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Tharkay had had the dubious pleasure of watching Laurence and Granby being blissfully in love for several weeks now. It had become a grim catalog of watching their hands touch as they sat together at the morning fire, of the hot glances Laurence would shoot Granby at midday, and Granby then fumbling whatever he was holding, face heating and eyes darkening. Then there was Granby falling back in the marketplace, showing up later with an enameled black dragon, a delicate cloisonné Imperial that he pressed on Laurence gruffly, blushing before he hurried off to check the water casks again, and the soft, delighted face Laurence had made. Add to that the way they found each other instinctively in battle, and the soft cries Tharkay listened to some sleepless nights when the wind blew the wrong way, and how Laurence's formal expression would give way to an enormous grin as Granby rambled and gestured expansively.

He told himself he did not mind, much. Laurence had stopped looking so suspiciously at him when Tharkay interjected into their conversations; he now and again still caught the man staring at him with a strange expression, but it was more puzzled than hostile. He did wonder if it had something to do with Granby, who had taken to surprising Tharkay with cheerful questions about the local villages and caravans over coffee in the morning--after this, Tharkay had noticed most of the company had warmed to him, behaved more openly and included him in their conversation. Now when the captain and his first lieutenant frowned at their maps, he was frequently called over and asked his opinion. In return, he was civil about the great, glaring errors on each of the seven British maps, which had somehow managed to be spectacularly wrong in seven different ways.

“It is actually almost impressive,” he said one morning, pondering the entirely imaginary inland sea which had been drawn in the midst of the Shandir Pass. “One almost thinks it deliberate.”

“I shall be sure to pass on your compliments to our cartographers,” Laurence said dryly, and with a last annoyed look at the parchment, rolled the maps up for a final time and stowed them in the very hindmost parcels, alongside the pig feed and firewood. “I suppose we shall have to trust in our compass and our guide.”

“I will do my best not to let us wander onto the Siberian plateau,” Tharkay replied, and struggled with an altogether unnecessary glow of pleasure when Laurence smiled at him. Then Granby came up from behind them and stood very close to Laurence, and Tharkay watched an enormous grin creep onto the captain’s face when Granby began railing about the foolishness of the younger officers, who were making great pets of the ferals, "as though the brutes would not in the blink of an eye be creeping off with one of our cannons, because it is shiny." Laurence leaned into Granby’s side and listened with bright eyes, and Tharkay slipped away, unnoticed.

He had no idea what they had told Temeraire, who certainly must have also noticed the change in their behavior. The dragon was, as he knew too well, far from shy in carnal matters. On one occasion he had been coaching Temeraire in what little Durzagh he knew, with the eager assistance of the ferals. Despite his best attempts to change the subject, the conversation had eventually turned towards sex, and he had been treated to a great many monologues on the pleasures of being with Mei, to say nothing of the long recitations of Arkady’s conquests and the delights which he had wrung from them. It was as appalling as it was hilarious, helping to translate re-tellings of famous draconic orgies. He had been struggling to keep a straight face, only to look up at one point and find them all staring at him curiously—he had only time to feel a dawning alarm before they began inquiring about humans and how they managed to maneuver into the proper position without wings. He had finally fled back to the company of the other men, and spent the evening occasionally snickering helplessly while the rest of the company eyed him oddly.

But that had been before the avalanche—Tharkay suspected that Laurence would feel honor-bound to explain matters to his dragon, now that it was so obviously not a one-off affair at all. If Tharkay had gleaned anything from his acquaintance with the captain, it was that he did not shirk uncomfortable truths, or hide behind sophistry—he rather thought Laurence would look on hiding the truth from Temeraire as offensive as outright lying. Besides, if Laurence did not bring it up himself, Tharkay heartily suspected the dragon would make inquiries of his own, probably as innocently and indiscreetly as possible.

