Riley watched with mounting apprehension as the dragon hatchling ignored everyone on the ship, inspecting the place and looking through every officer as if they weren’t there, least of all poor midshipman Carver, whose face was torn between relief and disappointment. Riley rubbed his forehead to try and stave off his oncoming headache. “Captain, what should we do?” Someone asked, and he sighed for a moment before coming to a decision.
He turned to the some of the other men and said, “We’re going to summon the Commodore. Surely he can give us insight on what to do.”
There was an almost palpable shift in the air as his men moved around, all of them torn between feeling nervous and excited for the arrival of Commodore Laurence. The dragon watched them all in curiosity but still did not speak, his interest in their actions not extending to interest in them. Riley kept an eye on them all as a colored, weighted rope was dropped over the side of the ship to trail behind them in the water, followed by a hollow canister that, with a pole, was rhythmically beat. They did this for a minute before the ship suddenly rocked as the water heaved beneath them, and the crew scrambled away from the sides as the sea swelled beside them, and an enormous head breached the surface.
Laurence’s hide was as green as pale sea glass with gold running like filigree along fins as large as sails around his head. He blinked eyes larger than a ship’s wheel and breathed out, causing sea water to spray along the deck. “Captain Riley,” he greeted. His voice was surprisingly clear. “Why have you called me?”
Riley saluted somewhat awkwardly. “Commodore, whilst we were capturing a French vessel we came across a dragon egg. It has hatched and we attempted to bond it to a member of the crew, to no avail. We would like your thoughts.” Speaking so politely to such a beast had once felt strange to Riley, but it did not take long to realize it would not benefit him to speak poorly to a creature that can destroy his ship with nary a thought.
Laurence’s eyes shifted to the hatchling - who, Riley was surprised to realize, looked far more interested now and had run over to the edge of the ship to better see the large serpent. He bent his great head for a moment before turning back to Riley. “Permission to board your ship,” he said. They both knew it was not a request.
“Permission granted,” Riley said, and he watched in interest as the dragon began to shrink rapidly until he was capable of fitting on their deck, still large but not at all his usual size. He crawled onto the ship, his limbs shaking a little as he stood. He hasn’t left the water in a good deal, Riley realized, and shelved his worries for later as the hatchling bounded over to the larger dragon.
“How did you do that?” The little dragon asked, and around him Riley heard the crew make noises of surprise. They were expecting many things - but certainly not for the hatchling to talk so quickly. “Why are your scales darker now? Who are you?”
Laurence slowly lowered himself to lay on the deck, his forelimbs curling and uncurling from where he had tucked them beneath him. Undersized wings stretched out in the sun and Riley watched the dragon lower his head to better observe the hatchling who was observing him just as intently. “I can grow when I absorb water,” Laurence explained. “When I grow my scales get paler, and my name is Laurence, I am a Commodore of His Majesty’s Navy. What is your name?”
“I don’t have one,” the hatchling said. He did not sound bothered but Laurence still reacted, twisting his head lower and bringing his overlong tail around to herd the hatchling closer. The hatchling pressed himself along Laurence’s neck and closed his eyes.
“Would you like me to give you one?” Laurence asked. He watched the crew move around him and said something quietly to a midshipman that came close to him, who offered him a salute and changed course towards the food stores. Riley drifted closer to the pair to better hear them, his curiosity taking over, and Laurence glanced at him for a moment before turning attention back to the hatchling and crew.
“I would,” the hatchling said, and Laurence hummed in thought. Riley wondered if he would name the hatchling after his old Captain, after any of his first crew, if perhaps he would name him after his old ship.
Finally, Laurence said, “Temeraire,” and it looked like something shifted in the hatchling as he pushed more against Laurence’s neck.
“I like it. I am Temeraire.”
After that a trough of meat was brought out for the hatchling - Temeraire - to eat along with a bucket of water which Laurence used to carefully rinse the remaining egg fluid and shell fragments off of Temeraire’s hide.
