James and Jeremy’s relationship took them both by surprise: neither of them had ever been with another man (no matter how much Jeremy swore otherwise about James), and during the dark period of late 2011 when their relationships went down in a fireball of false accusations and screaming (Jeremy’s) and a sad, slow drift (James’), one nearly right after the other, ‘someone new’ was the last thing on their minds.
Perhaps because they were beginning from similar preconceptions (and misconceptions) and experiences, they found their way surprisingly quickly and easily: blow jobs were a lot more fun to give than either had expected; men of their age and physical condition shouldn’t attempt anything approaching sex in what is only charitably referred to as “a back seat;” and, not only can a back rub make it possible to get out of bed the morning after a cross-continent journey, it often leads to quite wonderful sex.
Some things they know they’ll never do, and it doesn’t even need discussing: Jeremy will never put his flat up for sale (living together 24 hours a day/365 days a year with no escape will ruin them and make even doing the show impossible); and they will never get married (Jeremy’s already failed twice, and James has never been interested in attempting it, and with no kids involved, they don’t see the point).
And there are other things they claim, early on, will never happen….
Everything that could have gone wrong, did. Well, that’s not entirely true. No one got hurt – unless you count James tripping over his untied shoelace on his way to do the news and stubbing his toe. (But the only real injury incurred there was to his pride.) But one camera broke, and Jeremy’s mobile rang three times (but he learned, and only yelled at the studio audience the first two times, finally turning the ringer off after the third), and Richard kept tripping over the word “Nürburgring,” (pronouncing it “Nürgurbring” for some inexplicable reason) causing James to launch into a diatribe about the track’s failures each and every time until Andy’s glare finally frightened him into stopping.
It was warm in the hangar, and Jeremy hadn’t put on any cologne that morning, and the script called for Jeremy to lean in so James could “remind him” of the attributes of push-rod suspension, and – Oh, God. James angled his head to murmur the answer in Jeremy’s ear and caught a whiff of pure Jeremy, of his clean, natural sweat. Only the fact that his hands were already deep in his pockets kept him from reaching out and tugging Jeremy close. He was supposed to actually provide the information Jeremy was ostensibly looking for – in case the mics picked up any sound – but all he could manage was an incoherent mumble.
As he leaned away, Jeremy raised an inconspicuous eyebrow in concern, but he didn’t say anything. He couldn’t. James stood taller in response, as reassurance, and they carried on with the segment.
“Thank God that’s over,” Richard groaned as the audience was finally filing out. “I thought today was never going to end.”
The three of them crossed the hangar, heading for wardrobe so they could change and finally go home. Richard led the way, as usual, his exuberance and limitless energy reserves easily outpacing the others’ longer strides.
After a quick glance behind him, James leaned closer and quickly squeezed a handful of Jeremy’s arse. “Can’t wait to get my hands on you,” he muttered under Richard’s continual chatting up ahead.
“Is that what…?” Jeremy asked, with a grin and a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah. You smelled fucking delicious. I could hardly stand it.”
Jeremy’s grin melted briefly into a soft smile before turning lascivious and dirty, but equally gorgeous.
“So, pub?” Richard asked, pulling out his other clothes and yanking his shoes off his feet. “I need a drink after that.”
“Uh,” Jeremy glanced at James quickly, then said in a rush, “I’m coming down with a headache, mate. It’ll have to wait ‘til next week.”
James chimed in, “And I told Simmy I’d stop by and look at this, er, thing he’s working on. For Man Lab.
Richard sighed. “All right, then. I’ll see what the crew’s up to. You old farts.”
Once they were dressed, James and Jeremy walked out to their cars together. James leaned against the Panda’s door and tugged at Jeremy’s jacket until he came closer. “So, we’re not telling anyone, then.” He didn’t phrase it as a question.
Jeremy covered James’ hand and pressed it against his chest, squeezing briefly before letting go. James rubbed his thumb once, up and down, feeling Jeremy’s heart beat beneath it, then dropped his hand and slid it into his pocket. “No. I mean, I thought we wouldn’t. It’s not that I – I’m not…ashamed…of this. Or anything. I only….” He sighed. “It’s not their business.”
