Refrain of the Remorseful

A/N: Slightly AU.

There was always something about this place that stirred him, tantalizing him with whispers of nostalgia, enveloping his senses with his memories, until he could hear, see, taste, touch, smell the past as clearly and vividly as the present day.

The familiar scent of this place, the odd mixture of motor oil and fresh cut grass, the sight of the track, complete with all its dangers, slopes and twists, risky ventures and sleek designs, that had once been center stage to the greatest dramas his life had ever seen, that continued to define everything he was to this very day.

The Immortal Grand Prix. It made up his past, tortured his present, made his future unclear, dominated every aspect of his life against any rhyme or reason or will of his own he still maintained. This place, this damned place where he had once indulged in thrills, triumphs, and failings, lived out his dreams and saw his hopes rise and plummet, experienced first lust, first love, first heartache. All giving rise to something amazing in the course of a single summer, only to have it come crashing down before the closing of the next year.

The Immortal Grand Prix.

His soul's eternal calamity.

Five years. Five years since he had set foot in this place, five years since his life had come crashing down around him, or perhaps even more painfully, slowly dwindled away until he was left with nothing more than his memories and regrets.

Yes, he was regretful, but remorseful...no, he would never feel sorry for what he had done, only the way in which he had done it. Everything he had done, he had done for love, for the love of the race, for the love of him, enduring the chaos of the IGPX all for the sake of that profound feeling, the feeling that never failed to shape everything in his life, even the present day.

Secrets…

Illicit as their relationship was made to be, everything had started out so simply, so beautifully.

Conversations, the sharing of life stories and secrets, everything both private and mundane. Secret encounters, walking together along the wind-swept beaches outside the city, the jeweled expanse of the sky sweeping upward above them, romantically cliche perfectly peaceful, just what they would need for their rendezvous.

A hand that would catch his, equally rough and calloused fingers entangling with his own, their joined hands dangling between them as they walked along in a companionable silence.

First kiss. Soft lips, gentle pressure, and then a passion that accelerated, that spiraled out of control before either of them could stop it, even if they had wanted to. The wet, insistent press of tongue, hands threading through his hair, strong arms around him, pinned against a body of iron-hard muscle. The rough bite of concrete as the other man shoved him against the wall, his hands clutching at broad shoulders, not fighting the unyielding hold but instead desperate to bring his companion closer. His own fevered response to the unexpected ardor, his own helpless whimpers, the raging heat that awakened inside. First lust.

Time together whenever they could manage, the urgency of their encounter fueled by the knowledge that they could be caught at any time. Stolen kisses in the shadows of the racing track; when he should be training, impassioned encounters that eventually stole away his last innocence, his last defense against the addictive need he felt for this man, his first lover. Mouths crushing together, teeth clashing before he granted entrance to the wet warmth of tongue, stifling his moans as the other took him. Hot, sleek skin beneath his fingertips, cords of muscle rippling with rocking motion, hands digging into his hips, the odd sensation of the wooden floor against his naked back and flanks.

And much to his credit, the relationship had never distracted him from the competitive edge, but instead motivated his drive to win, looking for a chance to prove himself, to make himself someone worthy of his lover. His chance finally came.

"And this year's new IG 1 champions…TEAM SATOMI!"

His lover's soft smile, the slight upturning of his lips that caused a boyish dimple in his chin and his eyes to nearly twinkle with mischief, the quiet words of congratulations, and all his guilt and hesitation were chased away, leaving only his elation at his team's victory.

Over the course of the next year, Team Satomi trained relentlessly for the upcoming IGPX championships, readying themselves to fight doggedly to defend their newly earned title. They became icons, immensely popular celebrities, and with the flood of interviews and sponsorships, rabid fans and public appearances, not to mention Andrei's uncompromising brutality in driving them on in training, he had little time to sneak away, little chances to see let alone spend time with his lover. Randomly timed, even accidental, their encounters were just as cautious and stolen as before, a mixture of hurried couplings and rare quiet moments.

The next IG 1 championship came around, and for once, his excitement was not just based on the chance to race once more. But in the ironic, bitter way that life brings to an end all good things one experiences, this was one that would come crashing down all around him.

He remembered his first encounter with the other man after the opening ceremonies. The playful smirk displayed on a mouth that could kiss him senseless as easily as it whipped out the dry sarcasm he was so familiar with. The hand that reached out to straighten his tie, and then ruffle his hair despite his protests. The way brilliant blue eyes softened as they gazed down at him, now that they were alone, and the rough contact of his hand became a stroking motion of slender fingers. The warmth of his breath as he leaned down, pressed a chaste kiss against the corner of his mouth, and smiled ruefully.

"Good luck this year, kiddo. Make us all proud."

Dumbfounded, he had been too stunned to take offense to the familiar jeer of "kiddo".

"I'll be watching you, Takeshi. Don't let me down."

As if the memory of the other's kiss was still a tangible sensation, he raised his hand to his lips, closing his eyes as the lines between present and past blurred once more in his mind. "In the end…you're the one that let me down, not the other way around."

