Martin Crieff didn’t want to climb the stairs to his ridiculous attic bedroom. He didn’t really want to do anything except lay down and die. After a 10 hour flight and a three hour round-trip to make a delivery in his van he was more than a little exhausted. He trudged through the kitchen, where the many students who inhabited the house were beginning to emerge for breakfast, and noted an envelope addressed to him on the counter.
Later, he thought. Sleep now.
He dragged himself up the stairs and collapsed onto his bed, falling asleep without even removing his shoes.
He was awakened several hours later by the noisy students doing their usual noisy things downstairs. He grimaced at the horrible taste in his mouth, and forced himself to get up to go downstairs and eat something before brushing his teeth and showering.
“Alright, Martin? Big night?” asked Mike, a first year student, as Martin trudged into the kitchen.
“You could say that,” Martin sighed in reply, searching the almost-empty cupboards for food. He settled on stale bread, and dropped two slices into the toaster.
“There’s a letter there for you,” Mike added.
Martin had almost forgotten. He frowned at the shiny, pale blue envelope. It had been a while since he’d gotten mail that wasn’t a bill. He slid his finger under the flap at the back and pulled out a card, elegantly decorated with hand-drawn flowers. His name had been written in by hand.
Dawn Tinsley and Tim Canterbury invite you to join them in the celebration of their marriage.
He stared at the invitation until the toaster popped and made him jump.
Well, then. This was unexpected.
Especially since the last time he’d seen Tim Canterbury, Martin was almost certain he’d had his hand down Tim’s trousers and not long after that he’d thrown up in a rubbish bin.
This wouldn’t be awkward at all.
Martin jerked awake as the phone rang in front of him. He hadn’t even realised he’d nodded off.
“Wernham Hogg,” he said, picking up the phone. “Yes... no, Mr Jones, your meeting’s still scheduled for two... Ok... sure, I’ll let him know... ok, bye.”
He hung up the phone and groaned.
“You need to sleep.”
He looked up at Tim, who had suddenly appeared in front of the reception desk.
“Sleep would be lovely, but I have to work night shifts this week.”
Tim leaned his folded arms on the higher level of the desk.
“Mate, you can’t keep doing this. You’ll burn yourself out.”
“It’s only for a few more weeks, then I can do my instrument rating.”
Tim smiled. “And get out of this place forever.”
Martin smiled back. “Hopefully...” Then he looked stricken. “Oh, God, no, Tim, I didn’t mean- I mean I’d miss you lot, obviously, it’s just- you know what I mean, I-”
Tim laughed. “Relax, Martin. No offense taken. I’d like to be out of here as much as you.”
Martin smiled politely as David bounded from his office to the reception desk.
“How’s everything going? You’re not distracting Mr Canterbury here from his work, are you, eh?”
“Good, good. Any phone calls for me?” David asked, with an awkwardly friendly punch to Martin’s arm.
“Ah, yes. One. Mr Jones called to check what time the meeting was and said he might be running late.”
“Silly old bugger. Doesn’t know what day it is half the time. Is that all?”
“Right. Well. Come on, Tim, back to work. Can’t stand there staring at Martin all day.”
“People might think you’re gay,” Gareth chimed in, helpfully, from his desk.
“Yes, thank you, Gareth,” David said. “No one thinks they’re gay. Although, obviously, if they were gay no one would have a problem with it, would we? But they’re not, so. Anyway. I’ll just...” David trailed off, smiled, and slipped back into his office.
Tim sighed. “Fascinating conversation, as ever. Anyway, we’ll go for a drink to celebrate when you pass your... thing. Instrument rating.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice, actually,” Martin replied, smiling his rather endearing lopsided smile. Then the smile faltered. “What if I fail?”
“Then we’ll drink more,” Tim smiled back. “And do it again when you pass.”
“Alright, Martin. Out with it.”
“Out with what?”
Douglas rolled his eyes. “Out with whatever it is that’s had you so distracted all morning.”
“I’m not- I’m not distracted.”
“Right. That’s why you passed up a perfectly good ‘surely you can’t be serious’ earlier on. You’re a pilot, Martin; even you couldn’t miss that one.”
Martin sighed. He knew that telling Douglas would either result in horrible teasing or helpful advice from a man who’d had his fair share of awkward wedding experiences.
“It’s just... I got a wedding invitation yesterday.”
“Well, it just sort of... brought up some old memories, that’s all.”
“Ah. I’m guessing you’ve got a bit of history with the bride?”
“Not- not exactly.”
“Well you either do or you don’t, Martin.”
“I meant... I mean, not exactly with the bride, exactly... as such.”
Arthur chose that particular uncomfortable moment to burst into the flight deck.
He handed them both their coffees. Martin took his without looking over, eyes fixed pointedly on the horizon.
“Playing any good games?” Arthur asked, cheerily, oblivious to the tension.
“As a matter of fact,” Douglas replied. “Captain Crieff here was just starting a game of ‘Things He Should Have Told His First Officer Quite a Long Time Ago’.”
“Oh, brilliant!” said Arthur. “Can I play?”
“That depends, Arthur. Do you have anything you should have told me quite a long time ago?”
“Umm... no. Sorry.”
“Oh well. Come back when you do.”
Arthur grinned and left the flight deck. Douglas shook his head in amazement for a moment before turning to look at Martin.
“Look, Douglas, I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters, Martin. I don’t have a problem with it. I just think it’s something I ought to have known, what with us spending prolonged periods of time confined together in a small metal box.”
“No but I’m not even- not really, I just- and it’s not like I fancy you.”
“I’m going to ignore that last bit. I was joking, Martin.”
“Oh. Good. I’m really not gay though... well not most of the time.”
“Oh, the good old ‘not most of the time’. Nice to know that your consistently confused approach to life and flying also applies to your sexuality.”
“Douglas! I didn’t tell you so you could tease me about it.”
Douglas sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry. The teasing ends here. Now, tell me about the dashing man who stole the Captain’s heart.”
Martin was silent for a moment. He wasn’t quite sure where to start.
“Do you remember, years ago, that documentary ‘The Office’?” he asked. “About the paper company in Slough?”
