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If Lewis is being completely honest with himself, he must admit that he has a type.

Golden hair, blue eyes, hard, thick accent.

Friends first—optional.

Championship rivals—essential, as it seems.

First there was Nico, with his teasing words and his dashing smile, who only loved as long as he could win, who took what he wanted and vanished from the world along with a piece of Lewis’ heart.

After that, there was Sebastian, with his friendly jokes and his beaming grin, whose wins never made up for the fact that he wanted to be loved above all else, and Lewis wasn’t fit to play that role.

And then came Max.

 

-

 

Max is young.

Max is so much younger than him that Lewis does not like to think about it, and he shudders every time he’s reminded that he already had pubes by the time Max was born.

Max is so much younger than him that Lewis does not notice at first—the golden hair, the blue eyes, the hard, thick accent.

But as the racing seasons go by, repetitive and uneventful—even though Lewis likes to pretend it isn’t so—their age difference blurs into a much more tenuous gap, that the public perception has gotten completely wrong.

Max—forever labelled an immature brat on account of being an actual teenager when he smashed his way into Formula One with all the unpolished grit of youth—is in fact, as Lewis comes to learn, much more mature than his twenty-three years would suggest.

As for Lewis—well—he certainly does not feel as old as his seven world titles would imply, and he has an Insta page full of thirst traps to remind him of that.

And so, as the golden boy with the golden lion on his helmet climbs his way to a permanent spot on Lewis’ podiums, Lewis—eventually—begins to notice.

 

-

 

If he had to pinpoint where it all began, Lewis would not know what to say.

Perhaps it started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Monaco, or maybe with the first date that followed, which neither of them would admit was a date (but which they both definitely count as one).

Max would say it started because of the cherry-flavoured lube.

Maybe Lewis did not even realize something had started until Max was already sleeping in his bed, and keeping his spare caps in a drawer in his dresser, and maintaining a comprehensive, colour-coded schedule of Roscoe’s walks.

But if Lewis had to choose a specific time and place where it all began—for him, at least—he’d say Silverstone.

(Not that Silverstone.)

 

-

 

All it takes are the six words that the calm, collected voice of Bono delivers in his ear.

(There should have been panic, but there was not. That’s Bono for you, never a hair out of place.)

(Anyway.)

All it takes are the six words Bono utters on the radio, like some strange foreshadowing prophecy.

“Verstappen is the real threat here.”

And Lewis does not know why he’s singled out those words among so many others Bono has said to him mid-race, but he has, and they keep playing on his head as his tyres blister and he’s forced to pit and forfeit the race lead.

He crosses the finish line in second, the Red Bull car dancing in front of him as he sees the chequered flag, a show for a non-existent crowd.

Verstappen is the real threat here.

Lewis stands on the same podium he has stood just the week before (his three-wheeled victory seems even more lucky in the face of today’s defeat), but instead of looking down at a detached (if slightly disgruntled) Max, this time, Lewis finds himself looking up.

Noticing.

The golden hair, gleaming in the blinding sun. The blue eyes, sparkling with triumph in a way Lewis is well familiar with, even if it’s been a long time since he’s felt that kind of unexpected excitement. The hard, thick accent that curls around the words Lewis almost misses while he’s too busy looking up, spellbound.

“Can’t let you win them all.” The self-satisfied smirk. The cheeky wink.

Lewis laughs, startled.

Verstappen is the real threat here.

The champagne hits him in the face, hard. He closes his eyes, lets out a loud gasp as the white foam drips from his chin, licks the bitter taste from his lips, savouring it on his tongue.

He catches the blue eyes glued to him, wide and darkening. He smirks, and in a second it’s over. Max turns around to spray the Red Bull guy with what remains of the champagne, and Lewis is stuck in the middle of the podium—the 155th of his career—not knowing what he’s supposed to do.

Verstappen is the real

Yeah. Shut up, Bono.

 

-

 

He forgets all about it.

Almost.

He wins his seventh world title with three races to spare.

It feels strange trying to reconcile the euphoria of his monumental achievement with the predictability of how easy it was to clinch it. He wonders if it makes him ungrateful that he wishes he’d had a worthy adversary.

Nico tweets his congratulations.

Sebastian stands next to him on the podium.

Max finishes the race in sixth place.

What happened to not letting me win them all? he wants to ask.

Not that he’s keeping tabs.

He’s forgotten all about it.

(Except that every once in a while he still sees those blue eyes, dark with desire, burning in the back of his eyelids as he slicks up his hand and slides it around his cock and cums embarrassingly fast into his fist, and his heart racesracesraces for hours, long after he’s come down from his orgasm, and maybe he hasn’t forgotten at all.)

 

-

 

Lewis sees the crash on the TV, as he lies in bed, still feeling like shit, but slightly better now that he can actually keep his eyes open and his temperature down, and his body no longer aches like he just hit the barriers himself.

(This fucking virus is not what he meant by a worthy adversary.)

It’s not much of a crash. Opening lap incident—and Leclerc will surely face a summons to the stewards for that—but they’re all still a bit on edge since Romain, and so Lewis holds his breath as he counts the seconds in his head.

Max is out of the car by the time he’s counted to ten, and Lewis lets out a hoarse laugh as Max forcefully kicks the tyre barrier—Roscoe raises his head at the unexpected outburst. He wouldn’t put it past Max to make matters a thousand times worse by breaking a toe out of frustration.

He picks up his phone, searches for the right number in his contacts, and before he has time to second guess his own motives, he texts, ‘that was harsh man’.

He notices that he has a message from Max that he doesn’t really remember opening, dated from three days ago—‘I hope you feel better soon’—left on read.

(He probably opened it during a fever spike, too late to do anything about it now.)

He supposes it’s only fair that Max does not answer him either. And he blames the boredom of isolation for the fact that he checks his phone every two minutes for the next six hours.

At least, he’s still too weak to jerk off.

 

-

 

He comes back for the season finale, feeling like he’s aged a decade and his whole body is dissolving into a puddle of sweat, and Lewis does not know if his fever is back or if it’s just the Abu Dhabi climate.

