Title: How To Hug Your Douglas
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Characters, Pairings: Martin/Douglas friendship.
Warnings: Pretty safe. Awkwardness really is the only warning…
Spoilers: Spoiler-free actually!
Summary: Sometimes, even Douglas's need hugs. Written for this kinkmeme prompt: http : / cabinpres-fic . livejournal . com/ 728. html ? thread = 188376#t188376 (just delete the spaces). More fluff than you can shake a stick at.
Douglas gets the call halfway through their dinner, which tonight is taking place in a tiny and rather horrible Chinese restaurant in Auckland of all places. He bustles off to answer it and Arthur entertains them all with his impressions of Mr Andrews, their latest passenger and a fan of calling everyone 'boy' in the most pompous tone he can manage - including women. Arthur is not usually brilliant at impersonations, but he seems to have got Mr Andrews down pat, and by the time Douglas returns, everyone is in hysterics.
Douglas sits back down good-naturedly enough, but there is something in his face that isn't right; Martin can't quite put his finger on it (perhaps a slight tightening around the eyes? A twitch to the corners of the mouth?) but there is something…wrong. Of course, it could just be the very dodgy bottle of apparent 'Chinese beer' he's just drunk, but no, no…there is definitely something…not good.
"Is everything okay, Douglas?" he asks when the possibly-still-breathing chow mein reaches their table and Carolyn is distracted with stopping Arthur from jumping on it before she's seen if it actually is edible.
Douglas is good at lying - no, that's a lie in itself, Douglas is brilliant at lying - but even he has trouble at lying to someone he spends ten to twelve hours with every few days in a room the almost size and almost shape of a tin can. It's only a tiny flash in the eyes before Douglas says in a voice more laid-back than a carpet, "Fine," but Martin catches it nonetheless.
He drops the subject as tactfully as possible and they move onto the deceased remains of whatever is in the chow mein.
Carolyn is the one who gets a call about half an hour later, and when she returns to the table she is glowering with her I am about to lose a lot of money and the first person who makes a wrong move will see just how unhappy I am about this face.
"Listen up, gents," she says, calmly ignoring Arthur continuing to eat, "Change of plan - we won't be flying out tomorrow."
"What," Douglas says, just as Martin says, "Why not?", so no one notices the urgency in Douglas's tone.
"Weather forecast is predicting a very-almost hurricane for tomorrow," Carolyn says, "So we're flying on Tuesday, when it should be over."
"That's two days away!" Douglas protests, and now his agitation is clear to see for even Arthur.
They all stare at Douglas. "Oh, really, two days away, good Lord, I had no idea, well in that case by all means, don't let me stop you flying into a hurricane - " Carolyn starts snidely, but is interrupted by Douglas saying, in a very un-Douglas-like voice,
"No. It's just. My daughter has pneumonia."
"I just got the call," Douglas says into the silence.
"Is she all right?" says Martin - probably the stupidest thing he could say, he thinks on reflection.
Douglas plays with his chow mein. "They got to it quickly enough. But…that's not really the…" He half shrugs awkwardly. "Would just like to be there."
Carolyn nibbles at her lip. "Oh Douglas…if I had any way of…"
"Yes, I know, it can't be helped." Douglas attempts a reassuring smile, which is worse in a way, because Douglas doesn't do reassuring smiles. "It's all right."
An awkward silence falls, which Arthur breaks in his usual either completely oblivious or secretly quite ingenious fashion: "Does anyone want anymore spring rolls?"
They go back to the dinner, relieved to have something normal to talk about, and though Douglas rejoins the conversation as animatedly as possible, it's now quite clear to everyone that he has other things on his mind.
Martin and Douglas are sharing a bedroom again, because Carolyn has once more gone Scrooge McDuck on them, especially since she now has to pay for their board for two extra nights, and it is now getting ridiculously awkward. Martin almost wishes they were staying in the plane; somehow, talking to Douglas is much easier when they're on the flight deck and all they have is sky in front of them. A shared bedroom feels too close, too intimate. And Martin never was any good at relieving a tense situation; that's what Douglas is for.
Douglas keeps up his pretence of everything being fine, lounging on his uncomfortable bed with his socked feet hanging off the edge, switching on the TV and loudly mocking about the awful soap opera he finds, but it's all a bit worse, really, because it's all forced. Martin wonders if he would have realised this if he hadn't known about Douglas's daughter; after all, Douglas is really good at pretending. The thought that maybe he wouldn't have just makes Martin feel worse. He realises he doesn't know much at all about Douglas, really, even with all the time they spend together. Douglas is very good at putting up masks and Martin is completely inept at breaking through them.
He fidgets unnecessarily, flipping through his paperwork and trying not to stare at Douglas too much, occasionally laughing at Douglas's comments which sounds more forced than the comments themselves. Eventually, Douglas switches the set off and silence reigns.
Martin glances surreptitiously at Douglas. Douglas is staring up at the yellowish ceiling, blank-faced, as if he can't quite keep up the pretence anymore. Eventually he says, "I'm to bed," and stands up, and when he stands up he looks nothing less than a tired, tired old man, and something in Martin's brain throws a switch so that when Douglas goes past his bed to get to the bathroom, he finds himself standing up, cutting Douglas off and putting his arms around him.
Douglas goes as stiff as a wooden plank, but Martin can't seem to make himself let go. It's all a bit of a blur, to be honest.
Eventually, Douglas says, "Uh…"
"I, uh, I can let go if you want," Martin says, trying to tell his brain that yes, this is what he needs to do, and sooner rather than later thanks very much.
Douglas hesitates a second longer, long enough for Martin to think that he probably really should let go now, but just as he is starting to back off, Douglas's arms wind around his back and he says quietly, really quietly, "Please don't."
Martin closes his eyes and tightens his grip, and Douglas drops his head silently onto Martin's shoulder.
They fall into a deep but comfortable quiet. Douglas is far warmer somehow than Martin thought he would be, and Martin can hear his steady breathing deep in his ear. He attempts a reassuring stroke of the back, although its more of a rather stuttered sweep, and Douglas lets out the tiniest of sighs and clings on to him like Martin is MJN's only seaworthy life raft.
Martin counts to twenty in his head and then Douglas lets go, very slowly, and steps back, and Martin feels about a thousand times more awkward than he was feeling throughout the whole evening.
He attempts a brave smile. "Right," he says, which means nothing at all, but it's something to say.
Douglas nods and pats his arm, and Martin is relieved to see that there is something of Douglas back in the face, some lines that have been erased. "Right," Douglas echoes, sounding more like himself than he has since the phone call, though once again Martin can't quite place how, and then he pats his arm again and weaves past Martin to get to the bathroom.
Martin flops onto his bed, battling a smile.
Maybe, he thinks, he does know Douglas just a little bit…just a tiny bit…more than he realised.