They were met midway across the Channel by a small party of English dragons Laurence didn't know, captained by silent stern-faced men who turned and kept pace as they flew on. Just beyond the harbour Laurence recognised the Allegiance, and was surprised shortly after to be signalled to land on the dragondeck and surrender himself to the ship's captain. Laurence did not know what to make of the order; he had expected to be taken directly to Dover, or perhaps even London.
'Politics,' Jane said succinctly. 'The Admiralty are squabbling over who gets to hang you.' She handed him a glass of wine. Riley looked distinctly uncomfortable. 'That's why you were told to land here. You are officially Captain Riley's prisoner, until such time as they make up their minds what to do with you,' she said, holding a second glass out towards Riley.
They were occupying Riley's cabin. He had yet to speak, after meeting Laurence at the dragondeck and indicating that Laurence was to accompany him below. It was all highly irregular and Riley looked conscious of it; he refused the offered drink. He cleared his throat. 'Laurence, I cannot say I understand why you took this action, but Catherine assures me that she would have done the same. I daresay I will never understand the relationship you aviators have with your dragons.' He offered his hand to Laurence who, after a brief moment of surprise, shook it firmly. Riley turned to Jane. 'With your permission, Admiral, I will take a turn about the deck.' He half bowed, with a somewhat awkward air. Jane acknowledged the gesture with a distracted nod.
'It's a damnable business of course, Laurence,' Jane said, when Riley had gone. She sat sprawled in her chair in her mannish way, and waved at him to take the other seat. 'You have shamed them - publicly and politically. They will never acknowledge, even, that the plan might have been ill-advised.' She paused to pour another glass of wine. 'Are the French dragons safe?' she asked abruptly.
'I believe so,' Laurence answered.
'Good,' she said, tiredly. Laurence looked at her. He noted the unfamiliar slump of shoulders, the lines of weariness etched in her face. That familiar jumble of feelings stirred in him anew; of wanting to protect her, though he knew her more than capable of protecting herself; of wanting to hold her, just because he could. Only, that was impossible now.
'Why are you here? Where is Excidium?' The absence of Jane's dragon made him uneasy.
Jane let out an abrupt bark of laughter. 'I am not here. Crept aboard before first light like a damn sneak-thief!'
'Why?' Laurence wondered. Jane had to know the risk she was running.
'For Temeraire, of course,' she said, as if surprised he needed to ask. 'Does not everything come back to the dragons, in the end?'
'For Temeraire?' Laurence did not comprehend her meaning.
'It is likely that you will be hanged,' Jane said bluntly, as though she were not talking about the death of her lover. Only the glass that shook slightly gave her away. She put it down abruptly. 'We must give Temeraire something to live for, if we can.' She looked at Laurence. 'We are fortunate - the timing is propitious,' she said with deliberation.
It took a moment for understanding to dawn. Laurence stared at her. He knew his face was awash with embarrassed colour, although it had been near enough two years since they first bedded together. He could suddenly feel his heart beating within his chest. He had never thought to hold Jane again, to lose himself in her arms. He suppressed the urge to reach for her immediately. 'Is there not a risk - you are not young - I mean to say,' Laurence stumbled to a halt, painfully aware that he had been clumsy with his words, but unable to think of a delicate way in which to ask the question.
Jane looked at him in her direct way. 'That is true,' she said bluntly. 'I do not expect it will be any easier than the first time, and I am not so young as I was. But I come from hardy stock - my mother gave birth to two children who lived when she was scarcely younger than I am.' She smiled her lopsided smile. 'And Temeraire is a very young dragon, with immense promise.'
Laurence felt such a surge of emotion then for the woman in front of him; there could be no more doubt - he loved Jane as he had never thought to love a woman in his life.
Jane looked at him unwaveringly. He had not given her any sign of encouragement, he realised. For the first time she waited for him to initiate their lovemaking. Tentatively Laurence reached out. Her hair was grown just long enough to be tied back now. He pulled the ribbon loose, combing her hair out with his fingers. Jane's eyes closed and her breath quickened. She reached for him and he went eagerly into her arms.
