Douglas drummed his fingers on the table. He was on time as he had been this entire week, covering for Martin’s tardiness. Where was the young idiot? Ever since that trip to Qikiqtarjuaq, Martin was painfully and obviously not himself. Gone was the nervous tension, the prissy insistence on procedure and paperwork. While Douglas appreciated Martin’s new relaxed style, there was a limit to his tolerance. For example: work. Douglas was now pulling his weight at MJN.
The new Martin, Douglas decided, was unnerving. His silence was wearing on Douglas and the way he was drawing back from flying was downright unnatural. Martin loved flying. And an un-epauletted Martin was… lacking something. Douglas had to admit that though Martin ironically appeared more the captain now than he ever had, he missed the fussy, uptight Martin.
Douglas stroked the bulge of that god-cursed envelope in his breast pocket. He’d thought Martin had been joking when he’d returned his epaulettes, but Martin’s bitter refusal to take them back made Douglas uneasy. The daft boy hadn’t meant what he’d said about leaving MJN, had he? The attempts at scruffiness, the laissez-faire attitude that was painful to watch, it was so antithetical to Martin’s true nature. And there was the way he didn’t even argue about operating or landing G-ERTI! Was he trying to be fired? Considering Martin’s recent change of behaviour, Douglas had to admit that yes, perhaps Martin was serious.
Douglas didn’t want Martin to quit. He wasn’t going to let him quit. But he was willing to let Martin run with whatever scheme he’d concocted. Douglas was curious.
The phone rang and he snapped up the receiver. “MJN, how can I be of service?”
“Douglas.” It was Carolyn. “Goddard’s called at long last and I’m picking him up. Have Martin file the flight plans.”
“I would,” Douglas said, “if Sir were here to do so.”
“What, late again? I am going to have a serious word with that boy! One lazy pilot is all this airline can support!”
“Not to worry, I’ll get the plans filed.” Douglas ignored the slur on his work ethic.
“Goddard is expecting two pilots. Find that idiot and drag him in by the ear if needed. And if he looks half as scrofulous as he has done the past week, stuff him in the flight deck locker until Goddard is aboard and seated.”
“I rather like Martin’s new look. Like a dashing young air pirate.”
“Yo ho and har har. Snap to it, underling. And tell Arthur to get the catering ready.”
“Ah.” Douglas paused. Should he inform her Arthur was also AWOL? Best not. “You speak and I obey.”
“Good.” The line disconnected. Douglas hummed. Martin and Arthur, Arthur and Martin. Both absent. A normally neutral combination that today was likely to prove dangerous. Calls to their mobiles went unanswered. Douglas left voice mails with both and left to search Fitton airfield.
G-ERTI was dark and still. Tannoy announcements in the small terminal building brought forth no bounding Arthurs or frantic Martins. The mechanic’s shed was empty. But behind he could hear shouting.
“That doesn’t count, that one didn’t open all the way!”
“Well, shake it up and use it again. There’s only five more left and Dirk hasn’t had a go!”
“Oh, Hades, it’s fizzing over me! Quick, quick, here it comes!”
There was a cracking sound and a cheer. “Nice one, Phil!”
“How many points was that?”
“Didn’t make it over the line. That means it’s a double. Two points to the Reds!”
“Skip, you’re up!”
Arthur. What on earth -?
He rounded the shed to an astonishing scene. A motley crowd made up of fire crew, mechanics and ground crew were standing around, shouting. Captain Martin Crieff scuffled nervously inside a half-hazard circle of rope laid on the ground. Martin gripped a piece of wood too thin to be called a bat and squinted. “Go easy, George,” Martin said.
Dirk snorted. “Hah! I saw the way you bashed the first one. Proper gusher, that one.”
“Didn’t make it out of the batting circle, so it doesn’t count,” Phil called.
“Shut it! He’s on your team, isn’t he? George, you bowl that bastard hard, y’hear? I want my turn.”
George grinned at Martin who quailed but firmed his grip on the wood. He nodded and George pitched a can at him. A can? Martin flailed, missed and the can went tumbling past to be retrieved and passed back to George.
“What in Hades is going on?”
