The medics had insisted Martin go to the hospital, putting little faith in the miracle of the peanut butter. A battery of x-rays, blood tests and threats of scoping later, it was agreed that Martin’s appendix appeared normal. A Native doctor rested her hand on his stomach, her eyes closed. When she opened them again, she sniffed her hand, grinning. Martin flushed. Why couldn’t Arthur have used… well, anything else? “Peanut butter. I can’t wait to tell the elders this story. Well, belief is the thing. You’re fine, Mr Crieff. But if it’s all right with you, we’d like to keep you a bit longer for observation. From the sounds of it, you were full of infection.”
Martin sighed his agreement, hoping Carolyn wouldn’t object. The doctor busied herself settling Martin in a bed and drawing a privacy curtain, singing an odd chant under her breath as she moved. Carolyn and Arthur bustled in. Carolyn restrained Arthur from throwing himself at Martin with a hand on his shoulder. “No hugs. Martin has just had his insides repaired - heavens know how it was managed.”
“I did it!” Arthur said. “Oh, I wish you could have seen it, Skip! My hands were glowing all green! Like radioactive things in the old movies. And when I started smearing the peanut butter on your tum, that started glowing. And you sort of sighed and went limp. Not dead-limp, more like sleeping-limp. It was brilliant! I can’t wait to make a proper offering to Panacea.”
Martin thrust away the lurid mental image of Arthur rubbing nuclear peanut on his skin. “An intervention? Did you pray?”
“I confess I did,” Carolyn said. “You gave me a right bad turn, Martin Crieff, and I’ll thank you not to collapse on my aeroplane again. Though I’ll let it pass this once - the cost of the diversion was balanced by getting rid of that horrible Mrs Lee.”
“Sorry,” Martin said, but was touched by the show of concern from his sarcastic and brusque boss.
“I prayed heaps, Skip. It must have worked, because you’re all right!” Arthur’s smile was ear-wide.
Martin smiled and extended his hand. He shook Arthur’s hand. “Thank you. You saved my life. You’re a hero, Arthur Shappey.”
Arthur’s expression rivalled the sun. “Oh, brilliant!”
Martin blinked awake, flexing his hand which tingled with odd warmth. Paper rustled and he turned his head. Douglas sat at his bedside with a battered copy of Maclean’s. “Douglas? What time is it?” Martin pushed himself upright, grimacing at the ache in his muscles. Gods, he must have really been knotted up, what with the whole appendix bursting and unspeakable agony. “Uh. Why are you here? Can I leave?”
“Four very good questions. In order, yes - c’est moi, c’est moi, t’is I. The time is seven thirty. I’m here to collect you. And yes, the lovely doctor waved her hands over you while you were sleeping. A clean bill of health. You’re good to go.”
Martin swung his legs out of bed. “Tell me we have a hotel. I’m dying to take a shower.”
“Sir is certainly most charmingly redolent of peanut butter.” Douglas passed him his shoes and socks. “We’re booked into a motel near the airport, and I imagine the mechanics will have replaced the high frequency radio by now. It’s just a short jaunt to Canmore to pick up Lord Leverhulme, so -”
“The radio? What happened to it?” Martin looked up from his feet.
Douglas shrugged. “It blew just after the medical consultation but before landing. Luckily they were expecting us. No harm, no foul.”
Martin shuddered. “Losing the HF radio during a medical emergency could have been quite bad. Well, if it hadn’t been for Arthur, I suppose.”
“Yes, the miraculous Arthur, purveyor of the panacea of peanuts.”
“I still can’t believe Arthur managed a direct intervention! Do you know how rare that is?” Martin said. “I mean, we’re really far from the Olympian realm. This is Thunderbird territory. I don’t understand how Arthur… “ Martin’s voice trailed off. Douglas was wearing that bland face that said there was more to the story. “He didn’t. Did he? Douglas… did you do something too?”
“Why would you ask that?” And there was that tone as well, the uninterested one that Douglas put on when covering up some scheme. “We were only twenty minutes out from Kamloops when the miracle happened. Totally unnecessary, if you ask me. You would have been in an ambulance and in the hospital in no time.”
