Authors' Note: Doc Martin and all of its characters, themes and plotlines are the property of Buffalo Pictures. This work of fiction is written for purely entertainment purposes and no infringement of legal rights is intended.
Two Months Later in Early July
London was in the throes of an unprecedented heat wave and the blanket of hot, sticky air stifling us was just another reason I didn't want to be here. It had been only a short walk from Ruth's flat where we were staying, but already I felt overly warm and sweaty. I ran my finger inside my collar, hoping for a bit of relief, and then straightened my tie.
James Henry squirmed in my grasp. He looked cross, and noting his flushed cheeks and the perspiration that plastered his fair hair to his head, I realized he was just as uncomfortable as I was. I took a deep breath, rang the bell, and then looked over at Louisa. I was immensely grateful to have her beside me, and in awe that she somehow managed to look fresh and cool in all this heat. I was relieved to notice that the healthy glow had returned to her face now that her vitamin B1 deficiency had been sorted. I found her smile reassuring, but I still couldn't help but wonder how I had allowed myself to be talked into this. I took her hand in my free one, noticing how cool the band of her engagement ring, the one I had presented on her thirty-eighth birthday, felt against our warm fingers.
After a moment, the door opened part way. Though I generally abhor air conditioning, today I was grateful for the refrigerated air that poured forth, engulfing us. A small girl with blonde curly hair and a pink sundress stood there, looking us over critically.
"Are you here for Grandad's party, then?" she asked, finally.
"Er, yes . . . I suppose so . . ." It seemed so odd to hear my father referred to that way.
Still blocking the entrance to the house, she twirled her skirt around and put her thumb in her mouth. I couldn't help but frown with disgust at the thought of the germs she might be introducing to her body with that nasty habit.
"Is that your baby?" she asked, pointing at James Henry.
I rolled my eyes. Whose baby would we have but ours? What a ridiculous question!
Louisa leaned down to the little girl and looked her in the eyes with a friendly smile. "Yes, this is our baby. He's called James Henry. What's your name?"
"I'm Miranda. Your baby looks an awful lot like our baby," she said, dubiously. "He's called Tarquin. He had his birthday on Tuesday."
Just then I heard the click of high heels on the wooden floor, and the door opened wider. "Miranda! Don't block the door like that! You're meant to be letting them in the house."
Christina came into view behind her daughter. "Martin! Louisa! Thank you so much for coming. You don't know how much Dad has been looking forward to this. It means a lot that you came." She scooted the girl out of the way. "And this is your son! He's the spitting image of you, Martin." Her enthusiasm was overwhelming.
Louisa looked at me, took a deep breath, and then embraced my half-sister. "Christina. Thank you for inviting us." She allowed herself to be drawn into the house and I had no choice but to follow, with James Henry perched in the crook of my elbow, burying his face in my lapels.
The house was an old one that had been tastefully updated. As Christina led us along a corridor hung with lively watercolors, we could hear the unmistakable sounds of people socializing. We entered a spacious and comfortable sitting room filled with guests just as the doorbell rang again and Christina excused herself to go and look after the new arrivals.
My father was holding court as the guest of honor in a chair in front of a window overlooking the garden. He looked old and frail, though much improved from his appearance immediately after his stroke. If you looked carefully, you could see that the features on the left side of his face sagged slightly and his left hand trembled. I presumed this was from the stroke and not the champagne he was drinking.
My mother was beside him, another change from the last time I had seen him. She looked the same as always, elegantly dressed and as imperious as ever. I did notice she had her hand on Dad's shoulder as she sat on the arm of his chair. This was an old pose, one I remembered from my childhood and hadn't expected to see ever again.
"Marty!" called Dad as he motioned us to come over. Mother said nothing. She'd been subdued even for her since her imprisonment. She looked at us impassively, and I recalled with dismay her silence during her brief and unhappy visit to Portwenn five years ago. I swallowed hard and then squeezed Louisa's hand to reassure her as well as myself as we approached my parents.
I hadn't wanted to come to this blasted birthday party and had sent my regrets on more than one occasion. It had been cancelled once because of Dad's health and I had hoped that would be the end of the subject. But Christina had been persistent and in the end, at Louisa's urging, I had agreed to come, for Christina's sake more than my father's. She had turned out to be godsend, to me as well as to both of my parents, and I felt I owed her something in the way of thanks.
My sister had lived up to her reputation as a barrister. She'd not only managed to keep my mother from being extradited to Portugal, she had brokered a deal for a lesser sentence on the money laundering charges in exchange for Mum's testimony against Armando da Silva and his gang. After Christina pleaded extenuating circumstances, based on mental and physical illness and Mum's age, the judge ultimately had imposed a community sentence requiring 100 hours of payback work and supervision by an offender manager for one year. It was the happiest possible outcome I could have imagined for that unholy mess. It seemed the whole "Portuguese Incident" was now nearly behind us.
