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Kept On The Inside (Sometimes A Shadow Wins)

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‘Yeah mate, she didn’t want me to meet her friends or even tell them that we were dating so you know’, George shrugged, taking a sip of his beer as Charles nodded.

Lando picked at the lifting corner of his own beer. His palms sweating and a sick feeling in his stomach as he listened to George talk about the girl he had been seeing, the one he technically hadn’t broken up with because according to him, there was no hope for a relationship.

‘Sorry mate’, Charles sighed, clinking his bottle against Georges as music filter on to the patio they were occupying as Alex returned, falling into the boot beside George, ‘The not wanting people to know is a huge red flag’.

‘Yeah, you dropped the ball on that one G, I told you that it was an issue’, Alex pointed out, voice bordering on ‘I told you so’ territory and Lando felt as if he was going to throw up.

A red flag.

His friends were deeming not telling your friends or family about someone you were seeing as a red flag, and the words hit too close to home. Making his chest constrict as he tried to remember how to breath.

Lando had limited experience with dating. Always the awkward friend. The one that was too small and childish looking for anyone to want to date unlike George, Alex and Charles who had grown into their bodies faster than he had. And that was before he even added to the mix the fact that he was bisexual after figuring out that no, not everyone wanted to kiss their best friend.

Even when he was winning titles, Lando didn’t attract people the way that the others did.

His heart was beating hard in his chest and his mouth was dry as he forced himself to ask the question clinging to the tip of his tongue.

‘Why is that such a red flag?’.

George and Charles shared a look that made Lando want to get up and walk away from their booth. It was a look he had seen his friends give him, and each other about him many times before. A look that was patronising. A look that said, ‘poor innocent Lando’. Honestly, he was sure they never meant it to come across the way it did, but it only made Lando burn with insecurity and shame. Making him horribly aware of the fact that most young people his age had managed to have at least one or more serious relationships on top of flings, and that was before adding in athletes or celebrities his age.

The look always made him feel like a child. Not a grown up trying to navigate a career in the spotlight while struggling with the fact the sport he loved would hang him out to dry if he ever came out and trying to start his own business.

He didn’t see any of the others doing that at twenty-one, but that didn’t matter because to them, he was still the baby of the group due to his lack of experience with dating.

If only they knew why he was asking the question as Charles gestured to George to answer it.

‘When they don’t want you to meet their friends or family or even tell them about you, that means they just want sex. That the ‘relationship’, George explained using air quotes on the word, ‘is one of convince and you’re nothing more than a good fuck and pretty face to them’.

Lando felt as if his heart stopped as he looked away from George, nodding in understanding because the pain in his chest made him want to curl up and cry.

‘Exactly! If you want that relationship, be up front about it, don’t string people along like she was doing to George’, Charles agree, pushing his shoulder against Lando’s, ‘Never settle for less Lando, only give your attention to those who want you, not your pretty face’.

Lando smiled weakly, reaching for his beer and letting its bitter taste of the alcohol wash away the bile that was rising in his throat.

‘So, if you were dating someone, and it’s passed say….the six month mark and they still don’t want to tell anyone, that’s…that’s bad right?’, Lando asked, hoping his voice wasn’t as wobbly as he felt.

He could feel tears pricking his eyes as his phone buzzed in his pocket. Without even looking he knew who it was, the only person that wasn’t here that contacted him regularly.

The person who was waiting for him at home. Probably curled up on the couch in a cosy sweater with a steaming mug of decaf coffee that they had stocked in his press for nights like these. Nights where no one was meant to be looking for them or interrupting them. Only Lando had forgotten Charles was in England for some PR gala and he’d agreed to meet them at the pub.

George whistled at his comment, downing the last of his drink as the others did the same, glancing at his watch and Lando took another swig of his beer knowing they would be parting ways soon.

‘Yeah mate, that’s pretty bad. That’s not a relationship, that’s a long-term booty call’, George shrugged, standing up to grab his jacket and wallet, leaving a few bills on the table, ‘Right my taxi is outside, so I’ll see you blokes at the next race okay?’.

Lando nodded, letting the words wash over him as he stood, hugging George and the others goodbye as they started split ways. Using Uber to get himself a lift and tucking himself further into his hoodie as he stood on the curb as George folded gangly limbs into a taxi and Lily arrived for Alex, giving them peace signs before disappearing.

‘Uber on the way?’, Charles asked, fiddling with his designer coat before checking his phone, ‘You can crash with me if you want? Free room service, well not free, but fuck Ferrari’.

Lando let out a soft laugh, nudging Charles as the other grinned wickedly at him before a car pulled up for him.

‘I guess this is my ride’, Charles sighed, pouting a little before hugging Lando tight again and heading to his car, ‘Oh, and tell your friend that their ‘relationship’ is a bust, it’ll save them a lot of pain’.

Lando swallowed, forcing a smile on his face and a nod as Charles climbed into the car. Leaving Lando alone under the streetlight outside the pub, the cold stinging his cheeks and his mind running a thousand miles a minute as he watched the little car move across the map on his phone.

Charles and George’s words ringing through his ears as he waited. Listening to the music spilling from the pub and the laughter, watching a couple stumble hand in hand down the street. Stopping to kiss sweetly before continuing their journey, hands held tight and swinging between them and Lando ached.

He wanted that.

He wanted to be able to hold his partner’s hand and show everyone that hey, there was someone who loved him. Someone amazing and sweet with a heart of gold that made Lando feel special. A person who never made him feel lesser because of his age or experiences, that liked his quirks and didn’t just humour him.

Lando wanted everyone to see how happy he was but in the last few weeks things had begun to change.

Lando had been so sure, so confident, that Michael loved him.

Now as he stood on the curb, watching Kyle pull up in the Uber, Lando wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

He greeted the driver automatically; thankful he didn’t seem to recognise him or want to talk. Just inputting Lando’s address and starting the journey. Leaving Lando to gaze out the window at the blur of lights, cityscapes as it started to drizzle.

If Charles and George were here they’d call him dramatic. Tease him about looking like a teenager pretending to be in a sad music video. Lando would laugh and tell them to fuck off.

But now….now he was alone.

Alone with his thoughts and a forty-minute drive back to his house. All the time in the world to think about red flags and warning signs, and things he had missed.

Michael was always sweet with him. Gentle and patient, never rushing him or laughing when Lando stumbled over words or giggled uncontrollably about things that others rolled their eyes at.

When they had first met, Lando had been a wreck. He’d been hiding behind a stack of tyres at the back of one of the storage garages, hands balled into fists and trying to remember how to breath because his lungs had seemed to have forgotten how to function. He had thought he was dying, either of embarrassment from his horrifying performance or some unknown condition that was killing him.

Michael had been hiding from Daniel who was in a foul mood as he struggled with the Renault at the start of his second season. Frustrated and angry with himself, doubting his move from Redbull and lashing out. Michael had left him with a destroyed driver’s room.

And then he had stumbled across Lando. Taking the time to sit with Lando, never touching him, just sitting cross legged on the ground and breathing in an obvious way for Lando to follow until Lando could feel his fingers again and was giving him a shy, embarrassed look.

