing?  With all the young guys?]

[It is...like being a dad.]

Dan had thought so.  His herd was all in their 20’s and he wasn’t much older.  Seb was nearly thirty, and with a bunch of 17 year olds.  He wondered if he should offer to...babysit or something.  Watch the kids.

One of his had just bailed into the sea, though, so he didn't have much room to speak.

Oz seemed to know what the right thing to do was.  [Can we use one of your cars?] He asked Boomer.

[Yes?]

[I want to send Carlos and Fili and Daniil and Tumba to a town.  They will take the juniors, and you will tell me what has been happening.] Oz separated out Boomer and Seb from the rest and directed Fili, Tumba and their matches towards the trucks with the campers.

[Pilot, are you done with the bus engine?]

[Yes?]

[You and Max get back on the bus and turn the heater on,] Oz told him.  To Boomer he added, [He went swimming.  I did, too.]

They went back to the bus and Oz and Pilot huddled under blankets.

[We went North,] Seb started, settling himself and Boomer on the bench seat opposite where the Redbull Boys were sitting on the bunk. [We bought these caravans, and sold the van.  We ended up in Holland.  Boomer said it was important for them to learn everything they could, so we went to the Hague.  It took days.  Everything we learned led to new questions, and it took like an hour before the guys and I didn’t know the answers anymore, so we went to the library.]

[Book keepers are VERY helpful!] Boomer said, [They helped us learn to read.]

[They were fascinated by the guys, once they got them to be quiet in the library.  And so we started reading everything we could, and they started learning to read.  It’s hard, because they just have to memorize all the words, but they don’t have any language barriers.  They can read Chinese as easily as English or French, once someone explains the words to them.]

[They are all language barriers, I guess,] Dan said.

[So on the way from the hostel where we were staying to the library, there was this cafe, and we started going in there for breakfast.  Chev was pretty interested by this concept of going to a mess hall where they would give you whatever you wanted, and then one day we ate at a different cafe and the cheese danish he ate there was different.  That opened up a whole new world.  After that we ate in a different cafe every lunch.  I think it was probably 10 cafes before it occurred to him to order something other than a cheese danish.  Then he started taking notes.  Have Sergio show you his cafe journal.  He’s got like drawings and these really detailed notes about the differences in the cafes.]

[He takes notes?] Dan asked.

[Have you SEEN them with paper and pen they are allowed to do what they want with?]

Oz jumped up and went to the book cupboard.  There were 15 or 20 notebooks in it, now.  He skipped the first 2 green ones and brought down the rest of his.  He sat next to Boomer and opened the page to a perfect rendition of Hockenheim.  Dan had snuck a look at the circuit on google, and it was exact.  From memory.  From above, when there was no way Oz had ever seen it from above.

Then there were pages and pages of drawings of garages, trackside facilities, the Redbull stable.

Boomer flipped through slowly, eyes wide.

Then he set the notebook down on his lap.

He looked out the window on the opposite side of the bus, out at the sea, for awhile.

[Australia,] He said, [Are you a track designer?]

Oz smiled and shrugged.

[Do you remember when we were little and Stig started going on track walks that were more like track crawls?  When he would get down to hands and knees and face to look along the track, looking for differences?]

[Not very well.]

[If Monaco was different, what would make it better?]

Oz answered instantly, [The corner before the hairpin needs to be wider.]

Boomer ran his fingertip over the edge of the notebook.  [Are any of these new tracks?  Tracks that aren’t there, yet?]

The Green nodded, like he was giving away a secret.

Dan watched them talk.  He looked at Seb.

Max grunted.

He hadn’t participated in the conversation, yet, and Dan had nearly forgotten the younger bond pair was there, huddled under the blankets on the other side of the bunk.

[He is always talking about how the tracks could be better,] Max said.

Boomer snuggled Oz under his arm. [It is good you have found your way.  I am happy for you.]

[You have found your way?] Oz asked.  [You have colts to care for.  You have always watched and seen who needed what.]

Boomer looked sharply at Pilot.  [Yes.]

Pilot nodded.

Some sort of sent conversation was passing the humans by.  Max stood up.  [You want something to eat?]  He went to the kitchenette and started pulling out the cold seafood salad from the tupperware.

[Fish?] Boomer asked.  [I like fish.  Scallops.]

[Bouillabaisse,] Pilot agreed.

Seb’s phone beeped.  The Jrs had never gone under the radar quite the same way the Redbull Boys had, he explained, texting back.  “We never abandoned our bank accounts, we couldn’t, not eating in cafes and going to museums.  This is Pierre, he says they’ll be a little while.  Chev discovered a cafe with a new kind of cappuccino machine.”

“Are you having a problem with caffeine?”  Dan asked, thinking about Fili.

“No, it buzzes him, but he only has one a day.”

That was different than Fili, for a start.

“Have you...drank with them?” Seb asked.  “Did you have any weird problems.”

“Yeah.  The only problem we had that night was...not something to do with them.”  Dan could see Max redden, out of the corner of his eye.

“We haven’t, either.  I would have thought they would have had trouble processing it, like at the stable they tell you never ever let them have caffeine or medicines, or alcohol, because they react differently to chemicals.  Tiger and Boomer like beer, Chev drinks coffee and is fine.”

“Fili got kind of hooked on Redbull, but it didn’t become a problem until he was pretty much living on it.”

Seb nodded.

“How are Tumba and Pilot getting along?” Seb asked, deliberately, looking at Max as he did so.

Max turned around, “Daniil and I are fine.  Tumba and Pilot never had a problem with each other, and Daniil and I are fine.”

Seb nodded.  “Good.”

Max nodded and turned back to the counter.  “Stallion is taking care of us.”

“Good.”

He cast a look at Dan and raised his eyebrows.  

Boomer nodded benevolently.  He was the oldest of the Redbull stallions, other than Rabbit and Cooler, who were much older.  Boomer, Oz and Sunshine had grown up in a set, and Boomer had always been the observant, mature one.  He was not a natural leader, but he was a born second in command, like Fili.

He knew the Redbull Racing Drivers better than pretty much anyone.

The Jrs were lucky to have him.  To have him and Seb, looking out for them.

Chapter Text

Morning of January 2, 2017 -Morning 45-

 

It had been raining all night.  The bus and the two campers were parked in the parking lot of a gas station.  Dan finished filling the bus with petrol.  He put the nozzle back on the podium and pulled the hood of his parka up.  There had been no traffic on the road since he’d been filling up.  The sun was just rising, creating lemon meringue streaks in the silver and thunder colored clouds.

He trotted out from under the cover, dancing around the deeper puddles.  Daniil and Tumba were just coming out of the glass door of the station.  Tumba’s arms were full of bags of toilet paper and paper towels.  Dan tossed Daniil the keys.  “Move the bus, will you?”

Daniil, with a juggler’s reflexes, caught the keys.  “Yeah.”

The bathroom wasn’t too gross.  That was nice.  Dan elbowed his way out of the door.  Everyone was crowding back into the bus and caravans, except Silver, who was standing beside the display of toy cars, watching the man at the counter.

He picked up one of the little cars and dropped it in his pocket.

Dan’s jaw dropped.

Silver turned around and headed for the door.

WHAT DID HE THINK HE WAS DOING?!

Dan intercepted him, not letting his emotion touch his face, bustling him along to the counter, he set his cup of coffee on the counter and then looked at Silver, [Put the car on the counter, and anything else you took.]  He smiled at the station attendant as though nothing was wrong.

Silver put the car and a map on the counter.

Dan paid for them and handed them back to Silver.

They walked side by side to the door.  As they crossed the parking lot, Silver tried to break and run for the further caravan.  Dan grabbed his arm, hard.

The little Racing Driver hated it.  He pulled against Dan’s grip and screamed, crouching and trying to back across the parking lot.

“HEY!” Rich screamed, running out of the caravan towards them.  “Don’t fucking touch him!”

‘Oz, make him stay,’ Dan called to his partner.

Silver’s face twisted into even more of a snarl, but he stopped fighting.  His face turned towards where Dan was holding him, and he growled.

There was no reason to be holding him, now, Oz was doing it more effectively, so Dan released him.

“What the hell are you DOING?” Rich screamed at Dan, running his hands over Silver’s face and arm like he’d been damaged instead of just offended.

“What is going on?” Sebastirn demanded.  Everyone had come over to see the disturbance.

The man from the gas station was looking out the window at the big group of men and foreign creatures in the parking lot.  The existence of Stigs was widely advertised, now, but still very, very unfamiliar.

[Come here to me,] Dan gestured angrily to Silver, heading towards the bus.  [Daniil and Max, take your guys with the Jrs.  Seb, please join me.  Carlos, you drive.]

[What did he do?] Rich asked Silver as they loaded onto the bus.

Carlos took his seat and they pulled onto the road.

Dan was too agitated to sit.  Oz was picking up on it and starting to make a constant, low, worried rev.

[Tell them what you did,] He told Silver.

[No.]

The Redbull Boys obeyed him instantly, Dan was not used to defiance.  Even before the Grand Tour, Oz’s status had granted Dan a certain amount of influence among the younger Drivers and their matches.  Once Sunshine had left Redbull, Oz was Redbull’s premiere stallion.

[What the hell is going on?] Seb demanded.  [You know better than to touch a Racing Driver, Dan.]  Oz may have been the premiere stallion, but Boomer was older, and there was an edge in Seb’s gestures.

Dan didn’t usually have to ask Oz to exert influence.  He did, now.

The little Grey resisted for a moment, and then threw his hands, [I didn’t even DO it, you gave money for them.]

[He was stealing.  I caught him and paid for the things.  Show them.] 

His hands gripped tightly, then clasped around each other, then he took the map and the car out of his pocket.  [You do not have a right to correct me.  You are not my lead stallion.  I am free.]

Rich threw his hands over Silver’s, in support or to silence him, it was unclear.

[Did you find out if he was GOING to pay for them?] Seb demanded, [Or did you just jump to the conclusion he was a…] There was no gesture for the word, “Thief?”

[He was headed out the door,] Dan turned to face Seb.  Why wasn’t he standing behind him?

[Are you sure he wasn’t going to signal for one of us to bring him some money?  Or just to see where Rich was?  Did you CHECK, or did you just do the first thing that came into your head, again?]

Oz growled.

Boomer snorted derisively from where he was sitting.

Oz turned and growled at him.

Like a lion rising from the grass, Boomer stood up.  [You may be an F1 stallion, but I have always been able to beat you around the track.  Your little wins do not outweigh mine.  They do not outweigh my championship.]

