Martin's mobile rang just as he discovered that the nearly full container of milk perched innocently in his fridge was well and truly off. The number looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it. "Hello?" he said, pouring sour milk into the sink, silently cursing the red tape that had left Gertie grounded in Siberia for three whole days.
"Hello, Mar - Martin?" a tired voice asked. It was rather a pleasant voice, even if it did sound awfully confused to have got him despite the fact that the voice's fingers - or rather, the voice's owner's fingers - must have dialled his number on purpose.
"Yes?" For such a short conversation, he was feeling rather staggeringly bewildered.
"This is - I don't suppose you'd remember me - this is David Hallam. You moved my partner and me out of our flat in Richmond two weeks ago -"
"To a place in South Kensington, yes," Martin said before he could stop himself, but really, the new place was an entire townhouse, very posh and very hard to forget. And David had been kinder than most of his customers, who seemed to assume his life's ambition was to be little more than a beast of burden. "Was something broken in the move?" He cringed in anticipation.
"No! No, nothing like that." David paused. "I was just hoping you might be able to move me back."
Oh. That was a bit surprising. He cast his mind back but couldn't remember any particularly heavy furniture or fragile pieces that would need extra hands or extra padding. The blankets and boxes he had in the van would probably be enough. "When?"
"Could you come and get me now?" David asked, sounding wretchedly exhausted, and Martin grabbed his keys and jacket.
David was standing outside the house, surrounded by boxes, two suitcases, and a few lamps. Martin hopped out and started hauling the boxes to the van, surprised to see his own writing on them. "Didn't even have a chance to unpack," David said, trying out a rather grim smile, then shaking his head. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be bothering you with all this."
"No," Martin protested. "It's not a bother. Look, why don't you just sit in the van and I'll have this loaded before you know it."
"I'd rather just get out of here as quickly as possible," David said, unslinging his laptop bag from across his shoulder and placing it in the front seat before coming back around to help load the boxes. He was so ruthlessly efficient that Martin wasn't sure he could really even charge him; David was practically moving himself.
"What happened?" Martin asked, quietly enough that David could ignore it if he wanted. There was a long silence, and Martin filled it by concentrating on lifting a ninth box of books - how many books did David have, anyway? - into the van.
"Nothing sordid. Or even all that surprising. Sidney's godmother died and left him this place. She had pots of money, apparently. And for two rather smart people, Sid and I somehow managed not to realise that a new place and new wealth wouldn't make the problems we'd been having disappear."
"Oh." Martin drew a forearm across his brow to mop up some of the sweat. At some point, he was going to have to break down and buy a headband or wristbands or something, because he sweated at the slightest exertion and got even redder-faced than usual, nothing like the bloody athletes on the telly, who looked glamorous even with sweat simply pouring down their faces. "I'm sorry." It was probably not his place to say anything about there being plenty of fish in the sea, even if he believed in that particular saying; going by those standards, he was a lifelong vegetarian. He looked around, realising what was missing. "Wasn't any of the furniture yours?" He squeezed his eyes shut at his own stupidity, willing himself invisible.
David actually laughed, evidently too kind to take offence. "Just what you see here. Don't worry, there's a sleeping bag and pillow in one of these boxes, and I'll go out tomorrow and get a table, some chairs, maybe a sofa, and a bed."
Tomorrow, Martin remembered, he was due to fly to Morocco, so he buttoned his lip and didn't offer any further help.
"Sorry, I only got your message just now, I was in Rabat yesterday," Martin explained breathlessly as he walked toward his van, wondering if David had patched things up with Sidney, who was, he remembered, glamorously handsome and now simply rolling in it to boot.
"In Morocco?" David asked, sounding intrigued. "Did you have a nice holiday?"
"Ah, well, it, um, wasn't really a holiday. It's my job; I'm a pilot."
"That sounds fantastic," David said. "And you're just home now? Not jetting off anywhere else tonight?"
"Right," Martin agreed slowly, wondering if he needed the money from this move as much as he needed sleep.
"Want to come round to mine and help me polish off the bloody enormous takeaway I got from the Thai place around the corner?"
"Oh!" Martin looked up to see Arthur waving goodbye and Douglas wrapping an arm around the waist of a very pretty and very young security officer. He just bet that Douglas would have a story to tell about handcuffs the next time they sat in the flight deck and prepared for takeoff. "Yes, I can be there in twenty minutes?" he said hesitantly.
"See you soon, then."
Martin got up and changed out of his uniform, taking it out to the van in his good garment bag. He paused for a moment, then decided there was no risk in putting the office's folding chairs into the van as well; he was the last to leave and he was certain to be the first at the office tomorrow morning, so no one would miss the chairs at all.
He made the drive almost on autopilot, the route was so familiar. He knocked and David opened the door, smiling and then looking at the folded chairs leaning against Martin's hip. "Most people bring wine or flowers," David said, looking like he wanted to laugh.
"I wasn't sure if you'd been able to get to the shops," Martin said, blushing furiously at his own impertinence.
"Oh, that's sweet," David said, standing back to let Martin by. "I couldn't find proper chairs, actually, but I did buy a futon. And a coffee table that was apparently made by someone who didn't really grasp the elusive concept of . . . a table." He reached out to snag one of the chairs from Martin's grasp. "So these will be handy."
"I've got to take them with me when I go," Martin said immediately, as if he expected David to abscond with them; he wondered why he was so inept at everything.
"Then let's enjoy them while we have them," David said, smoothing his idiocy over like it had never happened, and Martin smiled and followed him to the food.
"I had rather an interesting experience last night," Douglas said, after Arthur had come and gone with their coffees and a question that made Martin renew his vow not to eat anything that Arthur had invented. That casual drawl was enough to send every hair on the back of Martin's neck into high alert.
"I was making the acquaintance of a charming young lady -"
"Very young," Martin muttered into his coffee.
