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On the Merits of Patience

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At first, Temeraire was quite excited by the trip. Being sent to the New South Wales Colony was exile, to be sure, but it was also a victory. Laurence was alive, safe, and was not to be separated from Temeraire again. England, too, was safe—or, at least, safer, though Temeraire thought it would be safer still were he to remain there with Laurence. Lien and Napoleon were close, and Temeraire suspected no setback would be enough to dissuade them.

But even that vague concern was not enough to dampen his joy. Laurence had been thoughtful enough to request that several advanced mathematics texts be brought on board so that they could pass the time more pleasantly. They spent the first several evenings seated together, Laurence reading aloud in his steady voice and stopping occasionally to discuss the subject with Temeraire, though it was obvious at this point that Laurence, as intelligent and worthy a captain and human that he was, was a bit lost with regards to the higher levels of mathematics.

"Do you suppose I could ever meet Laplace?" Temeraire asked on one such night without thinking it through. "When the war is over? I have an idea regarding his statements on Bayesian probability."

A dark shadow passed over Laurence's face, and he kept his silence for several minutes. "My dear," he said finally, his voice gentle, "I do not know that they will ever allow us to return to England, much less make a visit to France."

"Oh," Temeraire said. "Yes. I suppose not." He was silent a moment, reflecting on the reality of exile. "There are always letters."

Laurence didn't seem comforted, though he lay the book aside to briefly pat Temeraire's flank. "There are always letters," he softly agreed.

"I'd rather have you than Laplace," Temeraire said firmly.

This, at least, provoked a smile, small and heartbroken though it was. "I feel much the same."

The evenings with Laurence continued to pass pleasantly. The days, however, were enough to give Temeraire cause to rethink his earlier excitement. In the evenings, Iskierka left Laurence and Temeraire well alone after Temeraire refused to be budged from the topic of mathematics. All other times seemed to be fair game.

"No," Temeraire tried many times, though this didn't seem to work.

"You're afraid," Iskierka taunted. "It's just a little water."

"I will leave the ship to catch fish with you," Temeraire allowed, "but there's little point to exploring. It's all ocean, this far out." They had been at sea for days, and even from his vantage point while flying with Laurence each afternoon, all last signs of land had vanished.

"Afraid," Iskierka repeated, smug and sure of herself. "It's been charted by humans. They haven't explored as much and wouldn't be able to see as far as we could."

"You're free to do as you wish, but I'm staying here," Temeraire primly informed her and settled himself down on the deck in emphasis.

Iskierka shot him a daring, jeering look and launched herself from the ship. When it had settled, Laurence walked over and said, "At least you shall have a quiet hour or two before she returns."

"I would it were more," Temeraire answered sulkily, though he knew it did not suit him. Close, prolonged quarters with Iskierka had granted her the ability to bring out the worst in him.

"I believe she's flirting, in her own sort of way." Laurence's smile was sympathetic. "Would it help matters to agree to give her an egg?"

"I don't know that I want her to have my egg." Temeraire glared at the deck. "And even if I did, it would still leave a long ocean voyage before we could try, and she would be as overly rambunctious as ever. Maybe more-so," he finished gloomily.

"The course of true love never did run smooth," Laurence said sympathetically.

Temeraire brightened. "That reminds me. I meant to ask—not that I don't enjoy the maths texts. I do," he assured Laurence, "but I was wondering if we might read more of the stories and plays. I find them interesting in helping to explain human culture."

If Temeraire had ulterior motives in asking—if, for example, he wished to do something Laurence might enjoy to take his mind off their exile—Temeraire had no intention of telling. Laurence did not ask. Instead, he assumed a thoughtful expression and said, "I can certainly ask the others if anyone has any books they might be willing to lend."

Laurence did indeed ask around as he'd promised, and his efforts produced a copy of The Taming of the Shrew. "One of the crew has something of a fascination with Shakespeare," Laurence explained. "He brought another two of the plays, but one is already on loan, and he is currently reading the other."

Switching to reading Shakespeare had no immediate noticeable effect on Laurence's temperament, but it did hold an unintended side effect.

"I would never be anywhere near so unreasonable," Iskierka said haughtily on the second night into the play. While Calculus had held no fascination for her, she seemed more than content intrude once they'd changed subjects.

Laurence had taken to humoring her. "I'm sure you would not."

Temeraire glared. "You would be nowhere near so unreasonable," he agreed. "Because you would be even more so."

"My dear—" Laurence began.

"You're the unreasonable one!" Iskierka huffed and turned away to her own corner of the dragons' side of the ship. Laurence turned to Granby, who shook his head and retired to Iskierka's side.

"My dear," Laurence began again, "is there any reason you're so unwilling to socialize with her? She came along for you."

"She came along for herself," Temeraire said before he could stop himself.

"Oh," said Laurence. His expression was one of epiphany.

"Oh?" Temeraire prodded.

Laurence seemed to consider his next words with great care. Temeraire attempted to school himself to patience, though he found himself increasingly irritable and on edge. Finally, Laurence said, "If you do wish to give her an egg, you have but to tell her. She was the one who initially asked you."

Temeraire stared at the deck plate once more. He said, "There are some things humans don't understand."

"Fair enough," Laurence said peaceably. "Would you like to continue the play, or—?"

"I would enjoy a return to Laplace, if that's all right."

Temeraire wasn't certain how he would cheer Laurence despite the exile if he couldn't feel it for himself.

Several days passed, and they returned once more to the play. Iskierka also returned, but she was oddly quiet, keeping all commentary to herself now.

"I almost miss it." After a moment, anxiously, "Do you think I broke her? She'll recover, won't she?" As much as Iskierka managed to irk him, the thought that he might have caused someone else on board to lose spirit was a terrible one, counter to everything Temeraire hoped to achieve on the voyage.

As if in answer to the real question Temeraire wanted to ask, Laurence fixed him with a serious stare and said, "Some things take time, my dear. People—dragons—are resilient. Sometimes all you can do is wait out their recovery and be there for them, after." Laurence looked away a moment, before turning back. "But for Iskierka, I suspect all you need do is apologize."

Temeraire thought on it that night after both dragon crews had retired to bed and Iskierka's breaths had evened out in sleep. Temeraire could be as patient as his captain needed. If this journey was not long enough, then perhaps Laurence might find some answer to his melancholy over exile sometime after they arrived. Temeraire had suspicions they might not even remain in exile long before necessity and the war effort called them home.

As for the apology—

"Would you like to go flying?" Temeraire asked the next afternoon.

"Haven't you only just been with Laurence?" Iskierka replied.

Temeraire looked at Laurence, who smiled and turned away as though to give them privacy, then back at Iskierka, who retained a look of defiance.

"I thought we might go exploring," Temeraire explained.

He almost thought Iskierka might refuse. She was silent a moment and looked at Granby, as if to reassure herself he was there.

"Maybe we'll find a shark," Temeraire encouraged.

"Fine," Iskierka said. Temeraire allowed something like hope to uncurl in his mind. Then Iskierka shouted, "Race you to the horizon!"

Iskierka launched off the ship before Temeraire could so much as unfurl his wings.

"Be careful!" Laurence shouted after Temeraire, and then his words were lost in the wind of flight. Laurence would be fine, Temeraire realized, looking back to spot his tiny form reach the rails of the ship. And in the meanwhile, he would not blame Temeraire for letting go and enjoy the chase. Catching an updraft, Temeraire determined he would set Laurence an example for happiness.