[chapter two]

Disclaimer: If you've heard of them, I don't own them. Everything else is mine, so no stealing, pretty please. ;-)

**

Jimmie paced back and forth across the length of his family room, his face set with displeasure. He couldn't get yesterday's race out of his mind. They were primed for a great finish, and he had just gotten too aggressive.

Sliding through the infield and out of the race wasn't exactly the way he planned to finish the day.

He was so pissed at himself.

Jimmie scowled as he crossed the room again. After yesterday's race, he wasn't in the mood to go test in Kentucky tomorrow either. He just wanted to sit around and stew.

With an exasperated sigh, Jimmie turned around and his eyes fell to the candle Vrai had given him, laying on its side amongst receipts, cups and newspapers on his cluttered coffee table.

'What the hell', Jimmie thought to himself. 'Can't hurt.'

He grabbed a matchbook from the kitchen and dimmed the lights, setting the candle in the middle of the coffee table. Feeling silly, he followed Vrai's instructions to light the match above his head and then light the candle. Just as she said, Jimmie felt a spark of energy from the flame as it came to life.

'Nah.' He thought to himself. 'You only think that because she said it.'

Jimmie stared into the flame and tried to visualize the track they were visiting tomorrow. Visualized the feel of the car, the grip in the turns, the exact angle of the steering wheel in his hands.

Vrai had said the candle and the ceremony was for safe journies, but he was hoping it would be more for quick lap times and a comfortable set up.

After a minute or two, Jimmie found his concentration on the track wandering and decided that going to bed for a good night's rest would serve him better than staring at a candle in the dark.

With a gust from his lungs, he blew out the candle, a shock going through him as he did so.

Just as the flame went out, he saw Vrai's face before his eyes, inside the flame.

Shaking his head to clear his mind, Jimmie flipped on the lights and put the candle and matches away. She had only appeared because he'd thought about her so much in the last few days. For some reason, her eyes had haunted him since those few minutes he had spent in her shop.

Weird.

With a derisive snort, Jimmie snapped off the downstairs lights and headed for the bedroom, slightly disgusted with himself for being so hokey. For believing even for a moment that a damn candle could give him a "safe journey".

What a crock.

He had to admit, though, he did feel a little more…calm since watching that flame ignite before his eyes.

'Whatever', he thought as he peeled off his clothes and crawled between the sheets. 'Magic can't control a 3400 pound race car. Only I can.'

**

"Okay, bud, nice and smooth…" Chad's voice echoed inside Jimmie's helmet as he piloted the car around the third turn, his hands gripping the steering wheel as he concentrated on finding his line around the track.

As the fourth turn approached, Jimmie feathered the throttle and began to turn the wheel when he felt the car slide, break loose and begin to disobey his commands.

Desperately, Jimmie tried to turn the wheel, to correct the car's sliding trajectory towards the wall.

He could hear Chad's voice at a distance, could hear the screeching of the tires, but every ounce of concentration he had was focused on the car, on trying to straighten out.

Right before the car slammed into the concrete wall, he tried to relax his body, tried not to brace too hard for the impact.

**

"God, I can't believe that." Chad said, his hand on Jimmie's shoulder as they watched their once pristine car get loaded onto a tow truck. The car had disintegrated as it crashed head first into the wall, pieces and equipment scattering in every direction. Only Jimmie's seat had remained perfectly intact. "I can't believe you just walked away from that, bud. How many lives you got, man?"

Jimmie gave him a weak smile as he watched his car get slowly towed away from where they stood. "I don't know, man. Just lucky. I don't think there's a scratch on me."

"You got some kinda luck, bud." Chad said, slapping Jimmie once on the shoulder and then turning to gather up his crew to return to Charlotte, their day of testing cut short by Jimmie's spectacular accident.

Jimmie stared at the wall where his car had been destroyed and tried to deny what had just happened.

He should be hurt. Hell, he could be dead, but instead he was standing without a bruise or ache or break.

As he turned towards the infield to get changed, he also tried to deny something else.

He tried to deny that he saw Vrai's face right before the impact, her eyes downcast towards a candle, her mouth moving in a silent chant.

It couldn't be.

It just couldn't.

chapter three