He had sat there with Lando.

Never pushing him or asking him questions. Only asking if he was okay and if he needed him to get someone for him, offering him some water and crackers from his jacket as Lando stumbled over words. They had sat talking until Daniel rang Michael’s phone, and in the distance, Charlotte was calling for Lando.

Lando had thanked him, brushing fingers with Michael and the other had simply offered him a warm smile as he had asked for Lando’s phone, typing in his number and departing with, ‘If you ever need company like this again, text me’.

It had been the beginning of a distant, yet soothing friendship. One built on secret smiles and meme sent late at night. Messages of encouragement or ranting about friends and family. Nights of using Netflix party to watch movies and tv shows together when miles apart because the other couldn’t sleep, or Lando’s mind was racing faster than any car he had ever driven and needed a distraction.

It was a slow build.

Both torn in different directions due to being on different teams but clinging to the knowledge that next year they’d be in the same garage.

Until one night it had changed.

Just before the last race of the season when everything was winding down. Lewis had his seventh championship, and Lando and Michael had managed to end up in a corner of hotel bar together in a mix of different personnel. They hadn’t been close at first, maintaining a distance as they talked. Hidden by low lights and strategically placed plants until Michael shifted closure so his hand was on the small of Lando’s back. Claiming the music to be too loud when lips pressed against his ear, and Lando chewed at his straw nervously until the lights hit them right and he got lost in those warm brown eyes.

They still argued to this day about who kissed who.

Lando joked once that Michael had been charmed by his good looks into kissing. Only to be surprised when the other agreed, peppering his face with sweet kisses as Lando giggled under him, hands in Michael’s hair and feeling as if the world was better and brighter place with him by his side.

It was easy falling in love with Michael.

Nothing changed. Movie nights became date nights. The move from Renault to McLaren gave them more excuses to spend time together. No one questioning them walking into the MTC together as long as they took separate cars and claimed they met in the carpark. They shared the same floor in hotels, making it easy for Michael or Lando to sneak into the others rooms and they could steal moments in drivers rooms or behind tyre stacks to exchange kisses and promises that Lando would make it off track in one peace.

Michael was like the sun, and Lando had easily gotten caught up in his warmth and how he made him feel.

He hadn’t even questioned it when two weeks into their relationship Michael had asked to talk about if they wanted to tell people, or the reasoning behind it.

‘Everything with Daniel is so tense due to the move. I don’t want him to think he’s losing me if things are like they were during those first few months at Renault….I want to not have to look over my shoulder when spending time with you. I want it to be us, just us’, Michael had explained, arms around Lando as the other sat in his lap.

And to Lando it made sense.

Daniel would have to find his footing in McLaren. He was coming into a team where Lando already had established himself, and he was no longer a rookie that Daniel could automatically place above. He was away from his family due to the pandemic, and homesick. Michael was his person, and Lando didn’t want to make it a case where Daniel felt Lando was taking everything from him if he did end up struggling with the car at first.

Then there was the fact that Lando had endured so much publicity any time he interacted with or looked at a girl. Fan-pages dedicated to digging into his private life and ruining potential flirtations by exposing his possible partners online before Lando even got to ask them on a date.

Keeping it between them would ensure that they got to be more than a brief relationship, and Lando had desperately wanted that. He’d agreed to not tell his friends or family, no suspicious Instagram interactions or date night post. No public displays of affection, and definitely no telling Daniel.

‘At least until we know that everything between us is serious’, Michael had added, cupping his cheeks and kiss him, soft and full of a warmth that had made Lando melt against him. Boneless in his arms and already moving on from the conversation when Michael shifted to push him into the couch.

That had been over six months ago.

Their relationship was hurtling towards having last a year, and still Lando couldn’t tell anyone about Michael. The other giving him a pained smile and a ‘not yet’ when he had brought up telling his parents only weeks before.

It had led to their first fight.

He had asked if Michael was embarrassed of him, and if that was why. If secretly he didn’t want anyone to know because Lando was what the media painted him as; a brash and petty child.

Michael had tried to reassure him, cupping his face and telling him he loved him. That he was proud t be with Lando but he needed more time. Daniel was struggling with the car, and needed his support. That he didn’t want to risk meeting Lando’s parents incase his Dad let something slip when he came to a race with Lando, and how Daniel would be hurt not hearing it from him.

Lando had snapped.

Angry and frustrated, tears in his eyes as he had pushed the other away, and moved towards the door of Michael’s hotel room.

‘There’s two of us in this relationship Michael. Not three. Daniel can’t control everything we do’.

Michael had tried to stop him, but Lando was quick and small. Out the door and down the hallway before the other even made it to the door of his room. Ignoring the messages and calls, the soft knocks on his door as he packed for his early flight back to England. Michael heading to Monaco with Daniel, and Lando to his empty home with Michael’s hoodies tossed over his couch and his favourite protein snacks in his presses.

The silence had last three days before Lando stumbled down the stairs after gaming online with Max to find Michael awkwardly standing in the living room. The two of them just staring at each other before Lando was moving forward to wrap his arms around the other. A litany of apologies falling from each of their lips, and Michael holding him close, hand buried in Lando’s curls.

They had left the argument in the past, but it still weighed on Lando’s mind.

He still wanted to be able to at least tell his parents that he had someone. That they didn’t need to worry about him being lonely or trying to set him up with their friend’s children.

‘We’re here’, Kyle’s voice drew Lando from his thoughts as he realised they were idling on the curb outside his gates.

He thanked him as he got out. Pulling the sleeves of his hoodie down over his hands and bracing the cold wind as he walked towards his gates. Letting himself in the side gate with his code before making his way to the front of the house. Windows dark, Michael’s car parked next to Lando’s towards the back, and normally that would make him smile but tonight he was just tired.

He was tired, and hurt, and wondering if anything they had meant something to Michael or if he had jumped into this with stars in his eyes and naivety in his heart.

Lando swallowed all that down as he opened the door, leaving it behind on that curb by the pub. Letting it melt away because he didn’t want to fight today. He didn’t want Michael to ask why he was holding himself as if he had lost everything or why he looked sad.

He just wanted Michael.

So he closed the door on his anger and fear. He buried his sadness as he toed off his shoes, made his way to where a soft glow was coming from the living room. Soft sounds of the television floating down the hallway, and he round the corner, Michael was stretched out on the couch.

His smile soft and wanting, and bright as he turned to gaze at Lando. An arm held out as Lando smiled back, moving to crawl from the end of the couch into Michael arms. His chest against Michael’s, head resting on the others arm as Michel’s other had soothed down his ribs to his hip.

‘Hi gorgeous’, Michael smiled and Lando felt everything else melt away, ‘Have fun?’.

‘Yeah’, Lando nodded, reaching a hand up to touch Michael’s cheek, ‘Missed you though’.

Michael chuckled softly, his chest rumbling against Lando’s as he leaned in to kiss him. Soft, just lips brushing, and Lando sighing into the kiss.

