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Slash by Unsentimental Fool
Not all that you want and ought not to want Is forbidden to you
FIC: In Anticipation Of Part 1 Cabin Pressure NC-17 
27th-Oct-2013 08:05 pm
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Title: In Anticipation Of
Author: Unsentimental Fool
Fandom: Cabin Pressure
Pairing: Douglas/Hercules, Hercules/Carolyn
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 13,300
Summary: Anticipate. Verb
1. To look forward to
2. To expect
3. To pre-empt
4. To foreshadow
Warnings BDSM
Notes A post "Yverdon-les-Bains" sequel to Gunpowder Treason and Plot
and Adding Insult to Injury

In two parts for length or at AO3 here



Part 1

He hasn’t told Carolyn anything. Nor does he intend to afterwards, should there be anything to tell.

Not because she might accuse him of infidelity- the idea is utterly ridiculous. But despite what they say to each other he knows she has a high opinion of him and he values that, almost certainly more than is wise.

What he might do with Douglas Richardson (what he and Douglas might do together) (what he might allow Douglas to do to him) is not something about which he feels pride. Other emotions, yes, many of them still surprising him. But he’s not proud of it, of what it says about himself. That’s something he is determined never to let Richardson know. And Carolyn need know nothing at all about any of it, now or later.

The timing, at last, is good. There haven’t been a lot of opportunities before. Since Martin’s six month secondment (a temporary solution to everyone’s problems so elegant that no-one can quite credit Martin of all people with its invention) had started Herc has flown a dozen times with MJN. Carolyn is careful (tight) (mean) enough to have Douglas fly solo when practical, but often enough they need another pilot and she lets a little of the fees the Swiss are paying her for the loan of her valuable captain come the way of her currently unemployed boyfriend.

Martin, of course, is still not actually being paid by anyone (which no-one must tell the Swiss or the whole thing unravels) but his temporary employers are providing subsistence expenses on which he is living apparently perfectly comfortably and even buying new clothes occasionally. Herc did try to persuade Carolyn that some of the Swiss fees might find their way to the guy who was actually earning them but she flashed a copy of the company bank account and Gertie’s latest repair invoice at him and he had to admit that getting Martin up to national minimum wage might still kill off MJN completely. Carolyn had suggested, at the beginning, that since Herc was only flying for her as a favour he might not need actual payment either but he’d laughed loudly and for a very long time and she hadn’t mentioned it again. He would actually give up a great deal to keep Carolyn’s beloved company solvent but he values her opinion of him far too much to let her think she can exploit him. He gets a professional fee- a low professional fee, but nevertheless just about respectable. Besides, he needs the money too.

Wherever they fly, Carolyn comes too. It’s fun. Carolyn and he have bickered around half of Europe, dragging each other to new sights and old favourite haunts. He spends half his flying fees on lavish meals out and she feeds him sandwiches and pizza when it’s her turn to pay, books them into cheap hotels with one less room than they used to need between them and berates both her pilots even-handedly over breakfast. And all this time Douglas has been merely Douglas, in the cockpit and out; smug, semi-professional, fast witted, and always competitive, and that’s all.

Today, however, they fly to Karachi without cabin crew; there are no passengers to look after, just delicate machine components to fly back to Fitton tomorrow for onward courier. Herc has no idea why the customer doesn’t courier them all the way via DHS but theirs not to reason why and everyone could do with the money particularly badly right now. It’s a last minute booking on a day when Carolyn is obliged to be in court (a disgruntled customer from two years back- Herc has read the papers, doesn’t think she need worry but he agrees with her solicitor that she does need to turn up and be civil to the magistrate) and Arthur has volunteered in the light of Herc’s last minute absence and against everyone’s better judgement to go with her. So it’s just him and Douglas, best part of 48 hours away together, and a chance to find out whether winding up his temporary colleague has consequences anything like as interesting as last time or whether the man has thought better of the whole crazy thing. Things have the potential to go disastrously badly, Herc thinks. Either way.

