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Little Deaths in Mechanical Beds

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Part One

The first time it happened, it was pitch black and freezing cold outside.

They'd just finished a shoot. They'd overrun by hours—as per usual—and everybody was irritable and tired. Jeremy was round the corner by the side of the track, having a loud argument with one of the production assistants about whether or not he was insured to drive one of the test cars to France for the weekend on a clandestine run for wine and cigarettes. He was saying something—very loudly—about testing the boot capacity and wasn't that the sort of thing the BBC was always trying to get them to include in the show when Richard gave up trying to get Jeremy to shut up and headed round the side of the portakabin back towards the office, his scarf and his beloved Morgan.

Richard was bone tired, grumpy and exhausted. It had been a stupidly long couple of days and by the time he'd rounded the side of the portakabin and tripped over James tying his shoelace, he'd just about reached the limits of his patience.

"Christ, James," he managed, hissing in a breath as he stumbled over, twisting his ankle and banging his shoulder against the portakabin awkwardly, "what the fucking hell are you doing down there?"

As far as Richard knew, that didn't translate into any language as 'James, push me back up against the wall, kiss me, stick your hand down my jeans, drop to your knees and then suck me until I come,' but apparently James was fluent in some language Richard had never even heard of, because that seemed to be exactly what James heard. Richard found himself backed up against the wall of the portakabin, pushed up against the pebbledash with James's mouth pressed against his, kissing him.

James smelt like cigarettes and coffee, like the leather of his jacket and just reminiscent of the smell of oil from under the bonnet. He pushed up against Richard, pressing his mouth to Richard's. Richard resisted for about half a second whilst his brain rebelled (James? James? What the fuck? ) before he found himself kissing back, mouth opening beneath James's. His hands were full of James's shirt and then James's hair. Richard hadn't expected James's hair to be so soft, but then Richard had made his assumptions based on the fact that James's haircut tended to make James look like a particularly scruffy spaniel.

Before he really knew what was happening, James had his knee between Richard's thighs and his hand was tugging at the top button of Richard's fly.

Richard was half-hard (when the fuck had that happened? Jesus) and gasping against James's mouth as James's hand found its way down and under the waistband of Richard's boxers. Richard groaned under the insistent pressure of James's fingers, curling around his erection as he hardened, thumb brushing the tip. James was still kissing him, a relentless force of tongue and heat and desperation, Richard clutching at his shirt in response. Five minutes ago, exhaustion had made his limbs heavy and the thought of the long drive back home had been enough to make him snap at Sophia when she'd reminded him of his call sheet, waiting on his desk for him to pick up. Now he was hard and gasping and pushing up against James's hand as they kissed. He wanted to ask where all this had come from, why they were doing this, why now. He wanted to ask questions and he wanted to look James in the eye and maybe go inside and turn the lights on to ensure that James knew exactly who it was he was kissing round the back of the prefab office, twenty metres from the edge of the track. He could still hear the tail end of Jeremy's argument reverberating around the corner. He wanted to know the answers to all his questions, he wanted Jeremy to shut the hell up, he wanted to know what on earth they were doing. He wanted all of that, but more than anything—he wanted James to keep going. "Don't stop-" he said, as James pulled away.

But James had just stopped for breath and before Richard's brain could catch up with what was going on, James was down on his knees in front of him, nose nudging Richard's open fly. His breath was warm along the length of Richard's erection and Christ, Richard had been blown before but never outside and never in the cold and he hadn't expected the distinction between heat and cold to be so explicit. James licked up the underside of his cock (Christ, Richard thought again, but this time with more emphasis, and he shivered) before taking the whole of him in his mouth, just like that. Richard breathed a shaky fuck on to the wet, dusky air and his hands found themselves carding in James's hair, keeping him close and trying to ignore James's wince of discomfort as Richard held him there.

James was fucking good at giving head; he blew Richard like he knew exactly what he was doing. When Richard thought about it (afterwards, later on, not right at the moment James was blowing him and Richard had his head back against the pebbledash and he was fucking seeing stars) he found himself realising that James's skill was one of the least surprising things about their whole encounter.

Afterwards, when he let himself think about it, Richard came to the conclusion that his own reaction was perhaps the biggest shock of all.

It didn't take long for Richard to give in. He came with gasped breaths and cut-off murmured obscenities, hot on the night air, James swallowing hard and running his tongue lazily around the head of Richard's cock to finish him off.

Richard leaned back heavily against the portakabin wall, trying to calm his breathing into something less loud and hurried in the relative quiet of the night. He swallowed uneasily and looked down at James.

James wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and stood up slowly, his knees cracking.

Richard watched him in silence, confused.

James coughed awkwardly and touched his mouth with his hand, before leaning over and pressing a kiss to the corner of Richard's mouth, so brief it was over almost before it had begun. "Have a good weekend, Hammond," he said, quietly, and Richard nodded because he didn't know how to say what the fuck was that and what the hell did that mean in a language both of them would understand.

"Right," Richard managed. "Okay."

James watched him for a moment in the darkness.

A breeze rippled across the night air, cool against Richard's crotch, and he realised that his jeans were still open and his limp cock was hanging over the waistband of his boxers. He pulled fruitlessly at his shirt, tugging it out and over his cock, struggling with his pants and his fly. Rubbing his hot face with his palm, he watched as James turned and awkwardly walked away without looking back.

Part Two

The second time it happened Richard was caught just as off-guard as he had been the first time. They were filming in North Wales, doing some feature about go-karting and dodgem cars and four-wheel drives with bull-bars for shock absorption. It had originally been Jeremy's idea (when was it not Jeremy's idea? Especially when it came to Top Gear segments purposefully devised to enrage the left-wing Guardian-reading bearded environmentalists who would complain loudly enough and stupidly enough that Jeremy would get to wear his gleeful face for at least a week) but now they were here Jeremy had decided that it was all a giant waste of time and that it had been everybody else's idea in the first place. He'd been driving them crazy all afternoon, looking petulant and complaining loudly about how they should just give up and go back to London. Richard—after two hours of listening to Jeremy steam—had stopped finding it funny and had ended up shouting at him in the car park outside the amusement arcade, calling him a complete and utter tosser. He'd stomped off in a huff afterwards, leaving Jeremy mouthing in his wake.

James had seemingly decided that the best way to deal with Jeremy's bad mood and Richard's histrionics was to ignore the pair of them, and he'd disappeared off to sit on the step of their trailer and eat one of Sophia's fat-free yoghurts. Richard was still looking mutinous even after he'd stormed right through the car park and across the main road to where he could see James moodily lighting a cigarette (tapping the ash into the forlorn yoghurt pot) and staring in dismay at the remains of a paper cup full of dishwater tea. Richard found himself ranting about how Jeremy was an idiot who ought to keep his big stupid mouth shut and just get on with things every now and again, continuing to complain right up until he found he'd run out of things to say and stumbled to a halt midway through a sentence. "Jeremy should shut up," he finished, somewhat aware that Jeremy wasn't the only one.

"Jeremy's never going to shut up," James told him, mildly, and he offered Richard the tail end of his cigarette. "Unless someone comes along and does something drastic like cut his head off. A socialist perhaps. That'd be fun to watch. Although knowing Jeremy he'd still find some way to talk, even without a head."

Richard narrowed his eyes and reached for James's cigarette. "That's a good way of saying Jeremy talks out of his arse," Richard said, with an attempt at a grin. "Although I think I feel a change of politics coming on," he said, brightening up. "Do you think I'd make a good socialist?"

James shook his head and grinned.

Afterwards, Richard was never sure how he managed to get from grumpily finishing off James's cigarette, leaning up against their trailer, to parked up in James's car somewhere five miles up the road in a National Trust car park (James was a member, of course James was a member, why was Richard even surprised) getting a hand job from someone he'd always secretly considered a very close friend. And being kissed. Hard. Repeatedly.

At the time it had seemed to have happened accidentally, Richard thought, although he wasn't entirely sure what was accidental about James bearing down on him after filming had finally finished for the day and dragging him inside the trailer, kissing him until Richard was hard and desperate and grabbing onto James's belt loops and pulling him closer.

Richard had put up approximately no resistance whatsoever once he'd got over the initial shock of James leaning in and pressing his mouth to Richard's once again. He'd spent the majority of the last week trying not to think about why he'd so easily succumbed to James's unexpected advances, and to find himself in the same position and reacting in the exact same way as last week was enough to confuse him even more than he already was. He'd never done this before, never kissed another man, never seriously considered the possibility of doing so off his own back.

James had engineered a hasty exit once they'd heard Andy and Jeremy heading towards the portakabin, Jeremy's loud voice audible even over the traffic noise from outside. James had grabbed Richard's arm and pointed across the car park towards James's car (not the Bentley this time, nor the Boxster. A blend into the background mid-range Volkswagon James was test driving) and before Richard had time to analyse his behaviour, he was in the front seat clicking on his seatbelt and watching as James completely failed to find reverse gear in the unfamiliar gearbox. Richard—vaguely aware that his behaviour was coming from a place he barely recognised—shook his head and looked out of the window. There was nothing accidental about waiting three minutes whilst someone who reputed themselves as being a motoring expert flicked through the instruction manual until they found the bit which explained how to put the car in reverse.

Richard was also pretty sure that there was nothing accidental about the way James shyly groped him at the traffic lights either, his hand resting in the curve of Richard's thigh when he wasn't changing gear, chuntering mildly to himself about German engineering and grazing Richard's erection with the tips of his fingers. Like this was something that happened every day and not once, completely accidentally one dark night over a week ago.

He was completely sure there was nothing accidental about any of it when James pulled into the car park (it might have been a castle, it may have been a viewpoint, Richard wasn't entirely sure. All he could tell was that there wasn't really anything to view now night had fallen, apart from the not-very-subtle and very definite way James's hand moved to cup Richard's erection, and the equally unsubtle way Richard's hips moved upwards to meet his touch).

There was nothing accidental about any of it.

James turned the key in the ignition and let the engine purr into silence before twisting in his seat, undoing his seatbelt and then Richard's fly in what might have been one fluid movement if it had been anyone other than James May attempting it. Richard was hard, oh-so hard, and he was pushing upwards into James's touch even as James was trying to extricate himself from the seatbelt and the handbrake and the remains of a packet of American Hard Gums he'd spilt all over the seat and the floor as he'd leaned over.

James watched him for a moment, Richard burning red under James's quiet gaze. They were quiet in the darkness, just for a moment until James began to stroke him, fingers encircling his erection.

Richard didn't know what to say and he didn't know what to do and he didn't know what to think. He was red-faced and embarrassed and hard as hell and he didn't know where to look. His breathing was loud and wet in the quiet of the car as James began to stroke him in earnest, his fist closing around Richard's cock. James closed the distance and kissed him, licking at Richard's mouth until it opened, kissing the corner and tasting like cigarettes and sugary sweets.

Richard couldn't help but reach for him, pulling him closer and pressing his fingers into James's shoulder as James continued to bring him off, his fist closed around Richard's cock. James was kissing him, Richard biting down on James's lip as his breathing loosened, fingers tightening around James's arm. He gasped for breath, his hands in James's hair again, still surprised by how soft it was beneath his fingers. It wasn't long before he was coming all over James's hand, his jeans and his jumper.

James's mouth rested over his for a long moment after Richard was spent, his breath hot and heavy and rushed. Richard's grip on James's shoulder loosened and James cleared his throat awkwardly, letting go of Richard's rapidly softening cock and uncomfortably wiping his hand on his jeans. He leaned over and pulled out a box of tissues from the glove compartment. Richard wanted to ask did you plan this? but he couldn't. He felt dazed.

He swallowed, hard, and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He pulled at his fly, watching as James self-consciously rearranged himself, cupping his obvious erection briefly before clearing his throat again and reaching for the ignition key. It was only when James coughed and switched on the headlights, shifting in his seat, that Richard realised he hadn't even managed to undo his own seatbelt.

He skin burned with the memory of his intense reaction to James's touch, and he spent the rest of the journey back into town staring out of the window into the darkness, unable to forget the pressure of James's mouth against his.

Part Three

The third time it happened Richard was more prepared. He still found himself surprised and confused when it did eventually take place, but he'd spent weeks going over and over it in his head, trying to figure out what it—his reaction—meant.

They were in Germany, filming out at the same racetrack they'd used many times before in Top Gear segments. It was late one night after filming; they'd all had a long and boozy meal down in the restaurant, sharing bottles of wine between the production crew and themselves, drowning in huge plates of spaghetti bolognese and rich red wines. Richard hadn't long been back in his room, flicking abstractly through the TV channels and trying to find something in English when he was disturbed by a knock at the door.

It was James, who had probably knocked back more red wine than Richard had downstairs in the restaurant. That didn't particularly explain why James suddenly managed to overcome his genes and become a master of dexterity, pressing Richard up against the wall, kicking the door shut behind him and kissing Richard all in one long, fluid movement. It may have explained why James suddenly seemed to have thoroughly wandering hands, however, but Richard had to admit as his hands grazed James's arse that he wasn't much better himself.

James didn't even seem to want to try and make it seem accidental this time, although with hindsight Richard was unsure that he'd even tried to make the first couple of times appear accidental outside of Richard's head. Regardless, Richard was fairly sure no one could make hotel room debauchery seem like it wasn't planned, copious amounts of red wine aside.

Nevertheless, Richard was more prepared this time. It had been five weeks since North Wales and on the face of it, things had been unremittingly and stiflingly normal between the two of them ever since. He may have spent many hours going over and over how and why it had happened when he was by himself, but when the two of them were together at work they'd kept things unfailingly normal. Even now he didn't know how they'd managed it.

He could taste the remnants of red wine in the tail end of their kiss. It didn't matter that it had been a long couple of days and an even longer evening and that Richard was sporting bruises in places he didn't even know he could bruise in after a ridiculously embarrassing fall over a tool box on the way off the track earlier that afternoon, which—of course—had been caught on camera. It didn't matter. None of it mattered.

He kissed James back this time, suddenly furiously and painfully hard. His hands were fisted in James's shirt, and he found himself pressing his cock—flushed and desperate—hard up against James's. He licked at James's open mouth, breath catching in his throat as he tugged James's shirt out of his jeans.

He still couldn't say why this kept happening, why he wanted it to. Why he'd stopped thinking about his wife and started thinking about James. Why he couldn't even hate himself for doing so. "Do you-" Richard started, words hot and muffled against James's mouth. He pressed the flat of his hand to the skin beneath James's shirt, the warm, soft skin of James's stomach beneath his palm. His breath stuttered.

"Shut up-" James managed, desperately, and pulled ineffectually at Richard's shirt buttons. He nosed at the underside of Richard's jaw, running his tongue slowly down the hollow of Richard's neck. Richard groaned loudly, swallowing uncomfortably against the pressure of James's tongue against his Adam's apple.

Richard might have come into this vaguely convinced he was more prepared for another encounter with James—the first two times may have managed to confuse him and worry him more than anything else he'd ever done, but he couldn't deny that both times had been ridiculously and unexpectedly hot and it was almost a certainty that one of them would come back for more—but he found himself ill-prepared for the intensity of their meeting: the heat, the pressure, the desperation. His intensity. His heat. His need.

He found himself reaching for James's fly, pushing up against him, his hand blindly going for James's erection, cupping it and amazed at the heat even through the cotton of his pants. Richard scrabbled at the waistband of James's boxers, tugging them down and over James's cock until he had hot, soft skin against his palm. He pushed at James, pushed him back until it was James that was backed up against the wall of the hotel room. Richard pressed his knee in between James's thighs for balance and added pressure as he stroked at James's cock. James was staring at him wildly from beneath hooded eyes, his breathing hitched and desperate against Richard's cheek as Richard continued to bring him off. The room was filled with an intensity that Richard didn't know quite how to process, and he found himself unable to keep looking at James, unable to meet his eyes. Instead, he leaned in and licked the corner of James's mouth, kissing the curve of his jaw, the skin under his ear as his wrist twisted and he stroked James closer towards orgasm.

He hadn't thought it was going to be like this, not in those brief, guilty moments where he'd allowed himself to imagine it happening again. The only way he could justify this to himself was by maintaining that it was James that initiated events, James that controlled how and when these encounters happened. This wasn't supposed to be how it went; their roles weren't supposed to have switched. Richard had never thought that James would let him take over. His cock throbbed at the thought and Richard pressed his body to James's and kissed him, open mouth and wet as he rubbed James faster and harder, James's hips arching flush against his.

James came with a stifled cry, burying his head in the curve of Richard's neck, his fingers tightening around Richard's upper arm until it began to hurt. Richard collapsed against him, surrendering his weight to James's. His hand was sticky and wet and trapped in between them. Pulling away, he wiped his hand unceremoniously on his jeans and hoped that he'd remembered to bring a spare pair for filming tomorrow in case it stained.

"Christ, Richard," James said, after a moment. He was studiously avoiding Richard's eye. He wiped his thumb against his reddened lips, and Richard—who was still turned on and still hard—felt an unbidden leap of desire somewhere deep in his chest. He cleared his throat.

Taking a couple of steps sideways into the lee of the doorway, James turned around and tucked himself back in, doing up his flies and pulling his shirt out to cover up the possibility of any evidence.

"Yeah. I know," Richard said, for want of something better to say. He wiped his hand more thoroughly on his shirt and tried to ignore the continuing pulse of desire. He didn't know, not really, and he also didn't know what the hell else to say that could even vaguely make this okay.

James coughed uncomfortably, turning around and rocking backwards and forwards on the balls of his feet.

Richard felt the uncomfortable pressure of his own erection pushed up against his jeans and blushed red.

"I'd better-" James said, after a moment, pointing towards the door. "I, um, will see you in the morning."

Richard swallowed, and tried desperately to think of something to say that would and could make this situation better. He couldn't though, because he was already thinking about Mindy back at home and working with Jeremy and James tomorrow and the fact he'd almost come in his jeans from kissing James just now. There wasn't anything to say. He nodded.

"Right then," James said, awkwardly.

"Right." Richard swallowed thickly and watched as James pulled open the door. He was growing increasingly uncomfortable having to watch James walk away each time this happened.

After the door had shut quietly behind James's retreating back, Richard rubbed at his forehead with tired fingers. He smelt like James and he couldn't help but grimace at the guilt. He was a married man, for Christ's sake.

...a married man who kept on kissing another man. Sighing, he sank down onto the edge of his bed and started to undo his shoelaces and get ready for bed.
Part Four

The fourth time it happened—well. It almost didn't. They were in a production meeting, of all things, and were immersed in some mind-numbing but necessary conversation about ensuring their diaries were all free for the filming of their big set-pieces for the new series. James was clearly bored and probably tired and obviously not paying attention, tapping his pencil against the edge of the table and carefully drawing the inside of his motorbike engine down and across his foolscap. Richard—who was sat next to him and was equally bored—kept glancing down at James's pad when he should have been paying attention to whatever Sophia was outlining across the other side of the table. Jeremy was hungover and acerbic in a low-key, pass-me-the-aspirin kind of way, and he kept pointedly opening his packet of alka-seltzer and dropping one in his glass of water, loudly grimacing whenever it came to downing the rest of the glass.

It was the kind of meeting that was destined to go wrong right from the moment it started, and probably should have been postponed—at least until Jeremy was well enough to process vowel sounds. Guttural consonants weren't enough to prove Jeremy a valuable contributor to the meeting and Andy was starting to look like he might have the capacity to kill. He was clearly getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of participation from them all, and it was only after he rolled his eyes and told them that "you'd all better be thankful I'm not fucking sacking you, and don't think you'll be getting out of here for an early lunch, so you'd better start listening and stop fucking me around". Jeremy had spluttered and Richard had rolled his eyes and James had cleared his throat and turned to a blank page in his notebook.

It was inevitable that there was going to be an argument because everyone was short tempered, tired and increasingly aware that it was some time since they had last eaten. Richard didn't know quite what it was that set James and Jeremy off—some stupid comment between the staffers about what colour biro last minute production memos should be scribbled in or the potential fuel consumption of a possible reasonably priced car substitute, both conversations were floating around the table when Jeremy kicked off at James—but whatever it was it ended with Jeremy storming out and James standing up, kicking the waste paper basket and staring moodily out of the window.

There was a long moment where everyone stared at their notebooks, but then Andy shook his head and just said tiredly, "break for lunch, everyone, meet back here at two, please, and try and sort your fucking moods out, people," and the room emptied. Richard was left tapping his biro against his page, eyeing James who was still staring glumly out of the window.

"You were being an arse," Richard said, finally.

"He was being an arse," James said, moodily.

"He's hungover," Richard pointed out. "And he's always an arse." Even in Richard's limited knowledge of workplace affairs (not that this was an affair, Richard told himself. Quietly) and secret assignations, that didn't constitute a come-on. It had been six weeks since their last encounter in the hotel in Germany, and Richard still didn't have a clue what was going on. It kept him awake at strange hours of the night, forcing him to tiptoe downstairs into the kitchen and wake up the dogs by making a sandwich and getting a glass of water. It meant that cars beeped at him in traffic jams because his mind was wandering and he wasn't paying attention to the traffic lights.

But aside from momentary lapses in concentration and understanding, his life was just the same. He went home, he ate food and watched TV and tinkered with his cars and walked the dogs and smiled at his wife. He went to the supermarket and drank wine and suffered Mindy's Amy Winehouse CD when they ate pasta in the kitchen. Life was much the same as it always was, apart from when it wasn't: sometimes his mind wandered back to the three occasions he'd let go and given in to James's advances, and then it was all he could do to hold on.

Still, Richard reassured himself, outside of the three occasions where James had succeeded in ambushing him, (four occasions; James had suddenly grabbed Richard by the arm and dragged him into the tiny kitchen, pushing him up against the cupboard and knocking the teabags all over the floor in a typical show of co-ordination from James) everything was completely normal. Completely and utterly normal.

Richard was inclined to believe that he could just go back to the way things were before he and James had started kissing in darkened corners, but he could only really think that when he wasn't in the middle of it. When things like this happened, coming vaguely out of nowhere to blindside Richard into breathless acquiescence, he wasn't quite so sure he could let things slide back to how they were before. Especially now there was a possibility he'd have to change his trousers before coming into contact with anyone else.

"I don't think I've got a change of-" Richard started, suddenly aware there was another two hours of production meeting scheduled for this afternoon.

James—who was tugging at Richard's jumper and pulling it up and over his head—moved down to try and undo Richard's button fly in one fluid movement. "Will you-" James started catching Richard's mouth in the start of a kiss, "-just shut up, Hammond," he went on, moving in for a kiss so hard Richard's head bounced back against the wall with a sickening crack.

James froze, his hands clenching in Richard's jumper .

Richard grimaced, painfully. "I'm okay," he said, after a moment, rubbing the dull ache at the back of his head. "I'm fine," he said, to reassure James who was looking worried. To prove it he leaned in and kissed James, his hand cupping the back of James's neck, resting his forehead against James's when he stopped for breath. "I'm fine," he reiterated, softly, and James closed his eyes.

"This shouldn't be happening," James said, quietly. He rubbed at his eyes, tiredly. "I should go. We both should."

"Shut up," Richard said, without thinking. James's eyes widened and Richard shook his head, leaning in and kissing James, pushing him backwards until he was pressed up against the kitchen door. "Shut up," he said again, kissing James harder, running his fingers up and through James's hair and down his neck and inside the collar of his shirt.

It took a moment for James to kiss him back, and Richard felt the shift with quiet desperation. James sighed into Richard's kiss, pushing his hands down Richard's jeans and against his arse, tugging Richard closer until he was tight up against James's erection. Richard couldn't help but rub up against him, hard and suddenly breathless and trying to disregard the desperate need to touch him, to feel James's bare skin beneath his palm again—to run his thumb up the underside of James's erection, to feel James gasp against Richard's mouth as Richard discovered the sensitive spots—the curve of the head, the soft underbelly, the damp crease. His breath tightened at the thought, hot against James's kiss. His fingers scrabbled at James's fly.

James pulled him closer, groaning, rubbing up against Richard with furious breaths and a grip like steel. He licked a path down Richard's jaw, his hands curving down and under Richard's arse—and then in a curious mix of discomfort and desperation, Richard pulled himself up onto the counter top, James half-lifting him, Richard flush against James's erection. Then James was tugging at Richard's jeans, pulling at the waistband of his underwear, down and over the head of his cock.

Richard didn't know whether he wanted this or not. His body clearly knew what it wanted—just the thought of coming under the quiet, knowing grip of James's hand or even in his mouth was causing his balls to tighten and his cock to jump, his breath hitching in his throat—but sweet mother of God what the hell was happening to him?

This wasn't who he was. He was married. To a woman. The thought of being with a man like this was something that he just hadn't allowed to cross his mind. It was the kind of thought that had occasionally passed unbidden into his subconscious, rearing its head at odd, uncomfortable moments throughout his life but it had never been anything he'd considered entertaining. And now here he was, shrugging his trousers off in the kitchen at work, fingers trailing up and down James's arms, kissing him like he needed to.

He couldn't trust himself with that line of reasoning, so he kissed James, arching upwards, fingers in his hair.

"I want-" James gasped, his breathing rushed.

"What-" Richard swallowed, his hands on James's face, palms hot against James's skin. He wanted to look, to touch, to feel, to see. He pushed upwards, his erection brushing James's. He wanted to know what it felt like, the two of them together. He groaned, unable to help himself.

"I want-" James said again, a desperate tinge to the edge of his voice.

"Yeah-" Richard's mouth was dry. He licked his lips.

James reached between them, pulling at his own jeans and pants and then grabbing both their erections uncomfortably in one large palm, encircling them with shaking fingers.

Richard forgot everything under James's hypnotic touch. He forgot what it was to worry about his sexuality at the grand old age of thirty something. He forgot what it was to know he had a wife at home. He forgot his colleagues across the car park in the hanger, helping themselves to cheese sandwiches and flicking quavers at each other. He just surrendered to James's touch, moaning hot and heavy in the tiny, damp room. James pulsed next to him and that was all it took to push him over the edge and for him to come all over James's hand and cock and clothes.

James kissed him as he came, hot and wet and once he'd finished, he let his forehead rest wetly against Richard's for a long moment. "We shouldn't have done that," he said finally, once he'd got his breathing under control.

Richard wouldn't meet James's eyes, afraid his eyes would betray his disagreement. "I know," he said, flatly.

James turned around, struggling with his fly, his fingers twisting.

It was suddenly all too obvious that they were in a tiny kitchen in a rickety portakabin—and aside from that, anyone could have heard them had they been in the room next door. Richard coloured hotly.

"We shouldn't have done that," James said again, quietly.

Richard swallowed, sliding uncomfortably off the counter and sorting his own trousers out. There was a damp patch at the crotch. He wiped off splashes of spunk with the back of his hand, curiously detached. He wanted to say why not? but maybe why? was a better question and one he should have asked weeks ago.

"Maybe we should-" James said, nodding towards the door.

"Get back to the others?" Richard nodded.

"-see if there are any sandwiches left," James went on, not looking at Richard.

"Get a cup of coffee," Richard said, staring down at the spilt teabags all over the floor.

"I'd better pick them up," James said.

Richard swallowed. "I'll do it," he said. "Go on, I'll follow you in a minute."

James watched him for a long moment. "Okay," he said, uncomfortably.

"Okay," Richard said. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, averting his eyes away from James's.

He didn't watch James leave.
Part Five

The fifth time happened partly because Richard was sick of thinking about it. He was sick of lying awake at night trying to figure out what had changed between the two of them, between him and his wife, between him and James. He was exhausted trying to capture at least some of why he'd married Mindy, tired trying to surprise her with meals and evenings out. She was looking tired too, bruises of purple exhaustion round her eyes before she covered them up with concealer. They smiled awkwardly at each other and arranged to spend another weekend with friends. Richard was tired of questioning why it was he gave in every time James kissed him. He was bored of trying to act like nothing was different between them; he was angry at himself, angry at Mindy, angry at James. He was sick and tired of feeling like he was lost in his own head.

The fifth time, Richard grabbed James by the back of his jacket outside the toilets in a service station just off the A1. Not even bothering to see if anyone had clocked them, he pulled James inside the disabled cubicle, ignoring James's surprised what on earth, Hammond? and clicking the lock closed with a flick of his wrist.

He stood, arms folded and uncomfortable, in between the mobility handles and the low-rise sink.

James stared at him in confusion.

"What the hell is going on, May?" Richard burst out, finally, unable to channel his anger into a conversation he could direct and control.

James rolled his eyes in feigned nonchalance. "Well, Richard, this is a toilet-"

"Stop being smart," Richard told him in frustration, "it doesn't suit you."

James swallowed and averted his eyes. "We'd better be getting back," he said, reaching past Richard for the lock. "Jeremy will be revving his engine and scaring old ladies."

"No," Richard said, loudly, pushing James out of the way and standing, back to the door, in between James and his only means of escape. "You can't just walk away this time, I need to know what's going on-"

"-Rich," James said, tiredly. Desperately. He ran his fingers through his hair, reaching for the lock again. "Do we have to do this now?"

"Yes," Richard said tightly, and he was scared by the note of desperation in his voice, "I need to know-" he grabbed James by the wrist, "I need-"

James closed the gap and kissed him, cupping Richard's face with his hands. Richard—cut off mid sentence—muffled words against James's kiss, his hands winding their way into James's hair, James's palms rubbing at Richard's back in squashed circles.

Richard knew that James kissed him to shut him up—he knew James well enough to know that emotional conversations were the equivalent of shut down to James—but he couldn't pull away. He wanted this—he wanted James—and he didn't want to know what the cost would be.

The kiss was desperate in a way they hadn't been previously. Hands roved and the kiss was wet and open-mouthed and tasted vaguely like service station coffee and like polo mints and refreshers. James—who on Richard's previous experience (recent encounters aside) tended to avoid human contact like the plague—had his arms wrapped around Richard, body flush against his.

Richard found himself wondering if it was happening like this because neither of them wanted to explain why it—this—kept happening. There was nothing accidental about the way they were touching, about the way they were pushed up against each other, about the way they were groaning into each kiss. The toilet smelt like lavender air freshener and Richard gasped out James's name as James stroked the back of his neck, thumb in the nape. Richard kissed back, harder.

They were interrupted by Richard's mobile, ringing out from his back pocket with the theme from The Great Escape. Startled, they bumped into each other, pulling away and struggling for breath. Richard wiped his hand across his reddened mouth, watching James with wide eyes as he answered.

James was looking anywhere but at him, biting his lip and wiping his hot hands on his jeans, folding his arms and unfolding them again in a moment.

It was Jeremy, and he didn't wait for Richard to speak before saying what the fuck are you two playing at? This place is like hell already without the two of you buggering off and playing hide and seek. Service Stations are full of fat people-

Richard cut him off, telling Jeremy they'd be out in a moment. He hung up without waiting for an answer.

He put his mobile back in his pocket and watched James uncomfortably.

"This shouldn't be happening," James told him, desperately, wiping his upper lip with his thumb.

Richard watched him measuredly. "So you keep saying," he said tiredly. He'd wanted to stop feeling like this, he'd wanted to stop the anger and the frustration and the confusion. He rubbed at his forehead. "So you keep saying," he said again. He unlocked the door and walked away without looking back.

Part Six

The sixth time it happened—there wasn't a sixth time. Not in the same way as the other times, anyway.

They were all out on the track by the cars, filming the standard drag race segment with the new Jaguar and Jeremy behind the wheel. The Stig, likely as not rolling his eyes beneath his helmet, had wandered off to drink Red Bull (a straw leading ubiquitously through the open visor of his helmet), away from curious onlookers. James and Richard had started off bickering over fuel consumption, but by the time Andy started to shake his head in frustration and Jeremy started to eye the two of them like he'd quite like to put them both in a caravan and wheel them off the nearest cliff, it had escalated into a full scale argument.

James was saying—in a calm, measured voice (enough, of course, to drive Richard completely up the buggering wall)—well, Richard, if you would only listen to me and think about it logically then you'd realise that consumption can only go down under those conditions, and it wouldn't work the way you'd think—

- and Richard couldn't help it, he felt like clenching his fists and jumping up and down like a recalcitrant toddler. They'd been bickering about fuel consumption and adverse weather conditions for upwards of twenty minutes and James was being a complete bloody idiot and utterly failing to shut up. Richard couldn't help reacting—who wouldn't, when faced with James being pedantic and annoying—and before he knew it he was yelling at James and calling a complete tosser who knew too much about engineering and science and not enough about how to have fun behind the wheel of a car.

It was a stupid, pointless argument, and Richard knew it. He knew that they were interrupting filming by being too loud near the crew. He knew that they were arguing out of sheer frustration because neither of them knew what the hell was going on. He knew he was arguing because he could recognise that he'd rather be pushing James up against the wall, pulling at his jeans and tossing him off. Sexual confusion was supposed to come when you were a teenager, Richard thought, tiredly, not when you were a thirty-something married man who was supposed to be working. He sighed, rubbing his forehead in frustration, trying to take a deep breath and not disrupt things anymore than he already had.

Behind him, there was just the race track and the film crew and the safety guys and Jeremy—who was still looking like he might kill them both. Richard pinched the bridge of his nose and tried not to pull at his own hair in frustration. He wanted to shout, to scream, just because there was all this confusion and anger and barely restrained desire inside of him he didn't know what to do with.

James looked equally bewildered, a pace or so away, his hands in his pockets, rocking backwards and forwards on the balls of his feet.

Richard looked across at him, and tried to read what he saw in James's eyes. He was fairly sure that James was seeing the exact same mixture of confused heat and desire and frustration mirrored on Richard's face, and for a moment it was all they could do just to keep staring at each other. Richard could feel his dick stiffening and he bit his lip in embarrassment, staring across at James and wishing he knew what the hell was going on between the two of them.

James coughed uneasily.

Richard swallowed, and tried to smile.

"Let's break for lunch," Andy said, tiredly, despite the fact it was only a quarter to twelve and the clingfilm probably hadn't been taken off the cheese sandwiches yet.

"Let's not," Jeremy said, relatively mildly, climbing out of the Jag. "If these two can't shut the fuck up, then they can get in their cars and drive home. They're not needed until this afternoon and quite frankly, a trained baboon could do their pieces to camera."

Richard kicked the pile of tyres by the edge of the track, blushing red. He hated holding up filming, and he and James had caused more then their fair share of uncomfortable disruptions over the past few weeks. Everyone had noticed the vague strain over James and Richard—and Jeremy as well, who couldn't help but react to James and Richard's uncomfortable attempt at acting normally. Richard swallowed again. "You're a bloody idiot, May," he said, for want of something better to say. He wanted to adjust his jeans.

"Same to you," James told him, under his breath. He scuffed his toe on the tarmac.

Richard's fingers itched to touch him, to ease his frustrations in a different way.

Jeremy ambled over to them, deceptively calmly, and threw an arm over both their shoulders. "Boys, boys," he started, and Richard rolled his eyes. So did James, and Richard suddenly wanted to laugh at the stupidity of it all. "If you two want to have your lovers' tiff or whatever the hell it is, can you kindly just fuck off and have it somewhere else? Pissing about I can cope with, but you're wasting my time and money here."

Richard stiffened at Jeremy's mention of a lovers' tiff, but it was just a comment, it was just Jeremy, it didn't mean anything. Just words.

Anyway, even if they did mean something, he told himself, where he and James have been and what they've done didn't make them lovers. It didn't.

After Jeremy walked away, Richard found himself stood at the side of the track, staring across at James. James stared back, uncomfortably direct, and even though both of them stayed fully clothed and didn't so much as exchange a touch, for Richard it still counted. They'd argued and they'd embarrassed themselves and each other, but they'd looked across at each other and recognised what they'd rather be doing, and for Richard that was somehow harder to bear.
Part Seven

The seventh time it happened, Richard made a pretence at being unprepared, despite the fact he'd nonchalantly started to carry a sports bag with a change of clothes from test car to test car with him, slinging the bag behind the passenger seat and pretending like it meant nothing.

He'd started doing it the day after arguing with James at the track. It had been a stupid argument, barely consequential, but Richard had known that just their conscious recognition of what they'd done together, done before, meant more than it would have done if they'd just excused themselves to an empty room and kissed until they'd both been hard and gasping. Before, Richard had been able to explain away what had happened between the two of them as being accidental, as being spur of the moment mistakes; acted on without forethought and without precognition. But then he'd looked across at James and seen desire and heat and recognition in James's gaze and it was then, it was that moment that had changed things. So now Richard carried a spare pair of jeans and a fresh pair of tartan boxers and a clean t-shirt with him in a nondescript sports bag, because he might not understand or fully recognise what it was that was going on inside his head, but he did know that they both seemed to want this thingto happen again.

Having said that, he might carry a change of clothes with him to prepare him for dealing with the possible aftermath of any spur of the moment encounter, but it didn't mean he was prepared for the actuality.

They were filming out in a warehouse near Slough, messing about with 1980s hot hatchbacks and fighting over who got to soup up the Golf GTI rather than the Chevette or the 1984 red Ford Escort XR. Jeremy—obsessed with power as normal—had buggered off to film some commentary of the Chevette on the ring road, sporting some rather dubious upgrades that Richard was fairly sure would spell the end of Jeremy as they knew him. Picking up bits of Jeremy from the side of the dual carriageway was not something that he was particularly looking forward to, especially not at rush hour. "Couldn't he at least wait until the traffic has died down?" he bemoaned to no one in particular.

James grinned, poking his head out from under the bonnet of the Golf and brushing his hair out of his eyes with an oily finger. "If Jeremy were to kill himself," James said, "he'd want there to be the biggest audience possible."

Richard laughed, despite himself.

"Let's take a break," James said, softly, without checking if any of the crew were still hanging around. They were only a skeleton crew during the prep scenes, and there was a good chance they'd all headed out with Clarkson.

Richard ducked his face under the bonnet of the Ford, ostensibly tweaking the spark plugs but really waiting until his blush had died down. His heart rate had risen, burning uncomfortably fast. Clearing his throat, he said in a too-loud voice, "I need to go and get cleaned up."

Probably the last thing Jeremy had expected when he'd left James and Richard behind was that they would be pushing each other up against the wall in the breezeblock bathroom, James with his hand down Richard's jeans, Richard tugging desperately at James's fly. They'd tried to clean themselves up but Richard's hands were shaking and his erection was pushing up against the seam of his jeans so he found himself leaving faint oily thumb prints on the hem of James's shirt and the soft skin of his belly. He swallowed, his throat dry, and he tried to remind himself that this was nothing, that this was just a hand job to fill five minutes downtime at work.

But James was bringing him off, twisting his wrist just so, all hot breath and spit-wet palms and Richard was gasping into James's mouth as his own fingers curled around James's erection. His wrist ached because he was at the wrong angle and there wasn't enough room to shift and change. Christ. Richard pulled away, wiping his mouth and pulling at James's jeans so that they rested halfway down his thighs and Richard didn't have to try and break his arm every time he moved along the length of James's erection.

James was watching him, leaning back against the wall, deceptively still. His cheeks were flushed pink though; his eyes dark. Richard swallowed.

"We shouldn't be doing this-" James started, and maybe James's heightened colour was guilt rather than heat, Richard didn't know. He knew that James was right, that they really shouldn't be doing this, that Mindy was at home and Jeremy was just down the road and at this rate James would never finish doing the alterations necessary to get his car on the road by first thing in the morning.

Richard took a deep breath, leaned in and pressed his open mouth to James's, an ineffectual attempt at shutting James up. He knew that they shouldn't be doing this, they both did. But Richard also knew that this was something he had to figure out, this was something he had to explore and investigate and understand. This wasn't just about James (Richard told himself it wasn't about James at all, he had to, else he wouldn't be able to deal with the guilt) it was about so much more than just him. It was about Richard himself, about coming to realise there was more to him and his sexuality than he'd ever really allowed himself to consider. All the hints that he'd been given and ignored, all the times he could have followed up on an unbidden thought and maybe got here sooner, all the time he'd wasted not knowing this about himself—

- Richard gasped for breath, closing his hand around James's erection, his thumb grazing James's damp slit. He felt James's sharp intake of breath, hot against his mouth. Slower this time, he began to move, stroking James gradually and desperately towards orgasm. James's skin was hot to the touch, oh-so soft beneath his palm and Christ, Richard had been lucky enough in his life to experience more than he perhaps deserved, but before James he'd never been here before, never touched another man and watched his face change as he neared the edge. James's hips were moving of their own accord, thrusting jerkily, pushing his erection up against Richard's fist and God, Richard just wasn't prepared for the effect all of this was having on him.

He felt like a teenager. He'd spent much of the past few weeks trying not to think about what was happening between him and James, trying not to justify and explain and understand what was going on in his head. He'd told himself that hurried encounters in hotel doorways or disabled toilets were just that—encounters—and it was part and parcel of working away from home a lot. Okay, so most married men who played away from home tended to do it with girls, with production staff and hotel workers and occasionally, if the boredom levels were high enough and the journey far enough away from home, the occasional prostitute. Richard had always shied away from such dalliances though, preferring to spend his time with Jeremy and James and Andy, drinking themselves stupid and being loud and obnoxious and wantonly destroying public property and weeing in fountains. He'd justified what kept happening between James and himself as encounters, as things that happened because they were bored or tired or just horny and turned on.

Richard knew he was on dangerous ground. He'd could feel the slow, measured heat that was curling in his belly and he could feel the twist of desire when he moved his fingers like that and James groaned into their kiss. This wasn't something they were doing because they were bored. It wasn't just something that filled a ten minute gap where they had nothing better to do. Richard was doing this because hewanted to, and the realisation scared him. His cock was hard against his open fly, but James was making no move to touch him again, to bring him off and make him come. Richard didn't want him to, didn't want anything other than to keep touching James and keep watching him as his breathing shallowed and his cheeks grew pink. James's breath was hot and damp against the corner of Richard's mouth. His forehead rested stickily against Richard's, but still Richard didn't speed up—jerking him leisurely, almost languidly, towards orgasm.