The rest of their journey back to port was accompanied by a fussing sea dragon, Laurence refusing to leave but for urgent summons. Which was probably for the best, as Temeraire was also prone to fussing if the Commodore was gone from sight for too long. He spent most of the day with his head stretched over the side of the ship to converse with Laurence, where he would pester him with myriad questions that Laurence did his best to answer. Riley would listen in at times, and many of the stories Laurence would tell at Temeraire’s request would be naval battles he had heard of or participated in and sea shanties passed down from crews to him. It all seemed rather sweet, in Riley’s opinion. Temeraire was given stories to keep him from being under any of the crew’s feet, and Laurence was given a chance to talk to an enraptured audience.
The only thing that deeply concerned Riley was that Temeraire did not seem to bond with any of the crew, ignoring any of the ones that would speak with him in favor of Laurence. He would talk to them, certainly, but his interest in them never went deeper than whether they were capable of answering his questions. And while that greatly relieved the crew it worried Riley - didn’t this mean the dragon was feral? Was the dragon worthless now? What would they do with him? What would he have to tell Laurence?
As he worried about this one day the boat rocked beneath his feet and he held onto the railing as Temeraire ran to the side of the ship. They both watched Laurence breach out of the water and bend his head down. Seawater streamed out from between his teeth and, once it was done, he carefully moved to above the deck and opened his mouth. Fish fell out and hit the deck in a shower of wet thuds and Riley wrinkled his nose at the smell as his crew went about collecting the surplus of fish and carting it into the kitchens. Temeraire pawed through the fish nearest him and looked up at Laurence. “No squid?” He asked plaintively, and around him men chuckled.
“There are far more fish around your ship than squid, little one.” Laurence sounded amused. “I will fetch you some kelp to eat, and you will need to eat a lemon today as well.”
While Temeraire subsided at the promise of more food, Riley spoke up. “Commodore, dragons have no record of being capable of developing scurvy. I’m sure he’d be fine without.” He had to fight back the urge to step away as Laurence’s head snapped toward him, his grey eyes focused on Riley’s smaller form.
“And we will continue to have no record of a dragon developing scurvy,” Laurence said slowly, unblinking. “Unless you know full well what the diet of a dragon of His Majesty’s Aviary consists of, I have final say on nonconventional members within His Majesty’s Navy, and I will be damned before I allow any of them to fall to scurvy.”
“I don’t believe their group is called the Aviary,” he protested weakly, and Laurence blinked once at him.
“Noted,” he said, before withdrawing back beneath the water to find the kelp he’d promised Temeraire.
Riley sighed to himself as he watched the younger dragon drop his head over the side of the ship to wait for Laurence. The Commodore’s fussing was getting quite tiresome. Riley was beginning to look forward to when they’d get to pass Temeraire off to the Aviators.
Temeraire waited until nightfall before he slipped into the ocean, the watch once again asleep and not marking his action. It appeared the presence of their Commodore made the Navy men less on their guard when it came to watches. Temeraire floated above the water, reveling in the weightlessness it brought about. A part of him longed to take to the sky, but Captain Riley had pleaded with him not to, so that he may not worry the men that he would fly off and never return.
Which was markedly ridiculous of them; he would never leave without Laurence.
As he thought the Commodore’s name he felt the water beneath him change as a head began to rise above the water. A fin broke through first beside Temeraire and he was quick to gently hold on as Laurence continued to rise beneath him. He only went up enough that he could slither along the surface, and Temeraire twisted his neck so that he could look into his friend’s eyes. The moonlight made them shine like the grey pearls Temeraire would sometimes find in the oysters Laurence would bring him. “Good evening, my dear,” Laurence said, and Temeraire gently nuzzled in between his eyes.
“Good evening, Laurence,” he said back. He settled atop his friend’s head and stretched out one wing to dip into the water. “I think I’m catching up to you in size.”
The silence that followed that declaration was pointed before Laurence said, “I do believe you are wrong, my dear.” The amusement in his voice softened his words and Temeraire used his other wing to gently beat against Laurence’s fin.
“I mean in your land bound form, of course,” he huffed, and around him the ocean shivered as Laurence laughed beneath the waves. He curled his tail around one of Laurence’s horns and dared to drop his arm and leg to drag in the water as well. “I can not even imagine exceeding your size in the water.”
