[12th of Metageitnion, Year 1 of the 697th Olympiad, summer,]
Martin woke alone, as he expected. He lay in the bed, eyes focussed on nothing while the warmth of morning sunlight slowly crept around the draperies to fill the room with a golden glow. Muscle pain and other slight discomforts were niggling for attention. The hot ache in his chest was of more importance. Martin pressed the heel of his hand over it, trying to snuff the burning sensation.
Gods, he was afraid. He was fairly sure he was in love with his husband - and it terrified him. It was not love as he’d known in previous relationships - it was deeper, more hurtful. Did Eros love him in return? Okay. Yes, he closed every call with an affectionate phrase, 'Bye, darling, love you!' or similar. He said he desired Martin from the first, wanted him to be happy, had granted him everything except the sight of his face and his days.
Martin groaned and flung an arm over his eyes. Gods, had Eros ever told Martin he was clever? He was humouring me. Martin was an idiot. He'd been protective and wary of his heart and had ignored his growing affection by nursing his resentment of the way his life had been turned upside down.
Maybe that was a good thing. He ought to stop brooding over the shortcomings in his marriage. Perhaps it was time he tried to be as generous with his heart as his husband had been with him.
Martin turned on his side, wadding a pillow into a more comfortable shape. A bright spot of colour amongst the sheets caught his eye. In the dim light suffusing the room, he could see what Eros had used for a blindfold last night, ensuring Martin was unable to see him. A bandana. It was hideous, a swirling mass of rainbow tie-dye over the normal paisley print. He smiled in spite of himself. He drew it towards him and rubbed a corner between thumb and forefinger. What kind of god would buy something so patently absurd? His god, apparently.
He loved Eros. Now he had to tell him.
I'm still terrified.
His phone beeped its first alarm. Martin sighed and flung back the covers.
Douglas smiled up at Martin as he joined Arthur, Carolyn and himself in the small diner. He pushed a chair towards him with a foot, inviting. "Good morning. Sir is looking quite chipper this fine morning. Everything worked out?" He raised his brows.
Pink spread over Martin's cheeks. "Yes, it's fine," he said repressively. He ordered breakfast before turning to Arthur. "That's quite the hat, Arthur."
Arthur's smile was as wide and curly as the brim of the his new cowboy hat. "Got it yesterday. Isn't it brilliant? Here, Skip, you try it." He plopped the hat on Martin's head. It was much too big and Douglas noticed with amusement that only Martin's ears kept it from falling over his eyes.
Martin nudged it back. Compressed by the hat, his curls now framed his face in a cherubic fashion. "How do I look?" Carolyn snorted and Douglas couldn't contain his laugh.
"Like a bronco-busting Botticelli babe," Douglas said. Instead of bridling in indignation, the corner of Martin's mouth twitched. “Someone’s going to want to rope you and drag you away.”
"Aw, Skip, you do look sweet!" Arthur said.
"Sweet enough to help along this coffee," Carolyn agreed. "Ugh, did they use the grounds twice?"
"Great. So I’m cowboy bait? Here, your turn Douglas."
Douglas took the offered hat and tipped it on his head. He turned in his chair and hooked an arm over the back, posing.
"I hate you," Martin said. "You look authentic, like a rancher or something."
Douglas tipped his hat, eyeing Martin from under the brim. "Thank you, Brokeback." He couldn't help grinning as Martin rolled eyes at him before digging into his eggs.
Arthur snatched back his hat. "Can I get more peanut butter before we pick up Lord Leverhulme in Canmore? Used mine up on Skip. Are we wearing Star Trek uniforms out? Oh, Mum! Can I wear my Spock ears with the cowboy hat?"
"Starfleet uniforms are optional, normal uniforms are not. Hat or ears, both or neither, love, I don't care." Carolyn finished her coffee and clattered her cup down. "Chop chop, pilots. The taxi will be here in fifteen minutes."
