Actions

Work Header

you're not winning ('til you're winning me)

Work Text:

It should have stopped with two tweets. Everyone knows this, Daniel knows this, and worst of all, Valtteri does, too. There’s no way he’s managed to miss noticing what’s up—the joke’s run further than it should ever have. Valtteri definitely knows. 

Daniel tries not to think about it. 

At this point he’s spiralling, walking down a dungeon stairwell with no visible bottom, and it’s his own feet putting one step in front of the other on his march to horny jail, but he can’t stop.

He’s been there before. Horny jail, that is. With Valtteri. And that’s what makes this weird. 

It’s not that he’s never seen this ass before—it’s that he’d sort of assumed that he’d never see it again.

The fuss will stop when the season starts, he lies to himself a week after the tweets, then he sees Valtteri at Bahrain.

Daniel writes a new rule in his personal playbook: if you can avoid eye contact with the guy whose cheeks you just extolled to several million followers, you should do that. Unfortunately, it seems to be part of the job. Drive sexy cars, give funny interviews, drop your water bottle when you glance at the career equivalent of your high school sweetie after watching his nude scene on Netflix. 

Daniel is noble, he can endure pain, he can take it.

Thank god Valtteri doesn’t hunt him down. Daniel feels all mushy in his gut when they’re in the same area, much less talking. 

They don’t talk.

Unfortunately, unavoidably, he sees Valtteri at Imola again. He’s standing in the paddock on Friday with his race overalls tied around his waist, and those annoying all-knowing bright eyes that betray a soul that both sees too much and also uses that knowledge to never do cute, quirky things like tweet about his lifelong rival’s ass. 

(Daniel kind of wishes he would. It would be so fun to have Valtteri thinking about him. Maybe he’d even talk to Daniel, maybe if they were both the same kind of stupid then they could be buddies again, have joint birthday parties again, and wouldn’t that be nice—)

The birthday parties were pretty nice. 

In one horrible, sickening moment, a dreaded sense of responsibility washes over Daniel, and he knows what he’s got to do. 

Valtteri’s standing there with Antti, chewing on the end of his water bottle straw. Maybe it’s the way the sunlight glare off the side of the motorhome is hitting him, but even after Daniel blinks, Valtteri is still lit up in gold—like an angel, or like an NPC with a sidequest for him. Daniel doesn’t know enough about video games to know the particular details, but he knows it’s a beacon, or maybe he’s just pathetic. He jogs over, and Michael trails behind. 

This is going to be weird. 

Valtteri doesn’t take the drink straw from his mouth, just stares through Daniel. Antti hovers, and if not for a flicker of Valtteri’s glance at the trainer, Daniel would think Valtteri didn’t even recognise his arrival at all. Valtteri still doesn’t speak. 

“How’s it going?” Daniel ventures, and Valtteri’s gaze shifts to his face. Somehow Daniel still feels stared down, despite being the taller one here. 

“You know, still getting to grips with the car,” Valtteri offers. He’s wearing the polite, brusque interview face that Daniel somehow still can’t read through. 

“You gonna treat me like the media now?” 

Valtteri finally takes the straw out of his mouth. “You know, they’re very much around.” His glance moves to Antti again, who takes the hint and turns away, snagging Michael’s elbow and pulling him aside, probably to talk about protein bars. Valtteri’s eyes flicker back to Daniel’s face. “But you’re not here to be polite like them.”

“‘m never here to be polite,” Daniel mumbles. The phrase should pack a punch, but Valtteri ducks it.

“You’re here to talk about something else.”

“Not really,” Daniel lies. 

“Alright,” Valtteri says. “I’m sure you can tweet about it instead.”

Daniel’s face must verge on agony. 

“If you haven’t already,” Valtteri adds. “Which maybe five, or six, people have told me that you have.”

“I think maybe we should talk about that," Daniel says involuntarily.

Valtteri actually smiles. “I’m always here to help if you want to talk,” he says, irony caking the deference in his tone, and Daniel knows it’s not a lie, but—taking him up on it would be a good way to get stabbed in the back. He speaks anyway, thinks about bleeding out on Valtteri’s shoes. 

“I can stop tweeting. I should, actually.” He crosses his arms, and the defensive motion feels unnatural. 

“What does that have to do with me?” Valtteri asks.

“It’s—” Daniel starts, then stops. “It’s—” 

“You can just say you wish your ass was as nice as mine and we can properly move on from this,” Valtteri offers, his face straight as the start-finish line. “Maybe if it was just socials it could be a joke, but fucking…” he snaps his fingers, searching for the name. “Kym fucking Illman posted photos. Of you looking. I wish I didn’t know this, but...”

Michael casts a suspicious look back and Daniel grimaces in return, before looking back at Valtteri. “Do we have to talk about it?” 

Valtteri shrugs. “You came to me. If you didn’t want people to know you want my ass then you’d be more smart and private.”

“I don’t want your ass.” Daniel lies again.

They stare each other down for a moment, Daniel desperately hoping Valtteri won’t break out the “you wanted it before,” because then he’ll have to reply but I don’t want it now, and Daniel really doesn’t want to double down on this fib.

Valtteri relents. “Then what’s your focusing on it for?”

While Daniel grasps for words, his mouth dry, Max walks by with a contingent of Red Bull media, and Daniel almost startles, half turning away to hide his presence. Valtteri smirks. 

“The problem with you is that you don’t know how to say what you want.”

“What?”

“Maybe when you get better at wanting things,” Valtteri adds cryptically, and he looks so hunted that Daniel almost steps back. Then he blinks. “So what do you want?”

Daniel knows what he wants to say, and also what he shouldn’t say. It’s a damn shame those are the same things, and also that they’re standing right in front of him. So he bites his tongue again, not relishing Valtteri’s all-too-knowing look at the concept of Daniel Ricciardo being the one silent, for once. Valtteri lowers his voice before he continues. 

“We’re not still 19,” he says, but mercifully his face is blank.

Daniel doesn’t have the same control, wincing automatically with the embarrassment that surrounds memories of his late-teenaged hookups. Everyone says Daniel’s irreverent, but at least he has the decency to remember every single time he fucked up while pushing the limits of his burgeoning sexual independence. When he’s being really polite, he lets it haunt him at night.

“Are we gonna rehash that right here?” he asks, voice strangled by the hand Valtteri has metaphorically got around his neck. “There’s—” he lowers his voice. “There’s cameras,” he hisses.

“I’m thirty-one, Dan.” Valtteri’s fucking inscrutable. “We can be adults about this. Let’s go to dinner sometime and talk about it.”

Daniel winces again, looking to the heavens. He started his career chasing Valtteri’s ass, and though the order got switched up a couple times in the middle, somehow it’s 2021 and he’s right back at it. He sighs. Some things never change. He’d love to take Valtteri to dinner.

“I’d love to take you to dinner,” he blurts out. Valtteri smiles infinitesimally. “I’ll text you.”

He’s already backing away and jerking his head at Michael, extricating them both from the situation, before Valtteri speaks again, calling after him. 

“You’re also thirty-one, Dan. Call me.”

***

Daniel has to confess that the last month, since March 20th precisely, has been a rough season in his life.

The peach emoji with the rainbow backdrop was a bit much, he’ll admit that. 

So it should have stopped with two tweets and one rainbow background IG story replete with a peach as the bastard cherry on top, but Daniel licked the stamp and sent it, and there was no chasing down the mailman to get his mis-sent love letters back, so. It didn’t stop. 

It split his life into the before and the after: before was when Twitter was usable. After was unusable notifications, clogged with the most jpegged screenshots of the Bottass that he could ask for, with a slow but rising chorus demanding a response from the Bottas, which is somehow even worse.

The next stage was Daniel’s own mates DMing him on instagram, sending over Bottas’s recent cycling photos just to “keep him updated,” as one does. And while no one ever looked good in a cycling kit, the whole point is that it’s skin-tight.

Even if it is printed with little fucking igloos and hockey skates and polar bears. 

(It’s not Daniel’s thing, but it’s cute. That’s what he’s picking up about Valtteri: the same guy who’s best known for swearing at the haters on the radio also has a collection of these fat white hippo plushies, put Santa on his rallying lid, and sometimes his insta stories show the horrible inspirational quotes he has in his house. It’s so cheesy, Daniel can definitely relate to it. He wants to say he’s surprised, but he’s known Valtteri for a long time. Long enough to know the hippos are Moomins, but fuck if he’s going to admit knowing that. Daniel can’t pull off cute like Valtteri can.)

Right, skin-tight. That’s what he had focused on. Nice thighs. Great thighs, really. If Daniel was a dick he’d have some shitty joke to make, but he’s never forgotten that Valtteri always had a tougher time with the weight regs than anyone else, so he appreciated the gains. Not that he asked his mates to show him.

Okay, maybe Daniel egged them on. Maybe he shouldn’t have replied with ironic tongue emojis, and he definitely shouldn’t have actually opened the posts, because one instinctive double-tap later and—ooh, history wasn’t going to let him live that down.

He wasn’t even following the guy, for chrissakes. 

Daniel doesn’t know if that made it worse or better, but he tries to be a stand-up guy, so he’d unliked the post, followed @valtteribottas, and liked it again, along with the last three posts. That looked a bit more natural.

(Damn, Valtteri tags a lot of accounts in his photos. Daniel had no idea he had that many personal sponsors. For a second he feels self-conscious about GoPro, then he decides not to, because it’s fucking GoPro. Jesus.)

***

So sometime before the Portuguese and Spanish double-header, Daniel calls Valtteri.

Valtteri doesn’t pick up—it’s still early in the morning, maybe he’s sleeping—so Daniel leaves a message. 

