Show You A SunsetAuthor:
The problem with Douglas Richardson is not just that he lies to everyone, though admittedly that doesn't help at all. No, the real problem is that 'everyone' sometimes includes Douglas.
The problem with Martin Crieff is that he can sometimes be certain that Douglas is lying, but he never quite knows for sure if Douglas is telling the truth.
The problem with the night before was always going to be the morning after.Notes
Sequel to Sorting Out Martin's Little Problem
and Chase Away Those Restless Fears
In which the story turns a little more difficult.
Douglas was woken by the muffled ring of a mobile phone. Not his.
There was a naked face down body sprawled in the bed next to him. He looked at it in surprise. Oh. Martin. Of course. Which made it Martin's phone on the floor under a pile of clothing.
Douglas retrieved it, glanced at the caller ID, thumbed it off. Martin hadn't stirred. It was barely seven am.
Martin's breathing was steady, relaxed. Asleep. The covers were wrapped around his waist. A shoulderbone jutted sharp under tight skin, the other arm curled over his head, revealing a tuft of ginger hair in the exposed armpit. A shadow of stubble lay across his chin. Douglas had imagined, inasmuch as he'd thought about it at all, that it would be pretty similar to waking up next to a woman. It wasn't.
No time to contemplate that now. Carolyn would give up on Martin's phone soon, which probably meant she'd try his. Douglas slid carefully out of the bed, dropped his mobile into his dressing gown pocket and padded through to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
"Carolyn?" It wasn't hard to fake that just woken up sound.
"What? I've no idea. Have you lost him?"
"He's not answering his phone. Did you upset him last night?" She sounded more irritated than usual.
Douglas yawned, lied. "No, didn't see him at all, not after your helpful little intervention. He's probably in the van. He does have to eat." He paused briefly, picturing himself looking at the alarm clock. "It's seven am, Carolyn. Did you really have to wake me up?"
"We have a job. Sofia and back."
That was outrageous. "No. No, Carolyn. Absolutely not. I'm not going to let you start booking last minute jobs for my day off. Cancel it."
"Certainly not. This client is paying extra for the inconvenience."
"Really? And how much of this extra is going to find its way into the pocket of the inconvenienced pilots?"
"There might be a bonus..." she suggested, reluctantly.
"No. There will be a bonus. A large one."
"How much does it take to get you out of bed, Douglas?"
This particular morning? Part of him jumped at the excuse to hurry past the awkward moment when Martin woke. Another part had no time for work right now.
"A surprisingly large amount, I think you'll find. This might be considered a precedent, Carolyn. I'm not selling out my few mornings in bed cheap."
He snorted derision. "A thousand. Each."
"Don't be utterly ridiculous."
"Why not? I don't want to fly today, remember. How much extra are you getting from this client?"
A pause before she sighed. "Three thousand over normal rate."
"That's easy then. We'll take half. You're still fifteen hundred up on the deal, plus your normal profit margin. Or you can ring him and tell him no."
"MJN is not a profit sharing co-operative, Douglas!"
"Fine. In that case I don't co-operate. Good morning and goodbye."
He hung up, tugged the dressing gown closer around him, waited for the phone to ring again. A delay meant she was trying Martin's turned-off phone again.
The phone rang on cue and he picked it up. "Seven fifty each, Carolyn."
"Seven fifty. Or I go back to bed."
"Only if you can find Martin."
Not as difficult as she might imagine. "I'll find him. What time's the flight?"
Ten was...oh hell. There was an empty wine bottle on the kitchen windowsill. Douglas did a quick calculation that he hadn't needed for almost a decade. Ten am was marginal. He'd have flown without a twinge of conscience, undoubtedly. Equally certainly, Martin wouldn't.
"Can't be there before 11.30. Twelve o'clock flight, earliest."
"Douglas!" Carolyn was sharp. "Whatever it is, cancel it. It's not worth the money. Ten am flight."
"I can't." It was Martin who couldn't, but he couldn't tell her that. He cast around for a story that would convince her, thought of something, winced internally, said it anyway because it was all he could think of.
"If you really must know, I have an appointment at court with the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs Richardson. It could cost a great deal more than that to miss it. You know the drill, Carolyn."
The discomfort in his voice wasn't faked. He hated talking about Helena and the divorce, even as distraction. There would be no court hearings for this one; nothing worth paying lawyers for, no children, a short marriage, no assets to speak of except the house. They would sell that, split the proceeds, have done with it, and he'd soon enough get used to waking alone. Again.
Somehow he imagined that Carolyn's divorces had been rather more tempestuous.
Her voice was a touch less strident than usual. "God spare me from pilots with personal lives. I'll talk to the client and get back to you. You find Martin."
Douglas pocketed the silent phone. "Hello Martin, we're flying to Sofia in a few hours" wasn't exactly his normal morning charm offensive, but this wasn't exactly a normal morning. Coffee. That might help.
