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[personal profile] novembersmith
I had the perfect birthday ficlet in mind for [ profile] softlyforgotten . This is not that ficlet, unfortunately. This is not even her birthday. What this is an utterly self-indulgent crossover that got entirely out of hand, but I dedicate it to her anyway, since she is likely the only one that I can shanghai into joining the tiniest, most ridiculous fandom ever. This is set towards the end of Victory of Eagles, in a very, very vague way.

Title: Three Candles Lit
Fandom: Temeraire/Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I KNOW *facepalm*)
Warnings/Ratings: PG-13 and entirely unbeta'd
Pairings: Laurence/Other, Laurence/Granby/Tharkay

Laurence could not sleep. The air was chill and wet, and every time he closed his eyes he seemed to fall into nightmarish ponderings, to see the faces of dying soldiers and to hear their drowned whispers on the breeze. He was long past the age that dreams of ghosts should haunt him, as though the waking day did not hold enough nightmares enough. Try as he might, he could not quiet his mind, could only attempt not to fidget too obviously as he stared at the lightening sky.

They had made a quick and quiet camp in the fields by Carlisle after flying through the night, and now man and dragon huddled together for warmth in the gray of dawn. Temeraire, for all his quarreling, had curled up readily enough by Iskierka’s steaming side, only muttering to himself a little when she preened drowsily. It had been a brutal stretch of days, their party divided from the main line by a French patrol, forced to scatter temporarily with hopes of converging again further north, and when they had flung themselves down at last into a wooded vale most had immediately collapsed where they landed, too weary to even complain about the lack of dinner.

From where Laurence lay upon Temeraire’s forearm he could see nearly the whole of the camp, see Granby tossing uneasily, huddled in a ridiculously rich red cloak that perfectly matched his dragon’s hide, and Tharkay nearby, face soft and strangely young in sleep. Even the posted guards had nodded off—Laurence could see them slumped together in a tangle of slack limbs. He could not quite blame them for negligence when he knew none among them had slept for almost two days now, but he still did not like the idea of being without a watch so close to a town. He was sure he had just heard church bells on the morning breeze—he had thought they’d landed well clear of any settlement, but then, it was difficult to judge distances in the dark, and they had all been exhausted. Perhaps they had flown off course.

It was unpleasant to see everyone lying so still in the gray morning mist, especially after fighting his way through uneasy dreams. Where he might have stroked Temeraire’s nose or curled more closely to his chest for comfort and warmth any other day, he did not like to wake the dragon now, not after hard days of retreat and loss. When he finally gave in to restlessness and drew himself to his feet, meaning to go pace quietly somewhere, a flight of black birds scattered from the trees in an explosion as loud as a cannon shot in the morning stillness, their hoarse calls audible long after they had disappeared into the forest. Laurence stood frozen a moment, pulse thudding, but the rest of the camp did not wake.

When he picked his careful way through Iskierka’s coils, Granby did stir and open his eyes, though he did not truly wake either, only peered at Laurence blearily and murmured something unintelligible about daisies, then turned back over and buried his face closer to Tharkay’s breast. Laurence stopped a moment to wrestle with a fond smile and a feeling almost of jealousy—they looked so comfortable, and he had the almost overpowering urge to join them, to be entirely inappropriate this once, to throw himself down and steal a portion of Granby’s cloak and not feel so alone. But he was still queerly restive, could not keep still, and they needed their sleep. He would only wake them if he stayed. He left reluctantly, hoping he could out-walk the strange tension in his bones and catch a few hours rest before they all needed to be off again. He would need the sleep in the coming days.

The leaves were as yet only a fine blur of green on the skeletal spring branches, and otherwise the woods were barren—bleak and stark, with a crooked black path that wound amongst grey trunks. The wood looked strangely familiar, though he had never been in this part of the country. Yet surely he had seen that low stone wall somewhere before, with the old, ancient well at its border, and beyond the next turn of the path there would be an old Roman road, lined with apple trees. 'I should turn back,' he thought, when his feet moved him forward and around the bend. The road was there, and when he looked down the length of it he could not see the end, only encroaching mist.

“The others will wonder where I am,” he said distantly, and stared at his muddy, blackened boots; he needed to turn around.

“They are still sleeping,” a voice said from above, and Laurence was not at all surprised to see a young man in the branches of the nearest tree, face very pale and solemn.

“Hello, Will,” the man said, and smiled faintly. He did not make any move to get down, but stayed amongst the boughs, enthroned in young silvery leaves.

“Hello,” Laurence replied hesitantly, and took a step further along the stone road, boots ringing in the still air. “Forgive me, but—but have we met?”