Everyone stopped at Douglas’ raised voice. Everyone, that is, except Martin, who swung about so fast the stick spun out of his hands. Douglas ducked, hearing the whiz as the weapon flew where his head had been a moment before. Martin stood with his mouth open.
“Oh, hi, Douglas!” Arthur sounded nervous. “We’re just having a pick-up game of Fizzball. Reds versus Groundies. It’s, you know, like rounders, but more… more… “
“Fizzy?” Douglas supplied.
“How did you know?”
“Just a guess,” Douglas drawled. There was a pile of dented and burst cans. Some of the men sported wet patches on their clothing. Douglas sniffed. What was that smell? George shook the can in his hand and Douglas’ eyes were drawn to the motion. “Hang on. Is that… is that my ginger beer? ”
Martin accepted the stick from a groundsman and raised his chin. “And - and if it is?”
“It’s my beer!” Douglas couldn’t restrain his outrage.
“Which you were going to smuggle on G-ERTI!”
“It’s not even alcohol!” Douglas said in exasperation.
“Did you plan on telling Carolyn you were ‘exporting’ it?” Martin’s face was growing red.
“Well, no, but -”
“B - b- but nothing! As captain, I felt it was only right to dispose of - of contraband goods !”
Dirk rumbled, “There’s a point. Dave, go see if security still has that box of American beer they confiscated.”
Arthur beamed. “Oh, perfect! Cheap and evil-smelling! This is a real Fizzball game now!”
“I thought you weren’t a captain any more,” Douglas said to Martin. Damn it, he’d had a good trade set for that Old Jamaica. The Extra Fiery was hard to find outside the UK.
“As you’ve so often made clear!” Martin shouted. Douglas gaped at him. Martin turned his back. “George, I’m ready.”
“George, don’t you dare throw that can.” Douglas glared. How dare they use his beer? More than that, how dare they play a game with his own damned beer and not even invite him ?
“George,” Martin growled. “Throw. That. Can.”
George looked between Martin and Douglas and shrugged. “Sorry, Dougie. Contraband and all.” He pitched.
This time Martin swung as if he had a life-long grudge against the can. The resulting cloud of foam and aluminium shrapnel had everyone cheering. “Oh, well done, Skip!” “Good one, Skipper!” “Reds! Reds! Reds!” “Sign him up, sign him up, sign him u-u-up!”
“How did I do?” Martin was drenched in ginger beer, shirt stuck to him in transparent patches. “Did I score?”
Arthur was searching the ground beyond a scratched line in the dirt. “You did it! It’s a rounder!” He held up the can’s tab. Martin whooped. He grinned as his team mates clapped him on the shoulder. Unshaven, curls sodden, a trickle of blood running from a small cut on his cheekbone and a grin splitting his face - he ought to have looked ridiculous. Douglas gulped.
“You’re bleeding,” he managed.
“Oh?” Martin touched his cheek and looked at the smear on his fingers. “Ow. So I am.”
“You idiot . What if it had been your eye?” Douglas snarled.
“Aw, don’t be such an old woman, Dougie,” Dirk said before Martin could reply. “No worse than Skittles. Great hit there, Skipper.”
Skipper? Since when had Martin become Skipper to the entire staff of Fitton airfield ? Douglas couldn’t find the words to express how topsy-turvy his world had become. Dirk thumped Martin on the back hard enough to send him staggering a few steps forward. “You’re all right for a such a stick-up-the-arse regs-happy type.”
High praise indeed from the likes of Dirk. As Martin straightened up, face glowing, Douglas couldn’t help but agree - Martin was captain of the day. His hand strayed to the bulge of epaulettes in his breast pocket. His phone rang and Douglas twitched.
“Douglas. We’re fifteen minutes from the airfield. Please make sure Captain Crieff and yourself are ready to greet our passenger.” Carolyn was choosing her words carefully with Goddard in the car.
“I’ve found Martin,” he said. Martin was attempting to look unconcerned but his feet were shuffling. “Delay Goddard, we’re behind schedule on the pre-flight checks.”
“Douglas.” Carolyn’s tone leaked ire. “I understand.” And there will be a reckoning , it promised.
Douglas disconnected. “Well, Skipper. Fun and games are over. Goddard will arrive in twenty minutes if we’re lucky.”