‘I missed you too’, Michael whispered back, tucking Lando’s head under his chin and pressing a kiss to his curls.

Lando closed his eyes and tried to ignore the words replaying in his mind and the pitying looks.

How could someone who held him so soft and tender consider him just a long term booty call?

His friends had to be wrong.

They had to be.

Or he didn’t know how he would survive this.

                                                            *

‘He’s such a little prick’.

Daniel was seething. Pacing back and forth in his driver’s room like a caged animal. Frustration and hurt rolling of him in waves and Michael wished he knew the right words to say to help him.

If there was one thing he hated, it was seeing anyone he loved suffering, and Daniel was one of his oldest friendships. A brother that life gave him and someone he would protect till his last breath.

Even when he was like this.

Even when his frustration was directed at the man that held Michael’s heart in his hands.

Michael tried to stay out of the weird tense rivalry that Daniel and Lando had developed. No one really sure what exactly went wrong for the two men to be so awkward and distanced. Everyone had expected a little hesitation between them at first but had bet on their joking interactions from the last two seasons blooming into at least a good working relationship.

That had started to happen until Daniel struggled to control the car, and Lando started scoring in the points consistently. Collecting podiums, and points and maturing into a driver that managed to finish within the top ten or top five most weekends.

Michael knew what was playing through Daniel’s mind.

He knew he was having flashbacks to a different team. A different teammate. A friendship that had started to go sour when Daniel kept getting outraced. When he was pushed from a priority to a tool to help someone else win. How it had messed with Daniel’s self esteem and his view of his racing until he felt he needed to escape.

Renault had been healing towards the end.

The first year a struggle of building back up his confidence. No one outside of his immediate circle knew that behind the smiles and the jokes, Daniel had been suffering. And Michael had had to watch his friend fade until he started finding a new driver.

Michael would be the first to admit that it made him protective, more so than usual, of his friend.

He wanted Daniel to be happy and free of that dark place.

So, he sat and listened.

Even though he wanted to argue back with Daniel. Bit his tongue to stop himself saying that Lando was awkward, and his own insecurities made him phrase things in ways that seemed cutting and blunt that drove Daniel insane. Even when it tore him up inside to sit there like he was now as Daniel spewed curse and frustrations tied to Lando’s name that made Michael want to yell, he let him rant.

‘You got closer to him this week mate. It just takes time, you know that’, Michael reassured, tossing the other a bottle of fresh electrolyte mix, ‘Lando’s just trying to get a rise, probably thinks you’re threatening his seat’.

Daniel nodded, sipping at the drink, and running a hand through his curls as he deflated. Sinking into the couch and sighing with his head tipped back as Michael swallowed back the wave of sickness that rolled through him at his own words.

A little voice in the back of his head telling him that if he just told Daniel, he could stop this charade. He could stop everything and try get them to sit down and at least get along civilly.

Instead, he bit his lip.

‘I know, mate, I know. He’s not being a cunt because he hates me’, Daniel groaned, running a hand over his face, ‘But it’s so fucking infuriating trying to deal with the goddamn car, and expectations without him piling shit on me. He’s an insecure git’.

Michael knew just how insecure Lando was.

He’d heard those admission whispered in the dark of his bedroom. Lando lying on his chest, hand on his heart as he had talked about never feeling like he was enough. Admitted that he felt abnormal, and out of place even now among his friends. Forever the child to be babied and pitied, the idiot who couldn’t control his mouth.

Michael knew because he had held Lando close. Kissed reassurances and words of kindness into his skin and wiped tears from his cheeks.

He tried everyday to show Lando that he was worth more than anyone gave him credit for. Yet he sat here, listening, and nodding along with Daniel’s ranting. A bitter taste on his tongue and words stuck in his throat.

‘Enough about me, and this shitshow’, Daniel groaned, turning to gaze at Michael, ‘Where did you disappear to the other night Mikey? Hot date? You missed schnitzel night’.

Michael swallowed back his nerves. He’d forgotten all about schnitzel night or that he was meant to be at Daneil’s when he had been waiting for Lando to come home.

They hadn’t had much time to spend together since the fight, and Michael had felt the guilt welling in him every time Lando looked at him when barely concealed hurt.

He’d needed time with him.

Time to hold him and make sure Lando was okay. The argument following them around like a storm cloud, and Michael knew the other didn’t understand his hesitation. Or why he wanted to protect Daniel so much and keep his focus on racing, and not on the possible reaction of Daniel thinking Michael was betraying him.

Skipping schnitzel night had been worth it to see Lando smile, to get to hold him in his arms and kiss away the worries that haunted him even if it was only for a moment.

‘More like a night call’, Michael joked, feeling his stomach roll as Daniel laughed.

The other tossed a sock at him, Michael batting it away as Daniel waggled his eyebrows.

‘You ol’ dog you’, Daniel hollered, ‘Look at you getting laid, nice for some. Is she on speed dial? Does she have a friend?’.

Michael laughed, tossing the sock back at the other as he went to respond.

A knock on the slightly open door drawing him out of it as he turned to gaze at Lando, pale face and peeking into the room. Eyes avoiding both of theirs as he look in Daniel’s direction, his shoulders curled protectively in hunch and Michael’s heart sank.

He knew he had heard him.

‘Dan, um, sorry to interrupt but um, Charlotte is looking for you’, Lando stumbled over his words, energy gone from his voice and tired sounding.

Daniel nodded, getting up from the couch and slipping his trainers on.

‘Thanks mate, good drive today’, Daniel smiled, a crooked thing, as he clapped Lando on the shoulder and made his way out of the room. Leaving Lando standing awkwardly in the doorway, and Michael sitting, glued to his seat.

There was a tense silence hanging over them.

‘Lando…I..’, Michael cleared his throat, chest aching as he moved towards the other. Taking a wounded breath as Lando flinched away a little from him.

‘It’s…whatever, I get it, got to…to keep a cover up. It’s fine’, Lando spoke softly, and he looked so small, huddle in a team hoodie, hands shoved in his pocket.

‘Just, you know right? You know I love you? I’m just doing this to protect us and him’, Michael spoke softly, reaching out to tug Lando behind the door and into his arms.

The younger didn’t return the hug. He just rested his head on the others chest, breathing softly as Michael ran his hands over him before Lando looked up at him tiredly and smiled, kissing his jaw.

‘I know’, Lando whispered, pecking Michael’s lips before pulling back, ‘I…I’m meeting Charles and them for some down time before tomorrow’s race. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?’.

Michael nodded, stepping back as Lando went to fiddle with his sleeves before he stopped, reaching out to hold him close once more. Burying his face in his curls.

‘It’s meant to be wet tomorrow’, Michael muttered, a tightness in his chest.

There was always a heavy feeling that came with wet races. Michael knowing that all it took was one wet patch. One wrong twitch of the car for the race to end in disaster and all he ever wanted was his friends home safe. All he wanted was for Lando to climb back out of that car in one piece.

And Lando, bless his heart, knew. Wrapping his arms around Michael tightly for a moment, letting the older draw comfort from his touch before pulling back to cup his cheeks.