“Hey, um, Daniel here. You know that. Just wanted to, uh—” he swallows, his tongue sticking to the roof of his dry mouth— “touch base, and find out if you’re still on to link up sometime. I’m free,” he says in a rush, “I’m super free. I’m in Monaco. Are you in Monaco? We should hang out. Let me know.” Before he can think about it, he adds, “I really want to see you, Bottas.”

He hangs up before he says anything else stupid.

Valtteri texts back fifteen minutes later.

> Im in monaco

> Ricciardo

Daniel replies:

So you’re allowed to text but not me? <

He doesn’t get a reply, damn it, and he feels like he’s been led to a dead-end that feels like a kick in the gut. If he sits to think about it, he’ll start thinking about how much he actually really wants to see Valtteri, which is fucked, and sappy, and not fair. Valtteri should be sad too, but there’s no way to guarantee he’s thinking about Daniel except when Daniel’s right in front of him. 

And that’s not even true, Valtteri could ignore a tectonically unlikely tsunami rolling in off the Ligurian Sea right into his apartment, if he put his mind to it, Daniel thinks mournfully. But there’s an off-chance that Valtteri might care about Daniel Ricciardo more than the next Mediterranean Big One, so Daniel laces up his shoes and decides to get right in front of him.

He picks up two flat whites on the way. 

He’s been to Valtteri’s place once before, just to pick up some bike parts Valtteri wanted to pass on, and he remembers the way, eventually knocking on the apartment door without ceremony. He picks at the edge of the cardboard coffee carton while he waits.

Valtteri opens the door, holding a mug.

Shit, he’s already got coffee.

He blinks at Daniel, but without surprise, and the corner of his mouth twitches.

Oh, that’s a good sign. That felt nice. Daniel’s shoulders relax a little.

“I’m younger, so I’m allowed to text,” Valtteri says, picking up exactly where he hadn’t replied earlier. He doesn’t quite smile, but his eyes are wide and bright, and suddenly he says, “Come in,” like he can’t hold the words in, and Daniel sort of trips over the threshold and he’s inside, and that’s sort of mission accomplished, isn’t it?

He looks around for his next cue—the animal slippers being nudged toward him—and steps out of his own shoes in response, setting down the coffee carrier tray in favour of stabilising himself with a hand on the doorframe. 

He shoves the slippers on, looks down at them. God. Two plushie koalas stare back at him. One of them has a leaf in its mouth. God. It’s unbearable. 

“It’s un-bear-able,” he says immediately, looking up.

Valtteri snorts. 

“Do you keep regionally appropriate footwear for all your guests?” Daniel asks, incredulous. 

Valtteri shrugs one shoulder. “No, they’re just cute.”

Daniel can’t pull off cute like Valtteri can.

“They look good on you,” Valtteri adds.

Oh, maybe he can.

“Do you want coffee?” Daniel blurts out, snagging the coffee carrier off the entryway console table and extending it to his host. “Flat white,” he says, pointedly ignoring the ceramic mug—blue, adorned with a white hippo—that Valtteri’s still clutching. “I don’t know what you like, so I just got my favourite for us both.”

Valtteri takes it, peering at the paper cup sleeves. “Oh, I like this place. Thank you.” His tone is more measured but he smiles for real now, and Daniel feels all mushy in his gut again, like maybe he’s already had his morning coffee, except he hasn’t. “Come in.” He inclines his head toward the kitchen, and Daniel follows, only noticing now that Valtteri’s wearing animal slippers, too. Little brown bears, with fluffy ears that stick up. Huh.

“These are also my favourite,” he says, perching himself on a bar stool at the counter, and he nudges one over to Daniel.

“What?”

“Flat whites,” he says, abandoning his hippo mug of coffee. He pops off the lid of the paper cup and takes a sip, then oh-so-delicately pokes the tip of his tongue out to chase a stray bit of foam on the corner of his lip. Daniel is paralysed.

“Sit,” Valtteri nods, and Daniel sits. 

He suddenly remembers Imola, and throws a look at Valtteri. “How are you holding up?” 

“You know.” Valtteri shrugs.

Daniel knows.

“Fucked up my back a little, but we’re working it out.” He half-nods. “The usual.”

He obviously doesn’t want to drop any names, even in private, and Daniel doesn’t ask. “Right then, sorry about that.”

“‘t’s okay, it happens.”

Daniel’s never had a crash like that, but he guesses the big ones do happen. To some people. He nods and doesn’t push it.

“I’m glad I caught you here,” he says. He twines an ankle around the leg of his stool, and reaches for the other coffee. 

“This isn’t dinner,” Valtteri says, but he’s still smiling, and if Daniel feels foolish it’s just from the pink of Valtteri’s cheeks, not because this isn’t dinner.

“You didn’t pick up the phone, so…”

“The blender was running.” The reply is nonchalant. “Why didn’t you just call again?”

Because I don’t want to annoy you now, Daniel thinks, because spending ten years or so annoying you on purpose is enough, but that also means I don’t know how to not annoy you. That’s not a dialogue option, though.

“It was nice out, so I thought I might as well make the walk.” Critically, he doesn’t say I have no idea what you expect from me, and I would really like to be someone you expect things from, but I’m Daniel Ricciardo, so that’s going to make things hard.

“Thanks, then.”

“That’s the third time you’ve said that.”

“It’s good coffee.”

“Thanks.”

Daniel looks down at his own, picking at the paper cup sleeve with his thumbnail. They’re silent for a moment, and Daniel almost relaxes. He watches Valtteri from the corner of his eye. 

He’s wearing a white sweatshirt that looks almost too warm for the weather, but he’s paired it with shorts. The scruff on his face says he needs a shave soon, and Daniel finds himself rubbing his own beard as Valtteri picks up his phone from the countertop. A second later Daniel hears his own voice. 

“Hey, Daniel here,” the perennially shit phone speaker buzzes, and he looks up. 

“Why?” he interrupts the playback of his own voice message, in agony. “I don’t sound good here at all.”

Valtteri lets it play, looking at the screen until the last line. 

“I really want to see you, Bottas.”

“You really want to see me, apparently,” Valtteri says, and he’s wide-eyed again, folding his hands on the granite countertop. “Well, you’re seeing me.”

If Daniel had been thinking any more or any less, he’d have strategically called Valtteri late-night on some evening toward the tail end of the week. Then he’d have been able to blame his earnestness on any number of impairments. But this was from 45 minutes ago, and Daniel’s as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he ever gets. 

“I’m saying what I want,” he says, when he can scrape some words together. “You said the problem with me is that I’m not good at saying what I want, and I know you’re like, an honest guy—”

“Thanks,” Valtteri says, smiling faintly.

“—so you’ll probably respect it if I’m the same, so. I wanted to see you. To talk.”

“To talk.”

“Like you said,” Daniel says, more strangled with each word. “Whatever you were going to talk about at that dinner we’re having coffee instead of, now.”

Valtteri licks his lips again, and there’s a terrible moment where he looks like he’s about to press Daniel into an explanation, but then his face is at rest, as placid as Daniel ever likes to see it. “Okay,” he says, and meets Daniel’s eyes. “Do you know what else you want?”

Daniel clamps his jaw shut. 

Yes, he knows. He thinks he does. He can’t say it, though. So he says, lightly— 

“To be 19 again and do some things differently?” He curves the statement into a rhetorical question, and watches Valtteri take a measured breath, then half-smile. 

“Do what differently?”

Jesus. So much. 

“Not lie to you about why I’m breaking up with you, mostly.”

It’s clearly a straighter answer than Valtteri thought he was getting, and Daniel watches him chew his lip. And not just a straighter answer, but a different one.

He’d made that same placid face thirteen years ago, when Daniel had told him they should stop—stop whatever they were doing. 

Valtteri huffs a faint laugh and looks Daniel in the eye, but he’s fidgeting with his cup. “Breaking up? We’re calling that breaking up now?”

(It’s not even a good story. Boy leaves home, boy meets boy, fucks, fucks around, finds out, keeps fucking around, doesn’t label what he finds out, fucks up, backs out, fucks over boy 2, heads out, fucked up, down and out, but moves on. They both do.)

(Not very far apart from each other, but they both did.)

Daniel manages to not look away. Cruelty on Valtteri’s face would be easier to watch than the near-plaintive openness he sees instead.

“I don’t know what else you’d want to call it.”

“I don’t think—” Valtteri smiles, closed-mouth for a moment. “I don’t think you can call it breaking up if you refused to say we were together.”

“I was an ass,” Daniel admits, and when Valtteri laughs, he forces himself to as well. “That wasn’t fair to you.”

“To both of us.”

“Mostly—”

“Both of us,” Valtteri repeats. 

“It didn’t look like you minded, at the time. I thought I…” Daniel clasps his hands together, looks down at the weave of his fingers. “I thought I knew you, but you don’t know shit when you’re 19.”

Valtteri kicks his ankle. “‘t’s okay.”

“It wasn’t, really.”

“It’s okay now.”

It’s not, it’s really not, and Daniel knows this for so many more reasons than just the little crease Valtteri’s got between his eyebrows, but he bites his tongue.

“I’m not going to throw it back at you,” Valtteri says, each word articulated. His light gaze flickers back to Daniel’s. “We’re thirty-one, and I wanted just for you to say it. To talk to me.”

Daniel raises his coffee cup, and thankfully Valtteri does the same. They tap them together with a rasp of paper, and then both drink. “To talking, then.”

Valtteri grins, his cheeks pink, and something in Daniel’s stomach flips. “To talking.”