Carolyn called back as he was making it to confirm the noon flight and an overnight stay. He took two hot mugs into the bedroom. Martin didn't seem to have moved. Still in his bed. Still very much male.
It was unthinkable to allow an overnight guest to feel less than entirely welcome in the morning. He certainly wasn't going to give Martin any reason to indulge in those insecurities the man seemed so attached to. Which meant waking the man up in a rather more friendly fashion than just standing by the bed. He shrugged off the dressing gown, slid under the covers next to the sleeping figure, draped an arm very carefully across his back.
Martin shifted without waking. The skin on his back was cool and smooth. Douglas's hand started kneading across one bare shoulder, automatic, digging his fingers into unfamiliarly hard muscle. "Coffee?" he murmured into Martin's ear.
A small questioning noise, and Martin wriggled slightly, up against Douglas's body, Warm and very much human. Douglas felt the start of arousal at the touch of naked skin with more dismay than relief. He'd hoped, without any real expectation of success, to avoid this. Apparently not. Just like last night, when his physical responses really hadn't been the problem.
"Coffee, Captain Crieff," he repeated, keeping his tone light.
"What?" A pause. "Douglas." The body had stilled, tense under his hand. For a second he felt a spike of annoyance. Of course Martin couldn't make this easy. Then he told himself firmly that this had been his inestimably stupid idea all along, not Martin's. His responsibility to get them both, or at least Martin, out of this unscathed. He smoothed his hand across the small of the other man's back.
"Very well observed, or possibly remembered. And again I say, Coffee?"
"Oh. Yes. Is it late?"
"Not at all. Decorative as you undoubtedly are, I just thought your company would be more interesting awake than asleep."
"Oh." He could almost feel Martin blush. "Yes, coffee please." Martin rolled over, away from him, sat up, knuckles brushing the sleep out of his eyes. It was oddly fetching, in its way.
"Here." Douglas pulled himself up to sit next to Martin, not quite touching thighs, took a sip of his own drink. "The bad news is that Carolyn, bless her mercenary soul, has decided we're going to Bulgaria today. The good news is that we don't need to be at the airfield for another three and a half hours. And thanks to my superior negotiating skills and her desperation we're getting an eyewateringly enormous bonus for it."
"We're flying? But I drank far too much last night, and I've got to get home to change..."
"Relax. By twelve there won't be a trace of alcohol in your bloodstream, and there's plenty of time to get you home first. Just think of the bonus. Everything is fine." Nearly. Everything except Douglas.
"This is a little bit awkward." Martin commented, quietly.
"Not really." Lying was an essential skill when dealing with Martin. "If you have nothing pressing it would be civilised of you to stay for breakfast. Nothing else is expected."
Martin looked down at his mug. "You don't want..."
No, he didn't. But this wasn't a time to say so.
"After last night? You're not seriously doubting my enthusiasm?" He flattered himself that he'd done a very good job of concealing the point at which things had gone way outside his comfort zone. Not Martin's fault in the slightest. Maybe, it occurred to him for the first time, he should have owned up at the time. He could hardly do it now.
"Yes," Martin said, thoughtfully. "You were...I rather expected you to be a bit less... I guess I thought you were straighter than that."
Spot on. He was. And he'd done it anyway, and he was consequently not enjoying this conversation at all. Douglas laughed, carelessly,
"Never underestimate my versatility, Martin. It was fun." It had been a great deal of fun at the start, but gradually his sense of unease had taken over and by the end it hadn't been any fun at all. Hot, yes. God knows he hadn't tried to stop. Just not fun.
At first he'd applied himself without difficulty to the more undoubtedly male parts of anatomy with no more than amused curiosity and the comfortable heat of kissed arousal. It hadn't been that, or even Martin's surprisingly confident ripostes with hands and lips that had done it.
It had been later than that; all the small things adding up. The barely noticeable adam's apple as Martin arched his neck under his teeth. The strength of the grip around his erection. The slight, unexpected taste across his tongue. The hardness of muscle and the absence of soft curves. Most of all, not knowing quite what to murmur, what to do, because this was a man, was Martin, for God's sake; neither a girlfriend nor a casual shag. The whole idea had stopped being amusing just around then.
He hadn't stopped, though. He hadn't even toned it down. In pure bloody stubbornness and uncomfortably sharp desire he'd talked Martin into screwing him and he'd come gasping with a man penetrating him and a man's hand around him and it had been hot as hell, and he'd wanted to throw up and he didn't really understand why. It had answered one question, at least. He really was 100% straight.
"Yeah. Fun. It was. I enjoyed it." Martin was a little less effusive than Douglas might have expected. "Breakfast would be very nice. What time's the flight?"
"Twelve." Was that it? Surely Martin was up for a little more action, both naked in bed as they were. Douglas was sure that he'd been pretty damn good last night. Even if he hadn't enjoyed it, Martin definitely had. Hadn't he?