But still, he smiles, and answers every question about George (‘yeah, George, what a great driver, man’ and ‘tough luck, it could've been a win’ and ‘he’ll do great things’ and ‘no, he didn't pee in my seat, as far as I’m aware, haha’ what-a-fucking-stupid-question), and he drags his Mercedes into third place, pulling up right next to Max’s Red Bull in parc fermé.

“Congrats, man.” He bumps his fist, keeping his distance for more reasons than one. But he cannot help the teasing line that falls from his lips. “You could have done that last week when I was not around.”

“I like a challenge,” Max retorts as he removes his helmet and the balaclava, and runs his fingers through his hair. “What’s the point of winning if it’s not against you?”

Lewis supposes that falls into the category of flattery.

(Golden hair. Dark, blue eyes. That damn pink smirk.)

Verstappen is the real threat here.

 

-

 

Lewis Hamilton does not go to the supermarket.

Not usually, at least.

It’s not that he suffers from delusions of grandeur, or that he thinks he’s above something as simple as buying his own groceries. But the truth is that a series of circumstances in his life have meant that Lewis can’t really remember the last time he actually went shopping.

For one, he’s almost never home—he’s not entirely sure he should even call his apartment in Monaco home—as he spends most of the year living in hotel rooms or as a guest in someone else’s house.

Secondly, he is quite a fan of online shopping, for the simple reason that it saves him from having to dress up like it’s Halloween every time he wants to buy a loaf of bread, just so he can hope to stay incognito, yet still end up in an impromptu autograph session in front of the deli meats station every time, while some stranger who calls himself a fan eyes the assortment of instant soups in his shopping cart judgementally.

Unfortunately, the unforeseen shortage of almond milk and toilet paper Lewis faces himself with on the first day of winter break requires an urgent trip to the local store, and that is how he ends up stumbling upon Max Verstappen.

The relative absence of customers, enforced by the rules of reduced permitted capacity, lures Lewis into a false sense of privacy, so much that he allows himself to stop by the health aisle so he can replenish his supply of lube (the newfound wanking material has left it critically low), and he’s trying to read the tiny letters on the label of cherry-flavoured lube to check if it’s cruelty-free when his head snaps up at the sound of the familiar voice.

“Hi, mate,” Max’s eyes crinkle over the face mask. “What are you doing here?”

Lewis freezes for a second, like a deer in headlights, startled by the unexpected encounter.

“Hey, Max. I’m- uh- you know, shopping.” He points lamely at his basket, as if the fact that they are standing in a supermarket is not sufficiently self-explanatory.

“You’re having a dinner party or something?” Max snorts as he looks at the overflowing basket.

“Ah no,” he chuckles. “Just me. I’m trying out a new lasagna recipe.” Great chit-chat, Lewis. Awesome work, mate. “It’s vegan,” he adds, as an afterthought.

He doesn’t know why he feels so scrutinized under those sharp blue eyes, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that Max keeps glancing at the bottle of lube he’s still holding, and Lewis has to fight the irrational urge to quickly shove it under the vegetables in his basket, as if Max has not obviously seen it already.

He thinks, perhaps, that Max’s lack of reply means they are done with the awkward small talk, but, as it is, he’s utterly mistaken.

“You know, if it’s the cherry taste you’re looking for, you might want to go with the other brand,” Max says nonchalantly. “But personally, I’m not a fan of the synthetic flavour. All-natural tastes just fine. It’s organic.” He winks, for good measure.

“Huh-”

Is he… flirting?

“I am just messin’ with you, man,” Max laughs, as if it’s common banter to comment on your fellow driver’s lube choices, but he rubs the back of his neck a little awkwardly, and there’s a vague hint of flushed skin peeking under his face mask, and Lewis just blurts out—

“Do you want to try it some time?”

Max shoots him a strange look, and Lewis wants to smack himself in the head.

“The lasagna,” he clarifies, inwardly cringing at his glaring mistake. “Not the… lube.” Oh God.

Max snorts. “Yeah, sure,” he says, shrugging. “Whenever you want, man. Just text me the details.”

“Alright,” he lets out a breath he did not know he’d been holding. “I will.”

“See you later, Lewis,” Max nods goodbye, grabbing a pack of condoms as he walks away.

Lewis pretends not to notice the size.

 

-

 

“This is not a date,” Max says, flatly, as he sets the Pinot Noir on the kitchen island. Max was never one to shy away from being direct, even though Lewis doesn’t know whether to believe the Red Bull driver or the bottle of red wine he’s brought with him.

In any case, the evening doesn’t feel particularly date-ish as Max helps him set the plates on the living room coffee table, and they sit on the couch, eating his homemade vegan lasagna and watching an old rerun of a NASCAR race.

They discuss the bygone season in great detail, and complain about the upcoming FIA gala, and Max devours more than his half of the lasagna (much to Lewis’ flattered delight), and the evening takes a decidedly date-ish turn as Max leans back on the couch and sighs happily.

“I am glad we’re doing this,” he says, and Lewis raises a questioning eyebrow, sipping on his wine glass. “It seems like I’m always running from one race to another, it’s hard to find the time to just…” he trails off.

Go on a date? Lewis’ brain supplies, unhelpfully.

“The pandemic doesn’t help,” Lewis says instead, and Max hums in agreement.

“I suppose the racing doesn’t help either,” Max huffs a hoarse, raspy laugh that booms from the depths of his ribcage like the roar of a lion. “It’s hard to turn it off, you know, even when the season’s over. Sometimes it seems like all I can think about is racing. Not many people want to put up with that.”

And Lewis knows the feeling—of being so deeply in the thick of it that all you feel and live and breathe is racing; and all that matters is the adrenaline, and the chase, and the wins and the titles, everything else blurring around him like the backdrop around a speeding car.     

“Yeah, I get it, man. Sometimes, even when I’m not racing, I can still hear Bono’s voice in my head,” he confesses, with a chuckle, “like he’s giving me instructions as I go through my life.”

Max snorts, entirely ungraceful and oddly cute.

“You hear Bono inside your head?” Max repeats, wheezing as if he might choke on a laugh at any moment. “Like—what? Like he’s your conscience?”