Christ, James breathed, his words hitched, Richard, Rich- and Richard's fingers twisted, just like that, thumb stroking across the tip. James shuddered and came in a long, desperate burst, clutching Richard's shoulder painfully.

Afterwards, Richard half-expected James to leave. It would follow the pattern of their previous encounters—embarrassed looks and pink cheeks and shirts hastily rearranged to cover up any obvious signs of disarray, followed by hasty exits. He expected James to just pull his jeans up and sigh and make some stupid excuse about having to get back to the car, pointing towards the door and walking away.

"I suppose we should-" Richard started, thumbing towards the door. He struggled to do his fly up over his own sensitive erection, and vaguely considered staying behind to finish himself off over the sink with the door locked.

James—head back against the tiles, eyes closed, shook his head. "In a moment," he said, softly, and he reached over and closed his hand around Richard's wrist.

Richard nodded, quietly, leaning back against the wall beside James. "Okay," he said. "In a moment."

"Good," James said, opening his eyes.

"Yeah," Richard said, for want of something better to say.

They watched each other for a long minute before going back out to where their cars were waiting for them, bonnets up and distributor caps off. On the way out, the back of James's hand brushed against Richard's, just for a moment, one finger stroking the quickest of pathways down the back of Richard's hand.

Part Eight

The eighth time happened in a Little Chef somewhere vaguely close to the A64. Jeremy—who hated Service Stations about the same amount as he hated cyclists, environmentalists and socialists—was being deliberately and noisily inflammatory. He was poking at his All Day Breakfast dubiously with his fork, complaining even more loudly than normal. "I'm leaving the BBC if they make me eat this," he said, darkly, to the camera.

Richard covered his face with his hands. Sometime, he thought, he might learn to expect Jeremy's bloody-mindedness, but clearly that day wasn't going to be today. "You can't say that," he hissed, trying not to laugh. "They'll hear you," he said, eyeing the counter staff.

"Good," Jeremy countered, even louder. He waved his knife in the direction of the staff. "They should be shot for even thinking of serving something that looks like this." He raised an eyebrow towards the camera. "First up against the wall when the revolution comes." He paused. "Well," he went on, "Second. James is up first."

Pete—the cameraman unlucky enough to have pulled the short straw—stifled a grin and shook his head.

They were filming a road race—West to East, Morecombe to Humberside—in old and battered Ford Cortinas, avoiding the motorways in favour of B roads through the Pennines. James was supposed to be navigating them—a punishment for Jeremy, actually, for using his mobile phone at a garage instead of eschewing modern technology as the challenge had stated. No Sat Nav, no mobile phones, no print-offs from streetmap.co.uk. Just Ordnance Survey maps and various orienteering points along the way. Jeremy had been spotted round the back of the Shell garage on the phone to Ladbrokes, putting twenty pounds each way on the 3.30, and as a punishment James had taken over the map reading. Jeremy had howled and Richard had said well that's that then, we'll never go home again. We'll be driving forever, thanks Jezza and James had just put his head in his hands and said we'll end up in Basingstoke. Or Llandudno. As it was, the A64 was somewhat out of their way and they'd been forced to pull over into Little Chef for some form of nourishment and a chance for Jeremy to murder James on camera.

"I like Little Chef," James said, mildly, taking a bite of his steak and kidney pie.

"You like spam," Jeremy said, incredulously. "You can't be taken seriously."

Richard poked doubtfully at the contents of the teapot with a spoon. "This better be good tea," he said, uncertainly.

James nodded at him, "It will be," he said. "Now, shall you be Mother?"

Jeremy blinked. "I'm going to kill him," he said, slowly. "I'm genuinely going to beat him to death with a carbonised sausage." He stabbed generously at the remaining food on his plate, "If I could get my fork into it. Christ, my kingdom for a Waitrose."

Richard rolled his eyes at the camera. "Never say that again, James. It makes me feel-" he stopped, remembering their boat trip to Oslo. "-uncomfortable."

"Just pour, Hammond."

"Milk first, or after?" Richard asked, readying the tea cups.

"Oh, Christ, I'm going to have to kill you too," Jeremy said, darkly.

"Milk first, every cretin should know that." James told him.

Richard picked up the teapot, and promptly spilt a goodly amount into Jeremy's saucer as he felt James's knee pressed up hard against his under the table. He pushed back without thinking about it, thigh against thigh. James's hand ghosted over his knee momentarily before Richard realised the cameras were still rolling and went bright red.

"God, give me that will you?" Jeremy reached over and took the teapot from Richard, shaking his head. "You've gone all red."

James pressed harder against Richard's thigh with his knee, and grinned haphazardly at the camera.

Nothing particular had happened in the fortnight between Richard and James's encounter in the warehouse whilst Jeremy was off trying to kill himself in Slough, other than Richard lying awake at night and trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He couldn't understand how one minute he could be hard and kissing James and the next he could be working alongside him, muddling along as they always did, getting away with whatever indiscretions they were guilty of committing. He still didn't understand what was going on inside his head and what this meant for him and his sexuality and his marriage. But he knew that he was hard right this instant, just from the pressure of James's leg against his underneath the table.

"I hate you both," Richard ground out, unable to scoot any further away from James without falling onto the floor and therefore having to face the indignity of having an erection on what was sure to be national television.

James's gaze flickered hotly at him, and Richard closed his eyes and grimly considered payback.

 

Part Nine

The ninth time was payback for James getting Richard hard whilst the camera was rolling, and Richard was vaguely ashamed to admit he'd had to plan his threefold retribution out particularly carefully.

The first part came when they were test driving the new 4x4 Volvo, and Richard had had to engineer it so that James accompanied him in the passenger seat. The camera was fixed to the dash somewhere just in front of James, and Richard grinned devilishly into its lens as he started the engine. He started talking about the power of the engine and the horse power through the wheels and oh my god the torque, when Richard carefully dropped his wallet down into the passenger seat foot well. Pulling over after the lap was over, engine still running, he said sorry and ducked down, fingers splayed hard against James's thigh as he bent over. Head blocking the camera's view, he feigned difficulty in finding his wallet, palm grazing the crease of James's jeans as he fumbled around the floor. Sorry, he said again, sitting up again and righting himself, ignoring James's strangled intake of breath, bit clumsy there.

Richard couldn't help but grin at the pink, incredulous look on James's face.

The second part of the plan came at the production meeting over lunch; all the men were hovering over the plates of sandwiches and ignoring the trays of fruit Sophia ordered every time in the name of good health. She'd say five a day, guys, you could at least try—and they'd all grin and reach for another ham sandwich.

Jeremy was half way through a thick ham and cheese baguette, noisily discussing filming schedules with Andy and James. Richard—who was already scheduled to be off in Portugal test driving a new Renault down the coast road—grinned lazily and reached for a tuna sandwich. He'd toed off his trainers when they'd first sat down, and as he leaned back in his seat, he stroked James's ankle with his toes.

James burnt bright red and choked on his egg salad sandwich. He tried to move his foot away but Richard had chosen a good place to sit and had James's ankle trapped between his stocking feet, toes stroking the inside of James's ankle.

Richard leaned over and clapped James on the back. "Choke on your sandwich, did you?" he said, sympathetically, leaning past James to choose another sandwich he didn't particularly want.

Jeremy shook his head at James. "May, we can't take you anywhere."

Richard hid his grin behind his sandwich and James wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, eyeing Richard and shaking his head.

The third part of Richard's plan came later in the afternoon, and luckily it was a warm day. He had a back up plan but it involved having to get very wet and peel his t-shirt off, and even he wasn't sure that he could carry that off.

It was sunny and all over the track the crew were shrugging off their hoodies and their sweaters and stripy jumpers. Up by the starting line, Richard stretched languidly, arms up high above his head. His t-shirt rode up, stomach bare in the warm afternoon air.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see James watching him guiltily, his eyes dark.

Richard ran his thumb over his bare stomach absently, deliberately focusing all his attention on a pile of tyres the other side of the track and trying not to smile.

He could feel James watching him, feel the intensity of his stare, feel the heat of his gaze. He could feel himself beginning to harden, and heat pooled in his stomach. He tried to stop noticing that James was looking at him and he awkwardly pulled his t-shirt down and went back to staring out towards the tyres.

With the benefit of hindsight, Richard wondered how he'd ever thought this particular brand of payback was going to work when he hadn't, couldn't and didn't have any control over his reaction when James was around. His skin flickered hot and cold.

Jeremy pulled the Nissan he was driving over to the side of the track and climbed out, whacking Richard's shoulder with his rolled up jacket, turning and shaking his head at the car. "Drives like a pregnant woman on acid," he said, which could have meant anything, "The engineers should be locked in a box and pushed overboard. Now where's Soph with the tea?"

Richard swallowed and pulled his t-shirt out and over his jeans to cover his erection. He tried not to look at James and walked off with Jeremy towards the tray of tea Sophia was impatiently holding.

~

James blew him as soon as he could after filming was finished for the day, taking Richard's elbow and leading him straight across the car park and depositing him in his Landrover. "Follow my car," James told him, shortly, his hand resting for a moment on Richard's thigh.

In his head, Richard's retribution had ended right about the time he'd finished his three stage plan, and what happened after that hadn't even crossed his mind. He hadn't anticipated having to spend the rest of the afternoon suffering from a mix of embarrassed desire and necessary professionalism, trying not to make eye contact with James and trying not to do anything too embarrassing—like stopping to rearrange his erection in full view of the camera crew. He filmed his bit out on the track and joked with Jeremy out by the finishing line. They all laughed when James came in with the slowest lap time, as per usual, and Richard didn't even lose his cool when James stared across at him with eyes ten shades darker than normal, desire burning deep and heavy and increasing with every passing second.

By the end of the afternoon, when Jeremy was high-fiving Andy and James was finishing up with the sound guys, unwinding the microphone cable from underneath his shirt, Richard was sweating. He was still surprised by his body's reaction to James's presence, still bewildered by just how close he'd come to losing it right there on the trackside. And then James had finished up and ambled over towards him, hands in his pockets and acting deceptively casually, and the next thing Richard knew he was sitting in his Landrover preparing to follow James to God-knows-where to do God-knows what.

Richard followed James's Fiat all the way to a lock-up garage fifteen miles away. Richard had been there before; James stored (amongst other things) a 1993 Porsche 911 and his Bentley in there, and Richard had spent many a Saturday afternoon tapping his foot whilst James drove from one garage to another, trying to organise his many cars and motorbikes into some semblance of order. Why he couldn't buy a big house in the country like every other semi-well-off motoring TV presenter in the country, Richard didn't know. But James kept on resisting, preferring instead to keep his cars in lock ups that weren't even near his house, meaning that at one point he'd had to ride his fold up push bike seven miles just to get into his car. Normally he'd say something, make a joke and push James to finally grow up and buy a house or garage somewhere that would actually house all the rambling bits of kit he kept buying. Today though, when Richard was still a bit dazed and definitely confused, he just stayed quiet, trying to figure out when it was he and James started having assignations instead of encounters.

Inside the garage, James switched on the light and closed the door behind them. The sound was surprisingly loud in the eerie half-light.

"I've always wanted to do this in a Porsche," James said, relatively quietly, and without looking at Richard he leaned over and unlocked the driver's door of his 911.

Richard—who was still turned on from a couple of hours ago, when he'd seen James watching him and suffered the indignity of being hard in public—swallowed, his throat dry. "Right, okay," he said, because he had to say something and he could hardly say Porsches aren't exactly large.

James turned back around to face him, putting his car keys back into the pocket of his jacket. Richard couldn't decide whether he was turned on or fearful because of how things were turning out, and he was inclined to believe a mixture of the two judging by his erection and his heart rate.

James reached for him, fingers curling round into the nape of Richard's neck, pulling him closer and into a kiss so hot it made the breath hitch in Richard's throat. Gasping into the kiss, his hands found their way into James's hair, soft beneath his fingertips. James tasted like American hard gums, sugary and sweet, and at the thought of that mouth around his cock, Richard suddenly found himself devoid of breath. He found himself thinking back to that first time, when James had caught him so unawares he hadn't really taken any of it in. He wanted James to suck him off, to take his cock into his mouth. "Blow me," he gasped, blushing as he spoke. He kissed James again, catching James's mouth with his own and kissing away his own embarrassment and his own need.

James stiffened against him, body flush against Richard's. His erection pulsed against Richard's hip bone. "Christ," James managed, thumb against Richard's cheek. "Say that again, Hammond."

Richard closed his eyes and pressed his cheek to James's, unable to meet James's eyes. His fingers trailed an uneasy pathway down James's spine, and he nudged James's nose with his own. "Blow me," he breathed, and his eyes were tight shut.

James's whole body trembled, and his hands pulled Richard closer, flat against the curve of his arse. "Again," he said, words hot against Richard's mouth. Pulling away, he cupped Richard's face in his hands, his fingers touching Richard's face reverently. Richard felt James's thumb brush against his eyelashes.

"James," Richard said in a low voice. "Please," he went on, and his voice shook. James's fingers moved to his neck, under the collar of his t-shirt. "Blow me," Richard exhaled, softly. He didn't recognise himself.

James kissed him instead, sugar-sweet and burning hot, hands curling into Richard's hair.

Richard's whole body shook with want and desire and sheer, desperate need. He couldn't stop touching James, fingers grazing his shoulders, his arms, his chest, neck, face.

Then James was pulling at Richard's t-shirt, up and over his jeans, undoing Richard's fly with hot, frantic fingers. Richard gasped for breath as James started to pull Richard's jeans down. Richard had to help, tugging them over his hips and down to his knees as James pushed him down and back onto the driver's seat. Richard's fingers scrabbled for grip on the smooth, soft leather of the seat, his cock throbbing as James dropped slowly to his knees on the concrete in front of him.

Richard couldn't help but be thankful that this wasn't his Porsche, because aside from being turned on and desperate, he was mindful that he didn't particularly want come stains on the upholstery in his own car.

But then James's hands were on Richard's hips, thumbs grazing Richard's stomach, fingers splayed against his thighs and Richard stopped thinking about anything besides James being on his knees in front of him. James was taking a moment to look—to really look—at Richard's erection and Richard's skin burnt.

Richard wondered how it was he'd got this far through life and never realised he was missing out on seeing a man on his knees in front of him, and his cock bounced with anticipation. "James-" he said, after a moment, when he thought that perhaps he couldn't take any more of this. His voice was tight, his breathing heavy. He touched James's damp, hot forehead with one hand. "Blow me."

James's eyes darkened, right there in front of him, and Richard groaned. The grip on Richard's hips tightened and James ducked his head and took Richard's cock in his mouth, running his tongue gently up the underside of Richard's erection, breathing hot and damp against the shaft. Richard's breath hitched and his fingers scrabbled for grip against the leather seats.

He was trying to let James take the lead but he couldn't stay still. His hands were in James's hair and his hips were jerking upwards and that was that; he was fucking James's mouth and just watching, just seeing was vying for the award for the hottest moment of his life so far. The suspension on the Porsche dipped fondly as Richard gasped out obscenities onto the damp air—shitand fuck and harder and like that, yes, like that and oh fuck James- and then he was bucking and sliding against the leather and coming, hot and hard.

He tried to warn James, pushing him back with the flat of his hand, but James just stayed where he was.

Afterwards, when he'd slumped awkwardly back against the side of the seat, handbrake digging painfully into his thigh, James pulled away onto his haunches and wiped his mouth. He was watching Richard with what might have been a thoughtful expression on his face if it wasn't for the dark heat in his eyes.

Richard wondered about the absurdity of the situation, the sight of him with his jeans down to his knees, being blown in the front seat of a 1993 Porsche 911 by James May. If he'd been ten years younger that might have been enough of a thought to persuade him to do it all right over again straight away, but as it was his cock merely bobbed against his thigh. He thought of the change of clothes in the back of his car and, squaring his shoulders, he wiped at his cock with the hem of his t-shirt.

James leaned in and pressed a kiss to the inside of Richard's knee, awkwardly. He shifted uncomfortably on the concrete until he was sat with his back up against the side of the car. "I supposed you need to get going," he said, non-committedly, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

Richard swallowed, shuffling uneasily on the seat and pulling his pants and jeans up over his cock. He didn't do up the fly. Leaning over, he unlocked the passenger door from the inside. "Not just yet." he said, doing his best to sound completely at ease. "Why don't you come and sit in the car?"

Richard heard James's knees click as he stood up, and fought the urge to laugh. What the hell either of them thought they were doing, he didn't know. He opened the glove compartment, rooting through it until he found an unopened packet of American Hard Gums under the Service Record. He picked out a green one and handed it to James as he got in the car, saying 'scuse fingersunder his breath and picking out a white one for himself. He nudged at James's shoulder with his own. "Thanks," he said, uncomfortably, because whilst it was one hell of a blowjob, he wasn't exactly used to bestowing thanks afterwards.

James looked at him for a long moment, before leaning in and pressing his mouth awkwardly to Richard's. Richard thought he would hate it, hate the taste of come on James's tongue, but it wasn't too bad. It was a dark, musky taste somewhere south of pleasant but there was something ever so slightly hot about it; it was enough for Richard to groan and shift in his seat so he was leaning over the gear stick and touching James's face with his palm.

Afterwards, James turned on the radio and they listened to the crackly tail-end of some symphony Richard barely recognised, James tapping out the rhythm on the dashboard with his fingers.

By the time they got outside, Richard fingering his car keys and awkwardly pointing towards his Landrover, dusk was falling and it was beginning to get cold. James was looking uncomfortable, one hand on the bonnet of his Fiat Panda. "I should be, um-" he started.

"Me too," Richard said, nodding furiously.

"Yes," James said. "Lots of work to do."

Richard nodded. "Long drive," he said.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

"Right," James said. "Better, um."

"Yeah," Richard said, and he raised his hand. "Bye then."

Back in his car, once James had driven off, Richard groaned in discomfort and rubbed at his forehead with one tired hand. He smelt like sex and come and like the inside of a garage, and he was going to have to pull into a service station on the way home to change his clothes. He had no way—absolutely no way—of explaining what had just happened, other than as a momentary shift of sense and reason. Except momentary didn't cut it anymore, and accidental didn't cut it anymore (if it ever had) and even encounter didn't cut it anymore. Richard hadn't lost his reason, he'd known exactly what he was doing and he'd gone into it with his eyes wide open. The realisation was painful and guilt-ridden, and Richard didn't sleep very well that night.

Part Ten
The tenth time was an accident waiting to happen, and with hindsight Richard should have stopped it before it got so far.

It was a Saturday, and they were doing last minute previously unscheduled pick-ups at the track, grumbling about the dull weather and the early morning and the sheer fact they'd had to tumble out of bed and get themselves here when it was supposed to be their weekend off. The very worst thing about the whole situation was the complete lack of enthusiasm any of them had about the subject of the filming—they had to drive three new Vauxhall Astras around the track and say witty things about how rubbish they were. Jeremy—who was slightly hungover and late for lunch with his wife and children—was in a particularly acerbic mood. He was driving too fast and kept leaning out of the car window by the camera and saying things like: "this car is like a sexually transmitted disease. It's like herpes. It's the kind of thing your wife brings home after sleeping with the milkman. Trust me when I say that no good can come of driving a car that leaves you divorcing your wife, stuck with a bill for stupendous lawyers fees you can't afford to pay, a permanent itch and a disfiguring rash to cap it all off."

James was more practical, although equally hungover. "The suspension is too hard," he said, hands on the steering wheel and driving around the hammerhead at a perfectly reasonable speed. Richard had noticed that James tended to be less willing to go at a snail's pace when he'd had a few the night before. "It's supposed to be sports, but that just means you get a ride like in one of those hip-hop videos the youngsters are watching nowadays." Richard—who was watching from inside the production truck—grinned. "It's too plastic," James went on, tapping the dashboard. "It feels like the kind of car you'd find in the car park outside a theme pub. It's like a track suit. In lime green."

When it was Richard's turn to do the lap, he raised an eyebrow at the camera on the passenger seat dash as he understeered around the first bend, jerking the gears up as he hit the straight.

Once they'd finished doing the final head shots of them in the cars and it was time to hand the keys over to the production crew to put them through their paces for the arty shots, they were all in desperate need of a cup of tea. Over by the production office, Sophia was waiting with a tray of cracked mugs that had all seen better days. "Hurry up," she said, tapping her foot, "Or do you think that all I've got to do all day is make sure you've got hot drinks and plenty of biscuits?"

Richard leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "We know you're so much more than that, Soph," he told her, reassuringly.

Sophia narrowed her eyes. "I prefer it when you're being annoying," she told him, turning around and heading back inside. "I've got a degree, you know."

James stifled a grin and Jeremy shook his head, following her inside and wondering loudly if anyone had eaten the orange club biscuit that had been in the office fridge for the last six months.

Richard shrugged his shoulders and turned back to eye the track as the crew set up for more car shots. The weather had been awful early in the week, torrential rain and low cloud and mist—utterly terrible filming conditions. They'd done their best but the end result had been pretty bad and they'd ended up having to come back on their weekend off just to ensure they had some film to run. Awkwardly clutching their lukewarm mugs, James and Richard tried not to look at each other.

"Weather's still pretty poor," James said after a while, putting his hand in his pocket and pulling out a warm, reasonably battered packet of polo mints. "Want one?" he asked, proffering the packet in Richard's direction.

"Go on," Richard said, rocking on the balls of his feet and reaching for a mint. He shouldn't have worn his converse trainers today; the ground was wet through and he'd stood in a puddle in the car park almost as soon as he'd got out of his car earlier. Now he had a wet foot and he squelched with every other step.

"Look-" James started.

"Do you want to-" Richard said, at the same time, nodding towards his caravan. On other programmes he'd made, he'd had what was enthusiastically referred to as a trailer, but on Top Gear it was—and always had been—a caravan. With a tiny telly and a cupboard the production office maintained he could get changed in.

James shrugged off-handedly in a vaguely over-compensatory manner. "Why, Hammond," he said, under his breath, nudging Richard with his elbow and looking around in case anyone had seen them, "Anyone would think you were trying to proposition me."

Richard rolled his eyes. "Shut up, May," he managed, shaking his head and heading over towards his caravan. "Do you want to come in or what?"

James grinned, and followed him up the step.

Inside, Richard locked the door, checking the handle just to make sure he'd not left it open by mistake (something he'd done once, back when he was first going out with Mindy and they were in a hotel and Housekeeping caught them naked and resplendent half on and half off the bed). James was over by the seats, unzipping his fleece, undoing the top button of his jeans and the buckle of his belt and pulling down his fly.

Richard sort of wanted to laugh and tell him to slow down but James was hard and although it wasn't particularly warm inside the caravan, Richard's skin was prickling hotly at the sight of James pulling off his jacket and leaving his jeans hanging open, obvious erection pushing up damply against his striped boxers.

His cock hardened. He swallowed, with difficulty, watching James.

James's hands fell to his sides. "Richard," he said, finally.

"Yeah?" Richard said, crossing the caravan and taking James's face in his hands without waiting for an answer. He kissed him, thumb grazing James's cheek, James's mouth opening softly beneath his.

"We haven't got much time," James told him, in between kisses.

Heat and desire were palpable in the air around them, Richard was fairly certain he could taste it, hot and desperate. Pushing James back against the edge of the sofa, Richard pulled back, dropping awkwardly to his knees and jerking James's Marks and Spencer's boxers down and over his erection.

Richard had come to realise over the past couple of weeks that this thing was becoming far more than merely confusion over his sexuality. It was fast becoming about him and James, and the difference was becoming more and more obvious to Richard as the days and nights wore on. Previously, he'd tried not to think about the things he was doing with James, preferring to concentrate on why he was doing it and what it meant that he was suddenly feeling this way about another man. Recently, though, Richard had found himself thinking about what he'd like to do, trying to shut his mind off whenever it wandered off somewhere his head couldn't follow. He'd thought about the possibility of blowing James—he could hardly have ignored the prospect after the blow jobs James had given him—but he'd tried not to think about it. He'd tried not to let his mind drift to it when he was in the car and waiting at traffic lights. He'd ended up unexpectedly hard and uncomfortable and stuck adjusting himself awkwardly as the lights turned green. He'd woken up in the middle of the night, hot and breathing heavily, still lost in a world where he was on his knees in front of James. On those occasions he'd ended up clutching the duvet tightly in hot fists, trying to put as much guilty distance between himself and Mindy as he could muster.

It didn't matter how many times he'd accidentally found himself considering the eventual possibility of blowing James though, not when it came down to it. The reality was that he'd never done this before, and James had. Richard was inherently competitive, and whilst he was uncomfortable suggesting that anything involving sex with James be classed as a competition as such, he couldn't help but be a little worried that James seemed to have such a head start on him in this particular area.

Sucking James off wasn't something he could compare to anything he'd done before, either. He'd had his hand down James's pants, he'd jerked him until he'd come, he'd touched and stroked and rubbed and possibly even cajoled, but he'd never tasted. He'd never blown anyone. Never gone down on his wife, even, or anyone before her. And now he was on his knees with James pushed back up against the mock pine of Richard's caravan, not that many metres away from the rest of the grumpy crew, contemplating when and how to take James's cock in his mouth.

- Richard wasn't one to admit to being scared. He generally wasn't, not really. He thrived on adrenaline, he loved the thrill of the chase and the twist and heat of control.

He wouldn't say he was scared now, per se. He just hated to lose and he hated coming second and he hated not being the best. There was a significant possibility that he'd found something that James was better at than he was (unless he turned out to be the best amateur cocksucker England had ever seen, which was unlikely but not impossible) and although the sane side of his head pointed out quite reasonably that there was nothing at all wrong with James being better at sucking dick than Richard, especially when Richard was on the receiving end of James's particular skill set, the more competitive side of Richard's brain was unwilling to concede defeat without a fight. Or at least the possibility of the best of three.

James stroked at Richard's temple with his finger, and Richard swallowed and licked his lips. The angle was different down here; he'd never seen a cock from this position apart from in porn films. He wanted to stand and stare, take it all in, from the pulsating vein across the underside of James's erection to the clear fluid leaking across the tip. The scent of attraction and heat and the promise of more was going straight to his own cock and it was pressed painfully up against his fly. His hands shook and he dug his nails into his thighs.

"Just-" James said from up above him, fingers in Richard's hair, his voice hoarse, "Hammond, suck me off."

"If you say please," Richard said, absently, pressing his thumb into James's thigh and wondering if he could. His hand hovered over James's cock.

"Richard," James said, tightly. "Please. Christ, you're on your knees in front of me." His fingers shook in Richard's hair, and Richard's stomach curled. "I- I can't. Please. Just- Please."

Richard took a deep breath, leaned in and took James's cock in his mouth.

James groaned in satisfaction, somewhere up above him, and James's fingers curled painfully into Richard's hair, a nail catching the tip of his ear. Richard hadn't been prepared for the taste or the intensity of proximity and he almost gagged, his teeth catching the underside of James's cock as he righted himself. James hissed, his fingers tightening in Richard's hair. Next time, Richard thought, haphazardly, next time he wouldn't do that. It hurt.

He breathed softly down the shaft, licking around the head, tongue flickering against the slit—and then all of a sudden James was talking, words that made no sense, a stream of breaths and oh yeah and like that and Hammond. Richard wanted him to shut up so that no one would overhear them and wonder what the hell was going on inside, but James's steady stream of consciousness was causing Richard's erection to pulse stickily against his boxers, tight in his jeans and that was overriding any sensible ideas of decorum.

The rhythm was uncomfortable and fast and undeniably hot and James was becoming more incoherent with every flick of Richard's tongue. Words were losing themselves on the sticky air, obscenities and fuck and Hammond-Richard, which made Richard's stomach tighten and his balls ache. He thought that he might come too, right there in his jeans because just blowing James and hearing him say Hammond in that tight, hoarse voice was possibly enough to push him right over the edge. He was close enough to do it, his fingers leaving bruises like flower petals across James's thighs.

James came with a barely stifled groan and a gasp, his come salty and hot against the back of Richard's throat. The caravan smelt overwhelmingly like heat and attraction and sex. As he sank back onto the carpet, dimly aware that he'd come himself, stickily and embarrassingly wet in his boxer shorts, he wondered haphazardly if he should open a window. There was a sticky damp patch on his jeans, just to the right of his fly.

James ran his fingers through his hair, sinking onto the sofa with shaking legs. His cheeks were pink with exertion, and Richard couldn't help but smile. He touched James's knee with his palm.

James leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He touched the back of Richard's hand with the tips of his fingers.

"I think they're looking for you," Richard said, awkwardly, after a moment. He could hear Jeremy yelling May somewhere in the distance.

"Let them wait," James said, tiredly. He ran his fingers through his hair, letting go of Richard's hand. "They've waited longer."

Richard sighed, wiping the back of his mouth with his sleeve. He didn't much like the dark taste of guilt at the back of his mouth, the subtle mix of James and Mindy all at once. His stomach lurched. "I think Jeremy's pretty much sick of waiting," he said, in one of his least-subtle attempts at getting rid of James. Somewhere in the near distance, Jeremy was shouting something along the lines of May get your bloody stupid arse out here this instant.

"Okay," James said, tiredly. He struggled with his flies and his jeans and reached for his fleece. "We need to talk about this," James said, softly. He touched Richard's cheek briefly with the back of his knuckle. "Soon."

"Yeah, I know," Richard nodded, moving out of the way so James could sort his jumper out and unlock the caravan door on his way to find what Jeremy wanted.

After Richard had watched him leave and heard the door click firmly shut behind him, he went to the sink and washed his mouth out with cold water and wished he could get rid of the guilt as easily as he could get rid of the taste of James on his tongue.
Part Eleven

The eleventh time was- well. The eleventh time caught Richard by surprise.

Richard was staying in London, in the flat he and Mindy had bought a couple of years ago, ostensibly for such eventualities as early morning filming schedules or somewhere to crawl back to after a late night out socialising after work. It may have been an expensive luxury, owning a flat for no real reason other than it made their lives easier, but at the time they'd been half-heartedly trying for a baby and Richard had thought it was a good investment.

Logic had never been his strong point, and neither, it seemed, was making babies.

Richard tended to spend more time in the flat than was strictly necessary, and sometimes he thought Mindy engineered it so they spent more time apart than technically a married couple should want.

It was relatively late in the evening and Richard had spent most of the evening reading through old issues of Car magazine. Mindy had finally snapped and refused to have them cluttering up the house anymore, so he'd dumped the boxes in the back of the Landrover and resolved to sort them out once he got to London. In reality he was just going to put the boxes in a corner of the bedroom and hope Mindy never noticed them there, which was relatively unlikely considering the London flat had become recognisably Richard's domain over the past eighteen months or so.

On the pretext of getting rid of some of his old magazines, he was on the floor in the lounge surrounded by piles of ancient motoring journalism. He was trying to read old articles about the fate of Rover or the prospect of bringing the Mini back in a new form for the new Millennium, but he kept thinking back to James and what on earth was going on with the two of them.

Finally, in a fit of madness brought on by an exasperated realisation that they'd been friends for years (although perhaps not as long as Richard had owned some of these copies of Car), Richard had reached for the phone and dialled James's number.

"Thought you said we needed to talk," he said, after a moment, looking down at his nails.

"Hammond?" James asked. He sounded as if he'd answered the phone in a war zone, judging by the background noise "Hang on," he went on, without waiting for an answer. There was a pause, the sound of opening doors.

Richard tapped his fingers against his jeans and contemplated hanging up and going to hide his head under the pillows in the bedroom and pretending none of this had ever happened.

"Sorry," James said, after a moment. "Bearings have gone on the washing machine. Bloody thing sounds like it's about to take off every time it starts on the rinse cycle. Should take it apart and see if I can make the blasted thing quieten down because I'm damned if I'm going to throw it away, I've only had it twenty years. A couple of hours with a socket set should do it-"

"James," Richard said finally. "James. Shut up."

James coughed uncomfortably. "Sorry."

Richard wiggled his toes. Leaning down, he pulled off his socks and threw them behind him into the hall. Close enough to the dirty washing pile, relatively close to the kitchen and the washing machine. He tended to take advantage of Mindy not being around to live like a close approximation of a slob, and in doing so tended to disgust even himself. As time went on, he was beginning to see living away from home—even on a technically temporary basis—less as an opportunity to rebel against the way they lived together and more as a chance to relax within those self-same boundaries, and as such he tended to clean up after himself and go shopping and do his own washing. "It's okay," he said, finally, glancing absently at a photo of an Austin Metro. "So, I don't know-"

"Look, can I just say-" They both spoke at the same time, stopping and coughing and saying sorry, you and no, you over one another.

"Oh, hell," James said, softly.

Richard swallowed an uncomfortable breath. He had no idea how this phone call was going to turn out and he was finding himself of the opinion that he'd rather have just kept re-reading old Cararticles and perhaps nipped down to the corner shop for the latest copy of Autotrader and an early night.

"James?" Richard asked, cautiously, after a moment.

"Seeing you on your knees like that in front of me," James told him, all in a rush so the words tumbled out all on top of each other, "right before you blew me. That was. Well. Rather amazing."

Richard stumbled over his own breath. "Um?" he said, rather taken by surprise. "You blew me first," he said, quickly, because firstly, he was trying to retain some sort of control of the situation, secondly, because he was suffering the beginnings of a hard on anyway without suddenly hearing James down the phone saying, well, that, and thirdly, because Richard was Richard and ultimately competitive about every aspect of his life.

"I did," James agreed, and there was an edge to his voice Richard didn't quite recognise. There was a long pause. Richard touched at the inside seam of his jeans with trembling fingers. "You've no idea how long I wanted to do that to you, Hammond," he said, ever so quietly. Richard could barely hear him.

Richard's breath caught in his throat. "Yeah?" he asked, blushing a burning red.

"Yes," James said. "Yes."

Richard swallowed, his cock pressing up against his fly. He couldn't help but stare down at his erection; this wasn't how it was supposed to have gone.

"I've wanted it for a long time," James admitted, in a low voice. Richard strained to hear. "I never thought-" he stopped. "Then you asked me to blow you, and that was-" he swallowed, gruff and crackly down the phone line. "I never dreamed- that was unbelievable."

"I never, either," Richard told James, aware he wasn't making much sense. He rubbed at his eyes in embarrassment, the heel of his hand hovering over his erection. "It was just- it was an unbelievable blow job," he said finally. It wasn't what he wanted to say. It wasn't enough. He was hard, stupidly hard and vaguely embarrassed and seriously uncomfortable and really rather desperate to just sod it all and touch himself. It turned out that he was okay sucking James off, that he rather liked wanking him off, that he was pretty keen on the idea of kissing James until he came in his own trousers. It seemed that the only aspect he couldn't do was talking about it. He couldn't remember feeling so uncomfortably self-conscious.

"Unbelievable?" James repeated. He cleared his throat. "I'm assuming that's unbelievable in the best sense of the word?"

Richard rolled his eyes. "James, I-" he stopped. "I can't believe you're even asking me that," he shook his head. "Yes, okay? The best sense of the word. You, well-" he buried his face in his hands in embarrassment, just for a moment—"you made me come, okay, didn't you? Therefore it is definitely the best sense of the word."

"Right," James said, awkwardly, after a moment.

"Well then." Richard leaned his head back against the wall. This was too difficult, even for him. He wanted to say what the hell are we playing at? I'm fucking hard just from talking to you, but he couldn't, so he didn't. He should have said what the hell are we playing at? I'm married and I'm fucking straight, but he didn't really believe that anymore, so he couldn't even try. He wanted to explain that he knew now that one of them was the truth whilst one of them only used to be, but although he'd got as far as to understand the distinction, he wasn't yet ready to acknowledge and accept it as read. Instead, he just closed his eyes and rubbed at his face with his hand. "It was the best fucking blow job I've ever had," he said finally, tiredly.

At the other end of the phone, he swore he heard James's voice catch.

"Really?"

"Yeah," Richard said, softly. His voice was low and breathy and barely recognisable as his own; he may be coming to terms with the fact he wasn't as straight as he'd always thought he was, but that didn't mean that he was ready to do this.

It seemed like he wasn't the only one of them who was having trouble accepting the shift in their levels of normalcy. "I-" James started. "Look, Hammond. Richard. Look, this thing. You- this isn't normally me. This isn't what I usually do."

"What?" Richard said, quickly and completely without engaging his brain, "You don't normally get someone hard just by talking to them?"

The silence at the other end of the phone went on for far too long.

"James?" Richard said, finally. "Are you still there?" He was in the middle of wishing he was anywhere in the whole wide world other than trapped in a mess of his own making, walls of ancient Carmagazines hemming him in.

"If I was there with you now," James said eventually, softly, "I'd be kissing you right about now."

Oh God. "Yeah," Richard said, in a low voice, wondering why that only made him harder still. "I'd be kissing you too."

"Do you think we're so rubbish at this because of our age?" James asked, after a moment.

"Speak for yourself, James," Richard said, with a hint of a grin, "You were born middle-aged."

"We grew up with Prog Rock," James went on, seemingly not hearing, "It's not very helpful when it comes to understanding these sorts of things."

"I don't know," Richard said, with a tilt of his head. "I'm fairly sure you grew up with Beethoven, not Prog Rock. And I'll have you know I was a New Romantic. I'm too young for Prog Rock. Anyway, I shouldn't think we're muddling along too badly." He gave in to temptation and touched at his erection with the heel of his hand. He stifled a groan.

"You were a goth," James pointed out, unerringly close to the truth as usual. "I've seen the photos."

"Everybody's seen the photos," Richard said, rubbing gently at his erection with his palm and trying to hide a hitched breath behind a cough.

"Beethoven was thought of as being very progressive for his time," James went on.

"James-" Richard shook his head, adjusting himself through his jeans. He let the car magazine on his knee slide to the floor. He tilted his hips.

"Hammond?" James asked, uncertainly.

"Uh-huh?" Richard undid his top button and gave a sigh of relief at the freedom.

"Are you- I mean." He took a deep breath. "You said you were hard."

"Yeah," Richard said, blushing bright red. He inched down his zip, gently freeing his erection. "I mean, I am."

"Are you-"

"What?"

"You know," James said. "Touching- well. You know. You."

Richard closed his eyes. "Yeah," he said, letting out a deep breath. He was resting uncomfortably with his phone between his shoulder and his ear, and leaning on one hand so he could inch his trousers and his boxers down to his thighs. His cock breathed free. Fucking ridiculous, Richard thought, stupidly turned on. This whole thing.

"Right," James said. "Um- hang on. I've just got to-" he suddenly sounded very far away, and there was an uncomfortable shuffling sound. Richard shook his head and wondered again what they were playing at. "-right. Yes. Okay."

"Are you-?" Richard tailed off. Are you hard? he wanted to ask. Are you touching yourself, right now? He stifled a groan at the thought of James wanking at the other end of the phone, and found himself sliding his thumb across the slit, palm of his hand around the shaft. He swallowed, loudly.

James took a deep breath, voice cracking down the line. "Yes," he said, finally. "God, yes I am. So good-"

"Oh, God," Richard managed, wetting his palm against the slippery head of his cock, closing his fingers back around his erection. His breath hitched, and he wondered haphazardly how he'd got so close to the edge without even noticing. His hand moved quickly, his hips pushing upwards to meet his hand and he groaned into the phone. "Say it again," he said, desperately, "About- about wanting to blow me."

James swallowed loudly, catching his breath. "God, Richard," he started, and his voice caught, "Hammond, I've wanted it for so long-"

Richard's skin burnt, and his hand moved faster-

"I want—I've wanted for ages now—I want to blow you."

- Richard fisted his cock, fast, thumb catching the rhythm and sliding over the slit. His breath hitched in his throat. James's unsteady, hurried breathing down the other end of the phone was doing strange, desperate things to Richard's insides. "Go on," he managed, "please James."

James's voice caught as he gasped for breath, "I just- when I was down on my knees in front of you and you asked me to blow you-"

Richard thought he could hear the echo of his movements down the phone line and his fist tightened around his own erection. Somewhere in the recesses of his brain he knew he shouldn't be doing this—that they shouldn't be doing this—but his cock was doing the thinking and Richard didn't have the energy to try and stop. He was trembling with want. He wasn't sure how long he'd been on the phone, how long he'd been stroking himself to the sound of James's laboured breathing down the other end of the line. "James," he managed, and he wished James was here now so he could see him, laid out in front of him.

"Oh, God," James went on, "I thought I was dreaming, you were so hard, so so hard and your cock-"

Richard jerked himself harder, groaning down the phone, his breathing rushed. He wasn't that far off the edge, the familiar twist of his stomach and the sweat beading across his brow.

"-and I know what it's like," James stopped, panting softly, "I know what it feels like to watch you come, Hammond."

"Fuck-" Richard gasped, heat pooling his belly and his balls tightening. "Christ."

"Ask me again," James said, softly, his breath hitching, movements echoing. "Richard, ask me again."

Richard groaned, head thrown back against the wall, fisting his cock. "Please," he begged, shuddering, "fuck," he went on, and he knew he was so close as to barely make no difference, "if you were here right now I'd want you on your knees sucking my cock," Richard managed, words all rushed together in one hitched breath, "and then I'd want to watch you. I wish I was there watching you-"

"Christ," James moaned, "I'm going to come-"

"Me too-" Richard's fingers twisted and one more movement and then he was coming and he was fucking seeing stars. He found himself staring up at the ceiling, breathing rushed and hot. Somewhere down the other end of the phone line he could heard James breathing heavily. He fisted his cock lazily, easing off the pressure.