"The laird will love a Vulcan cowboy," Douglas said. Martin was grinning faintly, as if he couldn't quite believe his absurd life but was entirely happy about it.
"Oh, thanks for reminding me, Douglas!" Arthur dove for his bag and rummaged before pulling out quite the most appalling rag Douglas had ever seen openly displayed in broad daylight. Arthur tied it around his neck in place of his usual scarf. "Isn't it great? If I pull it up over my face like this, it’s like I’m a bandit!"
"My gods," Douglas said. "That's..." He coughed. “Exceptional. But a bit much. Perhaps you should put it away. In a dust bin, by preference.”
"Where did you get that?"
Douglas glanced at Martin, caught by the taut tone of his voice.
“At the Horse Barn! You like it?”
“I have one just like it,” Martin said.
“We match!” Arthur said. “Isn't that brilliant?”
Martin’s face flushed and then drained of colour. His smile was strained. “Yes.” Martin set down his fork with a clatter. Douglas looked again at the bandana with a frown. Carolyn stood.
“Arthur, if you’re done playing dress-up, collect our bags and wait for the taxi. I’ll handle the bill.”
She left, Martin following close on her heels as if fleeing.
Martin's odd reaction set the tone for the day. The whole trip to Canada had been rife with more strangeness than was usual for MJN, Douglas thought. Post-ceilidh, Lord Leverhulme wasn’t his usual incomprehensibly loquacious self, retiring to his seat with bloodshot eyes and grumbles. G-ERTI, for unknown reasons, was bumped ahead of two other planes waiting to for take-off. This was a blessing, in Douglas’ opinion, down to either his own natural luck, the laird’s prayers to be home quicker or Carolyn’s determination - who knew.
Martin was silent and unhappy, not contesting Douglas’ claim to operating back. It was disturbing; he hadn’t seen Martin in such a state since the trip to Qikiqtarjuaq.
“Do you think Canada has it in for us?” Douglas mused aloud. The crinkled landscape of the Rockies unreeled beneath them as he flew, the controls steady under his hand. Ahead where the peaks began to draw down towards the sea, a bank of clouds thickened, dark and threatening.
“What?” Martin snapped out of his abstraction. “Oh. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my luck,” he muttered. Frowning at the cloud formation, Martin adjusted his headset. “Gulf Echo Romeo Tango India to Kwakwaka'wakw Island Tower. Can you give me an update on the weather? Over.”
Arthur entered, cowboy hat askew. “Howdy, chaps! Mind if I keep you company? Mum sent me away. Up here, I mean.”
“How kind of her,” Douglas said.
“Kwakwaka'wakw Tower to Gulf Echo Romeo Tango India. Weather’s clear to patches of cloud. Over.”
Martin bit his lip. “Thanks, Kwakwaka'wakw Tower. Over and out.” Martin glanced at Douglas. “I don’t like the looks of that. Divert?”
Douglas took a moment to appreciate that Martin no longer high-handedly gave orders and expected him to follow. Instead, he had begun taking advantage of Douglas’ vast flying experience, consulting him before making decisions. The lad’s growing up, he thought with fondness. “Definitely, Captain. Just to be safe.”
Martin radioed their new course. “Amazing, you wanting the safe option,” he jibed, but his heart wasn’t in it.
“In my hands, I’ll never steer you wrong, my captain,” Douglas joked. “Our cargo is much too precious.”
“Lord Leverhulme is a great customer,” Arthur commented.
“He means himself,” Martin said. He pressed the ‘Fasten Seatbelts’ button. “Arthur, you might want to -”
“You wound me to the quick,” Douglas said. “My luck takes care of itself.” G-ERTI bucked in a gust and rain rattled against the windshield. “But I’ll always do my best to take care of the immortal’s beloved.” He smiled his most melting smile for Martin but turned his attention back to the controls.
