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I think that you’ll be happier, I want you to be happier

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There’s a finality to hitting that button, to knowing it’s out there and he can’t take it back.

 

Well, he could, Fernando didn’t exactly stay retired, neither did Michael.

 

But no, Sebastian knows, once he hits that button and sends it out to the world, the message announcing his retirement (god that word still doesn’t sit completely right, even though he’s sure it’s the right decision), he means it. There’s no one who can’t tempt him back once he’s done this, he adored Michael, and despite everything, he respects Fernando, but he wants to mean it, he can’t come back once he’s left. Leaving once hurts, despite the fact he knows it’s time, the fact he’s turned this decision over and over in his mind since the possibility first became an imminent threat two years prior. It’s the right choice be he’s certain he couldn’t do it twice.

 

Filming the video, twice in fact, in English and German, he doesn’t know how he didn’t cry, really, because it’s a big deal, and he wanted to.

 

It’s strange, how much something he’s so sure of can feel so…difficult.

 

Until he presses that button, there’s an out. The team haven’t made any sort of arrangements for next year yet, still somewhat hoping they could convince him to stay, (well, that and he didn’t get them a lot of notice), everyone around him would support him if he said he wanted to hang on just a little bit longer. He could do it. But he knows this is the right time. He’s talked it through over and over and reached the same conclusion every time, no matter who his discussion partner may be. Until he presses it, there’s an out, and the longer he hesitates, the harder it will be.

 

So he presses it. Then he sits back and lets the magnitude of what he’s just done wash over him.

 

It all felt a little abstract until this moment, it was all conceptual, just a theoretical plan of the future, until the moment it was made public. Now it’s truly happening, no take-backs.

 

‘I could do it too, you know? I could leave with you,’ a familiar voice speaks out from behind him. He’s been waiting in the background quietly, keeping him company but also giving him space to do this on his own. Sebastian’s extremely grateful for that.

 

He turns around and finds Lewis giving him a soft smile. He can see the pain in it, knows Lewis, while he’s accepted his decision, doesn’t like it. He tried to talk him out of it quite ardently at the beginning. He stopped when it became clear Seb was serious. But he’s here, supporting him while he releases his announcement, and that’s the most important part.

 

‘No, you still have the eighth to win,’ Sebastian replies, shaking his head. He’s quick to add, ‘officially,’ because in their household, 2021 is…a sore subject, to say the least.

 

And he can’t let Lewis do that, as nice as it would perhaps be to have a clean break, to be able to just run off into the distance, disappear into the Swiss woods with him forevermore (although realistically that would never happen anyway, Lewis isn’t built for the same type of quiet life Sebastian is, they’ve both made their peace with finding a middle ground), he knows it can’t happen. Sebastian is ready to move on, find his next adventure. Lewis isn’t.

 

Lewis still has so much left to give to this sport, he’s still so ready to fight and to work his ass off to win. Lewis still has that fire in his veins that drives him to what he is, the greatest of all time. Even if it hurts Seb just a little to admit someone has surpassed Michael. Lewis is the only man he’d view as worthy of that, at the very least.

 

Lewis doesn’t feel it in his bones the way Sebastian does. Sure, recovering from a hard fought race is nowhere near as easy as it was when he first started, but he’s got the spirit to power through it, he just gets up and keeps going, battles on. Sebastian loves this sport, will always love this sport, but he’s grown weary. And he doesn’t want to do this in half measures, he did not win four world championships with half measures.

 

Lewis is still on top, Lewis still has momentum, Lewis still has a chance at proving to everyone yet again why his name holds pride of place in the history books.

 

Sebastian is happy with the place his own name holds, with the legacy he carved out for himself, the records he still holds, for the time being. He doesn’t think anyone’s going to be taking his youngest world champion ever crown any time soon. Hopefully Lewis will help see to it for a while longer.

 

Because that’s what Lewis wants. Lewis still lives and breathes the fight, and Sebastian would never, and could never, ask him to give that up. It’s still what’s woven into his soul. A legacy for him means more than a legacy for Sebastian, he understands that. He’s prepared to accept that one day his name may only be a distant memory in the history books, but Lewis carving his place means so much more. Sebastian is so very proud of him for what he’s achieved, and he knows without a shadow of a doubt that he will continue to be proud of him, for whatever is to come.

