Iskierka jumps and down futilely in an effort to reach the counter. “I want it, I want it, this is most unfair,” she spits. “You would let Temeraire play with it!”
“I did not set the tub on fire,” Temeraire retorts from the table. Iskierka releases a short shriek and begins jumping again.
Augustine has brought along Chenery today; the latter watches the children in fascination from their place on the couch. “I think I understand what you mean,” he says, “About your children being... unusual.”
“Technically only Iskierka is mine. Although she does tend to be the more explosive one.”
“I really don't know if you mean that literally.”
“I mean that literally.”
“Do you realize,” Chenery asks, “that they don't use contractions?”
“That,” John says, “I blame entirely on Laurence.”
The very subject of their conversation wanders into the sitting room at that moment – inasmuch as Laurence can ever be said to wander. John and Laurence's flat consists of a joined sitting room that opens into the kitchen, a single loo, and four bedrooms – Temeraire's used to be an office, and even after the conversion it still smells like glue and old books. Mostly because Temeraire keeps it full of, well, glue and old books.
John takes out his phone to snap a discreet picture. “You have no shame,” Augustine mutters, but he's grinning.
“I have four retweets already,” John says cheerfully. “I don't show his face. And the internet loves a man in uniform.”
Lieutenant-Commander William Laurence – current commanding officer of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and ready to head out for his current duties at the Victory museum – straightens his tie and hat before surveying the two children in the kitchen with a critical eye. Behind him another man, this one shorter and with scarred bronze skin, stumbles out of the same bedroom. He isn't wearing a shirt.
Chenery stares. He looks between John and Augustine. “I thought you said Laurence was straight?” he hisses.
“Oh, that's what he always tells us,” John agrees darkly. He takes out his phone.
“Don't tweet that!”
The online help-guides have plenty of things to say about raising girls as a single dad; they have less to say about how to braid a four-year-old's hair with one arm, and Iskierka isn't exactly the most patient child in the world.
“Chop it off! Off!” she wails.
“Oh no,” Granby sighs. “It's very nice hair, you don't want that, dear - “
“Off! Fwoosh!” She jerks her hands and makes a sound like it might catch on fire, jerking forward as she does so, and of course that makes him lose his tenuous grip on her silky red hair. He gives up.
At that moment his phone rings with Tenzing's ringtone, which sounds distinctly like the shrieking of eagles. Because that's what it is – John recorded Tenzing's fucking eagle making that exact sound on one of his visits to the man's pretentious manor, and now everyone around him gets to suffer like he does, too.
He reads the text. It says, “Found injured sailor. Bringing him to your place.”
John frowns. Reads this again. “If this is the beginning of a porno, I have to opt out. Iskierka's home.”
A pause, then, “Idiot. Actual injured sailor. Will explain.” And then he doesn't, because Tenzing's even more terse in text than real life, which is to say, extremely.
“Apparently we're having guests,” John says. Iskierka perks up and opens her mouth. “No, that does not get you out of doing your hair – go find a clip.”
The door buzzes just a few minutes later. John opens it and looks up and down. “Tenzing, you are never boring,” he decides.
“I beg your pardon,” says a miserable blond man. “I do not at all mean to intrude - “
“You have a broken arm,” Tenzing says flatly. “Intrude all you like.” And he heaves the sailor – yes, that is definitely a naval uniform – straight through the door.
John is patient enough to wait for a full ten seconds as the mysterious man slumps on his couch before curiosity eats at him. “Alright,” he says. “Alright. If you have a broken arm - “ and yes, it's clearly broken, “Why are you here, and not, I don't know, at a hospital?”
“Assassins,” says Tenzing, crazy-eyed.
“Of course,” says John. “I don't know why I didn't think of that.”
“Daddy,” Iskierka whines. “Stove on fire!”
“It's supposed to be,” he sighs, and then looks, because, no, it shouldn't be on fire like that.
After that minor disaster is dealt with – the doctor had laughed and assured him Iskierka's pyromaniac tendencies are surely just a passing phase, and god, he hopes so – he sends Iskierka to her room and returns to where Tenzing is wrapping the sailor's arm with gauze.
John didn't know he owned gauze.
“Oh, lord. I hate you.”
“I am sincerely sorry,” says the sailor.
“Not you – what is your name, anyway?”