"- young enough, indeed, to think that having roughly a dozen flatmates is 'capital-F Fun!'" Douglas conceded, "and since time was rather of the essence, we decided to continue our conversation in the office."
"Oh, Douglas. You didn't. I do my paperwork at that desk! That's where I create our flight plans!"
"What does Sir take me for?"
"Sir knows you well enough not to take you anywhere," Martin said, and Douglas seemed not to be able to help himself from laughing heartily.
"Sir is quite sassy today."
The spice in the Thai food must have awakened something in him, Martin decided, inwardly pleased at Douglas's candid response. "Yes, yes, what was it you wanted to say?"
"Only that I found it interesting that the office was missing one of its most charming features - the pair of folding chairs. Since I was unable to offer Carina a chair, we had no choice but to seat ourselves on the desk, which I am happy to report remained unmoved throughout our exertions, sturdy old girl that she is. It is possible, of course, that Carina and I, only having eyes for each other, overlooked the chairs, but I spotted them without any difficulty this morning, exactly where they were not last night."
Douglas was not going to get anything from this particular fishing expedition. "How odd. Carolyn would do well to lock the office when it's not in use; I'll remind her when she comes to the flight deck."
Douglas sat back with a dissatisfied murmur and downed his coffee. He perked up within moments. "Did I mention that Carina has a pair of regulation handcuffs?" he said, and Martin quit looking at the horizon for long enough to roll his eyes.
"You don't have to keep bringing those chairs over; I promise I will buy some," David said, tearing a naan in half and putting a piece on each plate.
"You don't let me pay for the food, so it's the least I can do," Martin protested, pleased with himself for finally getting a complete, coherent sentence out without making a fool of himself. He raised a brown bottle of ginger beer to his lips and promptly choked on its spicy kick.
David's hand was warm and firm on his back. "I'm not paying for the food either," David said when Martin had stopped sputtering.
"You can't be cooking all this!" Martin protested; the kitchen cupboards, as he knew, having packed and unpacked them, held only an electric kettle, a few mugs, and a pot big enough for a single serving of noodles.
"No, but I'm friends with waiters at most of the nearby restaurants," David said, much smoother with his own ginger beer.
"Wait," Martin said, trying to understand. "So they bring you free food and then don't even stay to eat with you?"
David's cheeks went from a nice toasted-almond colour to a sort of faint pink, like the toasted almond was blushing. Oh. Because David was blushing. "They don't stay because they know the food's for me and my date."
Martin froze. "Me?"
"Is that . . . did you not think of these as dates?" David asked quietly, fiddling with the knotted red throw that covered the absolutely ghastly print of the cheap futon cover.
Martin looked at his plate on the seat of one of his folding chairs and considered. There was food and good conversation - David listened to all of his aeroplane stories and told the funniest jokes in return - and he liked sitting on the ratty futon that couldn't be opened into a bed, one thigh pressed along David's, and shaking with laughter.
He looked up and found David's eyes fixed on him; his stomach fluttered and his fingers lost their grasp on the bottle. It crashed to the ground, getting both of them wet from the knees down with ginger beer, and Martin blurted out, "Sorry - I'll get it - please -" and David somehow understood that, because he leaned in and kissed him good and proper.
"Martin," Douglas said, "get that silly grin off your face."
Martin kept smiling, feeling contentment radiating throughout every cell in his body.
"Simon says: get that silly grin off your face," Douglas tried.
"Don't believe we were actually playing," Martin said absently, looking over the budget for the upcoming trip to Djibouti to figure out where the missing eight hundred pounds had gone.
Carolyn came in, humming a bit, Arthur trailing closely behind. "Hello, my dim little chickadees," she chirped. "Who's ready to go to Brussels for less money than anyone has ever dared to dream?"
"With the trifling exception of the good people at Eurostar," Douglas shot back sarcastically.
"Eurostar only wish they had a good girl like Gertie on their team," Carolyn returned smartly, still smiling.
"Is there something in the water?" Douglas demanded. "Or is everyone grinning like they've been lobotomised because of a nice man with an icepick lurking nearby?"
Martin became aware of Carolyn frowning thoughtfully at him. "Oh, yes, I see what you mean. Martin, what's the meaning of this?"
"This general demeanour of happiness."
"Don't think you're getting out of it that easily, Carolyn," Douglas interrupted. "Why are you smiling?"
"That, my dear employee, is technically none of your business. And you needn't think you can weasel it out of Arthur later, because Arthur has no idea. That is both a general principle to live by as well as a statement true to this specific situation." With that, she left the office, humming again.
Arthur turned to watch her go. "Mum seems happy, doesn't she?"
David took one look at Martin's empty hands and knew exactly what that meant. "No chairs," David murmured against his mouth, "so you'd be okay with me doing this?" He kept Martin close with one hand cupping his head and the other on his back and got the two of them on the futon, half-sitting and half-reclining.
"Yes, but -" Martin cut himself off, not sure how to put it.
"Maybe not so fast?" David guessed, and Martin nodded gratefully, reaching up to kiss David again. David's mouth was warm and wet and might as well have borne a live current, given the thousand lovely shocks Martin felt whenever it brushed his own. "Mmm," David said, and Martin could hardly believe those words were coming out of that lush mouth, "you are unfairly good at this."
Martin smiled against David's lips and kissed him again. David's hands, just as wondrous as his mouth, were snug around his waist, and Martin was feeling deliciously lazy as he cuddled close and let David kiss along his jaw. His massive yawn took them both by surprise.
"I'm sor -" Martin started, mortified, but David gave him a no-nonsense peck to shut him up.
"With the number of time zones you cross every other day, I'm surprised you haven't conked out before this." Martin felt David's hand brush gently through his hair. "Why don't you just stay? You can sleep, I'll get some work done, and we can be together until you have to leave for your next trip."
That would definitely not be taking things slowly, Martin thought, but David looked sincere, not like he was plotting an elaborate and villainous seduction. "Won't it bother you having me here while you're trying to work?"