Maybe Martin just needed some encouragement. Not to actually do anything because Douglas really didn't want that, but just to make sure that everything was all right. He put down the empty mug, slid his hand onto a bare knee, under the covers. Martin glanced down, looked straight back at Douglas.
"Would it be all right if I had a shower?"
Ouch. That was as strong a brush-off as Douglas could remember receiving for years."Of course. I'll get you a towel."
Breakfast was subdued. Douglas did his best to entertain but Martin pleaded a hangover and the need for a little more sleep before working. Douglas dropped him back home shortly after nine, spent an hour or so sorting out the car insurance and was at the airfield on time, for once.
Carolyn was not in a good mood either. "Martin! What is wrong with your phone? I've been trying to call you all morning!"
Martin looked bewildered. "It's..." he pulled it from a pocket, looked down. "Turned off. I've no idea how that happened."
"Wonderful. A pilot with no grasp of technology whatsoever. I imagine that we don't have a flight plan yet."
"I've done it." Douglas offered.
"Well, that's something. You're on your own today. Arthur's at some sort of convention for enthusiasts and I have a date."
Douglas nearly choked. "You have a date? After commandeering my day off?"
"I don't need to go to Bulgaria to get my money. I just need to get you to go to Bulgaria. Which I've done. Did you win, by the way?"
Win what? Oh, the fake court hearing. "I think I came out pretty much on top, yes." And change the subject, "A convention for enthusiasts of what?"
"Just enthusiasts, as far as I can tell. Arthur's a founding member. Here are the clients. Be nice to them; they have your bonus."
After take-off Douglas went back to make sure the passengers were settled, brought drinks back to the flight deck.
"Thanks." Martin glanced at him briefly, then away. This wasn't going to do. There was really no reason for them to be awkward. Douglas had opened his mouth to say something of the sort when Martin got in first.
"On top of what?"
"I'm sorry?" That one threw him completely.
"Carolyn asked if you'd won. You said you'd come out on top. Of what?" He sounded unreasonably distrustful. Surely he couldn't still think this had been some sort of bet?
"Oh, that. I told her I'd had a court hearing this morning. The divorce."
"Really?" Martin's voice was shaking slightly, "I'm expected to believe that, am I? After this morning? Either you lied to her or to me."
Douglas didn't appreciate that tone at all. He snapped back, "For heaven's sake! Do you have any idea how paranoid you're sounding? She wanted us to fly at ten. But one of us had been drinking, remember? I was covering your back, 'Captain'."
"No you weren't. 'One of us' is not an alcoholic. I have a perfect right to a few glasses of wine the night before my day off and if Carolyn had spoken to me I'd have told her why the flight needed to be delayed. But she didn't get to speak to me, did she, Douglas? Because you turned my phone off!"
Martin had just called him an alcoholic. Had absolutely no damn right to do that at all. The man knew nothing at all about it, about him. Douglas was struggling to keep his temper.
"I turned your phone off because you're a lousy liar. Thirty seconds and Carolyn would have known exactly where you were!"
He'd just forgotten about it after that. Which wasn't a crime.
"And you couldn't have that, could you? It's all right to play at being gay as long as no-one catches you at it? Is that it?" Martin's voice was becoming shriller as he jumped incoherently from accusation to accusation. Douglas's temper snapped.
"I prefer to keep my one-night stands private, as it happens. Particularly the less satisfactory ones. But I should have guessed you'd be the clinging type."
Martin whirled upon him, face white. "I should have known better than to trust a single word you said. Believe me, I've never felt less like clinging to anyone. All I want to do is forget last night as fast as possible."
That after everything he'd gone through not to hurt the ungrateful bastard's feelings; Douglas was truly furious. "Fine by me. It was hardly unforgettable, after all."
The rest of the flight went by in silence.
When Douglas entered the flight deck next morning Martin had his head buried in a manual.
"Good morning, Martin." He wasn't sulking all the way home. Martin could, if he liked, but Douglas was an adult.
"Morning," Martin looked up, flashed a quick smile that went nowhere near his eyes. "Okay?"
"Yes, I believe so. Gertie OK?"
"Oh yes. Just checking on something else. We're good to go."
Good to go would do. There was no need to allude to anything else after all.
Nonetheless somewhere over the endless German forests things turned a little awkward.
"Did you have a good night last night, then?" He had honestly only been making conversation at that point.
"Not bad, I suppose," Martin said. It was the poor attempt at casual that immediately got Douglas's attention.
"Find somewhere decent to eat? Bulgarian food's hardly my favourite."
"Just the hotel restaurant," Martin looked out over the plane's nose. "Met up with someone I know, as it happens."
Who did Martin know? Not one of his liaisons, surely? "Sounds good. Propping up the bar all evening, then?" They hadn't been; he knew that. He'd been in there.
"No." Martin seemed slightly hesitant. "He had some stuff to show me."
"So, his room then." Douglas said, without inflexion.
A pause. "Yes."
