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[personal profile] novembersmith
And lo, after a dry spell that spanned months, I finally write some fic, and I suspect it is not fic that any of you are interested in! Whoops. What can I say, I am a sucker for rare fandoms. And Napoleonic Europe. And dragons. And awkward epic pining gay love affairs. But never fear, I will return to bandom shortly. The ghostfic is being a bitch, but it is coming along. Also, apparently I am a loser and I CAN post pictures, so you should expect an epic picspam shortly. Ish.

On with the dragons! And gay love!

Title: To Timbuktu (And Back Again)
Fandom: His Majesty's Dragon
Author: [ profile] novembersmith
Pairing/Rating: Laurence/Tharkay, PG-13ish?
Words: 5700
Disclaimer: Naomi Novik owns these characters, and also my undying gratitude for creating the most fantastic world ever and being generally awesome.
Summary: In which Arkady manages to be a great nuisance, despite never appearing in the story, and Tharkay is thoroughly unsettled.

AN and Warnings: This is a post-Victory of Eagles story, so there are probably spoilers within for the entire series. This story is essentially a giant pile of fluff. I finished VoE and was rending my breast and so forth, and then I decided to be proactive about it. The title is from the musical Oliver, and, if you're interested, the pistols in this story are largely inspired by this vision of loveliness--just picture it as a flintlock instead of a multishot revolver, and a great deal sparklier, and you have it. (And this is totally off-topic, but God, the Arms and Armor exhibit at the Met gives me such a nerdgasm, seriously. Merlin fans! Get thee hence! THERE ARE SUITS OF ARMOR.)

I'd also like to extend enormous thanks to my betas, [ profile] applegnat and [ profile] wilhelmina_d, who looked this over and pointed out egregious errors and made this fic infinitely better than it would have been otherwise. They are awesome, and any errors are my own. Feel free to point them out, or engage me in a discussion about 19th century history and colonialism! Mmm, history. <3


At present, Tharkay was not quite sure what to say.

“Do you not like them?” Temeraire asked anxiously, peering down at him. “They are designed by John Manton, and are said to be very fine.”

The dueling pistols were engraved in silver and inlaid along the stock with opalescent birds of prey, their eyes and wings glittering with rubies. They could be said to be very fine indeed, and one might also say the ocean a bit wet, or Laurence somewhat stubborn, or Iskierka inclined to be warm. Tharkay doubted the Emperor of France had finer or more ridiculous pistols.

“Oh, they are quite magnificent,” Tharkay said finally, closing the rich mahogany case, itself exquisitely inlaid with stylized ebony. “May I inquire as to the occasion?”

“Ah,” Temeraire said, and promptly looked enormously shifty. Tharkay watched him warily. “Oh, there is no occasion, only that I am glad you are here, with Laurence and I. Laurence told me he believed you fond of eagles, and it was not great trouble to include them in the design.”

This was singularly unenlightening, and Tharkay wondered briefly if Temeraire had found some particular reason to worry about him. Temeraire had been highly inclined to brood over his diminished crew in the early months after their exile; this unfortunately included Tharkay, who had been promptly been re-adopted—“press-ganged,” as Laurence ruefully put it—into Temeraire’s service. Temeraire had seemed wholly unaware that it could have gone otherwise, which, Tharkay thought ruefully, was not too far off the mark. He had always meant to remain close to Laurence—someone had to be present to check the man’s suicidal heroics, after all, and with Granby entirely occupied managing Iskierka and the remainder of Temeraire’s ‘crew’ being below the age of fourteen, Tharkay felt it best to be at hand.

As a result, however, he had apparently enlisted just in time to be smothered by draconic regard. It had not been quite as aggravating as trying to coax twenty squabbling ferals across most of the Near East on his own, but then, at least, he had not been confined to a single ship with no possible escape. Temeraire did not like to let any of them stray far from his sight, particularly not with a number of violent criminals aboard, and also took to earnestly inquiring into the state of their capital, as well as their personal happiness and troubles.

Tharkay privately suspected this sudden interest in the personal lives of men was due to the dragon’s worry over Laurence, over how he might react to their exile, and whether he could survive it. While the result was slightly overbearing, Tharkay couldn’t deny he approved in theory—the last thing Laurence needed was to be allowed to slip back into depression and self-flagellation. Laurence had borne Temeraire’s extra fussing with exasperated fondness and resignation. Demane and Roland, on the other hand, took the presence of a twenty-two ton nursemaid with a considerable degree of impatience and chafing; Sipho and Allen were entirely indifferent .

