There is nothing Fernando Alonso cannot do.
That statement is, perhaps, not as true as he would like. He has never scored a hole in one at golf – not yet. He forgets the words and cannot sing in tune when he is drunk – though he is not drunk often, and anyway the words he comes up with are much better than the originals. Mostly. He is still not sure how he made 'chariot' rhyme with 'eggplant' but there is a recording that Jarno gleefully insists on holding over his head – only a couple of times, literally – that suggests he did.
But these are not important when it comes to the trophies he has lifted, the podiums he has climbed to stand on the top step and the number one that is painted on the nose of his new silver McLaren
He is not daydreaming, is distracted, maybe, as he waves at the watching grandstands of blue and golden crowds. Lewis is- Lewis is somewhere else. He's grown up enough after all of three races that he doesn't need Fernando to babysit him. Not that Fernando would if he had to, or rather if Ron had issued another 'helpful hint'; instead of leaving them to their own devices, Lewis and Massa playing keep-away with Nick, and Fernando eyeing the suspiciously fluffy white clouds to the north of the circuit.
The clouds disappear as cool hands are clapped over his eyes.
“Guess,” the voice attached to those hands says in English.
“Mark,” Fernando makes a deliberate wrong guess, leaning just a little against the tall frame behind him.
“No.” The answers is closer this time and Fernando can feel its vibration almost as much as he hears it.
“You feel too tall to be Giancarlo,” Fernando muses thoughtfully. “But I don't know,” he says, “Can you maybe give me a clue?”
Robert leans closer, and Fernando knows the Pole's not plastered to his spine as he whispers, the words spiking hairs on the back of his neck, not really. His head drops forward, and his voice is a little unsteady, as he says, “Well, for sure, I hope you are Robert. Or I think he and you maybe have a problem.”
It's more a snort than a bark of laughter as Robert takes his hands from Fernando's eyes and props himself up on the truck railing beside him. His arms are folded and angular, sticking out from white sleeves. “I don't think I like the weather,” he says, eyes squinting out over turn six.
“You never like the weather,” Fernando tells him. He elbows Robert in the side, fairly gently, and grabs at his- at Robert's left hand. “Melbourne was too dry, Malaysia too humid,” he says, flicking open and tracing Robert's fingers as he counts back. “Bahrain,” he says. “Bahrain, I don't even know, I wasn't listening. Too much snow, I think it was.”
Robert's dark hair has fallen over his eyes, but Fernando can still see him smiling. “I'll-” he starts.
“Hey guys!” The interruption is a mildly flailing Lewis Hamilton. He ducks behind Robert and then looks back over the taller BMW driver's shoulder, hopping up on his toes. “You've got to hide me,” he adds.
“From who?” Robert asks, peering towards the far end of the truck deck. He's still holding on to Fernando's hand and the Spaniard suddenly wants to yank it away. Except that it's Lewis, and if only it wasn't Lewis, but it is, and he would be more likely to notice Fernando pull away than if he doesn't move.
“Felipe,” Lewis is hissing almost in Robert's ear and Fernando turns, looking over his own shoulder. There's a spinning flurry of coloured shirts near the cab end of the dais. “I didn't know I broke his special pre-race ritual involving his hat.”
“His hat?” Robert echoes, and Lewis waves a battered Ferrari cap in front of Robert's face. “I always thought it was his-” He trails off.
“It is,” Fernando says, with all the assurance of someone with many times the number of races against the Sauber-turned-Ferrari driver than either of the other two. He catches Lewis' hat-waving wrist and pivots between the other two men.
“Very graceful,” Robert says.
“Thank you.” Fernando nods. He raises both his hands, tugging both Lewis' and Robert's arms up. “Hey, Massa!” he shouts, “Look at what I found.”
A short red-and-jeans-clad figure ricochets off several other drivers, apologising in a stream of Italian before skidding to an abrupt halt. “Give,” he says, shortly.
“We don't know how to say please any more, Massa?” Fernando says, releasing both Robert and Lewis' hands.
“I can say please plenty, Alonso.” Massa snaps off. “Just not to you.”
“And it hurts me, not to listen to you beg,” Fernando says flatly. “Very much. But this is Lewis, not me. Come on, Robert,” he finishes, tugging at Robert's shoulder, abandoning his team-mate in preference for leading Kubica over to the far railing.
“You're an idiot,” Fernando says as he bursts into Robert's room, the door banging shut behind him.
