Martin, Douglas, HelenaRating:
6,400Summary: "Your wife's here"Notes
Final instalment in the Sorting Out Martin's Little Problem
Martin contemplated the last slice of pizza, regretfully decided that he'd probably feel uncomfortably stuffed if he ate it. It had been rather good. He ought to offer to pay his share. He picked up the discarded leaflet, glanced at the pictures, looked thoughtfully across at Douglas sprawled on the sofa in his underwear. Make him scream...
"We should have ordered icecream." Ridiculously expensive but quite possibly worth it, in this case.
"I don't know. Something without bits in."
"Strawberry, caramel, mint, chocolate?"
If there was some in the house..."Strawberry."
Douglas stood up, headed for the bedroom and his clothes. "Back in 20 minutes."
"Oh, no- don't bother going out- it isn't important, really it isn't." Martin was instantly embarrassed.
"Ah, but now you've mentioned it I want some, and my desires are always important. Anything else I can get you while I'm out?"
That was convenient. He'd been worrying; "Yes... " and a sudden realisation of how it would sound, "I mean no." He was horrified at his near- presumption.
"You mean yes, but you think you shouldn't. Which interests me more than a little." Douglas was dressing in the bedroom, talking through the open doors. "Another minor kink, possibly? You want six satsumas, a bag of flour and a complete DVD set of the Ring Cycle? I can do that."
"No," He couldn't help smiling for a second, before his blush returned. This was useless. Douglas would pester the truth out of him. Get it over with. "I thought- though it doesn't matter, and really I'm all right going home. Fine with that. Better, probably. Almost certainly. But if by any chance I ended up... a toothbrush?"
A momentary silence. Then Douglas's deep voice, "Come hell or high water, you're not going to make it home tonight. Toothbrush it is. Any particular colour? Bristle type? Make?"
"Firm bristles. And red." He always had red toothbrushes. Martin realised too late that Douglas had been being poking fun, of course, and he'd walked right into it. "Anything. It doesn't matter."
"It's something you want. That matters to me." Douglas sounded sincere, if amused. "Back shortly." He came back into the living room for long enough to pick up his keys and kiss Martin briefly. "More of that later. Au revoir, mon enfant."
It felt odd to wander round the empty flat undressed so Martin pulled on trousers and his t-shirt before starting to tidy up the place. He was startled almost as soon as he'd begun by the doorbell.
"Hello?" He blinked at the woman on the doorstep for a moment. " Oh God, Helena, I mean, hello Helena, how lovely to see you again. Not lovely, I suppose, because of the divorce and everything, but still nice, if everything's all right. Is everything all right?"
"I'm sorry. Have we met?" Helena looked impatient. She was pretty, he thought. Long straight black hair, dark eyes, strong features, neat make-up, smart woollen coat.
"Oh, yes but it wasn't important. Not at all. Well important to me, maybe, because it was lovely to meet you, but not important to you." He was rambling hopelessly but if there was an etiquette to this situation he didn't know it. Belatedly he realised what he was supposed to be saying. "I'm Martin Crieff. I'm the capt...I work with Douglas."
"Oh, yes. Of course I remember you now. You were part of Doug's little charade." She glanced down at Martin's bare toes without comment. "Can I speak to him, please?"
"I wasn't exactly part of it." Martin pointed out, indignantly. "I didn't know anything about it until I met you."
She looked unimpressed. "Is Doug here or not?"
"No, not really. I mean he's gone out; he should be back soon. Would you like to come in and wait?"
"Yes, I would, thank you. "
Martin moved back, slightly reluctantly, and Douglas's estranged wife stepped into the hallway.
"Boy's night in?" She was looking at the remains of the pizza in its cardboard box on the living room floor.
"We were just..." He tailed off, wondering how on earth to explain his absence of socks but she'd already walked past him to the wall photo of the younger Douglas.
"Same old tricks, every time. Has anyone fallen for it yet?"
