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Title: In Their Quilted Coats ch. 2
Author: Pip
Pairing: None yet, but yes, it will be Richard/Pip eventually.
Warning: Umm, AU, obvs. Richard's wife and family don't exist, because I refuse to break up a home. :D He did, however, have his accident in this universe. Also, I should probably warn for Jeremy Clarkson in general.

A massive thank you to [livejournal.com profile] tigertale7 and [livejournal.com profile] giddy_london for the betas, encouragement, and general enabling. This fandom wouldn't be half as much fun without you two. ♥ ♥ ♥

Chapter 1

First posted Aug, 2008



"Pip?" James stuck his head in the portakabin door, his body following when he spotted her. "Ah. There you are."

"It smells like cheese that's been fermenting in a swamp in here," she scolded him, looking up from where she was scrubbing Limburger out of the carpet.

"Sorry about that," James said sheepishly, nodding towards her cloth and soapy water. "I didn't think he'd actually throw it."

"I have no issue with you tormenting Jeremy," she clarified. "Just...next time, could you pick something that smells a little better? Like, I don't know, potpourri, maybe?"

James looked thoughtful. "You know, that actually might work. Except he'd just accuse me of being a homosexualist again."

"He accuses a lot of people of a lot of things, doesn't he?" Pip chuckled, then added. "Sit down. Please, I'll just be a minute."

"It's one of the things he does best," James agreed, taking a seat at the table. "Along with being mortally offensive, pouring beer, and setting things on fire."

Pip dumped the dirty water down the sink and rinsed out her cloth. "And what are you best at?"

James leaned back in his chair, his legs stretched out straight before him. "Pre-flight checks. Instruction manuals. Drinking an entire bottle of wine in the time it takes to make a shepherd's pie."

"This is very enlightening," she grinned. "And what is Richard best at?"

Cocking his head, James thought for a moment. "It's changed since the accident. Now, I would say... Temper tantrums. Being kind. Drawing naughty cartoons."

"He didn't do those before the accident?" she asked, sitting across the table from him.

"No, he did. But before I would have said he was best at fights and drinking inordinate amounts of lager for someone only four feet tall. He has to avoid both of those now."

Pip sobered. "I suppose being punched in the head wouldn't be especially great for his recovery, no." Eyes on her hands, she ran one varnished thumbnail down the other. "James, tell me honestly. Do you think I'm here mostly to keep an eye on Richard?"

James rubbed his chin. "Mostly? No, I don't think so. I think you're here to do precisely what Andy said, which is to keep our sorry arses on schedule. But I also think that we'd be fooling ourselves if we didn't admit that you'll be in an excellent position to notice more than the rest of us do in terms of his mood and behaviour. If you'll forgive the slightly sexist rhetoric, being a woman, you're more likely to notice any emotional ups and downs."

"Sexism forgiven," she smiled, "Since it's pretty much true. You men are pants at emotions."

James chuckled. "Pants? Where did you pick that one up?"

"One of the cameramen. I get the feeling you're the details guy--is that why you've been nominated to tell me about Richard's difficulties?"

"In part, I suppose. It's more that we've become best mates, though." He shrugged. "We talk."

"Jeremy said something of the sort. All right, let's go at this one step at a time. What was the actual physical injury? I don't want to rely on the bits and pieces I heard at the time," she said.

"Massive head trauma. It wasn't as if his skull was cracked open, but his brain did get sloshed around a fair bit. There was swelling, some bleeding. His eye was actually protruding from his head, the pressure was so severe."

Pip made a face. "God."

"Indeed. As he slowly recovered, he was...quite childlike at times." James's face showed strain. "It was hard on his parents to watch him playing Lego or Top Trumps, although it turns out to have been good therapy. I brought him a tractor with a plough on the back. The doctor couldn't believe how quickly he put it together." James smiled sadly. It was a moment before he continued again. "Richard panicked easily, repeated sentences over and over because he'd forgotten he'd already told you. He'd go for a walk and forget how to get back to his room. He was cross, difficult, and very emotional. He would get bored and ask people to come visit, but then he'd quickly tire and become confused and agitated. In short..." He cleared his throat. "Our Hamster was very badly broken."

Pip wiped at her eyes. "I had no idea..."

