Laurence had to struggle, if only a little, to catch his breath, so he just lied in his bed, allowing himself a moment of leisure. He probably really should stand up and check on Temeraire and then order the crew to…
“Stop looking so serious,” Tharkay interrupted Laurence’s train of thought with a smirk, “Or I’ll think I haven’t… embraced you long enough.”
Laurence couldn’t find an answer to that, his thoughts tended to become strangely blurred anytime they spent time together. Probably that was the beneficial influence of manly embraces. Laurence heard quite a lot of them and after acquiring some intimate knowledge he could only agree. They were supposed to ease his mind, their minds that is, help their bodies relax and from his own experience Laurence knew very well that they were simply salutary for morale. After every session, Laurence was close to flying out from his tent or wherever he lived at the moment. And in his defense on that particular day, Tharkay had been on a mission for so long that Laurence could let his needs go a little… too wild. Meaning, as a captain, thankfully returned to the list, it was his duty to remain in good health to…
“Will.” Tharkay’s eyebrow was up in that ironic expression of his but Laurence found himself only smiling slightly stupidly. It was just the remedial effect of manly embraces, wonderful as they were. Tharkay also looked pleased and fine, but he always looked fine, more than fine, in fact. Laurence couldn’t understand how this man wasn’t the ornament of every society he ever briefly entered, with that handsome dark face, those penetrating brown eyes, that set of small smiles, not to mention the man’s knowledge. Oh, he knew everything, both in the wild and when they had to socialize with any circle they met. Somehow distantly, Laurence remembered about Tharkay’s ancestry and how that could be a problem but comparing it with everything that Tharkay was, any flimsy obstacles simply had to be rejected. And Laurence was sure that every gentleman in his right mind had to agree with him that…
“Oh, I’m sorry, Tenzing, were you saying something?” Laurence asked, surprised to find his voice so soft and he had to shake his head not to call Tharkay ‘my dear’ as he used in regard to Temeraire. He then tried to stand up but his thighs were still trembling so he just looked up to see Tharkay staring at him thoughtfully.
“I just noticed that the dynamics in the camp altered slightly,” Tharkay said with no emotion possible to track. “Not that I want to criticize anyone,” he added quickly, seeing how Laurence opened his mouth. “And no, I don’t think that the dragons are to blame. Or at least I suppose it’s not connected to their affairs… But I saw that Captain Little was looking at you strangely.”
That was not a question but Laurence knew he should tell Tharkay the truth. He was so perceptive! Just a moment in the camp, a few minutes really before Laurence asked him to accompany him into the tent, of course to update him on all the orders they got… It really wasn’t his fault that Tharkay stood so close and then Laurence felt this strange power pulling him closer, and then their clothes could really disturb the healing properties of manly embraces, so…
So Tharkay needed to know the truth and Laurence felt blood rushing to his head at the thought how his friend would react to this shocking news.
“I really do not think it behooves a gentleman to gossip about the fellow captains,” he started slowly under Tharkay’s careful gaze. “And I wouldn’t share anything not honorable about my colleagues…”
“I know,” Tharkay interrupted him. “I think we established that you are a real gentleman who does gentlemanly things.”
Laurence gave him a dark scowl but continued.
“Yet I do believe it would be better if you learnt it from me… And it’s not gossip as Granby informed me himself… And then Iskierka added that… Ah well, Tharkay, I’m not sure how you will react to that, but I must remind you how honorable these men are and I don’t think you are a person that would be any less than understanding and…”
“Will,” Tharkay’s voice was firm but somehow gentle and Laurence found the words, finally.
“It looks that John and Captain Little are together,” he revealed. “Not like in a formation, more like… as a couple. They are interested in each other. You heard about such things?” He finally asked suspiciously, because Tharkay had a very strange expression.
“I might have,” was all he said.
“I hope you won’t hold it against them,” Laurence continued. “I thought about it a lot and I am sure you will agree with me that it doesn’t change who they are, even if that is not widely accepted.”
“You thought about it,” Tharkay repeated blankly.
“Yes. I consulted Temeraire who is positive that it happens between dragons as well.”
“You consulted Temeraire.”
“That’s what I said, yes,” Laurence looked at Tharkay more closely. “Are you feeling bad? Should we embrace some more?”