“Yes….” Martin said. “Though I’m glad it happened. I don’t want to feel pain like that again. I almost wanted to die to make it stop. But Douglas, how would a prayer sent up in the middle of the Canadian wilderness reach Panacea?”
Douglas shrugged as if uninterested. Oh, there was something there! Martin knew it. “A prayer like that would have to be picked up by a messenger. And… and it couldn’t have been a native god, the intervention happened too fast to have lots of intermediaries passing it along. You radioed for a doctor? And the radio blew, but our gods heard anyway? It had to be Hermes carrying the signal. You did it, didn’t you? You contacted him, you called for an intervention!”
Douglas sighed. “Fine, Miss Marple, you found me out. But in my defense, I didn’t fancy having a talking-to from your husband about letting you die or similar.”
“But Douglas.” Martin was flabbergasted. “You don’t pray. Never. You told me.”
Douglas looked embarrassed. “Well. You were gnawing your own hand off, Carolyn was sharpening knives to sacrifice a passenger, and Arthur was in tears. What’s a poor first officer to do?”
“You didn’t have to, though. You just said.” Martin felt a warm spring of amazement rising in his chest. “You did it anyway. You like me.”
Douglas looked offended. “Like you? Perish the thought. You are a wet-behind-the-ears pilot with delusions of grandeur imparted by an over-decorated captain’s hat. Rules-bound, a poor loser at word games -”
“Oh, shut up.” Martin was grinning. “Thank you.” A thought occurred and his face sobered. “But… why would Hermes even listen to you? You’re not a follower.”
“Martin, you’re the husband of a god ,” Douglas said. “Do you really think you are just flying around under the radar? I’m sure most of the pantheons are watching you with covert interest.”
Martin opened his mouth, worry creasing his forehead but Douglas spoke before he could. “Do you think your husband will give us humble mortals at MJN a favour for helping out? Not that I need it, but my rampant-self interest is rearing its head.”
“Douglas.” Martin screwed up his face. “I don’t know.”
“Crass, I suppose.”
Martin stood and brushed at the creases in his trousers. He lifted his eyes to Douglas’ face. “I can’t speak for him. But… but Douglas. I can thank you. I do.” Martin held out his hand. Douglas took it. “I know you think I didn’t need an intervention, or maybe you’re hoping get something out of it. But I want to thank you for what you did. For me. I, um. I appreciate it.”
Douglas’ lips parted before curving into a faint smile. “I’m happy you’re well, my captain.” The large hand engulfing Martin’s tightened. Martin felt heat rise into his cheeks. But Douglas only shook his hand and dropped it.
“If you’re up for it, it looks like there’s a decent steakhouse near our motel. It’s cowboy country, so it ought to be good. Perhaps there’ll be Rocky Mountain oysters.”
“Mountain oysters?” Martin followed Douglas out.
“Calf testicles, done up in breading, with a piquant dipping sauce.” Douglas made a smacking noise as Martin gagged.
“What’s with you and food made from sex bits? Honestly, Douglas!”
“A married man might guess.”
“Oh, ye gods, shut up!”
“Oh, by the by. You’d better drop your husband a line, now you’re finally awake. Though I’m quite sure he’s heard by now,” Douglas remarked.
Martin’s embarrassed flush faded so quickly he felt light-head. His steps faltered. “Oh. Oh, shit.”
Douglas’ smile was half-mischief, half-commiseration. “Indeed.”
“What do I do, Douglas? Oh, ye gods, he's going to be so... I don't know!” Martin dreaded the call. Would Eros be angry? Frantic? Sad he hadn't called earlier? Or worse - would he be all three? “Do I call him now, or... should I try and eat first, I don't know, I'm not that hungry now but I might go off dinner entirely if I call before and - and, what do you mean, finally awake? Have you been watching me ? ”
“Martin, calm down. You sound like a teenager scared of telling his mum he scratched the paint on her new car.”
