"I do not like it. He has been gone too long."
"It has scarcely been a half hour, Temeraire."
In lieu of a formal response, Temeraire twitched his ruff in apprehension. He settled himself closer to the ground, haunches rising; he was not quite growling, but not quite silent, either. Tharkay supposed it was understandable, with much less than a year passed since the creature had been not only separated from Laurence, but believed him dead; it would make anyone possessive, much less a naturally greedy dragon.
Not that, of course, Tharkay was sympathizing.
"I still do not like it. Do meetings usually last so long?" Temeraire cocked his head to the side, looking up at Tharkay (a feat only possible by virtue of the fact that Temeraire's giant head was resting on the ground, so his eyes came about to Tharkay's hip).
Tharkay shrugged, "I do not oft meet with prison wardens, nor, I suppose, do they often meet with prisoners on formal terms. I doubt there is a precedent."
The not-quite-a-growl in Temeraire's throat jumped a decibel, and with no warning, Tharkay found himself being pulled into the dragon's clutches as a toddler would a favorite doll for comfort. Tharkay supposed the comparison was apt enough from Temeraire's perspective, at least, and focused the remainder of his intent on not flinching when one razor-sharp talon came closer than could be considered a comfort.
Laurence never flinched.
"So there is no knowing if things have gone awry. I do not like it, Tharkay; I do not like it, at all." Temeraire continued his aggressive hum, cradling Tharkay in his talons, and Tharkay was surprised at how fragile he felt within the dragon's claws. He wondered if that was why Laurence was so humble.
Tharkay doubted it, after a thought. It was too natural a trait to be beaten into a man by dragons, even one as stubbornly persistent as Temeraire.
Tentatively, Tharkay reached out to pet the dragon's head, just to the side of one giant eye staring fixed at the spot Laurence had last been standing. "I like it just as well." His words were quiet, and the practice of reassurance was not one he was familiar with, but, it seemed to do some good; Temeraire's discontented rumbling quieted, Tharkay was silently surprised to see.
The entire arrangement was a surprise, really; Tharkay had heard the tales of those who loved men (and women, he supposed) bonded to dragons, and how they were always second to the creatures themselves. Tharkay had, among other things, resigned himself to this, internally preparing himself for the inevitable loneliness and respite. And then, in a classical fashion that Tharkay really should have seen coming, Laurence breached the subject himself, and informed him that he would have none of it.
Which had of course started an argument where Tharkay suggested Laurence just ignore him unless he was useful, Laurence bristling at the implication, and Tharkay jumping farther into a dark mood by suggesting Laurence had already, followed by a great deal of steadily-escalating screaming, climaxed in Tharkay finding himself pushed to the wall of his cabin and kissed as a way to quiet him; that had of all things been interrupted by Temeraire, poking his snout through the cabin window and asking what they were doing, as it looked terribly uncomfortable.
Which at least answered the question of how they would breach the subject with the twenty-ton dragon.
"If he is not back in another half hour, we will go look for him." Temeraire grumbled in a voice that suggested he meant 'storm the castle' rather than 'go look'.
"I do not think that will be necessary." That seemed to get Temeraire's attention, so Tharkay continued from under the giant claw, "You waiting outside should be initiative enough not to do anything foolish."
At this, Temeraire's ruff unflattened considerably, and he picked his head up. "Oh, yes! And imprisoning Laurence would be a terribly foolish."
Tharkay's joy was somewhat subdued, what with him pinned beneath a dragon's talon and all. He'd seen these things seen rip a horse in half just the other day. "Yes," he said, and at that, Temeraire had begun petting him with that same claw, an act that was both unnerving (a horse, and then it had been two halves of a horse) and surprising (the motions were effortlessly gentle, to the point of almost being calming. Almost).
Not for the first time since the subject of their arrangement had been breached with Temeraire, Tharkay felt like a some sort of court lady's pampered pet. It wasn't that far a throw; when they had explained it fully, and managed to do so without breaking into an argument, and gotten Temeraire to understand (he seemed to have no problem with the idea of men's intimate relations, but could not fathom the laws against it, or why they would not be married 'like Riley and Harcourt'. After some prodding, Tharkay became suspicious that Temeraire just wanted to see another wedding) he'd taken it well enough after deciding not to be jealous of Tharkay. Certainly, there was little reason; Laurence spent an inordinate amount of time with him still, and though it had bothered Tharkay somewhat, he had seen what became of Laurence when he was not regularly in Temeraire's presence; Tharkay would have it no other way.