***

The double header arrives. It turns out fairly mediocre all around, nothing abysmal but Daniel feels like he’s doing the bare minimum to be considered respectable, and he’s not even close to his teammate, so respectable is still a long shot. At least he makes it into the points in Portimão, after a quali to forget, but Valtteri only takes a P3 from what had been pole on Saturday, so.

Fairly mediocre.

It’s well-known that Valtteri keeps to himself on race weekends, even more so given the back-to-back races, so Daniel doesn’t look out for him any more than he usually would. Which, in recent years, has been not at all (notwithstanding the first two races of this season). Valtteri snags him in media pen after quali for a handshake/hug that’s just shy of obligatory, but at the last moment he squeezes Daniel’s fingers and a zap courses through him. Then, of course, they part with a pat on the back, and Valtteri doesn’t speak to him for the rest of the weekend.

So it’s a surprise at Spain when Daniel gets a text from Valtteri, late on Thursday. He’s got nothing better to do—besides finish his dinner, take a shower, do his stretches, get to bed on time, boring stuff—so he throws on a jacket and heads over to the monolithic Bottas motorhome.

The windows glow warmly in the dimming evening as he approaches. Valtteri’s hug of greeting is just as warm too, though awfully short—Daniel finds himself turned out of his arms all too soon and deposited on the couch with a hippo mug of extremely good coffee. The character on this mug must be a girl, she’s got a little swoop of blonde hair. Daniel settles back while Valtteri clatters around the kitchen for a minute longer. 

Daniel looks around. This place is even bigger on the inside, damn near palatial for a motorhome. It’s polished at the expense of coziness, though the closed blinds and dimmed lights bring the walls closer, and make him feel almost drowsy. 

Valtteri is dwarfed in the kitchen as he makes another coffee with his Aeropress, standing in his little Puma socks, with the matching Puma slides, with the matching Puma sweatpants, with an unbranded sweater that Daniel thanks God for, because if he had to look at Bottas in full sponsor gear it would feel like he was still on the clock. It’s just nice to see Valtteri in normal human clothes, anyway. He looks more relaxed when he knows you’re reading his face, not his sleeves.

A moment later Valtteri joins him, rounding the counter with his own coffee, and sits down a distance away in the adjacent armchair. “How’s the coffee?” he finally asks.

“Awesome, thanks,” Daniel says. He raises his cup. “I finally get one of the little hippo mugs, which feels like a pretty big deal.”

“Moomins.”

“Exactly what I said,” Daniel nods.

They’re quiet together, Valtteri leading the comfortable silence the same way Daniel used to lead their conversations. He feels the day’s tension begin to drop from his shoulders.

This feels familiar, just winding down together on the front end of a race weekend. The jitters ahead are inevitable, but a slow evening is a good speedbump to keep them under control. 

Why did Valtteri ask him over? It feels overtly reminiscent of the way things used to be. This whole Formula Renault Reunion Project is weird, Daniel doesn’t know what Valtteri wants from this—he wonders if Valtteri even knows that himself. 

He could ask, but he knows there’s no way to keep his own motives out of his voice. 

Besides, what right does he have to want anything, from Valtteri of all people? Hell, Daniel’s the one who dumped him. And yeah, it was over a decade ago, and yeah, he’d made up some mumbled explanation about how it would be better for their careers to “stop hanging out,” as he’d put it so eloquently, but it was still shitty. And Daniel’s spent the time since then being even more of an ass: if anyone asked, he’d have to admit he’s bet against Valtteri—real, actual money like a fucking fool. Daniel’s practically prayed on his downfall. 

(Twenty-eighteen. One grand lost to Marko when Bottas kept the Merc seat after his most shit season ever. Daniel hopes Valtteri never heard about that wager, but he has the feeling that’s fruitless.)

But they’re sitting here, two coffees deep into civility again, and all Daniel can think of is the way they used to do this back when they were nineteen.

There was less coffee and more kissing, more kicking teammates out of hotel rooms and sneaking away from trainers, more expensive texts on T9 keyboards, more griping about the moment but with wider eyes turned to the future. More kissing, mostly. Daniel remembers that, how it felt to fall asleep with Valtteri, but more viscerally how it felt to slam into consciousness the next morning and sneak out, before anyone could find them, before it could ruin anyone’s career. How it felt to play with fire.

How it felt when Valtteri acted like he wanted Daniel as much as Daniel needs him now.

The paddock’s different now, neither of them would lose their jobs for kissing another man, there would just be awkward pressers, and social media would be rough for a while. Daniel knows he owes the luxury of security to his existing successes; the kids in F2 right now would probably feel as precarious as Daniel and Valtteri had at the time. 

But Daniel’s here in the 2020s, and safe, and he hopes Valtteri feels the same. Things are different, things are better—granted, most things are better than being 19 and in the closet.

And this is different but the same at once. It’s not a desperately hushed hookup in a hotel room, now it’s coffees in a motorhome with Valtteri’s name on the registration. But they’re back to linking up before the weekend really begins.

He wants to call it a ritual but it hadn’t been, Daniel had taken so much care to keep it—everything—undefinable. It couldn’t have tied him down if it wasn’t anything in the first place, except it did, and when he ended it, he didn’t even have the satisfaction of walking away from Valtteri knowing that that had meant something. 

That had taken several years to realise, and even more years to miss it. 

He takes a sip of coffee, nearing the bottom of his cup, and dares to look at Valtteri. Valtteri’s already looking back, and he smiles, as though he knows what Daniel’s thinking about. 

“Good day?” Valtteri asks.

“Mm, not bad at all really. Presser was with Lewis, which was nice.”

Valtteri hums ambiguously.

“I don’t hate ‘em when they’re with Lando, but either he’s out of touch or I am, because there are no vibes in the room.”

“‘t’s true, he’s very young. Good though. But very young.”

Daniel lets his head fall back and sighs with his whole body. “Can’t get away from the younguns, can you? They just get younger but they keep coming after you.”

“Huh.”

When Valtteri is silent for a minute, Daniel glances over at him. “What?”

“Nothing, I’ve just realised I’ve never had a teammate younger than me.”

“Lance?”

“No, he’s the one who got away. Nico—in 2017 I left Williams. You know.”

Maldonado, Massa, then Hamilton. Jeez, Valtteri’s had a different career from Daniel. 

“What’s it like chasing a kid ten years younger than you?” Valtteri asks innocently, making as if to duck when Daniel picks up a throw pillow, presumably to let it live up to its name.

“Don’t ask.” Daniel hugs the pillow instead. 

“I guess you started early,” Valtteri says politely, “back when we first met.”

“Doesn’t matter if I chase you for every lap, as long as I overtake you on the last one,” Daniel replies, just as politely. 

“I believe you’re referencing the 2008 season of Eurocup Formula Renault, and specifically the second round at Silverstone.” Valtteri drains his cup and delicately sets it on an end table, before he picks up a matching pillow and runs idle fingers across the faux-fur fabric, like he’s stroking a cat.

Daniel starts to relax, slouching in his seat and angling a lazy grin at his host. “I believe I am.”

“I also believe I won that series.”

“I also believe in that series I won more races than you.”

He doesn’t see Valtteri’s tactic until it’s too late, and a grey faux-fur throw pillow smacks him in the face, followed by the much heavier bulk of its thrower tumbling onto the couch as well, mauling Daniel down into the seat cushions. Oh, this is familiar.

Daniel yelps and his arms go up, Valtteri yanking the pillow from them and using it to beat him in the face.

“Did you—”

thwack—

“—call me here to—”

thwack—

“—assault me because I think—”

Daniel cedes ground, giggling all the way down as his head hits the arm of the couch, and he grabs the cushion back and hooks a leg around Valtteri’s knee, tangling them both. Swaying in his fight for balance, Valtteri is already compromised where he kneels on the unstable, yielding plush of the couch, and Daniel yanks him down with a hand around his wrist.

When Valtteri collapses against his chest, it knocks all the air from his lungs. Daniel has to fight his own arms to keep them from pulling Valtteri even closer to him, though it nearly physically hurts to resist.

“I believe that’s true you won more races,” Valtteri says, muffled against a pillow—nevermind that Daniel’s the one shoving it on his face— “but I got more points so I also believe you’re an inconsistent little bitch.”

The laugh bubbling up from Daniel’s chest feels ancient, like it’s been there for millennia, or at least thirteen years. Like it’s been waiting.

He scrabbles at the pillow, yanking it away from Valtteri’s face and blindly shoving at his shoulders, because being this close is more dangerous than he can handle. There’s no shifting away, not with Valtteri’s hands pinning down his shoulders, not with the heat of his thighs straddling Daniel’s hips in a move far too obscene for this point in their recovered friendship.

It’s not really obscene, Daniel just wants it to be. He could reach up and kiss Valtteri the way he hasn’t for thirteen years. 

With effort, he shoves the thought away and mentally sentences himself to another stint in horny jail. 

Daniel swallows hard, and Valtteri looks down at him.

Daniel has missed this view. He’s missed the bright flush of pink that blooms across Valtteri’s face at their closeness, the slow shift of his jaw as he watches the man underneath him, the shine in his eyes that contradicts the bored set of his mouth. The tiny scar on the bridge of his nose that somehow only underlines the symmetry of his face. Daniel wants to reach up and touch it.

“Should we start comparing our karting championships now?” Valtteri asks coolly, but—his eyes are still bright. 

It’s been a long time since Daniel had this view.

“Oh,” he ekes out, “if we want a dick-measuring contest I think we’re just—making it hard for ourselves—” Daniel stops; this is getting unsalvageable.

Valtteri giggles, giggles at that, bites his lip and then backs off, by a fraction. He’s still literally on Daniel’s lap. Daniel is on the goddamn brink of explosion. 

“What, did it shrink since I last saw it?” 

