"Pull up. Pull up."
"Yes, thank you," Martin mutters, already long since annoyed.
"Pull up. Pull up. Pull up."
"We're at thirty thousand feet!" he snaps at the console. "We just flew through a blasted cloud! If we pull up as much as you want us to, we'll hit stratosphere!"
Martin huffs and glances sidelong at Douglas, who is wearing an irritated expression. They'll have to divert. There is obviously something wrong with the warning equipment, and banging it with a fist has solved nothing. It’s not just the ground proximity warning, either. Several of the other warning lights are flashing on and off at random.
"Pull up. Pull up."
Even Carolyn wouldn't question this diversion if she was on the plane to hear the repetitive, increasingly hateful alert.
Martin confers with the tower and guides GERTI toward the single runway with mixed feelings. He really has no choice but to land. However close to Kotzebue they might be, it’s not close enough if something is truly wrong with the warning system and they end up flying blind. It doesn't matter that Carolyn isn't, in fact, here, and will likely have no sympathy when Martin tries to explain.
On the bright side, Douglas seems to have taken quite ill.
"Now, Douglas," Martin says, feeling a bit better now that he's made an executive decusion to land, and speaking cordially, "If you want your own hotel room when we get into Nome, say so now."
Douglas casts a speaking glance at him, one that seems so say, 'I will kill everything you love. With larger knives than Carolyn has ever seen.' However, for all his other talents, Douglas's eyes do not appear to have an attached voicebox, and what with the unfortunate case of laryngitis Douglas has fallen victim to over the course of their long journey, no affirmation is forthcoming.
"That's terribly generous of you Douglas, thank you." Martin's voice rings with badly hidden glee. He never gets one over on his First Officer. Douglas could outwit the snake in Eden given the proper incentive and an opening for a nice chat, but his voice is the sharpest tool in his arsenal, and it is currently out of commission.
The landing is smooth enough to be getting on with, though Douglas flinches theatrically throughout.
"Skip! Are we here? Are we in Kotzebue?"
Martin and Douglas meet Arthur in the galley as they leave the flight deck, and Martin pauses automatically, waiting for a quip from Douglas that will never come. Instead, Douglas clears his throat and waves commandingly at the tea station.
Martin takes it upon himself to answer instead. "No, Arthur, we've had to divert to Nome to get the warning system looked at."
Arthur, unsurprisingly, is delighted by the news. "That's brilliant, Skip! Do you think they all wear the little hats?"
Martin blinks. "I - I'm sorry?"
"The gnomes! And do you think they have their tiny little fishing rods and proper curly shoes?"
"No, Arthur," Martin says. "They aren't gnomes. They live in Nome. N-O-M-E. No G."
"Oh," Arthur ponders this briefly. "Gnomes without G's. Nomes. No-G-Nomes. Huh."
"Yes." Martin glances back at Douglas. It really is strange to have him looming and silent in the background. He casts another significant glance at the tea station and makes a painful sounding grumbly noise in the back of his throat. "Oh, did you want tea, Douglas?"
"I'll make the tea!" Arthur leaps into action at the suggestion. "Why didn't you just say, Douglas?"
Douglas's speaking glance misses its mark this time, as it hits Arthur in his back and is rather too blunt to do any lasting damage there.
The hotel is less than two miles out from the airport. Nothing in Nome seems to be more than two miles away from anything else in Nome, and Martin is frankly grateful there is a hotel at all.
"We had a lot of business just last month, what with the Iditarod," says the woman behind the counter of the small hotel. "Nome is a regular hot spot in March."
"What's the Iditarod?" Arthur asks, and Martin can feel Douglas next to him, tensing. It must be almost painful, having to hold all that sarcasm in.
"It's a sled dog race-" the woman begins, and Arthur's lost.
"Brilliant!" He quivers with excitement as the woman continues her explanation. "Do any of the No-G-Nomes ride the sled dogs?"
Martin sighs, but the woman just shakes her head and laughs. "Clever," she says. "I haven't heard that one before."
She holds up two sets of keys and looks at Douglas. "And who has the single?"
Martin leaps into action before Douglas can rouse himself. "That would be the Captain, me, I'm the Captain. So. Me."
She holds out the keys and frowns, her attention fully on Martin for the first time. “Hey, weren’t you in here just last week?”
Martin takes them quickly and shakes his head, nonplussed. “We just flew in an hour ago,” he reminds her, and she shrugs.
“Must have been my imagination, I guess.”
The hotel rooms unfortunately contain notepads and pens. Douglas arms himself thusly and Martin spends the next three hours being bombarded with small scraps of paper filled with spidery queries, insults, cajolings, and demands for honey soaked liberally with tea.
'Inconveniencing Martin' seems to be the name of this protracted word game, and it takes him twice as long as it should to finally make contact with the engineer that has come recommended by the one room airport.
"I'm off work til tomorrow morning," he says over the phone.
