Characters: Martin, Douglas, Carolyn, Arthur
Spoilers: Fitton, Vaduz, Xinzhou
Pairings: background Martin/Theresa, otherwise Gen
Word Count 3,560
Summary: Martin is invited to a fancy party by Her Royal Highness, and the crew of MJNAir make sure he's prepared.
Author's notes: This is my first Cabin Pressure fic of a good length, so please forgive any rough spots. I'm still fiddling with my voices. I am also not a pilot, nor have I had much opportunity to fly since I was a child, so I apologize for logistical errors. Mostly to Martin, who I'm sure is quite embarrassed to be involved with them.
Martin sprinted across the hangar, over to G-ERTI, his hand on his head to keep his hat in place. He raced up the airstairs (in a safe and proper fashion) and threw open the flight deck door (in a safe and proper fashion).
“I'm so sorry I'm late!” he said, through huge gasps for air. “I had a moving job this morning, and there was a cat, and it got stuck in the vase, and there wasn't any butter and--where is everyone?”
“It's Goddard Day,” Douglas said, calmly. “You could have come tomorrow and still been on time.”
Martin sighed in relief and corrected the angle of his hat, which had tilted to the side. “Thank God. I'm the Captain, I'm supposed to be punctual. Where are Arthur and Carolyn?”
“Carolyn is not-quarrelling with Herc, and Arthur is in a helpful mood, so I've sent him search of a blue ice lolly,” Douglas said.
“Ice lollies don't come in blue,” Martin said.
Martin took a seat in the captain's chair and took a few moments to catch his breath. The race to the airfield had been hectic (in a safe and proper fashion). He mopped the sweat from his brow. “What are Herc and Carolyn not-quarrelling about?”
“They are not-quarrelling about a not-date they are not going on as not-boyfriend and girlfriend,” Douglas replied.
“Ah, I see,” Martin said. “Gale Force?”
“Oh, a hearty eight, I'd say,” Douglas replied. “Hurricane Goddard and Hurricane Standard Carolyn have met over the Atlantic and formed a Category Four, with 18-foot storm surges.”
“Yikes,” Martin said.
The sound of someone stomping up the airstairs in a not safe and proper fashion came from the cabin. Both Martin and Douglas winced. Carolyn bellowed Martin's name, and Martin slid down in his seat.
“Do I look like a postmistress to you?” she asked.
There was no safe answer to that, and Martin didn't try. Douglas, of course, gave it a go.
“Your uniform is rather similar,” he said.
“Shut up. Martin, I have told you before, MJNAir is not your personal post office. Stop giving out our address for your own private affairs,” she said. “I am running an airline, not a dating service.” She chucked a letter at his head, and it flew like a Frisbee to hit him in the nose.
She turned and marched away.
“The hurricane must have slowed as it hit land,” Douglas said. “That was quite polite.”
Martin picked up his fallen letter, smiling as he recognized Theresa's handwriting.
“Why don't you give out your own address?” Douglas asked.
“I live in a student house--in the attic,” Martin said. “It's not terribly impressive. It looks more professional if I have things sent to me care of MJNAir.”
“I don't see how they would know,” Douglas said. “It's not as though they would be addressed to 'the pilot in the attic'. Unless there's a picture of you on Google Streetview reading your flight manuals in a tiny window, I don't see...”
Martin had suddenly become very interested in opening his letter.
“Martin. Is there a picture of you on Google Streetview?” Douglas asked.
Martin looked pained. “I was coming home from a job, and-and this old lady had given me a steak and kidney pie, and I was tired and not watching where I was going and really looking forward to eating it, and there was a rake in the front garden and the Google van came by...”
“Are you saying the picture representing your flat on Google Streetview is you getting hit in the face with a rake?” Douglas said.
Martin didn't respond. Douglas went so fast for his mobile that he knocked it out of his pocket and on to the floor.
“Oh, God!” Martin said. “Oh, God! Oh, God!”
Douglas picked up his phone again. “It can't be that bad, Martin. Surely you're used to this sort of thing by now.”
“No, no, not that. Well, yes that, but this!” Martin said, holding up his mail.
“What's wrong?” Douglas asked.
“I've been invited to a party!” Martin wailed.
“Good God!” Douglas exclaimed. “Should I send the card of condolences to Parkside Terrace or care of MJNAir?”