He parks next to the Lexus. Douglas is on time, for once. Herc’s arrived twenty minutes later than they arranged. There’s no great hurry- they have a ten hour flight and another twelve hour stop over in Karachi- but time zones are against them; if they want to arrive before everything closes in Pakistan they need to leave early in the morning.

Douglas is waiting for him at the door of the plane.

“Did you get lost? Do tell me how. There are only two roads and you started on the other one.”

Herc shrugs, casual, indifferent. “My coffee percolator broke down so I stopped off at Starbucks for breakfast.”

“You have my phone number.” A little sharp.

“You weren’t going anywhere without me.” Herc walks up Gertie’s steps and Douglas backs up to let him in. “Are you going to lecture me on punctuality, Captain, or are we going to take off before noon?”

They are both silent during the ten minutes it takes to get a runway. Herc concentrates for takeoff; he’s licensed for Gertie but he’s not flown her enough to be entirely used to the differences from Air Caledonia’s planes. All pilots know the perils of a new layout and old reactions. Douglas won’t distract him; his responses are calm and monosyllabic.

Takeoff over, Herc sees Douglas deliberately shrug off his remaining annoyance. They’ve got a very long flight ahead of them. “Game?”

“Why not?”

Douglas has turned to watch him. “I believe it’s your turn to pick one. The balloon tennis was mine.”

They’ve played games before on the flights, mainly word ones. Douglas has the edge, usually; long practice, but Herc gives him a run for his money and occasionally even wins.

“First one to use the letter e makes dinner. Excluding ATC.” Dinner is microwavable. Hardly a major task.

Douglas grins. “That’s not difficult.”

“No?”

“I always win this. Martin was awful at it.”

“I’m not Martin,” Herc points out. “Ask Carolyn.”

“No, thank you.” Douglas shudders theatrically. “You two as a thing is a thing I try not to think about.”

Herc runs that past his brain again, nods, impressed. Douglas really is good at this. “How about you?”

Douglas is relaxed. “You know Douglas Richardson. Girl in…in most ports.”

“And guys?”

That gets a tight smile at Herc. “Sorry. Not my thing.”

Herc smiles back, amused. “Not at all? No bathtubs, no back rubs?”

“Not discussing this!” Douglas says sharply.

“And why not? Long flight, hours to go and it’s such a fascinating topic.” Herc’s quite proud of himself for that sentence.

“Nothing to say. That was …an anomaly.”

“Anomaly, huh?” Herc wasn’t intending to get into this conversation this fast. “OK. Captain. Dropping it at your asking. How about good food in Karachi?”

They manage nearly 30 minutes of slow and careful conversation about food and stopovers before Douglas slips up;

“You only drink lousy brandy in that bar. Or a Godawful poor kind of whiskey.”

“Ha!” Herc proclaims. “Got you! Last word!”

“I’m talking about Scotch whisky!” Douglas protests. “K.Y!”

“Rubbish.” Herc is still picking his words carefully. “That kind of bar only has Bourbon, and you know it. Admit it, Douglas. You lost.”

Douglas fights a rearguard campaign for a while but eventually he shrugs.

“Fine. You win on an extremely weak technicality. I might as well get the drinks now that you can tell me what you want.”

“Tea, thanks.” Actually Herc could do with a swig of whisky (definitely Scotch) about now. He’s flown repeatedly with Douglas with barely a salacious thought over the past few months but somehow being alone up here with the man, together with the unformed fantasies that he’d brought on board, is producing a most unsettling result. He glances at his watch. Still seven hours till landing. He should have insisted that Arthur come with them. Had he really thought that he could simply proposition the man? On the ground it had seemed a challenge, a bit of fantasy. Up here with the cold light of the winter sun shining on the battered controls his notions of somehow playing Douglas into bed seem no less than adolescent.

