They say you're not supposed to get the flu in the summer. Well actually, as one member of the Top Gear trio was about to find out, it turns out you can. And it's just as unpleasant as ever.
It had started with an awful cough that had kept him up most of last night, which meant that he had ended up oversleeping and had then arrived at Dunsfold Park almost an hour late (to much complaining and mocking from his two colleagues), nursing an aching chest and a pounding headache.
Still, could be worse.
It just so happened that they were in the middle of the studio recordings for the eleventh series of Top Gear and today they were shooting the studio segments for episode three. The films were great this week - Jeremy's road test of the Bentley Brooklands is as entertaining and mad as ever, the Alfa Romeo challenge just superbly brilliant as usual, and the guests they'd booked - Rob Brydon and James Corden - sure to be a treat for the audience both in the studio and at home.
By the time they were through with rehearsals, he felt awful. Once makeup had been applied and they'd changed into the clothes they'd present the show in, he felt even worse. By the time the audience arrived and they were getting ready to record, he was thankful that he wasn't needed until after the first film.
Just needed to get through today, he promised himself, and then they don't need you until Monday next week. Just get through today........I mean, come on......how hard could it be.......?
Richard was beyond relieved when Jeremy finally called their guests to the stage for this show's 'Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car' segment, because it meant that he could disappear and possibly curl up somewhere dark and quiet and be left to die in peace.
No such luck with that last part, but he would take what he could get, and he forced his feet to move forwards in the direction of the door to the hangar.
Wincing as the bright, summer sun hit his face, he couldn't help but shiver a little as the breeze lifted his fringe off his forehead. Or maybe that was the chills that were currently taking over his body, he didn't know.
‘Of course I had to get sick on the one day we have a heap of studio stuff to do’, he growled to himself, suddenly hating the extra studio bit they'd added in the middle of the show (the bit they'd just filmed). It had taken more takes than usual thanks to a few mind-blanks on his part, which had made him feel even worse and he could see that it was making the crew and his co-presenters quite frustrated as well (which he also hated).
The end result was that he felt utterly dreadful, and wanted nothing more than to lie down and be alone so he could sleep forever.
Stumbling suddenly as a wave of dizziness overtook his vision as he walked, Richard caught sight of a familiar figure out of the corner of his eye as he straightened up, panting slightly.
James had seen the way his friend had left the studio - with an unsteady gait and glistening, pale features that would put a ghost to shame - and he'd followed him outside. He'd been worried at how distracted and off he'd seemed during today's filming - particularly that last part - and had wanted to talk to him about it. Now, standing by the carpark and still watching, he was glad he had.
He still had to smile when Richard lifted his head and met his gaze for a moment before attempting to scowl at him and stalking unsteadily up the stairs and into the portacabin.
Rolling his eyes at his friend's blatant stubbornness, James waited a few seconds before following, catching the door on his way in as it nearly shut on his foot.
"Fancy a cuppa?" he asked lightly, deliberately not addressing his younger colleague's horrid appearance. Receiving a groan in response, he took that as an affirmative and began preparing the kettle and two cups.
He worked in silence, keeping one ear trained on any noises from his friend - who was currently slumped in one of the battered leather chairs on the other side of the cabin. The kettle whistled and he poured the boiling water into the first cup - licorice and honey tea, Hammond's favourite, he knew - before he took it over to his friend.
Richard barely acknowledged his presence, instead taking the cup off James with an almost inaudible "Cheers" and slowly laid back in the chair - looking nearly ready to drop off to sleep.
Going back to the kettle and pouring his own tea - Earl Grey - James sat down on the sofa next to the chair where Richard was currently slumped. Taking a sip of his tea, he took a closer look at his friend's face.
"Big night last night?" he wondered aloud, taking another sip while waiting for his friend to answer.
Richard winced, "I wish" he muttered in reply, closing his eyes and groaning softly as if in some discomfort. Laying his head back against the back of the sofa, he added "I didn't even go out last night."
Raising an eyebrow, the older man almost didn't believe him - his friend looked hungover, there was no other word for it. Pale, with the beginnings of bags under his eyes, his eyes themselves dull and exhausted, body language slumped and moving very gingerly as if afraid of causing pain or increasing the risk of vomiting, and frame shivering every so often as if it was the middle of winter.