"Physically, he's healed up quite nicely," James said, obviously wanting to reassure her. "The swelling is gone, the headaches are gone--beyond the normal everyday, that is, so don't panic if he complains of a headache. It's likely just Clarkson driving him mental. He's finished with the regular therapy, but still has work to do on his own. His brain basically has to re-wire itself, re-grow some connections. He damaged the areas of his brain to do with emotional controls and spacial awareness, which from my point of view is brilliant, as it means I'm not the worst at parallel parking anymore."

A giggle bubbled up in her throat. "You're awful."

"Truly," he agreed with a smile. "He also damaged the bit of his brain that processes information, which means not only does he still forget things sometimes--he called me last month for directions to the BBC offices--but he also makes the occasional odd decision."

"Like what?"

James thought for a moment. "There was the time he said he was going to Brighton for fish and chips."

Pip cocked her head in question.

"Well, you can get fish and chips anywhere, can't you? But when Richard decided he wanted some, his brain crossed a wire and made the connection that he had to go to the coast, because the last time he'd had fish and chips, he'd been at the seaside. And it was perfectly reasonable to him to make a three hour drive to the coast just for some fish and chips."

Pip blew out a loud breath. "Wow. That's kind of scary, in the potential."

"Precisely. The good news is, these aberrations are happening less and less often all the time. A bit of forgetfulness and difficulty dealing with his emotions are the main issues, neither of which are much cause for fear. And he's still seeing a psychiatrist for the darker moments."

"That's good." Pip nodded, and then was silent for a few moments as she thought everything through. "All right. So, physically he can do pretty much anything other than drink a lot and get into fistfights?"

"He also can't go deep-sea diving. Or launch himself into orbit," James smiled. "Too much pressure on the old noggin."

"Important facts to know," she said gravely. "I wouldn't put it past you three to want to turn a Lamborghini into a submersible."

James looked at her. "You know, that's not a bad--"

"Don't even think about it," she laughed. "You're out a test Hamster, remember?"

"Right. Right. At any rate, yes, physically he's about back to normal. He does tire more easily than he used to, but he can't resist pushing himself out of sheer frustration. When he does, we just have to let him sleep it off."

"Like this morning."

James nodded.

"Can he be reasoned with, when he's pushing himself too hard?" she asked.

"Sometimes, yes, if he's not angry or frustrated. But most of the time you have to simply get out of his way and then pick up the pieces later."

Pip pursed her mouth. "We'll see about that. I greatly dislike having to pick up pieces. Can he be talked out of decisions like driving to Brighton for fish and chips?"

"Usually," James smiled. "Once you explain to him that his choice doesn't quite make sense--and why, he always wants to know why--he'll generally trust to your judgement, because he knows his is a bit suspect."

"Well, that's something, at least." She sighed. "Not that he'll listen to me anyway, I'm sure, considering we've only just met."

"Not right away, I shouldn't think. But it won't take long."

Pip sat back in her chair with a bit of a thump. "I don't mind telling you I'm a bit nervous about all of this. Listen, can I--when he--I mean, I know--oh, bugger." She covered her face with her hands. "I'll start that one again, shall I?"

"I think you'd better," James chuckled.

She dropped her hands to her lap. "Jeremy said if I have any concerns about Richard, I can bring them to you, Jeremy, or Andy."

"Absolutely."

"If I can't find one of you easily, would it be all right if I called you on your cell? Only if I'm really out of my depth with him, I mean, I won't be calling you all the time or anything."

"Of course, Pip. It was important for you to know all of this, but I honestly don't think you'll have anything to deal with beyond the odd filthy mood or midday nap. He really is a genuinely nice chap, and he's mending well."

Before she could respond, the portakabin door flew open and Richard himself walked in. "Ready to go, then? I hope Sheila's got the steak and mushroom pies on tonight, I'm famished."

James frowned in confusion. "Sheila? At The Cross And Keys, do you mean?"

"Where else? Let's go, Clarkson's got a head start and--"

"You told him The Cross And Keys and he left?"

"No, I told him Milton Keynes and he left. Yes, May, I told him 'the usual' and he tore out of the car park as he always does, the fucker." Richard rolled up onto the balls of his feet.

Pip handed Richard a piece of paper. "Just before you go, here's the list of plumbers. No guarantee of quality, just of availability for a water heater emergency."

