"This is going to end badly." James prophesised, looking at the variously important pieces of paper in front of him. "Hammond in a Helo, Jeremy in some car thing and me in a trusty washing machine. It'll be the slowest race in history..."
Jeremy interrupted the mild rant with one of his own, "The most boring race was probably the one against the letter...and it's not some car thing. It's a Roller. A beautiful, new, comfortable, able to go anywhere Rolls. Which doesn't need half an hour of checks before hand, or a stupid amount of time warming up and hovering."
It was probably a good thing Andy called them to attention before Richard could start going on and on about the joys of Helicopter flight compared to the mundanity of a light aircraft responding to 'G- OCOK'.
"They really liked watching a race between air and ground. Now you're getting on in the Helicopter, Richard, we can re-run a similar race. And, this time, it will be all about comfort. Jeremy, we've fixed you up a Phantom Coupe. You'll study these specs, I trust."
Sheaves of paper were push towards Jeremy and he glanced at them incredulously, then grinned, "Comfort of a Roller verse a forty- year- old winged tank? Should be no problem." James merely shrugged, reading through the outline of times. "You're cutting this one a bit fine, Andy. Aren't you worried about what'll happen if one of us misses a connection?"
Andy shuffled his own papers and agreed, "You'll just have to run, James. Now, gentlemen, if you'll sign your lives away and let me have them on my office by the end of the week, I'll be off to do some proper work. No doubt you could do the same at some stage." He didn't sound very convinced of the fact, though.
"Well, this should be fun, chaps. Looks like you'll be running on camera, James, and we know how much you love that." Jeremy was a smug as it was possible to be and his two companions took a swipe at him simultaneously.
Richard, in typical style, threw a piece of paper- their outlined programme as it happened- and James had a witty come back. "At least I won't be wrestling with the French Road system. I hope you are arrested for not carrying your.... oh I mustn't remind you." Jeremy glowered as he stood. "I won't forget my High- Vis jacket and you won't forget your checks, will you. Wouldn't do for either of you to go rushing on up there to find you'd lost a rudder or something equally unimportant. What did you have planned for lunch?"
Sometimes, James reflected, as he followed his two quick- speaking colleagues towards the nearest pub, he could easily be taken for the sensible uncle of two young, irrepressible nephews. He wondered why he put up with it, though he had a fairly shrewd idea. Best mates, after all.
Three days later, bags by their sides, papers carefully double- checked and placed in inside pockets, to be forgotten about until they were needed, the three stood around the Rolls, eyeing it with varying degrees of enamour.
"Nought to sixty in 5.6 seconds, top speed of 155 on this one, 453 brake horsepower...." Jeremy crowed out the list of hastily remembered details to the cameras which had been carefully arranged to show just three men engaged in bantering, not a race to the death.
"Top speed of 155 miles, is it? What's that....?" James was keeping up his own commentary to Richard as they stood nearby, inside the camera but far enough away from the boom mic to not be a problem.
"It's far under whatever mine might be in miles per hour." Richard grinned, elbowing James in the side, "Though probably about the same as yours....Charlie Oscar Charlie Kilo."
James rolled his eyes in a long- suffering gesture. "You know as well as I do that it's Oscar Charlie Oscar Kilo. And I wouldn't be so sure about the top speed. As you know, it's a two- wheeler...and I won't have a small man being a pain next to me, either." They grinned at each other though, remembering the moments when James, in utter desperation, had let Richard hold the stick. It hadn't lasted long, and James wondered how Richard ever managed to hover steadily, but that was beside the point.
"Alright, Clarkson. We'll get going now, if that's enough takes. We can always do it later." If they didn't know better, they'd think Andy was trying to get rid of them for a particular reason. It was safe to bet it was just because England was quieter with them gone and the longer it took to start this race, the longer it would take for one of them to be back in the studio. The camera crew nodded, fluffed around a little, and the two aviators joined Jeremy. "May the best man win." Jeremy tried, clearly intending to win himself. "Well, if it comes to the best man, it won't be you winning." Richard countered, and James came in with, "Of course, best is a comparative, however..." Before Jeremy stretched out his hand, where it was clasped by the other two, and they all shook formally. "Set...GO!"
"And in the second most boring race start here on Top Gear, we have Richard and James walking off into a cloud of dust kicked up by this spectacular car. You might not know this but Rolls- Royce has...."
"We all know May won't run on the camera, so I'll get on the bus before him and be off before he is..."
