Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the plotline belong to me. It was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey for BBC 1.
Summary: Paul has bested Martin once again. But this time the consequences may be well worth it.
Author's note: After watching 'housework' I realized there are ways to Martin loosen up a little. In celebration of Ever Decreasing Circles getting its own category on .
Humming softly to herself, Ann hung up her coat and then called out to her husband. "Darling, I'm home!" When no reply came forward, she stepped into the sitting room, half expecting him to have fallen asleep on the sofa. To her astonishment the room was unoccupied and dark, save for the one table lamp burning on the windowsill.
The times that she went out on her own, leaving Martin to his own devices were very rare. But this evening she'd gone out to see an old school friend and catch up over dinner. Martin had assured her that he'd be fine, that he'd spend the evening in his office, working on some various committee matters.
Going up the stairs, she checked the box room, only to find it empty as well. He could have gone to the pub of course. Howard and Hilda went every Friday evening, so he might have tagged along. Biting her lip, she glanced down at her watch and then frowned. Twenty minutes past eleven… it was very unlike Martin to be still out at this time of night. Also very unlike Howard and Hilda for that matter. Just as she was contemplating what to do now, the phone rang.
Hurrying down the stairs again, she picked up the receiver, suddenly feeling very worried.
"Ann? Are you there?" Hilda's anxious voice breathed.
"Yes, I'm here, Hilda," she replied quickly. "Do you happen to know where Martin is?"
"Oh Ann… you have to come to the pub at once to fetch him!" Hilda's normally high voice sounded even more squeaky on this occasion. "Martin's in such a state, he has us all frightened."
"What has he done now?" Ann exclaimed, her tone a mixture of worry and impatience. "He is alright, isn't he?"
"Well… he is… that is to say… it isn't so much as a matter of… it's just that he's really rather…" Hilda's helpless stammering did nothing to calm Ann's nerves and she quickly realized that if she were to wait for Hilda to finish her sentence, she'd be standing for another hour.
"Never you mind, Hilda," she cut the other woman off quickly. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
Grumbling to herself now, she put her coat back on and rushed the few blocks from their home to the pub. Leave it to Martin to create a fuss the one night a year she went away for a couple of hours. She wondered what he'd been up to now.
Practically jogging in the end she reached the entrance of the pub in record time, only to find Howard and Hilda waiting impatiently for her at the door, wearing identical worried expressions.
"Oh Ann, we're ever so glad you're here!" Howard exclaimed, clutching Hilda to his side.
"Ever so glad," Hilda echo-ed. "We've never seen Martin like this, it's rather frightening.
"Where is he?" Ann asked hurriedly, genuinely worried for her husband's wellbeing now.
"He's inside with Paul," Hilda replied, indicating the pub with a small jerk of her head.
"You've left Paul alone with Martin while he was in a state?" Ann cried out. "Did you think that was wise?"
"Well…" Howard huffed defensively. "Paul was the only one who can handle him at the moment with the way he's been behaving. I wouldn't dream of letting my Hilda stay around him, not when he's like this… he's… he's…" Howard faltered, too overcome with either fury or fear to continue.
"It's terrifying, Ann…" Hilda finished in a half-whisper. "He's acting like a… a… Lothario."
"What?" Completely bewildered now, Ann looked from the one to the other. "What has brought this about?"
"Well, you see, Paul and Martin got into an argument earlier this evening about alcohol," Hilda told her. "Paul said he could hold his drink very well and Martin claimed that a proper gentleman would always remain in control of himself, under any circumstance…"
"Oh drat…" Ann moaned, rolling her eyes. "I think I can see where this is going..."
Hilda nodded resignedly. "They entered a drinking-competition together and I'm sorry to tell you this, Ann… but your husband is no gentleman when he is intoxicated. He said something very compromising to me, you know…"
"Really?" Ann asked, the corners of her mouth quivering with barely controlled mirth now. "How so?"
"Oh, it was very indecent indeed," Howard had finally regained some of his composure. "He told her that women of her kind don't come by often and that every man who had the opportunity should take her. I was very tempted to punch him on the nose for that!"
Recognizing the compliment for what it was, no matter how abysmally phrased, Ann nevertheless cringed with secondary embarrassment. "I'm sure he didn't quite mean it like that," she tried to sooth her friends offended feelings. "You know Martin, he would never say a coarse word deliberately. I better go in and collect him now, shall I?"
"That would be best," Howard and Hilda chorused vigorously.
Shaking her head and not entirely certain what to expect, Ann made her way into to the pub where she found Paul and Martin sitting at their customary table.
That was to say, Paul was sitting, a thoroughly amused expression on his face, while Martin was half-slumped across the table, looking bleary-eyed through a small shot-glass. Upon her entrance however, he looked up and gave her a lopsided grin. "Hel-lo- lo-ove!" she said with considerable difficulty.
"Oh Martin!" she sighed exasperated. "What have you been doing with yourself?"
"You look… look beautiful, lo-ove," he lisped and then turned to Paul. "Doesn't she look beauty- beautiful?"
Paul shot her a wide grin which she returned with a glare of her own.
"I think you've had quite enough for tonight, Martin," she told him in a tone of voice that booked no argument. "Where's your coat?"
"It's in the cloakroom," he answered brightly. "But it's still early…"
"No, it's not," she answered crisply. "It's almost midnight and I'm taking you home. Just wait here for a second while I go and get your coat."