“No- I mean. A bit like my conscience, yeah, I guess.” Now that he thinks about it, it seems an apt description. “Does that ever happen to you?”

“Fuck, no. I get enough of GP during races, thank you very much,” Max chuckles, looking at Lewis like he’s a bit strange. And Lewis does not know why it bothers him, he thought it was just one of those driver things—you know, occupational hazard.

But Max’s laughter turns into a subdued smile, losing all trace of mockery. Max has a nice smile, Lewis thinks. Full, plump lips, a little askew, and eyes crinkling at the sides, and that’s how Lewis knows it’s not the forced smile the Red Bull driver gives the cameras, but it’s genuine, and it makes Lewis grin, too, and he’s sure they look like a right pair of idiots.

“So, what would Bono say if he could see us now, huh?” asks Max, as he gulps down his wine.

And Bono’s voice answers in his head before he can really prevent it.

Get in there, Lewis.

Max snorts, colour rising to his cheekbones, and Lewis realizes in a slight panic that he’s said that out loud.

But this is Max, who flirted with him in on the condom aisle, and who brought a bottle of Pinot Noir to their non-date, and maybe it’s worth shooting his shot.

“You’re a dork,” Max says, but it sounds less like an insult and more like he just realized the fact.

Still, he gets up from the sofa, much to Lewis’ disappointment, and takes their empty plates to the kitchen sink. He insists on washing them, even though Lewis argues that they can just leave them there, but Max wins that particular battle and Lewis ends up with soapy suds in his hair while he dries the dishes and tries as best as he can to come up with a plan that does not involve having to say goodbye.

“Alright,” Max says when the dishes are done, flicking his wet hands and spraying little droplets of water across his face.

So, that’s it.

“Alright.”

Max rolls his eyes and huffs out a laugh, and Lewis feels like he’s missed the plot.

Golden hair, dark blue eyes, cold wet hands that tug on the collar of his shirt until their faces are almost touching and—

Oh.

“Alright,” Max repeats, lips brushing against his. “Get in here, Lewis.”

 

-

 

The first time Max leaves a cap lying around in his apartment, Lewis tosses it in the trash, for no better reason than that it’s ugly, and painfully orange, and an insult to the memory of lush golden hair sliding smoothly between his fingers.

The second time Max leaves a cap lying around in his apartment, Lewis lets it sit on the coffee table for an entire week, Roscoe sniffing around it like a stark reminder that it does not belong there, and every time he enters the living room he thinks—what are you doing Lewis?

The third time Max leaves a cap lying around in his apartment, Lewis clears out a drawer in his dresser and shoves it inside, ignoring the bigger issue at hand, just as he ignores the packs of Red Bull on the fridge and the foreign toothbrush lined up neatly next to the sink.

 

-

 

Lewis knows they are living on borrowed time, whatever it is that he and Max are—he still can’t quite put his finger on it. But he’s had a fair share of golden-haired, blue-eyed boys in his life to know they always come with an expiration date.

He figures they’ll fall apart when the buzz of the new season brings a refreshing new load of work—countless sim hours, and seat fittings, and testing and media duties that keep them occupied, rendering their arrangement for casual sex pretty much non-fulfilled. But Max still crashes in his bed, exhausted after going over scores of data all evening, and he casually informs Lewis of his upcoming trips to Milton Keynes (which Lewis marks on his calendar for purely organizational reasons), and he gets up at four a.m. every day to take Roscoe for a walk, shushing Lewis’ sleepy protests with ‘that’s alright, babe, just sleep. I was awake anyway.’

He’s sure they’ll fall apart when Max has to concede the position in the closing laps in Bahrain, even though Lewis knows he was not entirely innocent of the track-limit shenanigans himself, and he can feel the stare—furious, red-speckled eyes—burning at his back throughout the podium ceremony.

He keeps sneaking glances at Max during the post-race conference, tries to crack a few jokes, praises his driving and their epic battle, and all but has an existential crisis over being outright ignored by his rival? lover? fuck buddy? who just gives him the cold shoulder and fidgets in his seat like he can’t wait to bolt out of the room.

And he’s sure this is it, when Max storms into his driver’s room, and Lewis sits up straighter in the sofa, bracing himself for the impact. He hopes Max makes it quick and easy, like ripping off a plaster; Lewis doesn’t feel like he can stomach a mean, spiteful breakup like Nico’s, or a long, tearful affair like Sebastian’s.

But Max climbs unceremoniously onto his lap, straddling him and pulling him into a dirty, slow kiss. And Lewis is only a man, so he moans into his mouth and relishes in the warm weight resting on his aching thighs—because if a goodbye fuck is on the table, there’s no need to make it quick after all.

And it’s only when Max shifts to kneel on the floor between his open legs, dragging his sweatpants down to his ankles, that Lewis manages to catch his breath and a small shred of his senses.

“What are you doing?”

Max stops his ministrations, looking up at him through hooded eyes, mouth still open against Lewis’ inner thigh, mid-kiss.

“I was about to suck your dick,” he replies, nuzzling the hardness over the thick cotton of Lewis’ underwear.

He whines at the light touch against his cock, even through the layer of fabric, and it almost feels too much. This is either the best breakup Lewis has ever had, or not a breakup at all, and before he lets it go any further, he needs to know which.

“But you- you were ignoring me all evening. You- ahMax mouths at his balls, still not bothering to remove his underwear. “—the press conference…”

He can feel Max’s smirk resting against his inner thigh.

“You wanted me to suck your dick at the press conference?” he chuckles, and it sends a shiver right up Lewis’ cock. “I don’t think Toto would approve.”

“So, you’re not mad?” he pushes, because his heart is doing somersaults, and there’s a growing wet spot on his boxers, and he needs to know if he’s going to go back to his hotel alone after this.

“Oh, I am mad—”

Max’s eyes sparkle in amusement, and his fingernails graze over the skin of Lewis’ thighs as he finally pulls down his boxers.

“—I am furious—”

He grins as he presses a tiny kiss to the underside of his cock, and Lewis might just lose it completely.

