[The 8th day of Boedromion, year 4 of the 696th Olympiad, early autumn]
The pre-light of dawn was just beginning to filter in around the edges of the curtains when Eros woke Martin with a kiss to his forehead. “Up, Martin. The coffee maker is working, it should be ready soon.”
Martin yawned. “Oh. Thanks.” He blinked, eyes trying to focus. Eros laid a palm over his eyes, enjoying the tickle of Martin’s lashes.
“Sorry, darling, you mustn’t.” He pressed an apologetic kiss against Martin’s lips. “I’ve got to go now.”
“Where do you go? If you don’t mind my asking.” Martin licked his lips. “Husband.”
Eros felt a thrill at the word. Would Martin guess his identity soon? He longed to hear his name on those beautiful lips. Still, in lieu of a name, a title would do. Endearments were better - it would mean that he was making headway with Martin’s heart. “I’ve business to attend to far off, and loathe as I am to leave you, I must fly.”
Martin’s head turned under his hand. A smile spread over his face. “Yes. Me too. Thank you - for, well. Everything. I’m can’t wait to start today.”
Eros’ heart sank at this. He could see how anticipation had brightened Martin’s spark until it nigh flamed, brighter even than their time together. Wasn’t a night in the arms of Eros competition enough for the allure of a damned aeroplane? It seemed not. Not yet. Eros supposed he could hope that over time flying might lose its enjoyment for Martin. There’s a thought.
Martin rubbed his chest and stretched, distracting Eros. “Aren’t you going to tell me to be safe?”
Eros laughed and kissed him once more. “No, darling. I know you will be. Close your eyes a moment.” Martin complied, and Eros whisked himself away.
Once outside the house, he looked back at the curtained windows of their bedroom. He shook himself free of the voice urging him, stay, stay, just close the hangings, blindfold him and make love to him until Martin is all yours .
A cough made him look to his left. Pothos leaned against the gatepost, a cigarette between slim fingers. Eros scowled. “What do you want?”
“Cosy little abode you’ve got. It’s quite the little hide-away. Me? I’m just checking on you. Aren’t you pushing the limitations of our wager?”
“What, by taking him as a consort? I’m well within my bounds to do so.”
Pothos shook his head. “Not what I’m talking about.” He squinted up at the bedroom window. “Mm. He’s all afire, isn’t he? But not for you, oh no.” A slow grin stretched his face. “Interesting. Can I pick them, or what? I shall have to compose a paean to serendipity.”
“He will love me, never fear,” Eros said. “These things take time.”
“It’s the talk of Olympus, you know.” Pothos dragged on the cigarette. “How the great Eros was out-faced by a mortal. One who’d rather die than give up his day-job.” He snickered.
Eros’ lip lifted. “Well, you’re the arse that planted your damnable longing in me. It actually pains me, you bastard. Heavens forbid he ask me for the moon, because I’d have to get the sodding thing for him. I won’t be able to deny him. So fuck your bolts, cousin.”
Pothos grinned. “I don’t mind taking the credit for your sad situation. It tickles me pink, seeing you brought so low, and by such a mortal! I do have to wonder if you can prevail in the battle for Martin’s heart. And where will you be if you lose? The new god of yearning, and Love will have a new lord.” He spun a quick circle and posed, palms up. “Me.”
“Not going to happen,” Eros said, but doubt assailed him. Was it possible he could lose? For the first time, he couldn’t take the easy way and use his arrows to make Martin fall in love. What would happen to Martin? What’ll happen to me?
Reading his expression, Pothos drawled, “Oh, don’t worry, cousin. If you love him that much, you’ll be happy whatever he does. Even if he choose flying over you. I bet you never thought you had any serious competition for him, did you? Too bad you’ll be left broken-hearted. And powerless.” His teeth flashed in a vulpine grin. “When I’m Love, pray to me. I might even grant your wish.” He kissed the tips of his fingers and waggled them at the window before a gust of wind swirled. He was gone.