[No.  I am lead stallion.  Your championship does not outweigh that.]  Oz drew himself up.  Fili stood silently behind him, not straight, but tensed to fight.

The low-pitched growl rolled through the bus like thunder, very nearly inaudible.

Boomer’s elbow swung for Oz’s nose.

Fili moved faster.

Oz moved so fast Dan didn’t even see what he did.

They had Boomer on the floor, on his back, pinned firmly beneath their hands and their knees, nuzzling their noses gently against his cheeks.

The big Blue growled.

Then he subsided.

He nipped each of their cheeks.

Oz smiled lovingly and planted his elbow on the floor beside Boomer’s face, so no one could see and murmured to him with noises and gestures.

Seb’s fists slowly relaxed.

Oz and Fili helped Boomer to his feet.

He looked at Seb and shook his head.

 Then he looked at Dan and held Dan’s gaze with his deep green eyes.  [With your permission, stallion, I am most familiar with what Silver has been going through, may I deal with the colt who has been under my care?]

[I am no one’s colt!] Silver yelled, struggling past Rich’s restraining hold.  [Men OWE me.  MY things were taken, over and over, and men took them.  MEN OWE ME!]

He burst into tears, and then boyish sobs.

He curled into Rich’s hold, putting his arms around his back and hiding his face in his collar.  [Take, take, take.  Take everything,] He gestured, in between grasping desperate handfuls of Rich’s soft hoodie.

Dan dropped to the seat, suddenly overwhelmed by the scene.  Oz and Fili were watching the very young stallion, uncomfortably, pressing side to side for support.  He suddenly remembered Oz telling him that existential crises would be a new challenge the Racing Drivers would face, as they moved into freedom.  Crises of morality and due compensation would be new challenges as well.

Boomer and Seb dropped into the place on the other side of Silver and put their hands on him.  [You remember what we talked about?] Seb asked, gently.

Silver lifted his wet eyes from his hiding place, [That in the meadow, they can’t ask too much from us, anymore, but if we want to ask for the old things from them, we are putting ourselves right back in the stables.  I want to be in the meadow, but…they HURT us, why should they be allowed?]

Seb nodded, again.  [They aren’t allowed.  They don’t get to be in the meadow.  They had what they wanted, when they were taking things from us at the stables, but there is no one to take from anymore.  They chose to take for those times, instead of coming into the meadow with us.  They made a bad choice, and now they have nothing.  They will not have anything anymore, because there is no one to take from, and they do not know how to conserve resources, so soon, they will have spoiled every little thing they had left.  Meanwhile, we are in the meadow, and things will only grow and get brighter for us.]

Boomer reached out and stroked Silver’s face.  [Don’t go back into the stable for them and make them believe they were right, that we cannot be allowed to be free.]

Oz smiled down at Silver.  [Stay with us, in the meadow.  It is nice.]

Rich just hugged his Racing Driver.

How well handled.  The Redbull Jrs were lucky to have Seb and Boomer, indeed.  Dan was going to look forward to learning from them, as well.

Chapter Text

January 2, 2017 -Day 45-

 

They had come back into a forested area.  The humans had words for the different places, but all that made sense to him was that they were, [Sort of by Hockenheim.  Sort of.]

Not close enough to go there.

There were tall trees, here, and they blocked out the sun.  It was cloudy, and the winter days were short, anyway.  Fili tripped out through the uneven ground, covered in fallen leaves from the trees.  There were some small bushes, but the ground was mainly clear.  It was sloping downhill, though, gradually.

Back up the hill by the bus and trucks the young stallions and Boomer had brought, where they had set up camp, he could feel Carlos and the other Racing Drivers.

Carlos felt sad and sympathetic, but he didn’t agree.

Fili knew Tyazhelyy was following him, half a lap behind, but he wasn’t going to make an effort to stop him.

Everything smelled wet, and there was a faint smell of rot from the leaves and dead winter undergrowth.  He could smell something different, though.  He followed his nose down the slope.

There was no point in trying to stop Tyazhelyy, anyway.

None of the others would even bother to come after him.

Even Pilot had turned so hard, he would never be the one to come to speak to Fili in support.

The ground, in other weather, would be dry and sandy, beneath a sort of loamy layer made of decomposing material.

At the low point in the gentle glade was a forest pool.  There were leaves clotted around the edges, in brilliant, dimmed oranges, yellows, and browns, but the center of the pool was black, reflecting a silver mirror of the clouds.

Fili settled to his knees and trailed his fingers in the water.  It was very cold, but it felt good.  It numbed his fingers quickly.

 

Tiger stepped forward, nose nearly touching Fili’s.  [He is a MONSTER.  He deserves the worst men can devise.  If you don’t hate him, you are a monster, too.]

He took a step away from Tiger, too disconcerted to answer.

 

He touched the leaves at the bottom of the pool.  They didn’t feel like regular leaves.  They felt slippery, like they had been dipped in engine lubricant.  He pulled one out.  It folded from the central rib, which bowed under the wait of the rotting leaf.

 

[I just think that maybe you’re misunderstanding his motivations.]

Tiger laid his hands, crossed over his chest, giving up any hope, like a Racing Driver would take his hands off the wheel in a crash.

[No motivations are an excuse.]  Boomer’s lip curled in disgust.

 

He pulled gently at the edges of the leaf to separate and flatten it.  He felt the tiny fibers inside the leaf tear, like popping threads.  No matter how softly he tried to straighten it, any part he moved tore and broke apart.

There was some huffing breaths and shuffling leaves coming down the glade.  Tyazhelyy coming along to find him.

 

[We all saw how things were with you.  You don’t have to go on forgiving him.]  Oz said, gently.

Fili spun towards him, mouth opening, eyebrows drawing together, taking a deep breath, shoulders raising to face this attack from such an unexpected quarter.

[No!  I’ll never forgive him!] Shuttle said.

 

He put his hand in the water and the bits of the leaf floated free of his skin and sunk back into the mass at the bottom of the pool.  The orange pieces of leaf settled on the black dirt in the middle and looked out of place.

A pale, long fingered hand slid into the water beside his.

He looked up into Tyazhelyy’s eyes.  His strong, rugged features and dark hair, and Tyazhelyy’s longer, pale face and blonde, short hair reflected on the surface of the pool.  They were closely related, had grown and worked together almost all their lives.  They had been raised as brothers.  They had raced as teammates.

They were different.

A little smile turned up Tyazhelyy’s mouth.

His big teeth showed.

Fili smiled with open lips as well.

[Thank you for not leaving me to walk into the forest alone.]

Fili left his hand trailing in the water, but looked up at the grey light coming through the trees in the distance.

Tyazhelyy pulled his hand out of the water and shook it off, settling it on his knee where he crouched at Fili’s side.  One of the droplets landed on Fili’s forearm and felt like a sudden touch of ice.  It snailed down through the thick, dark hairs on Fili’s arm and fell into the leaves on the ground.

[Oz thinks they are right.]

That probably hurt most of all.

 

Fili shook his head and held his hand in the stop, wait, gesture.  [I do not mean he should be allowed to continue, or that he should be allowed to go uncorrected.  He did things that were wrong.  I cannot look away from that, but he did not act from malice.]  He pointed at Shuttle.  [He was trying to protect you.]

Shuttle’s face twisted in hatred, but he didn’t say anything.

He pointed at Tiger, [He was scared for you.]

[And Rabbit?] Boomer asked, low and dangerous.

 

Fili closed his eyes and tipped his face back to the sky. 

Tyazhelyy picked up a stick from the ground and spun it back and forth in his fingers.  [He has his own pain.]

[Everyone does.]  Fili pushed his hand deeper into the pond and touched the black soil on the bottom.  He reached his other hand into the water, flexing his hands in the cold that ran up his wrists.

 

[It is not as simple as “Rabbit was wronged,” You know that.]  There were tears in Fili’s eyes now.

[Your love makes you too weak to be a Yellow.]  Tiger said, [Where is the logic, healer?]

Fili cracked his knuckles.

[Love.] Pilot snorted.

This he’d expected.  He didn’t turn to the feint.

[You can’t truly feel love for him.]   Pilot’s gestures were slow, like he might startle Fili with rapid motions, and be attacked.

 

Fili removed his hands from the water.  He let them drip water, spoiling the reflection with ripples.

After they stopped dripping, he said, [No one has stopped to think Price might have pain.]

 

[And if I DO?!] Fili stepped back.  Pilot had been drawing closer, like he was going to restrain Fili, and Fili stepped out of the group.  [He CARED for me.  He HELPED me.  He did bad things, I acknowledge this, but he did GOOD things.  He was Trainer for all of us, wasn’t he?  He taught us.  He fought for us.  He gave us places, gave us teams.  He sponsored me as a Trainer.  I am PROUD to be a Trainer.  I will be a good doctor.]

Some of them looked repulsed.  Oz and Pilot looked pitying.

Fili took another step back.  [I DO love him.  He tried to help us, and I love him.]  He took another step back.  [I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR SHOWING ANOTHER RACING DRIVER LOVE.]

He turned and ran.

 

[We have all seen that Price has pain,] Tyazhelyy said, firmly.

More drops fell into the water.  Not from Fili’s hands.  From his eyes.

Tyazhelyy reached out and touched Fili’s mind.  Their strength joined, like the drops of water.  He closed his eyes in the face of Fili’s love.  In the face of his grief.

[If we had been freed sooner, he would not have become like this.  He…Pilot and Blitz…You, out of everyone, you KNOW what love that took.  Can you imagine being so afraid of losing someone that you would break every rule of decency to keep them?]

Tyazhelyy’s tongue wetted his tight lips.  [Do you think I don’t?]

Fili hung his head.  [I know.]

[I am not going to say what you did with Justice was different than what Price did to Pilot and Blitz.  You know I understand from both sides.  I wanted Blitz to live and I watched him die because Price’s way of saving him could never work.  I truly would have done anything to save Blitz.  You tried to stay with Justice and watched her die.  I know.  That is why I will not say it is different, because it is love.]

He took a deep breath.

[And yet?]  Fili asked.

Tyazhelyy shook his head.  [Nothing else.  He did it for love.]

Fili tilted his head to look at the other Racing Driver.  [You agree with me?]

[No.  I do not love Price.  I cannot forgive him.]  His shoulders moved, shedding the responsibility for these things.  [He did not help me.  You know.  I have no reason to love him.]

This confused Fili.

[You love him, because you have a reason to love him.  He helped you.  He gave you care you needed.]