“Praise the skies,” Martin snapped, swaying as another gust pushed against G-ERTI. “Your self-interest and need to collect favours will keep me alive. I am thrilled to know I’ll never die on your watch, just because my husband’s a god.”
“No, not quite like that,” Douglas said.
“Skip’s right, though,” Arthur chimed in unexpectedly. “You ought to remember that Skip’s married, Douglas.” He stood with legs braced against the flight deck door.
“What? Are you saying I flirt with him?” Douglas feigned astonishment.
“You do!” Martin said.
“I flirt with everyone!”
“Yeah, but have you ever thought about what would happen if Skip’s husband decided he didn’t like it?” Arthur said. “I mean, that could be bad. Really, really bad.”
Martin made a small noise and Douglas flicked quick glance at him. Martin’s eyes were wide and apprehensive, head swivelling between Douglas and Arthur. The plane bucked again and Douglas swore under his breath, slowing airspeed. Lightning flashed. “We’re not going to get around or over this, Captain. Captain? Martin. Call the ATC again.”
Martin blinked and fumbled to obey. “Gulf Tango India to Kwakwaka'wakw Tower. Be advised we are experiencing a heavy storm and -” A crack of thunder drowned out his words. “Kwakwaka'wakw Tower. did you hear that? Check the weather again, and don’t tell me it’s clear. Over!” Martin’s voice cracked.
The ATC came back, voice flat. “The weather was fine. Now there’s a localised storm cell centred around your area. Gulf Tango India, did you piss off someone up high? Be advised we’re keeping an eye on you. Over.”
“Understood. Over and out.” Martin turned to Douglas, frantic. “Douglas, tell me you did the offering.”
Douglas felt a twinge of guilt. “You know I don’t pray.”
“You told me you made at least made offerings! Did you not even do that?” Martin made a frustrated noise. “For the gods’ sake, Douglas!” He grabbed his armrests and dug his fingers in as G-ERTI tilted. Arthur yelped as he overbalanced and fell. Douglas strained against the yoke with all his strength, fighting to keep G-ERTI level.
“Chaps. Um. What is that?” Arthur quavered from the floor.
A huge dark eye, the dark infinities within lit with flashes of lightning, was regarding them with avian interest through the windshield.
“Oh, shit,” Martin whispered. Douglas heartily concurred. “Thunderbird.”
“Um. Wow,” Arthur said, though he still sounded scared. “Hello. Nice to meet you?”
There was several deafening cracks sound as Thunderbird clacked his beak. Trickster. Raven-friend. I see you.
Arthur whined and scrabbled to flatten himself against the rear of the flight deck. “No, no, that’s not me! Douglas, make it go away!”
“I can’t,” Douglas gritted. He blinked hard, trying to clear the purple dots in his vision from the bright flashes. His arms ached as he fought the controls. ears ringing with rolls of thunder as the god slowly beat its wings to keep pace with them. Martin reached for his own, adding his meagre strength to the battle to keep G-ERTI from tipping on her wing.
“I can! I can do it! Control, Douglas give it to me!” Martin tightened his grip.
“Martin, are you sure?” Douglas had never felt this powerless in his existence.
Douglas took a shaking breath. “You have it, Captain.” Douglas turned over G-ERTI and all souls within to Martin’s grasp.
The flight smoothed out, the strain of G-ERTI’s engines winding down as the wind died away. The great eye winked once and disappeared as the clouds evaporated, leaving them flying in bright sunshine. Douglas exhaled all his tension in one long breath. “I take it you did an offering, then.”
“Last night,” Martin said, hands still tight around the steering column. “Lucky for us.”
“Yes,” Douglas said. “That was a blessing. Well done, Captain.”
Arthur straightened himself up. “Uh. That was… that was kind of brilliant. I guess. I just met a god.” His laugh was thready. “Mum was right. I don’t think I want to get that close to another one again.”
“Yeah,” Martin said. “I know how you feel.”
"All things considered," Douglas said, "I'll be glad when we're out of Canada and home again."