“You know what, Laurence? Yes, I’m going to embrace you now, I’m going to embrace the hell out of you,” Tharkay said and there was some strange note in his voice, but Laurence didn’t have time to wonder about it, because a second later he was melting in Tharkay’s embrace and all his thoughts disappeared from his mind.
“Are you really sure you want to do this, Will?” Tharkay said, and if Laurence didn’t know better he would be sure there was sadness in his voice.
“What do you mean?”
“The thing that happened a moment ago,” Tharkay said and although he still sounded strange, he reached and brushed aside a sweaty lock of hair from Laurence’s forehead, smoothing Laurence’s eyebrow with his thumb. “Maybe we should stop. Maybe that’s not what you want.”
“Oh, I do want that,” Laurence disagreed, sitting up. Suddenly all the liquid tranquility left him and a dread touched his naked spine. “Did you… change your mind?”
“No, I haven’t,” Tharkay sighed. “But I believe you should think more about it. And probably talk to Granby instead of Temeraire. You and your dragon are too much alike.”
Somehow, it didn’t sound like a compliment this one time.
“John, I asked to talk with you in private,” Laurence started when he and Granby were safe from unwanted ears and eyes. “And I have to warn you that it might be a difficult topic… For your honor. Or…”
“For God’s sake, Laurence, if you don’t stop with the stuttering I’ll become nervous myself,” Granby interrupted him amicably.
“I do not stutter,” Laurence said coldly. “And I am not nervous. I just wanted to prepare you because the question does not come easy to me,” he continued in a more shushed voice and well, he felt anxious, not knowing how John would react to the topic. And what it all would mean to Tharkay, who suggested this conversation. What on earth could Granby say that could influence his and Tharkay’s friendship? To tell the truth, Laurence was slightly confused.
Granby regarded him patiently. He might have acquired a lot of experience with patience because of Iskierka.
“What do you exactly do with Captain Little?” Laurence fired and actually it looked a bit as if he shot Granby with a gun – the man first went pale as sheet and then his blood blossomed in his cheeks and neck, threatening to burst.
“Why-why do you want to know?” he asked faintly.
“I would never ask about such things to embarrass you or to satisfy my curiosity,” Laurence assured him generously. “But I must calm Tharkay down, I’m led to believe he is afraid we are crossing the line, which we surely aren’t…”
“Wait. You and Tharkay?” Granby made such a funny face that if Laurence didn’t know him better, he would think that Granby was slightly unstable.
“Yes, well, we developed this gentlemanly friendship and we exchange some manly embraces…”
“That’s what I said,” Laurence bridled up. “Really, do I speak indistinctly? I know that some gentlemen on ships aid themselves this way as well, it’s good for health and morale, of course if you can find someone trustworthy and of course of so many assets as Tharkay can pride himself to have…”
“Oh my God.” Granby hide face in his hands. He then uttered a whine as if he was going to cry.
That was close to insulting.
“I do understand that you don’t want to share such private matters with me,” Laurence said, trying not to show his resentment. He stood up, intending to leave, but Granby caught him by the hand.
“Wait, Laurence, I’m sorry,” Granby said and made a visible effort to remain serious and calm. “It just came unexpected. Please, now, explain to me the nature of those embraces and I will do anything I can to help you.”
“Well,” Laurence sat down again, mollified. “It started on the journey to Australia. We were in my cabin, and he touched my nape in that special way, and I immediately knew that was what I needed…”
“Can you believe that?! Granby believes we have a full blown romance!” Laurence exclaimed, still indignant. “How can he even suggest such things!”
“Who’s got a romance, you and Granby?” Temeraire asked with some dread in his voice. They were up in the sky flying, and so they could speak without restraint.
“Ah, no, me and Tharkay,” Laurence specified.
“Then why are you sulky? I thought you liked Tharkay?” Temeraire clearly didn’t understand him and Laurence felt alone and betrayed.
“I do like him,” he explained. He sighed and looked ahead where the blue of the sky was mingling with the emerald of the water. The day was clear and fresh breeze made Laurence relax a tiny bit. “Who could not like him. He is such a skilled man! I mean, skilled in the bush, for example. That is, with the things you need to do in the bush. With wildlife. I didn’t mean that night…”
“Ah, I didn’t know there is a difference,” Temeraire said thoughtfully, doing a lazy swirl. “When you did it with Jane, it was a romance.”