God, Valtteri should have said anything but that. Daniel flushes hot, hopes the dim lighting in the room hides it. 

He says the first words to come to mind. “Your ass certainly didn’t since I last saw it.”

Valtteri wheezes and pulls back, teetering but catching the back of the couch before he topples off. “Oh, that’s what this is about? You’re still thinking about that.” He takes a breath, touches Daniel’s chin for half a moment while his face splits with a grin. “Thank you, you’re very nice to me right now.”

“Only being honest,” Daniel says, lying through his teeth but only by omission. 

“I’m sorry about your dick, though.”

“My dick,” Daniel gasps out, “is intact. In fine working condition.” Too fine working condition right now, he doesn’t say. Valtteri should get off his lap before he doesn’t have to say it at all. “But don’t worry about it. Not at all.”

He shifts, which is a mistake, but Valtteri doesn’t appear to notice anything wrong.

“So no measuring it.”

“No measuring, pants stay on,” Daniel says, solemn. 

“That’s new from you.”

“I’m a changed man,” he suggests. “I’m—I’m thirty-one.”

When Valtteri looks at him, really looks at him, he leans in and brings a hand to Daniel’s face again. It’s not tender, just deliberate, and he cups Daniel’s jaw while running his thumb across Daniel’s cheek, dipping against the corner of his lip then smearing a lighter touch up the side of his face, across crow’s feet they both know are promising to appear too soon. Practically nascent.

Daniel’s breath is stuck in his throat, something brimming in his heart that feels half like bliss and half like loss. This is everything he wanted but he can’t let it go that way; can’t fuck up what he just got back. It doesn’t matter if he wants this—wants Valtteri—and it doesn’t matter if they did this before. Years ago. Valtteri doesn’t want this, doesn’t want a guy whose teenage idiocy he had a front seat to. 

Daniel knows his skin is hot under Valtteri’s touch, and before he can think about it he grabs Valtteri’s wrist again and yanks his hand away. 

“We shouldn’t play around too much,” he says, forcing his voice to sound casual. “It’s not like—not like that anymore, isn’t it?” Daniel laughs, and it sounds tinny to hear himself. “Let’s not make this weird.”

Valtteri is already pulling back and nodding before Daniel’s done speaking. “Right, it’s not like that.” He peels himself off of Daniel, shifting himself to the end of the couch and settling there like it’s his duty. He pulls one throw pillow with him, and hugs it to his chest. “Not anymore.”

Heaving a sigh, Daniel rearranges himself to the other end of the couch, criss-cross applesauce, and steadfastly ignores the mussed up fabric of the throw blanket between them. The bliss brimming in his chest evaporates, and Daniel sets his teeth. 

There’s only loss left, but that’s where he’s supposed to be. 

He will not fuck around.

(And you won’t find out, something in the back of his brain choruses. He takes a sledgehammer to the voices.)

The little angel of responsibility on his shoulder nudges him again, and he clears his throat. Valtteri’s looking at him, and for a horrible half-second Daniel can only see wistfulness in his face, so raw it’s almost bloody. Then he blinks, and Valtteri’s back to his mild normal, and Daniel must have imagined that. 

“I just wanna be friends with you again, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.” The words have to be dragged from his chest like a retired car from a gravel trap. “And I know that might seem hard to believe, since this started out with…” Daniel rubs his mouth. “Overtly sexual overtones, but—”

“You don’t want it to be like that,” Valtteri says slowly, and he nods, probably in relief. A tiny part of Daniel’s brain notices that he’s picking at the fur on the cushion again. 

“I never meant it to be like that.” The sledgehammer is swung. “It’s just how it happened, and it would be disrespectful for me to like, expect anything, even just us being friends again.” His throat burns. “I haven’t been angelic to you in the last decade and it means a lot that you just want to hang out at all. And I wasn’t watching Netflix specifically to like, see you, it just happened, and I shouldn’t have tweeted about it, I just—” he gulps, and presses on— “thought it would be funny, and I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. It just ended up that way.” 

Responsibility, the angel hisses into his ear. Daniel cringes.

“So I’m sorry. That—was on me. I wouldn’t want to make a big deal about a sauna scene anyway, because I know it’s not like that for you the way a lot of other people see it—”

“And you don’t want sauna to be weird for you because one day you’ll do it yourself again and you don’t want it to be like that.” Valtteri looks his most Finnish ever but there’s almost a twist at the corner of his mouth.

“Yes. Yes,” Daniel says, vehement. He leans forward. “It’s not like that. I liked your episode, too, all of it—”

“Did you cry?”

“No, but it was very…” Daniel pats his chest, thumps resounding with the headache beginning to pound behind his eyes. “Emotional.” It’s not the word, but he doesn’t know the right one.

“It was probably a nice break from looking at yourself, too.”

Daniel doesn’t reply, just snorts a half-laugh to keep himself from wailing and picks up his empty coffee cup from the side table, traces the design on the side with his thumb. He feels like he’s just run a marathon and flopped over the finish line, but there’s no sense of joy, just a grudging righteousness that tells him he’s done the right thing, though it’s the opposite of everything he wanted. 

Daniel hates righteous suffering. Doesn’t he deserve his carnal happiness just like everyone else?

But he looks up and sees Valtteri, brushed to softness by the dimmed lighting, and he just looks tired. It’s three races into the season and no one should look that pummeled, and as Daniel watches, his head drops against the couch back and his arms tighten around the pillow. Valtteri doesn’t deserve righteous suffering either, so Daniel will be careful. He can’t do that again. He’ll be so careful.

Considered self-denial is off-brand for Daniel—he’s the Honey Badger, he’s a prodigal, hedonistic and boisterous and resolute. 

He sneaks another look at Valtteri, and he knows he can do it. When he sets down his cup he slides over to the other end of the couch, beside Valtteri, so their shoulders are just touching. Valtteri wordlessly shifts to rest his head ever so gently on Daniel’s shoulder, and releases a sigh. Daniel itches to hold his hand, and doesn’t. It’s still comfortable.

He dozes off like that on the couch, and when he wakes up in the dark, the clock above the microwave is blinking 00:47. Valtteri’s gone, the bedroom door closed. Daniel refills his Moomin mug with water, chugs it, and leaves without letting the door slam behind him. 

On Sunday, Valtteri starts P3, ends P3. Daniel moves up one place into sixth. They fly home separately.

Fairly mediocre.

***

Monaco is—fuck, it’s Monaco, there’s no way to talk about Monaco. Monaco just is. You go into the weekend with ungodly amounts of excitement, all bundled up in your gut like too much pasta for dinner. Glorious indulgence and probable regret wrapped up in one.

There’s no middle-ground, no mediocrity in Monaco. 

The more you want, the harder the comedown is. 

Daniel qualifies P12.

Right, okay. 

Valtteri’s nailed it on P3, which is both amazing and hopeless at the same time, and just like Max he’s gotten his pole chances obliterated along with Leclerc’s front suspension, so he’s really having a normal one, too.

But Monaco’s busy enough with heightened sponsor obligations that he doesn’t have time to link up with Valtteri, until pre-race, where he can interrupt Valtteri and Alonso having a moment, or something. It’s suddenly weird to talk to Valtteri in this context, trading harmless comments about track limits and the curbs, and what they want changed for next year. Alonso wanders off and Valtteri’s race-day veneer is still on, as if nothing happened between the two of them at all. The guise only drops moments before they part—Valtteri squeezes Daniel’s arm just too tight, wordless. 

The race is awful, for Daniel, just about the worst of the non-disaster scenarios, but Valtteri’s fucked pitstop is a bona fide disaster.

Daniel thinks of all the times this would be a windfall for him—an upset in the cars at the front, a snapped weak link in the chain, chaos causing cracks for him to sneak through. Daniel loves Events, and Situations. He loves Circumstances.

There were all the times that shit luck for Valtteri had been something to celebrate. It meant a lot, when he was in Red Bull. It meant a little less, in Renault. It means fuck-all here, in this fucking McLaren in Monaco, P-fucking-twelve, doing a shit job, lapped by his literal infant of a teammate, and he gets to cross the finish line but he does it with as many points as Valtteri got.

Fucking zilch. 

Chasing kids ten years younger than himself. Chasing Valtteri, two months younger than himself. For 30 laps, anyway.

It’s not like he feels guilty about the times he’s capitalised off Valtteri’s disasters. Valtteri wouldn’t want him to, all’s fair in love and racing and Daniel bites down on the thought that this is both. Sappy motherfucker he’s becoming and all that. Fair is fair and those who don’t exploit their luck don’t deserve any more, and that’s just racing. Still, the thought makes his memory bristle with the times he’s met such news with, perhaps, undue glee.

For what it’s worth, he wishes Valtteri had gotten his podium finish. P12 tastes the same as P13, anyway. At least one of them would have come out of the weekend happy.

Valtteri doesn’t want to talk, after the race. Daniel wouldn’t expect him too, wouldn’t even ask. He just knows Valtteri doesn’t want to talk because Valtteri finds him, and tells him. 

“After this week, okay?” he asks, clasping Valtteri’s shoulder more earnestly than necessary. 

Valtteri is still wearing his team shirt and cap, looking swallowed by them. He nods.

“I’ll be at Woking this week but after that, I’ll come back here.” For you, Daniel bites back. 

“We’ll figure it out.” Valtteri’s muted, but it’s easy to tell he doesn’t just mean scheduling. 

“I won’t text you.”

Valtteri returns Daniel’s half-smile, just as dry and humourless. “I won’t text you either.”

***

But both of them break their promise by the time Daniel’s completed his obligations at the MTC, and on Thursday afternoon Daniel gets a text.