Robert is sitting by the window, sheets of papers on the table beside him that wobble at Fernando’s entrance. He carefully caps shut the pen he was holding, and balances it on the top of the stack of forms. His hand shook on the first and a coffee spill mar the second, he doesn't want to damage the third one. “I don't think so,” he says slowly. “And if you could maybe shout a bit louder, that might help.” He taps his right ear.
Worry resurfaces above irritation in Fernando's eyes. “Are you sure? I thought- Daniele said the doctors said you were all right. That it was just,” he runs his hand down Robert's leg, from knee to propped up and heavily padded ankle. Fernando's hand is warm, and familiar sensations flicker up his leg, but it's not that so much as the look in his eyes that makes Robert shake his head.
“It is not my ears,” Robert says calmly, interrupting the flow of Spanish, which he imagines is half-berating his carelessness and maybe more than half promising to fix this and fix it now. One of them needs to be the sensible one and he guesses it's still him. “I thought maybe you wanted the whole hotel to know, you were so loud.”
“Right. Sorry,” Fernando throws himself back onto the bed, and Robert hears the spring that has been almost stabbing him every night of their time in Canada let go with a sproing. Fernando swears reflexively and wiggles a bit to the left, and now all Robert can see of him is from the knee down and the brim of his McLaren grey baseball cap.
Robert turns back to his papers. This is important, and though he can see Fernando is vibrating with something – and Robert's fairly sure it's not concern for him, or not just that – he knows that if he pokes him now the other driver will quite possibly explode. His feet are already beating out a vigorous rhythm, but Robert can wait. He waited for Fernando to notice him for longer than he likes to think about, waited for the older teenager Fernando was back then to notice that he'd grown up and that karting wasn't the only thing he could or wanted to do.
He pulls a battered dictionary open and flicks it open to the right word. The papers are all in English and he wants to make sure all the words are exactly right. Technical vocabulary is only so helpful, and even in Polish this would take concentration. Robert bites the pen. He’s not even sure it would be possible back home. It's only turning to the next page that he realises blue ink is dribbling down his chin, and swipes at it, swearing under his breath.
“That's not very polite,” Fernando is propped up on his elbows looking at Robert now.
Robert raises an eyebrow.
“Just because you refuse to teach me Polish,” Fernando tells him, eyes shadowed. “I can have my initiative.”
“The internet does not count,” Robert tells him with the ease of long practice and ignoring the sputtered “Hey,” to continue, “And nor does emailing my mother.”
“She likes me.”
“I cannot think why.”
“I could give you a list,” Fernando offers.
“Of why my mother likes you?” Robert likes sarcasm and finds Fernando gives him so many opportunities to practice it.
Fernando tries to shrug and fails, collapsing backwards on the bed. “Of why you like me.”
“Who wouldn't?” Robert asks, rhetorically, without attention and fully expecting Fernando's ego to supply a voluble answer containing the many reasons for the affirmative.
“Yes.” Fernando says and stops. Then more quietly, “I think I could give you a list of that as well.”
Robert pulls his leg off the chair and, balancing carefully, sits down on the bed by Fernando. His foot spasms as he lays down, looking first at the ceiling – green – and then shuffling so he can watch his boyfriend's profile. “Hey,” he nudges.
Fernando only needs a little prompting for the details of Lewis and Ron and Martin and Pedro and David and many other names, all of whom apparently work for McLaren and really want their pet rookie driver to win and not their two time world champion and the parts, he thinks, the part are not the same and the strategies for his side of the garage are not as good. And the support is not as equal as he would like and did Robert think there was anything odd about the team in Monaco, because some things are only sensible, no? And hardly his fault. This change of team has not gone how he thought, and...
There's finally a long enough pause that Robert thinks he can crowbar some words in, turn the monologue into a conversation, and he opens his mouth only for Fernando to continue.
“I knew you were all right. I knew it,” sounding more like he was trying to convince himself. “You had to be. But the team wouldn't tell me any of the details. Not until after the race was over. Daniele could only say you were talking just after. The hospital wouldn't say anything, and I asked many times. Loudly.”
Robert smiles at that, and asks, “And politely?”
Fernando ignores him, but relaxes against Robert a little as the words keep falling out. “There was just the race footage with your feet hanging out.”
“These feet?” Robert checks, wiggling them both and ignoring the jab of pain that shoots out of one of them as he does so.
Fernando turns enough to look Robert directly in the eyes. “Unless you have spare ones you keep in the cupboard. Do you?”
“No,” Robert says, “Only these two.”
“Then those ones, yes,” He flops round to face the ceiling. “And I am trying to be serious.”