Martin nearly choked. "I...don't know. What do you mean, old tricks?"
"This." She gestured around the room. "The romance of flying. The aeroplane on his wall. The books in that case. You think he'd surround himself with pictures of the dregs of his so-called career for fun? He just thinks some silly young girl will think airline captains are romantic."
Helena turned back to look at Martin with a hint of satisfaction in her voice. "l guess it hasn't worked for him this time around or he wouldn't be eating takeaways with you."
Martin decided that he didn't like Helena at all. "Why do you care what he does? You've got your Tai Chi instructor, after all."
She looked startled, rallied. "Oh, for Christ's sake! He's been crying into his lemonade, has he? That's just a little pathetic." She walked past Martin into the kitchen. "I'll make myself coffee. You don't have to wait around for him to get back."
"I think I ought to stay." She might steal something, for all he knew. Or, more likely, go through Douglas's private papers.
"Suit yourself." She had opened a drawer, was studying the espresso machine instructions. "Really, this thing is ridiculous. Has he bought himself a home cinema system and new sports car as well?"
"I think he just likes coffee." Martin tried, defensively.
"Midlife crisis." Helena announced, with the satisfaction of a woman closer to Martin's age than Douglas's.
That was too much. "If he's having any sort of crisis it's your fault. You're the one who broke up his marriage."
She narrowed her eyes at Martin. "Is that what he told you? That it was all my fault? How long have you two been pals, then?"
Pals? Never. "I've known him for about two years, I suppose."
"Then you ought to know by now. Douglas lies. All the bloody time."
Yes, he did. It hadn't occurred to Martin to doubt his account of his marriage, though. "So what did happen?"
"Since when was our private life any of your business?"
She snorted at his silence. "How long is Doug going to be?"
"I don't know," he muttered. "Soon, I hope."
Helena pushed past him back into the living room, seized a book apparently at random and sat down, clearly uninclined to talk to him further. Martin went back to tidying.
Key in the lock and Douglas came in, grinned at Martin standing at the kitchen door."I'm back, with a large tub of your not very secret weapon, which, incidentally, won't work. And a couple of other bits and pieces, for later."
"Your wife's here." Martin gestured towards the sitting room.
A flicker of something unreadable on Douglas's face. "Right. Put this lot away for me, will you?" He pushed the shopping bag into Martin's hands, straightened his back, strode into the sitting room. "Helena. How unexpected. I must have missed your call."
Martin started to unpack the shopping, telling himself not to listen, doing it anyway.
"I need to talk to you, Doug."
"Then you've had a wasted journey, I'm afraid. As you can see, I'm entertaining tonight."
"This is a little more important than pizza and TV with your odd little friend."
Douglas lowered his voice at that point, and Martin missed his response. Then the door slammed shut and he could no longer hear anything. He ought to leave, but he would have to interrupt them to say goodbye and he wasn't quite prepared just to walk out. Instead he finished dressing and made the bed neatly, then sat on it.
Whatever they were discussing, they took their time, during which it became increasingly apparent to Martin that manners would dictate that he should no longer be there. He got up to leave a couple of times, paused at the front door, indecisive. He'd waited this long. Maybe a few minutes more.
In the end it was nearly half an hour before the sitting room door reopened. A flushed Helena stepped out into the hall, gave Martin a blank look. Douglas behind her looked surprised to see him; he'd clearly forgotten that Martin had been there. As Martin started to stammer an apology he managed a tired smile.
"Thank you for waiting, Martin, despite my unforgivable rudeness in leaving you on your own so long."
"That's all right."
"No, it isn't." Douglas opened the front door for Helena, spoke to her. "This won't happen again."
"Goodnight, Helena." The door closed. Douglas ran a hand across his eyes, then looked across at Martin. "Icecream? Or coffee?"
"Coffee, I think." Douglas didn't look like a man who wanted to play. Martin cursed Helena, mentally.
"Good call." Douglas stood in front of the espresso machine. "If I can remember how this damn thing works."