"If you can sleep through me tapping away at my laptop, I can write through you snoring." David waited for a moment, then nudged him with his shoulder. "This is where you protest indignantly that you don't snore."
"I think I do, though," Martin confessed shamefacedly, and David snorted and kissed him again through the laughter.
"Give me your keys," David finally said. "You keep a bag in the van, right?" Martin nodded and yawned again. "I'll be back in a minute, then," David said, and pulled the keys out of Martin's pocket. "Go to bed."
Martin woke up with the sun on his back and stretched full length, feeling blissfully lazy. His nose was pressed against something warm and nice-smelling; he drew back a little and discovered it was David's hip, soft and light brown just above the band of his maroon underwear.
David evidently felt the movement because he lifted a hand from the laptop braced against his thighs and dropped it to Martin's hair, stroking through it steadily. "Morning," David said.
"Morning," Martin mumbled, wondering what on earth he was supposed to do now.
"Give me five minutes to finish this paragraph?" David asked, his fingers now on the back of Martin's neck.
Presumably that meant purring with delight was not how David expected him to spend the next few moments. "Of course," he murmured, then got up and headed for the bathroom, arms crossed protectively over his chest.
Like every other room in the flat, David's bathroom was sparsely decorated; the lack of clutter made it easy to see the plastic-wrapped toothbrush sitting on one edge of the sink. Right, he could do this. He did it every morning, didn't he? Have a wee, brush his teeth, feel his mind start to gear up for the day. Just because he was mostly naked in someone else's flat - a lovely someone with brains and looks and manners and experience - didn't mean that he had to change anything.
He looked resentfully at his reflection in the grotty mirror above the sink. Hair curling wildly out of control, freckles spotting his shoulders without rhyme or reason, oddly slanting eyes, and a mouth full of toothpaste foam. At least he could do something about that last.
When he emerged from the bathroom, one hand running nervously along his arm, David had the laptop on the floor and a welcoming smile on his face. "Come here, you," he said, and Martin dropped his hand, deciding that he could be brave if David just kept looking at him like that. He scrambled into the still-warm bed and found himself being kissed, short and sweet.
"What were you writing?" Martin asked, allowing his hand to rest on David's, grinning when David's thumb came up and curled around his own.
"A short story, hopefully the first in a new collection. I just need to figure out a through-line."
Martin turned that over in his mind. "So that's what you do? And it's what you want to do?"
"It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do," David said, sliding an arm around him.
Martin understood that, the feeling of being exactly where you were supposed to be, familiar from his hours in Gertie's flight deck. "Good," he said, resting his head on David's shoulder. Maybe it was that David had it all figured out, or maybe it was just something about his personality, but David was immensely relaxing to be around. He didn't let himself think, just shifted a bit and let his lips touch David's neck.
"Martin," David said, his voice gone quiet.
Martin breathed deeply. David smelled nothing like the air-conditioned offices, sterile airports, or coffee-scented cockpits he knew, but somehow he still smelled safe. "Are you going to make me say 'please' again?" Martin asked, just as quiet.
David pulled back to get a good look at his face. There was a long breathless moment, and then David said, "Please."
Martin trembled a little but scooched resolutely forward on his bum, sheets wrinkling beneath him, and kissed David.
"Chaps," Arthur said, frowning down at the notebook in his hand, "what's 'orange nest'?"
"I can't think of -"
"Which of the many orange nests Arthur could be referring to?" Douglas interrupted smoothly. "Neither can I, Martin."
"You really will do anything to avoid listening to the updates to the safety procedures, won't you?" Martin asked, wishing that Carolyn were there, backing him up on the necessity of memorising those procedures, instead of haggling with the office manager over the rent. He turned back to Arthur. "What on earth is the context for 'orange nest'?"
"It's for this recipe I'm trying. It says, 'juice of one orange, plus one teaspoon grated orange nest.' Is that the net that oranges come in, the kind that looks like a bird's nest? Can you get those pre-grated? I don't think Mum would like it if I used the grater."
Martin felt a horrible suspicion blossoming in his mind; Arthur's tone was just a shade too urgent. Before he could say anything, however, Douglas spoke.
"Those nets might provide your daily allowance of fibre, Arthur, but I believe you've simply copied the recipe incorrectly. It should say 'orange zest.'"
"Oh, right!" Arthur said, sounding tremendously relieved. "Is that like, spicy oranges? Or, um, nacho-flavoured ones?"
"Arthur," Martin interjected before Douglas could spin some outrageous tale, "have you already started making this item?"
"Yeah!" Arthur beamed. "I was hungry, and Mum had chucked my fizzy yoghurt, so I thought, well, I should make something, so I cracked the eggs and added the flour and sugar and then I got to the part with the spicy oranges and I couldn't figure it out, and then I fell asleep, and I thought maybe I could dream the answer, but I just had that same dream about the beagle stuck in traffic and honking his horn, and then I knew you chaps would know, so I could just ask you!"
There were times when Martin hated being right. "If I tell you what orange zest is, will you do me a favour?" he asked, and Arthur nodded obligingly. "You must throw out the mixture and start over; you cannot eat something that's been left out for that long."
"But fiz -"
"I'm sure Carolyn will toss out the contents of the mixing bowl - as well as the bowl itself, most likely - as soon as they get home," Douglas said thoughtfully. "Though come to think of it, why didn't she nip this cookery scheme in the bud?"
"Oh, she's not home in the evenings anymore," Arthur said. "She's out with Jimmy most nights."
There was no mistaking the glee on Douglas's face upon learning one of Carolyn's closely guarded secrets. "Jimmy, is it?"
"Oh, yes, he's brilliant!" Arthur said. "Now, what's orange zest?"
Martin walked in, groaned "fifth floor, no lift," and collapsed onto David's lap. He was tired and sore and more than a bit pungent, but David kissed the top of his head and held him close.