“Douglas!” Martin said. He shoved the invitation over. “See?”
“Her Serene Highness Princess Theresa Gustava Bonaventura of Liechtenstein requests the pleasure of your company at her 32nd birthday celebration, Vaduz Castle, Vaduz...” Douglas read. “Well, I don't see a problem. It's next week. We'll be in Austria then, it shouldn't be too hard to pop over for a party.”
Martin looked horrified. “I can't go!”
“Why not?” Douglas asked.
Martin twitched around, looking for the right words. “It's a party. I'm not good at parties. And it's in a castle. Her mother will be there. And her sisters. She's a princess! She's a princess, and I'm...me.”
“A sad, but undeniable truth,” Douglas agreed. “Haven't you already been to a party with her? At the Taj Mahal no less.”
“That was informal,” Martin said, dismissively.
“Oh, of course, informal party with the King of Sweden,” Douglas said. “Ten a penny, those.”
“This will be formal. It says so on the invitation. There will be heads of state there, and all those forks at dinner, and maybe dancing!” Martin said. “I'll just tell her I can't go. I'll say...I'll tell her I'm sick.”
“Calling in sick a week in advance might look a bit suspicious,” Douglas pointed out, as Martin reached frantically for his mobile.
“Well, what else can I do?” Martin demanded.
“Martin, it seems to me that Her Highness knows that you are, in fact, you, and for whatever reason, doesn't mind,” Douglas pointed out. “So, and stay with me here, you could go.”
Martin shook his head. “I wouldn't know how to behave. I'll use the wrong fork and start a war!”
“No, not another cutlery war, Martin, not just after we've recovered from the Great Spoon Conflict of '64,” Douglas said.
“There is another option,” Douglas said.
Martin looked hopeful. “Yes?”
“It's Goddard Day. We have nothing to do but sit here, with Arthur in a helpful mood and Hurricane Carolyn threatening to blow. We could give you a few lessons in etiquette and dancing,” Douglas said.
“You'd do that?” Martin asked. His face fell. “What do you want?”
“First crack at the cheese tray for a month.”
“Oh, well, yes, that's--”
“Take the Venice flight for me.”
“That's a stag-do, I can't--yes, all right, fine.”
“And, most importantly, let me see your Google Streetview picture in peace.”
“Fine. But you can only laugh for...five minutes.”
“Hullo, chaps!” Arthur said, arriving on the flight deck. “I couldn't find a blue one, Douglas. I looked for ages, but there wasn't one. So I've bought a purple one, and since blue and red make purple, I thought you could lick the blue out and leave the red.”
Douglas, who had finally stopped laughing, took the already melting lolly from Arthur. “Am I suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, or did that almost make sense?”
“Both, I expect,” Martin said.
“Well, let's get started,” Douglas said.
“What's going on?” Arthur asked, eagerly.
Martin and Douglas explained the situation to him, and his face grew more and more excited as the details were revealed until he was full on beaming with delight.
“That's brilliant!” he said. “It'll be just like that play...oh, what's it called? You know, with the girl who 'tarks loike this', and the mean teacher who makes her posh.”
“My Fair Lady?” Martin said.
“No, no. She sells flowers, and she has a dad who needs money,” Arthur went on.
“My Fair Lady,” Martin repeated.
“No, that's not it, Skip. She has to go to a party, like you, and--”
“My Fair Lady!” Martin insisted.
Douglas took the ice lolly from his mouth and held up a hand to stop the argument. “Arthur, are you by any chance referring to Pygmalion?” he asked.
“Yes! That's it!” Arthur said. "Pig-Ma-Lion."
"Pyg-may-lee-on," Douglas repeated, emphasizing the correct pronunciation.
"Yep, that's it," Arthur agreed.
“You've seen Pygmalion?” Martin asked, incredulously.
“Yeah. But I found it really confusing,” Arthur said. “I read the name on the poster, and it looked brilliant, but there were no pigs or mother lions in it at all.”
“Ah,” both Martin and Douglas said, nodding to each other.
“So, where do we start?” Martin asked.
“Arthur, how do you feel about setting up a formal place setting?” Douglas asked.