“I used to work there. I left before they started the show. Do you remember the receptionist, Dawn?”
“The pretty blonde one?”
“Yeah. That used to be my job.”
“You were the receptionist?”
“I needed the money!”
“Didn’t she always have a bit of a thing with that other young man? The normal one? My second wife used to think he was lovely.”
“He was lovely,” Martin said, without thinking, and then went quite red.
“Oh, it was him, then?”
“Yes. And it’s him that’s getting married. To Dawn.”
“I didn’t realise they actually got together in the end.”
“There were some special episodes a few of years later, sort of a ‘where are they now’ thing for Christmas. She... she was supposed to go back to Florida with her fiancé, but she came back to the office Christmas party and kissed him.”
Martin didn’t mention how he’d spent that particularly lonely Christmas sobbing in front of his television, feeling horribly sorry for himself yet so happy for Tim.
It was a Friday when Martin took the day off to do his instrument rating. David told Gareth that as Team Leader and Assistant to the Regional Manager it was his duty to look after reception for the day. Tim spent most of the day listening to the ridiculous phone conversations he was having and shaking his head.
At the end of the day, just as he was thinking of knocking off, Tim’s phone rang.
“I failed. Can we please go get pissed?”
As much as he felt sorry for Martin, Tim couldn’t help smiling at his hint of a lisp pleading to “get pissed”. He agreed to meet him at a pub in Wokingham later that evening.
“Are you sure you’re not gay?” Gareth asked, as Tim hung up the phone.
“Yes, Gareth, I’m sure,” Tim replied, putting on his jacket and gathering his things. “But you know what? Martin and I could fuck each other’s brains out, and it still wouldn’t be any of your business.”
Gareth stared at him as he walked out.
“What was that about?” David asked, sticking his head out of his office.
“Just Tim being gay. That’s a stupid expression anyway, ‘fuck each other’s brain’s out’. Doesn’t make any sense. Like, where would you have to stick it for that to happen? I hope Martin does pass his pilot’s test eventually, then we can get a girl receptionist like we’re supposed to have.”
David chuckled uncomfortably and slipped back into his office.
“Started without me, then?”
Martin turned from the bar to look at Tim.
Tim smiled. “It’s alright. So, how badly did you fail?”
“Badly. I did fine in the written test, but then I panicked in the oral exam. I might still have passed if I hadn’t messed up the practical.”
“But you’re a good pilot. You know you are.”
“No one else does! They all look at me like they expect me to fail, and then I start thinking about my dad, and everything just goes wrong.”
Tim patted him on the shoulder. “You’ll get there.”
“And it’s so much money each time! I’ve already spent a fortune.”
“Next time, mate.”
“How do you know?” Martin asked, miserably.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I know everything,” Tim joked, sitting down next to Martin.
Martin almost smiled. “That’s reassuring.”
“Another thing I know is that miserable people need proper drinks.”
Martin smiled properly as Tim ordered them both scotch.
“Do your powers include knowing if we’re both going to be very hung over tomorrow?”
“I only use my powers for good,” Tim replied, and Martin giggled more than the joke really deserved.
Several glasses of scotch were consumed, and Tim soon discovered that despite Martin’s earlier misery he was quite a giggly drunk. He loosened up, told silly jokes and got his words mixed up as his lisp slowly increased with alcohol consumption. Tim mostly just sat and smiled more than he had in a while.
At some point Martin realised that 22 was too old to never have tried tequila, and decided trying it then was a good idea. The sensible part of Tim’s slightly more experienced brain tried to point out that tequila is never a good idea, but was ignored.
By the time it was completely dark outside, both Martin and Tim were rather intoxicated.
“Oh, I’ve got another one,” Tim said. “It’s very important. Favourite Beatle?”
“Ringo Starr,” Martin answered, without hesitation, although he struggled slightly with the pronunciation.
Tim laughed. “Ringo Starr? Who likes Ringo Starr?”
“I do,” Martin said, defiantly. When Tim continued to laugh at him, he started singing Octopus’s Garden, which only served to make Tim laugh more.
“Oh, God, Martin. Please stop. There’s too many S’s in that song!”
Martin trailed off, laughing. Eventually the barman implied quite strongly that he thought Martin had had enough, and Tim looked at his watch.
“Probably about time we got you home.”
“Why? It’s not that late, it’s only... oh.”
“Exactly. And you’re going to have a hell of a headache tomorrow.”
“You said you didn’t know that!” Martin complained, as he attempted to stand up straight.
“I don’t need special powers to know that,” Tim replied, grabbing Martin’s arm as he toppled unsteadily.
They caught a cab outside the pub, to Martin’s first. Martin leaned his head against the cool window of the cab and watched the lights of an aeroplane fly overhead.
“I’ll be a pilot one day,” he murmered.
“Course you will,” said Tim.
“And then I’ll... fly you around the world.”
When the cab pulled up at Martin’s, he attempted to pay the driver, but Tim insisted he’d get it. Martin suddenly leaned over and hugged Tim.
Tim laughed. “Mate, it’s just a cab fare.”
“No, but... thank you,” Martin repeated.
“You’re welcome, Martin.”
The hug lasted a little longer than would usually be comfortable, as drunken hugs have a tendency to. And it was this drunkenness they would both use to excuse the brief incident when Martin went to pull away, but seemed to get stuck for a moment, his lips precariously close to Tim’s, his tequila-scented breath tickling Tim’s cheek.
They didn’t mention it on Monday.
“Really, Martin, I don’t understand why you didn’t just go for it then! You were both young and wild...”
“We weren’t young and wild, we were young and boring! And, most importantly, we both still lived with our parents. Where were we supposed to do it, in the back of the cab?”
“Hmm, fair point.”
“That wasn’t the end of it, though.”
“Oh, really? Do tell.”
“I think we both pretended that hadn’t happened... I mean I was pretty plastered. I might have imagined it. God, can you imagine if all these years I thought that had happened and it turned out I imagined it?”
“Right. Sorry. I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway. We just went back to work and acted like nothing had happened. I booked myself in to do my instrument rating again in a few weeks, and I told David I’d be leaving if I passed.”
“So far, Martin, this story is rather uneventful.”
