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Title: In Memory Of Flight
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: Cabin Pressure
Pairing: Douglas&Martin Gen
Disclaimer: Ohh, not mine. Very, very not mine. I fear John Finnemore would be quite genuinely bemused by all of this
Summary: Douglas is familiar with the concept of the ghost in the machine. In fact, he's actually rather fond of it.
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers for 3x6 St Petersburg. Contains inherent character death.
Notes: Written for the Cabin Pressure fic prompt meme
Original Prompt
Martin is Gertie's resident ghost pilot.


In Memory Of Flight


Douglas's grandmother had always been a peculiar woman. A venerable stalwart of a time long since gone by, she'd lived through five monarchs and been known in her day to leave buckets under electric light fittings. In case they leaked electricity and stained the carpet, she said, like the oil lamps used to before Douglas's grandfather had insisted on having them replaced.

Douglas had known from an early age that the women of his family had always been a little bit different. A touch to the left of centre, if you were feeling polite, and various shades of batty if you were feeling less so. Douglas had always kept his mouth firmly shut on the matter. Mostly because his mum had always had an uncanny ability to know when he'd done otherwise.

But then, if he was honest, Douglas had always been a little bit skewed himself. He'd grown up in a house full of cats that his mother had doted on and which both his brother and father had sworn blind they couldn't see. Then, after the night he'd ended up having a long and rather confusing conversation with his incredibly cantankerous grandmother (a conversation that had taken place a good three hours after she'd already died,) Douglas had been rather forced to accept that sometimes the dead just didn't always stay quiet. He'd also learned that sometimes they existed purely just to bother him.

---

"I can tell you're there, you know," Douglas mutters under his breath.

He is alone in the cockpit when he says it. Well, nominally so, anyhow. Certainly, if Arthur or Carolyn had chosen that moment to stick their head around the flight deck door they would have seen nothing but their lone, freshly-hired pilot, staring out across the narrow expanse of the Irish sea. They certainly wouldn't have seen the vague apparition that had been lingering in the corner of the flight deck since the first time Douglas had set foot on the rather decrepit aircraft. Truth be told, even Douglas could barely see it, more a suggestion of a presence than a distinct form, a whisper of awareness just sort of... hovering.

If Douglas didn't know better, he would have sworn it was lurking rather anxiously, as if fighting the impulse to peer over his shoulder.

"No point hiding in the corner," Douglas continues. "You can come and look if you want to but frankly all that ominous sulking around like a wet Wednesday is rather putting me off."

He doesn't turn, though the awareness of something moving just beyond the range of his vision nags like an itch in the back of his mind. In front of him the ground proximity warning light flickers faintly, blinking on and off like a loose connection shorting somewhere in the console.

"Quiet type, are you?" Douglas asks. The ground proximity light flickers again, sputtering brighter for a moment before going dark.

"Fair enough."

---

When Douglas was twenty one, he'd seen a man die. It had been his first week as a student on rotation through A&E. It was the first time he'd really seen first-hand the final and definite splitting between a body and the consciousness that inhabited it. For a moment the man had seemed to peel away from himself, a double-exposure, each as solid as the other. But while one lay lax and vacant the other had raised his head and stared right at Douglas, lips parted in a look of such utter surprise it would almost have been comical if it hadn't been quite so horrifying.

---

The dead fade. It's a thing Douglas took a while to figure out but from all he's seen it's the only explanation he can come up with. They're always clearest in the first few days after death and then they dwindle down thereafter. Most move on pretty quickly, either bright with confusion or mellow with acceptance, but there are relatively few who linger about much longer than a week. It's the main reason Douglas doesn't like hospitals awfully much. Oh, he doesn't mind that there are so many dead folk about, it's just that having so many freshly departed people lingering in one place, all of whom are too bright and a bit too tangible, sometimes it makes it difficult to tell them apart from the living. It's a problem which only ever makes things... awkward.

The longer the dead linger however, the fainter they become. Like a painting with no one to look at it, the unseen echoes of the dead slowly lose their presence and Douglas can't help but wonder exactly how long the faint whispers of this particular ghost have been clinging, unobserved, to the inside of Gertie.