Eros snarled at the empty space. No, he couldn't lose Martin. At any cost. Grim-faced, he pulled a familiar aspect over himself, patted his briefcase-quiver and left.
Martin tapped his hand on the steering wheel of his little Nissan, an unconscious smile on his face. Flying! His first day of work! He glanced at his captain’s lying on the passenger side seat. It had been with diminishing surprise that he’d found a uniform waiting for him in the wardrobe. He brushed at a non-existent speck of dust on his epaulettes. Douglas’ epaulettes - now his. The gesture had been kind, and he had to thank Douglas for his gift.
A bird darted at his windshield and away. Martin followed it with his eyes a moment before turning his attention to the road again. Wings. His husband had wings. His husband was a god, not one of the lesser immortals. Not a satyr, thank heavens. Martin thought of the smooth, well-muscled body and his face heated. Definitely not . But which winged god?
Martin’s brow wrinkled in thought. Not Zephyrus, unless the god who’d kidnapped him from the cliff-side were amazing at dissembling. Himeros? Helios? Hm. His husband did disappear with every sunrise - but no, the Oracle had said it was a creature of darkness. And fir e. Terrible . Oh ye gods, let it not be Thanatos. Martin’s knuckles whitened on the wheel at the thought of bedding a death-god. But fiery, dark, ancient and terrible - it didn’t fit with any of the ones he knew. There were the erotes , of course. The gods of love’s aspects might be considered fiery, after a fashion. But were they terrible?
Martin sighed and clicked on the radio for the news. His thoughts wandered, working over the puzzle. It might not even be any of the gods who traditionally had wings, considering what his husband had said of mortal beliefs changing the shapes of their gods. What facts did Martin know? That his spouse had the form of a man with a physique that wouldn’t be out of place at the Olympic games. Oh, and was thoughtful, funny and patient. And had a bit of a temper. And was amazingly skilled at, well…. Martin’s mind stuttered and stalled. Sex. Oh, heavens .
Memories of the night before sprang to life in his imagination. His mouth… and his hand when he’d… and then the fingers! Martin put on his flashers and pulled over to the side, resting his head against the wheel while he gulped for air. Oh, ye gods. He leaned back and loosened his tie. He shifted in his seat and groaned at the tightness in his trouser-region. Shit, shit, he couldn’t go into MJN in this state.
Think of something off-putting . Martin wiped his forehead with the back of a shaking hand. Do not remember that mouth against your leg, no, stop . He scrunched his eyes closed, casting about for something to counteract the tsunami of arousal. Naked in school, giving a speech naked - no, naked and wanking in… in…
Carolyn looked at him across her desk. ‘ And it took you how many tries to get your CPL, Mr. Crieff?’ Martin’s cheeks flooded crimson. Oh, gods, it still wasn’t enough, he had to make it worse! Martin visualised Simon’s moustache on Carolyn’s face. Ugh, ugh. Carolyn smoothed the growth with a finger and lifted a brow. ‘At MJN, we serve discerning clients. What makes you think you’re up for it?’ Gods, no, that was just weird. Bad weird.
Martin tried a last time. Carolyn took a sip from a latte and failed to wipe away the foam from Simon’s sandy moustache . Ew! ‘ But why are you here with no clothes, Skip?’ she said in Arthur’s cheery voice. ‘Gosh, is it National Naked Day? Nobody told me! Should I get my own willy out? Brilliant!’
Martin’s eyes sprang open as he shouted with horror. He choked a laugh back. Oh. Ye. Gods . That had done the trick. Carolyn was terrifying, but Martin sent a small guilt-ridden prayer to the skies. He needed to put it out of his head when he saw her today, for the sake of his sanity. Blowing out a shaky breath, he turned up the weather report and put the car into gear.
At Fitton airfield he parked by a gorgeous Lexus. Well, at least his 370Z wasn’t an embarrassment next to the expensive vehicle. Martin adjusted his hat and tapped on the door of the Portakabin that served as MJN’s offices. “Hello?”