“Oh, gods, gods!” Martin burst out. Ha. That was more like the real Martin instead of the ersatz and uncomfortably attractive ruffian of the past week . Arthur moved closer to Martin and pressed up against his side. They both looked so much like schoolboys before the headmaster that a bark of laughter escaped Douglas. Martin’s eyes widened.
“What’s so funny? Carolyn’s going to kill us! She will sacrifice us to the gods of commerce! There’s the flight plan, and the walk-around and the catering -”
“Well, my captain,” Douglas said, cheerful now he was back in a familiar position, “Luckily for you the plans are filed. But since I wasted most of the prep time looking for you, I’ll let you handle the rest. Better run - Goddard doesn’t sound a patient man.”
Martin shot him a venomous look. “Sorry, guys. We’re out.” There was a chorus of disappointed cries. “But g- go ahead and use the rest of the contraband . ”
Douglas shouted with laughter at this parting shot as Martin broke into run with Arthur just behind him.
“Oh, captain, my captain,” he murmurred. It was past time to clear the air between Martin and himself. He followed the fleeing figures at a stroll.
“Mr. Goddard, I’m Captain Crieff. This is First Officer Richardson, and I’d like to apologise profusely for the delay -”
“Bloody hell! What happened to you?”
“You’re sopping wet! And… and is that ginger I smell? Whoof! You reek!”
“The captain was assisting in the disposal of seized contraband materials.”
“Yes, yes, that’s it, that’s what I was doing.”
“Red ginger from Korea. Costs a packet, worth a lot to the right people.”
“He’s wringing wet!”
“ Punishing .”
“And the blood?”
“Oh, gods, is it still bleeding?”
“No, but Sir has a smear. I believe the captain cut himself -”
“Shaving?! He’s got stubble!”
“But none on his cheekbones, you’ll note. Notoriously tricky, shaving ones’ cheekbones, especially ones as shapely as Sir’s. Why, I myself -”
“All right. I dunno what’s going on here, but luckily for you, I’ve got to be in Madrid by nine. You two - go fly the plane. I don’t want to set eyes on either of you - especially you, Red. Got that?”
“Yes, Mr. Goddard.”
“And for the love of Zeus, lay off the ginger!”
“You have control, captain.” Douglas’ stress on the word made Martin’s shoulders tighten.
“I have control,” he repeated. Did he? From where he was sitting, his passive aggressive campaign was going nowhere. Douglas didn’t seem much affected, aside from the ginger beer theft. Martin allowed himself a curl of satisfaction. It was satisfying to take out his frustration on something of Douglas’.
Still, Martin hated coming to work with his uniform rumpled and epaulettes absent. He hated watching Douglas making of hash of the paperwork, hated being late. He loathed taking a hands-off approach to flying. His palms itched to take the landings, the take-offs, the everything . Too often he caught himself just before he opened his mouth to take control or snap regulations at Douglas. What was the point? His resolve to make Douglas and Carolyn appreciate the old Martin was wearing away the longer this continued.
More than anything, he wanted things to - no, not go back to the way the way they were, but… Martin’s fingers tightened then relaxed on the throttle. Most of his days were spent with MJN, his nights with his husband. Gods knew it didn’t leave him much time to get out and make new friends, not that he was much good at that. His best relationships - friendships - were with Carolyn, Arthur and Douglas. He missed the camaraderie. But things couldn’t go on as they had. Respect. It wasn’t too much to ask. Martin might be lonely these days, but he wasn’t sure he could be friends with anyone who couldn’t respect or… or appreciate him, as a captain or otherwise.
Douglas watched Martin from the corner of his eye. He’d never seen Martin so miserable while flying, never. Enough was enough.
He cleared his throat. “Nice hit on that can. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Red crept up Martin’s neck but he didn’t turn his head. Douglas grimaced. The cold war was still on, it seemed.
“You weren’t, by chance, imagining it was someone’s head? A certain first officer’s, for example?”
Martin whipped his head around, horrified. “No. Why - why would you think I want to bash your brains out?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t presume to imagine what dark fantasies Sir may normally entertain, but it would be consistent with your behaviour this past week.”
Martin turned away. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, I think you do,” Douglas pressed. “Starting from your ludicrous declaration that you were quitting, you’ve been - and I mean this in a non-confrontational and even admiring way - not yourself.”
