All he wanted to do was sleep, he’d barely been in the car today but just having to deal with the fallout from this morning was enough to drain him. Just bad luck, can they come back from this? He’d had so much faux sympathy thrown at him, so many questions about the fate of his weekend. He wanted to scream and cry, he knew it was pure dumb luck that the drain cover had hit him rather than anyone else, but he didn’t know what was going to happen. He felt so guilty about the entire thing, he wished he didn’t have to look his mechanics in the eye without a proper explanation or apology. He wished he couldn’t feel the tension in the air, the feeling of desperation. Having the media hurl questions at him, questions he couldn’t answer, it felt like they were crashing down his foundations with a sledgehammer, trying to deliberately tear down what was left of his confidence in himself, in the car, in the team.
He said goodbye to the team left at the track, still trying to fix his mangled car. He was useless in this situation, just getting in the way. He tried to ignore the way that everyone was staring at him, whispering and pointing. The words struck him like a blade. Unlucky. Unlucky. Unlucky. It felt like that word was being branded into his skin, following him, taunting him. He couldn’t escape it.
“Hey George.” Lando appeared next to him, looking concerned. “How are you doing?”
“Fantastic, great, epic.” George sighed, glad that he’d put his sunglasses on, tears already threatening to spill. “Please don’t say I was unlucky, if I have to hear that word one more time -”
“I get it.” Lando interrupted, giving him a small smile. “Have you got any plans this evening?”
“I have ‘curl up in bed and pretend today never happened’ scheduled at eight, but I think I can move it around. Just for you.”
“Aww, I’m special.” Lando laughed, nudging George with his shoulder. “Knew you loved me really. New plan for your evening, go and get changed, and meet you back here?”
“Where are we going?” George asked, curiosity getting the better of him. He knew he really shouldn’t question Lando, who did things as they popped into his head, and never replied with a direct answer.
“That is for me to know, and you to find out, young padawan.” Lando waggled his eyebrows for full effect, grinning. “See you back here in an hour?”
“Only if I don’t get any better offers.” George teased. Lando gasped, clutching at his chest.
“I’m the best you’ll ever have, Russell!” He cried. “The best!”
“Oh god, help me.” George was grinning now, despite his mood. Lando just seemed to have that effect on people. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
“I’ll be waiting!”
“George!” Lando greeted him, waving like an idiot. “Ready for your magical mystery tour?”
“Do you actually know Baku well enough to give a tour?” George asked, raising an eyebrow. “Or is this one of your usual tours of getting lost for a while?”
“Definitely the second, it’s patent pending.” Lando said, looking around. “I think we should go this way.”
“Do you have an actual destination in mind?” George asked, following. “I have no idea what is actually in this city, so you could tell me literally anything and I’d believe you.”
“Well, first we have this building to your left, sir.” Lando said, gesturing like a real tour guide. “This building is stylized in the Azerbaijan style, which is very common in this area of the world. The architect for this building became so famous, he was commissioned to do the whole city, that’s why it all looks similar. Very confusing, if you ask me. And along here -”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” George laughed, giving Lando a friendly shove. “You’re such a dick, you know that?”
“Ah, but a loveable one.” Lando batted his eyelids. “I’m the prettiest dick around.”
“I’m not even gonna answer that. There’s no way I’m gonna feed your ego.”
“No, feed it George, feed it!” Lando cried, ignoring the looks people were giving him. “It lives off compliments, otherwise it shrivels away!”
“Such a weirdo.” George said fondly. “How does Carlos put up with you all the time?”
“Same way you and Alex are still my friends. I was much more annoying as a kid, Carlos has the easy deal.” Lando shrugged. “I’m just adorable, no-one can resist.”
“I’m never going to be rid of you. You’ll be following me around even when we’re eighty.” George teased. “Racing around in wheelchairs.”
“And I’ll be winning, obviously.” Lando countered. “I’ll get one of those turbo wheelchairs, I’ll run rings around you.”
“That is just blatant cheating.”
“I call it loopholes in the rules.” Lando grinned, shoving his hands into his pockets. “So, are you ready to talk yet?”
“About what?” George tried to evade, but he knew Lando wasn’t buying it.
“Today.” Lando shrugged, purposely not watching George. They spent so much time under media scrutiny, there was no reason to add himself to the list. “I’m not going to say that you’re unlucky, but it also obviously wasn’t your fault either.”
“I dunno. It just feels like a curse, or something. The car is awful, it’s so fucking slow. With this as well, the team can’t afford this. You can just feel the desperation, it’s everywhere. This is the latest in a long line of ‘unlucky’ events. The media are waiting for a story, and I just feel… hopeless? Guilty? I can’t even take the blame for this, no-one can, but I want them to blame me. I wish they could.”