“So am I, and also practical,” Robert says, and gestures at the papers on the table. “I thought I would like you to have my medical power of attorney.”
“Your what?” Fernando sits up.
“Did I not say it right?” Robert asks, pushing himself into a semi-vertical position. “Someone to make the decisions when I bang up my head, and who can visit me and smuggle in those tiny cheeses with the red outsides.”
“I don't know.” Fernando frowns at the ceiling and then at his feet and then at the ceiling again.
Robert had thought this was a good idea. He had even got Nick to promise to sign a document if Robert asked him to secretly and hypothetically and now he thinks his team-mate believes him to be a spy who is trying to recruit him. For what, Robert is not sure, but it evidently requires Nick to wear several pairs of sunglasses and occasionally refer to himself as ‘Heidfeld. Nick Heidfeld’. But Fernando knows about racing and injuries and Robert trusts him to make the right call should it comes to that, but mostly Robert trusts him, so... It had all seemed to fit, but Fernando has gone awfully quiet.
“If you want to be all serious and formal like that,” Fernando says as his eyebrows bounce up once, and he continues. “Then we might as well get married,” Fernando tells the ceiling.
The ceiling is not interested, or at least doesn't respond. Which is good, because Robert hopes his Fernando is not in the habit of proposing to inanimate objects. Robert, however, is both interested, animate and responsive. At least his stomach stops the lurching and spinning it started when he thought his good idea about to be laughed out of the water, and sways instead like he is going around a high-g corner and trying to leave the rest of his insides behind.
“Get married?” he echoes, with a question mark. It sounds so much more serious than giving Fernando the - still mostly theoretical - power of life and death over him. It maybe shouldn’t, Robert has still that much perspective, and probably Fernando is joking with him despite a so far chronic inability to hide his emotional state, but still if he is not... “To you?”
“You were planning to marry someone else?” Fernando turns away from interrogating the plasterwork, to fix Robert with his eyes, apparently still meaning his words.
“I had no plans at all.” Robert had a crush on Fernando when he was thirteen and still trying to figure out the difference between wanting to drive like him and wanting him. Now he doesn't want to drive like Fernando - he has his own more fluid style that he mostly thinks is better, and someday a car to match - but wanting the man beside him hasn't changed and he's got used to thinking that it wouldn't. What that meant for his future had been pushed into a box marked 'when I retire', that he doesn't let himself think about in case it makes things go away and he sees Fernando show up at the next race with a new conquest on his arm.
“Neither had I,” Fernando says under his breath. “But I like this thing,” and he gestures in the centimetres of space between the two of them, “And I think I want to make it permanent. Is only sensible.”
“Sensible? You're sure about this?” And Robert means that as a check, not that he does not, is not sure himself. He thinks he is. He is. Yes. “There could be problems with...” My family, yours, your team, mine.
Fernando's chest rises and falls slowly, his voice soft enough that Robert has to strain to hear the “Yes.” that Fernando then repeats more loudly. “Yes, I am.”
This, maybe, causes more problems than it solves, and Robert should probably be the one to put a stop to it, to say no, laugh, throw a pillow at Fernando’s head. There are too many possible questions stemming from the answer to this one. This one that- ah.
“Hey,” Robert nudges Fernando's side. “Are you going to ask me or should I be the one on my knees?”
“Well, you know I like that,” Fernando says, a slow smile dragging across his mouth. “And maybe later. But for now,” and Robert can see the last few minutes replay behind Fernando's eyes. “I didn't ask you. Well then, I had better do this properly.”
He stands up and brushes down imaginary specks from his McLaren team shirt and then brushes up his hair. It's still too short for Fernando’s ministrations to do anything other than to make him look a little startled, or as if he was just pulled backwards through a gravel trap, before resettling his cap. He gets down on one knee, a frown of concentration on his face and Robert tries not to laugh.
“So,” he says. “Will you marry me,” pausing halfway through the question, before he goes on – voice maybe a little unsteady - “and stick by me when I need someone steady?”
Robert makes him wait – but only a little – before he says yes.
Fernando is so angry he thinks he might throw up.
It's not his fourth place. Not even that he's slipping back in the title race. Or that it was Lewis Hamilton waving from the top step rather than someone, anyone, else. None of those things are helping right now, but... He presses his fingers against the headache behind his eyeballs, and tries to think why he’d thought having a shouting match with Ron would have any other effect than a sore throat and a headache and now he can't think straight.
He can't talk to anyone, he's not sure if Hamilton knows yet and if he doesn't he's not going to give his team-mate any more ammunition than he already has. De la Rosa is getting twitchy, and anyone else in McLaren either heard the blazing row that just happened, is already on the team's side and not his, or both.