“Lieutenant-Commander William Laurence, of the HMS Mayfly. We were in dock when I heard several of my crewmates discussing plans to assassinate - “ Laurence hesitates, “ - someone, and they caught me.”
“And then knocked him out and attempted to dump his body in the ocean. Right by my favorite camping site, incidentally – you know where.”
“What, that god-awful place where all the boats crash up and the coast guard keeps finding bodies?”
“Yes, that's the one. His companions were monologuing.”
John covers his eyes.
“I'm sure you're in no danger,” Tenzing says. “I would never have brought him here – but we didn't really want to try a public hospital, either, in case they are keeping an eye out.”
“Right,” John says. “Just. Right. I hope you live nearby,” he tells William Laurence.
“Not too far,” the man agrees. He finally rises with a wince. “Thank you kindly for your assistance - “
“Sure,” says John. And then: “Anytime.”
Later, he wonders if that last addition was strictly necessary.
Afterward the papers run a story on the averted assassination of the Chinese Ambassador. William Laurence is discussed by name and his commendation is mentioned; also mentioned is the regrettable fact that he will be moved to an on-shore posting due to an 'unfortunate injury incurred in the line of duty'.
John takes a picture of the article and posts it online, adding his own part in the adventure. “God,” someone says with a retweet, “Imagine being this desperate for attention.”
Tenzing texts him a day later. “I have a request.”
“Your last request involved assassins. Does this involve the mob?”
In fairness, Tenzing has a lot of odd friends. John wonders if he's one of them.
“Do you still need a roommate?”
“Are you finally selling that mansion?”
“Manor. And no. Laurence is looking for a flatmate. He says the manor is too much.”
Not the flatmate part. Did Tenzing actually offer his house to someone? Like a human being?
“He has a son.”
Ha. Iskierka is worth four children on her own; more, probably. Most children aren't walking safety hazards. Somehow, before the thought processes, he responds that, sure, give Laurence his number, and only as Iskierka yells for food from the other room does the thought really think in.
They end up settling for a place in Portsmouth instead of Calshot where John originally lived. He's been wanting to move both to get somewhere a little more communal and a little more connected. Portsmouth is where Will's posting is located; beyond being in a more city-like city John isn't too picky about where he goes. Being an appraiser and web-designer are both jobs he can do from the flat, with occasional materials mailed in.
Will – or Laurence, as he can also be called – indeed has an adopted son about Iskierka's age. He wanders in during their first meeting and blurts out a string of syllables that makes John stare at him.
“Mandarin,” Laurence says. “His first language – it's important to keep those ties to his heritage.”
“Oh,” says John, trying to sound intelligent. “Yes, of course.” He side-eyes Iskierka, who's watching the boy sullenly from his side. She was born to Turkish parents and very much Does Not Speak Turkish. Iskierka can perhaps stumble through a little French. “...Er.”
John quickly learns the following things about William Laurence:
He always does his dishes.
Unless Temeraire is ill or whining, he is always asleep by 9:45, precisely.
Will does not use contractions
He will not ask you any questions about yourself
He is absurdly, absurdly in love with England
New roomie talks like an old noble woman. The kind that flutters fans in hot-weather and says 'I could not possibly inconvenience you' but (½)
really thinks truly awful vicious thoughts about everyone EXCEPT HE'S COMPLETELY SINCERE AND POLITE AND IT'S TERRIBLE (2/2).
They have a movie night on the second week and watch Beauty and the Beast with the kids. Temeraire finds it a bit romantic, if odd; Iskierka is convinced the film is leading up to an epic climax where Belle will murder Beast to win her freedom. She deems the actual ending 'stupid'. John kind of finds it hard to argue about this without encouraging unhealthy relationships, so he just sort of stutters for a bit. Laurence at least encourages her to knock someone unconscious and then run away instead of turning straight to murder. Afterward Temeraire and Iskierka retire and they watch another movie, one of Laurence's – apparently he's a history buff. This movie takes place during the Napoleonic period. Laurence gets suspiciously teary-eyed when Wellington triumphs during the Battle of Waterloo and John watches him with morbid fascination.
He texts Tenzing, “Your boyfriend is a dork, did you realize that?”
John falls asleep that night feeling actually pretty content with things. He has a good roommate and a good place to live, his job is going well, and Iskierka even has someone to play with. Maybe the distraction will keep her from blowing up the place.