“It was a big deal for me, ok? And I’m not finished.”
They were silent for a moment, Martin apparently lost in thought.
“The day before I did my instrument rating, he... no, it doesn’t matter...”
Tim had been glancing over at Martin since he’d gotten back from his lunch break. Martin wasn’t sure if Tim knew how obvious it was, but it was making him slightly uncomfortable. Eventually he stood up and came to stand in front of the reception desk.
Martin looked up at him, not wanting to ask why he was staring at him in case it came out wrong. He raised an eyebrow.
Tim smiled. “Hello. Um... God, I’m going to sound like a twat now.”
“I doubt that. What’s the matter?”
“No, nothing, I just...” he reached into his pocket and pulled out something that Martin couldn’t see. “Now that I’m back here it sounds really stupid. I was at lunch and I saw- I mean, I know you’re doing your thing tomorrow-”
“Yeah, and I saw- well, here.”
He lifted his hand above the desk and held it out, palm up. After a moment’s pause, Martin reached out and took the minuscule toy aeroplane. He held it up between his finger and thumb and examined it.
“It’s an aeroplane,” Tim said. “Well, obviously it’s an aeroplane, but I bought it for you because I knew you’d be nervous and I just thought it could be like a... good luck charm or something.”
Martin grinned. “Thank you.”
“No, it’s stupid, I know...”
“No, really, thank you. It’s very... thoughtful of you.”
Tim smiled awkwardly. “Anyway, good luck. I know you’ll pass.”
As Tim returned to his desk, Martin pushed the tiny aeroplane across the desk in front of him and smiled. Maybe he would pass.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Martin passed his instrument rating the second time. He found, however, that while he was relieved and quite ecstatic, it left him feeling rather shattered. He called Tim at work to let him know.
“Tim, it’s Martin.”
“Martin! How’d you go?”
“I passed! Can you believe it? I actually passed!”
“Hey, well done! See, I knew you could do it.”
“It’s such a relief knowing I didn’t waste all that money again.”
“I can imagine. So, are we going for a drink? Oh, piss off, Gareth!”
“Actually I might pass on the drinking tonight. I’m just a bit exhausted. I worried myself sick and now I’ve done it, it’s finally all over.”
“I’m happy for you, Martin. At least one person in this miserable place is doing what they want.”
Martin grinned. “And on that note, I’m going to go look at job notices!”
Tim chuckled. “Ok, I’ll see you on Monday. Oh, Martin! One more thing,” Tim lowered his voice. “If you want to prank call reception at all this afternoon, you’d make my boring life far more interesting.”
Laughing, Martin agreed and said goodbye.
On Monday morning, Martin smiled to himself as he dressed for work and ignored the part of his brain that told him it was now time to start worrying about being rejected by airlines he had applied to. He ignored the landline ringing in the kitchen, knowing his mum would answer.
As he was doing up his tie, there was a knock on his bedroom door.
“Martin, love, phone call for you!”
He opened the door, frowning. He didn’t know anyone who’d call him at twenty past seven on a Monday morning.
As he took the phone from his mum, she mouthed, “Sounds important!”
He shooed her away with a smile.
“Martin Crieff,” he said, then his eyes widened. “ I’m-I’m very well, thank you, how are you? ... I- yes, I know... no, I know it doesn’t look overly impressive, but I assure you I’m-... oh. Really? You want... yes! No, of course I do! ... No, that’s fine, really... you don’t want me to come in for an interview? ...Monday? No, that would be- that’s perfect... ok, I’ll-... th-thank you!”
He hung up and blinked at the phone for a moment.
“What was all that about?” his mum asked, reappearing in the hallway.
“I think I just got offered a job.”
“A job. I just got offered a job.”
“Without an interview?”
“Apparently. They’re desperate. Oh my God, I just got a job. A proper job, as a pilot.”
His mum beamed at him. “Oh, Martin, that’s wonderful! Come here!”
She pulled him into a hug as he stood looking slightly shocked.
“It’s at Kemble Airfield,” he murmured against her shoulder.
“Kemble. Gloucestershire. I’ll have to move.”
“That’s alright, love, you have to move out eventually!” she smiled at him as she stepped back. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Thanks, Mum,” he said, softly. “God, I wish...”
She patted his shoulder with a sad smile as he trailed off.
“I know, love. He’d be proud of you too.”
When Martin arrived at work that morning, Tim was just getting out of his car.
“You’ll never guess what happened this morning,” Martin said, excitedly, walking over to Tim’s car.
“Hello to you too,” Tim replied, smiling. “What happened?”
“I got a job! A proper job as a first officer with flying and... pilot-ing!” Martin babbled, grinning.
“That’s fantastic! How’d you get one so quickly?”
“I sent in my CV on Friday night and they called me this morning! It’s just a little charter airline in the Cotswolds, they don’t pay much, but it’s still a job... I can’t believe they’d even want to hire me!”
Tim laughed as they walked towards the front door. “Why wouldn’t they want you?”
“I failed my CPL six times!”
Tim waved his hand dismissively. “You got it eventually. I was like that with my driver’s license. I was completely useless in the tests, but I was fine once I passed. It’s just nerves.”
Martin shook his head, smiling. “I don’t think a car and an aeroplane are quite the same thing, but I appreciate the thought.”
When they arrived at the office, David was standing by reception with a coffee.
“Alright, Martin? I heard you passed your test, well done.”
“I suppose you’ll be leaving us now?”
“Well, actually, I got offered a job this morning. And they want me to start on Monday.”
David pulled a face. “Well I’m not going to be able to do that, Martin, my boy. You know you’re supposed to give two weeks’ notice.”
Martin’s face fell, and Tim rolled his eyes.
“David-” he said, but Martin interrupted.
“I- I told you, though, that I’d be leaving if I passed, and- and...”
“It’s alright, I’m only joking,” David laughed. “Look at your face. No, it’s fine. I’ve already got a replacement lined up, anyway. Applied last week. I’m sure she’ll be happy to start on Monday.”
“Really?” Tim asked. “What’s her name?”
“Dawn,” David replied. “Isn’t that lovely? Dawn. She’s pretty, too. Give you something to look at, eh, Tim?”