James nodded once in agreement. “Yeah. I think it’s a good idea.”
They smiled at each other, then Jeremy said, “Do you want me to pick up something for dinner, on the way? You know I’ll get there first.”
“No. I can’t wait that long to have you. We’ll find something to eat…after.”
Jeremy grinned. “Drive fast then.”
They made good on their promise to not tell, arriving at the track separately after waking up in the same bed, sneaking out of hotel rooms before dawn, never sitting too close.
Until one day, sitting in the pub on one side of the booth across from Andy and Richard. Jeremy rests his hand on James’ knee under the table, turns toward him and tilts his head in the others’ direction, raising his eyebrows. Eh, what do you say? Is it time?
James rolls his eyes as inside his heart is pounding in his chest. “Oh, go on.” He can’t keep the smile off his face.
Jeremy clears his throat. “James and I have something to tell you.”
Raising an eyebrow, Andy leans back in his seat, arms crossed over his chest, a smug smirk on his face. Richard’s eyes are as wide as his grin.
“You both know already,” Jeremy says, accusingly.
“For a while, mate,” Andy chuckles. “I’m just shocked you’re finally saying something now.”
“What – what gave it away?” James asks, leaning forward, honestly intrigued.
Richard and Andy glance at each other then back at their mates across from them. “The way you two look at each other,” Richard says, as if it were obvious.
James is about to ask, “And how’s that, then?” but Jeremy turns his head toward him and it couldn’t be clearer.
No longer needing to deny his impulses, James slips his hand beneath the table and covers Jeremy’s, sliding their fingers together. They smile at each other, then Jeremy leans closer, bumping their shoulders together, and asks everyone what they think of the new Audi. And James grins.
They’re still the same people they were before; they’re just able to be a little more honest now.
It was fairly early on in their sexual relationship that Jeremy had sat James down on the edge of the bed and said they needed to talk. Hundreds of horrible thoughts crossed his mind in an instant, so it was a relief when Jeremy had finally sputtered, “I don’t think I can, you know…. I don’t want to….” James thought he’d figured it out by the time Jeremy had started pulling agitatedly at his own hair, but he let the other man suffer for making his heart race in fear.
“I know you seemed to like it, when we…when I…when I fucked you,” he said hurriedly, “but I don’t know that I can, you know….”
Finally James decided to save him. “You don’t want anything in your arse,” he said, holding a serious face for about three seconds before dissolving into laughter.
“This is serious, James! Stop it.”
“It’s really not, Jeremy.” Carefully, James pressed Jeremy back until his upper half was lying on the bed, feet still touching the floor. Swinging one leg over, James moved to straddle him, then leaned down until their noses were almost touching. “You don’t have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.”
“Don’t – doesn’t….” Jeremy sighed and curled his fingers around clumps of James’ hair, tugging gently. “You don’t feel like, I don’t know, it means I don’t – that I’m not as serious about this? Or that I don’t trust you?”
“Jezza, no.” Leaning even closer, James brought their lips together in a chaste kiss. “I feel like it means you aren’t interested in being fucked. It’s just…just what you like, not what you feel about me, or about us.”
Jeremy slipped his hands underneath James’ shirt, running his fingers along the knobs of James’ spine as far as he can reach. “I’ve liked all the things we’ve done,” he said, almost shyly.
James grinned. “I have, too. And there are other things, things besides…that, that we can still try. If you’re willing.”
Jeremy’s shy smile turned into something sexy and devilish. “How about right now?”
Jeremy’s proclamation lasted almost 8 months, months where they learned each other’s bodies and preferences, compiling a repertoire of sexual activities that pleased both them and their aging, aching bodies.
They are at a BBC party when Jeremy sidles drunkenly up to James, interrupting the rather interesting conversation he is having with Stephen Fry, and pulls him away.
“Sorry, Stephen,” Jeremy proclaims, sounding not the least bit sorry. “Top Gear business, you know.”
“Jeremy,” James begins rather impatiently, “what…?”