‘I’ll be okay, promise’, Lando offered him a small smile, kissing his cheek and before Michael could say anything, he was gone.

Leaving Michael alone with the heavy feeling in his chest, and the knowledge that things weren’t okay between.

They probably wouldn’t be until Michael could work up the courage to tell Daniel he was dating Lando.

It would be easy, if terrifying to do, but as he fell back into the couch, waiting for Daniel to return so he could sort out any kinks before tomorrow’s race, the words were locked away in his chest.

It wasn’t the right time, he told himself.

A little voice in the back of his mind asking him if there would ever be a right time for this.

                                                            *

Lando sighed as he watched the rain fall through the window of his driver’s room. Watching as mechanics and personnel flitted around outside, waiting on news on whether or not there would be a race today.

His phone blowing up with the group chat. Charles betting on a delayed start and wondering if he could risk a run to the loo. George making a joke with eggplant emojis and Alex rolling his eyes, telling them to focus on the race because next year he would beat their asses in a Williams.

Lando hadn’t written back.

His mind fracturing between last night’s conversations, the overheard conversation between Michael and Daniel, and his strategy for the wet race.

He had thought hanging out with Charles, Max and George to play a few rounds of different games would help him focus. Make him forget about being referred to as a booty call, and then told he was loved within the same breath. His heart aching, and his hands shaking from the cold despite being inside and wrapped in warm hoodie over his race suit.

His mind kept going back to last nights conversation.

Charles asking if Lando had passed the advice along to his friend about the girl stringing him along, and Lando all too happy to throw Max Fewtrell under the bus to avoid the others realising that ‘friend’, was him.

He’d have to apologise to Max at a later date. Unluckily, he was the only one of his friends as awkward as Lando and a believable one for this type of relationship.

‘They’re saying they don’t want to tell anyone because their best friend is…is going through a rough break up and she thinks it will hurt them’, Lando had explained, stumbling over phrasing and words. Almost saying Daniel and Michael’s names at one point. His friends buying the hesitation as his awkwardness.

‘Sounds like she’s in love with this friend’, Max scoffed, kicking Charles’s ass at Mario Kart as the Monegasque cursed, ‘If the breakup is over a few months? She’s stringing him along until she can make a move on the friend’.

Lando had felt as if he’d been shot with Max’s words.

It felt as if a wound had opened in his chest and he was still bleeding from it now as he watched the rain fall because who wouldn’t love Daniel?

Daniel was everything Lando wasn’t.

He was strong and brave. Confident and outgoing, the life and soul of the party but he was also kind and caring. Constantly sticking up for everyone and standing against the FIA and the media in ways that made Lando sick just to think about doing.

He knew Michael loved him, but could that compare to what he had with Daniel?

Afterall, Daniel was the main reason Michael had given him on why they couldn’t tell anyone.

‘They’re going ahead with the race, time to get out there’, Jon popped his head in the door, umbrella in hand and worry on his face.

Lando nodded, shrugging out of his hoodie for a warm jacket and smushing a beanie over his curls before grabbing his water bottle.

‘It’s the FIA, are we surprised?’, Lando snorted, voicing opinions he wouldn’t dare say near a microphone. Maybe he would get the courage someday when he felt as if he wasn’t constantly at risk of cancellation or tiptoeing around sponsors to keep his seat.

‘No. Take it easy today. Third place in the championship would be nice, but you losing a limb would be not nice’, Jon joked, but Lando knew his trainer was worried.

Everyone was when it rained.

‘Head down, eyes shut, can’t lose’, Lando teased, watching as Jon groaned, shoving him out from under the umbrella as Lando laughed, bumping into Michael as him and Daniel were leaving his drivers room, ‘Sorry!’.

Michael just shook his head fondly. His eyes soft as they trailed over Lando for a moment as he held an umbrella for Daniel as the other fixed his earphones.

‘No problem, safe race’, Michael commented, reaching out to fist bump him before ushering Daniel through the paddock towards the garage.

Jon doing the same with Lando, talking to him about the race and handing him hand warmers from his pockets when Lando’s knuckles turned a painful red despite only being outside for a few moments.

The process of getting suited and booted and into the car was a rush of dashing out of the rain and trying to adjust visors. Mechanics and engineers filtering through his radio and sitting like a duck waiting for lights and then the chaos began into turn one. Lando managing to avoid a skidding Charles who hit the gravel but was ultimately okay, nabbing fourth place from the other with ease.

Lewis and Max were fighting for P1. Both playing a game of chicken until Max, surprisingly gave way due to his twitchy rear. Bottas in front of him steady and efficient and Lando was happy to chill in fourth place. Keeping the others behind him and leaving distance for reaction in case of an accident it as it got wetter.

Visibility, by lap fifteen, had reduced greatly and he had complained to as much before it happened.

Daniel coming up the inside out of nowhere in a mist of rain and Lando twitching with the fright. Unable to correct his steering before he hit a particularly wet patch, and instead of turning, he spun. His car driving into the back of Daniels at a sideways angle, Lando skidding as he tried to hit the breaks but slamming into the walls and feeling something snap in his chest as his head bounced off the wheel. Elbows aching from slapping against the inside of the cockpit.

Everything was ringing.

He could hear his own heart beating and tasted copper in his mouth as he tried to get his body to respond.

Daniel was somewhere beside him. He could hear him yelling, a hand on his helmet but Lando could hear what he was saying as he let his head flop backwards for a moment. Daniel shaking his head and walking away as medical staff surrounded the car and by the time they had pulled him out the world had stopped spinning for moment. He waved them off before waving in the direction of the fans and letting himself be led to the back of the medical car for a check.

They deemed him reasonably fit to return to the garage to change. Warning him to come to medical if he got any signs of a headache or intense aches.

Lando grimaced through the ache of forming bruises and nodded at their words. Swallowing back the bitter, coopery taste in his mouth as they dropped him back in the paddock.

The team were silent as he arrived back. Nodding at him, some clapping him on the back but all Lando wanted was Michael as he made his way to his drivers room. Jon at his side, worried and silent but all Lando could focus on was how terrified he had been and how much he wanted Michael to hold him.

He didn’t care if anyone saw them.

He needed his boyfriend as Jon went to grab some ointments and bruise creams from his bag in the garage.

Lando could hear Daniel’s raised voice next door, the sound of a door slamming as he reached for his phone. Not even thinking before hitting dial on the number of the one person that made him feel safe as he sat down, cradling his ribs as his chest ached, and he wheezed a little.

The taste of cooper back in his mouth.

The phone connecting and before Lando could even say a word, Michael was talking.

‘What the fuck Lando?’.

Michael was annoyed, and Lando felt the tears burning in his eyes as he rubbed his chest.

‘Michael, I need…’, Lando began but his words were choked as he moved away to cough so a moment, feeling a tickle in his throat.

‘No, Daniel needs me. Because you couldn’t let him overtake and had to fuck this up’, Michael sighed, disappointed, ‘He’s fucking fuming Lando. And you wonder why I don’t tell him when you act like this?’.