A soft breeze blew, filling the air with the damp, earthen smells of summer, mixing with the strange aroma of the track. Five years. Five long, agonizingly slow, painfully vivid years since the last time he set foot into a mecha, let alone a racing track.

The moment it had all come to an end.

The night they took their greatest risk, and their most idiotic. In the middle of the night, as he was walking back through the mecha hangar alone, and he found himself accosted from behind, arms wrapping around him, shoving his back against the wall, mouth on his, hard and insistent. Too caught up in the sudden fierce kiss, the sudden embrace, to rationally think through what they were doing, where they were doing it.

"What is it you do to me, Takeshi…? To make me want you this badly?"

Want…? Was that all it was? No…no, on his part, it had been more than want, a desperate, agonizing need to feel that same affection, that same passion, that same pleasure. God, the pleasure…no one had ever made him feel that way, before or since.

The chill of the night raising goose bumps against his skin, the warmth of his lover's body the only comfort against the cold concrete. A strange sound from behind them, a strangling, breathless startled noise, the metallic clatter of a tool hitting the ground. The stunned garage worker struck with deer-in-headlights syndrome at the sight of them.

That late at night…the garage should have been empty.

But as the man would later report to the media, it had just been the fact that he left his toolbox behind at the end of the workday before a long weekend, and it was dumb luck that he had stumbled upon the two of them.

Dumb luck indeed.

He remembered the clatter of the toolbox as it hit the concrete, the dozens of echoing clanks and clangs from the individual tools deafening in the empty building. The way his lover released him, and then spread his arms and legs imposingly, shielding him with his larger, taller body, unabashedly proud in his nudity, glaring menacingly at the interruption over his shoulder.

"H-Holy Shit! I know you, you're that racing guy! And the other one…Jesus, you're Takeshi Jin!"

All his hopes of not being seen, that maybe the crudely grinning worker would take it as the famous racer banging a fan girl after-hours, trying desperately to preserve what was left of the poor girl's modesty, were tattered. There had to be no mistaking his face buried in his lover's neck just moments before, against falls of sweat-dampened chocolate hair, his face flushed and panting, most likely twisted into some kind of wanton expression.

That was the first time he had ever felt shame. And he shrunk behind the warmth of his lover's body, not wanting to face the shocked, vulgar curiosity so blatant in their observer's eyes.

Nor face his own memories of how he led himself be taken in so easily, gave himself over so completely to this man even as some part of his mind knew it was wrong. Even as the other's body still loomed over his, he could take no comfort in it, especially as he recalled his lover's warnings.

"No one can ever know, Takeshi. If they do, I won't be able to see you anymore."

His lover's low growl, and his warning to the third gawking man. "If you know what's good for you, you'll scram right now." A little late to be playing the white knight and rise up to defend his honor. His lover said not a word about it in the aftermath, and he found himself shoving away the intended comforting embrace, the offer to drive him home. He could not stop the sinking sensation in his stomach, the feelings of impending woe.

The very next morning, the tabloids were eating up the news.

That feeling of coming danger only increased tenfold as he showed up at his team's meeting the next morning, unusually late, and where he had expected chastising and cynical amusement, he found only flat-eyed stares, the air thick with questions and silent accusations.

Numerous newspapers spread over the conference table between them.

There had been neither denial nor affirmation from him, for not a word could leave his lips as he stood and stared ahead unseeing, eyes fixed on the papers, not wanting to believe what was happening to his perfect little world. His silence spoke volumes.

After all, he had slept with the competition. Worse in the eyes of both teams, they had both been men, and top rivals.

One by one, the faces of the familiar people, friends, old lovers, coaches, mentors, role models, all flew through his mind, each reaction just as vivid as yesterday and doubly as painful. Liz, with her expressionless face, anger and hurt so evident in her eyes. Amy's quiet pity and concern, understanding amongst countless accusations. The unspoken betrayal in Ms. Satomi's eyes, the nonplussed reaction from Coach Andrei, and then the man's utter avoidance of him. Only Mark did not chose to keep his distance in the violently changing aftermath, but there was always a whisper of something in the older man's eyes that made Takeshi know he would never look at him the same way again.

What hurt most of all, was the distance his lover kept without a single word or gesture of goodbye. That night had been the last of it. Unspoken but understood, the other man's past warning hanging between them, their affair lingering as the elephant in the room.

Team Velshtein regained their victory that year. After the races, Team Satomi broke apart, breaking bonds of friendship and more that could never be mended, sliced apart by Takeshi's betrayal.

He never raced again. Five years later, this was the first time he had returned to this haunting place, the location where everything had fallen apart.

"Takeshi, fancy seeing you here."

Takeshi's head whirled around, and there he stood, as if memories could take shape and form upon recollection, tangible, real presence in the present day. There he was.

"Alex…"

And his appearance was, as if indeed, he had stepped straight from Takeshi's memories to haunt him in the present. Same tall, but lazy posture, wild chocolate brown hair, beautifully, but deceptively so, blue eyes, his handsome face sporting its trademark arrogant smirk. The only thing that seemed the slightest bit out of place was the expensively tailored suit he wore, but he could make even that seem casual as it lay rumbled against his lean frame. It was the fact that he had full knowledge of the slim, finely muscled body hidden beneath the extravagant suit that brought a cynical smile to Takeshi's face.