[His love just left me at odds with the others.  It has hurt me.]

Tumba shook his head, vigorously, face tight.  [Love doesn’t hurt you.  He did not know HOW to love you properly.  THAT hurt you.  He TRIED, but he is so bent…Loving his care is right.  Loving him trying is right.  To overlook what he did, even after seeing he was hurting and not protecting, that is wrong.  He should have stopped.  When we screamed instead of loving him back, it was clear something was wrong.]

Fili’s mouth fell open.  [That is…Tyazhelyy, no.  Love is love, forgiveness is forgiveness.]

[Forgiveness is what we do when someone wants to make amends.  He cannot understand amends, so forgiveness is not the thing.  Some other thing is the thing.]

His eyebrows rose at this thought.  He looked into the pool, which had calmed again and was reflecting Tyazhelyy, watching him closely.

[It is alright to love him and still not forgive him?]

Tyazhelyy put his hand on Fili’s shoulder.  [Yes, and it is alright to let the love go.  If that is what you chose to do.  That love was right at the time, but it does not have to go on, if you do not want to feed it in your heart.]

[I have a choice?]

[Yes.  We are free.  You have a choice.]

Chapter Text

Long Term Changes

Redbull Race Training Compound- February 12, 2010

 

When the fever film receded from his eyes, he spent a night alone in the medical center, thinking.  He did not contact any of the medics, or any of the other Racing Drivers.

When Daniil came in, in the morning, Tumba was curled on his side, back to the door.  He rolled over and smiled at the little human. He rested his hand on the soft skin of Daniil’s forearm, with it’s light fluff of tiny, soft hairs.  [Daniil, please tell the man that I need to go to the depot.]

He sat up and hugged around Daniil’s neck.

[Are you alright?] He asked, a little nervously.  There had been some intense moments, when the fever had been bad, and Tumba’s mind was supplying him with horrors no one else could see.

[Yes, but things have changed for me.]

When the Trainers came, and the medical Trainer authorized his release from the medical center, and Daniil had quiet, human noises with Kimi, while Jaamies looked over his man’s shoulder, curiously at Tumba.  Tumba got out of the cot and stared nervously at the clothes that had been brought, before putting them on.

Daniil held Tumba’s hand, and Kimi and Jaamies walked with them on the long walk to the depot.  Tumba hadn’t been here since he was first weaned. Kimi knocked on the door and explained to the man who opened it, why they were here.

He looked at Jaamies, and then Tumba and made a loud noise.

Kimi responded in a reasonable tone.

The man made another loud noise.

Kimi just shrugged.  He was not going to be turned away by any lesser worker.

The man stepped aside and let them into the room.

He made Tumba take off his clothes and stand on a little podium with just one stand.  He pushed a ribbon into Daniil’s hands. Tumba gave his helmet to Jaamies to hold.

Daniil stepped close to Tumba and ran the ribbon around his waist.  Then he ran it down the inside of Tumba’s leg, down his back, around his chest, his neck, and down his arms.  He made eye contact with Tumba regularly while he did this, and smiled a nervous little smile.

When this was done, the man looked at the paper where Kimi had written notes about everything Daniil had done.  He walked into another room and came back out with a pile of shirts. He walked into another room and came back with a pile of pants.  Coveralls. Underwear. Socks.

Tumba dressed in some of the new clothes the man gave him.

Then he came back with Tumba’s new helmet.

He set it on the counter.

He made more loud noises at Kimi, and then pointed at Daniil.

Kimi turned to Tumba, [He says you must bring back every piece of clothing from your stall.  No losing socks down the back of the hamper. Everything must come back.]

Tumba nodded.

He didn’t need any of the other clothes anymore.

He set the helmet he’d carried here under his arm on the counter.  He touched the glossy orange surface one last time.

Then he pulled his new, Dark Blue helmet off the counter and pulled it on, cinching the chin strap tightly.  He nodded to Kimi and Jaamies for their help. He squeezed Daniil’s hand.

[Thank you,] He gestured to the man.  [I know it is a problem for you when all a Racing Driver’s things must be changed.  I will bring back everything from my stall that is orange.]

The man nodded, slowly, then raised his hands and gestured, [Whether it is a problem for me or not, it is important that you have things to match your new color affinity.]



January 3, 2017 -Day 45-



The bus was warmer, with the extra guys visiting.  Daniil and Tumba were squeezed into the corner of the bunk, next to the kitchenette.  Tumba was drifting in the soft stroking of his hair, and watching the explanation of the science museum the Jr’s had been to in Brussels.

‘Do you ever think you will wear orange again?’ Daniil wondered.

Tumba raised up off his chest and looked at him.  ‘No.’

He nodded and didn’t stop stroking Tumba’s hair.

‘Do you want me to?  To match you better, again?’

‘No.  Just wondering.  I like you the way you are.  However you are.’

Tumba settled back down.  ‘No. That was a permanent change for me.  I spent those weeks, when I was sick, coming to a lot of realizations, and when my mind cleared, I knew I wasn’t an Orange anymore.  I didn’t think like an Orange thinks anymore. It’s not bad, there is nothing wrong with how Oranges think,’

He looked out the window on the other side of the bus, at the green/grey branches of the trees going by.

‘It’s just not how I think, anymore.’

Daniil’s hand squeezed on his shoulder.  ‘You are mine, no matter how you think. Always mine.’

Chapter Text

Gas Light

Night of January 3, 2017 -Night 46-

 

The bus was quiet.  They had parted ways on good terms with the Jr’s team, after a joint broadcast, and days together.  Daniil was glad to be just them again.  Tumba was crouching on his heels, facing backwards, with his back against the dashboard.  His fingers were on the drivers seat, tips tucked under Daniil’s right knee.  He was chewing his lips.

The bus lights in front of them lit the yellow center line, and the orange light of the dials didn’t cast enough light for Daniil to see anything in the bus clearly.

The sky was cloudy, no stars or moon.  No light.

‘How is the fuel?’  Tumba asked, suddenly, turning to look at the dashboard.

Daniil didn’t move.  ‘Please.  Don’t.  Start.  That.  Again.’

Tumba looked at him, confused.  He was leaning up by the dash lights and they were shining on his face enough for Daniil to see it.  Then he receded into the darkness again, crossed his arms over his knees.  ‘I did not realize I was.  Sorry.’

He reached out and set a hand on Tumba’s.  ‘Not your fault.’

Tumba grunted.  ‘It was the Jrs, and all the talk about him.’

‘I understand.’  He took his hand off Tumba’s, paused, wondering if he should put it back, and then slowly set it back on the steering wheel.  He felt tension in his back.  He checked his speed, and then, against all logic, checked the fuel gauge.

It showed ¾ of a tank, just like it ought to.

 

Redbull Race Training Compound- 2009

 

The gym was a big, well lit space, with “windows” cut in the walls, with false sunlight projected on the other side of the frosted glass.  Daniil and Tyazhelyy walked in, hand in hand, and Wendy and Francesca walked in behind them.  There were half a dozen men, with their Racing Drivers, in the room.  They were all tall and tan skinned and handsome.  Two of them looked at the newly matched bond pairs with the brightest blue eyes under the dark hair the Redbull Racing Drivers all seemed to have.  

The gawky match with the fluff of curly hair walked away from the elegant looking guy, hand out to Daniil.  “G’day, I’m Dan Ricciardo, this here’s Australia, named after the best country on earth, you can call him Oz.”

Daniil shook his hand.  “I am Daniil Kvyat, my Racing Driver is Tyazhelyy.  This is Francesca Linossi, and Wendy.”  He presented Tyazhelyy’s twin sister and her match.

“We can introduce ourselves,”  Francesca said, reintroducing herself and shaking Dan’s hand.

Daniil looked behind him at the other boys from their matching group, Carlos, Mitch and Brendon were looking at Francesca with big eyes.  “This is Carlos Sainz and Fili, Mitch Evans and Hare, and Brendon Hartley and Kiwi.”  None of them objected to being introduced.

“You named him Kiwi?” Dan asked Brendon.  “New Zealander, then?”

“Best country on earth,” Brendon said, shaking Dan’s hand firmly.

“Damn right,” Said Mitch, “Even though I didn’t feel the need to announce it.”  He shook Dan’s hand, as well.

Dan turned to the elegant young man he’d been chatting with when they came in, “Looks like we know who Redbull will be representing.  France has enough stables.  It’s Australia’s time to get some drivers.”

He turned back to the young men.  “Carlos, huh?  Jaime here is Spanish, too.  Not got the pedigree you’ve got, though.”

The man with the shocking blue eyes stepped forward.  “Your father is an inspiration.”

Daniil noticed that the Racing Drivers mingled together naturally, Carlos’ Fili and Oz gravitating to each other’s sides, over by the elegant man’s Racing Driver.  Fili pulled Hare along with him.  Of course, he realized, they must know each other.  They’d all grown up together.  Only the matches were meeting for the first time.

“Destello is a great Racing Driver, but Fili is his own person.”  Carlos stood tall and shook Jaime’s hand.

“I’m Jaime Alguersuari, this is Victor.”  Jamie turned around to where his Racing Driver was clearly more interested in working out than meeting new people.

“Yeah!” Dan said.  “And that’s Jean-Eric Vergne,”  He pointed at the elegant man, “And JEV.  Easy to remember, and that’s Alexander and Xerxes.”  He pointed to the tall, slim, short haired, dark eyed bond pair at the edge of the group.

“Alex Rossi,” The man raised his hand in greeting, his other hand squeezing his Racing Driver’s hand.  The Racing Driver seemed to be staring into the distance, and at the squeeze, he turned his attention to them and gave a brief smile, before turning to attend to whatever had his attention before.  Sending from somewhere else, Daniil assumed.

Wendy had wandered over to him and was shyly trying to engage in conversation.

“Well, welcome to the rookies.  You’ll meet the team stallions, later.  Mark is just great, you’re going to love him.”  Dan grinned.  The Australians and New Zealanders all grinned.

“What about Vettel?”  Daniil asked.

A visible chill went through the room.

“Yeah, he’ll be there, too.”

Daniil looked at Brendon.

There was a mechanical grunt and Xerxes turned his back on them, walking away, to the treadmill in the farthest corner.  His match followed him.

“Xerxes and Sunshine...Don’t really...They have some history.”  Dan looked behind him at Jean-Eric, who produced an elaborate shrug.

“Sorry,”  Daniil said.

“All of them have history with Sunshine,” Jaime laughed.  “He’s the princess.”