There was no reply. Martin’s lips pinched tight.
Douglas turned in his seat to watch him. “Have you changed your mind? I confess it’s been worrying me, not knowing where I stand, my captain.”
His jocular tone provoked no reaction. Martin maintained his stubborn silence. Douglas looked at the slight figure with fond irritation. Never would he have suspected Martin to hold out this long. No, strike that - any man who bloody-mindedly got his CPL after six failures was capable of anything. Douglas ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. “Look, Martin, as impressive as your play-acting has been this week, isn’t it time you did something proactive? Whatever’s eating you, I’d like to think -”
His words were cut off by the flight deck door bursting open.
“Morning, chaps!” Arthur sang out. “Just bringing you drinks.” Martin took his juice with muttered thanks. Arthur smiled at him before handing Douglas his cup. Douglas accepted it with a scowl. Arthur turned his back, blocking Douglas’ view. “Skip,” he stage whispered. “Brought you something nice.”
“Oh? What is it?” Martin blinked as Arthur handed him a small plate and whisked away the cling wrap with a flourish. “Oh!” Arthur cheered inwardly as Martin grinned. “This looks great, Arthur. Thank you, it’s very thoughtful. And kind.”
Douglas craned for a view. “There’s Camembert? Why does Martin get Camembert? Where’s mine? And what are those?”
Martin popped a dark triangle into his mouth. “Toblerone,” he said around his mouthful. Arthur grinned at the blissful expression on Skip’s face. It made him happy to see Skip happy.
“It’s wonderful, thank you, Arthur,” Martin said. He picked up a triangle of cheese and turned it to and fro as if considering how best to enjoy it.
“Can I interest you in a little wager?” Douglas asked.
“Nope. Too late, the cheese is already in my possession. Arthur made it for me.” Martin shifted the plate away.
Douglas leaned closer. “I could -”
“No, you couldn’t!” Hastily Martin licked the cheese and ran his fingers over all the foodstuffs on the plate. Arthur giggled at Douglas’ disgruntlement.
“What are you, eight?” Douglas was caught between laughing and outrage. “Arthur, call a babysitter, the plane’s been hijacked by your little brother.”
“Hey!” Arthur said.
“I can’t believe you gave Martin the cream of the cheese tray before our traditional wager.”
“Double hey!” Arthur’s cheer at Skip’s delight in his gift slipped away. Douglas was being so… so Douglassy and not in a good way and it wasn’t right. No wonder Skip was unhappy. Arthur was determined to fix that and girded himself to battle Douglas. “I wanted to give Skip the best. He deserves it!”
Martin gave Arthur a quick smile over his shoulder and ate the Camembert in two bites. Douglas lifted a brow. “May I ask why? All he’s done lately is show up late to work and steal my ginger beer. In what way is he deserving?”
Arthur’s face was hot. “Well - well, you aren’t!”
“That’s me told,” Douglas murmured. “Really, Arthur? Really?”
“Arthur,” Martin said in a warning tone. But the words were building up in Arthur’s chest and Douglas was being so un-brilliant that he couldn’t not say them.
“I don’t want you to have it, because you told Skip he wasn’t a proper pilot, and he is! I think he’s brilliant, and now he wants to leave and it’s all your fault!” Arthur burst out. “Why would you do that, Douglas? I thought you were friends!”
“Arthur, you weren’t supposed to tell anyone,” Martin said, but his voice lacked heat.
Arthur flushed and fidgeted. “Oh. Right. Sorry about that, Skip. About that…”
“Arthur,” Martin sighed.
“Mum wants to have a little talk with you when we get to our hotel. I’m awfully sorry, Skip. She wanted to know why we were all gingery and it kind of slipped out.”
Martin snorted. “Don’t worry about it, I’m not angry.”
Arthur worried at his lip. “But Skip. What if Mum fires you? I mean, I know you want to quit and all -”
“She won’t,” Douglas interrupted. “MJN needs its captain.”
“Ha!” Martin said under his breath. “MJN has perfect professional sky-god Douglas Richardson. It doesn’t need me.”
Arthur felt torn. He faced the first officer. “Do you?”
“Do I what?” Douglas blinked.