"Shower first," Martin answered, closing his eyes. "Pizza's fine." He couldn't make himself get up, and David seemed in no hurry either. "Did you figure out how the killer could have got the victim out of the freezer before the police caught on?"
"Mm-hmm. But I also rewrote it from the victim's point of view," David said, running a hand up and down Martin's back. "You've got some serious knots."
"There was a wardrobe," Martin said darkly, though the large wad of cash in his pocket made up for quite a lot. "It was practically sentient, kept trying to leap out of my grip."
"Poor darling," David said. Martin cracked open an eye when that hand stopped its soothing work and caught a glimpse of David looking nervous. "This is probably unfair, springing it on you when you're so tired, but. Would you move in with me?"
Martin sat up straight, cracking the top of his head against the underside of David's chin. "Ow." He rubbed at the sore spot, thankful that his mess of appallingly ginger hair was at least good for cushioning such blows. "Really?"
David was working his jaw from side to side, but still managed to say, "Yes. You're here whenever you have any free time anyway, and you hate your flat. And I want you around."
Martin put up his hand to stroke the spot where he'd smacked David. "Sometimes I wonder if you're real," he said.
"That's funny, my dashing captain," David said, dropping a kiss on his nose; "I often wonder the same about you."
"This is like Christmas for you, isn't it?" Douglas asked, sprawling back lazily in his chair.
"Douglas. You seem to be under the impression that I have a passion for paperwork."
"Are you really trying to convince us that you don't, Martin?" Carolyn asked, making a face as she sipped at the coffee Arthur had provided. "We've all seen you settling down to a large stack of it with a smile."
"No," Arthur said unexpectedly, "he doesn't. Do you, Skip?" His tongue poked out of his mouth as he tried, without notable success, to slice his homemade cake with a flimsy plastic knife. Martin was rather hoping that, if left as a single lump, the so-called cake wouldn't have to be consumed, and this staff meeting would not go down in history as the one at which they all contracted salmonella.
"No. What I have a passion for is order, a desire that things be done correctly."
"Fussbudget," Douglas said, though he looked thoughtful.
"I suppose technically that would mean that the paperwork I fill out on your behalf isn't being done correctly, since it falls under the First Officer's purview," Martin mused. "Hmmm. Fancy that." There was no way he was going to devote any more of his waking hours to completing Douglas's tasks, not when he had David waiting for him at home.
Carolyn was watching him with shrewd eyes. She turned to Douglas. "He's quite right. You start doing your own paperwork or I start docking your pay."
"Dear Carolyn," Douglas said, voice turned caressing, "I have been labouring under the delusion that our esteemed captain preferred to handle such matters himself. If, as you suggest, you would be happier were I to take responsibility for them, I will of course be glad to do so -"
"No overtime pay," Carolyn said immediately, and Douglas's face fell.
"I do have one bit of paperwork to take care of personally," Martin said, trying very hard to keep any unseemly triumph out of his voice. He kept his tone deliberately casual. "Change of address."
Martin rolled a bit on his stomach, settling into the mattress, one hand turning the page of his flight manual and the other stroking gently at David's ankle. David's agent Amanda - brisk and terrifying and beautiful, capable of dissecting Martin with her eyes even as she sipped daintily from the cup of tea he'd made her - had set a strict deadline for the first three short stories for his new collection. "Don't be naughty," Martin said when he felt David's foot poke inquisitively at his bum. "You've only got two more weeks before Amanda descends on us again."
"I can't get Brian to say the things he's supposed to say," David griped. "Plus I'd rather work on the novel."
"If I feed you, will you be good?" Martin asked, smiling because David was only petulant when he was coping with an empty stomach or writer's block, and it was rather late for lunch. All of his cookware was now in the cupboards, and they'd started doing a proper shop at least once a week; it was so much cheaper to share expenses that Martin could even splurge and buy a delicacy once in a while. The Indian grocery attached to their favourite restaurant had had a special that he'd been keeping mum about, waiting for the proper moment to spring it on David. "Sev puri?"
"Mmmm, later," David said, scooping up the laptop and the flight manual and setting them on the bedside table, his intent clear from the look in his eyes. Martin shivered happily and let himself be rolled onto his back, surrounded by David's muscular arms and legs. He tilted his chin up, ready to be kissed, but David didn't comply; when Martin looked up to see what was the matter, David looked a little lost.
"I just - I want to do everything with you," David said wonderingly. "All those things you laugh at but keep in the back of your mind."
"Like?" Martin asked, breath already hitching in anticipation.
"Like spread you out on silk sheets," David said, one hand running firmly down Martin's side even as his nose was nudging the hem of Martin's old red t-shirt that had gone pink from years of wear.
Martin held desperately onto just enough of his scrambled brain - David's warm breath on his skin was so delicious - to put up a token protest. "I am not getting out of bed to go shopping for shee-hee-heeeeets!" His declaration was broken by a laugh; David was tickling him with tender bites to his belly. He clutched at the rumpled bedding and tried again. "Cotton will have to be good enough."
"It's more than good enough. I love you, you know," David said, because words were what he knew, what he worked with, and they didn't fail him the way they did Martin.
Martin closed his eyes, the better to revel in the sensation of those words breathed against his body. "I know," he said, stroking a hand through the thick waves of David's dark hair, surprised equally by the declaration and his unhesitating acceptance that it was the truth. That made it easy to keep going. "I love you too."
He really should have remembered Arthur's propensity for being in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time, but he'd been too sure that Douglas would be the one to catch him. The force with which Arthur, trying to set a world record for the number of consecutive single-apple tosses and catches, bumped into him was enough to make his captain's hat fly off his head. His blue-tipped hair was out in the open.
"Wow!" Arthur said, not even bothering to locate the apple that was rolling away at quite a fast clip. "Are you secretly Scottish, Skip?"