“Is that Skip?” The door was wrenched open and Martin found himself squashed by Arthur’s enthusiastic hug. “Oh, it’s great to see you, Skip! We were so worried when you disappeared like that! What happened? Oh, and congratulations!”
“Arthur, stop strangling the man and let him in the door,” Carolyn said. “Welcome back, and felicitations on your union. It’s obvious you’ve come to no harm.” She shook his hand and straightened his Arthur-mussed tie. Arthur accosted him again, full of felicitations.
“Oh, has my captain arrived? Wonderful!” Douglas swung his legs down from the desk he’d been resting them on and approached. “No, Arthur, you can stop shaking his hand like that, yes, really. Don’t you know the custom is to kiss the bride? Or is it the groom? It’s so equal opportunity these days.”
To Martin’s mortification, Arthur grinned and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Brilliant! I hope lots of people kiss me on my wedding day!
“Dear me,” Douglas said. “Beaten to the punch. May I be second to congratulate you in such a manner?” He winked. Martin’s face went up in flames.
“No, no, that’s fine, I mean, no. No, really,” he stuttered. Douglas heaved a huge mock-sigh.
“Ah, anything refused four times must indeed be a rejection. How my charms are fading in my old age. Why, I remember a time -”
“In the post-Mesozoic era when stewardesses grew like fruit on trees and pilots bellowed their prowess in the night. Let the boy alone, Douglas,” Carolyn said. “I don’t fancy signing us up for a training course on Sexual Harassment Awareness at this early juncture.”
Douglas sketched a bow. Carolyn gave him a severe look before nodding. “Fine. Arthur, would you mind getting the offerings from the car? They’re in the Tesco bag.” She sat and picked up forms. Douglas gave Martin a twisted smile.
“Pity, but your husband’s claim is pretty clear. I shan’t presume.”
Martin’s hand flew to his neck. Oh, gods, did he have a hickey? Douglas chuckled and rubbed a finger over his lips. Martin touched his mouth - they were tender and swollen. He gulped, remembering how he’d attacked his husband’s mouth last evening. He ducked his head to avoid Douglas’ amused look.
The telephone rang and Carolyn answered. “MJN Air, how may we serve you? Lord Leverhulme, I’m pleased to hear from you. Today? Certainly, I’ll come collect you right away.” She jotted notes. “Do I - A what? Roof rack? For your surfboard . Of course, I’ll take care of it.”
“Lord Leverhulme has a new hobby?” Douglas said.
“Lord Leverhulme wants to ‘catch some surf.’ Lord Leverhulme is insane. The man’s sixty if he’s a day. Arthur, I need you to ask if anyone has a roof rack or at least some tie-downs,” she said as Arthur returned with a carrier bag. “Douglas, have you filed the flights plans to Stornaway?”
“Mum, you know I’m not allowed in the mechanic’s shed after that time -” Arthur started. Carolyn flung up her hands.
“Oh, fine, I’ll go beard them in their den. Get the drinks ready. Everyone else, make yourselves useful. I want to go the moment we get back.” She bustled out the door. Arthur opened the fridge and began loading a basket with cans and bottles.
“Skip? I was wondering. What’s your husband like?”
“Um, no. He’s… normal. For a god, that is. I mean, I think he’s normal. He’s…” Incredible in bed, not that I can talk or even think too much about it without embarrassing myself. “Nice,” Martin said.
“Gods-damned with faint praise, methinks,” Douglas murmured.
“Oh, wow! A god!” Arthur said, wide eyed. “That’s amazing! Is he powerful? Can I meet him? Maybe he’ll turn me into a cow. That’d be peaceful. Or an aspidistra! Who is he?”
Martin shuddered at Arthur’s musings, but to admit he didn’t know. Arthur’s face fell.
“He hasn’t told me yet. We, uh, we haven’t spent much time together. Just nights,” Martin said.
