kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
[personal profile] kindkit
Title: Loyalties
Fandom: Top Gear
Characters: James-centric ensemble
Rating: Teen
Warnings: None needed
Word count: 1083
Summary: Friendship and other group dynamics.
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: This story deals with the anti-Mexican remarks the guys made in 16x02. Herein be (*gasp shock horror*) politics.

Andy's arguing with the Stig. Well, Andy's arguing, waving his arms about, raising his voice. The Stig just stands there with his arms folded. It would be funny if they weren't already behind on today's schedule.

Andy turns abruptly and stomps back towards the crew and presenters. James waits for Jeremy to speak. Jeremy and Andy are old friends; anyway, James nearly always lets the others speak first. "He still won't drive?" Jeremy asks.

"Yeah, that's a bit fucking obvious considering he's not driving, isn't it, Jezza?"

"And - "

"And he won't say what he wants. Is there a problem with the car, with the track, with the phase of the fucking moon? All he did was give me this." Andy shows them a small square of paper. On it, in handwriting so mechanically exact that it looks like a computer printout, is the word LATER.

They take a tea break. For once, the Stig doesn't follow them into the portakabin and watch them eat. When they come back out, there's a largeish box on the tarmac and the Stig is cutting away the tape that seals it. When he's done, he hands Andy another card, which Andy glances at, sighs, and passes around. FROM MY COUSIN, it says. IN MEXICO.

"Oh, bugger," Richard mutters, and Jeremy steps back and ducks.

"I don't think it's going to explode, Clarkson," James says. "Or the Stig wouldn't be reaching in."

"Aircraft carrier," Jeremy says, looking sheepish nevertheless. "Nitrous oxide. Remember?"

The Stig straightens up with an armful of books. Thick, heavy books, the sort printed in small type with footnotes in even smaller type. Soon there's a thigh-high stack, plus a few CDs and DVDs that the Stig adds to the top. He gestures, a peremptory summons to Andy, and hands him yet another card.

The Stig is able to talk; James has heard him do it. Today, though, it seems he can't be bothered. Andy talks for a minute or two, using the low persuasive voice he normally reserves for tantrum-prone guest stars and hungover presenters. The Stig just writes notes and shakes his helmeted head.

"Well, lads," Andy tells them. "The deal's this. If you agree to be educated - "

"Educated?" Jeremy laughs. "By the Stig?"

"His word, not mine. If you agree to be educated, he'll do this week's show as a demonstration of good will. Then he'll pick out books for you. Mexican history and culture. Richard, Jeremy, he wants a two-page report on your reading from each of you at the start of next week's filming. If he's satisfied, he'll do another show. And give you more books."

"I'd rather the box had exploded," Richard says.

"James." Anger and strain show around the edges of Andy's voice, like cracks in a bridge. "Every week you're to cook a different Mexican dish." Andy pulls a couple of brightly-covered cookery books out of the pile and drops them into James's arms. "You'll serve it to Jezza and Richard and me. The Stig will come round to check."

"Oh, for . . . this has gone far enough," Jeremy says. He's not laughing now. "I won't agree to this farce. Who the hell does he think he is? Why should we put ourselves out to salve his hurt little feelings? Since when do Stigs have feelings anyway? They're like bloody machines."

"Right," Richard chimes in. He's always chiming in, agreeing with Clarkson.

No, that's not fair. They're always chiming in, Richard and James both. Agreeing, supporting. Not even waiting for Jezza's lead, not always. Saying whatever they think might make him laugh, and to hell with everyone else: ecomentalists, politicians, chief constables, Morris Minor drivers. French, Germans, Yanks. Metrosexuals, homosexuals, chavs, toffs, footballers, socialists. Women. Immigrants. Mexicans.

They kick everyone equally, don't they?

Only not everyone's equally able to kick back.

Lefty Guardian types have called them bullies, and James has laughed it off. But . . . We're like a gang, James thinks. Like a mob. We make each other worse.

" - we've replaced a Stig before," Jeremy's saying. "Maybe your cousin needs a job?"

The Stig methodically writes out another card and holds it up. STIGS HAVE SOLIDARITY.

"Then we'll get an actual racing driver! Not an alien that we have to pay in platinum ingots and dead ducks!"

"Jezza." James's voice falls into a gap in the argument. Instantly, everyone's looking at him. "Shut up."

"Look, mate - "

"You too, Richard." Richard closes his mouth, looking hurt. "The Stig's right. We were wrong."

Jeremy rolls his eyes theatrically. "You never did have a sense of humour, May."

"We were wrong." Saying it doesn't help the queasy roil of James's conscience. It's rather like being sick: you know you'll be better off for it eventually, but your mouth still tastes foul.

"James . . . " Richard touches his arm. His eyes are sad, concerned, confused, like a man who's been betrayed. James wants to apologise to him. Richard's his friend. Richard's not a bad person, not some loutish BNP thug. Nor is Jezza. They're kind and decent and they'd never hurt anyone, not really.

"You were wrong, Richard." James's voice is fuzzed and thick. He swallows. "I was wrong. Jezza, too, but you and I started it this time." He looks over and sees the Stig watching him, impassive behind the visor that hides a face James has never seen. The Stig's human-shaped, more or less, but not human. Why does he care about Mexicans? The whole sodding planet's foreign to him. "We'll do it," James tells him.

The Stig nods.

James turns, away from Richard and Jeremy and his own reflection in the Stig's helmet, and walks back to the portakabin with his cookery books. There's a photograph of chillies on the cover of the top one. He'll have to buy chillies, and Christ knows what else. Read a recipe, cook a meal, serve it. See if his friends are still his friends. Can they still talk together? Can they still laugh?

He fills the kettle with water, plugs it in, and puts teabags in three mugs. Two sugars for Richard, one for Jeremy, none for James himself. Milk for James and Jeremy, none for Richard. Everything will be all right if they just come in and drink this tea. Everything can still be all right.

James waits for the water to boil. He doesn't look out of the window to see if they're coming.


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