"What?" Any moment now Douglas would look over from where he was chatting up a girl in an unprofessionally tight clerk's uniform. All Martin wanted was to locate his hat.
"Like in Braveheart, when they paint themselves blue. Or half of themselves. Not half the people, but all the men, only on half their -"
"Oh! No, I'm not secretly Scottish. Just ordinary Scottish, and Welsh, and English." Damn it all, where was it?
"Looking for this?" he heard, and he looked up to see Arthur scampering off after his apple and Douglas twirling Martin's captain's hat on one blunt finger.
"Yes, thank you," he said firmly, holding out his hand like Douglas disobeying wasn't even a remote possibility.
Douglas obliged readily. "Of course. Here you are, Captain Smurf." He watched Martin tuck the cap hastily over his hair, then asked, "Is this all the rage now? Frosted tips are out, real paint is -" Douglas cut himself off, and before he could help it, Martin looked up to see Douglas eyeing him worriedly. "Martin, are you working as a handyman now too? I could lend you a bit to tide you over if you need to make rent."
Martin smiled like he hadn't a care in the world; Douglas really was a nice man, deep down. "No, I'm fine, thank you. Just sprucing up the new place, that's all, and I couldn't get all of the paint out of my hair. And the van business is going well, now that it's got a bit warmer. Really," he said, trying to make that disquieting anxiety in Douglas's eyes go away.
Douglas took his time looking Martin over. Arthur came rushing back then, ready to take another crack at breaking the world record. "This time," he said excitedly, "you chaps can count along!"
Douglas moved so that he was next to Martin, both facing Arthur, and he didn't shrug off the arm Martin slung around him.
Toronto, Martin thought, was no doubt a wonderful place, but none of its charms made him as happy as getting the clearance to take off. They'd been gone for a week, doing short hops all over Canada, and he wanted to sleep in his own bed and listen to David reading aloud from his own work and just spend a few hours relaxing before he had to go to Islington tomorrow afternoon for a van job.
He got home and headed straight for the bedroom, expecting to find David there, since he hadn't been perched on the futon in the living room, wearing his glasses and frowning at his laptop; all he found was a note on the bedside table saying Come and find me. Given that the flat had exactly two other rooms, and the kitchen was empty, Martin didn't have to think before he headed for the bathroom.
The air inside was warm and sweet, and David was lounging in a bathtub filled with shining white bubbles. David was wearing a smile so exaggeratedly wicked that Martin couldn't help laughing, hard enough that he toppled over from the force of it. "There is no way this is going to work," Martin finally managed to say, wiping tears of mirth away from his eyes. Judging by David's frizzy hair, the humidity had to be doing awful things to his own hair, but David didn't seem to have noticed, his gaze fixed hungrily on Martin.
"We'll just see about that, my little Archimedes," David growled. "Strip and get in."
Martin offered up no further protests; David's ideas were usually rewarding for all involved. He pulled off his uniform and leaned down to kiss David, whose face had gone pink and slick from the steam. David gripped his forearms to brace him as he stepped into the tub. Water immediately sloshed over the side, and Martin broke the kiss to lean over the side and make sure they wouldn't be flooding the flat below.
His knees hit porcelain, wedged tightly between David's hips and the curved sides of the tub. It was rather lovely to be pressed chest-to-chest with David, hot soapy water climbing up his spine as he sank further down, while David's big hands cupped his head and turned it so that David could kiss where he pleased. He got his foam-covered arms around David's neck and melted into him, smiling as he felt David hooking one strong calf around his hip to rest on his bum.
"Mmmm, you were right," David said regretfully long minutes later, still cradling Martin's head.
"About the fact that you're entirely ridiculous?" Martin asked pleasantly, nipping at David's dark pink lower lip.
"About the fact that my neck is killing me, the water's gone tepid, and there's not nearly enough room in this blasted tub for all the things you so richly deserve," David said, tipping his head back, and Martin had no interest in resisting an invitation like that, biting at the clean lines of jaw and throat on display.
He'd forgotten how much smaller and lighter he was compared to David was until David was striding out of the bathroom, arms barely straining under Martin's weight, Martin's legs wrapped around his waist. It was an odd sensation, not unlike flying, to be borne aloft like that, knowing there was someone powerful holding him up.
He didn't break the kiss until his head hit the pillow and then he looked up, able to see David clearly without any haze of steam softening everything. "You look tired," he said, cupping David's cheek and looking into his reddened eyes. "You're working too hard."
David rolled them so that Martin was sitting astride him. "This from the man with two demanding jobs and an insatiable boyfriend." David seemed to know that wasn't enough to keep Martin from worrying. "I thought I should try to get as much done as I could while you were gone, so that once you were back we could just lie around and do nothing, that's all."
Martin considered that while he ran his hands over David's chest. "'Doing nothing' doesn't sound particularly 'insatiable,'" he pointed out, and David pulled him down for another kiss.
Martin woke up with his head on David's chest, still smiling from the last bit of his dream, and took a look at the clock on the bedside table. He sat bolt upright. If he rushed and hit no traffic, he'd have just enough time to get to Islington for the moving job. He snatched up pants, jeans, socks, and a t-shirt from his side of the wardrobe and rushed into the shower. By the time he got out and got dressed, David had a sandwich and a large bottle of water ready for him. "Thanks, love you," he said, pulling on his trainers while David kissed him, and then picking his keys off the hook.
He sprinted to the van and drove off, thankful for his sense of direction. The job itself wasn't too bad, mostly moving office equipment, which people were far less sentimental about than personal property. Still, he could track how much sweatier and tired he looked as the day wore on from the reflections that looked back at him from all of the computer monitors he was hauling about.
Fee in his pocket, he drove home at a more reasonable speed, singing along to the radio despite the fact that his windows were rolled down and anybody could hear him. His stomach growled and he checked the time; that sandwich break had been several hours ago. He stopped to pick up dinner, knowing David would most likely have forgotten to eat if he'd got into a groove with his writing.