‘Michael, please’, Lando whimpered.

His chest really fucking hurt and why was it sore to breath.

‘I can’t do this with you right now Lando. Daniel needs me. I’ll….I’ll text you later’, Michael stated, cutting off the call.

Lando stared at his phone for a moment before he began to cough, doubling over and covering his mouth with his hand as the episode seemed to last forever. His lungs burning, and the wheezing from his chest worrying until he pulled away at a wetness on his hand.

His hand that had blood on it.

His eyes staring in disbelief and brain panicking. His body unable to move before he was retching, cooper filling his mouth and hands trying to catch it as he vomited up blood.

‘Alright, I grabbed the- holy fucking hell. Somebody get medical’, Jon was yelling, grabbing a towel and suddenly on his knees in front of Lando. He was wiping at his face, his hands, but Lando was trembling. Unable to look away from the bright red stains on the white towel before he was coughing again, panicking as he tried to swallow back the blood trickling up his throat and trying to ask Jon for Michael.

All he wanted was Michael.

                                                                        *

Michael had followed Daniel to the garage after he had hung up. Silencing his phone and shoving it into his bag as he went to find his friend.

Daniel had been hurt.

Confused and fuming. His ribs bruised but otherwise unharmed. Shaken from the crash and annoyed at Lando for the accident before declaring he was going to go talk to the garage. He wanted to know if it was really an accident before he accidently ran his mouth to the press because he was finally doing well, and Lando had caused them both to crash.

And as much as Michael wanted to be with Lando and check he was okay; Daniel came first when it came to racing. His job was to protect Daniel and his body. It pained him not to flit next door and pull the other into a hug after the terrifying crash, but he had to focus.

No matter how much he ached to be with his boyfriend, Michael had a job to do, and they had agreed not to be obvious or run to each other at times like this to keep their relationship under wraps.

So, he moved to find Daniel, nodding at Jon as the other trainer exited the garage with a bag in hand. The other giving him a quick thumbs up that settled his nerves a little.

The crash had been terrifying.

Michael had had to watch the man he loved, and his best friend’s cars tangle together and slide into barriers. The media jumping on Daniel’s pained breathing, and on Lando not moving or responding in the cockpit. Replaying the moment over and over until Michael had had to look away. A relieved ‘he’s out of the car, and walking’, letting him know that Lando was fine before Daniel had made it back to the garage and his focus shifted.

There would be time to check on Lando later.

He’d slip into the others room and double check his bruises. He’d kiss them softly and hold ice packs to sore ribs and dress him in his softest hoodie and hold him close. Kiss reassurances and thank you’s for being alive into his face and let Lando use him as a teddy bear as he tried to take the pain away.

He’d even help him cheat on his diet, but for now, he shoved those thoughts away. Sliding in beside Daniel in the garage as the other drivers got ready to restart the race.

‘Visibility was poor, he didn’t see you coming and flinched, see?’, Andreas was talking Daniel through the crash, showing slowed down versions of the crash, Daniel nodding, ‘He hit this puddle and spun, unluckily you were in his path but you can see he did try break but with the conditions…’.

‘He wouldn’t have been able to right the car’, Daniel finished, shoulders relaxing, ‘Thank fuck he was moving. When I stopped to check on him, his head was against the wheel and he didn’t respond’.

Michael rested a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. No matter how angry he had been at the initial crash, he could hear the relief and concern in the others voice.

‘I’m surprised medical let him…’, Daniel started but his sentence was cut off but a yell and mechanics sprinting down the paddock towards medical, others towards Lando’s drivers room and Michael felt his heart sink.

‘What’s happening?’, Andres yelled, rushing forward and grabbing mechanic that stumbled from the direction the shouting was coming from.

‘It’s Lando…it’s not…he needs an ambulance’, the mechanic stuttered, pale and looking sick and Michael was running before he even realised it. Daniel moving with him as they pushed past the crowds to the driver’s door, Andreas on their heels.

Jon was holding Lando.

Charlotte was crying holding an umbrella over them. Her hand shaking and Jon was no better. The man murmuring softly to the man in his arms who looked like a broken doll. Limp and lifeless. The only colour on his face the red smudged around his mouth. His eyes closed before they snapped open, his hands scrambling at Jon’s shoulder as he twisted his head, vomiting blood onto the pavement.

Michael could only stare in horror as the rain washed it away, and paramedic arrived, taking Lando from Jon’s hand as he stumbled towards them. Trying to get to Lando. Replaying that conversation on the phone in his mind, trying to remember if Lando had sounded wheezy.

A hand caught his wrist, tugging him backwards as he tried to reach Lando as they lowered him onto a gurney. Paramedics taking over and Jon holding his hand, running through the rain and Michael couldn’t help but release a wounded sob as he turned to who was holding him back.

Daniel.

Daniel who was looking pale and in shock, holding his wrist.

Daniel who was watching him curiously before he pulled him into his driver’s room.

‘I thought medical cleared him’, Michael managed to get out but felt as if he couldn’t breathe.

He should have been there.

He should have gone to Lando. He should be with him now. Lando must be terrified and confused, and Michael had denied him comfort.

Had he already been bleeding when he called Michael?

What if no one had found him?

Michael felt his knees go weak. Hands on his shoulders leading him to the couch, pushing him to sit down before they gently guided his head between his knees. A hand steady on his chest and a distant voice talking to him. Trying to lead him through breathing exercises but all he could think of was that he had failed Lando.

He had failed him and now, now he couldn’t go to him because no one knew.

No one knew that Lando wasn’t a co-worker.

He was Michael’s everything.

‘Mike, come on mate, breathe for me’, Daniel urged, rubbing his chest with his knuckles to try help his lungs, ‘Mate, I know it’s a shock, but he’ll be okay’.

Michael felt something break in him as he choked on a sob, fingers curling in his hair.

‘Don’t. You don’t know’, Michael managed to get out, words pained.

‘Don’t what mate? You’re not making any sense Mikey. You almost trampled Charlie to get to Lando. Now you’re freaking out’, Daniel sighed, cupping the back of Michael’s neck.

‘I fucked up. I need to go’, Michael stuttered, swallowing down tears as he tried to stand but Daniel was there. A solid wall of concern and support, holding him as Michael felt himself crumble.

‘Mike, you need to tell me what’s wrong. I can’t help if I don’t understand. Communication, remember? Aren’t you the one that stressed that between us when I was going through shit’, Daniel pointed out, standing back with his arms crossed and waiting.

He was right.

Michael had told him that.

He’d been the one to tell Daniel that when he was hiding from him.

And here he was.

Hiding the most important person in his life from his best friend out of fear.

Out of his own insecurities that he would fuck things up or hurt Daniel under misguided attempts to protect them both.

Michael had to tell him.

‘It wasn’t a booty call’, Michael whispered, looking at his hands, ‘I was with my boyfriend. We’re together almost a year, I love him’.

Daniel made an upset sound.

‘And you didn’t tell me? Why? Cause you thought I’d be a fucking homophobe?’, Daniel bit out, hurt and stepping away from Michael who was burning with guilt and shame.