Cunningham nodded once, seemingly indifferent. "Yep. How have you been, Takeshi?"

"You're kidding me, right?" Takeshi ran a hand through his dark hair, giving a soft scoff. "Where do you even get the nerve to ask me something like that?"

Cunningham winced, or perhaps it was just a trick of the light. Nonetheless, visible reaction or not, Takeshi turned away, facing the direction of the wind, allowing it to cool the heat of anger.

"So why are you here, anyway?" he asked softly.

A movement, a shift of fabric. Takeshi could imagine the other man awkwardly shuffling his feet. "The opening ceremonies are later this afternoon. I have to be there to represent my team."

"Aaa. I almost forgot the championships were starting soon." An outright lie. As he could never admit out loud, he was always aware of what went on in the world of IGPX, especially the IG 1, no matter how much he tried to leave it behind.

"So what about you? You're the last person I would expect to find here."

"Heh. There was this kid I used to know a few years back, when I was still racing. Somehow he gave word to his school that he knew me, and they called me up, asking me to come and speak at one of their events. I don't know why, but I couldn't say no."

Cunningham stared at the back of the boy turned man, his smirk warming into a soft, genuine smile. "That's just how you are, Takeshi. Soft underneath all that bravado with a heart of gold."

"What makes you think you know me?"

"Because I do, Takeshi. I always have. You know that."

A hand on his arm, beckoning to turn around. He obliged, facing the man who had haunted him for so long, finding blue eyes staring down at him imploringly, asking things he could never give again, questioning in a way he no longer wanted to understand. The warmth of a hand against his cheek, fingers calloused as they traced over the line of his jaw, his nose, his lips.

There was little poetic about the kiss that followed. Cunningham's lips were cool against his own, rough and chapped. The gentle touch of his fingers tangling through his hair was familiar, and wonderfully so, tickling the stray locks at his nape, kneading the tension out of the strained muscles of his neck.

The kiss deepened, and he sank into the contact, letting go to something warm and soft and wet, enticingly so. A strong arm wrapped around his waist, bring him closer, a hand gliding up his back, teasingly tracing over his spine, raising shivers despite the shirt that separated hand from naked skin.

They parted, and Takeshi hummed softly, licking his lips in remembered taste, not bothering to open his eyes. He made no move to separate from Cunningham, and the other man trailed his lips away, downward, planting light kisses along the line of his jaw and neck, bit down gently in a remembered spot just below his chin, one always sure to elicit a shudder from his companion. Takeshi exhaled, hot breath moist against Cunningham's cheek; he lifted a hand to cup the back of the blue-eyed man's head, pressing a soft kiss against the weathered skin of his cheek, another against his lips, and then broke their embrace.

Takeshi nonchantantly combed his fingers through his hair in an effort to give it some semblance of order, an impossibility given the untamable nature of his head of hair.

It surprised him to be this serene, this satisfied after such a thing, not after everything that had happened. It had been a fantastic kiss, Cunningham's specialty, after all. But that was it; no emotion behind it, no deeper feeling than the subtle kindling of lust, the natural arousal of his body. The kiss had been a release, liberation…a freedom from the shadows of his past love.

"There are a lot of new teams joining the IG1 this year. Do you plan to crush them too, like you did my team?"

"I never meant for it to happen that way. Takeshi…I…you ought to know that." Cunningham's tone was soft, gentle with a caring undertone that Takeshi allowed himself to remember, if only for a moment. Remember a time when he had imagined this man loved him.

"I could care less what your intentions were. The only thing that matters is the outcome. Everything still fell apart, even if you didn't intend for it too. I don't give a damn about your good intentions, Cunningham."

"I never meant to hurt you."

"I know," Takeshi said softly, letting his words be carried away by the wind, knowing his words were audible to the other man, even if he wanted the swift currents of air to carry away everything, his past, his present, his memories, his heart.

He looked back at his old lover, golden eyes dark with unreadable emotion. "I know, and that's what makes it so hard. You still turned your back on me. You left me to clean up both our mess, and you watched my career, my team collapse without a second glance. You ruined me, Alex. I don't know if I can forgive you for that."

"I'm sorry…"

He laughed, the sound humorless, dry and bitter. "Are you really? Are you truly sorry, or do you just pity me?"

Silence.

A hand on his shoulder. A heavy sigh. "Takeshi…you've changed so much."

"Everything's changed. The world's moved on without us, everyone and everything we once knew is different. I've changed, yes, but I've been stuck so long in the past. I'm ready to take a step to the future now, but what about you, Alex? You're exactly the same. You haven't changed at all. Will you just keep on doing the same thing, looking for the chance to forever save your success in a frozen moment?"

"I could tell you how sorry I am, over and over again, and you'll never believe me, will you? Takeshi…racing is everything I am…"

"I know. And it's the only thing you really love. Alex…I loved you, you know." Words he had never admitted out loud.

"Yes. You did." The past tense was profound, final.

"Goodbye, Alex. I'd wish you luck for this year, but we both know you don't need it."

This time, it was Takeshi who walked away, and he never looked back.

Owari