"Helena found the instructions."
"Yes, she told me what she thought of it. And the rest of the flat, while she was at it." He raised an eyebrow at Martin. "It was about as flattering as the place deserves."
Martin felt acutely uncomfortable. Whatever he might think of some of the man's methods, Douglas mortified was just wrong. "I'm sorry..."
"God, Martin, none of this is your fault. Of all the nights for her to do this to me..." He sighed. "Where are the fucking instructions then?"
Martin winced. Douglas hardly ever resorted to swearing; a man with his way with words usually had no need for it.
"You look worn out," he tried, tentatively, "Why don't we just call it a night?" A sudden thought. "Unless you want to talk about it?"
"No, I don't want to talk about it." Douglas looked across at Martin, without a trace of his normal humour, "Right now I very much want to wrap myself around your naked body and go to sleep. Which I am aware is not at all what I promised you, but I'm all out of performance and if I let you go home there is no reason for you to come back."
What the hell had that woman done to him? Martin nodded, grateful at least that this time Douglas hadn't attempted to hide his feelings. "Let's go to bed, then."
There was a new red toothbrush. Martin lingered a little longer than necessary in the bathroom, imagining Douglas getting ready for bed in the small room. When he finally got there the covers were pulled back and Douglas was lying face down, his heavy body naked.
"I could take the sofa," Martin offered. "I really wouldn't mind."
"l would." Douglas spoke without moving. "I would very much appreciate your company tonight."
He shifted to one side, head turned to watch Martin undress.
Just the eyes on him, the thought of curling up close to the other man had a predictable, if unwanted effect on Martin. "I'm sorry about...that." He gestured very vaguely."I know you don't want...just ignore it, please."
"Certainly not. You know me; I'll take all the flattery I can get." Douglas sounded a little better. "Come here." He rolled onto his side, arm outstretched against the sheet.
Martin lay down carefully across the proffered arm, facing away from the other man, tucked the covers up around them both. Douglas's arms tightened around his chest, breath against the back of his neck. "God, that's better." A leg draped heavily across his thighs. "Do let me know if you're uncomfortable, won't you?"
Uncomfortable was not the right word. It was close and intimate and Martin thought he could put up with this forever if only his cock would stop twitching demands. He set himself to ignore it, closed his eyes, summoning sleep.
He woke in the dark. The breathing against his ear had become regular, an arm and leg lying heavy over his limbs. Martin lay still for a while, as far from sleep as it was possible to get. He considered escaping to the sofa, rejected the idea. Douglas would wake alone. Whatever was wrong, that could make it worse.
At least he could do something about one of the things keeping him awake. He worked his right arm free, reached downwards, started to stroke himself quickly, imagining Douglas's hand, his mouth... It was only a couple of minutes before his body was tensed, ready.
"Would you mind if I interrupted at this point?" The voice in his ear startled Martin into motionlessness.
"I thought you were asleep," he said, inanely. "I didn't mean to wake you. Sorry."
Douglas sounded sleepy, relaxed. "I do try to make a point of being awake whenever anyone sharing my bed has an orgasm. A matter of some personal pride, you understand." His hand moved downwards, circled Martin's erection. "And since I consider myself at least partly responsible for this," he tugged gently, "I would like to be in on the conclusion."
"Please," Martin barely managed that much, wriggling back against him. Oh God, that was so much better than his own hand; he was panting already, close.
"Harder?" Douglas's voice was low enough to be a whisper. Teeth grazed his ear.
"Yes. Yes!" The sudden mouth hard on his neck was the last straw; he tipped into a long, breathless climax, cupping his hand automatically to protect the sheets.
Douglas was stretching back, under the edge of the bed. "Everything provided for the convenience of our guests." Tissues pressed into Martin's free hand. "Beside the bed will do. Then go back to sleep."
The next time Martin woke it was to bright sunshine through the curtains and he was alone. He lay in bed for couple of minutes, listening, but the flat was silent. Eventually he dressed and went looking.