Douglas took a breath, nauseated. Martin had let someone- some man, some near stranger- touch him, spread his legs, bring him off. "It's none of my business, but..."
"No, it's not." Martin snapped.
"Yes, maybe it is my business. MJN's business." Martin was such an idiot. Someone needed to look out for him. "You do know they're just using you, don't you? They think you're a cheap slut. Do try to remember that it's all our reputations that are affected when you go bedhopping."
"Your reputation?" Martin sounded outraged. "Douglas Richardson's reputation is going to be tarred by my sexual exploits? I hardly think so. Who was the woman last night, Douglas?"
Ah. "What woman?"
"You've taken off your wedding ring and there's a mark on your neck that I certainly didn't put there. And you accuse me of immorality. That's got to take some explaining." Martin was a small terrier worrying flesh.
Douglas lounged back in the co-pilot's chair, acting unconcerned. "My reputation has been established for a very long time. Every so often I have to do something to keep it on the active list."
"Yes, sure. So after months of inactivity you decide to go for it on the very night after you sleep with me. Proving what to whom, exactly?"
"I thought we had agreed to forget that ever happened." Douglas was on the back foot and he knew it.
"That happened. Your thoroughly heterosexual thing last night happened. While I spent all yesterday evening reading a dreadful detective novel set on an Airbus 380, not that it is any of your business at all, Douglas Richardson. Shall we talk about sluts now?"
He'd been lied to. By Martin Crieff. And he hadn't spotted it. Indignation rapidly gave way to caution. He'd lost the upper hand, somewhere in this argument. Best to retreat gracefully, if he could.
"l apologise, in that case. I was under the not entirely unreasonable misapprehension that you were telling the truth."
"Did you sleep with her?"
"Really, Martin! Am I not permitted any privacy?" They'd necked for some time in the hotel bar, in full view of the foyer. Martin hadn't come past. Then she'd come up to his room and soft breasts and perfumed skin had for a while been enough to shake off the uneasy memory of what had happened with Martin. For a while. He'd been glad that she hadn't stayed the night.
"Oh, have your privacy. I don't care. I'm far less interested in your sex life than you seem to be in mine."
"That's hardly surprising, is it? Mine passes for normal." Douglas retorted.
Martin went an odd shade of pink and speechless at that. Damn. Douglas really shouldn't have said that, however much he'd been thinking it. Modern rules. One had to pretend, these days, that what Martin did with other men was not even slightly perverse. Not disturbing.
"Ah. That wasn't quite what I meant." He tried an apologetic smile.
"It was exactly what you meant." Martin was barely audible. "It explains a lot."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I should have known what sort of 'curious' you were." He sounded far too quiet, far too resigned. "That's why you were faking it so badly in the morning. Why you picked up that girl." He didn't look across at Douglas at all.
Douglas realised that this had become a little more serious. "Martin! Don't be stupid! I've never had any problems with you being gay. You can swing from the chandeliers with half the UK's flying crew as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't matter to me." He reached out to the man's shoulder, to make him listen, and Martin jerked away as if hit.
"Five minutes ago you called me a slut purely because my supposed partner was a man. You're lying again and I'm tired of it, Douglas. I'm tired of you and your games and your prejudices and your endless, endless self serving lies. I just want to forget the whole thing." He was swiping the back of his hand across his eyes, unselfconsciously. "Just don't ever touch me again."
'Why would I want to?' hovered on Douglas's lips, stayed unsaid. Maybe, he thought, he was just being kind. Kinder than Martin's hysterics deserved.
Five weeks later and things were, if not back to normal, at least superficially OK. The long silences on flights were now being filled with the usual round of games and oneupmanship. But Martin was more nervous than ever, stuttering painfully through the simplest of conversations, continually looking over his shoulder. As if, Douglas thought, utterly disgusted, he was about to molest him. As if he'd want to.
It was bad enough to have become so aware of the man, physically. There were times when he caught himself watching slender fingers moving across the console, the glimpses of the nape of his Captain's neck, the shape of his mouth when he sulked, until he caught himself and felt vaguely sickened. He wanted rid of these perverse reminders of their mutual mistake. It made him more irritable than usual with Martin's hopeless floundering.
Tonight had started off better. He'd got back to the hotel in Rome quite late but cheerful; there had been opera, and a chance to shake off the poor mood he seemed to have been in for weeks. He glanced into the bar as he passed to see Martin siting at a corner table with another man, laughing.
Not again. Douglas's good mood evaporated. As he paused, watching, Martin pushed aside empty glasses, started to get up without a twitch or hesitation. He looked more relaxed than he'd been for weeks. Douglas ducked back, out of sight. Without conscious decision he followed the men upstairs, at a distance, saw them disappear into the stranger's room.
He hovered outside, indecisive. He couldn't possibly knock. What would he say? But the thought of just walking away seemed wrong. What if this one was another bastard like Clough? Martin was far too naive, far too easily charmed with a few sweet words. He'd done it himself, and look how badly that had turned out.
