Surprisingly, to Jeremy, he had managed to drop off at around ten; leaning against one of the walls of the shed where their team was stationed and race suit partially undone at the collar to allow him some breathing space. He hadn't expected to be able to sleep, not with this amount of noise and the level of adrenaline and excitement still coursing through his veins at the roar of so many different engines out there on the track and the excited chatter of the people around them.
Then, he felt something shaking his shoulder. Snorting awake, he blinked blearily up at Steve - their mechanic genius who had been responsible for their little diesel machine being in the race in the first place. Steve shot him a grim smile and mouthed "Hammond's crashed" as he pointed to his radio. Frowning, Jeremy forced himself to sit up at bit further and slowly pushed himself onto his knees - the joints in question protesting loudly at the movement.
As he straightened up, cracking his back with a few satisfying 'pop's, he then heard the tiny, unusually timid voice over the radio.
"Guys, I've binned it - proper this time" Richard's voice was uncharacteristically small, and Jeremy wasn't sure if it was the quality of the signal or something else, but he swore he could hear it shaking. It threw him for a second; he sounded - there was no other word for it - scared. And that made a pit of fear boil in Jeremy's gut: Richard was hardly ever scared, it often seemed like nothing ever frightened or shook him, despite the logical part of his mind that obviously he had to get scared sometimes. But after hearing this and remembering Steve's words just moments before, the only image Jeremy had in his mind was of an upturned jet car, buried in dirt, and a tiny body being cut out of it-
The appearance of James at his side quickly diverted his train of thought back to the current situation and they watched and waited as Steve attempted to get some more information. James had put his own headset on and was listening in, while Jeremy just watched his and Steve's faces and listened to the latter's radio transmissions.
"Will it move under its own power?" Steve asked into the radio, sounding calm and almost like a balm on cracked wounds - it did wonders for settling Jeremy's own nerves, but he still waited with bated breath for Hammond's answer.
Which came, barely a few seconds later. "I'd say it was game over." Followed by another shaky exhale of air that sounded suspiciously like it was suppressing something else.
James' shoulders slumped in defeat and his messy hair fell in front of his face, a heavy and tired sigh pushing through his lips. Jeremy bit his lip as he too felt a heavy wave of disappointment at the confirmation that the crash had resulted in yet another setback in their chances in the race-
He nearly kicked himself; how could he be thinking about the car or the race when their friend was alone, scared, and Jeremy just prayed he wasn't injured.
"I'm sorry lads. I'm.....'m sorry" Now Richard's voice sounded just as defeated as James' sigh, and there was a heavy layer of guilt in its undercurrents. James and Jeremy shared a look at that, and both decided that the first thing they were both going to worry about when the car came back in was not the car, but their little friend instead.
"Just get back in here, Hammond" Jeremy forced out of his mouth, the amount of it required made it sound strained and almost resigned, and he quickly added "We'll sort it out, okay?"
Richard didn't answer.
The car was towed off the track by the tow truck and was being pushed back into their pit around ten minutes later. Neither Jeremy or James could stop a pained hiss escaping them when they saw the state of the car before they sprang forward to help unhook the car from the truck and push it into the pit.
"We've gotta clear this shit!" Jeremy commanded, and immediately the team scrambled to make room for the car to be pushed into the shed. There were gapes and many widening of eyes as the car was pushed in, and Jeremy was right with them. Looking at the damage to the passenger's side, he had to wonder if the car would even be able to go back out again that night. Knowing that the worst thing for any driver in this situation would be to get out and see dozens of eyes staring at them, Jeremy quickly demanded that those who weren't involved in the assessment of the car to get back. He and James stayed with the car of course, and no one dared try and order them away.
Once the car was stopped and the mechanics began frantically assessing it, the pair of them went straight around to the driver's side where they saw Richard just getting out of the car and pulling his helmet off. Without wasting another second, Jeremy instantly pulled him into a tight hug, expecting the smaller man to squirm and jokingly assure them that he was okay and that "it's not like I was upside down or anything" before pulling away with his trademark whitened grin and grabbing the closest cup of coffee.
Instead, Jeremy was surprised when he felt Richard freeze momentarily in his arms, and he was about to pull away - thinking he'd made a mistake - when two small arms snaked around his back and gripped tightly onto his shirt, the body they belonged to beginning to shake as the lingering adrenaline left his body and the shock and emotion took over.
Sharing a worried look with James - who gave them a knowing half-smile and walked away to find out the status of the car - Jeremy bent his head down and whispered "You alright?"
The shaking increased, accompanied now by some almost equally shaky breaths. A few seconds passed before a tiny nod could be felt in his chest - Jeremy didn't believe it for a second.
"Bullshit, Hammond" he muttered, nevertheless moving to release him from the hug. To his surprise, Richard practically stuck to his side as Jeremy's arms fell back to his sides, and now Jeremy got a proper look at his expression.