He'd dropped the phone onto the September 2000 copy of Autocar. Reaching tiredly for it, he clutched the handset damply in one hand. "James?" he said, after a moment.

"Richard," James said, clearing his throat uncomfortably. "Are you okay?"

"Just dropped the phone," Richard answered. It didn't answer the question but James didn't appear to mind. "You okay?"

He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with a tired hand. Everything was sticky and damp and just a little bit out of his control. His cock lay thickly against his boxers, and for want of a tissue Richard wiped his palm against his jeans, striping come across the denim.

"There have probably been times in my life where I've been more in control," James told him, wryly.

Richard couldn't manage a smile. He wanted to wash his hands, to get in the shower and peel off his sticky clothes and clean himself up. He wanted to turn the photo of his wife to the wall, he wanted put it in a drawer and forget he was ever married. He wanted to sit down and just say it out loud, to say I'm gay and just be done with it.

"Christ," he managed. "Cock."

"That's about the long and the short of it," James said, softly. Richard couldn't raise a grin. He had to get off the phone and he had to do it now. Epiphanies tended to be like buses, they tended to come along in threes and Richard wasn't really up for dealing with anything other than the realisation he was gay.

James coughed.

Richard needed to be on his own. "It's been a long day," he said, finally.

"You're not wrong there," James said, sleepily and more than a little awkwardly. "Shall I see you at work tomorrow?"

Richard swallowed and tried to raise a smile. "Yeah," he said, gently.

"Well then," James went on, "better let you go. I know you've got a lot of things to do before you can go to bed. Those teeth won't whiten themselves."

"Bugger off," Richard said, fondly. He touched at the hem of his t-shirt with trembling fingers. Gay, he thought, gay.

"Bugger off yourself," James told him, softly.

Richard bit his lip and smiled faintly. "Night," he said, quietly.

"Night," James said in reply. He was barely audible down the phone line.

Afterwards, Richard showered until the hot water ran out. As the shock of the cold water first grabbed him, he yelped like a girl and leapt out of the shower, spraying water all over the bathroom floor. Okay, he thought, burying his face in the towel, warm from the airing cupboard, okay. Yeah. He thought he wouldn't be able to sleep, but he must have dozed off as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Part Twelve

The twelfth time left Richard with the feeling that a significant shift had occurred between the two of them, mostly because it happened so soon after the eleventh time. It was the afternoon afterwards, in fact, and whilst Richard had had a reasonable night's sleep, James was looking as if he'd had some trouble drifting off. He'd fallen asleep on the sofa in the portakabin after his first cup of coffee that morning, and Jeremy had had to poke him repeatedly in the arm with his biro before he'd snored himself awake.

They were supposed to have been filming out at a racetrack near Basingstoke, but that had supposedly fallen through at the last minute and they were stuck back at base, twiddling their thumbs whilst the production crew held hasty, last minute meetings behind closed doors.

Jeremy—who never, ever let the production crew hold meetings behind closed doors—was looking decidedly smug, which was another sign that things were going to go from bad to worse for Richard.

According to the remnants of a schedule Richard had found in the kitchen underneath an empty packet of pink wafer biscuits, they were supposed to be liaising with a hot air balloon around lunchtime. As far as Richard had been aware, they were supposed to be test-driving a dragster, so the sudden advent of a hot-air balloon was looking decidedly as if Richard should have checked the wording on his life insurance policy before leaving the flat this morning.

He was trying not to concentrate on the subtle, belated realisation that he wasn't as straight as all his girlfriends and his wife and he himself had always made out. Late the previous night, under the warm spray of the shower, it had all begun to seem relatively straightforward to him, but in the cold light of day when he could think about Mindy and his job and his marriage and their house and the dogs and bizarrely, their furniture, he began to feel like his epiphany had more far reaching consequences than he'd allowed himself to believe the night before.

Richard's day was made steadily worse by James's clumsiness. When tired, James tended to trip over things and break mugs and drop paperwork and forget to do his shoelaces up. It was only when Jeremy brandished a finalised copy of the day's filming schedule in front of him that Richard began to realise that James's clumsiness could mean death to them both that he began to truly worry.

He was fairly sure he would have remembered a production meeting where they'd decided that James and Richard were going to go up in a hot air balloon, but when he pointed that out to Jeremy, Jeremy merely grunted and muttered something about that being the day Richard had been dispatched to the nearest shop for a five pack of Smarties and twelve cans of Coke.

- People tended to think that Top Gear was a smooth running, professional set up. They were wrong. They were very wrong.

Richard particularly liked the part of the plan where Jeremy wasn't actually going to be in the hot air balloon dying alongside him and James (perfect, he thought, a confined space), he was going to be in the pub, having ostensibly driven a Smart car through city centre rush hour traffic. Richard knew that Jeremy was going to win, he was going to win so clearly that Richard wasn't even sure why they were even doing this stupid challenge. Jeremy was going to spend the evening in the pub and Richard was going to spend it leaning perilously close to death in a balloon with James May. Who, incidentally, he was trying not to make eye contact with.

It wasn't particularly difficult as James was pretending to be Mr. Awkward anyway, and had been ever since he'd pulled into the car park in his Bentley earlier on. It was a nice enough morning, fresh and bright despite the cold. Richard was stood outside, having a cigarette with Andy and bonding over a cracked mug of steaming tea.

"Decided to go upmarket today, May?" Andy asked, nodding towards the Bentley as James climbed out.

"Thought I'd give the old girl a run," James said, patting the side of his car and letting his gaze flit awkwardly towards Richard for a moment.

Richard smiled uncomfortably, raising his mug in a gesture which could have meant hello if James happened to be fluent in Richard-speak.

James had just nodded, mumbling something about going to get some tea and see Sophia, and by the time Richard had faffed around outside and had another couple of cigarettes and spelt outcock in the mud on Jeremy's back window, James had fallen asleep inside the portakabin and was busy dribbling on his collar.

"Crikey," Jeremy said, as they clambered inside and noticed James's snores. "He's finally turned into a mentalist. Look at him, he's dribbling."

"Wake him up," Richard said, trying to separate the James May he'd worked with for years from the James May who whispered in his ear and made him come. It barely worked and he shivered in anticipation of who knows what. "Give him a prod."

"I'm not touching him," Jeremy maintained, "I don't know where he's been." He looked round. "See if you can find a ruler, something to give us a bit of distance."

Richard looked around, trying not to think about the muffled sounds of James bringing himself off the night before. "No ruler," he managed, spotting a pen on the counter. "Got a biro though."

"Right then," Jeremy said, edging around the table and leaning over to poke James in the arm with the nib of his pen. "Ja-ames," he whispered, grinning back at Richard, "time to wake up-"

James swatted sleepily at the pen, grumbling under his breath and not bothering to open his eyes.

Jeremy, laughing, poked him again. "Wakey wakey," he said, prodding him for the third time.

James opened his eyes, pushing Jeremy's pen away. "Bastard," he said, although it had no heat in it. "You too, Hammond, sneaking up on a chap whilst he's resting his eyes."

"You weren't resting your eyes, you dozy old man, you were sleeping." Jeremy told him exasperatedly, poking him again with the tip of his biro for good measure.

"Was not," James told him, straightening his shoulders and swatting Jeremy away.

"James, you were snoring," Richard pointed out.

"Okay," James admitted, without taking his eyes off Richard, "I might have dropped off for a moment."

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "James, you were snoring for twenty minutes. Fighter planes could have scrambled directly above us and you wouldn't have woken up. Environmentalists could have stormed the place and you would have woken up afterwards and asked if anyone was making a cup of tea."

"Probably would have had to have it with bloody soya milk though, if the environmentalists were in charge." James pointed out, good-naturedly.

Jeremy grinned and Richard shook his head and then the production meeting broke up and Jeremy was back looking smug and self-satisfied and Richard was back to worrying whether he'd still be alive that night or not. Shaking his head, he went to raise his concerns with Andy and hope there was some sort of get out clause he hadn't thought of yet.

There wasn't, and Richard tried to ignore the aura of smugness that was coming off Jeremy in waves.

Richard stumbled across James half an hour later in his caravan. He was reading the telegraph and attempting the crossword whilst cupping the remains of a mug of tea.

"Hi," Richard said, awkwardly. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, discomfited.

"Hullo," James said. He blinked, slowly, and made to move the newspaper supplements of the seat beside him and onto the coffee table. "Sit down," he said, making room.

"Okay," Richard nodded, sitting down and flicking through the business section without reading it.

Jeremy followed Richard in, sweeping the newspapers off the table and onto the floor, sinking down on the curve of the sofa and putting his feet up where the newspapers had been. "Fucking awful day out there," Jeremy said, loudly. "Weather's got a face on it like Piers Morgan's slapped arse. Wouldn't like to be in the sky today, boys."

"Bugger off, Jezza," James said, putting down his crossword. "You've got to spend a couple of hours folded into a Smart car. You'll come out two foot shorter. You'll have to chop off an arm and leave it in Chiswick just to fit in."

"Oh no," Jeremy said, rolling his eyes. "Imagine my discomfort, cramped inside a car. I'd much rather be buffeted around like a fart in a force nine gale, like you two." He peered out of the window. "Do you think it looks like rain?"

Richard raised an eyebrow. "You hate the Smart car," he pointed out, quite reasonably. "It's got a top speed of 84 miles per hour."

"And," James pointed out with a hint of a grin, "a mighty 74 brake horse power."

"Three whole mighty cylinders of power," Richard said, dreamily. "Think of that."

Jeremy rubbed his hands together in ill-disguised glee. "You're both going to fall out of the sky."

"At least we're not going on the motorway in a car the size of most people's front wheels," James told him, picking up his newspaper again. "You'll be dead by the time you get off the slip road."

Jeremy was unfazed. "You're both going to die," he told them, happily.

"If someone crashes into you," James went on, "you're going to end up crumpled into a space the size of a can of spam."

Richard rolled his eyes, bored of the conversation. Crumpling up the business section, he lobbed it at Jeremy's head, catching him in the middle of the forehead. Richard wondered maliciously if it would bruise.

Jeremy waggled two fingers in Richard's direction with a grin. "Anyway, boys, I'm off to film my opening. Hope you've remembered to bring your thermals. Would hate your knobs to freeze and fall off." He stood up, patting his pockets for the remainder of his packet of cigarettes. "Any special requests for things you want playing at your funerals?"

"Jeremy Clarkson is a cock," James said, not looking up from his paper. "Ask Elton John, he'd probably set it to music."

"You're going to fall out of the sky," Jeremy taunted, letting the door slam behind him.

"I hate hot air balloons," Richard grumbled, after making sure Jeremy was well out of earshot. "We'll have to get him back for this. Make it good."

James bit the end of his pen in concentration. "How about getting him fired out of a cannon at a circus? I'm sure we could set it up so we forget to put up the safety net."

"Not funny enough," Richard said, peering out of the window to where Jeremy was sharing cigarettes with Andy and Sophia a couple of hundred yards down the track. "We need something to really and truly make him pay."

"I'd like to see him run more," James said decisively. "He does run like a penguin, after all."

Richard snorted. "Let's send him on some sort of army training camp, perhaps. Pretend he's going there to drive the jeeps, leave him there like Goldie Hawn in that film-"

"-Private Benjamin-" James interjected.

"-Yes, that's right, like in Private Benjamin. Maybe some people with moustaches could shout at him. I'd like that."

James raised an eyebrow. "It's beginning to sound a bit like a performance by the Village People, Hammond."

"Sounds better and better. We'll have to suggest it to Andy." Richard leaned his head back against the back of the sofa and tapped his fingers against his knee. He wanted to bring up last night, just to check it had happened and that Richard hadn't dreamt his one and only attempt at phone sex and he hadn't fallen asleep in the midst of fifteen years of Car magazine and imagined the whole thing.

James wasn't looking at him. He carefully folded his newspaper into four before leaning over and drinking the last dregs of his tea. Putting his empty mug down on the coffee table, he wiped his palms against his jeans, leaned over and pressed the quickest of kisses to the corner of Richard's mouth.

"James?" Richard asked, sitting up, eyes wide. "What was that-"

James cleared his throat awkwardly. "I just. Well." He tapped his foot awkwardly against the carpet and looked down at the floor. Anywhere, it seemed to Richard, apart from at him. "If we aregoing to fall out of the sky," James went on, "I didn't want to do it without kissing you first."

"You've gone red." Richard pointed out, quietly. His fingers curled around the edge of the sofa cushion. It wasn't as if what he and James got up to was defined by any real or standard barrier of normalcy, but sometimes James said things that made his stomach curl up in pleasure.

James cleared his throat again. "I might have," James admitted, blushing more. He unfolded his paper and folded it up again.

Richard swallowed, thinking back to how James had looked, exhausted and asleep on the settee in the portakabin earlier. Leaning over, he took the paper out of James's hands and dropped it on the table. "Let me get this straight," he said softly, leaning in, "what you're saying is that if you were going to fall out of the sky today you'd be satisfied with that kiss?" He ran his fingers through his hair, vaguely aware that someone could walk in on them any second. He stopped himself from touching the back of James's hands with his own.

"It wasn't a bad kiss," James told him.

"It was over pretty soon though, don't you think?" Richard said, standing up and locking the door to the caravan. Coming back, he sat back down on the sofa, pressing his knee up against James's. "I mean, we could have done better."

James nodded, ever so slowly. He pressed back against Richard's knee with his own. "Yes," he said, his palm touching Richard's thigh, "I agree. It could have been better."

"Exactly what I was thinking," Richard told him, softly. Leaning in, he nudged James's nose with his own. "Let's do better," he said again, meeting James's eyes.

"Okay," James said, breath warm and fuzzy against Richard's mouth.

Richard closed the distance between the two of them, nudging forward and kissing James. He licked at James's mouth, tempting it open beneath his tongue. James kissed him back, slowly at first, leaning upwards and letting his hands rest on Richard's waist, under Richard's jumper and his t-shirt until he found hot, sensitive skin beneath his palms and Richard shivered.

Richard may have been worried about what realising he was somewhat less than straight (gay, he thought, and shuffled uncomfortably on the couch) might mean in the long run, but the truth of the matter was, this was what he had been wanting ever since he'd started speaking to James on the phone last night. He didn't want to think about life changes or his responsibilities or what it meant for him and Mindy. He couldn't, it was too difficult and too hard and he didn't know the answers to any of the questions he had to ask himself. He knew he'd have to one day soon—he loved Mindy too much to lead her on any longer than he had to, and James- well. He knew he wanted to touch him, to taste him and nudge him and kiss him. He wanted to know what it was like to be with a man. He shivered, despite himself.

James nudged him until Richard was kneeling over and above him, hands in James's hair and fingers cupping his face and then kissing him to make up for not being able to do it the night before. Richard's burgeoning erection was pushing up against James's chest, James leaning up to meet Richard's mouth above him. James's hands slid down to smooth a vaguely familiar pathway down and over his arse.

"This is better, don't you think?" Richard asked, breathless, a moment later, pulling away. James's fingers were wandering stealthily across Richard's jean-clad arse again, nudging him gently in the crease. Richard hissed in a breath.

"I don't know," James said, his voice low. "I think we can still do better." His hands were moving again, under the hem of Richard's jumper again and tracing a pattern in the sensitive hollow of Richard's back.

"Yeah?" Richard murmured, his nose rubbing against James's. He pushed forward, pressing his erection hard against James's stomach. "Do you think?"

James groaned against Richard's mouth, the soft fuzz of words lost against Richard's tongue. It tickled, and Richard shivered.

"Last night," Richard went on, forgetting that he hadn't wanted to talk about last night, not yet at least—"God, I wanted to watch you." he licked softly at the corner of James's mouth.

James still beneath him. "Watch me?" he asked, his eyes bright.

"Yeah," Richard told him, swallowing thickly and running his thumb down James's cheek. "I wanted to watch you."

"You did-?" he asked hoarsely, pressing upwards against Richard.

"Yeah," Richard said again, his voice tight. "So much."

James's hand stilled against Richard's back, thumb pressing into the curve of his back. "You wanted to watch me?" he asked, somewhat incredulously.

"Yeah, yes," Richard told him, repeating himself somewhat unnecessarily and kissing James's jaw. He wanted to tell him I wanted to see you come, but he couldn't quite find the words. He sort of thought about settling for I wanted to see you touch yourself but he couldn't quite manage that either, so he settled for nudging at James's mouth with his own and kissing him.

James hitched a breath beneath him, his erection pressed tight and hard up against Richard's thigh. "You did?" he asked, and Richard couldn't help but push back.

He thought, I did this, and maybe that was all it needed because James's breath was hot against his throat and Richard leaned in and whispered, "I wanted to see you come."

James's hips bucked. "Christ," he groaned, his fingers tightening around Richard's biceps.

Richard slid his hand up James's jumper, palm first, pressing against the skin. James's heart was beating like a drum, faint and fast under his hand. Richard's breath stuttered. "I want to see you do it now," he managed, mouth hot against the underside of James's jaw. He nudged at James's nose again, and kissed him. He breathed against James's mouth, cupping his face with his hand. "Will you?" he asked, his voice dark. Richard didn't know he could sound like that, and his breath caught in his throat at the realisation. He could have been waiting to hear that his whole life. "Will you?" he said again. "I want to see you come."

"You want me to-" James burned bright red. He tried to look away but Richard touched James's face with his hands, thumbs against his temples. Leaning in, he licked at James's bottom lip again, catching his mouth in a kiss.

"Yes," Richard told him, decisively. He moved his hand until it was pressing against the top button of James's fly. "God, yeah," he said. "I want you to do it. I want you to do it. Wank-" he blushed at the thought, "Touch yourself. Like you were last night. Will you? For me?" Richard's breathing hitched, his whole body hot.

James shifted beneath him, not meeting Richard's gaze.

Richard touched at James's erection. The air around them burnt at the edges.

"James," Richard breathed, softly. "Please."

Richard watched with bated breath as James slowly moved, reaching between the two of them to undo his fly. James looked at him, licking his lips nervously as he undid the top button. He swallowed as Richard's fingers grazed James's momentarily as he shifted to give James some more room.

James undid his fly with shaking fingers, nudging himself up and off the couch so he could pull down his jeans and boxers down to his thighs. Richard struggled for breath, sitting down uncomfortably sideways on the sofa next to James. Struggling to breathe normally under the pressure of James undoing his trousers in front of him, he reached for James, pulling him back down, pulling him closer. James sat down heavily, jeans and pants down by his knees, cock bouncing.

A stupider sight Richard should hardly have been able to think of, James May half naked with his cock out in a caravan, but the truth was that now he was faced with it—with the reality of it beingJames—it turned out not to be stupid at all. In fact, Richard thought, his fingers clutching desperately at James's jeans, his hand trembling, the sight of James spread out like this was just too much for him to comprehend. "James," he managed, his voice catching. "God."

James gazed at him for one long moment, eyes dark. His hand hovered over his erection, wavering, and Richard blinked. James's hand closed around his hard cock, thumb sweeping the tip. His hand twisted, one long stroke. He stopped looking at Richard and concentrated—seemingly—on the movement of his own hand.

Richard's own erection pulsed. "This is-" he stopped, realising James was still looking anywhere but at him as his fingers worked at his cock: long, slow strokes with a practiced twist of his wrist. Richard leaned in, pressing his mouth to the corner of James's jaw. "This is what I wanted to see last night," he said quietly, whispering in James's ear. "I could hear you, but I wanted to see you." he swallowed. "I wanted you to see me watching."

James's breath caught and he finally met Richard's gaze. His eyes were dark and hot.

"I thought about you watching me too," Richard went on, in the same low voice. He was blushing red hot and staring down at James's fingers, encircling and twisting. James was bringing himself off right in front of him and it was almost too much for him to take in. "But this-" he told James, struggling for breath again, "you," he pressed his fingers into James's thigh, just for a moment. "Fuck," he said, softly, partly because he didn't know what else to say but mostly because James had just stroked his thumb across the head of his cock and then licked it.

Richard was stupidly, unbelievably hard and he hadn't even undone his trousers. His erection was uncomfortable against his fly, his boxers damp where his cock rubbed against the cotton. "I wanted you to watch me," Richard went on, finally, breath hot against James's ear. "I wanted you to watch me come."

"Hammond," James groaned, his hand moving faster and faster along the length of his erection. "Richard-"

Richard sucked in a breath as James's thigh brushed his cock. Unable to help himself, he pressed back.

"Richard-" James said again, his voice strained.

Richard didn't know what to do with his hands; he could only watch as James continued to bring himself off in front of him, fingers sweeping quickly in short, hard strokes. Richard struggled for breath in the hot, airless space and he was close to coming himself, the pressure building in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't hold out any longer and he pressed the heel of his hand to his erection, cupping his cock through his jeans. "James," he gasped, rubbing at his erection. James was watching him, dark eyed and desperate and with heavy breaths as he neared the edge.

"Touch me," James asked, with gasping breaths. His forehead was damp with sweat and Richard could feel the sheen of exertion on his own skin. He closed his hand awkwardly around James's cock, unable to match James's staccato rhythm. It didn't matter too much because it seemed only moments until James was coming, hot pulses of fluid that covered Richard's palm and James's thigh and Richard's jeans. Richard couldn't find words—or emotions—to describe it, and he buried his face in James's neck as he came himself, hot and desperate and struggling for breath.

His boxers stuck to him uncomfortably and damply.

James nudged him and without stopping even to meet Richard's gaze, pressed his mouth to Richard's, kissing him. Richard kissed back, open mouthed and wet and messy and hot. It seemed to be all that Richard could do not to come all over again, his cock aching with the pressure.

Finally, struggling for breath, Richard pulled away and sank back against the couch. "I think that was more like it," he said, ruefully, eyeing the telltale wet patch on the crotch of his jeans and the splashes across his thighs. He didn't meet James's eyes. "I think if we're going to die in a balloon fiasco then that was the kind of last kiss to have."

James had his head back, resting gently against the wall. He was half-heartedly wiping himself down awkwardly with a large, pale blue handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans. "Yes," he agreed, nodding quietly. He was still red-faced and Richard couldn't tell whether it was from exertion or embarrassment or maybe a mixture of both.

"Have you ever-" Richard shrugged, uncomfortably, "-done that before?" He waved a hand awkwardly between the two of them, back to being unable to say what it was he meant. "You know."

James shrugged uncomfortably, and edged himself off the couch so he could pull his boxers up and over his softening cock, doing the fly up on his jeans and wiping his hands. "No," he admitted, after a moment, without looking at Richard. "I haven't."

"Me neither," Richard told him, nodding. "But-" he stopped. "It was good." He meant fantastic. He meant amazing. He said good.

James met his gaze for a moment. "Yes," he agreed, gruffly. "It was."

"So." Richard said, after a minute when the silence began to get awkward. He eyed his damp, stained jeans miserably. "My spare jeans are in the car," he told James, trying to cover up the fact that he still felt unsettled, "I'm just going to have to make a run for it across the car park and hope no one notices I've got spunk down the front of my jeans."

James's breath hitched and he couldn't help but stare. "Yes," he said, abstractedly, eyes fixed on the damp patch on Richard's jeans.

Richard blushed, shifting in his seat uncomfortably.

James shook his head, clearly trying to right himself. His attention was obviously elsewhere and Richard didn't know whether that was a good thing or not. "Hammond," James said, obviously concentrating on not staring at Richard's cock, which Richard took to be a very good thing, "You-"

Richard raised his eyebrows. "What?"

"Well," James said. "I suppose you could just try and sponge it off. "

"Then I'd just look like I'd wet myself," Richard pointed out, wondering when his morning jumped from the sublime to the ridiculous. He thought that perhaps it had been about the time that he had first spotted the schedule with the ominous wording Hammond: Hot Air Balloon, but with hindsight he should have known that things were going to go strangely today right from the moment he'd undone his flies the night before and masturbated down the phone to the sound of James doing the same. "Can you imagine what Jezza would say if he saw that?"

James shrugged uneasily. "Probably better than what he'd say if he thought you'd been wanking in your caravan. And probably a whole lot better than if he knew what you'd really been up to."

Richard blushed uncomfortably. "I'll just nick your newspaper and use it as some kind of shield, then," he said, reaching for the paper from where it had fallen on the floor. There was a footprint across page 5.

"I don't think so," James said, with an attempt at a grin. "I haven't finished the crossword yet. I like doing the crossword."

Richard rolled his eyes. "This is a state of emergency, May. Take the page with the crossword out and give me the rest. I'll even buy you a new one if you grumble loudly enough."

James shook his head. "The things I do for you," he said, unfolding his Telegraph and trying to slide out the page with the crossword on it. Richard had to help in the end before James managed to upend the entire paper all over the floor. Left to his own devices, Richard would accidentally have grown old and died before James had got the pages back in the right order.

"Give me that," Richard said impatiently, holding his hand out.

James tried to smile. "Go on," he said, "scoot. I need to get changed myself."

Richard smiled uncertainly. "Okay. Oh, and James?" he unlocked the door with a solid click.

James looked up from his crossword. "Yes?"

"You might want to open a window. For some reason your caravan smells like spunk."

"Get out, Hammond."

Richard grinned, kissed James on the corner of his mouth and made a run for it across the car park, holding James's newspaper like a shield across his crotch.

Part Thirteen

The thirteenth time really was an accident.

Richard had issued the invitation in the morning, when they'd all collapsed lazily onto the sofas in the portakabin and stared up at the ceiling. He'd said: Fancy coming for a drink after work today? He definitely didn't plan on it becoming the thirteenth time—mostly because he'd invited Jeremy too, and if there was one thing Richard was certain of in his life it was that his less-than-straightness didn't extend out to Clarkson.

It had been a week of slightly awkward glances and vague attempts at not being alone in the same room together for him and James. It had helped that they hadn't died in a horrific hot air balloon related accident, although having James nearly knock Richard overboard had resulted in Richard refusing to speak to James for at least half an hour. They hadn't had much filming to do that week so Richard had spent much of the week at home in the country, walking the dogs and arranging the collection of his new (old) motorbike from somewhere in Staffordshire. Richard was going to live by a new set of rules, he told himself, that included a) not going on ebay after he'd had more than two drinks, and b) not reading Autotrader under the same conditions. On more than one occasion he'd woken up in the morning to find a car circled in red pen on page 53, and a message on his voicemail from a slightly concerned car owner asking when the drunken man from the night before was going to come and pick up his new Honda Civic or 1967 motorbike or 1983 pink and white Landrover. Usually, though, he had James to blame for egging him on to new and uncharted heights of shopping, and although Richard maintained that the whole thing was an elaborate plan on James's part to extend the rules of Airport Shopping Lounge Dare to a more homely setting, he had to admit that his purchases this week had been entirely his own fault.

He also had to admit that he missed James's participation in said late-night purchases, and he was determined to get his friendship back. They might have had a few furtive encounters in caravans or in cars but that didn't mean they had to stop doing what they'd always done—daring each other to buy scuba diving equipment or copies of Jeremy's videos from 1998 or old motorbikes. Richard was determined to get the old momentum back.

So his invitation out for a drink after work was just that—an invitation for drinks—and he'd scuppered any possibility for it being anything more than that by ensuring that Clarkson would come too. He'd asked Jeremy first, casually suggesting it to James at the same time. James wasn't one to refuse a trip to the pub (Richard wasn't sure that he'd ever heard James turn down an invitation for a drink) and he wasn't likely to refuse if he knew Jeremy was going too. Richard wasn't sure if James was looking for an excuse not to spend time alone with Richard, but then Richard wasn't sure of anything anymore so he thought he'd better prepare for all eventualities.

Jeremy yawned. "Sure," he said, "Count me in."

James glanced at Jeremy and then at Richard. Richard couldn't read his expression. "Yes," he said—and Richard thought that maybe he sounded uncertain—"Me too."

"Oh, shit, I can't." Jeremy shook his head glumly, stubbing his cigarette out in the foil ash tray on the plastic patio table Sophia liked to refer to as a coffee table. "Parents' Evening."

James, looking puzzled, fiddled with a button on his shirt. "I thought you liked parents' evenings," he said eventually, confused. "Isn't that what you've always said? Chance to tell the teachers where they're going wrong, check out what the other dads are driving and to tell them where they're going wrong? Put the wind up them all, isn't that what you always say?"

Jeremy coughed awkwardly, drinking down the dregs of his cup of tea and scribbling something in the margin of his production script. "Not this time."

Richard raised an eyebrow. "Is this something to do with Francie?" he asked, stifling a grin. "Has she told you off after last time?"

"Oh," James laughed, "Has she told you you're not allowed to shout at the teachers anymore?" He shot a sidelong glance at Richard, who grinned back.

"Did she shout at you?" Richard asked, patting Jeremy's shoulder. "You can tell us."

"We won't laugh," James told him. Laughing.

"Bugger off," Jeremy said, grumpily lighting another cigarette.

"She did!" Richard grinned, laughing. "Go on, tell us what she said."

James snorted. "Is this because you shouted at the teacher last time?"

"And almost punched that dad after he told you people carriers were the way forward?"

"I didn't almost punch him, I almost throttled him," Jeremy told them, finishing off his cup of tea cantankerously. "He was doing it on purpose. He didn't own an Espace, he had a Porsche Cayenne. He deserved it, that's a heap of junk."

Richard grinned. "You made the teacher cry, Clarkson."

"He said the Boy Child was obnoxious."

James narrowed his eyes. "He's your son, Jeremy. That's a given."

"That didn't mean you could criticise his clothes. Or his haircut." Richard pointed out, grinning.

"He had a bad haircut."

"You have a bad haircut." James told him.

Jeremy snorted. "Says you, Spaniel-hair."

"At least I'm not balding," James pointed out. Jeremy glowered.

Richard grinned, smugly, and patted his own hair which was neither receding nor made him look like a spaniel.

"At least we haven't had our teeth whitened," James and Jeremy pointed out. In unison.

Richard kicked them both.

"It's true," Jeremy told him. "If we've got you with us at night, we don't need to use headlights."

"We can just use the glare off your teeth to light the way," James said.

"For the last time," Richard grimaced, "I haven't had my teeth whitened." He rose to the bait every single time.

"Well," Jeremy said, "At least I'm not a hamster with shiny white teeth."

James laughed.

"-or," Jeremy continued, "a long-haired, badly dressed spaniel like you."

Richard busied himself flicking through his script and James rolled his eyes.

 

Richard was waiting for James in the car park after they'd finished for the day, determined to behave like nothing had happened between the two of them and to let things go back to the way they'd been before they'd accidentally started to make each other come. Things had been heading towards good between him and Mindy this week, he'd remembered how much fun they could have and how she made him laugh and what she smelt like when she came out of the shower. This thing that was going on inside of him, the twist in his stomach and the way his brain was rebelling by trying to explain away all the major romantic moments of his life away as under-achieving—he was sick of listening to it. He wanted things to go back to the way they were. He wanted to stop questioning his sexuality and to stop kissing James and to stop questioning how he felt about him. He wanted everything to be normal again, and he was determined.

"Follow me to the pub, will you?" Richard said, nonchalantly waving his car keys in the air. He was leaning up against his car, watching James who was awkwardly stood in the car park, hands in his pockets, looking up at the sky.

"It's going to rain," he told Richard.

Richard shook his head and stuck his fingers in his ears. "I can't hear you," he told James, "I'm not listening." He unlocked the door of his Landrover, shaking his head. "All afternoon I've been looking forward to sitting in the beer garden and having a pint, and nothing you can say will ruin that. You, May, are not going to make it rain."

"Trust me," James said, wandering over. "Look at the sky. It's going to rain."

"Still not listening," Richard said, climbing into his car and waiting impatiently for James to get into his, parked alongside. "You're a harbinger of Doom, May, and I'm not listening to anything you say." Closing the door, he wound down the window. "And if I'd known you'd brought the Panda," he told James, "I might have changed my mind. Don't follow me after all. People might think I know you or something."

"Sod off," James said, good-naturedly, adjusting his rear view mirror and sticking two fingers across at Jeremy, who was climbing into his borrowed Jaguar on his way to the Parents' Evening. "Let's just see if we can get to the pub before it pours down."

"Doom, doom," Richard told him. "You are a gloomy bringer of doom."

It started to rain before they were a mile down the road, but that still didn't explain how they ended up parked in a lay-by fifteen miles away from Dunsfold, in the opposite direction from their standard local. Richard had led the way down what may have passed for a B road at some point in the 1970s, but it was fairly obvious that virtually no maintenance had occurred since then, so Richard was watching James in his rear view mirror, bouncing up and down in his Panda.

James may shout the benefits of the Panda as a Town Car, but suspension outside of cities was not the Panda's greatest selling point and James was mouthing obscenities at him, waving two fingers up at him as he ricocheted off yet another pot hole.

When it got to the point where Richard was laughing too much to drive in a straight line and James was flashing his lights and waving a fist in Richard's general direction, Richard did the gentlemanly thing and pulled over by the side of the road in the first lay-by he came across. He ignored James shaking his head and beckoning Richard back. Instead, he rooted through his pockets looking for a tissue, and blew his nose.

James had been right about the weather (he usually was, in an Eeyore sort of way) and it was pouring with rain and Richard wasn't exactly prepared. He didn't have a coat or a hoodie with him so when he finally braved the weather and opened the car door, he had nothing with which to cover his head so he ended up sacrificing his AA road map for the greater good, opening it up to the middle pages (Nuneaton). He held it up over his head as he ran back through the mud to James's car, tugging on the door handle. He could have picked a better place to park, he told himself, one that wasn't already a lake of mud ready to emerge at the first sign of rain. He also could have picked a better friend, one who hadn't genially locked the door as soon as he saw Richard braving the rain.

James had his own particular brand of evilness. He was waving at Richard gently from inside the car, flicking through the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and utterly failing to unlock the passenger door. Richard - who was rapidly becoming soaked through and beginning to be covered in bits of wilting AA road map (Birmingham had just slid past the end of his nose)—and who had mud up past the ankles of his new jeans—jumped up and down in frustration. "Come on, you fucker," he shouted, banging on the window. "Let me in."

James wound down the window a couple of centimetres. "I think you mean let me into your beautiful Fiat Panda, haven from the elements, and I promise never to make fun of it again, don't you Hammond?"

"Fine," Richard nodded desperately, torrential rain running down his forehead and a bit more of the Birmingham map sticking to the end of his nose. "Let me into your Beautiful Fiat Panda and Ipromise I won't make fun of it anymore and I'll look on it as a haven and I definitely won't say that only pensioners buy this car."

"That'll do," James grinned, shrugging his shoulders, leaning over and clicking open the door.

Richard clambered in, shaking his head like a big wet dog, leaving bits of wilting road map in James's immaculate foot well and ensuring that James got rain all down his nose.

"So," Richard said, clapping his hands together and trying to wipe them dry on James's upholstery and secretly planning to make sure James ended up buying the most ridiculous heap of junk on ebay next time they were in front of the computer, "Why did you drag me all the way back here in the rain when I could be in my own Landrover on the way to the pub-"

James leaned over, took Richard's face none-so-gently in his hands and kissed him. "Don't you ever shut up, Hammond?" he asked fondly, pulling away.

Richard swallowed down a breath. He was an idiot, a complete idiot. He'd tried to persuade himself that what he was doing with James was something that he could just turn off, something he could just push to one side and forget about. He'd come out this evening unprepared for what might happen once thy were on their own. "Um," he managed, wondering how he was going to saywe need to stop this.

James grinned good naturedly. "Good enough," he said, leaning in and licking at Richard's bottom lip. "I was going to say we needed to pick a new pub, considering you're going in exactly the wrong direction for anything that's going to serve me something I want to drink," he nodded towards his battered and well-read copy of the Good Beer Guide, "but then-" he stopped, and dropped his eyes. His thumb stroked gently at Richard's cheek.

Richard thought abstractedly that James was likely to be the sort of man who wrote notes in the margins of his beer guide. He couldn't bring himself to check, stilled by the soft imprint of James's thumb against his rain-wet face. He found himself leaning into James's hand, and the dark, incessant need that pulsed somewhere deep inside his belly raised its tired head. He should stop this. He wanted to stop this. He wanted to stop feeling like this, he wanted to put down the feeling that he'd been getting things wrong all these years, missing out on something that was turning out to be blindingly obvious. He didn't want to be anything other than straight. He didn't want to be anything other than married. He wanted to want to go back home and spend the evening with his wife and dogs, drinking wine and watching telly and sprawling out on the sofa. He wanted to text James and wind Jeremy up and book a holiday in the sun with Mindy. He wanted a second—no, a third, scratch that, a fourth—opinion from a doctor as to why they couldn't have children. He wanted it all.

Somewhere, deep down inside of him, he knew he didn't want any of that. He just wanted to want it. He wanted that more than anything.

James was still touching his face, watching him intently.

"Hammond?" he said, softly.

Richard thought about how he was in his mid-thirties and how it was possible that the most meaningful sexual experience of his whole life was coming from a man with hair like a shaggy dog and the dress sense of a blind man and all the speed of a snail nailed to the floor. He thought about what it felt like when James kissed him, what it felt like to come because of another man.

Richard licked his lips, leaned in and pressed his mouth to James's. He cupped James's head, hands closing in over James's, his thumb grazing James's ear. "May," he said, quietly. This hadn't been his intention when he'd set off. He was planning on dragging James to some theme bar he'd hate, merely for the entertainment of seeing James grumble to himself all night about the décor and the lighting and the terrible range of drinks. His nose was cold and wet from being out in the rain.

He kissed James softly, tasting beneath the kiss the sugary sweet remnant taste of American Hard Gums. He found himself remembering the taste of James like this at odd points of the day and night, waking up with the sound of his alarm and the taste of James on his tongue.

"I didn't mean-" James said, confusedly, pulling away after a moment. "I thought-" He stopped.

Richard sat back in his seat, shuffling to get himself comfortable. He hadn't been out in the rain long but it really had been a downpour and damp jeans were never fun at the best of times. "I know," he said finally, and he did, whatever they were talking about. "Me too." He thought about what it would be to give this up, this feeling when he kissed another man. Whether or not that man was James or not, it wasn't something he could walk away from, no matter how much he wanted to. "What do you think sex in a Fiat's like?" he asked, before he could help himself. His skin itched.

James flushed. "Less roomy than sex in a Landrover?" he shrugged. His hand closed awkwardly around the steering wheel.

Richard sighed. He was used to asking questions of cars, although perhaps this wasn't the sort of segment they could feature on Top Gear. He touched the dashboard with damp fingers, with a hot palm. Emergency Stop. He took a deep breath. "I didn't invite you out for this," he said, finally. "I thought that maybe-" he stopped. "I thought that we could go back to the way things were. Before. Well. Before everything."

"Oh," James said quietly, with a barely recognisable sigh.

Richard's stomach twisted, painfully.

"Oh," James said again. He turned to look out of the window into the driving rain, and again, Richard felt something pull in his stomach.

"We never talked about this," Richard said desperately. "I mean, I just don't know what's going on-"

James was still looking out of the window. Richard twisted in his seat. He tapped his fingers awkwardly against the dashboard. He could taste the faded remnants of American Hard Gums and he itched to touch James. He thought about what it was that he'd realised—that he was decidedly less than straight—that he was more than merely inclining towards gay - that he was gay, if he could only start being honest with himself, and he coughed. Gay.

"I mean," Richard said, awkwardly. "You know that this isn't what I planned. Not for today."

James stopped him. "I know," he said quietly. "I know."

Richard touched his mouth, rubbing at his chin.

He wanted it all to stop. He wanted to stop fighting all the time.

"I think about you, you know," he said, finally. His fingers curled into his jeans.

"What?" James asked, surprised.

Richard's skin itched. "I can't stop thinking about you," he admitted, after a long moment. "I want you," he said, softly. "I don't want this-" he waved a hand between the two of them, Richard-speak for something heading towards a relationship, "- I don't want this to end. I was stupid to think I could just forget about it." His words were falling over one another as he blushed bright red, fingers trembling against his thigh. He wanted to run. "I want you," he said quickly. James wasn't looking at him. Still. He touched James's sweater tentatively, fingers curling into the wool. "Did you hear me?"

"I heard you," James said, after a moment. He touched his mouth with his hand, pressing one finger against the window. "I heard you," he repeated, softer this time. He didn't move.

"Well?" Richard asked, clutching awkwardly at James's jumper.

James shrugged, rubbing tiredly at his forehead. "I didn't set out wanting any of this to happen," he told Richard. For a second he looked every one of his forty-something years, and Richard sighed. "I don't know how to play by these sorts of rules," James went on, "I didn't get here by design. I don't do this, you know."

Richard shook his head. "Me neither," he said, sighing again. "This isn't something I do, either. I've not done this before." He didn't know whether James meant having an affair or sleeping with another man or something else entirely, but he was inclined towards ruling out sleeping with other men considering just how good James was at the whole blow job thing. "I haven't done this before," he said again, and he meant everything from cheating to men to James to sex in a Fiat.

James twisted in his seat, leaning over and playing with the radio. He turned it on, trying to find a good signal.

Richard touched James's cheek with his thumb. "It's okay," he said, stupidly, since it clearly wasn't. It was just another one of those lies he kept telling himself, just another one to add to the pile.

"I know," James told him, clearly subscribing to the same moral authority. He sat back in his seat, leaving them listening to some station which may or may not have been music for middle aged people masquerading as magic or similar.

Richard touched at James's sleeve, leaned over and kissed him.