“Oh.”

Carlos laughed.

Tyazhelyy turned around and made eye contact with Daniil, ‘Sunshine cares for Blitz and his twin,’ This sending was accompanied by an image of a Racing Driver who looked similar to Sebastian Vettel, and twin Racing Drivers in Green and Red, with heavy brows and big, triangular noses.

‘Who is Blitz?’ Daniil asked?  The Green one, he sensed.

‘My best friend out of everyone but you.  You two will be best friends, too.  He isn’t matched, yet, he will be, soon, and then we will race together.  Maybe be teammates!’  Tyazhelyy didn’t get this enthusiastic about very many things.  The people at the matching class had explained that for Racing Drivers like Tyazhelyy, their close friends would be VERY important.

That was going to be someone important to remember, then.

“Do you know what team you are going to be on, yet?” Jaime asked.

“Formula BMW on Euro International.  With the Redbull Jrs.  Carlos and Fili will be our teammates.”

“Starting you out on Formula BMW, that’s a good spot to start.  If you have any questions, just ask any of us.  We’re all happy to help.”  He clapped Daniil on the shoulder.  “I’d better go spot Victor.”  He went to work out with his Racing Driver, and Daniil called Tyazhelyy over to the mats to start warming up for their workout.

 

Present Day

 

The sun was turning the sky to dusk blue and gradually, to milk.  Tumba had moved position and was sitting beside Daniil, head rested on his leg, asleep.  He’d heard Carlos and Fili wake up, they were shifting, gesturing silently, not quite ready to be up and a part of the day, yet.

During the night they had come ever closer to a brightly lit city.  It made the clouds glow, and this reflected off the snow on the ground, making it near daylight the closer they came.  They were driving through the industrial outer reaches of Berlin, now.  It was really time to start looking for a place to buy gas.

The upper bunk creaked.  Fili let himself off it almost silently.  Daniil glanced behind him.  Carlos was looking over the top of the pillow, out the windscreen.  His hair was rumpled and sticking up everywhere.  [Have Tumba move up here?] Carlos asked.

Daniil nodded, reaching down to stroke his Racing Driver’s face.  ‘Wake up, loved one.  Take Fili’s bunk.  You need a more comfortable place to sleep.’

‘Find me a closet,’ Tumba yawned back.  ‘I’ll sleep better when I can get on my feet.’

‘There will be a closet tonight.’

‘Good.’  He stood and rolled his shoulders, stretching his arms and legs.  When Carlos had vacated the upper bunk, Tumba set a foot on the lower bunk and hoisted himself up to the place.  

This activity woke Oz, who leaned up, drool dried on his face, his curls crushed flat to his head by the pillow.  [Where are we?]  He gestured to Carlos.  He sat up and looked at the buildings.  They were like nothing he had ever seen, rusty, massive metal structures in odd shapes and configurations.  [What is this?]

[Factories,] Carlos answered.  The word was not accurate, it meant the places the F1 cars were built.  These were nothing like that.

It was clear the meaning didn’t translate, because the suspicious look stayed on Oz’s face.

[We are in a large city north of Brno.  West of the Nurburgring and Hockenheim.]

[Why don’t the large cities all have circuits?] Fili asked.

[Space and Money.] Dan gestured over his head, rolling onto his back.  [There’s not enough space in Europe to fit everything.]

[But we have driven for days,] Fili said, reasonably.

[A circuit has to be by a big city, so there are buildings for fans to stay in and enough food.  But if there are too many circuits, then there will not be enough fans to fill the grandstands, because everyone will go to the circuit near their home.  Fans must travel long ways to the races.  There aren’t enough people in even a big city who want to spend money to go to the races,] Carlos explained.  Of course the idea that not every human wanted to watch racing was lost on the Racing Drivers.  Every human they had ever met was connected to racing.  Racing was the point of existence for Racing Drivers, and the idea that most humans just didn’t care was beyond them at this stage.

Daniil found a petrol station and pulled over.  There was a mass exodus to use the bathroom, and Daniil shook Max and Pilot awake.  They tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but they were in each other’s way.  He roused Tumba for the bathroom break, and fueled the bus.  When he got back from his own visit to the men’s room, Dan was in the drivers’ seat.  Max and Pilot had gotten into the bottom bunk and gone back to sleep and Tumba had fallen back asleep on the top bunk.  Daniil wanted to join him, but there wasn’t long until they reached their day’s destination, and then he could sleep more comfortably.

He settled on the bench seat, declining a cup of coffee when Carlos offered him one from the press.

Dan drove down the industrial streets, until they reached a brick warehouse with a massive billboard of a woman standing in front of a landscape, with a river running to a rising sun, with some worn German lettering.

There was a man standing on the steps to the man sized door, beside the garage door.  He was wearing a dark blue wool peacoat, and wooly cap.  He opened the garage door as the bus approached.  Dan pulled right into the warehouse.  It was empty but for some old machinery off to one side.

The man followed them in and closed the door behind them.

Daniil tapped Tumba awake, and watched out the bus windows as Dan walked out to meet his matching yearmate.  Tumba looked out the bus window at him.  ‘He looks different.’  Daniil ran his fingers through Tumba’s hair.

‘He would.  It has been a long time.’

‘He feels different.’

Daniil caught Carlos, out of the corner of his eye, straightening Fili the same way he had made Tumba presentable, and saw him lower his head.  ‘I imagine he would.’

He nudged Max, “Come on, lazy bones.  We’re here, you can sleep inside.”

Max sighed once and then, as though this had expelled the last of his sleepiness, rolled off the bunk to his feet, as though he had been fully awake for hours.  He leaned under the upper bunk to look out the windows at Jaime.

“Is this going to be weird?” He asked.

“Yes, but we will make it easy for him,” Carlos told him, firmly.

Outside, Oz stepped forward, from where he had been crowded beside Dan and reached out a hand, touching Jaime’s cheek in a gesture of brotherhood.

“So...do we mention Victor...or not?” Max asked.

Daniil’s voice was tight when he said, “Would you want us to pretend Pilot never existed, if HE died?  Of course we will mention Victor.”

“Jaime has been away from anyone he could talk about Victor with, all this time.  No one to remember.  No one to grieve.”  Carlos said, unconsciously squeezing Fili’s arm until the flesh around his hand was white.

Fili didn’t object, just looked out the window at the half a Racing Driver that was left, speaking with Dan and Oz.

 

Redbull Race Training Compound- 2014

 

“You’ve really got a future in Formula 1, Daniil.  When Sunshine retires, we’ll be looking for someone to carry on our success.  You’re going to have the chance to fight for that championship.  We expect you’ll be right up there in one of those spots.  You just keep that Racing Driver of yours working.”

He could barely keep the smile off his face as he walked away from the Trainer.  Tumba was walking beside him, looking serious.  ‘They want us to be teammates with Pilot.’

He’d suspected Max and Pilot would be in the other spot.

He didn’t like to think what that meant for Carlos and Fili.

‘I know, that’s great!’

‘Yes.  We can brake them.  They run so hot.’

Daniil nodded.  He’d noticed Max and Pilot seemed to have a hard time restraining each other’s enthusiasm.  As a more sedate pair, Daniil and Tumba would be good teammates for them, balancing their aggression.  Eventually.  In a few years, when Sunshine retired.  By then, they would have had some time to grow up, learn some propriety.  They could start helping them with that now.

Then he realized what that meant.

They wanted Tumba to be the calm, stabilizing influence.  To keep Max and Pilot focused.  So they could win.

So THEY could win.

They were grooming Tumba to be Pilot’s #2.

‘No.’ The Racing Driver said, gently,  ‘It is alright.  I want Pilot to win.  He is the fastest.  He will earn his championships.’

Daniil grabbed Tumba’s shoulders.  ‘What about your championships…They’ll make you into RABBIT, burn you to fuel Pilot.’

Tumba smiled and shook his head.  ‘That won’t work with us.  Pilot and I do not fight, he will not resent my pushing him to his limits and I will not resent him pushing me to mine.  We will see between us who is fastest.  I will not resent if it is him.’

That didn’t seem right, somehow.  They all had seen that the team pushed Rabbit and Sunshine to fight.  It wasn’t their natural inclination, but they had been goaded into it, because it made the Red stallion burn hotter and drive faster.

Creating comfortable, well oiled teams was not Redbull’s way.  Running the Racing Drivers until they burned out was their way.

Did he even want Tumba ON Redbull, knowing that?

He thought about Pilot and Max.

He thought about how Tumba should have a championship.

There was no leaving Redbull.

They all knew that.

This was it.

The only way to win was with this team.

They went into the gym.

Dan and Oz were sitting on the weight bench, so pale they were nearly grey.  They looked up.  Their mouths were hanging open.  Beyond them, Alexander and Xerxes were sitting on a stationary treadmill, and Jean-Eric was cuddling JEV.

“What’s wrong?”  Daniil asked.

Dan’s voice was a croak, “After Jaime’s visit, Victor had another seizure.  He’s gone.”

 

Present Day

 

Jaime hadn’t gone to the camp in Australia with the families and unmatched people with Double Oh status.  “Jev talked to the Top Gear guys,” He told them, leading them up the poured concrete stairwell to the second story of the warehouse, “I couldn’t...well, so they set me up here.  The agents stay here when they’re moving through.  Jean-Eric and JEV aren’t here, right now.  They got sent out again.  Austria, I think.”  He hopped up the last step and opened a door like one of those enormous barn doors that run on rails hung over the door.  

The second floor was big, bright and open.  It was one big, open room, except for a door on the wall they’d come in by that led to a big bathroom that was divided into two toilet stalls on one side and on the other side set off by a half wall into a group of showers.  There were two pedestal sinks in the middle.  A narrow table had been set between them with a toiletry kit like the one they were all so used to from Redbull sitting on it.  Everything had been neatly tucked inside and it was closed.  There was a single white towel hanging on the towel bar, but there was a cupboard full of towels just outside the door. 

There were four cots, separated by old fashioned hospital room dividers, metal racks with a sheet of cloth stretched across them.  There were half a dozen Ikea wardrobes along the back wall. 

To one side was a more private space with another cot and it’s own wardrobe.

“That’s Jev and JEV’s space,” Jaime told them.  “This is the kitchen.”  It was neat and tidy and clearly designed to accommodate more people than just Jaime.

“You’re running a safe house?” Dan asked.  “How many Grand Tour Agents are there running around?”