“—It’s a shame to lose such a hot race like that—”

His warm breath grazes the wet, sensitive tip as he whispers the word—unbearably hot, yes.

“—I’ve been hard since lap fourteen—”

Max smirks as Lewis’ hips thrust upward involuntarily, and he ducks down, bypassing his cock altogether to play with his balls.

“—were you hard, too, babe?”

“Ah, fuck.”

The fucking tease.

And maybe Max shouldn’t be so hard to figure out; he clearly gets off on this, too—the competition, the adrenaline of the fight, the thrill of seeking out his weak spots and making him squirm. But there’s something else, hidden in the excessive sweetness of his kisses and the soft edge of blue eyes that carefully gauge his reactions.

Max pulls him roughly by the back of his knees until Lewis slides down the couch, teetering precariously on the cushioned edge.

“So, I thought you might want to help me relieve this tension—”

He leaves a gentle, barely-there kiss on the inside of his knee.

“—unless you’re too tired.”

Max’s cheeks are tinged pink, his breath laboured, and his eyes glazed over, clearly just as affected as Lewis is. Still, he waits—on his knees—for Lewis’ permission, a serious edge infused in his voice, as if he might easily abandon all pretense and just cuddle him on the sofa if Lewis says he is, in fact, too tired.

And that—that is what Lewis can’t quite put his finger on. It’s not hero-worship or attention-seeking. It’s something new, that Lewis thinks he’s never encountered before. Fondness, perhaps?

He’s too far gone to think straight, anyway.

“Anything you want, Max,” he runs his fingers through the slightly-damp golden hair, because he can’t stand the distance anymore—not when he thought they might be no more, and suddenly that scenario seems unimaginable. “Anything. Please.”

He might be hallucinating, but he thinks he hears Max giggle as he dots sloppy kisses from his knee to his crotch, but the façade is back as he murmurs hotly against his groin—

“I’m gonna suck your dick—”

Yes. Please.

Max runs his tongue over the soft skin behind his balls and moves his fingers to spread his cheeks.

“—and then I’m going to fuck you—”

Oh.

That’s new.

“—because I’m done with bending over for you today.”

Max licks a hot stripe across his hole, letting his tongue lap over the twitching rim, and—Holy shit.

He’s not gonna last.

You can do it, Lewis. Gap to Verstappen is 0.0.

Not now. Leave me alone.

 

-

 

Maybe it’s a sign of ageing that Lewis finds himself enjoying coming home more and more.

(Maybe it’s a sign of maturity that he’s finally starting to think of Monaco as home.)

It’s not that he does not still enjoy racing above all else—he does, nothing else could ever come close.

But the travelling gets tiring, and the hotel rooms get lonely, and Roscoe likes to snuggle by the fireplace with a certain Dutch man who’s around more often than not, making sure Lewis’ dog is the most spoiled on the entire planet.

And while Lewis used to often feel a little bit hollow coming down from the highs of a race weekend to a cold, empty apartment, he now finds that he does not mind the peace and quiet so much.

Probably because Roscoe and Max like to team up to make sure there’s rarely peace and it’s certainly never quiet, and his apartment doesn’t feel so empty when it’s populated with the most unsettling Red Bull merch (‘It’s a stuffed bull, Lewis, what’s so weird about it?’), and a trophy in the shape of Monaco that’s definitely not his own, and a certain Dutch man who makes Lewis think he could get used to this.

 

-

 

Max takes his video calls sitting on the kitchen floor, his back against the unsuspecting white-tiled wall. On such occasions, Lewis likes to make himself scarce, because the slim chance of catching a whiff of Red Bull’s strategy is not worth the trauma of hearing Christian Horner’s voice coming from the same place where he takes his meals.

Max also calls his sister every Tuesday, and so, on Tuesdays Lewis takes Roscoe out for a walk, and he takes the long route through the park and buys cake at the vegan pâtisserie on the way home.

“I’ve got carrot cake and lemon pie,” he announces, kicking off his shoes by the door and heading into the kitchen to drop the paper boxes on the counter.

Who’s that?’ Victoria’s voice sounds staticky and shrill coming through the speaker on Max’s phone.

He stops, still holding the boxes in one hand and Roscoe’s leash in the other, and his eyes widen as he realizes his mistake.

Max meets his eyes over the phone in panic, and a whole silent conversation ensues, as they both scream without words, What the fuck do we do now?

Oh, Maxy, you should see your face right now,’ Victoria laughs in what Lewis can only imagine is utter delight. ‘One day you’ll have to introduce me to your secret boyfriend.

Huh- secret what, now?

Box, box, box. Box this lap, Lewis.

Several things happen at once.

Lewis freezes in shock, the cake boxes crash to the floor with a pitiful squelch, and he lets go of the leash, giving Roscoe the opportunity to jump on Max, slobbering his face. Victoria lets out a screech—‘Is that—’, and Max cuts her off with a panicked “Sorry, Vic, gotta go,” hanging up and dropping his phone on the floor like he’s burned his hand.

Their synchronized breaths are the only sounds that can be heard in the kitchen, bouncing deafeningly off the marble floors.

Max eyes him warily. “So,” he begins, and Lewis thinks he’s never seen Max so unsure of himself. “Don’t freak out.”

“I’m not,” he mutters, a little too high-pitched to be entirely convincing.

He’s totally freaking out. 

“Do you think your sister knows?” he asks, deliberately ignoring the elephant in the room.

“She’s a fan of yours,” Max replies, eyeing him carefully. “I think she recognized Roscoe.”

Roscoe barks at the sound of his name, and Max laughs, scratching behind the bulldog’s ears.

“Yeah, you’ve been causing havoc, my big, fat slobberhead. You’re gonna give your dad a heart attack.”

Roscoe stares at Lewis as if he’s seeking confirmation, before deciding to go sniff the smashed cakes instead.

“Do you think she will be bothered?” Lewis asks, trying to sound nonchalant, though his hard swallow can probably be heard across the city . “By- huh- us?”

“She won’t,” says Max, rising from his place on the kitchen floor. “You heard her. She wants to meet you.”

She wants to meet your boyfriend.

“Is that something you want?”

A boyfriend? That you can introduce to your sister?