"Yes, I know, they told us on the satcom," Martin says. Douglas hands him a bit of paper.
' USE YOUR SIR VOICE, SIR! '
It's really the exclamation point that is most upsetting about this one. Martin tosses it on the desk in his hotel room and frowns at Douglas, who has settled comfortably in the only chair.
"It's just, if it's at all possible that you could start on our problem as early as possible first thing tomorrow, you understand, that would be really lovely, and-"
"Hang on, kid."
"I-I am not a 'kid'! I am the Captain of-"
"Shut up," the man says. "Do you hear that noise?"
Martin frowns, listening to a dull roar outside the window. Douglas, who has been eavesdropping shamelessly, stuffs another note in his hand.
' IT'S THE SOUND OF YOUR DIGNITY, USING ITS FREQUENT FLIER MILES TO ABANDON YOU FOR A TROPICAL HOLIDAY. '
Martin glares and crumples this note into a ball before discarding it.
"It sounds like an airplane," Martin says. "A 737 Combi, in fact."
"That might be what it sounds like," the engineer allows. "But what it actually is, is the last plane of the day. No one else is leaving home 'til nine thirty tomorrow morning, and neither am I."
Martin manages to keep himself from grimacing in front of Douglas at the click that ends the connection directly after this pronouncement, and carries on bravely. "Oh, well, er, we'll see you tomorrow then, first thing! Be certain that you are not late, or words will be had, yes indeed," he adds sternly, and glances up at the note being waved under his nose.
' THAT WAS A FINE TELLING OFF YOU GAVE THE OPERATOR JUST NOW. I SEE YOU'VE BEEN PRACTICING YOUR SIR VOICE. IF ONLY OUR ENGINEER HAD BEEN ON THE LINE TO HEAR IT. '
Martin drops the phone with a sigh. "If you want tea, you'll change your tune," he threatens. Douglas smirks and picks the phone up from where it has clattered onto the desk. He dials a number.
"Hello! Hello! Skipper? Douglas! ...right! Tea!"
The line goes dead, and Douglas lifts an eyebrow. 'You were saying?' the eyebrow asks, and Martin huffs.
Despite it being April, the snow piles manage to be nearly taller than Martin is. He and Arthur trudge down a freshly cleared sidewalk past the post office, on a quest for something edible. The sun hangs resolutely in the sky, but Martin's watch says it’s after ten, and both Douglas and Arthur's watches agree. The hotel doesn't serve food this late.
They pass by a place called 'Airport Pizza', which provides pizza deliveries by plane to nearby villages, judging by the sign in the window. Arthur makes a small squeaking noise. "Skip, wait," he says, coming to a stop and reaching into his pocket. Martin frowns.
"It's not open, Arthur," he says, "And we're already here, anyway, so they can't deliver." But Arthur ignores him, and Martin realizes he's holding one of those bloody scraps of paper from the hotel room notepads.
"I see we've discovered Martin's true calling in life," Arthur reads, pausing over each word to be sure he got it right. "Never again will he-"
"Yes, thank you, Arthur," Martin says in a tight voice. "Let's leave Douglas's voice back at the hotel with the rest of him, shall we?"
"Oh. Sure thing, Skip!" Arthur cheerfully stuffs the paper in his pocket and they start walking again.
Martin stuffs his hands in his own pockets, grumbling to himself and wondering how Douglas even knew about the pizza place, anyway.
They end up with Chinese food of all things, and arrive back at the hotel to find that Douglas has somehow managed to swap his and Martin's hotel keys without Martin noticing, and has locked himself in the private room. His belaboured snoring can be heard through the door, and puts an end to any notions Martin might have about rectifying the situation.
“I suppose I’ll let him have it just this once,” Martin says grudgingly to Arthur as they head back to the double room. “As he’s ill and all.”
The next morning dawns bright and early, in that the sun really only sets for a couple hours before coming back up again. Despite the thick curtains over the windows, Arthur is wide awake by six, brewing tea and making the small, suppressed squeaking sounds he makes when he’s excited and also trying to be quiet.
Martin groans and presses his pillow over his head more firmly, to no avail.
“What is it, Arthur?” he asks finally. He can hear Arthur leap up from his seat.
“The lady at the front desk said there are oxes in Nome! Oxes, Skip! Can we see them before we go?”
“Oxen,” Martin corrects, sitting up and shoving a ginger curl out of his eyes. There’ll be no getting back to sleep now. “And I don’t think we want to provoke the wildlife, Arthur. You remember what happened last time.”
“I don’t want to provoke them,” Arthur wheedled. “I just want to, to look at them. And maybe pet one!”
Martin takes his time getting dressed, and by half seven, they’ve managed to rouse Douglas as well, though not before Martin has hidden all the notepads Douglas has hoarded away. By the time all three of them are dressed and have eaten a small, unusually quiet meal in the hotel’s tiny restaurant, it’s nearing eight thirty.