The ghost generally stays out of his way, shifting in corners and occasionally knocking connections on the console, so the next time Douglas parks himself in the Captain's seat he isn't expecting the chill that barks sharply up his spine and he flinches rather hard at the feeling of it. The faint edges of the silent form plume out like dust from underneath him a moment later, reforming just enough to cross the cabin and curl almost reproachfully in the co-pilot's seat instead.

"Well that was unpleasant," Douglas manages. "You may have been here longer than me but, in case you haven't seen it, I currently wear the stripes of a Captain, and I would quite appreciate you not haunting my chair." The 'No Smoking' light pings on dimly, almost apologetically, and when Douglas sets off to taxi towards the runway he sees, just in the corner of his vision, the shape of a boy outlined across from him. He's hunched up with his feet on the seat, his chin pressed to his knees and his arms wrapped protectively around his shins. He's hugging himself tightly as if trying to take up as little room as possible.

Douglas radios the tower, checks the weather in Reykjavik and, when they finally reach a safe cruising altitude, flicks on the autopilot.

"My apologies," he says eventually. When he turns to look the figure is almost invisible again, barely more than a whispered shadow and Douglas frowns.

He's just about to try speaking again when the flight deck door pops open and Arthur lets himself in.

"Coffee, Douglas?"

Arthur pops down the atrocious brown swill just in the way of Douglas's elbow, and stares out of the window in rapt appreciation. "Wow," he says. "The view's really nice up here today. The view out the side windows is rubbish. It's all just... wing."

"It's always just wing, Arthur," Douglas says. "Most of the cabin windows are located more or less over the wings, giving you a tremendous view... of some wings."

"I know," Arthur says. "That's why the view up here is so much better."

"Yes," Douglas concedes. "Being able to see where you're going does have its advantages."

Arthur nods, leaning his elbows on the back of the co-pilot's seat. "So... how are you liking flying around with me and mum so far?"

Douglas glances up at him, one eyebrow quirking in confusion as he takes in Arthur's rather constipated expression. An attempt, he realises with some amusement, at feigning nonchalance.

"Fine," Douglas says. "Though I'm astonished this old girl is still air-worthy and your mother could probably negotiate blood out of a rock, so I won't say it's the glamorous sunset to my career I'd been hoping for. But on the most part... it's fine."

"Oh, good," Arthur says. He seems to sag in relief somewhat, a more natural grin replacing his rather strained attempt to look disinterested. "Only it's been really hard getting pilots to stay. We've had four so far and they all stuck around for a couple of weeks and then just left! Nigel said Gertie gave him the screaming heebie-jeebies and I don't even know what that is but it sounded really serious because he got very shouty when mum told him he was being stupid."

Douglas flicks his gaze briefly across to the ghost in the empty chair. The shadow has uncurled a little bit and Douglas has the impression its head is cocked slightly to one side as if listening rather intently.

"No," Douglas says, eyes narrowing. "No screaming heebie-jeebies here. A little ghost in the machine perhaps, but you can tell Carolyn I'm made of sterner stuff than that."

"Right-o," Arthur says. "Did you want me to write that down? Only I'm rubbish at remembering messages."

Douglas glances briefly at the notebook Arthur had pulled out of his pocket in readiness.

"No need," Douglas says. "Though you could leave me a couple of bits of paper and a spare pen if you've got one?"

"Absolutely!" Arthur grins. "I've always got pens! You never know when you'll need one. Like right now, in fact. You needed one, and I've got one. Brilliant!"

"Brilliant indeed," Douglas says. "Just pop them on the empty chair there for me, would you?"

Arthur complies willingly, grabbing a handful of pages and giving them a firm tug to free them from the spiral binding. The torn-out sheets of lined notebook paper flutter down through the intangible body to land on the seat cushion, swiftly followed by a glittery orange biro. The de-icer light glows at Douglas rather reproachfully and Douglas can't hide the grin that tugs briefly at the corner of his mouth.

"Much obliged, Arthur," Douglas says. "Now, if you wouldn't mind I do rather need to get on with actually flying the plane?"

"Oh! Of course!" Arthur grins. "I'll bring you some more coffee in a bit." He gives Douglas a cheery wave before letting himself back out into the galley.