"Now, there's no space in a Helicopter for any extraneous luggage but light aircraft are very spacious, so I took the precaution of bringing along this folding bicycle..." James passed Hammond at the gate, waving jauntily as he went, much to the shorter man's disgust.
Despite James' head start, forms (which Andy insisted they could only fill out on arrival at the airport) took longer to process if you were flying a light aircraft, due to the sheer number of them.
However James had merely to mutter in the general direction of Richard, 'Golf Bravo X-Ray Zulu Mike' to see a frustrated flush appear. It was only a couple years ago that Richard had been impatiently waiting for James to do his own pre- flight checks and now, well, there were more things to go wrong in a helicopter.
So it was that James was airborne first; nose down as much as he dared for speed and height.
"Are you airborne yet, May, or still pissing round with bloody checks?" Jeremy broke the careful surveillance and gentle joy, bringing James back to himself with a shock. "Reckon I can see you coming up in front now." He joked, then a little more quietly, "No sign of that bloody Helo though, for which I'm thankful. Noisy thing."
Given he was flying something akin to a washing machine, albeit slightly newer, there was hardly cause for complaint.
There was something in flying, Jeremy decided, as he fumed at traffic lights and abused bus drivers. Mind you, the majority of planes were, in essence, people movers, so maybe they weren't to be trusted.
There was this to say about being airborne, Richard decided, glancing about him again and skimming a little lower than required towards the channel. You could never get bored with the view out the window. Mind you, you could get bored with the noise all the time. Not for the first time he wished 'radio' on board meant the same as 'radio' downstairs.
There wasn't much to say about flying, in James' opinion. You flew, and it was PBG, and no matter what you tried to say, it could never work. Grinning, he settled down for another long- distance flight.
Thanks to boring health and safety people there was to be no racing at night at all, for any of them, so they met up at the nearest hotel to the local airport. Tomorrow would see a bigger race, with the main leg out of the way today. James touched down before Richard, taxi-ing into position and running through shut down checks semi- automatically before seeing about more paperwork and refuelling.
Jeremy arrived at the hotel first, grinned cockily at the crew and checked in to the bar. It was from there he surveyed James' wobbly progress down the road and Richard's even later arrival by bus and foot.
"What kept you, Hamster?" Nonchalantly he downed a quarter of a pint in one go and raised an eyebrow at James' almost untouched beer.
"Smaller fuel tanks need more filling up." Richard looked most put out and James smirked, "and smaller bladders need more emptying." Clearly some light radio chatter had been had en route.
Despite the long evening stretching before them, James stood after he'd finished off his carefully nursed pint. "I'll wish you chaps luck now, given you'll still be abed come morning." he farewelled them.
Richard snorted, "Too old to be squashed into that old crate, are you, May?" but there was a touch of actual worry behind the words which brought out a reassuring smile from the longer- haired man. Jeremy hid his face behind his drink, feeling unaccountably as if he was interrupting something.
"He's probably under the impression that all aviators get a god shag at the end of a long day's 'work'" if Jeremy's voice was a little less scathing than it could have been, well, they were his mates, after all.
James turned away, though didn't leave until he'd tossed the least witty cliché over his shoulder. "Those who hoot with the owls by night should not fly with the eagles by day."
The other two men stayed sitting at the bar for a little longer, talking to each other about things completely un work related. Families, raising children, placating the wife when needed. Things which James could never join in discussing with them. Reaching the end of his pint Jeremy suddenly asked, "Is it really that amazing? Flying?"
Richard paused, head tilted slightly, considering. Finally he settled with a simple answer. "Yes."
For a minute they sat there, neither talking, then Richard continued, "It's...it's like driving, driving the best car you've ever driven. But it's more complicated, so there's....a sense of achievement, if you like, more than what you get with driving. And there's no pedestrians, public transport, caravans....all the niggly things which annoy you when driving, they don't exist when you're in the air."
Jeremy nodded, then slyly asked, "But what about when you're on the ground?" and Richard had to concede that, for sheer paper work, it was understandable why more people had car licences.
"But none of that matters when you're in the air." he concluded, eyes resting thoughtfully on the empty chair between them. "Which is why you fly." Jeremy decided, heaving himself up. "Well, see you in the morning, Hammond."
"Not if I'm up with the Eagles." Richard couldn't resist a parting shot, lounging insolently in his seat until Jeremy had left.
