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All’s well that ends well to end up with you

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Sebastian is asleep, next to him…or, well, perhaps on him was a better description, head pillowed on his chest, an arm slung over his waist, their legs tangled together. Lewis watches him, steady breaths, peaceful, sound asleep. He can’t…he doesn’t know why he can’t find the same sense of tranquillity, the same peace of mind. He just tightens his arm around Seb, holding him as close as he possibly can.

It’s not true, really, for him to claim that he doesn’t know why he can’t sleep. He knows exactly why. As his gaze locks on the silver band on Sebastian’s ring finger, he knows exactly why. He doesn’t look away from it, but he does listlessly fiddle with his own matching one just a little. He’s unaccustomed to it, but that’s hardly surprising, it only found its place there today.

It’s been the best day of his life, better than any of his championship wins, better than anything in the world. His muscles ache from it all, reminding him why he’s retired this year, he’s getting a little too old for the punishment of the sport they both love. The same isn’t quite so true of Sebastian, three years younger, but Sebastian has walked away with him. I don’t want to be there if you’re not anymore. Five is enough, I don’t need more.

Eight and five. Thirteen in total. It was enough. He hadn’t thought…for a long time he hadn’t thought he’d be able to walk away as easily as he has. Not to say it has been easy, to leave behind that much of his life, it definitely wasn’t. But it didn’t feel as crushing as he’d spent a long time expecting it to. He thinks he has Seb to thank for that. It makes it easier, to move on, knowing he’s got something worth moving on to.

But none of that is why he’s still awake. He’s letting himself avoid it again.

They’ve finally gotten here, after so much time, so many near misses and so many almosts. But part of him…he can’t help wondering why he let it take so long. After all these years, he wonders…he wonders how much time they missed, how many years were lost, how many moments they could have had. He wonders if things would be different between them if those different versions of what could have been had come to pass, and he doesn’t want to change a thing, but…but he let them waste so much time.

Formula 3, 2005, he can see it plain as day, even eighteen years later. He remembers the kid with the mop of blonde hair, bright blue eyes, who laughed loudly, was unapologetically sarcastic and witty, and in retrospect charming. But at the time his eyes were elsewhere. And he wasn’t even focused enough on that, too distracted by dreams of glory. The guilt he feels for that is lessened by the fact he wasn’t the only one, and by how things ended, how that led him to where he is now, and by the fact he knows, with certainty, that he’s not the only one who did wrong.

He wonders though, about Sebastian, what it could have been like to have known him better back then, to have let him come closer. He wonders if he could have fallen for him back then, if he’d let himself try. Seb admitted, not too long ago, that he’d had a bit of a crush on Lewis at the time. He hadn’t noticed.

He wonders what would have happened if he had. Would it have been able to work, even if he had taken up an interest then? He was still so young and foolish and he could be such an ass. He was too blinded by the hunger for success, for victory. Its why things didn’t work out for him before Sebastian, there’s no real reason to believe things would have been any different, better, if they’d dated back then, if anything, they’d probably not be here now, because Lewis is pretty sure he would have fucked things up.

But it’s Seb, who’s somehow always had his feet so firmly planted on the ground, unshakeable and unyielding, steady and true. Part of him thinks he could have changed a lot sooner if he’d had Sebastian beside him, forcing him to be better, to deserve him, to earn him, that he’d have wanted to change for Sebastian. Realistically, that’s a rose-tinted view of it, he’s letting nostalgia colour his view of the time in question, but he can’t help just wondering if maybe…maybe they’ve lost a lot of years because Lewis was…because Lewis missed it.

He thinks of the early years in Formula 1, where his focus was laser sharp, on one thing and one thing only. The championship. He’d nearly lost it because of Sebastian. He smiles a little thinking back on it now. He wouldn’t have smiled back then. Seb apologised to him, sometime after, somewhat jokingly, for nearly costing him something so dear. Lewis had shaken his head, waved it off. He’d won, that was all that mattered, Seb had to race. He doubts he’d have seen it that way if he hadn’t.

He thinks of watching Seb taking his first win, an absurdity really, as far as most were concerned. They shouldn’t have been too shocked though, he had scored points in his debut. He remembers seeing some of the podium celebration on a monitor back at McLaren and having to stop and stare for a moment.

That was when he really began to know for certain that Sebastian was competition. He’d be fighting him someday soon, consistently, for wins, likely even championships. He was excited, in that moment, although at the time he couldn’t place why exactly. He just felt different. He knew Seb relatively well, they weren’t exactly friends, but they were friendly, and Seb was a nice guy. It was someone he felt deserved to win something. He was a worthy opponent to beat.