At this point, of course, he has no idea that Tenzing will be visiting the next day – and he hasn't yet seen Tenzing and Laurence together since their first meeting.
Tenzing stops by around five because of course he does.
Tenzing doesn't seem to have any concept of time that John has ever noticed, and he rarely announces his visits. John doesn't actually see Tenzing often or even talk to him much; usually Tenzing disdains the phone except for 'special occasions'. He did once send John a carrier-pigeon, but he might have been fucking around. Basically, John would consider them casual friends; they have drinks when Tenzing's in town, which is nice because Tenzing is pretty good company, and John's crashed in Scotland a few times, and that's about it. More importantly, that seems to be how Tenzing prefers things because he doesn't seem to hold a lot of solid attachments to anyone.
So his interest in William Laurence is a bit... strange.
“How are you settling in?” he asks as soon as he enters. “I trust Temeraire is well?”
“Excellent, thank you.” Laurence frowns and tilts his head a little.
“How do you find your new position?”
“Slow, very slow – though I suppose that is what was intended,” Laurence concedes.
“We make quite a pair,” John agrees ruefully.
Laurence visibly hesitates again.
“Good lord,” Granby says. “If you've something to say, spit it out.”
“Forgive me,” Laurence says, because for whatever reason he thinks he'll be struck down by lightning for asking questions. To Tenzing: “I thought you lived near Glasgow?”
“Oh, that. He has a manor near Glasgow,” John says. “He has a house up by London. And he travels a lot and camps by the sea.”
Laurence nods like this is perfectly normal. “I am rather fortunate for that hobby,” he acknowledges.
“Laurence has a big house,” Temeraire chirps suddenly – he calls Will Laurence, always, for no particular reason John understands. “Up with George and grandmother - “
At their quizzical looks, Laurence clarifies, “It is not my house. My father has a seat at Nottinghamshire, but we haven't been there in some time.”
John stares at Laurence in horror. “You're like him, aren't you?” He points to Tenzing. “You're an outcast lordling... It's because you're gay, isn't it.”
Laurence just seems confused. “Why would you think I'm gay? I have only ever dated women.”
Right. Why would John think that. All straight men adopt adorable Chinese foundlings before marriage and make moon-eyes at their friends.
The dapper-as-hell sailor suit probably doesn't help the impression, honestly. Laurence is wearing it right now. They're about to eat dinner. “Why are you wearing your uniform to dinner, Will?”
Laurence looks down uncertainly. “What else would I wear?” he asks.
John takes out his phone. “Roomie is gorgeous and clueless. You don't understand my pain,” he tweets. It gets five likes immediately.
“You look fine,” Tenzing says immediately. Hah. Of course he likes Will in uniform. In fact, he really seems to like Will in uniform. John watches him suspiciously as Tenzing asks Temeraire about his new school, his eyes flicking back up to the sailor every few seconds.
John feels a grin stretch across his mouth. Iskierka looks at him suspiciously, so he quickly stifles the expression.
And, not gay, his ass. Laurence reaches up to straighten his tie every time he locks eyes with Tenzing; it looks like he's preparing for a speech. They'll be dating by the end of the week.
“Hello, John,” Laurence says. “This is Admiral Jane Roland.”
“Oh,” John says, and continues to gawk at the ruffled woman sitting on his couch.
“'Lo,” Jane says, and stabs at a pancake. Laurence wanders over to hand her a glass of juice and she winks at him.
“I hope,” Laurence says, in a tone both apologetic and firm, “That we are not intruding in any way - “
“No, no, guests are fine,” John says in the same dazed tone. Jane grins at him as though perfectly understanding his confusion. She's handsome in an unconventional way, with a strong face and great confidence about herself; her face is covered is soft scars that arc down to her chin.
Suddenly Temeraire comes stumbling out of his room, still dazed from sleep. He looks up, brightens, and says, “Admiral!”
“Admiral?” John asks, that part of the name suddenly dawning on him. He finds his ever-present phone and tweets rapidly, Hypothetical: friend being also-hypothetically taken advantage of #inasexualway at work what do?
He looks up and smiles cheerfully at Jane Roland.
“Jane is the First Sea Lord,” Laurence says.
He remembers that announcement from the telly, vaguely – the first female to take command of the navy. There had been debates about her title for weeks. But for some reason, all he can think to say is, “I didn't think we had woman in the navy very long.”