[13th of Metageitnion, Year 1 of the 697th Olympiad, summer]
“Sweet, I’m just glad to have you back home and safe,” Eros said. They were ensconced in their bed chamber with the draperies shut, enclosing them in their cosy space. “Thank skies you’d remembered the offerings. Your work is hazardous, going into other gods’ territories so often.”
“It wasn’t as if I’d done it on purpose,” Martin said, voice dragging with tiredness. “You’d asked me to do it the night before, after all. Thank the gods and you. I’m glad it served two purposes.”
“Poor dear,” Eros said. He brushed Martin’s hair back and kissed his temple. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Just exhausted. And hot,” Martin said. “Can we open the bed draperies? It’s stifling in here.”
“I’m sorry, love,” Eros said. Martin sighed, expecting the answer but still disappointed. Eros thrust down the twinge of guilt at the sound. “Lie back, darling, let me take care of you.”
Martin settled against the pillows with the sheet pulled to his waist. “You always do,” he said, voice low. “You’re always there for me.”
“Yes, love,” Eros said. He manifested a wing and began to gently fan his love’s flushed skin, watching Martin’s face relax into sleep. His finger traced the outline of Martin’s outflung arm on the bedclothes, not quite touching him. Something was not right. After he’d sorted his problems with MJN and Douglas, Martin’s spark had been growing, burning ever brighter as his happiness and contentment grew. It had blazed during their reunion in Kamloops and Eros had been certain that Martin would at last declare his love. But now that gorgeous light was dimming and brightening in a worrying fashion even as he slept. Martin’s eyes twitched beneath closed lids. His brow creased and he turned on his side, curling away from Eros.
“Bad dreams, Martin?” Eros murmured. He let his wing go insubstantial and lay behind his husband, echoing the curve of Martin’s body yet careful not to settle against him lest Martin overheat. But he did not resist the need to rest a hand on Martin’s bare back over his heart. “I wish you’d tell me what’s wrong.”
[14th of Metageitnion, Year 1 of the 697th Olympiad, summer]
Carolyn breezed into the office followed by Arthur. “Two more bookings for Metageitnion! Hera bless impatient rich tourists and their lucrative need to drink frilly cocktails abroad.”
Douglas groaned. “Carolyn, I thought we had agreed that we would have a break mid-month.”
“Agreed? No, you suggested it and I said we’d see. Now we do,” Carolyn said, crossing out the tentative holiday on the schedule and filling in several blocks. “I’m sure you don’t need to be told who pays your salary, Douglas.”
Douglas subsided with a disgruntled expression.
Martin joined her. “New York… and Miami? Are we booking more overnight flights?”
“Yes, but I don’t take flights based on my pilot’s preferences, I take them based on money,” Carolyn said.
“Oh, no, that’s fine,” Martin said. “I wanted to have more.”
Douglas lifted a brow. “Are you sure, Martin?” His expression indicated that Martin was forgetting something. “Won’t your husband mind?”
Martin faced him, face mutinous. “Why would he? He promised I could fly; why shouldn’t I have my freedom? If you need me, Carolyn, I’d be up for single pilot flights as well. No need for Douglas to work so hard when he’s so clearly set against it.”
“I resent that,” Douglas said mildly.
Arthur smiled with happiness. “It’ll be brilliant, Skip. That way I can spend more time with you!”
“Yeah, all the livelong day,” Martin said. “Won’t that be splendid.”
Douglas pursed his lips at Martin’s sarcasm but let the matter drop. “Fair enough.”
“Sweet, how was your day at the office?”
“Fine. Fine. It was fine. Carolyn’s got us booked pretty solidly for the rest of the month.”
“Oh. No holiday, then?”
“It doesn’t look that way. S-sorry.”
“I profess I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to turning your sleep schedule backwards so we could spend our nights in more pleasant activities. Athletic ones, even. Our very own Bedchamber Games. The raspberries will be in full season, and I had such plans.”
