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He’s not quite sure how it happens; it’s late, they’re in Malaga, and the air conditioning in their hotel room stopped working half an hour ago. He’s been tetchy all day, always is when he has to fly on his daughter’s birthday – and he knows he shouldn’t be taking it out on Martin of all people, but it’s so damn stifling in there, they’re both tired, and he’s only human after all.

He’s halfway through his tirade on their subpar accommodation and just how ridiculous it is for Martin to be hogging the bathroom when they both know he’s about as likely to be invited into someone else’s room as for Arthur to successfully run MJN Air as a profitable business, when Martin finally loses his patience, and ostensibly decides to change his tack.

Of all the things he may have expected from Martin, being silenced with a kiss was never one of them; momentarily stunned, he doesn’t respond either way, his brain scrambling to catch up with the rest of him. It’s only when Martin starts to pull back – his uncharacteristic bout of bravado already devolving into the beginnings of a stammered apology – that he finally springs into action, pulling him back in and capturing Martin’s lips into a searing kiss. After that, it’s just a blur, until they’re a tangle of sweaty limbs spread out on the bed, their clothes strewn carelessly across the floor.

“That was,” Martin clears his throat somewhat awkwardly, as they’re still trying to catch their breath.

“It certainly was,” Douglas agrees easily, endorphins coursing through his system. “And more.”

Martin offers him a tentative smile, doesn’t object when Douglas calls first dibs on the shower facilities, such as they are.

 

They don’t talk about it on their flight back to Fitton, nor in any of the days to follow. Heat of the moment, Douglas attempts to shrug it off in the privacy of his own mind, yet to very little avail. He was at least expecting a lecture from Martin about professionalism and workplace boundaries – had been working himself up to it, in point of fact – and to be perfectly honest, he can’t help but feel slightly offended that their impromptu fling didn’t grant as much. Things carry on pretty much as normal for the next two weeks, until they fly to Japan, and Carolyn somehow omits to mention she booked a shared room for the two of them, again.

Martin doesn’t say a word as they trudge upstairs – the lift is broken, go figure – merely stares at his own shoes as Douglas unlocks the door and marches in first. “Shall we toss up too see who gets the marginally less awful bed?” he offers over the dull thud of Martin’s flight bag being unceremoniously dropped to the floor, and all of a sudden they’re standing much too close, and Martin’s – oh – kissing him, hands fluttering nervously around Douglas’ shoulders.

Surprised, Douglas lets him – he finds that he missed this, actually, though it wouldn’t do for him to admit as much – lets go of his own bag in favour of running his hands up the length of Martin’s back. This is a bad idea, he thinks, even as he deepens the kiss. Still, parts of him are already starting to take an interest in this particular turn of events, and he does his best to ignore the little voice at the back of his mind.

And, oh, Martin is ever so warm and eager in his arms, he soon stops thinking altogether.

 

Somehow, they settle on a pattern – and for all that Douglas has always been far from thrilled about overnight stays, he finds himself looking forward to those, no matter how seedy the hotel nor cramped their accommodation. As neither of them seems particularly inclined to address the matter of this little arrangement of theirs, it seems prudent to compartmentalise the issue, so to speak; in the flight deck, it’s all about word games and the occasional jibe at Martin’s expenses, just as normal, and what happens in hotel rooms stays in hotel rooms – it’s much less complicated that way, though not precisely easier, at least as far as Douglas is concerned.

He considers inviting Martin over to his house, once or twice – but in the end, he decides against it. Their liaison, such as it is, feels precarious enough without throwing any further suggestion of familiarity into the mix. They spend enough time already ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room, and he’s not entirely sure he could take much more of that.

Still, the sex is spectacular, if he says so himself, and that should be enough, even more so after his third, rather messy divorce. If he’s honest, he cannot quite fathom what Martin sees in him, except maybe that it’s convenient, isn’t it – a little quid pro quo between friends, nothing more.

And Douglas, well, he’s fine with this, honestly. No need to put his heart on the line only to have it trodden on all over again, after all.

 

They very nearly make it to the three months tally before Martin ends it. It’s a little sudden, though he wouldn’t say unexpected, all things considered. He’s exhausted himself; they were held up at Sydney Airport, and it’s taken him considerably longer than usual to charm his way to the front of the queue – he must be losing his touch, he thinks, though he can hardly blame Sydney ATC for refusing to be flirted at by a man who was clearly old enough to be her father. Truth be told, all he craves is a hot shower, and then eight hours of uninterrupted sleep; when Martin announces they need to talk, he almost considers putting it off until the morning, but he can tell from the look on Martin’s face that it’s much better this way.

“I’m really sorry, Douglas, but we – I can’t do this, not anymore. It was horribly unprofessional of me in the first place, and I’m – sorry.”

“Fair enough,” he says, running a hand across his face. “No hard feelings, hey?”

Martin attempts what is probably meant to be a reassuring smile, ducks into the bathroom as the silence between them stretches on uncomfortably. Douglas shrugs off his uniform jacket, throwing it in the general direction of the nearest chair, and flops onto the bed, remote already in hand.

 

Three weeks later, they’re in Zurich, and of all the ways they could be spending their two-day stopover, he must say dealing with a heavily inebriated Martin didn’t even make it to the bottom of his list. “Didn’t think you had it in you,” he huffs as he half drags, half carries Martin out of the hotel bar and into the lift. “What happened to I’m the supreme commander of this vessel?”

“Not fair,” Martin mumbles, even as he slumps further against Douglas’ side. “Wouldn’t have done it if we were flying tomorrow, you know that.”

He does, which is precisely what makes this unprecedented occurrence even more incongruous, somehow. “Yes, I’ve been known to use that excuse myself,” he retorts, somewhat sarcastically.

Martin looks up abruptly, a deep frown creasing his brow. “You mean – oh, Douglas, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think.”

“Yes, well. Now be a good little captain and step out of this lift.”

“’m not little,” Martin protests, swaying a bit as he finally complies. Douglas has only just managed to wrangle him down the corridor and into their room when Martin swings around, very nearly toppling over in the process. “Should’ve invited her over,” he slurs, pointing an unsteady finger to Douglas’ chest. “Wouldn’t’ve minded, y’know.”

He sighs. “As loathe as I am to admit it, I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”

“That woman at the bar. She clearly wanted you to.”

“Well, I didn’t,” he snaps in mild irritation, then shakes his head to himself; not much use in arguing with a drunk, as he knows well enough from first-hand experience. He guides Martin to sit on the edge of the bed, pushes a water bottle into his hand. “Drink this. You’ll thank me in the morning.”

 

He’s woken at six a.m. by the sound of Martin retching in the toilet. “You all right in there?” he asks quietly, pressing his ear to the flimsy door for good measure.

“...fine,” Martin replies at length, and he can hear the tap running – probably brushing his teeth, he’d say – so he makes a detour for his flight bag to get some paracetamol, just in case.

When Martin emerges from the bathroom five minutes later, he wordlessly accepts the proffered tablets, washes them down with a mouthful of water, and flops back onto his bad.

“That bad, huh?” Douglas winces in sympathy, and since he’s already up, he decides he may as well fix himself a cup of tea.

Martin groans by way of an answer, and buries his face further into the pillow. Douglas just leaves him be for a while, nursing his cup of tea, and musing on just how much teasing he can get away with, as a reformed alcoholic himself; his heart’s not really in it, though, and he can’t say he particularly fancies riling Martin up, either.

“I’m sorry,” Martin offers after a while, his sudden movement punctuated by the creaking of his bed. He’s facing Douglas now, left hand tucked under his cheek, and Douglas has to fight the sudden urge to step closer and – well.

“We’ve all been there,” he tries to shrug it off, only for curiosity to get the better of him, eventually. “Well, perhaps not the part where you kept coming back to how some random stranger was trying to chat me up, but then again, who am I to judge?”

Judging from the extravagant blush colouring Martin’s face, he’s hit the nail on the head there. “I’m sorry, I,” he stammers, and it’s getting really old quite quickly, Martin apologising all the time.

“Jealous much, are we?” he teases half-heartedly, not quite prepared for the way Martin’s body tenses at the mere suggestion. Serves him right, he finds himself thinking, only to be immediately appalled at his own reaction.

“I didn’t – I know it’s none of my business, Douglas, it’s just,” Martin takes a deep breath, and then his next words are tumbling out of his mouth, as if he simply cannot help himself anymore. “Four years, we’ve been working together, and yet you never once brought back a man to your room. All those women, and you didn’t – and then we started, um, together, and I just – couldn’t make any sense of it, and – oh, sorry, can we please forget I said anything?”

Douglas is sitting very still now, his eyes trained to the inside of his empty teacup. “If you must know,” he starts, tiredness creeping over him like a cloud. “I’m exclusively attracted to men I happen to have a close emotional connection with. I won’t pretend I understand how that works, I just – do.”

“Oh,” Martin exhales, and there’s a shuffle as if he’s pushing himself upright, the better to look at Douglas’ face. “You mean – with me, it wasn’t just – oh.”

“I believe we already thoroughly established just how unprofessional that was, did we not?” He chances one quick look at Martin, but even such a small indulgence threatens to be too much for him.

“...I thought I was just a distraction,” Martin admits after a long silence, fingers worrying at the hem of his bed sheet. “That’s why I couldn’t – why I ended it, I mean.”

The clink of the teacup against the saucer sounds unnaturally loud to Douglas’ ears. “It was never like that, no,” he hears himself speak as if from a distance, his heartbeat picking up for some unfathomable reason.

“I don’t care about professional,” Martin declares with sudden conviction, and then he’s standing right in front of Douglas, fingertips hovering half an inch away from his cheek. “If you’ll still have me, that is.”

“Martin,” he says, even as he instinctively leans into the touch. “You berk,” he adds, fondness seeping into his tone, unbidden.

Martin’s smile is a small bright thing, and then they’re kissing – and he knows just how ridiculous that’ll sound, but this feels exactly like coming home, at last.