“It was a long time ago,” the young man said, swinging a foot idly. He was dressed very finely in black riding leathers, but his accent was almost coarse, more like Granby’s that Laurence’s own, a rolling lilt that made the simplest sentence sound of song. “You have grown since then. Do you not remember me?”

“No,” Laurence said, feeling abashed, and came to a stop at the base of the tree. “I must most whole-heartedly beg your pardon, but—” he broke off as the man leaned forward from his seat, holding on to a branch overhead to peer into Laurence’s face. He smelled of green things and cold water and--

“We picked apples together,” Laurence said suddenly, and the man smiled at him. It was the sort of smile to catch one’s breath, unexpected and sharply sweet, and Laurence remembered it from summers as a child who had slipped his governess and roamed through the old forgotten corners of the estate, where the stone walls were crumbled and the orchard had been grown over by wood. There he had made a great friend, an older boy who didn’t think he was too young to bother with, like Henry and George did, and who told the most brilliant stories and taught him how to climb trees and speak to fish and tell the future from the clouds, and who apparently hadn’t been as imaginary as everyone had said.

“You climbed the tallest tree,” the young man said, and it was strange—he did not seem to have aged a day since Laurence had seen him last, face unlined and hair the glossy, perfect black of a raven’s wing. “And said you wanted to go higher still. I remember you very well, William Laurence.”

“And your name is John—” Laurence began, and then frowned, because that wasn’t quite right, there was something he couldn’t remember, exactly.

“I am known as John to some,” the young man agreed, his eyes gleaming. “You can call me that, if it pleases you.”

“But it’s not your real name,” Laurence protested. He felt very queerly light-headed, as though he was still in the tallest branches of the apple tree, with the world was bending unsteady and fragile beneath him. There was something he wasn’t remembering.

“Perhaps I will tell it to you later,” said the man whose name was sometimes John. With a strange half-smile, he reached out a hand. Laurence took the apple from him, tawny red and gold, the dew cold on Laurence’s fingers, and abruptly remembered that he had not eaten since mid-afternoon the day before, and that neither had his men, or his dragon.

“Temeraire,” Laurence said, shaking his head and trying to clear it. There was a distant part of his mind wondering about the apple, about a ripe apple in early spring plucked from bare branches. The mist was still heavy on the ground and the sun still low in the sky, but he felt quite sure that a good deal of time had passed regardless. He looked back at the woods. “I should get back to him and the men.”

“They sleep,” the young man said carelessly. “Though I would be happy to meet your Temeraire. We do not yet have dragons in my kingdoms.”

“What kingdoms are those?” Laurence asked, puzzled, and wondered again at the man’s English, at the familiar and unfamiliar rhythm of it. “How did you get here?”

“All roads are one to me,” the young man said, and his voice had the wide, empty sound of wind in it. “I heard you were climbing higher than trees these days, and thought I would look in on you. I am glad I came. You have grown up well.”

“Not so well,” Laurence said, thinking of the last, torturous months, felt his mouth twisting bitterly, but his companion continued as though he had not spoken, and he was suddenly on the ground and standing quite close—Laurence thought at first to protest, embarrassed, but when cool deft fingers threaded through his hair he forgot exactly what he had meant to say.

“You judge yourself too harshly,” the young man said, tilting his head and considering Laurence. “I have always thought your eyes matchless among mortal men, and I am fond of your hair. You are also quite brave.” This added thoughtfully as he twined a lock about his pale fingers like a golden ring, and the faint pull of it did strange things to Laurence’s heart, made him breathe in quickly through his mouth. “And it is not the common kind of bravery. Will you come with me, William Laurence?”

“I have only ever done what is right,” Laurence said faintly. “It is not bravery. I must go back. They will be missing me.”

“If that is your choice, you may go,” the man said, and did not release him, only tugged lightly and brushed a thumb over Laurence's cheekbone. “Are you sure you will not come, Will? Have you not missed me?”

And it was strange, but Laurence rather thought he had—that he had felt the absence of the man’s shape in the world without even knowing it. He hesitated, and perhaps was about to reach out a hand when there was a strange faint cracking to the air, as though someone had sharply thrown shut a window, and then the young man looked faintly surprised and annoyed.

“Laurence, what the devil are you doing!” Granby called furiously from the edge of the wood, red coat startlingly bright amidst the colorless morning. Laurence blinked, and shook his head. “Who is that? And why did you leave without waking us, you damned fool?” Tharkay was stumbling behind him, uncharacteristically clumsy, Granby tugging him along by the wrist, and they were both walking strangely, struggling forward as though caught in a great current or wind.