“What a lovely morning,” Martin says cheerfully as they exit the hotel. And it is, despite all the snow still on the ground and the chill still hanging in the air. There is almost no wind to speak of, despite the hotel being situated right off the snow covered beach at the foot of the Bering Sea, and the sun is shining brightly. “We could even walk to the airport, in this weather. It's not very far, and Carolyn would probably approve of the money saved.”
Douglas assumes a foreboding glare at this suggestion, but Martin has discovered that, whilst he is normally unable to pretend he cannot hear the things Douglas says, his visual attention is entirely voluntary. He positions Arthur between them and sets out for the airfield with good humor.
“If we walk to the airfield,” Arthur says suddenly, and Martin tenses at the sound of his reading voice, “You will be walking to Kotzebue. --That’s Douglas, Skipper, I was just reading it, see?”
Martin closes his eyes briefly, but Arthur is determined to show him the paper with the now-familiar letterhead from their hotel. He has to hand it to Douglas. Martin had been certain he’d found them all.
“Yes, Arthur, thank you.”
“Here, he’s got another one.” Arthur peers down at the paper. “You great buffoon,” he adds, in his reading voice.
They go back to the hotel and order a cab, and Martin is sure to leap into the front seat before Douglas can even step through the hotel’s front doors. There’s something to laryngitis, Martin thinks with satisfaction. He wouldn't normally take so much advantage of an illness in a colleague, but Douglas has been a positive nuisance all through their flight across Asia, and laryngitis is frankly the best thing that could have happened to either of them in Martin's opinion.
Douglas doesn’t even attempt the battle for the front seat, climbing instead into the back with Arthur with ill-natured huff.
When they arrive at the airfield, the engineer hasn’t turned up yet. Martin makes the phone call at the tiny front desk, but there’s no answer. One of the prospective passengers of the first flight of the morning squints up at him as he presses the receiver to his ear and listens to the neverending trill of the engineer’s home telephone.
“Weren’t you in here last week?” She peers more closely at him and frowns. “And less ginger?”
Martin takes a step backward and shakes his head, covering the mouthpiece. As though anyone was going to answer, really.
“I just flew in yesterday,” he says. “I don’t know what you mean, ma’am.”
“I remember you,” she insists, looking him up and down. “Seems like you were taller then, too.”
“It seems we have discovered your evil twin, Martin,” Arthur says, in that blasted reading voice, which he drops out of briefly to exclaim, “An evil twin? Wow!”
Douglas nudges him.
“Oh, right, yes... It’s a pity we can’t get him to give the engineer a call.”
Douglas’s sarcastic rejoinders sound almost surreal, coming out of Arthur’s mouth. Martin shrugs off the feeling and turns his back on his colleagues and the old woman, listening intently to the ringing of the telephone in his ear.
Someone picks up, finally, and Martin straightens his back. “Hello?” he says, almost obscuring the undeniable click of the disconnect. “No, no, no!” He hangs up the phone, frustrated.
Arthur, at least, is undeterred. “Do you think I have an evil twin, Douglas?”
Though his face is terribly expressive of his desire to say something , Douglas himself is silent, choosing to keep his own council on the subject of Arthur and evil twins. Through no choice of his own, Martin is sure. Arthur won’t read his entire response out loud if it makes him sad.
"If you had an evil twin, Arthur, he'd probably be the dictator of a small island nation," Martin says in Douglas's stead, and then it occurrs to him that he doesn't want to end up like Arthur sans paper, and he shuts his mouth.
“Wow, thanks Skip! Maybe your evil twin is a No-G-Nome!”
It’s very surprising that Douglas isn’t inscribing his opinion on the conversation, as it were, and is instead choosing only to exercise his facial muscles rigorously. Perhaps he’s running out of paper, Martin thinks with no small amount of satisfaction.
“I don’t have an evil twin, Arthur, and if I did, it wouldn’t be a gnome, or--” he holds up a hand before Arthur can interrupt. “Or a No-G-Nome. There was just someone in town last week who happened to look a bit like me, that’s all.”
“A whole lot like you, actually,” says the ticket agent, whose telephone Martin has very recently abandoned. “British accent and everything. June is right.”
“That’s what I said, see, I said it! Thank you Sarah, dear!” The old woman, June, apparently, clutches her travelling bag and points a triumphant finger at Martin. “He was taller and his hair was darker, but otherwise, you’re the spitting image, my boy!”
“And he’s still in town, if I’m not mistaken,” the ticket agent, Sarah, added, casting a playfully suspicious eye over Martin's person. “No one leaves Nome except through me, and I haven’t seen him since he got here.”
Martin’s command of the conversation stutters to a halt at the barest hint of flirting from the ticket agent, and his voice follows. “I-I er, I don’t-”
“At least we know Martin isn't the evil twin,” Douglas’s replacement voice reads, successfully distracting Martin from what would quite probably have been a mortifying display of his lack of social skills. “His obsessive ad-adherence to the rules puts him firmly on the side of the neurotically beaurocratic angels.” Martin frowns and takes the note from Arthur. Sure enough, Douglas has written this message phonetically.