Tharkay found, annoyingly, that he could not quite help a feeling of warmth at Temeraire’s worry for him; it would not be stamped out even when Temeraire insisted on raising a considerable and inconvenient racket whenever Tharkay spent too long out of sight below deck. This did not make it any less irritating, however. He mostly managed to dodge the dragon’s earnest, if utterly heavy-handed attempts at coddling, by absenting himself to explore the ship's rigging, or holds, or prisoners. The few times he was cornered, he had easily diverted Temeraire from the subject of home—a word which Tharkay had little use for in any stead—with talk of celestial navigation, stories of ancient sailors and nomadic tribesmen on featureless seas and plains, finding their way by the stars alone. This had the added bonus of both distracting Temeraire from the monotony and bleakness of the voyage, the mournful calls of the prisoners below deck, and of enticing Laurence into conversation.

At times, Tharkay had had to remind himself that what was acceptable in a Celestial dragon would not be permitted in an acquaintance, and that he did not have the luxury of hovering worriedly over their captain. For the first half of their journey, Laurence had been, if not listless, then prone to introspection and staring off at the horizon. He did let himself be roused to conversation and, occasionally, a game of piquet—when he had discovered Tharkay played, he had started dramatically, before looking slightly ashamed of himself. Tharkay had shrugged, then found himself slightly dumbfounded in return as Laurence displayed a hitherto unknown skill at cards, roundly defeating his opponent at each turn with a small smile. Each smile from Laurence those day was still wholly precious and unexpected, and Tharkay’s desire not to be thoroughly trounced game after game often warred with the tightening of his chest at each upward quirk of Laurence’s mouth. He often continued playing until his wounded pride forced him to make his excuses and stalk stiffly away.

The stars wheeled into new patterns with each passing night, and, conscious of Laurence’s eyes upon him, Tharkay had found himself in the habit of telling stories of the constellations he knew, and of those he could no longer see, still caught above the Himalayas in a glittering net. Iskierka occasionally offered drowsy comment, or Laurence a quiet remark, and often as not Tharkay had slept on the deck amidst the creaking of wood and sails, pressed against the warmth of Temeraire’s side.

During those early months aboard the Allegiance, the pistols Temeraire was currently pressing upon him might have been explained away as yet another aggravating symptom of the dragon’s obsession with state of his crew, and even then, the opulence of the gift would have been exceedingly odd. But in the months since arriving at Sydney, Temeraire had become much less anxious and more convinced of the security of his crew, and so the random gift of the pistols remained wholly unaccountable. Even for Temeraire, this was far was outside the range of normal draconic behavior—generally speaking, dragons did not go about giving away treasure—and he could not imagine what Temeraire meant by it, or that Laurence would approve of such an ostentatious display. The pistols had to be worth several thousand pounds, at least.

“Very kind, I am sure, but I—” he hedged, trying to formulate a polite rejection that would not result in a temper tantrum, or, worse, a sulk, but was interrupted by a blast of heat and steam.

“Oh! Are they here finally?”

Iskierka landed in the covert, just back from feeding, and craned her bloody head over Tharkay’s shoulder; he was obliged to open the case again, that she might see inside. The heat from her proximity was considerable, and he made sure to grip the wood carefully, that it did not slip out of his sweaty grasp.

“Those are very nice,” she rumbled approvingly. “I must order some for Granby, only I would like there to be more rubies and also dragons, instead of silly bird things—”

“I think the birds quite nice,” Temeraire interrupted indignantly. "And it's not as though Granby could use them when you are always spitting fire everywhere."

“—and perhaps there could be flames, licking around the barrel? But they do very well for you,” Iskierka told Tharkay, ignoring Temeraire entirely. “Do you like them? I know it is late, but Temeraire and Laurence would go on acting like scrubs and I have only just recently set them straight.”

