The knock on his door is not expected, but when Tharkay opens it to see Captain Granby with a bottle hanging loosely from his hand, he finds he is not surprised. Granby holds the bottle up and grins, and that, it seems, is all that needs to be said. Granby walks through the door, and Tharkay's raised eyebrow falls uselessly on his back.
Granby rummages for two tiny glasses in his pocket, and makes a contented noise when both are located, and turn out to be not unacceptably dirty. He all but radiates unconcerned enthusiasm, if not for the fact that during these activities his eyes do not fall on Tharkay once – unusual for a man who likes to engage with people. He is meant to read the enthusiasm, then, but also perhaps the underlying anxiety. Tharkay leans against the now-closed door, and watches some more.
Captain Granby is known to like a drink, and Tharkay has noted that he likes to use this fact to lubricate awkward social situations. Well, all social situations, but that is common in his culture and not specific to Granby. It is also common for him to initiate the drinking, and this is not the first time he has shown up at Tharkay's door with a bottle of something or other. This is the first time, however, that he has come alone.
Tharkay opens his mouth to question the absence of Captain Laurence, then reconsiders. It might be more prudent to throw the opening gambit some other way.
"What are we drinking tonight, then?"
Granby's grin widens. For a moment his lashes form a dark shadow on his cheeks as he looks down to check the bottle. Yet Tharkay knows that Granby would not forget what is in his hand – Granby never forgets about alcohol – and so that too must be intentional. Effective, but also blatantly made for effect, and isn't that interesting? It is unclear whether it is Granby or the seduction he is performing that is the intended bait, but the combination is reason enough for Tharkay to want to see what happens next. Which, he suspects, is something Granby would know about him.
"Port. The last of the ruby ones, I'm sad to say, but the occasion merits it."
His cue is obvious, but Tharkay dislikes being fed his lines. It is not always wise to resist them, but in this case he might indulge himself – Granby is unlikely to make trouble for him for non-conforming, after all.
"That is a sad thing indeed. It has been a fine port."
Granby actually emits a harrumphing noise, and there is a curve on his lips that suggest a pout. Tharkay suspects that Granby is enjoying the performance, and then realises that he is enjoying watching it. He looks away from Granby's mouth and turns to his hands, which are still fiddling with the bottle. The rich colour of the wine is visible even in the bare candlelight of his tiny room. Tharkay wets his lips, and considers how best to precipitate the drinking.
"Aren't you going to ask me what the occasion is?"
Granby's tone is teasing. He is holding the two glasses in one hand and pours the wine without looking down, his eyes still keen on Tharkay. Not a drop is spilled.
Tharkay swallows, and knows that any attempt at a cool tone will fail.
"Do I need to ask? I would assume you will tell me when you are ready to do so."
A warm chuckle, and a quirk of the lips. Granby's lips are very mobile this evening, Tharkay notes, and then realises he has been cataloguing Granby's physical reactions for a while now. It is not like him to be so unaware of himself. The idea disturbs him.
"Always so polite, Tharkay."
It is also not like him to grow so distracted with his own thoughts that he loses track of the conversation. "Of course," he says, and shrugs to show his indifference. Granby merely smiles again, and nods, as if this were normal.
Another silence. Tharkay raises his eyebrows in a hopefully inquisitive manner.
"I have come to drown my sorrows."
No sorrows are evident in Granby's long, generally cheerful features, and the particularly toothy grin he is sporting at the moment suggests that none can be expected to arise. It is a rare thing to find an aviator who would wilfully and intentionally misrepresent himself – there is no need, after all, since their community requires no polite misdirection – and Granby, in particular, is known for his frank and open manners. Tharkay has long suspected that this is partly to throw Laurence off balance. It is something he rather enjoys doing himself.
But for Granby, then, to make a statement which is blatantly shown to be inaccurate, is interesting.
"And Captain Laurence?"
Granby's smile grows wicked, and Tharkay can feel it in his stomach. The first point goes to Granby.
"His sorrows have grown too large for effective drowning, and he has ceased to attempt it since it makes Temeraire fractious."
A drunken Laurence is indeed a sad thing. Granby has often complained, with a shade of incredulity, of how one can be a member of His Majesty's Navy and still be outdrunk by a midshipman.
"I see. By all means, let us then…drink to your sorrows."
Granby evidently hears, and chooses to ignore, the commentary in his intonation – he merely passes Tharkay a full glass, downs his own, and flops down on Tharkay's hammock.
"Let us drink, indeed."
Tharkay closes his eyes, and drinks.
By the time the bottle is finished, Granby is hanging upside down from the hammock, while Tharkay's lean against the door might be called a supportive necessity rather than an elegant sprawl.
Yet he is not drunk enough to start talking about Laurence. Not that Granby needs such an excuse, generally, but Tharkay tends to know better than to broach the subject, for the sake of both his reputation and his peace of mind. And it looks as if Granby does, in fact, need the excuse of drunkenness.
"He doesn't know."
Tharkay doesn't ask who, nor what. There are many things Laurence does not know, and for the most part, he is quite happy to for Laurence to remain in ignorance.
His silence, however, seems to convey more than he would like, because Granby, now sitting the right way down on the hammock, is watching him with disturbingly clear eyes.
"He doesn't know, and he is not going to know, because it is not in him to know such things. Even if you and I follow him all around the world, he is not going to see anything but friendships and, and, a curious accident in it. Laurence cannot imagine thoughts in others that he does not have himself, and he does not have such thoughts."
"You say that with great certainty."
"Where do you think I have been drowning my sorrows for the past week?"
Tharkay closes his eyes. He tells himself that he has not been entertaining hopes, that he has known all along that it would be foolish to do so. And it is all too easy to imagine, Granby with his bright smile and his shiny bottle, pushing against Laurence's gentlemanly habits with increasingly outrageous stories until the right topic is breached. And then Laurence's baffled incomprehension, followed by his earnest promises of secrecy and support. Laurence is a good man, after all.
"It turns out he did sail on the only ship in His Majesty's Navy where sodomy was unheard of."
Tharkay's laugh is not a sob, even though the threat of laughter turning into tears seems to be lurking by. He lifts his glass to his lips and drinks the last drop.
"So I thought."
There is something heavy and significant in Granby's tone, and Tharkay knows he should be paying attention, that despite all the wine he is still capable of paying attention. Then Granby is standing up, swaying a little with the ship or perhaps the wine, or perhaps it is Tharkay's own embarrassingly drunken lurch against the door, but Granby is standing, and suddenly closer, and his hand is pressed against Tharkay's chest.
"And so I thought."
Tharkay looks up, and blinks, licks the wine off his lips. Granby's hand is warm, and his breath smells of wine and despair. His eyes are wary, but sober, and his fingers twitch a little as he waits for Tharkay's answer.
"Yes," he says, leaning closer. "Yes, I see what you mean."