His theory was played out a few days after Granby had presented Laurence with the tiny enameled dragon from the Ladakh market. Most of the company was settling down for dinner, and Laurence had stolen off to the draconic side of camp with a grim, determined look on his face. If Tharkay tilted his body slightly away from the fire, he could see them out of the corner of his eye; Laurence very small next to the massive black head, which had bent down and nudged him curiously. And sure enough, a few minutes later he heard Temeraire exclaim, “Oh, that is much nicer than whores, I am very glad,” followed by, “What? I am not talking loudly. And I do not see why anyone would care—”

When Tharkay next saw Laurence he was bright red and muttering to himself darkly, and refused to meet anyone’s eyes over the campfire, and Granby next to him looked highly amused, unable to maintain a stoic expression despite Laurence’s glower. He leaned in to say something to Laurence, something quiet and private, not for the surrounding men. Laurence did not entirely lose his embarrassed hunch, but there was a smile on his face, after, and unless Tharkay was very much mistaken, he shifted a little closer on their makeshift bench and let their legs press tightly together.

He suspected later that Laurence had also told Temeraire about the sodomy laws, about the hangings and lynchings and beatings which frequently occurred in so-called civilized societies, because the dragon spent the next few days hovering protectively over both his captain and the lieutenant, glaring suspiciously at the other men; the whole camp had to be wary of his thrashing tail, though he seemed to relax as time went by and no one showed any inclination towards tarring and feathering.

Once Temeraire knew, the pair became even less circumspect, if that were possible. Tharkay was not the only one to have noticed, obviously--he had seen newlyweds with more discretion. He wagered the whole crew was aware of the affair, and he would not lay odds on even the runners being innocent now, especially not with Granby showing up one morning dazed and beaming, with the red marks of teeth showing beneath his collar, and Laurence sprawled smug and loose-limbed next to him. Most of the men paid little attention, other than to roll their eyes now and again when the two were late coming to breakfast. Tharkay had not realized such relationships were so accepted among the aviators, but most of the men had only grinned and joked good-naturedly when Ferris came racing around the corner of a rocky outcrop and stammered, red-faced, that the Captain and Lieutenant Granby were not quite finished bathing yet and that perhaps everyone else should wait until they were done to venture downstream.

He admitted he had been paying closer attention to the pair than he should, but he was still wholly taken aback when Granby slid next to him by the fire after dinner one night, and said over the rim of his mug, eyes sparkling, "You've been watching."

Tharkay stared at him for a moment, but Granby said nothing else, only kept grinning maddeningly, and Tharkay was forced to finally reply.

"Would you care to be more specific?" he drawled, heart pounding for no discernible reason. He had done nothing wrong. It wasn't as though the damned pair of them had been subtle.

"Not really," Granby said, and passed him the cup. Tharkay took it blankly; it was half-full and still hot. "Just letting you know we noticed," Granby said cheerfully, and clapped Tharkay on the back before heading off, whistling tunelessly through his teeth. By the time Tharkay remembered the cup of tea, it had grown cold. And, he noted bitterly as he took another sip, it was entirely too sweet for his tastes, anyhow.

That was the start of it. Suddenly Granby and Laurence went from being on the periphery of things, something Tharkay watched out of the corner of his eye, to never leaving Tharkay's sight at all. They walked next to him in through the small trade caravans as he bargained for spices and pigs, and peered over his shoulder midair, swaying against his body as he noted their position in his logs and tried not to let his hand shake as he wrote. At each dinner, they took to sitting at his side and appeared entirely unperturbed by his curtness when they attempted to include him in their conversation.

Now he could watch up close how they let their legs tangle slightly when they sat next to each other, how Granby's breath would hitch when Laurence slung an arm around his shoulders and toyed with his hair, could hear perfectly the sound of their mouths on each other when they kissed outside their tent at night, for anyone to see, and unless he was very much mistaken, they had contrived not only to move Laurence's tent closer to Tharkay's when they paused each evening, but they were louder, too. It had to be deliberate, that the gasps were no longer quiet and that he could catch snatches of names and soft curses as he lay in the darkness and stared at the roof of his tent and cursed his life and the existence of dragons and the very country of England, and took his own pleasure as quietly as possible. He wondered--he wanted to know, wanted to know how Laurence got Granby to make that noise, if he pushed Granby's legs to his chest, or took him on his knees, if they pressed their mouths to each other--he thought he could die from not knowing, from being so close and not knowing. And the next morning Granby looked at the reddened bitemarks on his fist and raised an eyebrow, and Tharkay very nearly stabbed him with his fork.

