It starts like this: Laurence lives.
First they set him under a prison-barge, putrid and smelling of the depressed, unwashed filth of five-hundred human souls crushed together. Laurence can understand this, can accept his fate. He works the oars side-by-side with other convicts, chained ankle-to-ankle with murderers and thieves, rapists, traitors. In the first week the man on his left dies during the night, and his limp body falls over and stiffens on Laurence for two hours before anyone comes over and detaches him.
Again. Laurence can understand this.
But Laurence is different and special because of one, recurring reason – Temeraire. Always Temeraire. A month in he catches cold, and this seems to cause some consternation; his life is still a valuable bargaining piece, and he cannot be risked. So Laurence is chained up in a safer if no more pretty place – a single-person containment cell on a ship-of-the-line. The hard oak walls are broken and splintered; he catches his fingers until they bleed when he taps at the door, seeking not escape but distraction. He cannot stand straight. The dark is so pervasive that the hands in front of his face become invisible by day and night. Senseless, he loses all track of time.
Laurence can understand that, too.
He will die eventually. One day, when Temeraire can be persuaded to forget him and the public scandal has quieted, the courts will drag him from the dark just long enough for death by hanging. He imagines it sometimes in those dark hours – he has seen enough executions to picture the act, and there is little else to do. He will walk up to the steps, a small crowd gathered around the little gallows-stand – perhaps his parents will attend, his mother weeping, though hopefully his father will not allow it – and he will be asked to apologize for his crimes before god. He will not. He will pray, but he cannot honestly say he is sorry, not even now. The words would stick in his throat like the worst sort of blasphemy. He will be double-shamed, then.
The priest will shake his head in sorrow. Step back. The hooded executioner will come forward, and the audience – men, women, curious children all – will lean forward and point. The rope will fit tight around his neck, the knot fitted at the back of his head.
It is a horrible sound when the bottom falls away, the body dropping and cracking. Laurence thinks he will find it a comfort – any sound will be a comfort, finally, if it only signals an end to these endless waves and the taunting whisper in his head:
Treason. Treason. Treason.
“Oh, Laurence – I am so glad. Now that we are fighting and I am a Colonel I am sure no one will think of taking you away again, or killing you, or anything so silly.”
Laurence stares numbly at his hands. He is only grateful that after Tharkay's reprimand they are no longer rampaging around the countryside and murdering French supply-trains without discrimination. But even after weeks with Temeraire, he knows their time is limited. Feels the invisible deadline like a noose around his throat. “I will return to the prison when this is done, my dear,” he says softly.
“You will not,” Temeraire says. “I will knock down the soldiers if they take you. And Maximus and Lily will help me, and even Iskierka, I expect.”
“Oh, she will, if only to have fun,” Granby says wearily. “ - Do not give her ideas. But do not be maudlin either, Laurence. The admirals must grant you some lenience after this – they cannot drag you out of prison for a battle, make you a hero, and then toss you away to rot.”
From his spot lounging on Temeraire's back, Tharkay offers, “I daresay they could, but it would at least be very awkward,” and Temeraire glances at him suspiciously.
“Perhaps I should make it a part of our demands,” the dragon decides.
“No, my dear, no – pray do not.”
Temeraire has been making demands of all sorts for the dragons he released from the breeding grounds to fight for England – enough that it is starting to feel uncomfortably like blackmail. Laurence cannot help but be aware of their position; the government feels pressured to pardon him, unfairly, because of the dragons influence. It cannot last, and it should not last, because Laurence knows what he deserves. After this war is over he will be killed. He can only hope it will happen fast, to lessen Temeraire's burden. And hopefully some of the dragon's designs might last past the fighting; it would be a great comfort to know that Temeraire is happier, even after he is gone.
But for now, he must try to prepare the dragon as best he can by explaining the situation – not that it ever does any good. “I deserve every condemnation the Crown might offer,” Laurence insists, speaking quietly in the hope that their conversation does not draw attention. “I disobeyed my vows - and of course we had no choice, Temeraire, but that is not done lightly.”
“But we did not have a choice,” Temeraire complains. “ - Oh, I see there is no arguing with you. But you must know, Laurence, everything will be perfectly fine. No one can fail to see what we have done for England. I am sure you will be forgiven eventually.”
Laurence nods slowly, choosing not to voice his disbelief. He looks down. His fists clench and unclench slowly.
