The next time he sees Jamie she’s - well, she certainly looks different, and Michael has to remind himself not to stare at least three times, as he picks his way through the hodgepodge of tables and chairs scattered around the cafe.
Of course he remembers being invited here - he still has the email on his phone, as it was too nice to delete. It had simply said, Usually at ff location in the mornings when in London, come see me - and so when he’d fallen out of bed that morning it had been the first thing on his mind.
He normally doesn’t take much time on his clothes when he’s not doing the press round or the film festival circuit; there is a certain freedom and anonymity in going out dressed “normally”. Still, he’s wearing a button-down shirt, still miraculously free of wrinkles, over a nice pair of jeans and his favorite battered sneakers; and he’s tried to put his hair into some semblance of order, though he’s kind of antsy to get all the brunette out completely. It never fails to amuse him when his stubble and his hair don’t match but today he feels like he’s on tenterhooks.
Jamie in the morning is almost as fine a sight as she is on the last night he saw her, wielding a broken beer bottle in her hand and ready to unleash bloody murder. Her hair is pinned up messily at the nape of her neck. With it out of the way the sun picks out every single freckle visible above her - wait, what?
It takes the barista a few moments to make Michael’s coffee and he certainly needs that time to process what Jamie’s wearing. V-necked t-shirt and a black blazer over a floor-length skirt? Eyeglasses? It’s a complete change from the hellcat out on the town, and for a brief moment Michael wonders if maybe she’s trying to method-act her next role.
Jamie looks up as he approaches her table. In the morning light, the glasses make her look simultaneously very young and very knowing, and Michael is more than grateful to sit down. “Took you long enough to get here.” The mischievous Scottish lilt of her voice hasn’t changed - thank goodness for small mercies. “I thought you would run off on me.”
“And miss a chance to see you like this,” Michael says, not really thinking about it.
“Well I do like a man who thinks on his feet and looks good doing it.” Jamie grins - and that’s her troublemaking smile, and he returns it with interest. “Is it hard to believe I dress like this on my days off?”
“I’ve learned to expect nothing except the certainty of your smile and the way you punch,” Michael says.
She laughs, and he thinks, Well. I’m certainly doomed.
Chapter 2: Race For Your Heart
Michael pulled out his mobile phone and peered curiously at the screen. Unlisted number, and he rolled his eyes and thought it might be spam - until he read the message for the second time.
Nice bike you've got there. - J
It was a quiet Friday night for a change; he'd been let off the press rounds early and no wonder since he had just been out doing the morning shows. Why he was even talking about the film at bloody six AM he had no idea - he'd simply gritted his teeth and smoked and drank coffee and gone. And then small mercies: being released for the rest of the weekend. Tickets back to New York on Sunday night.
Who was this, he wondered, as he paid for the beer - he hadn't even had a second round - and hurried out with helmet and jacket in tow.
He was so focused on his phone, wondering which J was texting him at all, that he didn't see the woman waving across the street until a familiar voice hollered at him.
"Hey, ginger guy!"
A familiar fall of long hair, a miniskirt calculated to wreak havoc and incidentally allow its wearer to kick anyone who got too close. Jennifer was a brunette these days, no doubt due to the big movie trilogy she'd landed the lead role for. The long duster looked good on her, a blaze of white against the windblown blush in her cheeks.
"Jen," he said, hurrying across and submitting to an enthusiastic hug. "What's up, girl? Was that you texting just now?"
"Nope. That'd be her," Jennifer said, mischievously, and crooked her thumb over her shoulder. "Jamie was just giving me a ride, my friend's throwing a party around the corner."
"How'd you know about my bike?"
"She told me you told her. Now go, shoo, I have a dance floor to go to and she's looking for you."
Michael kissed her soundly on her cheek and said, "Shall I send you flowers?"
"Chocolates!" Jennifer laughed. "Those lovely seashell-shaped things!"
"You've got 'em," Michael said, and he shrugged into his jacket and turned to the rider on the Suzuki Hayabusa. "Now there I was blathering on about my Ducati and you never said anything about owning a bike yourself."
"It was intended to be a surprise," and Jamie was reaching up with both hands, pulling her helmet off. Hair in a long dark braid, except for the wisps and curls falling into her face. "Saw you on the telly this morning, figured I wanted to try and catch you before you ran off again."