Jaime shrugged.  “I don’t even know.  This is Jev and JEV’s base, and I had a couple Riders through on their way to somewhere.  I’m not really supposed to talk about it, and no one really tells me what they’re doing.  I just, like make soup.”

He laughed.

Carlos turned from an examination of the four cots that had been set out for them.  There were more cots folded neatly in a stack.  There was also enough pipes and a roll of cloth big enough to make a hundred more of the privacy screens.  Carlos caught Daniil’s eye.

‘Fili says Carlos wonders if you see how many Racing Drivers this place is ready to hold,’ Tumba told him.  ‘He thinks this place is waiting for more than just Grand Tour agents.’

“Where do you sleep?” Max asked, brightly.  “Four cots plus Jev.”

Dan raised his hands at him.

Jaime put his hands in the pockets of his peacoat.  “When it’s more than just Jev and JEV, it’s usually too much for me, and I sleep upstairs.”  He turned away and set his hands on the counter, “Anyway, this is the kitchen.  The cupboards are stocked, feel free to use any of it.  Shopping is tomorrow afternoon.  You guys make yourselves at home.  I’ll just...leave you to it.”

He walked rapidly through the door to the stairwell and they heard his footsteps climbing.

Dan turned to Max and put his hands on his hips.  “Are you fucking kidding, Max?  What business is it where he sleeps?”

“I was just asking!”

Carlos put a hand on his shoulder.  “Maybe don’t ask.”

 

Russian Grand Prix- 2016

 

[You are slowing him down.  He is from the BEST bloodline, and you are from nothing!] Sunshine stepped forward, Tumba didn't step back.

[You haven’t won in a season.  Redbull took it’s support and you have had nothing, so you have the best view to see I am more than nothing.  I am faster all the time, and you are slower.]

Daniil saw him turn his head, but he didn’t step away from the Ferrari champion.  He felt the fear rise in Tumba’s heart, but he didn’t sway.

[Speak to me when you have a win, and you are more than the dregs from a holding facility.] Sunshine’s eyes narrowed.

[I am a Redbull.]

Sunshine snorted.  [I am the only thing that made Redbull great.]

Daniil caught Tumba’s arm.  [Leave him.  Let’s go look at the grandstand they named after you, again.] He pulled him away.

 

--

 

Sunshine pushed Jaamies into Tumba during the race.

‘Stallion is angry,’ Tumba pushed the thought into Daniil’s head, his face pale with nerves, as they changed places on the way to the podium.

Daniil, covered in water to simulate the sweat Tumba had accumulated on the drive, picked up one of the towels and began to wipe his hair down.  Sebastian’s back was to him.  The man was practically vibrating.  Maybe it would be better to make light of this..

 

--

 

“You are done.  He’s too damn dangerous.  Did you even TRY to control him?!”  The Trainer paced back and forth in front of Daniil.

“He was going for a gap, there was plenty of room.  I saw the footage.  I saw the replay.”

They would have been THRILLED if Tumba had, maybe not won, he couldn't have caught the mercedes, but taken second..  They should have been thrilled he’d taken third.  Wrested it from the top cars.

Tumba had shown Daniil’s home crowd that he was NOT nothing.  Not some curr.  Daniil was SO proud of him.

“He could have killed someone.  He smashed the car.  We will have to repair it.  He could have KILLED Raikkonen’s Racing Driver.  A TRAINER.  A World Champion. Do you know how much it would have cost us to compensate Ferrari for him?  Iceman is an 800 million euro animal!  And don’t think they wouldn’t have overcharged us.  You are LUCKY your beast didn't cost Redbull a billion euros today.”

“Sunshine turned into him, there was nowhere for him to go. Sunshine hit his own teammate,” Daniil started.

The red that rose into Price’s man’s face told him he’d made a mistake.  A big mistake.

“You’re off the team.”

“But I…”

“Get out of my office you little piece of dog’s cock.”


Spanish Grand Prix Track Practice- 2016

 

‘Daniil!  Daniil!  I’m out of fuel!’

It was only half an hour into the test, if Tumba was saying his car was out of fuel, there was a big problem.

Out of habit, Daniil thumbed his radio. “Fuel problem, says I’m running low.”

“Negative.  Fuel levels are satisfactory, carry on as normal.”  Said his engineer, looking into the monitors, waving Daniil over.  He pointed to one of the readouts, which was coming across perfectly within the usual range.

‘The monitors are showing normal.  What are you feeling?  Share it with me.’  Daniil asked.

Tumba sent, instead of a sensation of the engine running poorly, a fear that the car was low on fuel.

This took a moment to absorb, and realize the fear WAS what Tumba thought meant the car was running low.  There was no actual problem from the car. 

Normally, Daniil would be feeling a shudder in his own hands, as a steering wheel not responding properly, a feeling of weight, like he was being pushed by g-forces, some actual physical indication of the problem Tumba had detected.

‘I’m going to run out.  I’ve got to stop.’

“You’re slowing down, resume your previous speed.” Said the engineer into the radio.  He looked at Daniil, with a questioning expression.  “Is there something we’re not seeing?” He asked.

Should he say yes?  Was Tumba feeling something that wasn’t coming across to Daniil, either?

Should he say no?  If Tumba was just worried and trying to prevent a disaster.

He had never had reason to doubt Tumba before.  He nodded, slowly.  “He feels something.”

“I need to box.  Fuel supply problem,” He said into the radio.

His engineer nodded, performed the bring it in gesture.

“Box, box, box,” He said into the radio.

‘Come on in, Tumba.’

Now they would see what was going on.

 

--

 

‘Daniil, I’m out of fuel again,’ Tumba called, half an hour into the Spanish Grand Prix.  Daniil said this into the radio, before he realized what was happening.

The race engineer looked at him and just waved at the screen, again, showing a reading that was perfectly normal.  “Fuel indicator is malfunctioning,” He said into the radio, shaking his head at Daniil.

‘Tumba is it happening again?’ Daniil asked.  ‘Are you feeling it or are you afraid of it?’

There was a long silence.  ‘How will I know?’

‘Can you feel that the fuel load is too light?  Can you feel her sputtering?  Think through what she would be telling you if she was out of fuel, and if she is not telling you that, she is not out of fuel.’  He was glad he was wearing gloves.  His hands were clasped so tight around the edge of his seat.

‘What if I’m missing the signs?’

‘You aren’t.  Trust me.’

‘Alright.’

The rest of the race, though, Daniil double checked everything Tumba said.  Neither of them said anything about this.  Tumba could still trust him, but neither of them trusted Tumba’s perceptions.

 

--

 

After the race he took Tumba to the track medic, concerned that the Redbull medic would report this unfavourably.  The man checked Tumba over and found nothing wrong.  “He is fine.  I, think he has been influenced.  Sometimes when Trainers convince Racing Drivers they are faster than they are or not afraid when they are, they will react like this.  They know what is real, but believe what is not.”

Daniil’s blood ran cold.

He knew exactly what that meant.  Who had tampered with his Racing Driver.

He hadn’t even been the one who caused the crash.

‘Tyazhelyy,’ He told the Racer.  ‘You have to get over this.  We have to find a way to get past this conviction.  It’s not REAL.  It’s a lie.  Price is sabotaging you, like he did to Rabbit.  He picked the thing that would hurt YOU the most.  Tyazhelyy.  Your mind is trustworthy.  This is his voice telling you you are wrong, that your instincts are no good.’

‘I’ll know if I run out of fuel?’

Daniil closed his eyes.  ‘Yes, you just check.  Make sure what you know fits what you feel.’

‘Alright.’

 

--

 

He called Kimi.  He couldn’t tell him what was happening, but he told him Tumba needed a break from the stable.  Kimi had taken on other Racing Drivers who needed to get away from Redbull before, but Kimi told him Sunshine wouldn’t put up with it, that he would make things harder for Tumba than they were.  At that, Daniil almost told Kimi what was happening.  The fear that there was no tampering stayed his hand, though.  If Kimi found no problem, it would look like he was trying to get special attention, so he accepted Kimi’s decision, because what if, Tumba was just...wrong?

 

--

 

In Monaco Tumba was struggling with the setup of Pilot’s car.  Pilot was a much fiercer driver, driving instinctively with quick reactions rather than a long term strategy.  He retired in a corner.

 

--

 

Half an hour into Canada, ‘Daniil, I’m out of fuel...oh…’

There was a pause.

‘Can you check with the team?’

Daniil leaned over and looked at the fuel readout.  

The engineer looked up at him and shook his head.  “You’re good.”

‘It’s okay, Tumba.’

‘Can you feel it and check?’

He passed over a sensation of worry with no performance basis.

He struggled and retired the next two races, checking in at the half hour point, but being more distracted by the actual problems.  Daniil didn’t know whether to be relieved.

 

--

 

Half an hour into the British Grand Prix, ‘Daniil?  Is it…’

It was pissing Daniil off how regular it was.

The engineer was looking over, now, expecting the question.

‘It’s not happening, is it?’  Tumba said, more like he was reassuring himself.

‘No, it’s not happening.’

He finished 10th.  Their best result since being demoted.

 

--

 

The next three races, the feeling was back, and stronger.  He fretted about it so much, he couldn’t get into the points.

 

--

 

‘I am NOT out of fuel,’ Tumba announced, half an hour into the Malaysian Grand Prix.  

Daniil refused to glance at the readout.  ‘You are right.’  He sent fierce assurance.

He finished 9th.

The last 2 points of his Formula 1 career.

He never finished above 11th again.

 

--

 

As the team left after the last race of the last season, the engineer stopped in front of Daniil.  “Just because we work for Toro Rosso and not Redbull doesn't mean we don’t know how to set up a car, and fuel it, for fucks sake.  Maybe if he wasn’t so worried we weren’t doing our jobs he could have done HIS better.”

Daniil stood alone in the empty garage.  It was Brazil, and none of them were expecting it to be the last race.  He wondered how he could come back and face the team and, for the 6th race running, struggle to assure Tumba that he could drive flat out without destroying the car by running her dry.

He stood alone and listened to the building settle as the heat of the team’s energy cooled out of the walls.  He went into the back room where Tumba was waiting, and walked with him to the Motorhome.

[I am sorry.]

He didn’t know he’d come in 13th.  He knew he hadn’t made points.  He knew he had done poorly.  He knew the crew was unhappy.  He knew the company was unhappy.

He knew he was being deposed in the most cruel, humiliating way possible.

[I didn’t mean to hit Jaamies,] He said, hands shaking.