He was pale, almost ghostly so, the only colour in his face coming from his eyes - which were wide and still clearly frightened; they reminded Jeremy of his son at a young age. His breaths were shaky as was his body, no matter how hard he was trying to control them with clenched fists or forced slow deep breaths. His hair - with the blonder tips that Jeremy and James had spent many days teasing him about lately - was nearly black with sweat, drops of the stuff settling on his forehead and temples, and some even dripping onto his cheeks.
Wait- Jeremy quickly realised when he looked a bit closer; that wasn't sweat.......
Without thinking any further about it, Jeremy grabbed the smaller man's arm and pulled him into the door that lead to the stairs that went up to the driver's break room. He figured that it was empty at this hour, and therefore ideal for a private chat. Thankfully, he was right, and he pushed Richard into the room and closed the door behind them.
When he turned around, he saw two big brown eyes briefly meeting his gaze for a millisecond before their owner lowered them to the floor, scuffing the carpet with his shoe. He'd managed to steady the shakes for the moment, but now they were somewhere quiet, Jeremy could hear that his breathing was still rapid, shallow and on the verge of hyperventilation.
Taking hold of his arm once more, Jeremy steered them over to the long couch on the far side of the room. Richard slumped down on it without waiting for instruction, and immediately hid his face under his hair.
"You know, James should really be the only one who can get away with that trick" Jeremy teased, hoping to coax a smile out of the younger man, an attempt to calm his obvious fear and panic.
It got a wet scoff of laughter in response, and Jeremy felt very pleased with himself for a moment. They sat in silence for a few minutes, each waiting for the other to speak.
"I dunno what happened out there, Jeremy" Richard's voice finally broke the silence with its quiet and defeated words. Scrubbing a still minutely-shaking hand over his too-pale face, he let out a heavy breath and kept his gaze fixed on the hands in his lap. "I honestly don't know. I just moved over a bit cause I thought I was a bit too far over and then there was this bang and sparks and then the car was running off and-"
Richard's voice was getting faster and more frantic as he spoke, almost as if he was desperately trying to prove that he hadn't meant to do anything wrong and that he was frightened that Jeremy would think that it was his fault that the car was now ruined and that he and James would blame him for ruining any chance they had at proving their point to the world.
It wasn't until he felt a heavy, but comforting hand on his shoulder and a fondly exasperated "Oh Hamster, you prat" that Richard realised that he'd said that last bit out loud.
Now feeling even more guilty and a great deal more embarrassed, he ducked his chin to his chest and tried to slow his breathing down - it had picked up as he'd ranted and he was starting to feel a bit light-headed from the lack of oxygen. He didn't really care that his breaths were getting shakier and that his eyes and cheeks felt hot and that he could feel the stinging of moisture behind his clenched eyelids. He could feel his whole body start to shake again and this time he couldn't stop it. Nor could he stop the first few tears that fell over his lashes and splashed gently onto the clenched fists in his lap.
"It's my fault" he hissed thickly, voice struggling to escape past his tightened vocal cords. "I've royally fucked this up, haven't I?" He didn't really expect an answer to that one - to him, Jeremy's silence was confirmation enough.
Jeremy knew that Hammond would later blame the next part on exhaustion, panic, and the shock of the crash; but Jeremy suspected that there was some part of the smaller man beside him that had - unwillingly - been reminded of the events of the previous September, and the lingering effects of it. Sure, they never spoke of it anymore - or at least tried not to - and anyone on the outside could be forgiven for thinking that Richard was completely back to normal and it was business as usual. Jeremy himself had even had moments where he'd thought that as well, and it had shocked him when he'd been forcibly reminded of just how unwell their Hamster still was.
At Jeremy's silence in response to his question, the next feeling to overwhelm Richard's heart was that of guilt and shame, followed quite closely by a tightness that felt like it was being squeezed right out of his chest as his breaths quickly turned to sobs and more tears began to flow, despite his best efforts to keep them inside. Pulling his legs up to his chest, he let his head rest on his knees in a further (rather pointless, Jeremy thought sadly) attempt to hide the fact that he was crying and wrapped his arms around his ankles and pulled them in closer to his chest.
Jeremy shuffled over on the couch and put his own arms around his friend, hesitating for just a moment before he let his arms wrap fully around the shaking frame. Surprisingly, the smaller man uncurled and returned the hug, burying his face in Jeremy's chest and letting his cries overwhelm his tiny body.
"Oh, Rich" Jeremy whispered mournfully, pulling him in tighter and starting to rub his hand down the shaking back below him. "Sh, it's alright mate, you're alright."
A choked noise that sounded suspiciously like a cry burst past chapped lips as the dark head shook back and forth frantically.
"I was s-so-o sc-ar-red" he stammered, breath hitching every other word. "All I h-heard wa-as this b-b-big bang and th-then I was b-ba-ack there."
Jeremy didn't need clarification on exactly what his friend was talking about. His arms tightened in sympathy as he pictured just how frightening it must have really been in that car. Both of them.