"You've got spectacular timing, then," Michael said, dividing his stare between her dark racing leathers and the grey of the bike, with the famous character for "peregrine falcon" in black on its fairing. Those hands of hers, lethal in a fight, hot on his skin, now not-so-innocently wrapped in fingerless gloves. "I've got to be in NYC most of next week. Audition for the Scottish play, can you believe?"
"Yes, I can," Jamie laughed. "If you get in I demand tickets. So. Have I rousted you out of some party or were you actually getting into character by pretending to drink all by yourself somewhere?"
"How well you know me," Michael laughed. "Can't a bloke go out for a quiet Friday night?"
"Not when he happens to know me," and Jamie smirked at him. "So. Up for something different?"
"Always," Michael said. "Let me get my bike and meet you back here."
She could hear the roar of the engines in her very skin and bones, could see the road unspooling before her: city lights and concrete roads and the flicker and flash of cars all around.
Normally Jamie went out alone with her bike, safely anonymous behind the heavily tinted visor, and the world could go hang while she was enjoying herself. But today she could hear the second engine, rumbling in her blood: a deeper pitch, a different rider.
She'd listened attentively to Michael talking about his bike on one of their not-quite-dates but this was the first chance she'd had to actually see the damn thing, and - wow. Battered leather jacket and dull silver zipper - how she'd made fun of him, that first time, talking about how he'd probably gotten it at second-hand or pre-stressed but now she understood it was simply something that came with his machine. Michael sat his Ducati 916 like it was an extension of his body, the same powerful lines, the same predatory aspect.
It was rather more than just the sort of thing she liked, if she was really honest with herself, and she liked to be, since it kept her sane and grounded: it was all her kinks come to life.
Now Michael was flashing bike lights in her mirrors and she veered neatly off, heading for the kerb. She raised her visor and grinned up at him.
"No, you see, there's this," and Michael was waving his arm to encompass the quiet, deserted neighborhood around them. It had more of a rundown, industrial aspect to it; warehouses as far as she could see, now, squat and dark and silent around them. "I've got sort of a nice idea...."
Jamie lifted her helmet off - and then, ow, bloody strap catching on her hair and she hissed as she tried to yank the clasp free and it only snagged harder on her braid. "Oh for fuck's sake," she exclaimed, and then there were hands wrapping around hers.
Michael stood carefully over her, hands moving over her braid and freeing it from the recalcitrant helmet.
"Thanks." Jamie grinned, and got to her feet, and kissed the tip of his nose teasingly. "But now you want to stand back."
"Because this." And one yank on the loose red ribbon, and the whole mass of her dark hair fell down around her shoulders, messy and beautiful, and she was digging an elastic from one of her pockets when Michael coughed and she looked up, grinning. "Yes?"
"Leave it down?"
"What, is my hair some kind of prize? Then you're not taking it from me without a fight...."
"I didn't say anything about taking it," and Michael was grinning in the way that she liked to think of as a challenge, the reason she itched to unpack all the secrets hidden in the lines of his face, the reason she wanted to touch him and never really let him go. "But if you insist." He jerked his head at her machine. "How about a race. You win, you can put your hair up again and, I don't know, you get to order me around for as long as you like till Sunday. I win, you leave your hair down and vice-versa."
Jamie laughed. "And either way you get something you want, yeah?" She let him wait for it. "You're on. From here to that lamppost over there and back again."
Michael threw her a mock salute and jogged over to his bike, revving the engine hard as he drew level with her. He passed her his helmet, and she left them on the kerb as the marker for the finish line.
"Which one of us is counting down?" she shouted over the engines.
"You do it! I can hear you!"
And that was just it, wasn't it? Michael heard her, heard the things she didn't say, just as she wound up doing the same so easily for him, so effortlessly.
But just because she liked him so much didn't mean she was going to give this one up easily - and she had a Hayabusa and she knew how to use it.
"Ready?" she shouted. "On your mark, set, GO!"
And she threw herself into the night, laughing, leaving Michael's grin behind in her dust.
He ground his teeth as he kicked the Ducati after Jamie - well, of course she would have something of the '99-'00 vintage, the minx. Fastest. Fucking. Production bike. Of the 20th century.
What was he thinking?
And there was Jamie in a hell of a screaming turn as she passed the lamppost that was their objective. There she was already celebrating, wiggling the Hayabusa's tail at him like a victory dance, her arse in those leathers and then she was leaping off the bike and waving something at him - possibly that damned elastic?