Daniil’s heart broke.  [I know.]  He pulled Tumba’s hands out of the air and wrapped them around himself, hugging the Racing Driver, who sagged against him. He closed his eyes. [I know.]  He was helpless to stop this, Price was visiting Tumba every time he went back to Redbull, making him believe more and more things that weren’t true.

[Sometimes I feel like I’m going mad.]

That made Daniil angry.  Too angry to let it go.  Too angry.

[No!  You are NOT mad.  You are so sensible.  You have learned to see through the ruse.  Learned over and over no matter how strong it got.  You are NOT mad.  We’re going to fight this.  We’re going to fix this.]

 

Present Day

 

When everyone had settled to sleep, but Dan and Oz sitting in a corner on a sleeping bag, whispering together, Daniil found himself following the stairs upwards.  The door at the top was wooden and he knocked quietly.  When there was no response, he knocked a little louder.

“Come on out,” Came Jamie’s voice.

Daniil opened the door and stepped…

Onto the roof.

There was a flat, tar paper roof with a light dusting of snow drifted around the edges.

The door faced east, where the sun would rise, and the street that ran along the face of the building.  Looking to his right, he could see where they’d driven from.

There was the city stretching away in the other direction, powerlines and rooftops and the white sky.

To the right was an orange tent, glowing from within with a bright lantern, even in the day.

Jaime leaned out the door of the tent.  It was big enough and modern enough it had a swinging nylon half-circle door.  “Come in here.  You’ll get cold.”

He went into the tent.

There was a sort of airlock space where he could let the door close behind him and open the next door into the tent.  He’d seen this sort of thing in those winter survival catalogs.

It was just as orange inside, but his eyes adjusted quickly.  The light was heating the space nicely.  There was a camp table and two camp chairs and an actual feather mattress on top of a futon mattress or some sort of thick pad, made with actual sheets, blankets, and a big, comfy white duvet.

There was a coffee pot and a hot plate on a bench over a neat box with a set of camping dishes.  The coffee was percolating loudly.

“This is why you’re up here, hiding the comfortable bed from us,” Daniil gestured at the most comfortable looking bed he’d seen since leaving home.  His bed might not even be that comfortable.

His bed.

He hadn’t thought about that in a long time.  He’d been too busy.

He hadn’t thought of his flat or Monaco...almost at all.  Nothing specific he could recall.  His rent was paid to the end of next year.  He’d made sure of that when his position within Redbull had become uncertain.

All his food would be gone bad by now.  It would take ages to clean the fridge.

His mail was held while he was at the stable, until he came back to start it, again, but it was public knowledge that the world’s racing drivers or the humans who wore the names, had all vanished.

His family was in Australia.  With all the other family members.

Jaime interrupted his thoughts by laughing.  It died away into a thoughtful silence.  After a moment sat down and gestured Daniil to do the same.  The coffee was fully percolated and he offered him a cup.  Daniil held the tin mug in his hands.

Jaime looked into his own cup.

“It seems like it’s rude to be up here with all of you, down there,  Jean-Eric and Jev are okay, but we’ve had a couple other people staying, and...It’s a lot harder than I ever thought.”  He was still looking into his cup, not at Daniil.

“You’ve been out there all this time.  I heard you were a DJ.” 

He nodded.

“You were never allowed to talk to anyone about him?”

He shook his head.  “When Jean-Eric came for me, I thought it would be awful, or wonderful, or something, but they were just Jean-Eric and JEV, just like they always were.  We were kind of, just us, you know, because we were the in-between guys.  Not as fast as Sunny, but too fast not to race, and Sunny was such a big deal, we kind of got lost in the background.  So when they’re here, it’s good, we talk about him, like an old friend.”  He tilted his head to he side.  Daniil thought he was justifying, or making something alright inside himself.

“With some of the others, they don’t know what to say and that makes me not know what to say.”

“Your situation isn’t like what anyone else has faced.”  Daniil finally took a sip of his coffee.  It was rich and thick.  Too rich and thick for him to really like it, but not so muddy he was going to stop drinking it.

“I hid his epilepsy for so long.  I don’t know how it never happened when he was where anyone else could see.  Then I was gone, and then he was.”  His eyes searched the wall of the tent like there was an answer to find.

“They told me all this about how I should go back to school.  “You are such a smart boy, Jaime.”  All I ever wanted to do before, other than drive, was music, so that is what I did.   They paid for everything.”  He shook his head.

The blood price.

Being sent from the stable when the handlers realized Victor was epileptic was what separated Jaime’s experience from Daniil’s.  When Tumba had gotten sick, he was at the stable, and it had all happened so fast.

The handlers had made some comments about Daniil’s life once he left and how successful he could be in some other career.  They hadn’t sounded very sincere, and everyone knew if Daniil watched Tumba die, Daniil would have no other career.

He would just follow where Tumba had lead the way.

For Jaime there had been visits.

Trips back to the stable, just long enough to hurt terribly when his soul was ripped away from him again.

“I never saw him again and never...didn’t.  The bond just sort of...sloughed away.  I used to dream if I went back he’d be there.”

That may have been what they wanted.

“I see you all, the matches,” He didn’t pause, and Daniil was glad he didn’t linger over the difference, “And I...have you ever had a wound in your mouth, and you can’t stop running your tongue over it?  Can’t stop picking at it?  I thought I had forgotten the hole in my head, until I started watching this parade of men,”  His voice was rising, and his eyes hadn’t come off the tent wall, “Who didn’t have a hole in their head where their other body was suppose to connect,” This last part was said tightly, because his teeth were clenched.

Daniil set the coffee cup down on the bench and focused his full attention on Jaime.

“And I remembered that it’s always there.  It’s like the wind blowing on an open wound, all the time, just this seeping, open chunk cut out of the side of my head, and sometimes,” His hand had unconsciously moved to touch his hairline just behind his right ear.  “I have to check,” He pulled the fingers away and looked at them, “To make sure I’m not bleeding pus down my neck and into my shirt, but there’s never anything there.  God, Daniil, there’s NEVER ANYTHING THERE!”

His hand went back to his head but this time with the other to cradle his head between them.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m going mad!”  He keened.

Daniil reached a hand out, unsure how it would be received.  Jaime didn’t resist the comfort and Daniil scooted his chair closer, sitting beside the other man, stroking his back gently.

There was nothing for him to say.  Not now.

Even so, he whispered, “You are not mad, you are sane.”

Jaime heard him.  “Even worse.”

“You have had something taken from you, that cannot be given back.  It is harder with some matches than with others.  Jean-Eric and JEV are easier for you?  Is it because they have parts missing from them as well?”  He continued the rhythmic stroking, feeling Jaime’s wool coat under his hand.

“They don’t pretend it’s not happening.  Everyone else is afraid it will hurt me to talk about it and they don’t want my sadness to make them uncomfortable.  With everyone else it’s like he got left behind.  Jean-Eric and JEV don’t mind me being sad.  They don’t mind that I am broken without Victor.  They talk about him.”

Of course, that was what Jaime wanted.

The Racing Drivers had been hidden so long.

The lie had been paramount so long.

Like the gas light in Tumba’s car, and the crash with Jaamies.

What had happened had to be seen.

All those other Racing Drivers got to be free, to be known.

It was time for Victor to be free, too.

“Tell me about him,” Daniil prompted, “Start from the first time you saw him.”

Chapter Text

The Tenth

Night of January 4, 2017 -Night 47-

 

After sleeping all morning, they woke long enough to eat a lot of hot, homemade food, and then sit around.  Pilot and Max were practicing juggling, without using each other’s minds.  Daniil and Tumba brought out Dan’s book and Daniil continued to teach the Racing Driver to understand the words they were reading.  Daniil didn’t understand all of it, perfectly, himself and he asked Dan, the only native English speaker for some help translating, and soon Dan was sitting on the cot next to Daniil, leaning over and reading along with them.  Oz had found a pack of playing cards and played rummy with Fili, until he was yawning, and went back to his chosen cupboard for a nap.

The Racing Drivers had gone without sufficient sleep most of the Road Trip.  Whenever they had stayed in place for days, they had recovered, able to sleep standing, but most of the time had been lying down, and after awhile their backs and legs began to ache from too long in an unaccustomed position.  Now they were making up for it, again, and soon the whole herd, men included, had given in to the tiredness and gone back to sleep.

“Carlos,” A whisper and a touch on his arm woke him.  “I’m going to be leaving for awhile.  I have to go check in with Clarkson.”  Jaime was crouched beside his cot.

He nodded sleepily.  “What time is it?”

“11, you guys slept all evening.”  Jaime had been down in the main area with them, but had gone up to the tent when they all started going to sleep.

“Sorry.  We’re not very good guests.”

Jaime’s hand squeezed on his arm and he shook his head.  He went out the big door, and Carlos lay in the dim, lit only by the little lights on the line of phone chargers on the counter.

Fili was in the cupboard, awake, but conserving energy.  Stigs could stand in position all day and all night and be ready to drive a full race.  Maybe like real horses.

Carlos pushed out from under the covers and stood up.  He got dressed in his outerwear and called Fili to him, getting him dressed as well.  They went up the stairwell onto the roof.

Fili sighed happily in the biting wind, carrying a hint of frost.

He turned to face Carlos, who put his dry, gloved hands on Fili’s cheeks and received the same.

Fili started the mantra, ‘We are one self.’

Carlos connected closely with Fili’s mind.  ‘Born a foal, born a child.’

‘Joined together like the components of an engine.’

‘More together than apart.’  He followed Fili’s call into the place in his mind.

The cityscape that made up Fili’s mind was under snow, like the city around them, and Carlos’ mind filled in the details so clearly that he could feel the cool air and smell the snow.  He walked down the familiar paths to the fortified structure that comprised the private area of Fili’s mind.

He had described his area of a Racing Driver’s mind to Max as a house.  Fili’s was a multistory modern architectural marvel.  He didn’t have to try the door this time.  Fili was waiting for him with the doors swung wide, inviting him.

While their bodies stood huddled in the windbreak on the roof, inside Fili’s mind, Carlos took his hand and they went inside, into the place Fili would allow those he trusted, and then deeper into the building, where only Carlos had ever been allowed.

It was organized, but not with a cold detachment.  There was a door in this part of Fili’s mind.  The part Carlos had explained to Max as the bedroom, the red zone.

The door didn’t open out of the red zone, it didn’t really open to anywhere.  It was just Fili’s way of rationalizing the way he accessed his memories.  Inside was a memory of not quite 18 year old Carlos and Fili, as real and detailed as if they were actually just a room away.  They were unmoving.  Like a video on pause.  They’d been matched nearly 2 years, the last spent learning to be Trainers.

