Summary: All it takes is a warm summer's day and the sting of a wasp.
A/N: Title taken from William Ernest Henley's poem 'Invictus'.
In The Fell Clutch of Circumstance
2 weeks later
"Come on, Skip!"
"Alright, alright!" Martin called out before turning back to the lady he'd been speaking to. "So that's Miss Parker, 37 Clarendon Avenue, Chipping Norton, CN2 1BC?"
"Yes, dearie. And if you give her a ring on the number I gave you about half an hour before you arrive, she'll make sure she's home to take in the boxes and she'll pay you the second half of your fee. "
With a nod and a smile as goodbye, Martin made his way to his van and an over-excited Arthur who was waiting behind the driver's seat.
"Let's go, Skip! The quicker we reach Flipping Carton, the more time we have to look for Jeremy Clarkson's house!"
"Chipping Norton, Arthur, not Flipping Carton," Martin corrected as walked over to the driver's side window. "Now, Arthur, as you can clearly see, I am in perfect condition to drive. Why don't I drive us there and you can drive us back?"
Arthur, to his credit, only turned the key in the engine. "Sorry Skip, but I'm on mum's orders and she's much scarier than you. You're not allowed to drive until you stop taking the big pain medicine and move onto the little pain medicine. Then she says you can drive and fly all you want. Now get in!"
Martin sighed in defeat and made his way to the passenger side before Arthur decided to drive off without him, even though the map, directions, and address was in his hands. Martin wouldn't put it past Arthur to get there on enthusiasm and luck alone and should the van break down, somehow find and have Jeremy Clarkson repair and upgrade it.
For all the fuss he'd made, Martin was glad for Arthur's help. It had only been a little over two weeks since he'd landed in hospital, and his ribs were nowhere near healed. Although he'd been trying to reduce his pain killer intake in the hopes of spending more hours of the day with most of his intellectual faculties in tact, it was hard to do just about anything with injured ribs. Simple movements from turning around, to getting up from a lying down position were causes of sharp jolts of pain, and that was not even considering how each breath was a reminder. Having been taught deep breathing exercises before he'd been discharged to avoid complications such as pneumonia, Martin was looking forward to the day when he'd been able to take a deep breath without his eyes tearing up in pain.
As such, he would not have been able to do this van job had Carolyn not leant Arthur to Icarus Removals and herself taken up the main role of stewarding the short flights MJN Air was now running with Douglas as the sole pilot. Not only was it not recommended to drive when on the medication he was on, the last thing he was physically capable of was to lift and move heavy boxes. In this, Arthur had once again proven himself a cheerful helper, and Martin and the lady who'd hired them had watched with barely concealed awe as the younger man had moved the boxes in three-quarters of the time it would have taken a healthy Martin, while at the same time keeping up a constant narration of his thoughts.
In addition, Martin had barely had a proper night's rest since all of this had happened. Used to sleeping on his side which was now impossible, sleeping on his back would result in him waking up feeling as though he was being suffocated in his sleep. Douglas, thankfully, had chosen not to comment on his increasing tiredness in the few days he'd spent at his flat, but Martin had noted the older man's concern through the mugs of warm milk that would be shoved into his hand as soon as evening came. In fact, it was Douglas who was to thank for this particular moving job in the first place. The call had come on his mobile phone when Martin had been passed out in exhaustion on the sofa in Douglas's flat. The older man had answered on his behalf and not only confirmed Martin's availability, but by also persuading the lady to pay £17.50 for the first hour and £12.50 for every recurrent hour, Icarus Removals was earning 50% more per hour than what Martin would have quoted.
When Douglas had informed Martin upon his awakening of this new job, Martin had fretted at the thought and was on the verge of using the first opportunity alone to call and cancel when he was told that Arthur would be acting as muscle and transport with Martin taking on managerial and supervisory duties until Carolyn saw fit. Whether Arthur had been asked his opinion on his new role, Martin wasn't sure.
"This is just like the time in Spain, isn't it Skip? You and me, on the road, on an adventure. Except this time we're not in Spain, we're here. And you're not driving a baggage truck, I'm driving your van. And we're not looking for an engineer, we're delivering stuff to a lady in Ticking Barton. But other than that, it's pretty much the same isn't it?
"Yes, Arthur, it's just like then," Martin agreed, as they turned onto the motorway. Yanking open the dashboard, he pulled out the packet he kept there for emergencies and pulled it open.
"Jelly baby, Arthur?"
"Aw brilliant! I love jelly babies! Can I have a red one?"
"You keep your eyes on the road, I'll fish out the – yellow car! – red ones for you".
"Good one, Skip, didn't see that one."
"You'll see the other ones," Martin assured before clearing his throat and taking advantage of Arthur's concentration on searching for the next yellow car to have his say. "Look, Arthur, I really appreciate you helping me out. I know it's an inconvenience and you're missing flights because of this-."
"No inconvenience at all, Skip," Arthur cut him off. "Besides, you're here and you're still Captain and I'm still steward except we're in a van. So it's kind of like MJN on the ground, isn't it? And I get to do more than make coffee!"
"Arthur." Martin waited until his friend spared a glance towards him. "Your value is far greater than in just your ability to make coffee."
Arthur grinned at him, a mixture of happiness and part comprehension. "Thanks, Skip! Can we sing the men went to mow a meadow song, again? I've learnt some new animal sounds."
Martin nodded and they began:
"Three men went to mow a meadow, went to mow a meadow; three men, two men, one man and his -."
Eight weeks later
"So what will it be this week, Captain? We have the varied choice of chess, draughts, backgammon and a plethora of card games at our disposal. I would recommend any game that does not rely on you bluffing or lying to win, as we all know how well that turned out," Douglas cautioned.