Fernando pulls out his phone and looks at it a moment. He remembers holding and being held in Robert's arms in parc ferme, a celebratory hug for their fourth and fifth places, but he can't call him. Not just because Robert had a good day, if not as quite as good as Nick's, and should be given time to celebrate with his team, rather than be pulled into Fernando's drama. But because he thinks he knows what Robert would say, he thinks Robert would hold to a different line, one that Fernando has been stepping over and grinding into dust in order to try to win.
Several shaky, deep breaths later and he’s calm enough to at least start thinking.
He forwards and deletes any emails he cares about, anything he doesn't want anyone else to see, already planning defensively. He wants the team, or failing that the title, to be his and if he can't have that, he wants out.
There is nothing Fernando Alonso won't do to get what he wants, but he no longer thinks that getting what he wants will be as straightforward as it seemed at the beginning of the season.
Poles, wins, another championship, and another more literal Pole. A friend isn't a weakness, exactly, but what Robert is now and will be soon, Fernando thinks, circumlocutory even inside his head, might become so. He has to figure out if that matters to him, but all that echoes round his head is that it might be more reasonable to let go, but he’ll be damned before he lets this team take anything more away from him.
Ron isn't in the motor-home, not any part of it that Fernando passes through, laptop tucked under his arm. Nor Lewis. Probably off celebrating. It’s a relief that the ground floor is almost, if not completely, empty.
Fernando has almost made it to the paddock gate and the relative freedom of the outside world when a voice calls out. “Fernando, where are you going?”
Martin Whitmarsh still has his headset hanging around his neck. His head's cocked and he doesn't look annoyed, he doesn't look anything beneath the cropped hair and poker face and that sets Fernando further to stubborn. “To my hotel.” A pause. “And then to the airport.”
“You can't just go,” Martin in a protest that comes close to a directive.
Fernando just shrugs, “The race is done. I am done, and yes, I can.” He doesn’t mean to explain, isn’t planning to. It's probably just nerves that makes him add, “I have a wedding to get to.” He's kept his mouth shut on this for this long and just needs to hold it together a little longer.
“Okay,” Martin's still trying to be polite. “Then my congratulations to the bride and groom, but I still really don't think it's a good idea. You need to be here so we can sort all this out.”
“Thank you,” Fernando says, careful with his words, trying to be careful with everything. “We have long awaited it. And I am not going to leave anyone at the altar for the sake of this team.” This team, not my team; not now and maybe never was, however he might've thought.
“And I'm sure she appreciates it, you'll have to bring her to a race sometime,” Martin says, something puzzled flitting briefly across his face, and then he switches back to more immediate concerns. “Can I let the guys know that you'll have your mobile on you, at least some of the time?”
Fernando shrugs, “I suppose.”
“I promise not to call too early into the honeymoon,” Martin tells him, offering a congratulatory hand, that Fernando takes, albeit a bit uncertainly.
He takes a couple of steps and stops, intending to turn and make a withering comment about how clearly the team do not know him. Wants to provoke a fight, or perhaps just more bad feeling, this time over the assumptions about his intended, but it dries on his tongue. He wants to hang on to a direction for his anger, rather than this aimless feeling in his stomach that leaves him wanting to strike out at- at something he can't see. But Robert's not a weapon, and saying anything now would be to use him, them, as one. Lacking an immediately biting comment Fernando jerks his hood over his head. He could say something if he wanted too. He just doesn't and won't.
The summer break is not all fun and inconveniently placed bruises that he will have to explain to his trainer.
His laptop and emails are taken by the FIA. He spends the next twenty four hours ignoring the ever more frequent calls from his team, and borrowing, stealing, borrowing Robert's older machine and playing Minesweeper over and over.
It's two days later that he tells Robert; not everything, but as much as he can about the investigation. It was that or have to duel Robert for the custody and honour of his laptop, and although Fernando is sure he would win... Fairly sure.
Words spill out of him about documents and emails and he hasn’t been bound by confidentiality clauses and oaths yet, that’ll come in three weeks time, with legal appearances in sharp suits.
It is a lot of information to throw at someone trying to negotiate a narrow hill road in high gear, so Fernando has to wait until they're back at their rooms before he gets more of an answer than a nod.
“I know,” Robert says, like he’s thinking about each sentence before he says it. He's idly poking at buttons on the television handset, his dark blue t-shirt hanging damp over a lanky frame that Fernando can't help but trace with his eyes, despite the tenor of the conversation. “That winning is everything.”