“You’re not at fault.” Lando said sharply, and there’s a hand on the inside of his wrist, warm and safe. “George, no-one should be making you feel guilty for this.”
“I’m making myself feel guilty.” George gave a shaky sigh. “If I can’t prove myself, then what? Do I want to be the guy whose career was done in by a drain?”
“That is not going to happen. You’re fast, and you’re talented, and you’ve worked too damn hard to give up now. Don’t you even dare.”
“No but’s. I’d rather give you my own seat than let you give up.” Lando said fiercely, and George didn’t doubt that he meant it. “You’re going to get back in that car, and you’re going to show the world that you are George goddamn Russell, and you aren’t going anywhere. Got that?”
“Repeat after me. I am George goddamn Russell, and I am not going anywhere.”
“I thought your name was Lando.” George teased. Lando gave him a look. “Okay, okay.” He took a deep breath. “I’m George goddamn Russell, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“Now shout it!”
“No way, there are people around!”
Lando looked unimpressed, but he slid his hand down to George’s, squeezing. “Shout it.”
“Fine.” George huffed, taking a deep breath. “I’M GEORGE GODDAMN RUSSELL AND I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE!”
“Ağzını yum!” Someone shouted from behind them, and they both broke down into giggles.
“I’m never doing that again.” George said, catching his breath.
“Yeah, but it was fun when you did it.”
“Someone shouted something at me Lando. I don’t even know what he said!”
“Pretend it was a compliment.”
“It probably wasn’t.”
“Shut up, pretend. Maybe he said you have a sexy butt, you don’t know.”
“You think I have a sexy butt? Aww, Lando, I never knew you cared.”
“Your butt is very sexy, that’s why that guy shouted it, obviously.” Lando laughed. “Ooh look, we’re at the sea!”
Lando ran down to the barrier, looking over to the horizon, watching the setting sun. When George caught up, Lando nudged him.
“Remember when we used to climb onto the top of our caravans and watch the sunset?” He asked softly. “It was the one little piece of quiet we used to get, and we just sat there.”
“Yeah.” George replied, a sad smile on his face. “Feels like forever since we did that.”
“Can you imagine doing it with our motorhomes now? They’d be screaming, ‘Lando, get down’ or ‘That’s dangerous!’”
“Pretty sure that’s what your mum used to say anyway.” George replied. “You were always getting us into trouble.”
“Like anyone believed you did those stupid things.” Lando snorted. “I do miss those days.”
“Everyone misses their childhood.” George shrugged. “Rose tinted glasses, and all that.”
Lando nodded, watching the sky turn to orange and bronze. “We should see more sunsets.”
“We really should.” George smiled. “Thank you.”
“Being idiotic enough to cheer me up. I’m pretty sure no-one else wants to go near me right now.”
“Since when was I most people?” Lando gave a cheeky grin. “Okay, make a wish.”
“On the sunset.” Lando said, like it was obvious. He turned to look at the fading sun, exhaling deeply. “Ready?”
“Uh, sure.” George turned to look across the sea, shutting his eyes. He exhaled, his mind forming his wish. Let him see me, really see me.
“Come one, we’ll do one more thing before we go back.” Lando clapped him on the shoulder. “I’d better give you back on time, don’t want your team to hate me.”
“Yeah, my mechanics giving you the death glare would obviously be the worst thing in your life.” George rolled his eyes. “Where else are we going?”
“To the scene of the crime!” Lando cried, heading off towards the track. George groaned, trailing after him. What crime?
He wasn’t going to lie, going back to that drain cover and kicking it, jumping up and down on it? Totally worth it. He’d never felt so energised, so carefree. His feet probably had a different opinion though.
“See, back in time. Didn’t want you to turn into a pumpkin or anything.”
“I’m not cinderella, I’m the carriage?” George replied indignantly. “Cheers mate.”
“‘There’s no way I’m going to feed your ego.’” Lando mimicked. “I’m obviously cinderella.”
“Aah, I see it now. Helpless damsel, curly hair…” George teased, laughing as Lando swatted him. “You said it!”
“Never helping you again.” Lando grumbled, but he was smiling. “I’d better go before the team kill me. See you tomorrow?”
“Course.” George said, pulling Lando into a tight hug. “Thanks. Again.”
“Don’t mention it.” Lando murmured, tilting his head up. “Remember what to shout out if you need to.”
“Never shouting that out again.” George reminded him, letting him go. Lando grabbed his hand, squeezing tightly.
“You really should.” He smiled, before letting go. He started to walk away, before turning back quickly. “What did you wish for?”
“If I tell you, it won’t come true.” George said, shaking his head. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lando nodded, turning once again and heading off down the street. George watched him go, a soft smile on his face. He’d hold onto that wish, maybe it would come true. If not, he always had that sunset. He’d have to be content with that.