James kissed back, dark and heavy. Richard found himself still searching for that elusive taste of sweets under it all, but all traces had disappeared.

"Do we have to have sex in the Panda?" Richard asked, a couple of minutes later. He touched at his reddened mouth with the pad of his thumb. "If Jeremy ever found out I'd had sex in a Panda, he'd never let me hear the end of it-"

James blanched, shaking his head. "Jeremy's never finding out. Never, ever. Plus, you know, we have to stop talking about Jeremy. I can't perform if I'm thinking about Jeremy."

Richard cocked his head to one side. "Are we imposing rules now?" he asked, trying not to think about the way out of this stupid maze he'd built himself into.

"Definitely," James said, nodding enthusiastically. "I'm all for rules, especially if they involve not having Jeremy around."

Richard raised an eyebrow, slowly. "Have we got time to go back to yours?" he asked, after a moment. He picked at the knee of his jeans.

James looked at him.

Richard sighed and shook his head. "I'm sick of bringing you off in caravans and having you suck me off in garages." He leaned in closer, tasting the warm skin beneath James's ear, at the curve of his jaw. "I know what we're doing is wrong, but if we're going to do it, can we just do it when I don't have to worry about leaning on the handbrake?"

It wasn't the most romantic thing Richard had ever heard himself say, but this thing he was doing with James was hardly about romance, and besides, he cared too much about cars to risk one for the sake of a quick fumble, even if it was a Fiat Panda belonging to James.

"Plus," he went on, trying not to blush, "I sort of want to see what you look like naked."

"Are you sure?" James asked, after a moment.

Richard raised an eyebrow again. "About the naked thing? Yeah."

James looked at him. "About coming back to mine, Hammond."

Richard nodded. "I know. But yes. I'm sure. If you are."

James nodded slowly. "Okay," he said. "Okay." He leaned over Richard awkwardly, popping the lock so the door opened into the rain. "You can follow me to mine."

Richard hopped awkwardly back out into the mud and the rain, jogging back to his Landrover without the benefit of a damp road map for protection. For a moment he stood and watched James try and reverse out of the mud-lake that used to be a lay-by, but it was too wet even to revel in the Panda's abysmal handling out in the country. He found himself grinning as he climbed into his Landrover, shivering damply as he struggled to warm up. His eyes met James's in the rear view mirror, and caught up in the moment and not thinking about anything else but him and James, he had to stop himself from smiling like a loon.

 

James was busying himself around the kitchen, looking for tea bags and telling Richard things he wasn't listening to about the motorcycle engine James had in pieces on the kitchen table, lying on bits of the Daily Telegraph.

Richard looked around the kitchen, touching an oily washer lying on the table, pushing it back on to a piece of newspaper. He was still damp from the rain (it was James's house, it was London, of course he'd had to park miles away and then make a dash for it—the only consolation was that James had had to do the same thing and was now bearing more than a passing resemblance to a drowned rat) and he'd peeled off his jumper and his trainers and left them by the door in a limp pile.

James—who had rid himself of his sweater and his jacket and was concentrating on the kettle and two mugs—was still talking about engines.

Richard shook his head, crossed the kitchen to where James was stood, head in the fridge, telling him something pointless (and muffled) about spark plugs.

Leaning past James, Richard reached for the milk, putting it back on the shelf and closing the door. He pushed James back up against the counter. James looked vaguely confused and ever so slightly anxious. "Richard?"

"I don't want tea," Richard told him, patiently.

"Alright," James told him, looking confused by someone turning down tea (life source, was how he tended to refer to it) and accidentally knocking over a box of Cornflakes with his elbow in his confusion.

"Leave it," Richard said, the flat of his hand against James's sternum.

"Alright," James said, shutting up for once in the face of Richard's proximity and choosing not to argue.

There was a moment where neither of them moved, just stood, watching each other. Gauging the shift in mood and temperament. Richard had one hand on James's shoulder and the other flat against his ribs, on top of James's shirt. When James had stumbled back against the cereal, he'd ended up with one hand on Richard's hip to steady himself, fingers tight against Richard's shirt.

Richard nudged closer, pressing the flat of his hand up against James's ribs and loosening the tight grip he had on his shoulder. He touched at James's neck with the tips of his fingers.

James watched him without moving and without letting go of Richard's shirt. He didn't smile.

"Are you okay?" Richard asked him, uncertainly, stroking gently at James's neck.

"I-" James sighed, nodding slowly. "I think so," he said quietly. "I didn't-" he stopped, and he rubbed gently at Richard's back with the palm of his hand. "I didn't expect you to come back here, not today," he said eventually. What that meant for James's view of the future, Richard didn't like to ask. "I would have moved the motorbike for a start," he went on, and Richard couldn't help but laugh.

Grinning, Richard licked at James's jaw, feeling the vaguely unfamiliar beginnings of stubble beneath his tongue. The roughness was different—but not bad. James smelled faintly of aftershave and Richard breathed it in, aware he probably looked like a fool but unable to stop himself nonetheless. "God forbid you have a motorbike in pieces when you have a visitor round, May," Richard said, laughing softly against James's throat. "Like you've ever cleared up when I've come around before." He licked at James's neck, nosing his jaw. "And it's not like we even need the kitchen table anyway."

James shook his head. "I've never had you around to get you naked before," he told Richard, touching Richard's cheek with his other hand. "Stark bollock naked deserves manners," he went on, and Richard suffered the indignity of shivering at the faint touch of James's fingers against his skin at the same time as stifling a snort at the idea of James moving his motorbike engine in the name of good bollock naked manners.

"Manners, huh?" Richard asked, blushing red.

James nudged Richard's mouth open with a breath, kissing him softly. "Uh-huh," he said. "It's only polite to hide one's distributor cap if there's going to be nakedness abounding."

Richard nodded. "Right," he said, and licked his lips.

James nudged Richard's mouth open with a breath, kissing him softly. Richard kissed back, fingers curling up into James's hair, palm pressing against James's chest. Richard couldn't find the elusive sweet taste of hard gums in James's kiss anymore; clearly James hadn't been secretly snaffling hard gums on the way home. He tasted like mints—like the soft polo mints Richard had spotted on the dashboard earlier. Richard licked at the taste, James's breath hot and fresh.

This was unusual for them; they'd never done this before, just stood and kissed and not felt the desperate necessity that this be the an intended precursor to hidden, rushed sex. Richard was surprised to find that he was hard from sheer kissing alone—kissing had led to erections before but he'd always assumed that it was the promise of more that had resulted in his cock hardening. This time his erection was pushing against the curve of James's thigh and James's erection was pressed up against Richard's stomach in return. For once, he didn't feel like he had to deal with it immediately for fear of someone catching them. It felt good, and he kissed James harder, open mouthed and wet, James smiling against his mouth.

"You sure you don't want that cup of tea then?" James asked, pulling away—and then Richard found himself laughing and pulling James down to meet his mouth in a kiss again.

"Not right now, no," Richard told him with a grin, nudging at James's nose with his own. His hand fisted in James's collar and he rocked backwards on his toes, kissing him again. "Do you want to take this, um, somewhere else?" he asked awkwardly, mouth pressed up against James's ear.

"Right, yes," James nodded, blushing red. He kept touching Richard, his hand rubbing circles across Richard's back, his other hand in his hair, touching his cheek, his shoulder- Richard pressed himself into James's touch. "Upstairs?" James asked, and Richard thought that James didn't sound as sure of himself as he usually did.

"Upstairs," Richard agreed, and he was fairly sure that he didn't sound as cocksure and certain of himself as he usually did, either. He wondered if he could put it down to the acoustics in James's kitchen rather than it being the effect of being in James's house, about to have sex. His breath caught in his throat.

James's bedroom was relatively tidy and well organised and ultimately functional. Richard—who was more used to having a female touch around when it came to decorating and home furnishings—eyed the old wallpaper, the thick, dark headboard and the old chest of drawers with a raised eyebrow. The duvet cover was navy blue, unironed and more than a little faded.

James—who had seen Richard looking—shrugged his shoulder. "I'm not married," he said, as if that explained why James's bedroom hadn't seen a new piece of furniture in years.

Richard ducked his gaze. "I am," he said, his voice low. He started to take off his shirt, deliberately not looking at James, undoing the buttons with a shaking hand.

Richard knew that James was watching him, unmoving, but Richard still didn't look up. After a minute, James started to fold up his damp sweater and laid it over the back of a chair. Richard sat down on the edge of the bed, thankful he didn't have to take off his trainers. Even downstairs, where the tension hadn't been so high, his fingers had got caught in the laces. Now it was all Richard could do just to stay there and not stand up and run down to his car and drive off like nothing had happened. Like nothing was happening.

James sat down heavily on the side of the bed. Leaning down awkwardly, he took off his shoes, undoing his belt buckle and unthreading it from his jeans.

The room felt heavy with tension.

Richard fiddled at his fly with trembling fingers. Standing up again, he took off his jeans, leaving them on the floor beside the bed. Bending over, he peeled off his socks. He was left in just his blue and white checked boxer shorts, stepping from one foot to the other in embarrassment.

James was facing away from him, just in his grey boxer briefs. Richard could see the Marks and Spencer's label poking out of the back. He was standing still, just holding his shirt in one hand. Richard smiled uncomfortably, reddening.

Kneeling on the bed so he could lean over and reach James, he took James's arm, tugging him back across the bed. "James," he said, and James bit his lip and stared at him for a moment.

"Hammond," he said eventually, after a minute.

"May," Richard responded, politely. His pulse was racing—mostly from nerves, in actual fact—and there was something disconcerting about being in his boxer shorts in James's bedroom. Taking a deep breath, he placed the palm of his hand on the flat plain of James's sternum, thumb brushing the pale skin. James's breath hitched. "James," Richard said, softly, and he took a deep breath. "Will you just-" he stopped, knowing this wasn't the kind of thing he'd normally ever say, "- kiss me."

James cupped Richard's cheek in the palm of his hand and leaned in, pressing his mouth to Richard's softly. Richard groaned, trying not to roll his eyes as he realised what he'd done. He made to pull away, trying to think of something funny to say to take the heat away. He wanted this—he really did—but he didn't know what to do with the tension. James touched the back of his head, kissing him again, stopping Richard from trying to make a joke of it all.

Richard was hard just from kissing, and it was all so strange and desperate and ultimately extraordinary when Richard thought about it in the general context of his life so far. Right that moment however, in James's bedroom with the door shut, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world and just the realisation that he was hard from kissing alone meant that for a moment it was all Richard could do just to stop himself from coming right there and then.

Richard was still kneeling on the bed, leaning over to kiss James, who was at some awkward angle because of where he'd sat back on the edge of the bed. Groaning, he rolled Richard down onto the pillows, hands in Richard's hair, lips wet and reddened. Looking down, Richard could see James's erection pressed up against the taut grey cotton of his boxers, damp spots across the front. Richard shivered in anticipation, trying not to laugh out loud at the strange reality he found himself in, where Richard Hammond and James May, the other ones off Top Gear, suddenly started indulging in amateur porn in faded bedrooms. The idea of two middle aged (one decidedly more middle-aged than the other, Richard only classed himself as such for the purpose of entertainment) men awkwardly attempting to have sex could be nothing short of ridiculous, but who they were and what they were doing all seemed strangely unimportant when James kissed him again. James's hands were everywhere; resting on Richard's bare shoulders, smoothing down the hollow of his spine, tight against the sheets, dipping into the cleft at the top of his bum. Richard couldn't help but press his body flush against James's; lying down, the height difference didn't seem to matter so much. It was only at this point that Richard began to realise that this was something that they just hadn't done before. They couldn't excuse this by saying they were bored at work or just because the caravan was empty and there was nothing else to do. Richard had tried to explain away their previous encounters, called them accidental and impromptu but as time had moved on he'd come to realise that they were deliberate and very much wanted by both of them. They did have one thing in common, however, in that they were all unplanned and this time just wasn't. This was James's house; this was James's bed and James's sheets and this was James—virtually naked and pressed up against him and kissing him. And it was Richard kissing him back, so hard he was leaving damp stripes all across the front of his boxers, his ankle hooked around the back of James's calf to ensure a better angle.

James was toying with the elastic of Richard's boxers, fingers plucking at the cotton. Richard didn't exactly want to bat him away like a teenage girl with her first boyfriend but there was something different about this occasion and he really did want it to be different. For the first time they had time—and privacy—on their side and Christ, Richard was so hard he was fairly sure one touch from James would be enough to drive him towards the edge and he wouldn't be able to revel in the experience. "I just-" he said, pulling away from James's kiss. His breath hitched in his throat and he nudged at James's nose with his own. He didn't know how to say can we take it slowly, make it last without sounding like a complete loser, so he just fixed his gaze on James's nose and said, "Can we just do this?" all in a rush, words falling over one another. He wanted to explain that kissing James was turning out to be one of the hottest things he'd ever done and he wanted to revel in it, but he just couldn't, so he stopped looking at James and hoped he'd understand.

James leaned down and kissed the corner of Richard's mouth, rubbing gently at Richard's belly with his thumb.

Richard groaned.

James nudged at him, slowly catching Richard's bottom lip in his teeth and tugging gently.

Richard's erection jumped, pushing against James's thigh.

James laughed softly against Richard's mouth, the vibration causing Richard's stomach to jump and his fingers to clench around James's biceps. "We can just do this," James told him, touching Richard's cheek with his fingers and leaning in to kiss him again, pulling him even closer with a hand in the small of Richard's back.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go, Richard thought haphazardly. Sex was supposed to be rushed and desperate and hot and sticky and sweaty. It was supposed to be cries and grunts and groans and embarrassing noises. It was a countdown to coming, it was touching and fingering and wet and it was fucking.

It wasn't, nor had it ever been, just kissing.

Richard reached for James's boxers, determined to push the balance back onto a more even keel, something he could quantify. Sex.

James stopped him with a firm hand. "No," he said, murmuring close to Richard's ear. "Kissing, you said," he told Richard. His voice tickled Richard's ear. "You don't think I can make you come just like this, without touching you?"

And fucking James May had done it again. Richard stilled, meeting James's gaze head on. James—who was laconic and amenable and slow and polite and who Richard kept forgetting had started this whole thing off, this whole descent into whatever it was that his brain had spent his whole life hiding him from—James just needed to speak and Richard wanted to come.

Richard didn't understand it. James was greying around he temples and was middle aged by every definition of the term and he had a worrying propensity to come last in everything he attempted—worst of all he didn't seem to care—and he had a strange desire to strip motorcycle engines down all over his kitchen and get angry with people who made fun of his spanner collection, butChrist, the man had a voice on him. Richard had found himself getting hard just the week before when he'd accidentally caught two minutes of a Top Gear repeat on a Sky channel and found James stroking the bonnet of an Aston Martin and talking about its handling. He'd changed the channel and ended up sitting through a whole repeat of Location, Location, Location before he'd felt he could stand up and get on with what he was supposed to be doing.

Back in the bedroom and James licked Richard's mouth again, watching Richard with dark eyes. "Bloody hell, Hammond," he said, and his voice wavered just for a moment, "if you could see yourself now."

Richard pressed his cock up against James's thigh. James's eyes darkened until they were almost black, and Richard pressed his mouth wetly to James's. "What would I see?" Richard asked, pressing his hand against James's shoulder.

"You," James told him, quietly. His fingers trembled against Richard's back.

Richard kissed him, threading his fingers through James's hair and down into the nape of his neck and across his shoulder blades. His skin was soft and smooth and although Mindy's was too, there was something inherently different about the two experiences. James was careworn and soft around the edges and came with an almost imperceptible scent of engine oil. Mindy—and the women before her that Richard had thought made up his life—were soft and lithe and smelt like soap and perfume. Their hair smelt nice and they had painted fingernails and they made sounds like tiny whimpered cries as they came. Richard didn't exactly go for women who were delicate and feminine—Mindy was horse-mad and tramped through the countryside with him and their dogs and didn't mind going in a convertible in the wind—but there was something impenetrably different about having sex with a man and the distinction was being further impressed upon him with every subsequent second he spent with James. It didn't matter how feminine or unfeminine the women he slept with were; they weren't men and they never had been (unless he'd had a Lola moment at some point along the way and just never noticed) and Richard was starting to wonder how he'd managed to fool himself all these years that men weren't what he wanted.

Richard felt the almost overwhelming desire to rub at James's thigh with his erection, to press against him and touch James and bring himself off at the same time, but he didn't. He wanted to come in James's bed off the back of this alone, of touching and tasting and kissing and James promising to make him come. He wanted sex to be about something wasn't sucking or jerking or fucking or hiding for a change. "James," Richard said, raggedly.

"I know," James told him, kissing Richard's throat, his neck, his jaw. He licked a stripe down the hollow of Richard's throat. "Jesus, you're gorgeous," James told him, and Richard's whole body shuddered with pleasure, much to his embarrassment. His skin burnt and he couldn't help it, he pressed his cock up against James's, shifting so that they could rub up against each other.

"You're not bad yourself," Richard managed, pushing his cock up against James's. James was moving, rubbing himself against Richard, Richard's hips shifting as he gave in and brought himself off against James's thigh. "Pretty hot actually," he managed, after a minute. He wasn't sure whether James heard him or not, because James just dipped his head and kissed Richard again, wet and open mouthed and with hurried breaths as he continued to hump Richard's leg. Richard hadn't come in his underpants since high school, but in the past few weeks it had happened more times than he cared to put a number to.

The shift in the atmosphere came sooner than Richard had expected; wet gasping breaths against James's jaw, James's cheek pressed up against his, a strange, staccato rhythm playing out as they rubbed up against one another. James's fingers tightened on Richard's shoulder and Richard pulsed once—twice—a third time, jerkily against James's thigh and he came, groaning obscenities against James's open mouth.

James, breathing heavily, peeled away and buried his head in the curve of Richard's shoulder, biting down as he came.

Richard had never been one for touching much after sex—his skin always felt like it was on fire, sensitive to the touch—and he rolled away, staring up at the ceiling from the other side of the bed. He was uncomfortable in his boxers, sticky and hot and embarrassed and he longed to adjust himself or clean himself up. Beside him, James was struggling to get his breath back. He nudged James with his elbow, meeting his eye and forcing a smile.

James nudged him back, awkwardly. "Do you want a shower?" he asked, uncomfortably.

Richard rolled over onto his side, facing James with an attempt at a grin. "Are you trying to get rid of me, May?" he asked.

James shook his head, turning on to his side and resting up on one elbow.

James wasn't like anyone that Richard had ever imagined ending up with—aside from the obvious fact that up until a few weeks ago he'd never allowed himself the opportunity of considering whether or not he may want to sleep with men rather than women. Apart from the obvious fact that James wasn't a girl, he had too-pale skin and a soft belly and body hair. He wasn't skinny and he had big hands and feet and smelt faintly like engine oil. Richard touched at James's chest with the tips of his fingers, watching as he slowly grazed his way down to his belly button.

"No," James told him, eventually, watching the lazy meanderings of Richard's hand, "I'm not trying to get rid of you. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to leave if you wanted to." He didn't meet Richard's eyes.

Richard shook his head. Bloody hell. "I don't have to go just yet," he told James, resolutely ignoring the fact he really sort of did. He touched both of James's nipples in turn, the gentle smattering of hair rough beneath his exploring fingers.

"Good," James said softly, and peeled off his boxers.

Richard—who hadn't the preparation time required to stifle his intake of breath - tried not to blush. He watched as James used his damp underpants to half-heartedly wipe at his cock and balls. James shifted on the mattress, sitting back against the pillow, softening cock nestling in between his thighs. He didn't look at Richard at all, which was probably for the best considering that Richard couldn't take his eyes off James's cock. He'd seen James hard and he'd seen James come but he hadn't really just seen James—or any man, for that matter—just as they were. He took a deep breath and maybe if he'd ten years younger—five years younger, he told himself forcefully—he would probably have been hard again already at the sight. Just watching was enough to make him catch his breath.

James had dropped his boxers onto the carpet by his side of the bed, and Richard took a deep breath and peeled off his own pants, echoing James's movements and wiping himself down with them. He tried not to think about the uncomfortable fact he'd have to put them on again to drive back home—either that or go commando, and Richard was always a bit paranoid about that. He was too late as it was, most of the come was virtually dry and everything was sticky and smelt like sex. If he'd wanted to hide it from Mindy that he'd come in his pants, he would have had a job. Doing the best he could and finishing up, he dropped his boxers over the side of the bed and lay back against the pillow, not meeting James's gaze.

James rubbed at his stomach with his thumb, a slow blush colouring his cheeks. Leaning down, he pulled up the duvet so it was covering him from the waist down. Righting himself, he turned to Richard. "So, Hammond," he started, "did you get that pile of bumf from Mitsubishi? About their new concept car? What did you think of the illuminated doorsills?"

"I got it, but I don't," Richard said shortly, and went back to staring at James's chest.

James looked confused. "Do you mean you don't, um, think it's a good car, or that you don't like the doorsills-"

Richard stopped him by leaning over and pressing the flat of his palm to James's belly. "I mean, I don't want to talk about the new Mitsubishi concept car. Even if it does have illuminated doorsills, which incidentally, are a completely idiotic idea. For the first time in my whole entire life, I don't want to talk about cars. I don't even want to think about them."

"You don't want to think about cars?" James repeated slowly, confused.

"That's basically the long and the short of it," Richard told him, slowly stroking a pathway up James's stomach to his nipples and down again, past his belly button and down towards his cock. Richard shuffled closer, resting on his elbow. He had his fingers in the curls on James's chest; he liked the feeling of hair beneath his fingers and found himself tracing a pathway with his thumb and the tips of his fingers, ignoring James's soft intake of breath as he circled James's nipples and touched under his arms and ran his thumb up the inside of James's wrist.

"What about a Pagoni Zonda?" James asked, and his voice caught as Richard's hands touched his thighs, fingertips pressing into the flesh.

Richard's breath ghosted across James's belly button. "I don't care," Richard said shortly, trying not to think of the bodywork on a Zonda and how he'd like to drive with James alongside him, spread out beside him with the roar of the engine beneath. James's stomach quivered under Richard's exploring touch.

"You don't care?" James swallowed loudly; Richard's fingers had reached the back of his knees, curling down his calves and brushing his ankles, Richard shifting positions and kneeling beside him, kicking the duvet off the end of the bed.

"Not right now," Richard told him, absently. He touched James's feet, briefly, before sliding his hands back up, past James's calves and up to his thighs.

"Not even if I were to blow you in the Zonda?" James asked slyly, his skin trembling beneath Richard's hesitant exploration.

Richard shook his head. He couldn't stop staring; he wanted to touch and feel and explore and if he'd been able to vocalise what it was he was thinking (aside from the idea of skin against the leather seats in the Pagani, the slide of his cock in James's mouth), he would have asked James to roll over so he could have seen him from behind. Instead, he blushed and ducked his head, pressing his mouth to the inside of James's thigh.

James's hand found its way to the back of Richard's head, fingertips in his hair. Richard licked James's other thigh, taking the flesh gently between his teeth. James's sharp intake of breath and the tightening of his hands in Richard's hair was enough invitation, and Richard leaned in and took James's soft cock in his mouth.

It tasted different this time. Dried come on the tip and on the soft underbelly; he traced the length with his tongue, feeling the girth and licking at the head in one long, slow movement. He sort of liked it better this time, even though James wasn't exactly hard. He blew gently across James's foreskin as he sat back on his haunches, one hand pressed against James's hip.

James watched him with dark eyes. "I'm sorry," he said eventually, with a long glance at his barely-hard cock. "It's just-" he stopped, and wouldn't meet Richard's eye. "Age, I suppose."

Richard shook his head, fingertips pressing their ownership into James's hip. "It's okay," he told James, softly, glancing down at his own cock. "Same deal," he said, ruefully. "It takes longer these days, my recovery rate's slowed down. I just wanted to see what you tasted like."

James met his gaze. "And?" he asked, shifting so he had one arm behind his head, propped up against the headboard. He looked awkward.

Richard itched to touch him; the pale as milk skin on the inside of his upper arm, his shoulder. He leaned over and ran his fingers down James's arm. His skin was hot to the touch. "You tasted good," he said softly, shuffling awkwardly up the bed so he could press his mouth to James's, licking a stripe across James's lip. "See?" he said, quietly, flushing at his own audacity.

"I see," James said, relatively evenly. He reached up and cupped Richard's face with his hands, thumbs gently stroking his cheeks. "I see," he said again, and Richard's skin began to burn.

"So, those illuminated doorsills, yeah?" Richard began, somewhat desperately. On James's bedside table he could see some of the advertising packages they'd all been sent recently—the ones for Bentley and Fiat and Toyota were spread out across the surface. Richard tended to dump his in a pile until it fell over, at which point he'd put them in the recycling bin. Jeremy tended to react as he saw fit, depending on which car it was for. Sometimes the packets ended up being set alight or propped against the u-bend in the toilets (all that that's good for, Jeremy would say, wiping your arse) and occasionally Jeremy would just draw tail fins and colour in the headlights and doodle on the bodywork in black marker pen. Richard tended to think it was better to have a strong reaction than admit the design was less than mediocre, so he preferred the ones that ended up blocking the toilet or covered in dart holes. James, it seemed, liked to take the advertising packages to bed with him. And made notes, judging by the open notebook and pen.

Richard was suddenly overcome by the idea of James here, all by himself, reading PR rubbish and trying to take it seriously, late at night with the rest of the house in darkness. He buried his face in James's neck.

"We're not talking about cars," James told him, touching his neck. "Let's talk about you."

"Me?" Richard asked, and he didn't recognise his own voice.

"Yes," James told him, pulling Richard closer so that he could run a hand down Richard's side and hip and touch at his bottom with inquisitive fingers.

Richard squirmed uncomfortably, suddenly ticklish. James grinned and stroked him again, in the curve of his bottom so that Richard flushed red and ended up arching into James's touch in embarrassment, pressed up against James from shoulder to chest to thigh.

"It's my turn to explore," James told him, his words nudging at Richard's cheek. Richard burnt red hot and buried his face in James's shoulder again, uncomfortably shy for reasons he couldn't really fathom. He couldn't look at James, but then nor could he pull away either. James was touching him, fingers ghosting their way down Richard's spine, knuckles resting for a moment in the nape of his back. He touched Richard's bottom again, the ticklish spot that had Richard arching against James's skin, down to the curve of his cheek. Richard shivered and pressed closer, skin taut, confused at himself for trying to hide and yet wanting—needing—James to know every inch of his body. He needed to know what it felt like to be touched by James. Everywhere.

James's hand stilled, resting on Richard's bottom. His thumb stroked gently at the curve and Richard shivered despite himself.

"Have you finished?" Richard asked, wondering how he could ask James to carry on. Just being touched like this—reverently, even—was enough to have him reaching for James. It felt amazing.

James shook his head. "No," he said, and his hand dipped lower. "I'll try not to be too slow."

Richard stifled a gasp as James's fingers found the top of his thighs, sliding between his legs from behind. "You can take as long as you want," Richard told him, and his voice definitely didn't sound like his own.

"You'd think you'd be used to it by now," James told him, pressing his mouth to the spot just below Richard's left nipple, "Me taking my time."

Richard's hand stroked at James's back, pulling him closer. Sometimes the lines between the two different James Mays that Richard knew were so close as to be intangible, a blur of colour and touch and solidity that looked like it could be one person. On the one hand there was the James that Richard knew so well from months and months of filming and countless evenings drinking, and on the other there was the James that Richard was beginning to see more and more of—the James who could talk dirty and blow you until you were groaning his name onto damp air, who could make Richard hard just by looking at him. Richard tried to hold on to some semblance of reality. "It's not taking your time, James, it's coming last," he managed. "There's a difference."

James stroked briefly at the sensitive, pale skin behind Richard's balls and Richard shuddered in pleasure. "Yes," James said, his mouth by Richard's ear. "And nothing's going to change," he went on, "You're still going to come first again tonight."

Richard gasped his appreciation, hips pressing upwards into James's thigh. James was still stroking him, wrist pressed up against his arse, thumb touching his balls. Desire swamped him and he pushed against James, rubbing his cock against whatever he could press against, thigh, groin, James's cock.

"Remember the tortoise and the hare, Hammond," James told him softly, cupping Richard's balls and squeezing, gently. Richard arched upwards, unable to help himself, fingers pressing into James's shoulders as James continued to stroke him. Richard forced himself to relax against James's touch; maybe he hadn't been very adventurous in the bedroom in previous years, - and he was inclined to believe that was true, bearing in mind what he'd experienced over the previous weeks—but no one had ever touched him in the way that James was doing right now. "Richard," James said, softly, and he leaned in and kissed him, fingers stilling.

Richard—who was just a ball of nerve endings—groaned into James's kiss. "I'm imagining Jeremy as the hare now," he managed, rubbing up against James's burgeoning erection. "He's gotears. This is all your fault."

James frowned, pulling away. "No, stop thinking about Jeremy," he managed, "You're the hare. That's how the metaphor works. You get to come first."

"Except," Richard groaned, pressing closer to James, feeling the damp tip of James's erection against his stomach, "except that it's a fable, James. The tortoise comes first, not the hare."

James's hand stilled. "Bugger," he breathed, and the mood was broken and Richard started to laugh, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against James's shoulder.

"You idiot," Richard managed, shaking.

James shook his head, laughing and nudging Richard with his elbow. "I can't think about Jeremy when I'm having sex," he told Richard, "it gets me confused."

"We were having sex?" Richard asked, smile playing across his face.

James ducked down and kissed the corner of Richard's mouth, fingers against his cheeks. "We might have been," James told him, with a grin, "except you've gone and ruined everything now, you pathetic excuse for a man, talking about Jeremy like that."

"I've ruined things?" Richard asked incredulously, shaking his head. "You're the one who couldn't remember who was supposed to come first." He rolled onto his back, erection standing upright. He closed his fist around his cock, once, twice for good measure. James groaned. "And," Richard went on, "you brought up Jeremy first."

James raised an eyebrow. "I didn't, you did. And I wasn't concentrating on Aesop, I was too busy touching you-"

"Ah," Richard said, narrowing his eyes and thinking back, "You might be right there," he continued after a moment, "I did bring Jeremy up, but I maintain you started it by confusing things, bringing in stupid kids' stories-"

"Shut up, Hammond," James said, and kissed him.

Richard shut up and kissed him back, groaning into the kiss as James's fist closed around Richard's erection. Richard's hand splayed across James's chest as he reached between them both, his hand encircling James's cock.

James defied all expectation (except Aesop's) and came first.

Richard, petulant, ignored James when he suggested Richard be known as Sergeant Slow in the future.

James grinned and kissed Richard until he responded, mouth opening beneath the insistent pressure of James's kiss.

 

Richard had decided that he was going to start putting a clean pair of pants into his sports bag again, regardless of whether he later decided he was going to break this off. Being caught unawares wasn't the most pleasant experience he could have, and once he'd clambered out of James's shower and dried himself on a faded, navy blue towel that bore a striking resemblance to James's duvet set, he had to grit his teeth to pull on his crusty boxer shorts once more.

Richard had to go after that, so he could drive back to Gloucestershire and rattle around in his house with his wife. He'd virtually taken up sleeping in the spare room on a full time basis now, mumbling something about needing his sleep and not wanting to wake up when Mindy went out to clean out the horses before the sun rose. Mindy—who fell into bed earlier than Richard did—left him packets of fresh pasta in the fridge and told him to help himself when he got in. Their marriage was falling about around his ears, and it had been for more months and even years than Richard could bear to think about. Regardless of what was happening between James and himself, things couldn't carry on like this. He needed to be honest with Mindy—if not about James, then at least about his sexuality and about the end of their marriage. Richard sighed, suddenly overwhelmingly sad. Realising that his marriage was over whilst in the shower at James's was hardly fair on anyone, let alone Mindy. His heart hurt.

 

When he came downstairs, he found James busying himself in the kitchen, brushing up the rest of the spilt cornflakes and making himself a cup of leaf tea.

Richard shook his head. "Teabags not good enough for you any more, May?" he asked, leaning against the door frame and watching James potter about the kitchen.

"It's better to let it infuse," James told him, without turning around. He stirred the leaves before asking, "Are you sure I can't make you one?"

Richard ran his hands through his damp hair. He was going to have to start carrying hair gel around with him too—there was nothing Richard hated more than being caught out with fluffy hair. He checked his watch. "I've really got to go," he said regretfully. "Long drive," he said, and James nodded and poured the milk into the bottom of a tea cup.

"I hope the traffic isn't too bad for you," James said, politely.

"It won't be, I'm sure, not at this time of night," Richard replied, equally politely. He shrugged. "I might take the back roads, anyway, see if I can't get a bit of speed up."

"Mind you don't get a ticket," James pointed out, raising an eyebrow. "Jeremy would never let that go."

Richard nodded. He ran a finger along the top of James's kitchen chair. "Well," he said, awkwardly.

"I've unlocked the door for you," James told him, and Richard stared at the kitchen door for a long moment. The keys were in the lock.

"Right," Richard said. "I suppose I'll see you at work then."

James nodded. "That's right," he said, turning back around and picking at a packet of digestives, trying—and failing—to get into it.

Richard watched him, and swallowed. "James," he said, and then he shook his head. "Shit," he said, softly, for want of something better to say. He crossed the kitchen in two steps, pushing James back against the counter. Leaning in, Richard kissed him, cupping James's face in his hands. James kissed him back, roughly, running his fingers through Richard's damp hair.

Pulling away, catching a breath, James turned back to the counter. "Drive safe, now," he said, wiping his mouth. He touched Richard's waist briefly before picking up the tea strainer and reaching for the teapot.

"I will," Richard said, quietly. He stood for a moment at the kitchen door, watching as James finally managed to get into the digestives. He closed the door behind him as he left.

Part Fourteen

 

The fourteenth time was premeditated, timetabled, scheduled, organised and planned.

James cornered him on Monday morning, nudging Richard over a mug of tea and a stack of production notes. "I've been thinking about you all weekend," he said, in a low voice. "When can you come over again?"

Richard—who wasn't used to James being decisive—raised an eyebrow and looked around to check who might be listening. The only other people around were Jeremy and Andy, and they were in the kitchen having a loud conversation about speed cameras (Jeremy was declaring "If they were only in built up areas, then I wouldn't complain because if you don't slow down by a school then you deserve to have your knob cut off, but A roads? Come on-") and Sophia was around too, brandishing a clipboard and threatening James and Richard with castration if they weren't out by the Winnebago in five minutes flat. Richard grinned, waiting until Sophia was back outside. "Me too," he admitted, quietly, and it was true, he'd spent the whole weekend remembering what it was like to have James naked beside him, to kiss him and touch him and see him take his clothes off-

Richard cleared his throat.

James was trying to be subtle, which was sort of the same as him hanging a great big neon sign above their heads with an arrow on it pointing down, saying 'up to something'. Richard rolled his eyes, and stemmed the desire to touch him. "I can't do tonight," Richard told him, quietly. He flicked needlessly through his production script. "And I can't do Wednesday either. Tomorrow? I won't have long."

James nodded. "Tomorrow's good," he said, stirring sugar into his tea. "Follow me home when we've finished."

"James," Richard hissed. "You don't take sugar."

"Oh, cock."

 

James left work before Richard on Tuesday. Richard had to finalise the details for his trip to Brighton the following day, so he'd watched James potter around the portakabin and talk to Jeremy and Andy and eventually sling his sports bag over his shoulder and meander over to where he'd parked his Boxster. Only a man like James could drive slower in a Porsche than he could in a Fiat Panda, and Richard was embarrassed to find himself smiling to himself, watching James out of the window. Sophia, who was attempting to tell him where he had to be and when, rolled her eyes and elbowed him in the ribs. Shaking himself, he didn't watch James leave the car park. Instead he nudged her back and told her anything for you, Soph. She rolled her eyes again and shook her head, saying when do you boys ever listen, huh? and Richard had made a special effort to pay attention after that.

He even told himself it wasn't because he wanted to get out of here and back to James's. Richard—who'd done his utmost to put James to the back of his mind once he'd got back to Gloucestershire after the last time—found himself surprisingly nervous once he'd finally finished with Sophia and out through Security. He'd tried to make it as normal a weekend as possible for him and Mindy, one last-ditch hope that his brain was short-circuiting and that things were fine the way they were - but it only served to clarify what he'd already known—that he and Mindy barely saw each other any more, and that they were sleeping in separate rooms far more often than sharing anymore. That they were both sad and lonely and puttering about the house like strangers. He found himself thinking of James at strange moments of the day and night, when he was feeding the dogs or buying milk or sweeping the patio. Now he was faced with the reality of spending time with him, Richard - rather than rushing to be with James - found himself pulling up outside a Spar and wandering the aisles.

Ostensibly he'd stopped for a Twix or a Milky Way, but he found himself walking straight past the chocolate aisle and up past the toothpaste and deodorant. At the counter, he paid for a packet of Marlboro Lights, a multi-pack of Wrigley's Extra and a bottle of Colgate Plax mouthwash. The shop assistant smiled at him knowingly but without recognition. "I'm supposed to have given up smoking," Richard found himself telling her as he searched through his wallet, looking for his switch card.

She'd rolled her eyes and tapped her fingers absently on the counter, telling him, "I'm sure the overwhelming smell of mint will be very reassuring."

Richard typed in his pin and wondered if everyone knew he was hiding something. At the last minute he'd picked up a king size Twix as well, and he ate it in one go before he got back in the car.

He smoked two cigarettes out of the car window with nervous fingers and hurried breaths before peeling open the Wrigley's Extra and chewing on half the packet before he even got as far as Hammersmith. He should have just gone the whole hog and bought a toothbrush and toothpaste, but wherever Richard stood with James, he wasn't sure it was time for a toothbrush just yet. He stopped in a bus stop half a mile down the road from James's house and took two huge gulps of mouthwash, gargling into an old paper coffee cup he'd found under the seat, tipping it out of the car door onto the scrappy patch of grass West London called a garden.

His fingers shook against the steering wheel as he indicated back out onto the road.

James was in the kitchen when Richard let himself into the garden through the gate. He'd had to park at the end of the street, and even taking into consideration the meeting with Sophia before leaving work, the impromptu stop at Spar and the mouthwash moment, he'd taken a long time to get to James's. Traffic was held up because of a car shunt that took up the best part of two lanes—and even though Richard hadn't been too far behind he'd still got caught in the ensuing jam as the police cleared the road. Taking a deep breath, he stood for a moment by the back door before he knocked. He'd been to James's more times than he cared to remember, eating takeaways and crashing out and buying things he definitely didn't need on Ebay. He'd been here with Jeremy, he'd been here with James's friend Colin, he'd been here alone with James, he'd even been here with Mindy—a long time ago. This was the first time he'd ever turned up wanting to have sex, though.

...apart from the last time, of course, but that didn't count as it wasn't exactly premeditated.

Richard was beginning to realise that his life was one long series of excuses designed to extricate himself from any responsibility.

He sighed, tried not to trip over a plant pot because he was so anxious and ended up wiping his palms on his jeans before he knocked. He hadn't felt this nervous since he'd asked Janey Fisher out just before their O Levels. He'd almost thrown up beforehand—and with good reason too, since she was three inches taller than him and liked wearing heels. She'd asked him—quite kindly, Richard had thought—if he intended bringing a step ladder with him whenever they went out. He'd tried to joke his way out of it, saying height didn't matter when they were lying down, but then she'd—not so kindly—whacked him round the head with her school bag and that had been the end of that. After Janey, Richard had studied the greats and stopped relying purely on his cheek to get him his girls. It had worked, as well. They fell for his smile and his adorable puppy act and by the time they worked out he was cheeky they were already stuck in the middle of McDonalds with him and by that time they liked him all the more for it. He'd never thought he'd gone short, although by his current standards (male) he was coming around to the idea that he'd been without what he needed for more years than he cared to remember.

James hadn't heard him knock, so Richard stuck his head round the kitchen door to find James elbow deep in his motorbike engine and fiddling with the spark plugs. He had a smudge of oil across his forehead, a rip in his t-shirt and he'd obviously just wiped his oily hands across his jeans.

Richard let out what could only be a sigh of relief because things were just the same as they had always been. James was still James, the same man who was covering himself in engine oil rather than clearing his motorbike engine up for Richard's arrival. Perhaps, Richard thought, James had forgotten his rule about being stark bollock naked in the vicinity of a stripped down engine—or possibly, James had no intention of getting his clothes off. Anyway, Richard found the kitchen in the same state of tidy disarray as it always was. The washing machine was on—probably explaining why James hadn't heard him knock - Fusker was half-heartedly picking at foie gras or fresh veal or peeled prawns or whatever delicacy James tried to satisfy him with (James had started off trying to feed his cat tins of rabbit in gravy and whatever other cat food flavours Budgens stocked, but it turned out Fusker would only eat food that came directly from the butchers or the fishmongers. Fusker ate better than James did, and only partly because James had a not-so secret penchant for tins of spam and pies), and James was listening to the news on the radio.

"Hey," Richard said, uncomfortably, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Hi," James said, standing up awkwardly and waving a spanner in Richard's general direction. Richard wondered if they were destined to forever speak in the language of car maintenance, and considered bringing a wrench and some shock absorbers next time.

"There's a cheese sandwich for you in the fridge," James said after a moment, fiddling uneasily with the spanner in oily hands. He touched the spark plugs with the tip of his finger, pushing it back onto the newspaper that covered his kitchen table. "and there's some pickled onions in the jar on the side."

Richard wrinkled his nose, eyeing the large jar on the counter by the microwave. "Pickled onions?" he asked.

James shrugged a shoulder, turning back to his motorbike engine. "If you want them."