Temeraire had flattened his ruff at this and Tharkay was sure there would have been another squabble if the captains had not then appeared then with news of a fresh attack against Sydney, diverting all thought from the matter for some time. The British prisoners (and guests) had arrived at the colony of New South Wales some six months prior, only to find the capital under periodic siege and wholly disorganized. The Dutch had set up a number of colonies at Recherche Bay, with heavy support from their French allies, and currently had the command of some ten dragons, including a large Defendeur-Brave and a Flamme-de-Gloire. Prior to the Allegience’s arrival, the British colonials had for aerial defense only Ferocitas, a somewhat elderly Chequered Nettle, and a few Xenicas and Grey Coppers; under these circumstances, the arrival of a traitor, a political insurgent, and an insubordinate fire-breather was highly celebrated, and they were welcomed to a degree that astonished no one but Laurence.

They had taken several new crew members upon their arrival, some from the officers of the local covert, but Laurence also quietly included several from amidst the ranks of the prisoners they traveled with aboard the Allegiance. Tobias and Gladys Avery, at least, Tharkay had expected. Their quickness as pickpockets would likely serve them well dragonback, but perhaps more significantly, neither brother nor sister were above nine years old, and Laurence had a well-known propensity for taking in foundlings. He had not, however, expected Laurence to take on the naval surgeon guilty of a mutiny, or the young leatherworker, arrested for forgery.

Tharkay had quickly learned the names and natures of the criminals aboard their ship, but he had not realized Laurence had paid attention also. In Istanbul, dripping wet and thoroughly befouled from the catacombs, Tharkay long since given up the belief in a fair and just world, to say nothing of human decency, when Laurence had offered him an earnest if filthy hand, and asked for Tharkay’s in return. Offered his hand as though it was the most natural thing in the world and as though he were not knocking years worth of hard-won cynicism askew. He wondered if Laurence would ever cease to surprise him, and then promptly re-discovered that it was both extremely unlikely and also deucedly annoying.

When Tharkay finally brought the pistols to Laurence’s attention after the skirmish was over, Laurence merely shrugged. His cheeks were a bit pink, but they were lately come from battle, his face still faintly smudged with blood and soot, and hair come loose to drift gold about his face, so perhaps it did not signify.

Tharkay still attempted to press the pistols on Laurence; they were warm in his hands, and for all their outrageous design had held up beautifully in the battle, with very little recoil, and both had shot straight and true. But, upon further inspection, Tharkay had discovered diamonds to go along with the rubies on the barrel, and that was the outside of enough.

“I cannot take them,” he said, and in frustration thrust the offending weapons at Laurence’s chest.

“They are yours, and no less than you deserve,” Laurence said, looking altogether too amused, although still a bit flushed. He was smiling, and it was still such a welcome sight that were it not for Tharkay’s offended sensibilities and curiosity, he would have dropped the matter entirely. “At any rate, it does not signify. I cannot prevent Temeraire giving them to you. Wellington has made good on his word and Temeraire, as you know, has taken several Dutch prizes—the pistols are bought out of his pocket entirely. They are not so bad, are they? I admit them a bit extravagant.”

Tharkay felt altogether unbalanced, and it was not a pleasant feeling.

“Oh, no, they are quite suitable for an aviator stationed in a penal colony,” he drawled, and pointedly tilted the gun so that the sun glittered on the polished silver and embedded jewels. “Surely they shall become standard issue for all servicemen within the year.”

Laurence only grinned. “If you think those bad, count yourself lucky. Iskierka has a current fondness for feathers, and poor Granby is at the mercy of her tastes.”

“I do not understand why I am at the mercy of Temeraire’s tastes,” Tharkay said, grinding his teeth in frustration. It had been easier to convince a feral dragon to fly through a warzone. “These should by all rights belong to you.”

Laurence shook his head and pushed Tharkay’s outstretched pistol away, fingers rough and warm against his wrist, and Tharkay forgot, exactly, what his next objection was meant to be.

“Do you think the dragons will take kangaroo?” Laurence asked, brightly changing the subject. “We are beginning to run low on cattle, again.”

Then Laurence was striding off without waiting for an answer, calling out in a clear voice to Temeraire, and Tharkay was left dumbfounded behind. He supposed he would have to keep the damned things, after all.