Tim laughed uncomfortably as Martin slipped behind the reception desk and silently got to work.
Ugh, I am so sorry this took so long to update! It was a rather spontaneous beginning and I realised fitting the two timelines together is more challenging than I'd originally thought, and that combined with university and an obsessive need to figure out where Fitton is meant this chapter was a slow one to get written. The next few should be much faster! Thank you to everyone who's reading, and if there are any silly mistakes feel free to point them out to me!
I'm so sorry this chapter has taken so long. It sort of got stuck. I'll try not to take so long with the rest.
And yes, considering the fandoms involved in this I am aware that there are far more exciting things happening today that most of you are probably far more interested in, but try and enjoy this anyway!
“I’m assuming that you, being the painfully shy person that you are, never told the lovely Tim how you felt, and left the bright lights of Slough behind you still wondering what could have been.”
“Of course not! Well, I mean, no. I never told him how I felt, but that’s not all.”
Before Martin could elaborate, Arthur burst in with the cheese tray.
“Ta-da! You’re in luck today, chaps, because Mum says she doesn’t feel like cheese. She left you the camembert.”
“How generous of her,” Douglas replied drily.
“Oh! And I thought of something I should have told you quite a long time ago!” Arthur added, beaming.
Douglas looked confused for a moment, before he remembered the fictional game he’d mentioned.
“Yes! Armadillos... can walk underwater!”
The two pilots were silent for a moment as they digested Arthur’s announcement.
“Armadillos,” Martin echoed. “You needed to tell Douglas about armadillos?”
“I needed to tell everyone,” Arthur corrected him. “Because it’s brilliant. I saw it on telly a few weeks ago and I meant to tell you then but I forgot.”
“Well now I know,” Douglas finally replied. “And I will be forever grateful, Arthur. Is that all?”
“I could tell you some more about armadillos.”
“I think we should save some for later, don’t you?”
“Good idea. I’ll come back,” Arthur said, smiling, and left the flight deck.
“Now, after that bombshell... what were you saying?”
“We went out again. Not just us, everyone from the office. To... what was it called? Henry VIII’s.”
“Ah, one of the many cultured nightspots of Slough.”
“I barely knew half of the people there, they just wanted an excuse to have a night out. I stayed with Tim...”
“Now there’s a surprise.”
“And the others!”
“And was there tequila involved?”
Martin went a little bit red. “Not tequila specifically. I was planning on being good, I really was, but it was my last night there and... well, it didn’t take much at that age.”
Douglas smiled. “Martin, it doesn’t take much now.”
“No, yes, I know, but- anyway! The point is, I’d had a bit to drink.”
The bouncer outside Henry VIII’s gave Martin a cursory glance that he assumed was meant to be intimidating, or to communicate that he was only letting him in out of the goodness of his heart, but Martin knew how desperate the place was for patrons. He smiled innocently as he took back his ID and headed inside to find his colleagues.
He spotted David and Chris Finch hanging by the bar, Finchy making an obscene gesture and David laughing far too much. Martin turned away, hoping to avoid them, and scanned the room for Tim. Eventually he saw him, huddled into a corner booth with Gareth on one side and Keith on the other, looking thoroughly thrilled to be there. As Martin approached Tim’s face broke into a smile.
“Hey, here he is!” he said. “I was worried you’d chickened out! Shove over, Gareth, let Martin sit down.”
Gareth stood up, picked up his drink and muttered something about going to talk to girls. Martin took the spare spot next to Tim.
“How are you going, then? You all ready to go?”
“Almost. I’m going to see about a flat when I arrive. It’s not much, just a little attic bedroom in a student house, but it’s not forever.”
“Word of advice, then,” Keith intoned, and Tim flinched ever so slightly in anticipation. “If you’re going to be hanging around with students, you want to make sure you always use a condom. Because they are... filthy.”
Tim blinked, looking perplexed but not entirely surprised.
Martin nodded, trying not to laugh. “I- I’ll remember that, Keith, but I don’t plan on- on- well, on sleeping with them.”
Keith shrugged slowly, taking a sip of his drink. “That seems like a missed opportunity.”
“Drinks!” Tim said, suddenly. “Martin, you need a drink. Let me get you one.”
He stood up quickly and began heading for the bar.
“Vodka tonic!” Martin called after him, smiling.
Martin’s head was feeling pleasantly fuzzy and his hands rather more uncoordinated than usual. He was laughing at Tim’s attempts to wind Gareth up, and watching David dancing out of the corner of his eye.
He glanced at his watch and frowned. He hadn’t realised how late it was getting.
“Tim,” he said, trying to drag Tim’s attention away from Gareth. “Tim. I should go soon, I’ve got lots to do tomorrow.”
“Noo, no, no, no,” Tim said, quickly. “Come on, it’s your last night. One more round.”
Martin smiled, knowing that he’d really been hoping Tim would say that.
“Ok, but just one more!”
Tim nodded, slightly too seriously to be believed, and went to get more drinks.
An hour later, as Martin made his way back from the toilets (finding the “Mind your head” sign far more amusing than he would have at any other time), he remembered that he had been planning on going home.
“Tim!” he yelled over the music. “I should go home!”
Tim yawned. “Yeah, I’m almost there too. I might head off. Martin’s going, guys!” he called, turning to the small group of co-workers gathered around him. “Martin’s leaving, say goodbye!”
A few shook Martin’s hand, while the others waved and smiled.
“Good luck, Martin!” David cried, flinging a drunken arm around Martin, who staggered backwards slightly.
“He’s not going to war, David,” Tim joked, attempting to detach Martin from David’s arm.
They made their way outside, pulling on their jackets. Martin laughed as he stumbled down the few stairs at the front door.
“Careful,” Tim said, holding out a steadying arm. “I hope we can get cabs.”
“We’ll be fine,” Martin slurred, grinning, still holding Tim’s arm. They moved to lean against a quiet section of brick wall around the corner, out of the sight of the glaring bouncer.
“That,” Martin said. “Was fun. I’ll miss you all.”
Tim smiled, patting Martin on the back. “Yeah, we’ll miss you too,” he said.
