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Little Things (Make All The Difference)

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5

Douglas only notices because Carolyn has never presented herself in a state of anything less than pristine. He hands her the flight plan for submission with one hand, and with the other, plucks a stray thread from her suit jacket.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” she asks with equal amounts of incredulity and bristling offense.

He presents the thread to her with a flourish. “Can’t have you looking out of sorts,” he tells her. “Whatever would the clients think?”

He takes her eyeroll and muttered “overgrown child” for the “thank you” they should be.

~*~

4

Carolyn expects it from Arthur, because given any amount of downtime spent in an aircrew lounge, he will invariably find a way to entertain himself. There’s a bag of mini Hobnobs open on the table which Martin reaches for as he rattles on about height and angle. Then he leans back in his chair and proceeds to properly demonstrate how one is supposed to catch a biscuit in one’s mouth. There are enough forlorn and broken bits beneath Martin’s chair, however, to tell her that this isn’t his first attempt. He nearly manages this time, but he spots her last second and flails upright. The Hobnob lands in the midst of his ridiculous curls, then tumbles embarrassingly to the floor.

“C-Carolyn,” he stammers. “I-I was j-just… just…”

“Teaching me how to catch biscuits,” Arthur cheerfully provides. There is chocolate smeared on the corner of his mouth.

“I would have never guessed given how many of them are on the floor,” Carolyn says.

Predictably, Martin goes red. Arthur gives her a sheepish smile and discreetly puts the bag away. The cleaning is done quickly and in silence whilst Carolyn supervises and she wonders not for the first time how she has come to run an airdot which only employs men-sized children.

Without being asked, Arthur hands over the biscuits and stays obligingly still when she wipes the chocolate from his mouth with her thumb before she sends him on his way. Martin follows after him, contrite and abashed, trying to make a quick and quiet getaway. She calls his name and he freezes, quite properly cowed.

Brusquely, she brushes the crumbs from his hair and swipes the smudges of chocolate from his cheek—not that anyone would ever notice amid his abundance of freckles.

“Well,” she says when he stands there staring. “You have a plane to fly, don’t you? Or are you content to be merely a lounge ornament?”

He practically skitters out of the door. It rather ruins the authoritative look of a proper pilot, but so would being covered in biscuit crumbs, she supposes. No one can ever say she never tried.

~*~

3

Arthur only notices because he’s counting the cracks in the pavement whilst Skip talks with the engineers, something about the comms or the warning lights, maybe—Arthur isn’t sure, but it involves loads of paperwork and lots of Skip pointing out bits in flight manuals. He knows better than to interrupt, so he watches and waits, and when Skip comes back grumbling about protocol and inefficiency, Arthur just stoops and reties the laces of Skip’s shoe.

“So we’re all sorted?” Arthur asks when he straightens.

Skip gives him a funny, scrunched up look, like that time Arthur tried speaking to him in Portuguese, but eventually he nods.

“Brilliant!” Arthur grins. “I’ll go tell Mum.”

~*~

2

The only reason Martin notices is because he’s in the galley so he can give his legs a stretch. They’re halfway through their flight to Peru. Through the curtain, he can hear Arthur eagerly chatting away with their clients (who, surprisingly enough, are just as eager to chat back).

He’s fixing himself a cup of coffee when Carolyn sweeps in with pinched brows and an empty tea tray.

“Everything all right?” he hedges.

“Fine,” Carolyn says, reaching around him for the kettle. “The clients are entertained and Arthur is occupied. I just haven’t decided if having one come about because of the other is fortuitous or disastrous.”

“Just give Arthur a bit longer to sort himself out then,” Martin says. “He obviously hasn’t found his rhythm yet.”

Carolyn just shakes her head in exasperation, but he doesn’t miss the quirking of the corners of her mouth. Martin wedges himself into the corner and sips at his coffee whilst Carolyn sets about making another tray of teas.

“Reheats for dinner,” she says, piling on milk buckets and sugar sachets. “Whenever you and Douglas feel inclined to eat, you know where they are.” Tea mugs strategically placed, she turns, effortlessly balancing the tray on one hand.

“Just a minute,” he says.

She pauses at the curtain with an impatient sigh. “Martin, there is nothing else in. If you have a problem with the food, you’re more than welcome to throw yourself out of the plane and parachute to the nearest market.”