 

It will be strange to continue watching the racing, knowing he’s no longer in it, but Lewis is. It’s going to be odd to sit down alone in their home and watch it, to be distanced from that which was once such an integral part of who he was. If Lewis were to retire, it would make that a little easier, he wouldn’t have to watch it (because he cannot not watch Lewis race, that would feel like a sin). But it would not be what Lewis truly wants. He cannot ask him to give up before he’s ready to. He remembers how it hurt, to think his hand might have been forced in 2020, before he was quite ready.

 

And anyway, Charles would probably have a fit if Seb didn’t watch the races anymore, because he will inevitably be demanding feedback. And Mick, he can hardly do Mick, or Michael, the disservice of giving up keeping an eye on him now, just to make himself feel a little better.

 

But especially because Charles would have a fit. And no one needs that. If nothing else, he likes Pierre far too much to subject him to dealing with Charles like that. He shakes his head at that thought, but the smile is fond.

 

‘I’ve already done a lot of winning in my time,’ Lewis argues weakly. Because he doesn’t really want it, but he’d do it if Seb asked.

 

‘And I believe you have more to do. So do you,’ Sebastian replies. ‘Also, I think Toto would hunt me down and kill me if I was the cause of you cutting your contract short. Nevermind what Bono would do. Angela might thank me, but that’s debatable,’ Seb teases, a shit-eating grin on his face as he does. Lewis’ eyes narrow into a mock glare for a moment, but he can’t resist the wry smile that eventually breaks across his face.

 

‘I think Toto would revel in the opportunity to retire with us. He’d do an excellent job as Susie’s WAG,’ Lewis proclaims and Sebastian cannot help bursting into laughter.

 

‘I’m going to tell him you said that!’

 

‘Go ahead, I’ve told him myself that he’d make an excellent trophy husband. Bono however, you might be right. Unlike Rocky when you left Red Bull, Bono might actually be sad to see me go,’ Lewis replies, mock seriousness of his tone ruined by the smirk on his face. Sebastian gasps in outrage, grabbing a nearby cushion from the sofa and lobbing it at Lewis. Unfortunately, Lewis has excellent reflexes and deflects it with ease.

 

‘Rocky was devastated I will have you know!’

 

‘Rocky was tired and glad to be your friend from a distance rather than your race engineer, he told you as much. Christ, he told me as much.’

 

‘Whatever. Regardless, no, you cannot retire. I will not allow it,’ Sebastian says firmly. But that only incites Lewis all the more.

 

‘Allow, huh? Didn’t know I needed your permission,’ Lewis’ eyebrows are raised as he stands up and begins to slink towards Sebastian. He remains looking unamused as he sits down, directly into Sebastian’s lap, with an amount of elegance that drives Seb absolutely insane. And they both know that Lewis knew that when he did it. Still, Sebastian is grinning unabashedly.

 

But then his face turns serious again, as his distraction in having Lewis right there loses out to his need to convey this to him. ‘Not my permission, but I’d like to think you’d want my blessing, as I did yours. And you won’t have it. Not so long as I know you’re not truly ready. You still have far too much to give to this sport, Lew, you’re not done yet. As much as Michael is my hero, I know how important the eighth is to you, and to so many kids out there who need and deserve to see someone like you do something like that.’

 

‘You say I have so much left to give and do in the sport, but you don’t?’ Lewis asks, because he still can’t quite believe it. He’s trying to accept Seb’s wishes, but it’s hard to let go. It’s hard to know he’s going to line up on the grid next year and Seb won’t be there.

 

‘Not as a driver. There’s still plenty I want to do to change this sport, I know I still have a purpose here, but on track? I think I’ve done my best work. Maybe there’s still more I could give, but it doesn’t outweigh the work I know I can do off it. Your purpose remains on track as much as it does off it. Mine doesn’t anymore.’

 

‘I hate that, you know?’ Lewis says, and it’s probably the most candid he’s been about the whole thing in a while. He stopped being quite so honest when he started realising Seb was committed to this, letting him find his own path without Lewis weighing in too heavily with his own wants. Sebastian doesn’t think Lewis knows how incredible it was of him to do that, to stand back and let him make this decision all on his own, to be completely selfless so Sebastian could make this one decision selfishly.

 

Sebastian still took Lewis’ thoughts and feelings into account, because Lewis is his partner, how could he not? But he will still be here for Lewis, he can make sure Lewis still has enough of him that he can survive the loss on track.