‘I didn’t tell you because…because I didn’t want to hurt you. I saw how you’ve struggled since Redbull, especially with teammates….how was I meant to tell you I was with Lando when you were struggling?’, Michael looked up at Daniel, expecting betrayal but only finding anger, ‘You were struggling with the car, and with cracking his shell and I didn’t want you to think I was abandoning you for him. Or choosing him over you, when you haven’t found your footing. I was just trying to..’.

‘Trying to fucking what Michael?’, Daniel exploded, ‘Is that why the kid looked fucking devastated yesterday? Cause you’d rather let me bad mouth him when frustrated and believe he was a fucking one-night stand instead of manning up and telling me you were dating him?’.

Michael winced, looking down at his hands.

‘I was trying to protect you both’, Michael argued, knowing that that excuse had been weak the first time he gave it to Lando and even weaker now.

‘Great fucking job you did of that. I would have been fucking happy for you. I can separate on track from personal Michael, you know that. Don’t make this about me’, Daniel retaliated, ‘Does anyone know? You’re parents? His? Or were you using me as an excuse to hide because you felt it would never last’.

Michael stayed silent.

He had no answer.

No leg to stand on because Daniel was right,

Michael had been scared and using Daniel and wanting privacy was an excuse to keep him and Lando in the dark without having to navigate the world as a couple.

He was a coward.

‘Brilliant. Fucking brilliant Michael. I hope you’re a lucky cunt because I wouldn’t stay with someone that kept me a secret so long that when I was fucking coughing up blood they couldn’t be at my side’, Daniel spat, shaking his head as he grabbed his phone and headed towards the door, ‘I can’t even look at you right now. I’m going to go find out if your boyfriend is at a hospital or what’s going on since your so stuck in your own cowardice you can’t even ask or admit that he means something to you’.

The door slammed behind him as he left, and Michael fell apart.

Burying his face in his hands as he sobbed.

Lando was possibly bleeding out and he didn’t even have the courage to check on him after the crash because he had convinced himself that Daniel came first. He’d managed to use his friend as a shield to avoid admitting to everyone that he cared about Lando. Afraid of judgment and afraid of failure.

He was afraid that this would crash and burn around him so he kept Lando at a distance and used Daniel as an excuse.

Michael wasn’t sure if he could come back from this.

He just hoped Lando made it through so he could apologise and try to fix this.

                                                                        *

Everything was numb.

That was all he could think when he woke up.

Everything was numb.

Sluggish.

His eyes taking forever to open as he willed himself to look.

Had he fallen asleep somewhere weird again? It happened more often than not that he curled up and napped somewhere cosy only to wake up with numb limbs. Yet when his eyes finally opened, he was in a hospital room.

Jon half asleep in the chair beside his bed. Head drooped towards his chest, eyes fluttering, not fully asleep and bags under his eyes.

Lando remembered, as he saw a smudge of red on the white shirt peaking out of Jon’s jacket, that he had been vomiting blood. Terrified and alone. Thinking of the one person that usually made him feel comfort at times where he was unsure and hurting.

Even now, a little bit of hope was lodged in Lando’s chest as he looked around the room slowly. Waiting to land on Michael’s face, and only getting disappointment in return.

Lando cast his gaze up at the ceiling. Tears building in his eyes and this time he didn’t stop them because while whatever had been causing his pain was numb, his heart was breaking.

Michael wasn’t here, was all he could think.

Lando had been coughing up blood, and Michael still didn’t deem it important enough to break his secrecy to be here for him.

A dark part of himself wonder would he have attended his funeral if he had died.

The tears rolling down his face, and grief settling in his chest. He was tired. Tired of pretending to be okay with this relationship. If he could even call what they had a relationship because Charles and Max had been right.

Michael had never treated him as a partner.

Partners communicated. They compromised. They told their friends and family about each other because they were proud to be in love.

They didn’t hide them away with weak excuses and argue with you when you wanted to bring them home after nearly a year of dating.

He lifted a hand to cover him mouth to stifle the sobs. Not wanting to wake Jon because there was nothing anyone could do to make this pain stop. No medication or words that could heal what was broken inside him, to fix whatever it was about him that made Michael want to hide him.

‘Oh Lando, does it hurt?’, Charles’s voice came from the doorway, a small whisper but Lando heard it as the other wandered over, careful of Jon and settling on the bed, ‘Do you want me to get a nurse? You had surgery, if you’re in pain they need to know’.

Lando couldn’t stop the hot flush of tears or shame that washed over him as he shook his head, lifting his other hands to cover his face as he mumbled his reply.

‘Hey, whatever it is, it’s okay’, Charles soothed, reaching to take one of Lando’s hands in his and pull it softly from his face, ‘Just tell me’.

Lando couldn’t help but squeeze Charles’s hand, unable to stop the tears as he cried.

‘He’s not here, why isn’t he here?’.

Charles face went from confusion to devastated within moments as the realisation hit him and he swallowed back a small sound. His hand coming up to card through Lando’s hair softly as Lando cried.

‘I don’t know, I don’t know why they aren’t here, but I know you deserve more than whatever they are giving you’, Charles whispered back at him, his presence soothing as he held Lando’s hand.

No pity on his face.

Just protectiveness and concern, as he held his hand and played with his curls.

It numbed the edge of pain, but all he could think about was that Michael wasn’t here.

He closed his eyes as Charles settled on his side beside him. The other holding him as if he were really as delicate as he felt as Lando let himself drift off once more.

At least in his dreams, Michael cared about him.

                                                                        *

It had been two days.

Two days since Lando had been taken to hospital because he had fractured a rib that had nicked some of his organs and the impact of the crash had led to internal bleeding.

Daniel had told him that he had almost choked and drowned in his own blood on the way to the hospital.

It was one of the only things Daniel had said to him since he had stormed out of the drivers room. Only calling him to say that Lando was alive, and explaining what he knew before hanging up and Michael didn’t blame him.

He had hurt Daniel.

Not as badly as he had hurt Lando, but enough that his friend needed time to be able to comprehend Michael’s actions.

That was why it had surprised him when Daniel had knocked on the door of the hotel room Michael hadn’t left since he had drove himself there in silence after the race. The somber atmosphere of the podium without cheers or lifting of trophies stuck in his mind.

Daniel hadn’t spoken a word.

He’d just gestured for Michael to follow him. Leading him to his rented car and driving them away from the hotel.

It wasn’t until they took a certain turn off and Michael recognised the word for hospital in English that he realised where he was being brought and curled in on himself. His hands clammy and his mind racing because all he wanted was to see Lando, but he didn’t think the other would want him around.

They parked the car in silence.

The two of them sitting there for a moment before Daniel shifted, turning to face Michael. His gaze heavy and eyes sad as he watched him. Michael unable to look at the other, shame and guilt still swirling in his stomach.

‘You’re my best friend. I tell you everything’, Daniel stated softly.

‘I know, I’m so fucking sorry Dan’, Michael whispered, fiddling with his bracelets.