“Not the only thing. I know that,” Fernando interjects, “But it comes close.”
Robert nods, flopping sideways into a chair, and tucking his legs over the chair arm. “But if I wanted to be sure I would win, there could be snipers at the first corner and those spiky things to take out everyone else’s tires in the pit-lane. Victory would definitely be mine. Only I wouldn't really win because it's not as if I'd have beaten anyone.”
He doesn't say anything else, just shrugs and takes a slurp from his energy drink, high-pitched rabbits frantically chasing each other on the screen behind him.
Fernando is still mostly sure it wasn't a bad idea, but a knot in the roil of his stomach eases, so he says nothing, simply tugs Robert into the bedroom and remembers to buy the juice flavoured ice cubes rather than the clear ones next time.
Later they find a small office, and a smaller official, in Northern Spain; and after Fernando has corrected Robert's pronunciation often enough Robert is a) ready to call McLaren and tell them the tragic story of how their lead driver accidentally throttled himself while falling down the stairs into traffic and b) able to recognise and respond to the necessary Spanish of the ceremony. Robert's mood is better than the last time he made a similar threat – that time Fernando had been beaten to death with a candlestick and a lead pipe in the library. Perhaps the board game had been a mistake, but no matter.
“I feel like a parrot,” Robert complains half-heartedly.
Finding someone to conduct the ceremony was not a problem; finding someone who didn't recognise Fernando, or who was willing to pretend not to, was more difficult and without his sister's help might've been impossible. Trying to find someone who could fit all that and speak well one of Robert's languages would have made it more so.
Fernando would be daunted by the number of forms and the volume of legalese if he hadn't tried to read through this Renault contract last year before he left. As it is he breezes through it. He will, perhaps, admit to a little relief at the commonness of his surnames. It is not as if he is trying to hide his relationship with Robert, simply that he wants the choice to speak and the timing of it to be his own.
There is also a moment – after he scrawls his signature, but before Robert signs his – when this whole process doesn't seem real. The office is quietly neutral and deceptively empty, with yellow painted walls. Fernando can hear the Santander traffic through the windows. He has signed his names many times before, and this time they seem strangely legible. Alonso. Diaz. His parents always wanted to see him get married. He's not sure quite how they'll take the news that he did so without them. And to 'Nano's friend, Robert'.
Robert catches him staring at the lines on the paper and offers, “We could always not-”
Fernando thrusts the pen into Robert’s hand. “You’re not getting out of this; you promised me cake,” his voice involuntarily dropping half a register.
“I did?” Robert’s signature is looping and cursive on the page.
Fernando shrugs. “I think cake may have been implied.” It still looks odd, their names side by side, and he takes another look at the ring, snug below his knuckle, before shoving his hand in his pocket as he follows Robert outside. “I am sure, now, that alcohol was stated more specifically.”
Cake is more heavily featured at the factory when Fernando returns to the several square metres that make up McLaren’s home in Istanbul after the break is over. There's a tension to the celebrations on Tuesday – days before the racing proper starts - one that isn’t entirely papered over with the fizzy non-alcoholic drinks and the thickly iced confection hiding a brick-shaped cake.
Part of that is a hangover from the last race, the investigation, but as Fernando scrapes traces of icing out of his ears he thinks it is probably not helping that he hasn't mentioned certain facts, or to be more precise any, about the wedding, the honeymoon or the other person to play a starring role in proceedings.
He was going to. If he can tell his mother, he can certainly tell his boss and his team-mate, neither of whose good opinion is particularly important to him right now – and Fernando knows that feeling is mutual. He can tell the huddle of his mechanics and engineers who are looking wistfully at the lack of cake-related fire involved in celebrating a marriage and not a birth. It should be easier, and was, right up until the moment he opens his mouth and realises he needed backup. Because what McLaren thinks could matter to Robert, and his career, if not to him, and Fernando doesn’t want to screw that up for him in something that is more complicated in some ways than family.
It's why he sits on a table-top trying to wear less of his cake while he keeps a ear cocked for a response to his hurried text – Okay to ID you as the lucky guy to Mcl+? Have cake in uncomfortable places and a nosy team. N.
Lewis scrambles up on the table beside him, polystyrene cup in one hand. “Hi.”
“Lewis,” Fernando nods affably.
“Are you sure you got married?” Lewis asks, looking up from under the brim of his baseball cap, like he is trying very hard to be sneaky and catch Fernando out with the cunning plan of asking him directly.