> Im picking you up at the airport whens your flight in?

Blake’s picking me up dw about it <

> You dont want me to?

You don’t have to <

> I want to

Daniel pinches the bridge of his nose and sends Valtteri the flight details a minute later. He gets a reply in an hour.

> Ok

He texts Blake to let him know he’s off the hook.

So the next day Valtteri picks him up at the Nice airport in a company Merc, and Daniel sends a quiet praise note to the Lord in thanks that McLaren switched engine suppliers, or this might be treasonous on top of the existing awkwardness. 

For all that he doesn’t speak, though, Valtteri seems much more relaxed than Daniel does. The radio is off so it’s just road noise and the occasional clearing of Daniel’s throat, as he thinks about speaking, overthinks his words, and keeps his mouth shut instead. 

It’s almost too late when Valtteri asks, “Are you okay?” and glances at him, finally returning one of the dozen of looks Daniel’s sneaked at him in the last twenty minutes.

“Yeah,” Daniel says with a start, after a pause just long enough to be weird. “This isn’t the way home, though,” he says, as Valtteri breezes past the exit for the A500 south to Monaco. 

“My home. I’ve been staying in my house up here, it’s a better place to relax than the city, if you don’t mind joining for a bit.”

“Not at all,” Daniel replies too fast. “I’ve got all my stuff—” he gestures toward the back of the car— “right here.”

“Good.” The simple word sounds loaded, and Daniel looks over at Valtteri to see a tiny grin on his face. “You can have the sofa.”

“Okay,” Daniel says meekly, and Valtteri laughs.

“If you don’t like it there’s always the guest room, too.”

“I’m old now,” Daniel complains, “like you keep saying, thank you, so I shouldn’t break my back on your couch if I can help it.”

Valtteri flicks on the turn signal and they take the next exit, the silence a bit softer now. “I haven’t said you’re old, just you’re thirty-one, so what that means to you is obviously up to you,” he says a moment later. “You have to decide that for yourself. Or don’t. I think you don’t.”

That’s one of Valtteri’s weirder speeches, and Daniel spends the rest of the short drive unsuccessfully parsing the meaning. 

Valtteri’s place is a pretty house, Daniel thinks once he’s gotten the tour. It doesn’t feel much like Valtteri, though—aptly sparse in decor but not in a comforting way. He finds himself wondering what Valtteri’s home is like in Finland. Surely it’s different from this, with the pool, the tennis court, the huge patio of stone so washed that the sun it reflects is another glare. The Mediterranean warmth of terra cotta and plaster walls sits weirdly in the space around Valtteri, some soullessness echoing around the vaulted ceilings.

There are no animal slippers in the entryway closet.

But after dinner—quinoa and chicken and grilled zucchini—the mug Valtteri slides across the table to him has the familiar little hippos on it. Daniel raises his eyebrows at the design he hasn’t seen before: there’s also a little guy on this one, too. Valtteri must have a lot of these.

“Oooh, hippo mug again.” 

“That’s Snufkin and Moomintroll,” Valtteri corrects him.

Daniel nods. “Exactly what I said.”

“Do you want to go outside? The sun just set, but…”

They take their coffees outside and Valtteri leads the way, kicking off his Puma slides on the pool deck before perching on the end of one of the sun loungers.

Not that there’s any sun left in the sky, besides a dying gradient of lighter blue on the horizon to the west. When Daniel stretches out on the other chaise, he opens his eyes to a smattering of stars overhead. There’s a promise of a chill in the night air that makes sense with the clear sky, anyway.

The pool pump hums and water laps at the edge of the deck. The noise is almost lulling but the lapping of the water throws off dancing reflections of the LED lamps placed around the garden. Valtteri’s turned away from him, though, and it’s hard to see his face in the darkness. Daniel wishes he’d turn closer again. 

“You don’t have a sauna here, do you?” Daniel asks, already knowing there isn’t. He wouldn’t want to tempt an invitation if the possibility existed.

“I’m thinking of building one, but no, not yet.”

“Oh.”

“Why, should we have met in Finland instead?” Valtteri asks, and suddenly Daniel has to swallow around a lump in his throat.

“Not sure I want to put myself in your territory so soon,” Daniel replies, and at that Valtteri turns back to him.

There’s a smile tucked somewhere in the corner of his mouth. “I’ve been to Australia plenty of times, haven’t I?”

“Not the same as Perth. And not this year, anyway.”

“Not yet.”

“You wanna come to Perth after the GP?” Daniel asks, not knowing what answer he even wants.

“Not sure I want to put myself in your territory at all,” Valtteri says, and he takes a sip of coffee but Daniel can see he’s hiding a smile with his mug. 

“I miss a bunch of the races we skipped last year,” says Daniel idly, dropping one foot off the side of his lounger. His heel thuds against the deck. “It’s nice to race at some new tracks but I miss Austin. I miss Canada ‘specially, since it’s cut again.”

“You could just—you could go, you know,” Valtteri says, shrugging. “You have the free weekend if you just want to see the city again.”

“We should go. We should just go, and snoop around Montreal to see what it’s like normally. Without, like—” he waves a hand— “streets full of Ferrari fans.”

Valtteri laughs faintly but doesn’t reply, just looks down into his cup as he swirls the coffee around.

“I mean it, let’s go,” Daniel insists. He sits up, swinging his other leg off the lounger and turning to face Valtteri. “After Baku. If Baku’s good we can celebrate, if it’s shit we can use it to recoup. Let’s go.”

“Go to Canada just for fun?”

“Yeah.” It would be nice, Daniel knows he’s still blessedly unknown across most of North America—traveling the States incognito is no problem, surely he and Valtteri can blend into Montreal for a weekend when no one expects to see them there. They can be shitty tourists together: rent bikes and ride along the river, hike up Mount Royal and have a picnic, feed each other smoked meat and bagels, hunt down street art. So he says, stupidly, “Just to hang out.”

A silence hangs. Daniel almost misses Valtteri’s slow inhale.

“I don’t want to hang out.”

Daniel’s face goes hot, and something in his chest tightens. He drags out another breath, just enough to ask— “Why?”

Valtteri leans down, setting his mug on the deck with a clink. When he straightens, he slides a glance up at Daniel. “Because of what it was like—what we were like before. I can’t hang out with you while you’re doing this now.”

“I’m sorry.” He squeezes his eyes shut, though he can still feel Valtteri’s cool glance burning against him, then he speaks again, blindly. “I’m sorry I was stupid when I was nineteen, god, it was so long ago but it still bothers me and I wish I could redo it better, I want to do better,” he presses on, because if he can’t tell Valtteri now maybe he’ll never get a chance to say it later. Especially if—if Valtteri doesn’t want to be around him. Daniel’s heart skips a beat in the worst way. He opens his eyes. “I’m sorry, and I want to be buddies. Again.” The hedge word just feels tacked on.

“Daniel… if you want to do better you have to stop lying to me.”

“I’m not lying to you.” He’s flushing now, he’s fucked up, this is—this feels like a knife in his gut. He mumbles, “I don’t know how you can think I’m lying to you again.”

A shuddering breath. Refractions of lamplight off the water play across Valtteri’s face, across Daniel’s hands when he looks down at them. He looks back up, and they hold each other’s gazes. This feels like do-or-die, and Daniel opens his mouth again.

“I—”

“I really mean it when I said you don’t know how to say what you want.”

“Valtteri.” Daniel slams a hand against the seat cushion. “You’re so—fuck, I don’t know how to do this. Fine. What do you want?”

Rapid blinking. It’s Valtteri’s turn to flush, or maybe Daniel’s just imagining it. Something in his chest burns, like he’s eaten something that’s giving him heartburn, except that dinner was excruciatingly diet-friendly. He clenches his hands and waits.

Valtteri opens his mouth.

“I don’t want to be buddies. Friends.” For the first time, his cast-iron gaze falters. “I don’t want to be just friends.”

His tongue is poking at the corner of his lips, the way it always does when he’s thinking hard, and Daniel’s so busy watching it that it takes a moment for the words to sink in.

Oh.  

“What?” Daniel says, blinking. He probably misheard.

“You’re—one of the most stupid people I know,” Valtteri says, confident but definitely blushing. “Daniel. You’re trying to be beside me and properly stay away from me at the same time. And I know it’s because you don’t want me to be uncomfortable, but we’ve said this a lot already, I’m… I’m thirty-one, right. We’re grown now, I let you use my Moomins mugs, and I don’t really care if you see my ass. You were shitty before but I know you by now, you’re just kind of a shitty guy sometimes, and now you’re thirty-one also, and I know what I’m getting.”

Daniel is unblinking, but when he tries to speak, it’s as if his jaw is clamped shut.

Valtteri continues. “I know what I’m getting and I still want it, okay? It’s very kind that you’re trying to maybe save me from yourself but I mean I don’t want you to. I know how to want hard goals, difficult goals.” He pauses, and his helpless smile is somehow sadder than the raw look Daniel knows must be on his own face. “I know how to set hard goals and work for them, but you’re not the most difficult thing I ever wanted. You’re easy and that’s okay. I want that to be okay.”

The thing is, if Valtteri is the kind of guy who ignores the tidal wave of change hurtling in to his apartment and his life, Daniel’s the one with his face pressed against the storm door, saying wow! cool! I wonder what that’s gonna do! until the moment it mounts the shore, unstoppable force meeting a very movable man. 

It smashes him to pieces. He is, figuratively, strewn across the floor as the tsunami waters recede, leaving him to dry out, a little permanently disfigured and changed forever whether he likes it or not. He is, literally, still sitting across from Valtteri on the night-dark pool deck, and he thinks he likes it. 