“We had our own section until recently – and I was the best.” Jane raises her eyebrows, and, okay, John doesn't doubt it.
Iskierka wanders out next. She stares at Jane in something like wonder.
notjollyguy has replied to his tweet: Blackmail.
Yeah. Thanks a lot.
And, oh fuck, Jane's showing Iskierka the fancy sword on her belt, abort mission, abort mission.
“Do you live in Portsmouth?” he asks desperately, jabbing a finger at Iskierka's chair. His daughter ignores him, of course.
“No; my duties take me all over, but my daughter is going to start University here. I've only been visiting her – and I always stop to see Laurence when we're in the same port.”
Translation: Laurence is her booty-call.
“I've talked to Emily about watching Temeraire – and Iskierka, if you don't mind my presumption – if we should both be out,” Laurence adds.
Oh. Well, that's good.
Although John hopes Emily isn't too much like her mother. Iskierka is still staring at the sword with hungry eyes.
Iskierka and Temeraire glare at each other on the couch while John scrubs away the scorch-marks on the floor. He'd given them both fingerpaint – which was probably an awful idea from the beginning, to be fair – and Temeraire started to write crooked Chinese poetry with little doodles in the margins. The poems, John suspects, were insulting little ditties about girls named Iskierka. His own daughter, meanwhile, splattered the paint liberally in a more expected way, which resulted in a bulky if recognizable picture of a dragon before she poured her paint all over Temeraire's paper.
Then they'd both started flinging black and red watercolors at each other. And then Iskierka's paper had spontaneously combusted. John swears she has a secret store of matches somewhere and he's going to find them one day.
He gives up on cleaning the burns and finally retrieves a tiny potted plant from Temeraire's room to cover the mark. The landline rings and he takes the distraction gratefully.
“Hello?” A sudden hissed whisper makes him turn around. Iskierka and Temeraire watch him innocently from the couch.
“John,” Laurence says, “I'm afraid I'm going to be a bit late – I do apologize.”
“Oh, that's, ah, fine. No problems here...” He covers the receiver as best as he can. “Temeraire,” he warns. The boy stops slinking closely to Iskierka and slouches against the couch.
“I might bring Tenzing when I arrive,” Laurence adds, “I'm not sure when he'll be let out, though.”
That strikes a few warning bells. “Let out?”
“Of the hospital.”
...John prays for patience. “Why is Tenzing in the hospital, Laurence.”
“He visited me at the museum. There was a shooting, and I am afraid he was hit in the shoulder. Presently I am calling from outside the hospital.”
“Why aren't you in the hospital?”
“Phones calls are not permitted in the hospital, John.”
John pulls the phone away, looks at it mutely for a moment, and then hangs up.
He looks at the couch. Iskierka and Temeraire, grappling with each other and hanging half over the edge of it, freeze silently. “Will is on the news,” he predicts.
They both sit up immediately.
Laurence is, in fact, on the news. And it turns out he somewhat downplayed the situation.
“Here at the Victory Museum, workers are still clearing the scene from where a lone gunman started threatening visitors. His motivations are still unknown. There has been only one confirmed injury - “
Of fucking course it would be Tenzing.
“ - a Mr. Tenzing Tharkay, who is expected to recover. The attack was ended by the navy's Lieutenant Commander William Laurence, who tackled the shooter to the ground and pulled his gun away...”
They have an actual video and it occurs to John that, possibly, he should not be letting the children see any of this. He's an awful parent. Laurence, however, is the one getting himself involved in shootings, so John's going to pin this on him.
The tiny video-Laurence does in fact tackle the shooter - despite the man's madly-flailing gun, and despite the second bullet that whizzes over Laurence's head. God. John's going to have nightmares. Video-Tenzing is blurred, at least, for whatever reason. He glances at the kids, both grinning proudly. Okay. That's not troubling at all.
He's definitely meant to be working on a project, but, hell. “I guess we're going to the hospital,” he sighs.
Temeraire and Iskierka fight to find their coats. He takes out his phone and tweets, Roomie and his friend T have saved each others lives now #theyhavetomarryright
He doesn't realize yet that the 'saving each others lives' thing will require an actual fucking score.
“You know what,” John says half an hour later, staring between Tenzing and Laurence from beside the hospital bed: “Maybe we should leave.”