He had been bothered, though, and that had irrevocably lead to more arguments, which Temeraire had at this point gained a special joy in interrupting. Though that abruptly came to an end when Tharkay overheard a conversation on the very subject-- he did not call it eavesdropping, it was difficult not to overhear things said by Temeraire.
"This is all very silly," Temeraire had mumbled, "I do not see why you cannot both keep me company."
There was a silence, Tharkay remembered, which he had later identified as Laurence quietly laughing to himself.
"Yes, but I think he may be shy, Temeraire. You will have to invite him."
How that had lead to being picked up by his shirt and carried places, held like a doll in Temeraire's claws, and generally cosseted like an expensive toy, Tharkay did not know.
"But it is getting late," Temeraire said, snapping Tharkay out of his reprise constructed to distract from the giant talon hovering ever-so-gently near his jugular. "Are you sure he would not be imprisoned?"
Tharkay mumbled underneath a claw, "If I thought there was a chance of that, I would be already ushering you inside."
Temeraire nodded, as if accepting this logic, and then piqued his head up, ruff widening more than it normally did. Tharkay squirmed up in Temeraire's grasp, which had suddenly become far less restricting, but too late; Laurence, stepping into the clearing, had already seen, and had a smile on his face that meant he would not laugh, but was certainly thinking about it.
"I see you two are getting along well." There was a smile in his voice, and Tharkay's stomach turned over. Temeraire, for his part, thrashed his tail excitedly, still keeping Tharkay in his grasp, as he leaned his head down to nuzzle his captain. "I assure you, dear, I am fine; the warden is an understanding man, and asks only our assistance in clearing land and building structures for him, little else aside."
"I am very glad." Temeraire drew himself back to survey Laurence, checking all angles for any possible signs of maltreatment, "I would not see them put you in a cell, at all. Tharkay has told me of what those are like, and I will not have it."
Laurence looked over to Tharkay, somewhat forgotten since Laurence had reappeared, leaving Tharkay not quite crushed, but a little crumpled, underneath the weight of a negligent claw.
"...Then I will have to thank Tharkay for saving me the explanation, not that I mind." That smile was still in Laurence's voice; Tharkay could hear it, though not see, as a talon had moved to obscure his view completely, "In the meanwhile, I doubt he'll be able to hook onto your harness if you do not release him soon."
"Oh, you are quite right." And suddenly a weight Tharkay had not quite noticed descend lifted from his chest.
Tharkay tried not to cough too much. He did, however, roll onto the grass, and was thankful when Laurence offered an arm to help him back to his feet. He expressed this thanks quietly and quickly, and Temeraire made the odd puzzled sound in his throat whenever they did this; the dragon could not quite fathom kissing, as he was the owner of two large rows of dauntingly sharp teeth.
Politely, he waited until they were finished before mumbling, "I am sorry if I rumpled you, Tharkay."
"I assure you, if that had been the case, you would know by now."
Laurence tapped his shoulder, the closest the man would get to rolling his eyes. "What he means to say is that he accepts your apology and assures you he is fine."
Tharkay nodded, expression flat, "Close enough."
Temeraire seemed to accept this, and stood, stretching before edging closer so they could reach his harness properly, "Would you like to go back now? It is getting dark."
Laurence smiled pleasantly, which was redundant, Tharkay thought, for very little this man did was unpleasant. He patted Temeraire's side, climbing up and offering Tharkay a hand that he did not need, but took anyway. "That would be alright, Temeraire."
When they had taken to air, and Temeraire had found a path that did not involve flying directly over any villages, he said, "Laurence, when we get back, may we read Huainanzi again? Tharkay can say the parts you don't pronounce properly."
Tharkay, for his part, was beginning to become suspicious that Temeraire was taking special pains to include him. That, or show him off in front of Iskierka like the trinket Temeraire seemed to regard him. One or the other. Quite possibly both. Tharkay was beginning to find it difficult to mind.
"If Tharkay obliges?"
Tharkay pretended to think about it. "Alright." He almost smiled, and would have, if Laurence hadn't been watching. "But I refuse to make different voices for characters."