Martin fumed while Douglas spoke to the front desk and took some papers. He opened his mouth to tell Douglas off but Douglas only passed him the pen. “Sign. And while you are doing so, consider employing your mind constructively instead of spinning your tyres. In his place, how would you feel if you heard second- or third hand your spouse had wound up in the hospital?”
“I'm fine now!” Martin said under his breath. He flinched. “Ow! Don't flick my ear.”
“I will if you persist in acting like a child. I may anyway, my captain, because that was rather satisfying.” Martin flushed under the amused smile of the desk clerk. Douglas continued in a more serious tone, “You're fine now. You were very much not fine a few hours ago. Flight abandoned, ambulances arranged, goddesses invoked. He’s probably in a right state. A phone call is the least you can do since he’s not here to wrap you up in manly arms.”
Douglas extracted the pen from Martin’s fingers and handed it back to the desk clerk with a sweet smile. She flushed. Douglas continued, “He’ll understand that you couldn’t call earlier. And you’d better call before eating. He won’t be happy if you decide to wait until after a jolly slap-up steak dinner with friends.” You berk , his expression said.
Dazed at this lecture on sensitivity towards others’ feelings - from Douglas, of all people, Martin let himself be turned by the elbow and guided to the door. “You really think he's that worried?” Martin asked. Douglas granted him a faint smile.
“If I were him? Yes.”
The answer was so flat and definitive that it jolted Martin. If Douglas cared that much for his fabled ex-wives, I'm amazed they ever let him get away . Martin followed Douglas out into the rich golden light of the sun as it disappeared behind the mountains. He felt small. “You're right. I'm... just a bit shaken up. Not thinking.”
Douglas lifted a knowing brow, brown eyes lit amber-bright by the slanting rays of sunset. “No, you’re thinking, but use your head, not your heart, captain."
Martin's skin felt hot under that gaze. His lips parted but he had to cough before he could speak. “Is this you being a soppy romantic again?”
Douglas' expression shifted to his more usual one of jaded humour. “Do you want me to be? Why, captain!”
“No!” Martin yelped.
“A pity,” Douglas said. Martin couldn't quite place the tone of his voice. Was it disappointed? Or pleased? He lifted a hand as a taxi pulled up. “Ah, our chariot. Ready for dinner, then? I'll call Carolyn and tell her to meet us. I'm sure she must be desperate by now. Arthur insisted on going to a shop called The Horse Barn to look for spurs. Or was it snaffles? Something starting with 's'. The mind recoils from delving too deeply into why Arthur would need them, though knowing Arthur, it's not anything I can imagine.”
“Um,” Martin said. “Can... would you mind if I just went to the motel? I think I'd like to be alone for a while. I'm going to... I need to... “ He gestured up at the heavens. “My phone was in my jacket.”
Douglas noticed his shivering in the cooling evening air. He shrugged out of his overcoat and handed it over. Martin didn’t refuse it and shrugged into the lingering warmth. The spicy scent of Douglas’ aftershave tickled his nose. “Are you sure you won’t need it?”
“You don’t have a speck of padding to keep you warm, unlike myself. Don’t worry about me.” Douglas opened the taxi’s door and Martin scrambled in. “Is there a decent take-out burger place?” he asked the driver after giving the motel's name. “My captain needs sustenance.”
“A&W?” the driver said dubiously. “I mean, it's not as nice as a good sit-down restaurant, but the root beer is great.” He squinted at Martin's rumpled uniform shirt in the rear-view mirror. “Is he really a captain? With an airline?”
“Yes, I am,” Martin sighed. He felt tired all over again by the old question. Every time he was out with Douglas, the comparison came up.
“And if you worked with him the way I do, you wouldn't doubt it,” Douglas said. Martin's mouth fell open. Douglas didn't even sound sarcastic, just matter-of-fact. “Though of course, Sir isn't wearing his hat. Without it...” Martin breathed a sigh. Here it came. “One might mistake me for being the superior officer. But that's not the case. Oh, there's that steakhouse. Would you mind pulling over?”
Martin blinked. Douglas was dizzying him. Martin couldn’t think of any other time Douglas would have passed up the chance to remark on how un-captainlike Martin looked. Amazing how it took a brush with death to make Douglas be kind to Martin.