His attention had been dragged away by a certain someone before he could look any further into his feelings about it. Maybe it was just passing interest, or maybe it could have been something more. He knows he wasn’t ready to start something like that back in 2008, too tangled up in other things, a not quite relationship and a budding racing career with great promise. He couldn’t have been serious about Seb, it wouldn’t have lasted. He couldn’t commit to that in the way it deserved to have been committed to. He knows all this but he still wonders what if.

He thinks of 2010, going into the last race knowing he wouldn’t win the championship, but still technically in the fight anyway. He remembers laughing, hard, on camera, when someone told him Fernando wanted him to win the race, because it would pretty much secure him the championship. It was the first time he wasn’t really sure he wanted to win a race. He remembers being so fucking glad when he heard the championship had gone to Sebastian, no hard feelings to Mark, he just really didn’t want it going to Fernando. Call him spiteful, call him petty, he doesn’t particularly care on that front, or at least, he certainly didn’t then. They have some kind of fragile peace now, but still.

He was the first one to congratulate Seb in person, the first hug he received as world champion, pulling him down from his car into an embrace. It left him with such a warm feeling watching him celebrate, he was so happy, so alive with the feeling. He was somehow so genuine and kind and good, such honesty in his eyes and a grin that you knew he meant, and that day with the tears in his eyes and shaking hands, he deserved it, and Lewis was glad to see that. He’d have liked to win it, but if he couldn’t, he was glad the man who had truly deserved it.

He remembers standing on one side of Seb on the podium, Jenson on the other, and silently agreeing to what they were about to do before pouring their bottles of champagne over his head, Seb lapping it up. His curly mop drooping under the weight of it, sticking to him. He kept scrubbing his hands over his face in disbelief, wiping away the tears that wouldn’t stop coming. Lewis himself remembered that feeling. They were bonded in a way, by the shared experience so few could claim. A Formula 1 World Championship. He couldn’t even begrudge Seb the stealing of his title of youngest champion either. Not when he looked like that.

He wonders if that could have been the moment, perhaps not that night, Sebastian had a lot of things to do that night, but shortly afterwards. Perhaps Sebastian could have finally understood him in a more profound way after that, perhaps something could have clicked. It didn’t though.

He couldn’t have predicted the way Seb dominated in the years that followed. He also couldn’t have predicted the way that kid turned into a young man. And if Lewis could see the appeal of him before, he definitely could have by 2013. He’d grown into himself and come into his own. By the end of the year, while he was still good-natured and witty, it was now mixed with a vastly greater depth of maturity and wisdom. The naïve air about him had dissipated. Not that he’d ever truly been innocent, but there had been a childlikeness about him which had been worn away, by time, by experience, by having fans boo him, by so many things.

Lewis wonders if by then they could have made it work, they were friends by then, not necessarily close but they were friends, and he could see what certain people saw in him, he was captivating, could be goofy still, but knew when to be serious, when to take charge, was responsible and grown up and mature. Twenty-six and he was probably more settled in himself than Lewis was, just about to turn thirty.

He wonders if being with Sebastian could have saved him from himself in some moments, kept him away from the spiral he almost went down. He looks back on himself in the early years at Mercedes, with him, and he doesn’t much like what he sees. There was a toxicity of the time that had seeped into him, that he’d let rule him. He was walking a fine line back then, and as things turned sour, he let himself turn with them. He wasn’t generally cruel, but he could be vicious if he felt cornered, he’d lash out. There was a ruthlessness there that he’s not proud of.

Sebastian had had his spiteful moments, usually with Mark, because Mark liked trying to find the right buttons to press, seeking a reaction, but he never sank to the depths Lewis did in those years. Lewis wonders if Sebastian could have steered him away from it all. He wonders if he could look back at himself then and not cringe at some of what he sees. He wasn’t the only one who was guilty of such things, but that doesn’t make it better. He liked to push Lewis’ buttons, but Lewis rose to the bait far too easily.

He didn’t deserve Seb back then, he doesn’t think, because even in his darker moments, Seb was always, underneath it all, good. Lewis isn’t sure he always was, in fact he’s pretty sure he wasn’t. But he can’t help wondering how different things would be if they’d found their way to each other then, if he’d untangled himself from the web he was caught up in and given it a shot. He thinks he’d have learnt to be better a lot sooner for Seb, he really does. But maybe that’s wishful thinking.

He hadn’t quite fallen by then, but he was starting to, and he knows that because he remembers the flash of something ugly when Mark would make a snarky comment, when Jenson would make a sleazy joke, when he would make some scathing remark, or roll his eyes over something Sebastian had done or said. He felt protective over him, because Seb was still a bright sunny smile, even when 2014 was hard, while Lewis reasserted himself at the top. While certain people in Lewis’ life slowly became more and more bitter and resentful, Seb could always say congratulations, clap him on the back and spray champagne with him. He was different, to before people turned on him, but he was still good.