He'd paced past the answer twice before he saw it. Not this corridor; he walked swiftly round the corner, checked the next corridor was empty and quickly smashed his elbow into the red symbol on the glass.
"Well. This is entertaining. At least it isn't cold."
Martin jerked around. "Douglas." He looked nervous again. "Er, no. Do you think there's actually a fire?"
"In the sort of hotel we get booked into? Probably every other night, just so they can rifle through our rooms. Hopefully they won't keep us out here for too long. I can see the muggers gathering in a pack for the kill."
"This is brilliant!" Arthur, bouncy as ever. "I don't normally get to wear my pyjamas around other people! Do you like them?"
"Very stylish, yes, Arthur. I don't know why you don't wear them on our passenger flights. They'd be sure to raise our customers' spirits."
"Thank you, Douglas!" Carolyn glared at him."If you knew the hours I've spent talking him out of doing just that."
"What do they say?" Martin asked, and Arthur waved a leg enthusiastically in his face. "'Warning, contents may be hot.' Oh. Right,"
"Because that's what it says on the flight drinks. So it would be really good to wear while serving them on Gertie. And of course it means that I'm hot. Underneath them. Which is..."
"Far more than we needed to know, Shut up, Arthur. I think we should assume the fire, if there ever was a fire, is out and go back inside." Carolyn clearly didn't appreciate the late night rendezvous in the dark and narrow street.
Douglas took the opportunity to look around. Martin's 'friend' was lurking at a distance trying to look anonymous. Coward. Douglas kept up a string of chatter as they followed Carolyn back inside, keeping close to Martin. All their rooms were in the same corridor; would Martin have the nerve to break ranks?
No, Martin didn't. Douglas tailed him casually into his room, closed the door. "This is slightly bigger than mine." He twitched the curtains. "Typical back end of hotel view, though. The rubbish bins. Oh, and there's a cat."
"What are you doing?
Douglas glanced back at Martin. "I'm awake now. Shall I ring down and see if they've got a deck of cards?"
"I don;t want to play cards. It's the middle of the night!"
"Come on. A few hands of poker; it will help you sleep. Arthur will probably play, and we could even insist he dressed first."
Douglas smiled at Martin, cheerfully. "It would be better with four though; we could get a table going. Haven't got a friend anywhere around that we could ask, do you?"
"Ohhh." And the penny drops. "Get out!"
"I didn't like the look of him." Douglas sat down on the bed, looked up at the spluttering Martin.
"And you're what? My mother? This has nothing at all to do with you!"
Douglas shook his head. "We both know that's not true."
"No! No we don't! Go on, Douglas. Explain."
"Don't be tiresome."
Martin was white lipped and actually shaking with anger. "I've had enough of your bullying, Douglas. Don't think I haven't noticed the way you've been watching me for weeks, waiting for me to make mistakes. And now this. I'm not going to let you drive me out of MJN, if that's your game."
Douglas stared at him, baffled. "Why would I want to do that?"
"I don't know! You're the one who's doing it! Because you can't stand the sight of me, not after..." He trailed off then hissed at Douglas. "And you know what? I'm not going to stand for it. You can stay here and play bloody Patience. I'm going to go and get laid."
"No!" Douglas was up into the doorway. "You're not!" The thought was intolerable.
"Get out of the way, or I will bloody well hit you!" Martin had his fists clenched, looked as if he meant it.
"Oh, please do!" Because he'd floor Martin in response, pin him down, shut that annoying mouth up at last with his own... For a second Douglas grinned at the other man and then his far-too-slow brain caught up with his emotions.
"Oh. Fuck." he said aloud, sank to his knees against the door.
"Douglas?" Martin's hands uncurled, fingers flexed, uncertain.
Douglas ran a distracted hand through his hair. "Fuck." How the hell had this happened?
"Come on, get out of the way, Douglas." A pause. "Douglas?"
He looked up at Martin. "I've been rather stupid." he said, apologetically.
"Well yes, I know that." Martin was confused. "Are you going to move?"
"Because I don't want you going to bed with anyone else." And there was an understatement.
Martin shook his head. "That's got nothing to do with you."
"That's the being rather stupid bit. It appears that I have a rather more personal interest in the matter than I had realised."
Martin was just looking at him, blank at first, then understanding slowly dawning. "No."
"I'm afraid so, yes."
"No," Martin said, more definitely. "Not after everything... you can't just ... no."
"I understand it might take you a little while to get used to the idea. Hell, it's certainly going to take me a while." He was straight. Absolutely. He'd been so sure.
Martin was failing to look at all delighted. "Why should I even believe you? You always lie."
"Not always. Not this time." He was still sitting on the floor, back against the door.
"You didn't even like it. You couldn't bear to touch me next morning." Martin said, hopelessly.
Douglas almost denied it. But if he lied again...
"I had a few problems with certain aspects, admittedly."