“Yeah. I suppose so. It’s too bad, I mean.”
“...Is it? Weren’t you looking forward to it as well?”
“Of, of course I was, Eros. You know how I enjoy them. Our... our nights. I’m sorry, I’m babbling. It’s been a long day.”
“Ah. I’m keeping you from your beauty sleep. Rest then, darling.”
“Take care! Thank you for flying with MJN!” Carolyn’s smile dropped as soon as the last drink-sodden reveller was poured into the waiting taxi. “That’s it. No more. I’m blacklisting all double-barrelled surnames from the client list hereafter.”
Martin pulled off his cap with a sigh, running his hands through his curls. Arthur’s normal smile was sagging with strain. “I won’t object if you do,” Martin said.
“Banned until the next lucrative booking, anyway,” Douglas said. Carolyn scowled but did not deny it.
“Well, all’s well that doesn’t end with vomit on the seats. Arthur, don’t linger with the hoovering tonight. I want nothing less than a sublethal dose of gin and tonic and a hot bath.”
“To each their own vice,” Douglas said.
“I’ll help Arthur,” Martin said. “If you want to go home, I’ll finish up the forms too. I can run Arthur back to your place in my car.”
“Really, Skip? That’d be great,” Arthur said, smile perking up. “Because it’s going to take forever to get up all the crackers trodden into the carpet.”
“Don’t you want to get home to hubby? It’ll be dark by the time you finish,” Douglas said. Martin grimaced at the nickname but shook his head. Douglas sighed in self-sacrifice. “I’ll handle the paperwork, then.”
Carolyn eyed him. “Really, Douglas. That’s unexpected of you.”
“Can’t have Martin winning all the favour, can I? He can tell his god all about how I saved him time and sent him home early to his loving arms.”
“Oh, shut up, Douglas! I’m not going to say anything of the sort.”
“Fine, I’ll leave you two to squabble. I’m off to my well-deserved drink,” Carolyn said. “I’ll see you the day after next for the Miami trip, lackies.” She left.
Douglas sat and began working through the forms at a glacial pace. Martin was acting peculiar again, and he hoped to pin him down as to why. Martin had gone silent again during work, but it was not quite the deep misery Douglas had seen before. Introspective, and if Douglas had to put a name to it, he would’ve said Martin was sad. It would be a simple matter to distract Arthur to allow him a moment to interrogate Martin.
Half an hour’s work saw him still waiting for Martin and Arthur to finish with G-ERTI, twiddling a pen over the finished papers and utterly bored. He stretched, yawned, and stood to relieve his legs. He was considering whether he might entrap Martin another day when he heard voices approaching outside the Portakabin.
“You’re not mad, are you, Skip?” Arthur sounded worried.
“No. No, I’m not, Arthur. Not at all. No. But… but it’s a lot to take in, what you said.”
Four ‘no’s’ must mean Martin’s in a state, Douglas thought. Hm. He crept closer to the door, hand on the knob.
“I’m sorry, Skip. I was, well. Just trying to look out for everyone. And you. I didn’t mean to… Sorry.”
“It’s… It’s fine, Arthur. We’re good.”
There was a pause, and Douglas just had to see. He opened the door. “Martin, I’ve just finished…” His voice trailed off. Martin drew himself from Arthur’s enthusiastic embrace, red-faced and wheezing slightly.
“Douglas!” Martin licked his lips. *Wh-what do you want?”
Douglas didn’t blink, he just stared at Martin with hard eyes. “I was just saying all the t’s are crossed, i’s have been dotted and we are free to go.” He glanced at Arthur. “Arthur, I’d like to talk with Martin a minute.”
“Sure thing, Douglas,” Arthur said. Martin hesitated but passed Arthur his car keys.
Douglas scarcely waited until Arthur was out of earshot before he spoke. “Arthur? Really, Martin? After Arthur’s little comment about the wrath of your husband being ‘really, really bad’ for those who trifle with you, is that wise of him? But it is Arthur, after all.”