Martin looked up, and suddenly found himself thinking that Tim was the perfect height. He didn’t make Martin feel short, but he wasn’t too short, either. And in fact, his mouth was at the perfect height for-
“Mmff,” was approximately the noise Tim made as Martin kissed him, tensing in surprise for a fraction of a moment before he reciprocated, his hand moving down Martin’s back and pulling him closer.
Tim’s tongue in his mouth, Martin thought, may have been the most wonderful thing he had ever felt. It was enough to drown out the fact that he felt quite nauseous. Rather overjoyed at his apparent success and not entirely thinking clearly, it didn’t take long before Martin reached a fumbling hand out for Tim’s belt buckle, loosening it just enough to slide his hand down Tim’s trousers.
Tim made a strangled noise against Martin’s mouth, his hips bucking involuntarily. This happened to be the same moment a young man walking past called out, “Get a room!” and also, rather unfortunately, the same moment it occurred to Martin that he was about to throw up.
He pulled himself away from Tim, stumbled instinctively towards the nearest rubbish bin, and emptied his stomach contents into it.
Soon after that, Tim must have put him in a cab, because the next clear memory he had was of his mother tutting in disapproval and bringing him water and painkillers.
Tim Canterbury knew he shouldn’t be thinking about another man’s hand down his trousers.
But, he supposed, it was his own fault for mentioning said man to his fiancée and then allowing her to send him a wedding invitation.
He should probably stop thinking about it, though, since he was supposed to be washing the dishes.
“Hello, you,” Dawn said, slipping her arms around him from behind and resting her head on his shoulder. “You’re daydreaming. What were you thinking about?”
“Hmm? What? Nothing.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“That was it?”
Martin sighed as Douglas looked at him incredulously.
“Yes, that was it. Well, unless you consider me watching him on television a relationship of some kind, but he never even knew I did so I don’t think that counts.”
“And now I have to go to the wedding and it’s going to be so uncomfortable.”
“I know it’s a wild suggestion, Martin, but you could always follow the path of many former sweethearts throughout history and not go.”
Martin was silent for a moment.
“But I... I want to see him,” he said softly. “I know nothing’s going to happen, nothing needs to happen, but I really do want to see him.”
Douglas looked thoughtful. “If I were in your situation- not that I would be, but if I were- I think I would arrange to meet him beforehand. It won’t be strange of you to ask, since they’ve broken the ice by sending you the invitation, but if it goes horribly wrong then you can conveniently have other plans for the night of the wedding.”
Martin considered that. It sounded quite reasonable, actually. His own immense social awkwardness aside, he and Tim had always got on well. He’d probably have to meet Dawn too, but he’d grown quite attached to her when he was following The Office, and she seemed nice.
“And who knows,” Douglas added. “If you do go, you might meet someone there. Weddings are renowned for that sort of thing.”
Martin held back a sarcastic comment about Douglas knowing all about that, since he’d listened and given advice without teasing him too much. Martin couldn’t imagine himself meeting anyone at the wedding, though. Even though he complained he never had a chance to meet people, a wedding was the kind of situation where he’d have to be instantly impressive and interesting and not completely awkward. It just wasn’t going to happen.
“Thanks, Douglas,” he said, and tried not to think too much about Tim for the rest of the flight.
Martin hovered uncomfortably in the corner of kitchen, waiting for the students to clear out so he could use the phone without interruption. He didn’t want to use his mobile; he kept it strictly for emergencies since the cost otherwise was terrifying. He was immensely grateful when Mike appeared to realise he was waiting for the phone and subtly herded the others into the living room. Then the only thing stopping him was his own ridiculous fear.
Eventually he stopped turning the invitation around in his hand and picked up the outdated phone. He dialled the number and willed his heart to stop thumping as the phone rang. After what felt like an eternity, there was a click and a distinctively female voice on the other end.
“Hi, erm, my name’s Martin Crieff, y-you must be Dawn. I’m a friend of Tim’s.”
“Martin! From Wernham Hogg? Tim’s told me all about you!”
Martin laughed nervously. “A-all good, I hope.”
“He’s been looking forward to hearing from you. He’s just popped out, though. Do you want his mobile number?”
Martin fumbled for a pen and paper, took down the number and told Dawn he hoped he’d be able to come to the wedding if he didn’t have to work. When he hung up he stared at the phone number he’d scribbled on the edge of an envelope. The temptation to simply text Tim was almost overwhelming, but he knew that wasn’t quite right after so many years.
He decided to get it over with before the kitchen was invaded again. He dialled the number and waited.
You are an airline captain, you are not a teenage girl. Open your mouth and speak, man.
“Hi, Tim. It’s Martin. M-Martin Crieff.”
“Martin! Hi! You got the invitation then. How are you?”
“I-I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m great. I’ve been waiting to hear from you. Are you coming to the wedding?”
“I’m not sure, I hope so, but I never quite know about work.”
“Oh, that’s right, the crazy life of an airline captain. I hope you don’t mind that I Googled you. Saw the website.”
“I’m not to be held responsible for that website in any way.”
“No, it was... cute.” Martin could hear the smile in Tim’s voice. “You’re doing what you always wanted, that’s all that matters.”
Martin couldn’t quite bring himself to agree without blurting out the truth about his employment. He’d tell Tim later.
“You sort of inspired me, you know,” Tim added.
“I- I inspired you? How?”
“You went out and did what you wanted. I was always thinking about it when I was stuck in that awful job. When Dawn and I finally got together I just thought, sod this. If Martin can do it, so can I.”
“Did you go back to university?”
“Yeah. Finished my psychology degree, and a doctorate eventually. I’m working in a little private hospital in Maidenhead, eating disorders, that sort of thing.”
Martin smiled. “Does that mean I have to call you Doctor?”
Tim laughed. “Only if I have to call you Captain.”
Martin attempted to laugh in response, but suspected it came out as more of a whimper. There was a moment of silence during which he assumed they both remembered the last time they’d seen each other and the fact that Tim was getting married in a few months.
“Anyway,” Martin continued, when a sufficiently awkward amount of time had passed. “We should... catch up. Have a drink, or something.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice. I’m a bit flat out for the next couple of weeks, though. Have you got any days off? You could come see me on my lunch break. I can take a long lunch.”