“Yes, Lewis,” Fernando says. It is only the second time Lewis has asked the question, and so he just waves his right hand in front of his team-mate. “I am sure. I was there.”
Lewis frowns in concentration, and Fernando takes a more careful look at the drinks.
“Well, is she pretty? Come on, man,” Lewis taps the table with one hand, punctuating his words, “I can't believe you've been holding out on us like this. She is real, right? Not plastic? Because Heikki was telling me about this place he knows...”
And that is plenty of that mental image, thank you, Fernando thinks as he interrupts, “He is real, and not made of plastic, or carbon fibre, and you should be careful where Kovalainen takes you unless you want to wake up without half your kidneys.” He's aware that Lewis has gone quiet, aware too of the first word out of mouth, that he could maybe slam back behind his teeth if he tried, but keeps going regardless, “As for pretty, I don't know. I am biased, maybe. But I am okay with waking up looking at him for the next forever, so I think that will do for me.”
“Seriously?” Lewis is a little more high-pitched than normal, but no-one else seems to have noticed. More than likely they have been told not to interfere until and unless one of their drivers starts throwing punches and they need to be separated before Ron sends them to their garages for a time-out.
The phone jammed in his waistband starts to vibrate, and Fernando reaches for it, answering Lewis sideways, as he thumbs open the text message. “I cannot ‘confirm’ Heikki is running a black market organ operation,” he says, reading the text – No outing me by SMS. good/bad/interesting uncomf? - and closing his phone, “But he has never denied it.”
“Not that,” Lewis pushes, “The other thing. About you marrying a guy.”
“Oh, that.” Fernando shrugs, and wishes for a poker face that was more than just a garage door slamming down on his expression. “Yes.”
Failing that, a volume control on Lewis would be good too. “You can do that?” But Fernando is not so lucky in that regard either.
“You did that?”
“Yes.” It's not the first time Fernando has felt the need for a mallet to hammer his point into his team-mate's head, and there's a little part of him that he is mostly ignoring which is grateful for and hanging onto the familiar frustrations and would like to hug Lewis just a bit for that.
“With a guy?”
Fernando rolls his eyes, rapidly losing any hugging related tendencies. “Yes, Lewis, there are a lot of things you can do with a guy. Including marrying one.”
“I wouldn't,” Lewis says, “I mean, I don't. Like guys, not like that.”
“Which is one of the many reasons why it was not you and me in Spanish registry office two weeks ago.” Fernando retorts. “If you need me to tell you all the others...”
“No, I really don't,” Lewis tells him. “But fine. Congratulations, I'm sure you'll be very happy together.”
“Lewis,” Fernando sighs, and he can't even blame the tiredness on the jet-lag. “We are team-mates, rivals, we are not friends...” He's not sure where exactly he is going with that, so it is perhaps fortunate that Lewis doesn't let him finish.
“I know all that,” Lewis says, feet hitting the floor as he stands up, looking like he has too many arms and is not sure where to put them all. “But that's still the thing you say when,” and he flaps his hand up at Fernando, “regardless of what I think of you, or the other way round, so.” He shrugs, his words all worn out, and looks into the bottom of his cup.
That, Fernando thinks is as good a cue to leave as he is likely to get, and stands himself. Conversation fades, froths and eddies, swirling around him as Fernando makes his way back out into the dry blast of Istanbul heat and takes a deep breath.
Fernando doesn't see the post-race press release beforehand, a few lines tagged onto his third position and Lewis' fifth in the race. It's a surprise, really, that it took McLaren that long to come up with a decision as to how they were going to play this.
“We're all a professional team... extend our best wishes... concentrate on the matter at hand... championship battle...”
Kimi is leaning over the balcony, dropping his champagne bottle into a pair of welcoming arms of a mechanic in Ferrari red, while Massa clutches his like a baby and follows Domenicali off the podium.
His hat almost falling off, Kimi looks up at the mostly empty podium, “We're gone already?”
Fernando shrugs, “Felipe no more inclined to wait for us now than he was the race. You're ready now?”
Nodding, Kimi follows him off down the steps, lagging towards the post-race interviews. “You're coming out?”
“What?” Fernando turns round, looking over his shoulder at Kimi. He hadn’t thought Lewis would, not with Kimi anyway.
“Tonight,” the Finn clarifies, “You can't leave me to carry Felipe back to the hotel by myself again.”
“So leave him where the drink drops him over,” Fernando hands his bottle off to a waiting official and idly wonders if he’ll see it again. He hangs on to his trophy more tightly. “And take pictures for the rest of us this time.”