James' eyes narrowed as he watched Richard nurse the Styrofoam cup of tea between his hands as if he was savouring the warmest thing in the room. That was odd - odder even than having a cup of tea in the middle of summer (James supposed it was only sheer habit and the utter British-ness of the whole thing that was making them do it, rather than any sense). Every sip was taken tentatively and followed by a wince - as if swallowing was horrendously painful; and even in the warmth of the portacabin he still hadn't taken his leather jacket off - where James had shed his own as soon as they'd left the hangar.
Taking another sip of his own tea, he continued to watch his colleague out of the corner of his eye as they sat in silence. The fact that he was able to get away with this not-so-subtle spying was another worry to James; Richard was pretty observant, and he was usually quite quick to pick up on things - particularly if he's being watched. The fact that he was letting James watch him now without saying anything or complaining in the slightest was slightly worrying to the other man.
In truth, Richard had noticed James watching him, but he didn't have the strength to tell him to back off. He barely had enough to keep his cup of tea in his grip without spilling it or letting the cup drop to the floor.
James decided enough was enough when he caught sight of yet another pained wince on swallowing and also the shaking in his friend's hands.
"Alright Hammond, what's going on?" he demanded, putting his own cup down on the table beside his chair.
Flushing, and feeling his temperature rising yet again, Richard scowled at his cup, refusing to meet James' eyes. "Nothing, I'm fine."
Folding his arms crossly, James clearly wasn't buying it. "Don't think I haven't noticed; you're wincing like you've got knives in your throat every time you swallow, you look like a ghost, and you're shivering as well."
Grimacing, Richard stayed silent - he hated how observant James was sometimes.
"If I didn't know any better" James continued, leaning across and dropping his voice a bit, "I'd say you were sick."
"I am not!" Richard protested a little too quickly, but the effect was rather lost when he broke off coughing as his voice cracked. James watched him silently, almost looking smug, before he reached out and rested the back of his hand against his friend's forehead - humming thoughtfully as his suspicions were confirmed.
"Yep, that's a fever if ever I've felt one" he observed, pulling back and now looking at the other man beside him with concern and worry - his skin had felt much hotter than it should be when he'd touched it, and James suspected that his friend's temperature was probably somewhere in the 'very high' range.
Of course, Richard tried to deny it; "It's not a fever, I've been in the sun today - and it's summer, in case you've forgotten."
James just looked skeptically at him. "You haven't been anywhere near outside, Hammond, and it's not even that hot today - certainly not hot enough to make you feel like your forehead is being barbecued!"
Huffing, Richard swallowed the last of his tea and went to stand up and leave. "Whatever" he muttered, pushing himself up out of the chair and instantly grabbing onto the armrest, blinking and breathing very slowly and deliberately.
Frowning, James stood as well, walking over and putting a hand on his friend's arm. "You alright?"
"Mm......wow. I think I stood up too fast" Richard replied in a somewhat muffled voice, and now that James had hold of his arm, he could feel just how much it was trembling - though if that was from the fever or exertion, he couldn't be sure.
When it seemed that Richard had regained his balance, James let go and started to walk out of the cabin. He was slightly worried when he didn't hear the reassuring padding of cowboy boots tapping across old carpet behind him, and he turned around once again.
Expecting to see his friend just behind him, he was worried when he realised that Richard hadn't moved from his spot. The only thing that had changed - rather worryingly to James - was that his gaze had gone quite blank and almost like he was looking straight through him.
"Hey? You alright?" James asked, worry increasing when his friend just frowned at him, eyes starting to go a bit unfocused.
".....Why're there two of you?" His voice was now slurring a bit - like it did when he's had a few beers - and it was a few seconds before James managed to discern what he'd said.
Bewildered - and now very worried - he took a few cautious steps back into the portacabin. Then, without warning, Richard's knees buckled and his eyes rolled back in his head with a strangled moan. Leaping forward, James just barely managed to catch him before he landed head first into the coffee table.
"Cock" he cursed, lowering his limp friend down onto the carpet and kneeling next to his head. "Hey, wake up you Muppet" he hissed, squeezing the shoulder muscle under his hand like he'd seen a paramedic do once. It did nothing; his friend just lay there, totally unresponsive and feeling hotter with every moment that passed.
"Cock" James growled again, "Bloody cock."
Hastily arranging Richard's limbs into the recovery position, he pulled out his phone and sent an urgent text to Andy Wilman.
Need help in office. Hammond's collapsed - tell Jezz we'll be late back.