Then he’s pushed around the corner and into a deserted hallway then pressed up against the wall behind a rather large plant. After a moment, Jeremy remembers where he is and who they are and pulls back just a bit. “James,” he says, warm, wine-scented breath brushing against James’ face, “I want you to fuck me.”
“I want you to take me back to the hotel, and I want you to fuck me.”
James heart thuds in his chest, his mouth waters. He’d been honest when he’d said he didn’t mind Jeremy’s reluctance in some areas, but now the idea’s in his head, and…no.
“Jeremy, you’re drunk.”
“I am not,” Jeremy tries, but ruins it by stumbling slightly.
“You are. I can’t…” he reaches out and quickly brushes his thumb along Jeremy’s lips, “we can’t do this. Not when you’re drunk.”
“I’m not,” Jeremy insists, stubbornly. “I’ve thought about it – I’ve been thinking about it, and now I’ve had just enough drinks that I can finally say it out loud.”
“Jezza. I really, really can’t.”
Jeremy sighs and nods. Then he glances at his watch. “It’s not that late.”
“What if – what if I don’t have anymore to drink. If, when we go back to the hotel, if I still want this then…?”
James closes his eyes and lets out a long, slow breath. Then he opens them to see Jeremy’s hopeful face looking back at him. “If you’re sufficiently sober,” he says finally.
“Then you’ll fuck me?”
“Then I’ll fuck you.”
Jeremy was. And James did.
And it was good.
Really, really good.
That first night together, they learned so many things: about each other, about themselves. James learned that gentle bites along the insides of Jeremy’s thighs cause the older man to tremble and babble incoherently. He was relieved to discover that, while slightly terrifying in wonderful ways, sex with Jeremy felt just as right as sex with any woman had. (More so if he were being completely honest.)
And when James’ pants finally slid down his long legs and onto the floor, Jeremy found that a slightly overweight, mildly hairy, pale body was more interesting and more beautiful than any petrol groupie’s.
Jeremy had also learned, on that first night together, that James can’t sleep entwined with his lover. They’d cuddled for a while, then James had kissed Jeremy gently and pulled away to rest his head on his own pillow, hand still settled on Jeremy’s stomach. “Is this okay?” he asked, apologetically. “If I sleep that close to someone, it’s – I get….”
“James,” Jeremy interrupted softly, squeezing the fingers on his belly. “It’s all right. I understand.”
From that night on, James was always sure to indulge Jeremy’s desire for physical closeness in the aftermath of sex. But then, when it got to be too much, he’d break it off with a kiss and pull away. As they drifted off to sleep, a part of them was always touching: one hand covering the other on top of the sheet, a hand on a chest, or a foot against a calf.
It doesn’t take long for Jeremy to figure out: when James curls up behind him in bed, it’s a sure sign he wants to initiate sex because he’s horny or hard or because he’s anxious to facilitate closeness after time spent apart.
Jeremy is exhausted. “Mmm, not now,” he murmurs and pulls away from the warm body pressed against his back.
The bed sheets rustle as James turns to face the wall. No part of them is touching.
Jeremy sighs and rolls over. “Hey,” he whispers.
“What?” Jeremy suspects he’s trying, but James can’t quite keep the disappointment out of his voice.
“You all right?”
“You’re not.” Jeremy moves closer and rests a hand on James’ hip. He can feel James tense beneath his palm. “Just because I’m too tired for sex,” he begins softly, “it doesn’t mean….”
“I don’t want sex. I’m too tired for sex. India is a fucking exhausting country.”
“Then what…?” Jeremy grins and chuckles. “Did you just want to hold me?”
“Of course I do,” James whinges. “We’ve been together nonstop for days, but I’ve barely got to touch you.”
“Aww,” Jeremy teases.
“Fuck you, Clarkson.” But Jeremy can hear the smile in his voice.
“Well, no, because we’re both too tired. C’mere. Do you want to be the big spoon or the little spoon?”
Finally, James moves, twisting his upper body to face Jeremy. “If you’re going to be like that, I’m going to sleep over here by myself.” He lets out a sigh, then mutters, “Big spoon.”