‘It’s not me you need to apologise to’, Daniel stated, ‘Don’t get me wrong. You’re a cunt and I’m still fucking pissed at you, but you’re boyfriend of almost a year. That no one knows about, has been in hospital for two days and you haven’t had the balls to visit him’.

Michael nodded, twisting the bracelets until they left redlines on his wrist.

‘I didn’t think he’d want to see me after everything…after what I did’, Michael admitted, turning to look at Daniel.

‘Mate, I don’t know what you did and honestly I just got to a point where I can look at you without wanting to punch you so I don’t want to know, but he woke up alone’, Daniel pointed out, undoing his seat belt and getting ready to exit the car, ‘The first person he wanted to see was probably you, and you weren’t there. So get your ass out of the car, go apologise to Lando and hope you still have a boyfriend after this clusterfuck’.

Michael didn’t argue back, taking a deep breath before exiting the car.

Lando might hate him now, and rightfully so, but he deserved the truth and an apology. Michael could give him that if nothing else.

It was a quiet walk to the ward where Lando was being kept. Daniel telling him in the elevator he had spent 24 hours in the ICU but was moved to a private room once he was stable. Max, George and Charles had been taking turns camping out while Lando’s family got some rest after coming over the day before to be with him. He led him down winding hallways until they reached a private wing, Daniel smiling and waving at a nurse who buzzed them through, directing them to the little waiting room attached to Lando’s .

Charles was sitting in a chair facing the open door. Max leaning against the wall, his eyes fixed on his phone before they glanced up to Daniel. Michael was pretty sure his eyes narrowed as they fell on him but all he could see was Lando through the open door. The other looking small from the distance between them, George sitting at the end of the bed. The two lost in conversation.

‘Go’, Daniel urged softly, nudging him with an elbow as he made his way to greet Max who was still glaring at Michael slightly.

He knew that the other probably knew. Either from Daniel or Lando himself.

He took unsteady steps forward. His heart in his mouth as he moved, hands shaking, but he never made it to the door.

‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?’, Charles’s accent was strong, voice icy as he stared at Michael. Standing up from his chair with a speed Michael didn’t expect, stumbling back as the Monegasque hurtled towards him, shoving him away from Lando’s room.

‘Charles, I…’, Michael tried but his words were cut off by a stinging slap that left him standing still, cheek stinging.

‘You fucking destroyed him. You have no place here’, Charles warned, Max now at his side, holding his arm gently as Charles shook with protective rage.

‘I think you should listen to Charles’, Max agreed, rubbing a hand down Charles’s arm softly as Charles glared, ‘You’ve down enough harm Michael’.

‘I just want to see him’, Michael whispered, feeling the tears in his eyes and blinking them away.

‘If you wanted that then you would have fucking been here when he woke up crying and wondering why you weren’t here’, Charles spat, his voice breaking slightly as he turned away, pressing his forehead against Max’s shoulder.

Michael had no words left. His throat dry and he felt sick.

Lando had been crying for him and he wasn’t there.

‘Seriously, you should leave’, Max added, eyes hard, and gone was the friend Michael had known.

Michael nodded, whispering another sorry as he stumbled backwards before turning. His mind numb and drowning in everything he had destroyed.

‘Lando wants to see him’, George’s voice stopped him in his tracks as he turned back around.

The older Brit was standing the doorway. Barely concealed anger on his face and arms crossed as he nodded at Michael. Clearly displeased with the decision and Michael felt his lungs constrict as he made his way back towards Lando’s room.

‘You don’t deserve him’, George muttered as he moved to let Michael into the room.

‘I know’, Michael whispered back as George closed the door behind him, leaving only him and Lando in the room.

‘Sit down’, Lando instructed quietly, waving at the chair beside the bed.

He looked tired. Older than his twenty-one years. His curls a tangled mess and he was wearing one of Max’s Redbull hoodies over his hospital gown. Legs covered by the blankets that looked too new to be hospital regulation. Probably having been bought by his parents or friends because Lando hated being cold, and this white room with its machines was anything but cosy and homey.

‘How are you doing?’, Michael asked carefully, gaze avoiding Lando’s face.

Lando shrugged.

‘I’ll be out for a few races, maybe the rest of the season. Broken ribs nicked my spleen, stomach and lungs. Surgery scars should heal fine. I’ll have to take it easy for a few months’, Lando listed as if he reciting a grocery list before his voice quietened, taking on a sad tone, ‘You’d know all this if you’d been here’.

‘I wanted to be here. I did, I just…’, Michael tried but Lando shook his head.

‘All I could think about when I woke up was that I wasn’t enough for you to be here for me. I could have died and you weren’t here Michael’, Lando’s voice was detached, tired, and when he looked at Michael his eyes had lost their spark, ‘What are we Michael? Because you tell me you love me, and then you call me a booty call. You tell me I’m not an embarrassment, yet I can’t even tell my parents about us’.

Michael felt his heartbreak because Lando shouldn’t look like this.

He should be full of life. Bright and energetic, not beaten down and worn out.

Michael had done that to him.

He had worn him down.

In that moment, he hated himself because he had done this to them.

‘I love you’, Michael choked, tears falling as he wiped his face, ‘I love you so much, and I am so sorry. I should never have kept it quiet so long or used Daniel as a shield. I should have talked to you about everything. I should have listened’.

Lando nodded, a tear or two falling down his own cheeks as he listened and let Michael talk.

‘Yeah, you should have. It hurt Michael, and buried it for so long because I thought it was enough to love you, but it’s not. I…’, Lando looked down at his hands, and Michael knew the words before he said them, ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s not fair. I deserve more, and even though this is killing me to say…I think I need time’.

Michael took in a sharp breath. His fist clenching. His mind was screaming at him, telling him to do something. Find a way to convince him he could fix this, but Michael knew he needed to respect Lando’s opinion.

It was the least he could do after ignoring him and making him shove his opinions down for so long so Michael could keep running from his own insecurities.

‘Do you think…’, Michael tried to find the words, swallowing thickly through his tears, ‘Do you think you can ever forgive me?’.

Lando looked at him. His eye sad, but kind as he looked at Michael as if he were trying to memories his face. As if he were afraid he suddenly wouldn’t recognise him anymore.

‘Someday maybe. This doesn’t mean I don’t love you, because I do. I do love you Michael’, Lando sighed softly, running a hand through his curls, ‘But I think we both know what we had wasn’t…it wasn’t healthy anymore’.

Michael nodded because he did know.

He knew that somewhere along the line his inability to communicate had twisted them. It had made Lando doubt his opinions, and himself and Michael had ignored all the signs. He buried them deep and believed that if he loved him, that would be enough to patch over their problems.

Michael stood up wiping his cheeks as he did. Lando watching sadly as he did, preparing himself for a goodbye they thought they would never have to give. And Michael couldn’t help but lean down and press a kiss to Lando’s forehead, cupping his cheek softly.

‘I love you’, he whispered.

‘I know’, Lando replied, his hand holding Michael’s wrist for a moment before Michael gathered the strength to walk away.