“Now, you'll have to use a bit of imagination, I'm afraid. Despite her outwardly glamorous appearance, Gertie doesn't offer five-star dining,” Douglas said, as Martin sat down in a passenger seat and had the trolley wheeled up to him. “What we have here is a service plate. This is a butter plate. This is your fish fork, your dinner fork, and your salad fork, which are all the same, but will be different on the night. There may be more or fewer forks, depending on how many courses are being served. Use them from the outside in.”
“Right,” Martin said, sounding a bit dubious.
“And these are your knives. Dinner knife, and salad knife,” Douglas went on.
“Salad knife?” Martin said, alarmed. “I've never used a knife with a salad. Am I supposed to? How do you use it?”
“Do you know how to use a knife?” Douglas asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Congratulations, that's half the battle won,” Douglas said. “Use it to cut up a lettuce leaf too big for your mouth.”
“Oh. Right. Yes. Okay. That makes sense,” Martin said. “Right. Dinner, salad. Okay.”
“And this is your soup spoon, here represented by an ice lolly stick, as Arthur managed to order three boxes of plastic forks and no spoons,” Douglas said. “Use your imagination. This is a Twiglet, playing the role of oyster fork.”
“Did you know oysters had their own forks, Skip?” Arthur asked. “I didn't even know they had hands.”
Martin opened his mouth but decided it might be best to simply let it go. “Soup spoon, oyster fork,” he repeated. “Oh, God, there's so much to remember.”
“You've memorized the entire flight manual, Martin, I'm sure you'll figure this out,” Douglas assured him. “Now we have glasses. Water glass, champagne flute, red wine glass, white wine glass, and sherry glass.”
“Am I suppose to drink all of that? We'll all be drunk by the second course,” Martin fretted.
“I imagine a sip or two from each will be fine,” Douglas said. “Though, being a bit tipsy might relax you a bit.”
“Things go very badly when I'm relaxed,” Martin said.
“Things don't go particularly well when you're not, either,” Douglas pointed out. “You might as well go for a change of pace. Anyway, after dinner, dessert plates and utensils will be brought in. Shall we give it a practice go?”
“Okay,” Martin said.
“Arthur, bring in the first course,” Douglas said.
Arthur mimed bringing in food with a dedication to detail that Martin found somewhat endearing. “This is soup,” he said, in a stage whisper as he 'served'. “But I'm not supposed to talk to you.”
“Right,” Martin replied, in a matching stage whisper. “Thank you. Erm, okay, so this is my soup spoon, so...” he picked it up and mimed using it. “Is that right?”
“Don't slurp,” Douglas said.
“I wasn't slurping!” Martin objected.
“Yes, you were,” Douglas said.
“I would never slurp!” Martin insisted.
“I would. It's the best part of eating soup,” Arthur said. “It's like blowing bubbles, but backwards.”
“I wasn't slurping,” Martin said, pettishly.
Douglas called for the next course. Arthur once again performed with gusto. Each course went by, with Martin managing to stumble his way through; a combination of Douglas's ruthless corrections and Arthur's enthusiastic encouragements keeping him on track.
“Can we go again?” Arthur asked, after Martin finished his 'dessert'. “I think I've got the hang of it, now. I'll be really good this time. I won't even speak.”
“It might be best to give it another go through,” Martin said. “Just to be sure.”
“All right. Places!” Douglas said, clapping his hands like a theatre director. “And...action!”
Half an hour later, they were out in the hangar, having done three run-throughs of dinner until Martin felt mildly confident in his ability to not start a war. Now they were on to dancing, and he had Arthur in a waltz hold.
“Wow, Skip, this is brilliant!” Arthur announced. “I've never been a lady before.”
“I'm glad you're enjoying it,” Martin said.
“Having seen you attempt to walk in a straight line, Martin, I'm going to keep this very simple,” Douglas said. “A basic foxtrot step. If there is any sort of formal dancing, that will get you by in a pinch. Start by stepping forward on your left foot, and then on your right.”
Martin did so and bumped heads with Arthur, who had attempted to do the same.
“Ow! Arthur, what are you doing?” he asked.
“Stepping forward on my left,” Arthur said.
“You're the lady, you go backwards,” Martin said. “And that was your right foot.”
“Oh, sorry, Skip,” Arthur said. “You have my hands, so I can't see which one I write with.”