Richard still talked about how he hadn't been afraid when the jet car had started to go off-course and roll - that he had done everything he could to right it and then he had met his apparent fate with a sort of calm resignation. "The next thing on my to-do list was, as far as I was concerned at that point, to die." They'd all heard him say those words many times since he'd rejoined the show back in January, but Jeremy and James had always suspected that there had been some fear in him during those terrifying last moments, and that can't have been pleasant memories to relive. Mindy said he didn't remember the dreams he'd had in those early days, and she'd been determined to keep it that way - at least at first. None of them was really sure how much he knew or remembered, and Richard never really told them.
Now, holding his shaking and crying friend in his arms, Jeremy wished more than ever that he had. If only so he had more of an understanding of exactly what was going on in his head.
"I know" he whispered in an attempt to calm him, even though he was sure he couldn't possibly know how this felt. "Easy mate, it's alright."
The pair were quiet for about five minutes, apart from the occasional hitched breath or murmured reassurance. At each quiet sob that reached his ears or each new tear he felt dampen his shirt, Jeremy's heart broke a little further for his friend. He took a lot of pride in knowing how to fix things (albeit often with a hammer or something explosive, he mused with a tiny smile) but he had no idea how to fix his little friend. And that was something he just had to change.
Richard's shaky, but now a bit calmer voice broke through his thoughts and made him start briefly. Shooting a glance down at his friend, he was surprised to see that his tears had started to slow and he wasn't shaking quite so much. His big brown eyes were looking up at him with a glimmer of apprehension and a lingering shine of guilt behind their irises, as if still frightened that Jeremy would turn back and say that this was all his fault.
"You seriously think James and I are gonna blame you for what happened out there?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at the mere suggestion. Richard just shrugged tiredly in response.
"I was driving, remember?"
Eyebrow falling back down into place, Jeremy's grey eyes fixed him with a knowing look. "Yes, but that changes nothing" he stated firmly, holding up a hand when Richard pulled back and opened his mouth to protest. "No, Hammond. Get this through your thick little skull: it. Was. Not. Your. Fault. Not now, not last September, not ever."
Richard's mouth was still hanging open, this time in some mild shock rather than indignation. The sight of his normally incredibly chatty friend suddenly speechless made Jeremy laugh despite the situation.
"You haven't seen it yet, though" Richard pointed out, biting his lip as Jeremy considered this.
"That's true" he conceded, putting a hand on Richard's shoulder as the smaller man winced. "But mate, I know you: you're not a dangerous driver, you certainly wouldn't have done anything on purpose. It was just an accident, and I promise it wasn't your fault; okay?"
Richard still didn't answer, and Jeremy narrowed his eyes and his voice dropped down to a growl, "Okay....?"
Finally getting a nod from the man opposite him, Jeremy moved to stand up off the sofa. Richard followed suit a few moments later before surprising Jeremy into another hug - this one more full of gratitude than those before.
"Thanks Jezza" Richard whispered into his chest, tightening his arms as he spoke.
Jeremy tightened his own arms in response and pulled back with a quick ruffle of Richard's hair.
"You're sure you're not hurt?" He asked, suddenly realising that he'd completely forgotten to ask and feeling a bit idiotic for having done so.
Thankfully, Richard just laughed at him. "I'm fine, takes more than a shunt on a race track to knock us down!"
Relieved to hear some of the characteristic light-heartedness and cheek creeping back into his friend's voice, Jeremy joined him on the laughter as he slung a friendly arm around his shoulders and the two walked back down to the pit to await the verdict on the car.
Jeremy kept a close eye on Richard for the rest of the night - especially when they found out just how damaged the car was, and again when they were watching the in-car footage of the crash. He made sure - both times - to assure the smaller man that it hadn't been his fault, and that there was nothing he could have done.
He wasn't sure if Richard believed him, but he felt better for having provided the reassurance.
Neither of them really relaxed until the car was across the finish line at 4pm the next day, and they were all enjoying a cold beer after the race (a Coke for Hammond of course, to which he had pouted and grumbled around a smile).
Finally, when they were being driven back to the motel they were due to stay in, and Jeremy was squashed in the back seat of the car with James on his right and Richard on his left, they could all finally relax.
James had relaxed so much that he was now snoring against the window, his breath misting on the glass as his chest rose and fell in a comforting rhythm. Jeremy - in the middle - was listening to some music on his i-Pod when he felt something fall onto his shoulder.
In some mild surprise, he glanced down and saw a familiar dark head resting comfortably on his shoulder, brown hair falling across his face and tickling Jeremy's neck. Brown eyes were at half-mast and clearly struggling to keep from closing altogether, and then his mouth opened in a jaw-cracking yawn.
It was then that Jeremy remembered that Richard hadn't slept in nearly 38 hours.
So, he chuckled softly as he wrapped his left arm around his friend and pulled him in closer - laughing quietly at the grateful squeak he got in response, followed closely by another Earth-swallowing yawn - and whispered into the dark strands under his chin
"Go to sleep, Hamster. I've got you."
And as Richard's eyes closed and his breathing evened out, he knew he was safe. Not even distant memories of rolling jet cars or bright lights and loud bangs could make him think otherwise now.