Laurence was the one that morning to look dazed and dreamy, mouth red and finger-sized bruises braceleting his wrists, and Tharkay had to struggle painfully with himself not to let himself stare openly. Then Laurence stretched, and let the sides of his untucked shirt ride up so that Tharkay could see the marks of teeth on his hips, and Laurence never left his shirt anything but perfectly arranged. He was still smiling when Tharkay, horrified, jerked his eyes back up.

"You look a bit out of breath," Laurence said blandly, leaning back. Next to him Granby was hiding his face behind his mug again and his shoulders were shaking slightly, and that was--that was just it.

"If you're quite done," Tharkay said icily, nearly shaking himself with rage and humiliation--was it not enough to rub his face in it, that they had to laugh at him openly? He stood to go--where, he didn't know, there was nowhere to go but the cliff face, and he was not so overset as all that, but he rather thought he might go find an out-of-way section of cave wall to punch until his temper had cooled.

"Wait," Laurence said, and caught his wrist, blushing when Tharkay turned to stare at him incredulously. It was one thing to appear to breakfast slightly rumpled--the aviators were in general disheveled in their dress; Laurence was likely only scandalizing himself by appearing without his braces. But there were still men sitting around the breakfast fire watching curiously, and the crew had paused in their packing. Even Temeraire was peering at the tableau now, which was, to be quite frank, terrifying. Lord knew what the dragon would say if this went on much longer.

"What?" Tharkay hissed, and tried to pull his hand free.

"I--" Laurence said, eyes huge as he visibly steeled himself. "I apologize, for myself and Granby, it's only--oh, dammit, Tharkay, we did think you would say something if you minded."

Tharkay stared at him and for a moment thought he was hallucinating. There were no less than twenty men and a dragon staring intently at them, and Laurence seemed to be saying that he and Granby had not been taunting him, that they--

"Oh," he said, and sat back down, blinking.

"I told you he did not mind," Granby said smugly, and reached over and stole Tharkay's toast.

If Tharkay had thought the previous days torturous, it was only because he lacked a frame of reference. At one point, Granby had leaned over his shoulder to peer at Tharkay's notes, as though he could even read the cramped foreign writing. It was obviously just an excuse to nuzzle along Tharkay's neck and drive him completely mad.

"You always smell so good," he said when Tharkay, thoroughly unbalanced, finally jerked away, wishing the Himalayan air a little cooler on his heated skin and grateful for the several concealing layers of clothing he wore. Laurence was watching them both with a wicked smile, and when Tharkay glared he only bent back over the compass, mouth still curving upward.

Then there was camp to be made, and Tharkay went through the motions of the evening light-headed and almost nervous, checking that the gear had been stowed properly and the pigs had received their next dose of opium, that the men were aware of the treacherous crevasses in the snow to the northwest. He lingered as long as he could in his tent, so that he did not have to sit next to Granby and Laurence at dinner, where he was absolutely, painfully certain that Granby would spend the meal licking clean the tines of his fork, again, only this time he would be looking at Tharkay while he did it. And then Tharkay would snap and make a wretched fool out himself in front of all the men, and he was not an aviator--he did not know that the crew's regard would extend so far as to include him, half-breed interloper that he was. Even across the cook fire from the pair of them, Tharkay did not manage to eat much, and finally abandoned his plate, bidding Ferris and Portis a good evening as he headed for his tent.

Night fell swiftly in the mountains, and though the sky had been a brilliant fan of pink and gold only minutes before, the world now was subsumed in deep blues. He was still standing at the entrance to his tent, watching the stars sharpen into life, when Laurence came upon him. Somehow his heart had been beating loudly enough that he had not heard the footsteps on the snow, and he startled badly when the hand fell upon his shoulder.

"You do not have to do anything you do not wish to," Laurence said after they stared at each other for a moment, his hand falling limply to his side and face carefully blank. Tharkay looked at him incredulously.

"You cannot be serious," Tharkay said finally when Laurence persisted in looking lost and hurt; he had to struggle to keep his voice level. "I promise you, if we do not get inside a tent in the next few minutes, I will not give a damn for propriety any longer. That snow bank looks decently soft to me." He tried out a rakish grin and found it settled nicely, especially when Laurence lit up and tugged Tharkay towards him.

"Well, the snow is comfortable enough when it is fresh fallen, I suppose," Granby said, coming up behind them and leaning the whole of his weight against Tharkay's back; Tharkay trembled. "But it devilishly cold after the first few minutes. Let's get inside, shall we? Will has been fretting about you changing your mind all day."

"And so you began your campaign of innuendo?" Tharkay asked drolly, thinking of how Granby had, throughout the course of the day, managed to stroke his arm suggestively and suck jam from his fingers and use every opportunity to lean in and whisper closely in Tharkay's ear. Laurence raised an eyebrow as he drew Tharkay into the tent.

"Oh no," he said dryly. "You should expect that from John on a regular basis now. I am only glad I will have you to divide his attentions."

"You love it," Granby said cheerfully, and flopped to the bedroll to begin prying off his boots. Tharkay would have done the same, but Laurence would not let go of his hand, and only smiled when Tharkay shot him a look out of the corner of his eye.

"I think," Laurence said, and reached over to undo Tharkay's collar. "You should let me do this."

His hands were deft on the buttons, and there was a faint flush to his cheeks; Tharkay had to swallow a few times before he could ask.

"You've thought about it, then?" Trying for nonchalance and, he suspected, failing--his voice was entirely too hoarse. Greatly daring, he reached out a hand to Laurence's hair, and Laurence glanced up from his task.

"Yes," he said, simply, and Tharkay drew in a shaky breath.

"You are getting started without me; how unsporting of you, Will," Granby said, watching them from the bedroll with half-lidded eyes, and Tharkay mourned a moment that they had to do this by the lantern light, that he hadn't simply dragged the both of them behind an outcrop that morning and seen them in the bright, alpine sun, but then Laurence had pressed a hesitant kiss to his shoulder, and he no longer found the quality of light concerned him. He had better things to worry about, like biting back a shocked noise when Laurence added tongue and teeth, about not embarrassing himself so quickly and completely.

"If you insist on being lazy, John, I will not apologize for it," Laurence murmured into Tharkay's skin, smiling, and trailed his lips further along Tharkay’s neck while Tharkay tried not to shiver too obviously.

"Oh, I like that," Granby said from where he was strewing the bedrolls about liberally on the tent floor. He got to his feet and slid an arm about Tharkay's waist, slipping a hand beneath his loosened shirt and stroking his fingers along the skin there. "If it wasn't for me, the two of you would still be mooning at each other over the cook fire."

"I do not moon," Tharkay protested weakly, and scowled when Granby grinned at him.

"You moon," Granby said. "Like a great six-year-old girl, and you sigh wistfully, and if there were flowers about you'd be rending the petals." And Tharkay would have rebutted this only Laurence had just reached over and stopped Granby's mouth with a kiss, and it was hot and wet and filthy, and right in front of him, inches away--he could see how Laurence bit at Granby's lower lip and feel how Granby arched into it.

"Pot meets kettle, dearest," Laurence said, pulling back, flushed and happy, and turned back to Tharkay, who eyed him with some trepidation. There was a good chance the night would end with his heart collapsing in on itself or his veins running molten and crisping him out of existence.

"Did you think about it yourself, Tharkay?" he said lowly, fingers tracing along Tharkay’s chest. "Did you wonder?"

“I did not have to wonder,” Tharkay said, and could not quite bring himself to be so bold as to take a kiss of his own, and stood annoyed and embarrassed and entirely uncomfortable in the hot tightness of his own skin. “Neither of you are especially good at being quiet.”

And Laurence chuckled and caught Granby’s hand in his, brought it to his mouth, let the fingers brush over his lips, and Tharkay watched as Granby’s eyes darkened, all pupil and lamplight, and when Laurence took the tip of one finger between his teeth and licked Granby made a familiar throaty noise that deepened as Laurence smiled wickedly, tongue laving out over the pads of his fingertips, before he pulled off and slanted Tharkay a glance.

“John can be ridiculously loud if you let him, it’s true.”

“Slander,” Granby said, eyes bright and voice rough. He leaned into Tharkay, whose arm went around him automatically, supported his weight. “So you were listening, then?” Granby almost purred, and Tharkay could not quite take his eyes off the wet redness of his mouth. “We thought you might be.”

And that was—

“Yes,” he bit off, heard Laurence suck in a breath as he shut Granby’s teasing, treacherous mouth with a bruising kiss, tasted the startled, hungry noises he made, licked along his teeth and his tongue and pulled his body in close, that he could feel the other man rub his hips against him in tiny, helpless thrusts.

“Yes, I heard you,” he said, when he had let Granby go. Granby stared at him, wide-eyed and rumpled and Tharkay felt thoroughly pleased with himself. Laurence’s fingers were clutched tight above the bones of Tharkay’s hip, and he let himself rock a little into their grasp, smiled when Laurence bit off a groan.

“I want to hear you now,” Tharkay said, low, and caught Granby’s hand in his, let himself breathe over the wetness Laurence’s mouth had left there. He took his time tasting each finger, the whorls of each tip and the sensitive webbing between, moaned around them when Laurence roughly placed his palm over the hot, damp fabric at the front of his trousers and mouthed Tharkay’s name breathless into the skin of his shoulder.

He wound up pushing Granby down among the tangled bed rolls, smiling darkly at the wild expression on his face.

“Yes,” he said, and began to snake Granby’s trousers down about his ankles with quick, deft movements, pausing occasionally to stroke and fondle along with way, and Granby panted and keened faintly. “Yes, that begins to sound familiar.”

“Yours too,” Laurence said then, voice almost unrecognizable, and tugged at his waistband a moment before abandoning it to pull Tharkay’s mouth to his, kissing him fiercely and battling with Tharkay’s hands at his clothes, shoving off the rest of his shirt and sending him sprawling next to Granby on the ground. “Let—let me,” he said, voice thick, and Tharkay stared at him, because really, what wouldn’t he let this man do? And then Laurence was bending his head down, burnished hair gleaming in the light and Tharkay tasted blood as his head fell back, and Laurence’s mouth was hot, indescribable, feverish, and Tharkay had experienced the act before, but not like this. Not with Granby slotted against his side and murmuring filthy encouragement in his ear and rubbing himself sticky and heated against his hip, and he meant to reach over—to do something more than just lay and gasp—when Laurence looked up and caught his eyes, hair messy and irises a thin band of blue and mouth wet and raw and then his cheeks hollowed and God, his tongue

“You,” he said muzzily a moment later, hoping he had not actually shouted out loud, that Granby had caught the noise he made with his hungry kiss. “You are a dangerous man.”

Laurence only hummed in agreement from where he was laying on top of Tharkay’s chest, smug and smiling, and leaned up to take a kiss of his own, and Tharkay found himself making yet another embarrassing, wanting noise at the taste on Laurence’s tongue, at the lazy thrust of it against his own.

“It seems,” he rumbled, pulling away just enough that Tharkay’s eyes crossed to look at him, that he could feel Laurence’s lips move as he spoke. “That you and Granby have that in common. He shouts, too.”

“That sounds very much like a challenge,” Tharkay replied hazily, and Granby smiled into his shoulder.

“An ally at last,” he said, and began tugging Tharkay out from under Laurence, who scowled and somehow became very like a leaden blanket. “We will have him screaming yet, Tharkay.”

“Well, perhaps not screaming,” Tharkay said, and heaved a shoulder up—Laurence relented and rolled over at last, sighing. “We don’t want to bring another mountain down.”

“I suppose we could always gag him,” Granby said cheerfully, a bit strained towards the end as Tharkay leaned over and wrapped a hand around his cock.

“Oh,” he sighed, and thrust up slightly, and Tharkay smiled at him, kept his grip loose and teasing.

“Do you have any oils, then?” he asked lightly, and his smile grew when Granby’s hips stuttered.

“I—yes, but—”

“If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion,” he said to Laurence, who had been staring fixedly at the movements of his hand, but snapped his eyes to Tharkay’s face at this. “If you would be so kind as to demonstrate how you have previously spent your evening engagements, I would be much obliged.”

He took his hand from Granby for a moment, wetted it with a long swipe of his tongue, and then replaced it, tightening his grip now in earnest. His own cock, staggeringly, hardened again as he listened to Granby gasp and curse softly—this had been right next to him, all along, Granby red-cheeked and wild and wanting and Laurence’s open mouth and dark, dark eyes.

“Do you take him on his knees?” Tharkay inquired politely, and Laurence went still and Granby moaned. “Shh,” Tharaky said, and leaned down to take a kiss, which wound up lasting longer than he intended, Granby having reached up and tangled a hand in his hair, holding him in place as Granby panted into his mouth and bit at his lower lip.

“On his back?” he continued a moment later, hoarsely, watching Granby’s face. “The options are limited in a tent, I suppose, but—”

“And you call me dangerous,” Laurence growled from behind him.

“Is John ever on top?” Tharkay asked, still looking into Granby’s eyes, at the sweat darkening the hair at his temples. “Does he ever—”

“You’re going to kill me,” Granby said, and let his eyes drift shut. “I did not—oh—I did not know it would be like this.”

And then Laurence was crowding next to him, and Tharkay’s hand paused for a moment as he took in the long, lean lines of his body, the silvery scars and shadowed planes of muscles, before being wholly drawn back to the task at hand when Laurence’s fingers joined his on Granby’s cock, shining with oil.

“Fuck, oh fuck,” Granby said, eyes flying open and hips jerking upward. “Please, I can’t—”

“He likes this,” Laurence said, and tangled his fingers slickly with Tharkay’s, stroking along the reddened flesh, twisting over the head, and gliding down along the soft skin at the base. His fingers were thickly coated with the sweet-scented oil, and rivulets ran down the seams of Granby’s thighs. “And this,” he said, softly, tracing a finger back, and Tharkay watched without breathing as he pressed it into Granby’s body, as Granby’s back arched. He was not sure he would ever have remembered to inhale, if he would have suffocated on his own want had Laurence not looked at him challengingly, reminded him to move. To take his hand and move it down, to trace where Laurence’s finger met Granby’s body in shocked wonder while Granby choked out the most appalling blasphemies that cut off when Tharkay slide a finger inside, next to Laurence’s. Tight and hot and God, he could come again almost from this. It was almost too much, matching Laurence’s ragged thrusts and Granby pushing back helplessly against them, a litany of “Please, please, please,” falling from his lips.

Finally he could take it no longer, and pulled away, ignoring for the moment the frustrated noises the others made, and crawled up to the head of their makeshift bed, hauled Granby up into a kiss, let him bit mindlessly at his mouth and jaw and maneuvered him so that he lay with his upper body cradled in the vee of Tharkay’s thighs.

“Tharkay, what—what?” Laurence panted, and then groaned and clutched at the base of his own cock, staring and shuddering as Tharkay stretched down and hooked his hands around the backs of Granby’s knees, and then Granby caught on to what he was doing and was helping him, letting Tharkay draw his legs up to his chest, where he held them in place, held Granby open.

“Well, Captain?” he asked, nuzzling at Granby’s cheek and watching Laurence redden from beneath a fall of damp hair.

“You—oh, God,” Laurence said, and then fell forward, fumbling in the sheets for a small stoppered pot and then slicking himself liberally with quick, wet sounds.

“Oh, you are—are brilliant,” Granby panted, trembling, and then all the muscles in his neck tensed as Laurence pressed in, and Tharkay stroked a hand down his sweaty belly and began stroking him again, timing it to Laurence’s shallow thrusts. He had to shush Granby again when he began swearing dizzily, shaking as though he would come apart.

“Yes,” Tharkay said wonderingly, and licked along the shell of Granby’s ear. “Yes, that’s it, John.”

Laurence looked almost in pain, eyes wide and mouth fallen open, each thrust rocking Granby’s whole body forward and shifting it sweat-slick along Tharkay’s, so that he had to bite back groans himself, burying them in Granby’s hair. He twisted his wrist and Granby bit down on his shoulder with a muffled, aching cry, spilling hot over Tharkay’s fingers, and Laurence lunged wildly forward and caught Tharkay’s mouth in a kiss, shuddering and sloppy, then collapsed and buried his face in Granby’s neck. His breaths sounded almost like sobs.

Tharkay was trying to think if there was a polite way to push the two dead-weights from off of him and to take care of himself, trapped aching and hard against Granby’s back, when Granby squirmed clumsily around and said his name, over and over, in a soft amazed voice, and it was only a few strokes before Tharkay gasped and came, and afterwards found himself strangely content to lay in a sticky heap with them. The tent was very warm.

“We smell,” Granby said sleepily, after some time had passed.

“I cannot do justice to the romance of this moment,” Tharkay said, and then sighed and struggled to a sitting position, marveling briefly at the marks he could see on his own skin. He was not looking forward to the cold night air, in this condition—sweat-soaked and exhausted, with what sounded like a good wind howling outside the confines of the tent walls.

“Where are you going?” Laurence said, confused, and after a brief struggle raised his head from the heap of blankets to peer at him hazily. “I assure you, you smell no worse than either of us.”

Tharkay snorted, then composed himself, and wondered where the devil his boots had gotten. They had to be somewhere. It was a tent, for pity’s sake—he had had them on when he entered.

“Back to my tent,” he said matter-of-factly, and was taken aback when Granby kicked feebly at him and Laurence scowled.

“The hell d’you mean by that, come back here at once,” Granby ordered, face buried still in the pillows. “Please don’t make me get up to stop you.”

“I thought it best if the others did not see me leaving here in the morning,” Tharkay said carefully, and extracted his boot from under a heap of coats and shirtsleeves of which, he realized in consternation, he had not the least idea of the ownership.

“Oh, as though—” Granby interrupted himself with an enormous yawn. “—as though Riggs and Ferris were not having it off daily. No one will mind. And anyway, Temeraire would stomp whoever complained. If you open the flap and let all the warmth out I will never forgive you, I hope you know that.”

“Come back to bed, Tharkay,” Laurence said seriously, but his eyes were warm, and Tharkay hesitated a moment.

“I am very serious,” Granby mumbled, and Tharkay was not entirely certain he was still awake. “We—will be mortal enemies. Forever. Oh, and get the lantern, would you?”

Tharkay hesitated a moment, then reached up and turned down the flame, and the tent was filled with darkness and the sound of wind and snow outside. He crawled back across the debris of their shed clothing, and into Laurence’s waiting hands, which pulled him down between the pair of them. Granby immediately threw a leg over Tharkay’s and Laurence tucked his head into Tharkay’s shoulder, and for a moment it was quiet and still and then Granby asked a bit forlornly, “We do not travel far tomorrow, do we?”

Tharkay hid a smile in Laurence’s hair.

“I’m not sure,” he said, and laughed into the warm darkness. “I suppose I will have to check the maps.”