“What?” Martin said.
“You know, 'right's the hand you write with and left is left',” Arthur said. “That's how Mum taught me.”
“You don't know what hand you write with without looking at it?” Douglas asked.
“Of course not, it's not a holding a pen,” Arthur said.
Martin looked heavenward for patience.
“You step back on your right foot, Arthur, and then your left,” Douglas amended.
“Other right,” Martin corrected, before Arthur stepped on his foot.
They managed to coordinate their movements, though Martin felt like he was playing a game of Twister. He was never particularly good at Twister.
“Excellent. Now, step to your left with your left foot,” Douglas said.
He wasn't quick enough directing Arthur, and Martin's shoulder was yanked sharply as Arthur took a truly heroic step to his left.
“To the right, Arthur, go to your right,” Douglas said.
“Oh! Well, I had the right foot this time, though, almost,” Arthur said. He corrected himself. “This is fun, isn't it, Skip?”
“Loads,” Martin said, with a forced smile.
“Arthur, you are going to step to the right again, bringing your right foot to your left, Martin, do the opposite,” Douglas said.
This method of telling Arthur first worked much better, and they got through the next few steps with what could be considered ease when Arthur was involved. Then they tried to take a quarter turn for the next set of steps, and Martin fell hard to the ground, his arms flailing in panic. Arthur landed on him.
“This is brilliant!” Arthur shouted. “It's just like bumper cars, but with people!”
Martin groaned and rolled out from under Arthur's back. He had a nice, clear view of Carolyn's court shoes and groaned again.
“Hey, Mum!” Arthur said.
Martin stood up quickly and smoothed out his uniform, checking it over for rips or dirt. He really couldn't afford another dry cleaning, and he'd done enough patching that his invisible stitches were starting to be visible due to the sheer number of them.
“It is against my better judgement that I am asking this, but what, pray tell is going on?” Carolyn said.
“We're turning Martin into a Pig-ma-lion,” Arthur announced.
Carolyn turned to Douglas for a proper explanation.
“I'm afraid you've walked in on a rather disastrous rehearsal for Strictly Come Pilots,” Douglas said.
Carolyn turned in exasperation to Martin, who stammered out an explanation in between profuse apologies for unprofessional behaviour. The air hung tense when he stopped babbling, and he hunched down in anticipation of tirade headed his way.
“Well,” she said. “You're not going to learn with Arthur. He couldn't even master the Macarena.”
“Hey! It's hard,” Arthur objected. “You've got to know what both arms are doing at the same time. You know I'm not good at that.”
“I don't, I don't suppose...” Martin began, and then clamped his mouth shut so hard his jaw clacked.
“What?” Carolyn said.
“Nothing,” Martin squeaked. “It was a silly thought. Nothing.”
Carolyn sighed and held out her arms. “Come here then.”
“Are you...are you going to hug me?” Martin asked.
“No! Good God, no,” Carolyn said. “I am going to teach you to foxtrot properly. I happen to be in need of a bit of practice myself.”
“Settled your date with Herc, then?” Douglas asked.
“It is not a date,” Carolyn said. “It is two people who know each other going to where there may be dancing. Come here, Martin. Stand up straight, you look like a mouse with scoliosis. All right. And slow, slow, quick, quick, slow...”
“Quick, quick, slow,” Martin muttered, under his breath.
“Looking good, Skip!” Arthur said.
“Thank you, quick, slow,” Martin said.
He changed his trajectory to foxtrot around Arthur with his invisible partner. Half an hour left until Teresa's birthday, and he was using what free time he had to practice his skills. Even if it meant up and down Gertie's aisle. He'd been practising all week, every spare moment, every free space. Now they'd landed in Vaduz, and he was waiting for the car Teresa was sending for him.
“Martin? Come here,” Carolyn called, from the flight deck.
Martin foxtrotted his way back around Arthur and onto the flight deck.
“Let me look at you,” Carolyn said, making a 'turn around' gesture with her hand.
Martin turned in a slow circle. He hoped he looked all right. He was a patchwork mess of clothing--borrowed, bought and recommissioned. He had on his best suit jacket, a pair of decent trousers borrowed from one of the posher students in Parkside Terrace, a waistcoat borrowed from Simon, who was rather bigger around than him so it was safety-pinned neatly in the back to hide the extra, a bow tie and cufflinks from a charity shop, his 'interview' shirt, and his uniform shoes, polished even past their usual mirror finish.