Nothing for it but to play a few more word games, fly the damn plane and pretend everything is perfectly normal. He’ll plead off exploring Karachi with Douglas, claiming tiredness, have a solo dinner tonight in his room and say absolutely nothing out of the ordinary the rest of the time.

In the middle of this unhelpful cogitation the phone rings. He picks it up. “Carolyn?”

“Who else would it be?” Her familiar waspish tones fill the cockpit with something like normality and he feels a wave of gratitude.

“How’s the court case going?”

“Fine.” Her voice suggests otherwise and his heart sinks.

“What does Jason say?”

“Jason is ill.” She sounds a little off colour herself.

“The hearing’s been cancelled?”

“Not at all. I’ve no intention of wasting another day on this. I’d been through it enough times with him to do it myself.”

Hell. He manages not to say that aloud. She would be ringing for a reassurance that she would be insulted to receive too directly. He barely notices his captain returning with the drinks. “Did you persuade Arthur that you didn’t need a wig?”

“Barely. He’s mostly concerned that the magistrate isn’t wearing one. He’s not sure that the result will really count.”

“Ah. And how is the wigless one taking your heroic defense?”

“Fine. So far. We’ve just had Mr Idiot’s side of the story. I’m on next.”

Herc picks up his tea, absently, puts it down again rapidly. Hot. “You didn’t…”

“Call him Mr Idiot? No. I didn’t say a word. I’m not a fool. I’ve watched enough courtroom dramas in my time to know that I can only abuse him in public on my turn.”

That was only halfway reassuring. “Remember that the paperwork…”

“…proves my case for me. I do know. Less is more, and all that. He’s still a horrible little man though.”

“And you have everything you need to prove it. I wish I could be there to watch,” he says with genuine sincerity.

“Anything to get out of actual work, I suppose.” She sounds more relaxed now. “How’s the flight?”

“Long and dull.” He glances over at Douglas who is sipping his coffee and doubtless listening intently. “Dull-ish.”

“Well don’t make it any more exciting. I can’t afford it. I’ll speak to you later.”

“Good luck. Knock ‘em dead, with exquisite politeness.”

She laughs and hangs up.

“Trouble?” Douglas asks.

“Solicitor’s off sick. Carolyn is conducting her own defence.”

Douglas winces. “And there go the rest of the company’s assets. No wild night of a thousand women in Karachi for me. I need to stay in and dust off my CV.”

Herc prickles, unreasonably annoyed given that that had been his first reaction too. “She’s quite capable of handling it. And I might point out that if there were any jobs out there you’d undoubtedly lose out to me anyway.”

“Ah yes,” Douglas snorts, sits back in his seat. “Because nothing impresses a potential employer like that “airline pilot (retired)” on the top of your resume.”

Herc has been trying to stay good tempered about his early retirement but underneath it rankles. He doesn’t feel anything like old enough to draw a pension. Besides, “You’re older than me.”

“I’m not retired though.” Douglas grins at him. “Makes all the difference. Have you applied for your bus pass yet?”

“No. I’m sure I can just about manage to pay for a bus fare, assuming I ever have a need to catch a bus. A comfort, isn’t it, to have a healthy pension fund when one reaches our age?”

That’s a shot in the dark but a calculated one – he sees the lines around Douglas’s eyes tighten and knows he’s hit. Herc’s pension is not what it would have been without four divorce settlements but he’s always been careful about taking professional advice and following it. Douglas’s philosophy of “something will turn up” is a world away from maximising tax relief and setting up personal pension funds. MJN doesn’t run a scheme, of course- there’s never been money for those sorts of frills. Herc knows the state of Air England’s scheme and how little it contributes to his own computations. Douglas could be looking at a bleak retirement if- when- MJN folds.

Herc almost apologises but that would make things considerably worse. Before he figures out a next line Douglas has one;

“Good heavens, Hercules, you sound more like my last accountant than a Sky God. Something will turn up. It always does.”