“Yeah,” Max answers. “I want to, one day. When you’re ready.”

When. That’s a lot of confidence, Max.

Max strides resolutely up to where Lewis is still standing with bits of cake at his feet, and he envelops him in a tight hug.

“You’re freaking out, babe,” he murmurs in his ear, his deep, thick accent soothing as only Max could ever be. “It’s just us. We don’t have to put any name to it if you don’t want to,” he pulls back to look Lewis in the eye, “alright?”

And Lewis is a little flustered—he’s supposed to be the older one—the mature one—but Max always seems to have a much better handle on things than he does.

“Alright.”

He presses himself tighter against the man in his arms, trying to put into the hug all the things he’s too insecure to say out loud, and as his heart does a strange, painful leap inside his chest, Lewis realizes—a little frighteningly—that he wouldn’t know the difference between a panic attack and falling in love.

Shit.

Red flag. Red flag. Slow down, Lewis. Keep the delta positive.

 

-

 

“Were there others before me?” Max asks, though he probably already knows the answer.

But there’s something tortuously intimate about the reverent way Max runs his fingers over the lion tattooed in Lewis’ chest, and the way they lie intertwined in the comforting bubble of the afterglow, loose-limbed and sweaty in post-orgasmic bliss. And so he holds Max close to his chest and he tells him about Nico and his hurtful sneers, and Seb and his lovelorn smiles, old tales of golden-haired boys and their expiration dates.

And Max tells him about the girls he’s kissed for Instagram photos and the boys he’s snuck up through his bedroom window, and they share the memories of first loves and forgotten heartbreaks, until Lewis can no longer contain the longing in his chest.

“How would it even work between us?” he asks, whispering the words into the hollow of Max's collarbone, the ticklish spot where his shoulder meets his neck. “Boyfriends.”

It rolls off his tongue deceptively easily.

“The same way we’ve made it work so far,” Max shrugs, tracing over the ink compass on his skin. “We fight it out on the track and we sneak into each other’s hotels at night.” He laces their fingers together, the grip strong enough to leave bruises on his skin. “We take it one day at a time, and we work things out as we go. We trust each other.”

“We can’t make any promises,” he says. They can’t. Because when the time comes, racing is what makes their blood run—nothing else comes close—and neither will back off the fight and, in the end, one will emerge victorious and the other defeated. But he trusts Max. He’d trust Max with his life. “We can’t make any promises, but I wanna try.”

He presses their foreheads together, sweat mingling on their skin. And Max kisses him fiercely, and his laughter thunders into the silence of the bedroom, open and roaring.

His little lion man.

 

-

 

You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life.

At least that’s what he reads off some Pinterest quote, late at night, as they are both sulking in Max’s hotel room.

Max’s laughter is hoarse, like he’s forgotten how to do it, the roller-coaster of the day leaving its gruelling marks.

“Bloody hell, I hate this place,” Max rubs his tired eyes, the small smile lingering in the lopsided curve of his lips.  Lewis laughs, too, and he thinks that maybe the quote is not entirely dumb.

Anyway.

They both would rather not #ExperienceAzerbaijan ever again.

 

-

 

Max, this was win number five, you are thirty-two points ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the World Championship, can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to ride this wave of success?

He watches the highlights of the press conference on his phone, the camera focused on Max’s victorious face. Lewis knows every crinkle of the smile hiding beneath the facemask by heart.

Yeah, I’m enjoying it, but I’m also focused on the rest of the season. It is still so long and there are still a lot of points you need to score…

Real Max steps out of the bathroom, fresh from the shower, leaving a trail of water droplets on the floor.

‘…we need to make sure that every single weekend we are back up there, and we basically use the whole potential of the car.’

Max joins him on the bed, towel discarded on the floor, kissing his way up his neck, biting on his earlobe.

“Turn that off,” he begs, hot and demanding. And Lewis can only comply.

It’s easy to lose himself in Max. In the way he wraps himself around Lewis like he could become his whole world; in the way he tenses and whines under his touch, and falls apart around Lewis’ fingers, clenching and whimpering ‘please’ and ‘more’; in the way he feels so warm when Lewis slips inside him, and in the way he gives himself fully and just lets Lewis take what he needs, quivering and pliant, knees flat on the bed, golden hair reflecting the overhead lights, messing up the bed sheets as he moans out his name.

It’s tempting to believe this could be enough.

It’s easy to pretend not to notice that Max doesn’t leave his trophies lying around the apartment anymore.

It’s easy to pretend it’s not starting to weigh Lewis down.

And then, Silverstone happens.

 

-

 

Lewis often thought—especially during the times he woke up to the sounds of Max struggling through another nightmare—that if he ever came across Jos Verstappen, he would punch him in the face.

Equally likely, Lewis thought, was the possibility that if he ever came across Jos Verstappen, Jos would punch him in the face.

However, Lewis had never considered the prospect that when he’d finally come across Jos Verstappen, he’d feel like it would be perfectly justified if Jos were to punch him in the face.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jos’ voice is not one he’s familiar with, but it sounds so much like Max’s that his head immediately snaps up.

His head hurts because he’s been staring at the neon sign spelling out ‘Coventry Hospital’ for the past two hours, pacing back and forth in front of the main entrance that he’s not allowed to cross.

Desperately, he tries to look past Jos’ burly figure to see the boy trailing behind him.

“Max,” he tries to sound collected, like his chest is not threatening to burst out in tears. “Are you okay?”

“You’ve got some nerve showing up here, boy.” Jos shields his son from view, towering menacingly over Lewis. He wishes Jos would just punch him in the face already. A small pain to distract him from the wretched guilt building in his heart.

“I need to talk to Max,” he pleads. “I want to apologize.”

“You,” Jos spits the word out like a slur, “are not getting anywhere near my son. You disgraceful fucking—”

“Dad.” Max cuts him off, his voice steely and biting. “That’s enough. You should go.”

He can see Max now, standing under the glare of the streetlight, pale and battered, with prominent dark circles under his eyes. There’s some dried blood on his lower lip, and Lewis can see the ugly bruises peeking from under the collar of his t-shirt, and he doesn’t put his right foot on the ground, resting his weight on a crutch instead.