The first bond pair Redbull had ever allowed to try.

The single self watching the memory held hands and the memory began.

 

 

Renault Race Training Compound- 2010

 

 

A Trainer’s lessons have several stages.  The first, apprenticeship, is when the basic things of the stable are learned.  How buying and selling of Racing Drivers works, the parts that make up their contacts to teams.  Carlos and Fili were taken through doors at Redbull they’d never considered.  Into the back of the medical center.  The mare’s wing.  The nursery.  The matching corridor.

Once a bond pair has learned the basic things, they prove they are ready to graduate to more dangerous truths.  They become an inseparable part of FIA.  They begin to learn the hard lessons.  They commit their first crimes.

For this stage, they are taken from their own stable, to learn where there is no pressure from the herd they know.

Carlos and Fili were sent to Renault.  Renault was glad to have them.  The French type Racing Drivers were funny and bold.  Lots of Blues, Greens and Blacks.  Colours that instantly gravitated toward the calm, careful nature of a Yellow.

They were given three days of handler duty in the matchable foal’s wing to settle in.  Trainers rarely worked guard duty.  Only when they were learning the ropes.

The 10-16 year old Racing Drivers were not, Carlos noticed, like 10-16 year old humans.  They were more like 15-20 year olds.  They were serious, professional, and ready to take their places as responsible adults in their world.

They got rowdy, sometimes.  One of the Greens especially.  He was loud and sassy and hesitated visibly before obeying the handlers.  The other handlers looked at Carlos when the Green acted up, patting their truncheons to indicate what he should do.

He took the Green off to the side and warned him that his behavior was disruptive and he was not going to be gaining any favours from the handlers with this behavior.  In response he looked through Carlos and laughed.  Fili crossed his arms as though this was a pointless exercise and frowned.  Then he pulled the other Racing Driver close and smiled at him.  His special lying smile.

Carlos couldn’t hear what Fili was sending, but knew his partner’s body well enough to see the threat implicit in the stance.

The Green grabbed Fili’s hair and pulled him around so they were eye to eye, he gestured one word, [Good.]

After that he wouldn’t respond to them.

The next day, Carlos told the foals to line up to go to the mess hall and the Green stayed where he’d been standing.  He looked up, straight at Carlos and turned away.

One of the handlers swore at Carlos.

He froze.  He looked down at the truncheon on his belt.  He couldn’t…

The man stood until he was convinced Carlos wasn’t going to do anything.  He stepped forward, drawing his own club.

Fili, mentally, shoved Carlos forward.  ‘You aren't doing him any favours, son of a great champion.  Do your duty.’  He stumbled forward, looking back at Fili, still cross armed, hard faced under his helmet.

‘I can’t, it’s not right.’

‘It’s the price.  Show ME you are strong enough to pay the price that is necessary.’

Carlos turned back to the foal, facing away from him but braced for what was coming.

He should make himself angry.

He was a Yellow, though.  Logical.

He did it methodically.  Just enough effort to achieve his result, and just a hair more to hide that he hated it.  The 12 year old Green didn’t resist when Carlos hauled him back onto his feet.

The foal looked up at him with the bruises rising on his face.  [I hope you burn your heart out.  I hope you empty yourself so far there is nothing left, and you DIE. Humans are cracked bolts and you should all be thrown away.]

He dropped the foal in front of two of the other rebellious foals.  [Carry him.]

He turned back to Fili.

It hurt.  Fili was going to be so ashamed of him.

The Yellow nodded, sent pride.

‘Now you begin to see.  The price.  It will rise as we rise.  Until this is beneath your notice.  Don’t let it burn the heart out of you.  We will need to rise high to exact justice, and I will not have you becoming hollow like them, no matter how sore it makes my MAN.’

The coldness in that sending drove the point home more clearly than anything else ever could have.

There was going to be worse.

Men did worse than this to Racing Drivers.

Far worse.

And Fili hated them for it.

 

 

Renault Race Training Compound- 2010

 

 

He set his heart against it.  Didn’t think of it.  Didn’t let himself feel it.  He shut himself off to considering the ones they hurt.

They could help when they had some freeboard.  When they weren’t expected to prove their eagerness.

He was on the night shift midway through the season, and his next race was a quarter way around the world from his last, so his sleep would be interrupted, anyway.  He and Fili were sitting in the Trainers’ office. Anything that might have been interesting to read was locked away.  There was no wifi at a stable.

The phone rang.

“We need you, get down to the Geldings wing.” Barked the handler who'd called.

Carlos jumped up from the desk.  Fili rocked to a walk, mechanically.

It went without saying he had a tranquilizer gun on one hip.

He had a taser on the other.

He had held it out, the day they received it and made Fili run his hands over it, no matter how his face involuntarily turned away.  It was Fili’s strength that kept his hands tracing over it.  Memorising the parts of their murder weapon.  Memorising the use of it.

The handlers were authorised to use deadly force with the matchable Racing Drivers only if their lives were in danger.  In the geldings’ wing, what they called the unmatchable wing, there was no such rule.  They would be fined for the dead animals according to their cost as breeders, though, all of them significantly expensive if they’d been kept alive to breed.

A steady banging became audible as they rode the elevator down into the geldings wing.  Like something in the machinery had failed.  Fili made a grumbling engine noise.  When the door opened, it was the steady reverberating crack of a helmet against bulletproof glass.  5 handlers were standing in the hall in front of one of the small windowed stall door.  There were helmeted faces peering out of most of the other doors as Carlos and Fili walked past.

“Can’t get the door open with him standing there.  Have your beast calm it down,” Said the senior handler.  Carlos outranked the man, but was outweighed in years, experience and body mass.

[Fili, try to talk to him.]

The dome of the blue helmet above the visor hit the window again.

‘He is screaming too loud to hear me, or anything else,’ Fili sent, gesturing at the window a few times for protocol’s sake.  

[You have to figure something out,] Carlos said.

He growled.  [I know a way.  It is just...despicable.]  He touched the window where the gelding could see, [Forgive me.]

The banging stopped.  There were a few stuttering, shocked noises.  Then the Blue put his hands to his helmet and started to scream.

It burst out of him like it had been ripped.  Like he’d popped his clutch and gone straight to screaming with everything he had, winding his engine into the redline.

[Tell them they can open the door, now. He won’t know they are there.]

Carlos knew he’d gone pale.  [We have to get him to the medical center.  What did you do to hurt him so badly?] When the handlers had cleared the door, he tried to get in past them, they had gone straight on as usual surrounding and injecting the out of control Racing Driver with tranquilizer that would make his muscles too relaxed for him to control.

Fili pulled him back impatiently. ‘Let them work, he is healthy.’

‘What did you do?’ Carlos gasped.

He could FEEL the pain rolling off Fili like he’d dipped oily hands in water and the curling rainbows were dispersing off them.  ‘I hurt him.  I took away his togetherness.  For now, until he is desperation is lost in the pain, and then we will find his way back.’

‘We?’

‘I will go inside his mind and lead him.  Price has shown me how.’

He shivered.

Carlos knew, then that Fili had felt this, whatever was causing the Blue such agony, and Price had gone into Fili’s mind with him and brought him back out.

Damn.

Carlos hated Price so much.

Every day they went through this was another day closer to when he pushed Price out of the Trainership at Redbull.  Carlos Sainz would be Redbull’s next head Trainer.  They were going to get Price the fuck away from the herd, no matter what it took.

 

 

Night of January 4, 2017 -Night 47-

 

 

“Carlos?”

His body heard the call, and it filtered into where he stood in Fili’s mind.  In an instant he’d surfaced.

There was a moment of confusion and struggle as he and Fili both came into control of Fili’s body, like two men trying to walk through the same doorway at once.  

‘Oops, sorry.’  Carlos went under again, back into Fili’s mind, then back through the tunnel that led into his own mind.  He surfaced in his own body.

Dan was standing there, with Oz hovering, concerned, behind him, looking over his shoulder.  “You two should be doing this downstairs if you needed privacy.  It’s too damn cold out here.  Mess it’d be if Jaime came out here and found you frozen in the morning.  That’s all HE needs.  Tripping over you two on the way to bed.  Get in here.”

He bodily pulled Carlos into the little wooden building where the stairwell let out.  Fili tripped along with him as though he was glued to Carlos.  The wind had gotten colder.  It whistled outside, but the cold was cut immediately once the door closed and the four stood crowded on the top landing of the stairs.

Dan touch Carlos’ cheek, like Fili had been.  “You okay, Carlitos?”

He could never tell.

It wasn’t even a possibility, so it wasn’t much of a concern.  “We’ve got Pilot all to ourselves again, and we need to keep ourselves balanced, so we can handle it.”  They had all 3 of the other Racing Drivers.  Though Tumba and Oz were more stable, and they had been working with the Jrs for the days they’d been with them, and they hadn’t had regular upkeep, so it had been like a floor that had gone unswept for weeks.

Taking care of Fili was Carlos’ first priority.  It always would be.

If Fili became too weighed down to function, or even not operate at peak efficiency, it would make everything more of a struggle than it needed to be.  That was one thing he’d learned.

He had to keep Fili close.

For both of their well-being, and everyone else’s.

 

 

Renault Race Training Compound- 2010

 

 

The Renault head Trainer was a woman.  She was kind and firm with the Racing Drivers, but what she said, she meant, and all the Racing Drivers knew it.  Her mare, Jasper, was a Grey, which was unusual, they rarely had the temperament for Training, but in a stable full of colors that responded positively to Greys, she did well.

Her name was Johanna.  She came to get Carlos from his room one morning.  They walked down to the nursery.  The mares that had foals with them were too occupied to look through their stall windows, they were managing their foals’ morning routine and supervising teeth brushing.

Johanna started at the end of the hallway and opened the door.  The mare looked up and nodded acknowledgement.  [Medical checkup for the foals today,] Johanna told her.  

The mare nodded again.

They had been doing medical checkups on the foals every few days for the last few weeks.

She sent the foals out with them.

They collected the foal from the next mare, after he finished brushing his teeth, while the first two waited in the hall side by side.  He stood behind the twin on the left.  The next two sets lined up side by side behind him.  The next foal was another single and he slotted into place beside the other line foal.  The whole nursury’s worth of foals lined up. Twenty-one of them.   The last foal on the right shuffled into a partial line with the two foals in front of her.