“Eh,” Kimi shakes his head, and his cap flirts perilously close to an almost certain doom, “I have to keep an eye on him. Someone would notice if I came back with one less Felipe than I left with.”
“Isn't that what his engineer is for?” Fernando says unsympathetically, feet clanking on the metal framework.
“Must be good for something,” Kimi shrugs, “Way Felipe keeps him around. Lightweight,” he adds casually insulting Fernando as he overtakes the McLaren driver and pushes open the door to the briefing room.
The release doesn't surface until after the press conference and the interviews, making it four hours and half of Fernando's salad later until the texts and messages start to pile up. It is bland and almost gender neutral and briefly mentions 'Fernando and his new spouse' in between regretting Hamilton's podium-costing puncture and vowing a renewed effort in Italy.
“I would,” Robert says, and starts again, “I haven't a contract for next year.” He looks awkward to Fernando, “I want to know where my future is besides with you.”
“Okay,” Fernando says, the word long and drawn out. He could say that if Robert's team want him, they'll want him regardless, but there's too much of the opposite of that in his relationship with McLaren
“Having a secret husband gives me an air of mystery.” He picks up his vibrating phone and thumbs it off. Robert's cross-legged at the head of the bed, and Fernando guesses, “What do you think, ten, fifteen messages by morning?”
“Not enough, I think,” Robert shrugs, “Maybe thirty? I have several already asking if I knew what you were doing.”
He leans forward, hand up as if to catch his fingers in Fernando's collar, pull him closer and distract him. Which is a very good plan, and one which Fernando is usually highly in favour of. It is also one that he might think works less well when he has on him a few concerns and also a towel, but he would be wrong, as fingers run down his chest and he falls, as ever, straight into Robert.
His HANS device is still hanging from the back of the helmet resting in his lap as the Spanish national anthem drifts down from three floors up, as they all wait to be set loose on the media. Nick sits behind him. Robert's not sure where he got his mobile phone from – they're not supposed to carry anything extra, anything unnecessary. His right hand twitches into a fist he bumps against his chest.
Nick glances up and brushes his hair from his eyes, taking in Robert's quick glance at the ceiling. “Wondering when it will be us up there, again?”
“No,” says Robert, knowing it's true, and knowing bone deep that it will happen though it hasn't yet.
“It's okay,” and Nick gives him a careless pat on the kidney. “Not everyone has a head for the heights.”
“Some of us have more of an advantage with the inches than others.” Robert doesn't try to loom at Nick, it would be kind of silly to try and do so while sitting down, anyway, and besides he doesn't need to. He does stretch, though, just a little.
“Hey! I have enough where it counts,” Nick retorts.
“If all it is doing is counting,” Robert leans back and loosens the collar of his racesuit. “I don't know how you have a kid already.”
It's probably Webber that yells out advice to Nick, “Offer to give him a demonstration, mate!”
It's certainly Webber calling out, disgruntled, a few seconds later, as a towel lands on his head.
“Is not a bad shot,” says a voice, on Robert's other side, about level with his knee. Felipe Massa is sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at it hard enough to drill holes through it to his stricken Ferrari, one of the few drivers to have already changed out of his overalls.
“It could be better,” Robert allows, crouching forward and down to Felipe's level. “Do you know what went wrong?” It isn't only, or even mostly, altruism that makes him ask. The Ferrari is, he'll reluctantly admit, far ahead of his BMW, but that is only something that is happening for now. Anything he learns will be helpful for the next race or the one after that.
“With my race or your throw?” Felipe snorts and rolls his eyes. “Too much underarm and,” he shrugs and his arms flop down, “Suspension, they think, maybe.”
Robert makes a noise that sounds vaguely sympathetic, and Felipe tells him, “Your chain is showing.”
“My what?” Robert looks down and then back up.
Felipe leans in and his fingers pluck at Robert's neck, pulling free the length of chain. The ring on the end of it clunks heavily against his palm. “Your chain- and your ring?”
He turns and holds it, before dropping it into Robert's waiting hand, from where it's quickly tucked back under layers of clothing. Robert says nothing, but Felipe continues on, eagerness for a distraction etched in every line of his body. “Your wedding ring?”
“It is-” Robert says, “More of a promise.” And one he is not sure how well he is keeping, staying in the shadows of anonymity while Fernando is under the spotlight and obviously so. He shrugs, their conversation a ripple of quietness in the maelstrom of post-race adrenaline.
Felipe shakes his head. “For sure, that is a wedding ring. Raffaela has made me see so many in the past few months, I think my eyes are forever crossed.” He gives Robert's leg a companionable tap. “With me marrying this winter, and you and Fernando already wed, soon there will be no more single men left on the grid.”