Michael put on a last fruitless burst of speed and popped a wheelie as he passed her, almost fishtailing on the curve and finally pulling up to her smirk and her dark hair in a messy tail at the nape of her neck. That smile of hers, mocking and knowing and - well, he knew what his forfeit was, but it wasn't like she was going to protest if he did this.
"This" being stepping right into her personal space, making her raise her chin the last few inches so she could keep looking him in the eyes - he liked the slight height difference between them for some reason - and he kissed her, soundly, loving the way her hands immediately came up to grip his hips.
A sigh, and he pulled her in, arms around her shoulders and waist. Cursing the leathers that let him feel her warmth but not her skin. Wanting to get close, as close as it was possible for anyone to get to her.
He groaned as her hand moved - he would have shaken his head, he would have complained, if he weren't otherwise occupied.
Zipper, his mind reported back to him. He was touching the zipper in the back of Jamie's leathers and she was laughing into the kiss and finally breaking away, wild beautiful light in her eyes.
"Thought I'd make you fall for it," she said, winking at him. "Besides you're supposed to do whatever I say now."
Michael grinned and let her see he was looking forward to it, and he was murmuring "Lay on, McAvoy, and damn me if I cry: hold, enough."
Chapter 3: Kick Up Your Heels
He's a windblown mess, Michael thinks as he pushes into the brick-and-glass door. God, he hopes he's got the right place; he only knows that this address exists because it's a message on his mobile phone. Rose and Jennifer are conspiring against him - or is it for him, because how else does he know how Jamie's been traveling everywhere in New York, gathering inspiration for her latest role?
Though neither of them have been very helpful in actually pinning down that aforementioned role, which is cheating, especially on Rose's part because she's actually working with Jamie on this film - so what's with all the subterfuge already, Michael thinks, and he tries to push down his hair as he lopes down a set of stairs.
There's a door at the bottom and there is music coming out into the stairwell. It's a jaunty tune, and it makes him think of his mam for some reason. The bouncy music makes him think of long skirts and bars filled with heavy smoke, of the band wailing away in the corner and the loud buzz of conversation, drowned out in a loud buzz of footfalls and music and dancing.
"And jump, on three," a voice calls, and there's a loud, happy yell, and Erik pushes the door open just in time.
A girl in most of a sharp suit - he catches a glimpse of hair pinned up in a bun, a flash of white shirt and bright purple suspenders and charcoal-grey trousers and black-and-white Oxfords. This girl is dancing up a storm, hips swinging, feet a rapid-fire blur of motion. This girl is lifting Rose right off the ground and that's Rose's black skirt flaring out, white socks and patent shoes and is that a blue sweater set?
The music bounces on and so do the two girls, jitterbugging and kicking and waving their hands in the air. They shimmy and they shake to the big band music and they shout encouragement to each other; they are a perfect whirl of movement and grace - until the one in suspenders shrieks and down, down comes a familiar braid of hair.
"Fuck, not again!" And Michael knows that exasperated laughter; the music stops and Rose points and laughs at her partner, who turns around at last.
Michael's jaw sags open.
Because the girl in the purple suspenders, the dancing girl, the girl who'd been throwing herself into the music with such abandon and energy - the girl partnering Rose is none other than Jamie. Sweaty and flushed, bobby pins in one hand, half-laughing half-stormy expression on her face, blue eyes flashing.
"Took you long enough to get here!" Rose exclaims at him, and she immediately sits down on the floor, begins to fuss with her shoes.
He'd spare Rose a glance if he could, but Jamie's walking in his direction, only pausing to turn off the music, and pick up a fedora from somewhere.
Michael nearly swallows his tongue because she flips the hat end over end a few times before she deposits it neatly on her head.
She's all long and sleek lines in this costume. And then she tilts her head up at him and he rather thinks he knows that smirk well, well enough that he matches it with one of his own.
"So tell me," Jamie says, backing him out into the stairwell to Rose's knowing laughter, "how did she lure you into coming here - and what are you doing here, anyway? Don't you have rehearsals?"
Michael winces before he can stop himself. "Can't do anything about my Lady M coming down with chicken pox. At her age, too. We've tried to work with the understudies, but it's not been a good week for everyone all around."
"Which is presumably all to the good if you manage to survive till opening night?"
"Assuming we do." A thought strikes him and he slants a worried look at Jamie. "You've had the chicken pox."
"Yes. Thank fuck for that. I'd be very unhappy if I wound up taking you out of your movie."