There's silence on the flight deck for a moment or two, only the hum of the engines audible, before Douglas finally turns to stare at the ghost now hovering sheepishly like a plume of translucent smoke in the corner.

"Four pilots?" he asks. "Really?"

There's a moment's pause and then one by one all of the console's warning lights illuminate, glowing brightly before fading out like a sullen point being made.

Douglas snorts, laughter bubbling out as the misty swirl seems to thicken in response, the impression of a rueful shrug almost visible for the first time as Douglas turns back to the controls.

"I think you and I could get on quite well," Douglas says. "You see that paper on the chair?"

The ghost seems to twitch around it uncertainly, nudging at the edges like a faint breeze from the air conditioning.

"We'll be landing in Reykjavik soon. There'll be a twelve hour turnaround on the cargo so Arthur and I will be enjoying a thrilling Icelandic layover. That gives you the whole night to yourself. I want you to do what you can with it, because I want you to tell me your name."

The ghost stops short at that, fading sharply around the edges in surprise. Douglas purses his lips and radios ATC, very studiously pretending not to notice.

---

When Douglas gets back on board the next morning two of the pieces of paper are balled up tightly under the pilot's seat. A third seems to have been shredded into miniscule pieces but the fourth is sitting on the console in front of Douglas's chair. At first sight it doesn't appear to have anything written on it but when Douglas picks it up and tilts it into the light he can just about make out the faint scratches of indentation on the page. The lines are shaky and unclear, as if just making them took a colossal amount of effort, thick, blunt lines pushed into the surface of the paper like they've been scored with rounded fingernails rather than a pen.

It takes him a few moments to decipher what it says, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, all too consciously aware of the anxious presence hovering just a little bit too close to his left shoulder. When he does get it though, it's as if he can feel something tight unwinding inside his chest just a little bit, and he smiles.

"Thank you," he says. "Martin."

The ghost seems to flicker in his peripheral vision, solidifying and vanishing like bad TV reception, dancing with static, before the ghost shoots across the cockpit self-consciously and shuts itself in the locker for the duration of the flight home.

---

After that, Douglas takes to filling out his flight logs on the plane whenever he can, rather than making use of the office. He leaves stray bits of paper lying around in case Martin wants to make use of them and develops a bit of a reputation around the airfield for almost constantly talking to himself. It's a little odd perhaps, but for the miniscule rate Carolyn's paying him she's more than willing to put up with a few idiosyncrasies.

Besides, Douglas rather likes being on board Gertie. It's not as if he has much else to do with his time, since he's more than aware his wife is cheating on him and he doesn't have much desire to be at home just so she can lie to him about it some more. At least on the plane he has a captive audience. He tells Martin as such one particularly dreary afternoon and the ground proximity warning glows dimly in response, even though the engine is off and the keys are hanging up somewhere in the Portacabin.

The ghost mostly ignores the offered scraps of paper, interested only in obsessively stacking them into neat piles in cubby holes and lockers. Otherwise he seems largely content just to listen to Douglas talk, and on that score Douglas is always more than willing to oblige. As the year progresses he tells it about his brother, his ex-wives, even about his daughter occasionally. He finds himself saying all sorts of things he doesn't usually admit to; like how whiskey and cold tea are interchangeable and why it's his fault Air England now have a uniform policy relating to contraband kimonos.

If, in return, Douglas finds that the in-flight cheeses mysteriously unwrap themselves and that the vodka inexplicably gets switched out for water after particularly bad flights, he generally makes a point not to mention it.

Through it all though, there is one thing Douglas is still quite burning to know.

"Why are you still here, Martin?" he asks eventually. They're grounded in Spain at the time, a faulty piece of landing gear stranding them until a mechanic can be roused from his siesta. "Why haven't you moved on?"

Douglas gets the vague impression of a shrug in reply, a faintly helpless gesture, and the echo of a slim, pale hand wrapping protectively around Gertie's control column.

It's the most tangible evidence of him Douglas has ever seen and he wonders if this -just the mere act of acknowledging him- is really enough to have made such a remarkable difference.