A new bit of paper has appeared in Arthur's hands. "He also lacks the proper evil mustache." Arthur nods seriously. "I thought of that too, Skip, don't worry. You're not the evil one for sure!"
The engineer shows up a little after ten, to Martin's consternation, and pokes around for a bit in the console before finding a couple loose wires.
"Everything else is in order?" Martin asks, and the engineer shrugs.
"You didn't pay me to look at 'everything else'," he says gruffly, wiping his hands on a towel and walking purposefully back toward the small building that functions as the entirety of Nome airport. "The warning system is fixed. You want a full physical, you pay extra."
"No," Martin says in what he has been trying hard not to think of as his 'Sir' voice. "That will be all, you are dismissed."
The engineer mutters something derogatory about foreigners as he walks away, and Martin pretends not to hear.
Martin and Douglas are in the flight deck, running through the standard pre-flight routine with the unusual addition of a small horn Douglas has acquired from who knows where, which he is using to respond to Martin's queries in the most obnoxious way possible.
HONK. Once for the affirmative.
They run through the rest of the routine and confer with the tower for takeoff. Douglas continues to communicate entirely through facial expressions, his new horn, and plucking every nerve Martin has. He looks like he’s enjoying it probably more than he should. When they are solidly in the air, bound for Kotzebue at last, Martin switches on the autopilot and throws up his hands in frustration.
"Who gave you that thing, anyway?"
HONK HONK. Twice for a negative, if the post-it Douglas has attached to the console is to be believed.
"Not going to tell me? That's a bit childish, isn't it, Douglas?"
HOOOONK HOOOONK HONK. Martin doesn't actually know what three means. It isn’t even on the post-it, though four is, and it means ‘You are a dunderhead’, apparently. Creative.
He turns to look at Douglas curiously, just in time for Arthur's voice to carry through the slightly ajar door to the flight deck and distract them both.
"What are you doing in the loo, Skip? Aren't you supposed to be flying the plane?"
Martin and Douglas blink at each other, equally baffled. Arthur's voice rings out again.
"Hang on, you're the taller, darker haired Skip! You're... You're Skip's evil twin! DOUGLAS! SKIP! HE'S HERE, IT'S THE EVIL TWIN, I'VE FOUND HIM IN THE LOO! HURRY!"
Martin and Douglas hurry out to the galley, partly out of concern for Arthur, and partly out of bewildered curiosity. When Martin sees the man standing calmly at the door to the toilet, he freezes in his tracks and stares.
"You. You. You. You..."
His smile is faint, familiar. "Me, indeed, Martin."
Martin finds his voice eventually. "I thought you were dead! Sherlock, what are you doing here?"
Sherlock's expression is utterly unconcerned. "I had business in Nome, naturally."
"There-- Sherlock! There is nothing natural about a supposedly dead man having business at the edge of the Arctic Circle!" Martin thinks he might need to sit down.
"Rumors of his death have been --" Arthur looks up from the bit of paper Douglas has handed him. "Oh, I know this one! Greatly exaggerated!" Arthur beams, then glances back down at the paper and continues his recitation. "Martin, does the ghost in the loo have a full name? Or a reason for being in the toilets of a private aeroplane?"
Martin glances at Douglas and Arthur and turns back to Sherlock.
"His name is Sherlock Holmes. You might have read about him in the papers last year, there was a bit of a scandal. He's my brother. Well, half-brother, really."
"Semantics," Sherlock says. Martin nods in acknowledgement, but can’t pull his attention away from Sherlock for more than a second, every distinctly living, breathing bit of him, standing there in the galley like it’s any old Thursday and he hasn’t been dead, or missing, or hiding, whatever, for over a year. Certainly scheming, anyway, as his brothers are wont to do. Martin should have known when they had a closed-casket funeral that something was awry.
“You never said you had a half-brother!” Arthur says. He’s holding a bit of paper, but he’s not speaking in the reading voice. Douglas looks irritated, and prods him a bit. “Oh, er, while this family reunion is certainly is delightful surprise, I must point out that they more commonly occur at backyard barbecues or airport terminals. Not in a small aeroplane at thirty thousand feet.” Arthur lowers the bit of paper. “That’s not true, Douglas! Remember, once, for mum’s birthday, I got her a surprise family reunion!”
Douglas scribbles on his pad of paper and hands it over. Arthur reads it and slumps a bit. “Yeah, it did a bit.”
Despite the tangent, Martin feels that Douglas and Arthur are making a good point, and as shock fades, suspicion begins to dawn.
"Actually, yes, they're right. Fancy meeting you of all people, out here, of all places," he says, folding his arms. "What's going on, Sherlock?"