“I’m off on Tuesday if nothing changes,” Martin replied, trying not to sound overjoyed that Tim wanted to see him. “I could head down in the morning. Mum would probably like to see me too.”
Tim told Martin he’d text him the details of where to meet him, and they said their goodbyes. Martin let out a deep breath as he hung up the phone.
Mike popped his head back around the doorframe.
“Who was that?” he asked, teasingly. “Your boooyfriend?”
“Shut up,” Martin replied, and tried not to blush.
I have to apologise for the delay in posting (I had a fairly good reason, being overseas for three weeks!), and for this particularly dull chapter. It will all move along shortly, I promise. If you're still reading, I love you.
Once again, I apologise for the ridiculous wait for this chapter. I'm sorry they're so short when they take me so long!
I hope there aren't any glaring errors popping up with the two different timelines or anything, but please feel free to point them out. I think that is all I have to say, so please enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A week before Christmas, Martin was waiting for his computer to turn on so he could use his recently acquired copy of Flight Simulator for Windows 95. He had been hoping for a newer version, but 95 had been cheaper, and he wasn’t sure his ancient computer would even be able to play the more recent editions.
As his computer made increasingly loud whirring noises, he sat down in front of his small television with a cup of tea. He jumped channels for a moment, stopping on BBC2 when the computer had turned on. He double-clicked Flight Simulator and sat back down to wait for it to open. Reaching for his cup of tea, he was startled to see David Brent’s face staring back at him from the television.
“People say I’m the best boss,” he was saying. “They go ‘Oh, y’know, we’ve never worked in a place like this before, you’re such a laugh, you get the best out of us,’ and I go, c’e la vie, if that’s true, excellent.”
“Oh, God,” Martin breathed, smiling slightly. He had every episode of The Office taped, of course, but the videos were in a box somewhere and he hadn’t seen them in months, if not years.
“The last time we saw David Brent and the team from The Office,” the voiceover said, as Handbags and Gladrags played softly over footage of Wernham Hogg, “David Brent was moving on to bigger and better things. Dawn was leaving to start a new life in Florida, and unlucky-in-love Tim allowed Gareth to take a promotion in his place.” Martin bit his lip at the footage of Tim looking forlorn at his desk. “Nearly three years later, how have things changed? Find out this Christmas Eve and Christmas night in two one-hour specials of The Office, here on BBC2.”
Martin stared at the television, wide-eyed, Flight Simulator forgotten.
On Christmas Eve, he turned down after-work drinks with his colleagues, saying he was visiting family. He felt a little guilty, but that was forgotten when he turned to BBC2. He tried not to laugh at David, then tensed as the opening credits ended. He was hoping to see Tim’s familiar face, but at the same time he hoped he’d finally left to continue university.
He smiled, almost sadly, when Tim did appear on screen, laughed a moment later when he locked Gareth in his office, and sighed at Tim’s face when the new receptionist let Gareth back out. Dawn and the baby threw him momentarily, as he’d been convinced that she’d eventually come to her senses and break up with Lee, and he was both sad for her and a little relieved to discover the situation wasn’t quite as it seemed. Tim’s forced nonchalance about the whole situation was almost heartbreaking to watch. He nearly cried with laughter at David’s music video and the discussion of a wet t-shirt competition at the Christmas party, then winced as Tim heard that Dawn would be there.
As the credits rolled, he found himself wishing he’d be home the following night.
Eventually, it turned out he was home. Christmas with his family was unpleasant as always. Simon had berated him for the state of “Dad’s van” when he’d arrived, which had put him in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Both Simon and Caitlin had bombarded him with questions about everything from his job to when he was going to settle down. His mother tried to be supportive as usual, but he still found the constant sensation that there was something she wasn’t saying rather exhausting.
In the afternoon, when his mother was in the kitchen tidying up, Simon had turned to him and asked, “So, are you ever going to get a job at a proper airport?”
He’d stoop up from the table and snapped, “You can have dinner by yourselves, since I’m obviously such a massive disappointment.”
When his mother saw him putting on his coat, he told her that he’d been called in to work and glared at Simon, silently warning him not to tell her otherwise. Despite his anger, as he drove home along the M4 he couldn’t help but be a little pleased he’d be home in time for The Office.
And if he cried when Dawn opened her Secret Santa present, and cried even more when she returned and kissed Tim, well... no one needed to know.
“So,” said Douglas. “Did you ever call what’s-his-name? From The Office?”
“His name’s not what’s-his-name-from-The Office. His name’s... Tim.”
“So you did call him.”
“How do you do that?”
Douglas smiled smugly.
“Yes,” Martin admitted. “I called him. I’m seeing him tomorrow, actually.”
“Good for you. Is he still working at... you know, the office?”
“Wernham Hogg. No, he went back to university. He’s a psychologist now, at a little private hospital in Maidenhead. I’m meeting him near there for lunch.”
“Don’t say ‘oh yes’ in that voice, Douglas. You’re the one who told me to see him. It’s just lunch.”
“You’re driving all the way to Slough-”
“...Slough to meet him for his lunch break.”
“Yes? So? I’m visiting my mum too.”
Douglas didn’t say anything.
“What?” Martin finally snapped. “You’re the one who told me to see him! Why are you giving me that look? ...Oh God. I’m going to make a fool of myself, aren’t I?”
Douglas rolled his eyes. “No, Martin, I was just teasing. You’ll be fine.”
“Why would I be fine? I’m never fine,” Martin babbled. “I’ll make a complete idiot of myself and say something stupid and get embarrassed and he’ll go home thinking ‘well thank God I made the right choice and ran after Dawn and not him.’”
Douglas looked sideways at him.
“You didn’t mean to say that last part, did you?”
“No. Forget I said that.”
Martin parked outside the pub where Tim had told him they’d be meeting. He flipped down the sun visor to look in the tiny mirror on the other side, and attempted to arrange his hair into something resembling normality. The little curls at the front stuck out in all sorts of directions and would never sit flat, which he always thought made him look younger than he was. He sighed, took a deep breath to calm his nerves, and got out of the van. He wandered through the probably-a-bit-expensive pub to the beer garden out the back.
