kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
[personal profile] kindkit
Title: Seventeen Days a Year
Fandom: Top Gear RPF
Pairing: James/Richard (with background James/Sarah and Richard/Mindy)
Rating: Teen
Warnings: None needed
Word count: 2027
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.
Summary: A calendar of weekends together.
Notes: Huge thanks to the fabulous [livejournal.com profile] halotolerant for beta reading and Britpicking. This story was inspired by this November 2010 interview in which James mentions that he and Richard go shopping together once a year.




I. November

Each November they go shopping: a weekend in central London, just at the start of the Christmas season. And they do actually shop, although not for cars, which would draw too much attention, nor for Christmas presents for Sarah or Mindy or the little girls. Like single men, like the sort of girlishly vain metrosexuals James rolls his eyes at, they shop for themselves. They goad each other into head-spinning, bank-statement-avoidance-inducing expense. They go to Harrods and Harvey Nichols and menswear boutiques with names that make Richard giggle and James cringe, to dealers in rare books, vinyl records, antique toys. Richard tries to cure James of having been born middle-aged, and James tries to raise Richard from the abyss of trendiness inhabited by men who imagine they're still 25 and will be forever.

Sometimes they also buy a pair of hideous socks or a multi-CD box set of whale song to give to Jeremy.

Much of what James buys is destined, within a year or so, for Oxfam. He's not sure about Richard, but then, Richard's house covers half of Gloucestershire and doesn't lack for cupboards. It hardly matters in any case. The purpose of their shopping is that it gives them a purpose. Most of their weekends together have a purpose, however unmanly it might sound when announced--as Richard keeps reminding him--on national television. There's something good in knowing that if anyone said, "Hello, James May and Richard Hammond from TV's Top Gear, what on earth are the two of you doing here together?" they'd have an answer.

They take two hotel rooms (James has another story ready in case some Top Gear-watching clerk knows he lives in Hammersmith, half a dozen tube stations away) and they always remember to disarrange both beds.


II. December

December's one of their off times. If there's going to be a Top Gear Christmas special, they see each other at production meetings and filming. Otherwise, the month may go by without more than a quick phone call from James on Richard's birthday. In December James usually takes a holiday with Sarah, spends a few days with his family, and sees friends whose schedules are as complicated as his. He catches up on his reading, goes to the cinema, cooks ambitious meals, plans projects for the new year. He likes December.

He and Richard don't ring each other on Christmas day. Richard's Christmas belongs to Mindy and Izzy and Willow, not to mention the combined mass of the Hammond and Etheridge clans. It's for family, for a gathering around the metaphorical hearth, an assertion of centrality. He and Richard are not family, not quite. On a map, they'd be closer to the margins than the middle, and James has always believed in not trespassing.

Once, over an excess of Boxing Day drinks with Oz Clarke, James got a shade too confiding. Oz, whose profession might be wine ponce but whose avocation, surely, is village gossip, nagged every detail of the arrangement out of him. "How can you stand it?" Oz asked. "Being second best?"

James thought two things: that in any Richardly ranking he'd come fourth at most, and that ranking wasn't the point. Something can be precious and rare. You don't eat foie gras every day; you don't spend all your life on holiday. When he tried to explain it, Oz laid a hand on his shoulder and bought him another drink.


III. January

Richard comes to James's house for a weekend, usually just after James's birthday. Sarah always takes herself off to Spain or Greece with a woman friend or two (and yes, James has wondered, but on balance he thinks probably not, and he supposes he could ask if he really wanted to know). He's wondered if Mindy goes away too, taking her daughters to whatever sort of place small girls enjoy. Or does she stay at home? There's no reason she should go anywhere, of course, just because Richard is away. Richard is away a lot, for all kinds of reasons. Whether this reason is different, whether Mindy ever resents Richard's time with James . . . James probably couldn't ask that. Those awful people who believe in talking about things are wrong; not only doesn't talk smooth out complications, sometimes it wears them rough, like grit in gears. And the clockwork of their lives is very fine indeed.

In January there's a project of some kind: an engine to rebuild, a remote-controlled aeroplane to fly. Occasionally, they've even completed it. More usually, come Sunday night James's garage floor is covered with unassembled debris. James doesn't mind. It gives him something to do when Richard has gone home.

Their January weekend is always restful. James cooks and Richard does the washing-up. They watch the DVDs they can agree on. They drink beer they can never agree on, although they've arrived at a system: for every Stella Artois that James consents to swallow, Richard has to try a real ale or iron-black porter of James's choice. Wonderfully drunk, they tell schoolboy jokes and kiss on the sofa. They have sex in odd corners of the house that weeks afterwards James can barely walk past without feeling his blood fizz at the memory. Richard wakes early and goes running while James sleeps in, then comes back to bed flushed and warm.

One January weekend it snowed heavily and Richard had to stay an extra day. James was pleased until he saw that Richard wasn't, entirely. When Richard left (as soon as the roads were clear), James changed the sheets, showered, and sprawled back down in the wide clean bed to read a book.


IV. March

They go to a motor show. There are a surprising number of them; they can always find one sufficiently far away that none of the hack journalists who infest every public event in Britain will wonder why they stay in a hotel instead of going home at night.