Tenzing glances at him blearily. Laurence – clutching Tenzing's hand like the poor man will expire at any second – looks a bit bewildered. “Of course,” he says, “If you need to leave, I can take Temeraire and Iskierka back - “
“No, no,” John says. “I mean. I can take them. If you want to talk. Alone.” He eyes Laurence's thumb, which is moving in slow circles over Tenzing's wrist.
“No – no, there is nothing to say.” But Laurence looks uncomfortable. “Though I am... Tenzing, I am sorry that I could not stop him - “
Tenzing squeezes his hand. “You did stop him, you fool.”
“Not before you were injured - “
“You are hardly omniscient,” Tenzing says. “And in my life I do expect occasional dangers, though admittedly not while examining nineteenth-century cannons.”
“But you were hurt,” Laurence says sincerely, “while I was on watch.”
“I would trust no one more with my life.” Tenzing gazes at Laurence like they're in a lifetime movie.
And then the moment is broken:
“...So does it hurt terribly?” Temeraire asks. He clutches his ever-present gold necklace and rubs at it anxiously.
“Can I see?” Iskierka wants to know. She edges closer to the bed and tries to climb it, flailing her hands dangerously close to the bullet-wound in question. Tenzing winces and Laurence hastily picks her up.
“What are you even doing getting shot!” he bursts. Everyone stops and stares as though John is the crazy one here. “What business do you think you have - “
Laurence straightens a little. “It is a necessary danger, John, which I accepted when I took my oaths as a member of Her Majesty's Navy. And I understand that the thought of such dangers can be alarming, however - “
“You're a bloody museum attendant!”
Laurence does not dignify this with a direct reply. “I would gladly step in front of a hundred bullets for Tenzing,” he says with a maddening sincerity. “My only regret is that I did not stop the one that struck him.”
Tenzing doesn't even have a sardonic remark at hand. In fact, he's just staring at Laurence sappily. And that's how John knows things are very, very serious.
“...So can we see,” Temeraire asks.
Iskierka insisted on 25 candles for her cake - “Because it's five times five!” - and John couldn't deny her. He watches in resignation as she swipes her hand across the flaming array and sends candles all over the table. Laurence rushes for a fire-extinguisher.
So, really Iskierka's fifth birthday goes better than expected.
They're packed off to bed with Iskierka hinting that maybe school should be canceled the next day as another treat for her birthday; Temeraire goes without complaint. After being put on the spectrum the school tried to hold him behind, but Laurence showed up to the place and argued so viciously that they moved him ahead a year instead. Now Temeraire has a ten-year plan that includes proving himself so well he'll graduate University within ten years, and John's a bit terrified to think he'll probably manage it.
John soaks the floor while Laurence brushes up the extinguisher powder. “You seem a bit distracted,” he notes.
“The room was just on fire,” Laurence says.
“So?” That happens every few days.
Laurence presses the heel of his hand to his eyes and shrugs. “Then I can offer no explanation.”
John gnaws on his lip. “I haven't seen Tenzing in awhile,” he says. “You're usually attached at the hip.”
“Tenzing does not live in Portsmouth.”
“So?” he repeats.
Laurence hunches his shoulders and says nothing.
Alright. That's interesting. John tries to imagine being in an argument with Tenzing. What comes to mind is mostly a silent war of icy silences and, maybe, killer hawks. John still doesn't trust that eagle of his at all. But avoiding Portsmouth entirely would be just like Tenzing. “So what did you do?” He asks.
Laurence shoots him a dark look.
“Well,” John defends. “It's a fair question.”
“I beg your pardon,” Laurence says, rising to throw away his rags. “I believe that is all we can do today; I am going to retire for tonight.”
John rolls his eyes at Laurence's back. Coward. He pulls out his phone and debates texting Tenzing to pry, but it probably wouldn't be any use. Instead he shrugs and opens twitter.
“I am going to retire for tonight” #shitmyroommatesays
Laurence's distraction persists over the next few days, and at first John figures that a man is owed some occasional lapses. Then Laurence comes back from his shift and he isn't wearing a hat.
“Did someone steal it,” John asks, staring in wonder. He's working, but he puts aside his laptop and takes a picture to commemorate the occasion. Then he keeps looking; it's like seeing a hairless cat, or a zebra with no stripes. Plainly wrong.
“What,” Laurence asks.
“Your hat. Or lack of hat, rather.”