Brushing James hair away from his face with his fingers, Jeremy snorts. “M’sorry, May. I assumed you wanted sex, and I just…. There’s no way. Not tonight.”
They kiss once, twice, then both roll over. James moves closer, burying his face in the back of Jeremy’s neck, and murmurs, “My fault. You weren’t to know I’ve changed my mind about….”
James growls and nips at Jeremy’s neck. If they weren’t so tired, it would be the beginning of something. As they are, it’s just a promise. “Can’t swear I won’t roll over at some point, though.”
“That’s okay. Thank you for trying. Night, James.”
“Good night, Jez.”
Neither of them needed any of that “romantic twaddle” of candlelit dinners or declarations of love. They didn’t have to say it out loud, it’s just who they are. Their method of romance consisted of cups of tea made just the way James likes it; reading glasses found where they’ve fallen under the bed, cleaned, and placed on top of the morning paper or a half-read book; words of love mouthed silently against skin or into hair as their bodies said all they needed or wanted to.
They knew how they felt, knew each of them was in it for the long haul. Of this there was no doubt.
James is standing in the middle of the living room when Jeremy returns from a meeting with Francie (who is, and – the three of them are in agreement on this - always will remain, his manager). He stares blankly at the mobile in his hand, his other hand covering his mouth.
“James?” Jeremy’s bag slips from his fingers and falls to the floor with a thump. “Everything all right?”
James slides the mobile into his pocket and stands straighter, wiping his hand across his face. Jeremy can see a brief moment when James considers lying or brushing him off, but the other man blinks rapidly and swallows. Jeremy’s stride engulfs the length of the room before bringing him to James’ side.
“I – I don’t know,” James says, finally. “That was my doctor.”
Jeremy’s hands grip James’ upper arms and it takes a few seconds of thought before he manages to loosen his hold. “What is it? Are you…? Whatever it is…tell me, James. Please.”
“They – they found,” James’ hand presses against his own chest, grabbing at his shirt. “They found a spot, on my lung.”
Jeremy doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want to say it. Makes himself say it. “Cancer?”
James shrugs and finally focuses on Jeremy in front of him. “They won’t know until they do a biopsy. They want me to come in a couple of weeks from now.”
In a couple of weeks, Jeremy will be in Australia for Top Gear Live. And James, James will be here. Alone.
“I’ll stay home,” Jeremy says, immediately. “We’ll postpone the tour, and….”
“Jez, no. It’ll be fine. The procedure isn’t a big deal. I’ll take a taxi, it’ll be fine.”
“James,” Jeremy murmurs, drawing the other man close. “I don’t want you to go through that alone.”
“I know,” he answers, tightening his arms around Jeremy. “But they won’t let you in the room, anyway. And – and it’ll take a few days before they’ll know anything. You’ll be back by then. Go, Jez.”
Jeremy allows himself one sniff before getting himself under control and tugging James’ hand to pull the other man onto sofa with him. “Tell me everything the doctor told you. Then I’ll decide if I’m going.”
They argued about it, but in the end Jeremy went to Australia, but only after they called James’ older sister and got her to come stay for a couple of days. James had grumbled but agreed.
The Thursday morning after Jeremy’s return is the earliest they were told they might hear anything. There’s a day-long meeting scheduled that day at White City to discuss the upcoming series. Jeremy suggests calling in sick, but James just wants to carry on life as usual.
“If I sit at home, Jez, I’ll only stare at the phone and wait for it to ring. I need to be doing something. Anything.”
Jeremy nods and sighs. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he watches James getting dressed, and it’s all he can do not to look for any signs of sickness: weight lost, a bruise he hadn’t noticed before. It would do them both good to be busy.
It’s nearly lunch when James’ mobile vibrates in his pocket, making both James and Jeremy jump in their seats. The table laughs, but when James looks at the display, mumbling, “I have to take this. Sorry,” as he hurries out of the room with Jeremy on his heels, the laughter turns into uncomfortable silence.
Between James’ head start and Jeremy’s dodgy hip, the older man is just far enough behind that James has already hung up when he finally catches up.