The confused driver followed Douglas' direction, pulling into the crowded parking lot of a restaurant. Douglas turned to Martin. “Dinner! Savoury steak, jacket potatoes and the possibility of certain oysters! You all set for money?”
“Er. I don't know. Does A&W take credit?” Martin was still distracted by Douglas' words. Douglas shook his head in exasperation and pulled out some bright bills. Martin accepted them in a daze.
“Go on. Call your husband.” Douglas' mouth curved up in a sly smile. “Good luck, and remember to take pity on the fellow. I'll wager he's had as rough a time as you, in his own way.” He winked and slid out from the taxi, thumping the door to send them on their way.
Martin was relieved that Carolyn hadn’t decided to have revenge on his budget-blowing illness by arranging for shared rooms. His bag was waiting in a small, bland room along with his uniform jacket. Martin wasted no time fishing out his phone charger and plugging it in. The take-out burger wasn’t bad, and the root beer reminded him of - well, nothing familiar, really. Sweet and vaguely medicinal. He jittered as the power bar grew and the phone connected to local networks. It buzzed. And buzzed again. And again. Martin groaned. Text messages.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
YOUR SUDDEN ILLNESS HAS GREATLY UPSET YOUR SPOUSE. PLEASE CEASE AND DESIST BEING ILL BEFORE HE DOES SOMETHING RASH.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
UNLESS YOU ARE IN NO CONDITION TO DO SO. IN WHICH CASE, TRY NOT TO EXPIRE.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
EXCUSE MY FLIPPANCY EARLIER, I HAD NO IDEA IT WAS SO SERIOUS. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR MIRACLE. PANACEA IS CHUFFED.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
SPEAK TO YOUR HUSBAND. SOONEST IS BEST.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
YOU CAN OFFER YOUR THANKS FOR MY SERVICES WHEN YOU GET BACK. I PREFER A DRY RIESLING. INCENSE WOULD NOT BE AMISS.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
TELL YOUR DOUGLAS RICHARDSON HE’LL HEAR FROM ME SOON. RUDE BUGGER. I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU PUT UP WITH HIM DAY AND NIGHT.
TO: CRIEFF, MARTIN
HAVE YOU NOT SPOKEN TO HIM YET? JEWELLED SANDALS, WHY DO I BOTHER.
Martin flipped to calls received and voice messages and frowned. He’d expected to have several frantic messages from Eros but there were none. Well, perhaps the network was lagging and they’d come later in another huge buzzing load. With slightly trembling fingers he found the contact number and hit it. It connected almost immediately.
“I’m coming. You’d better be recovered, Martin Crieff, or I will be most displeased . ”
“Yes,” Martin managed. “Um. Hi, Eros. I’m fine. Fine. Er, you don’t have to come, you know. Crisis averted.”
“I beg your pardon? I shouldn’t be there, be with you and see you’re all right? After you were that close to being scooped up by Thanatos?”
Martin couldn’t stop the nervous words spilling out. “It’s Thunderbird territory. Out here my spirit wouldn’t be picked up by anyone, it would just go on a journey, it’d be a bit of trek getting back home, do souls get to fly? That wouldn’t be too bad.” He bit his tongue. Oh gods, he’d turned into Arthur.
“Don’t even joke about it! You are my husband , of course Thanatos would come for you, I’d kick his arse across the Atlantic to fetch your soul, and… and I don’t want to talk about you dying anymore.”
“Sorry.” Martin put his head in his hand. “I’m sorry - I, I didn’t think. I didn’t mean to worry you. Did - Did Douglas ask Hermes to tell you?”
Eros’ voice grew steely. “And if he had? Shouldn’t I be told my spouse was mortally ill? Anyone who would have concealed such a catastrophe from me wouldn’t be worthy to be your friend, Martin. He prayed, Arthur begged, they all prayed for you. As they jolly well should have!”
“Don’t be angry with them.” Martin felt his chest constricting. “They're my friends.”
A heavy sigh. “Don’t beg, Martin, I’m sorry. I’m not angry with them. I’m grateful.”