They drive separately, sometimes having an illegal chat on their mobiles, but usually not. James likes the wait, the gearing-up of his mood. He thinks of it as taking a Bugatti Veyron from nought to two hundred and fifty very very gradually. A slow pleasure, James knows, can be better than punching the throttle down too hard. He matches his feelings with music: at first it's Bach on the CD player, a crisp analytical fugue, then something more turbulent, until by the time James arrives he's wallowing in Scarlatti arias. On the way home, he reverses the sequence, cooling from opera to the harpsichord.

It's always a bit mad, this weekend. They live on chips and beer and coffee, sign autographs, avoid giving interviews, bicker about every car from bonnet to boot and from paint to suspension, laugh until their stomachs hurt. They fuck tiredly on pristine hotel sheets, whispering fantasies about blow jobs at 200 miles an hour (Richard's) and naked skin on the leather back seat of a 1963 Bentley S3 (James's). They don't sleep enough. James gets a headache and Richard forgets how to stop talking.

Sunday afternoon comes as a bit of a relief, really.


V. May

They're usually filming non-UK segments, so they'll make a weekend for themselves, staying on an extra couple of days somewhere picturesque and isolated. They go for long walks, which James normally considers less enjoyable than minor surgery, but it's useful for easing muscles gone cramped in cars designed, apparently, by feral aluminium-fetishists unfamiliar with the workings of the human spine. Anyway, Richard, in a twist of personality James tries to find endearing, likes walking.

James turns off his phone at night, because that's when Clarkson sometimes rings in the hopes of interrupting "your--I imagine, except that I don't imagine because if I did I would then have to insert a sharp stick through my eye socket into my brain and stir vigourously--vast catalogue of homosexualist delights." Richard's mobile is always on, always close at hand in case Izzy falls off her horse again and loses another tooth, or Willow has one of her rare but shattering nightmares. No matter the distance from Gloucestershire, no matter if they're in bed in a locked room and James has the taste of Richard's skin on his tongue, even if he's inside Richard's body, in a sense they're never really alone together. But the phone very seldom rings.

They don't talk much in May. They sit on the grass or the beach and doze in the sun. Richard's breathing mingles with all the natural noises that people call "silence"; even the light snore he's developed in the last couple of years sounds harmonious.

On these weekends, James thinks he could live with Richard and be happy.


VI. July

They never manage a weekend in July. Top Gear's on air, and filming the studio segments doesn't leave any time. They see each other at work, and sometimes in the pub afterwards with Jezza, who'll try with his flamethrower-like subtlety to leave them alone together. It's warming (not unlike the flamethrower) but unnecessary. James misses Richard, and he likes to think Richard misses him, but whatever they are for approximately seventeen days a year, they're not that now. They don't steal kisses in the toilet or send longing glances across the portakabin.

James believes in the proper time and place, as he believes in a well-organised tool kit. The universe hangs on these disciplines; failing them lets entropic decay set in, lets disaster start.


VII. September

They take a week, to make up for July, and go motoring: a good car (hired or borrowed, for anonymity's sake), a vague route (usually the continent, where they're not as recognisable as at home), a couple of phrasebooks, and a precautionary agreement that whoever's driving picks the music, with opera and hip-hop being off-limits in all circumstances. James brings Twinings English Breakfast tea, and Richard brings an enormous quantity of crisps that he consumes by the fourth day and mourns for after that.

Their best conversations have all happened on the duller stretches of European roads. Side by side, looking forwards through the windscreen, it's easier to talk than it is even in bed. James has told Richard things that he'll never tell Sarah. They're trivial things, most of them, but trivialities are like water--they're ninety per cent of a person. (The human body is in fact a little over fifty per cent water, but after years of struggle James has surrendered to the cliché. For some reason people dislike it when their figures of speech are corrected.)

When Richard talks, he sheds his layers of cheerful hyperactive hamsterosity--which are really Richard, but not all of Richard. Every time, James finds himself enthralled. The inner Richard is less charming, more frightened and sometimes more frightening, both rougher and softer. He makes James's heart ache. It's a bit like sex, like the minute or so before orgasm when pleasure shades into the painful need to climax. But there is no climax, not for this, and the need stretches out forever, sharp and sweet and burning. Sometimes James finds himself on the verge of tears for no good reason.

James knows that Richard's not like him, not a reserved man, a hoarder of secrets from the people he trusts. There's nothing James knows of Richard that Mindy doesn't know--that Mindy didn't know first, come to that. And maybe, probably, there's a deep core of Richard that's Mindy's alone. It's just as well. James couldn't bear to feel this ache more often than he does.

In a way, James welcomes the little irritants. Richard is impatient when James gets "touristy," bored by history, stubbornly Middle England in restaurants, and a dangerously fast driver who ought to know better. He turns the heat up too high in hotel rooms and he doesn't rinse the hairs out of the sink after he shaves.

By the last day they're nearly always close to quarrelling. James finds himself picking at Richard, sometimes, to make sure of it.


VIII. November

They go shopping, as they do every November. James hopes they always will.

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