---

They're in the middle of taking a series of single-pilot cargo hops across Russia when Gertie's starboard engine falls afoul of a rather large goose. The crunching shake of an exploding jet rattles the old girl to her core and the unexpected force of it knocks Douglas sideways in his chair hard enough to crack his head unpleasantly against the centre console. His vision sparks white from the sharp-edged pain of it and, for once, when the warning lights on the control panel light up like Christmas, Douglas knows it has absolutely nothing to do with Martin interfering.

He winces at the splitting ache in his skull as he radios a Mayday to St Petersburg. His hands on the control column are clenched so tightly his fingers are white from the pressure and he wrestles desperately to keep the aircraft stable despite the dizziness swirling his vision.

The cross-winds are hideous, sharp gusts buffeting the beleaguered craft and jerking her around uncontrollably, the force of it rattling Gertie's frame hard enough to send loose glassware and plates crashing to the floor in the galley. At the noise Martin moves so fast Douglas barely even sees him leave, his form darting through the cockpit door and back into the main part of the fuselage. He shoots back again moments later, circling frantically, his agitated swirling making the already illuminated warning lights spark and sizzle.

Douglas grits his teeth, hanging on grimly as another sharp gust of wind makes Gertie dip and wobble. The force of it bruises Douglas to his very bones, his grip too tight on the yoke to risk probing at the throbbing lump on his skull. He can feel something itchy and wet oozing down the side of his head, his vision doubling and blurring as he squints at the readings. There's a grey mist invading the edge of his sight, bright flares of pain momentarily blinding him as the wind shakes them around.

And then... then suddenly he is cold. He's really very cold, the shock of it bone-deep like the spasm that follows plunging head-first into ice water. It's a sharp, swelling sensation, an unnatural chill shooting out down his arms and into his fingertips, winter frost shivering in his lungs until Douglas can see his breath forming faint whispers of steam in front of him. He feels the yoke lighten in his grasp, the craft stabilising, and his vision hazes as the very faintest whisper echoes distantly in the back of his head. The voice crackles, tinny and distorted like a radio playing in another room.

"I have control."

---

Douglas does not remember landing the plane.

He remembers Gertie landing, of course he does, though his vision was distorted and his head bleeding quite profusely down into his shirt collar. But his hands on the controls had played no part in actually guiding their movement.

What Douglas remembers is the translucent, sharpening form of an emaciated, determined-looking young man growing ever more visible in his lap. He remembers it sitting on him -in him- sharing the same space, the same controls, but jumping in and out of focus like a transmission received through a faulty aerial.

He remembers the bump of the landing gear hitting the tarmac, the drag of the brakes engaging, the boy's body sagging and dimming as they finally ground to a halt on the frozen Russian soil. Martin's chest had been heaving as if the effort had hurt him, pale fingers clutching surprisingly hard at Douglas's wrist for a moment as if pleading with him to resume command. Douglas had felt the yoke growing heavy in his grip once more, control ceded as Martin had shimmered and slumped, fading down and losing form ever faster as if his energy had been entirely drained by his actions. Martin had almost seemed to dissolve then, shrinking until he was barely a wisp of presence. He'd glimmered for a moment, red-orange in the winter sun, fragile and beautiful, before vanishing entirely.

---

"Great landing, Douglas," Arthur says to him later.

They're sitting in the first aid area of St Petersburg airport. Douglas has an ice pack pressed to his pounding head and a faintly useless diagnosis of concussion.

"Mm," he murmurs thoughtfully. "It wasn't bad, was it."

And that's the thing, he realises. It wasn't bad at all. In fact it was almost text-book perfect.

"Just who did Gertie belong to before Carolyn got hold of her?" Douglas asks.

Arthur shrugs. "Well, Dad I suppose. I don't know where he got her. The factory, probably."

"Hmm." Douglas lets the matter drop, peeling the ice pack away gingerly. He knows he'll have a fabulous lump there by morning, but at least it finally seems to have stopped bleeding.

Carolyn takes that moment to finally make an appearance, her expression turning grim as she sees the blood staining Douglas's shirt.

The news she brings with her is even grimmer.