"Because you're straight. I don't want a straight boyfriend, thank you very much. And," Martin added as an afterthought, "you lie."
Boyfriend- Douglas's stomach twisted, not entirely unpleasantly. He hadn't thought that far. He wasn't backing down, though.
"That's a little prejudiced of you, don't you think? After all I'm willing to contemplate a gay one and I'm an old-fashioned bigot."
He'd never been more grateful to raise a smile, even a faint and reluctant one. He ached to kiss it into something stronger but he didn't move. Don't touch me, Martin had said.
"Even I believed you for a second, which I don't, by the way, it can't work."
"Don't write it off till you've tried it."
Martin shook his head. "We did try it, remember?"
Oh yes. Damn. "Come on. Most of that was great. I was just... blindsided towards the end. Second time's the charm."
"No." Martin grimaced. "No. I'm not going through this again. It hurt enough last time."
Did it really? Not physically; he'd have noticed. Which implied... "Hurt how, exactly?"
Martin closed his eyes briefly. Douglas watched the way his lashes fluttered against pale skin; how could he possibly have been oblivious for so long?
"Can't you just go back to your room? Please?"
Tempting as it was to refuse, he knew he couldn't actually browbeat Martin into this. "Will you at least promise not to sleep with anyone else tonight?"
Martin sighed. "Strangely enough I'm no longer even slightly in the mood. Please go away."
Douglas climbed to his feet. "We'll talk about this tomorrow," he promised.
"Oh good." Martin said flatly. "Maybe the world will end first. I can only hope."
There had been more promising starts to courtships, admittedly, but he'd seduced Martin once; he could do so again. It wasn't as if the man could avoid him, after all. Italy to home was three hours; that would do as a start.
"And warning lights off." Douglas picked up the com. "Cabin crew..."
"Yes, I know. He's doing it." Carolyn closed the flight deck door behind her. There was very little room for a third person in here.
"Carolyn. And to what do we owe the pleasure?" She was standing holding onto the ceiling rail, looking at him. Hopefully this wouldn't take to too long. He might need all his three hours for Martin, judging from the rather attractive stubborn jut of the other man's chin
"Since you ask, thin hotel walls." He smile had no humour in it.
"Oh, Carolyn, really!" He couldn't quite believe that even Carolyn would be shameless enough to bring that up in front of Martin.
"Don't "oh really," me, Douglas Richardson. I have stayed out of this for weeks. I have absolutely no desire to know what it is you are quarrelling about, particularly if the few intelligible bits last night are anything to go by. What I do want to know is which of you will be leaving, so that I can recruit an appropriate replacement,"
She switched her gaze to Martin. "I'll leave you two alone to discuss it, shall I? Let me know by the end of the flight. I'll send Arthur up with coffee shortly. Somehow he managed to sleep through your little scene last night."
The door closed behind her with more than its usual thump.
"Well," Douglas said, with a deliberate laugh. "That was a hilarious misunderstanding, wasn't it?"
"She's right." Martin was looking straight ahead.
"Of course she isn't. We cleared this up last night. Whether or not I persuade you to let me try this again, a matter to which I intend to turn very shortly, I see no earthly reason to quarrel with you about it."
Martin sighed. "Typically Douglas. You think all you need to do is turn on a little charm to get whatever you fancy. All my reasons not... they never even cross your mind. As long as you're happy everyone's happy."
"It doesn't matter."
"It most certainly does. You're accusing me of being grossly insensitive; well, give me a chance. What reasons?"
Martin threw a hand up, gestured around. "We're working, Douglas! I'm not talking about this here! It's distracting."
"We do have to discuss it, Martin, if only to give Carolyn her answer."
Martin sighed. "I'll tell her I'll go."
Douglas was horrified at the thought. "You most certainly will not! If anyone is going, which they aren't, then I was the one who manoeuvred you into this particular succession of difficult situations and nobody takes responsibility for that except me. But I'm certainly not sacrificing a moderately decent pay packet and the chance to admire my captain's rather stunning profile every day without a considerably better explanation than you've come up with so far. So if you're not going to talk about it now, when?"
"Not another date." Martin sounded mulish.
"A conversation. Your place, my place, the pub, the art gallery, hanging around on the swings at the play park; I don't care. As long as Carolyn isn't listening in."
"Will you shut up about it now, if I agree?"
"Yes." The flight deck wasn't really Douglas's preferred venue for meaningful declarations of whatever it was he seemed to be feeling, anyway.
"Your place then. This evening. And only because it's private. No schmoozing. No food, no wine and no music, Douglas, or you can forget the whole thing."
"Understood, Captain. Shall we get on with the day job, now?"
When Carolyn returned they were in the middle of a relatively heated discussion about least plausible flight disaster movies. Douglas broke off temporarily.
"Ah, it's the personnel manager of the year. Nothing to declare, Carolyn. Move along."
She raised her eyebrows at Martin, who shrugged. "It's a bit complicated right now."