As Martin scanned the busy area for Tim’s familiar face, he experienced a sudden ridiculous hope that the years had not been kind to Tim Canterbury. Tim had a good six or seven years on Martin, and he’d never really been Brad Pitt in the first place. And he’d always been a bit scruffy. Especially now he’d settled down, he’d probably put on weight. At least if he wasn’t quite so attractive he might not turn Martin into a blithering idiot. That would be-
“Martin!” Tim waved and smiled.
No, no, no, that should not be allowed. That is completely and utterly not fair.
ETA: I just found a line that had somehow disappeared when I posted this chapter, so if anything else looks weird, please let me know!
Nothing like an assignment I should be writing to motivate me to write fic. I apologise once again for the silly delay. Real life, and all that. Rest assured, these two are on my mind constantly. The next chapters should be much quicker (I would say that's because I know what I'm doing now, but really it's because I have more assignments I should be writing).
The universe hated him, Martin had decided. There could be no other reason why the lovely, wonderful, recently-engaged Tim Canterbury could be even more attractive at almost-40 than he was ten years ago.
“Tim,” he attempted to say, as Tim stood up from the table, though how it came out was a different matter. “You’ve... you look... you’ve gone grey.”
That probably wasn’t the best thing to say, but it had to be better than, “How do you look so good? Have you been working out? Please take me over that table,” which had fortunately remained in Martin’s head.
Tim laughed (and Martin’s stomach flipped). “Thanks.”
“No, no, I didn’t mean- it looks- you look good.”
Good. Yes. Understatement of the century. Keep to short words, Martin, and you might be ok.
It was too late to hug now, wasn’t it? They’d been standing staring at each other for too long. Time to awkwardly shuffle to the table.
“So, are you... living around here?” Martin asked, picking up a menu.
“Yeah, not far away. We’ve just moved in. We had a place in Slough, but we wanted something closer to work, near good schools, that sort of thing.”
Martin attempted a smile. “That’s... that’s good. I’m really happy for you both.”
Tim smiled back, looking genuinely content. “Thanks.”
In desperate need of something to do other than staring at Tim, Martin opened the menu. He almost entirely managed to stop himself from flinching at the prices. Maybe he could just have a starter...
“You alright?” Tim asked, a note of concern in his voice. “You’ve gone a bit green. It’s not cheap, I know, but I thought-”
“No, no, it’s... fine. It’s fine.”
“Are you sure? Look, let me buy you lunch.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t-”
“You can do the same for me later. Come on.”
As much as Martin wanted to insist on paying for his own, the thought of being able to eat a proper meal was far too tempting.
“Ok. But you have to let me pay next time.”
Tim nodded, smiling. They looked over the menus in silence for a moment.
“Are you struggling for money, Martin?” Tim asked, finally. “I know it’s rude to ask, but... you’re an airline captain. I thought you’d be living the high life by now.”
Martin didn’t look up from his menu. He could feel his face reddening.
“It’s a- a very small airline. The salary’s not... not great.”
“Oh. You get by alright, though?”
Just say yes. Just tell him everything’s fine.
Say it, Martin.
“I don’t get paid,” he blurted.
“I don’t get paid,” he repeated, cursing himself. “I work for MJN for free. That was the only way I could get the job.”
Tim looked incredulous. “But... how do you make money?”
“I’ve still got Dad’s van. I do deliveries in between jobs. I’m a... man with a van.”
“No no no, please don’t look at me like that. I don’t need pity, I just- I... I’m doing what I love. I’m an airline captain. Even if the airline is more of an airdot and I don’t get paid and the plane is falling apart and Douglas is better than me and no one ever thinks I’m the captain and I live on baked beans in an attic in a student house-” He stopped and took a shaky breath. “I’m doing it. I get to fly a plane every day, and I’m the captain.”
Tim smiled slowly.
“You’re amazing, Martin.”
“Honestly, I swear, I was actually arrested under the anti-terrorism laws.”
“That’s ridiculous! You’re the captain!”
“That’s what I tried to tell them! They seemed to think I’d gone mad and wanted to crash my own plane but I was just trying to make a point...”
“And get back your nose-hair trimmer, of course.”
Martin giggled. “Yes, well, obviously.”
They were making their way to Martin’s van as the end of Tim’s lunch break drew near. They were both smiling and at ease with each other, Martin pleasantly full and relaxed after a pint. Tim glanced at his watch.
“I’d better be getting back.”
Martin looked around. “Where’s your car?”
“Oh, no, I walked in. It’s not far.”
“Let me give you a lift.”
“No, it’s fine-”
“Come on,” Martin protested. “I want to, really. I’d like to see where you work, Doctor Canterbury.”
They climbed into Martin’s van, and Tim pointed him in the right direction.
“I really could have walked, you know.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Martin said. “Is that why you’re looking so trim then? Walking everywhere?”
“I could say the same about you, Mr Muscles.”
“I- Mr Mus- Really?” Martin stuttered, blushing.
“Haven’t you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Well... I suppose shifting pianos comes in handy for something after all.”
Martin could feel Tim’s eyes on him for a moment before Tim chuckled and turned to look out the window.
After just a few minutes, Martin pulled into the hospital carpark. They both got out and walked around to the front of the van.
“It’s... it’s a nice place,” Martin said.
“Yeah. It really is.” Tim looked over at the handsome old building, surrounded by trees and green lawn. “Makes a nice change from Wernham bloody Hogg.”
Martin made a vague noise of ascent, finding himself rather distracted by the way the sunlight caught Tim’s grey-flecked hair, shorter and lighter than a decade before. And the tiny shadows cast by the lines around his eyes and mouth. And his nose and his lips and- no, bad. Martin, stop.
“Anyway,” Tim said, turning back to Martin with a grin, and Martin managed not to jump. “Nice catching up. Have to do it again before- yeah.”
They hovered awkwardly for a moment, torn between hug and handshake, and Martin suddenly recalled Peter Duncan’s voice saying, “Impulsivity – the tendency of some pilots to panic under pressure, to do the first thing they think of just for the sake of doing something...” as he leaned in and kissed Tim.
