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Vapour

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Douglas left his Lexus on the parking lot, glad to be able to finally stretch his sore legs after forty five of the most exasperating minutes of his life on a fog-covered highway, driving at a pace that would have made an arthritic turtle impatient. He’d been half an hour late to begin with, but he very much doubted that they would be flying anywhere anytime soon, at least for a couple more hours till the fog lifted. Though he wasn’t tremendously bothered by the prospect, he didn’t doubt Carolyn would give him an earful regardless, so he formulated several possible comebacks to counter it as he walked leisurely to the portakabin (He was already over an hour late, why hurry now?).

So he was hardly able to hide his surprise when he found no angry CEO, or an inappropriately cheery steward. Instead, he found a forlorn looking Captain, with deep concentration etched on his features as he tossed an apple from hand to hand as if his life depended on it.

Douglas dropped his briefcase on the desk and moved to the coffee machine, raising an eyebrow when Martin made no show of having noticed his arrival. He just kept on impersonating the world’s least impressive juggler. That brought a tiny frown to Douglas’ brow. Martin was many things, but absentminded was not one of them.

“Thinking about joining the circus, Sir?” Douglas teased, placing a cup of steaming coffee next to his now startled Captain, as the apple slipped unceremoniously from his fingers. Douglas took a seat on the chair opposite Martin, cradling his own coffee, ready to see the young man fumble with embarrassment at being caught.

What he got instead was a deflated sigh and a sag of the shoulders as Martin leaned to pick the apple up.

“Good morning to you, too,” he said in a voice more subdued than usual, as if his mood had decided to take its cue from the gray clouds outside, and put the apple aside.

Martin had never been the cheeriest of persons, what with the black cloud that seem to follow him around and all, but this wet-puppy look was new. Still, Douglas figured a distraction was better than the direct approach. After all, it could have been just the gloomy day.

“And where would our benevolent boss and her adjective-impaired son be, then?”

Martin stared at him, a confused look on his face, for a few seconds before shaking his head and shrugging.

“Carolyn called. It seems Arthur has an awful cold, so they won’t be coming in until it is absolutely necessary.”

“Which, by the looks of it, won’t be for quite a while,” finished Douglas, and silence fell again, heavy and awkward.

Douglas tried to ignore it. He picked up his newspaper and tried to focus on the latest news from Parliament, but found it even more depressing, so he turned to the sport section, which had never been precisely his cup of tea, but was enough to pass the time. Except he kept catching sight of Martin from the corner of his eyes, who hadn’t touched his coffee and whose hand had reached for the apple again. The tossing of it was much more discreet than when he had arrived, almost unconscious by the look of it, yet the Captain still wore that look of deep concentration, as if he were expecting the apple to reveal the secrets of the universe.

Douglas’ memory provided a bit of information then, a conversation during another long, useless stand-by, and he realised that was probably what Martin was looking for. He put down the paper and turned to the younger man.

“Dreadful weather we’re having, wouldn’t you say?”

Martin lifted his gaze, clutching the apple tight.

“I don’t know. I love foggy mornings.” Yet this was said with a sort of pained confusion in his tone.

“You don’t sound very convinced.”

“No, no, I do. I've always loved them.”

“Ah, yes. Now I believe you.”

“Douglas,” For a moment, he sounded like his old, annoying self, but the long sigh that followed the warning took it out of him again. “It’s just… It’s just vapour, isn’t it? If you haven’t got anyone to share it with.”

It was Douglas’ turn to sigh, and he paused for the longest time, trying to come up with something reassuring to say. In the end, he just stood up next to Martin and squeezed his shoulder.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

He had to try his hardest not to burst out laughing at the alarming shade of red his Captain’s face adopted then. It wasn’t the time, and Martin would surely provide him with plenty more chances to tease him later.

“That’s not…! I meant…! You…”

“Martin,” he said in his best paternal tone, shutting the young man at once. “Take it from a man who’s found true love thrice already. It’s your friends you want to share these things with.”

Whether he truly believed his words, or not, it still did the trick. Martin swallowed hard, and stared at him a bit misty eyed. Douglas took the apple from his hands and tossed it playfully in the air a couple of times.

“Of course,” he continued. “You can always start shagging your friends.”

Oh, yes. Plenty of teasing opportunities.