“No, I tell a lie. I think I might be a touch angry. It scared me half to death when I heard the news. And now that I’ve spoken to you and can hear you’re all right, might I be allowed the luxury of being extremely out of sorts? Just as soon as I get over my terror for you, that is. Skies , Martin.”
Martin flushed at the nakedness of the emotion in Eros’ voice. “I couldn’t exactly help it, you know.”
“I know . But you must have been getting ill all week, and I never even noticed!”
“Um. I just thought - well, that it was just lactose sensitivity. Or that I was coming down with something.”
“And did you ever. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t think it was serious! It wasn’t that bad, until -” Had it just been this morning? Martin swallowed. “The trip was planned ages back, I swear, you know I’d never fly if I was seriously ill. Regulations state...”
“Bugger the regs! I’m sorry, logic tells me one can’t plan for appendicitis. Nor can one be prepared for their husband to be halfway across the world when he has a go at eternal sleep, but… Martin, why can’t you take flights closer to home?”
“I can’t. Carolyn books the customers.“ Martin suppressed a surge of panic that his husband would beg. It would be unbearable; Martin couldn’t stop flying. He inhaled. Oh, you dolt . Eros was upset, yes, but needed of reassurance more. “I’m fine. Fine. Listen. Eros, I’m fine, I’m okay, it’s fine.”
“And anything you say four times must be true.” His husband exhaled, almost a laugh.
“That’s right,” Martin said. “And… and you’ll see me soon. Though I still think you don’t need to come. I’d like to see you, too.”
Martin felt a tug in his chest. Face burning, he thrust down his reticence and admitted in a low tone, “I wanted you. With me. When it got very bad.”
“Martin,” Eros said again in a pained tone. “I didn’t need Hermes to tell me. I knew something was wrong. I just wish… But you really wanted me?”
Martin felt tongue-tied at the question. “Well, yes, of course. Who else would I want? Aside from my mum. Oh, forget I said that last bit! Gods. Yes? Yes, I did.”
“Ah,” Eros said, sounding pleased and amused. “Thank you. I’m happy to share the honours with Wendy.”
Martin twiddled with the cord of his phone charger, uncomfortable with the emotional depth the conversation had reached. “You’re welcome?”
“Ah. Hm… Hermes is trying to get through. Hang on, love.”
Martin waited. The call clicked back. “Martin, there’s a small territorial issue. They’re not best pleased your friends jumped over local deities to bring in outside help. Would you do me a favour and make a small offering?”
“Sure.” Martin began to fumble in the bedside table for brochures of nearby amenities.
“Don’t forget the lube.”
Martin straightened with a jerk. The movement yanked the phone still attached to the charger from his hand. “Damn! Sorry, just dropped you. You still there?” The phone bleeped as his fingers skidded over it. “Hello?”
“I’m here. It’s not where you are and where I desperately long to be. Would you mind?”
“Yes, of course! Um.” Of course Eros meant the lube was for… personal use and not an offering. Martin felt a wild urge to laugh. “I’ll handle it. I need to thank the gods anyway. My doctor was amazing.”
“Grand. I’ll be with you soon. Try to sleep if you can.”
“I don’t see how when you say things out of the blue like,” Martin dropped his voice into Eros’ deeper pitch, “‘Get lube, Martin.’”
“I said don’t forget the lube. If you have it already, it’s a moot point. And darling? Don’t forget to look both ways before you cross streets, don’t talk to strangers, and don’t catch a terminal illness before I reach you, please?”
Martin choked. “I didn’t mean to!”
A low chuckle. “I know. But take care of yourself. I’m glad there are those who watch out for you. I’ll be with you soon, love.” The call disconnected. Martin blew out a breath.
“Right. Right. Offering.” He looked at the remains of his take-out. No, that would be doubtless be a deadly insult. “Okay. Convenience store. Offering. Lube.” He shrugged into his jacket and overcoat, patting his pocket to check he still had his wallet. “Sleep. Ha.” He zipped up, palmed the room key and went out, heart beating a little faster.
Eros was coming.
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