Closing his phone again, James quickly shrugged off his jacket, folded it into something resembling a pillow and placed it under his friend's head. His worry increased even further when he felt the heat of the skin - impossibly, maybe even hotter than it was not five minutes ago.
"Not sick, hey?" he muttered, standing and grabbing a Chux cloth from the sink and wetting it under some cold water. Returning to his spot, he let the cloth rest on his friend's boiling forehead - hoping it might help to lower his fever. "Not sick, my arse."
"Ladies and gentlemen; James and Rob!"
The audience applauded cheerily and even let out a few whoops as the two men opposite Jeremy smiled and each shook his hand.
Normally, the audience would continue applauding until they heard either James or Richard start the next link, where a camera would be already set up to film them and they could move on with the show. Today though, the audience seemed to be clapping for a good minute or so and no one was telling them to stop.
This confused - and slightly worried - Jeremy, who stood up and went to make his way over to where Richard and James were meant to be standing and delivering their lines for the re-introduction back into the Alfa film.
When he arrived, however, he saw an empty space with a few bewildered and confused camera operators, a sound guy, and a few of the producers talking in hushed tones by the plinth with the famously-wrecked Hilux - Andy Wilman amongst them, looking very flustered and quite worried.
On spotting his friend approaching, Andy walked briskly over to him and - grabbing his arm - pulled him to the side, muttering for him to turn his microphone off. Confusion growing, Jeremy did so, and then Andy showed him the text from James.
James: Need help in office. Hammond's collapsed - tell Jezz we'll be late back.
"Sent about a minute ago" Andy added quietly on seeing his old friend's face pale quite suddenly, just as he was sure his own had done when he'd read the message himself. "I was waiting for you to finish before we go over and find out what's what."
Jeremy didn't wait for permission - he turned and jogged out of the hangar, heading straight for the production office, his mind running through all sorts of horrible scenarios as he picked up speed. Andy groaned internally at his friend's protectiveness and worry - and cursed his own while he was at it - and followed him outside.
Leaping up the steps into the portacabin, he nearly threw the door open and almost tripped over James (who had been waiting for him at the door).
"Bloody hell, May!" Jeremy exclaimed, panting from both the fright and his run. "What the fuck's going on?!"
James held up a hand in an attempt to stall his panic. "Calm down, you big oaf; it's okay."
Jeremy stared at him, mouth open and probably about to say that if it was okay then why scare everyone with that text (or something along similar lines), but James spoke up first.
"He's just passed out - bloody moron's gone and gotten himself sick and just collapsed from the fever, that's all" he explained in a matter-of-fact tone, although both Jeremy and Andy - who had just arrived - could hear the concern in its undercurrents.
"Sick?" the taller man repeated, eyes immediately shifting to their unconscious colleague and his mind flying back through the day's events and trying to recall any clues that might have been left.
James nodded wearily, "Yep; of course, he tried to deny it but then we went to go back to the studio and he just collapsed. Had to stop him falling into the table on the way down - and might I add how heavy he is?"
Andy walked around the pair of them and knelt down next to their friend, feeling his forehead for himself and a worried frown appearing on his face when he felt the heat under his fingers.
"How long's he been out?" he asked quietly, removing his hand as Richard's eyelids fluttered at his touch.
James looked at his watch, then shrugged. "Probably about thirty seconds before I sent you that text" he replied, before adding "So about two or three minutes."
"And you didn't think to call an ambulance or the medics, because......?" Jeremy began, expression starting to look a bit incredulous.
Recognising the tone of his voice, James turned and met his eyes very carefully. "Because - and you know this as well as I do - people pass out all the time, and it's not something to always call 999 for. Especially if it's something that's easily fixed like this." He wasn't yelling, but his voice was conveying his frustration all the same.
Jeremy sighed, he knew James was right of course; he just felt so protective over all three of his friends, and he always hated when one of them was sick or hurt. "If he stays out much longer though, then I'll be calling them myself" he promised, and James nodded in agreement.
"It's pretty obvious what's caused him to pass out" he continued gently, voice softening and putting a hand on Jeremy's shoulder, "and so I think the best thing is to try and get that fever down-"
"Bit hard when it's as high as it is now" Andy piped up seriously, gesturing for James to pass over the washcloth he was holding. He did so, and he and Jeremy stood back and watched as Andy gently wrung it out and then laid the cloth back where James had originally placed it on the apparently boiling skin of Richard's forehead.
