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The Thousandth Man

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It seems so utterly unbelievable. It’s hard enough for Douglas to cope with the fact that he’s gotten himself into this situation with no real hope of rescue, let alone that he then gets accosted by some…well operatives is the only word that springs to mind. Like something straight out of a James Bond novel. Before he can really grasp what’s happening, one of them has restrained him, sliding a slim needle home and injecting him with something brutally quick. His vision tunnels once, twice, then fades to black as Douglas becomes weightless and then knows nothing more.

When he next wakes, it’s to the sight of Martin walking towards him. Douglas doesn’t quite register where he is, but his brain is whirring a hundred miles a minute even as his limbs struggle against the restraints. Martin. That stupid boy, he’ll get himself killed. Get away. Away! Martin! Douglas’s throat finally unclenches enough for him to attempt to warn his friend, but Martin doesn’t seem to take him seriously, squeezing his hand gently in return and smiling down at him fondly.

Douglas is having trouble following the train of Martin’s speech, his head fuzzy from the sedative and exhaustion. But one word shines through loud and clear--home. Martin continues his reassurances as Douglas lets himself be pulled under to sleep, a pool of warmth spreading from his temple.

The next time his eyes open, he’s in the middle of making an absolute fool of himself on the airfield, clutching Martin’s hand like a child’s security blanket. Martin is trying to reassure him, one hand in Douglas’s darker hair and the other turning white around where the older man is gripping it tightly.

“Douglas,” he says. “Let go. I’ll go with you, but we can’t fit in the ambulance this way. Please, Douglas. Please.

Douglas finally shakes off enough fog to let go of the hand, substituting the cold rails around the gurney for Martin’s steady grip. The ride to hospital is nearly excruciating. Every part of his body seems to hurt, with the adrenaline and joy from the daring rescue ebbing away, leaving him in a muzzy world of half-formed thoughts and fears. Douglas is silent in his distress, but something in his body language must give him away as he feels slim fingers card gently through his hair.

Martin starts speaking, lulling him calm again with the gentle petting and soft admonishments to sleep. Douglas doesn’t quite go under again, but the pain seems less bleak than before and his heart rate settles to less panicked levels. The next couple of hours pass by in a blur of medical personnel, examinations, bandaging, and finally blessed pain relief, leaving Douglas limp and exhausted on the gurney. He’s only been able to catch glimpses of Martin through the examination room door, talking to a tall, dark-haired main with vaguely familiar features, an earnest expression on his face Douglas has only seen a handful of times before.

Eventually, their conversation concludes and the other man leaves. The doctor has departed long ago, leaving Douglas alone to watch his Captain through the doorway. Martin gives a quick smile when he sees Douglas is still awake, knocking gently on the door before stepping in. “How’re you feeling?” he asks.

Douglas wants to answer with something witty and sardonic, but all that he manages to get out is a dry rasp. Martin fills a nearby cup with water from the sink and waits until he’s drank his fill before setting the glass aside. His hands alight on the bed near Douglas’s thigh, well away from where Douglas wants them, so he stretches his fingers out until they just brush the side of Martin’s thumb. The younger man’s smile softens a bit, and he moves his hand to cover Douglas’s broader palm. Martin kicks his foot out, snagging the ubiquitous plastic chair from against the wall and repositioning it within reach of the bed. Douglas squeezes the fingers between his own and flops his head to the side to make eye contact.

“Wanna go home,” he says plaintively.

Martin tries not to grin at the childish tone he hears. God knows Douglas would be absolutely mortified to realize that he sounded so, but it doesn’t mean Martin can’t enjoy it. Instead, he rubs his thumb across bruised knuckles. “Soon,” he says. “The doctor says they want to keep you for a couple of hours, just to make sure. Then we’ll go home.”

Douglas seems satisfied with this, but Martin can practically see the gears turning in his head, albeit more slowly than usual. He knows the precise moment the question of how Martin made this daring rescue happen coalesces behind Douglas’s dark eyes, and strikes preemptively. “Don’t worry about anything. Everything’s taken care of. Carolyn and Arthur are getting Gertie set for the flight back. Then we’ll get you home and you can rest and lie around listening to Wagner to your heart’s content.”

Douglas huffs, as Martin knew he would, muttering “overwrought claptrap” as clearly as he can through the layers of cotton wool that seem to have enveloped his head suddenly. Just as he’s about to drift off again, the door slams open. Douglas gasps and clutches the hand Martin’s currently holding, relaxing fractionally only when he sees his guests.

It’s only Arthur and Carolyn, the former looking bashful at the unexpectedly loud noise and the latter with a fearful mix of anger, concern, and calculation on her face.

“Good Lord, Douglas,” she says. “What a mess you’ve gotten into this time.”

Douglas opens his mouth to protest, but can’t get a word in before Arthur’s off on a whirlwind explanation of how they figured out he was missing and what was wrong and how “Mum was worried and so was Skip but then Skip sorted it out and everything was brilliant except for the part where you got hurt, Douglas, which was less than brilliant, but now you’re back and Gertie’s ready for you and the replacement pilots are doing the checks now but I don’t think they’ll play games on the way back” when he’s stopped by Carolyn clamping a hand over his mouth.