"So would I," Jamie fires back, "and as soon as I stopped being infectious I'd go and kick your arse."
"I know, and I'd deserve it," Michael says. He steps in close and tweaks her nose, grins when she dances back a few steps. "You're very, very good at that dancing thing."
"What can I say, I'm a quick study," she says. "My mum danced, my grandparents. Wasn't much interested; but it turns out I know the music. And you?"
He nods. "I dance. But not very well. And nothing like what you were doing earlier."
"You staying to watch then?"
"If you'll let me."
"Should I? When you're looking at me like that?"
"I can't help it," and then he's pressing her into the wall, and his hands are on her hips, "not when you look like this."
"So this is another one of your kinks, then?" And bless her but Jamie is leaning right into him, challenging tilt of her eyebrows.
Michael kisses the corner of her smirk and steps away, looks her pointedly up and down and he hears her suck in her next breath. "And what if it is."
"Then by god I'm taking advantage," she declares, and she darts back into the rehearsal room. Burst of laughter, and the music is starting up again, and he can't follow her in quickly enough.
Chapter 4: rose on the Seine
"Very nearly late, what have you been up to?"
And then Michael looks up from his book and nearly swallows his tongue.
Granted, this has nearly become a regular thing; it seems that every time Jamie takes on a new project, she winds up wearing something that perhaps ought not to look good on anyone, much less her - and yet he's never seen her go wrong. From hellcat on the town to a long skirt and schoolmarmish glasses; a suit with purple suspenders with a black fedora; a sleeveless jumper over a white shirt with the cuffs rolled up to the elbows.
This outfit is the one that will top them all for just now, and it is quite some outfit, and that's without taking into consideration the sabre at her waist.
The scarlet jacket is a stark contrast to her dark hair in its neat bun, to her pale skin and to those blue eyes. Heavy gold braid, epaulettes, white breeches tucked neatly into black boots, a gold sash tied around her waist, over the leather sword belt.
Jamie drops neatly into the chair opposite his and smiles sunnily, knowingly, even as he's trying to pick his jaw back up from the sidewalk. "I won't have time to change, and I've no problems with people seeing me like this, so. It's a great uniform, you know, makes me feel just about as tall as you. Like it?"
"What the hell are you doing?" Michael asks, faintly.
"Oscar François de Jarjayes," she raps out. "Everyone just says Lady Oscar."
"I have no idea who that is," he admits.
"The play is called The Rose of Versailles. Really popular in Japan, where the most popular stage version is put on by an all-female theater company. We have boys in ours, though." Jamie produces her eyeglasses from somewhere, and peers at him patiently. "And I came to see you partly because I had a favor to ask, regarding the show."
He snaps back to complete awareness. "Whatever I can help you with."
"You've trained in fencing, haven't you?"
Michael blinks. "Yes. Though it's been two years?"
"Will you help me with this, then?" And she taps the hilt of her sabre. "I need to be able to look like I actually know how to carry this thing, and I also need to know how to fight with it."
"I actually know something you don't, for all you work onstage," Michael laughs. "Now there is something that doesn't happen every day. It'll be my pleasure." and he gets to his feet, watches her match the movement. "You mind if I came along to rehearsal?"
He watches her narrow her eyes playfully. "You'll need to be on your best behavior."
"When am I not?"
She rolls her eyes, and then she raises the saber in its scabbard in his direction, and prods him in the knee with it.
"That's no way to treat your instructor," Michael laughs.
He's really, really looking forward to this: to the clash and to the dance of it, to parry and riposte and counterattack, to welding together Jamie's fierce passion with the science of the sword.
[He still has one more surprise later, when he realizes there's a reason why Jamie had her hair pinned up. The blonde hair flashes and burns brightly under the stage lights in the scene where "Lady Oscar" masters the Paris garrison with honorable intentions.
It leaves Michael speechless, as Jamie so often does.]
Chapter 5: wisteria wanted
From this photo.
Michael is taking a break on the set of the heist movie he's shooting with a bunch of familiar faces - Wahlberg and Cudlitz and McCall and McDonough - and he's thinking about getting himself a third cup of tea when his mobile phone chimes at him.
New email. The subject line reads: Open this on a proper screen - your tablet or your laptop.
So Michael walks over to where McCall has been playing Angry Birds on his iPad and he laughingly holds out a hand, gestures gimme at his friend, and McCall flips him off and cuffs him playfully around the ears before he wanders off toward the caterer's truck, and Michael takes the extra precaution of sitting just inside his trailer before pulling up the email app.