A little weather-beaten, stiff from the salt. It takes a moment before his jaw works again and he can speak. It’s not the longest speech he’s ever heard Valtteri give, but it might be the longest directed at him. 

“Is it okay if I want the same thing you want?”

“Well, right now it would be helpful.” Valtteri’s smile is wry. “I had hoped you would.”

Daniel scrubs his face with his hands, burying the heels of his palms against his eyes. He’s been turned inside out and back again, he’s frenetic emotion in the shape of a man.

Valtteri has hoped that he would.

Man, he should have kissed Valtteri on the couch in the motorhome anyway. He drags his hands off his face and looks up again, meeting bright blue-green eyes. Valtteri’s shuffling his socked feet where they’re stretched out in front of him on the deck, and Daniel feels an anticipatory agitation stir inside himself. It’s like a door was opened, but no one's hit the lightswitch on the other side yet.

Daniel wants. The weight of it is horrifying. Now that he can have, he’ll be lucky if he’s the only one who gets crushed.

“So where do we go from here?” he asks, because he’s not sure if he should walk through the opened door. 

“Wherever you want.”

A silent moment hangs before Valtteri gets to his feet, and Daniel has a lightheaded moment at the thrilling threat of being approached, like some weird little prey animal with crossed wires who wants to be eaten, but Valtteri just veers off to scoop up both their coffee mugs from the deck. 

“Just putting these in the kitchen,” he murmurs, and walks toward the house on silent feet. 

Daniel doesn’t know how long he sits there, but it can’t be more than an agonising minute before then he’s scrambling up with no idea what he’s going to do next. 

The back door is wide open, a rectangle of warm light spilling down the back steps and onto the patio. Daniel stops at the edge of the light, stilled by a flux of uncertainty. Does he follow? Is he meant to?

Then Valtteri appears again, his shadow splashes across the ground and he pauses in the doorway, looking as caught as Daniel feels.

Daniel steps closer.

“Valtteri, please—” 

That’s as far as he gets, while Valtteri’s still standing on the step above him, and Daniel looks up. He lets Valtteri reach for him, sliding fingers through the curl of his hair, tugging him closer until their mouths meet.

They’re both better at this than last time—that’s Daniel’s first thought. Then he doesn’t think much at all, his hand drifting up to Valtteri’s neck as he feels a touch on his own shoulders, a grip anchoring them together in the doorway. Valtteri’s lips are sure against his, pushy against his own yielding mouth, testing and immediately pursuing the stifled whimper that’s drawn out. It’s not a defeat when his lips part against a press of tongue.

The kiss feels young. They are not—at least not like they used to be. 

Daniel’s brain has gone goopy, but he drags one thought from it.

Not like we used to be—we’re better.

He lets himself lean into the warmth of Valtteri’s body. He lets Valtteri tighten fingers through his hair, lets the scrape of a shiver drag a path down his spine. 

When he feels like he could die on the spot, he pulls away, and Valtteri releases him easily.

“I wanted that,” Daniel says, his voice thick. He takes a step back and Valtteri takes the step down, keeping the distance between them closed, but now he’s looking up at him. “I—I really wanted that.”

“I thought you’d do it earlier,” Valtteri admits, but he isn’t polite enough to blush. “I wouldn’t have minded, and it’s not like you to be patient.” He runs a gentle hand up Daniel’s shoulder, briefly fisting in the fabric of his shirt and pulling Daniel in for another kiss, this one short but not gentle. 

“Fuck.” It’s awfully breathtaking, for all that Daniel is a high performance athlete. “But even if I knew you didn’t mind, I’d…” The humility the next words take is hard-won. “I’m kind of a shitty guy sometimes, to you. I have been.”

He knows the light from the house is washing his face and airing his sins, but Valtteri, his back still to the light from the open door, is tucking all expression into the shadows on his own face. It’s familiar for Daniel to feel locked out, here—there was only one gleefully expressive shoey refusal, but there were dozens of poisoned words in interviews, which Valtteri had steadily acknowledged with no reaction at all. 

“I don’t want to take from you when I’ve been the one screwing you over,” Daniel finishes. His mouth is dry.

“I don’t think about it,” Valtteri says. He snorts. “Things change and people have different focuses. I… I got married and divorced since you started ‘screwing me over.’ Everyone knows I mind my own business in the sport, so—the guy you are for them isn’t all of who you are, and I don’t pay attention to that guy.” He looks down, reaches for Daniel’s hand and holds it carefully, not in a clasp but as if it’s a shell he’s picked up on the beach, a curiosity. “I knew you before Formula 1. That part of you, he’s changed and I’ve stayed the same but I still know him. And F1 Daniel is so—fucked up, and weird—”

Daniel’s grimace breaks into something that’s half laugh, half sob.

“—but the other guy behind him is the one I really know. And he tries to hide but he’s right there, to me.” He punctuates this by lacing his fingers through Daniel’s, and the press of palm against palm is relief, before their hands part.

Daniel takes a step back. “Valtteri, I—”

“Don’t be stupid.”

So Daniel kisses him again, because it’s the least stupid thing he can think of, curving one hand round the back of Valtteri’s neck and bringing the other to his waist, pulling him close again.

It feels gently formal. It feels serious. It feels, very nearly, like it means as much as Daniel wants it to.

“Good,” Valtteri says, against Daniel’s lips, and when they part he doesn’t pull away. His eyes hold a question and Daniel responds by grabbing Valtteri’s shoulders and drawing their bodies close, and Valtteri buries his face in the crook of Daniel’s neck. 

Daniel’s exhale is a shudder.

“Is it that simple?”

“It can be.”

“So how fast do we move from here?”

He can feel Valtteri’s smile against his skin, a rasp of stubble against his neck.

“As fast as you want. We’ve—” Valtteri pauses, grabs Daniel’s shoulder and squeezes. “We’ve waited long enough, fuck, come on.”

The door slams enthusiastically behind them after they scramble up the stairs into the house, then they’re both bathed in light, the tile floor cold under Daniel’s feet, before they tumble onto the sofa together in a redo of the last time they shared a couch. It feels better when you’re shameless, Daniel thinks blindly, better to let the dam break. And if he was concerned he’d be the obliterating force—he was wrong. 

Valtteri’s all hands, all mouth, all assertive yet unhurried touch with Daniel underneath him again, snug between his thighs. Somehow he’s carrying tension in his body like he’s trying to keep his full weight off of Daniel, but Daniel runs firm hands down his back, over the soft fabric of his shirt, and after a few passes he relaxes into Daniel’s hands. 

“Fuck, I think we should be doing this on a bed,” Daniel says muzzily, into Valtteri’s mouth. Valtteri bites down on his lip, relenting just before a whine turns into a yelp, and pulls away just an inch, his own mouth wet and red. Daniel’s getting hard in his jeans and it’s uncomfortable, and he knows Valtteri can feel it. “If this is all you wanna do that’s fine,” he manages to say, “but—” Daniel presses his lips to Valtteri’s jaw, kisses sloppy but in sequence like a ritual— “there are things I want to make up to you.”

“Things.” Valtteri’s laugh is hoarse, just like his voice. He’s more strung-out on this than he looks, Daniel realises. 

“God,” he murmurs, his lips brushing Valtteri’s ear, “I want you to fuck me. Again.”

Valtteri’s reply is a breathed obscenity.

“Lemme do this for you.”

“You’ve got something to prove?” Valtteri says, and his tone has an edge.

“Always, to you.”

“You don’t have to worry about that.”

Daniel’s pushing at Valtteri’s chest and he’s tugging Daniel’s shoulders then they’re nearly collapsing off the sofa to half drag each other, half stumble over each other on the way to the nearest bed. Valtteri’s grip on his wrist is burning and it’s more than once that Daniel reels him in to kiss the bared side of his neck.

“Fuck,” Valtteri hisses, an instant tension running through him so tangibly that Daniel can feel it through the lock of his arms around Valtteri’s body. “Fuck, that’s—” then he’s pressing a thigh up between Daniel’s and both of them freeze at once.

Valtteri may be smaller, but when it was just the two of them, he was always pushy. Daniel remembers when he used to push right back.

“Quit stalling,” Daniel says, against Valtteri’s neck, and then he bites it to distract from the crack of his voice. He’s summarily dragged and pushed through the guest room door, and they both nearly fall over Daniel’s suitcase on the floor before a swipe at the wall turns the ceiling light on. It’s blinding. Valtteri mashes the lightswitch once more and it’s killed, low lighting blooming around the corners of the room instead. Then they blink at each other.

This room doesn’t feel any more like Valtteri than the rest of the house does; it’s not sparse but still impersonal, like a hotel room. Nicer, though, than any of the hotel rooms they’ve fucked in before.

He sits on the end of the bed and tugs Valtteri close to him, near enough that Valtteri’s standing between his parted knees and looking down at him again. “Do what you want,” he says, and it sounds more like begging than he planned, “but don’t wait because of me.”

“Alright,” Valtteri says, and shoves him back. He scrambles backward up the mattress with Valtteri chasing, then burrows against the pillows and draws the other man close to him. Valtteri drags a hand through Daniel’s hair and uses the other to cup his jaw, and follows with a series of hard, open-mouthed kisses. 

“Please,” Daniel whines. “I want you to do whatever you like.”

“Jesus.” This close up, Valtteri’s raspy breaths are impossible to hide. “Are you trying to use this to punish yourself, because that’s the most fucked up thing you’ve ever done.”

No.

Yes.

He hesitates for half a second and then Valtteri pulls away, taking his hands off him, and Daniel wants to scream.

“No.”

A little, but Daniel doesn’t know how to talk about it.