“Do you need Skip?” At Martin’s choking noise, Arthur changed this to, “I mean, do you want Skip to stay?”
“Yes, I do.”
Martin’s head turned at this. But why did Douglas sound so glum about it? Arthur lifted his chin and tried his best to imitate his mum.
“Then you should say sorry. Because you were wrong. Skip’s a brilliant pilot and… and he’s miles more professional than you.”
Douglas glared. Arthur decided that retreat was the best course of action.
The door clicked shut.
“Well. That was like being attacked by a sheep,” Douglas remarked. “Arthurs seems very fond of you.”
“Douglas,” Martin chided. His face was averted.
“About what?” Martin sounded cautious.
Douglas sighed. “Oh, Martin. Listen carefully and cherish this moment, because it’s unlikely to happen again. You - are - professional. Profoundly so, beyond the even the question of salary and certainly more professional than I. In word, looks and deed you define the word.”
Martin still looked mulish. Douglas decided to expand.
“Fine. I profoundly regret that that my… my unkind and unwarranted words made you feel otherwise. If only because I have found myself hip-deep in work ever since the new Martin made his appearance.” The jealousy at the attention Martin’s new alter-ego was getting was something best kept to himself, Douglas thought. He essayed a smile, but it dropped away as Martin looked at him.
“Don’t. Don’t make jokes, Douglas. Not about this.”
Douglas felt the twist of guilt. He leaned closer, debated touching Martin’s shoulder and decided against it.
“I’m saying I’m sorry. When you apologised to me on the flight, I should have accepted it. It was petty and graceless of me to refuse it and continue making a game of you. And I wouldn’t have done and said the things I did if I’d known how much it would damage our… our relationship. Our friendship. I apologise.”
The moment stretched. Martin’s gaze was appraising, weighing Douglas’ sincerity. Douglas winced internally. In the heavy judging silence, it was clear the harm Douglas inflicted had been deeper than he’d meant. Half the fun of flying with Martin was the entertainment of teasing him. Martin normally took it well, blustering and stuttering but shrugging it off. The Martin who watched him now with wary eyes told Douglas everything he needed to know about how far his captain could be pushed. Martin wanted to quit, and the blame lay at Douglas’ feet.
Douglas exhaled. He felt he’d passed a great test.
Martin dropped his eyes. “And… and I’m sorry too. I know - I know how I am, how I can be so… well, you know. I shouldn’t have told Nancy -”
“No,” Douglas interrupted. Martin looked back, startled. “Don’t apologise again. Just let the matter be done. Slate clean. We can put this behind us and carry on.”
“Until I talk to Carolyn,” Martin sighed.
“Considering the determination you showed this past week,” Douglas mused. “I think you’ll be able to handle her.”
“Thanks. I hope so,” Martin said in a dubious tone.
A comfortable silence filled the flight deck.
“Homeric rhyming journeys.”
“Uh?” Martin blinked.
“Nausicaa to Ithica,” Douglas proffered.
Martin sniffed, but Douglas was pleased to see a small smile tugging the corner of his mouth. “I don’t know, Douglas. How about a game of Flight Manual Bingo?”
“Martin,” Douglas said, dead serious. “I’ll happily cede the cheese tray to you the next trip if I don’t have to further massage your ego by losing a round of the worst game you’ve ever invented.”
Martin tilted his head, eyes narrowing. “I don’t know. Perhaps my fragile pride can’t handle losing yet another of your stacked word games.”
“Three, and I won’t even try to distract you.” Douglas couldn’t hold back his smile.
“Ha! You admit you do try to distract me from winning!”
“I admit nothing, and I laugh at the notion of you thinking you stand a chance, my captain.” As Martin opened his mouth Douglas hastily added, “Three, and that’s my final offer.”
“Deal, First Officer.”
“My pleasure, Captain Crieff,” Douglas said.
“Circe to Surrey.”
“Nice, but she prefers the original pronunciation, so Circe to Turkey.”
“How do you know how,” Martin worked his mouth around the hard consonants, “ Circe likes people to say her name?”
Douglas lifted a brow and Martin groaned. “Oh, please, I’ll never believe you and her… Anyway, wouldn’t you be turned into a swine or something if you had?”