Jos’ jaw drops to the floor. “What-?”

“Vic is waiting in the car,” Max says, his tone clearly warning. “I’ll be fine.”

Jos stares back and forth between the two of them, incredulity giving way to suspicion, eyes narrowing in realization and—

“Him?!” he growls, nostrils flaring. “Oh, that’s just fucking fantastic.”

“Lewis is here to apologize, and you should go.” Max’s eyes do not leave Lewis’ as he addresses his father, icy blue and cutting like steel blades. “Thank you for staying with me, dad.”

Lewis swallows hard, the guilt burning in his chest. He thinks Jos might fight back, but he doesn’t, muttering angrily as he walks away, leaving them alone under the cold white streetlights.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and it takes all his willpower not to break down crying, but he thinks he owes Max that at least. “I am so sorry, Max. I didn’t know.”

He caves to the mounting pressure of remorse, a pitiful sob leaving his chest.

He didn’t know.

He’d celebrated his victory like he had won the championship. Like a man starved for victories, basking in the chants of his home crowd.

He didn’t know, because no one told him that while he was celebrating, Max had been taken to the hospital, dazed and injured after the crash.

He didn’t know, because he had not asked.

It always felt like an abstract notion—the idealized, almost romantic belief that racing should always come first, that it’s what they are here for, and so, nothing else should get in the way.

But the ugly truth is that it boils down to this—that the thought that his boyfriend might not be okay, that he might be injured and in pain and all alone in a foreign hospital, did not even cross his mind, because all Lewis cared about in the heat of the moment was winwinwin.

And there’s nothing romantic about that.

“I know it’s too much to ask you to forgive me. But I never meant to hurt you. You have to believe me. Please.”

Max doesn’t say anything for what feels like a very long time, his lips pursed as if he’s contemplating whether to answer or just leave. Instead, he stares at Lewis, and the pain is clear in his eyes.

And Lewis wants to touch Max, so badly. He wants to hold him close and make sure he’s okay. But he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to, the old insecurities coming back full force. He thought they wouldn’t make it through the pre-season; he thought they wouldn’t make it through Bahrain. But to come back from this feels simply impossible. Lewis wonders if he’ll ever be able to forgive himself.

Max takes a deep breath, exhales slowly through his mouth.

“Can you get me out of here?” he asks, his voice gravelly and tired.

It takes him a while to understand the request, but Lewis nods, remembering the jet the team has put at his service, waiting at Heathrow.

“Good.” Max says. “I’m tired. I want to go home.”

 

-

 

They don’t speak on their way to the airport. They don’t speak as they wait for permission to take off. They don’t speak during the two-hour flight—in fact, Max curls up in his seat and sleeps the whole time, and Lewis is glad for the break in the angry silence. He takes every second he gets to just watch Max, who looks almost peaceful, if not for the slight downturn of his lips, and the way he occasionally winces in pain.

Lewis has not seen the footage.

The thought of reviewing the crash leaves him sick to his stomach.

But he knows he will have to look at it, eventually. He’ll have to relive it in excruciating detail, and study the angles, and go over diagrams, racing lines, braking points, and all the fucking data. Because wherever the fault may lie, there are always lessons to be learned.

The prospect of that makes him want to throw up.

He cannot bear the possibility that he might be responsible for this. That he might have done this to the man he’d trust with his life, and now be faced with the soul-crushing evidence that he cannot be trusted back.

A part of him that craves karmic retribution wants to turn on his phone and read all the hateful messages. He wants to feel the hurt they bring him, as if by soaking himself in that pain he can ease some of Max’s.

He wants to drown in the words of Max’s post, that had felt like a punch to the gut. And he knows they came from a place of anger and pain, but they’re also callous and calculated —because Max knows him better than anyone and he knows how to make it hurt.

He wants to read Max’s words and he wants to feel angry that they’re deliberately hurtful, but the truth is that ‘disrespectful’ and ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ doesn’t even begin to cover the level of self-loathing Lewis feels.

And then, there are the taunting parting words he can’t get out of his head—but we move on.

He looks at Max’s sleeping form, the steep slope of his nose, the lips whose taste is infused in his own, and he wonders—

Who’s we, Max?

Do we move on together, or do we fall apart over this?

 

-

 

They drive in silence from Nice airport to Monaco, and his eyes keep straying off the road to glance at the man in the passenger seat. But he can’t catch a glimpse of the blue eyes as Max leans against the window, gazing out at the scenic coastal landscape bathed in the first light of dawn.

“I can drop you off anywhere you want,” he offers hesitantly, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he stops at a red light.

Max keeps his eyes trained on the street outside.

“Just take me home.”

He sounds exhausted.

Lewis tries to remember where Max’s apartment is. He wonders if he can drive him there without asking for further directions.

“So, I should just go south here, right?”

Max’s head snaps up to look at him, eyes wide in disbelief.

“Home, Lewis,” he clarifies, with an angry growl. “To your apartment, where I’ve been living for the past six months. I trust you know the way.” He huffs in frustration and looks up at the car ceiling, fresh tears gathering in his eyes. “Jesus.”

Home.

Okay.

He puts the foot down as the light turns green, heart hammering in his chest.

Home. He can do that.

 

-

 

He helps Max up the front step, thanks Angela for bringing Roscoe home, and she hugs him and hugs Max too, telling them to call her if they need anything. Max gives her a grateful smile and murmurs “Thanks, Angie,” and Lewis wishes she would stay, if only because she made Max smile again.

Max lets Lewis lead him into the bedroom, leaning his weight on his shoulder as he drops the crutch to the floor, and sits down on the bed as Lewis helps him out of his shoes and pants and makes him lie down on the nest of pillows, fluffing the covers around him.

Max is already asleep by the time Lewis puts a glass of water and the painkillers on the nightstand. He leaves the door open so Roscoe can snuggle up to Max on the bed, and takes a blanket and pillow to the living room couch. He tries to get comfortable in the too-soft couch, even though he does not think he’ll be able to sleep, and he holds onto the stupid plush bull that smells like Max, and he finally lets himself cry.