Christina had also been invaluable in getting Dad settled back in the flat in Chelsea after his stroke and arranging for visiting nurses, physio, and other treatments. While I followed his medical care closely and communicated with his physicians on a regular basis, she was the one on site dealing with the day to day issues. And despite the nature of her relationship with my father, she hadn't batted an eyelash when Mum had declared her intent to leave Portwenn to join Dad in London and share the Chelsea flat with him a week after her release from prison.
Not having grown up with a sibling, it was a revelation how the existence of a person who shared at least some of my DNA could change my life. I now wondered how on Earth I would have managed if Christina had not been there to step in and help me untangle the muddle my parents' lives had become. The burden of being responsible for two people I had come to thoroughly dislike had lightened considerably and for that reason I found myself in this room, facing my parents with Louisa and James Henry in tow.
"So this is the little nipper, eh Marty?" Dad asked, with a glint in his eyes. "I never had the chance to meet the tyke when I was in Cornwall."
It was on the tip of my tongue to say that were it up to me, he wouldn't have ever seen my son. Instead I simply nodded. "He's called James Henry."
"After your grandfather?" Dad seemed to tear up a bit.
I knew that personality changes and becoming more emotional were not uncommon after a stroke but it still surprised me, seeing it in my own father. "Yes, after Louisa's grandfather and mine." I had confirmed with Louisa that James was the name of Eleanor's father, not Terry's, relieved to know our son's name honored an actual ancestor of his. With all the revelations in the last month, Louisa and I almost needed a notebook to keep track of our respective families.
My mother said nothing, but she reached out a hand to stroke James Henry's cheek. He gave her a solemn look but didn't otherwise object.
"I take it you have met our grandson before, eh, Margaret? Never thought I'd be saying that." He turned to address Louisa, kissing her hand and giving her a look that made me feel fiercely protective. "So he finally got up the nerve, did he? I'll bet he was your doctor first, am I right? I always said he'd have to drug a woman to get her to stay with him." He gave her a lecherous wink.
I could almost hear Louisa's hackles rising. "Dad, that's quite enough," I chided, well aware of the fact that my ears were red and my cheeks were likely pinking up as well.
Dad shrugged, a little smirk on his face. "Well at least we know you've got it in you, Marty. Look at that little lad – the spitting image of you at that age! Arrived a little ahead of schedule, if you know what I mean, but I guess I am not one to talk on that count." It startled me to realize that Dad was comparing James Henry's out of wedlock birth to Christina's situation. As far as I was concerned, the one had nothing to do with the other, but it did give me pause that in his mind they were similar.
Christina re-entered the room carrying a baby roughly the same age as James Henry on one hip and shepherding Miranda and another small boy, I supposed he was Miranda's twin brother, David, with the other hand. She smiled at Dad and brought the children over.
"Children, this is your Uncle Martin and your Auntie Louisa. And their son is your cousin, James. Martin, you've met Miranda and these two are David and Tarquin."
Miranda was right. Tarquin and James looked like the twins in this picture – it was eerie how much they resembled each other, and how much more Tarquin resembled James than he did either of his siblings. I wondered if Christina's husband bore any likeness to Louisa. Genetics can be a powerful force.
Before we could make any further introductions, my father rose shakily from his chair, leaning on Mum's arm. "My dear friends. Thank you so much for joining us. I am delighted to see you all here and grateful to Christina and Rupert for throwing the party." There was a smattering of polite applause.
Dad raised his glass of champagne and continued. "Today I am a happy man. Happy to have had my health restored to me. Happy to be sharing this day with my family and with all of you. I have had the opportunity during my recent recuperation to take stock of my life. I haven't always valued what I had. Nearly losing it all made me realize what I was missing. So today with all of you as my witnesses, in the presence of our son, Martin, and my daughter Christina, I would like to ask you, my beloved Margaret, will you marry me again?"
I was stunned. I looked from Dad's questioning face to Mum's glistening eyes, from Louisa's astonished look, to Christina's amused smile and then back at Dad. At that moment, I heard the crash of glass as Dad dropped his champagne flute. Mum scrambled to pick up the shattered pieces and then cried out in surprise. As she held up her hand, dripping with blood, I succumbed to the overwhelming sense of panic that had been brewing in the back of my mind all day. It flooded over me like an immense tidal wave until all I could see was the dripping blood; all I could sense was the smell I associated with surgery, operating theaters and despair. Before I could do anything to regain my composure, my field of vision contracted to a single point of light which then went black as I tumbled into unconsciousness.
Once again it was raining dead seagulls.
The day after our wedding, we took the car ferry from Penzance to St. Mary's and followed Clive Carson's hand drawn map to the bungalow at the top of the bluff beside the lighthouse. Neither of us had known what to expect – the only things Louisa had received before we left were the map, a key and an exterior photo of the house. She had been enchanted. I had tried to warn her that we might find dry rot, vermin infestations or heaven knows what else but she had remained undeterred. For our honeymoon we would travel to Scilly and stay in the home her uncle had left her, and she wouldn't hear of any other suggestions.