 

‘I know you do. And I am sorry-’

 

‘No. I don’t want you to be sorry. It’s the right decision for you. I just hate it. I’ll get over it. It’s just strange. I have raced on a grid you weren’t on, but only for half a season. It’s been so long since I’ve had to race knowing you wouldn’t be there. You’re my favourite rival I’ve ever had.’

 

‘I’ll be sure to let Nico know,’ Sebastian cuts in with a cheeky smile and Lewis can do nothing but roll his eyes.

 

‘I think he can probably figure that out for himself,’ he retorts.

 

‘Probably,’ Sebastian concedes, still grinning madly.

 

Lewis shakes his head, but he can’t resist leaning in for a kiss any longer, despite the fact he also has the urge to smack some sense into him too. Sebastian returns the kiss willingly, and their conversation gets left at the wayside while they lazily make out for a few minutes, until they finally have to break apart, having run out of breath.

 

‘You’ll still have me, you know? Maybe not on the grid, but you’ve hardly been battling with me much recently anyway. You still have all of me there is to have.’

 

‘I know. It’s just going to take some getting used to. A strange new world where your name isn’t on the timing screen. I’ll miss you at races.’

 

‘Hey, who said I won’t be at races? Toto might make a great WAG, but I don’t think I’d make a half bad one either.’

 

‘You’ll need better fashion sense first,’ Lewis takes a teasing jab. Because he’s spent a long time trying to convince Seb to at least wear jeans that fit. But he’s also long since accepted that he won’t win. Now it’s just teasing and the occasional mild crisis when Sebastian tries to wear something particularly abhorrent to Lewis’ well developed sense of style.

 

‘Maybe I’ll just set new trends,’ Sebastian shoots back, giving as good as he gets, because he knows that as much as Lewis has accepted his horrendous lack of style (Lewis’ words), saying that will still drive him crazy.

 

‘God I hope not.’

 

Things go quiet then, as they let that disagreement die. Sebastian is the one to finally break the silence. ‘It changes nothing between us you know, me retiring. Sure it’ll be a new dynamic to get used to, but I’m still me, you’re still you, and we still love each other.’

 

‘We do.’

 

‘It’s big and it’s scary, trust me, I’m absolutely terrified that I’m going to regret it, but deep down I know it’s what I need to do. It’s the right time.’

 

‘But not for me?’ Lewis repeats, trying to sound playful, but a little uncertainty still seeps through

 

‘No, not for you,’ Seb replies, final. It’s the absolute truth, he’s certain of it. It’s his time, but Lewis still has history to write.

 

Lewis goes quiet at that, instead he begins looking at Sebastian as though he’s searching for something. Sebastian just lets him, even though he’s not sure what he’s searching for. He’d let Lewis have anything he wants.

 

‘I don’t like this, but I’m going to learn to. Because you’ll be happier, won’t you?’

 

Sebastian has to let out a shaky exhale before he can answer. ‘Yes, I really do think it will.’

 

‘Good. I want you to be happy.’

 

‘I know,’ Sebastian replies gently. He gives Lewis another peck on the lips, in thanks for his support. ‘And hey, you never know, maybe I’ll take over the FIA and then you can win all the races because I say so,’ Sebastian jokes, hoping to ease the tension. It works, Lewis bursts out laughing, shaking his head as Sebastian just grins, proud of himself. He’s always proud of himself when he can make Lewis laugh.

 

‘I don’t think that’s how it works. And I’m pretty sure they won’t let you run anything while you have a conflict of interest. But it’s a nice thought.’

 

‘Ah well, worth a shot.’

 

‘You’re one of the greats you know?’ Lewis feels the need to reiterate. Because it’s the truth, but he knows how easily Sebastian shrugs it off.

 

‘Coming from the greatest, that’s quite the honour.’

 

‘The history books will remember you, you always say you’ll be forgotten eventually, but I don’t think you ever will.’

 

‘Well, then it will be an honour to share history with you. I don’t think my name will be quite beside yours, but the same general area of the book will do,’ Sebastian jokes, but Lewis remains serious. It’s important to him that Sebastian truly hears him when he says these things.

 

‘I love you,’ Lewis says, firm, like he needs Sebastian to know it, in case he doesn’t already.

 

He does. So Sebastian just smiles, taking Lewis’ face in his hands, ‘I love you too, forever.’