 

-

 

He wakes up, startled by the tumbling noise and the muttered “Fuck” coming from the bedroom, and he’s up in a flash.

“What happened? Are you okay?” He finds Max standing on a heap of bedsheets on the floor, wincing in pain as he tries to reach for his discarded crutch. “What do you need? I can get it for you.”

Max groans in frustration, looking beaten and exhausted, and dejectedly powerless. “Just help me to the bathroom.”

He wraps his arm around Max’s waist, taking on half his weight as he leads him into the ensuite. He notices the dismal look Max gives the toilet seat and the shuddering wince as he tries to prop his injured leg on the ground.

“It might be easier if you sit.”

“I’m not gonna piss sitting down,” Max grumbles, and Lewis rolls his eyes and almost smiles because it feels like Max—his proud, stubborn Max—is back.

But Max yelps in pain as he tries to put his foot down again and Lewis grimaces.

“You’re gonna make things worse,” he argues. “Just sit down, okay?”

Max tries a feeble protest, but he allows Lewis to slide his boxer briefs down his thighs and lead him to the toilet seat, and he just scowls when Lewis looks at him expectantly.

“I can’t piss with you staring at me, Lewis.”

Right.

“Alright. I’ll wait outside then. Call when you need me, okay?”

He waits, staring patiently at the wooden veins on the closed door. He waits, and Max doesn’t call for him, even though twenty minutes must have passed and he’s long since heard the toilet flush. He waits, until he hears the stifled sobs coming from the other side of the door. He knocks on it.

“Are you okay in there, Max?” But all he gets in reply are more sobs, and his heart tightens in panic. “I’m coming in now, okay?”

He finds Max in the same place he left him, slumped on the toilet seat, his underwear around his ankles and his face buried in his hands, his whole body shaking from the force of his sobs.

“What happened?” he kneels down in front of Max, and takes his hands into his own. Max’s face is streaked with tear tracks and angry red blotches, contorting in visible pain. He doesn’t know what to do. “Do you want me to call someone for you? I can call your sister or… your father?”

“Fuck you, Lewis.” Max snaps, looking up at him with rage bubbling in bloodshot eyes. “I don’t want you to call anyone. You don’t get to run away from this.” He hiccups as fresh tears stream down his face. “I’m so angry at you right now, and I know you’re mad at me too—”

I’m not, Lewis wants to say, I’m mad at myself.

“—and you should be mad at me because I’ve hurt you too. And I want to fix it, Lewis. But right now, I can’t, because I’m so fucking angry, and everything hurts. My leg is fucked, and I can’t even pee without your help, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to race again in two weeks.”

The desperation in Max’s voice burns a hole in Lewis’ heart.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers.

Max shakes his head.

“We can fix things tomorrow,” he tells Lewis, both a promise and a plea. “But right now, I just need my boyfriend to hold me and tell me everything’s going to be alright. Please.”

And it’s the helplessness in Max’s eyes that nearly breaks him, and his eyes fill with tears as he gently pulls Max by the hands, gathering him in his arms.

“C’mere,” he says, and Max slides into his lap without resistance. Lewis fixes up his underwear and holds him as tight as he can without pressing on his bruises, murmuring softly, “Everything is gonna be alright.”

Max sobs loudly, hiding his face in the crook of his neck, and Lewis does not know how long they stay there, rocking in a messy embrace on the bathroom floor. But he holds Max close, whispering soothing words in his ear and tracing gentle circles on his back, until Max no longer convulses under his touch and the tears have dried on his face.   

I’m sorry, Max.

I love you so much.

He doesn’t say it, because it’s not the right time. But he kisses Max’s forehead, and the tip of his nose, and the messy strands of golden hair, and he hopes Max knows that he does.

“Everything is gonna be alright.”

 

-

 

“It’s racing. Incidents happen,” Max declares, his leg propped up on the balcony railing. The doctor says he can lose the crutch in two days’ time. It might still feel sore in Hungary, but when the season resumes after the summer, it should be as good as new. “We move on.”

If only it were that simple.

Max has accepted his apology, and he’s accepted Max’s, but the size of his guilt has only shrunk slightly, still a heavy weight on his chest.

“It might happen again,” Lewis says, warily.

Maybe they can handle it better, but it will happen again. Because they are rivals, fighting for the same title, and neither of them will back down.

“We deal with it when it happens.”

More terrifyingly, he thinks, one of them might want to back down.

“We might not survive this.”

Golden-haired boys and their expiration dates. But this is not that simple, is it, Max? It’s not just a case of win or lose.

“So, what? You want to call it quits?” Max’s tone is accusatory, as if Lewis is giving up a battle he has sworn to fight.

I want you to have everything you have ever wanted, Max. Don’t you see how scary that is?

“I don’t want to be the thing that stands between you and your happiness.”

Max laughs, dry and humourless and just a little desperate.

“You stupid fuck,” he hisses, blue eyes burning into his soul. “You make me happy. It’s not that fucking easy.”

And Lewis feels unmoored, nodding dumbly as Max growls with the ferocity of a lion.

“I will fight you hard for that title,” Max vows, “but I will fight even harder for you.”

What happened to no promises, my little lion man?

 

-

 

Max’s leg heals just fine, and they do too.

He learns the right way to massage Max’s thigh, to help ease the stiffness that lingers on, despite his boyfriend’s protests that ‘You don’t have to, Brad can do that.’ But Lewis enjoys the feel of the hard muscle twitching under his lotion-slick fingers, and the way Max lets his head hang back on the sofa and groans at the piercing touch, and if the hardness tenting in his boxers is any indication, he is willing to guess that his boyfriend enjoys it too.

“Do you want some help with that as well?” he smirks, as Max bites his lip and cards his fingers through his braided hair, pulling him in for a dirty kiss. He sure hopes Brad doesn’t do that.

He still feels a little pang of remorse from time to time, when Max is particularly achy at the end of the day, and Lewis is reminded that while bruises heal and fade, the effects of 51 G’s tend to linger for a very long time.