“No,” he repeats, rolling onto his back. He looks up at the ceiling. “I want it, fuck, Valtteri, I want you so bad.”

Valtteri reaches for his head and nudges it on the pillow, so they’re looking at each other again. “No?”

“Fine, a little.”

“Daniel…”

“It’s kind of hot, isn’t it?” Daniel demands. He wants to reach out again and fit his palm around Valtteri’s cheek. “You get to take what you want, I get to get dicked within an inch of my life—”

“Assuming that’s what I want?”

“Of course you do.”

“Well—” Valtteri bites the side of his lip— “yeah, but—”

“Of course.”

“—but you were always weird about getting fucked instead of fucking me and I feel bad about that, now. It’s not a punishment, it doesn’t work like that. If it is for you, I don’t want to do it.”

He can’t deny there was some—some complex there. But again, most things are better than being 19 and in the closet. He half-sits, propping himself up on an elbow and dropping a hand to Valtteri’s waist to gently tug at the hem of his shirt.

The fondness in Valtteri’s smile is a tightness in his chest.

“I’m evolved,” Daniel says solemnly. He bites back a grin before he says, “All good all ways, right? I wouldn’t put it on my helmet if I didn’t believe it,” and digs his fingers into Valtteri’s side just to see him squirm and laugh. “It’s not… getting fucked that’s the penalty. It’s—” Daniel tries hard not to blush— “the way you do it.”

Valtteri blushes for both of them.

“I don’t want you to regret this.”

“I regret too many other things to regret this,” Daniel says.

“If you get fucked up or weird about this we’re stopping right away, seriously.”

“Trust me,” Daniel says, reaching for Valtteri’s hand, “I won’t get fucked up about this.” Making eye contact right now would fry all his circuits, so he moves his fingers up Valtteri’s wrist instead, focusing on unbuckling his watch. Valtteri, still, lets him slip off the watch and set it on the bedside table with one hand, still gripping Valtteri’s wrist with the other, and he doesn’t move when Daniel brings it to his mouth and kisses the soft skin of his inner forearm. “It’ll still be really hot if you do this like you hate me, though.”

Valtteri grins. “That’s too hard.”

“You know what else is too har—”

He gets muscled back into the mattress for that and Valtteri’s laughing, Daniel clinging on to him so both their bodies shake with it.

“Okay,” says Valtteri, “if you really want it, you can take it.” 

The words burn in Daniel’s chest and Valtteri pulls out of his grasp, sitting up. He nods at Daniel’s bags on the floor. “You’ve got condoms, or I should have grabbed some?”

God, he’s a lot more forthright than he was at 19. Daniel almost grins.

“I’ve got ‘em but—you don’t need to, not if you don’t want.”

A raised eyebrow. “You’re…”

“I’m good. Clean.” 

“Okay,” Valtteri says, and that’s it, because he’s already playing with the hem of Daniel’s shirt, pushing fingertips under the fabric and dragging it up. Daniel sits up too when he starts tugging at it, and pulls it off before kissing him again. “No lube in here though,” Valtteri says, “I don’t often fuck my guests.” 

It’s a joke, but Daniel bites. “Don’t often?”

“You’re special,” Valtteri says, like he knows Daniel wants to hear it. Daniel does, and hides his grin by leaving the bed to dig out his wash bag from his luggage. Valtteri uses the moment to take off his own shirt, and it joins Daniel’s on the floor. 

Daniel tosses the travel-sized bottle of lube at him.

Valtteri tosses it back. “Do it yourself. Let me watch.”

This, Daniel realises, is where it really starts. He nods, and climbs back onto the bed, dropping a kiss on Valtteri’s bare shoulder on the way. 

He’s good at this, though, and Valtteri’s not uninvolved—there are hands at his belt and then Valtteri strips it off with zero fumbling, kneeling over him as he lies on his back, and they both work off Daniel’s stupid, sexy, sex-inhibiting skinny jeans, together. He watches Valtteri’s eyes lock onto his tattoos, tracing them up his thigh even as Valtteri sits back. The gaze goes straight to his dick.

Valtteri runs a hand up Daniel’s leg in a sweep of skin on flesh, fingers over ink. “Alright,” he murmurs. “Prove something to me.”

He doesn’t have to think hard about this, it’s better if he doesn’t. He lifts his hips to strip off his boxer briefs and god, it should feel more weird than this to get naked in front of Valtteri again, but it doesn’t. Been here before, echoes in his head, and he’s not a teenager anymore but he’s more desperate for it now than he’d ever been back then.

The lube got lost somewhere in the duvet, which is sure to only get more crumpled, but he fishes it out. The damning click of the bottle top is too loud in the room, then Daniel coats his fingers while Valtteri watches, and too-slowly reaches between his spread legs, telling himself that to be embarrassed at all would be the only shameful thing. 

There’s hunger in Valtteri’s gaze.

Hunger. No shyness. Care, though, too much care, more than he must want to show. Daniel can’t handle seeing it and has to close his eyes. 

He doesn’t have to work hard to open himself up but he knows this is a show, for his own sake, more than it is prep. But he’s impatient, even as he’s vain, so he wastes no time in false modesty. His cock is a warm weight in his hand, and he shifts his hips before spreading his thighs in a perfunctory tease, then he presses slick fingers to his entrance and swallows a soft sound in his throat.

It’s a show, he reminds himself, and slows the thrusts of his fingers as he rolls his hips against his own touch. He skims his free hand across his hips, fingertips light, and he lets himself arch his back and twitch against the sheets without holding back. 

He bites his lip and when he opens his eyes, Valtteri is watching his spit-slick mouth. 

Valtteri looks at him like he’s—something good, and Daniel can’t think about that or he’ll combust. It’s perverse, his body caressed and Valtteri taking the pleasure from it. 

He’s all skin, and right now Valtteri looks all desire, with no touch shared between them. The thought manifests as a sob. 

“You’re too fucking patient,” he says, the complaint nearly a whine. “I want you to touch me.”

“You hadn’t said.” A smile unfurls on Valtteri’s face and he reaches out, wraps a hand around Daniel’s ankle. The distanced touch is infuriating and Daniel pulls out of the grip, drawing his leg up and wrapping his free hand around the back of his thigh. He lets his fingers dig into the muscle, lets himself watch Valtteri watch him, lets it part his legs further because there’s no point in going if you’re not going to go hard.

Touch me.”

“I thought this was your punishment,” Valtteri says casually, and Daniel’s cock twitches where it lies embarrassingly stiff against his abdomen. 

He squeezes his eyes shut and tips his head back. “You could pretend it is,” he mutters. 

The mattress dips beside him and there’s a hand sliding across his ribs, fingertips lining up in his sternum with a gentle pressure, a prickle of nails. Valtteri’s voice is closer now. “Do you want me to?”

He wants more than pretend, but the wash of shame across his skin says that’s something to unpack later. So he only nods. “Please.”

Just one touch and they’re already both unwinding. Jesus. 

The hand on his chest slides up to his neck, leaving a trail of shivers, then there’s a scrape of stubble against his own before a grip on his jaw is nearly wrenching his mouth open for a dirty kiss that’s all tongue and teeth.

Somewhere in the back of his consciousness, Daniel wonders if Valtteri knows how strong he is. 

He lets the kiss melt him boneless into the sheets then breaks away with a gasp, blinking his eyes open again. 

Valtteri winces as he watches Daniel wipe his lube-sticky hand on the blankets. 

“Don’t,” Daniel half laughs, “there’s a whole other bed in this house to stay clean in if that’s what you want.” He reaches for Valtteri, running a hand up his arm before gripping his shoulder. Valtteri leans into the touch. “You don’t want that now.” His voice drops and he watches the  brightness in Valtteri’s eyes, a smile there that doesn’t touch his mouth.

Valtteri shifts closer against Daniel’s side, throwing a leg over him and rolling their hips together. He’s still half-dressed and Daniel can feel his hardness through the sweatpants. Even though the fabric chafes against Daniel’s own cock, it’s embarrassing how fast it scrambles his brain.

“Fuck, Val—” His hands drop to Valtteri’s waist, sliding over smooth skin before meeting the waistband of his sweatpants. These need to come off, about five minutes ago. He slips a thumb in the waistband and tugs, teasing.

“Get up,” Valtteri says, in his ear. He’s still cupping Daniel’s jaw, and presses the pad of his thumb to Daniel’s lips. “Get up, hands and knees. Don’t touch yourself.”

The command takes a moment to sink in before Daniel moves to obey, more nervous than he wants to admit to himself. Valtteri’s already shifting away to strip off his remaining clothes.

He’s kneeling on the mattress when Valtteri turns back to him, and a hand on his shoulder folds him into compliance. The touch lingers as Daniel adjusts, shifting his knees further apart and settling his elbows on a pillow. 

Valtteri doesn’t seem to mind the adjustment, just runs fingernails lightly down Daniel’s back before asking, just as lightly, “You’re sure?”

Yes.”

Daniel stares down at the pillow, and he doesn’t hear exactly the murmured response, too focused on the grip of a hand on his hip, not soothing anymore. The cap of the lube clicks open then shut, the mattress dips again, then Valtteri is leaning over him, Daniel’s getting kissed on the spine, and he wants to collapse right there but the grip on his hips holds him in place, draws him back teasingly against the brush of Valtteri’s cock against his ass. Daniel’s pillow swallows a muffled noise before Daniel lifts his head again to say, “Come on—,” impatience racking his body. 

But Valtteri is tense with it too, and Daniel hears it plain in his tightened voice when he says, “Yes, I’m—”

The nudge of Valtteri’s cock at his entrance, the slow, slick press into his body—it’s both easy and excruciating, and Daniel steadies himself with a slow breath, faintly aware of Valtteri echoing the action. 