This was not the end of the mystery, however. Temeraire continued to press little trinkets upon him, though none so extravagant as the pistols. A jeweled compass—“after all, you do not know the constellations here so well as in the Northern Hemisphere, and sometimes there are clouds, you know”—along with several matching daggers. There was also a series of increasingly ludicrous hats, all apparently the height of Sydney fashion. Tharkay had a strong suspicion as to who had suggested the hats to Temeraire, and he was planning to introduce Iskierka to the marvels of the local aboriginal facepaint later. For now he wore the broad-brimmed straw hat with equanimity—it had the least ribbons of the bunch, and he took comfort in the fact that he, at least, did not look quite as ridiculous as Granby, who was currently decked out in peacock feathers and crushed velvet.

“This latest looks quite well on you,” Laurence told him gravely. “The ribbons complement your complexion perfectly.”

“Thank you,” Tharkay said, and glanced up at Laurence from under the brim. “Do you know, I have another, in blue and gold. I am sure it would suit you wonderfully. I am happy to let you borrow it. No, no, I must insist.”

It was only with some difficulty that Laurence wormed out of wearing the hat. Temeraire had become involved in the discussion, and there was a great deal of fuss over the uniform of the Corps, and if they had been officially struck from the service, whether it meant Temeraire might design his own uniform for the crew: a concept which Laurence received with poorly concealed horror.

The point remained, however, that Temeraire was not giving any such extravagant and useless gifts to the other members of their ragtag crew, fashionable hats or otherwise. Demane and Sipho were certainly outfitted adequately enough, as were the Averys, and Roland had obtained several handsome dresses to wear into town. All of them received new, much more serviceable pistols of their own, but it was nowhere the near level of bizarre and unwarranted opulence Tharkay suffered. And it was not only Temeraire pressing gifts upon him.

Laurence presented him with a set of fine carabiners, claiming he had noticed Tharkay’s growing overly worn. This was not untrue, but Tharkay had planned to replace them himself, the next time they left the covert and went into town. Laurence also continued to attempt to beat a greater skill at cards into Tharkay’s skull through the mechanism of repeated, merciless, defeat, and Tharkay continued, sullenly, to let him. If Laurence chose to ply him with fine brandies during these engagements, Tharkay was inclined to allow it, though it still raised an uneasy feeling that he was missing some crucial piece of evidence and badly misjudging the situation. He began bringing bottles of madeira and port to their games—he could well afford it, after all, and was able to triumphantly offer a box of fine cigars that he had managed to uncover on the town’s thriving black market. Laurence responded with a dazzling smile—and Tharkay still felt that somehow, subtly, he was missing something.

It was not for several weeks that the pieces came together. A few days after a mission in the desert interior, during which the crew had all taken to reminiscing wistfully of cool drinks and favorite desserts, Laurence appeared at Tharkay’s door. Tharkay answered his knock in the midst of dressing for dinner, and found Laurence leaning against the doorjamb with two glasses of lemon syllabub in hand.

“I thought you said you missed this particularly?” he said, smiling, when Tharkay stared at him. Outside his window there was a fiery red sunset, and he was still in his braces, and Laurence was standing before him, hair freshly washed, holding out a glass of pale yellow froth. Tharkay was not entirely certain he was awake, it was so wholly unexpected a scene. He recieved the glass from Laurence’s hand, their fingers brushing, and took a careful sip. It tasted tart and sweet, light, and reminded him of his grandmother’s maid, smiling at him in the kitchen, so many years ago. It tasted just as he remembered.

“I—thank you?” he said, and then hid his consternation in his glass as he drank again. Laurence came to stand beside him, shoulder pressing into his own, an unwelcome reminder that Tharkay had not finished dressing and that Laurence’s close proximity tended to make intelligent speech embarrassingly difficult.

“You’re quite welcome,” Laurence said, and looked at him sidelong through his lashes, eyes warm.

“Laurence,” Tharkay said finally, and he suspected his expression might be a touch wild. Laurence had brought him syllabub. He could not keep his voice rising in consternation, and struggled to enunciate clearly. “What the devil is going on? What are you doing?”

Laurence finished his syllabub, setting the glass down on the windowsill with a quiet clink, then reached over and brushed a thumb over Tharkay’s mouth. Tharkay froze. Laurence's touch was quite warm and firm, and Tharkay could not help but inhale sharply.