He pauses, deliberately, carries on. “There’s always living off older women, of course. I understand it helps to be a bit smooth for that, and without too many scruples. I’m sure I could do that at least as well as you’re managing.”

Herc laughs aloud in sheer surprise at that one. That anyone might consider his relationship with the ferociously tight and ever close to bankrupt Carolyn to be in the nature of gold digging isn’t credible. Douglas is joking.

He catches sight of Douglas’s expression and reconsiders. “You don’t seriously think…”

Douglas raises his eyebrows. “Based on your touching display of fidelity? I find that I am able to think any number of things.”

“Fidelity?” For a moment he’s honestly flummoxed. Then it clicks. “You think I was hitting on you.”

“Decades of experience and I’m pretty confident of my ability to spot that sort of thing. And you do have form. Poor Carolyn no doubt thinks better of you but then that’s really none of my business, is it?” Douglas picks up his empty mug, heads back to the galley. Calls over his shoulder. “Another game?”

If there’s one thing that Herc prides himself at excelling at, it’s keeping his temper. So he doesn’t call Douglas a sanctimonious two faced prig with ridiculous double standards and no idea what he’s talking about. Instead he takes the moment’s break to try to figure out what’s actually going on here.

Douglas is right; Herc’s relationship with Carolyn really is none of his business. To date he’s been meticulous about keeping out of it, apart from the occasional irresistible joke. Given the man’s history as a liar, thief and serial adulterer Herc would expect nothing else. Douglas Richardson is not in a position to lob half bricks at anyone.

So why has one just come flying his way?

Obvious, really. He’s got under Douglas’s skin, just as he’d intended from the start. Only Douglas has responded like a normal human being this time, as a middle aged man with serious worries about his job security and his finances might be expected to respond to being mocked about both. And that means that Herc has miscalculated badly.

Now what?

He waits for Douglas to get back and sit down again. Then he takes a deep breath.

“We have our wires crossed somewhere.” He raises a hand to forestall whatever Douglas was about to say. “I had no intention of hitting on you for several hours yet and by the time I did you were going to be significantly more amenable to the idea.”

Herc watches Douglas digest that for a moment or two. The com buzzes and he runs through the routine exchanges with ATC, his mind very much not on the job, but there’s nothing important anyway. They are expecting calm weather for the next couple of hours, at least outside the plane.

When the com goes silent Douglas speaks, in that deep drawl that both amuses and titillates Herc.

“Annoyingly I have to admit you’ve got me this time. I can think of no way at all in which that last sentence could have been intended to improve my opinion of you. Do you want to help me out with that?”

Yes. He thought that he rather did.

“What on earth do you think that I’d want with your good opinion, Douglas? I’m sure I’ve made it perfectly clear in the past what I think of you.”

The nose of the plane juddered slightly and their attention shifted back at the instruments.

“Taking her down to twenty eight thousand five hundred,”

“Twenty eight five hundred. Check. So that doesn’t say much for your taste and discernment since you’re the one doing the importuning.” Douglas sounded as if he’d got over his annoyance, which suited Herc fine for the moment.

“Hardly importuning. More take it or leave it. You do want to take it. And this way neither of us has to concern ourselves with whether we still respect each other in the morning.”

“No.” Douglas sounds amused at that. “And your… other relationship?”

“Is, as you say, not any of your concern.”

“Hmm.” Douglas regards him speculatively and Herc feels a sudden heat that he is sure that he successfully hides. “It’s men like you that give bisexuality a bad name, but let that pass. You’re still the wrong gender, the wrong age, definitely the wrong shape and not remotely pretty. I’m single but very far from desperate and I much prefer women. Generally nice sweet natured women. Why on earth would I want to have sex with you?”

“That’s not precisely what’s on offer, is it?” Herc rolls his deep voice, deliberate. “If you cast your mind back a few months you might recall that sex was the least of it.”