“Should I ask how many other people have done this to you since I was last here?” Valtteri asks, but the sharp edge of the question is blunted with heavy breaths, and the slide of his palm over Daniel’s lower back is gentle.

Daniel bites the pillow as a wave of something, which he thinks is supposed to be shame, rolls through him. “No,” he manages. It’s not shame, but the prod of the words gets under his skin and he shifts. “Come on,” he says through his teeth, raising himself on his elbows again, and is rewarded with a shove of Valtteri’s hips against his so sharp it rips a strangled cry from his throat. 

“Fuck, Valtteri—”

Valtteri was always good at this, and Daniel was always good at matching him. He forgot how good, he thinks dazedly as Valtteri finds his rhythm—and it’s distinctly his rhythm, this isn’t about Daniel at all. This is his punishment, he realises, this precisely imperfect pace which he already knows is going to strip his composure like sandpaper. Never quite what he needs, and—Valtteri said not to touch.

Daniel likes to give people a run for their money, though. Rolling his hips back to meet each thrust, first cautious then more sure, there’s a hitched breath he knows he wasn’t meant to hear. 

Daniel,” bites out Valtteri, and he shifts. His grip moves to Daniel’s thigh and the angle changes and—fuck, it’s good but it’s torture. Daniel presses his face into his arms, already breathless with each thrust.

“I need to—”

“Don’t.” 

There’s sweat, sticky between their bodies when Valtteri leans his forehead against Daniel’s back. Daniel’s glad his face is hidden—he might be crying, he’s definitely a mess already and he can feel his shoulders giving out. Valtteri wraps an arm around his waist to keep him from collapsing, and Daniel sobs a laugh.

He can feel himself drifting toward the edge and there’s something heated under his skin which gathers where Valtteri touches him.

“Val—I need—” He needs to touch himself, he’ll fly apart if he can’t, the aching need will eat him alive.

Valtteri shoves away Daniel’s hand where he reaches for his cock, hanging heavy and leaking. “No,” he says with a short laugh, “you wanted me to do this.” 

Daniel buries a scream in the pillow. 

“Impatient,” Valtteri adds, his pace not flagging, but he presses a kiss to Daniel’s spine again. “Next time I’ll have to hold you back, if that’s what you want—”

“I want it,” Daniel pleads, and there’s static cracking through each of his limbs. “Please, I—”

He wants to see Valtteri’s face but he can’t, can only bend his body to the unrelenting press of another, can only hear his strained breaths pitch higher every moment. 

“Wait,” gasps out Valtteri. His grip tightens around Daniel’s waist and his thrusts press so deep that Daniel feels the force in his joints. 

Then Valtteri buries a loose groan against Daniel’s burning skin as he comes, gripping Daniel too tightly to move, but Daniel can feel the tremor of Valtteri’s body everywhere they touch. 

Daniel shudders with it too as Valtteri pulls out of him, a slow drag, then they’re still for a moment and he’s so close—so close—it’s unfair, but then Valtteri pushes him loosely against the bed, before rolling him over onto his back. He’s boneless and weak with desperation, by now.

“Valtteri—” Daniel reaches for him but Valtteri ignores it, only aims him a flash of eye contact and a kiss on his sternum as he moves down Daniel’s body, settling between his legs. 

“Don’t touch anything.” 

Daniel balls his hands into fists, uselessly, a fuse being lit inside him but with seemingly nowhere for the explosion to go. When he licks his lips he tastes sweat, and he almost bucks up when he feels Valtteri’s hand grip his hips smoothing over the skin. Valtteri presses his fingertips into the dips by Daniel’s hipbones.

“I’m going to kill you,” Daniel says, but his voice is so near a whine that he wants to laugh at himself for being this far gone, and laugh at Valtteri who’s already so wrecked and flushed, glowing with sweat like Daniel must be, too. Then Valtteri’s mouth is hot and wet on the head of his cock, and Daniel almost comes right there. 

Deep breaths.

Valtteri isn’t gentle, he shifts Daniel’s hips on the bed and when his arm clamps down over Daniel’s waist, he can barely move at all. His mouth is gentle, though, and teasing Daniel’s cock with infuriating, delicate strokes of his tongue. The fuse is burning down and Daniel bites his lip, shaking on the very edge of release but held down even as his back arches off the bed and he cries for it.

When Valtteri slips two fingers against Daniel’s hole, slick with cum already leaking out around the motion of Valtteri's hand, fucking him with as much precision as he’d used to deny Daniel earlier—

Fuck, Val, please, please, please—”

It’s calculated to drive him to the edge, and so Daniel gives up, letting it pull a sob from his chest. All the energy fizzing beneath his skin lights him up, ruining him, dismantling all his pieces under Valtteri’s demanding touch. He doesn’t pull off Daniel or let him go until he’s trembling, white-knuckled, and gasping. It’s exactly the way they both know he needs it, as if it was only yesterday they last did this. But it’s nothing like the last time. 

As he surfaces from his haze there’s no wash of guilt, or anxiety, just—Daniel takes slow breaths. Just different. Better. 

He feels like he just drove Singapore, fuck, like he just drove Singapore and won it and needs to sit down and wail. He feels fucking deep-fried. When he gathers enough energy to move, he shifts, and becomes aware of a drying stickiness on his thighs. Fuck, he’s going to be messy. He throws an arm over his face and bites down on it, still overcome. Valtteri’s tracing a hand along his thigh, idle movements, but every inch of Daniel’s skin is oversensitised.

He doesn’t say anything, though; he wants Valtteri to come closer, but if Valtteri wants the space, Daniel won’t push. The touch on his thigh is almost enough, anyway.

“What are you thinking of?” Daniel asks after a moment, trying to prop himself up to look at Valtteri but failing. He lets the pillows take him with a soft whump.

Valtteri smiles, the kind of smile that would make him go pink high on his cheekbones if he wasn’t already flushed. “Nothing, really, I just feel like I did everything I wanted to.” He pauses. “For tonight, at least.”

“You looked good doing it.”

“You look good like that. You look like an absolute mess.”

Daniel giggles, embarrassingly post-orgasmic. He closes his eyes and buries half his face in the pillow. “I feel like an absolute mess. Do I get what I want, too? Because I want to kiss you.”

“What about cleaning up?”

“In a second.” He’s sticky everywhere and the bedding is hopeless and he’ll probably be sticky for a while longer, plus—he doesn’t know if his legs are going to cooperate right now.

Valtteri squeezes Daniel’s thigh and shifts closer, moving up the bed to collapse beside him, close but leaving breathing space between the heated stretch of their exhausted bodies. It’s okay, it’s good enough for Daniel right now. Maybe, hopefully, Valtteri will cuddle after sex by the time it’s winter. Maybe he can make a plea for body warmth.

Daniel reaches for Valtteri’s hand, squeezes it and tucks it against his cheek, and that’s enough to feel held for now. They’re sharing a pillow again for the first time in thirteen years.

***

They wake up the next morning in Valtteri’s room, wrapped in clean white bedding because they’re both lazy and were too fucked-out last night to start a laundry, or do anything more than shower and collapse in the other bed in the house. 

This room finally feels like Valtteri, Daniel thinks. Maybe it’s good design, maybe it’s just that every accent piece is a shade of blue. It’s sort of cheesy, but it’s cute.  

Valtteri still isn’t clingy, and he’s not avoiding Daniel but they didn’t kiss good morning either. But he takes a hug in the kitchen while they’re making breakfast, in between flips of blueberry pancakes on the stove, and he twines one arm around Daniel’s waist and leans into him for a moment because he’s holding a spatula in his other hand.

Daniel makes the coffee. He follows every direction he’s given, and it’s good—not as good as Valtteri’s, but still good. He’s poured Valtteri’s mug and is about to pour his own before Valtteri says, “Wait,” and puts down the spatula to open a cupboard instead.

The pancake on the stove almost burns while Valtteri pulls seventeen different mugs out. Daniel is counting, as well as fishing blueberries out of the pancake batter and eating them. But then Valtteri finds the one he’s looking for, and hands it to Daniel. 

“You can have your coffee in this one.”

Daniel takes it in both hands and turns it over, examining the design. It’s grey, and there’s a little black furball of a guy on it. It’s not a hippo, but it’s still neat. Daniel thinks for a second that it’s more Daniel-y, but it sounds stupid to say, so he doesn’t. But the black fluffball abstractly looks like him, the way the cute hippos—Moomins—somehow look like Valtteri.

“That’s Stinky,” Valtteri says. “That’s his name. He was always my favourite.”

Daniel sets it down on the counter and pours his coffee. “Oh, does he represent you?”

“No. He represents you, I want you to keep that mug. You can take it back to your place.”

Oh. Daniel folds his hands around the cup, feeling heat seep into his skin. He doesn’t drink a lot of coffee at home, but maybe he will. For the mug’s sake. 

“When you go,” Valtteri adds. He’s back at the stove, rescuing the burnt pancake and pouring another onto the skillet. “You don’t have to go, though,” he says, over his shoulder.

“You don’t want me to?”

“Well,” Valtteri says. He turns around. “The last time we did this, you had to hide in the luggage closet for an hour and sneak out because of Tobi fucking Hegewald.”

Daniel would wince, but the memory of Valtteri’s less-than-discreet Formula Renault teammate has improved with age and is much funnier now, in retrospect.

Valtteri puts the burnt pancake into the compost bin, stacks three good ones on a plate, then sets them in front of Daniel. “So you could redo that, if you really miss it. Or you can sit down and eat your pancakes.”

It’s an easy decision to make, and after all, Daniel is thirty-one. He sits down, and eats his pancakes.