“This is such a deuced messy drink. I did not know you were such a decadent, Tharkay,” Laurence said, and licked the froth from off his thumb, smiled, and left, without any further explanation, or conversation, or anything. Tharkay stood there a moment longer, shocked silent and gaping at the empty room.

He caught quite a few strange looks from the Australian aviators as he stormed past a few minutes later. He recalled only too late that he still hadn’t finished dressing, but by then he was in front of Iskierka, who was looking at him curiously.

“What did you mean, that Temeraire and Laurence have been playing scrubs?” he demanded between clenched teeth, a dawning suspicion tickling at the back of his mind.

Iskierka snorted and a small tongue of flame crept out into the evening air, recalling the heat of day.

“They are great idiots, you know,” she said, and nosed idly at her coils. It occurred to him suddenly that he might have preferred have this conversation in private. “They did not even recognize you had been courting Laurence, after all your trouble to bring them Arkady and Gherni and the rest. Arkady did try to tell Temeraire, but he is at times very simple, you know, and did not follow it in the slightest.”

Tharkay could not quite repress a small moan, and managed only with some effort to keep from hiding his face in his hands. Of course. Naturally. He felt his face grow quite hotter than even Iskierka’s proximity could account for.

“It was quite a handsome courting gift,” Iskierka said reassuringly, misunderstanding his expression entirely. “Commissioning them all, and you fought quite bravely, too, it is not your fault they were too stupid to see it. It is very lucky that Arkady informed me, or they might never have known, and you came all this way.”

Temeraire was grumbling audibly in the next clearing, and Granby, who Tharkay had not seen nestled against Iskierka’s side until just now, was not quite succeeding in suppressing his laughter.

“I did not know you such a romantic, my dear,” he said, still snickering as he stroked her side gingerly. “Oh, you needn’t look so dashed miserable, Tharkay, you know Laurence wouldn’t have caught on any other way, and they may as well have been courting gifts. Fetching twenty dragons, and then a dozen more? I never heard the like.”

Tharkay had not known it possible to be quite this mortified and still survive, and then Temeraire poked his head into the clearing, mantling indignantly.

“Do you mean it was not a gift, at all?” He looked outraged, and perhaps a little hurt. “You are not courting Laurence?”

“Do not be so silly,” Iskierka interrupted, before Tharkay could even think to respond to this, and blew steam at him irritably. “It is quite obvious, only you do not like to admit you have been so foolish. My Granby knew quite immediately.”

“Oh, quite,” Granby said comfortably. “Tharkay here would follow Laurence to the ends of the earth and back; even the ferals spotted it.”

Tharkay eyed Granby with some resentment and was on the point of speaking up about glass houses, and brightly feathered jeweled stones being thrown at them, but Iskierka had not finished yet.

“Oh, yes, they have many nice songs about it,” Iskierka said happily, and Granby looked as though it was Christmas day all over again. Tharkay closed his eyes in despair. Well, all was not lost. There was a good possibility he could strike off in the darkness and lose himself in the interior of the continent forever, and with any luck he would never see a human soul ever again. “They did not like to tell them to Temeraire, but I have been teaching the best ones to him.”

“Of course you have,” Tharkay said, and ground the heel of his hand into his eye.

“I quite like the bit about you offering the heart of a lion at each temple you passed, for Laurence’s safety, as you struggled bravely back to us, with the army of dragons arraigned about you,” Temeraire said earnestly. “Though it was a bit wasteful, and I do not know where you would have gotten the all those lions anyhow, but it sounds quite nice. So it was a courting gift after all, then?”

“There may have been certain conversations about Laurence which the ferals somewhat misinterpreted, though—” he paused, still not able to look up. He had a terrible suspicion that the form lounging at the entrance to the covert was, in fact, the man in question. “Though not entirely," he finished. He found himself smiling wryly, even yet. "I could not manage to convince them otherwise, at any rate. We are somewhat lucky that the Durzagh language is so inaccessible. They would not stop prattling on about it for some time, I am afraid, and I fear your officers would have taken the suggestion entirely amiss.”

“Well,” Laurence said, voice much closer than Tharkay had expected. “I do not expect it would matter greatly, now—treason overshadows any other offense I could make.”

“Oh, I would not be so sure,” Tharkay said, and was annoyed to find his voice a little hoarse. “Some of the songs were quite explicit.”