“I think you'll do,” Carolyn said, critically.
“Not with that bow tie,” Douglas said.
Martin's hands flew to his neck. “What's wrong with it? I followed the instructions to the letter,” he said, searching around for a mirrored surface to check.
“It's bigger on one side,” Douglas said.
“No, it's not,” Carolyn argued.
“It is, he'll be walking in circles all night,” Douglas insisted.
Martin made a panicked sound. Carolyn shot Douglas a Look, and he stood up from the co-pilot's seat and halted Martin's frantic pacing. It took him five seconds to retie the bow tie.
“Thank you!” Martin said.
“Skip, your car is here!” Arthur called.
“Oh, God! Okay. Okay, okay okay,” Martin said, turning in a circle in nervousness. “Everything's fine. Everyone relax.”
“We'll do our best,” Douglas said.
Martin hurried out to the cabin and down the airstairs (in a safe and proper fashion). The rest of the crew followed him down.
“Oh, no!” Carolyn said. “We've forgotten about a present!”
“Oh! No, no, I've got one, it's fine,” Martin said. “Arthur, it's in my flight bag, could you grab it?”
“What does it look like, Skip?” Arthur asked.
“A present,” Martin said.
Carolyn and Douglas looked at each other sceptically.
“Did you choose it yourself?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Martin said. His shook his hands out by his sides to get rid of the nerves.
Carolyn and Douglas looked at each other again.
“Martin. Is it an aeroplane?” Douglas asked, almost gently.
Martin's eyes darted to the side. “Now, I know what you're thinking,” he began.
“Martin, no!” Carolyn said.
“No, it's really all fine,” Martin insisted. “I've got her an Airfix kit. I know, I know that sounds like something I'd want, and-and, it's a bit...cheap, but really, it's fine. She's always wanted to do one, and she wasn't allowed when she was little, and I thought it might be nice to get her one. I thought we could work on it together...”
He squinted one eye in a semi-wince, waiting for the arguments.
“That's...reasonable,” Douglas said, reluctantly.
Martin's eye unsquinted.
“Yes. Yes. I think that will do,” Carolyn agreed.
Martin's whole body relaxed. Arthur emerged with the present and handed it over to Martin.
“Have fun, Skip!” he said. “Say hi to Maxie for me!”
“I will, thank you, Arthur,” Martin said. “Thank you, everyone!”
He got in the car, and it drove off toward Vaduz palace, leaving his crew waving him goodbye.
Carolyn had spent many nights in many hotels, but none had made her quite so cross as this one had. She'd never stayed anywhere with a shower without a shower curtain (Arthur, of course, declared this to be brilliant, as he could never see the loo while he was showering, and now he could). She hadn't slept very well, and it was most certainly due to the uncomfortable bed and not due to her thinking about how Martin was getting on.
She arrived in the lobby of the hotel and spotted Douglas sitting on a couch drinking coffee. Arthur wanted to take one more shower where he could see the loo before they left and was still upstairs.
“Any word from Martin?” she asked.
“The old scoundrel still isn't back,” Douglas said. “I wouldn't have thought he'd have it in him.”
“You're still within flight hours, I hope?” she asked.
“Fresh as a daisy,” he said.
Carolyn poured herself a cup of what she was taking a wild guess was coffee and picked up a newspaper. She nearly dropped her cup as the front page photo was her very own Captain Crieff, waltzing centre stage with the Princess of Liechtenstein.
As she stumbled over to a chair, the door to the hotel opened and the very same captain entered the lobby, his usually varnished hair all loose in frizzed curls, his bow tie undone and hanging around his neck, and carrying his shoes in one hand. He was grinning from ear to ear and humming under his breath. He walked right past them until Douglas called him back.
“Well?” Carolyn demanded, when Martin just stared at them in giddy confusion. “How did it go?”
Martin spun in a circle. “I could have danced, danced, daaaaanced, all niiiight!” he sang.
He foxtrotted himself into a lift, still humming. Douglas and Carolyn exchanged looks.
“Well done, Higgins,” she said.
“You too,” he replied.
And they smiled at one another, in what was most certainly not parental pride.