It is time they rejoin the fighting.
Here is the thing:
Sometimes, after the treason, it's hard to breathe. It comes on unexpectedly; Laurence will enjoy a hot cup of watery tea with Granby and the men, feeling perfectly normal, and then retire under Temeraire's wing to sleep until dawn. Alone, in the darkness, a vice grips his chest. He finds himself gripping his dirty coat like a child, all wrapped up in himself. His heart pounds in his ears with the instinct to run, fight, act - but there is nothing to do. Nothing. He can't turn back time and he can't make different decisions and he isn't sure he'd want to, really. No – he is certain he would do nothing different.
Somehow that is the worst part: Laurence can't regret his treason, not wholly and certainly not sincerely. And this thought alone makes his chest throb like a punishment.
Maybe it is. If England can't kill him for his crimes, isn't it only right that God makes him suffer anyway?
The Allegiance is familiar as Dover covert by now, but Laurence is no honored-guest on the voyage to Australia, and indeed not even a tolerated one. He is a prisoner. Riley is full of apologies, but Laurence quickly dismisses his old friend's faint awkwardness.
But when the sailors would treat Laurence as a convict – which they should - Temeraire intervenes.
“You will certainly not keep Laurence down below, where I cannot even see him – I will not let you take him away again and it smells quite horrible anyway - “
Laurence finally has to take to the deck outside his assigned times, for the sailors are quickly growing frightened of the agitated dragons. “My dear,” he tells Temeraire up top, “I am a prisoner. I can expect no luxuries, and it is not proper to demand unequal treatment.”
“I do not care for what is proper,” Temeraire says. “It is not at all right that you should be treated so horribly, Laurence. Of course you will stay with me.”
Generally sailors listen when a dragon throws a fuss, however much they dislike it. Laurence is granted a very cramped room, close to the dragondeck, instead of staying with the other prisoners. He is permitted to stay with Temeraire whenever he likes.
Unsurprisingly, some people are unhappy about this.
Rodagh and Millard are not even officers. They are just two ordinary seaman, the sort of low-level workers easily grabbed and pressed for work on a prison-scull – which is to say, no one of worth and no one worth putting onto a better vessel. Still, they are hardy enough for their lack of discipline, and plainly resentful of Laurence's special position.
They find him alone belowdecks while he's retrieving a book for Temeraire. It isn't easy to manhandle Laurence back into his tiny cabin – there really isn't enough room – but they manage. The result leaves the three of them smashed together, mingling breaths as Laurence tries to recover his composure.
“Excuse me,” he begins, as though good manners might return some civility to this situation, and Rodagh squeezes his shoulder and pushes him against the wall.
It's galling to be shoved around like a boy, as though he can be intimidated like a junior officer - or a coward. But for some reason - and indeed he will reflect on this moment a thousand times in later days - he chooses to fall silent. The two men take this for compliance.
“We heard what you did for the French,” Millard says. “The whole crew knows.”
“I imagine so,” Laurence says.
Despite the situation he's startled when Rodagh grabs his arm and twists it painfully. “If you try anything that dragon won't protect you,” he warns. Laurence resists the urge to laugh; what do these men think they'll do in the face of an enraged Celestial?
“Yes, very well,” is what he actually says.
He cannot make himself sound afraid, because he is not afraid. Laurence has not felt much of anything, recently, and these men are not enough to stir him. Rodagh pulls him forward and then slams Laurence back against the cabin wall; his head cracks painfully on the wood.
Then they're gone before he can say a word. Laurence pauses to stare at the little cot swinging wildly from where Rodagh brushed against it. He reaches up to pull his cravat into place and makes sure there is no evidence of roughage before he goes above-decks.
Temeraire greatly enjoys his book.
The treatment continues – increases. It is not surprising, and never enough to be concerning – only embarrassing.
Laurence has to sleep below-decks every day, despite Temeraire's vehement protests. When one day he wakes early and starts to exit he finds himself shouldered roughly aside. That is nothing unexpected, and he bears the shoving without complaint.
When a sudden, unexpected obstacle underfoot sends him sprawling across deck, the nearest sailors are upended with laughter. He rises with only minimal blushing.
“Lost your sealegs, Captain,” someone says.