"Okay," Richard said, measuredly, because no one offered sex and pickled onions. It was usually a one or the other job. "Are you having any?" he asked, after a moment.

James waved the spanner at Richard. "It's a new jar," he told Richard, and considering that the seal was broken Richard was left to assume that yes, James had helped himself. Richard—ignoring the pickled onions - stuck his head in the fridge, for want of something better to do, and came out with a cheese sandwich wrapped in clingfilm and a piece of cold chicken.

"The chicken was for the cat, Hammond," James told him, as Richard ate the whole thing in two bites. He was washing his hands in the sink, turning the soap an oily black colour as he did so.

"You spoil him," Richard said, licking his fingers clean and peeling the clingfilm off his sandwich.

James dried his hands, leaning over to scratch a mewling Fusker behind the ears. "Yes, well," he said. "Like you don't do the same with your dogs."

Richard wanted to say that's different, that's dogs, but they were both not-so secretly nuts about their pets so it sort of wasn't. He shut up and watched James instead.

James was wiping down his spanner on what looked like scrap of material from an old pair of pyjama bottoms. "Did you know," James said conversationally, pointing towards the plugs, "that spark plugs have to withstand heats of between 752 and 1652 degrees Fahrenheit?"

Richard cocked his head to one side. "Did you know that you're a crazy, pedantic man?"

"It's been brought to my attention before," James said, carefully. He unfolded a fresh bit of old Telegraph and moved his tool box onto it, neatly replacing his clean spanner in to a gap in the tray.

Richard took a big bite of his sandwich. "What's that in real money, anyway?" he asked, wiping his mouth. "The Fahrenheit thingie."

James tilted his head to one side. He was using some sort of heavy duty cleaner to get an oily handprint off the back of one his kitchen chairs, and vaguely watching Richard eating. "Between about 400 and 900 degrees Celsius," he told Richard. "Thereabouts."

Richard shook his head. "And the other set of figures was easier to remember?" Richard asked, with a grin. The sandwich was strong, hard cheddar topped with crunchy pickle—delicious but difficult to eat tidily.

"Some of us can work in both, Hammond." James told him, shaking his head.

"Oh yeah?" Richard said, through a mouthful of cheese and thick wholemeal bread. "Tell me how you worked it out then."

James rolled his eyes. "Well," he said, "some of the obvious ones you just know, but if you needed to get from Fahrenheit to Celsius you just need to take away 32 and then divide by 9 and multiply by 5."

"Oh, so really simple then," Richard said, rolling his eyes back at James. "If you're a deeply pathetic human calculator."

James shook his head, leaning back against the stove and wiping his hands on the towel. "I just listened at school, that's all." He shrugged his shoulders and dropped the towel onto the counter. "Anyway. You're the one here with me."

Richard swallowed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, leaving the empty plate on the counter by the pickled onions. It was getting pretty hard to find a scrap of surface not covered with the inside of James's latest dead motorcycle project. "Yeah," he said, "I am." Which wasn't an answer but it was perhaps the best he could do under the circumstances.

James tipped his chin up, meeting Richard's eye. "Are you going to stand there all day?" he said finally, in a low voice. There was still a smudge of oil across his forehead.

"No," Richard replied, softly. He wiped his hands on his jeans again, crossing the kitchen and curling his fingers into James's hair. "No," he said again, and kissed him.

James tasted like tea and cheese sandwich and yes, the tiniest bit like pickled onion. Surprisingly, it wasn't bad in the slightest, and Richard found himself with one hand in James's hair and the other bunched in James's shirt in the curve of his spine. James, who was kissing Richard hard and desperately, had one hand clutched around the handle of the cutlery drawer and the other stroking the nape of Richard's neck. Richard groaned against James's mouth as James continued to touch him gently, fingertips ghosting a pathway from nape to shoulder and back again.

"Heavens," James said, after a minute. He leaned in, resting his forehead against Richard's. "I thought you weren't going to come," he admitted in a quiet voice.

"Trust me," Richard said, pressing his lips to the corner of James's mouth, "I'm going to come. We both are."

"Richard-" James tried to pull away, "I meant-"

Richard stopped him. "I know what you meant. I'm sorry I was late, I got held up."

James swallowed, touching Richard's chin awkwardly with his knuckle and nodding. "Right," he said. "Alright."

"I should have rung," Richard told him, letting go of James's shirt and stepping away. "I'm sorry." He sighed. "Let's go upstairs," Richard said, touching the pale inside of James's wrist.

James curled his fingers into Richard's, just for a moment. "In a minute," he said softly. His thumb brushed against Richard's palm. "Just-" he stopped. "I want to look at you," he admitted, finally, ducking his head.

"You've got oil on your forehead," Richard told him, for want of something better to say.

"I don't care," James told him, touching Richard's shirt with the tip of his finger. "Take your top off, Hammond."

Richard caught his breath. "What?" he asked.

James smiled, softly, raising an eyebrow and glancing down at Richard's trousers. Richard was sporting a semi-hard erection. It seemed that Richard didn't seem to be able to control his reactions whenever he was around James. "I want to watch you," James told him, gruffly. "I want you to take your clothes off."

Richard watched him carefully for a long moment, trying to ignore the twist of desire deep in his stomach. Despite everything that had happened between the two of them, at the heart of it all this was still James May stood in front of him. This was the man with the bloody awful hair that made him look like a spaniel. This was the man who kept the makers of American Hard Gums in business and would live off cheese sandwiches and cans of spam if he could. He voluntarily plumped for corned beef and onion sandwiches—even when there were other alternatives to be had—and offered pickled onions to people who'd come round to his house primarily to have sex. He hated gastro pubs and he liked pies and sometimes he ate too many of them and ended up getting self-conscious and wearing bigger jumpers for a month or so and hoping no one would notice. He listened to classical music and had piles of jazz LPs made by people Richard had never heard of. He hadn't replaced anything in his house since before Labour had got into government and his TV still only had four channels, although the lack of a fifth was probably personal choice. He'd only recently graduated onto a dvd player and his radio was probably pre-plastic precision moulding. He bought Ginsters pasties from service stations yet was still alive to tell the tale and he had been know to reach hitherto unexplored levels of apoplexy if he'd accidentally ended up listening to the Archers. His washing machine belonged in a museum and sounded like it was going to take off every time it attempted to do a spin cycle. He hated the countryside and made the same jokes over and over again until Jeremy threatened to repeatedly hit him over the head with a spade if he didn't shut up. He read complicated books about politics and knew poetry off by heart to recite at precisely the wrong moment.

This was James, Richard told himself, somewhat desperately. This was James who wore stupid jumpers over and over, year after year but who made Richard's stomach quiver just by kissing him. Who wanted to see Richard naked just because. James, whose body was completely at odds with anything Richard had let himself find attractive before.

Richard itched to touch him, to reach across and feel James's skin beneath his fingers, to feel the rough hair across his nipples and down his stomach and under the waistband of his jeans. He wanted to kiss him until he heard James groan and felt his skin burn beneath his touch. He wanted to hear the hitch in James's breath as Richard took his cock in his mouth, he wanted the gasp and the short, desperate sounds before he came, clutching at Richard.

Taking a deep breath, Richard touched at the bottom of his sweater with shaking fingers, pulling it up and over his head in one movement. Underneath, he was wearing a blue and white striped shirt and he undid the buttons carefully, breath hollow.

James was gripping the back of the chair with white knuckles. He wasn't saying anything but Richard knew he was watching him with dark eyes (and a dry mouth, if Richard's own experience was anything to go by) as Richard slowly undid his shirt, letting it hang open. He swallowed.

"Take it off," James said, moving closer. Richard squared his shoulder and let the shirt drop off his elbows and down to the floor, not even stopping to check whether it landed on anything oily on the way down. He stood still, waiting as James looked at him. James's hand hovered by his clavicle, thumb ghosting the skin.

Richard's breath hitched. James's touched him on the shoulder with the flat of his palm, moving down to the hollow of his sternum, each nipple, his stomach. James's fingers traced a hesitant pathway down Richard's side, from armpit to jeans.

James let go and brushed his thumb across Richard's cheek. Stepping back, he said gruffly, "And the rest of it. Take your jeans off for me."

Richard eyed James's crotch, seeing the stretch of the fabric across James's obvious erection. He wet his lips. "First," he said hesitantly, and he found he had to clear his throat, "first I want to see you touch yourself."

James watched Richard carefully for a moment. "Like this?" he said finally, touching his top button briefly before sliding the heel of his hand down his fly, his palm closing around his erection through his jeans.

Richard's breath caught. "Yeah," he managed, and his own fingers struggled with his fly. He toed off his trainers, catching his balance with one hand on the back of a chair.

James was still stroking himself absent-mindedly as he watched Richard.

Richard hooked his fingers in his waistband and slid his jeans down and over his erection, pushing them down past his knees and shrugging them off along with his socks. His toes were cold against the kitchen tiles and he hopped from foot to foot.

"Stand there a minute," James told him, voice low.

Richard's erection pulsed and he found himself embarrassed by just standing there, almost naked and desperately hard and wondering if there was anyone else in the whole damned world who he'd do this for. Who'd be weird enough to ask him to. "Can't we do this in a place with a carpet?" he asked, with an attempt at a grin.

"Hammond, shut up." James told him, folding his arms.

"May," Richard said, trying really hard not to cover himself up with his hands, one arm over his nipples, the other over his crotch. He felt—he felt naked. Which was stupid, really, because Richard wasn't exactly shy and he normally quite liked being naked. He just didn't know how to feel when it was like this, when he was being stared at and memorised and explored. It made his cock throb and his skin burn and it made him want to forget every single thing in the whole wide world apart from this.

James swallowed, meeting his gaze. He smiled across at Richard absently, the James of Richard's everyday. "Christ, Hammond," he said eventually. "I just-" he sighed, raggedly. "I can't stop looking at you," he said finally. "You're—you're-" he stumbled over finding the right word, settling awkwardly for "really a rather good looking man" after a moment.

Richard grinned and shook his head, crossing the space between them, pressing himself flush up against James. "So are you," he said, rolling his eyes, and that's one thing he never thought he'd say. His palm cupped James's cheek and he nudged at his mouth, kissing him.

He found himself tugging at James's t-shirt and ignoring James's request for him to take his boxers off, because he could feel the pressure of James's erection rubbing against him through too much denim and he needed to touch, to stroke, to feel. "Get your clothes off," he said, half the words lost against James's mouth. They laughed in huffed breaths as they both tried to get James's belt undone and James stood on Richard's toes as he hopped on one foot to get his shoes off and struggled off with his jeans.

"Christ, this floor's cold," James told him, hopping up and down and pulling off his socks.

"Told you," Richard said eyeing the outline of James's erection through his boxer shorts. "Let's at least go into the hall." He pressed the palm of his hand to James's stomach, fingers stroking at the trail of hair that led down beneath the elastic of his pants.

James swallowed and pulled off his underpants in one vaguely fluid movement and dragged Richard into the hallway.

"You've got a glass front door," Richard reminded him, tripping over as he tried to get his boxers off mid-flight.

"Let's hope no one comes around selling dusters, then," James told him, stopping and watching as Richard finally got rid of his boxers, throwing them in the general direction of the kitchen floor. "Besides, it's frosted."

"That doesn't make a whole lot of difference, mate." Richard told him, wryly. He was standing awkwardly in the entrance to the kitchen, stark bollock naked and stupidly hard. The need for speed was fast evaporating.

"Jehovah's witnesses will get an eyeful then, won't they?" James raised an eyebrow. "Come here," he said, after a moment, and Richard thought how strange it was that seeing James naked and erect was somehow the closest he'd come to exhilarated he'd felt in ages.

Richard smiled softly, shaking his head. "Do you know what you look like, May?" he curled his toes into the carpet, leaning against the door frame.

James shrugged self-consciously. "A mid-life crisis waiting to happen?" he said, with an attempt at a grin. It didn't reach his eyes.

"Try again," Richard said, taking a step closer.

James's fingers closed around the banister. "Why don't you tell me?"

"Because I want you to tell me," Richard said, close enough to touch.

"A cock with his knob out?"

Richard laughed in spite of himself. "Well, yes," he said, covering James's hand with his own, "but as well as that."

James rolled his eyes. "Is this going to be one of those trick questions, Hammond?"

Richard sighed raggedly, and touched his palm to James's sternum. "What do you think, you arse?"

"I don't know," James said finally, chest rising and falling beneath Richard's palm.

"You look-" Richard swallowed. "At the risk of sounding like a complete arse-"

"-no change there then, Hammond-"

"Shut up May." Richard shook his head. "At the risk of sounding like a complete arse, you look hot."

James shook his head. "I've never been called hot before," he told Richard, touching Richard's hand with his own. "Other things, yes, but never hot. I imagine this means that if I were a car I now come with a sports suspension and bucket seats."

"Stop cocking about," Richard told him, shaking his head and grinning. "You don't get to hold this over me, you know, me thinking you look beautiful-"

James raised an eyebrow. "Beautiful, now? If I hold out, does it get even better?"

Richard rolled his eyes. "Probably not. As it stands I'm going to have to kill you pretty soon anyway."

"Really?" James's hand splayed across Richard's chest, moving slowly downwards. Richard's breath caught in his throat.

"Really," Richard said, raggedly. "Not many people get to hear me being soppy and get to live to tell the tale."

"That was you being soppy?" James asked, leaning in and kissing Richard's neck.

"Yeah," Richard told him, clutching at James's biceps. "The beautiful thing. That was soppy."

James nudged at Richard's ear with his nose. "I get called that a lot, you know," James told him, thumb stroking at Richard's jaw. "You're not the first. Christ, you're not even the first today. Beautiful James, that's what they call me."

"Shut up, I'm serious."

"You're such a cock, Hammond."

"Yeah, well." Richard pressed his mouth to James's cheek. "Takes one to know one. Arse."

"Plus," James went on, his hand touching at Richard's hip, "sex is more or less a sure thing. You don't have to sweet talk me."

Richard rolled his eyes. "Yes, because I'm known for my sweet talking. Take a compliment, James."

James looked at him for a long moment. "If this is a giant joke, Hammond-"

Richard raised an eyebrow, slid a hand down James's belly and curled his fingers around James's cock, pressing forward so his own erection brushed against James's. "Does this seem like a joke?" he asked.

James groaned, fingers splaying across Richard's hip. "You're an arse, you know that?"

Richard nodded, running his thumb across the head of James's cock. "I get that a lot." He stroked the underside of James's erection, slowly. "How do you fancy sucking me off?"

James pressed his mouth to Richards . "I thought you'd never ask." He pushed Richard around so he was backed up against the banisters, dropping to his knees and taking Richard's cock in his mouth in one fluid movement. His thumb rubbed at Richard's hip.

"God," Richard groaned, tilting his head back against the banister. He didn't think he'd ever get used to that first feeling of heat and wet and sheer unadulterated bliss as James started to suck him off, tongue against the head. His hands were in James's hair, pulling him closer. "Christ," he managed, "yeah, like that."

James licked across the slit and Richard gasped out a breath, his hips bucking involuntarily. James's fingers splayed across his thigh. Richard's cock throbbed with need as James continued to blow him.

Richard grabbed onto the banister for leverage as James's hand stroked down across his hip and round into the nape of his back, nudging at the cleft of Richard's bum. Richard's palm was sweating damp against the woodwork as James continued to work him, licking and sucking and it was so hot and dark and Richard had always, always loved being blown. Being blown by a man wasn't that different to being blown by a girl (or his wife, Christ, his wife) except that when he looked down (and oh god, he couldn't do anything other than look down and watch) it was James on his knees with Richard's cock in his mouth. But it wasn't just anyone down on their knees in front of him, it was James, and he was licking the head of Richard's cock, lapping at it like an ice cream and Christ, that was hot. It was James taking him in deep, face buried in Richard's crotch and it was all Richard could do not to just give in to it and come right there and then. He clutched desperately at the stair rail, wanting this to last, wanting to remember what James looked like down on his knees, his own erection against his thigh, balls tight and it wasn't easy to see from this angle but Richard strained to watch. James's stomach curved and his nipples were hard and Richard wanted nothing else other than to lick his way down James's chest just to see what he tasted like.

James groaned around Richard's cock, a fuzzy vibration of sound and feeling that had Richard gasping fuck onto the damp air and clutch painfully at James's hair. James's hissed intake of breath was cool and dry and Richard's cock pulsed at the difference in sensation.

This whole thing was just- Richard couldn't even think. He wanted James to know that what he'd said was true, despite it sounding otherwise. He didn't know when it had happened or what had changed, but he could look across at James and see the bad hair and the middle age spread and his inherent oddness and despite all of that (or maybe because of all of that, Richard didn't exactly understand why and how these changes had come about) he looked across at James and saw someone he found attractive. He wanted to reiterate what he'd said earlier, about James being beautiful, but James was sucking faster, the smack of wet skin noisy in the hallway and all Richard could manage was I meant it, I did, which could have been anything.

James grazed the head of Richard's cock with his teeth and Richard hissed in shock before coming, hot pulsing breaths that had James swallowing desperately as Richard's staccato rhythm stilled.

Struggling for breath and finding himself staring up at the ceiling, at the seventies light fitting that James probably thought was quite modern, Richard sank down to his knees, straddling James uncomfortably. James's erection brushed against his own slippery, spent cock. James's dick jumped in anticipation and Richard buried his hot face in James's neck as he tried to get his breath back.

James—relatively awkwardly, Richard realised—leaned into him, stroking Richard's back gently as Richard came down from the high, breath softening.

After a long moment, when Richard's heartbeat had returned to something resembling normal, he pulled back so he could see James. He touched at James's check, pink skin warm beneath his fingers. James smiled awkwardly and Richard wanted to say it again, say that he meant what he said before. Instead, he leaned in and licked the length of James's bottom lip, a slow sweeping movement before pressing his mouth to James's. James, pressing up against Richard's stomach, kissed him back, hands stroking up and down Richard's spine, fingertips stuttering against damp skin. Richard cupped James's face with sticky palms, thumbs brushing his cheekbones. James tasted like cock—like Richard—and Richard couldn't get enough of it. He shivered at his own audacity; he'd never even been able to bring himself to go down on a girl and now he was tasting his own come in James's kiss and he was going back for more.

James was still hard and his erection was pressed up against Richard's thigh; a wet, close-knit pattern marking the sport. Richard—sweaty and hot from his own orgasm—groaned against James's mouth as he took James's cock in his hand, stroking down the shaft and awkwardly cupping James's balls in the palm of his hand, squeezing gently. James hissed his appreciation and Richard rolled them against his thumb. Richard knew what he liked to do when he was on his own, and yes, it was all backwards and everybody was different and there was the underlying worry that someone was going to knock at the door and try and sell them a duster, but James was groaning his approval against Richard's jaw and that was all the invitation Richard needed to carry on.

Richard nudged James up onto his knees, his fingers finding their way back until they grazed the sensitive skin behind James's balls. James jumped as Richard touched him, a stuttering of movement that caused him to gasp for breath and brush a messy, wet kiss across Richard's mouth. Richard smiled haphazardly, his own breath catching in his throat as he saw James's flushed skin and dark eyes. His stomach skipped and Richard clutched at James's wrist, fingertips pressed into the pale milky-white skin as he shifted position, closing James's erection in his fist once more. He began to move his hand, a jerking, unfamiliar rhythm that had James groaning and clutching at Richard and breathing obscenities on to the air. Richard found himself half-hardening again as James swore against his neck.

"James," Richard said, breathlessly. His wrist ached as he continued to stroke James's erection and he could see the shift in mood written across James's face as he jerked James faster.

James hitched a breath. "Don't stop," he gasped, reaching past Richard and grabbing the banister for support.

"As if I could," Richard told him, "with you looking like that." He took a deep breath, looking James square in the eye as he continued to wank James off with his other hand. "If I thought you were hot before, it's nothing to the way you look just before you come."

James's cock pulsed in Richard's hand and James's eyes widened, unable to stifle a groan.

"I mean it," Richard went on, "this—you—it's just one of the hottest things I've ever seen."

"Richard-"

"I mean it," Richard said, stopping James from finishing. "You're just fucking amazing."

"Christ, Richard-" James managed, and he came in hot pulses that covered Richard's stomach and cock and balls. Catching his breath, James leaned forward, resting his forehead against Richard's.

Richard tried to avoid wiping his hand on the carpet (he didn't know what James's cleaning lady would say to cleaning up dried spunk from the hall carpet) and wiped it uselessly on his thigh instead. He gave up and pressed his sticky hand to James's back, pulling him close for a moment.

"I never took you for such a pathetic arse before, Hammond," James told him, after a minute. He leaned back on his haunches and wiped his forehead with his forearm.

Richard grinned lazily, sitting back against the banister, knees up. "Bugger off, May. Didn't see you complaining a minute ago."

James rolled his shoulders and shuffled back until he was sat with his back to the wall. It should have felt weird, the two of them sitting on James's hall floor completely naked, soft cocks nestling against their thighs, drying come everywhere. It didn't though, not really, not like it had been on previous occasions. Richard sighed, comfortably, and touched at James's ankle gently with his foot.

James nudged him back, ankle to foot, smiling softly. "Pathetic arse," he said again, with a grin.

"Takes one to know one," Richard shot back, relatively amicably. He left his ankle touching James's, and tried not to stare.

"Hamster," James told him, "I'm not arguing with you about which one of us is the most pathetic."

"Hmm," Richard rolled his eyes. He was fairly sure that James would beat him in the pathetic stakes, mostly but not entirely due to the fact that James would give in before Richard, leaving Richard to win by default.

"Stop working out ways to beat me, Hammond. Do you want a cup of tea?"

"You know me too well," Richard grumbled, staring dejectedly at his soft cock. He prodded it in a desultory fashion. "Time was," he said miserably, "he would have sprung back up and we could have had another go."

James grinned, scratching his belly lazily. "You're hardly collecting your pension, Richard."

"You're right there," Richard told him, toes brushing James's calf. "Anyway," he went on, brightly, "it's always helpful to remember that you and Clarkson will get there first."

James rolled his eyes, standing up with a helping hand from the radiator. Leaning over, he kissed Richard quickly, a sweep of tongue and a brush of lips. "You're an arse, Hammond."

"It's been said before," Richard shrugged, clambering to his feet and looking around for his pants.

James threw them at his head.

Richard yawned, grinning sleepily. "Sex with you always makes me exhausted," he told James's back as he tugged on his boxers. He watched as James pulled on his own pants and busied himself filling the kettle and washing his hands.

James swallowed, busying himself with mugs and teabags and a packet of ginger thins. "Well," he said, and Richard couldn't take his eyes off James's bare back, "You're quite welcome to stay. If you wanted to."

Richard closed his eyes and shook his head. There was a long pause. "I can't," he said, softly, and he thought about Mindy, back in Gloucestershire. He thought about her early nights and the dark shadows under her eyes. He crossed the kitchen and pressed himself to James's back, chin resting against James's shoulder, palm resting on James's soft belly.

James sighed, touching Richard's hand with his own. "I know," he said. "It was stupid of me to ask." He leaned back against Richard and they waited in silence for the kettle to boil, fingers intertwined.

Part Fifteen

Richard was kicking at the grass at the side of the track with the toe of his converse, bored of waiting for the camera to reset and the production crew to stop standing around in little groups looking meaningfully at clipboards. It was the first nice weather they'd had for about a week so rather than hot footing back to the portakabin like Jeremy for a quick cup of tea and an Orange Club biscuit, he was hanging around the edge of the track and trying not to look like he should be off doing something more important, when his phone started to ring. He had it on vibrate for the sake of the filming, although he was probably the only one of them who did. Jeremy's phone interrupted filming more times than the flipping hotline from the BBC Health and Safety department, and James was probably only barely aware his mobile phone was capable of ringing, bearing in mind he was completely unable to recall his phone number when he was asked for it.

Strangely enough, it was James ringing him. Strange, because Richard could see James down at the other end of the straight, leaning against the side of one of the portakabins and eating something that looked from a distance suspiciously like a pasty.

"What do you want?" he asked, grinning and deliberately not looking in James's direction. Shrugging his shoulders in an attempt to look casual, he wandered a bit further away from the remaining production crew.

"Just thought I'd, you know-" James stopped and Richard couldn't help but turn around, shielding his eyes against the sun as he stared down the track towards where James was standing. James was staring at him. "I thought I'd ring."

"I can see you," Richard pointed out. "You could probably talk loudly and I'd hear you." He grinned. "And you hate phones."

"You're probably right," James told him. "And you're definitely right about the phones."

"So?" Richard asked, stuffing his fist into the pocket of his jeans for want of something better to do. To stop himself from pulling at his waistband.

"I just wanted to say," James went on. "I just wanted to tell you I like your shirt."

Richard touched at the hem of his blue shirt. "Yeah?" he said, unable to stifle a grin. "That's not a very manly thing to say, May."

"Making sartorial comments about a fellow's shirt doesn't make me a girl, Hammond. This is the twenty first century after all. The century of equality. Anyway. It's not a very manly shirt."

Richard laughed. "Fucking arse."

"Cock."

"Wanker."

"Wouldn't mind seeing you out of it," James said softly, after a moment.

Richard blushed, rolling his eyes and running his thumb over his top lip, toeing at the ground with his trainer. He rubbed at his forehead. "James," he said quickly, after a moment. "Is this a bootycall?"

James snorted. "Is this a what, Hammond?"

Richard shook his head with a grin. "You know, May. Is it?"

There was a long pause. Down at the other end of the track, James was staring up the straight towards him, hand on his hip. "You're damn right it is, Hammond."

Richard bit his lip, rolled his eyes again and stopped himself from laughing out loud. "You fucking idiot, James," he said, finally.

"Something like that, yes," James told him, softly.

"Yeah," Richard said. "James-" He was interrupted by Andy calling them into position again. "Shit-"

James laughed. "Later, alright, Hammond?"

Richard closed his eyes briefly, nodding. "Okay," he said. He hung up, squaring his shoulders and heading back up to where the cameras were ready to go again.

 

By the time lunchtime rolled around, they were tending towards giddy and Sophia was left officiating between Richard and Jeremy in the portakabin, hands on her hips and shaking her head. They were fighting over the last two tuna and cucumber sandwiches, one of which was on brown bread and the other on white.

"Soph," Richard said, one hand on the plate. "You're the one whose adjudicating. Which one of us gets the white bread?"

Jeremy cocked his head in Sophia's direction, not letting go of either the plate or Richard's wrist. "And bear in mind who's the more important out of me and Richard round here," Jeremy told her, narrowing his eyes at Richard, "and remember I don't like brown bread."

"I'm younger," Richard said, jabbing Jeremy in the side and trying to kick him in the shins. "Clarkson should have the brown bread because he's getting old and he needs his fibre. And nobodylikes brown bread, Jezza."

"Arse," Jeremy howled, elbowing Richard. "Eating all that white bread has clearly stunted your growth. You should have the brown, then when you grow up you can be a real boy."

Sophia raised an eyebrow and leaned carefully across the table. Brandishing her plate like a secret weapon, she shook her head. "Whoever eats the brown bread—like a good eight year old boy—gets the last Twix."

Jeremy blinked, then abruptly let go of the sandwich plate—and Richard's arm—and grabbed for the Twix. "That's that sorted then," he told Richard, with a smug grin.

"No way, Clarkson," Richard shook his head, leaning over the table and scrabbling for the brown bread. "I wanted that! You had the last packet of hula hoops. I'll have the brown-"

Jeremy grinned malevolently and held the plate with the sandwiches on up above his head. "Go on. Jump, short arse. If you can reach, then you can have whichever sandwich you want."

Richard narrowed his eyes. "Soph," he said, as his phone vibrated in his back pocket with a text message, "you heard that, right? If I can reach it, I can choose?"

Sophia sighed. "Yes, I heard. Can't believe I've got a degree and I'm spending my days sorting out your squabbles-"

Richard—whilst keeping a tight grip on Jeremy's wrist—tugged out his phone from his back pocket.

"-Why can't you be good like James?" Sophia went on, shaking her head. "James doesn't require an audience just to eat his lunch."

James was in the other room, reading the paper, eating a cheese and pickle sandwich and deliberately ignoring them all.

Jeremy and Richard looked at each other and wrinkled their noses. "Oh, well, James," they both said, mutinously.

Sophia rolled her eyes. Again.

Richard tried to open his text message at the same time as stopping Jeremy from eating both the twix and the white bread sandwich, because Jeremy was nothing if not a giant cheat. It was a message from James: I have a packet of kitkats in my car if you want one. Four fingered.

Richard promptly let go of Jeremy's arm, reached across the table for the last ham sandwich and tried to text back at the same time as taking a bite. I want 1, he typed, ignoring Jeremy's roar of discontent as he realised he'd won merely by default. Through in the other room, James was turning the pages of his newspaper unconcernedly. "I'm going to eat this outside," he told Jeremy, elbowing him nonchalantly. "You can stay in here with your brown bread."

Jeremy flipped him the finger and waved the Twix in Richard's face. "Bad loser, Hammond."

"Git," Richard told him. "It's not losing if you choose a different race. I didn't want the stupid Twix. I'm having a Kit Kat."

He left the portakabin to the gleeful sound of Jeremy's howl of distemper.

 

The afternoon seemed to run on and on and it was quarter to six before Richard and Jeremy finally finished out on the track. Sophia—who hadn't forgiven either of them for lunchtime yet, nor did she show any sign of doing so in the near future—was waiting by the portakabin with two cracked mugs of tea and two digestives resting haphazardly on a faded tray with the twelve days of Christmas on it, pointedly ignoring them both and reading a copy of Wuthering Heights bulldog-clipped to her clipboard.

Jeremy—who was late for dinner with some family friends—grabbed the tea and kissed Sophia on the cheek on the way past to his caravan. She looked vaguely mollified and Jeremy contented himself with a quick grin, turning round and calling back and if Piers fucking Morgan is hiding in the bushes with a long range lens then that was completely innocent, okay? Richard, who wasn't late for anything because it was Mindy's evening at the gym and then out with the girls afterwards, shook his head with a grin and reached for the remaining mug of tea. "I don't suppose there are any coconut rings left, are there?" he asked, with his best attempt at a cheeky smile.

"Nope," Sophia told him, turning the page of her book and not looking at him. "I gave the last of them to James."

James had managed to shoot off early, having finished his pieces to camera after lunch whilst Jeremy and Richard were in the middle of an argument about the boot space in the new Alfa Romeo. Richard had spotted him sticking two fingers up at them both from outside the portakabin at least half an hour ago, jacket on and a rolled up copy of the Daily Telegraph under his arm as he strolled back across the car park.

"Are you sure you haven't got a secret biscuit stock somewhere?" Richard wheedled, looking hopeful as he dunked his digestive biscuit in the lukewarm tea.

"Not for you," Sophia told him, shortly. She turned another page in her book.

"Rich shortie?" Richard asked, attempting to look thoroughly miserable at the thought of a mere digestive after a long day of, well, cocking about to camera. "Garibaldi? Bourbon? Ginger Thin? Anything?"

Sophia sighed, and folded over the corner of her page, closing her book. "You drive me mad, you know that, right?"

Richard wrinkled his nose apologetically. "I know, I know." He cocked his head to one side. "Does this mean you've got the good biscuits hidden away in a cupboard somewhere?"

Sophia rolled her eyes and marched back up the steps into the portakabin. "I mean, you drive me crazy. The whole lot of you. Insane. One minutes it's all cars and torque and how fast can you go, the next it's all biscuits and pullovers and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off and stupid prog rock-"

Richard scratched his nose awkwardly. "Well, yes, but-"

"-and then the next thing you know you'll be fighting over driving the Bugatti but none of you will do it if you can't go to a race track in Germany that knows how to make a decent cup of tea-"

Richard cleared his throat. "It wasn't exactly a deal breaker-"

"Oh no," Sophia went on, squeezing her way into the tiny toilet cubicle she'd resolutely maintained would be women only (because apparently there needed to be some haven somewhere out here, even if it was only three foot by two foot and lacking a radiator) and shutting the door behind her, leaving Richard feeling like he'd much rather just have taken the cup of tea and run. He'd only fancied something with a few currants in or perhaps a bit of icing or a smattering of sugar on the top. From inside the tiny room came the sounds of cupboard doors being opened and cellophane wrappers being torn open. Moments later, Sophia stuck her head back around the door and presented him with three fruit shorties and a pink wafer. "Now go home and leave me alone," she said, severely.

Richard—who was beginning to regret ever having crossed her—held up his hands in a gesture of supplication and backed away. "I'm going, I'm going," he told her, with a grin. He took a bite of pink wafer, wiping away the crumbs with the back of his hand. "You know we love you, Soph," he went on, "You're the best production assistant we've got."

"I hate you," Sophia told him, shaking her head. "I can't believe I gave you extra biscuits. Never again," she went on, unfolding herself from the tiny, cramped safe haven of the female staff toilet and shutting the door behind her. "I'm saving them all for James."

"He'll stop being your favourite once he tries to tell you about his new crankshaft," Richard grinned, grabbing his jacket from where he'd left it across the back of the sagging sofa.

"Go home," Sophia begged him. "Please."

Richard kissed her on the cheek on the way out.

Taped to the windscreen of his 911 was a folded up note scribbled on the back of the Telegraph crossword in red felt tip: If you're hungry, there's a cheese sandwich in my fridge with your name on it.

Richard smiled, glancing around the car park to see if anyone was watching. His fingers twitched, remembering the sight of James naked and on his knees in James's hallway, sucking Richard off. Taking a deep breath, he reached for his mobile. James didn't answer—likely as not he was still driving home and out of all of them, James was the least likely to have any sort of hands free kit set up in his car—but Richard left him a message. "Make mine a cheese and pickle," he said, feeling guilty and elated all at the same time. His fingers touched at his waistband, the inside of his wrist, his mouth. "I'll pick us up a bottle of wine on the way."

Fifteen minutes later, pulled up at the traffic lights, his phone buzzed with a text message. Will do, it said, then another one came through on its heels. See you soon Hammond. Richard wiped his palms on his jeans and felt his skin burn with anticipation.

 

It was a nice evening, all warm sun and gentle breeze. Despite the evening sun, there were still puddles after the bad weather of the past few days and Richard ended up hopping over a big one on the way into James's back garden. He had managed to find a parking space down at the end of the road, which was both lucky and fortuitous as Richard couldn't help but feel nervous and he felt like he'd have gone back to Gloucestershire if he'd had half a good reason. By the time he'd got to James's back gate he'd had to take a deep breath and square his shoulders before he could stroll casually into James's garden, brandishing an Oddbins carrier bag in one hand and his jacket in the other. James's kitchen door was propped open and James was inside, dressed in a different stripy top to the one he'd been sporting on set earlier, doing the drying up and humming along to Radio 3.

"You've changed your clothes," Richard said, leaning against the doorjamb. Afterwards, when he'd apologised for making James jump out of his skin, he sort of thought that hello might have been a better opener. He smiled awkwardly. "Hey."

James nodded clumsily, leaning over to switch off the radio and trailing soap suds across the counter top from the dish he was drying. "Pesky crank shaft," he said—as if that explained everything.

It probably did, at least as far as James understood, so Richard just waved the carrier bag in James's general direction and told him he'd bought wine.

"Good," James said, putting away a chopping board and leaning over to dry the last couple of knives on the draining board. Opening the drawer by his hip, he handed Richard the bottle opener.

Richard had been nervous and anticipatory for the whole duration of his journey over, and he found himself a little disconcerted now he was actually here. For the first time since James had moved in a few years earlier, Richard could see surfaces and counter tops in James's kitchen. Counters which had hitherto only been used to house spark plugs or test oil filters were clear and there weren't even any old oily newspapers in sight. There was even a recipe book holder leaning up against the microwave that didn't have any sort of motorcycle maintenance manual open on it, and last and most surprisingly, the table was entirely clear of old motorcycle engine. Whenever Richard had been over before, they'd either eaten takeaway off their knees in the living room or on the odd occasion where James had cooked, they'd cleared a space on the dining room table in between piles of old jazz LPs and James's motorcycle leathers. Now, the kitchen table had been laid out for dinner. Knives, forks, table mats, wine glasses and a bowl of salad set down in the middle.

Richard bit his lip and swallowed, trying to find something to say.

James wasn't looking at him, ostensibly wiping down the sink and the draining board with a dish cloth.

"Cheese sandwich, you said," Richard managed eventually, gruffly.

James rinsed out his cloth and draped it over the tap to dry. Opening the fridge, he came out with two plates wrapped in clingfilm. "It's not a big jump from a cheese sandwich to a ploughmans," James told him, not meeting Richard's eye. He set the plates down on the table mats, peeling off the clingfilm to reveal slabs of cheese and pickles and crackers and slices of apple. He set down a bowl of bread rolls next to the salad.

"Not that big a jump, my arse," Richard told him, gently. He gestured at the kitchen table. "You've moved your motorbike."

James was busying himself across the kitchen, bringing over butter on a steel pat and filling two glasses of water and doing anything but looking at Richard.

"Ah," James said, nodding. Turning around he lined up the salad bowl right in the centre of the table, touching the hem of his jumper with nervous fingers. "Yes. I did."

Richard nodded slowly, smiling. His hands were warm. He'd opened many a bottle of wine in his time, but it had been a long time since his fingers slipped on the neck of the bottle and the corkscrew wobbled in his palm. He reddened, the cork sliding out with a soft pop. He put the bottle down on the table to breath. "You great idiot," he said softly, stepping round the table to where James was straightening the cutlery. His fingers splayed in the small of James's back and he could feel James's sharp intake of breath beneath his palm. He touched James's hand with his, leaning in and nudging James's neck with his nose. "Thank you," he said, quietly.

"You're welcome," James said, gruffly. His hand closed over Richard's, squeezing briefly. Richard's cock nudged at his fly.

"God," Richard managed, after a moment. He pressed himself to James's back, half-hard cock pushed up against the curve of James's arse. "I've missed this," he said, which he only realised was strange after he'd said it. They'd never actually done this before, not like this. James pressed back against Richard, his hands moving backwards to stroke Richard's hips. Richard kissed the back of James's neck, mouth pressing at the warm skin beneath his hairline. He smelt like soap and faintly like new car—an indelible scent that seemed to follow them round day after day. Richard pressed closer, hand splayed across James's soft belly.

"We should eat," James told him, after a moment. His fingers touched at the pockets of Richard's jeans.

Richard's palm brushed James's. "Yes," he said, pulling away. "Of course."

It was turning into a lovely, warm evening with the sun shining through the open door and glinting through the kitchen window. James opened the top button of his shirt before pulling out the chair nearest the door into the hall. Much to Richard's confusion, he didn't sit down. Instead, he nodded at Richard. "Please," James said, indicating the seat. "Sit down."

Richard thought back but he couldn't remember a single time in his whole life where anyone had ever pulled a seat out for him. He swallowed, hard, and didn't know what to do with his hands. "You great idiot," he said again, and he barely recognised the cadence of his own voice. As he sat down, James touched at his neck briefly with the tips of his fingers. Richard's skin burnt.

"How much wine would you like?" James asked, relatively politely, and Richard was left wondering how James appeared to be in such control when Richard was struggling to maintain any semblance of it. His cock was pushing up against his fly and his whole body thrummed with desire and want. His nerves were showing; he grabbed onto the water glass to stop his hand from shaking. He didn't know what he'd expected from this evening—he'd seen the promise of a cheese sandwich and other than the inevitable thoughts of James naked on his knees before him, he hadn't thought much further. He still didn't know what it was he expected from this whole damn thing that he couldn't quite bring himself to put a name to. He was married, for Christ's sake. Married, and trying to come to terms with being - pretty much exclusively—gay. Trying to put a name to what he was starting to realise he felt for James might be a step too far too soon. It was enough for him to have to come to terms with the realisation that he hadn't been as happy as he'd assumed he was. He'd thought he'd got everything he'd wanted—except children, but that was one of those things that fate had conspired against them to prevent, and Richard had thought he'd come to terms with that particular disappointment in his life—and Richard was finding it difficult to adjust to the realisation that he really wasn't and hadn't been as happy and as satisfied as he'd believed himself to be. For a long time he thought he had been happy. He and Mindy had muddled through for a long time before the cracks had begun to show; it had only been over the past two or three years that things had become strained and they'd got to this point—where they barely saw each other and slept in separate bedrooms and made their own entertainment. Richard couldn't bring himself to write off the majority of his adult life as an unsatisfactory; for the most part he really had been happy.

He just-

He hadn't known that he could have been experiencing this instead.

"Hammond. Wine." James cut into his thoughts with a tilt of the wine bottle.

"Please," Richard told him, nudging the glass nearer to James. "But I've got to drive later so make it a small one." He swallowed, licking his dry lips.

James poured him half a small glass. "You should eat something first," he told Richard, quietly. "Have some more in a bit."

"Thanks," Richard said, reaching for the glass as James pushed it towards him. Their fingers brushed.

"We should have music," James said abruptly, standing up again. He went over to fiddle with the cassette player in the corner. A crackly piece of piano music Richard barely recognised started, mid-piece, and James came back to the table and poured himself a large glass of wine.

"James-" Richard started, haltingly.

"You and Jeremy were doing your best to drive Sophia mad today. You'd better watch out, she's canny. She'll have her revenge when you least expect it," James interrupted him, reaching for a roll and breaking it open so he could butter it.

"Yeah. James-" Richard said again, taking a gulp of wine and swallowing before he got a change to really taste it.

James sighed slowly and put his roll down on the side of his plate. "What?" he said, finally.