He remembers seeing how hard it was for him to make the decision to leave Red Bull, he never really discussed it, but it was written all over his face. Ferrari was a childhood dream come true, but Red Bull was a home, despite the way things were souring. Lewis understood that feeling, because leaving McLaren for Mercedes had felt like a betrayal too. But he knew Sebastian had made the right call when they were stood together on the podium in Malaysia in 2015 and Seb couldn’t stop vibrating with it, the ecstatic energy of the win in red.

It was that year that Seb managed to re-find a better balance between the maturity he’d developed and the childlike glee that still lived in his heart. The world seemed brighter on a podium with him that year than it perhaps ever had before, because when he was so bursting and bubbling with that happiness, it was hard not to let some of that rub off on you. Despite the deterioration of things in Lewis’ own team, Sebastian was a bright light.

He must have seen it, Lewis thinks, and he doesn’t know if that made the breakdown faster, or if the inevitable was already set into motion by then, but he knows he knew, because he hated Sebastian more than ever that year. The glares, the scathing remarks. Things between them were dead and buried by now, even if neither of them had fully admitted it to themselves, but Lewis realising he was falling for Sebastian was the moment he decided to put the final nail in that coffin.

He wishes he could have told Sebastian then how he felt, wishes he hadn’t wasted a single second more after he’d realised. They just kept missing each other that year, things never quite worked out. There were moments when he could have, should have, moments where the tension was palpable between them, things so nearly coming to a head. But Sebastian never made the step and Lewis…well Lewis was just never quite ready. And it drives him mad in retrospect, every second of wasted time that they could have had.

But things would be different, he supposes, if they’d managed to find their way to be together before 2016. Their relationship would bear the permanent marks of that year if they’d endured it together. Maybe that would have been a good thing, made them stronger, drawn them closer sooner. But maybe it also would have torn them apart.

Sebastian had a somewhat rough 2016, winless once again as the Ferrari couldn’t perform. But Lewis thinks, somewhat selfishly, that his year was worse. He thinks maybe it would have been less of a disaster if he’d had Seb by his side to tell him when he was being an asshole, to stop him taking things too far. But then maybe he needed that, in some strange way. Maybe he was beyond reach in that moment and all that would have happened would have been them disastrously falling apart. He was brutal and merciless that year, it’s the thing that haunts him most, how far he fell. He cringes thinking about how ugly it was, it may well have ruined them too.

But maybe he wouldn’t have cared so much, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so personal, wouldn’t have cut so deep, maybe…if he’d had this to hold onto, to ground him and draw him away from the precipice. Maybe he wouldn’t have needed to hit the ground so hard. He just wishes he could have found a way to make it work. Because all that time they could have had, all of it was wasted on petty things. He could have found a way to be good with Sebastian, let him go, let him win or destroy himself trying without Lewis tearing himself apart in the process.

2017 & 2018 are the ones that frustrate him the most. Nothing was in the way anymore except the road blocks Lewis put there all by himself. All because 2016 had left him with such battle scars that he was too afraid of something like that blowing up in his face again. He couldn’t imagine a world where he could fight someone for the championship and it not end in resentment. He couldn’t imagine a way in which anyone could love him and still fight him on track, without letting one affect the other. He didn’t want to lose the pieces of Seb he did have, and he also didn’t want to risk anything more imploding and leaving him crumpled up in the ruination.

There was nothing in the way, Seb openly flirted with him, he flirted back, they got so very close so many times, but Lewis always pulled back, shied away, sparing himself an imagined heartbreak. Because he’d watched that implode before, he wasn’t willing to do it again. Sure, they weren’t teammates, but Lewis had the distinct feeling that that wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference. He knew Seb was different, it would be impossible not to see it, but trust was not a thing that came easy, the fear of devastation was a powerful one.

They lost so much time to Lewis’ doubts and fear and clouded judgement. And he hates himself a little for that. He regrets it every day.

Mexico 2018 should have been the revelation. It so nearly was. Sebastian coming to congratulate him, so genuine and sincere, not a hint of resentment. Don’t let off, he’d said, I need you fighting with me next year. He’d clasped his hand so tight, looked him straight in the eye, smiled despite it all, and he’d meant it. He’d hugged him tight, let Lewis slot him in beside him, moved willingly as they stood before the cameras, but he’d only had eyes for him. Lewis vividly remembers turning away from the crowd to Sebastian and staring at him with eyes so openly adoring, full of love. He should have damned it all right then.