“John?” Laurence said, confused, and took at step away from the apple grove towards his friends. “It is John and Tharkay,” he said, and made to go to them, but his companion caught him by the elbow and held him fast.

“They should not be awake,” the young man said crossly, then looked at Laurence and sighed, and suddenly the pair was surging forward, the air no longer impeding them and Granby’s angry ranting grew louder with each step.

“Iskierka does not give me a patch on the trouble you do, you bastard! No one would wake up when I found you were missing!” Granby growled, coming to a halt in front of them and breathing as fiercely as though he had been running full-tilt up a mountainside. “I had a beast of a time getting Tharkay up at all, it took me a full half hour, and even then I had to dunk him in the stream, and none of the dragons will rouse—”

“They are all fine,” the young man interrupted testily, and Granby shot him a withering look before turning indignantly to Laurence.

“Laurence, we are leaving,” he bit off, eyes flashing. “And you, whoever you are, you may go to the devil. I do not trust you in the slightest—you must have drugged our men, and our dragons—you have done something, and you are lucky I do not run you through.”

At this the man’s mouth quirked slightly, and the two stared at each other, Granby’s cheeks red with anger and exertion and his body jittering uneasily, the other pale and motionless, very like a statue but for the movement of his black hair in the breeze.

“Well met, John Granby,” the young man said finally, inclining his head. “I give you my word no harm has come to your men or your dragons. They will wake at the first birdsong.” He regarded Granby thoughtfully a moment longer, not seeming the least concerned that Granby’s hand was on the hilt of his sword, then looked back to Laurence. With a hot flush, Laurence realized they were still standing close together, nearly chest to chest, and wondered what Granby and Tharkay must think of it.

“Will you not come with me, William?” the man asked a last time. There was a faint wintery edge to his voice, and the hand that he reached out to touch Laurence’s cheek seemed to touch more than skin, seemed to sink to the core of him. At this Tharkay, who had been slumping damply against Granby’s shoulder and blinking sleepily, narrowed his eyes. He shook himself like a wet cat, and seemed to wake up entirely furious.

“He is staying with us,” Tharkay stated, clear and fierce, and reached out to wrap a hand around Laurence’s wrist, glaring up at the man’s pale impassive face. “He is staying here. You cannot have him.”

“No?” the man said, dropping his hand from Laurence’s cheek. He bent his gaze on Tharkay, who flinched but held firm, his hand an anchor on Laurence’s skin, and the day seemed suddenly much brighter, like a film of gauze and cobwebs had been brushed away.

“No,” Laurence repeated quietly, and the man’s eyes sharpened. Laurence stepped instinctively in front of Tharkay and Granby, threw a protective arm up to shield them, and said it again. “No.”

There was a moment where the world went very still, as though the very stones beneath their feet had breath to hold, then the man sighed irritably and folded his arms over his chest, looking for all the world like a sulky teenager. A few drops of rain fell sullenly at their feet.

“I suppose I must concede,” the young man said, and then paused, flicking a glance back at Granby, who had by this point unsheathed his saber and was holding it pointedly close to the man’s throat. “Though I would be glad to have the three of you join my court, if that is what bothers you. You needn’t be separated from your companions.”

“No,” Laurence said heatedly and glared at the man. “You know damn well that we do not wish to abandon our country and leave during the midst of a war. I cannot understand in the first place why you—why you would—”

“Oh, do you not understand?” the young man asked, sly smile back on his face, and quick as a stooping hawk pulled Laurence in even closer.

Laurence’s eyes flew open and Tharkay’s hand went painfully tight on his wrist, but the young man only smiled into the kiss, tilted his head to better fit his mouth to Laurence’s. He tasted of rain and sky, and Laurence found himself kissing back helplessly, speechless and utterly lost when the man finally pulled away.

“I will ask again one day, William,” the man said, and only smiled wider when Granby made an indignant, outraged noise. “You have grown up very well,” he said, almost gently, and pressed another kiss, cool and soft, to the corner of Laurence’s mouth. “Remember that.”

In the next blink the man was gone, the air ringing with his absence, and with him went the mist and the rain and the very road they stood on, and they were left blinking in sunshine. If it weren’t for the apple still in his hand and Tharkay clutching bruises into his wrist, Laurence would have suspected himself sleepwalking. Which, to be frank, would have been wholly preferable to standing in a dew-damp field in his shirtsleeves, with his two closest friends staring at him in horror and a kiss still tingling on his lips. He still felt faintly as though he were dreaming—surely he had not been considering—what had he been considering?