Laurence clutches at his head. Blinks. “Oh,” he sighs, which is really not the appropriate reaction at all, considering that last week Temeraire spilled foam on his work-shoes and Laurence spent forty minutes scrubbing at them. “I must have misplaced it.”
“...Right,” John says, and without turning he shuts the laptop slowly. “...Are you feeling alright?” Temeraire and Iskierka are still at classes.
“I asked Jane to marry me last night,” Laurence says.
John inhales sharply. For some reason his first thought is just: Poor Tenzing.
And then: You daft bastard.
“Congratulations,” is what he says aloud.
“She laughed at me,” Laurence informs him thoughtfully. “Just a little; I do not think she meant to be cruel. And then she said I am fooling myself if I think I should like to marry her, or anyone. And she left.”
John realizes he's gaping. He shuts his mouth, swallows, and says, “I'll call up - “ Well, not Emily, goddamn. “ - Demane, to watch the kids. Then we're getting drunk.”
“Oh, I cannot, I have a shift tomorrow - “
Because evidently his shift today went so well.
“Laurence,” John says solemnly, “We are getting drunk tonight.” He has a thought. “And we're inviting Tenzing.”
“Oh.” Laurence pauses. “...Very well then.”
Apparently Laurence gets sad when he drinks. All my ideas are awful, John tweets. The internet agrees with him resoundingly.
Tenzing, for once, is no help whatsoever.
“Why did you ask her,” he muses. “That is what I do not understand. You didn't really want to marry her.”
“I love her,” Laurence declares tearfully over his scotch. John nudges it away. When people start crying the alcohol should probably leave.
“Well, probably a tad,” Tenzing says reasonably. “That's not the same as wanting to marry someone, Will.”
John scratches his head. He hopes Tenzing isn't still holding a grudge over... whatever.
“Temeraire likes her,” Laurence says sadly.
“Oh,” Tenzing says. “Are you having a crisis?”
Roomie having a crisis and trying to find a wife. John hashtags it #gaypanic
“No,” Laurence lies.
“Mm,” Tenzing says, and nudges the alcohol closer, the traitor.
Gay bonding seems to help, John adds.
John straightens his shirt. He has a good feeling about this date – Temeraire had sniffed a little at Dayes the one time they'd met, but Temeraire vacillates between childishly hoarding bits of glass and jewelry and blowing up experiments in his room, then – like he did last week - criticizing the 'inherently flawed structure of the United Kingdom's legislative body' with damnable and confusing terms. So John is never sure what to think of his opinion.
He steps out of his room and spots Laurence in the kitchen, sitting silently at the table. In the dark. Alone.
John hesitates. Then he sighs, glances wistfully at the door, and retrieves his phone. Sorry Dayes. Emergency. I have to cancel.
John glances suspiciously at the children's doors. Then, showing every ounce of his maturity, he grabs two short chairs from the sitting-room and wedges them under the doorknobs of the kid's respective rooms. If Iskierka tries to leave she will get upset with Temeraire; if Temeraire tries to leave he will get upset with Iskierka. Whatever. They're always fighting anyway, and it's really the only way to ensure half a minute's privacy.
Needless to say Laurence is eyeing him suspiciously when he plonks down in the kitchen. “Out with it.”
“I don't know what you mean.”
“What's wrong with you, Will. Don't pretend there's nothing - “
“I am perfectly well, and Dayes is a tosser,” John says, realizing it to be true. Laurence nods absently in agreement before flushing a little.
“...I believe I will take Temeraire to Nottinghamshire tomorrow,” Laurence says abruptly. “I haven't brought him to see my parents in some time.”
John's going to get whiplash. “Your parents? What, did something happen to them?”
“No, nothing at all.”
“Last time you saw your father he asked you would have any 'proper heirs' and tried to bribe Temeraire into running away. With the leprechauns, apparently.”
“I think they need to bond more,” says Laurence without missing a beat. “My mother adores Temeraire.”
“Yes,” John concedes. Temeraire adores her, too. “She sent him that pre-1900 chemistry kit. The one that Iskierka uses to explode things. More things. I expect that has something to do with his affection for her.”
Laurence apparently decides he has explained enough: “In any case, we may be gone several days.”
“Well,” says John, and searches for words. “...Good luck, I suppose.”