“That’s enough, dear heart” she says fondly.

Douglas hasn’t followed much of the conversation, to be honest, but Martin picks up on the most salient point. “Replacement pilots?” he asks.

Carolyn nods. “Seems a couple of MoD boys are stranded here and looking for an opportunity to fly home. And since one of my pilots is too lazy to get out of bed and the other has been careless enough to quite decidedly break the crew rest restrictions, it seems my only option is to have them pilot us home.”

“But--but” Martin sputters.

“Oh, don’t worry, Martin. I’ve seen their certifications. Everything’s quite in order.”

The way she emphasizes the word “quite” tells Martin that Mycroft’s had a hand in this, as well. Definitely something nicer than an umbrella, then. His ponderings are interrupted suddenly by a light snore coming from the direction of the head of the bed. Arthur had moved once Carolyn silenced him and is now standing on the other side of their First Officer, petting soothingly at Douglas’s hair, a pair of tiny lines in between his eyebrows.

“He looks dead exhausted, Mum,” he says.

Martin catches a glimpse of the mother in Carolyn’s face before it settles into the placid mask she usually wears. “Indeed he does,” she says. “Best we leave him to it, then. Takeoff’s in eight hours, Martin. Do try not to be late.” Martin nods and accepts the gift Toberlone Arthur hands him as they depart. He sinks deeper in his chair, trying to roll out the kinks in his neck. Douglas snuffles a bit in his sleep, turning slightly towards Martin as his grip tightens a bit on Martin’s fingers. The younger man squeezes back gently and Douglas settles, the lines on his face smoothing out into deeper sleep. Martin sets his alarm and lets himself drift off as well.

-----------------------
The flight home is relatively quiet. Martin sits by the window, Douglas strapped in next to him. In the course of the trip, Martin is by turns surprised, affectionate, and then a bit put off as his First Officer’s head gradually droops down until it’s resting on Martin’s shoulder, a thin line of drool landing on the lapel. Douglas squirms a bit in his sleep as the belt and arm-rest dig into sore spots, so Martin untangles him, prodding gently until the older man is stretched out across the seats with his head in Martin’s lap. Douglas remains as unwilling to relinquish his hold on Martin’s hand as he was in the hospital, and Martin doesn’t seem inclined to deny him this comfort, resting their entangled fingers just over Douglas’s heart. The steady thrum serves the dual purpose of reassuring Martin and lulling him to sleep as well, and before they’re even halfway home both pilots have nodded off. Unfortunately, both of them are equally restless, Martin startling awake after dreams of getting to Douglas just that little too late and Douglas beset by a combination of half-drugged memory and discomfort as his taller frame droops off the seats.

They land at Fitton in record time, in one of the smoothest landings Martin’s ever experienced. It takes some doing, but Douglas works out enough of the stiffness garnered from the combination of his injuries and the long, awkward flight to be bundled into his car, with Carolyn’s strict instructions not to come back for at least a week. Martin smiles as she gives him a quick hug and spends longer saying goodbye to Douglas in than is strictly necessary. He’s careful not to notice if she squeezes Douglas’s shoulder before she closes the door. The drive to Douglas’s house is silent, but Martin can feel the thrumming energy from the seat beside him.

After they step in the door, Douglas seems to shake off a bit of the stupor, whipping up a batch of omelets (“Nothing easier, Martin”) for them both before heading for the shower. Martin feels guilty at the idea of just leaving him to his own devices, so he settles in the den, flipping through one of the magazines on Douglas’s coffee table. Eventually, Douglas reemerges, and flops bonelessly on the opposite end of the couch from Martin. The sofa is large enough that Douglas can stretch nearly completely out without his feet touching Martin’s leg, but Martin is careful to make no comment when he feels Douglas’s soles press against his thigh.

Through silent mutual agreement, Douglas turns the television to something bland and inoffensive, but doesn’t make it to the first commercial before his head’s tipped back against the couch and he’s again snoring gently. Martin decides that certain liberties may be allowed in this circumstance and goes rooting through the linen cupboard to find a soft, woolen blanket, which he drapes gently over Douglas’s prone form. He settles into his watch in a nearby armchair snagging a book on some apparently-famous opera singer from the shelves that line either side of the room. Douglas talks briefly in his sleep, muttering a couple of “noes” and “don’ts” before quieting. Martin’s eyebrows scrunch together briefly in concern, and he finds it hard to concentrate on the book, his mind whirling with what ifs and possibilities. When Douglas mutters his name, Martin can’t take it anymore, sliding from the chair to sit on the floor at Douglas’s head. Martin rests against the leather seat as Douglas’s hand nestles itself in the riot of curls at the top of Martin’s head. It seems to soothe him somewhat, and Douglas drifts gently into deeper sleep.

Martin knows that they haven’t quite reached a point of closure from the last 48 hours, and he expects it’ll take some time, if they ever do. But surrounded by the warmth of Douglas’s home and comforted by the sight and sound of his First Officer, Martin lets himself drift off to sleep as well. His neck will be sore in the morning, but he can’t quite bring himself to care. He’s content where he is, and that will do for now.