---

It's late in St Petersburg by the time Douglas gets away from Carolyn and Arthur. It's cold, too, and Douglas still has a pounding headache, but it's the first opportunity he's had to properly go and check on the plane since landing. He'd left Arthur in a flurry of Toblerone-related panic and Carolyn rather grudgingly calling her ex-husband, but he feels more than somewhat obligated to make his way over to the hangar where Gertie's battered carcass is waiting, and deal with his own rather unofficial fourth member of crew.

He lets himself in to the tiny cockpit, wrapping his coat around himself and staring rather blankly out of the window.

The plane is cold and the hangar unlit, the cabin devoid of the familiar crackle of Martin's presence and Douglas sighs, head in his hands as disappointment tries to swell in his chest. He has the horrible feeling that if he lets it, it will choke him.

"Just who the hell are you, Martin?" Douglas whispers. "I know you're still in here somewhere." He waits for a moment, hoping for a reply though none seems forthcoming. He purses his lips in frustration before continuing.

"I don't know how you managed it, but it was you who landed us today, not me. You saved our lives. Carolyn thinks I did it, she has no idea what really happened, nor would she believe me if I told her but... Damnit, Martin I am grateful. I truly am. And it would be unfair not to let you know-"

Douglas hesitates. "We can't afford the new engine. We just don't have the money for it. Carolyn's talking to Gordon right now and if she sells the plane back to him I rather suspect he's going to take you with it."

Douglas pauses, blowing on his hands to warm them before rubbing them together for the meagre heat it offers.

"I don't know if you can hear me, Martin. I hope you can. But just in case I don't get another chance... that landing was as good as any Captain I've ever worked with. I don't know how you ended up stuck here, I don't even know your full name, but whoever you once were it's been an honour to have flown with you." Douglas clenches his fingers, curling them into pale, chilled fists. "I am loathe to get sentimental, but if Gordon takes this plane from us it's not Gertie I'm going to miss. It's you."

Douglas closes his eyes, mouth pulled into a grim line as he cocks one ear towards the empty side of the cabin, listening intently in the hope of a reply. The silence stretches on around him, five minutes turning into ten before he finally sighs in resignation. Douglas can't resist running a faintly trembling hand over the familiar buttons of Gertie's darkened controls before he heaves himself to his feet and, shoulders slumping, heads back out in the freezing chill of the midwinter gloom.

Unseen as Douglas turns to make his exit, half hidden under the scattered paper debris dislodged during the landing, the depressurisation warning light gutters weakly, then goes out.

---

If anyone asks him about it later, Douglas will blame the concussion. It's a legitimate damn excuse, he thinks, and honestly he can't come up with any other reason why it takes him so very, very long to realise the nature of Gordon's plan.

As it is, he bolts awake barely two hours after they make it to their hotel for the night, a curse on his lips as he rolls out of bed to shake Carolyn from her slumber, a sick ache of stupid, stupid, stupid roiling in his stomach.

Gordon is going to steal the plane. That's what had taken his engineers so long. They'd been fitting a new engine and by the time they make it back to the airport Gertie will be long gone and MJN will be both bankrupt and stranded in bloody Russia.

Douglas curses himself for missing it, on edge and infuriated with himself for every second of the frantic taxi ride back to the hangar, a sleepily nodding Arthur falling sideways against his shoulder in the cramped back seat. He curses himself again as the wide open hangar doors yawn into view before them, and he curses himself as-

...as they find Gertie exactly where they left her.

Douglas stumbles to a halt, Carolyn's mouth opening in slack surprise at the sight before them. The plane's cabin door is open, a brand-new engine tucked under the wing exactly as Douglas had predicted and, just audible inside the cockpit, Gordon Shappey is yelling his head off.

Douglas is the first to respond, bolting up the cabin stairs and through the half-destroyed galley to pound his fist hard against the locked control room door.

"Gordon!" he shouts. "Open up!"

"I can't!" comes the shrieking reply. "It's jammed. Get me the bloody hell out of here!"

As if on cue the lock springs, the mechanism pinging open from within and a white-faced Gordon tumbles through, virtually falling into Douglas's outstretched arms in his haste to get away.

"What the hell is going on?" Carolyn barks. Her brows have drawn down into a fierce scowl, hands planted firmly on her hips as she stands barring the exit from the galley. Gordon flails against Douglas's hold, his eyes wide and manic, grey hair flecked with tiny, wadded up bits of notebook paper. The creases in his clothes seem to be shedding them, and there is a smeared row of what look like spitballs clinging tenaciously to the back of his neck.