Richard tucked the list in his bag. "Ah, thank you, you're a love. I might even have hot water back by the weekend!"

"Rich--" James began.

Pip picked up her backpack. "Goodnight, then, see you both tomorrow."

"Pip--" James tried again.

Richard spun around. "Tomorrow? Aren't you coming?"

"Coming where?" Pip asked, bewildered.

"Shut up!" James demanded loudly. When Richard and Pip looked at him in surprise, he rose from the table. "Both of you, stop talking for one minute and let a bloke get a word in edgewise!" he said, exasperated. "Hammond, I haven't even had a chance to tell her yet. Not only that, The Cross And Keys is impossible, you imbecile, and you're going to be the one to call Clarkson and tell him." He turned to Pip. "We thought we'd take you for a pint so we can all have a proper chat and get to know each other. Does that sound all right?"

Pip looked pleased. "I'd like that. But--"

James forestalled her. "I know. Bicycle." He simply looked at Richard and waited for the penny to drop.

"Bollocks!" Richard scrambled in his bag for his cell. "He's going to flay me alive! He's probably halfway to Esher by now."

Beginning to understand, Pip grinned. "Where is The Cross And Keys?"

"London."

"West London," Richard tried to defend himself, aggrieved. "West."

Pip started to laugh. "I begin to see why I'm needed around here, if this is an example of the organizational skills I can expect from you three."

"Well, if Hammond would stop ploughing into things headlong, and I do mean that quite literally--"

"Oh, I like that!" Richard protested. "You're the one who apparently can't even organize a piss-up in a pub--Jeremy? Jez, where are you?... Well, pull off. We're not going to London after all." He held the phone away from his ear and even across the room, James and Pip could hear Jeremy shouting. After a moment he brought the phone back up and cut Jeremy off. "Because Pip doesn't have a car, remember?... No, she cannot just 'cycle home' afterward... Because it's forty-five miles, you twat!"

James quietly said to Pip, "I've just realized I don't even know where you live. Are you in Dunsfold or Cranleigh? They both have a decent little pub."

Pip shook her head. "Neither, I'm in Godalming." James looked surprised, and she shrugged. "It's the only place I could find a flat for rent."

"What's that, ten miles?"

"Seven-ish."

James raised his eyebrow and was about to speak when Richard interrupted to ask where they were going, then, because he wanted to hang up on Jeremy.

"The Red Lion, Godalming," James told him. "They have real ale."

"That's not the one where Jeremy vomited in the car park, was it?"

"No, that was Guildford. I'm never going back there, by the way."

"You and me both, mate. Jez? The Red Lion in Godalming. Right. Yeah, see you there." He snapped his phone shut.

"Jeremy threw up in their car park?" Pip asked faintly. "Does he...do that a lot?"

James laughed. "No. He had 'flu, poor sod, but everyone thought he was pie-eyed. Rich and I may or may not have played that idea up."

"You're both pure evil, aren't you?"

"Unadulterated and unalloyed," Richard agreed happily. "Right, now that we've sorted out where, shall we depart?"

"You might as well give me a head start, it's going to take me a good forty-five minutes to get there on my bike," Pip pointed out.

James and Richard stared at each other, looking slightly aghast that they hadn't thought of yet another central flaw in their plan, and Richard swore. "I've got the Morgan today."

James sighed. "I've got the Porsche."

"I'm not sure which one a Morgan is," Pip grinned, "But I'm guessing it doesn't have any more room for a bike than a Porsche does. I'll see you there."

"No, wait," Richard said. "I'll just pick you up in the morning. Leave your bike here and come with either James or me, and I'll give you a lift in tomorrow."

James looked at him askance. "Richard, you live in opposite directions."

"For fuck's sake, I know that," he snapped, then looked away for a minute. "I know," he repeated in a normal voice, looking at James rather than Pip. "But I don't mind the drive."

"All right, then," James said mildly, nodding when Richard gripped his shoulder for a brief moment.

"Really, you don't have to do that," Pip began, but Richard cut her off.

"I know, but I am absolutely perishing for some food. The sooner we all get there, the sooner we can eat. And don't--" he added, pointing his finger at her, "--argue any more. Just nod your head, smile, and say 'yes, Richard'."

Pip's smile was genuine as she nodded. "Yes, Richard."