He felt Tim tense briefly in surprise before he reciprocated, lips parting slightly against Martin’s, his hand coming to rest on Martin’s arm. After a few seconds, though, he pulled away and turned his head to the side.
“Oh, God. Tim. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-”
“No, Martin, it’s fine, it’s- it’s not your fault,” Tim said, looking back at him. “I just... can’t. We... can’t.”
Martin nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Tim gave a not-particularly-convincing smile, and said, “See you soon, yeah?” before he turned and started walking toward the hospital.
Martin barely stopped himself from calling after him, watching him walk across the car park and through the front door without looking back. Martin climbed back into the van. He sighed shakily, then hammered his hand on the steering wheel in frustration.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I apologise once again for the absolutely ridiculous length of time between updates. Real life likes to get in the way, and this chapter just would not cooperate (and is therefore quite short and probably rather boring). Hopefully they'll move a little smoother from now on!
After his disastrous meeting with Tim, Martin had a very slightly more successful meeting with his mother, in which he was quiet and miserable and she attempted to look sympathetic without knowing what was wrong. He left as early as possible for the drive home, scrounged some stale bread from the students to make toast for his dinner and crawled into bed early, setting his alarm to wake him for work. When it went off the next morning, he groaned miserably, after an unpleasant night interrupted by dreams of his father’s disappointment.
He trudged into the portacabin a short while later.
“Morning, Martin,” said Douglas, looking up. “You’re looking thoroughly miserable this morning.”
“Why did I listen to you?” Martin moaned, flopping onto the beaten sofa in the corner.
“For the same reason you always do. My plans are faultless; it’s your implementation that needs work. What went wrong?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Martin,” Douglas said, turning his chair to face him.
Martin looked over at Douglas, who had put on his serious, fatherly face.
“I... I might have... kissed him. A bit,” he said, feeling his cheeks turn red.
“Oh dear,” Douglas said, in his usual unflappable fashion. “Did he kiss you back?”
“I-well-yes, but very, very briefly. It’s all my fault now, we were getting on so well and I messed it up.”
“Did he say that, exactly?”
“Well, no, but-”
“Then talk to him, Martin. Tell him you made a mistake and you hope you can still be friends.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that simple.”
“It’s always worth a try.”
After his disastrous meeting with Martin, Tim attempted to concentrate on work for as long as he could, before heading home at the earliest opportunity. He found Dawn in the second bedroom that she was currently using as her studio.
“Hello, my beautiful fiancée,” he said, walking up behind her and planting a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
She finished the segment she was drawing and tilted her head back to look at him.
“Hello, my equally beautiful fiancé,” she replied, grinning.
“Er, I’d prefer ‘ruggedly handsome’ fiancé, thank you very much.”
“Sorry, yes, of course that’s what I meant,” Dawn said, returning to her drawing, and Tim ran his fingers through her hair. “How was your lunch?”
Tim couldn’t help but be glad she wasn’t looking at him.
“Yeah, it was... nice,” he replied. “Nice to... see him again, after so long.”
“That’s good. I hope he can get the day off for the wedding, he seems like a sweetheart.”
Tim made a vague noise of assent, continuing to play with Dawn’s hair as she drew what looked like a dog holding the string of a balloon in its mouth.
“I’m going to make a cup of tea,” he said, after a few minutes. “Do you want one?”
“Mm, that’d be lovely,” she replied.
Tim tucked her hair behind her ear and headed for the kitchen. He stared out the kitchen window as he waited for the kettle to boil, trying his best to ignore the churning sensation of guilt he felt. Martin had kissed him. He had not kissed Martin. He had told Martin nothing was going to happen, and he loved Dawn. He didn’t need to tell her. She’d only worry unnecessarily when nothing was going to happen.
He should tell her.
“Biscuits,” he said, placing Dawn’s cup of tea and a plate of chocolate digestives on the table next to her.
“Ta,” she said, reaching for a biscuit. “Oh, before I forget, we need to get those boxes and the bikes and things from Mum’s this weekend. She was going on about clearing out the spare room. But I don’t know how much time I’m going to have, I’ve got to get this done before Monday.”
“I can pick them up.”
“Oh, would you? It’ll probably take a few trips, the boot of that car’s useless.”
“Not a problem. I’ve got no plans, and I’m sure your mum will repay me in cake.”
Then Tim stopped and thought for a moment.
“Actually, I know someone who could do with both money and cake.”
Martin sat on the edge of his sagging mattress, turning his ancient mobile phone over in his hand as he contemplated texting Tim. He stood up and paced anxiously around the small room. As he passed his cluttered bookshelf, a tiny object caught his eye. Covered in dust, as most objects in the attic were if they went untouched for more than a few days, the tiny toy aeroplane looked simultaneously out of place and perfectly appropriate. Martin picked it up and blew the dust off it.
He was lost in the memory of Tim giving him the small gift when his mobile phone rang. Startled, he almost dropped the aeroplane. Tim’s name flashed at him from the screen as he carefully placed the toy back on the shelf.
“Martin. Hi. It’s Tim. I... wanted to apologise for running off on you yesterday.”
“No, Tim, it was my fault, I made a mistake. I just... hope we can still be friends.”
“Yeah, of course we can. I was actually wondering if you’d like a job this weekend.”
Martin frowned. “A job?”
“A delivery job,” Tim clarified. “It’s not a big one, just a few boxes and bikes at Dawn’s mum’s place in Slough that we need to move here. I’d do it, but my car’s not very big and I’ve got plenty to get on with here instead of being stuck having tea with Dawn’s mum.”
“And you’re not just offering because you feel sorry for me?”
“No! Honestly, you’d be doing us a favour. You’re not busy, are you?”
Martin smiled. “I’m free on Saturday.”
“Perfect. Have you got a pen? I’ll give you the address.”
When Martin hung up the phone, he slumped onto his bed in relief. Tim didn’t hate him and he somehow had a job for the weekend. The situation had turned out much better than he’d expected.
His stomach chose that moment to give an uncomfortable grumble and remind him that he still had nothing for dinner and very little money to last until Saturday. As he lay on the bed trying to hold onto his good mood, there was a knock on the door.
“Martin!” Mike called from the other side. “There’s heaps of leftover dinner, do you want some?”