He cleared his throat and it took every last bit of his strength to walk away. His hanging low as he walked back into the waiting room. George taking one look at him and heading straight back into Lando. It took everything for Michael not to look back, but he kept moving. Walking past Max who was watching him, Charles tucked under his arm and glaring at him.

Michael didn’t blame them.

Daniel fell into step with him. Never saying anything or touching him. Allowing Michael his space as they made their way back to the car.

‘I’m sorry’, Daniel offered, not needing words to know what happened.

Michael didn’t respond.

He didn’t deserve sympathy.

He had caused this, and he would spend however long it took to fix things. Both with himself, and Lando, because something in him told him this wasn’t the end.

It was just a pitstop in their story, and someday they would get the timing right.

                                                                        *

‘It’s good to be back, isn’t it?’, Daniel grinned, bouncing down the paddock in Melbourne, grabbing his nephew and tossing him up in the air. His laughter filling the air and Daniel’s sister taking pictures.

Michael couldn’t help but grin back at them.

Being home felt right. There was an electric feeling in the air as the paddock came to life. He felt settle in his skin. He’d spent the week before the race with his family. Admitting to them that he had fallen in love with a man, and it had been beautiful and surprising and terrifying all at the same time. Admitting he had made a mistake; one he was trying to fix by working on himself and giving the other person space.

His heart had been in his mouth, and his hands shaking as he spoke, but his parents had simply held him close. Reassuring him that no matter what, they were always proud of him, and they loved him.

It had helped settle that last little bit of himself that had wanted to hide. The bit he was working on by talking to someone Daniel had recommended to understand why he had needed to hide so much, and why Daniel was the one he had hid behind.

He’d been sceptical at first, believing that he could fix it himself, but slowly, he had realised sometimes you needed someone to listen and guide you through something to understand it.

It had made him reflect on everything, and he was a stronger, better person for it. He learned to be whole without relying on secrecy.

His friendship with Daniel had slotted into place in the months between Lando’s accident and absence from the paddock and this race. The two of them having sat down and talked everything through. Michael having to understand that Daniel didn’t need him to protect him from every little bump in the road. Daniel admitting that he had struggled with teammates and feeling second place, but that shouldn’t have been a reason Michael appropriated to cover his insecurities.

It had taken them awhile after that to get back to where they were. Michael had to build back up the trust between them, and Daniel needed time to work through his own guilt at having projected his own fears onto Michael in a way that fed Michael’s need to cover everything up.

But now as his nephew ran off, and Daniel slung an arm around his shoulders.

‘You know he’s back’, Daniel squeezed his shoulder, his gaze hidden by his sunglasses like Michael’s own was.

And he knew who he was referring to.

Everyone was excited because Lando was back in the car after missing the end of the season in recovery.

Michael hadn’t seen him since the hospital. The two of them never in the MTC at the same time, or missing each other by minutes. Michael had gotten updates on his recovery from Daniel occasionally. Michael only using his Instagram for updating stories about his clients, never giving into the temptation to check the others posts.

They both needed space, something he had learned in therapy.

And as much as Michael missed Lando every time he lay in bed or woke up reaching for someone that wasn’t there, Lando had made the best decision for them both.

‘Yeah, I know’, Michael answered, smiling as they neared the garage.

There were balloons already hung outside, and no doubt a huge cake with a hideous picture of Lando on it to congratulate him on his recovery waiting in the garage where Charlie would capture it all.

‘Have you spoken to him since the hospital?’, Daniel asked, the topic having been one that they had avoided at Michael’s request until now.

‘No, he asked for space, and we both needed it. It’ll be good having him back in the garage’, Michael smiled, waving at Charlotte as she took a call outside the garage, giving them a smile as they made their way inside.

Daniel bursting into laughter at the sight of the cake. Michael had been right about the cake; a picture of Lando grinning in the middle of neck exercises gracing the cake.

‘Oh he’ll love that’, Michael laughed, pulling Daniel off the floor and fist bumping some of the team.

The celebration past quickly. Michael shoved at the back of the pack, not wanting to take Lando’s attention away from his family away from home celebrating him. Watching as Lando grinned and laughed, nudging Daniel, and shrieking when Will smeared icing on his cheek.

At one point, with icing smeared on his cheeks and his eyes filled with joy, where their gazes met, and Michael couldn’t help but smile as Lando ducked his head. A familiar blush on his cheeks before the other glanced at him again before getting distracted by Charlotte smearing more icing on his face.

Michael had slipped away as the celebrations had died down, making his way to Daniel’s room, and setting everything up that they would need for the coming days. Using the peace and quiet to get organised before Daniel would blow in like a whirlwind. Probably with his nephew on his heels.

He got lost in his own little world before a soft clearing of a throat caught his attention.

Lando looked as gorgeous as ever standing in the doorway of Daniel’s driver’s room. His curls loose and falling in his eyes as he gazed at Michael. A cheeky grin on his face and t-shirt showing off the definition of his arms, skin bronze and healthy and Michael had never wanted to kiss someone as badly as he did Lando.

Instead, he settled on the only word that popped into his head that wouldn’t fuck everything up when he had been waiting for a moment like this since he had left that hospital room.

‘Hi’.

Lando’s smile grew wider as he stepped into the room, closing the distance between them until only a small gap remained. Close enough that Michael could see he was wearing the bracelet he had given him, and smell that he was wearing the cologne he had told Lando he liked during one of their dates before everything fell apart.

‘Hi’, Lando grinned, tilting his head slightly with a giggle and holding out his hand to him, ‘I’m Lando’.

Michael felt his face scrunch in confusion as he looked into those green eyes he adored before he realised what Lando was doing. Ducking his head with a shy smile before taking the hand held out to him.

A new start.

‘Hi, I’m Michael’, Michael responded, trying to contain his grin and excitement but laughing when he caught Lando trying to do the same before the other linked their fingers together gently.

‘I had a boyfriend called Michael once’, Lando laughed, squeezing their fingers together, ‘Real sweetheart until he kept us a secret for almost a year’.

‘He sounds like a cunt’, Michael choked out, letting Lando tug him closer as the other nodded.

‘Yeah, he could be, but I’m working on this thing called second chances’, Lando smiled, looking up at him softly, ‘If he’s still interested in trying again’.

Michael felt himself choke on the happiness and relief that was welling inside of him, fighting back tears because he had spent every month of the last few months fighting to get back to here.

‘Yeah, he really really does’, Michael’s voice cracked, but he never took his eyes off of Lando.

‘Good, because I heard good things about his growth recently, and I missed him’, Lando’s smile turned tender, a hand reaching up to cup the back of Michael’s neck.

‘I missed you too’, Michael managed to get out before Lando pulled him into a soft kiss.

One that felt like coming home and tasted of new starts and forgiveness. Only lasting seconds but feeling as it was a lifetime before Lando pulled him into a hug.

And Michael let himself hold Lando close, knowing this time he didn’t have to let go because he would do everything right this time.

It might be a new beginning, he thought to himself, but Lando was still his forever person and he wasn’t letting go this time.