Jeremy’s heart is thudding so loudly in his ears that he’s unsure he’ll be able to hear anything James says, but he needn’t worry. The grin spreading its way across James’ face when he looks up tells him everything he needs to know.
“Oh, thank god,” Jeremy murmurs before pulling the other man into his arms.
“They said it was nothing, Jeremy,” James whispers through tears of relief.
Again, Jeremy thanks a god he doesn’t believe in before leaning down and pressing his lips against James’ temple.
Over James’ shoulder, Jeremy spots Richard in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot, hands wringing together.
“Hamster’s here,” Jeremy says softly. “He wants to know if everything’s all right.” Leaving an arm around James’ shoulders, Jeremy reluctantly releases the other man from his embrace.
“Are you okay, James?” Richard asks, taking a nervous step into the room.
James’ eyes are watery, but his smile is still wide. “I’m fine, mate.”
Richard’s own grin quickly graces his features. With a speed Jeremy could never duplicate, he reaches James and, after just the slightest hesitation, throws his arms around his friend.
Unable to take his hands completely off James, Jeremy moves a hand to his lover’s back, rubbing the trembling shoulder blades as James nearly melts into Richard’s hug.
“I told the pillock you’d be okay,” Richard says with quiet conviction, raising his eyes to grin at Jeremy over James’ shoulder.
James doesn’t even question how or why Richard knew what was going on. “Thank you for being there for him,” he whispers.
“Always, mate. Always.”
Jeremy swallows around the lump in his throat and leans closer, pressing a brief kiss to the back of James’ head, squeezing Richard’s shoulder at the same time.
“I’ll, uh, I’ll let you two have some time alone. Tell everyone that everything’s okay, but we’re taking an early lunch. Just, er, just…. I love you, mate.” Jeremy can see that Richard’s closed his eyes and his fingers are clenching and unclenching around fistfuls of James’ shirt. “And I’m glad you’re okay.”
Jeremy can’t quite hear what James whispers in return, but he gets the gist from Richard’s smile. Then Richard turns to leave and James returns to Jeremy’s arms.
“I’m sorry,” Jeremy says after a few seconds of relaxed silence.
James looks up, brow wrinkled in confusion. “F’what, Jez?”
“You shouldn’t have heard that from Hamster before me.”
James brushes the backs of his fingers across Jeremy’s cheek. “Heard what?”
Jeremy pauses. He cups James’ face in his hands, rubbing sweaty thumbs along stubbly jaw line. He needs James to know that he’s saying it; he’s not just answering the question.
“I love you. I should have said it. A million times before.”
“Jez,” James breathes, folding his hands over Jeremy’s. “You say it every day. Every time you smile at me, or say my name, or tell me what a boring, pedantic arse I am.” James smiles lopsidedly. “I go through life in a cloud of doubt, never sure of what I’m doing, if I’m good enough, where I’m going.” Jeremy can’t help but smirk at that. “That we love each other is the one thing I’m sure of, no matter what. Well, that and the Nürburgring is pure evil.”
Jeremy chuckles and leans his head down until their foreheads are pressed together. “Still. Should’ve said it.”
Jeremy waits patiently, but when no other words seem to be forthcoming, he clears his throat. “Well?”
A blush creeps up James’ neck, but his smile is gorgeous, blue eyes glinting. “I love you, Jeremy.”
Jeremy leans down and they kiss, brief presses of lips that have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with love. When they finally pull apart, Jeremy worries his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment before James notices. “Jezza?”
“I – I shouldn’t even say this, should just be grateful that you’re all right, but…I want you to know…. If – if – if it hadn’t, you know, turned out so well…. I would have been here. Shit, so would have Richard and Andy and everyone else. But, James, anything you’d needed, anything….” His voice breaks and he can’t continue.
James’ strong arms squeeze tightly around Jeremy’s middle. “I know. I know.”
They hold each other silently for a moment, then Jeremy takes a deep, watery breath before asking, “So, what do you think? A few more minutes letting ourselves be emotional spanners, then lunch?”
James laughs and agrees, burying his face against Jeremy’s neck with a sigh. Everything is a little easier, a little better, when you’re loved.