Martin lifted his chin and didn’t back down. “Maybe it wasn’t you he was worried about. He cares about me.”
“What, don’t tell me he’s thinking of you! Do you have no sense of self-preservation?” Douglas shot back. “Your husband is not going to be pleased if he hears about you flinging yourself into the arms of others!”
“Yes, because that’s just the way I want to live! Always worried that my husband is going to do something to my friends or myself if I step out of line!” Martin shouted back. “I refuse to live like that. And I... I trust him so it’s not going to happen! What do you know about him, anyway?”
“I’m worried about you, you little idiot. I’m trying to protect you from a bad choice,” Douglas snarled.
“Funny how no one thinks I can take care of myself,” Martin said. “Not… not you, not Arthur, not even my husband. Anyway, Arthur’s… Arthur’s a good guy, and he’s not some mistake. He’s fine, we’re fine. If it’s a mistake, it’s mine to make. And it’s none of your business, Douglas.”
Martin’s face crumbled. To Douglas’ horror, he looked as if he were on the verge of tears. But to his relief, Martin gathered himself together. “Please, Douglas. I know we’re friends now. I think. I hope. But I don’t want to talk about this. You’re wrong.”
Douglas held up his hands in appeasement. “All right. Fine.”
Martin nodded, looking at the tips of his shoes. “Good.”
“Martin,” Douglas said. Martin lifted his head. “You are. My friend,” Douglas clarified at Martin’s confusion. “In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’re… you are my best friend.” He essayed a smile. “Not that that’s saying much, considering how my circle of acquaintances has shrunk since I left Air Britannia.”
Martin’s return smile was no more than a twitch of his lips, but it was real. “Thank you.”
“Martin,” Douglas said again as Martin turned away. Martin paused, eyes questioning. “Arthur’s not the only one who looks out for you. But if it bothers you, I’ll stop.”
Martin’s smile was bigger this time. “You don’t mother me with Toblerone the way Arthur does. But it’s okay.” He lifted a hand in farewell and walked to his car, long shadow trailing behind in the light of Fitton Airfield’s flood lamps.
Douglas touched a finger to his brow in salute. His own smile fell away. “Martin. Martin, what are you doing?” he asked the air.
Martin parked his car the garage, killed the engine and sat in the darkness. He put his head against the steering wheel and vented a pained sound. Oh, gods, what am I going to do? Anger and outrage mingled with hurt and love, sitting in his stomach like a ball of snakes. What to do, what to do. He couldn’t escape - not because he was afraid or upset, but because… Martin swallowed an uprush of sentiment. No rash acts, he needed to think. Think what to do.
Stubborn, his dad had called him. Determined, Eros had said. Well, if he could wrangle an apology from… from Douglas, bargain a salary out of Carolyn and win concessions from a god, then he could handle this.
He just needed time.
He climbed from the car, aching all over in a way that had nothing to do with exertion. Closing the garage door behind, he put his back against it and looked at the silhouette of his house against the night sky. He’d gone up the path so often now he could do it in the dark with his eyes closed. Funny, considering his life. Was Eros even now inside? Was he waiting with his lovely warm voice, his humour, his skilled hands and intoxicating body? Martin had grown used to the swell of contentment he had upon coming home. Home. It was his home, their home, they’d made it together. But Martin now dreaded going inside, couldn’t think what he’d say to his husband.
Act as if nothing’s bothering you. Okay, that’s almost impossible but… If I’m not around… he’s going to wonder. But I won’t have to, have to lie. Or talk much. Oh gods, please don’t let him ask me what’s wrong, I can’t handle his kindness now. Not now.
What am I going to do?
Think. He needed to think what to do. No more flying blind.
Martin clenched his hand until the keys dug into the soft skin of his palm. Taking a deep breath, he straightened up and went into his house.
Previous / Next