“That’s not the same!” Laurence protested.
“Why?” Temeraire asked with real curiosity and Laurence froze.
“Because…” he started, uncertainly. Because what, really? If the problem was only Tanzing being a man, wasn’t it just exactly what Granby spent three quarters trying to convince Laurence about? Was the feeling he had while being with Jane really different than what he experienced with Tharkay? Could it be the same? Could…
“Temeraire,” he said gravely. “I think… I might be having an… affair with Tharkay.” He was just grateful he was tacked to Temeraire’s harness, otherwise he would have fallen down already.
“Ah, Laurence, don’t be so sad! If you don’t want it to continue, you may always end it,” Temeraire said lightly. “Although I must say, I have nothing against it, Tharkay is a good person, we are both sure of that, right, and he won’t distract you from me… that is, from our duties. He has all those missions, when he is absent and we two could be together… And you always seemed so happy when he arrived. But,” Temeraire sighed. “Of course, it’s your decision, if you want it to stop.”
“But I don’t!” Laurence denied, somewhat impulsively. Now that he allowed the truth in his mind, so many things clicked into place. It was scary but he was a naval officer, an aviator, and he was used to scary. It was also strangely freeing. And for the first time he let himself call that tender, vulnerable feeling with the right name.
“Then it’s all fine,” Temeraire decided with too obvious satisfaction in his voice and dived.
“But… If Tharkay knew… why did he never say anything? Is it just… casual circumstances for him?” Laurence quickly found a new topic to agonize about.
“Why don’t you ask him? I’m more than sure he likes you. Who wouldn’t,” Temeraire turned his head back to Laurence and his face shone with such loyalty and pleasure that Laurence had to smile.
“Can we talk first?” Laurence asked weakly as Tenzing’s mouth on his neck did strange things to his concentration.
“Of course,” Tharkay said and sat back, regarding Laurence attentively. He took in how nervous Laurence was and became stiff himself. “Oh. So you did think about it.”
“I did,” Laurence agreed. It was never easy and although he had some experience with two women in that regard…
“I must say… I’m really sorry if I talked you into something you didn’t want nor understand. I thought this… charade was just a part of the game,” Tharkay said, averting his eyes. His voice was flat and it made Laurence almost scared it was all lost.
“Don’t be sorry,” he started. “What I mean is that now that I’m fully aware of the situation…”
“Oh, don’t bother, Laurence,” Tharkay stood up. “I’m not going to pester you anymore.”
“So you aren’t really invested in… the thing we have here?” Laurence asked, hurt and offended. “It’s not a way a honorable gentleman would act to reject somebody. I may understand it is not acceptable for you if you believed the circumstances were different, but as a man of honor…”
“Sorry, I tend to switch off if you use the word ‘honor’ too many times in one sentence,” Tharkay interrupted him flatly. “And to be honest I feel confused and I don’t believe you are a man who plays with somebody’s feelings so simply say what you mean, Laurence.”
“I am trying to ask you about the extent of your fondness towards me.” Laurence folded his arms, looking at Tharkay defiantly. “If that was just a way of spending your time when outside the civilization then I would understand and respect that, of course, but…”
“Will. My extent of fondness towards you might be quite high, in fact,” Tharkay said, his eyebrows high but a small smile playing in the corner of his mouth. That hostile indifference was leaving him as he relaxed visibly, moving closer to Laurence on the bed. And Laurence found himself opening his arms with a smile still unsure but full of admiration. Tharkay smirked, “As in, I might be in love with you, if such straight-forwardness doesn’t scandalize you.”
“Please, then, Tenzing, let me make you an honest man…”
“Are you proposing?” It was Tharkay’s turn to open his eyes wide and when Laurence nodded seriously Tharkay laughed, not his usual sarcastic little smirk but a real, happy laugh. “You are crazier than the admiralty thinks.”
“What, do you think we should ask Temeraire for blessing first?” Laurence asked and Tharkay laughed again.
“You’re lucky you are so beautiful,” he snorted. “Now, spoil your fiancé a little and unbutton this shirt to remind me how lucky I am…”
“But Tenzing, we have to…”
“Hush, love, let me embrace you,” Tenzing muttered and if Laurence wasn’t so infatuated he would cuff the man’s head.
And of course, if it wasn’t beneath a gentleman’s dignity.