There were smatterings of people about- more than would be expected given the convergence of one Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond settled at a prominent table. But then, it was earlier than they normally headed from the bar. Richard considered his drink and decided to stop it now. After all, he'd passed his Human Factors test along with everyone else, knew the drinking/ flying dangers and, certainly not far behind, the BBC reaction. Better to waste a few cents than years of his life. In front, a table crowded with sound and camera crew were still enjoying a few snacks and drinks, the camaraderie clear. While Richard knew them all, was friendly with most of them and good friends with a few, he didn't feel like talking to them tonight. Their interactions always included either Jeremy or James. Normally, now he thought about it, James.
Feeling the pent- up energy along his cooped up limbs, he stood and decided to walk around the block, just once, to say he'd done it, then he'd go to bed. It was nice to have hours to himself. He glanced at his watch and rethought that last sentence. A good ten minutes, then he'd go to bed, sleep and be off before James. No chance of Jeremy beating either of them. Already in his mind the race was re-etched as air (i.e., him and James) versus land (Jeremy, as usual. In a powerful car).
As he wandered through the street, smiling at the people he passed going the other way, he considered the first time James had taken him up in the air and he'd known- for it could only be called knowing- that a flying licence he had to have. Of course, Richard Hammond couldn't settle for old washing machines and such, had to find a more powerful, more controversial means of transport. But the feeling, well, that was almost the same. He'd yet to recover quite the first flush of glee he'd had when James had beckoned him, once they were free of cameras, into the front and allowed him to follow through. They'd grinned at each other like loons on landing and Richard had yearned for a repeat of that moment ever since.
Not given much to introspection he enjoyed peering through windows as he passed, glancing up to take a knowing look at the sky, inhaling health- destroying lungfuls of polluted air and enjoying every minute of it. Finally the slight ache in his lower back, caused from too much sitting down, reminded him that a good night's sleep was in order.
James woke slightly confused. It was dark, the thin curtains not letting through any more light than a small street light around the corner would provide.
Cautiously he stood- Jeremy had been known to attempt to sabotage their challenges before- and padded across to peer out the window. There was only a small street light almost hidden by a tree, a good hundred paces down the road, and he checked his watch.
Leaving now and catching the early bus to the station was his plan and he seemed awake enough to carry it through.
"I really appreciate this, guys." He smiled, munching his way through marmalade toast with the crew, promising to outdo the last shout Jeremy had provided everyone with on winning. Increasingly lurid suggestions of just where 'dinner' could be held without anyone caring about the noise were silenced by a tousle- haired Richard appearing.
"Decide to beat that arse Clarkson, have you?" he greeted James with, "on a cup of tea?" James clutched his cup defensively, "And why not? It has at least as much caffeine as whatever you're about to drink has."
Bickering out of the way, they compared routes. The very different specifications and laws of their respective aircraft and ratings allowed for some variation. In the end, two undersized camera/ sound crew and two Top Gear 'pilots' piled on to the usually subdued half-past six morning bus out to the airport, making jokes at the expense of the missing giant.
"I hope he sleeps long and late and thinks we're doing the same." James muttered, glancing at the sky and surveying it for any sign of ground- mist which would delay departure, for him if not for Richard.
"Nervous?" Richard elbowed him with a grin. "Surely you know who's going to win by now?"
James frowned, playing along. "I know exactly who's going to win, and it's the only normal sized person Andy ever hired. And I know who's going to lose." he added, as Richard turned on the full melting chocolate eyes onto his companion, "It's some tall bugger with nothing to brag about but a habit of shouting 'POWER' and looking a right prat."
Richard cheered up at that, "You know I reckon you've got a right to win this one, since last time we were pipped at the post. After all, we can't have air- power being beaten by something with four wheels, can we?"
James looked at him, "You mean you prefer three wheels to four? I thought you were more a two- wheel man, actually."
Richard snorted, "That's you, with bike- engines and chassis everywhere- and not matching ones, might I add. I just want you to win because last time you did we had a much better celebratory meal than that rubbish Jeremy organises."
"So you want me to win for the sake of your stomach? I thought it was because you cared about me." James raised one eyebrow and smirked at the confused look on Richard's face.
"I want to win because I know what I'd be feeding us, and I know what Clarkson'll be feeding us and neither are particularly good options." he added, "And, of course, because it's nice to have something to show for hours of flying, apart from a sore backside."