No-one was here. Douglas had gone in search of breakfast, he told himself. The folded note propped up against the kettle with his name on the front would no doubt confirm it. It didn't. "Martin,
You might reasonably expect an explanation for my behaviour yesterday evening. My options appear to be to justify myself to you, to refuse to do the same or to be somewhere else. The third is easiest.
I have with the most selfish of intentions dragged you down a path that I may not now be prepared to follow further. I find myself unable to entirely regret it, but an apology is nonetheless due.
I will see you at the aerodrome tomorrow, where I will as always be relying on your professionalism and good manners,
PS. If breaking things would in any way make you feel better, please consider the flat and its contents at your disposal."
Martin read the words through three or four times, trying to make sense of it. Douglas didn't want to sleep with him again. That he could understand; for all his enthusiasm the man had struggled with gay sex and Martin knew how unattractive he was. But that Douglas had left him a note- a note!- rather than tell him face to face- that was incomprehensible. Unforgivable.
He pulled out his phone with shaking hands but Douglas wasn't answering. Sent a text-Call me. The man wouldn't. Nothing to do but leave. He didn't want to break anything, but he took the photo of Douglas with him. For the sake of anyone else who might get fooled by the man, he told himself.
Sitting in the van he looked up at his pale face in the rear mirror, noticed for the first time the livid red mark high up under his chin. Found himself crying. Stupid to cry, over Douglas of all people, who was only reverting to type, after all. He lied, Helena had said.
Helena could maybe make sense of all this, if she was willing to. No harm in talking to her. He wouldn't tell her that he and Douglas- just a friend, that's all. Dropping by to apologise for his poor manners last night. He started the engine, feeling slightly better now he had somewhere to go.
The improvement in his mood lasted until he drew up opposite the big detached house and saw the Lexus in the drive. Everything finally clicked into place. He pulled away, drove home, slowly.
The next day he didn't feel too bad. A bit of banter with Carolyn, a shared joke with Douglas at Arthur's expense. It lasted until they were airborne and alone. Then there was silence, until he broke it, not looking at his co-pilot.
"You've gone back to your wife."
"I wasn't sure if you'd worked that out or not." Douglas was subdued.
"You could have told me. I'd have understood, of course I would. It's your marriage, for God's sake, Douglas! Of course you'd want to give it another go."
"I wasn't certain yesterday morning about what I was going to do. I could hardly have told you that I might be about to be a complete bastard to you, but then again maybe not. Why not ask me again later?"
"But you could...do stuff... with me that night while you were thinking about it. That wasn't nice."
"It was a little opportunistic," Douglas conceded. "But you were remarkably tempting and I'm very bad at resisting temptation."
"Have you told her? About us?"
"Good heavens, no!"
Martin sighed. "I suppose I should be grateful that you haven't suggested that I could be your bit on the side."
He glanced across at Douglas. "You thought about it."
"Of course I did. I thought about every possible permutation. I object very strongly to having to give up anything that I want this much. But I suspect neither of you will knowingly share, and the logistics of keeping you both in the dark for long were beyond even my capabilities."
It hadn't ever been a choice, not really. The woman you'd loved and lived with for years, and the man you'd had awkward sex with twice. Martin would have thought less of Douglas if he'd done any differently, and told him so. And that was the end of that.
Things were surprisingly not too awkward, afterwards. By common consent they kept the chatter mostly away from each other's private lives, but everything else seemed to carry on pretty much as normal. Douglas teased as much as ever, but he didn't flirt. Martin protested all sorts of things, but never about what had happened between them. He became rather good at pretending that he never gave it a second thought.
In fact he thought about it a great deal. The photo still lay propped up against a bookcase in his room, neither hung up nor hidden. After several weeks he finally admitted the strength of his feelings to himself. Nothing to be done, except be grateful for the job that gave him long hours in the man's company, at least. And hide the rest. After all there was no hope whatsoever; from the odd causal comment dropped by Douglas, the reconciliation with Helena seemed to have been a complete success.