“Why only nights?” Arthur wanted to know. “That’s weird. Is he allergic to daylight? I knew a girl like that.”
Martin cast about for a simple explanation. “It’s… it’s a thing he has to do. Like a geas.”
“Geese? How do geese keep secrets?” Arthur said.
Martin’s mouth opened but Douglas lifted a hand. “Allow me, my captain. It’s a little known fact, Arthur, that the geese of Britannia have long held a grudge against the gods of Greece. Because they were raised since time immemorial by those of Saxon and Norse beliefs, the geese naturally resent these god interlopers.”
“Indeed! And as Martin’s husband is of immigrant race and because geese are diurnal - that is, they are awake during the day - he would be attacked on sight during daylight hours.”
“Oh, no! Poor Skip.”
“And thus, poor Skip’s husband is constrained to visit him only at night, lest one of the fearsome waterfowl discover him. In fact, if any gods’ whereabouts are discovered, the goose will send up what is known as, ‘The Great Honk,’ calling his tribe -”
“All right, that’s enough, Douglas. Arthur, it’s not quite like that.”
Arthur grinned. “I don’t know, Skip. Geese can be pretty mean. I just didn’t know it was because I follow the Greek gods. Besides, having nights with him isn’t bad. He’s probably watching over you all the time.” He exited with his burden, leaving Douglas and Martin staring at each other.
“Did you have to tell him that ridiculous story?” Martin said.
“Yes,” Douglas said. “It was simpler than your explanation would have been, the upshot of which is this: your god’s reasons are beyond your ken. Mysterious. Arthur would never let you alone if it were a mystery.”
“Don’t call him my god.”
“What is he, if not yours?” Douglas tilted a brow.
“We’re joined. I don’t possess him.” The opposite was more likely. Besides, Martin’s allegiance had always been to Eros foremost “Er, I can take care of the flight plans,” Martin said. Douglas shrugged.
“There’s time yet.”
Martin swallowed a comment about following procedure. He was this man’s captain now. They would be flying long stretches together and it was best to start their working relationship on the right footing. “Douglas. I wanted to say thank you. For arranging the hotel and, um. These.” Martin brushed a hand over the gleaming epaulettes. Douglas shrugged again and looked away.
“Think nothing of it, my captain.”
Douglas seemed so disinterested it threw Martin. “Okay. Thanks anyway. Where’s the altar? We should get the offerings done.”
“Oh, I never pray. But if you don’t mind doing the honours, follow me.” Douglas hooked the carrier bag from the desk and strode out, Martin almost jogging to keep pace.
“But that’s irresponsible!” Martin said. “How can you possibly be an effective pilot if you don’t offer tribute?”
Douglas stopped at an altar-board with a little shingle roof near the airfield’s tiny terminal building. “I never said I don’t make offerings - I just don’t pray. The gods know that for the most part it’s empty routine, but the gesture counts. As for for any problems that might arise, well.” He passed the bag to Martin. “Aside from my vast experience and frankly extraordinary talents, I like to think I’m just blessed with luck.”
“Oh, for the heavens’ sake.” Martin scowled at Douglas’ insouciance. Good thing for MJN he was their new captain. They’d never survive with such a lazy devotee as Douglas flying G-ERTI.
The altar-board was typical of those found in airports, filled with a jumble of symbols and depictions of gods of sky and air from around the world. Martin twisted open the cap on the tiny bottle of red wine and poured the last of it into a small plastic cup. Setting it on the wooden shelf before the painted image of Iris, he brushed the goddess’ face with his fingers. Eyes closed, he sent up a silent prayer for safe flight, lips moving with his words. Martin scanned for the Norse gods, the ones who still governed the northern borders of the United Kingdom. Odin needed his due for MJN’s upcoming trespass.
Martin pulled out a plastic bag that contained - what in the world? A blueberry scone? Oh, well. He tore open a small salt packet, sprinkled it on the pastry and entreated the Norse god for safe passage. Douglas’ gaze on him was vaguely interested but he made no prayer himself.