“Maybe I was,” Douglas grinned. “I was a bit of a lad, after all. Mm.”
“Maybe you still are a swine!”
“MJN, proud employer of the best of the county fair,” Douglas drawled. “Gives new meaning to the phrase ‘when pigs fly,’ doesn’t it?”
The small self-deprecation was worth it for the sound of Martin’s choked giggle. Martin recovered, mouth twitching. “Priam to Siam.”
“Homer to Hanover,” Douglas shot back.
“Uh. Achilles to… um. Piccadilly?”
“Or: Achilles to Antilles!”
“Oh, right! Paris to - Paris?”
Douglas heaved a mournful sigh. Martin glared. “Or… or… Harris, Ferris… I know! Ares to Antares!”
“Isn’t that a star system?”
“Well, he’s a god, why couldn’t he? Anyway, why would Circe go to Turkey?”
“Plenty of men to turn into pigs?” Douglas suggested. “Apollo to -”
“Good one,” Douglas approved. He paused. “Martin.”
Martin blinked, busy thinking up the next journey. “Mm?”
“You did know that confiding any kind of secret to Arthur is as safe as hedgehog in love with a balloon? Cute and colourful, but something would eventually blow.”
Martin opened his eyes wide. “Douglas! I’ll have you know that I relied on Arthur’s discretion completely when I told him my problem.” His outraged expression was belied by the twitch in the corner of his mouth, which kept trying to curve up. Douglas held his gaze and touched his temple in a slow salute. He drew out the envelope with Martin’s epaulettes and laid it on the instrument panel in front of him.
“Well played, Captain Crieff. Well played.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Martin said. He darted a glance at Douglas and picked up the envelope, fingers stroking over the familiar shapes inside. “B - But thank you, First Officer. Er. Penelope to… Penelope to… to Calgary!”
“Or Albany, if she doesn’t fancy a nice cream tea with Lady Godiva.”
“Don’t distract me!”
“Is Sir deriving some sexual innuendo from that statement? That is pretty distracting. Two lovely ladies… Licking honeyed tea from their lips, enjoying cucumber sandwiches, plucking at loom strings, riding nude sidesaddle… Try not to think about it, my captain.”
“Douglas! You’re cheating!”
And Douglas knew all was right in the world.
One last trial. Martin faced it across the table in the hotel’s small restaurant. Carolyn folded her hands on the table. “So. Martin. Arthur let something slip concerning why you’ve been coming to work looking like a homeless man instead of a pilot this past week, but it is Arthur after all. I would like to hear it from you. Would you mind telling me what in Hades is going on?”
Martin resisted the urge to scratch his scruffy jaw. “Um. I, well, I was told that I’m not really a professional pilot.”
“Were you. Granted, MJN has its quirks, but I thought I could depend on you to balance that.” Carolyn was giving no quarter and Martin’s ears grew hot.
“You could! I mean, you can. Could. What I mean is, if you can’t beat them, you may as join them. No one respects my… my abilities and attention to my duties or even pretends I have any authority, so why bother?”
“Am I correct in assuming Douglas was the one who made you feel inadequate?”
Martin debated telling her what he thought of her instigation of the disastrous game of Travelling Lemon but quickly repressed the rebellious surge. “Yes. He said I wasn’t a professional pilot since I have no salary. So -”
“You do realise I could still dismiss you,” Carolyn said.
Martin’s temper flared in a burst of sarcasm worthy of Douglas. “You could . I mean, gosh, it’ll be a hardship going without - oh, wait, I don’t get paid. Can one fire volunteers? Can you afford it?”
Carolyn leaned back. “All right. How long will you keep,” waving a hand at his dishevelment, “ this up?”
“It - I don’t know. It depends.”
Carolyn sighed. “Fine. I'll threaten Douglas with a course in Ipswich on appropriate workplace interaction. Bad enough to have two half-wits flying without both of them being so feckless that we’ll lose business and come under investigation from the CAA. But really, Martin, I thought you had thicker skin. You do realise if we didn’t like you, we wouldn’t tease you. Imagine if I treated you like a customer.” Her smile was wolfish.
Martin gulped. Gods forfend . But at least she was taking his side. “And... the other thing?”
Carolyn paused in collecting her handbag. “Pardon?”