Sherlock’s expression tells Martin he has noticed the ‘Sir’ voice and is entertained by it. Martin feels his ears go red, but he stands his ground. "An important member of an international terrorist ring has a cabin here," Sherlock says. "I'm... investigating."
"Oh, Wow!" Arthur says. "Like a secret agent? Are you James Bond?"
"Not in the slightest," Sherlock snaps. "Those movies were all incredibly unrealistic and contrived," he continues, surprising Martin. He wouldn't have thought that Sherlock would know who James Bond is, let alone know enough to have an opinion on the movies. It’s been too long since they last spoke properly, even accounting for the year Sherlock spent supposedly six feet under.
Despite the distraction, Martin has not forgotten his suspicions, and he gives up on asking Sherlock for more information that he likely will assume Martin should be able to read in the scuff marks on his admittedly cheaper-than-usual shoes and the weariness in his eyes that Martin has never seen, even when Martin visited the Holmes household when they were younger and Sherlock would spend days awake at a stretch testing his own reaction times under stress.
He turns instead back to the flight deck, picking up the microphone and hesitating only a moment before firmly announcing, "Mike Coca Foxtrot Tango, this is Mike Tango November Coca, requesting immediate intel regarding the status of Sierra Hotel Lima Kilo. Immediately."
There is a bit of a wait, during which Sherlock follows him onto the flight deck and sits down in the First Officer's seat. Arthur and Douglas crowd in as well, looking excited and somewhat put out at the usurpation of the only other seat, respectively.
"Martin, how delightful to hear from you." Mycroft's voice filters through the speaker, warm and somehow also sympathetic. "We are terribly sorry to have kept the details of last year's debacle under such tight wraps, but you understand the need for discretion."
"I might if you explained... No, never mind. Sherlock will when we’re finished here. Right now, I'm more interested in how both Sherlock and MJN Air happened to end up in Nome, of all places! I know you were involved, Mycroft. Did you do something to our warning system?"
"I may have chartered a flight to Kotzebue," Mycroft admits, neatly sidestepping the issue of the ground proximity alert. "And the packages should still be delivered as agreed. I just ask that you deliver one more package to Uzbekistan on your return flight, in the form of our beloved brother."
”Mycroft is a prodigy when it comes to multitasking,” Sherlock reveals with lazy amusement. ”Uzbekistan is just a pit stop on the way to my actual destination, to pick up a new weight loss tincture he's been looking to try out.”
”Sherlock," Mycroft interjects. "I understand that your social skills leave nearly everything to be desired, but even you must realize how incredibly crass it is to take the seat of a man under the weather.”
Douglas rumbles his agreement and Sherlock glances at Martin before grudgingly parting with the seat. Douglas settles himself comfortably and waves his hand at Arthur.
"I'll have a cup as well," Sherlock tells Arthur, who hadn't quite caught on to what Douglas's gesture meant.
"Tea, right!" he says with some excitement. "I'm going to make tea for James Bond!"
"He's not like James Bond," Martin says hurriedly, before Sherlock can say something cutting about Arthur's... anything. He doesn't really want to imagine what Sherlock might have gleaned about Arthur's personal life. "He's much more like Miss Marple, actually."
“Oh wow,” Arthur enthuses. “I get to make tea for Miss Marple!”
Martin glances at Sherlock, who seems suspicious but fortunately doesn’t appear to have caught the reference this time. That's the Sherlock he knows and loves. Pop culture has always been beyond his scope of interest.
"Tea, Arthur," Martin prompts instead, and Arthur rushes out to do his bidding before Sherlock has time to make any remark at all.
Douglas's expressions are unusually vivid, and Martin's brothers unusually good at reading. This is what Martin tells himself as the conversation unfolds in front of him.
"Martin's father and my mother had a brief dalliance after their respective partners passed," Sherlock says, and though it sounds unprompted, really it's more likely that Martin has just missed that particular microexpression on Douglas's face. “I have no relation to or interest in his other two siblings.”
Douglas frowns, then glances over at the speaker.
"He is better connected than you." Sherlock's forehead furrows in thought as he watches Douglas. "We are perhaps where his inferiority complex arises, yes. Though I only share any of this with you because he has obviously taken you into his confidence, and...” He gives Douglas a once over. “You no longer have a wife at home, and she -- no, your other ex, really? -- has custody of the child, so you have no one to tell any of this to."
His expression takes a sudden dark turn, his eyes becoming emotionless in that alarming way he has. Douglas involuntarily leans away, already taken aback by Sherlock’s deductions, and now crossing over from uncomfortable to nervous. It isn't Sherlock who speaks next, though, but Mycroft.
"I have stayed out of my youngest brother's affairs for the most part, Mr. Richardson, as per his wishes. However, it would be prudent of you to consider how easily Martin has managed to contact me this afternoon, and to understand that should my assistance become warranted, Martin need not say the first word. I will know."
Martin glares at Sherlock, and then the speaker for good measure. "Yes, thank you. That is and was completely unnecessary, Mycroft. You know how I feel about this sort of thing.
