There are three words that he’s afraid use, and they’re not the ones everyone thinks they are. I love you is something he has a million different ways to say.
Nobody bats an eyelid now when he says it in the garage or in the motorhome, having trained his voice to sound teasing and casual. The way that Rob always swipes affectionately at him makes it look like they’re just winding each other up again. Sometimes after a race he can put more emotion into it, another way of saying thank you. Everyone’s used to the way they are with each other, their closeness. Like brothers, they think. Neither Felipe nor Rob would ever bother to correct them.
In private it’s different. He can say the words easily, matter of fact, and they can be followed up by a little kiss that wouldn’t have to lead anywhere. Honest affection that respected the fact that sometimes they were tired or there was still work to be done or they’d just rather cuddle in bed and watch TV tonight.
There are other nights, of course, when they can’t even think straight for needing each other’s bodies. Stripping, touching, pressing flesh against flesh; it all seems as vital as breathing. The words spill out, exhalations that sound like prayers, coming as naturally as the gasps and moans and yes-more-now-please-nows.
Afterwards, in the quiet, bodies heavy and sleep creeping in around the edges, Felipe would rest in Rob’s strong arms and the words would come thickly, sometimes not even in English. There was nothing quite like the thrill he got when Rob echoed them back to him in Portuguese. Eu te amo. The intimacy of it was almost unbearable.
The times when those words seemed to mean the most though were when things were going wrong. When Felipe had had a bad race or Rob was feeling like he was always too far away from home or when one of them had nearly died. Then they stated it clearly; no smiles, no sighs, no dressing it up as anything it wasn’t. I love you. A simple fact of the universe. The thing that would get them through.
Felipe has no fear of the three little words that usually seem to trip people up. It’s those other words, the words that close his throat up every time he thinks them, let alone tries to say them.
I’ll miss you.
It’s an admission of something that he’s not quite ready to face up to yet. His time at Ferrari is finite. It’s coming to an end. He knows that they’re already casting their eyes elsewhere, looking for someone who can win races, pull the championship back towards the prancing horse. One more year, that’s all Felipe will get. After that, who knows.
That’s not the worst of it though. As much as the admission that Ferrari haven’t really wanted him for a long time hurts, there’s something so much more painful underneath those words. It’s the acknowledgement that they’re going to be split up. It’s the permission he’s giving Rob to stay on without him.
Felipe’s not selfish enough to ask Rob to give up everything he’s worked for to come with him, of course he’s not. But there’s a small part of him that also knows he’s not selfless enough to assure Rob to continue on without him. He’s stuck in the middle, between the man he wants and the man he wants to be, and he knows that there’s no answer to this. Someone has to lose out. Felipe hopes that someday he’ll be strong enough to offer Rob those three words, but until then, there’s always I love you.