"I just-" Richard stopped. He reached for a roll and passed it nervously from hand to hand. "I just wanted to say-"

"Look, Hammond." James interrupted. "If you have to go, you can just say so. It's okay. You don't have to explain."

"Wha- I don't-" Richard shook his head in confusion. "That's not what I wanted to say. I can stay. For food and- and. Stuff. Then I have to go. Later."

James put down his knife and let out a deep breath. "Right. Alright."

"I wish I didn't always have to go," Richard said, finally.

James took a bite of his roll, chewing slowly. "I do too," he said, after he'd finished his mouthful. He wiped his mouth with his napkin. "But it's alright."

It didn't look to Richard as if it was, but this was how things were and that was that. "Thank you for doing this," Richard told him, pointing at his plate with the tip of his knife. "And thank you for pulling my chair out." Christ, he was an idiot. No one said that. He busied himself cutting into his roll.

James was watching him with a strange look on his face.

"I was thinking," Richard ploughed on, regardless of the fact that he hadn't, this was an entirely spur of the moment thought, "that maybe at the end of the week I could stay over. Or maybe you could come stay at the flat." The flat he and Mindy owned was just south of the river, somewhere for Richard to stay when his filming commitments meant he couldn't always get back and forth from Gloucestershire. In recent months Richard had spent more time there than perhaps he strictly needed to. They'd bought it round about the time that they'd started trying for a baby, about the time Top Gear had been re-launched. Over the years they'd talked about getting rid of it, saving the money on the mortgage and the upkeep and the tax and just plumping for a hotel or a B&B when necessity meant Richard had to stay overnight in London. They'd talked about using the money for something else; maybe IVF or even adopting a child in the future. They'd kept it on because sometimes it was just easier this way. Sometimes it was easier to fail to acknowledge failure by merely ignoring its existence. Sometimes it was easier to start living separate lives when there was some genuine mileage between husband and wife.

Right now it all seemed like someone else's life, very far away from anything Richard could recognise as his own.

"James," Richard said, after a long moment where James stared at his plate and Richard's fingers closed around the stem of the wine glass. "Would you like to? This weekend?"

James took another bite of his roll and didn't look at Richard, washing the bread down with a gulp of red—there wouldn't be any left at this rate—and nodded. "Yes," he said finally. "I'd like that. To spend some time with, well. With you." He looked across at Richard. "It's been a long time since I've been able to spend a weekend with a-" he stopped.

Richard nodded quickly. James didn't need to finish his sentence, although it looked as if James didn't quite realise that. "It's okay," he said, stopping James with a touch to his hand. "I know what you mean."

James's eyes crinkled. "Good," he said, "because I just don't know what to call you."

Richard rolled his eyes. "Let's not have this conversation," he started, shaking his head.

"I mean," James went on, blithely ignoring Richard, "I don't know what you are anymore. I mean, we're still mates. We're still colleagues, but now, what with the sex-"

"I might have to stab you," Richard told him, conversationally. "with this fork, if you say one more word. Is that okay?"

"Can't avoid the conversation forever, Hammond. It's a matter of delicacy in any case, because I've been reading up on it and it seems like the accepted term is lover, but I rather think that's quite old fashioned-"

"Look," Richard interrupted, desperately, tearing his bread roll into pieces. "We're having an affair, okay? That's enough, right?" He wasn't entirely sure his brain could cope with concepts likeboyfriend or lover right at this moment. It was bad enough trying to negotiate the pitfalls of having an affair without trying to put a name to what they were feeling.

James looked across at him meditatively, watching Richard for a moment before reaching across for some salad. "Would you like to come upstairs, Hammond?" he asked, in between a bite of beetroot and a slice of apple.

Richard's piece of cucumber got stuck in his throat and he coughed, awkwardly. "Upstairs?" he asked, red-faced. He swallowed, hard.

"Unless you're really hungry," James went on, crunching on a pickled onion. "We had sandwiches for lunch, anyway. This lot can just go back in the fridge until later."

Richard stared across at him, and wondered if at any point in the history of the world outside of the life of James May, sex had been repeatedly offered at the same time as pickled onions. Out of something that felt a little bit like competitiveness, he stabbed one of his own with his fork and ate it. "I think food can wait," he said finally, downing the remains of his glass of wine.

James—who was lucky enough not to have to drive for the rest of the evening, poured himself a second large glass, downing it in one. "Good," he said, "because I've rather wanted to get you out of that shirt all day, Hammond."

Richard grinned, unable to stop his face reddening. He took a long gulp of water, wishing that he wasn't driving either so he could have some more wine. "I think," he cleared his throat, "I think, May, that can be arranged."

"Good," James said, and led the way upstairs. Richard followed behind, grinning at the speed at which James had locked the kitchen door and carefully put the key on the counter by the kettle. Richard was still hungry but he was excited enough not to be able to pick at the remains of the food on the plate whilst he waited for James. There had been something about the whole day that was somehow slightly off kilter—from the phone calls to annoying Sophia to getting here and not knowing what the hell to say to each other.

James led the way into his bedroom, which looked much the same as it had done last time, aside from the change in duvet cover to one which was a dark, burgundy red like the wine. There was a pile of clean washing, hastily folded, on the chair by the wardrobe and the window was partially open. James closed it, muttering something about this time of the evening it's the wrong side of the house for the sun. Richard thrust his hands into his pockets and wondered just what path he'd travelled down that meant that this was where his life had ended up. He felt like he barely knew himself. He revelled in the challenge of finding out just who he was.

James pulled the curtains closed. "I want you all to myself," he said, turning around with a shrug of his shoulders.

"You idiot," Richard said again, with a slow smile.

"That's what they say," James told him. He nodded, his eyes crinkling in the half-light. "God, you looked good today."

"Bugger off," Richard grinned, embarrassed.

"You did," James said, with a laugh. He shook his head. "It's a nice shirt. You look good in it."

"So you said," Richard grinned back, unable to help himself. "I still can't believe you rang me up to tell me."

James shook his head. "Can't quite believe it myself." He shrugged his shoulders, grinning. "It wasn't exactly a premeditated move on my part."

"Doesn't surprise me," Richard told him. He smiled, ducking his gaze and blushing. "You were half way to getting me hard in front of everyone, you know. I thought they'd all notice when I turned round with a hard on."

James raised an eyebrow. "You were only half hard?" he shook his head, adding gruffly, "Just looking at you today made me want to come. When I heard you at the end of the phone it was almost enough to tip me over the edge."

Richard swallowed loudly. His cock throbbed. "I'm hard now," he said, and even though it was true he could barely believe he'd said it. Before this, before James, he'd thought of sex as being an action. A verb. A doing word. Sex was something you did and something you had and having it be this instead—this all encompassing experience of words and watching and anticipation and breathing and everything besides—this was like something out of a fantasy.

James watched him for a long moment. Then—Richard didn't know quite how it happened or who started it or indeed, who moved first—Richard found himself at the end of James's bed, hands in James's hair, kissing him. James had his hands on Richard's hips, and Richard found himself touching James's cheeks with the pads of his thumbs, ankle hooked around James's and stroking at his calf through his jeans. James was running his hands up and down Richard's back, groaning against his mouth and maybe it was all very well trying to figure out the logistics of what constituted an affair and what didn't and when it started to mean more, but right now Richard knew what he wanted and it was this.

And it wasn't just Richard who was hard, because James's hands had found their way to Richard's arse, tugging him closer and pulling him flush against James's own erection. Richard found himself gasping a breath against James's mouth, because he didn't think he'd ever really, truly get used to that feeling, that moment of clarity and realisation that came with knowing he'd managed to turn James on. He felt like he could achieve anything.

Richard couldn't stop touching James, running the palms of his hands up James's arms, thumbs against his elbows, pushing up the sleeves so that he could touch the pale white skin at the inside of his wrist. James cupped the back of Richard's head, mouth pressed against his, wet and hot. Sometimes kissing James felt just like it had right back at the beginning when everything had been undefined and unexpected—but never, surprisingly, unwanted. James, he groaned, words fuzzy against James's tongue. He pulled away, fingers pressing into James's biceps. He loved the feel of James, loved how he was soft to the touch. He loved touching him, loved the taste of James's skin beneath his tongue, loved what it felt like to brush his thumb across James's hand. "James," he managed, pulling away and clearing his throat.

James nudged Richard's nose with his own, mouth red and wet and wide. "What?" he asked, breathlessly, eyes hooded.

"Let me see you naked." Richard touched his fingers to the back of James's neck, words falling over each other in one long breath.

Startled out of his heat for a moment, James laughed out loud and leaned in to press a kiss to Richard's jaw. "Now who's the idiot?" he asked, softly. "You asking me instead of the other way around."

Richard closed his eyes as James stroked Richard's jaw with his thumb. "Are you kidding me?" he managed, finally, his hand closing around James's wrist. "Haven't you got it yet? I just-" he stopped, shaking his head and rolling his eyes, "I love seeing you naked, okay? I love seeing you hard." He watched James flush red deep down under his collar. His thumb brushed James's wrist bone. He wanted to lick at James's blush, feel the heat beneath his tongue. "I love seeing you hard for me," he told him, his voice low. "I love it when you come-"

James stopped him with a kiss; he pressed his mouth to Richard's and Richard only stopped talking when James growled, the sound dark and hard in his throat. It went straight to Richard's cock and he pressed up against James's thigh.

"Christ," James managed, pressing back.

Richard—who could feel the shift in the mood, feel the growing desperation deep in his stomach, who needed to feel the touch of James's skin beneath his palm—reached down and slid his hand in between them, closing his hand around James's erection. "This is what I want," he told James, with hasty breaths. James groaned again, his head falling back. The back of Richard's hand was rubbing against his own erection as he stroked James and he couldn't help but gasp his approval. Then, in case James still hadn't got it, Richard swallowed and said, "You're what I want."

Richard pulled away without giving James a chance to respond, trying to unbutton his shirt with trembling fingers. He felt like his fingers had got bigger and the button holes smaller and he couldn't remember a time before when getting undressed had been a test of ingenuity before, but maybe the world really had shifted on its axis over the past few weeks because everything seemed upside down and topsy turvy to Richard. And right at the heart of it, Richard knew, was the world-altering fact that Richard had fallen for one of his best friends, who just so happened to be neither his wife nor a woman.

And James had terrible hair. Richard tended to consider hair care second only to cleanliness.

When it came to undressing, James had it relatively easy since he only had to pull his jumper over his head and undo his jeans and pull off his socks and underpants. Richard, however, had dressed conspicuously complicatedly, with buttons and lace up converse trainers he'd tied in a double knot before leaving that morning. In order to keep up with James's rate of stripping, Richard should really have started undressing the previous year.

Richard grumbled but James just laughed and leaned over, pressing his mouth to Richard's jaw. "I get the better end of the deal," James told him, smiling against Richard's skin, pressing his mouth to Richard's jaw and tasting his way down Richard's jaw. His hands slid downwards, down below the waistband of Richard's jeans. Richard found it difficult to keep his balance now he was faced with an over-eager James and he ended up stumbling backwards onto the bed, jeans down around his thighs and his shirt hanging open. James sank down to his knees in front of him.

"Richard," James said, politely, before tugging at Richard's pants, hitching at his hips so that Richard shucked upwards and James pulled Richard's pants down over his erection. James wrapped his palm around the base and took the head of Richard's cock in his mouth.

"Jesus Christ," Richard groaned, collapsing back on to his elbows. His shirt was hanging off his wrists and his jeans were pooled down by his ankles. James laughed against Richard's cock, all hot, fuzzy breath and the wet slide of James's tongue and it was all Richard could do not to run his hands through James's hair and hold James there forever.

But this wasn't how Richard wanted to come, not this time. He wanted James up here, on the bed next to him, and he wanted to be kissing him and touching him and feeling the damp slide of James's cock against his stomach, flush against his own. "James," Richard said, and he could barely get the words out. It was a colossal thing to ask of anyone, to pull away mid way through a blow job. "James," Richard said again, pushing ineffectually at James with the heel of his hand.

James pulled away with a soft pop and Richard was left to shrug off his shirt and kick off his trainers, leaning over to loosen the shoelaces enough to slide his feet out. His damp cock left trails across his belly as he bent down. James had pulled himself up onto the bed beside him; his hand was splayed across the small of Richard's back, very slowly marking a pathway down across his vertebrae until they reached the cleft of Richard's arse. Richard shivered in momentary anticipation, fingers stilling as they struggled to undo the knot in his shoelace. "Stupid, stupid knot," he said, and he couldn't even recognise his voice as his own.

"Yeah," James said, and cupped Richard's chin, leaning down to press his mouth to Richard's. Richard toed off his trainers awkwardly, leaning back into James's kiss, James's hand cupping his jaw. He was trying to kick off his pants and jeans and all the time kiss back harder, struggling to find traces of himself in James's kiss.

Which was how it came to be that Richard was lying back across James's bed, stocking feet hung over the side, cock bouncing as James slowly covered Richard's body with his own, lying on top of him. James was still cupping his face, fingers stroking Richard's cheeks and forehead and eyelids and jaw as he kissed him; Richard's hands were roving across the plain of James's back, stroking his sides, the pale strip of skin between armpit and hip. Richard's hips jerked, his cock trapped against James's thighs.

"Richard," James muttered, rolling over, knees on either side of Richard's thighs. It gave Richard's cock momentary release and it bobbed to attention, James's cock brushing against it. James took them both in his hand, rubbing his palm first against his own damp slit and then against Richard's; he held them both in his fist and Richard just looked across and thought his whole world was right here in the room with him and he'd never even realised. "I never thought-" he started to say, and he wanted to say, I never thought it would be you, but he couldn't, not yet, maybe notever, so he stopped and just watched instead. Watched as James slowly started to stroke, to encase them both in a flick of the wrist and a slow, continued wank. Richard groaned and flushed red, his skin prickling as James continued to bring them both off, his gaze first fixed between them and then slowly rising to meet Richard's. Richard thought that maybe he'd seen everything there was to see with James but he was wrong, because what Richard could see in James's eyes caused Richard's hands to twitch and his fingers to reach for James and Christ, never to let him go. Richard had never, never seen anyone look at him like that before, and he couldn't do it for long; it was like staring into the sun and expecting it not to blind him.

Richard ducked his head away from James's gaze and ran his hand down his chest, fingertips brushing James's nipples. James was beginning to grey in all the right places, his temples, his chest, his pubic hair, and Richard was fascinated. He touched him reverently, his breathing staccato as James continued to awkwardly bring them both off.

Afterwards, when James's face was buried in the curve of Richard's neck, his damp forehead pressed to the warm skin beneath Richard's ear, his breath hot against Richard's collarbone, Richard wondered how he'd managed to do without this—without him—for so many years. He wanted to ask James if it was the same for him, but he couldn't, and it probably wouldn't be, so he just licked gently at James's ear and ran his hand slowly through James's hair as their breathing regulated and stilled. His stomach was a sticky mess of come and sweat, and he really should be making some sort of move to push James away and clean himself up, especially as James was heavy and the bed large enough for two.

James made the decision for him, a moment later, rolling off Richard and shifting sideways so he was lying with his head on the pillow. "Phew," he said, after a moment, half-heartedly mopping at his stomach with a Kleenex man-sized.

Richard shook his head and shifted beside him, leaning down and peeling off his socks. He reached over James to help himself to a tissue, wiping his cock and balls and belly. It didn't particularly work; he was sticky and damp and he couldn't be bothered. Instead, he lay back on the pillow, twisting awkwardly so he could roll the duvet out from under him and climb underneath for a minute. James did the same after a moment, rolling sideways off the bed and pulling back the duvet and clambering underneath. James lay back against the pillow, arms behind his head, and Richard couldn't help but lean over and touch his fingers to the pale, milk-white soft skin of James's bicep.

"It's not exactly muscle," James said, awkwardly, after a minute.

"I wouldn't be here if it was," Richard told him, truthfully. He didn't want muscle. He wanted this—he wanted James, with his belly and his skinny calves and his stupid, stupid £3.50 haircut and his greying chest hair and the wrinkles round his eyes that Richard touched as James smiled.

James closed his eyes. "I wish you could stay," he said, so quietly Richard could barely hear him.

Richard thought of his house, and Mindy in the kitchen reading a magazine and pinning photos of their horses to a notice board by the fridge, the dogs asleep by the fire. He thought of her smile, and how when they were first married she'd kiss him on the cheek as she went out; of her stupid bouncy ring tone whenever her mobile rang, of the way she'd looked first thing in the morning when she'd just woken up and he was laid beside her, half asleep and smiling. He thought about her yelling at him every time he brought home another old wreck of a supercar; another £30,000 on a five year old Porsche 911 which hardly needed any work, or some Landrover he'd ended up buying off Ebay with James late one night after drinking their way through Jeremy's kitchen. About how she kept telling him he should be more careful spending their money, about how he wouldn't be pleased if every time she came home after a night out with the girls she'd bought another piebald or a racehorse that was destined only for the knackers yard. Richard thought about how he wanted to shout back it's my money, not ours, but something stopped him. And then she'd just roll her eyes and shout in frustration and end up out by the stables stroking the noses of the horses and walking the dogs. He thought about how he'd started keeping his clothes in the spare bedroom, about how Mindy kept his clothes in the spare bedroom. About how they had separate shelves in the fridge and separate beds and separate rooms for watching television in during the evenings. About how they weren't married anymore and the protracted lie was killing them both.

He thought about James, who hated the country with a fiery passion and would rather cut his own arm off than spend a weekend out in the stables or anything even vaguely similar. James, who could play the bloody harpsichord, whatever the hell one of those was, who had a cupboard full of musical instruments he didn't play any more and a shed full of old motorbikes and had cars scattered across the home counties in lock-ups. Who promised him cheese sandwiches and gave him ploughmans; who promised him sex and gave him more. He thought of their night together this weekend, and his cock twitched sleepily.

He leaned over and touched his mouth to James's. "I wish I could stay too," he said, ever so quietly, and he hadn't known guilt could hurt this much.
Part Sixteen

 

The next time came around partly because of Clarkson, but Richard didn't feel the need to point out his benevolence.

They were filming out at Dunsfold, doing test laps with the latest 4x4s to test their cornering, but Jeremy was hungover and knackered and grumpy and pissing everyone off. He was being rude to the men from Mitsubishi (Christ, who'd you model that one on, your wife's mother?), which was excusable because it was true, and being even ruder to the lady from Toyota, (corners like a ferret on speed and that's what we need more of on the roads, another complete wash-out, well done) which was vaguely acceptable because it did corner something terrible, but he was being positively caustic towards the man from Mercedes (it's not even the best of the sexually transmitted diseases. It's a rubbish sexually transmitted disease, it probably doesn't even have symptoms, just eats away at your knob from the inside until it just drops off), who was one step away from going home and taking his cars with him.

Richard had attempted to shut him up before they ended up with no cars and nothing to film and hadn't that always ended well in the past. It usually meant them having to come back to the racetrack at arse o'clock on a Sunday and then it wasn't just Jeremy being grumpy and not playing nice, it was all three of them. Especially if it ended up being this Sunday, because this Sunday Richard had plans to wake up next to James and nothing in the world was going to stop that, not even Jeremy sodding Clarkson. Especially not Jeremy cockface Clarkson, if Richard had anything to do with it.

James hadn't been so stupid as to try and shut Jeremy up; he seemed to have remembered what Richard had clearly forgotten which was that trying to shut Jeremy up was a bit like trying to stop a freight train with a banana. He was leaning on the bonnet of the Toyota, looking like he was trying to ignore both Jeremy (what do you mean, it's a futuristic design? It looks like you've taken the old design and given it to a three year old and said draw me a new one) and Richard (what Jeremy means to say is that it's a grower) and Jeremy again (I don't mean that at all, you poor man's excuse for a gerbil, I mean it's the ugliest fucking car I've seen in years and you'd have to be blind, stood in the dark and have your back to it, and, oh yes, fucking stupid before you'd even consider handing over good money for it; it'll probably sell a lot in Cheshire) in favour of eating a kit kat and having a cup of tea out of a mug with a reindeer on the front.

When Richard stomped back a moment later, muttering cock under his breath and with his fists clenched, James handed him a finger of his kit kat without a word.

"Jeremy's bloody crazy," Richard said, grumpily. "If we end up back here on Sunday morning, I'll kill him."

"He's being a cock," James agreed, handing him another finger of his kit kat.

Richard took it and devoured it in two bites. He licked his lips. He noticed the woman from Toyota giving them the evil eye for getting chocolate crumbs on the bonnet. "Uh-oh," he said, under his breath, nudging James, "Looks like we're in for it as well."

James coughed, awkwardly hiding the packet of kit kats under his jacket as she approached and putting his hand behind his back. Richard coughed and touched his mouth with his fist. "Hello," he said, plastering a smile on his face. "Nice car."

"Hullo," James said, holding out his other, kit kat free, hand. "Lovely weather today."

"Just so you know," she told them, folding her arms, "I'm never coming here again."

Richard wrinkled his nose, "I can see why you might have come to that decision," he said, eyeing Jeremy dubiously. Andy had headed the Mercedes man off at the post and was attempting to negotiate a peace settlement.

"But really we're both very nice," James told her, interrupting Richard. "And we really like your car."

"Do we?" Richard asked, shooting James a sidelong look. "I thought it cornered badly."

"Well," James said, cocking his head to one side. "It does. But then so does the Alfa we did last week, and that ended up being a Top Gear Top Tip."

"That's right," Richard conceded. "Well," he said, turning back to face the lady from Toyota. "We like your car more than he does," he told her, pointing in Jeremy's direction. Jeremy had his arms folded and was shaking his head, which was never a good sign. Once he started ripping up the production notes, they were all going to be back here on Sunday morning and Richard was going to murder Jeremy in his sleep. With a fork.

Luckily, at that moment Sophia arrived with one of the caterers to shepherd the reps into the hanger for a selection of tea, coconut rings and ham sandwiches, and she shot them a filthy look. "There is no way on earth I'm coming in on Sunday morning," she hissed, hurrying back after she'd dispatched her in the direction of the hanger, "I have a date on Saturday," Richard looked at his fingernails and tried not to go red. James was suddenly very interested in the radiator slats on the front grill of the Toyota. "So will you kindly bugger off and not antagonise any more of the guests for twenty minutes whilst we have some lunch?"

"It's not us," Richard broke in without thinking, "It's Jeremy. He's the one driving everyone batshit crazy insane."

Sophia rolled her eyes. "Today, it's Jeremy. Next week, it'll be James refusing to do the shot because he hasn't got the wing mirrors lined up and tomorrow it'll be you wanting another take because you think your hair's a mess."

"That was one time," Richard told her. Again.

"It's dangerous to drive without your wing mirrors lined up," James said, mildly. "Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Those are the rules."

Sophia rolled her shoulders ominously.

Richard bit his lip and wished he'd never opened his mouth.

"I'm not going to scream," Sophia said, very carefully. "Instead, I'm going to walk back to the hanger and make polite conversation with people I have absolutely no interest in talking to, and I'm going to do it with a smile on my face. After that, I'm going to lock myself in the cupboard we call our office, and I'm going to eat a whole packet of party rings and not talk to any of you."

Richard found himself nodding. James was doing the same.

"-Then," she went on, and her smile was fixed-frozen to her face, "I'm going to come out here and not kill any of you. And that will be my achievement for today."

"And very worthy it is too," said James, who never knew when not to talk. Richard elbowed him in the ribs.

"Meanwhile you two," Sophia continued, "you two are going to disappear and not cause any trouble for a whole half hour. If we have to come back here on Sunday morning, I'm going to hold you two responsible, even if it's down to Jeremy. Is that understood?"

"Uh-huh," Richard said, hands in his pockets. His hips bumped gently against James's. James nudged back, thigh pressed up against Richard's.

"Perfectly," James told her, surreptitiously depositing a mostly-melted kit kat onto the bonnet of the Toyota. Richard hid a grin as James was left with a chocolate-covered palm and nowhere to wipe it.

Sophia probably hadn't meant James to wait until Andy had dragged Jeremy off in the direction of the car park (still arguing loudly about appropriate behaviour but looking decidedly as if they were heading straight for the nearest pub) - and then drag Richard into the kitchen and try and blow him up against the door, but that's what he did anyway.

"James, what are we doing?" Richard asked, as James pushed him up the steps into the portakabin.

"What do you think?" James said, eyeing his chocolate-covered hand with some distaste and shoving Richard through the door and down towards the tiny kitchen. There was no one around because there was free food on offer in the hanger, and not one of the crew could resist the temptation of an egg sandwich and an orange club bar when it was freely offered.

Richard did one last sweep for concealed crew members and pushed James through the kitchen door, grinning and wondering what James tasted like with melted kit kat across his palm. James was grinning back, smile half hidden under shaggy windswept hair as he kicked aside a giant box of Yorkshire Tea teabags and an even larger box of sugar sachets to make more room for them. Richard kicked the door shut with his foot and pressed his palm to James's sternum, reaching down and taking hold of James's hand to find out what he tasted like.

"What are you doing?" James asked, smiling in surprise as Richard pressed him up against the wall, keeping him in place with the flat of his hand.

"Seeing what you taste like," Richard told him, carefully studying James's chocolatey palm. It was James's own fault for clutching the kit kat mid-bite whilst being cornered by first the Toyota lady and secondly by a decisive Sophia, but he didn't seem to be complaining as Richard tentatively touched his palm with his tongue, judging by the sharp intake of breath and the way his fist clenched. Richard knew how stupid this was; he knew how much of an idiot he probably looked but James tasted of kit kat and faintly like the new leather of the steering wheels in the 4x4s and Richard was buggered if he could resist the temptation to lap at James's palm. Considering that James was watching him with dark eyes as Richard left wet stripes across his palm and up each finger, tasting his thumb and down to his wrist, Richard thought that perhaps it was okay he was doing his best impression of a cat.

"I think-" James started, and Richard was surprised how hoarse he sounded, "I think you've got it all."

"You want me-" Richard pressed his mouth to the pale skin of James's inner wrist "-to stop?"

"Hell no," James huffed a laugh, chest rising beneath Richard's fingers, "but I was going to blow you and we haven't got much time."

Richard's stomach skipped. "What if I wanted to blow you instead, huh?" he asked, grinning softly and watching James's face. He touched James's fingers with his own.

James coughed a breath. "I'd say that we don't have time to argue, else neither of us is going to get to come."

Richard blinked. "Good point," he said, and for good measure pushed James up against the door before kissing him. James kissed back, thumb brushing Richard's chin, his other hand cupping Richard's neck and holding him close. He hooked his ankle around Richard's, pulling him closer so that Richard was leaning perilously against James and hoping to God the door held out against their combined bodyweight.

Richard grinned against James's mouth. This was more like it; there was a lot (Christ, more than he'd ever imagined) to be said for hot, slow encounters in James's hallway or in his bedroom, but sometimes there was something equally exciting about the adrenaline that came from rushed, desperate, encounters just out of earshot of the rest of the crew. James was kissing him, hard, and tugging at Richard's fly with deft fingers; Richard groaned and pushed his erection up against James's inquisitive fingers, forgetting all about his offer to blow James in the face of his hard cock and James's hand.

Then James was pushing him back against the counter top, sliding down to his knees (with a creak and a crack, but Richard just laughed and buried his hands in James's hair, thumb stroking James's forehead as James shrugged his shoulders ruefully and smiled) and James tugged at his pants and ran his fingers along the length of Richard's cock before taking him into his mouth. Richard gasped in appreciation—Christ, he was never going to get bored of that feeling - he never wanted to, not when he could look down and see James on his knees with Richard's cock in his mouth. It was too much, it felt too good, the wet smack of skin and taste and sheer unadulterated heat. James's hand crawled up and under Richard's shirt, touching his stomach and stroking his way down from his belly button to the base of his erection. Richard hissed in a gasp, his hips rocking, and then James stroked his way down the cleft of Richard's arse. Richard's hips bucked uncontrollably, his skin burning as James continued to touch him.

Flushed burning red, Richard's head flew back, bumping against the kitchen cupboard so James faltered in his cocksucking (cocksucking, Christ on a stick), and Richard fought to reassure him, struggling for words and managing, it's ok, and James, and fuck yeah, which summed it up pretty well, all things considering. James laughed and hummed against his cock, and Richard laughed, breath caught in his throat.

James was utterly fucking magnificent at this, Richard realised somewhere between one breath and the next. His fingers tightened in James's hair, holding him there—not that James showed any likelihood of stopping, but Richard was hot and so hard and utterly desperate—and Richard swore he'd never forget what James looked like down on his knees.

When he felt the ever-so familiar tightening in the base of his stomach, the flickering, burning heat of orgasm, he tried his best to tell him, to say James, I'm coming, but James just sucked him down deeper, and that was that.

Richard rocked back on his heels, desperately struggling for breath, and rested his head back against the counter as James knelt back on his haunches. He went to wipe his mouth—there was a flick of come across the corner, his mouth red and wet—but Richard stopped him with a tired hand. "Don't," he managed, and beckoned him to his feet.

James waited a moment, before nodding and struggling up. There was a familiar damp patch across his crotch, the seemingly fixed-as-standard come stain that marked every one of their encounters. James smiled ruefully and shrugged. "Good thing I've got my jacket in the other room," he said, and blushed.

Richard swallowed hard, leaned in and kissed the corner of James's mouth, licking away his own come. He burned red.

James nudged his nose, breathing warm against Richard's mouth. He smelt like blow jobs; like come and sex and everything in between. James kissed him, fingers against Richard's neck, and Richard couldn't do other than kiss him back.

"Do you want-" Richard touched James's cock gently with his palm, and he couldn't help but feel relief when James shook his head and buried his face in Richard's neck.

"Not enough time for recovery," James murmured, kissing Richard's neck, just below his ear. Richard shivered, and wrapped his arms around James's back, hugging him.

There was a moment where James didn't hug back, and then he did, and Richard let out a breath he didn't know he was holding.

"Are we still on for this weekend?" James asked, after a minute, pulling away and loosening his shirt so it was out of his trousers and covering the come stain. "Does it look okay?" he asked, not waiting for Richard's answer.

"Unless Jeremy's fucked us over," Richard said, darkly. "And if he has, Soph and I will kill him together, so yeah. Whatever happens. We're on."

James nodded. "I'm glad," he said, finally.

Richard curled his fingers into James's hair, leaning in and kissing him fondly. "We should be getting back. Make sure Jeremy's not orchestrating his own murder."

"And maybe see if there's any sandwiches left," James said, hopefully. He kissed the corner of Richard's mouth.

Richard grinned and pulled open the door. "Come on," he said, "you great flipping idiot."

"Cock," James said, softly, and closed the door behind them.

Part Seventeen (a)

 

It was all very well saying that nothing would stop Richard from spending Saturday night with James, but Richard wasn't so sure that something wouldn't come up to spoil his plans. He did his best to avoid any such problems, telling Mindy he was spending the night in London and listening as she arranged to see to go out and stay in Bath with a friend she'd known since college. He did the standard Saturday morning things, the things he did most weeks, like going to the warehouse in Gloucester and picking up bags of feed for the chickens and the dogs and the rabbits and sometimes the horses, if he was doing Mindy a favour. He nipped into the supermarket to pick up something for lunch, and came back and cleaned out the rabbit hutches and fixed the chicken pen. He took the dogs for a long-ish walk across the fields and deliberately tried not to think about how betrayal made him less of a man. He threw sticks for Pickle, the puppy, and laughed as Starling, the eldest and most tired of the dogs, shunned running after sticks in favour of nosing round the bottom of trees, looking for rabbits. For so long this had been enough to satisfy him; he'd go back home and open the garage doors and let the dogs wander in and out as he played with his cars, coming in for lunch and flicking through Autotrader and having bacon sandwiches as the dogs nosed his palms looking for bacon scraps. Mindy usually rode on Saturday mornings, coming in exhausted and bright eyed around lunch time. In years gone by they'd have the radio on and read magazines at the kitchen table, Mindy drinking diet coke and Richard cups of tea. In recent months, they tended to retire to separate rooms, Mindy in the living room with a magazine and the TV on, Richard in the back room with his laptop and a copy of Autotrader.

For so long it had been enough and he'd never considered the possibility of there being something more.

This weekend, Mindy was rushing off to Bath and coming in and out of the bathroom trying new tops on and squeezing past Richard on the landing as she went back and forth to the mirror. In previous years, she would have been asking Richard what looked best. Time was, Richard would have looked at her and thought that she was the only thing in his world and he was the luckiest guy on earth for having someone so gorgeous on his arm.

He stopped her with a hand to her arm and told her she looked best in the pale blue, and she shook her head with a tight smile and packed the green. She looked tired, worn out even. This wasn't fair. "We need to talk," Richard said, softly. His chest hurt, his heart ached.

"Yeah," Mindy said, equally softly. She ducked her gaze and covered his hand with her own, squeezing awkwardly. "Next week, okay?"

Richard swallowed hard and nodded.

"I've got to go," Mindy said. "else I'll be late."

"Yeah," Richard echoed, and went to hide out in the back room with the dogs.

Pickle nosed at his knee and Richard thought about James, who was probably wearing entirely mismatched clothes and covered in engine oil and who was likely to be sorting his spanners out according to their name or some such rubbish, and he couldn't help but smile stupidly at the thought. He blushed at his own idiocy, concentrating on an advert in Autotrader to hide his embarrassment.

He read the entirety of Autotrader, from cover to cover, waiting for Mindy to leave. He circled adverts in red felt tip and made notes on the back of an envelope about a Landrover and an MG and a Triumph; haphazard scribbling that he probably wouldn't be able to read later and that he didn't really want to anyway. He wasn't interested, and that was strange enough all by itself without room for introspection.

Mindy left at about half one, and Richard listened until he couldn't hear the car anymore before he stood up. He'd held off finalising arrangements with James until now, and he sent him a text that just said Will be with you about five, want me to pick anything up? and went to throw a change of clothes in a bag.

He detoured to Cirencester on the way in; parking the 911 in the multi-storey and braving Saturday afternoon shoppers to fight his way into HMV. He didn't usually bother with town centre shopping on Saturdays; he was always being recognised and followed around and it drove him mad when all he wanted was a bit of privacy so he could buy a CD. He'd read James's column in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, something about the joyous cadence of ragtime and the sheer unadulterated pleasure that came from playing the Maple Leaf Rag in one's own home, followed by some lilting and typically James story about playing the piano stark bollock-naked in a summer evening as the sun faded through the windows, and deriving the utmost satisfaction by realising it was this that separated man from beast.

Richard had been hard by the time he'd finished the paragraph, which was perhaps the only time in his only time in his whole life he'd been turned on by non-fiction.

Then last week he'd heard James wittering on to one of the researchers during a particularly wet bit of weather out by the BMW test track about cadences and rhythm and Scott Joplin, and Richard had pretended he'd had to tie his shoelace so he could stay nearby and listen to the end of James's conversation. James's voice had burnt a path all the way down Richard's spine, causing his skin to prickle and his cock to harden against the fly of his jeans. He'd shivered in anticipation and had tried not to look at James as he stood up.

Richard knew he was in trouble, and he didn't want to think about it.

He knew nothing about Scott Joplin, so he ended up asking one of the shop assistants—a girl with black raven's wing hair and a pierced lip and far too much eye makeup. Richard was reminded of his own foray into the goth world, and hid a smile. Modern goths weren't real goths; they didn't have Robert Smith, for a start, and what was the point if you didn't have the Cure? He coughed, touching his mouth with his fist as he admitted he didn't have a clue what he was looking for (he caught the inevitable eye roll from the assistant, and stifled his own in response) only that he wanted some Scott Joplin to give as a gift. He ended up in the section behind the glass doors in the corner, where they didn't force feed modern punk to the musical connoisseurs who were busy flicking through the classical and jazz shelves in the hopes of finding some little heard gem they could wax lyrical about whilst smoking a pipe and stroking their beards. He ended up buying some Joplin compilation that was relatively new out in the vain hope that James wouldn't already own this particular version. Richard knew that James probably had every track on there already, but he was hoping that the gift would be enough all by itself.

So he handed over £9.99 and went back to the car, clambering in and fiddling with the CD player so he could listen to the CD on the way into London. He didn't exactly know why he'd bought it, only that he wanted to give James something, and this seemed the only thing that wasn't about cars that Richard could come up with. He rang James from the car park, muting the CD half way through the Maple Leaf Rag and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. Christ, he loved this car.

James answered on the sixth ring.

"Did you get my text?" Richard asked, without saying hello.

James sighed audibly. "No," he said, softly. "What did it say?"

"Just that I was on my way," Richard told him, suddenly aware of how tired James sighed. "And asking if you wanted me to pick anything up."

There was a long pause, and then James let out a deep breath.

"What?" Richard said, after a moment. He ran his thumb against the leather of the steering wheel.

"I'm making Shepherds Pie," James said, eventually. "There should be enough for two."

Richard stared down at his watch. 4.00 pm. "Did you think I wasn't going to come?" he asked, finally.

"Um," James sighed, and Richard imagined him scratching his neck awkwardly, "I thought you might have had trouble getting away or something."

"You should have called," Richard said, softly. "I would have told you I was coming."

"I didn't think you'd want me to," James said, and Richard could hear him moving things in the background; the clatter of what sounded like a spoon, the sound of a tap running.

Richard closed his eyes and leaned back on the headrest. He'd buggered this one up. "I'm sorry," he said. "I should have rung."

James coughed.

"It's still okay for me to come?" he asked, and he wondered when things had got so awkward between the two of them.

"Yes," James said, after a moment. "Yes, of course it is."

"Do you need me to pick anything up from the shops?" Richard asked, sighing in relief.

"Drink," James said immediately.

Richard grinned. "Drink. That I can do. Anything else?"

"Cake," James told him, decisively. "Date and Walnut, if you can get it."

"Okay," Richard nodded. "Okay. I'll be with you in about an hour and a half."

"Right," James said. There was a long pause.

"I should have rung," Richard said again. "I'm sorry."

"It's fine," James said, softly. "I understand."

After James had hung up, Richard thought that perhaps he didn't. Or maybe he did. Too much. He sighed, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, and switched on the ignition. Even the roar of the Porsche wasn't enough to make him smile.

 

He arrived in Hammersmith with two carrier bags from Tesco, including wine and beer and two cakes (date and walnut, and a cherry fruit cake) amongst other bits and pieces he'd bought because he felt guilty.

James was sat on the back step when Richard arrived, smoking a cigarette and half way down a bottle of beer. Richard sat down beside him, dropping his bags down inside the kitchen door. James held out the cigarette, and Richard leaned in and took a drag.

"Hey," he said, and nudged James's shoulder with his own.

"Hello," James said, and stubbed out the cigarette against the wall. He took a gulp of beer and passed the bottle to Richard.

Richard eyed the label dubiously, knowing that it was likely to be brewed in someone's shed in between their creosote and their weed killer.

James smiled and shook his head. "I bought it from Sainsbury's," he admitted, with a shrug. "It's not likely to kill you. But there's lager inside, if you want."

Richard nodded, but took a gulp anyway, wincing in sheer distaste. "How can you drink that stuff?" he asked, leaning behind him into one of the carrier bags and pulling out a four-pack of Czech pilsner he'd bought himself.

"Because I clearly have very well defined tastes," James pointed out, taking a swig for good measure.

"You've abused them for years, more like," Richard said, cracking open a can. He'd gone for the good stuff this time, knowing that James would appreciate it. "You probably can't taste anything properly anymore."

"You'll come round to my way of thinking eventually," James said. He was wearing odd socks, one black, one brown. The black one had a hole just beneath the ankle, showing a tiny patch of pale skin. Richard couldn't help but stare.

Richard shook his head and took a long gulp of beer. "I don't think so," he said, and he leaned against James, briefly. James's garden was overlooked and neither of them were keen on public displays of affection—especially when they were trying to keep things a secret—but James didn't seem to mind the press of Richard's arm against his, shoulder to elbow.

James pressed back, touching the back of his hand to Richard's, just for a moment.

"I bought you something," Richard said, quietly.

"Cake?" James asked, hopefully.

"Well," Richard nodded, "I brought cake. But I bought you something else, too." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the HMV bag. "Here," he said, and held the bag out.

"What's this?" James asked in surprise, putting down his beer bottle.

Richard shrugged, embarrassed. "I just-" He sighed. "I heard you talking about it, and I wanted to buy you something, and I know you might already have it but I didn't know what else to buy you that wasn't to do with cars-"

"You didn't have to buy me anything," James said, quietly, and he took the bag from Richard and opened it. He pulled out the CD.

Richard's knee jiggled nervously. "Do you like it? Is it something you already have? I could take it back-"

James swallowed and tapped the CD case against his knee. "I don't already have a copy," he said, and Richard thought his voice might have shaken, just for a moment. "Did you see the Porsche article in Car?" he asked, gulping down the remains of his beer. "They've obviously spoken to the same marketing guys we have, all that poncey guff about innovative design, when we all know that Porsche have the laziest design department in the history of lazy design departments-"

Richard sighed. "You don't like it," he said, sadly. "It's okay, I'll take it back."

James shook his head. "Come on," he said, "We need to check on the Shepherds pie."

Richard followed him inside in some confusion. He'd thought James would like the CD, even if he already had most of the stuff on it. It was a gesture, and Richard had at least thought James would be appreciative of it-

His train of thought was stopped abruptly by James kicking the shopping bags out of the way and shutting the kitchen door by pushing Richard up against it and kissing him, hard. "You stupid, idiotic, insufferable, pig-headed, disorganised pirate of a man," James told him, mouth a breath away from Richard's.

"A thanks would have done," Richard said, burning red.

"No, it wouldn't," James said shortly, and kissed Richard again.