"It's almost as hot as that Lambo you had at the track the other week" James commented, shooting Jeremy a wry smile. The distraction worked, and the tallest man immediately went into a massive spiel defending said Lamborghini (which had come dangerously close to catching fire at the track a few weeks ago).
Andy shook his head at just how easily his friend could be set off before he turned his attention back to Richard's limp form in front of him. Turning the cloth over to the cooler side, he was relieved to feel that his skin didn't feel quite so hot as it had before - they were having success, and his fever was starting to come down.
As he laid the cool, still slightly damp, cloth back onto his friend's skin, he was rewarded with a miserable noise emanating from the younger man's throat as his eyelids continued to flicker - eyelashes fluttering against his flushed cheeks.
"That's it mate, come on" Andy encouraged, somehow managing to speak without interrupting the rather heated discussion carrying on beside them (he thought he heard something about a Maserati in there somewhere, but he couldn't be completely sure).
"Um, guys-" he tried, attempting to regroup their attentions to the matter at hand, when another - blessedly familiar - voice did that for him.
"Can you all shut up? My head's killing me...."
The angry moan brought everyone's attention back to the figure on the floor, where they were greeted with bleary brown eyes blinking sluggishly open. Immediately, Jeremy's face split into a wide grin.
"Hey, welcome back mate!" The volume of his voice made Richard wince as it rocketed through his pounding head, reverberating off the insides of his skull. "Glad you decided to rejoin us, have a nice little nap there? Probably not the best of surfaces, you know-"
"Jeremy" the smaller man croaked, doing his best to glare upwards in Jeremy's general direction, "cark it."
James hid a smirk at that, before he knelt down at Jeremy's side, reaching out and putting a hand on Richard's wrist - right over where his pulse was. "You passed out, Hammond. Nearly broke the coffee table on your way down, and you've been out for about three minutes - we were going to call an ambulance" his voice was quiet, and there was a definite concern and worry lilting through as he spoke.
Groaning again, this time in embarrassment, Richard let his head drift deeper into the jacket it was currently resting on, his eyes tempted to close and his mind eager to return to rest.
"No such luck, I'm afraid mate" Andy's voice piped up from his other side, although Richard was sure he could hear it smiling through the concern. His eyes opened a sliver and he caught their producer's gaze. "I know you're feeling rotten, but we've got a show to finish" the older man continued, squeezing his shoulder in something akin to an apology.
"Screw the show" Richard muttered under his breath - he was really feeling awful, and all he wanted was to curl up in his bed with a thousand blankets and a hot water bottle and never come out again. "Just leave me alone......" he finished with a whine, shivering hard as another chill shot through him.
Regarding him thoughtfully, Jeremy frowned as he took in his younger colleague's washed out features. "Let's just try sitting you up first, and we'll go from there, okay?"
Having no strength left to protest (and realising he actually had no choice in the matter really), their sick friend nodded weakly and allowed them to help him upright - and instantly regretted it.
"Oh my God" he moaned, swallowing desperately and what little colour was in his face draining quicker than water down a sink. "I don't feel so hot....."
Andy raised an eyebrow, keeping his hand on Richard's back steady. He could feel the heat radiating through his jacket and also the minuscule trembles and shivers that wracked his frame every few seconds. "I'm not surprised, you're running one hell of a fever and you've just been unconscious for a good few minutes" he replied, frowning when the small body under his palm shivered once more.
"Urgh, no" was the answering groan, before an ominous burp cut off his reply. Pressing a fist to his mouth, his next words were rushed and slightly strangled, "Um....I think I need a bin-" followed closely by a gagging retch.
With surprisingly quick reflexes that rather contradicted his nickname, James grabbed one from beside a chair and deposited it in his lap. Just in time, as it was not even a second later when Richard's head disappeared beneath the rim and the distinctive sounds of vomiting could be clearly heard in the portacabin.
"Alright mate, easy" Jeremy's voice was soft and gentle, his hand rubbing in circles across the fever-heated leather as the slight frame under his fingers lurched and heaved with each new effort of his stomach to forcibly evict its contents.
"Don't touch me again unless you want me to puke on you." The other three had to chuckle at the fact that, even in the middle of a vomiting spree, Richard was still as feisty as ever. Even so, Jeremy lifted his hand with a smile and a fond shake of his head.
"Keep your head in there until you're done, then" James ordered, standing and re-wetting the cloth at the sink so that it would be ready when their friend had finished vomiting.
Which he did, thankfully, about a minute later.
"Bloody hell" he muttered thickly, taking the cloth from James and wiping over his sweaty face. "I really don't like being sick...."