The first few pictures are of Jamie walking a red carpet, her hair tied back with blue ribbons. The jacket is just slightly too large on her, seams hanging a little off her shoulders, and Michael smiles, because the jacket is his. He no longer begrudges the fact that it's one of his favorites and that Jamie has effectively nicked it from him for the time being. Lord only knows when she'll be back from Tokyo.
He can't complain, either, about the next photos, which show Jamie on stage, practically lit up by a storm of strobes and flashes. She's waving to what he assumes is the crowd at the premiere, and in addition to the denim jacket she is now wearing her black fingerless gloves.
Michael knows the cracks and creases in the leather fairly well, and he hopes he's not blushing, because the last time he'd seen her wear those - well, the last time she'd worn them she hadn't been wearing anything else.
Jamie speaking into a mic, Jamie posing for photos with the other actors, Jamie laughing at something the director says.
Michael grins with pride - he kind of thinks he might have played a part in her accepting the role in the first place, and now he thinks admiringly of Jamie wielding pistols and a submachine gun and a butcher's scimitar. Fight scenes: Jamie transitioning from being tied into a chair to being beaten bloody to turning the tables on her mentor with a hairpin and the soles of her boots. Jamie studying a loom, breaking a binary code cipher, emerging from a bathtub crusted over with some kind of white waxy substance.
He laughs at the final photos because now Jamie looks distinctly amused and perplexed, standing next to a vaguely familiar Japanese actor or singer or something and imitating his poses. Hands held up in v-signs and then in some kind of strange hybrid sign language. The corner of her mouth lifted in a smile, and one eyebrow curved upwards.
There's a second email when he's finished with the photos. This time there's text: I...I was kind of made to do this. So continues my idiot tradition of always being stuffed into some kind of strange costume. Just once I'd like to be in a movie or event where I only had to wear the clothes I had, and nothing from some stylist's closet.
Michael raises his eyebrows, and scrolls down.
The first impression is of white and of purple and of black. Jamie's blue eyes, and her hair pinned away from her face with some kind of silver flower.
That is no outfit to have come out of a mere closet.
Michael squints, holds the tablet closer, tries to turn it this way and that. Trying to understand what he's looking at.
Jamie is standing in some kind of garden, and she doesn't seem to know what to do with her hands because they change position with every photograph: clasped together at her waist, clasped behind her back, hanging at her sides. In one of the photos she's smiling, but she seems apprehensive, and she's got the fingers of one hand pressed to her temple.
What the hell, Michael thinks, and it finally clicks into place for him.
Jamie and a wary smile, eyes wide with surprise, in a kimono the color of aged ivory, cinched in place with a wide black belt spanning most of her torso. The belt is itself tied with a thick silver-and-scarlet cord, and is patterned in a complicated design of checkerboard squares and silver spirals.
Magnificent as they are, the belt and cord are only accents to the actual kimono, which pools in a small graceful circle around Jamie's just-visible feet in white socks. Below her knees, the robes carry a design of a trellis and long trailing clusters of purple flowers and green vines. So much detail in the photographs, drops of dew and petals falling away.
Wisteria, the caption for the last photograph reads. I've been dressed up for the season, apparently.
Michael looks that up, looks back at the photographs, and after a long moment of awestruck silence he pulls up the reply box.
I'm glad they dressed you up in that, and I'm glad there are photographs of you in it. You look amazing. You look so beautiful.
He's very surprised when he gets a near-instant reply to the email. I had to ask them to teach me how to put the whole thing on.
No way, Michael thinks - but sure enough, when he picks Jamie up at the airport one week later, there is a large white box sitting next to her carry-on luggage, and she laughs when she catches him eyeing it, and then her, with no small amount of wonder.
Chapter 6: Message in a Bottle
It’s good to be on break, sometimes, and to let the world flow by. He’s had a hell of a ride during the last eighteen months: a ton of challenging work, half a dozen good roles, positive reviews for his turn in the Scottish play, and another two or three good projects coming in.
There’s a reason why he’s not thinking about the new things right now, though, and as he falls into bed on a freezing-cold February night he’s forcibly reminded of presence - his joints are creaking, what the actual fuck, the weather’s having a go at him too since he can’t do a lot of running in this extreme cold - and of absence - he thinks of Jamie off in Glasgow, taking Three Days of Rain on the road, and it means good things for her but it also means she’s nowhere near easy reach.