“You are the most infuriating person I have ever met!” Granby finally hissed, after a good deal of sputtering and glaring. “I do not even know—what do we have to do, Laurence, take shifts to make sure you don’t do something blitheringly stupid? Do we need to get you a bell, or a leash, or—”

“What the devil do you mean by that?” Laurence said indignantly, at which Granby grabbed Laurence by the collar and hauled him in, shaking him.

“You just went off with the King of Faerie for a jaunt in the woods, you absolute idiot! Do you not give the slightest damn for your safety now?” Granby shouted, and Laurence thought that was a bit much.

“It’s not as though I knew—”Laurence protested, coloring and trying to shake himself free, and but Granby had a death grip on his shirt, and Tharkay was hemming him in from the side, hand still clamped tightly around his wrist.

“I think what Granby is trying to say,” Tharkay drawled, with an undercurrent of anger in his voice that made Laurence freeze uncertainly. “Is that we would appreciate it if you would kindly stop trying to get yourself killed at every corner.”

“I just went for a walk,” Laurence said faintly, and then went quiet and still. He should not have left the camp; they were right. He had abandoned his post, again, and for what? Because he could not sleep? Because he had nightmares?

“The Emperors of France and princes of China weren’t enough, oh no, not for Will Laurence,” Granby was continuing furiously, shaking Laurence a little with each word, and Laurence did not move to stop him. “No, you have to get the attention of every insane monarch in this world and the next, and then you kissed him! You—you bloody moron! How could you kiss him?”

“He kissed me, not the other way around!” Laurence protested automatically and then flushed hotly, because whatever else, he had kissed the man back, and oh, God, Granby and Tharkay had seen it.

“You liked it,” Tharkay said suddenly, in a low wondering voice, and Granby’s fingers tightened on his collar, brushed against the skin of his neck.

“So, is that all you have to do, then?” Granby rasped, eyes wide and queerly bright. “If I kiss you will you just—just stay?”

“I would never ask such a thing of you,” Laurence said stiffly, painfully, and managed to jerk free of Granby’s grip only to be pulled in closer by Tharkay. “I know I have—I have disappointed you, but it will not happen again.”

“Laurence, you idiot,” Tharkay said, and Laurence was taken aback by how flushed and rumpled he looked, hair falling damp into his eyes and shirt coming undone at the throat. “You—it is not like that.” He hesitated, then slowly, giving Laurence ample time to move away, leaned in to press his lips against the corner of Laurence’s mouth, dry and hot, and for a moment all Laurence knew was the pounding of his own heart.

“I—what?” Laurence said faintly, and tried to catch his breath. “I do not—I don’t understand.”

The sun was higher in the sky, the bare branches of the wood almost cheerful against the bright blue, and somewhere a lark was singing. When Granby let go of his shirt and stepped back, face flushed and eyes locked somewhere in the distance, Laurence fought a strange feeling of disappointment, made a checked gesture in his direction that he was sinkingly sure Tharkay noticed.

I would stay anyway, he didn't say. But but but—

“Just be—” Granby said, and had to clear his throat, defying all the laws of biology by somehow getting even redder that he had been before. “Just be more careful, Laurence. We can’t lose you. We—we should be getting back.”

Laurence could not move for a moment, still reeling, before he hesitantly called out Granby’s name—and this was a name he knew, a John that was true and rough and human, but Granby was already headed back through the small stand of trees, fighting through the bramble and brush towards camp, where even now Laurence could hear the panicked rumblings of their dragons.

“Ask again later,” Tharkay said, fingers warm on Laurence’s pulse as they followed in Granby's wake. He had a bright, curving smile on his face and Laurence found himself smiling back, lighter now than he had been in months, strangely buoyant and hopeful. “I am sure he will say yes.”

"The Raven King," from Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, pg 28-29: 

Not long, not long my father said
Not long shall you be ours
The Raven King knows all too well
Which are the fairest flowers

The priest was all too worldly
Though he prayed and rang his bell
The Raven King three candles lit
The priest said it was well

Her arms were all too feeble
Though she claimed to love me so
The Raven King stretched out his hand
She sighed and let me go

This land is all too shallow
It is painted on the sky
And trembles like the wind-shook rain
When the Raven King goes by

For always and for always
I pray remember me
Upon the moors, beneath the stars
With the King's wild company.

And a tiny ETA for non-raving JS&MN fans: the colour red, among other things, is a powerful protection against enchantment. And also maybe possibly there is a slight chance that in the Raven King's world, John Granby would have been a magician too. *g*


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