“My - my salary.”
“What.” Carolyn turned her gimlet gaze back on him and it was too much. Martin’s nerve broke.
“Not that I want much! But if you want me to stay, I - I need it. I need to know you have respect enough for my skills to pay me for my time. I - I am a professional, and I demand, no, not demand, can I ask? Yes. I ask to be treated as one.” He sucked air into his burning lungs. “If - if that's not too much trouble?”
Carolyn’s hand covered her brow. Her shoulders were shaking. “Oh, Martin, and you were doing so well.”
“Carolyn!” Martin wished that had sounded less like a whine and more like righteous indignation.
“Oh fine, Captain Crieff. I'll pay you. It'll doubtless be a pittance. Let me scrape what I can out of the books.” Carolyn pushed back her chair. “I'll start you next week.“
“Back paid.” Martin blinked. Did he just say that?
Martin gripped the rags of his resolve. “Back paid to that trip to Qikiqtarjuaq.”
Carolyn cocked her head. “Why?”
Martin’s mouth opened and shut a few times but his voice had fled. A slow smile spread across Carolyn’s face.
“Oh ho. You sneaky pilot, you. You want to be able to throw it in Douglas' face, that when he called you an unsalaried peon, you were in fact a paid professional.”
“It's not too much to ask!” Martin burst out. “And you said pittance, I'm not arguing on that point!”
“Very well, Oliver Twist, no need to ask for more. I'll do it, but only for the satisfaction of getting one over on Douglas.”
“Thank you, Carolyn.” Martin stood with her and extended an awkward hand. She shook it. “I appreciate it. And - and it wasn’t easy for me this past week.”
“Martin.” Carolyn’s smile was thin but sincere. “I know. If I were the grandmotherly type, I’d pat your foolish head. But I’m not, so begone. Get yourself sorted. You look as though you’ve a hedgehog on your face.”
She sailed off. Martin gaped after her. Well, at least his plan hadn’t backfired. A salary!
The smile spread slowly until his cheeks ached. He’d finally done it, and by himself.
“She’s going to give me a salary! Can you believe it? And I actually missed playing word games this past week. Douglas cheated, but I didn’t even care because I’m just so happy! It’s such a relief, you don’t know what it’s been like this week.”
“I think I do,” Eros said. He watched Martin pace a short path back and forth, leg brushing the side of the bed and hands flying with excitement. Eros smiled. Martin’s spark was bright and glowing, the triumph of his victory bright within him. So beautiful. Of course Martin was happy. All obstacles to flying had been swept away. No more teasing. Martin was finally coming into his own, confident in himself and his abilities. But what about me ? Eros wanted to ask. Will you ever feel for me what you feel for your flying? Would he have Martin much longer? Eros rubbed knuckles over his aching heart. “So that’s what you were keeping from me this week. Facing down the dragon and wresting an apology from the decidedly not-brilliant Douglas. Well done, Martin. I’m so pleased for you, love.”
Martin scrambled on the bed, dressing gown slipping askew. Eros reached a hand to guide him as Martin flung himself at him for a tight hug. “I couldn't have done it without you. You’re the best, a god of gods.”
“Not Zeus,” Eros reminded him. “Try again.”
“Apollo. You’re brilliant, handsome…”
Eros laughed. “No. Haven’t you guessed from the clues yet?”
Martin laughed, embarrassed. “What with one thing and another, I haven’t thought about it. It doesn’t seem that important any more. You’re my husband. I’m getting used to it.”
I don’t want you to ‘get used to it’, I want your love ! Eros forced the insistent thought down. “Tell you what. If you haven’t guessed by the end of the week...”
“Don’t let me win, I can do it!” Martin said.
“Nonetheless. When you return from Japan, you’ll win in the most splendid fashion,” Eros promised. “Lavish prizes. Acclaim.”
“From you?” Martin said. “Or do the prizes come in your shape in bed, by any chance?”
“You found me out.”
Martin giggled but sobered. Eros breathed out as Martin’s thumb ran down the side of his face. “But thank you. For your support. I’m glad you talked me ‘round.”
Eros closed his eyes to block out Martin’s glowing face, concentrating only on the touch of his love’s hand. “Anything for you.”