kindkit: Medieval image of a mapmaker constructing a globe (Fandomless: Mapmaker)
[personal profile] kindkit
Title: Terra Incognita
Fandom: Top Gear RPF
Pairing: James May/Richard Hammond
Rating: All ages
Warnings: None needed
Word count: 700
Summary: The geographies of fear.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It's based on the public personas of real people, but the words and events are all made up
Notes: A sequel, of sorts, to "The Last English Explorers Go Home" (which is here on DreamWidth and here on LiveJournal), but you don't need to have read that to make sense of this. This one is also set just after the end of the north pole special.




It can't be coincidence, James thinks, that he and Richard and Jeremy, between them, embody the types of the old-fashioned polar explorer. There were the ones like Jeremy, who wanted to be first and fastest; the ones like Richard, who were most alive on the edge of death; and a few like James, who ran towards one kind of fear in flight from others.

The Jeremies and the Richards found what they sought, some of them. The Jameses, if they lived, probably sat later in warm rooms like this one and realised that fear's geographies are unmappable. Fear is like the centre of the earth: no matter where you stand, it's directly under your feet.

James takes a swallow of champagne that's gone flat while he's been contemplating. He'd meant to share it with Richard, mostly in celebration and only slightly as revenge on Jeremy for shooting James's tin of Spam. But Richard fell asleep while James was uncorking the bottle. He's been asleep on James's bed for nearly an hour, with his hands curled under his chin, motionless and silent. Looking at him, James sees bones: the orbitals of his eyes and the bridge of his windburned nose, a thin angular shoulder, the knob of a wrist, the line of neck vertebrae. Richard's not frail--James told himself so twice a day throughout this ridiculous stunt--but Christ, he looks it. Some of those bones have been shattered, mended with pins and luck. Maybe not even Richard knows how many.

James is afraid for Richard. There are a limited number of controlled dangers in the world, and what's he going to do when he runs out?

James is afraid of Richard. Richard, to James, is the uncontrolled danger, the cliff's edge he might fall from, believing, for a little while, that he can fly.

Or he might walk out to the farthest point and stand, feet planted, with beauty before him that there's no finding from any safer distance. He can't know what'll happen, except by taking every perilous step.

James sets his champagne glass aside. His chest goes tight and his head spins with vertigo. He lies carefully down beside Richard, a few inches away, and looks at the straggling hair on Richard's neck, the frayed collar of his shirt. He can see the slide of Richard's shoulder blades at each breath.

He could stop now and be very nearly safe. Just entirely and permanently afraid.

Sea ice. Aeroplanes. Fast cars. No sane man would trust his life to them. The sane man sits at home and watches the telly.

James lays a hand on Richard's arm, shakes him gently, hears his breathing change and then a croaky "Wuzzat?"

"It's only me."

"James." Richard turns. Extraordinarily, Richard turns towards him, leans into him, body to body, hooking an arm loosely across James's waist. "'S warm."

"Yes."

"Nice."

Richard is three-quarters asleep, and these are only words. This is not the edge, nor even close. "Yes."

"Missed you." Richard's hand settles against James's back; James can feel the shape of each finger. He thinks he might feel them forever. "On the . . . stupid . . . you're meant to come with me."

"I'm an awful skier," James says. Fear has its habits; it'll pull him back if it can. Jokes can brace him up, imitate normality. This can mean nothing. He's never been so terrified in his life. And yet he finds that, after all, he's outrun a few of the things he dreads. Ugly remarks are small compared to ice boulders, and a polar bear could reduce even the most vicious Daily Mail hack to harmless pieces. "I wanted to be with you."

Richard smiles. "Here we are." No panic, no paralysis, no years-long brooding on everything that could go wrong. How must it feel to be so fearless?

James thinks of blue coastal ice and the freezing, drowning sea beneath. How he crossed it with Jeremy, because to turn back was to fail. How he went to the end of the earth and lived. "Richard. I'd like . . . I'm going to kiss you." James closes his eyes, holds his breath, and moves forward.

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