Douglas’s look turns colder. “Your perversions…”

“Fit in rather neatly with yours.” Herc stands up. “Com’s yours. I’ll make some more tea; mine went cold. We don’t have to talk about this now, Douglas or indeed at all, if you insist on being squeamish. The proposal remains open for tonight. You to decide on a game next, I believe.”

He walks back to the galley, washes up the cups and makes more tea. He’s said all that he needs to and he doesn’t want to push Douglas into the definite refusal that hasn’t come so far. Let the man think about it for a while. Herc will go back to being quietly and irritatingly superior. He knows Douglas; if that doesn’t do it nothing will. He’s not sure that it or indeed anything will, though.

He offers Douglas one of the mugs of tea on his return. “Are we on for a game, then?”

“Apparently we're already playing one. “Douglas takes the mug, shaking his head slightly. “You are quite startlingly shameless, Shipwright.”

“I've never found shame a particularly useful emotion, and I know perfectly well that you haven't either.”

Douglas snorts. “No, not really. Still.” He sips at the tea. “Titles that ought to be about sheep.”

Herc represses a shudder. “Very funny. Something else.”

“Come on, coward. Silence of the Lambs, obviously.”

He sighs. At least thinking about sheep will rid himself of certain unhelpful reactions. “The Killing Fields.” Maybe not a good choice. The idea of sheep with machine guns is not making him happier.

“You really don't like our woolly brethren, do you? How about The Beasts of Terror?”

“White Riot.”

They continue in that vein for a few minutes until they are both out of ideas, then lapse into a relatively comfortable silence.

Herc would very much like to know what Douglas is thinking right now but has no intention of asking. He's also worrying about Carolyn, who hasn’t called back yet. Losing this case would be a bad financial blow as well as a disappointment. She should have asked for a postponement, but she never likes admitting that she needs someone else.

Maybe he should have gone to Switzerland. He could have come back to visit... He shakes the mood off. The decision had long since been made and he thinks it was the right one. He can't change Carolyn's need to appear independent but he can be here for her nonetheless. It's working out all right so far. And then there's Douglas. Possibly.

They microwave dinner, and they talk about Martin. He's finished his training on the A320 and a hundred and thirty six passengers at a time now have their lives in his slightly nervous hands four times a week between the Alps and the Near East. From what Herc can tell he's loving it.

“Do you think he'll come back?” he asks Douglas.

The man shakes his head. “When they're offering him big planes to fly and a compulsory continuing professional education programme complete with difficult forms? Not a chance. He'll work hard, do everything by the book and make captain in five years. And good for him.”

“So this secondment is what? Training wheels?”

“For us, not him. Six months to find out how to stay airborne with only the money for one pilot. We've had two months already and no one's come up with anything yet. If you think of something, don't hold back.”

Since this has been the topic of several late night conversations between Herc and Carolyn with no solutions reached, he has nothing to add now. The silence between them has turned several shades gloomier and he is casting about for another subject when the phone rings.

“Carolyn.” This time he makes it definite.

“Quite right.” She sounds chirpy, thank goodness.

“You won!”

“Ah, so you thought I might not?” She's teasing.

“The magistrate might have been an imbecile. Such things are known.”

“Well, in this case she wasn't. She said my case was cogent and powerfully put.”

Powerfully, he had never had any doubt of. “Congratulations. Did you get costs?”

“Yes. So we are no richer but we are at least not considerably poorer.”

“Excellent. Are you going to take Arthur out somewhere to celebrate?”

“You do remember what happened last time we celebrated with Arthur?” She sounds horrified.

“Ah, maybe not then. I shall whisk you away to kill the fatted Quorn when we return from the mysterious East and Arthur can share a takeaway with the dog.”

“I am not eating Quorn, fatted or otherwise. You can take me to somewhere that serves honest to goodness meat or nowhere.”

He sighs. He hates to think how many extra innocent creatures have died so that Carolyn can try to annoy him with her food choices. Still that's her decision and not his. “Fine. Corpses it is. At least Karachi has no shortage of vegetarian restaurants. I shall take my captain out to one tonight instead, to celebrate him keeping his job.”