When he got home, David was, as he'd guessed, entirely wrapped up in his laptop, only a glass with melted ice in front of him. "Got Italian," he said, dropping the bag on the kitchen table.
"Lovely," David said. "You sit, and I'll dish it up."
That sounded like a good plan, so Martin toed off his trainers and threw himself onto the futon, resting his feet on the coffee table that still looked like it would crash into splinters at the slightest weight. There was something odd about the way his feet looked, he thought, but he couldn't be arsed to care, not when there was a plate full of hot pasta with a thick and garlicky tomato sauce on offer. He took the plate from David's hand, then grabbed David's too so that he could sit without spilling.
They slurped up their pasta in silence, both too hungry for proper conversation. Meal over, they inched closer together, legs tangling together, all four feet on the coffee table. Four feet that were all the same size but, Martin now saw, wearing three different kinds of socks. "Oh," he said, wondering how he'd managed to miss that he was wearing his own olive-coloured sock on his right foot and a maroon-coloured one belonging to David on his left. He wiggled his toes experimentally; both feet felt comfortable. He wiggled again, this time deliberately caressing David's feet with his own.
"I like that you can wear my socks," David said, stretching out his much longer legs.
"You like that I have big feet?" Martin asked disbelievingly. David persisted in seeing the good in everything about him, and he was curious to hear the rationale behind this one.
"Well, you know what they say about men with big feet," David said suggestively.
Martin was too full just then to respond to innuendo. "That they wear big shoes?"
"Yes, exactly; you're a genius," David said, giggling a little and trying to stifle the sound by hiding his face in Martin's neck. "Take me to bed, you loon."
"Carolyn, what reason could you possibly have for making us sit here in this wretched office for hours?" Douglas asked again, his tone sharp, and Martin recognised a danger sign when he heard one.
"So, Douglas, how's Miranda?" he asked, trying to remember how old the child should be now. "She's got a birthday coming up, hasn't she?"
"She's seven today," Douglas said shortly.
"Well, that's nice, isn't it? I suppose you'll be heading out to see her once we're through here?"
"No, Martin," Douglas said with exaggerated patience, "I will not." Douglas's tone lost all pretense at politeness as he continued. "Because I've not been permitted by my ex-wife to visit except on alternating weekends and today, as even Arthur could tell you, is Wednesday and therefore not a weekend."
Martin blinked, uncertain how the conversation had gone from civil to snarling so quickly, and Carolyn joined the conversation. "Douglas, that's quite enough out of you. If you can't be civil, at least hold your tongue while the inspectors are here."
"What inspectors?" Martin asked.
"Surprise inspectors," Carolyn said, displeasure evident in her tone. "Apparently if we want to keep docking Gertie here, we need to undergo surprise inspections of our workspace and our aircraft."
"Will the strip searches be right after that, or will they buy us dinner first?" Douglas asked. "This is ridiculous, Carolyn, and there is no reason that we should have to wait for this pointless procedure to be finished!"
"Have you something better to do, Master Smuggler?" Carolyn asked coolly. "Afraid that they'll find something in your locker?"
"Like that?" Arthur asked, pointing. Martin followed his finger to the space under Douglas's chair, where his uniform jacket failed to cover a thick envelope with a shiny, official-looking seal.
"Douglas. Tell me what's in the packet," Carolyn demanded.
"Nothing to do with you, MJN, or Gertie," Douglas said.
Martin couldn't decide which of the two of them would crack first; they were both tense and snappish, and one wrong word could -
"Is it a surprise?" Arthur asked hopefully.
"Yes!" Douglas roared, making them all jump. "As a special surprise on my daughter's birthday, knowing that I'd be unable to see Miranda, my wife Helena decided to distract me by serving me with divorce papers. Selfless of her, don't you think? She has a real flair for comedic timing."
"I'm sorry, Douglas," Carolyn said. She nodded at Martin, who put an arm around Douglas and got him moving toward the door. "To hell with this inspection. The first round is on me," she continued, pulling Arthur along.
"I don't drink anymore," Douglas said, like he wanted nothing more than an excuse to start again.
"First round of cheesecake," Carolyn replied sternly. "Lead on, Martin, to that wretched van of yours. And when I give the signal, everyone loosen their belts; we've got a long night ahead of us."
Martin got home around midnight, belly full of cheesecake and cheeseburgers and chips and all sorts of greasy, fattening, completely cheering things. He was surprised to see that David was on the phone. Who? he mouthed, pointing at his wristwatch; it wasn't as if David kept a regular schedule, but surely a midnight call was straining the bounds of courtesy.
Amanda, from California, David scrawled on the back of a heavily-marked printed copy of story number six. Martin nodded and went into the bedroom to change, peeling off his uniform and getting into his pyjamas and the mismatched socks David had left on the bed.
"Are you certain?" he heard David say as he walked past the sofa and into the kitchen, needing a glass of water. Amanda must have been chattering at a mile a minute, because all David said after that was "yes," "no," and "thank you." When he disconnected, he had a stunned look on his face.
"Everything alright?" Martin asked, unable to tell if the shock was good or bad. "Is Amanda okay?"
"Yes, yes of course," David said, but the frown lines forming on his forehead belied the calm assurance in his tone. "She called to say that A Matter of Trust is being made into a film. Some company in California's bought the rights and the contract she negotiated means pots of money for her and for me." It was all said in a bodiless monotone.
"They're making a film of your book!" Martin said, not caring that he was shrieking like a teenager; someone had to acknowledge the excitement of the news. "You are amazing!"
David looked up at him, and Martin could see the spark in his eye grow into a gleam. A wicked grin crept slowly across David's face. "Do you know what this means?" he asked, sounding more like himself. Martin shook his head, waiting to hear. David got one hand round the back of his neck and pulled Martin down so that their mouths were only a breath apart. "This means I'll get to spread you out on silk sheets after all."