He eyed her once more as if to ensure she got the point, and then his face brightened. "Excellent. Past time you knew what a Morgan is, anyway. You'll love her, I promise."

The three walked out to the car park, and James stopped beside a silver grey Porsche. "You remember where it is, Richard?"

"Yes, James, the question is, do you?"

James lifted two fingers in his direction, and then with a wave to Pip, climbed into his car.

Chuckling, Richard led the way over to his own automobile.

Pip stopped in front of it, a look of awe on her face. "This is your Morgan?"

"Isn't she marvellous?"

She walked around the nose of the car, admiring the two-toned paint in black and silver, the rounded lines, the sparkling chrome grill and stainless wire wheels. "You mean, you get to drive this every day?"

Richard smiled widely, obviously pleased with her reaction. "Whenever I want. I've had it for over two years now, it's brilliant for motoring around on country roads."

"Oh my god, this is spectacular."

"You wouldn't think it to look at her, but she does zero to sixty-two in four point nine seconds," he said proudly.

Pip waved the statistic away. "Whatever. The real question is, does she purr?"

"Like a ruddy tiger," he grinned, then steered her around to the left side passenger door.

She turned pink. "Oops. Forgot."

They climbed in, and Richard started the car, revving the engine slightly. "Well?"

Pip sighed in rapture. "Like a ruddy tiger," she agreed. "This is definitely the nicest car I have ever been in in my entire life. Is the top automatic?"

"The hood? Yes. Would you like it open?"

"Oh, could we? That would be fantastic." She actually clapped her hands in delight, and then turned in her burgundy leather seat to watch the hood smoothly lower into the body of the car. "Lovely." Facing forward again, as Richard put the car into reverse and backed up, she trailed a finger across the satin smooth dash. "What kind of wood is it? It's beautiful."

He glanced over, smiling. "Good English walnut. Did you know the Morgan is individually hand-made?"

"You mean one person makes each car?" she asked, astounded.

"Not quite," he chuckled, shifting smoothly into first and gliding out of the car park. "Each person has their own specialty, be it welding or stitching or installing electrics or what-have-you, but everything is done by people, not machines. No robot touched this car, it was entirely assembled by caring human hands." He quickly came up to speed on the road out of Dunsfold.

Pip dropped her sunglasses down onto her nose and turned her face to the dappled sunshine speeding past. "I wish I had a scarf," she laughed. "I'd feel just like Grace Kelly."

"Ah, now you're a princess, are you?" Richard teased.

"Hardly! But I definitely feel like a Very Important Pip, riding around in luxury like this."

"It suits you, Princess," he said, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

Pip groaned. "I'm never going to hear the end of that now, am I?"

"I doubt it."



Approaching Godalming, Pip asked where the pub was. "The Red Lion, I think you called it?"

"Yeah. It's on Mill Lane." He pulled up to the intersection of the Brighton Road and the main thoroughfare through town, and then sat there, no indicator on, unmoving.

She glanced over at him and saw his jaw muscles tighten. "Richard? Is something wrong?"

"I can't remember where Mill Lane is," he said stiffly, his knuckles going white on the steering wheel.

Pip pulled her purse onto her lap. "It's all right. Just give me...one second..." She pulled out a folded and wrinkled piece of paper.

"I knew when we left," Richard muttered angrily. "When he asked me, I knew." A car pulled up behind them and honked. Richard swore.

"Turn left," Pip said calmly. "And then take the second right onto High Street. I printed this map out for myself because I kept getting turned around. If your stupid streets ran straight, I'd be fine, but they don't. No, they all curve around all over the place; it's chaos. No matter what direction I think I'm facing, I'm pretty much guaranteed to be wrong. Go left onto Mill, I think there's parking here somewhere. I didn't realise it was right off the High Street. Haven't you people ever heard of a grid?"

Richard very deliberately unclenched his jaw and drew a deep breath, then a second. He cast Pip a grateful, rather apologetic glance, then said, "The place rather pre-dates town planning, I should think." He spotted the car park and, surprisingly, found a spot at the end.

"And does it pre-date the straight line?" she asked with asperity. "Were your ancestors really so directionally challenged they couldn't walk in a straight bloody line?"

Richard rose to the bait as he raised the Morgan's hood. "Directionally challenged, my arse. You try fording rivers and walking through swamps and impenetrable thickets, and see how straight a line you've trod!"