 

They ate shepherds pie with carrots and peas, washed down with large glasses of red wine, sitting in companionable silence in James's kitchen. James had a dining room—and a dining roomtable, come to think of it, but Richard was pretty sure that the dining room was probably hiding a large array of half dismantled motorcycle engines, considering the kitchen seemed—once again—to be relieved of its mechanic related duties in favour of hosting another James and Richard sit down meal. It felt strange, sitting in James's kitchen, tucking into huge plates of food, drinking wine and trying not to stare across at James with a stupid smile on his face.

Richard felt like a teenager again, and he hadn't much liked it the first time around. He washed down his mouthful with a large gulp of wine, clearing his throat.

James made a good shepherds pie, there was no denying that. Probably the best thing Richard had eaten in a while, come to think of it, but it didn't make up for the fact that neither of them were saying anything, just eating in what was becoming an increasingly pained silence.

"So," James said eventually, moments before Richard would have exploded from the tension if one of them hadn't broken the silence. "It's a nice bottle of red, this."

Richard stopped himself from shutting his eyes and banging his head off the table. "The best Tesco could offer for under seven quid," he said finally, chasing the last remaining peas around his plate with his fork. "Lovely food," he found himself telling James, his mouth opening independently of his brain. He wanted to apologise, to say James, it's me, remember me? And start flicking through Autotrader or making up their own Supercar Top Trumps and working out the values using the best skills available to them as motoring journalists. He wanted to take his shoes off and start arguing about Ferraris and Pagani Zondas, and making fun of Jeremy because he wasn't around to defend himself, which was always the best way of making fun of Jezza. He wanted to tug on James's collar and tell him that that was the ugliest damn shirt he'd ever seen—except it sort of wasn't, it was the navy blue one that Richard sort of liked quite a lot, except he wished James wouldn't tuck it in so—and that was the problem in the first place. Ever since this thing had started, they'd inevitably kind of put their friendship to one side, which left them up shit creek without a paddle when it came to doing things that friends did, like eating dinner together.

...Except eating dinner as friends didn't normally involve someone stroking your ankle with their toes.

Richard swallowed loudly, and clutched his knife harder.

James continued to eat, carefully cutting a large piece of carrot in half.

Richard nudged James's foot with his heel.

"What?" James asked finally, smiling uncomfortably. He pulled his foot away from Richard's.

"Good food, this," Richard said, for want of something better to say.

"You've already said that," James told him, haphazardly waving his knife in Richard's general direction as he topped up both their glasses with a good two thirds of the bottle of wine.

"Well," Richard said, awkwardly. "It is."

"I've got a lot of strings to my bow," James went on. "Can do a good spaghetti bolognese and a mean fish pie too."

"You'll have to cook them for me sometime," Richard said.

James coughed and touched his collar briefly. "Of course," he said, and he touched his knee to Richard's for a moment. "Whenever you want."

 

They finished eating in relative silence, and decided against pudding just yet. Instead, they ended up in the living room, with James flicking through the channels on the TV and Richard looking through James's meagre video and dvd collection. He couldn't put his finger on why something felt so off with the whole evening, what was wrong with the two of them so that everything felt stilted and uncomfortable instead of easy and friendly like normal. It wasn't even as if he wanted to the normal things that he and James ended up doing when it was just the two of them—blow jobs and mutual masturbation and kissing and everything else that went with the typical understanding of an affair. He didn't even want to do what they normally did when it was just the two of them—getting drunk and arguing and watching stupid things on TV and searching for even more stupid things on Ebay and fighting over who got to buy the double bass and who was left with the genuine stuffed pike. He wanted something else, something he couldn't put his finger on, but he knew it wasn't like this. It wasn't awkward and confused and it didn't end up with Richard glancing at his watch and seeing 7.00 and wishing it was later so he could just go to bed and fall asleep and wake up to a new morning.

He didn't want to look at James and see the same confusion and awkwardness written across his face, either, so he just pulled out a video at random and said this one and handed it to James.

James looked at it for a moment. "Are you sure?" he asked finally.

"Yes, yes," Richard said, and then he looked down at the case. "No," he said, decisively. "Not that one." It was a Complete History of Steam, volume 5. "Please don't tell me you own volumes 1 to 4 as well, James."

James raised an eyebrow. "Volumes 1 to 14, actually." Richard's eyebrows shot up. James grinned. "No, actually I only own that one. I saw it one Saturday and I wanted something to watch in the evening, so there it was."

Richard shook his head. "Had the video shop run out of every single other video, ever?"

"Some of us are interested in other methods of transport apart from cars, Hammond," James told him, primly.

"No, but, really." Richard shrugged his shoulder in disbelief. "There wasn't anything else? At all?"

"Thomas the Tank Engine, perhaps." James slid the video back onto the shelf, and Richard was disturbed—and ever so slightly gratified, because there were expectations about James's oddities that had to be met—to discover that James's videos were in alphabetical order. "It was the souvenir shop at the train station."

"James-" Richard tried not to grin, but he couldn't, the temptation was too much, "these are alphabetised."

"Yes," James told him, with a nod. "How else would they be?"

"You're all kinds of weird, you know that, right?"

"Apparently so," James said, continuing to flick through the channels on the TV with an attempt at a grin. "Here, look. Indiana Jones."

They'd only missed the first five minutes so they ended up slumped on the sofa watching the whole of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade whilst simultaneously drinking their way through the remains of the two bottles of wine, quiet except for Richard's dark comments regarding his own hatred of snakes. "Bloody hate the things," he told James, on more than one occasion, just to break the silence.

James, who was sat right at the other end of the sofa, cupping his wine glass and staring at the screen, just shook his head and grinned. "And here I was thinking you were brave, Hammond."

Richard—who could never resist a barb, responded without thinking—"I am brave."

"Of course you are," James told him placatingly. "A brave little soldier."

"It's possible I hate you right now," Richard said, grumpily. He kicked gently at James's shin.

 

After the film ended they watched the repeat of Have I Got News For You on BBC1, and Richard was relieved to find out it wasn't Jeremy presenting. The guests were someone from radio 4 and someone from channel 4 and they were all being too clever for Richard, who was ever so slightly drunk and more than a little uncomfortable and not concentrating in the least on the latest nefarious deeds of various politicians. Even James, whose façade of relaxed affability hadn't slipped all evening, was holding on to his wine glass with a stronger grip than was perhaps required, judging by the whiteness of his knuckles. By the time the credits rolled, Richard had had enough and if he hadn't downed the best part of a bottle of wine (James was drinking faster than he was, but that was hardly surprising; James always did—they'd had enough competitions in the past for that to be fixed in stone by now) he would have got back in the 911 and been back in Gloucestershire quicker than you could have said a Complete History of Steam, volume 5.

Instead, he just looked at his watch (10.30pm) and yawned, unconvincingly. "I'm pretty tired," he said, after a minute of staring at the bookshelves.

James's eyes betrayed his surprise just for a moment, before they darkened. "Of course," he said, "Maybe we should get some sleep."

 

Up in the bedroom, they danced around each other awkwardly. James had clearly changed the sheets in preparation; they were dark bottle green and vaguely un-crumpled. There was a dining room chair up against the wall by the door, and James pointed at it awkwardly. "I thought you could put your things on there," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Can I get you a glass of water?"

Richard—whose mouth was as dry as a desert—nodded. "Thank you," he said, awkwardly, and he wondered if the floor could swallow him up right about now. Excruciating didn't quite cover it, and his hands were shaking so badly he could barely open the zip on his bag.

By the time James returned from the kitchen with the glasses of water, Richard had carefully taken his shirt off and folded it over the back of the chair. He'd hurried to get the shirt off, aware that struggling with the buttons with trembling fingers would have given him away. He was part way through undoing his belt when James came back in.

James left the water on the bedside table and busied himself round the other side of the bed, removing his socks and jeans and laying them flat on the chair by the bed. Richard didn't know whether to take his pants off, so he didn't, just carefully paired his dirty socks up and left them on top of his jeans and shirt. Coughing to cover his own embarrassment, he climbed into bed quickly, without glancing at James once.

James—slightly behind in the getting undressed stakes—continued unhindered by Richard's head start. Finally, when he was down to a (surprisingly new-looking) pair of navy boxers—although Richard was relieved to see the familiar Marks and Spencer's label sticking out the back of the waistband—he pulled back the duvet on his side of the bed, watching Richard uncomfortably.

"You'll, um, need to turn the big light out," Richard told him, not meeting his eyes.

James had to walk all the way around the bed to get to the door, and Richard was relatively sure that time had actually slowed down and started going backwards throughout this entire embarrassing charade of an evening. Finally, plunged into darkness, Richard realised that perhaps they should have switched on one of the lamps before everything went black. Rolling his eyes, he reached out to try and find the switch on his bedside table, only to meet James's hand trying to do the exact same thing.

"Sorry," Richard said, shaking his head in embarrassment as his eyes adjusted to the light.

"Don't worry," James said, gruffly. He found the switch and the room was suffused with a dull light.

When James climbed back into bed and pulled the duvet up, Richard wished he'd never started this stupid charade of an affair. He wanted to be back at home with his wife.

"Shall I...?" he asked, indicating the lamp.

James nodded. "I think so," he said, and Richard sighed loudly.

Once the room was in darkness again, Richard shuffled down under the covers. "Night, then," he said.

"Good night," James said, quietly.

Richard closed his eyes and tried to sleep, wishing he was anywhere else in the whole entire world but here beside James.

 

Half an hour later and Richard was pretty sure that this whole night had been the worst idea in the history of worst ideas. Richard wanted nothing more than to be back in Gloucestershire lying in his own bed with Mindy beside him. He wanted to go back three or four years to when they were still happy, when they still shared a bedroom and their lives and they didn't try to co exist in the same house merely because they should. Whenever he hadn't been able to sleep at home he'd ended up down in the kitchen drinking a glass of water and eating hula hoops and hiding them in the cupboard with the Pyrex dishes if Mindy came down to find out where he'd got to. He'd flick through magazines or do the washing up or end up watching cookery programmes on Sky to send him to sleep. Here, he was stuck lying in a bed in the dark with the tension in the air so palpable he thought he might actually start to struggle for breath in the very near future unless something happened to break it.

Richard took a deep breath and rolled over, so he was lying on his side, facing James. James was lying on his back staring up at the ceiling, but as Richard rolled over he closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.

The room was grey in the half-light; a street lamp just outside James's house let in a shaft of faded light through the gap in the curtains, and the moon was almost full. Richard wasn't used to being somewhere where you could see in the dark, and without thinking he touched his fingers to James's pale shoulder, thumb across the bone. His fingers trailed a pathway across James's collar bone, thumb dipping into the hollow, fingers grazing the skin. His knuckles touched the pale, pale skin at the curve of James's neck. He moved down so he touched gently at James's sternum, the bristle of hair beneath his palm as he touched first one nipple, then the other. They hardened beneath his fingers, and Richard couldn't help but sigh at James's shaky intake of breath.

Over the course of the evening he'd forgotten why he was here, and what he wanted and what he needed. He'd spent hours trying to recreate the evenings he'd spent at home with Mindy before they'd stopped trying, or all the other evenings he'd spent with James before all this started, when that wasn't what they should have been doing at all. He shuffled closer, leaning in so he could press his mouth to the curve of James's rib cage, just beneath the breast bone. James shivered beneath Richard's mouth, and Richard shifted, the flat of his hand against James's stomach, thumb gently stroking. James's hand came up and rested in the nape of Richard's neck, and Christ, Richard needed to be kissing James right about now.

He kissed his way up James's chest, tongue circling first one nipple—James hissed his approval, and held him closer—and then the other. He buried his nose in the curve of James's neck, breathing him in.

And then, just like that, with just a ghost of a breath and a twist of movement so they were lying next to each other, Richard had the palm of his hand against James's jaw and James's hands were in the small of his back, just above the waistband of his boxers, and Richard nudged James's nose with his. "We cocked this one up," he said, and James nodded, breath warm against Richard's mouth.

"Utterly," James told him, and then he closed the distance between them and pressed his mouth to Richard's. Richard kissed him softly, mouth opening against James's tongue, the scent and taste of toothpaste underpinned by the remnant flavour of wine. His fingers found their way into James's hair, thumb against his temple. "The whole evening's been unutterably awful," James said, stroking his way up Richard's spine.

"Couldn't have gone worse," Richard said, unable to stop himself from smiling as James hooked his foot about Richard's calf, tugging him closer. The duvet twisted around them, warm and hot and heavy.

James shrugged as he kissed Richard again, his hands finding their way down again to the waistband of his boxers, fingertips sliding under the cotton. "I don't know; Jeremy could have turned up," he said, and Richard shuddered.

"No Jeremy during sex," Richard told him, severely, flat of his palm against James's shoulder. "Your rule, not mine."

"Gosh, can you imagine-"

"No." Richard shook his head with a grin. "I can't imagine and I don't want to and just, no. The only person I want to think about right now is you."

A slow smile crept across James's face. "Really?"

Richard shrugged awkwardly, flushing. "I'm not in bed with anyone else, am I?" Apart from metaphorically with his wife, but that was another story entirely and Richard resolutely was not going to think about that, not when he was here with James, who had the softest, palest skin and who tasted like everything he'd ever dreamed of and more besides.

"No," James said softly, and his eyes crinkled as he smiled. He ran his thumb across Richard's temple, smoothing imaginary hair behind Richard's ear. Leaning in, James pressed a soft kiss to Richard's forehead. "No, you're not."

Richard blushed red and ducked his gaze away from James. He was too hot; the atmosphere had been gradually heating up and his skin prickled at the sensation. His cock—sleepily half-hard against James's thigh—throbbed gently, and he shifted so as to get a better angle. James's cock brushed up against his pelvis, and Richard shivered in anticipation. It had never been like this,never, and Richard couldn't quite believe that he found this so exhilarating.

"Hey," James said, as Richard ducked his gaze once more. "Hammond." He touched Richard's chin with the tips of his fingers, nudging him upwards and kissing him again, leaning in and licking the corner of his mouth as Richard's mouth opened beneath his. It was hardly possible that Richard could have imagined what it felt like, lying there and just kissing; he was James May and yes, he was one of his best friends and they all made fun of each other and that was generally the idea, but this? This was beyond the scope of his understanding. Just for a moment it seemed like the whole world had folded up around him, leaving just the two of them in James's bedroom, crumpled duvet and barely-closed curtains and their own neatly folded clothes encircling them. Just for a moment, this was it. Nothing else but James's hot breath and inquisitive fingers and the groan in the back of his throat as Richard shuffled inexpertly and brushed the head of his cock with his palm as he touched James's stomach, his arm, the small of his back.

Then James pulled away, touching his mouth to Richard's jaw, his temple, the beginnings of stubble beneath his ear. Richard shivered and couldn't help but moan, softly, blushing red as James tugged him closer, his chest flush up against James's.

James closed his eyes and nudged Richard's ear with his nose. "God, I want to fuck you," he said, voice low and dark and his breathing ragged.

Richard's whole body shuddered in sheer desperation and his fingers tightened around James's upper arms. Around him, flames licked at the corners of his vision and he buried his face in the hot curve of James's shoulder.

"I want to fuck you," James said again, and Richard couldn't concentrate on anything but the steady pulsing throb of James's cock pushed up against him; that and the fiery wilderness of his own desperate need—he struggled for a breath and then pressed his mouth to James's, tugging him up so they were perched uncomfortably on the pillows, arms around each other. Richard kissed like a man possessed and he couldn't remember ever feeling such wanton desperation before; he wrapped his arms around James's neck as James ran his hands up Richard's sides, his skin burning with every touch. "What if I want to fuck you instead, huh?" he said, in between gasping breaths, leaving a trail of wet, hot kisses across James's mouth and cheek and jaw.

James shuddered beneath him and just that feeling was enough to know that this was more than he'd ever imagined.

"What would you-" Richard stopped to kiss James again, shifting position so he was on his knees, bending up over James, "-say to that?"

"You want to fuck me?" James asked, hoarsely, and Richard felt James's fingers pressing into him, gripping him like iron.

Richard nodded yes because he couldn't remember how to say it, not anymore. Not with James looking at him the way he was doing.

"Oh, Christ," James said, all in one exhaled breath.

 

- Which didn't quite explain how they ended up in the kitchen five minutes later, back in their jeans, taking their places on either side of the table ready for an arm wrestle.

"Why are we doing this again?" James asked, rubbing tiredly at his forehead with his palm.

"Shut up and sit down," Richard said, leaning in enthusiastically. His dick throbbed in his pants, and he adjusted himself with his other hand.

"No touching," James said, raising an eyebrow. "If I'm not getting any, then neither are you."

Richard rolled his eyes. "Look, James. I want to fuck you, and you want to fuck me. This way we get to choose which way we go through sheer skill and dexterity. Plus, you're the one who insisted on putting some clothes on."

"I don't like public nudity," James said, primly.

Richard grinned, and wondered what it would be like to bite the pale skin of James's neck. Anyway, he thought, trying not to follow that line of thought when there was a challenge to win, this was hardly public.

"Why can't we just have sex?" James asked, nevertheless taking his place opposite Richard with a weary look on his face. "This is all your fault, you know, Hammond," he went on, "You can't just give in and accept it, oh no, not you, you have to fight to the bitter end-"

"James, the longer you keep on arguing about this, the longer it is before we can get back upstairs."

James sighed, shaking his head. "This doesn't happen in other people's lives," he said, under his breath. "Oh no, they just get on with it. No stupid contests about who gets to fuck who."

"You could just give in," Richard pointed out, beckoning James forward with his hand, elbow down on the table.

James shook his head, rolling his eyes again and positioning his elbow on the table. "And give you the satisfaction? Never."

 

"Best of three?" Richard asked in a small voice, thirty seconds later.

James, who was grinning like a mad thing and already out of the kitchen door, stopped short. "No way, Hammond," he said, turning round. "We are going to go back upstairs because I won fair and square and then I am going to fuck you because I've been dreaming of nothing else for-" he ground to a ignominious halt, blushing red as he realised what he'd said. His fingers picked at the paint on the doorjamb.

"Oh yeah?" Richard said, smiling sunnily. "How long have you been dreaming about it?" (He wanted to say fucking me instead of it, but sunny disposition aside, he was shit-scared and trying to hide it, and he knew his voice would give out on him if he tried to say the words).

"A while," James said, awkwardly. He shrugged his shoulder and refused to look at Richard.

Richard beamed. "How about a thumb wrestle?"

 

"I hate you, you know that, right?" James was stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, hands in his pockets.

"You've been thinking about it," Richard said, waggling his eyebrows. His cock ached. "You—James—have been daydreaming about fucking me."

James shook his head. "This isn't how I imagined it going," he said. "What are the rules to this, anyway?"

Richard rolled his eyes. "What sort of life do you lead, May, where you need the rules to thumb wars laid out?"

James sighed. "One in which sex does not require knowledge of really stupid games in order to progress to the next level."

"This isn't really stupid, this is a genuine way of discerning who should, you know. Do the fucking."

James blinked. "Can you even hear yourself when you talk?"

Richard cocked his head to one side. "When I win this, we just need one more game to make it best of three. Then-" he smiled beatifically and tried not to let James know just how much he was still affected by what had just happened up in the bedroom or how his hands were still shaking, "then we'll go upstairs and I'll fuck you."

The conflict of emotions on James's face suggested that Richard wasn't the only one only just managing to keep a handle on things.

James squared his shoulders and took a deep breath, holding out his hand. "Come on then, Hammond, show me what you're made of."

Even Richard hadn't foreseen the need to play a round of Battleship to finally decide which way round things were going to go. He hadn't really thought this one through, allowing James the opportunity to pick any game. What he'd actually said was any game, James, anything you want and I'll beat you. I'll beat you hands down and then you will see exactly who is going to be fucking who. Which sort of caused his knees to give way a bit and his skin to flush and James to look at him like he was both crazy, insane and hot, a triumvirate he hadn't seen expressed anywhere else.

It had, however, meant that James had opened the door to his board game wonderland - trust James to have a secret cupboard full of things most other people wouldn't give the time of day to. But that was one of the reasons Richard sort of thought James was how he was, and if he wasn't how he was then Richard wouldn't be here with him now, doing some stupid challenge to determine which one of them got to fuck the other. He wouldn't be trying not to struggle for breath every time he thought about what was going to happen next as James opened the door to his board game wonderland and then just he just stood there, as if weighing up which game to play was the most relevant part of this whole stupid thing.

"We could just flip a coin," James had said finally, shoving Monopoly back on the shelf.

"Pick a game, May," Richard said darkly, and used the opportunity of James looking the other way to palm his own cock through his jeans. "Pick one, and I'll beat you."

So they ended up lying on the floor in James's living room, coffee table pushed out of the way and the two Battleship boards set up opposite each other.

"So, Hammond, are you hoping to, um, sink my destroyer?"

Richard put his head in his hands. "Not the nautical puns, please no. I might not make it through the night."

"You could always try to get your hands on my submarine."

Richard moaned, softly.

"This is your own fault, Hammond," James told him, delightedly. "We could have just taken turns at the old game of hide the wedding vegetable, but no, you had to take it one step further, so you deserve everything you get."

"I need you to stop talking," Richard said, desperately. "Before I have to kill you."

James grinned, and touched Richard's foot with his own. "I'll let you go first," he said. "But, Richard, in all seriousness. Be gentle with my aircraft carrier."

Richard closed his eyes, rolling onto his back. The carpet felt strange against his bare skin, his erection tight against his jeans.

"It's your own fault," James said again. "Remember that."

Richard shuffled uncomfortably. "At least let me take my jeans off, have you any idea how uncomfortable this is?"

"Whose fault is that?" James asked, carefully placing his ships on the board. "Now stop griping and start playing; the sooner we do this, the sooner I can get you back upstairs and round off this ridiculous evening of charades by actually fucking you. How does that sound?"

Ridiculously, unbelievably hot. Richard couldn't help it, he lay with his arm up above his head, staring across at James. James was in his jeans, just like Richard, bare-chested and barefoot. James was normally quite self-conscious when it came to getting naked; it was something Richard had come to understand over the past weeks and months. James sucked his stomach in and covered himself up and it wasn't often that Richard had seen him truly forget himself. But now, for whatever reason, he was concentrating on the board and not on anything else, and Richard was suddenly struck by how beautiful he was in his freedom. It wasn't beauty in the typical understanding of the word; James was too haphazard and untidy and old and plump for that. It was something else, something in the soft curve of his belly and the greying temples and the terrible hair. It was his eyes, which darkened when he was turned on, and his inquisitive fingers and his stupid, ridiculous comments in that posh voice of his. It was the pale skin on the underside of his arm, the way he tasted just beneath his ribcage, the way he smiled and talked and the way he drank stupid beer. It was the way he kissed and the way he smelt and the way he looked at Richard when he thought Richard wasn't looking.

It was the way he thought Richard didn't notice, the way his fingers shook after kissing him, the way he tasted and touched and felt and everything else besides.

It was everything, and Richard suddenly couldn't breathe. I never thought it would be you, he thought, desperately, and his palms sweated with the realisation.

"I concede," he said, all of a sudden, and his voice squeaked.

James froze. "What?"

"I concede. Give in. You win, ok?" He sat up, brushing his hands against his thighs, and made to stand up.

James touched his arm, stopping him. "Richard?"

"Come on, I want to-" he stopped and stared across at James. "I want you to fuck me," he said, and his voice shook. "I want to go upstairs, and I want you to fuck me. Are you okay with that?"

James swallowed. "Yeah," he said, softly. His hands shook. "I'm- That's, that's fine."

"Well then," Richard said, trying to catch his breath as he stumbled to his feet. "Come on."

James blinked, and Richard found himself holding his hand out to him, to hurry him up. James stared at Richard's hand for a moment, licking his lips.

"Come on," Richard said again, trying to contain his desperation. He'd never thought that it might be James; that there could be someone out there for him, someone other than Mindy. Someone who gave him more than he thought he was looking for.

James took hold of Richard's hand and Richard hauled him to his feet. "Come on," Richard said for a third time, barely audibly.

James touched Richard's cheek, gently. "You complete cock," he said, softly. "You think I'm going to let you forget the fact you let me win? Ever?"

"I don't care," Richard said, and he half meant it.

James shook his head. "Me neither," he said, somewhat incongruously, and he led Richard upstairs without letting go of his hand.

 

Back in bed and even James's jeans were lying haphazardly on the floor, one leg hanging off the chair he'd thrown them at. Struggling out of his pants at the same time as pulling open his bedside drawer, Richard couldn't help but grin, until he saw what James was pulling out and his breath stilled.

Condoms, and lube, and Richard was pretty sure that James's hands were trembling.

"Right," Richard said. "Okay."

James climbed onto the bed and kneeled over him. "It's okay," he said, and Richard wasn't entirely sure whether he was saying it for Richard's benefit or his own.

Richard was propped up on his elbows, head up against the headboard, completely stark-bollock naked. His erection—dark and red and wet and demanding attention—was standing tall, his balls tight. James was watching him, kneeling back on his haunches with his feet off the side of the bed. His own cock was hard and Richard ached to touch it—to taste it, even, to suck James off until his fingers tightened in Richard's hair and he came with a shudder and a groan. It was too much, and Richard reached for James the same moment James reached for him, fingers catching at each other and in each other's hair and they were kissing—loud and wet and sloppy and desperate, trails of damp saliva and pathways made by stripes of tongue. Richard was cupping James's face in his hands, leaning up into the kiss, James bracing himself with one hand up against the headboard.

Richard groaned, unable to help himself. "James-" he said, words half-lost against James's mouth.

"Shh," James said, pulling away, steadying himself with a hand to the flat of Richard's chest. He trailed his fingers downwards, following the trail of chest hair down to beneath Richard's belly button to the tight, dark hair at the base of his cock. Richard gasped in a breath as James encircled Richard's cock in his fist for the briefest of moments. James shuffled himself down onto the bed beside Richard, nosing gently at Richard's neck. "Roll over," he said, softly, and Richard tried to catch his breath in preparation. James pressed a kiss to his cheek before nudging him over, and Richard found himself lying half on his side, half on his front, clutching the pillowcase in a grip so hard he was surprised he hadn't ripped it.

James—in a moment of consideration that might possibly have broken Richard at any other moment than this one—pressed his mouth up against the back of Richard's neck, dropping a series of slow kisses up to his hair line and down to his shoulder blade. "Richard," he said, the words fuzzy and hot against Richard's skin, "I just-"

"It's okay," Richard said, because it really sort of was.

And then James pulled away and Richard knew what he had to be doing but he couldn't help but roll over and watch as James tore the corner off the condom wrapper and with shaking fingers rolled it down over his erection. Richard's cock jumped in anticipation, and James gave his cock a quick fist for good measure before taking the cap off the lube and piercing the seal.

"Just-" Richard said, and then stopped because he didn't know what the hell else to say.

James kissed him, effectively stopping any further attempt by Richard to talk. "Roll over," James said again, ever so softly.

Richard nodded, swallowing, and rolled over, burying his face in the gap between the pillows.

James ran his fingers down the curve of Richard's spine, fingers ghosting their way to the swell of his buttocks. They stopped just before the crease, James lifting his hand and starting all over again, fingertips moving further this time.

Richard shivered, and this time James's fingers were slippery and wet and cold as he touched the cleft of Richard's arse. Richard felt himself tighten, instinctively, and James shushed him with a touch and a kiss to the back of his neck. Richard tried to relax into his touch, as James slid his fingers down, opening him up.

James was impossibly gentle and ridiculously slow and Richard couldn't help but pray forgiveness for every time he'd made fun of Captain Slow, because this, this was why it had all been worth it. James was methodical and pedantic and slow and ventured into the absurd at times, but this made it all worthwhile. James was relaxing him with every stroke of his fingers; touching him gently and repeatedly until Richard was able to breathe deeper and rest his head on his hands. He nudged Richard's legs open, and Richard could only imagine what he looked like, spread open and wide for James on the bed. He blushed bright red and buried his face in his hands as his cock pulsed at the very idea.

"Christ, Hammond," James said after another minute, and Richard couldn't help but burn at what he heard in James's voice. "If you only knew," James went on, fingers methodically stroking, sliding inside of him, so fucking slippery, "If you saw what I saw-"

"Some cock with his arse out," Richard said, and tried to laugh.

James swallowed, loudly, and stretched his fingers out. Richard moved with him, instinctively, and then stilled as James explored further, fingers sliding inside of him, deeper and darker than before. "God," James went on, his voice ragged, "So, so-" he stopped.

"What?" Richard asked, before he could help himself.

"Gorgeous," James said, softly. "Utterly fucking beautiful." His fingers twisted, and Christ, how much lube was James using? "So hot," James went on, and Richard shivered. "So ready to be fucked."

Richard gasped for breath, and he couldn't help it, he reached behind him and grasped James's wrist, rolling over and pulling James down to kiss him. He had his hands in James's hair, holding him close, licking at his lips. "It's you," he said, without thinking, so quiet and fast that the words were just a hazy fuzz of sounds tempered by James kissing him.

"What?" James said, pulling away.

Richard smoothed James's hair behind his ear, and touched his temple. "Nothing," Richard said, burning red. "Just fuck me already, will you?"

Richard loved to see James blush.

"Okay," James said, after a moment. He pressed a kiss to Richard's forehead and reached for the lube again. It was half empty.

Richard shook his head. "James, how much of that stuff have you used?"

"Haven't heard you complaining much," James pointed out, reasonably. He ran his hand down Richard's side, and Richard skin prickled at the contact, his cock bouncing.

"Half a tube, James."

James raised an eyebrow and squeezed another lump out onto his palm, closing his hand around his cock and fisting it for a moment. Richard's breath caught in his throat because even if he was just lubing himself up, there was nothing so hot in this world as James May touching himself.

"You don't go out and buy a new Porsche and then think, I know, I'll just fill up the oil and water half way," James told him, in a perfectly reasonable manner. "You think, I've got a Porsche, I'll treat it well. I'll give it all the oil and water it can possibly need."

Richard sank back onto the pillows, exhaling in one long sigh. He grinned, unable to help himself. "I take it I'm the Porsche," he said, after a moment.

James nodded. "Of course."

"You keep a paintbrush in your Boxster to get the dust out of the air vents."

"What can I say?" James said, leaning over him and ghosting a breath across Richard's cheek. "My attention to detail is legendary."

"You're an idiot," Richard said, cocking his head to one side. "Are you going to fuck me, or what?"

"Something like that," James said, rolling Richard over.

 

Richard might have let himself imagine the moment James first began to fuck him, but it was nothing like the actuality. He hadn't imagined what James's hands would feel like on his hips, burning into him and pulling him up onto his knees; he hadn't imagined bracing himself against the headboard as he tried to get his balance as James positioned himself behind Richard, cock pushed up against Richard's entrance. He hadn't imagined what it felt like to feel that initial push, the slide of cock against the elastic ring of muscle—the tight, fulfilling feeling as James continued to slide in and Richard struggled for breath. He hadn't imagined James's continued litany as he pushed in; Christ and Fuck and oh, God, Richard, and all those other porn film standards like so tight and so hot and oh yeah.

And Richard hadn't imagined what it felt like.

He'd thought about the burn and the fill and whatever else it might feel like when someone pushed their cock up your arse, but he hadn't thought about what it actually felt like. What it really felt like. James kept touching him, his fingers stroking in circles across Richard's belly as he slowly slid in, past the head and down to the shaft, until finally his balls came to rest against Richard's bum. Then he started to move, slowly at first, and Richard could feel James's fingers encircling his own erection to ensure the condom didn't come off—and it was always the mundane things that caught his imagination now; the little things he'd never thought about. His own cock was throbbing in anticipation and it wasn't like it was hurting or anything but it wasn't as good as he'd heard tell.

"You okay?" James asked, a moment later.

"Yeah," Richard said, because it was, this was good, it felt- well. He liked the sensation of being full; it was so entirely new and unexpected that it had caught him by surprise. "You?" he gasped, as James moved in again, slip-slip sliding and Christ, he loved lube.

"God, Richard," James gasped, "You have no idea-"

- and then James twisted, or something, or he changed his angle, and really it didn't matter because the only thing that mattered was that, that feeling, that place that James had just found that caused Richard's hips to buck and the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up and his knuckles to whiten as he gripped the headboard. "Christ, James, do that again," he managed, and Jamesdid.

"James," Richard gasped, and that was enough, because James moved again, the same way, and Richard bucked under the touch. "Please," he said, which was all he could manage, when really what he wanted to say was oh god do that again please James please. Richard was pushing back now, back onto James's cock and James's breath was coming hot and heavy on the damp air of the bedroom. It wasn't enough, he wanted—he needed—more. "James," he said again, and the sheer desperation in his voice was enough to have him flushing red and holding on tighter, pushing back against James until James was locked up tight against him.

"Hammond," James ground out, "Christ," and it was just movement now; just pulsing thrusts and a strangled rhythm that cared nothing for cadence and melody. Richard moved instinctively, struggling to maintain a grip as James pushed further in, aching for him to find that place again, that moment where Richard saw stars and the universe shifted ever so slightly.

Richard had had sex many times in his life, with a variety of different people, and nothing—nothing—came close to this. His skin felt like it was on fire; he felt like he'd been ripped apart and it was just him and James, locked together and nothing else mattered. He had his cock in one hand, trying to keep his balance with the other and he knew he'd never felt like this before. He couldn't get a rhythm on his own erection; he was concentrating too much on James behind him, groaning a stream of obscenities that caused Richard to burn and shiver all at the same time as they moved together. He tried to stroke himself, tried to get a grip and catch the friction, but it just didn't matter.

James caught that spot once more, a cacophony of sensation that caused Richard's hips to buck and him to gasp out James and lose the hold on his cock. He tightened instinctively around James's erection, and James groaned out loud.

"Oh, Christ," James managed, moments later, and he was holding on to Richard so tightly it was beginning to hurt; "Shit, fuck, Hammond, Richard- I'm going to-"

And then he did, and fuck, Richard hadn't even contemplated what it was going to feel like for someone—James—to come inside of him. James shuddered against him, skin burning, and Richard couldn't describe how it felt. He fisted his own cock, palms slippery, and James was sighing against his back, breaths unsteady and shaking. Richard was barely there, caught up in this whirlwind of feeling and heat and sound as he tried to gain some semblance of control. But then James covered Richard's hand with his own and breathed let me, Richard, let me and that was it, that was all it took and Richard was coming in white-hot pulses, and he swore he could see stars as he came.

Shuddering into the comedown, he collapsed down onto the mattress, his skin burning hot and prickly to the touch. James sank down beside him, half on top of him, and it took a moment for Richard to realise that James was still half inside of him.

He didn't move, savouring every last moment of an experience he'd barely known he'd wanted.

Then James rolled off him and out of him, sliding out uncomfortably with a slick pop, and Richard sighed, relishing the memory. He buried his face in the pillow for a moment, until James rolled onto his back and stickily peeled off the condom, tying it in a knot with an expression of distaste on his face that Richard could only grin at. Especially when James leaned over the edge of the bed and deposited it in the waste paper bin with a grimace before collapsing back down onto the pillows beside Richard.

"You really want to clean that up already, don't you?" Richard asked lazily, with a shaky attempt at a grin. His skin still prickled, and he could still feel James inside of him; a phantom part of himself that Richard never wanted to lose.

James wrinkled his nose. "I'm never very good at the aftermath," he admitted, yawning, scratching at his belly with one hand.

Richard shifted so he was lying on his side, yawning at James. His stomach was streaked with come, as was his thigh, and there was a wet patch on the sheet too. He eyed it distastefully. But then he caught James's gaze; James was just watching him, eyes dark. Richard found he couldn't look away; nor did he want to. No one had ever looked at him that way before, no one had just, well, looked. Richard blushed red under his scrutiny—he'd never known he was one to blush until he'd fallen headlong into this thing with James, but it seemed that James could tap into parts of him that no one else could. Richard wanted to look away now, he wanted to look anywhere but at James, because the way James was looking at him—all heat and intensity and desire, all wrapped up in one—Richard's skin burnt. He wanted to tell James, you're the one, I know that now, but he couldn't. He wanted to say I never thought it would be you, but it is. He wanted to saythis is it, this is what I want, but he just couldn't get the words to come. Instead, he reached over with one hand and just lay the flat of his palm on James's stomach, thumb stroking softly.

James covered Richard's hand with his own, all without taking his eyes off Richard, and for all that it was—just a touch of hands—it was one of the most intimate moments of Richard's life.

Richard swallowed, loudly, and watched as James closed his palm around Richard's own, thumb stroking the inside of Richard's wrist. He had goosebumps, the hairs standing up on the back of his arms and neck. James continued to stroke, gentle brushes of motion that had Richard barely able to breathe.

And all the time James continued to watch him, and Christ, Richard might not have as quick a recovery rate as he used to—plus he'd just had one of the most wonderfully exhausting experiences of his life—but he was so fucking turned on it hurt. He pushed his cock down into the mattress, trying to get some relief.

"If you knew what you looked like-" James said, again, continuing to stroke. His voice was low and burnt at the edges, like caramelising sugar. "when you were spread open for me."

Richard's breath hitched in his throat and he wanted to pull away because he couldn't take it anymore; his cock twitched limply and everything around him flickered and burnt. This was too one-sided, it wasn't fair. "If you knew," he said, softly, breath catching, "if you knew what it felt like when you came inside me. If you knew what it felt like to have you inside me-" he didn't know what he was saying, and if he did he would have been hopelessly embarrassed at his own audacity. He just knew that he had to tell someone what it felt like, what had happened to him—"to have youfuck me." He stuttered to a halt, blushing red. His cock—half-hard and painful, nudged the sheet damply.

James lowered his gaze, letting go of Richard's wrist. He brushed Richard's fingers with his own. "I-" he said, and he stopped. He stared helplessly at Richard, eyes blue again, and Richard nodded slowly, drawing his hand back.

"I know," Richard said, and he really sort of did.

"Yes," James said, as if that explained everything. "I, um. I'd better go and get cleaned up."

Richard sighed, and nodded, and leaned back on the pillows, ignoring the damp patch. He should really go and wipe himself down too—in all honesty he could do with a shower but there was nothing he could be bothered with less than getting up and leaving the bedroom. He shuffled uncomfortably against the sheet. Everything was sticky and the room was hot and they really could do with changing the damp sheets and going for something fresher, but surely even James and his overwhelming need to clean up after himself wouldn't go to those lengths in the middle of the night.

James came back in with two damp flannels, passing one to Richard with an embarrassed smile. James—flushed pink and trying to hold his stomach in as Richard watched—wiped down his cock and balls. He'd brought a clean hand towel with him, and he (rather awkwardly) laid it out flat over the damp patch on the sheet as Richard wiped himself down with the flannel, limp cock and his stomach and thighs. Richard swallowed his embarrassment and shifted, rolling over a little so he could wipe his bum clean of the excess lube, and he held out the flannel awkwardly afterwards. "Where do you want this?" he asked, wrinkling his nose.

James held out the laundry basket. "In here," he said, dropping his own in after Richard's. He pulled open a drawer and came out with a fresh pair of boxers, and began to pull them on. "Do you want a pair?" he asked, noticeably ill at ease.

Richard couldn't help but grin, shaking his head at first but then realising James would be more comfortable if he did. "Go on then," he said after a moment, "you idiot."

James smiled awkwardly, and threw a pair of blue checked boxers in Richard's direction. Richard shucked them on by arching his hips off the bed, and there was nothing savoury about sleeping in the midst of drying come and patches of old lube, but really, there was everything to be said about spending the first night together in the same bed.

"Come here," Richard said, after a minute. James was stood awkwardly by the side of the bed, hopping slowly from foot to foot, looking like getting into bed was just about the biggest decision he'd have to make in his whole entire life. Richard beckoned him closer. "Really," he said, smiling. "James. Get your arse over here."

"I'm not really very good at physical contact," James admitted, avoiding Richard's eye.

"That's not news to me," Richard pointed out, raising an eyebrow and looking pointedly at James. "Get into bed."

James looked at him for a long minute, before nodding slowly. "Okay," he said, and he climbed into bed, leaning down and pulling the duvet over them both. James leaned over and turned off the lamp he'd switched on, and the room was pitched into darkness. In a moment, Richard knew, he'd get his vision back and he'd be able to make out shapes and James in the half-light, but as it was it was still pitch black and dark. He shuffled down onto his side and ran his hand down James's arm.

"It's okay," Richard said, softly, as James stilled beneath his touch. "I'm not going to spend the whole night clinging on to you like a limpet."

"That's good," James said, equally quietly. "I always want to chip limpets off with a chisel and throw them back into the sea."

Richard cocked his head to one side. "That's very-" he stopped, his hand stilling just above James's elbow. "That's not very nice of you at all, James, actually. What have limpets ever done to you?"

"You're the most annoying person I've ever met," James said finally, shuffling onto his side, facing Richard.

"Good," Richard said, shrugging. "Because you're the most annoying person in the whole entire universe. Even the limpets hate you."

"Limpets don't hate anyone," James told him, briskly. "They're not exactly sentient."

"Aren't they?" Richard wondered, his thumb brushing James's elbow. "I've never really thought about limpets before."

"You're really very annoying," James said, again.

"And you're really very strange."

"Well. You're very-" James shrugged in the darkness. "short."

"You're very slow."

"I didn't exactly see you complaining, Hammond."

Richard shook his head, rolled closer, and nudged James's nose with his own. "I wasn't. I was too busy trying not to come too soon."

"Oh, really," James said, softly, touching Richard's shoulder with his palm.