He stacks the freezer with ice packs and draws hot baths for Max, and he only realizes he might be just a tiny bit overbearing when he arrives home one day and is faced with a potted plant with a string bow.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“It’s for you,” Max says, “It needs sunshine and water in moderation, and it’s supposed to be easy to take care of, but if there’s anything I’ve learned about plants is that that’s never true.”

He looks hesitantly at Max.

“You’re giving me a plant... for me to take care of?” he states, to make sure he’s got that right.

“Yes.” Max kisses him sweetly. “Because I love you, but your Florence Nightingale syndrome is driving me insane.”

Oh.

Okay.

“Just make sure Roscoe doesn’t eat it.”

 

-

 

They spend the summer together, and they hide away on an island somewhere, with a private beach, and Roscoe loves to kick up sand by the ocean, and Max’s hair shines like liquid gold in the sun.

Golden hair, bright blue eyes, pirate smile.

Lewis thinks this is what happiness feels like.

 

-

 

As the season goes on, Lewis realizes that he’s amassed quite a collection of Max facts.

Max likes to watch war documentaries and trashy reality shows, which Lewis must admit he likes too, and they have inadvertently become quite invested in the love lives of a group of strangers stranded on an island.

Max likes to look at his tattoos, and dot little kisses over the cross on his back and trace each letter of ‘Still I Rise’ with excruciating, feathery touches, until Lewis cannot take it anymore and has to pin him down under him and kiss him senseless to wipe the knowing smirk off his face.

Max is driven and stubborn and blunt to a fault, but he never gives up and he’s always honest, and he’s sneaked his way unannounced into Lewis’ heart and made him forget all about the expiration date.

On Tuesdays, Lewis sits next to Max on the kitchen floor and they facetime with Max’s sister and she makes him promise they’ll visit when the season is over, and baby Luka sticks his chubby little finger in the camera and babbles ‘Whoo-wis’ and Max never stops complaining about the unfairness of not being the favourite uncle anymore.

 

-

 

If Angela thinks it’s strange that Lewis brings a potted plant halfway across the world for the North American races, she doesn’t mention a thing, despite the fact that she’s had to wait an extra hour at the airport as he’d tried to convince the people at the US customs that ‘no, this is not a cannabis plant’, and ‘no, he's not trying to smuggle an exotic species into the country’, and ‘you see, he couldn’t just leave Florence—that’s the plant’s name—unsupervised for three whole weeks because she needs to be watered every five days and it’s shedding season, and he can’t just let her die all alone in Monaco, can he?’

And he catches the odd look the customs officers share, and he knows full well that tomorrow there’s going to be a brand-new article in the tabloids about the many eccentricities of Lewis Hamilton, but in the end they let him and Florence go, and he breathes a little sigh of relief, and Angela still doesn’t say a word about it.

Max, on the other hand, has plenty to say about it when he walks into his hotel room late at night and stares at Florence with a confused look on his face.

“You’ve brought the plant with you?”

Lewis sighs. Even his boyfriend thinks he’s crazy.

“She needs water. What was I supposed to do?”

Max chuckles. “I don’t know,” he says a little sarcastically. “Ask the housekeeper to water the plants while we’re gone? Or a friend? Or your sister?”

Huh. Okay.

Maybe there were lots of other solutions.

So what if he feels personally responsible for the plant?

“Well, they don’t know how to do it properly,” he argues.

Max snorts, crossing his arms with an amused smile.

“You can’t use too much water otherwise the leaves will turn black, and if you use too little, they will become brittle and fall off—”

“Lewis—”

“And it’s our plant, and you trusted me to take care of it, and I promised you I would—”

“Lewis—”

“—and I’m not just going to let her die on my watch.”

“Lew—”

“What?”

Max grins with the brightness of a thousand suns.

“I love you too.”

Oh.

 

-

 

As with any battle of epic proportions, the title decision is delayed until the final race, in true cinematic suspense. Max agrees to Lewis’ plan to spend the whole weekend apart, each confined to his corner of the ring as they prepare for the final combat. But as Lewis tosses and turns in his much-too-large hotel bed on the night before the race, unable to get any rest, he regrets his decision entirely.

“Roscoe misses you,” Lewis announces as he slips into Max’s hotel room, dragging along the grumpy bulldog who clearly did not like to be roused from his sleep for this night-time excursion.

“Oh, does he?” Max grins amusedly as Lewis deposits Roscoe at the foot of the bed, in the pile of crumpled bedsheets. Max always sleeps incredibly still, and he barely disturbs the sheets, so Lewis is willing to bet that his boyfriend hasn’t been able to sleep either.

Lewis kicks off his shoes and plops down on the bed while Max pets the sleepy bulldog, earning himself a contented lick before Roscoe turns away and snores peacefully.

He pulls Max by the waist to lie beside him, their bodies melding together in an embrace. He buries his nose in the crook of Max’s neck, the familiar scent instantly washing away his anxiousness.

“I don’t think he knows how to sleep without you, anymore,” he mumbles, holding onto the peaceful feeling that washes over him.

Max hums, his lips twisting into a smile, soft and relaxed.

“Poor Roscoe.”

Lewis smiles as well.

“I’m nervous about tomorrow,” he confesses. Nervous, might not be the right word. He’s agitated, and restless, and pumped-up. He can’t wait for tomorrow.

It never gets old, no matter how many titles he wins—the thrill of chasing a victory, of having a world record within reach.

Winning is in his blood. Racing is what he lives and breathes.

Nothing could ever come close.

“I’m nervous, too.”

Almost nothing.

“I love you, Max,” he breathes in a whisper, and Max’s breath hitches as he laces their fingers together. Sometimes, he can’t believe how different they look. Their intertwined hands clash like night and day. But Lewis thinks there’s something poetic about it, how their worlds have come to revolve around each other, pulled by this inescapable gravity. The sun and the moon. Yin and Yang. “Whatever happens tomorrow, we’re going back to a house with eight world titles.”

Max laughs, and he feels the roar where their chests are pressed together. Skin to skin. Heart to heart. Little lion man.

Max kisses the bridge of his nose, then softly on his lips, and he grins, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

“May the best man win.”

Okay, Lewis. It’s hammertime.