“I was not exactly single before,” Robert reminds Felipe.
“No, no, and I too am very, very serious,” Felipe nods. “But being married is different, no? You can tell me so.”
It is and isn't, Robert wants to say. “It is, I think, the best, most stupid decision I have ever made when I thought to be sensible. Maybe I regret it tomorrow, but I haven't, not yet, and I hope, maybe tomorrow never comes.” That's true enough as it goes.
“Who is it that makes you smile all,” Felipe tilts his head, spinning his right hand. “Like that?”
Robert takes a breath and steps off a cliff. “Fernando.”
Felipe's head turns, “The press conference is done already?”
“No,” Robert shuffles down, off his seat and onto the floor beside Massa. A paper aeroplane just misses his ear, and there's a too-distant groan of disappointment. “I wanted to- He wanted to- We wanted something more permanent.”
“But with Alonso?” Massa hisses, clearly stuck on the most incomprehensible part of Robert's statement. Robert thinks he possibly should be insulted on Fernando's behalf, but Massa looks just like a stunned fish with the thought rolling around his head. “He is- And he-” And Felipe's mouth flaps open twice before he finds speech again, “I know you like him, but Alonso? You couldn't maybe pick someone else?”
“I didn't think, perhaps, that driving style was a consideration,” Robert takes refuge in sarcasm again. “To have, hold and oversteer out of Parabolica?”
Massa has a thoughtful frown on his face. “Only in the wet,” he answers automatically. “When it goes wrong, you better come find me. I know a good lawyer.”
“You want to advise on the divorce so soon?” Robert says, “We know- I know what I'm doing.”
“For sure I hope so,” Felipe agrees, sitting back on his haunches. “No-one should marry Fernando without their eyes wide open. But if it goes badly with him,” he continues, sounding dubious, “For a divorce, or if your team is not so good with it, with you... my guys can make a contract watertight or break it.”
“Thank you,” Robert tells him. He doesn't think BMW will want to lose him, but it is an extra safety net, and he may go to another team someday, and it could help.
“Is no problem,” Felipe says, standing up, “And one day, you tell me what Fernando looks like in a dress.”
“There are a few things wrong with that,” Robert says, picking up his helmet as the doors open and harried looking PR reps start searching for their drivers. “But you should first ask him that yourself, and let me be there to see what happens.”
“Fernando, do you have anything to say about events in Paris?” “Any comment on the FIA sanctions?” “Why didn't you attend the hearing?” “Can you confirm the change to your personal sponsors?”
Spa is a time of many questions. Fernando shakes his head and 'no comments' his way through four interviews in as many hours, before he even has the chance to lay foot to surface and see the circuit properly. He knows Spa like the back of his eyelids, but switches his usual bicycle for two feet and walks the circuit in the quiet company of his race engineer.
His jacket is missing a couple of logos, sponsorship withdrawn in the twin storms of sporting and more personal controversy. Fernando is half-surprised that Spanish bureaucracy has defeated – so far – the ingenuity of the media in finding out any more detail than he'd given them. His sister had called him last night, promising to hold out for more Euros than the latest 'incentive' offered her.
After Friday practice there are still more questions, he answers those he chooses to and can, and pulls the most innocent looking face he can manage for those he will or cannot.
“I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” Robert ducks his way through the conference room, almost tripping over several wires, and purely accidentally treading on feet. Well, Fernando thinks maybe forty percent accidentally, which is as pure as anyone gets.
Robert stands by Fernando and covers the microphone stand with one hand and lays the other over Fernando's on the desk. “I can make the questions stop,” Robert says, and pauses in consideration. “These questions anyway. Trust me?”
It's not just the glint of metal on Robert's hand that means Fernando says, “I do. If you're sure, of course I do.”
Fernando expects Robert is sure. The hand firmly pressed against his back, the tongue down his throat and the open press of lips on lips all would be good clues, even if his hat wasn't falling off as he tilts backwards and somewhere in the room there is a piercing whistle.
It would not be a room full of journalists if they couldn't go from gawking silence to a horde of questions in seconds.
“Fernando, is this a publicity stunt to distract from your and McLaren’s off-track controversies?” comes one question from - who it is he doesn't notice.
“No,” Fernando says, amidst the flicker of lights and cameras and microphones, wondering that if it was - would he say so? But he can answer a question honestly, completely and proudly for the first time in weeks. “This is my husband.”
And, because there is nothing Fernando cannot do without him, he lets Robert take it from there.