Once seen, it could not be unseen: Captain Crieff, mid-snog. Juicy, wet, arse-groping snog.
Douglas cleared his throat, then cleared it again, louder, when the young couple failed to notice. Martin looked up and instantly blushed a brilliant red. He shoved the other man away from him slightly.
"Hey! Private property," the other man said. He kept his arms around Martin.
"I did knock. The door opened of its own volition."
"It's Douglas, from work, come to collect me, I'd better--" Martin extricated himself from his lover's arms and hurried toward Douglas.
"Hat, Martin," Douglas said, rather enjoying himself. Martin clapped his hands to his head.
"Here, baby. Have a good flight." The man picked Martin's captaining hat up from the table behind him and set it on Martin's head with a kiss to his nose. Ah, young love. Sickening. "And I'm Tom," he said to Douglas. "Nice to finally meet you."
"Astounding to find you exist," Douglas said. "Come along, Captain, your chariot is double parked."
Martin blushed silently all the way to the airfield. Useful, because it gave Douglas time to think of some really good jokes.
Once in the air, though, Martin struck first. "He's my boyfriend, and I love him, and he's brilliant and amazing and I don't know what he sees in me but there's absolutely nothing funny in that!" he said. The colour was still high in his cheeks.
"No, homosexuality isn't funny in the least," Douglas said.
"You in love, though, is hilarious."
"Out of interest, though, are you properly gay or just desperate?"
"Gay! Really gay! I'm not desperate! I was fine with being alone!"
"Very convincing," Douglas said.
"He's extremely handsome and anyone would have gone for him!"
"Somewhat handsome. Handsome-ish. Fine, he's not handsome, but he's an amazing cook, and he used to be a flight attendant, so he lets me talk about planes all day, and he's funny, and sweet, and I love him. I really, really love him."
"Well, if he can listen to you talk about planes, he must love you back," Douglas said. "God knows I can't."
"I never made a pass at you!" Martin sputtered.
"No, and I'm hurt."
"Oh, for god's sake!"
"Have I lost my je ne sais quoi?"
"I don't know what that is," Martin said. Douglas smiled.
Carolyn poked her head in. "Phew! Martin, why are you sweating?"
"He's quivering in fear," Douglas answered.
"I am not!"
"I met his boyfriend today, by the way. Nice chap."
"Yes, my boyfriend! I'm gay and have a boyfriend and I don't care who knows it!" Martin shouted.
"Noted. All right, that's enough time to pretend to talk to you," Carolyn said. "Our client sent me up to ask if you could avoid flying through any clouds, because they make him claustrophobic. I'm off to tell him to boil his head." She closed the door.
"There's just one thing I can't work out," Douglas said. "Why did you lose your head over Hester Macauley if you've never been interested in skirts?"
"Are you kidding? She's Hester Macauley! She was amazing in Fardles Bear."
"Oh," Douglas said.
The next trip, Martin was waiting at the curb, as usual, but looking pale and troubled. "Are you all right?" Douglas asked.
"Fine," Martin said.
When they arrived at the airport, Carolyn descended on Martin and grabbed his chin. "Are you well? You don't look well."
"This is no time for stiff upper lips! You're flying us to Montreal, and I don't fancy running into any polar bears!"
"I'm fine, absolutely fine," Martin said, but Carolyn didn't let go. "I--I had a fight with my boyfriend last night, and it continued this morning, but that's all it is! Nothing at all once I get in the plane."
"You're absolutely sure? If you crash, I'm docking the cost of my business from your pay."
"Well, that's fine," Carolyn said, releasing his chin.
"Wow!" Arthur exclaimed. "Did you ever hear a word so much that it stopped sounding like a word, and just sounds like a bunch of sounds? Because that just happened to me! And it's weird!"
"Yes, all right, I should have said ship-shape, pip pip, ready to fly," Martin said.
"Crew," Arthur continued, obliviously. "Crewwwwwwww. Crew. That's so weird! Creeeeeeewwwwwww."
Douglas met Martin's eyes. "Well, situation normal," Douglas said.
Martin smiled wearily. He did seem fine once inside Gertie, though, and was his usual puffed-up self once he'd completed an unusually protracted walk-around.
"Well?" Douglas asked in the air.
Martin looked at him. "Were we having a conversation?"
"Tell me about your lover's tiff."
"Oh." A bit of the starch sank out of his spine. "Remember when you said you were amazed to find Tom existed?"
"Astounded, I think you'll find, was my word."
"Well--he asked me about that, why you were surprised--and--didn't like that I hadn't told you, that I wasn't out at work."
"To be fair, I didn't ask," Douglas said.
"Yes, and that's what I told him, but--he pointed out that I knew you were married, and--it should have come up."
"Not that I'm not delighted you're dating, but I'm not one to pry."
"But he's right," Martin said. "It should have come up. I've been living with Tom for six months."
"Oh." He'd thought they were just dating, but--well, that put rather a different character on the silence.
"You see? He has every right to be angry with me. He's wonderful, it's all wonderful, and I should have at least have told Carolyn, to update my next of kin so she's not calling my sister if I get lost at sea or something. It's nothing but--"
"Your essential Martin-ness," Douglas offered.
"Being a prat, I was going to say. Thank you very much."
"Have you apologized?"
"Of course! But he's still angry. I don't know what to do next. This is the first time I've really been serious. It's never gone past--well, it's never gotten to the moving in point."
"Apologize again. Then start offering his favorite sexual position. He'll forget about it soon enough," Douglas said.
"Well, his favorite position is my favorite position, so we do, except right before flights--I mean, he's fairly big, and I can't sit down--"
"TMI," Douglas hummed until Martin's mouth stopped moving.
The following week, they had standby, which made Carolyn as content as a fat-bellied Buddha. Tom dropped Martin off daily with a kiss and caress.
Except Friday, when Tom dropped Martin off with a stony silence and a cold shoulder, and Martin walked in decidedly grey about the collar. "Oh dear," Douglas said.
"Don't," Martin whispered. He sat down at his rickety desk and propped his forehead on his hands.
"Honestly, how hard is it? You're both men. All we want from life is regular sex and shiny toys, and I saw the iPhone in his pocket."
"Fuck off!" Martin said, slapping both hands on the desk. He got up and stormed off in the general direction of the men's lavatory.
Douglas sighed and returned to his novel.
"It never fails," Carolyn said, around noon. "We're flying in twenty minutes. Where's Martin?"
"For heaven's sake! Don't break him on company time, you idiot! Go file the flight plan, honestly, do I have to do everything?" She bustled off, muttering.
They were in the air and pointed toward Poland in the requisite twenty minutes. "I'm a sympathetic ear," Douglas said.
"You bloody aren't," Martin said.
"Two divorces, remember?"
Martin exhaled. "Tom said--he dropped me off for a week, and the sky didn't fall--and I said--I meant to say that Arthur hadn't worked it out yet, and he was going to be awkward, but I meant it like--that would be funny--but I said it wrong, and he said not to be such a scared little boy. He said he wants a man, not a mouse, and he's thinking of breaking up." He swallowed. "And I can't think of a single reason why he shouldn't."
"You have been shagging him regularly, haven't you?"
"Daily. Nightly. But he says not to be pathetic, that if he wants a fuck he can get that anywhere, he wants a relationship. I never know what to say to him," Martin said. "It always goes wrong."
"All right, here's what you say," Douglas said. "You were right; I was wrong; please give me another chance. Say that enough times and it'll take you back to fine."
But Monday found Martin again grey-faced and strained around the edges. They were back on standby--the Poland job wasn't quite done--so Douglas had time to inquire: "What now?"
"He's throwing me out, I have a month to find a new flat," Martin said. "Excuse me." He staggered in the general direction of the lav.
He didn't make it, as Douglas found out when he followed. He collapsed in the corridor, heaving with hysterical sobs. He didn't notice Douglas, in his gasping sorrow, or Arthur, or Carolyn either, when they were drawn by the racket. Arthur's yo-yo dangled mid-yo in confusion.
Douglas saw Carolyn flip a switch from boss to mother. It was remarkable, really. "Martin, Martin, breathe," she said, kneeling beside him. She embraced him and let him rest his snotty head on her shoulder. "Deep breath, there we are."
Martin inhaled, his lungs and hands trembling. Arthur sat beside him and stroked his shoulder awkwardly. "Gosh, Skip."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry--"
"Shush! Breathe. You're hysterical. Hysterectomy first, talking second," Carolyn said.
"My first chance, my only chance, only, I won't--I won't--there isn't another, there's only him, oh, God!"
"Shh," Carolyn repeated.
She held him until he breathed normally, and then she took him back to the portacabin and made them all tea. "Right," Carolyn said.
"I'm so sorry," Martin said.
"Yes, understood, you're sorry for staining my shirt, take it as read. What can we do to fix this?" Carolyn inquired. "I cannot have my pilots crying all over the airfield!"
Martin flinched back.
"Meant in the kindest possible way, of course, now out with it! What's wrong?"
Douglas cleared his throat. "His boyfriend is throwing him out." He produced a large handkerchief and handed it to Martin shortly before the resumption of the waterworks.
Martin nodded and covered his face with the cloth.
"Why didn't you have that half an hour ago!" Carolyn said, gesturing to the enormous damp spot on her shoulder.
"Martin, let me talk to your young man," Douglas said. Enough was enough.
"After work! We must at least pretend to be ready to fly. Martin, have a lie down on the sofa and drink your tea. Arthur, biscuits. Douglas, be somewhere else."
Douglas drove the sad, red-faced shell of Martin home. Martin let him in and then collapsed onto the sofa, wringing Douglas's handkerchief in his hands.
"Dinner's on," Tom called from the kitchen. "I don't hate you, Martin."
"Is there enough for three?" Douglas asked.
Tom stepped into view. "Hi," he said.
"Though I'm not sure Martin will be eating. He's in a bit of a state." Douglas indicated the crumpled wreck of humanity occupying the sofa.
"I'll put on some more garlic bread," Tom said.
"He makes the best garlic bread," said Martin in a broken whisper.
Douglas came through to the kitchen, where Tom was measuring spaghetti into the boiling water. "Martin filled me in on your hostilities," he said.
"I'm not hostile. I just don't have to accept half a boyfriend. I can do better," Tom said. He stirred the spaghetti viciously.
"I'd like to hear it from your side. Think of me as the UN, a perfectly neutral party."
Tom raised an eyebrow at him. "He said he was afraid of you. That you would make fun of him for being gay."
"Oh, I absolutely did. Mocking Martin is my chief joy in life these days."
"And that he didn't know how to explain homosexuality to your flight attendant, and honey, I was a flight attendant--"
"A simple soul, Arthur. He only found out the penis was for more than weeing a few years ago. When he was twenty-six. Put the wind right up him. He occupies his position because he's the owner's son."
Tom looked skeptical. "And that you two are the only pilots and you fly every flight?"
"Oh yes. Only one plane, you see."
"I knew it was only one plane--but really?"
"Really," Douglas confirmed.
"I thought he wanted his space," Tom said.
"No, he'd like to have less space, if possible. Did you know that your favorite position is also his favorite position?"
"Sex has never been the problem."
"Did you know you're his first serious relationship?"
That stopped Tom dead.
"He's never lived with someone before." Douglas paused to let that sink in. "He loves you desperately."
Tom looked at him. He stirred the spaghetti mechanically.
"And speaking as someone who knows Martin intimately, if in a rather different way, if there is a way to bollocks something up, he'll do it. If there's a way to say something wrong, he'll say it. I once saw him taken down by an American security officer because he told the man that he was the pilot of an aeroplane and could crash it if he wanted to. When speaking with Martin, I find it best to give his words the most charitable spin possible, and then add another ten percent, because he's just that tongue-tied."
Tom pressed his fingers to his forehead. The spaghetti bubbled away. Douglas waited.
"Fuck," Tom breathed out finally. "Take this." He thrust the spoon at Douglas.
Douglas stirred. From the main room, he heard snippets of "I love you" and "I need you" and "Please, another try," and "Baby, I'm sorry," and finally, the sound of kissing.
Mission accomplished. Douglas drained the pasta smugly.
Martin sat with his leg over Tom's lap, staring adoringly into Tom's eyes. "If I think of me at age 20, it makes so much sense. Baby, why didn't you tell me I was your first real boyfriend?" Tom asked.
Martin shook his head and kissed him. "He has too much pride," Douglas translated.
"I know he has pride. It took him ages to admit he was always skint. As if I mind picking up the check."
"Martin, do you have any more confessions while I'm here to translate?"
"I don't actually get paid at all. I didn't know how to explain. And, and, I haven't told my brother, but I'll tell him tonight. And when I brought you that lobster, you were right, it was smuggled, but it wasn't me that smuggled it. I nicked it off Douglas."
Douglas inhaled. "You toad! You told me Arthur released it into the wild!"
"Yes, that was rather good, wasn't it?"
"You don't get paid?" Tom said.
"Uh. Carolyn is--a very good negotiator. Otherwise I wouldn't have the job, and I love the job more than anything." Martin was turning red again.
"God, you are ridiculous," Tom said. He embraced Martin. Martin pressed his burning face to Tom's shoulder.
"He means that in an affectionate way, Martin," Douglas translated. "Will you boys be all right now?"
Martin smiled and nodded against Tom's shoulder.
In the morning, Martin smelled of garlic and couldn't stop smiling. "That's better," Carolyn said.
"He loves me. He's keeping me. Things are marvelous," Martin said. He sat down and smiled at the chair opposite.
Douglas sat and Martin smiled at him. "Bored," he said. "Let's have a game."
"Can't think of anything. Too happy," Martin said.
"All right. Classic movies if they had a gay romance at the center instead of straight. When Harry Met Salvatore."
"Ooh. Sleepless in San Francisco."
"Very good. Pretty Ladyboy."
"Weak," Martin said.
"Do better, then."
"My Best Friend's Civil Union."
"The Prince Groom."
"Rosemary's Tabby, surely," Douglas said.
Martin laughed. "Okay, let me see..."