"Martin and I have that in common,"Sherlock says, relaxing again now that the oral accompaniment has been offered to match his nonverbal threat. Sometimes Martin thinks it’s a wonder he ever had friends at all as a child. "Neither of us want your grubby fingers sorting chess pieces on the board of our lives."
Mycroft valiantly ignores Sherlock's comment and addresses Martin instead.
"I remember well how... independent you can be, Martin, yes." Mycroft's tone is indulgent. "Speaking of, it has been far too long since London has seen your face. Do visit upon your return to England."
"Martin will do as he pleases," Sherlock says. "Now if you will kindly bugger off, he and I have better things to do than to listen to you natter on."
Martin can imagine the long suffering expression Mycroft must be wearing at the moment, and knows his silence will answer Mycroft’s unasked questions about his own opinion. He’ll be climbing into the back of a black car to visit Mycroft within the week, if he knows his brother. He has the feeling this flight will be the last he’ll see of Sherlock for a while.
Mycroft sighs. "On that fraternal sentiment, I will depart. Sherlock, do not forget what we spoke of. Mr. Richardson, that laryngitis would clear up much faster if you deigned to take any of the medication prescribed to you at your last stop. Martin, I will see you on your return. There will be significant danger pay for this trip, be sure to have words with your employer if it does not find its way into your account. I have spoken with her already."
Martin is cheered. "Danger pay, really? How did you manage that, Mycroft?"
There is a delicate pause on the other end. "Just be cautious when loading and unloading the crates in Kotzebue."
After Mycroft disconnects, it doesn't take long for them to land, despite Sherlock hovering curiously over Martin's shoulder and watching his movements with an expression on his face that tells Martin that trying to kick him off the flight deck will be met with a blank stare and feigned ignorance. Then possibly a tantrum, if the issue is pressed.
”Sherlock,” Martin says once they've landed and begun the more mundane process of readying the plane for the next package from Mycroft. He adjusts his captain's hat, and continues. "You'll stay onboard while we load the cargo, right? Only, we are in the middle of nowhere, and I would really prefer not to accidentally leave you behind."
Sherlock is laying full out in the fourth row, long legs dangling into the aisle and making it very difficult to get past him. His hands are pressed together under his chin as though he's praying, perhaps to the gods of logic or science. Or oxymorons in general, to keep with the theme, as Sherlock would say if Martin said that out loud.
"How long?" Sherlock asks, though he doesn't move. Martin greets this apparent cooperation with optimism.
"A few hours. We're scheduled to take off at four."
Sherlock says nothing in response to this, and Martin leaves in hopeful spirits. When Sherlock sits like that, he can stay there for days.
Of course, this means that the next time Martin steps aboard the plane, Sherlock is nowhere to be found.
“Blast him,” he mutters, and leans in to the galley to check the loo. It's empty. "Damn!"
The closer the hands on Douglas's watch tick to four, the more nervous Martin becomes. His own watch currently says it is seven thirty in the morning, which means he would still be trying to pull Douglas out of bed in Nome and avoid the very projectile-oriented objections he spent the morning communicating to Martin and Arthur both.
About three quarters of an hour before they absolutely have to leave, Sherlock comes stumbling on board and staggers to the row of seating he’d been laying across when Martin left. Martin spends a few moments feeling sincere relief until he notes the blood staining Sherlock’s shirt and face.
“It’s not mine,” Sherlock says from his position sprawled across the seats. He touches his head gingerly and winces. “I think. Most of it’s not mine.”
“Sherlock, what did you do? ” Martin shrieks, and then is immediately embarrassed at how high his voice went.
“I had to take care of some business in town.” Sherlock sits up and examines his hands. “Hmm. Get me some water and a towel.”
Arthur appears, having been hovering uncertainly nearby, and stares at Sherlock with wide eyes.
“Today,” Sherlock says, looking up and raising an eyebrow. Arthur squeaks and vanishes into the galley. Douglas clears his throat and stares at Martin, his expression both alarmed and demanding.
“What was your business in town?” Martin asks, since he and Douglas are both clearly wondering. “Or rather, who?”
“I told you already,” Sherlock says, sounding bored. “You know how I hate to repeat myself, Martin.”
“Secret terrorist organization?” Martin asks. “In Kotzebue?”
“One leg of it, yes.” Sherlock takes the bowl of water and hand towel from Arthur, who has reappeared and nearly spills it everywhere, except that Sherlock catches it at just the right moment. He begins cleaning the blood off his hands. “On holiday, as a matter of fact. Well.” Sherlock smiles his faint smile. “I say holiday.”
Martin and his two co-workers stare at Sherlock as he continues his ablutions. The bowl of water is now a deep red, and Sherlock is using a clean bit of the towel to dab delicately at the blood on his forehead.
“Does that look like it’s mine?” he asks, leaning forward so Martin can see. “The blood, I mean.”