“If you want to throw away your money on Douglas Richardson, feel free,” she says cheerfully. “I can’t imagine many worse lost causes though. Call me when you’ve landed.” And she hangs up.

Herc raises an eyebrow at Douglas, waiting for a response. Douglas sits back, smooths a cuff down, smiles. “For once I’m with Carolyn all the way. If you want to throw away your money on me, that’s fine by me too. I warn you, though. I have remarkably expensive tastes when someone else is paying.”

He’s clearly cheered by Carolyn’s news. For the first time in several hours Herc starts to think that he might have a chance.

Three hours later they are circling Jinnah International Airport in the long wait for a landing slot and Herc is none the wiser as to Douglas’s post-prandial intentions. They have discussed other, impersonal things, played a couple more games, had a small misunderstanding with an ATC in Turkey which didn’t involve anyone scrambling any fighter jets at all, and drunk more caffeine than was really ideal. The usual long haul drill. Herc is looking forward to a decent meal, even if it’s going to dent his bank account. It could be worse; Douglas at least won’t drink ridiculously expensive bottles of wine and there’s a limit to the amount that anyone charges for rice and vegetables in Pakistan.

He calls Carolyn when they are landed and the paperwork complete. It’s only 5pm there but she’s tired; he can hear it in her voice, so he keeps things short and leaves her to take the dog out in peace. In Karachi it’s 9pm; they need to get out to eat promptly before most places close, though it will be several hours after that before either of them will be ready to sleep. Crossing several time zones plays havoc with the body but both he and Douglas are used to keeping to GMT regardless of what the sun and the city around them might be doing. They won’t be flying back until their body clocks agree that it’s morning, around midday here.

Their hotel is in Karachi centre is a run of the mill western-style chain. Snap shower and change and he meets Douglas in the non-alcoholic bar as arranged twenty minutes later. Herc spent some time in the city a couple of years back and he knows where he’s going.

He ushers his guest through the unpainted wooden door with the faded sign saying “English Spoken Here”. The place looks like nothing special from the inside either and Douglas looks askance at the formica tables and chairs but the service is polite and unobtrusive and the food when it comes will be perfect.

Herc allows Douglas to order a coke while he comes to a decision. Normally he wouldn’t dream of drinking alcohol when his dinner partner can’t but this is not a normal situation. One of the reasons that pilots come here is the unusually well stocked bar kept well out of sight.

“Scotch?” he says to the waiter, who nods enthusiastically. “Whisky. Yes.”

“Show me the bottle.”

The young man returns with a brown paper bag. Nestled inside is a bottle of Glenfiddich. “Yes?”

“Yes, thanks.”

A plastic highball glass is waved at him and the man indicates somewhere about halfway up. “Yes?”

Tempting, but he’s got to fly in 14 hours time. He taps a position considerably lower down. “There.”

The bag and contents are whisked away and the drinks are brought to the table. Douglas is eyeing the whisky with what looks very much like envy and probably is.

“I do know what you’re up to, Hercules.”

“Good. What would you like to eat? It’s all vegetarian here.” There’s a handwritten menu on the wall but it’s not in English.

Douglas shrugs. “I’m in your capable and thoroughly unscrupulous hands.”

He turns to the waiter. “Biryani, samosas, please.”

They are left alone amongst rapidly emptying tables. It’s late night in the city now, and Herc suspects they will be keeping the restaurant staff past their usual closing time. He’ll leave a generous tip; he puts that out of mind for now.

The whisky isn’t bad. The heat spreads down his throat and he sighs in pleasure, only partly deliberately. It’s below the belt, this, not playing fair at all, but Douglas doesn’t have many vulnerabilities and he doesn’t have much time.

“Now if you’d ordered orange juice I would have assured you that it wasn’t necessary.” Douglas comments. “I’d have told you that I really don’t mind what you drink.”