Chuckling sympathetically, Andy's hand shifted to squeeze his shoulder. "No one does, mate" he agreed, and they waited in silence for a few minutes for Richard to get his breath back before another attempt at moving was made.
This one was slightly more successful in that it didn't result in another visit to the bin, however they all agreed that he still looked ghastly once he was finally upright.
"You look like shit, Hammo" Jeremy remarked truthfully, and it made them all chuckle - albeit a markedly weak one in Richard's case - and then they began to move towards the hangar.
They were about halfway across the carpark when the smallest of their group suddenly froze.
"What's up?" James asked immediately, almost expecting another collapse.
"I just realised" Richard replied, voice quiet and sounding a bit croaky, "The audience; they're gonna notice this, aren't they?"
Relieved that that's all it was, James shrugged. "It's not really a big deal though, is it? I mean, it's no worse than you usually look, so they'll be used to it."
They all laughed at the weak swipe their sick friend aimed at his shoulder, and even Richard cracked a smile. "Touche" he muttered, coughing into his sleeve.
"Come on, let's go finish off" Jeremy decided, tightening his arm around their little friend's shoulders, "and then we're getting you home and you're not allowed to come back to school until you're completely better!"
Richard couldn't argue with that - mainly because he was currently absorbed in another coughing fit.
Somehow, and none of them could fathom how when they looked back on it later on, they managed to finish the show without any more incidents. Andy had explained the delay to the audience on their return to the hangar and they had all been most sympathetic (although Richard still felt almost uncomfortable at the pitying looks he got throughout the rest of the filming that afternoon).
Finally, the day was over. The audience were heading home - all excitedly chattering about the films they'd seen and showing off the pictures with the trio they'd all had taken (which Richard had still insisted on doing; arguing to James, Jeremy and Andy that some of these people had waited JUST for this, and he wasn't going to pike out for the first time in six years).
At around seven pm, the audience had left and it was just the crew and the boys remaining at Dunsfold Park. Well, James had gone home, but the other two were standing in the carpark having an argument.
"No, I'm fine, really. I can go-"
"Nope. You are not driving anywhere with a fever like that" Jeremy corrected firmly, tightening his hold on Richard's shoulder as he felt the smaller man start to sway a little. "You are not going back to your own flat either - you can come over to mine. I don't trust you to look after yourself properly when you're fully well, let alone half delirious like you are now. Someone needs to keep an eye on you."
Flushing with annoyance, Richard had to concede that Jeremy did have a point - and that, secretly, there was a small part of him that wanted to be cared for and looked after. He just wished he could do that back home in Herefordshire and that that person was Mindy, not in Jeremy's guest bedroom in the ape's flat in London.
Ah well, beggars can't be choosers and all that.
"Fine" he grumbled, shivering again as the chills returned. Jeremy's concerned frown deepened at the sight, the older man biting his lip in frustration at the situation and the fact he couldn't do much to fix it.
"Come on, Hamster; let's get you home" he coaxed gently, putting an arm around his little friend's shoulders and steering him towards his Range Rover.
Andy's voice rang out from across the carpark, its owner walking over to them with a sympathetic smile curling at his mouth.
"Yep" Jeremy decided he was probably going to need to answer for them both. "Gonna get this little sickie home and into bed."
Even feeling as rotten as he did, Richard still managed to pull a disgusted grimace at his friend's choice of words. If he hadn't still felt like throwing up, he probably would have gagged as well.
"Ape" he croaked, legs shaking from being upright for so long.
Jeremy and Andy clearly noticed this, along with how exhausted he was, and their producer clapped a gentle hand on Richard's shoulder, shooting him an apologetic smile.
"Hey listen, great job today mate" he added, squeezing the shoulder under his hand. "And - for what it's worth - sorry I forced you to keep going."
Richard smiled back weakly. "The show must go on, I s'pose" he replied, shuddering with another chill as a light breeze ruffled his damp hair.
Andy's smile widened and the two of them left him with an exchanged hand shake and a promise from Jeremy to call him later that evening about next week's script. They turned and walked away, heading for Jeremy's parked Range Rover, when Andy's voice called out after them - and they both heard the smile in it this time.
"And, for God's sake; make sure he gets some rest!"
Jeremy raised a hand in acknowledgement, while the hand gesture from Richard was much ruder. Andy just laughed and shook his head, heading back inside the hangar to help the crew pack up.