He could not hear very much outside the rushing in his ears, but he caught a glimpse of the dragons flying off, and dimly heard Iskierka protesting and Granby laughing, but all his focus was on keeping his face straight and his heart steady. He could not bear to hope, even now, with his soul laid open for all to see and write maudlin songs about. He could not help but laugh, and he thought perhaps Laurence moved a little closer.

“So there you have it,” he said, and turned to look at Laurence, who, annoyingly, appeared perfectly calm. “I cannot imagine what you thought when they told you.”

“It was passing strange,” Laurence agreed. “And it would have quite overturned me in England, I am afraid. But I have learned my conscience better now, I think.”

“I have never been so embarrassed in my life as when I heard those songs,” Tharkay said seriously, and Laurence grinned at him. Maybe he would not have to run off and live in the interior as a hermit after all, if Laurence could still smile so.

“I wouldn’t worry; the songs paint your prowess very flatteringly.”

“Oh God, you have heard them,” Tharkay groaned; the smile on Laurence’s face had turned terrifyingly wicked and it made his heart thump erratically for reasons he did not entirely want to investigate, just yet. “I must inform you, I am not actually capable of holding my breath underwater so long.”

“Shocking,” Laurence said, and he was moving closer, his footsteps soft on the packed dirt of the clearing. “How we will escape the pirate lord’s stronghold now, I do not know.”

When Tharkay saw Arkady again, he was going to make every attempt to throttle him by that ridiculous brass necklace.

“I thought at first it could not be true,” Laurence said, abruptly serious, and his voice was very low. Tharkay went still. “That you could desire such a low thing, and desire it of me, and never let any of it show in your voice or actions. But then I saw that you did.”

The nights here were quite cool; the evening was cloudless with a brilliant scattering of unfamiliar stars and a fair breeze was blowing through the covert. Tharkay shivered and let himself think it only the wind that chilled him. He had begun to allow himself hope, that maybe—

“I am sorry if I have given offense,” he offered stiffly, through clenched teeth, but Laurence ignored him, as if he had not spoken.

“You know me better than any other man. And I have not thanked you properly, but I would be lost without you, and I—I have always had a great deal of feeling for you, you must know it. There has been much time to think, both on the Allegiance and here—” At which intelligence Tharkay felt his jaw drop open and his face heat. For Laurence to have known so long, and have said nothing, and for Tharkay not to have noticed, was a very great blow. But Laurence was continuing yet, very solemn and determined, despite the flush in his face.

“There is so much of the world that is not starkly right or wrong, and love, for—for two men, it is not a low thing,” he said finally. “Whatever some might say. That is what I believe.”

“Some might say a great deal, and do a great deal more,” Tharkay rejoined automatically, but Laurence waved a hand impatiently at this.

“We have gone about this somewhat backwards, I admit, and I confess I think there were far too many dragons involved, but at least it is not like with poor Harcourt. Temeraire thinks very highly of you, you know. They were all convinced that we must do you as much honor as you deserve, and I did not at all disagree.” He smiled ruefully. “Apparently in my current state, I could not afford gifts of a high enough caliber and so Temeraire graciously offered to court you by proxy. Though I do hope you liked the syllabub. I had a beast of a time getting it made.”

After this remarkable speech, Tharkay found himself wholly without words. Laurence stood staring at him expectantly, as though he was waiting for a reply.

“You mean to say you have been… have been courting me this whole time,” he stated blankly; he could not quite credit what he was saying.

“Oh, since April at the least, as the dragons see it, anyway,” Laurence replied easily, and continued to watch Tharkay with a slightly devilish smile. “I confess, I did take some pleasure in watching you flounder. It took you long enough to realize.”

“You are—Laurence, you cannot be serious,” Tharkay said, finally, a feeling almost of panic welling up within. “You have not thought this through, and your sentiments do not lie in this direction. You—you are good to be so kind about it, but I beg you not to embarrass me further.”

“I have had plenty of time to think this through and am quite decided,” Laurence drawled; he was smirking, just enough that Tharkay felt hot and annoyed. “Do you know you are still not fully dressed?”

“This is not a game, Laurence,” he gritted out, and felt strangely light-headed. “You cannot toy with me like this.”

“I am not toying with you,” Laurence said, and he said it earnestly, with his eyes shining, and Tharkay could not bear it.