“You’d have been lying.”

“Of course. But you’d have insisted that you really wanted orange juice anyway, particularly as you were flying tomorrow and I would have pretended to believe you and we would thus have negotiated the awkward situation in accordance with accepted social conventions.”

“Instead I get a drink and you get to watch. I prefer this way round. How’s the coke?”

“Lacking a certain something. As always. You can be remarkably obnoxious when you choose.”

Herc just smiles and takes another sip of his drink.

Douglas sighs, tips his chair back to look through at the kitchen. The young man is bringing a plateful of nibbles; neither man speaks except to thank the waiter. Silence again as they start to eat with their fingers.

“Very good,” Douglas says about the food, and then, “I shouldn’t let you do any of this, obviously. I ought just to tell you that you’re having a laughably stupid midlife crisis, behaving like a particularly irritating teenage stalker and I’ll have nothing more to do with you outside the confines of Gertie.”

“That’s one option, yes.” Herc says, neutrally. His heart is pounding. After a very long day of stonewalling Douglas has suddenly cut to the chase and Herc wants this far more than he can rationally explain,

“Let’s call that, for the sake of argument, the sane option.” Douglas pushes the shared plate aside, leans forward. “And the alternative to the sane option involves what, exactly?”

“The slightly less sane option, I imagine. It was less than four months ago, Richardson. How poor can your memory be?” Cool, amused, superior. It’s not precisely how he feels right now but it’s the way the game goes. If he goes a fraction nearer begging then Douglas will despise him and Douglas, for all his faults, won’t bully someone weaker than himself.

Douglas glances around the near empty restaurant, leans a little further forward. “You want me to tie you up and humiliate you. Again.”

“You do remember?” Herc tries a touch of sarcasm. ”I thought with all those “I’m straight” protestations earlier it must have slipped your mind.”

“That is what you want?” Douglas’s eyes are hard.

There’s no getting round the straight answer here. “Yes. But I'm not asking as a favour.”

“No. I remember that.” Douglas sits back. “I must say, you’ve done enough today to earn it.”

Herc smirks at him, deliberately, takes another swig of the whisky. The food arrives at this rather inopportune moment. For the next ten minutes Douglas is concentrating on eating. Herc picks over his, despite his earlier hunger.

Finally Douglas looks up from his empty plate. “You’re right, that’s excellent. Almost worth coming four thousand miles for. We start, and finish, when I say so.”

Herc immediately thinks of several caveats, dismisses them unspoken. This ceding of control is what he’s signing up for. “That’s fine.”

“It won’t be.” Douglas sounds happier than he’s been all day. Herc wonders if he knows it. “Not hungry, Hercules? I’ll finish yours.”

Herc expects to feel the buzz of elation at this point and certainly there’s something of the kind, but mostly his stomach is churning in apprehension. He’d almost forgotten just how effortlessly good the man is at this. “Help yourself.”

Douglas does. Herc sits back and tries to look relaxed and unconcerned. The whisky, unfortunately, is gone. He wonders about ordering coffees but the staff have started to linger around the doorway, the universal language for “it’s late and we want to go home.” A glance at his watch and brief addition tells him that it’s past midnight, local time.

He visits the scruffy gents while Douglas finishes, then raises a hand for the waiter, pays the moderate price for the food and the eye watering charge for the whisky without protest, adds twenty percent tip and asks them to call a cab. Given that the café’s the one risking the fine for selling alcohol the bill's not that unreasonable.

The car’s with them in five minutes. Douglas hasn’t said otherwise so Herc directs the driver back to the hotel. There’s a single bored looking member of staff on the desk; Herc enquires whether there’s a chance of coffees and he waves them to the empty bar area, starts up the noisy machine.

Douglas still hasn’t said anything but when the steaming cups are placed on the bar and Herc stands up to get them he does speak.

“Now.”

Part 2
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