Maybe James would have left out a last dig about backsides had he known the dream- well, vision, more, in the shower, of James and Richard, getting sore backside together- Richard had woken to that morning. As it was, he merely caused uncomfortable shifting and a hasty departure once the bus stopped. Which was unfortunate, because he really, really liked being able to sit and be with Hammond.
Flight plans re-entered, weather cleared and checks undergone, they parted with a ritual handshake, filmed by each crew before said crew dispersed to rig up the aircraft for filming by one man only.
"Well, I'll see you there, Hammond. We aren't refuelling at the same place, are we?"
Richard frowned, "You needn't rub in your need for fuel, May. At least I look cool; you're essentially still flying a washing machine."
James grinned, "But a washing machine with a larger tank, a larger load capacity and a better time than you'll get."
Rolling his eyes, Richard turned to mount into his own cockpit, leaving James to skirt the take- off line and settle himself in for a three- hour flight. Fairly easy, it should be, and they weren't even landing in London, having instead managed to clear it all for a final meeting point in the Top- Gear ex- airport.
Upon entering the breakfast room and being greeted with a message kindly left by Richard, Jeremy swore long and loud, before grabbing a coffee, the crew (who had been up for a good hour and sniggering quietly) and leaving. Half an hour later, settling into the run, he radioed Richard for a chat.
"Hamster! You left me!"
Richard couldn't hold back a smirk, "I got a better offer, Clarkson, and I took it. You were still asleep."
If air-waves could carry the full import of fuming, then the next five minutes would have broken all retribution records. Jeremy vacillated between insulting ("Since when would some stupid conglomaratory of rotating parts, all rotating at different speeds in different directions, beat a lovely piece of engineering like the Rolls") and the pleading ("Come on, Hamster. No-one needs to go off with that long- haired spaniel. You're a twat for thinking you could outwit me.")
Because they were on radio waves and not phones, James overheard the last comment and had to join in, if only to defend himself.
"Something you wanted to tell me, Richard?"
Inside the helicopter Richard clenched his fist, flushing. For a few months now he'd been aware that he was sneaking more glances at James than he had been, appreciating the moments when they were spending a few hours together. He'd put it down to working together but not being able to spend much more time together these days than work hours due to their 'busy schedules'.
"You mean you didn't do deep and meaningful on the trip out to your precious airfield?" Jeremy questioned, vice heavy with laughter.
James snorted, "You think I want to talk at that hour of the morning? There'll be times for those when we've beaten you there, won't there Hammond?"
Richard answer feels forced. "Hours and hours, I should expect." he sounds a little down at the mouth, he realises, and seeks to make it better, "It'd almost be worth being late, to escape having to talk about feelings."
Jeremy and James snort simultaneously, then Jeremy signs off, approaching a tunnel.
"You better not have meant that, Hammond." James' voice is clear as Richard relaxes, starting back as he realises James is still talking. "...happily come second if it makes you happier."
"No! No, so long as you don't subject me to a long dissection of the latest Fusker story, I'm happy." Richard is sure if they were on a phone he'd hear a sigh right about then, but instead he hears only,
"Wouldn't dream of it. Now be a good little pilot and check your fuel gauges. Surely they're empty by now? I need to concentrate on this next bit." Richard smiles, amused as ever by James' worrying, and signs out.
Two hours later, the smog of cities clearly seen below, the Channel glistening behind him, James searches the sky above Dunsfield. Nothing. He calls in to the local channel, listening for anything in the area. Nothing. He's effectively alone, and only a landing will tell if he's beaten either of them. Knowing them he's probably last and they're maintaining silence because they're laughing at him. Or, worse, infinitely worse, they can't be bothered.
He grins at the camera, feeling a little dare- devilish and saying, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, don't try this at home." Before doing a sharp turn, a full circle, and stalling to almost a dangerous height.
Two miles behind James and closing, Richard sights the stall and almost transmits his worry. With the part of his brain which has space for rational thought- admittedly not much, and he wonders where the worry and....care...has come from- he realises trying to talk on radio while dropping to circuit height in such a violent manner probably won't help James at all.
Approaching the airstrip himself, Richard can make out the silver- white of light aircraft running over the markings and breathes a sigh of relief. Suddenly he has to talk to James, let him know that he hasn't come last, that he, Richard, was worried about his co-presenter and fellow aviator.
"James, you dare-devil, what was that all about?"
James starts, hurriedly readjusting the pressure on the rudder-pedals and depressing the 'talk' button.