“All done?” Douglas asked.
“Yes, fine,” Martin said, then blurted, “No, wait.” His eyes scanned the board - yes, there he was, some lovelorn traveller had tacked a card of Eros to the frame. After a marital union, it was customary to gives thanks. Martin broke off a chunk of scone and pressed it to his lips. Behind him, Douglas exhaled and shifted. Martin hesitated.
Should he be thanking Eros? Eros had stood by and let Martin be herded into an arranged marriage, with a being he didn’t know or love. No choice. No way out . It still cut in spite of how tolerable he was finding his husband. No . His hand dropped and he replaced the bit of scone in front of Odin.
“Sorry,” he mouthed to the painting of the one-eyed god.
Whether it was Martin’s own luck, Douglas’ lack of prayer or the mild insult of pinching Odin’s offering, the flight to Stornoway did not go smoothly. Higher than normal temperatures had been baking the country. An incoming cool front meant that though the stacks of puffy cumulous clouds were pretty, the conditions were as rough as Martin had ever felt. He did everything from training - cut back speed, radioed for a different altitude, and tried to relax.
“Want me to take control for you?” Douglas asked. He almost sounded bored. Martin’s jaw tightened. Of course, Douglas the blessed, Air England veteran would find this yawn-worthy. Damn it, Martin might be a rookie pilot, but he was not a child!
“No, thank you, First Officer Richardson,” he said, stressing the title. Douglas lifted his hands away from the control column, brows raised. There was a knock, and Arthur entered just as G-ERTI took another sickening plunge. Though Arthur kept his grasp on the mugs, the coffee leapt up and mostly failed to slosh back into its containers.
“Whoops! Sorry, chaps!”
“Were those our coffees? How kind, Arthur, I was just wanting one,” said Douglas. “Now I can enjoy the scent all day.”
Arthur braced against the doorframe. “I’ll get you another, Douglas. Just let me clean that up.”
“Yes, please do, I’m sure that’s a health and safety issue,” Martin said.
“Pity,” Douglas said. “A coffee would have been perfect just now.”
“I dunno, Douglas. I think perfect is boring,” Arthur said. “Life is too brilliant for everything to be perfect, don't you think?”
“Be that as it may, Arthur,” Martin said. “Why are you here?”
“I’m the steward, Skip! I always bring the pilots their coffees.”
“Arthur,” chided Douglas. “The captain put on the Fasten Seatbelts sign as we took off and has, in fact, not turned them off once.”
“In the case of extreme turbulence, it is procedure -” Martin’s stomach lurched as another updraught dropped the plane like an elevator with its cables cut. Arthur whooped - not with alarm, Martin noted with irritation, but enjoyment. There was an answering shout from the passenger area and a cheerful spate of commentary that was unintelligible.
“Our laird appears to be enjoying himself,” Douglas commented.
“Oh, yes, he’s belted in with a bottle of whisky. He’s got really Scottish since he started drinking. But I think he said something about how the flight’s like making a big drop?” Arthur screwed up his face.
“Gulf Echo Romeo Tango India to Glasgow ATC, requesting new altitude,” Martin said into his mike.
“Drop, as in a wee drop of the water of life?” Douglas asked Arthur.
“Glasgow to Gulf Echo Romeo Tango India. What, again?” the radio responded.
“No, something about surfing, he showed me before Mum made him put on his seat belt. Like this!” Arthur stood away from the wall and crouched with feet spread and arms akimbo. His eyes widened with delight as the plane popped up like a cork from a champagne bottle and dropped again. He hooted, knees flexing with the bouncing. An appreciative curse echoed from the back of the plane.
“Whee!” Douglas had lifted his arms like a teen on a roller coaster. Martin’s lips peeled back from his teeth and his hands tightened on the column. G-ERTI tilted and Arthur’s arms pinwheeled.