"Your bloody plane, Carro!" Gordon yells at her. "You keep it! I don't want it! It's like bloody Poltergeist in there!"

"What on earth are you rambling about?" Carolyn snaps at him. "And why are you covered in paper? I swear to you, Gordon Shappey, if you have damaged my plane-"

"Damaged it?" Gordon chokes. He starts laughing then, shrill and hysterical, wiggling out of Douglas's grasp to land hard on the galley floor. His hands scuff through the broken crockery that still hasn't been swept up and, as Carolyn turns her back for a moment to hunt for her mobile phone, a handful of paper balls come flying out of the empty cockpit to pelt Gordon repeatedly across the ear.

Douglas casts a worried look at Carolyn before grabbing the still-hysterical Gordon under the arms and hauling him to his feet. He drags the struggling man firmly through the cabin, pausing at the top of the steps only long enough to shove him out the door.

Gordon seems to give up the fight as he stumbles down the passenger stairs, coming to rest at the bottom with a dazed, sour look on his face.

"You stay off my jet, Gordon," Carolyn snarls at him. "Be assured I will be calling the police if you ever dare darken my door again."

Gordon shakes himself, staggering backwards on unsteady feet as he hedges away from the gently curved bulk of Gertie's fuselage.

"Oh, she's yours alright," Gordon manages. "Yours with your bloody flying paper and other spooky claptrap. Not that you're going anywhere with the console dead like it is. Why do you think I was stuck in there so long, eh, Carro? If the bloody radio worked I'd have been out of it hours ago!"

As if in reply every light in Gertie's body suddenly flares into brilliance, the slow hum of the engines beginning to turn of their own volition drowning out Gordon's bellow of alarm as he turns achingly white and stumblingly flees into the night-time snow outside.

Carolyn can only stand there, blank-faced with confusion as, once Gordon is out of sight, the lights dim once again, the engines gently rolling to a halt as if they had never even moved to begin with.

"Douglas," she says very quietly. "I want you to use very tiny words and tell me what, exactly, just happened?"

"Martin," Douglas murmurs.

"Who?" Carolyn asks sharply.

Douglas shakes his head. "Doesn't matter. Just... go and see if Arthur's alright, he was still asleep in the back of the taxi when we left."

"Oh, God," Carolyn says. "Maybe if we're lucky the driver took him in lieu of payment..."

Douglas waves his hand at her irritably, disappearing back through the cockpit door and closing it very gently behind himself. Because in there, amid the snowdrift of wadded up paper balls, is Martin. He is sprawled limply, face-down over the control panel, arms spread wide as if he's been straining to cover the full width of it. But even though he looks utterly exhausted Douglas has never, ever seen him so clearly.

He is as small and pale as Douglas had always suspected, bright auburn hair still transparent enough to leave the switches beneath his head visible and Douglas's heart seems to jerk sharply at the sight of him. He is so very thin, still dressed in the striped t-shirt and flared jeans of the early Seventies, a pair of battered blue plimsolls on his long, bony feet. The very tips of his toes seem to disappear into the carpet and Douglas steps closer a little hesitantly.

"Martin?" he says. "Martin, are you alright?"

There's a faint hitch from the figure over the console, one wide, grey eye sliding open just enough to fix on Douglas's face. Martin blinks at him slowly, an exhausted but joyous smile gradually creeping across his expressive, pink lips.

"I flew her, Douglas," Martin says faintly. "I finally managed to make her fly."

"Yes. Yes you did," Douglas chokes. He can feel his legs giving out on him and he slumps heavily into the Captain's chair, a sense of sinking dread settling into his stomach as Martin's fingertips begin to shimmer. "And you saved her, too."

Martin raises his head tiredly, gaze skimming over Douglas before it seems to fix on something far outside Gertie's windscreen.

"Oh," Martin breathes. His expression slackens, eyes glittering with awe although quite at what Douglas can't seem to see. "Oh, it's beautiful, Douglas..."