Martin had arrived nearly an hour early at the airfield, let himself into the office to finish some paperwork. He looked up when someone knocked at the door.
"Mrs Richardson." He hadn't seen her since that time at the flat, months before. "Can I help?"
In jumper and jeans, without make-up, he thought she was even more attractive, and much happier. This time he got a smile. "Hello Martin. A parcel's come for Doug and I was coming this way so I thought I drop it off here, if that's all right."
"Of course. He left early this morning, then?"
She looked puzzled. "I have no idea. I just thought it would save going by the flat."
Martin took a breath. "I don't mean to pry, but isn't he living at home again?"
Helena shook her head, good humoured "Oh no, that didn't last long. A fortnight, maybe? We both gave it a go, but it didn't really work." She lowered her voice a little. "Actually I think there was someone else, though he wouldn't admit it."
"Someone else?" Already? Martin had a vision of a string of Douglas's girlfriends, stretching into the distance.
"Yes. It doesn't really matter; I'm seeing someone else now too. She's welcome to all of him, silly girl, not just his photo."
Martin gave a guilty start. "Photo? What photo?"
"That old one he had on the wall of his flat. I wanted to put it up when he came home, but he claimed that it got broken. Broken! On the wall! He'd given it to someone. That's when it became obvious it wasn't going to work out."
She dumped a thick square parcel on Martin's papers. "Anyway, here's the thing. Thanks, Martin." And she left.
Martin looked at it for some time, before fitting it with a bit of difficulty into his overnight bag. There were some conversations better had off the flight deck.
It was the hotel in Rome again, the one with the fire alarm and thin walls. Martin's room was on the end, with Douglas between him and the one Carolyn shared with Arthur. They ened up all eating together, inventing appalling pizza toppings for the scandalised chef to produce, before Carolyn and Arthur headed off to see a film.
"I might wander out for a bit, too," Douglas commented. "Find some bits of Rome that are missing their classical statues and stand in them perhaps."
"Before you do, can you come upstairs? I've got something to show you."
"Really? Have you considered consulting a doctor first?"
"Oh, ha." Martin led the way up to his room, closed the door behind Douglas, pulled the parcel out from his bag. "Here."
Douglas turned it over in his hands without opening it. "It's the Air England year book. They never stopped sending them. It's really not very exciting, Martin, even by your standards though I suppose it does have sexy pictures of aeroplanes. I could let you look at them. For a price, naturally."
"I think you're missing the point." Martin said, with a certain degree of satisfaction. It wasn't often he got to say that.
"Am I?" Douglas put down the parcel, thinking. "Oh. How did you get it?"
"Helena dropped it off at the office for you. It saved going to the flat, she said."
"Yes, ah! I make it three months. When were you going to tell me?"
"Come on, Martin. Quite obviously I wasn't going to tell you at all, or I would have done so by now."
Martin sat down on the bed, hands flat against the cover. "If you'd told me that damn photo was causing trouble I'd have returned it."
"I didn't know that you hadn't destroyed it. Although I do now." Douglas flashed a smile. "What did you do with it, then?"
"Nothing." Martin said, far too quick. Damn.
"Nothing? I see. But you did take it."
"Don't!" Martin realised that he was really quite angry. "You don't get to pry, Douglas. Not after lying to me for months. Did you think I'd pester you embarrassingly, if I knew you were single? Do you think that little of me? I wouldn't have said a word."
"I'm sure you wouldn't." Douglas looked tired. "Your behaviour has been impeccable throughout." He sat on the corner of the flimsy hotel desk. "Mine, on the other hand, had gone well past attractively impish naughtiness into the realms of outright shameful. After behaving appallingly after the first time I talk you into sex, I swear my undying devotion in order to bed you again then walk out on you next morning for my wife."