"In that case I suggest you uncomplicate it of I might just fire both of you. This is a working business, not an episode of Friends, and I do not wish to end up splattered over the side of a mountain because one of you is having another hissy fit."
"That's completely unfair!" Martin spluttered indignantly. "I don't have hissy fits while I'm flying!"
Douglas snorted. "Whereas I can go one better and assure you that I don't believe I've ever had a "hissy fit" at all. No-one is getting fired and no-one is resigning. I honestly don't know which of you two drama queens are worse. At this rate I may have to call Arthur in to impart some of his invaluable brand of common sense."
He was sure that he wasn't imagining that hint of a twitch around Martin's mouth. God, they were going to be so good together, once he persuaded Martin to be a little less suspicious, a little more appreciative of everything that he had to offer.
Carolyn took a deep breath. "Fine. Next flight's Thursday. Do try to be on speaking terms by then."
"Don't fuss. All will be entirely rosy on Thursday," Douglas declared, with only slightly more confidence than he felt. No food, no wine, no music... Martin was charmingly amateur, sometimes. Douglas's plans were already made.
Later, in the Lexus, Douglas pulled out his phone.
"Hi, just me... Yes, everything's fine, I'm about to drop by the house to pick up a couple of things...No, nothing valuable, Helena. Just some old stuff of mine for the flat...No, that's fine, I've got the key..."
He'd stop off at home then the retail park after that. It was still only just after noon, but he'd got a great deal to do.
By the time the doorbell rang at seven thirty Douglas had figured out the instructions for the espresso machine and coffee grinder, unpacked assorted large boxes and cursed assembly instructions, hidden the flattened cardboard boxes in the boot of the car and done some general redecoration.
Martin stepped inside, sniffed. "Is that fresh coffee?" he said, cautiously.
"Didn't I have the espresso machine when you were last over? I was just about to have a cup; I'll get you one." He knew exactly how Martin liked his double shot, naturally.
Martin glanced into the living room. The stark black and silver had been toned down with a couple of standard lamps, a red rug and matching throw and cushions on the sofa; Douglas had seen Martin's discomfort with the black leather. Another bookcase had appeared with incredibly tasteful ornaments sandwiched between some rather nice books, several flying-related. Douglas wasn't stupid; it was all still very much in a style that suited him, but softened a little.
"Oh!" The two framed photos on the walls were, as expected, what took Martin's attention. He stepped inside to look closer. "That's you!"
"A few years back, but yes." The photo had been taken when he'd first made captain at a proper airline; he was in uniform, windruffled, standing on the steps of the DC-10 and grinning at the camera. He looked great; younger, of course, delighted with himself, laughing at the whole idea of the photoshoot; he'd always been cynical, after all. Not cynical enough not to get the photo framed. He could remember exactly when he'd taken it down and consigned it to the attic.
The second print was of Gertie. He'd been bought a rather expensive camera one Christmas by wife? girlfriend? He couldn't remember off hand. He'd never quite got round to playing with it properly but it had been useful to take some shots of the newly painted MJN livery for the dodgy brochure. He still had them on the computer including several that hadn't been used. There was a digital framing service in town; one more item on his overstressed credit cards.
"Seems like I could be here for a while, so I've been gradually fixing the place up," he commented. "Coffee's on the table."
He looked up at the photos, grimaced. "The walls looked bare, and I had those lying around; I'm looking out for something more suitable. I see quite enough of that heap of junk already."
"I really like them," Martin said.
"You would." His smile took any sting out of the words. "You are an impossible romantic when it comes to flying." Then, more serious, "You really shouldn't settle for anything less in the rest of your life, you know, Martin."
Before Martin could formulate a reply, he went on, "Does your prohibition on food extend to biscuits? Because there's half a packet of chocolate hobnobs in the larder and I rather fancy a couple."
"I guess that's OK."
Martin took the armchair so Douglas settled on the sofa, coffee in one hand, biscuit in the other.
"So." he started, calmly."I'm listening."
Martin's eyes darted around the room, anywhere but him. "I don't think I can..."
Douglas let him tail off into silence. Then "Would you prefer it if I said my piece first?"
Martin did look at him then. "No. You've said enough already. Far too much. I'll...just give me a minute."
Douglas nodded. He didn't need Martin flustered, not right now.
Martin put down his drink, stood up, turned to examine the bookcase. With his back to Douglas he began to speak.
"I thought it had been OK, at first. Better than OK. Then...you were awful, you know. In the morning. Disappointed, I thought at first. Then I though no, more than that. Disgusted."
"Martin," Douglas interjected, quietly.
"Shut up, Douglas. Let me do this. You'd loathed touching me so much that you hadn't even been able to pretend convincingly next day. You hadn't ever wanted me; it had all been a trick. I hadn't thought you'd betray our friendship like that."
He'd pulled a book out at random, was leafing through it.
"Then you found someone else the very next night. So I thought, what the hell. I'll show him I can sleep around too. And you called me a slut, and said I was abnormal."