There is a thump behind them, and Martin spins around to find Arthur out cold on the floor in the aisle.
“He’ll come around in a minute,” Sherlock says. “The blood, Martin, the blood.”
It isn’t Sherlock’s blood. In fact, he has come away from doing whatever he did to that terrorist operative with nothing more than a headache and a few bruises on his arms.
“You’re going to explain how you’re still alive now,” Martin says after they are up in the air. Sherlock has once again decided to hover in the flight deck to watch the takeoff process, fascinated by all the shiny buttons no doubt. Martin has a moment of thinking that he could have explained to Arthur how planes stay in the air, but then remembers an ill fated attempt Sherlock made once to help Martin pass his certification. Whatever the opposite of a born teacher might be, that’s Martin's brother.
Sherlock sighs. “It was all because of the equivalent of Victor Trevor’s second cousin armed with my acuity and Uncle Sherrinford’s sense of humour,” he begins. “You must have read about it in the the papers, and you remember the summer of your ninth year with all those cats, only think of the ringworm as a terrorist organization, and obviously the dog represents Scotland Yard...”
Sherlock tells Martin the whole story, using personal references and secrets between them to explain the situation, generally being as oblique as possible so as to make sure that Douglas understands virtually none of what is being said. Martin is floored. He knows Sherlock has just described an adventure of subterfuge and murder and intrigue and all, but Martin knows where his brother’s interests lie, and he knows what’s really unusual about Sherlock’s description of events.
“Good friend and colleague?” he repeats. “And you did all this for him?”
Sherlock says nothing and raises a defensive eyebrow. When Martin waits for an answer, he makes a discontented sound in the back of his throat.
“And the DI and my landlady,” he reminds Martin, who responds with a skeptical huff of laughter.
“Sherlock, you referred to your thesis advisor as an incontinent imbecile for five and a half of the six years you knew him. And you liked him, if I’m not mistaken. You’ve never admitted to having a colleague in your life, let alone a good friend .”
“Martin, focus,” Sherlock says, ignoring him aside from the expression of discomfort that passes over his face briefly. “If you’re going to be in London to visit our hateful brother, I need you to deliver a message for me.”
Martin smirks. “To your ‘good friend and colleague’, you mean?”
This time Sherlock’s ears turn slightly pink, and Martin is delighted. He wonders if singing ‘Sherlock and John, sitting in a tree’ might be too immature. He’d do it anyway, if Douglas wasn’t still sitting in the co-pilot seat.
Perhaps when he goes to the toilet.
“He was my flatmate,” Sherlock explains, which really only makes it worse on him.
“Alright, Sherry,” Martin says cheerfully. He never gets to do the teasing, not with Douglas and Carolyn and Arthur, and certainly not with his brothers. He takes advantage while he has the upper hand. “So the message is ‘I’m still alive and I’ll be home once I finish dispatching these rogue international terrorists. Have courage, my love. Yours, xoxo, Sherlock’. Does that about sum it up?”
Sherlock glares. There are still traces of blood along his hairline. “Not even remotely. I am married to my work, Martin.”
Douglas snickers. Martin glances over at him, and he holds out his notepad for Martin to see.
“Good thing he was your colleague, then,” Martin says aloud, because it really is quite a good response.
“He is not...” Sherlock says, searching for words, and it’s clear that he isn’t quite sure why he’s allowing the conversation to continue. “He has had various girlfriends the entire time I’ve known him. He probably has one right now.”
“And I’m sure you’re totally supportive of that,” Martin says. He remembers when they were younger and Sherlock disapproved of his attempting to date, because it took away from the time Martin might come visit. His attempts at sabotage were spectacular and incredibly effective, and even to this day, Martin has difficulty talking to women. Martin would resent it if it wasn't for the fact that it was so utterly a Sherlock thing to have done.
Sherlock’s mouth tightens at Martin’s insinuation, and Martin glows with the pride of a big brother well needled. Now if only he could get something embarrassing on Mycroft, his life would be complete. Caitlyn is a lost cause, and Simon already has that thing about architecture.
“I need you to tell him to leave the experiment in the fridge alone,” Sherlock says. “It’ll be finished soon.”
Martin blinks. “I’m sorry, what?”
Sherlock huffs. “I need you to go to the flat and look in his fridge and tell him to leave the experiment alone because it’ll be finished soon.”
“And if he asks me who I am and why I’m looking in his fridge?”
Sherlock waves his hand carelessly.
“Tell him you’re my younger brother, of course,” he says. “Say whatever you’re supposed to say in a situation like this.”
Martin goggles at him. “You mean a situation where the unknown brother of a supposedly dead detective shows up at his widower’s flat and says enigmatic things about his fridge?”
Sherlock scowls. “No, the situation John is assuming.”
“Oh,” Martin nods. “You mean the situation where the unknown brother of your presumably dead boyfriend shows up and says enigmatic things about your fridge, right. Of course.”