He didn’t. And he hates himself for it. His resolve to maintain the walls he’d built around himself and his heart did begin to crumble though. The beginning of 2019 was a drawn out tearing down of his walls, Seb taking it all apart brick by brick. He doesn’t even fully comprehend how it happened, to this day he couldn’t fully explain what changed. Seb probably just got tired of waiting for Lewis to be ready to bring them down himself, but maybe it wasn’t that, maybe he’d managed to unknowingly give some kind of sign. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t have it in him to ask, not quite yet. It hardly matters.

What did matter was Canada. That was the final straw, that was where his defences all came tumbling down. Sebastian had every right to be furious, and he was, he was raging. Initially Lewis was so close to taking it all as a sign he had been right to protect himself from events like this with him. He refused to let Lewis give him a lift back to the pits, he made a show of moving the P1 & P2 boards, he pretty much refused to speak to him in the cool down room and tried to decline Lewis’ offer for him to stand with him on the top step, stepping back down only moments after stepping up when he finally gave in.

But then he was in his hotel doorway, looking tired, so fucking tired, dejected, but beyond that, so vulnerable and exposed. He never let him see him like that, not by the end, angry, raging, sure, but never vulnerable, not like this. Sebastian wore his heart on his sleeve, that was what years around him had taught him. He didn’t live on guard, he wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop, he wasn’t keeping score or holding stupid grudges or waiting to throw things back in his face or planning what to use against him next. He wasn’t him.

Lewis hadn’t even let him get the words out of his mouth, if he’d come with any to say. He’d lunged forward, kissed him like he meant it, dragged his body in so close that there wasn’t a single shred of space between them and only finally had he pulled away when the pair of them had completely run out of air. They hadn’t done a whole lot of talking that night. When he’d woken up the next morning, he had a terrifying moment, thinking Seb had left, then in he walked with a small smile on his face and a pair of coffees in his hand.

Correction, not coffees, because Lewis didn’t drink coffee, not anymore. And Seb knew that. Instead he’d gotten him herbal tea and decided to try it too, because apparently Lewis always told him how much better for him it was. Lewis hadn’t realised he rambled so much. They talked, for hours actually, Lewis missed his flight home and found he was struggling to care. They…they laid it all bare, all cards on the table, and he couldn’t believe how suddenly easy it was for him to do. He could never have done that before, but something about Seb, it just made him feel so safe.

Seb has spent every day since making him feel like that over and over again. They went from Lewis being the first to congratulate Seb on his first championship to Seb being the first to congratulate him on his seventh. We’re watching you make history, Seb had told him that day. You’re helping me make it, Lewis had whispered in reply.

A little more time and one more title each later, Lewis had gotten down on one knee, this time, he wouldn’t give Seb the chance to beat him to it. Retirements had been agreed on, a future beginning to be mapped out. It’s everything he’d ever wanted. He just wishes it hadn’t taken him so long to realise. He wishes he could’ve seen it all along, hadn’t wasted time. All the years they would have had-

‘I can hear you thinking,’ Sebastian mumbles, shifting a little. Lewis doesn’t know when Seb woke up, doesn’t know how long he’s been caught up in his own head. He hums in reply, not sure what to say. ‘Regretting it?’ Sebastian jokes softly, but Lewis can’t- he can’t not tell him how beyond wrong that is, even if it was a joke.

‘The only thing I regret is how long it took,’ he tells him, resolutely. Seb must hear the wobble in his voice, because he pushes himself up now onto his elbows, so he can meet his gaze. It’s firm, serious, loving but resolute.

‘It took the time it needed to take,’ Seb replies simply, shrugging.

‘But…but all the years we could have had,’ Lewis whispers, he suddenly feels so unsure.

‘We got here, didn’t we? Does anything else matter? We’re where we need to be. The past isn’t what’s important, we can’t change it. And even if we could, none of it was a waste if it got us where we needed to be. The future is what matters now.’ He sounds so sure of it, a surety that Lewis finds he himself doesn’t have nearly as much as he tries to appear to. But he finds, as he usually does, that Sebastian’s certainty is easy to believe. And more often than not, he finds Seb is right. He can let himself believe this is one of them. ‘We’d be different people, things between us would be different, if we’d done things differently. And I quite like who we are now, don’t you?’

Lewis nods in reply. If he tried to find the words, he fears tears might fall and his words ay fail him. There is one thing he must say though. ‘I love you,’ Lewis tells him, and he puts in an effort to convey as much of that love as he can in those three words, that can’t even begin to convey enough.

‘I love you too,’ Seb replies and he leans forward just enough to kiss him softly. Part of Lewis wants to pull him in for something more firm, lead things in that direction. But he’s tired, it’s been a long day, and he has the rest of their lives for that. It took him a little longer than he’d like, but they got there in the end.

Lewis may be a little older, but he’s pretty sure Seb will always be a little wiser. He’s okay with that.

The future is more important than the past.