The petty taunts continue – but he can manage that perfectly well, too.. He ignores the shards of glass in his cot, the bruises running down his left side from an enthusiastic gunner 'helping' him up the deck ladder. He manages perfectly, perfectly well until Rodagh – relatively new and perhaps less adept than most at hassling crewmen – has the stupidity to grab his arm one morning and toss him sprawling over coils of rope right in front of the captain.
He is only fortunate that they aren't in Temeraire's line of sight.
“Mr. Rodagh!” Riley roars, furious. “The penalty for striking an officer - “
And there he has to stop short. Laurence, of course, is not an officer.
“...You cannot be striking prisoners,” he says at last. “ - You will have no rations and no grog tonight; I will speak to you and the bosun tomorrow. Dismissed.”
Laurence is left to heave himself to his feet. Riley hovers. His previous misstep hangs in the air between them.
“Has anything of this sort happened before?” Riley asks.
Laurence hesitates for just a moment. It's enough.
“Gods, Laurence, say something,” Riley says wearily. “I know matters have changed, but I will still - “ he trails off, awkwardly, and glances to the side. “...Well. I will not let your Temeraire know about this, I think you agree; but only say a word if you have problems with the rest of the crew, I beg you.”
Laurence feels inexpressibly tired. “Thank you, Tom.”
Riley nods to him, awkwardly, and walks away. Laurence looks down at the spots of blood still on his hands. He stretches his fingers, watching the awkward splay of muscles and grasping at empty air. Bereft.
He walks back to Temeraire and no one stops him this time.
Convicts are sent to New South Wales for a multitude of reasons. Not all of them are horrible men; sometimes the courts of England decide that they just have too many bodies in their own prisons, or that perhaps it is in England's best interests to have a few more workers in the speculative would-be colony, and as a result petty thieves and liars make up the bulk of the population. But hard criminals – murderers, rapists, brute robbers – are also rampant.
The aviators that have accompanied Laurence to New South Wales are not, for the most part, the cream of Britain's forces; Granby is a notable exception, and Laurence does not for one instant believe his excuse about being unable to convince Iskierka to stay in England (even if Iskierka is indeed very difficult to control, and even if, indeed, the good admiralty in England are probably glad to be rid of her). Still, he cannot fault the man for his loyalty – however misguided.
As for Mr. Tharkay...
“If I may be so bold, Tenzing, you are making yourself alarmingly comfortable,” Laurence says dryly; “I hope that when your wanderlust finally fades you find a better home than one among brigands and thieves, however.”
They're walking around the outskirts of the ramshackle port-town. “I daresay I cannot imagine how long I will travel the world – but I think there are worse places to be.” Tharkay sends him a quick, strange smile. “You are troubled, Laurence. Do not tell me you are fussing over politics still.”
Laurence sighs. The situation between ex-governor Bligh and Colonel Macarthur has, indeed, been weighing on him heavily. Tharkay interrupts again before he can speak. “I do not think Macarthur's expedition is wise. You have no part in their struggle. England has sent you here as a convict. You are a prisoner or an officer, but not both.”
“That is what everyone says – yet I was not killed as a prisoner, so I remain something of an officer, I think,” Laurence says. “And I am still an Englishman; that will never be taken from me.”
“If a new colony begins here, you could be a man of New South Wales.”
Laurence shoots Tharkay a dark look. The man raises his hands. “Or not,” he concedes.
The morals of the town are truly deplorable. In one house they pass two men fighting drunkenly in the doorway; a small girl, crouching in the dirt, watches them with wide eyes and bites her nails. One of the poor souls born to the colony, no doubt. A condo nearby features four men sleeping in a heap, stinking drunk, and in the street a group are playing poker half-dressed.
“No one can say this is not an interesting place,” Tharkay says.
“I suppose in your travels you must have visited many cities – places both strict and, casual, with their notions of propriety,” Laurence says.
But Tharkay tosses him a dubious glance. Evidently New South Wales is quite beyond even his wide experiences. Laurence stifles a sigh.
They settle into one of the many taverns at long last. Liquor is practically a currency among the convicts, distributed both officially and through whatever other channels it can be procured. Laurence receive a murky, gray-tinged glass and eyes it without much hope.
“I suppose I have not heard of anyone dying of poisoning,” Tharkay tells him, seeing this reaction. “ - and these men are certainly enjoying themselves.”