"Yes, really," Richard went on, his voice no more than a murmur. The towel was beneath his shoulder, rough against his skin. He touched James's cheek with his fingers; there was the beginnings of stubble beneath his fingers and he liked the way it felt.

And then James was leaning in and kissing him, lazily and fondly, and it was a new sort of kiss for them. It was sleepy and it didn't promise anything, just appreciation and fulfilment and probably a lot more James wasn't keen on sharing yet and Richard was too hesitant to read anything into. Richard kissed back lazily, mouth open, fingers running through James's hair as they shifted, Richard laying back and James leaning over him. Richard tried to ignore the smell of come and water-based lubricant coming off the towel in waves, but it was too hard and he gave up, laughing and burying his face in James's neck. James shook his head, calling him you utter cock and laughing against his ear, wrapping his arms around Richard just for a moment.

Richard clung back for as long as James held him—moments, really, but it felt a lot longer—and then James rolled off him and lay back against the pillow.

"We should try and get some sleep," James said, quietly.

"Yeah," Richard said, rubbing his forehead sleepily. "We should."

Richard shifted a little so he hadn't got his face in the towel, and he pulled the duvet up behind him so that he didn't get the draft. He closed his eyes.

James rolled over, pulling the duvet with him, and then there was a long moment where everything was still. Richard took a deep breath, and was about to say goodnight when James leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Night, Hammond," he said, gruffly, and Richard couldn't help but smile in the dark.

"Night," he said, equally gruffly, and his fingers reached for James's, squeezing briefly before James grunted and rolled over to face the wall.

Richard grinned, shook his head, and fell asleep almost instantly.

 

Richard didn't sleep particularly well, but that was only to be expected. He'd been sleeping alone for months now, but before that the only person he was used to sharing a bed with was Mindy; Mindy had tended to curl up under his arm with her nose pressed up against his side at first, ending up right up by her side of the bed as the night progressed. She'd snuffled in her sleep; sweet, soft noises that used to make him smile as he rolled over and tried to extricate himself so he could sleep on his side and have some room for his legs. James displayed all the characteristics of someone who tended to sleep alone—he slept near the centre of the bed, diagonally, and he snored and farted and hit Richard in the arm when he rolled over. His sleep had been as disrupted as Richard's, Richard knew—they'd both tossed and turned and fought over the duvet and tried to sleepily roll away and pretend they were still asleep whenever they'd bumped into each other in the middle of the mattress.

But when Richard blearily opened his eyes and rolled over, James was still asleep. He was half on his side, face half hidden in the dip between the pillows, one hand under his cheek, the other up by Richard's ear.

Richard watched him for a moment, wondering if he should let him sleep. He didn't know what time it was, but judging by the sunlight and the faint sound of cars on the main road at the end of James's street, it wasn't particularly early. Almost before he'd thought about it, he'd reached out and touched James's temple with the tips of his fingers, smoothing down the skin beneath his palm.

He couldn't really remember seeing James asleep before, although he knew it must have happened. They'd spent enough time cooped up in smart cars or sharing rooms in ferries or on long distance high speed European trains. They'd spent enough time being utterly knackered on shoots and kipping in the caravans on the lot at Dunsfold. But Richard didn't ever really remember ever just watching. James was a different person in sleep. He looked younger, more peaceful. At the same time, it was easier to spot the signs of aging that Richard didn't particularly pay much attention to normally. The grey hairs at the temple and scattered along his parting. He touched them, softly. The wrinkles, eased in sleep, fanning out from his eyes. He followed them with his fingers, stopping to smooth his thumb across James's cheek.

Richard didn't expect James to lean into his touch, but then James was asleep and barely in control of his neuroses so in retrospect Richard could understand James's tentative attempt at human contact.

"Morning," Richard said softly, as James nudged Richard's palm with his nose and opened his eyes.

James swallowed, and watched Richard for a moment, his eyes dark. "Hammond," he said, his voice gruff with sleep. He cleared his throat, shuffling away so he wasn't leaning up against Richard anymore.

"Hey," Richard said.

James nodded, yawning and rubbing his eyes. "You snore," he said, finally.

"So do you," Richard told him, rolling his shoulders and laying back against the pillow. "only louder."

"Arse," James said, wiping his mouth sleepily.

"Wanker," Richard grinned.

"Idiot," James yawned again, loudly.

"Cock." Richard said, fondly.

"Is that a request, Hammond?" James asked, still sounding ridiculously asleep and not even bothering to roll over and look at Richard.

Richard lifted up the duvet, peering down towards his cock and James's oversized boxers. "Could be," he replied, eyeing his half-hard erection. "Got to go and have a slash first though."

"Last of the old romantics," James told him, blearily pulling the duvet up and over his head.

 

In the bathroom, Richard stared into the mirror and wondered if he looked any different. He hadn't done that in years, not since he was seventeen and he'd lost his virginity to Lorna Lawrence after a night at the Ritzy in Leeds. The first time he'd slept with Mindy, she'd asked him whether she looked any different, but he was bathed in the warm glow of her having wanted to sleep withhim, so he'd thought she'd looked like a fucking angel, halo and all. He stuck his tongue out at the mirror and wondered if James would notice if he borrowed his toothbrush. His bag was back in the bedroom and he could hardly go back in there and look through it until he found his Colgate; that was hardly subtle. Although knowing James, he'd be asleep again and probably dribbling on the pillow. Richard smiled, shaking his head, and started going through James's bathroom cupboard looking for a spare toothbrush. James was the sort of man Richard expected to have a spare toothbrush, for when his ran out.

He was wrong, though, because there was nothing in James's cupboard but an ancient pink bottle of Marks and Spencer's rose talcum powder with the label half peeled away, half a packet of Asda plain soap (two bars remaining), some dental floss and a packet of razor blades. Not even a decent bottle of mouthwash. Under the sink didn't yield anything either; the remains of a twelve pack of toilet paper (not quilted, not extra comfortable, just plain and ordinary loo roll—Richard had been spoiled by Mindy's constant search for the perfect bathroom experience), a virtually empty bottle of jif (not even cif, which showed how long James had had it) and a bottle of thick bleach. Richard picked despondently at James's razor, running his palm under his jaw and up to his mouth. James would probably think it pretty suspicious if Richard disappeared for a piss and came back clean-shaven and smelling of a mixture of mint and rose.

Richard shook his head at himself in the mirror and proceeded to use James's toothpaste and a finger to make him taste less like old carpet. For good measure, he used James's dental floss, although it was possible from looking at the carton that it had been there since before James moved in.

Afterwards, he pulled his cock out over the waistband of James's boxers (just like James to make him wear them, he thought, with a fond smile) and pissed into the toilet bowl, wrinkling his nose at the thought of what they must both smell like after last night's hot, sweaty sex. He could still feel James inside of him, even now, and he shifted from foot to foot as he finished up, shaking himself dry and revelling in the memory of what it felt like to have James fuck him. He blushed at the thought of James afterwards, leaning over and telling him what he looked like, spread open for him, and his cock hardened perceptibly. As a matter of courtesy, Richard wiped himself down with a few damp pieces of loo roll, ensuring that if he were to have his dick sucked in the next few minutes it was likely to be cleaner and fresher than it would otherwise have been.

Finally, he looked at himself in the mirror again, squaring his shoulders and running his hands under the cold water tap and splashing water on his face to make him look vaguely human again.

 

Back in the bedroom, James was lying diagonally across the mattress, one arm behind his head. Richard swallowed at the sight of James stretched out lazily across the bed, the duvet scruffily pulled up to cover his bare belly. Like always, Richard couldn't help but be drawn to the pale, milk-white skin of James's arm. He stopped himself from kneeling over James and pressing his mouth to the pale skin, tasting a pathway from shoulder to wrist.

"You took your time," James said, finally, as Richard watched him. He scratched under his arm, yawning and nodding towards the bathroom. "Is it safe to go in there or should I be giving it a wide berth?"

"What- oh. James." Richard shook his head. "Romance isn't dead, I see. No, it's fine."

"Good," James said. "I'll just go and-" he nodded towards the bathroom again.

"Yeah," Richard said, a little awkwardly. "I didn't use your toothbrush," he called after James, who was stumbling out of the bedroom, still half asleep.

"I should bloody hope not," James called back, and Richard heard the bathroom door shut and the bolt slide across.

Richard took the opportunity of James being out of the room to root through his sports bag and try to find his own toothbrush. He found it, wrapped in a white t-shirt (he hadn't been able to bring his toilet bag as it had been a gift from Mindy last Christmas; some designer Richard barely recognised and although he quite liked it, he couldn't quite see the point in spending money on something that was basically a depositary for a razor and a toothbrush. He'd half filled it with the usual stuff he took when he was going away for a night—shower gel, shampoo, hair gel, toothpaste—before he'd realised he was going to be spending the night with someone other than his beautiful wife, and he'd blushed red and hidden the toilet bag in a corner of a chest of drawers, throwing his toiletries in to his bag haphazardly and hoping they wouldn't be squashed and leak all over his clean clothes.

He brushed his teeth hurriedly, one eye on the door, and spat it out into a glass of water by the side of the bed. Staring in some distaste at the discoloured water, he'd promptly hidden the glass on the windowsill so that James wouldn't see what an idiot he was being, and promised himself he wouldn't forget it later on when all this was over. He'd sneak it into the bathroom and rinse it out and James would never know.

He ran his fingers through his hair and hoped it didn't look too bad. He contemplated gelling it but James didn't have a mirror in his bedroom and besides, even Richard could see that that was a particularly stupid idea. Instead, he tidied the pillows and got rid of the towel that had covered their earlier stains, chucking it in the laundry basket and peeling back the duvet. He shucked off his boxers—better now than later—and climbed back into bed, pulling up the duvet till it covered his half-hard cock. He was trying to look comfortable and relaxed, but Richard was fully aware he looked ridiculous and awkward. He shook his head at his own stupidity, and tried to relax.

In the bathroom, he heard the toilet flush and the tap running. He shuffled back up onto the pillows, and tried to look comfortable.

James came back in, yawning sleepily.

"Aren't you getting back into bed?" Richard asked, after a moment.

James was stood at the end of the bed, watching him.

"In a minute," James told him.

"What are you waiting for?" Richard asked, patting the empty space on the mattress beside him awkwardly and trying not to meet James's eye.

James shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "I'm just watching you," he said, and Richard made the mistake of fixing his gaze on James's belly rather than his face, and then he couldn't do anything other than stare at James's erection, pushing up against his boxers. He hardened in response, unable to temper his own reaction to James's presence.

"Oh, okay," Richard said, because he had to say something. He found himself covering himself up with his arms.

"Don't," James said softly. "Let me look at you."

"James," Richard moaned, embarrassed.

"Please," James asked.

Richard swallowed, loudly, and slowly put his arms down by his sides. His nipples had hardened under James's penetrative gaze, and it was harder work than he'd thought just half-lying there and letting James watch him. His cock throbbed.

"Pull down the duvet," James told him, gruffly. "I want to see all of you."

"James-"

"Indulge me," James said, his voice low. He touched himself, briefly, palm closing around his erection for a moment.

Richard gasped a breath.

"Please," James asked again.

"Fuck," Richard groaned, but he was already pushing the duvet down to mid-thigh, kicking it further down until it just covered his ankles and feet. His cock—hard and red and feeling pretty desperate—hardened even more, if that was possible.

Richard loved the way James's eyes darkened when he was really turned on, and right now they were black. He shivered under James's gaze, and his skin burnt.

"God," James breathed. "You're so-" he touched himself again, longer this time, fist around his hard cock, a damp patch appearing on his boxers as he did so.

Richard's hips bucked. "Christ," he muttered, and he moved to close his own hand around his erection, get some satisfaction.

James shook his head. "Don't," he said, softly.

Richard's hand stilled, a hair's-breadth away from his cock.

"Don't," James said again.

Richard watched him, measuredly. "Okay," he said, after a moment. "But you take your pants off."

James nodded, slowly, and peeled his boxers off, over his erection and down his thighs and shucking them off so they fell to the floor. Because James was James, he bent down to pick them up and dropped them in the laundry basket.

Richard laughed, the mood broken, and he shook his head. "Get your arse over here, you fucking idiot."

James grinned, and rolled his eyes. "You look-" he started, clambering onto the bed and crawling up it and sinking down next to Richard on the pillows, "debauched, Hammond."

Richard rolled onto his side, grinning. "Debauched, huh?" he said, reaching over to touch James's shoulder and run his palm down James's arm. He couldn't leave his arms alone; he didn't know what it was that drew him to them but he couldn't stop looking or touching.

"Yes," James said, nodding. He ran his hand down Richard's chest, down to his belly button and beyond. His fingers grazed Richard's pubic hair and Richard's cock jumped. "Debauched. Ravished, even."

"Ravished?" Richard shook his head and shuffled closer. His knee touched James's.

James nodded, his hand on Richard's hip, moving slowly until it came to rest in the small of Richard's back.

Richard hissed in a breath at James's gentle touch. He cupped James's face in his hands, stubble beneath his fingertips, and pushed forward for a kiss, pressing his mouth to James's.

James kissed him back, softly. They both tasted like mint and hazily like sleep, and Richard couldn't help but smile against James's kiss, his fingers smoothing down James's hair behind his ear. It was still the stupidest fucking hair Richard had ever seen but he liked how it felt beneath his fingers, even though the chances of him ever admitting that were damn near none to none. There was no point indulging James by telling him that looking like a spaniel had its positive side. Richard grinned at his own stupidity, licking at James's mouth.

James groaned against him, and Richard felt the frisson of anticipation, heat and desire right down to his cock. Then James was pulling him closer, his chest flush against James's, and then there was the delicious, desperate moment where their cocks brushed together and Richard sort of thought that this—being with James - was the best thing he'd ever experienced, hands down.

"Will you-" James stopped, blushing, and nudged Richard's ear with his nose.

"Will I what?" Richard asked, rolling over a bit so he was half lying on top of James, stroking his fingers down James's side. He thought he might be able to feel James's heart beating and somehow, that was what was important. He closed his palm over James's chest, trying to capture the beat with his fingertips. James's breath faltered.

"I want to see you," James started, but then Richard started to stroke James's sternum with his thumb and his breath hitched in his throat, "touch yourself," James managed.

Richard's breath caught, and his fingertips stilled against James's chest. "What?" he managed, and his voice sounded strangled.

"I want to see you," James ground out, "like you must have been, that time on the phone."

"When we-" Richard started, flushing bright red. He didn't know how to word it. When we had phone sex. "You want to see me-" he tailed off.

"I want to see you, you know." James shrugged his shoulders awkwardly, but his eyes were pitch black dark, not a trace of blue to be seen and Richard could only echo the sentiment with hot breath and the promise of something more, his fingers itching and his cock throbbing—"Masturbate."

Richard choked on his breath.

"I imagine it a lot, you know," James went on, and Richard thought that James was a lot like still water, slow and simple on the surface but a whirlpool of hidden depths beneath. He tried to cling onto the surface but he felt himself being dragged down with the current, "Imagine what you would have looked like. Not when we're stuck in a caravan in between takes, but what you must have looked like, at home. Relaxed."

"And you want to see me, now?" Richard asked, hesitantly. He'd never done that before, not with anyone. Even his wife had never caught him at it, although that's because he limited himself purely to the bathroom or when she was out of the house, and more recently, to his own room.

James rolled him over so he was lying on his back, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Richard's mouth. "I do," he said, softly, his voice like heavy molasses. "I really, really do."

Richard could feel James's erection pressing into his thigh. He was nervous and he was more than a bit unsure because sex was one thing but masturbation was actually quite another. His cock throbbed.

James cupped his chin with his fingers. "You're so gorgeous, Hammond," he went on, gruffly. "You've got no idea what you do to me."

There was a damp patch on Richard's thigh, slippery from the head of James's cock. Richard had a pretty good idea of what he did to James, and the realisation was enough to have him whimper damply onto the morning air. "I thought you didn't want me touching myself," Richard said with a shaky attempt at a grin. He struggled to get himself back under control, rather than this shaking, hot, incredibly turned on excuse for himself. "Isn't that what you said?"

"That was then," James told him, kissing the underside of Richard's jaw, slowly. "This is now." He moved, pressing a kiss to first one nipple and then the other.

Richard hissed in a breath. He'd do anything James asked him to if James continued touching him like he was, fingertips brushing his sides, mouth trailing a pathway from collarbone to belly button. "Okay," Richard said, nothing more than a exhaled breath. "Okay."

James swallowed loudly, and pulled himself back up the bed, dragging a wet, long kiss from Richard as he did so.

Richard positioned himself on the pillows, pulling himself up into a sitting position. James was propped up on one elbow, the flat of his hand against Richard's thigh, thumb stroking the curve of his pelvis. Richard's erection throbbed with anticipation and desire and sheer unadulterated embarrassment. If he had his way, Richard would be in the bathroom with the door locked, and he sure as well wouldn't be getting ready to do what he was going to do in front of James.

But it was James who persuaded him to stay; it was something in James's dark, calm eyes and the relentless, methodical stroking of his thumb. Something in the soothing hum of his breathing and the promise of more from his gaze. Richard swallowed, loudly, and closed his fist around his erection. He shut his eyes at first, squeezing them tight shut as he stroked himself. He ran his thumb over the head of his cock, catching the damp, slippery fluid on his palm and trying to use it to lubricate his movements. It was usually enough, except this time he was nervous as hell and the sheer intensity of the situation was causing his cock to prickle and burn. The friction was too much; it almost hurt to touch himself.

James stopped him with a hand to his arm. "Hey," he said softly, "slow down."

Richard burnt with embarrassment, but then James was holding Richard's palm and squeezing the last of the lube from last night onto it, dropping a kiss to the inside of Richard's wrist. "I want to see your face," he said, so softly Richard could barely hear him, "don't close your eyes. I want to see."

So Richard didn't. The lube was cool against his palm, and he hissed a breath as he smoothed it around his erection, liberally coating his cock from base to head, his hand closing around the shaft.

"Christ," James breathed, as Richard gasped a breath and fisted his cock, slowly at first and then moving faster as he caught a rhythm. James was watching Richard's hand and his cock; uneven, hasty movements that caught in the air. Richard, however, was watching James. James's cock was trailing a wet mark across the sheets, his hand still on Richard's thigh as Richard continued to bring himself off. "Is this what it was like, when we were on the phone?" James asked, finally. His voice caught.

"Yeah," Richard said. "Except you were talking to me. Talk to me," Richard begged, and he didn't care how desperate he sounded. He just knew that he needed to hear James's voice.

"If I'd known this was what you looked like," James said, blushing red and pulling himself closer to Richard's thigh, "I'd have come a lot faster myself."

Richard's hips bucked of their own accord. He gasped.

"Look at you," James said, darkly, "Look at how beautiful you are when you touch yourself."

Richard's gripped his cock tighter, pushing at the friction and shuddering. "James," he managed, and James stroked his thigh awkwardly, watching him with shadowed eyes.

"You know," James went on, ducking his gaze from Richard's, "this is how I imagine you. When I, you know." He stopped uncomfortably, and Richard nudged him with his knee, all the time twisting his hand and bringing himself off in the damp stillness of the bedroom, the only sound his laboured breathing and the slap of palm against skin.

Richard's whole body burnt with a mixture of beautiful shame and unadulterated desire; he found himself running his other hand across his chest, up to his neck and down to each nipple, catching them with his fingers and shuddering with need. His fingertips caught in his chest hair, trailing down his stomach and sticking to his damp, sweaty skin. His toes curled into the sheet, his legs shifting against the cotton. Everything prickled with want; he couldn't keep still and he was groaning, gasping uncontrollably as he continued to fist himself. James was talking to him but he couldn't make out the words, just the dark, heady sound of James's voice going straight to his cock. He twisted his fingers, catching the slit with the base of his hand and he was coming so fast he didn't get a moment to warn James. His head was thrown back against the head board, his breathing ragged and gasping and desperate. He closed his eyes, his body sticky with sweat, and he breathed James's name.

But then James was touching him, hands on his chest, pulling him down onto the pillows and Richard was too worn out to argue. He shuffled down the mattress, struggling to get his breathing under control as he sank down on James's chest, burying his face in James's neck. James had wrapped his arms around Richard as he sank down onto the pillows; for a few moments he'd managed to overcome his feelings and Richard clung back with all his might, breathing wetly against James's neck. For a moment it was impossible to tell where Richard began and James ended, and Richard tried to appreciate the moment as he basked in the comedown.

All too soon, James was trying to extricate himself, and Richard rolled back onto his side of the bed in one long breath. He dropped his arm over his eyes to shield himself from the light; his breathing was just beginning to return to normal when he felt James move beside him, pulling himself up onto his knees. Richard opened one eye to find out what was going on, but he was too late and James was leaning over him, taking his limp, sticky cock in his mouth, lapping him clean.

Richard's hips bucked; his skin still burnt hot from coming not a minute earlier, and he buried his fingers in James's hair as James licked at him like a cat, leaving him clean and pink and damp.

James sank back onto his haunches, wiping his mouth.

Richard looked at him, sleepily. There was a slither of rapidly drying come on his cheek and Richard lazily beckoned him closer. "Come here," he managed, groggily.

James knelt over him and Richard pulled him down closer. "Your turn next," he said, quietly, and nudged at James's neck with his nose. "And you've got come on your cheek."

James blushed, and went to wipe it off with his hand.

"No," Richard said, softly. "Let me get that for you." He slid his hand around James's neck, pulling him down till his mouth was by Richard's cheek. Richard nudged at his mouth with his tongue. "You," he said, hazily. "You surprise me every time," he said, and he licked at James's cheek. He tasted warm and salty and slightly sticky, but it was James's soft intake of breath that surprised him the most.

"You want to see me?" James asked.

Richard pulled James closer, ghosting a kiss to his cheek. "Are you kidding me?" Richard asked, voice low. He ran a hand down James's stomach, hot beneath his touch. "I think about you," he whispered, his mouth touching James's ear in a fuzzy haze of sound and breath, "I think about you every single time—every time—I come." He buried his fingers in James's hair, holding him close as James tried to pull away. "When I come, it's because I'm thinking about you. Every day, when I do this—when I wank," he felt himself flush, but held on regardless, "whenever I touch myself, I'm thinking about you." James tried to pull away but Richard held him fast, because this was the closest he could get to saying what he really felt, and he needed to get it out. His skin burnt fiery red, but he needed to say it, to make James understand.

James was watching him with disbelieving eyes, hollow around the edges.

Richard needed to make him understand. "It's you," he said finally, and still James didn't get it. He cupped James's cheek with his palm, and shook his head. "I want to watch you wank," he said, and this wasn't any Richard Hammond he'd ever known speaking, "I want to watch so I know what you look like, so I can see what you look like when you come any time I want to."

James blushed red. "Okay," he said, after a moment, and he pulled back onto his haunches, propped up on his knees. Richard stayed where he was, laid back on the pillows, up on his elbows.

James squeezed the last of the tube of lube out onto his palm, and Richard wondered if they were being rather too enthusiastic with their need to reduce the friction. Maybe it was their unique position as road testers that gave them the added benefit of knowing when best to slide through the corners and when to scrimp on the brake fluid. Richard shook his head and tried not to think about cars. Which was hard, considering that Richard spent approximately seven eighths of any given day thinking about nothing but cars and James was virtually the same. Jeremy was slightly different in that he spent twenty three hours out of every twenty four thinking about power, and that could translate into cars or boats or bridges or even the Millennium Falcon, and Christ, Richard shook his head, Jeremy Clarkson was not allowed in the enclosure whenever sex was going to take place, those were the rules. It might be a rule that James had made up but it was a good rule nonetheless, although Richard wasn't about to tell James that. James spent enough time going on about the rules without suggesting that he was making up extra, valid ones.

Richard blinked. "James," he said carefully, "what the hell are you doing?"

James—who was piercing the seal on a new tube of lubricant despite being fully lubed up—looked up in surprise. "Um, opening a new tube?" he said, as if it was obvious.

"I can see that," Richard pointed out, "but what I really meant was why?"

"Richard," James said, patiently, "in case I need some more half way through. I hardly want to be stopping mid-way through to open a new tube, do I?"

Richard raised an eyebrow. "If you needed extra lube—more lube than you've currently used, which is probably more than most people use in a month—half way through, then I would have, you know, helped."

James shrugged, and didn't meet Richard's eye. "I'm used to being self-sufficient, Hammond," he said, and Richard wondered whether he'd heard anything that Richard had said to him.

Richard shook his head, leaned over and grabbed the new tube of lube. "If you need more lube, James, then you can bloody well ask for it. Now will you just get a bloody move on, May, and give me some satisfaction?"

James couldn't help but grin. "Aye, aye, Captain."

Richard rolled his eyes. "Any more even vaguely nautical references from you, James, and I'm going to start talking about Jeremy."

James's eyes widened. "Anything but that, Hammond."

"Get on with it then, slowcoach. I've waited a long time to see this."

James took a deep breath and closed his fist around his erection, rubbing his thumb across his foreskin and up across the slit. Richard swallowed, loudly, amazed at how hot it was, just lying here and watching James touch himself. James was nervous, that was clear. He was still sucking his tummy in, trying to give in to himself at the same time as utterly failing to relax.

Richard closed his hand around James's wrist for a moment. "It's okay," he said, softly, and he waited, holding on until James let out a deep breath and stopped looking like he was trying to be skinny. "It's okay," Richard said again, and he waited for a moment until James met his gaze before letting go.

He didn't watch James's hand, or his erection. He watched his face—watching as the colour mounted and his cheeks grew pinker; as his breath turned ragged at the edges and his head fell back and he groaned. He heard the familiar sounds of skin against slippery skin and he didn't give in and look down, no matter how much he wanted to. He just watched James's face, meeting his gaze and biting his lip and trying to imprint every sound, every movement, every expression into his mind so he need never forget anything about this. Not ever.

"Christ," James hissed, moments later.

Richard couldn't help it, he leaned in and closed his hand around James's, unable to bridge the rhythm but needing to be there, to participate, to feel. "I love seeing you like this," he said, unable to help himself.

James sucked in a ragged breath, red-faced and breathless. "Richard-" he tried, but Richard interrupted.

"I do," he went on. "I love seeing you lose control." The lube was getting everywhere, sliding through James's fingers and squelching across Richard's palm. Richard kneeled up, awkwardly, and pressed his mouth to James's. The kiss was wet and hurried and sloppy, and James just groaned against Richard's tongue. Pulling away, Richard buried his nose in James's hair, mouth touching James's ear. "I meant it," he said, and James's rhythm skipped a beat; "Every time I come it's because I'm thinking of you."

James bucked and shuddered and came, all over Richard's chest.

 

Afterwards, when they were laying on the bed, sticky, damp and sated, Richard rolled over onto his side to watch James.

"What are you looking at?" James asked, self-consciously.

"You," Richard said, with a grin.

"Oh yeah?" James said, biting back his own grin as Richard nudged him with his foot.

"Yeah," Richard nudged him again, hooking James's calf with his ankle.

James laughed, and rolled onto his side. He watched Richard for a moment before moving so he could lay his arm across the pillows, just above Richard's head, touching his hair.

Richard watched him back, smiling playing on his lips. "That your idea of physical contact, May?" he said, finally.

James shrugged. "Seems like it," he said, and raised an eyebrow.

"Right," Richard told him, nodding.

Outside on the landing, Fusker started to meow and scratch at the bedroom door.

"Someone hasn't had their morning tiger prawns," James said, fondly.

"What do we get for breakfast?" Richard asked.

"Cornflakes," James said, shortly.

Richard buried his face in James's neck and started to laugh.

James shook his head and reached for his dressing gown. "I've laid out some clean towels for you in the bathroom," he said, once he'd got to the door and left Richard in bed. "I'll make us both some tea whilst you shower."

Richard couldn't help but smile. You're the one, he thought, but he didn't say it. Not yet.
Epilogue

 

The break up seemed to go for ever and ever, although Jeremy later assured him it was only a matter of weeks. It wasn't a pleasant experience, although Richard was hardly surprised by that. Break ups were just that—the breaking of a union—and it wasn't a particularly unexpected revelation to discover that with breaking up came pain and anger and retribution and overwhelming sadness. And if anyone had asked him what he'd been feeling during those weeks and months after the divorce, he'd have just said sad. Really fucking sad.

He'd told her on the Tuesday morning after he'd stayed with James, when the sun was just climbing over the top of the trees at the end of the paddock.

He'd waited until she'd gone and done the horses, waited until she was back in the kitchen, making coffee and pottering round the counters in heeled boots and jeans, warming a croissant on the toaster and flicking through a magazine. She'd been up for hours, out mucking out the stables at the crack of dawn, back in the house for a shower and a late breakfast before heading into Gloucester to pick up some tack.

Richard, who hadn't slept a wink and was in a pair of old jeans and a old tracksuit top, looked up from his cup of tea and said I think I want a divorce.

The croissant set on fire and in the rush to put out the flickering flames, the coffee pot ended up in pieces on the tiles and Richard was left trying to keep the dogs out of the broken glass at the same time as trying to talk to Mindy, and that was the easy part.

It ended up being Jeremy who picked up the pieces, surprisingly enough. He'd turned up at the flat in London the morning after, standing outside the front door and bellowing Hammond, get this bloody door open before someone calls the papers and I have to punch Piers Morgan again until Richard had opened up.

It was Jeremy who got him drunk and Jeremy who gave him the name of a good lawyer and Jeremy who helped him sort out the legalities so he could sign over the house in Gloucestershire into Mindy's name. It was Jeremy who invited him over every weekend and Jeremy who sorted out some work in the Lake District for Richard, filming some health and science programme for the BBC based with the British Aerospace Foundation. It was Jeremy who fixed up a lock-up for Richard's cars and Jeremy who bundled Richard off for a fortnight to the Isle of Man when it all got too much for him to bear.

It was Jeremy who listened to Richard be morose and drunk about Mindy, about what might have been, about how things were. It was Jeremy who cuffed him round the head when he was getting too maudlin, Jeremy who stuck his fingers in his ears and said I am not—I repeat not—thinking about you and James having sex, Hammond whenever Richard got caught up with missing James.

James was in France with Oz Clarke, of all people, filming some series which sounded a lot like a jaunt with free alcohol to Richard. James had initially been quite hesitant when he'd first brought it up with Richard, not wanting to leave him just at the point when his divorce was becoming something concrete. Richard, however, had smiled tiredly and urged James to go. Richard wanted his divorce to be about his sexuality, not just his affair, and things were hard enough on them all already without adding additional pressure to the mix. It was fairer to Mindy this way. Fairer to James, too, proof if proof were needed that he wasn't a rebound relationship, wasn't merely an escape route from a failing marriage. Proof that he was worth waiting for. That they were worth waiting for.

Three months down the line, though, and Richard was regretting his decision to shove James off to another country. He and Mindy were—very cautiously—talking on the phone, talking about the dogs (Mindy had Starling, Richard had Pickle and Top Gear Dog) and about the terms of the divorce and about how the were both handling the separation. It was hard on both of them, tough trying to figure out a life without the other one in it, horrible trying to extricate themselves from all their shared memories and experiences and belongings. They were trying to keep things amicable—not least because their marriage had been failing for so long and they were both exhausted—but it was hard on them both.

It had been a really, really tough few months and Richard couldn't remember ever feeling so tired and worn out. He wasn't sleeping well and he hated being stuck in London all the time and he missed James. He missed his friendship and his companionship and more than anything, missed him. He regretted agreeing to James's stupid, grown up, more-than-reasonable request that Richard not contact him for the duration of his filming in France. James had shrugged his shoulders awkwardly and looked the other way and said - just get your divorce sorted, Hammond. If you, well. If you still want to do this afterwards, then I'll be here, waiting—and although it had been the hardest promise Richard had ever made, he had to admit that despite the difficulty, James had been right to ask him to make it.

Maybe Richard wasn't the only one who needed proof that this was it.

Still, knowing it was the right thing to do didn't make it any easier. He missed James's ridiculous jokes and annoying voice and the way he looked at Richard when James thought Richard was looking the other way. He missed a lot of things.

 

Richard was staying at Jeremy's for the weekend again, holed up in the spare bedroom over the kitchen, Top Gear Dog curled around him lazily, licking his ear. At 1am, when he couldn't sleep and he couldn't stare at the ceiling any longer, he'd ended up in the kitchen, peeling an apple with a knife and staring at the wall. Christ, he missed James. Being with James hadn't just been about being caught up in an emotional rollercoaster of secret assignations and cloak and dagger clandestine meetings. James was a nightmare, for fuck's sake. He folded his underpants and scratched his arse and drank stupid poncey ale and called it beer.

Richard could sit in Jeremy's kitchen all night and try and compare what he'd once had with Mindy (gorgeous, beautiful, elegant, fun Mindy) with what he had now with James (plump, scruffy, affable, pedantic James) and there really wouldn't be any competition. His divorce hadn't been about choosing between the two of them because there really hadn't been any choice at all. It hadn't been about sleeping with James, it had been about Richard admitting something he'd spent years not even entertaining the concept of. Kissing James might be the closest thing to righthe'd ever experienced, but his divorce was about him needing to be with a man and not Mindy.

Men like Richard—men who drove cars for a living, who talked about power and clutches and cornering—they didn't tend to get to Richard's age and suddenly realise that they wanted to sleep with men. They married beautiful women who would look good spread-eagled over the bonnet of a Porsche (and Mindy had, once or twice, although Richard couldn't help but remember that he'd been more worried about the paintwork than he had been about quite how she'd looked half naked across the bonnet) and took them to dealership dinners and on fancy holidays in the Bahamas. They didn't turn round on the cusp of forty and start thinking cheese sandwiches and carefully prepared ploughmans were the height of seduction and start sleeping with one of their best friends. They didn't start affairs they couldn't stop. They didn't turn around one weekend and realise that whilst they loved their wife, they were in love with someone else.

They didn't.

Richard sat on the floor in Jeremy's kitchen, Pickle nosing at his palm and wolfing down the apple peel. "I'm in love with James," he told her, scratching her neck. Pickle nudged at his nose. "I am," he said, "and I miss him like fucking crazy."

Pickle whined and Richard shook his head, miserably.

He filled up the dogs' water bowls and scratched behind their ears as they sleepily licked at his palm and wagged their tails, pleased to see him even though it was the middle of the night. He sighed, tiredly, and before he knew what he was doing he was letting himself out of the house and going across to the garage. The dogs—sleepily aware of his presence—turned around and went back to sleep, letting Richard unlock the door to the garage block and turn the light on without even attempting to bark at the disturbance.

The garage block at his old house in Gloucestershire had been Richard's pride and joy and Jeremy's just couldn't compare. Richard had built it as soon as they'd bought the place—in fact, it was the reason he'd gone for this house over any other. Mindy claimed it was because of the proximity to the stables where she housed her two horses, but as Richard was paying for it (he hated to think like that, but it was true—they'd barely been married even then) he'd had the deciding vote and he'd plumped for the house with the best probability of getting planning permission to house his cars. It had once been a dilapidated barn, but once Richard had got his hands on it, it became a state of the art (built around a basis of breeze blocks and strip lighting, according to James, who'd overseen the building by drinking his way through many bottles of bitter and laughing at Richard's sizeable collection of man-crap) garage designed to house many lovingly cared-for cars and bikes. And a particularly dilapidated old Landrover he really only kept because it pissed James off so much that Richard had managed to buy it before he did.

It was only with time that Richard had really come to realise just how big an influence James had had on his life—and not just over the past few weeks and months, either. This change—this shift—had come upon him so slowly that he honestly couldn't tell whether everything had been building towards this since the first time he'd met James, several years previously.

He sighed, rubbing his eyes, and switched the light off before unlocking his 911. He didn't know Jeremy's garage as well as he'd known his own, but he didn't want to alert Jeremy and his family to his presence out in the garage.

His Porsche was left hand drive and post-box red and Richard secretly loved it more than all of his other cars put together, apart from the Morgan—but that was virtually a member of the family so barely counted as a car. Settling himself in the driving seat, he pulled the door shut and leaned back, waiting until the lamp went off and his eyes adjusted to the darkness once more.

Christ knows what he was doing.

Heading for 1.30 in the morning and instead of going to sleep like a normal person, Richard was squashed into the front seat of his favourite car, in the dark, mobile phone in his hand, debating whether or not to ring his best friend to tell him that he was in love with him and that he'd better come back to England soon because Richard was done waiting.

He rolled his eyes, telling himself he was a complete knob and that James would be in a tent somewhere with Oz Clarke—probably without a mobile signal—and that he wouldn't be in the right frame of mind for a conversation with Richard. None of it was enough to make Richard go back inside.

He ran his fingers over the buttons on his phone, and sighed.

 

James took a while to answer, and when he did, it was a gruff Hammond?

"Were you asleep?" Richard asked. He rubbed at his eyes with his fingers.

"Not any more." James yawned sleepily. "What time is it?"

"Half one," Richard told him. "You've got good signal. Thought you were roughing it in a field."

"Got a hotel room for the first time in forever. No Oz snoring like a freight train tonight, thankfully."

There was a silence. Richard closed his eyes. He hadn't seen James for almost three months now, and excepting a few awkward as fuck conversations about Top Gear scheduling, stilted conversations from the Top Gear production office that even had Jeremy wincing in sympathy, they'd not spoken either. James had, however, sent Richard three very neatly wrapped parcels from various corners of France, each one containing a copy of the French version of Autotrader with the funniest adverts highlighted in red biro. Richard kept them in a careful, neat pile on the shelf in the living room of his London flat.

"What are you still doing up?" James asked, eventually, and Richard imagined James leaning over and switching the lamp on, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and sitting back against the pillows.

"Couldn't sleep," Richard said, softly, and it was only half a lie.

"Oh," James said, after a moment. Then- "If you've rung up for a bedtime story, Hammond, then you're out of luck, you'd have been better off ringing Jezza. Brain can only think about grapes at the moment. Bloody Oz Clarke."

"Don't talk about Jeremy," Richard said, automatically.

"Thought that was only if we were having sex," James said, sleepily, and Richard blushed bright red.

"We're not having sex, are we?" James asked, all of a sudden. "Did I miss something?"

Richard palmed his crotch in the dark, just to check. "No," he said, quietly. "I mean, we can if-" he stopped. "Ignore that," he said finally. "I'm staying at Jeremy's. I'm in his garage. In the Porsche."

There was a long moment's pause. "Okay," James said, confused. "Are you sure you're alright, Hammond?"

Richard leaned back against the head rest. He really had no idea what the hell was going on, what had driven him to call James from a darkened car garage in the middle of the night when he should be in bed. "I should be in bed," he said finally.

"Why aren't you?" James asked him, and it wasn't an accusation, or a retort. It was just James. Interested, invested, woken up in the middle of the night.

"Couldn't sleep," Richard said again. He swallowed and touched his mouth with the tips of his fingers. "Can't sleep. Because I'd rather be with you." His hands shook.

There was a long pause. "I'd rather be with you too," James said, finally.

Richard let out a breath he barely knew he'd been holding. "I'm missing you like fuck," Richard admitted, after a minute. His voice shook.

"Christ, Hammond." James took a deep breath.

Richard gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles whitened. "I- I well. I love you," he said, and he swore his voice belonged to someone else. He couldn't recognise the cadence or the rhythm of his words.

James swallowed loudly. The phone crackled across the international line. "You sure, Hammond?"

"Yeah," Richard said softly. "It's you, James."

"Right." James cleared his throat. "Well, Hammond, I really rather love you too. Have done for ages, actually." James coughed, awkwardly. "Years probably. Despite the fact you're an insufferable pirate and half the time I want to strangle you with my bare hands."

"Well," Richard said, letting out a strangled laugh and burying his face in his hands, unable to stop himself from smiling, "You'd be first up against the wall when the revolution came, too."

"Before Jeremy?" James asked, wounded. He sounded like he was laughing too, and Richard suddenly ached for his touch. His heart hurt.

Richard shrugged awkwardly, trying to stem the desire to start the engine and just drive to wherever the fuck James was. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head in the dark and rubbing at his forehead. "Okay," he managed. "After Jeremy."

James huffed a breath. "That's better," he said, quietly. Richard tried to remember what James looked like when he'd just woken up, the soft fanning of wrinkles and sleep-warmed skin. What he tasted like. "So long as you'd shoot Jeremy first."

"Always," Richard told him, and he swallowed, loudly, closing his eyes. "Always, James." He wasn't talking about Jeremy anymore and he hoped James knew it. Richard's skin was hot to the touch, pink with embarrassment and barely concealed desire.

There was a long silence, broken only by the faint static of the international line. "Hammond," James said, helplessly.

"When do you finish over there?" Richard asked, trying not to sound too desperate.

"Ten days," James told him. He sounded tired. "Maybe eleven. Oz can be pedantic."

Richard shuffled in his seat, free hand on the steering wheel. "How do you fancy a couple of weeks away?" he asked, softly. "Two weeks on the Isle of Man? Jeremy says we can have his house, so long as we promise to pretend we've not had sex on any of his beds."

"God," James said, his voice choked. "I can't think about Jeremy."

"But?" Richard pushed. He touched at his mouth with his hand.

"It sounds-" James coughed. "It sounds lovely, Hammond. I would very much like to spend some time with you."

Richard smiled. "Good," he said. "Good. I-" he stopped. He wanted to say something, but couldn't quite find the words. "Yeah," he said, and he hoped James understood that that was Richard-speak for I love you and I miss you and thank you for waiting.

"Yes," James told him softly. "Me too."

Richard leaned back against the seat. "You should get some sleep, May."

"So should you," James said, fondly. There was a pause, then- "I'll call you tomorrow, Hammond."

"Yeah," Richard said, sleepily. "Do that."

[End]