His voice was shaking. Douglas stayed in his seat with some difficulty. They had to do this properly.
"I knew then how much you despised me. We'd done all those things in bed, and all the time you'd despised me. I hated you. Still hate you, I guess. And you wouldn't get off my back; you were watching me all the time, maliciously. I started to hate coming to work. I've been thinking, oh, all sorts of things. Bad things. I was beginning to think I was going crazy."
Martin pushed the book back onto the shelf, with some difficulty. "Then Rich, last night- I just wanted to feel like I wasn't a freak, for a little while, but you hated me so much that you wouldn't even let me do that. You set off that alarm, didn't you?"
"Yes, but not for that reason..."
"Shut up, Douglas. We're not talking about your reasons. We're talking about mine."
"Go on, then."
"Then. Then you suddenly announce that you've decided you do fancy me, after all. And that apparently gives you the right to control my life, too. Do I get a "sorry" for everything you've put me through? All the names you've called me? No, I get "Don't sleep with anyone else." I get "Get used to the idea." I get "Try it again". I get even more harassment."
Now he'd turned back to face Douglas. "You are an inconsiderate prick, Richardson, and I don't actually like you at all. Are those enough reasons to turn down your proposition? To want to leave?"
A dozen justifications were on Douglas's tongue. He hadn't understood, after all. He'd been blindsided by the whole gay thing. Never intentionally cruel. Not controlling, just desperate. Looking at Martin's angry, miserable face he pushed them all aside.
"I'm sorry, Martin. I really am."
"You think that makes it all right?" Martin was still angry. Very angry. For the first time Douglas began to think that maybe this wouldn't turn out all right after all.
"No, I don't. I've put you through hell, and I'm sure it's no consolation to know that I've put myself through a fair amount of that too. If I'd been more honest with you that morning, we could have avoided all this."
"That's the thing, though. You're not actually capable of real honesty, are you?"
Douglas managed to avoid glancing around the living room. "Probably not, no."
Martin snorted slightly, almost amused. "I think that's technically a paradox. But points for trying, I suppose. Is this the point at which you tell me that everything will be all right if I only sleep with you?"
"That is almost certainly true, but I don't think you're in a mood to hear it. I thought I'd just ask you...ask you, mind...not to leave MJN, for now. Give me a chance to put things right. I won't harass you, though at some point in the future I may ask you, politely, if you'd be interested in taking things further. And take no for an answer, with grace."
Martin turned away again, was studying the photo of the captain on the wall. "When did you hang this up, Douglas?"
A small laugh. "Thought so. There's still traces of sawdust on the carpet. It's still a great picture. That sounds reasonable."
"However I'm not in a particularly reasonable mood today."
"Oh?" Please God, let the man agree. He'd been so close to fixing things.
"I think I deserve a little more than that for everything you've done."
"Quite possibly. What do you think you deserve?" Douglas's heart sank. What would he be trapped into agreeing to?
"Well...," Martin was stuttering slightly again. "At least I should get to see what you've done with the bedroom. Because I happen to think that everything might just be all right if I only sleep with you. I just wasn't having you saying it."
"Oh God, Crieff!" Douglas was up out of the sofa now. "You absolute bastard! You intended that all along!"
And if Martin had a response to that he didn't get a chance to deliver it.
"Does it still bother you?"
"Hmm? A little, to be honest, yes." Douglas was running his fingers around the swirl of hair above Martin's navel. "Very old dog, rather new tricks. I want you enough to get over it. I think I've just demonstrated that."
"You can't just decide to be gay. That's not going to work." Martin was starting to fret. Douglas took a breath. Honesty, tonight at least.
"That's not quite it. Long time ago, in my teens, there was someone- a boy."
"What happened?" Martin's soft voice prompted him.
"Nothing." He sighed. "I had a reputation; I was popular, successful, no shortage of girlfriends. I wasn't going to swap that for the life of a gay teenager in the 70s. I told myself it was unnatural, perverse, revolting- I quashed it pretty thoroughly. I'd forgotten all about it, to be honest; for all I knew I was completely straight.
His hand slid down, fingers pulling through light pubic hair. "I guess a few of the things I'd told myself back then have come back to bite me. I'll get over it. Practice, that's what it needs. Lots of practice."
"Oh." Martin wriggled a little closer. "That's a sad story."
"It's a stupid story. I should have shagged the boy and lied about it. Just think of all the opportunities I've missed over the years. I would have been a superbly successful bisexual. Still, better late than never."
He leaned over and kissed Martin, briefly. "Am I allowed food yet? I was going to order pizza but if you'd still regard it as schmoozing I can just not order any for you."
"Don't you dare! I'm starving. And garlic bread. If that's OK?"
"Garlic bread it is." And Douglas went hunting under their discarded clothing for his phone.
Notes: for missing bedroom sceme;Bedroom
Next and final part isMrs Richardson