Sherlock practically growls, but Martin can’t help himself. Sherlock has never made it so easy. Sherlock presses his hands together under his chin and paces away from Martin, speaking at a rapid clip.
"Give him your condolences, and tell him about yourself so that he knows he can trust you. Make him feel comfortable with your being in the flat and then offer to make him tea. He takes it with a splash of milk, no sugar," Sherlock explains, and really, Martin may not be the most socially savvy person on this plane, but as Sherlock continues to lecture him on the proper etiquette of delivering a coded message while remaining compassionate of the recipient's feelings , of all things, he thinks that this is possibly even more surreal than Sherlock finding himself a flatmate and friend and colleague and whatever else this John fellow might be to him.
"Alright," Martin says, relenting with an amused glance at Douglas once Sherlock has wound down. "I'll go give your -- flatmate, I was going to say!" He holds his hands up in a conciliatory gesture while Sherlock glares. "I'll deliver the message."
Sherlock nods and sweeps out of the flight deck, now that he's gotten what he wants. Martin worries briefly about the kind of trouble Sherlock could get into when faced with Arthur, an empty passenger deck, and several hours with nothing to do in a sealed metal tube several thousand feet in the air, but decides he'll fight that battle as it comes.
"The game is 'Countries that sound more sinister with -stan tacked on the end'," Martin reads. "More sinister, Douglas, really?"
Douglas scribbles something on his notepad and holds it up.
"Italistan... Fine. I suppose so." Martin spends a moment thinking. "Chilistan?"
Douglas makes a face.
"I think it works," Martin disagrees. "What have you got, then?" He peers at the notebook. "Switzerstan?"
Sherlock's voice sounds through the open door. "Belizistan, Mexicistan, Burmistan, Zimbabweistan, Grenadistan, Canadistan, Eritreastan, Swedenistan, Leichtenstan, Omanistan, Sudanistan, Iranistan, Japanistan, Vaticanistan, Ugandistan, Taiwanistan--"
"Yes, ok ok, we get it, Sherlock," Martin said, waving his hands to interrupt the flow of countries spewing from his brother's mouth before he could name them all. "We'll stop, ok?"
Sherlock lets himself in, hovering behind Martin's shoulder and looking irritable.
"How much longer?" he asks, watching the control panel with sharp eyes. Martin has no doubt he's figured out how everything works by now and would be perfectly willing to give piloting a go himself. He resolves not to take any more bathroom breaks until they land.
"Just a couple more hours," Martin says. There is a brief minute of silence, then:
"Chemical compounds that explode when exposed to natural chemicals," Sherlock declares, and it takes Martin a moment to realize he's suggesting a new word game.
"Sherlock, that's not a word game, how are we meant to--"
"Chlorine and alcohol, very good, Mr. Richardson," Sherlock says, glancing at Douglas's notebook. "Picric acid and sodium hydroxide, obviously. Martin?"
Martin sighs and slumps back in the Captain's seat. It’s going to be a long flight.
Sherlock eventually leaves the flight deck and returns just in time to watch the landing, dressed in flowing, patterned clothing and an odd sort of cap. Martin doesn’t ask any of the questions that arise at the sight of him, and lands the plane for the second time with a tall, twitchy consulting detective hovering over his shoulder, getting his long sleeves in Martin’s face as he points at various knobs and buttons and inquires as to their purpose.
When they're safely back on solid ground and standing next to the plane on the airstrip, Sherlock brushes out the sleeves of his robes and nods at Douglas.
"Martin, do not forget to deliver the message," he says. "And just tell your landlord about the broken window; he can't charge you if you're not at fault."
Martin feels a small rush of nostalgic warmth. He's glad Sherlock is still alive. He may not have gotten the Holmes brains, but since childhood Martin’s been exposed to their social skills, which aren't so much lacking as presumptive. It's the kind of presumption that really only works on family, and Sherlock isn't the only one who's had difficulty because of it. Still, realizing that he's back to three people out there who will always know what he means and what's troubling him is reassuring.
Martin nods and Sherlock meets his eyes with a steadying glance that is better than a hug goodbye.
"You'll want to let the other one out of the closet before you take off," Sherlock adds as an afterthought, and Martin sees his own appalled expression mirrored on Douglas's face.
"Sherlock, how long have you had him in there?" Martin asks, rushing back on board with Douglas to unlock said cabinet. He had thought at some point during the flight that Arthur had been strangely quiet for a strangely long time.
Arthur is asleep in the closet, propped up against the hoover. Martin takes a moment to be sure he's still alive and not drugged before leaving him there with the door propped open and heading back out to glare at Sherlock.
Who has disappeared.
"He's terrible at goodbyes," Martin grouses to no one in particular. He goes back on board to help Douglas rouse Arthur, who, upon waking, still inexplicably thinks Martin's half brother is, to deliver an exact quote, 'Brilliant!'