“N-no, no. It’s not…” Warily, he raises his hand and with as little contact as physically possible—because this is already toeing an incredibly thin line—he tucks back the stark white little tab flaring up from Carolyn’s collar. “Your shirt tag was sticking out,” he provides lamely.

“Heaven forbid,” she says and sweeps back into the cabin.

Any other time Martin might mistake her words for cool dismissal, but he doesn’t miss that her tone lacks its usual bite.

~*~

1

Carolyn only notices because it is impossible not to. The only times Douglas ever stays late are on Birling Day and on the rare occasion his ex-wife drops off his daughter on her way into London. Douglas isn’t a nervous man by any means, and in all the years she’s known him he has never been given to handwringing or fits of agitated pacing. A bit of nerve-grating finger-drumming and toe-tapping, yes, but anything more would ruin his carefully crafted playboy image. Utter rubbish, that—but if the delusion keeps him going, who is she to shatter it?

He sits at his desk pretending to read, exuding indifference and nonchalance as though they’re an art form, but more often than not, his eyes are locked on the window facing out onto the car park. Carolyn stands in the doorway to her office and doesn’t bother pretending she’s doing something other than what she actually is—watching Douglas.

She knows what he’s about—has known since she overheard the last snatches of the phone call from his ex-wife—he’s trying to wind down, center himself and cover up what an exhausted mess he actually is. The Philadelphia trip had been taxing and they haven’t been back even an hour yet. Not long enough to do more than file the paperwork. If given the choice Douglas would already be long gone, but the airfield is neutral territory. Carolyn knows that no matter how tiring and aggravating the circumstances, Douglas will do whatever it takes to see his daughter. It’s one of his few redeeming qualities, a reminder that no matter what kind of twat he may present himself as to the rest of the world, he is, in fact, a good man. Not that she would ever admit that to his face.

Douglas is so preoccupied with checking his mobile for missed calls that he doesn’t notice the headlights of the car pulling up. Carolyn takes that as her cue.

“We have company,” she says.

Automatically, Douglas’s head swivels towards the window. He climbs to his feet and jerks his jacket straight, but it’s merely out of habit, rather than a desire to appear presentable.

Carolyn sighs and stalks over to him. “Honestly,” she says, reaching up to straighten his crooked tie. “With all of your horror stories about Laura, one would think you’d know by now not to give her something to harp on. God only knows she’d find a way to use it against you.”

The smile he gives her is both bemused and coy. “Why, Carolyn, I didn’t know you cared.”

She smooths his lapels and scoffs. “About your personal affairs? Not even remotely. But if you give your ex-wife an excuse to drag you back to court, you’ll spend your time there, rather than where you should be, flying my plane. This is purely self-serving, I assure you.”

“Of course it is,” he says. “I wouldn’t dream of it being anything else.”

There is only so much of his ego-inflated smugness she can take before she is tempted to violence, so she steers him towards the door in both their best interests.

“Get Miranda and go home, Douglas,” she tells him. “Before you give me something to use against you.”

“Now we wouldn’t want that.” He tips his hat to her like the ridiculous man that he is, grabs his things, and swans out the door to the car park. The moment he sees his daughter, Carolyn knows he sees nothing else—not even the haughty scowl twisting up his ex-wife’s pretty mouth.

Carolyn watches from the window with all the satisfaction of a good day’s work done.

~*~

+1

The ratty little office in St. Petersburg doesn’t have any mirrors, but by now they all fall into the routine naturally. Douglas adjusts Martin’s tie. Martin plucks a bit of fluff from the fringe over Arthur’s eyes. Arthur carefully checks for knotted shoelaces. Carolyn straightens Douglas’s epaulettes whilst he brushes lint from the shoulders of her suit jacket.

They stand assessing each other carefully, a last minute onceover. One doesn’t go into battle without armor—this is all the armor any of them have, so they’re going to make damn certain each of them are flawless.

“Ready?” Carolyn asks. One last chance to back out before the point of no return, because when it comes right down to it, this is her fight with Gordon, not theirs. But each one of her boys stands fast, pristine and resolute, and she couldn’t be any more proud.

“You can come in,” she calls.

No matter what Gordon throws at her this time, there’s not a chance in hell, he’s coming out on top. For the first time in years, she doesn't feel the need to gear herself up for a fight. Really, there’s no need to.

Gordon breezes in and without a word her boys line up behind her.

She’s already won.