On Course

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This ficlet is a part of a much, much larger story that I will probably never have the time to write, but which comes back to me every July when the Tour de France happens. Although I am happy with the ficlet, for what it is, I know that in order for people to see how the characters work in this universe and to understand this moment entirely, I'd have to write the whole thing. I tried to write something else, something not so dependent on a larger context that will never be written, but this ficlet just wouldn't let me write anything else.

Tony hunches over the bike, hands curled around the bars, forearms parallel before him, his back a smooth arch. The weight of the helmet's aerodynamic tail seems to pull his head back a little, but he holds steady, only his legs working in their steady, endless rhythm. His thighs have been aching for miles and his calves are burning now, too, but he concentrates on his breathing and forces himself to concentrate on pace, not pain.

The radio settled snugly in one ear could have carried frantic demands for more speed, but Gibbs isn't the type who enjoys constantly shouting at his people for 32 miles and more than an hour. Oh, he'll shout when one of them needs it, and when he does he can tear a strip off any of them better than anyone else, but he saves that for when it'll have the most impact. Yelling "Go, go, go!" through a radio ceases to have any real motivational power after the first twenty minutes or so.

Instead, Gibbs figured out other ways to inspire them. For Tony it's music. He rides in time with it, and when he falls out of rhythm with the music he knows he's off his pace. When the music switches to something more upbeat, he knows he needs to ride harder, that Gibbs thinks he can reach the time checks faster. During a time trial Gibbs only actually speaks to him to report on the progress of other riders or to announce his time at each check on the route.

As much as Tony normally hangs on Gibbs's every word, now he pours effort into his legs to keep Gibbs from speaking. He's passed the third time check and all that's ahead of him is the finish line. If Gibbs speaks, it will only be to tell him he's not pushing hard enough.

He has to push. He has to pick up time. He's thirty-four and this is probably his last chance. He's alone on the course, but he can still feel the youngsters breathing down his neck. Focus on the music.

Keep the pace.