Laurence came awake reluctantly, becoming aware of a tapping sound. He blinked into the near-darkness, listening intently. It was coming from the window, he thought. He raised his head slowly but could make out little in the gloom. Then the shadow looming at the window moved away and Laurence caught a glimpse of the moon before it was obscured by clouds. The wind had come up during the night, Laurence realised; the ship was rocking gently. Then the shadow returned, and the tapping started again.
Laurence carefully disentangled himself from Jane's arms and moved to the window, shivering in the cold air. With great deliberation, he managed to open the casement with but a bare scrape of noise, catching it as the wind would have blown it open.
'Temeraire?' he whispered.
'Laurence, please come up,' Temeraire whispered back, the sound nearly lost over the sound of the sails flapping in the wind and the waves lapping against the ship.
'Is something the matter?' Laurence was aware of the irony as even as he asked.
'It is nearly dawn, and no doubt you will be taken away and I will never see you again and I cannot bear it.' Temeraire's voice was scratchy.
Laurence had thought back in Paris that he had made peace with his fate, but at the pain in Temeraire's voice he felt something squeezing his chest, making it hard to breathe. Laurence wondered if it was possible for a heart to break twice. 'My dear, you must not fret so. I will come up directly.'
The large head curved away from the window and Laurence fastened the window again, wincing as it banged slightly as a gust of wind took it from his fingers the last few inches. He turned to find his clothes, thinking he would dress by the moonlight shining through the window, to find Jane lighting the lamp by the bed. Light flickered over her bare skin. Laurence caught his breath at the sight.
'You must go to him, of course,' she said matter-of-factly, getting out of bed herself and starting to pull on her trousers.
'What will you do?' Laurence asked, as they were dressing.
'My lieutenant is waiting with a boat to take me ashore.'
'No, I meant, if you are - if there is a baby?'
Jane chuckled. 'I suspect the Admiralty will simply conveniently fail to notice I am increasing. Although, now that Laetificat is recovered, they may persuade Portland back to England, I suppose. It may be as well if he does come - it would certainly be inconvenient to be giving orders while nursing.'
Laurence had a sudden vision of Jane holding their child to her breast and he almost gasped at the combination of longing and regret that unexpectedly gripped him. Jane looked at him. He watched her smile fade at whatever it was she saw in his face.
Abruptly she strode to him and pressed a swift kiss on his mouth. She stepped back just as quickly. 'It is time.'
Laurence made himself turn away. At the door, he paused. There was still too much lying unsaid between them. 'Good-bye Jane,' he said, turning his face away so that she would not read his expression, and left.
Temeraire was watching for him anxiously. Laurence made his way quickly to the dragondeck, conscious of being observed, of furtive whispering as he passed.
Laurence climbed onto the foreleg Temeraire extended in invitation and settled back against the sleek warm shoulder. Almost certainly for the last time, he suddenly thought, bleakly.
Temeraire put his head down on his other foreleg, tilted, so that he looked at Laurence, but he did not speak. In such a way they sat for a while. Laurence did not like to break the peaceful mood that had fallen upon them. Eventually he stirred himself. 'Should a child be born of this night, I wish that you will love it as well as you have me, and that it shall be of some comfort to you.' Temeraire made a noise of protest. 'Let me say this, my dear,' Laurence murmured. 'If there be no child, I would hope that you would allow yourself to be taken to the breeding grounds, and from there find a way to slip away and make your way to China, and be happy there.'
'I will stay in England whether there be a child or no,' Temeraire replied unexpectedly. 'If I want dragons to be treated as equal to men, then we must be bound by the same standards of honour, and it is not honourable to sneak away,' he finished, with a touch of the old fire in his voice.
'Forgive me, Temeraire,' Laurence said. 'Of course you must stay.'
There was a pale glow on the horizon.
'I regret nothing that has happened since the day you came out of the shell,' Laurence said, hoping Temeraire could hear the conviction in his voice. 'You have made me proud.' It was difficult to speak through the curious constriction in his throat. 'I could not love you more were you my brother.'
'Nor I, you,' Temeraire agreed, nuzzling at him. Laurence stroked his nose affectionately.
And after all, there was no more to be said. Together they watched the sun rise.