Johanna led them up the stairwell with Carlos bringing up the rear.  “This isn't a regular checkup,” She explained in English as they walked.  She went right instead of left out of the stairwell, outside instead of down the hall to the medical center.  As they passed outside, a group of handlers who’d been waiting fell in line with them.  “Once we get the foals out of range of the mares, the handlers will take the mares to breed and we’ll begin the weaning process with the foals.”

They got to the edge of the mares’s range and some of the foals hesitated.  Johanna gestured sharply at them and they followed the path to the building on the far corner of the property.

Jasper turned and smiled at the line of 3 year olds.  Most of them were holding hands in the buddy system.  [We’re going to pick some new clothes today!] She said, excitedly.

The foals looked at each other and giggled.  Johanna took them into the building and led them into the exercise yard.  She left most of the handlers to watch them, and brought the first into the depot.  There was a shelf along one wall.  Jasper crouched beside the first foal.

[I want you to think very hard about who you are.  What is your name?]

[Wheels,] The colts gestured.

[Who do you want to be when you grow up?] Jasper asked.

[Wheels Kicking Up Dust,] He answered.

She smiled, [Alright, Wheels what color do you have to be to make yourself into Wheels Kicking Up Dust?]

The foal grinned, he walked to the shelf.  It had 9 helmets on it, one in each color.  He reached out and touched the Bright Blue helmet.  Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he touched the Green helmet as well.  A Bitone.

Jasper and Fili smiled hugely at him.  They helped him dress in the soft coverall Racers wore in the stables, in his Bright Blue and Green colors.  They chose him a helmet in his colors.

They led Wheels Kicking Up Dust into the next room.  It was an exam room.  They hopped the 3 year old boy up onto the table, and he curled on his side around his helmet.  In seconds, his eyes had drifted shut. 

Johanna took a pair of clippers off the counter.  She buzzed the hair behind his right ear short.  The hair on Carlos’ arms rose.  She shaved the skin smooth, brushing it with rubbing alcohol.

A door opened and a man brought in a machine on a stand like an IV hanger, but with a bigger spread.  The machine had a sort of robotic arm, like the kind used in car production, designed to put a bolt in the same spot on thousand car bodies one at a time.  He adjusted the arm so it was a handsbredth from the foal’s ear, and fitted the tool to the end.  It looked, to Carlos, like a thick pen.  He moved it so it touched just behind the foal’s ear.

Unconsciously, Carlos reached for Fili’s hand.

The machine tech confirmed the foals’ serial number with Johanna.

He started the machine and the ‘pen’ made thin passes over the foal’s skin, like a printer.

The foal was unconscious, but a whimpering rev whispered from his lips.

Where the pen passed left a perfect barcode tattoo.  When it reached the bottom of the stripes, it printed the letters and numbers of the foal’s serial number, marking him forever.

Carlos had seen Fili’s barcode.  He had found it when he was shaving him, one day, and he’d parted the hair so he could see it clearly and kissed it like he could make it better and apologized to Fili that they had done this to him. 

When the barcode was finished and treated, Carlos and Johanna updated the foal’s paper file and the software file, inventorying him.  Jasper picked him up and carried him into the next room.  There were crates.  He was unconscious, but they laid him in the little crate and put the anesthesia mask over his face.  Then they closed the crate and marked it for delivery to Williams.

They went back to the exercise yard.  The next colt practically marched ahead of them.  He walked right to the Orange helmet and paused, he walked up and down the line.  He stood in front of the central, Orange helmet.  He looked at each of the others.

Johanna went and crouched next to him, [It is not here, is it?]

He shook his head.

She went to a cupboard.  She brought out a pink helmet.  It was a soft pinkish, purpleish color, like raw meat.  He lighted up.  He reached out for it.  He cuddled it in his arms.

“Sometimes this happens,” Johanna told Carlos.

“I have never seen a Pink.”

“They are similiar to Oranges, but, there are some key differences.  They are rebellious.  They will NOT accept this life.”

They led him into the exam room.  Like the other foal, he curled on the table around his helmet, and Jasper made him sleep.

With a tight face, Johanna waved out the tattoo machine tech.  She left the foal sleeping and opened his file.  She took out some of the pages and shredded them.  His medical history.  His lap times.  His personality assessment.  She took a self-inking stamp off the counter and stamped the front page of the file, the only one that remained.  She took the dam’s file from another stack and made a note at the bottom of the breeding page.  She did the same with the sire.

Then she tapped the files back into a neat stack.

It occured to Carlos she was stalling.

She opened a drawer and took out a syringe.

She held it out to Carlos.  “Is this your first time?”

He didn’t move.

“Just inject it in the vein in his arm.  Just like any other injection.”

He looked at Fili, who looked grey.

“Come on, Carlos.  You know the deal.  Don’t act like you didn’t know this was part of it.”

His throat was tight.  “How many of them are Pink?”

“All the monotone colors are evenly distributed.”

Tears blurred the room.  “All ten colors.”

She ground her teeth.  “Yep.  This decision isn’t any harder than any of the others you’ve made.”

There were 19 more foals in the exercise yard.

If one tenth were Pink, he was going to be faced with killing AT LEAST one more today.

‘Carlos.’  Fili touched his mind.

He took the syringe from her hand.  He felt the soft skin at the inside of the foal’s arm.

When it was over, they moved the foal's body into a different room and left him on the exam table with the lights off.

Then they went and got the next foal, a Filly who chose a Green helmet, and would be staying at Renault.  She was led to the weaned foal’s dorm.  She was soon joined by most of the other foals.  The second to last foal was another pink.  When his twin, in the dorm, asked where he was, Carlos told him he was one of the ones who was sent away. 

The mothers wouldn’t be seeing them until they were 10 years old.  Most of the ones sent to other stables would never come back.  None of the foals who woke up at other stables would question that those two foals had been sent elsewhere. 

Jasper soldered a block into Fili’s mind that stopped him from remembering when he was not weaning foals, as she’d had one soldered into her mind, and neither of them remembered anything about Pink Racing Drivers. 

Johanna and Carlos sat together on the steps outside the Renault stable and held hands. 

They never said a word. 

Never told anyone about the tenth.

 

 

Day of January 8, 2017 -Day 51-

 

 

“Don’t TELL me what to do!” Daniil pushed off of the cot and walked over to the kitchen, pulling his phone off the counter and swiping the screen with hard taps.

“You are such a Pink sometimes!  Just do what you are told.”  Carlos barked back.

“You always say that,” Max said, laying down a winning hand in Rummy, causing Pilot and Oz to groan, “What is it supposed to mean, is it about girls?”

Carlos caught himself like a man falling off a sharp roof and scrabbling at the rugged, nailed surface to catch himself.

Max had made the comment lightly, but the way Carlos froze made them all realize something was up.  “What?  There aren’t really Pinks,” Max said.

Carlos’s jaw locked.

“There's nine colors.  A tenth would throw the chart off.”  He was hesitating as he spoke, now.

Carlos closed his eyes and shook his head.

Fili made an asking noise.

[You don't know about it because they block out the memory for the Trainer Racing Drivers, unless you’re weaning them.]

Fili made an alarmed noise.  He jumped onto the cot, grabbing Pilot and Oz’s arms, and Carlos could feel him searching.  He felt him hit the walled off area and start ripping at it, pulling all the strength from Pilot and Oz.

Tumba drifted over on autopilot like the Racing Drivers had when Shoe had called them.  He set his hand on Fili’s shoulder, eyes unfocused.

Suddenly there was a rushing sensation.  Fili sucked in a breath and his horror spread out around him, flooding them all.  The realization flooded them all.  The 3 other Racing Drivers came to themselves again.

They and the men moved as one, asking him questions, demanding explanations.  Carlos started sweating, sharing Fili’s anger and the fear and the sense of revelation, and the guys crowding him.

Dan’s sharp, low question cut through all of the others.  Everyone went silent.

“What?” Carlos asked, running his fingers through his hair, leaving it standing straight.  He couldn’t separate out what everyone said.

“I said,” Dan said, again, just as low, “What is the wall?  Oz said all the little ones that get murdered,” He let the word hang, and Carlos let himself feel bad, because he should, “Go to the wall.”

Fili looked away, because he’d always known about the wall.  They ALL knew about the wall.

[They are not THERE,] Pilot crossed his arms with a frown.

“You know that building on the south end of the compound everyone thinks is where the boilers are?”  Carlos asked.

“Not the boiler room after all?” Daniil asked.  He was rubbing a hand over Tumba’s back.

“Crematorium.  There’s a bunch of shafts underneath it, where they put the ashes.”

Jaime stood up.  He walked to the stair door.  He just had it closed behind him when they heard him start screaming.

“Who?” Max asked.  He looked at Pilot and squeezed his hand.  “Blitz?”

Carlos nodded, ready to scream himself.  He pointed at Fili. “His sister and mother are at Redbull's Wall.”  He pointed at Pilot, “His brother is at Redbull's Wall.” He pointed at Tumba and Oz, “Their father.  All the grandfathers, all the grandmothers.  At some stable's Wall, somewhere.” 

He looked where Jaime had gone.  “Victor.”

He shook off the memory of carrying the 3 year old foals across the Renault grounds to their Wall.  

 

They were so small, there had been no reason for he and Johanna not to carry them in their arms.

The 4 adult Racing Drivers who’d been put down that season had been brought in on stretchers and were lined up waiting for reduction.

Carlos ran his fingers over the still face of the Blue from the unmatched stallions’ wing.  He wondered if Fili had known this would be his final destination, when he blocked the stallion's connections and locked him away from any solace from his people for his last hours.

Of course Fili had known.  That once the Blue was so far gone he was beating his head on the wall, there was no way to calm him enough to make him swallow his incarceration again.

 

No.

Never again.

It was not ever going to happen again.

He looked at his hands.

Lethal injection didn't leave blood on your hands.

Just scars on your soul.

Fili touched his shoulder.  “Show me you are strong enough.”  He was proud of Carlos, for staying kind.  For staying caring.  For continuing to love Racing Drivers, instead of despising them for what he had been made to do.

A lot of Trainers lost their hearts.

He thought of Price.

He had to stay human, because if he was anything like Price or his match when he took Redbull from then, it would only hurt the herd more.

He had to stay loving.  Redbull needed his love.

He started to go after Jaime, but Dan’s hand stopped him.  The other man was looking down at him with such confusion on his face.  It changed to determination.  He hugged Carlos.  “I’ll go, Carlitos.  He is still one of us, my herd.  I’ll talk to him.  You don’t have to carry this alone.”