"There's no need for that..." he scrambled to his feet, not at all elegantly and swayed a bit before he was able to talk further. "I'll get my coat… be back in a flash… I know what you mean by 'getting home'," he tried to pull his eyelid down in a conspiringly fashion, but only managed to jab himself square in the eye. Surprisingly undeterred by this, he continued to grin at her. "But if my beautiful wife wants… wants to get home and be alone, I'd never refuse her."
For the second time her face flushed with embarrassment at his implication, while Paul snorted into his drink. Once Martin had left, she gave him a look that shot daggers.
"He is right, you know," Paul mused, meeting her eyes. "You are quite beautiful."
"Oh don't you start with me," she snapped. "Why on earth did you let things get this far?"
"Well, I can't help it that Martin really can't hold his drink," he told her reasonably.
She gave him a hard look through half-close eyes. "You didn't even have half as much to drink as Martin did, did you?" she accused him.
"Now, whatever made you say that?" he inquired, feigning to be insulted.
"Well, for one thing, the Ficus next to you is slurring," she dead-panned.
He bowed his head a little. "Alright, I admit it. I poured half of my drinks away. I shouldn't have gotten so competitive, but I got carried away."
"Carried away?" she repeated. "My husband is as drunk as a skunk. He'll feel absolutely rotten in the morning, all thanks to you..."
"Thanks to whom, love?" Martin's voice interrupted her little tirade. She let out a startled gasp when she felt his hands caress her hips and stomach, before he wrapped his arms around her from behind and pulled her back against his chest.
"Hmm… you smell even lovelier," he told her, brushing his nose against a few strands of hair near her ear.
"I'm sorry, Martin," Paul said, getting to his feet and extending his hand.
Martin took it, albeit very briefly. Ann sensed, rather than that she saw that he was still smiling broadly. As soon as he dropped Paul's hand, his arm settled itself around her shoulders. "I'm not!" he said cheerfully. "Because no matter what, I get to go home with her!"
His lips clumsily landed on her ear and she elbowed him in the ribs for his lack of discretion. However, there was no stopping him. "And there's nothing to be done about it," he finished, practically gloating.
For a mere second, Paul's exterior of easy charm and control wavered and when he nodded his face was decidedly more grave. "You're right, of course. She's with you."
Deciding to focus her attention on one man at the time, Ann gave Paul a quick, apologetic smile, before dragging Martin along with her outside. "Where've you parked the dormobile?" she asked.
Luckily she didn't have to convince him to let her drive. Once she'd settled him in the passenger's seat, she started the engine.
"I love you so much, Ann," he told her, rather seriously now. "And you really do look breath-taking tonight.
She gave him a brilliant smile. "You're ever so sweet. We'll be home soon!"
"I don't want to wait until we're home," he told her petulantly.
"Well, it will only be a few minu… Martin!" she batted his hands away as they tried to sneak around her waist again.
"Give us a kiss, love," he whispered in her ear. When had he scooted closer towards her?
Quickly she pecked his lips briefly before she turned her attention back to the road. "Be good, Martin, or we're going to cause an accident.
He was a little quieter after that, but remained close to her, one hand resting on her thigh, the other at the back of her neck, gently stroking the strands of hair that had come loose from the clip.
Whenever she cast a glance sideways, she found him staring at her, his eyes a little glazed, his expression a mixture of tenderness and wonderment. He was obviously still intoxicated, but he hadn't lost his senses yet.
The feel of him stroking the sensitive skin at the back of her neck send shivers down her spine. It made her remember their week in Kidderminster, when after the first two days his innate reserve had worn off and he had become unable to keep his hands off her or to stop showering her with declarations of love.
There was no denying that his sudden flare of demonstrative affection was beginning to affect her. Him being in such a romantic mood usually set a rather satisfying chain of events in working and she found herself pressing the gas pedal a little firmer in her hurry to get home.
Deciding to leave the dormobile parked in front of the house instead of going to the trouble of parking it in the garage, she was barely outside the car before he was all over her again. Hurrying along the garden path inside their home, she went straight to the telephone table, reaching out to put the receiver straight. She'd have nothing ruin their moment now. Seconds later she was pressed against the door frame, his hands sliding underneath her coat to pull her close once more.
"Darling Ann… my beautiful wife…" he breathed against her cheek before capturing her lips in a passionate kiss. He wasn't exactly drunk anymore, but the effects of the alcohol were still there. He was a little less coordinated, a bit more haltingly in his movements then usually, but Ann found that she didn't mind in the slightest. He was often so preoccupied, so completely taken in with the many responsibilities and tasks he had set for himself, that to have his undivided attention now was enough to make her head swim. When they finally came up for air her happy laughter filled the dark hallway.
"Come on," she told him, taking his hand and tugging him along with her. "Let's go upstairs." Hanging up their coats and ascending the stairs turned into quite the journey as they stopped halfway up the stairs, on top of the stairs, in the hallway and in the doorway of their bedroom for long kisses, but finally they made it inside their bedroom.
Walking backwards, pulling Martin along with her, Ann's yelp of surprise when the foot end of the bed hit the back of her legs turned into a giggle as the pair of them fell down on the bed in a heap of limbs. Before she even had time to ascertain that he was alright, he was already trailing warm, moist kisses down her neck, following the progress of his hand as it undid the buttons of her blouse one by one.
Wrapping her arms around his shoulders and closing her eyes in sheer bliss, Ann murmured his name as he went along.
"Martin…. Martin… Martin…"
He paused his ministrations briefly to look up at her, the hint of a frown playing across his forehead.
"Three times, love."
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