"The nice thing about Arthur," Carolyn said, watching fondly and disbelievingly as her son hoovered the office and boogied as he went, "is that even if you tell him you're coming to a surprise party for him, he'll still be surprised when he sees you there."
"So it is a surprise party, then?" Martin asked.
"As of right now, yes. But Arthur is alarmingly effective at winkling information out of Jimmy, so possibly not by the time his birthday actually rolls around."
"Jimmy's got a soft spot for Arthur, then?" Martin asked, smiling at the thought; if anyone deserved some spoiling, it was Arthur.
He didn't let on that Carolyn looked far less disgusted than she probably thought. "It's not so much a spot as it is an entirety, actually."
"Good," Douglas said, nodding decisively. "Garden party, then? Are we allowed plus-ones?"
"Certainly, if the pair of you can scrounge them up," Carolyn said, walking off as the noise from the hoover stopped and Arthur approached.
Nononononono, Martin thought desperately. This could not be happening, not today. A freak snowstorm had grounded all aircraft. Only a few hundred miles away, David was probably cursing his name as he coped with serving cocktails and dinner to Amanda and some of the bigwigs at the film company.
"Martin, you kinky sod, have you set the stick up your arse to vibrate?" Douglas asked dryly, watching Martin pace and jitter and check his wristwatch with a fervour usually seen in hospital waiting rooms.
"I have to get home," Martin said; it was all he could say without worrying that his terrible luck would somehow jinx David, as if it were a contagion and he were Typhoid Mary.
"Shall we play a game?" Douglas offered. "Films -"
"This sudden aversion to popular media is severely limiting my repertoire of games," Douglas said finally, after pausing conspicuously to give Martin time to babble out his fears. "Songs, then?" Martin nodded jerkily. "Very well, song lyrics with unintentional sexual innuendo."
"How do you know it's unintentional?"
"Ah, Martin, once again your inexorable logic reveals the flaw in my humble amusements. We will simply have to guess. Your turn first."
Martin's head was swimming, all of his attention on the silent videos playing in his mind of David being too distracted by his absence to make a good impression on his guests, of the contract for the film being torn up, of Amanda severing ties with David. It would be all his fault.
"Golf-Tango-India, you are cleared for takeoff," said the voice of an angel, and Martin squeaked happily and jumped into his seat.
"Thank you, Tower, we're making our final preparations now," he said as calmly as he could. Gertie was delightfully responsive under his hands, and he knew he could count on her to get him where he needed to be.
"Ah, here he is now," he heard David saying as he opened the front door, and marvelled at David's steady tone. "Hi, love," he heard in an affectionate whisper just before he was lightly kissed. "Captain Martin Crieff," David said, introducing him to the crowd of people in their living room.
Blast, he'd meant to buy a suit to wear to this thing, but between running all over London with his van and his jobs on Gertie, he'd forgotten. He supposed he could do worse than to stay in uniform.
"Captain, huh? I guess all these flight manuals and that flight simulation game must be yours then," one of the guests said, broad American accent and alcohol on his breath both carrying clearly to Martin. "A real pilot, how about that? Who do you fly for?"
"A charter company called MJN," Martin said. "It's wonderful."
"Sounds it," the man said, scrutinising Martin even more closely. "I guess you have to know all kinds of things to be a pilot, right? Like the list, you know, Alpha, Bravo, um, what's the next one?"
"Do you mean the NATO Phonetic Alphabet? It's Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta -"
"Juliet." Not Jomeo, though the memory made him smile.
"And you can do it all the way through to Z?"
The man said Zee instead of Zed, so it took Martin a moment to come up with "Zulu," but he didn't think the man had noticed.
"That's great. Hey, have a drink with me," the man said, steering Martin over to where David had set up a drinks cart he'd never seen before, though something about it made Martin sure that it was Amanda's and on loan for one night only. "What's your poison?"
"No, let me play host," Martin said, trying to catch David's eye and plead for rescue. "It's gin you're drinking, isn't it? Let me top that up for you, then."
"I like you, kid," the man said, raising his glass in a silent toast. Martin watched him for a beat, waited until the man's attention was firmly fixed on the contents of his tumbler, and then slipped away, relaxing when David slid an arm around his waist without a murmur.
"Would you take Wallace along on your next moving job?" David asked as they did the washing up once all the guests were gone.
"Of course," Martin said. "Is he moving on from the restaurant, then?"
"He's not happy doing what he's doing now," David answered. "He thought maybe having a job that would allow him more independence might be the way to go."
"I've got a booking in Hounslow on Wednesday morning. I'll call him and tell him, then." He shrugged one shoulder as he dried the last of the cocktail tumblers. "If he finds he likes it, he could even borrow the van for jobs of his own."
He set the tumbler down and flipped the towel over his shoulder just in time for David to swoop down and kiss the breath out of him. "What was that for?"
"Just because you're lovely," David said.
A phone rang, and Martin looked at his watch and sighed. "That's probably Caitlin; I told her I'd call her this week."
"No, that's my mobile," David said, drying his hands on his shirt. "Hello? Yes, this is he. Oh, hello, Mr. Lasker."
Martin's eyes widened; Mr. Lasker was the man who'd interrogated him about the phonetic alphabet and had followed him around, asking odd questions, for the next three hours. When Lasker had gone back to the drinks cart for another replenishing, Amanda had hissed in his ear that Gabriel Lasker was "the money" of the film company and that it was ultimately his decision whether the film would be made or not. There had been little he could do then about the impression he'd already made, but he'd put in every effort to appear interested in all of the misconceptions Lasker had about piloting an aeroplane.
If he'd messed up David's chance to see his book made into a film, he'd never forgive himself. He took a deep breath and faced David, whose expression had gone blank.
"I'll ask him," David finally said, and Martin immediately started constructing a hundred horrible questions that could have led to such a response. Foremost was what the hell was that boyfriend of yours thinking?, but it was vying with who does he think he is? and other unsavoury options. "Good night, Mr. Lasker," David said, and disconnected the call.
Martin asked mutely for the news; he didn't think he could get his voice to work. When David kissed him reassuringly, it took a moment for him to remember he had to know before he went crazy. "Lasker was very taken with you," David murmured; "I just wanted to remind you I was here first."
"What did he say?"
"It's his company that makes Ultimate Flight Simulator, and he's been wanting to make it even more realistic."
"How? It's already got the best graphics on the market," Martin said automatically, then stopped before he let himself be completely distracted. "What about your film?"
"No, love, he didn't call about the film, which as far as I know, is still going forward. He called because he had a flash of inspiration that getting a real airline captain to do the voiceovers for the next edition of Ultimate Flight Simulator would put him even further ahead of his competition. And you're the pilot he wants."
Martin wasn't aware of making a decision to sit, but suddenly he was on the futon in a boneless heap. David curled around him, laughing and combing strong fingers through his hair, and Martin just held on.
"Are you bringing someone to Arthur's party tomorrow?" Martin asked Douglas as they ate the sandwiches that looked like the safest bet in the dingy canteen.
"I hadn't thought about it," Douglas said in that off-hand way that Martin had learnt meant exactly the opposite. "Why?"
"I know someone who might suit you," Martin said; he and David had spent a long evening buttering Amanda up.
"And you haven't snatched her up for yourself?"
"I've got mine already, but if you're not interested, I can tell Amanda no dice."
"Amanda, eh? Well, we mustn't let a girl who's been promised Douglas Richardson down at the last moment," Douglas said, looking chuffed.
"No, you definitely don't want to disappoint her," Martin said, meaning every word.
Carolyn's house was always impressive, but with the garden in full pink-and-white bloom it was welcoming too.
David leaned into Martin's arm around his waist and murmured into his ear, "I thought you'd be nervous, having me meet the family."
"What's there to be nervous about?" Martin responded, smiling and tilting his face up to the sun. David squeezed his hand appreciatively.
"Wow, you look great!" Arthur said, careening toward them and crashing to a halt a scant six inches away.
"You too. Arthur, this is David, my boyfriend. David, this is Arthur, the best steward the skies have seen."
"Happy birthday, Arthur," David said, having his hand shaken vigorously.
"Come on, Skip! You haven't met Jimmy!" Arthur leaned forward to whisper in Martin's ear. "You know, he's the one who arranged for it not to rain today so we could have the party in the garden like Mum wanted!"
Martin was pulled forward by an overexcited Arthur; they stopped in front of Carolyn, who was being thoroughly kissed by a short, broad man in the shrubbery. "Jimmy, this is Skipper," Arthur said, beaming benevolently at his mother.
"Martin, actually, and it's very nice to meet you," Martin said, watching Carolyn smooth down her hair and Jimmy watch her with a besotted look in his eyes.
"The pleasure's mine, son," Jimmy finally said, shaking hands. "This your fella?" he asked nodding at David.
"Yes. Carolyn, Jimmy, this is David," he said. Carolyn gave him a speculative look, but said nothing; when David and Jimmy fell into conversation, she was much more blatant about giving David the eye and then flashing Martin an indiscreet thumbs-up.
"Amanda and Douglas are Beatrice and Benedicking all over the place," David said, offering Martin a plate full of hors d'oeuvres, "and I can't quite tell if it will end in sex or murder."
"That's probably just the way they both like it," Martin pointed out and David considered that for a moment before nodding and helping Martin devour all the little bites on the plate.
"Here they come," David said, just as Douglas and Amanda strode over, each clutching a full glass, though Douglas at least looked to be drinking mineral water.
"Brace yourself," Douglas stage-whispered. "I do believe Carolyn will be making a speech."
Sure enough, Carolyn began hushing her guests. "I'd like to thank you all for coming to my son Arthur's birthday party," she began, and Douglas rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to say something biting, but she continued, "and showing him that he's loved by all of you."
Martin smiled and nodded at Arthur, who grinned back; his smile was perhaps the only thing that had a hope of outshining the garish party hat he'd chosen to wear. Martin turned to catch David with his face gone all soft. "You really are the softest touch," he said in an undertone.
"Quiet, you," David said, pulling Martin close.
"To Arthur," Carolyn said, and as one they all raised their glasses and echoed the toast.
Someone - it had to have been Arthur - had stuck a regular dinner-sized candle in the middle of a clearly homemade cake that had HAPPY written across it in vivid green icing. Jimmy shook his head but lit the candle, and they sang while Arthur danced his glee in a routine not far removed from his hoover-dance. Arthur blew out the candle and immediately started slicing the cake and serving it.
Before Martin could stop him, David had snagged plates for the two of them, Douglas, and Amanda. "Here you are," David said, to their dismay.
Martin watched in horror as David took an enthusiastically large bite; he saw the moment David's brain processed what was in his mouth, and the ensuing struggle to force it down his throat. Douglas was openly chortling, Amanda was smacking Douglas's shoulder as if that would hide her own giggles, and Martin had a glass of water ready to ease David's pain. David took it and drained it. "You little devil," he said. "How could you do that to me?"
"It was hardly Sir's fault," Douglas drawled, and David burst out laughing.
"Okay, then, what's the plan?" David asked, turning to Martin.
"Well, it is a garden party," Martin said, crumbling his slice between his fingers. "We are in the great outdoors." He dropped the largest chunks into the nearest shrubbery.
"You're assuming that this cake is in fact biodegradable," Douglas pointed out, and that was enough to set them all off again.
"Well, you were certainly a hit," Martin said as he locked the door behind them.
"I liked them too," David said, smiling at him in that way he had that made Martin a little weak in the knees every time.
"Still," Martin said, inching closer, "it's good to be home," and he turned his face up for a kiss.