He sighed, eyes on Martin. "I am known for having a great deal of nerve, but not even I had quite enough to come back two weeks later and tell you I'd made a mistake. So I didn't. And that, I'm afraid, is all there is to it."
Douglas stood up again, looked down at the parcel. "You may find that interesting. I certainly don't. I believe I'll go for that stroll now, before it gets dark." And he walked out.
It was much, much later when Martin heard the key in the lock next door. He slid quietly off his bed and opened his door.
"Not tonight, Martin." Douglas started to close his door, and Martin jammed his foot in the way, promptly got the door slammed into it.
"Ow!" It was a little louder than he intended.
"There's an art to doorstopping and you don't have it." Douglas pushed Martin's battered foot aside with one of his own and closed the door. Martin could hear the key turn on the other side.
For a moment he contemplated hammering on the door, but he really didn't want Carolyn party to any of this. He'd glimpsed the layout of the room; the bed was up against the party wall with his room. He returned to his room, fortified himself with the third ale of the evening, waited five minutes and then knocked, quietly, around where he estimated the head of the bed would be.
Martin usually carried a calculator in his flight bag. It had a pseudo-random number generator, which he had never found an excuse to use before. He set it to generate some times, between zero and three minutes, and he knocked, sometimes once, sometimes twice, when it told him to. Between knocks he read the Air England year book, which actually had some rather interesting information about their fleet performance.
Douglas was not asleep; every so often he would hear the noise of the man moving, and after about half an hour the sound of low music. Douglas had mentioned once that he never used earplugs; he could, he claimed, sleep through anything. It appeared that this was not entirely true.
Two am and Martin was beginning to feel a little guilty about being responsible for sleep deprivation in both pilots before tomorrow's flight. But, he told himself, his concentration was going to be shot to hell anyway if this wasn't sorted. He persevered.
Ten past two and Douglas's door opened. Martin had left his own unlocked.
"What the blazes are you playing at?" The man looked both tired and furious. Martin took a deep breath, spoke with way more confidence than he felt. "Come in and sit down."
"I told you, I'm not doing this tonight."
Martin wasn't at all sure that he could handle Douglas in this mood, but he was committed now.
"That makes all your apologies entirely hollow then, doesn't it? You're going to carry on sliding out of any responsibility, and to hell with anyone else."
Douglas pushed the door closed, sat on the chair with very bad grace, glowering. "What, then?"
"Right. Er." He'd thought this out but Douglas was so cross... "Why did you move back to the flat?"
Douglas shrugged. "Things didn't work out."
"What does that actually mean, not work out? What happened?"
"If you really must know, Helena thought I'd been sleeping with someone else. I got tired of arguing about it and left. Satisfied?"
"Not really. You hadn't being seeing anyone; you told me that. Why couldn't you convince her of that? She wanted you back, after all. It shouldn't have been hard; not for a practised liar like you."
Douglas was still glowering. "I really don't appreciate being dragged out of my bed so that you can make badly-veiled accusations. If you've got something to say, say it."
"I haven't, not yet. I've just got questions."
"All right, then. It is just possible that I wasn't trying too hard."
"You didn't want it to work out?"
"More accurately, I wanted it to work out without any actual effort on my part."
"Because," Douglas snapped, "I didn't particularly want to spend my time making up to Helena when I was thinking about you. I wanted to go back to being married and uncomplicated with sex three times a week and some company in the evenings and pretend the last few months never happened. And that wasn't good enough for Helena and she was damn right. I got it wrong. Will that do?"
Martin nodded. "I'm sorry to have kept you awake." He could hear the dull tone in his voice. He'd had to know.
Douglas didn't move. "What was all this about, then? Not just curiosity?"
Martin might as well tell him. "I just wanted to know what you'd wanted. In case it wasn't...but it was. I'm sorry about your marriage, really I am. I'm sure you'll find someone else."
Douglas's eyes widened. "You were testing the water?"
"I guess. Sort of. It doesn't matter. I should have known better; you've had three months to be interested and you're not. I don't mind." The last being a lie worthy of Douglas himself.