If she were in London he knows he’d brave even this kind of weather and snow to go out to hers, or perhaps one of them might even have the good sense to suggest going on holiday someplace a little bit warmer than Europe in general.
Michael buries himself in the duvet and he’s about to reach for his iPad so he can get back to rereading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when the email chime goes off.
The screen blinks up at him. Another one, the subject line says.
The body of the email reads, Does this qualify as spam yet? Better tell me because I can’t stop. Sorry.
Download video Y/N?
He knows this email address all too well, and there is only one person in the world who sends him ridiculous photos, often in a series, and often in strange costumes. Michael taps Y. The download takes just a minute or so, and as soon as he saves the file he gets comfortable, and cues up the video.
Interior, a little dark and a little grainy.
With a start, Michael realizes he’s looking into a hotel room: nondescript sort-of luxury bed, anonymous maybe-stylish furniture. There’s a chair right in front of the camera and he thinks about the hotel rooms from the press junkets. Laptop, maybe, sitting on the writing desk?
The mic picks up a soft, indistinct muttering from off-camera. Shadows moving nearby. The room is suddenly lit up.
A hand on the chair, pushing it closer. Movement, and then there’s someone sitting in the chair.
“What the fuck,” Michael mutters, because the first thing he recognizes is the shirt - it’s his, he’s been looking for it since the weekend. His black Beatles shirt, the one with the Abbey Road cover, the cotton nearly worn through at the seams.
The second thing he recognizes is - Jamie’s handwriting. Jamie’s hands, too, beautifully shaped, holding up a sheet of paper. Slapdash cursive, long-tailed S shapes. Sorry about nicking your shirt.
“Jamie, would it kill you to show me your face,” Michael mutters.
As if in answer, the next item held up to the camera is - a publicity still of Jamie as Walker from the play. Dark double-breasted coat, the short wig wet and mussed beyond saving, and it probably isn’t helping that the photograph shows Jamie’s character with her hands in her dark hair.
Be right with you. But first, a message from our sponsors, the next sheet says.
Dear Michael, still pissed I’m here and not there.
Freezing my knickers off, and me working in that blasted theater.
Not sexy in the least. I don’t want to get a cold.
Michael winces in sympathy.
Could do with some Lemsips and a few stiff drinks. And maybe
a particular tall thin chap, you might know him,
who steals all the blankets when he’s over at mine
so I don’t actually know what I keep him ‘round for.
Michael laughs, and shakes his head, and looks longingly at his duvet and his bed because...yeah. It’s empty. He’s in it and he can’t get warm at all, no matter what he does, because it’s missing something. Because he’s missing someone.
When they toss my arse back home all I want to do is get fuckin’ warm,
do you think you could help me with that?
“Yes,” Michael mutters. “Anything you asked.”
Wish you were here.
And then Michael’s sitting up because Jamie’s leaning in, blue eyes looking right into the camera, and she looks sad and lonely and - yes, cold. Her dark hair long and loose around her shoulders. Red cheeks. Her mouth curved up very slighly, a strange little lonely smile.
She’s speaking. “Better pay attention to the last message. I’ll make you sit an exam on it.”
And then she holds up one more sheet of paper.
It says, very simply, Your Jamie.
He suddenly wants to tear right out of his room, get on his bike or on a bus or on a plane or whatever - he needs to be with Jamie, he needs to be anywhere but here, fuck the cold and fuck his sleep. It’s not like he’s been getting any proper rest since she’s been gone, anyway.
It’s not like she’s ever referred to herself as belonging to him.
Now suddenly Jamie is peering into the camera and wagging a finger, affectionate and admonishing, and Michael doesn’t believe in telepathy but right here, right now, he could almost believe that she knows exactly what he’s thinking.
How is it possible that she knows him so well - but that’s not really the question, is it, Michael thinks.
“Hey, you. If you’re planning to do something stupid please please at least let your mum know, all right? Don’t just bolt. Make plans. For me? Please?”
She smiles, and approaches the camera again, her face coming closer and closer and blurring, the camera catching a glimpse of her mouth and then there’s a brief moment of darkness, a soft smacking sound - and, thunderstruck, Michael realizes she’s just kissed the camera.
Jamie kissed the camera for Michael’s sake.
“Fuck,” he breathes at last, long after the video ends. “Fuck, Jamie...why the fuck aren’t you here.”