Cackles rise from one corner of the room. An overly hairy man sneaks a look over his shoulder, nearly falls, and catches Laurence's eye. He barks a laugh and nudges his companion before taking another drink of the doubtful alcohol.
“That is not reassuring,” Laurence says, but raises the glass. The liquor drains down his throat like treesap and oil, strangely greasy, and burns after the taste fades.
He drinks again.
“Laurence,” Tharkay advises, nodding.
In the corner the men are rising. Laurence still has bruises from the last barfight in the colony, and abruptly regrets this entire excursion. He puts down the bottle and tugs his cravat. He does not have his sword, but the thought does not, particularly, concern him. “Perhaps you ought to leave,” he suggests. Tharkay shoots him a look and does not reply.
“Captain Laurence,” says one of the convicts; he puts a special emphasis on the title. “Slumming with the rest of us? Eh?” His words are slurred.
Laurence represses a spike of exasperation; if this man means to provoke him into a fight, he might at least make a decent effort at it. “So it would seem,” he replies.
“But Laurence,” says Tharkay dryly, “Surely you are honored by the attentions of this fine, upstanding citizen?” He pointedly looks the drunkard up and down.
The drunk man squints at Tharkay, as though wondering if he should be offended. He decides he is, and promptly swing a fist.
Suddenly there are three more men – whether they are friends of the first, or simply eager for a fight, Laurence will never know – and he finds himself crowded away from where Tharkay is casually beating the first drunkard.
Flying fists hit his shoulder, his ribs. A shove sends Laurence knocking back against the wall, forcing the air from his lungs. He sees a punch coming and does not dodge. Another, another, and then he ducks away from a blow that would hit his face, unthinking. Automatically punches back.
Tharkay joins him in a moment, and soon they have the rest of the men on the ground.
They're ejected from the bar without ceremony.
They start a slow walk back to the covert, hanging off one another. Laurence is starting to feel cloudy from the effects of the earlier alcohol. He glances at his companion. “Tenzing,” he starts.
Tharkay rubs a bit of blood from his lip. “I will refrain from telling the dragons if you do,” he says.
Laurence sighs carefully. “Yes. Of course.”
It is good to chase after the stolen eggs – almost like returning to their duty. But it tastes too much like redemption. Laurence can see Temeraire trying to claim the convicts helping them as though they are crewmates; can see the dragon fantasizing about leaving this place, and finding new adventures. Temeraire deserves that, he thinks. The dragon is painfully young, though it is sometimes hard to remember this; he cannot be blamed for the obligations of human society. But Laurence is different.
One day, after camp has been made and they are all curling round the dragons for the night, Tharkay asks him to speak privately.
“Pray give me one moment,” Laurence answers, and swiftly checks that all the convicts are in place and quiet; they cling to Temeraire's presence for fear of bunyips, but he would not trust any of them half an hour alone.
After this, he goes with Tharkay and together they walk a short way from the camp. Despite his request, Tharkay broods for awhile without saying anything, and Laurence does not press him.
“I have been thinking,” says Tharkay abruptly. “You must forgive me; I have tried to put it from my mind, and not to pry, but I cannot stop.”
Laurence regards him with confusion. “You must be more plain,” he confesses.
It is rare to find Tharkay so uncomfortable. “I have tried to put it from my mind,” his friend repeats. “ - That night, in England. When I found you, and together we looked for Temeraire – do you recall it?”
“Of course,” says Laurence blankly.
“You were in a burning house,” says Tharkay. “The doors were open, and the guards had fled; but you were in the burning house.”
Despite the dry air Laurence feels cold. “I do not understand your point,” he says. But this time, he lies.
A long silence falls between them. They keep walking, turning slowly back toward the camp. A heavy moon hangs above Temeraire's slumbering body, casting the dragon in a soft silvery glow. Laurence is seized with a sudden, terrible fear, though he could not have said why.
“When this journey is done – come away with me. You and Temeraire.” Tharkay does not look at him. “We could find a ship. Become privateers, or - “
“I cannot,” says Laurence. “Forgive me, Tenzing, but I cannot.”
Tharkay only nods, and he says nothing more.
When the mad expedition is over – Tharunka and the trading-port discovered, and the passage through the Australian mountains found for Macarthur and the East India Company – it is far easier and far better for everyone that Temeraire and Laurence settle into their little valley halfway through the continent. Here they need not embroil themselves with the disastrous politics of the colony, nor risk overturning Captain Rankin's orders.