"Thought I may-as-well put on a show." he tries for cool but the excitement that comes from flying is there as well and Richard smiles at it, pleased to hear it.
"For whom? Is Jezza down there already, and not telling us, the gutless wretch?"
James can feel his face heat a little as he responds, "Thought both of you were down here already. Now come in and land, you lazy beggar, and none of the stunt flying, please. Don't want to lose my position due to a dubious landing."
Richard nodded, remembered he couldn't be seen, affirmed his position, and reflected it was probably the first time 'dubious' had been transmitted. Ten minutes later, switching off, he caught his first glimpse of James since early that morning, and felt something deep inside him click.
It wasn't love, or admiration, or friendship but it was certainly related to all of those things and he grinned at the feeling.
"You seem very happy with yourself." James remarked, standing and stretching in the afternoon sun. Richard stared at their two aircraft, safely moored, and nodded, "As I should. I didn't get beaten by Clarkson, remember. And neither of us got killed." James nodded seriously, then something- and it was probably Richard's crazy grin still in place- made him start laughing till he was doubled over.
"And on top of not being Clarkson and not being killed..." James smirked and ducked his head to half- hide the pleased grin that came later, "I wasn't beaten by you, either!"
Richard attempted to feign pain but the sight of James, still stiff from sitting, happily grinning and leaning against the fence, couldn't keep it for very long. "That's true." he conceded, "Congratulations, mate."
Holding out a hand and having it shaken, the shorter man pulled him in for a hug.
James paused, holding himself away from Richards's body by the slightest amount before thinking to hell with it and hugging back. It lasted all of about two seconds, a brief embrace which showed their exultation, before they moved apart, James first. For a moment they grinned at each other and then Richard squared his shoulders and looked away. "Well, I'd best do my bit for the cameras, I guess."
James nodded a little jerkily then said, "Once I've done my winning spiel, we'd best go and laugh at Clarkson. Together." and received a slow smile in return.
The segments filmed- there were only so many ways to say, "I'm the best because I won." or, "I'm still good because flying managed to beat Jeremy Clarkson."- They reconvened inside to watch the road. "He's about ten minutes away." Andy informed them. "Should I get you a list of caterers, James?"
James shook his head, "I know what I'll be getting you lot, and it won't be any of that nonsense." He held up a placating hand, the one which wasn't tempted to drift closer to Richard- and where those thoughts were coming from he half- wondered- and added, "It'll be in budget and edible. I promise."
Andy nodded, "Good enough. I'll expect you in ten, then." and left them to bicker harmlessly over James drinking tea.
"You dream about being a fighter pilot, James. Spit pilots didn't drink tea."
"Spits are English craft, Tea is the English drink. I rest my case." He cast a smile sideways and Richard suddenly stood. "We should..."
"Have that conversation we promised Jeremy we'd have. You know he'll remember."
James seemed sober and Richard paled, remaining standing. "He will not. Not when he discovers you've won. He'll just be looking forwards to a good feed."
James raised an eyebrow and Richard sighed. "Then he'll remember. Alright. Feelings. Umm.... Mine. For spaniels."
"No. For us." James is insistent and Richard unwillingly raises his head to stare at him. "You as good as admitted, over radio no less, that there was...something...happening, Richard. So spill."
'There's nothing' is hardly an appropriate response but the truth is Richard doesn't know what would be, or is. After all, it's a vague feeling which a couple of hours of talking and flying have helped solidify and a moment of triumph and a brief hug crystallised.
"I think I could be falling in love with you." he says instead, all in the time it takes for Jeremy to thunder down the drive and pull up, tyres screeching, at the edge of the track.
James stares for a full five seconds, then stands up and comes half- way towards him. "I think you might have made me start falling in love with you, too." He admits, accepting the offered hug more easily now.
Richard can feel the kiss bubbling up inside him and knows it would be the best kiss between almost- lovers in the history of his life, when a car door slams and raucous noise bursts out, right next to his elbow.
"I wish he'd be a little later." James mutters, amusement clear in the curl of his lip in Richards hair. "Though don't tell him I said that."
"I won't if you promise the do this evening ends up with just us two and, at the very least, a comfortable couch."
James leans back and looks aghast and Richard feels his cockiness fading. "Of course..." before a bark of laughter stirs the air and James ducks to kiss him."My bed's a king." he whispers along Richards' cheek, turning to deal with an irate Jeremy.