“I do not believe any sky faring dragon can reach my length,” Laurence admitted. “I have run into another sea serpent who approached my length, but they were incapable of reason. We fought each other to an impasse and I have not seen them since.” Laurence sounded rather lost in thought and he dipped them beneath the waves for a moment before resurfacing. “I was not inclined to fight them, but they were attacking one of my ships, and I would not tolerate such actions in my territory.”
“As you shouldn’t,” Temeraire agreed, and they fell into a comfortable silence as they swam alongside the ship. Movement out of the corner of his eye caught Temeraire’s attention and he turned his head to see a few dolphins swimming nearby, not afraid of Laurence the way many other sea creatures were. Laurence had said before that he didn’t like eating them as the dolphins appeared rather intelligent and perhaps he was onto something there.
He laid his head back down atop Laurence’s eye ridge and sighed. “What is it like to have a Captain?” He asked. None of the Navy men could give a good answer about the Aerial Corps - Captain Riley finally told them the name of the group the Aviators served after Laurence began calling them the Aery and Temeraire took to doing the same - but they all assured him that he would be given a Captain like Laurence had when he had hatched. But the concept of a Captain didn’t appeal much to Temeraire, and the thought of leaving Laurence appealed to him not at all. He hoped Laurence could explain to him why this Captain was so important, or Temeraire feared he would upset quite a few people with his disinterest.
Laurence was silent as he gathered his thoughts and Temeraire entertained himself by trying to reach out and bat at the finned tendrils that extended from Laurence’s snout. “To have a Captain is to have a compass, or perhaps an eye in a storm,” Laurence said, breaking the gentle tension between them. “For all that we may have bickered - and I assure you, my dear, my Captain and I had a number of things that we disagreed greatly on in our years together, some of which we never came to an accord on - my Captain was still my port, the person I could go to and receive support without question when all I needed was something to keep me above the water. Once my Captain passed away, I could not bear another, and so refused any offer. That did not please any of the Admiralty, as it appears the refusal to take a Captain is considered a sign of being feral, and they presented me with an ultimatum - take a new Captain or go to the Aerial Corps’ breeding grounds.”
Temeraire was appalled at the thought and was further appalled at the noise he made to that. “What did you say?”
Laurence looked rather embarrassed. “I refused both options. There was still much I could provide to His Majesty’s Navy, and in fact could do even more if unburdened with a Captain and ship to constantly worry over. When they tried to insist on their ultimatum I told them I would simply help them independently and never contact the Navy again, and asked them how they intended to stop me. They conceded after that, and after a few years provided me the rank of Commodore so that I may have official ownership of the ships of His Majesty’s Navy.”
“That was a brilliant move, Laurence! Do you think I could do the same?” Temeraire asked, excited at the thought of working without the burden of a Captain, and perhaps working with Laurence himself instead of with the Aerial Corps.
The Commodore dunked them both under the water again for a moment and resurfaced. “I do not know, but I counsel caution. From what I have gathered I am the only sea dragon serving England at this time. I had greater leverage than you will as it sounds like there are many flying dragons serving in the Aerial Corps. If you cannot bond with whoever they offer you as Captain, I must urge you to try and tolerate them rather than petition for independent action.”
“But Laurence,” protested Temeraire, “everything you have described about what your Captain meant to you is how you mean to me. I don’t want some human to be my Captain, I want you.” He pulled his arm, leg and wing out of the water and curled them close to himself, cold at the thought of being separated now that he knew what it meant to be together.
Laurence made a low noise that sounded as mournful as Temeraire felt. “I feel much the same. To have you near is to have the sun rise after a great tempest. But I am sorry to say that the Admiralty appeared quite against the notion of a dragon attaining the rank of Captain. But, no matter what, know that if I cannot be your Captain, I will always be your Commodore.”
Temeraire thought on that, and watched Laurence’s wings, undersized compared to his body, stretch out and act as sails with the rushing sea breeze. “So long as you know that I will always be your dragon, my dear Laurence.”
Laurence breathed out sharply, and the sea spray hit Temeraire. “Of course,” he said, and if he sounded doubtful then Temeraire would simply endeavor to convince him of his honesty.