Douglas was staring at him. "How could I possibly... there's a point at which no-one, no matter how charming, attractive and incredibly good in bed, gets offered another opportunity. Somehow I imagined that I was way past that stage."
"And if you weren't?" Martin's stomach was twisting painfully. He'd thought...had he been wrong?
"I'd take it in a heartbeat." Douglas's voice was low. "Think about this though, Martin. Our working relationship isn't going to survive any more of these disasters. Can you honestly say you wouldn't be better off with someone else?"
"Honestly? As long as I have to sit next to you every day, there isn't going to be anyone else."
"Ah. Like that?" Douglas was beginning to smile.
"It wasn't intended as a compliment. You're probably right, someone else-probably anyone else-would be better. But I'm not going to stay celibate forever just because the man I want is a coward who thinks he wants to be straight."
Douglas's smile widened. "Now that's fighting talk. I am so going to enjoy proving you wrong on both counts. But not here or tonight. You need to be sure about this."
He stood up. "I'll see you at breakfast. Goodnight."
Martin lay awake for some time after the slight noises from the next room had ceased. Douglas was right; he needed to be sure, and he didn't know how. He went over in his head everything that had gone wrong. Every time he'd thought things were fine, then Douglas had backed out, chosen the easier, "straighter" path. Because he'd never been committed, not just to Martin but to the whole thing. He'd only ever been experimenting. He'd never been gay.
Looked at like that, the answer was obvious. Not easy. Not sure to work. But obvious. And all he could do was try.
When Martin came down to breakfast the gang were all there. Plus one; Hercules was seated next to Carolyn, eating a croissant and arguing with Douglas.
"Good morning all. Where did you materialise from, Herc? Did she smuggle you in the galley yesterday disguised as Arthur? And if so what on earth was Arthur disguised as?"
Herc smiled. "Nothing so exciting. I was staying at the Senator, bumped into Carolyn last night, got an invitation to breakfast. Two breakfasts being better than one, here I am."
Martin had his doubts about that story, but then he suspected that was the intention. They were rather enjoying flaunting their relationship. In some ways this made this easier for him, though not, he had to admit, for Douglas, who was watching him rather intently. He got himself a coffee, sat down across the table.
"I have an answer for you, by the way," he said directly to the man during a pause in the conversation.
"Actually, I have two contradictory answers. Which one rather depends on the question." The others were listening now, curious.
Douglas looked unflustered, still. "I thought that had been established already?"
"I think it's better to have no doubt about these things. Perhaps you'd like to ask it again? Now?"
Douglas went a slight shade of pink. "Martin! I don't think..."
"In which case, neither do I," He picked up his coffee, waiting, hoping. Come on, Douglas. Please.
"That was remarkably cryptic but I would say that Martin definitely won," Carolyn said cheerfully. "Are you losing your touch, Douglas? Or is there more to come?"
"Is it a code? It sounds like a code! Can I learn it? Are you going to do it all the way home?"
"I imagine," Herc murmured, low voiced "that might just have been the end of that particular game. Am I right, Douglas?"
Douglas slammed his drink down, glared at Herc. "Shut up!" And then at Martin. "If this is your idea of payback you have most definitely been flying with me too long. You weren't evil when you first arrived. I would most certainly have remembered."
"Are you going to insist on having me on my knees?"
"I thought I'd leave you to make decisions about style. I believe you have a certain amount of experience in these matters?" He was struggling not to laugh, now, relief as much as amusement.
"Very funny." Douglas glanced around the table, took a deep breath, looked back at Martin.
"Any preferred terminology? It all seems fraught with potential difficulty."
"Not really. Whatever you like. Though I'd strongly recommend that you avoid "girlfriend"."
"I think I could have worked that one out on my own. Right, then. Let's do this." He walked round the table, dropped to one knee, beside Martin's chair. His voice was low and deeply seductive. "Captain Martin Crieff. Would you do me the very great honour of consenting to becoming my paramour."