Temeraire seems blissfully happy.
Laurence thinks he might be going insane.
There is no reason for it. They get irregular communications from the colony, but all-told there are no responsibilities, no reasons for stress. Temeraire overlooks the construction of his Pavilion, ordering hired prisoners around with strict severity, and Laurence occasionally lends a hand or supervises the cattle being slowly brought to their valley.
But more often there is nothing to do. Across the ocean, somewhere, Laurence's old friends from the navy are defending England from Napoleon's fleet. Soldiers are fighting and dying. Their comrades in the Corps shield England from the air, patrolling, fighting, defending.
And Laurence is in Australia.
England has no reason to trust him with duties of any importance; Laurence knows this. But there are so many things he could, should, be doing. Is this to be the rest of his life, then – years spent in quiet exile, away from the company of men, and no chance of redemption?
Laurence begins taking ever-longer walks in the Australian heat, wandering though scrubs and the stunted forest that borders their valley. Once he sees something that looks very like a bunyip hole; he investigates it for several minutes with a numb sensation that precludes fear, and only leaves after determining that it is weeks old.
With every breath he takes in this beautiful, cursed place, he feels his chest grow tighter. There is a beast living under his skin, straining to break out, but there is nowhere to go.
After two weeks of maddening peace Temeraire leaves to visit the harbor, and Laurence again takes to the forests. The breeze rustles intermittently through the brush, but everything is so quiet he can almost be reminded of his days at sea, overlooking the endless and repetitive ocean.
He thinks of the Allegiance, attacked. Thinks of all the friends who no longer write to him, ships splintering like gunshot. Sails on fire and five minutes of cannon-balls raining from the sky.
Laurence walks faster. There is a phantom-noose around his neck, constricting his chest, stopping his lungs. Something hot and desperate prickles under his skin and scrambles over his veins. He grabs at his own arms under his sleeves, clinging with fingers that dig and wound and bleed.
In the canopy a bird screams.
Laurence stops in front of a giant oak tree. Breath tears from his throat in ragged pants. He feels like he is in the midst of a battle, a war, a life-or-death struggle - but he is not. There is no war here. There is nothing he can do, no way to repent his crimes or help his friends of old. He is useless and worthless and people are going to die.
Laurence unclenches his arms, makes a fist, and lunges.
His knuckles crack against the tree, stinging, and he hits again. Again. Again. Harder, faster, throwing his whole weight at it. When he stops, sagging, the tree bears only a slight dent in the bark. His hand throbs and aches with splinters, and he looks down at it numbly. His smallest finger has snapped.
Laurence stumbles back to the valley and bandages it up before Temeraire returns.
Two days later Laurence sits in his usual perch at Temeraire's forearm, watching the construction of the Pavilion.
It is overly-warm, but he wears a jacket, and underneath it his arms are bandaged. It would not do for Temeraire to smell blood.
“It is lovely here – I think we could perhaps be happy forever,” Temeraire says. “But you seem troubled, Laurence. Whatever is wrong?”
Laurence is silent for a long moment. “This does not feel like a punishment,” he admits at last, unable to explain the full range of his discontent. He sweeps a gesture to the golden valley, the half-finished pavilion, the gently grazing animals. Folds his arms tightly together as he explains: “We are here because we have committed treason, Temeraire. But this is more of an Eden than a Hell.”
“Oh, but that is a good thing,” Temeraire says. “It is a little boring, but we can visit our friends at the port, like Tharunka and the Chinese; it is different but certainly not bad.”
“Yes,” says Laurence, and does not say, that is the problem.
He would wish Temeraire no unhappiness, of course. He could not. But as for himself – Laurence finds himself, again, clenching one hand against his own wrist. His nails sink into the skin there, drawing up tiny scratches of blood.
At least Temeraire is happy.
But several days later they receive a message, and the dragon's tune changes entirely.
“A pardon!” Temeraire cries. “Laurence, oh, I knew they could not be so foolish forever!”
And Laurence – as always – does not say what he is thinking. “A pardon,” he echoes dully. And then, with difficulty: “I am glad, dear.” And he begins to make preparations to go to Brazil and fulfill Britain's new directives.
Whatever those might be.
Things seem better, for a time, on the Allegiance. Laurence knows he is still a traitor in truth - knows he does not deserve the leniency England has been forced to give him. Yet there is some small solace in the knowledge that he can try to earn forgiveness – that he will, again, be able to do something for the war. Even Captain Riley seems optimistic, despite his ramshackle crew of prison-convicts and drunkards, and so Laurence is able to quiet his doubts and worries for just awhile.
Then Riley dies, and Laurence burns.
They are overtaken, marooned uselessly on a small island – and humiliated, too, by the French who dump them there. Temeraire and the other dragons grow overprotective, making it even more difficult to devise a plan of escape, and meanwhile Laurence is not safe at all from the clamor in his head. His arms are laden with small pricks of pain. His nails slice through his skin when the doubts grow too loud, and the hurt distracts him, but it isn't enough. For awhile he had almost convinced himself that he is a loyal aviator again, a soldier doing his duty. But Laurence knows he is not redeemed, and the disastrous fate of the Allegiance is only proof. He carries misfortune where he goes, and it is clear now; this knowledge sits in his chest like a smoldering coal.
When they reach Cusco, and Hammond plots for Granby to marry the Empress, Laurence can do nothing. Napoleon is in the city, their men are deserting, and they are trapped in the very heart of the Incan Empire.
And it is Laurence's fault. All of it, his fault. The easiest way to preserve Britain's dignity would be to lay himself down and die, and give Hammond a good cause to throw accusations at the Empress. Rid them of his influence.
But outside the palace sits Temeraire, and Laurence can't do that to him. Not yet.
A few days into their visit to the capital, as they try futilely to arrange another meeting with the Empress, Granby asks if they might survey the area together. “Because I don't trust the damn French one bit – nor these Incans, and Lord only knows what they talk about, locked up in that palace without us.” And Laurence agrees.
So they take a slow walk around the grounds, noting exits and placements of guards, who watch them suspiciously. “I know it is wrong to say so,” Granby says, walking with Laurence as they make a surprise-detour to check on the men. Their ramshackle group must be regularly accounted-for, the sailors saved from the Allegiance having discovered that native dragons will be only too-pleased to give them safe harbor. “But I give Napoleon every blessing in his courtship; and I would fund the wedding myself, so long as I am not the groom!”
Laurence cannot much blame him for the sentiments. They must all do their duty, but Anaharque is an intimidating woman. “Perhaps she will marry neither of you,” he offers. “Certainly it seems unusual that she would choose outside her own court.”
“Maybe she's afraid of the court,” Granby says, “And does not dare give anyone the power. It is beyond us to say, I think.”
They return to the dragons together. Temeraire is pointedly pretending to sleep on a set of large stone tiles, tail lashing with irritation while Iskierka, lounging on a hill several meters away, brags about the attention she has been receiving from the Incan dragons, “For of course, my fire-breathing is so very special,” she says. “Much more impressive than a silly roar, which any dragon can do, if they should like to be very loud and obnoxious.” And, to prove it, she releases a short flicker of flame, turning her head away from Temeraire's sullen form.
She has not seen the captains, and though Granby immediately leaps away – evidently accustomed to his dragon's moods – Laurence is distracted. Iskierka hastily halts as she sees them, but a wisp of flame catches his sleeve on fire, nonetheless.
Granby's shout makes Temeraire jolt upright, and soon the Celestial is roaring, lunging at Iskierka even as she squawks. “I did not do it – well – it was not my fault, he should not have snuck up on me!”
“Temeraire,” Laurence reprimands sharply, and then he blinks when Granby starts smacking at his arm. Oh, yes – he is on fire still.
Temeraire curls around him grumpily even when the fire is quelled. Granby leaves to reprimand his own charge, pointing out sharply that Iskierka could have burnt him too, when she is only inclined to sulk.
“Well, of course I would not burn you,” she says to this, which is not a very reassuring sort of argument.
“Are you quite alright?” Temeraire asks Laurence, nudging him. “Perhaps we ought to take you someplace far away, so Iskierka does not damage you again, with her bad aim - “
“Oh!” says Iskierka, indignant. Granby smacks her leg before she can protest, and she subsides with muted grumbles.
“I am quite fine, dearest,” says Laurence. He does not say that he feels better than he has in weeks. He leans against Temeraire's side, blinking down at the throbbing burn on his arm. Presses it, carefully, and feels the frazzled energy in his skin subside under a surge of pain.
He repeats, “Quite fine.”