James is in their spacious London flat. The record player fills the room with loud guitars and thrumming drums; the telly is on, some frankly boring chat show echoing through the walls. He’s on the floor; his thumbs controlling a tiny red racing car as it goes round and round in circles on a plastic track. He presses the accelerator, making it go faster and faster until it goes out of the track on a corner, the bottle of rum beside him clinking as the tiny car bumps against it. James sighs, cradling tense fingers through blond hair.
He’s desperate with boredom.
He stands abruptly; replacing the controller in his hands with the bottle and an empty glass and walks to the kitchen. He places the bottle and glass unceremoniously on a counter, fond amusement distracting his mind as he imagines Niki coming home and shouting murder at him for not putting them away.
Perhaps it’d be mostly because he’s drinking too much, again.
James pushes the thought aside as he walks to their bedroom. His hands move restlessly, aching for something to do, for feeling useful again.
Since he retired from racing, some months ago, he began feeling lost without something to do. His life had revolved around racing for too long, and although he can’t imagine himself going back to it, he hasn’t been able to completely shake the feeling of stagnation from the back of his throat.
Niki helps. He almost feels himself again when the Austrian is around, but the season has begun again and Niki is busy, concentrating most of his time to the races. James can thoroughly understand that but, somehow, the coming races have brought back some of the tension that James’ retirement provoked back then.
Niki hadn’t been pleased – though now that James thinks in retrospective he really shouldn’t have been surprised – and they had fought over it, a lot. In the end, Niki had relented, respecting James’ decision; but he still could see disappointment tinted with something else obscure Niki’s blue eyes when he thought James’ couldn’t see him.
As if summoning him; James hears the familiar sound of fumbling keys before the door opens and closes; the sound of steps coinciding with the end of the record but not going past the living room.
“James,” Niki calls out, tiredness on his voice
James spots him as he enters the living room. He looks uncomfortable, the red of his cap clashing with the blue of his eyes which move from the telly to the record player that asks noisily for their attention, to the abandoned red racing car on the floor before directing them to him.
“Niki,” James says, ignoring the heavy way Niki’s eyes look upset. “I was expecting you sooner,”
Niki waits a heartbeat before replying. “I had extra test to make to the car, to set it up as best as possible,” He sighs. “Well, you must remember how it is,”
The last words are accompanied by the same cloud of sadness and disappointment passing Niki’s eyes and James bristles; anger and hurt pride flaring like hot iron on his head.
He’s about to make a retort but Niki breaks the eye contact and walks past him to the kitchen; the gesture burning cold on James’ chest as he follows Niki with his eyes, watching him deposit a black, velvet little box on the counter, his hands hesitating as he notices the half empty bottle and sticky glass.
“You’ve been drinking again,” Niki states flatly, the rigidness of his shoulders betraying his real feeling. An angry voice tells him he should not be, but he can’t help feel a pang of guilt.
“What is that?” James says in an attempt to steer the conversation away from the looming fight. He doesn’t wait for Niki to answer to open the little box, finding a necklace, tiny lapis lazuli stones giving hints of colour to the fine silver piece of jewellery. Women’s jewellery.
“A present,” Niki says at his side, closing the box before taking it away from James’ sight.
He turns; stabs of jealousy on the back of his mind. “A present? For whom?”
Niki turns to face him, his eyes scanning James’ face. “For Marlene, her birthday is this weekend,”
“Oh, of course; since you’re going to Germany for the race you’ll jump at the opportunity to see her,” James ends, unable to hold back a sardonic tone. “Brilliant!”
“James,” Niki says in a warning tone, but James is too far gone, his anger/frustration/jealousy taking over his actions.
“Well, at least you took the decency to do it while I’m not there,” He continues, his hands in a fist now. “it would have been awkward…”
“How can you even think I would do that?!” Niki raises his voice, setting the velvet box with far too much force on the little table, the sound startling James. “If someone here could be capable of cheating that would be you!”
“You heard me perfectly well,” Niki spats, pointing a finger at him. “All you’ve done since you retired is sulk and drink behind my back; for all I know you could be also fucking a whore under my fucking nose!”
That, somehow, hurts James more than any blow Niki could have directed at him. His throat constricts, leaving him unable to reply.
Niki sighs heavily, closing his eyes and turning his face away from James a moment before turning back. He licks his lips, expression guarded as bright blue eyes look weary.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice a murmur that carries to James’ ears; contrasting heavily with the conflicted emotions that opress James’ chest. “I just…I don’t know how…” The words die on his lips as Niki takes his cap off, passing a trembling hand through brown curls. “I don’t know what else to do,”
“You don’t have to do anything, Niki.” He stands his ground, his resolve feeble. “It was my decision–“
“I asked you to go to the test and practices with me, but you refused;” Niki ignores him. “I asked you to go to past races with me, but you’ve refused;” he takes a deep breath, his speech growing on speed, bordering on desperate. “I try to find a way to help you, but I fail!” Niki sighs, blue eyes meeting his again and James is taken aback by the sheer pain he sees in them. “I understand why you retired, James, but don’t ask me to be happy about it when you yourself clearly are not!”
They stand in awkward and heavy silence. James too shocked for learning Niki’s disappointment and sadness is not towards his decision to retire, but to how he thinks it has upset him. He feels like choking on his stupidity; feeling guilty by the idiotic things he made to somehow punish Niki for something he never did.
He’s been a right arsehole.
He takes a tentative step forward, Niki’s gaze beyond their kitchen window as the vague sound of the telly crawls to them across the flat.
He takes his left hand and pulls the younger man into a tight hug. He hides his face on the crook of Niki’s neck, the smell of sweat and cologne and Niki mingling under his nose as he feels the other man loosen slowly under his arms, hands clutching to his shirt, the strong thud of his heartbeat vibrating through his body.
“I’m sorry, love,” he whispers softly against his ear. “I’m so sorry,”
They linger there, somehow making up for weeks of stale conversation and cold distance.