Arthur, irrepressible. "Your biggest what?"
Carolyn. "Paramour, not paramount, idiot. Now shut up, I'm eavesdropping. I do hope he says no."
"Yes." Martin gripped his coffee cup tighter. He was the one embarrassed now, which, he supposed, was only fair.
"No would have been far funnier," Carolyn said regretfully.
"You may now kiss the paramour," Herc intoned gravely. "Are you sure about this, Martin? He is quite appalling in almost every respect."
"Excuse me!" Douglas protested, from his position on the floor. "I don't criticise your choice of...thing."
" I wouldn't start if I were you. After all the Thing pays your wages." Carolyn was sharp.
"What's a paramour?" Arthur asked plaintively.
"Apparently Martin is. To, I think it fair to say, the general astonishment of all." Carolyn.
"I wasn't astonished," Herc said cheerfully. "Saw that one coming a mile off. Thought it would be a bit quicker, mind, but Douglas always did faff around somewhat."
"But what *is* one?"
Martin took pity on Arthur. "Boyfriend."
"Ohhhh. Right. No, that can't be right, can it? Because you're both...hang on. Is it? Really? Because that would be brilliant. You could kiss each other on the flight deck without anyone knowing."
"Not on my plane, they couldn't." Carolyn looked sternly at Martin. "While I applaud your brave though inevitably futile attempt to show Douglas who will be wearing the trousers in this ill-advised affair of yours, I would like to think that we won't have to be party to all of the ins and outs of your relationship in future. Our indeed any of them. Ever again."
"Oh God, no. Sorry. We'll be entirely circumspect. Absolutely. Definitely." He tried to brush off the hand that had appeared on his knee.
Douglas snorted his disagreement, stood up, his arm sliding possessively around Martin's shoulders. "Sorry, Carolyn, but while I am as keen on personal privacy as the next man, and considerably more so if the next man is Martin in mischievous mood, I do reserve the right to kiss my boyfriend in public whilst off duty. Particularly in Italy and over breakfast."
He bent forward to demonstrate.
Martin could hear noises off; probably Carolyn protesting, but he wasn't listening. He was glad he was sitting down because he wasn't sure that his legs would hold him, not with Douglas apparently determined to poke an enthusiastic tongue absolutely everywhere that it would reach. It must be close to indecent for the poor spectators but Martin didn't care. He tilted his head to give his man all the access he could.
Eventually Douglas pulled back, flushed. "So? Any plans for tonight?" he asked Martin.
"Nothing I can't rearrange."
"In that case we probably ought to finish breakfast and give the general impression that we're really excited about flying aeroplanes for the rest of the day. Think you can manage that?"
"I like flying planes," Martin pointed out. "You're the easily distractable one."
"Now that is a contention eminently suitable for later field testing."
Carolyn choked. "That's it! Stop it now before I lose my breakfast entirely. Not one salacious word more from either of you until we land."
"Yes ma'am." The look Douglas cast at Martin said rather more than words could, anyway. Martin buttered a roll and tried to look calm and professional. He was pretty sure that everyone around the table was laughing at him, but for once he didn't care.
Martin was used to not succeeding first time. Doggedly resitting until he finally passed- that was him. In his terms a third attempt was barely getting things underway. Douglas Richardson was going to be the one that he didn't give up on, not while the chances were still there. Yes, it was still Douglas; he wasn't going to turn honest overnight, was still going to try to manipulate, automatic as breathing, but he'd jumped the first hurdle in his own inimitable style, and he'd done it for Martin.
Martin watched his co-pilot jousting, smooth-tongued, with Carolyn and for possibly the first time that he could remember he wanted to be somewhere that wasn't in the captain's chair. Tonight. A few hours away, and then all the time that they wanted.Douglas caught him watching, raised an amused eyebrow without pausing in his argument and Martin felt himself blush. Third time lucky;this time it would work.He'd never felt luckier in the whole of his life.