"Might I remind you," she said haughtily, climbing out of the low-slung vehicle with only minor difficulty, "That my ancestors did just that? They left your sorry excuse for a road network and moved to a new land, a better land, a land where they could start fresh and have straight roads. Roads that actually went from point A to point B without meandering all over creation first!" They crossed the road and walked down the cobblestoned way to the pub, arguing the entire time.

Richard led the way into the pub and through into a back room. It was furnished with dark red leather club chairs and love seats arranged into cozy groups around low tables, bookshelves on every wall, and two large plasma screens adorned the only empty spaces, although they were currently turned off. James and Jeremy occupied one of the corners, each taking up one of the oversized chairs. In Jeremy's case, it fit him perfectly.

"There you are!" Jeremy complained. "I can apparently drive halfway to London and back before you can shift your sorry arse 10 miles. What the hell took you so long?"

James looked up as well. "I'm not used to not being the last to arrive," he said contentedly. "I quite enjoyed that."

Richard looked slightly uncomfortable, and opened his mouth to explain, but Pip spoke over him.

"Entirely my fault, I'm afraid," she said, plopping herself down on the love seat. "I was admiring the Morgan, and I guess I took a bit too long."

Richard sat beside her. "It wasn't--"

She blithely interrupted him yet again. "I think I might be in love with that car. Your Porsche is awfully gorgeous as well, James. What do you drive, Jeremy?"

When Jeremy immediately launched into the list of his current cars, Richard caught her eye and gave her a wry twist of his lips. Pip understood, and smiled warmly back, before returning her attention to Jeremy.

"...a Land Cruiser, and an Aston Martin Vantage, which is the wife's," Jeremy concluded. "I've got my eye on a brilliant little Alfa Romeo, though, I might have to get that one as well."

Pip cocked her head to the side. "I'm not sure exactly what all those cars look like, but my guess is, I think your wife got the nicest of them."

Jeremy turned slightly pink and took a swallow of his beer, and James snickered behind his hand.

"Kissing another woman can be expensive," Richard said.

There was dead silence for a moment before Jeremy bit out, "Fuck you, Hammond, that's a private matter!"

Richard looked surprised. "What?"

"Bloody hell," James sighed. "Richard, you've done it again."

"Shit. What did I say?"

"Something you shouldn't have. Jeremy's marital issues are none of Pip's business. No offence, Pip."

"None taken," she said quietly.

Richard blanched. "Christ, Jez, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--I'm sorry. Fuck. Fuck." He surged to his feet and stormed out of the room.

Jeremy was glowering at his beer, so James caught Pip's eye and motioned his head towards the door.

Pip nodded and hurried after Richard, leaving James to deal with Jeremy.

"I know, so you needn't say it," Jeremy growled, lines of anger etched in his face.

"Say what?"

"I am neither stupid, nor a mentalist, unlike certain brain-damaged midgets I could mention. I do know he didn't mean to say it. I know it's the injury."

"And yet you're still angry," James said evenly.

"Yes. He didn't mean to say it out loud, but he meant it. He bloody well thinks that, James."

James scrubbed a hand across his chin. "At the risk of pissing you off further, Jez, what he said was not an untruth."

"You think I don't know that?" Jeremy shouted, and then quickly lowered the volume, if not the tone, of his voice. "I made a mistake, I admit that. A horrid, disastrous, regrettable mistake. And yes, the car was part of my apology and re-commitment to Francie. But if she can forgive me--and she's the only one I truly wronged--who the fuck is he to think himself so bloody superior?"

"He doesn't, Jez. You know that. He was disappointed by what happened, yes, but he was proud of you for how you handled it, he respects you for that." James leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "But everyone has thoughts that pop into their head without their blessing, and it's not his fault that his wiring is on the fritz. He's outside kicking himself right now, and if I know him he'll be working himself into a right state."

"Undoubtedly," Jeremy muttered.

"So do us all a favour, Clarkson. Accept his apology and let things go back to normal. Well, whatever passes for normal with you, anyway. He's been through enough, he doesn't need any more grief."

Jeremy let out a blustery sigh. "Oh...shut up and get me another drink."




Pip had to jog to catch up with Richard, and when she did, she followed him silently to the car park. He passed his Morgan and went straight to a massive tree marking the boundary, its branches overhanging the pavement, its trunk at least six feet in girth. Richard put his left hand on it, and his right he tightened into a fist and rested it gently against the bark. He stayed that way for nearly ten seconds, before suddenly cocking his arm back.

"Don't!" Pip snapped, her voice sharp and loud.

The fingertips on his left hand clawed into the bark, breaking off rough fragments. His shoulders tensed, but he brought his fist in slowly to once again simply press against the trunk, before pushing himself off the tree and turning to face her, misery and confusion in his eyes.

"It's all right, Richard," she said softly.

"It's not. I can't--I haven't--I don't--" He stopped, frustrated. "Shit."

"Let's walk," she suggested, and again had to hurry to catch up when he whirled away and took off at a quick pace. They headed down the street away from the pub.

"I don't know this one," he burst out. "I don't know how to--to--collect it. Fuck, that's not even the right word! Jesus fucking Christ!"

"Slow down," Pip said calmly, although her own hands were clenched. "First your legs. Come on, Richard, I can't keep up with you, I'm too fat for this."

"So lose some fucking weight, then," he snapped, and then stopped, looking horrified. "Pip. Oh, Pip, I'm sorry--"

"Ouch," she said, but with a grin. "The truth stings when it comes from someone else's mouth. Which is why Jeremy was angry, you know."

Richard resumed walking, but slowed his pace enough that Pip could easily walk beside him. "Dammit, I've never done that before. I mean, I've blurted out things I shouldn't, but never anything hurtful about one of my best mates; Jeremy's probably ready to pound me." He looked sideways at her. "You're being awfully understanding. Who ratted me out?"

"You mean who wanted to help you?" she countered. "James. So, yes, I know you're still having difficulties, but no, I don't know what you're dealing with right now. Slow your brain down, stop and think about it, and then tell me what you want to say."

Richard nodded, took a deep breath, and let it out with on a sigh. They walked in silence for some ways before he finally said, "I have a lot of damage to certain areas of my brain. They can't repair themselves. It's like...like someone blew a crater into the M1. Now all the traffic has to find an alternate route. Every new emotion I encounter, I don't know how to deal with it, because the knowledge is stuck on the M1, right?"

Pip nodded. "I'm with you so far."

"There are all kinds of alternate routes around the crater, and every time I have something new, I have to....to follow the new route around. It takes time. It's frightening. It's confusing as hell." He cleared his throat. "The more often I use the alternate route, the more normal it feels. In contrast to that, the less often this happens, the more shocking and frustrating it is when it does. I keep thinking I'm better, only to find out I'm still fucking rubbish."

"You are not rubbish, Richard. The recovery you've made so far has been absolutely awe-inspiring. No, inspiring period," she said firmly. "You're just not quite finished yet, that's all. So, let me see if I'm still with you--you've said things before that you didn't intend to. Is that a function of the injury as well, I assume?"

Richard nodded, his eyes on the road in front of his feet. "Damage to the impulse and inhibition controls."

"And you said you've never blurted out something you regret to one of your best friends before?"

He snorted. "Oh, I've said things I regret, but usually only because it's bloody embarrassing."

Pip smiled. "Okay, something hurtful, then."

"No. No, I've never managed that before," he said, sounding bitter.

"It's not your fault, you do know that, don't you?"

"I know."

She looked over at him, and frowned. "I've just broken my ankle. Do you think I should expect to run to Dunsfold tomorrow?"

"Of course not, but--"

"What about next week?"

"Well, no, but--"

"Then shut up."

Richard opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Eventually he said, "Write that one down for me. Including the 'shut up'."

"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry."

Surprised, Richard looked at her. "Why?"

"Because technically, I work for you, and it's not appropriate. And it's rude."

"If you think I care about rude, you can bloody well think again, Princess."

Pip groaned and rolled her eyes. "Shit, I was hoping you'd forget about that."

"Selective brain injury, apparently," Richard teased, smiling for the first time since he'd left the pub. He leaned sideways and bumped her shoulder with his. "I really am sorry for that crack about losing weight. Forgive me?"

"Of course. There's nothing to forgive."

"Yes, there is, but thank you. May I be completely, bluntly truthful for one more minute?"

Pip bit her lip. "If you must."

Richard chuckled. "Don't look like that. I'm not about to kill your puppy, I'm only going to say that you're not fat."

"That knock on your noggin damage your eyesight, too?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest.

"No. And this is where the blunt part comes in, I hope I don't say this too badly: neither are you precisely Twiggy. Okay, maybe you're carrying a few pounds more than you want, but you are not fat. So no more of that, all right?"

Pip looked away. "I'd rather not discuss it, please."

Richard sighed. "Did I make a questionable judgement,there? I do that, sometimes, too. Listen, I'm sorry if I'm being presumptuous. It's probably far too soon in our acquaintance for that sort of conversation."

"I think it is, yes," she said uncomfortably. "So we'll just forget that part of today, shall we?"

"I'd rather forget a lot more than just that," Richard admitted. "Forgetting where the street was, mouthing off to Jez, then to you--today has been...extremely disappointing."

"These things don't happen on a daily basis?"

"No, thank god. I wonder if I'm tired? It is late in the day, and I tend to slow down after teatime on the best days."

"You did lose an entire night's sleep yesterday," she reminded him.

"You're right!" His face brightened. "That's got to be part of it! God, that's a relief. So what do I do about Clarkson?"

Pip glanced at him in surprise. "You're asking me?"

"Considering the past few hours, Pip, I'm starting to trust you."

Pip ducked her head, then said, "You can, you know. Trust me. I'm not going to...well, whatever it is you thought was possible for me to do before you trusted me."

Richard laughed out loud. "You can't even think of a single way to screw me over! Now I know you're perfect to be my babysitter."

She flushed a bit. "Can we change that to 'assistant'? Please?"

Richard shrugged and looked at her curiously. "Sure. Any particular reason?"

"It just...has a bit more dignity."

He smiled. "All right. I suppose it was guilt."

"What?"

"Jeremy," he clarified. "My little breakdown back there. Guilt over hurting a mate?"

It took Pip a moment to answer. "Well, yes, that would make sense. Although it's probably a bit more complicated than that, which is what made it so difficult to sort out."

"I need to talk this one over with my psychiatrist," he said. "You knew I was seeing one, didn't you?"

"James mentioned it. I hope you don't mind he talked to me about you; he just didn't want me to be caught unawares. I think he thought I might panic."

"And are you a panicky sort?" Richard asked.

"Not over things that matter. Not at the time, anyway. Sometimes afterwards."

"So I'd better buy you a drink when we get back to the others, then," he grinned.

"Hell, yes. What helps you? Having plans for things?"

"Definitely."

"Then what's your plan for Jeremy?"

He paused. "Well, I'll apologize. And I'll tell him I know he loves Francie even though he kissed Elaine."

Pip winced. "Maybe not that last bit."

"Really?" He thought for a moment. "But he does love Francie."

"Okay, but you should probably leave out the part about the 'other woman'."

"Why?"

"When you're apologizing, it doesn't help to remind the person about their mistakes or faults."

"Hmm. All right." He stopped walking, and looked off into the distance down the road. "You swear, hand on heart, that I can trust you?"

Pip was a bit taken aback. "Yes, why?"

"Sometimes I..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I sometimes have bad days. Very bad days. Not often, but...if I..." He trailed off.

She gave him a moment, but when he didn't continue, she quietly said, "I won't take anything to heart--I'll always give you a do-over. You can also call me anytime, and if there's anything I can do, I will. Does that cover what you were trying to say?"

Richard's smile was twisted. "Your offer is rather staggeringly generous, considering we met a matter of days ago."

"Yesterday, actually."

"Good god, really?"

Pip huffed a little laugh and turned to start walking back to the pub, Richard falling into step beside her. "Most of it is that you're my job," she said frankly. "The easier things are for you, the better things go on set, and maybe I'll get a pay raise."

"That's flattened my ego a bit," he teased. "What's the rest of it?"

She lifted a shoulder, embarrassed. "You seem like a genuinely nice guy. I like helping nice people."

"...Thank you, Pip. For everything today."

"You're welcome," she said, her eyes on the ground.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, but then Richard said, as if continuing a conversation they'd already started, "It's just that James is...well, he's a brilliant mate, and I can't tell you everything he's done for me since the accident. Like making sure all my bills are on automatic payment so I can't forget them, or thinking to warn you what you're up against with me around. But James is not at ease with emotions, or with comfort, or even with a hand on your shoulder, you know? He calls them 'Feelings'--with a capital 'F'--which ought to tell you something right there."

Pip chuckled. "He comes across that way on the show, that's for sure. I'm sort of surprised to hear he's that way in real life, too, though. Don't ask me why. What about Jeremy?"

"Jeremy is, astonishingly enough, slightly better at the more tender emotions. Of course, if you accuse him of that, he'll thump you one," he grinned, then grew serious again. "But he's impatient. And he gets on my highly irritable nerves more quickly than is truly fair."

"You don't seem particularly irritable," she said.

"It's all part of the difficulty regulating my emotions; I have mood swings, and I get irritated very quickly. It's something I've really been struggling with, although I've started to improve of late."

"Good for you," Pip said warmly. "If there's anything I can do to help you with that, just say the word."

"Just be patient with me," he said. "All I can say is that I'm trying."

"I promise." She looked over at him, opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again, her cheeks pinking.

"What?"

"Nothing. Never mind."

"If I'm going to trust you, you're going to have to return the favour," he chided. "What were you going to say?"

"It's a bit much. Considering."

"Duly noted. Tell me anyway."

Pip reached up and gripped her shoulder, her fingers kneading into the base of her neck, her gaze fixed firmly on the ground. "I'm utter crap at knowing what to say, but I'm pretty good at comfort, I've been told. You know, if you're desperate, or something."

Richard was silent for a moment. "Do you mean that?" he finally asked.

"Yes?" she squeaked.

He shook his head, looking slightly bewildered. "I don't--I'm not sure how to deal with you."

"I'm sorry--"

"No, don't you dare. Despite being an utter stranger, you've been a better friend to me in the past two days than some of my mates have been in the past two months."

Pip remained silent, her cheeks flaming.





The rest of the walk back to the pub was achieved in awkward silence, but as Richard held the door open for her, he murmured. "Bearding the lion in his den. Wish me luck."

Pip smiled shyly at him and gave his arm a lightning quick squeeze. "Good luck. You'll do great."

They walked through to the back room to find Jeremy and James still ensconced in their chairs, a second half-drunk pint in front of each.

Richard sat down in the corner of the loveseat closest to Jeremy. "Jez," he said quietly, and with as much sincerity as could fit in one man's voice, "I'm sorry, mate. Truly sorry. I know how much you love Francie, and I'm sorry I'm a brain damaged twat."

"Good. It's your round; I'll have another of whatever this is, and a steak and kidney pie," Jeremy said loudly, breezily. "James?"

"The ploughman's. And a pint of Old Peculiar, please."

"You are what you drink, after all," Jeremy jibed him.

"Ha, bloody ha, Clarkson. At least I'm not drinking utter swill brewed by uneducated neophytes who know more about the football pools than the art of creating a proper ale."

Richard, his head down and his hair in his eyes, said, "I guess I'll have to try the humble pie, then, yeah?" He suddenly raised his eyebrow and looked up at Jeremy from under his fringe, his eye glinting.

"You'd likely only choke on it," Jeremy said scornfully, betrayed by the upward curve of his mouth. "Do they serve crow?"

"I think they're fresh out."

"Blast. Reckon you'll have to stick to the pie, then."

Pip looked at Richard first, then Jeremy, a puzzled look in her eye.

Richard rose to his feet. "Pip, what can I order for you?"

"Umm--do they do sandwiches here?"

"Yeah, all sorts. What do you like?"

"Chicken, or turkey? Something like that? No onions. And a half of cider."

"Done. Jez, give us a hand?" Richard waited expectantly.

"Oh, for god's sake! Can't you even manage four measly drinks?" Jeremy grumbled, but rose and followed Richard to the bar.

Pip watched them go, then turned to James. "Is that fixed, then?"

James smiled. "That's fixed. An odd way of communicating, I know, but it works for them."

"As long as they're okay."

"By the time we start filming tomorrow, they'll have forgotten they were ever at odds," he promised. "Richard especially is like that now, but they both always have been to an extent. Anger burns high and hot, but it's a flash fire, and it's extinguished quickly."

She shook her head. "I wish I was like that."

"Me too. Things went all right with Richard, then?"

"Yeah." A tiny smile showed at the corner of her mouth. "Yeah, I think we muddled along pretty well."

Chapter 3

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