He knows when the play’s supposed to wrap up its run; he knows where that hotel room is.
He’s on vacation, after all, and he’s got an inkling of where he can go now if he wants to catch a good night’s sleep. He can make plans when he wakes up.
Now he’s just going to watch the video, loop it ’til he falls asleep, to the kiss and to the possessive pronoun and to Jamie.
Chapter 7: hell on four wheels
Jamie eyes the Cee'd apprehensively - it's been years since she last got behind a steering wheel and she's wondering about speed vs. the Top Gear test track.
Michael's been encouraging, and the latest email simply says "Muscle memory", but Jamie smiles tightly to herself and remembers that the last time she'd been in a car it had ended in a hell of a crash. She still has the scar today: a thin white line cutting across her ribs, from just over her heart to just over her navel.
[The scar is one of Michael's very favourite things about her - but comforting as that is, this is no place to be thinking about it.]
She turns up the collar on her leather jacket. The breeze is cold and unforgiving. Happily, however, the track team are reporting clear skies and no chance of any kind of rain - so maybe she can do this timed run after all.
Of course she remembers everything Michael told her about the test track and about the car, and of course she's paying attention as both the safety team and the Stig - tall bloke, that one, and like everyone else she wonders who's in the suit.
But it's still all butterflies in her stomach as she pulls the helmet on for the last time.
She watches the camera crew fiddle with the setup on the dashboard of the Cee'd, and finally they wave her in, and she looks directly into the camera, pulls a horrible face at it.
"You sure I can keep my gloves on?" she asks as the safety team help buckle on her seatbelts. She wiggles her fingerless gloves at them.
"You should if you're feeling cold. Besides they might help you hang on," the woman in charge says.
"You know, you're not very reassuring," Jamie says, and she growls at the quaver in her voice.
"I hear that a lot. Now, you ready for this?"
"Let's find out," Jamie mutters, and she revs the Cee'd up a little, watches everyone back away.
The Stig looks at her, impassive. Who knows what he's thinking.
Jamie wrinkles her nose at him, little caring that the camera's going to get that, and takes a deep breath. Her hands clench around the steering wheel, once, twice, and then someone yells "GO" and the world fades to just her and the car and the challenge beneath her feet and beneath her hands.
Michael stands with her in the very back of the hall as everyone else preps to tape the interview portion of Star in a Reasonably Priced Car; Jeremy Clarkson has already spoken to them there, overbearing but ultimately strange and good-natured.
Jamie knows what she's here to talk about, but she has no idea how she did on the timed lap, and the point is, she won't find out until she actually does the interview.
The audience around them seems quietly supportive, quietly rooting for her.
The only reassurance she wants is Michael, however, and she clasps at his hands, and he covers up the wince beautifully, lets her hold on as hard as she wants to.
"I've seen her in action and believe me you do not want to be near her with a sword - please welcome Jamie McAvoy!"
She knows what to do; she smiles and shoulders her way through the crowd. It only takes her a moment to settle her tartan skirt - and they're off, running easily through the script. The crowd murmurs appreciatively when Clarkson holds up the publicity stills from her latest play - partly because she looks so unrecognizable in them, all dressed up in desert drab fatigues.
And then: "Who wants to see the lap?"
The audience whoops.
Jamie can barely hear the commentary - she's too focused on the video. She's - she maybe did well? Does throwing the car around the corners count? Someone laughs when the camera shows her face - eyebrows pulled together in a straight line, teeth set in her lower lip, blue eyes flashing.
"...beautiful line through the penultimate corner and now she's absolutely powering through Gambon, and over the line she goes!"
Clarkson smiles, and he's writing, and he looks Jamie right in the eyes. "Normally I'd make you wait for it - but I'm not taking any chances with you. Jamie McAvoy - you did it in one minute. Forty-two."
The crowd oohs and aahs in anticipation.
Jamie feels like she's about to burst.
Silly, this, just a show on the telly, but she wants to know how she did, because Michael's name is there on the board and she's already got a time so near to his.
"Point five seconds!"
The voice that cries out can only be Michael's. "Go Jamie!"
Jamie knows she must look a fright, shocked and grinning like there's no tomorrow, the way she must grin when she's in a fight, whether in a bar or on a stage or for the camera.
Clarkson grins and holds up the paper to her eyes, to the audience, to the camera. The crowd cheers as he moves down Michael's name on the leaderboard to make room for hers: JAMIE MCAVOY 1:42.5.