"Ha ha, Douglas," Martin muttered as he made himself comfortable on the hospital bed, and made room for his First Officer to sit with space in between them for a board game. "Chess, please. I think I may just beat you this time."
"Sir is both confident and desperate for a beating today," Douglas replied as he opened up the board and began setting the pieces.
It had been eight weeks since the wasp at Fitton, and about seven weeks since his consultation with an allergy specialist. Every Thursday after that at five p.m. found Martin in the hospital's specialist allergy clinic for his weekly dose of venom immunotherapy. He would be allocated a bed and have his vitals taken and recorded, hooked up to various machines to monitor his condition and then the doctor would inject wasp venom into him. They would then keep Martin under close observation for an hour or so to make sure he didn't react to the current dosage.
And each week without fail, Douglas would show up at the clinic bringing a different board or card game to help pass the hour. At first Martin had been stubborn, insisting that he was fine and Douglas should enjoy the day off from MJN duties that Martin's treatment had imposed on the airdot due to his treatment. Douglas refused to budge, simply stating that as they both were not actively responsible for keeping a large metal container airborne at the time, they could play games which would allow them to be face to face with use of both hands.
As such, the first two weeks had them playing poker - gambling small favours, varieties of cheese, preference of take-offs and landings based on various locations. It was soon obvious that they would have to pick a game less reliant on bluffing and secrecy as the heart monitor attached to Martin would announce to all in the vicinity each time he would have a good set of cards or was trying to bluff his way through a hand. At first, Douglas had found it amusing but soon took pity on the man and his heart-rate, especially when a nurse once came over in alarm at the unsteady rhythm, fearing it was a symptom of the allergy flaring up.
The older man then brought in Battleship from the third week, having picked it up in a charity store. It had gone well at first and both men had enjoyed it to the extent that they would barely notice the hour pass and Martin would still be enthralled in planning his next shot when the a nurse would come over to remove the wires attached to him. Much to Douglas's impatience, he would often take a minute to mull over his next move, as opposed to the haphazard, quick fire way the older man would place his shots. They had both been fairly equal in terms of their wins before it all came to an end.
It was during Martin's fourth round of immunotherapy when in the middle of a round, ten minutes after he'd been dosed, he'd grown confused as to what he was doing and his speech slurred as he'd tried to ask Douglas what was going on. After that, Martin's memory was hazy. He recalled the room growing unsteady around him, an increasing beeping rhythm in the background in contrast with Douglas's angry voice. He remembered trying to ask Douglas what he was upset about but he'd been confused by the hands pushing him down into a horizontal position on the bed, and the softness under his head being yanked away. All had gone black and when he next woke up, everything had been calm, the board game gone and Douglas had dropped him off to his student house with no word of conversation except to say his van would be brought to him in the morning.
Martin didn't mention that appointment ever again after, and the weekly games continued with chess and other strategy games but Douglas hadn't brought Battleship since.
"Check." Douglas's voice brings Martin back to the present and the younger man frowns, peering closely at the board.
"No! I'm not in check." Martin protests. "Don't lie and think you'll get away with it, saying I'm in check when I'm not."
"It was worthy a try. Sir was many miles away so I thought Sir would not mind having his king in jeopardy, even if it was falsely so."
"Sir very much minds having his king in jeopardy, leave him alone." Martin dutifully moved his bishop to strengthen the position of his king.
"That would defeat the purpose of the game, Captain, one must be willing to risk losing his king if he is to win."
"Not anymore! I've been reading up on chess strategies. By next month I'll checkmate you within five moves, mark my words."
"And if you don't, you'll attempt Arthur's Astonishing Appetizer of the Month?"
Martin pondered this. "Okay, in three months, within ten moves."
"Deal," said Douglas as he moved his queen to protect his knight. "I really must start bringing in a timer if you're going to insist on taking ten minutes to decide which piece to move. Or are you thinking that I'll forfeit in the hope of leaving the hospital before all my organs cease to function?"
"You exaggerate so," Martin complained. "You're trying to distract me, it won't work."
"Hasn't it?" Douglas smirks as he swoops in to take Martin's castle but the younger man pauses in thought. Having had Douglas here from the start, Martin hardly notices the fact that he's constantly being watched, that at any moment his body might decide the current dosage is too much and go into anaphylactic shock again, leaving him at the mercy of the medical personnel surrounding him. Had he been here alone for each session, Martin is sure he would have worked himself up into a nervous state and the doctors would find themselves wondering if an allergic reaction was indeed taking place, or if it was just Martin being Martin.
As such, the younger man has hardly the time or privacy to worry himself when he's trying to maintain the cool façade of airline captain in front of his First Officer.
And Martin couldn't be more grateful to said First Officer, although he's yet to think of a way to repay Douglas's kindness without it embarrassing one or both of them, and being genuine enough to risk ridicule at a later date.
"Yes," Martin finally agrees to Douglas's rhetorical question. "Yes, it has. You're a master of distraction."
"Glad you agree, and in all honesty this time, check."
Khatum (The End)
"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed."
– Invictus, William Ernest Henley
A/N 1: Thank you all for continuing to read thus far, and for all your wonderful comments and reactions. It would not have been as enjoyable a journey without it. I've thoroughly loved my first foray into the fandom.
A/N 2: Bonus dinner scene will be up in a week or so, from Carolyn's POV. Also, the sound a sheep makes is indeed as I have described it. Sheep live behind my house. I know sheep. And no, I am not Welsh. And Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame does indeed reside in Chipping Norton, or so Wikipedia tells me.
A/N 3. If you have a Tumblr, please follow me (I'll always follow back), I would love to have more Tumblr friends. My username is dreambrother89. If you have any prompts, feel free to submit. I can't promise anything will come of it, but you never know what sparks might be ignited.