I had to admit that the views were spectacular. Up here on the bluff we were at the highest point on the island, with the cliffs rolling down to the sea in one direction and an overgrown cottage garden between the cottage and the lighthouse. In the late afternoon sun, everything seemed to shimmer.
"Oh, Martin, isn't it wonderful?" she exclaimed.
"Well, let's wait and see what we find inside." I was reserving judgment. After all the surprises this summer, I had given up trying to predict the outcome of any non-medical situation.
She chuckled and took my hand, and I felt her fingers brush against my wedding ring, an unfamiliar but pleasant feeling. "Lead on, Mac Duff," I ordered and she dragged me along to the front door, bubbling with excitement.
The key turned easily in the lock and the door swung open revealing a spacious sitting room with a wall of windows facing the sea. I heard Louisa's sharp intake of breath and I knew that she was pleased.
"Oh, Martin!" She looked up at me with a smile of such warmth and love it overwhelmed me. She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me soundly and I knew that no matter what, there was no place in the world I wanted to be than where this woman was, wherever that might be. I scooped her into my arms and carried her across the threshold, taking no small pleasure in this bit of romantic foolishness.
As I returned her kiss enthusiastically, I realized that for the first time in a very long time, maybe ever, we were completely alone. James was safe and sound under Amanda's watchful care at home in Portwenn. There were no patients, no students, no annoying neighbors, displaced family members, nosy receptionists or unexpected visitors to disturb us. No one on the island had any idea who we were, and no one we knew could drop in uninvited. It was just the two of us with a week to spend getting used to the idea of being husband and wife.
I broke the kiss reluctantly. "Well, Mrs. Ellingham, what do you want to do first?" I asked, suddenly feeling shy.
"I like the sound of that."
"The sound of what?"
"You do? I wasn't sure . . ." We hadn't discussed whether she would change her name but I had hoped.
"Shh, Martin," she whispered. "Being your wife is exactly who I want to be."
"Really? And I thought you just married me to get your inheritance . . ." I was surprised to find myself joking about this.
She swatted me and laughed some more and I smiled. I somehow couldn't help myself when I was with her.
We took our time inspecting the various rooms, relieved to find that Clive Carson had made good on his promise to send in a cleaner before we arrived. It was a compact little house, tidy and uncluttered. Louisa was delighted with the stone fireplace, the cozy armchairs, the café table on the porch and the sundrenched bedroom. I was delighted with Louisa.
After a while, I brought in our belongings from the car. While I unpacked the box of groceries we'd picked up in the village, Louisa took her case to the bedroom to unpack. I removed my jacket and tie and rolled back my cuffs before donning an apron and putting together a simple marinade for the fish and a dressing for the salad. I laid the table on the porch for two using the cutlery and table mats I found in the kitchen dresser. As an afterthought, I added a couple of candles in little glass jars; the days were getting shorter and we would likely see the sunset before our meal was finished.
When I returned to the kitchen, I found Louisa nonchalantly opening a bottle of wine. My mouth went dry at the sight. She was dressed in the red satin tart's costume she had hired for the Parsons' ridiculous anniversary party and she looked positively gorgeous.
I put my hands on her shoulders. "Where did this come from? I thought you only hired it for the party?"
She chuckled. "Well given your reaction the two times I wore it before, I decided it might be a good idea to keep it around for special occasions. So instead of returning it, I bought it for myself."
"You did?" I could feel my eyes widen.
"So you DO like it, hmm?"
I was blushing. I buried my face in her hair and muttered, "Very much." My hands moved lower to her lovely bottom, clad in the racy red ruffles. She moved in my arms and once again I felt how perfectly we fit together.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and lifted her head to nuzzle my neck. As she did so, she whispered into my ear. "Here we go, through the snow. . ."
". . . comrades, forever," I finished.
And I knew that we would be.
X X XX X
Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with us through what has been a remarkable and entertaining experience for the six of us. We have enjoyed writing this, spurring each other on with challenges, prompts, and outlandish cliff hangers and plot twists. And no one got hurt. We are grateful for the time you took to read, for your encouraging reviews, and for your support of our individual work as well as for this project which gave us the confidence to proceed.
Each of us would like to thank the rest of the team for participating in this experiment. It has been an honor and a pleasure to get to know each other and work together on this project. If two heads are better than one, then the six heads of the Hydra have come up with a whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
We would be remiss if we did not also thank Buffalo Pictures for creating this television programme with which we have all become obsessed, the remarkable Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz for bringing it to life and, perhaps most of all, the amazing Claire Bloom whose brief portrayal of Margaret Ellingham in series two made such an impression on all of us as to inspire this story.
So for those of you who are wondering who the heck Portwenn Hydra could be, we are, in alphabetical order: