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Taking Flight

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Arthur was the best at what he did.

He was a Wingleader, and although he was young, he was experienced in fighting the Thread that rained down on the planet, consuming all living matter it touched and burning the rest, and which could only be destroyed with the flames of the dragons his people rode. Arthur had been leading a squad of dragonriders for some time now. Everyone in his mountainside Weyr expected him to be the next Weyrleader; even Dom, the former Weyrleader, expected it, and had been practically training Arthur for it the entire time they'd known each other.

The erstwhile Weyrwoman, Mal, who had been lost between while teleporting not long ago, had had no intention of her gold queen dragon flying and mating with any dragon who wasn't Dom's bronze. With Mal and her dragon gone, there was a junior gold queen, Adrith, who would be taking a mating flight for the first time at any moment. The entirety of the Weyr had been waiting for her to go into estrus; she was the new queen, and her rider, Ariadne, was the new Weyrwoman. The dragon who could catch Adrith during her mating flight would assure his rider of the position of Weyrleader.

Every bronze rider in the Weyr was watching both dragon and woman closely. Ariadne had already taken several men to bed, preparing herself, not wanting her first time to be in the throes of a gold dragon's estrus. Arthur had been one of those men.

Arthur certainly expected to be Weyrleader. It was the goal on which he focused with all of his considerable intensity. He was destined for it. He was the best bronze rider; his dragon was the swiftest and surest. It was fate. His bronze dragon, Kereth, was going to catch Adrith in flight, and Arthur would be the next Weyrleader. Everyone knew it. Now the dragons just needed to fall into line. Dragons were strong-willed, but Arthur had his plan and sheer determination on his side. Most people respected him for his leadership qualities.

There was only one person in the Weyr who dared to poke fun at Arthur: the green dragon rider Eames. Like a typical green rider, Eames was promiscuous, flirtatious, taking men and women to his bed. He was charming, intelligent, an excellent fighter who had a strong rapport with many in the Weyr; but he saved his needling and teasing and criticizing for Arthur, and gave him nothing else. Arthur did his best to refuse to rise to the bait; he did not appreciate not being taken seriously.

And although he wouldn't admit it, the rift that had grown between them since they were children together and practically inseparable did bother him. But he couldn't let himself worry about it. It was to be expected: Arthur had Impressed a bronze dragon at Hatching and Eames a green. They had different lives now. And if Eames chose for whatever reason not to pursue him as a bedmate, well, that was his right.

-------

Adrith, Ariadne’s gold queen, had been irritable for a few days, her golden skin glowing more brightly. Ariadne had been agitated in turn, restless, having not spent the night alone for the past week. Not with Arthur, but then, Arthur had been busy going on Thread campaign preparation flights.

Every bronze rider and most of the brown, blue, and green riders were filled with tense excitement on the morning when Adrith flew to kill herdbeasts in the field below the Weyr, and drink the blood for energy. It was a sign known to herald a mating flight. Even dragons and riders who had no hope of mating with a gold dragon and her rider were stirred; the mind connections between dragons and riders were strong, and could be overwhelming.

With a piercing, thundering cry that echoed throughout the valley, Adrith took to the skies, almost suddenly even though this had been expected and desired for days. Ariadne stood wild-eyed in the middle of the Weyr, every bronze rider quickly finding her. Even some brown riders were there, watching her. The lust, the urgency was hot in the air. The energy of a queen's mating flight could go so far as to inspire orgies among those within her broadcasting range. A young queen's first flight held a particular thrill.

Arthur was at Ariadne's side almost right away, keeping mental contact with Kereth as he went, urging him upward, closer to the new queen. I know, I know what to do, Kereth replied, distracted.

But then Arthur sensed Kereth flying in another direction. Something was wrong. Kereth was chasing another, a dragon who was not a gold. Not the queen.

Walking quickly toward the edge of the cliff, he strained to see the crowd of dragons in the air. Other than the gold glinting in the sun, he couldn't make any of them out, not in detail. But he knew that the two dragons circling each other hundreds of feet below the queen -- a large bronze and a green -- were his Kereth and the green called Senath.

Eames' dragon.

"No!"

Arthur realized he was shouting, an edge of hysteria to his tone, his voice rising in panic. Oblivious to the other bronze riders around him, he shouted again, his voice echoing in the Weyr as surely as it carried through his mind to his defiant dragon.

"Kereth!"

The realization of his helplessness was swamping him, but still he struggled against it.

"Kereth!" he shouted again. Shouting wouldn’t force Kereth, miles and miles above him, to obey, but he wanted desperately to be heard. By a dragon who was paying no attention to him.

Arthur's earlier dragon-fed lust was now mixed equally with an all-too-human fury. Kereth was ignoring him for the first time, more interested in pursuing that flirtatious green dragon, totally disregarding Arthur's plan.

Eames was there on the cliff's edge too, watching their dragons, and through his haze Arthur realized Eames was grasping his hands, holding them against his chest, pushing him back from the cliff and a futile, wild attempt to get to Kereth, a total impossibility and not just because his dragon was in flight. Kereth was totally engrossed with Senath, unlike he'd ever been with any dragon before.

"No," Arthur said again, "no," still breathless and now hopeless, and then he was speaking into Eames' mouth, against his full lips, and Eames was stealing his breath away, pulling Arthur's body flush to his with impressive strength.

-------

Arthur woke up tangled in sheets, pulling himself with effort from a deep sleep that had been ripe with blurred dreams recalling his night with Eames, who now had an arm over him, hot and heavy. Once he realized he was in Eames’ bed, Arthur shrugged off Eames’ arm and sat up with a start, tossing back the sheets with clumsy effort, hastily tugging on his clothes.

Eames sat up. “Arthur,” he began, in a low voice. Arthur shook his head, standing. He was remembering what had happened with Adrith’s mating flight, as well as he could considering how muddled he’d been with lust.

A brown dragon, that of a man named Yusuf, had flown the young queen. He remembered that much. Yusuf was a smart man, capable enough, but it was unusual for a brown dragon to fly a queen. The bronze riders must be apoplectic. If Arthur couldn't have become Weyrleader, it at least should have been one of them.

"The queen has been flown by a brown dragon. I am humiliated," Arthur said, fastening his leathers.

"Are you," Eames said tightly.

Arthur turned to him, attempting to cow him with a look, but Eames stared right back. Eames added with deceptive quiet, "You seemed devoid of humiliation when you were pounding into me."

"That was dragon-lust," Arthur replied, feeling his face go hot. "Something you have plenty of experience with."

"Plenty," Eames echoed, watching him. "If you consider the marks on your neck to be part of this humiliation, I would remind you that you left some marks of your own."

Why was Eames of all people seemingly insisting that sex during a queen’s mating flight meant something, when until now he’d made a point of limiting his encounters with Arthur to mere flirting? "Dragon-lust! It means nothing," Arthur gritted out.

"Yes, you've made that very clear," Eames replied, eyes hard and glittering, boring through Arthur for a moment before he turned away, as if he didn't like what he saw. Eames had looked at him disapprovingly before, but this cut of profound disappointment was something Arthur had never had directed at him, or for that matter, seen Eames direct at anyone before.

Without another word, he took his leave, garnering some relief from the fact that he was awake early enough to encounter no one on his way back to his quarters.

-------

The only comfort Arthur could find was that it was entirely possible that Kereth could fly Adrith on her next estrus, and Arthur would then replace Yusuf. He thought of little else, although he did find himself thinking of that look Eames had given him after their night together. Eames, for his part, ignored Arthur except when it was necessary to speak with him for Weyr-related matters. When they spoke, Eames was brisk, with none of the playfulness he’d once shown toward him. Arthur told himself he didn’t miss it at all.

Months later, it happened: Kereth caught up to Adrith, and Arthur found himself in Ariadne's bed for the second time.

It was missing something he'd had with Eames, but no matter. He was Weyrleader now.

That was what he wanted.

-------

Ariadne was a good Weyrwoman, competent and decisive despite her youth. She and Arthur worked well together. But he had to admit, if only to himself, that something was missing. Ariadne slept with her head on his shoulder and it was pleasant enough being with her, but not only did he see her gaze following Yusuf whenever he was near, Arthur still found himself thinking of Eames.

He even found himself remembering the first time they’d kissed, back before they’d Impressed. They’d stolen a moment to play, despite the fact that they were starting to get too old for such things, Eames especially. Arthur had been running away from Eames, laughing, and Eames had caught him around the waist. “I’ve caught you, and now I’ll kiss you,” he remembered Eames crowing. He had turned in Eames’ arms to retort, but Eames tipped his chin and kissed him then, firm. Arthur had pushed Eames away, face hot, playing it off with a laugh, as if this were just more of the game. And maybe it had been.

These days, Eames certainly hadn’t allowed his reputation to diminish. While he no longer flirted with Arthur, he was still a notorious seducer, of both men and women. Arthur remembered the moment when he’d thought, after the long-ago kiss, that Eames might have felt him to be special.

Then they’d Impressed, and Eames had made it clear that he was perfectly suited for the hedonistic life of a green rider, but that his regard for Arthur did not extend beyond teasing. The night Kereth had flown Senath couldn’t have changed that. Arthur had been just another notch on Eames’ belt, and not the only bronze rider.

Kereth flew Adrith for her next few flights. It was really a remarkable display of monogamy, for dragons. It was almost as singular as Dom and Mal’s dragons’ consistent mating. The only difference was that, for all their affection with each other and the way they got along, Arthur and Ariadne did not feel for each other the deep love Dom and Mal had felt. They were, however, mounting a massive campaign to fight an expected onslaught of Thread, and it was for the best that they stayed together for now.

Arthur once jokingly asked Kereth why he kept flying Adrith and not Senath. Because you are angry with Eames, Kereth replied, simply, quietly. That was all that was said on the matter. Still, he knew Kereth was not really happy. The guilt weighed on him.

At dawn on the first day of their campaign, Arthur’s squad of dragons took flight. He’d noticed, before they left, that Dom was pale, dazed-eyed. He seemed ill, but when Arthur inquired as to his fitness for battle, Dom had said he’d had a mild fever the night before, and was over it. They needed all the riders they could fly, and Arthur decided the look in Dom’s eyes and the shake in his voice couldn’t mean much. Dom was usually resilient and would probably snap out of it.

As they took off, Arthur was flanked by Eames and Dom, his best riders. They wasted no time flying toward the thick of the falling Thread.

Kereth and Dom’s dragon Rynath were strong flyers who produced powerful flames. Although Senath was smaller and lighter, she was fast, able to weave out of the way of the Thread with remarkable skill.

Things were going well. Then, Arthur heard a sudden sharp scream. “Mal, no!”

He whipped his head to the right to see an ashen-faced Dom, waving his arms frantically. Confused, Arthur looked around, trying to find what Dom was looking at. Had Mal somehow reappeared?

Then, another voice, shouting in pain. He turned to see Eames with his arms over his head, Thread scoring through the thick leather of his armguards. Dom had caused them to let their guard down. Eames’ dragon was being struck as well, but was trying her best to concentrate on maneuvers despite the pain. Kereth and the other dragons tried to flame away the remaining Thread raining down onto them all.

“Eames!” Arthur shouted. “Are you all right? Can you make it back?”

“I can!” Eames replied, wheeling Senath about, but without flying off. “Can you manage without me?” It must have taken him great effort to even speak, considering what pain he must be in, and his dragon as well. It was truly a testament to their skill and experience that they were waiting for Arthur to dismiss them before going between, back to the Weyr.

“Yes! Go! We’ll finish up and bring in the rear!”

Senath and Eames blinked out of sight, going between.

-------

As the rest of the squad flew back, burning Thread on their way, Arthur felt a sudden weight of guilt in his stomach. He’d never seen Eames so badly scored, and certainly not on his watch. This wouldn’t have happened if he’d kept Dom grounded. His eye was on Dom, who was silent, stricken. The only reason Arthur hadn’t gone between to get back faster was that he needed to watch Dom, and Dom for his part avoided going between for fear that he’d be tempted to spend eternity searching for Mal. He’d told Arthur before that he blamed himself for her being lost.

The moment they landed, Arthur guided Dom with him to the infirmary, passing him to Ariadne, saying to her under his breath, “I need you to make sure Dom doesn’t fly out. He’s not well, he’s hallucinating.”

Ariadne was excellent in a crisis, and she took charge of getting Dom and the other wounded seen to, although most had minor burns and none were so bad off as Eames. Arthur had to wash off soot, and strip out of his damaged armor. But all he could think about was Eames.

He went to the attendant. “How is Eames?”

“He was in a lot of pain. He’s sleeping now, over there.”

Arthur went directly to Eames’ cot. He was indeed asleep, most likely heavily drugged, his arms coated in salve and bandaged. The soot had been wiped from his face, the minor burns there treated.

“I’m staying here for the duration,” Arthur told the attendant. He drew up a chair.

Eames slept for hours. Ariadne came by to check on him and then brought Arthur some water, food, and his notes, to give him something to look through while he stood watch. “Dom is in his room,” she told him in a low voice. “He and his dragon have been sedated.”

Arthur nodded.

“What happened?” she asked, cautiously curious.

Arthur sighed, and shrugged. “I’m not sure. He was most likely hallucinating due to illness, or madness. I should have seen it, I should have grounded him. If I’d done that, Eames wouldn’t be here. I endangered everyone and he’s paid the price.”

Ariadne cupped his jaw and kissed his forehead, despite the fact that Arthur was still covered in soot. “You can’t think like that,” she admonished, voice gentle. “You couldn’t have known.”

He covered her hand, and nodded.

“Don’t you want to get cleaned up?” she asked, dropping her hand, putting both on her hips, in full Weyrwoman mode.

Arthur looked over at Eames, and thought he caught a brief glimpse of the man’s eyes fluttering closed, as if he’d been awake. That was unlikely, given how heavily he must be medicated. “Bring me a cloth. I don’t want to leave until he wakes up.”

Ariadne went to get the cloth and returned in short order. “Go on to bed,” he told her, smiling.

“Send for me if you need anything,” she said, and kissed him.

Arthur glanced over at Eames as Ariadne left, and again thought he saw his eyelids flutter. Maybe he was dreaming. Arthur wiped his own face and hands clean, and settled in for some sleep.

He awoke hours later at the sounds of stirring, and someone’s voice. The attendant had awakened Eames in changing his dressings. “It’s fine,” Eames was saying, voice hoarse, face drawn and pale in the lamplight. Arthur looked at the deep, deep red welts on Eames’ arms, the way Eames closed his eyes and breathed deeply against the pain as more salve was applied, but kept still without saying a word. When the attendant left to retrieve more pain medication, Eames looked over at him. They were both silent for a while.

“Why are you here?” Eames asked finally.

“Do you wish me to leave?”

“No.” Eames looked away. His voice was so low Arthur almost couldn’t hear it. “I wish to know why a Weyrleader would be attempting to sleep in an infirmary chair rather than in bed with his Weyrwoman.”

“Why do you think I’m here?”

Eames glanced at him again, raising his eyebrows with a little, bitter laugh. “I’m sure I don’t know.”

The attendant returned with the pain medication and administered it. “Sleep,” she admonished Eames. “Your Weyrleader will stay by your side.” Eames muttered something in reply to that, but closed his eyes. He was soon asleep.

The attendant offered Arthur a cot now that one was free, but he refused. She cast him a brief odd look for his unusual behavior, but said nothing. With the infirmary quiet in the wee hours of the morning, he quickly fell asleep again.

At dawn, Arthur’s growling stomach awakened him. He stood, stumbling a bit, stretching the aches from his bones. He realized Eames was awake as well, watching him.

“Why are you still here?” Eames said, his voice sounding clearer but still tired. “I don’t need you to stay with me.”

Eames was not meeting his eyes; he was trying to school his face into a show of neutrality rather than the sullenness Arthur could see threatening to downturn his mouth.

“I wanted to stay. I was responsible for allowing Dom to fly.”

“Ah, guilt,” Eames said. “You needn’t have worried. These things happen, and I’ll have some nice scarring to show for it.” He gave Arthur a sharp, sardonic grin. Arthur was saved from replying by the arrival of the attendant, bringing Eames food.

Reminded of how hungry he was, Arthur picked up his notes. “I shall leave you to your convalescence, Eames, alone, as you desire,” he said. Eames merely grunted dismissively in reply as Arthur made to leave.

They didn’t see each other for a few days. Arthur was purposefully avoiding the infirmary, and he could only assume Eames was avoiding him as well.

Ariadne mentioned to him one morning that Eames was up and about, trying to find work to do. Still recovering as he was, he couldn’t fight Thread, but there were other ways he could make himself useful. Ariadne, aware of the existence of tension between Arthur and Eames but not fully aware of its origins or intensity, put together a suitable plan when they received word that a nearby Weyr had a clutch of eggs and not enough children to present a sizeable group for Impressions, while their resources were all applied to fighting Thread. She recommended sending Eames with a party to surrounding Holds and villages to find children of the right age. Eames agreed to it, and set off.

Eames was gone for the better part of a month; they got word that in addition to finding children at a number of surrounding Holds and bringing them to the Weyr in need, he’d also found odd jobs bringing supplies to those who needed them.

His absence shouldn’t have bothered Arthur as much as it did. He’d been used to his teasing, flirting, and observations for years; when those had stopped, he’d at least gotten used to his simple presence, seeing the warm smiles he had for others, and his formidable skills in flight. Arthur wouldn’t have admitted it, but he even missed the sound of Eames’ voice. He tried to busy himself not only in his usual tasks but in keeping Dom company as well. Dom still seemed dazed, but he was under the care of a healer named Robert, who for all his melancholy was quite empathetic.

Arthur didn’t breathe a word about it, but he couldn’t help wondering whose beds Eames had shared. It was none of his business, but he still found himself thinking of it. He even found himself drifting back to their night together, remembering a caress, trying to recall what Eames had said to him but unable to do so because of the fog of lust they’d been under. There were things he thought he remembered, but he could never decide if they were just examples of his own wishful thinking.

On the day Eames’ party returned, most of the Weyr was there to meet them as they flew in. Arthur stood watch. He saw Eames, smiling, glowing with health, helping a pair of shy-seeming children who hadn’t Impressed at the other Weyr. Standing, he caught Arthur’s eye, his smile faltering. Arthur nodded briefly, and Eames recovered, turning away after a cursory nod, rejoining the group which was escorting the children to their quarters.

Arthur was struck by how handsome Eames was. No, it was more than that: he was beautiful. Arthur had always known Eames was good-looking, of course. But apparently it took a long absence for him to truly realize it.

Ariadne came to his side, touched his forearm. “It looks to have been a successful mission,” she remarked, satisfied. “We can hope to receive equally good aid when we’re in need.” She folded her arms and leaned on him, thoughtful.

Arthur nodded absently and put an arm around her, still watching Eames, who spared him one last look on his way out of the hall.

The Weyr feasted that night, in honor of the party’s return, and as a welcome to those who were new and visiting. The cooks had been working from the moment they heard the party was on their way back.

At the long table, Arthur couldn’t seem to stop watching Eames, the way he spoke to everyone around him but did so in a way that made it seem as though he only had eyes for each of them. He winked, he cajoled, he laughed. He licked wine from his lips. He leaned in close to speak low to a young woman with beautiful red hair, and returned her kiss. He ignored Arthur.

Ariadne, tipsy, nudged Arthur and rested her head against his shoulder, aware of his distraction but most likely ignorant of its cause. It was late, and people were starting to retire. Arthur tore his gaze from Eames, made himself engage in some polite conversation, and excused himself and Ariadne after a time, saying they were both tired. Ariadne took his hand and followed him back to their quarters. Arthur didn’t let himself look back to see if Eames was watching them go.

Ariadne fell asleep rather quickly; she was easily tired these days, making some wonder aloud if she was expecting, though Arthur knew she was not. Arthur did not find sleep so easily, in fact, did not find it at all. Finally, he got up and started to walk aimlessly through the halls. No one was up at this hour, and if they were, they would not be surprised at the sight of a Weyrleader walking the halls, especially one as meticulous and conscientious as Arthur.

His footsteps were nearly silent, out of habit, not because he was particularly trying to hide himself. He found himself pondering Eames, and then suddenly, from down the hall he was walking he heard a low, intimate chuckle. The man himself. His soft laugh was followed by a quiet feminine exclamation, and Arthur froze for a moment, remembering the redhead at the feast. A few steps further, and he slowed his walk entirely, not wanting to stop and listen but finding himself compelled by something more serious than mere curiosity. Low discussion, the sounds of kisses, and a sudden soft feminine moan, and Arthur shook himself out of his daze, turning on his heel and walking back to his quarters, managing just in time to keep quiet.

Why should he be bothered? This was a Weyr, and Eames was a green rider. Arthur had no claim on him. In fact, Eames had made it clear enough that no claim would even be welcome from him. It should be none of Arthur’s concern.

Back at their quarters, Ariadne was sound asleep. Arthur got back into bed and tried to sleep, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Eames in bed with that redheaded woman, couldn’t stop trying to conjure up images to go with what he’d heard. He was hard, and considered waking Ariadne, but that would hardly be considerate. Besides, she might ask questions. No, better to take care of this himself.

He resolved at first not to think about Eames, but that quickly proved to be folly. He did keep quiet as he came, however, biting his lip as he pictured Eames with the redheaded woman, feeling his blush intensify as he did.

Immediately afterward, cleaning himself up, he realized that other than his physical release, he didn’t feel that much better. He did, however, sleep.

-------

There was soon to be another Hatching. Adrith was fertile enough, although she had yet to lay a golden queen egg. Despite the length of time she’d been with Arthur, Ariadne was not expecting, and Arthur was secretly relieved. As far as he was concerned, the most important aspect of their partnership, aside from how well they worked together, was the birth of more dragons. This, at least, was being accomplished. Ariadne, still young, had expressed no strong wishes to be a mother just yet, and Arthur, for his part, felt no call to be a father. If it were fated to be, it would be, he supposed.

There was, significantly, no queen egg in this clutch either. That was fine; this was only Adrith’s third clutch, after all.

Arthur was doing his usual rounds of walking the halls and checking that everything was in order when he saw Eames, shoulder leaning against the wall, facing away from Arthur. He was holding his wrist, it seemed, inspecting his forearm.

Swallowing, Arthur approached him. He hadn’t said more than two words to Eames outside of Thread campaign-related talk for ages.

“How is your scarring?” he asked, voice low. Eames looked up, startled, then seemingly astonished when he realized Arthur was addressing him. However, he hid it quickly, making his expression distant. He turned to face Arthur fully, cupping his hand over his arm. “It’s fine,” he said, guarded.

Arthur gently moved Eames’ hand to look at his scarring, and heard Eames’ intake of breath. He inspected the angry marks on Eames’ skin, glancing at his other arm as well. “It is healing, but it must still hurt,” he commented softly.

“It does,” Eames said, rather stiffly. “Not always,” he amended. “I can control it with salve when it gets especially bad.”

“I’m glad,” Arthur said. “I don’t like to see you hurt.”

Eames scoffed, and seemed as if he were going to add something, but said nothing further on the matter. He took back his arm from Arthur’s loose hold and politely took his leave.

-------

The Hatching was relatively uneventful, as were the previous two -- no children clawed too badly, no dramatics over a certain child not Impressing, no dragons left out. As usual, the people of the Weyr were happy to see Impressions take place, the bonds starting to form between riders and dragons. It always made Arthur feel nostalgic for when he first met Kereth, the love he felt pouring off the dragon. He knew Kereth was still unhappy, and that Kereth most likely wouldn’t put up with it for much longer.

Now, of course, it was only a matter of time until the queen took to the air again.

-------

Some weeks later, she did.

Kereth had seemed agitated that morning, becoming even more so when the queen flew off to blood her kill in the fields below. What if I do not fly her, Kereth asked Arthur, stretching his wings fretfully. Will you be cross with me?

Arthur stroked his dragon’s neck in an attempt to soothe him. “Do as you must,” he said. “I will not be upset with you.”

He was much less surprised this time when Kereth made a beeline for Senath, the little green. If the others were surprised, Arthur didn’t know or care, considering how quickly Eames found him and ushered him to his quarters, the two of them barely able to keep their hands off each other before they were completely sheltered within, alone.

Eames wasted no time working to shed Arthur’s leathers, Arthur opting instead to wrap himself around Eames and kiss him. If he had to choose between kissing and undressing, he was going to choose kissing, at least for now. Eames’ crafty hands worked even as they kissed, and Arthur felt a pang thinking of how practiced Eames must be, with this being only their second time together.

He had missed Eames, he was realizing, had hungered for him. He could sense Kereth’s delight in being with Senath again, as well as the intense feeling of lust emanating from the queen’s mating flight, which was influencing them all. But it was different with Eames this time; Arthur was more interested in kissing back, learning his body like a lover rather than a man in the throes of dragon-lust. Eames’ mouth was all over him and Arthur’s hands were all over Eames, digging into his muscle, keeping him close. Eventually, almost despite themselves, they were free of clothing, wrapped around each other on Eames’ bed.

Soon enough, Eames wrapped his legs around Arthur, arms going to hold him close as Arthur sank into him, sighing in relief.

-------

Arthur woke up in Eames’ bed again. This time, however, things were very different. He stayed wrapped in his arms, allowing himself to wake up slowly to Eames’ sleepy kisses to his neck, his ears. Eames pulled him to his chest and hummed, pleased, and Arthur fell asleep again for a while. He and Eames took their time getting out of bed, saying little to each other.

After he’d parted from Eames and eaten, he finally made his way to where his dragon slept. He’d been able to sense Kereth’s happiness, both his own and that he felt for Arthur, last night. Now, Kereth, well rested, was awake and eager to receive Arthur’s caresses as he breakfasted.

You are so much happier, Kereth said. I knew you would be. Arthur just chuckled softly and stroked his dragon’s neck. Kereth was happier as well, and what dragons wanted usually won the day. Luckily, their wants seemed to fit together neatly this time, Arthur was realizing.

He could remember more things from last night than he was able to from his first night with Eames. He could remember Eames kissing his way down his neck, his chest, the feeling of Eames’ mouth on his cock. He could remember the soft sounds of Eames’ gasps against his neck as Arthur moved inside him.

When they all dined together that evening, however, Eames did not treat him very much differently. Arthur found that he’d been wanting Eames to sit near him, to touch him and treat him affectionately before the rest of the Weyr. Surely they knew Eames had taken Arthur to his bed again the night before. But Eames was really quite cool, sparing a smile for Arthur but seemingly more interested in speaking to the others about Weyr matters. Arthur went quiet, absently watching Eames. Glancing at Ariadne, he realized she was sitting with Yusuf, leaning against him. He supposed Yusuf’s dragon must have flown the queen again, and was surprised to find that he wasn’t much concerned.

Arthur returned to his own quarters that evening, rather than Ariadne’s, but she was waiting at the entry for him. “I just need to speak with you,” she said, and he shrugged. “Of course.”

They went in, and Ariadne made herself comfortable on one of Arthur’s chairs.

“Arthur, I must admit I’m concerned. You weren’t paying much attention at dinner. Are you feeling all right?” Ariadne raised a brow.

Arthur shrugged, a bit surprised by the question. “I am.”

“Something is the matter, though.” It wasn’t a question.

Sighing, Arthur rubbed the back of his neck. “I suppose.”

“Are you upset about Yusuf being Weyrleader?”

He considered. “No....”

“Are you upset because you’re no longer Weyrleader?”

“A little.”

She laughed. “Arthur. You were a good Weyrleader. If it’s in the cards, you’ll be one again. But you’re an excellent Wingleader. You're an excellent tactician. All your riders respect you.”

“Eames doesn’t,” he said, before he could stop himself.

Ariadne narrowed her gaze. “Are you sure about that? It seems very apparent to me that he has the highest respect for you.” She smiled as though she knew something he didn’t.

“He mocks me.” But even as he said it, he remembered Eames’ intimate smile last night as he’d kissed Arthur’s cheek, just before they’d fallen asleep.

“Mocking implies a lack of respect. I’d say he teases you. In the end, doesn’t he do whatever you ask?”

“After he punches holes in my plans.”

“Punches holes in them to force you to make them better?”

“Well....” Arthur shrugged, ceding her point. She grinned.

“Everyone genuflects to you, Arthur. They have for years. I think Eames is good for you. He perfects you,” she mused. “But I think there’s too much between you that’s unsaid. I think you feel something for him, and that you have for a while.”

Arthur was quiet, mulling that over. Trust Ariadne to notice these things. He should have realized she would.

She continued. “I think you should go speak to him. And I mean really speak to him.”

She did have good instincts. Arthur nodded. “I should.”

“Yes.” Ariadne nodded, and stood, looking satisfied. “I’ll be going now, Arthur. I know you’ll be able to work this out.”

“Good night, Ariadne,” Arthur said, suddenly amused, kissing her forehead.

“Good night, Arthur.” Smiling, Ariadne took her leave. Arthur was alone in his quarters now, and as much as he wanted to go find Eames, he decided he needed a night to clear his head. He slept alone, and woke refreshed.

Kereth was waiting just outside for him, sunning himself. She is right, you know, the dragon remarked. I have been thinking for some time that you should speak to Eames.

“And yet you did not tell me,” Arthur replied, amused, scratching his dragon’s neck.

I did not think you wished to hear it. I am glad you will speak to him. His dragon says he has loved you for so long.

Arthur started. “Kereth. You mustn’t tell secrets that aren’t yours to tell.”

Not a secret, Kereth said, nudging into his hand for more scratches. I thought you knew. I think you do know.

-------

No longer Weyrleader, Arthur had less to do, and a nagging feeling that he should be doing more. But as Wingleader, he had tasks he felt more comfortable with. He had a campaign to chart and supplies to order. With that done, however, he felt a strong need to find Eames. He found him in the hall near his quarters.

“Arthur,” Eames said with a nod of acknowledgment, looking surprised and a little cautious. Arthur felt the urge to go to him, wrap his arms around him, but instead nodded coolly. “Eames, I would like to speak with you.”

“Ah, are you condescending to grace me with your presence?” Eames said, with a trace of bitterness in his tone, covered with a smile. Arthur’s heart sank, but at the same time he felt indignant. Eames hadn’t come seeking him out, either.

“May I come in?” he said, slightly testy.

“Of course. Your presumption I’m alone happened to be correct,” Eames said, leading the way on the short distance back to his quarters with an extravagant gesture of his arm. Arthur lost his patience.

Once they were inside, he said, “Eames, you have your pick of almost any man or woman in the Weyr, and any given Weyr or hold on the planet. Everyone loves you,” Arthur said.

You don’t,” Eames replied.

Arthur blinked, unsure of Eames’ point. “You’re always criticizing me, teasing me -- you don’t do that to anyone else.”

“Everyone else doesn’t think they’re too good to be seen with me.”

That was low, and perhaps rashly, Arthur struck back in kind. “Why would I want to ‘be seen’ with someone who belittles me?”

Eames scoffed, folding his arms. “I had a hope of keeping your head from swelling. Our brilliant golden boy, our number-one Wingleader, a Weyrleader at last, finding love in the arms of his Weyrwoman--” His expression was bitter.

Arthur was pleased, however, to find that Ariadne had been right. He took a deep breath, suddenly feeling much calmer.

“Eames, Ariadne and I work well together, but there’s no ‘found love’ there.”

Eames looked surprised, but then frowned. “You fooled me quite nicely, then. Well done.”

“I wasn’t trying to fool you. Eames, my dragon flew the queen. I became Weyrleader. That was what I wanted--”

“I know, you told me.” Eames turned away.

“I’m not finished. Now that I’ve been a Weyrleader, I’ve realized that it’s not what I really want. Ariadne was wise enough to help me realize it.”

“You had to have Ariadne lead you to this important realization?” Eames looked back at him, skeptical.

“I had to hear her to understand what was in front of me all along.”

“And what was that?” Eames folded his arms.

“I’m a born Wingleader.”

“Ah.” Eames looked slightly disappointed, but nodded in agreement.

“And I want you.”

Eames stared, surprised, the only real giveaway being a slight flare of his nostrils. “You want me?”

“I do.”

“So that’s it, then?”

“What else is there?”

“Perhaps an ‘I’m sorry for being an enormous prat for the past decade, Eames’?”

“Was I that much of a prat?”

“You ignored me.”

“I could never ignore you. You ignored me. You’re a green rider, you lived up to your reputation, except in my case. I wasn’t going to go where I wasn’t wanted.”

“Wasn’t... Arthur, I’ve always wanted you, but you seemed not at all interested. When Kereth flew Senath, I... thought I might have a chance then, that you might--” He stopped abruptly, shaking his head, cheeks pink. Arthur stepped closer, but Eames went still.

“All right, I was a prat then. And I’m sorry. I thought you needed a mating flight to want me. And I was so preoccupied with becoming Weyrleader....” Arthur sighed, thinking back on how blind he’d been.

“I always wanted you,” Eames said again, sincere.

“Likewise. That time when we were children and you kissed me--”

Eames laughed. “You remember that?”

“Of course.”

“Wasn’t even a proper kiss.” But Eames was smiling widely.

“It was enough. I thought--” Arthur cleared his throat. “I thought I was special to you, then. Before we Impressed.”

“You became a typical bronze rider, what can I say? Only caring about flying and missions. Well, you weren’t typical. You were the best.” Eames’ gaze softened.

“I was the only bronze rider you didn’t flirt with as though your life depended on it,” Arthur pointed out.

“You were the only one I thought was special. Bit ironic.” Eames laughed. “And you were the only one smart enough to be worth criticizing.” Arthur blushed.

“We should really have worked this out years ago,” Eames added.

“Just think of all the proper kisses you could have given me.”

“Mm, a tragic waste. I don’t think I’ve actually given you a proper kiss yet. Dragon-lust doesn’t count.”

“Why not start now?” But Eames was already stepping forward, gently cupping Arthur’s face in his hands and kissing him.

-------

Arthur was not surprised to learn that they did not need dragon-lust to enjoy themselves. It certainly didn’t hurt, however, when Senath flew off for Kereth to follow. The mutual joy between their pairs fed on itself and grew itself.

The next morning, with their dragons sound asleep, they set to exploring each other again, this time unclouded by dragon-lust.

“Perfect, you’re perfect,” Eames sighed as Arthur’s mouth found his cock. Pausing, Arthur looked up to grin at him. Eames blushed. “Well, carry on,” he said. Arthur did, until he decided he wanted Eames inside him this time.

“My compliments to your riding skills,” Eames gasped later. Arthur could only groan in reply.

-------

Months later, Eames was once again off aiding neighboring Weyrs during a relatively small Thread attack. At least, they had planned for it to be small. The greater volume of Thread and the high winds led to them all being covered in soot and stray pieces of Thread, some of which scored through their leathers. Arthur barely noticed the pain, more interested in avoiding inhaling ashes and smoke and heat blown by the wind, and in getting his team together to attack the greatest amount of Thread. Given the odds, they were fairly successful.

When Arthur returned to the Weyr, Eames had just arrived back. He was waiting for Arthur, clearly anxious, as Arthur was bringing up the rear as usual and he’d seen the state of the other riders. Arthur went to him immediately, and Eames held him tightly, paying no mind to the soot, sweat, and blood. “Darling,” he said, “let’s get you cleaned up.”

Arthur waited until the rest of his party were cared for, Eames hovering all the while, and only then did he allow himself to be cleaned and bandaged. He then returned with Eames to their shared quarters.

“At last I have you alone,” Eames sighed. “I missed you so much, Arthur. I wish I could have flown with you today.”

“I wish you could have too,” Arthur admitted. “Probably would have made things a lot easier.”

“Darling, I’m sorry.” Eames peeled off his travel clothes, and Arthur blinked, going to get a cloth to wipe off the dirt and dust on Eames’ skin after his journey.

“No,” Arthur said, “I don’t mean to make you feel badly. It was planned like this, it was my idea. I told you it was fine to go, you’re the best person to deal with the Weyrs.” As he spoke, he passed the damp cloth over Eames’ skin, as Eames shed his clothes.

Eames relaxed under his ministrations, and finally sat on the bed. “We can’t be together always,” he said, reaching for Arthur, “more’s the pity, but I do wish I could have flown with you.” Arthur kissed him, and let Eames peel off his clothes, mindful of the bandages.

Once they were both freed of their leathers, Arthur lowered himself down onto Eames, happy to just kiss him for now, feeling their exhaustion as well as their contentment at finally being with each other. But Eames was restless, his hands moving over Arthur, his kisses becoming more insistent and finally traveling over his jaw and down his neck. “Please, love, I need you inside me.” His voice was low and urgent.

“Soon enough, you’ll have me,” Arthur promised, moving to get the lubricant.

Eames did take other bed partners when he was away, if he felt the need for it; it was in his nature to enjoy companionship and physical closeness more than it was in Arthur’s. But he did not sleep with anyone in their home Weyr, and he did not have anyone else penetrate him besides Arthur. They were pleased with this arrangement; Arthur did not want Eames to feel deprived or lonely, and Eames wanted Arthur to know he was special to him.

“I missed you,” Arthur sighed, sinking into Eames, being embraced by him. “Don’t leave for a while if you can help it.”

Eames stroked his hair. “No, I won’t,” he agreed, voice a little tight. “Oh, love, right there, just there.”

Arthur hummed, bending to drop a kiss to Eames’ lips. He sensed something at the back of his mind, and smiled. “It seems our dragons have been reunited as well.”

“They have indeed,” Eames said, a little breathless, smiling back. “They may be happier than we are about it.”

“Oh, I doubt it,” Arthur said, and chuckled.



[By the wonderful Aya!]