Shit, shit, shit! Martin knew better than to fight the turbulence. He tried to relax his death grip, but the damage was done. Douglas was smirking at him. Martin pressed his lips together and looked forward.
“No need to to play the Red Baron, my captain.” Douglas tapped the altimeter. “The height differential is only twenty or thirty or feet. I’ve had worse.”
“Well, it seems rough in an aircraft this size!” Martin snapped. His nerves were frayed.
“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Arthur said. “I bet your husband is watching over you right this minute!” He squinted through the windshield. “Look, the clouds are going away. I think. No, I was wrong.”
“It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day,” Douglas sang in a melting tone.
“Thank you, Arthur,” Martin said. He’d had enough of this circus. “I’m going to - to check on Lord Leverhulme and assure him that everything is fine. First Officer, you have - oh gods, oh gods! Control.” He gulped as the plane plunged again as if in spite.
“I have control,” Douglas repeated. Martin released his grip. Was it his imagination, or did the plane steady as he took his hands away? No… no, G-ERTI was flying as smooth as silk now. Carolyn’s voice could be heard reasoning with Lord Leverhulme, who seemed disappointed that the fun fair portion of the journey was finished. Martin unclipped his harness and walked away, cheeks burning with humiliation at this evidence of Douglas’ easy prowess.
[The 9th day of Boedromion, beginning at sunset of the 8th, year 4 of the 696th Olympiad, early autumn]
“And how was the flight back?” enquired the rich tones of Martin’s spouse.
Martin groaned. He was sprawled on his bed, boneless after an amazing full-body massage.
“Was fine,” he slurred into the sheets. “Made an apology offering t’Odin when we headed back out. No problems at all.” None, if he didn’t count his crushed pride. Granted, Douglas hadn’t said anything about Martin’s frazzled state, but Martin felt the older pilot’s amused condescension. Martin had looked less than capable in front of him, and he couldn’t stand it. And Arthur was unnerving him with his talk of gods watching him all the time. It was creepy.
Hands smoothed over his shoulders. “You’re tensing up again,” his husband noted. “What’s wrong, pet?”
“It’s… well, the other pilot. Douglas Richardson. He’s… he’s so insufferable! He thinks he knows it all, just because he’s been flying since the dawn of time!” His husband tsk’ed and began to work at a knotted muscle. Martin went on, aggrieved. “I know he used to be with Air Britannia, but he could at least be more serious about this job, even if it’s for a small airline!”
His husband chuckled. “From what you’ve said, he does seem a character.” He pressed a soothing kiss to Martin’s shoulder blade. “Don’t let him bother you, darling. I’m sure you’ll be professional enough for the both of you.” Thumbs dug into the muscles by Martin’s spine in a long stroke up his back and he sighed.
“Thanks.” Though Martin was beginning to wonder if he had enough professionalism to make up for both Douglas and Arthur. He groaned as something in his neck popped. “I’ll let it go. For now.” Gods, those hands were wonderful, a gift from the gods .
“Well, they are, in a way, sweet. But thank you.” His spouse’s voice was warm.Gods, he’d mumbled that aloud. But Martin couldn’t even summon a flicker of embarrassment, he felt so relaxed.
“Ah.” His husband sounded satisfied. Hands ran over him once last time before a naked body slid down beside Martin. “You’ve no flight tomorrow, have you?” At Martin’s negation, his husband kissed his cheek. “Good. I hope you won’t mind getting up early.” The tone of his voice insinuated much.
Martin snorted his opinion of the jest and tucked his head against his husband's shoulder. This was good, talking over his day. No one before had been interested in Martin’s aviation talk. It was nice, coming home to someone.
Where else can you go? a small voice niggled. You didn’t get the choice . Martin turned his face away, denying the thought. He would never sleep otherwise.
“Sweet dreams, Martin.” The voice was soft. His thumb brushed a curl from Martin’s face. Martin swallowed his guilt and smiled into the darkness that was his husband.