"Good," Douglas says. He struggles for a moment, the silence weighing in far too hard. "I... I'm glad. I always hoped it was." He swallows around the burning thickness that seems to have lodged in his throat. He recognises the signs and he can't stop the aching sense of loss that flares up in his own heart. Martin is slipping out of his grasp, finally moving on, and for the first time he can remember Douglas absolutely hates it.

Martin's eyes slide closed just as his edges begin softening, billowing out like fine sand blown from the edge of a dune.

"Martin?" Douglas asks. "One more thing before you go. What was your last name?"

"Crieff," Martin says dreamily. "Martin Crieff." He ripples then, hazing out of focus even as his smile starts to widen, and the look on his face is one of such unadulterated joy that Douglas can't quite seem to resent him that happiness, even as his own breath stutters, his lungs growing hard like stone in the cavity of his chest.

He opens his mouth, a last farewell on his lips but before he can even form the words Martin is gone, the faint glow of his outline lingering like an echo of the sun before the night-time shadows creep in to cover it. Its absence feels almost painfully like a vacuum, the cockpit left dark in his wake, unnaturally silent except for the rasping choke of Douglas's shuddering breath.

---

"You seem awfully quiet today, Douglas," Arthur says. He balances a fresh cup of coffee by Douglas's hand, the low, steady thrum of the engines the only sound breaking the heavy tedium inside the cabin.

They'd been grounded in St Petersburg until the medics had cleared Douglas to fly again, but even with the promise of finally being able to return home Douglas has to admit that his enthusiasm for the journey is not quite what it would usually be. If he's honest, he misses Martin. The flight deck is rather dull without his silent companion hovering somewhere in the corner of his eye.

Of course in the week and a half Douglas has been stuck in Russia nursing his concussion he's also had plenty of time to Google. Trawling obituaries from almost forty years ago certainly hadn't been easy, simply by dint of a chronic lack of digitised records, but a combination of bloody-minded determination and absolute crushing boredom did finally trawl up a clipping from the Wokingham Gazette's online archive.

It had been an article from the June of 1974, a short local news piece about a hit and run fatality involving a young man named Martin Crieff. He'd been watching the arrival of the first British-owned Lockheed McDonnell 3-12 as it came in to land at Woodley Airfield, when a stolen car had careened off the road and crushed him against the chain link perimeter fence. The car had been abandoned at the scene, the driver never caught, and Martin had died of his injuries hours before anyone found him.

The thought of that blazing summer, of dying so slowly and so senselessly in the lazy, droughted heat of it, still makes Douglas more than faintly nauseous. In the sullen silence of the cockpit he does his very best not to think about it, though the image nags at him like a scab demanding to be picked.

It takes them several days to get back to Fitton. With Douglas their only pilot they are obliged to make frequent rest stops and by the time they land they are all more than glad to see the back of each other. Douglas slinks home somewhat dejectedly, aching with a loss he can't quite put a name to without making himself sound crazy. The flat he moved into after Helena's divorce is cold and a little musty, the fridge empty aside from the dregs of some rancid milk and the remains of a bottle of apple juice which seems to have grown an exciting layer of fuzz in his absence.

Douglas sighs in defeat and dials for a take-away, contemplating the futility of the gesture even as he does it. He's hungry but the desire to eat seems somewhat absent and he flops down exhaustedly in front of the TV, nodding off long before his dinner ever arrives.

---

In a corner of the far hangar at Fitton Airfield, Gertie stands quietly amid the light aircraft that populate the majority of the cavernous space. Locked up for the night as she is, everything should be perfectly dark and still inside, but in the centre of her console, just under the stain left by Arthur's Fizzy Yoghurt, her ground proximity warning light is flickering.

It's faint at first, a tiny blue spark snapping loudly in the silence as wavering currents leak unsteadily through the filament. The light dims and ebbs, almost extinguishing itself completely several times until with a sudden surge it brightens, the little bulb pulsing strongly from within. The unexpected heat of it releases the faint waft of singed plastic into the air and the light seems to blink apologetically, the intensity dropping by gradual increments until it finally levels out into the comfortable, steady brightness of a familiar orange glow.

Comments

lady_t_220
Jul. 23rd, 2012 07:55 am (UTC)
Aww, thank you. Very glad you enjoyed it. :)