“Oh no?” he said silkily, and stalked forward. Laurence started slightly, but held his ground. It was full dark now, but the stars and half-moon were painfully bright, and Tharkay could see perfectly well as he pulled Laurence in and rested a palm, hot and trembling, on the back of Laurence’s neck.

“You cannot want this,” he snarled. Laurence, infuriatingly, was still smiling, and when Tharkay crashed their mouths together he made a startled, pleased noise into the kiss. His mouth was hot and tasted faintly of lemons, sweet and tart. When Tharkay pulled him in so that their bodies aligned he made another noise, and Tharkay wanted to hear it again. He bit at Laurence’s lip and slid a hand up into his hair, and Laurence panted into the night air as Tharkay moved his mouth along the fine edge of his jaw, tasted the salt of his neck.

“Laurence,” Tharkay said hoarsely. “Will.”

Laurence shuddered wildly and said, “Oh, God,” and “Please,” and his hands were hot and heavy on Tharkay’s shoulder’s, and when they tentatively stroked downward, Tharkay moaned and hid his face in Laurence’s neck. Tharkay didn’t think he could bear it, Laurence coming undone beneath him. He wanted everything, he wanted it all, and Laurence looked so wild, so much more than he’d ever let himself imagine. He pressed his mouth back to Laurence’s skin, and bit down on his collarbone, laving his tongue wet over the hot mark he’d made, and Laurence moaned and his grip tightened.

“Oh, God, stop,” Laurence said abruptly in an entirely different voice, and Tharkay let go so quickly he nearly fell, stumbling backward, his mind totally and utterly blank—except then Laurence steadied him, scowling over his shoulder into the darkness and looking heartily embarrassed. There was a darkening bruise along the curve of his neck that kept drawing Tharkay’s attention, and if Laurence wanted to stop, he should not have still been standing so closely.

“What did they stop for?” a great voice rumbled, and Tharkay found he could be distracted after all.

“Oh, oh,” another said, guiltily. “They have seen us. I told you you must stop hissing so!”

“Oh Lord,” Tharkay said involuntarily, but he felt his mouth twitching into a smile against his will, and when he glanced over, Laurence had a hand over his face and was muttering darkly to himself.

“Perhaps this is better,” he offered, when Laurence finally stopped cursing, and stood glaring forbiddingly at the two interlopers, who had crept from behind an outcrop and were sheepishly slinking forward. Laurence looked at him incredulously, and he could not help but laugh. “Not to have overly enthusiastic chaperones, no, I grant you that is not to my taste, but… perhaps it is better to not act in haste.”

“Tharkay,” Laurence said pleasantly, with an underlying edge. “I am not a blushing maiden. You need not go easy on me.”

“Ah,” Tharkay said, and felt a rush of heat. “I see. Well then.”

Temeraire was rending the ground in front of him a little anxiously now, and Laurence had a familiar look of exasperated fondness on his face as he went to comfort his dragon. Tharkay stood nearby a little uncertainly, and tried to be patient despite an increasingly desperate desire to throw Laurence to the ground and just take. He at one point in his life had had self-control, he was sure of it.

“You are still my captain first, aren’t you, Laurence?” Temeraire was saying, lowly, nudging at Laurence; he sounded a little ashamed to be asking. “You will not stay away for long?”

“Of course, my dear,” Laurence said, stroking Temeraire’s nose soothingly. “It is an entirely different thing.”

“I will return him to you in the morning, unharmed,” Tharkay said, perhaps overly brightly. “Mostly.”

Laurence glared at him as Temeraire’s eyes widened indignantly.

“He is not being serious, I assure you,” he said quickly, and then began dragging Tharkay across the field, quite ignoring Temeraire’s sudden volley of questions. A wholly unfamiliar sensation of giddiness overtook Tharkay and threatened to spill out into laughter; he had never, he thought, felt so light in his entire life. When Laurence continued to mutter crossly, he could not help but stop and take a kiss until he felt the mouth beneath his soften and open.

“I do not know what you are worrying about, anyway,” Iskierka was saying behind them. “It is not as though Tharkay is going to give Laurence an egg. Do you not remember that part of the song, where they—”

And then it was Tharkay groaning and dragging Laurence into the building, while Laurence laughed and the dragons outside began, softly, to sing.


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