Laurence returns after several days and apparently the visit did go well, or so claims Temeraire, who smugly tells Iskierka all about how he rode horses. 'Not borrowed ones, either, good horses'. So perhaps John was concerned for nothing.
Except whatever distraction has been gripping Laurence only seems worse than ever. He wanders around in a half-daze, and three days after Temeraire and Laurence return John resolves to confront him properly.
John usually uses Saturdays to take care of any business outside the flat (this includes taking a weekly gift to the local fire-department; it's important to stay on their good side, and they're rapidly becoming less amused by Iskierka's 'quirks'). When he returns that evening, however, Laurence isn't in the flat. Temeraire and Iskierka's voice come clearly from Iskierka's room when he opens the door - “No, that is not how it works, you will break it you idiot!” - and on the couch is...
“Hullo, Emily,” John says with a blink. Well, at least that answers one question – Laurence clearly still intends to use Jane's daughter for babysitting, despite any awkwardness with Jane herself. “I didn't expect to see you here today.”
Emily shrugs and taps a pencil on her blank notebook. “Commander Laurence said he's volunteering.”
“Oh, that's nice. Volunteering where?”
“Something about dismantling old bombs for the navy, I dunno.”
John slowly counts to ten.
Then, “Bombs,” because, no, the counting isn't helping. “And he's volunteering...?”
“Maybe he was bored,” she suggests. “You know, between you and me I think he felt a little silly after he made that offer to mum.”
Rolands seem to be universally blithe. “That's one word for it,” he agrees. “...Do you know when he'll be back?”
“He said hopefully around eight. If everything goes alright.”
“Yes. Of course.” John closes his eyes briefly. “...You know what, Emily, would you mind watching the kids a little late tonight? I think I'm going to call up Tenzing and go find him...”
Laurence arrives at the stoop of the flat, looks between John and Tenzing, and deflates even more if that is possible.
“No,” says John, “Stop looking at the place, it hasn't imploded while you were gone – we just want to talk.”
“Yes, about you,” Tenzing adds.
“To you,” John corrects.
“About you,” Tenzing says again. “So a woman will not marry you – it is not the end of the world, and you need not blow yourself up to hide the shame.”
“I would not,” says Laurence, roused to indignation. “The service needed volunteers.”
“Yes, and I suppose you were the only man available. Do not answer that,” Tenzing adds. “And you've barely been around, you know – don't think we haven't noticed.”
John has noticed – he lives with Laurence. How did Tenzing -
“I have been making... arrangements.”
“Arrangements to - ?”
“I think it will be excellent for Temeraire to see more of the island,” Laurence says, which is not really an answer. “I do not think he really feels connected here. I believe we will start with Liverpool.”
“Will,” Tenzing says flatly, “Everyone hates Liverpool. I hate Liverpool, and I'm from Scotland. Temeraire isn't interested in touring the country right now – what are you doing?”
There's a long pause. Then Laurence just slumps. “It's – I've had word from Temeraire's mother,” he says. “She wants to see him.”
John exchanges looks with Tenzing. “You haven't mentioned how you came to adopt him,” he says cautiously.
“I did some work around China when I met Qian – Temeraire was her son, a twin, which is usually considered exceptionally fortunate. Twins are permitted under their one-child policy. But her family was concerned they would fight over the inheritance.”
“What, Temeraire?” John can't imagine anything less likely. “They were so worried she gave him up?”
“She didn't want him in China at all – I cannot imagine why she would want to see him after all these years. Of course I would not refuse her; Temeraire deserves to meet his mother. But...”
“I am sure it is nothing serious,” John encourages.
“I know a man who could change your identities,” Tenzing says. “He does excellent work. You could be set up as refugees. Or as unremarkable merchants. Or even the outcast descendents of a well-respected but mysteriously forgotten lord - “
Granby forgets what he'd been about to say. “Wait - “
“Thank you, but no,” Laurence responds. “I must confront this problem straight-on, I think; I can avoid it no longer.”
He turns and marches into the house.
“...Well,” says John, “I hope that works out – And I am glad you came, after all, despite your fight.”
“We were never fighting,” Tenzing snaps.
“...Right. Then can I ask what you were not-fighting about?”
Tenzing glowers. “It is hardly my fault,” he says, “If Laurence decides to act completely unreasonable toward the men I see. He may try to marry the first woman he sleeps with, but some of us aren't in such a rush!”
John gapes. Tenzing turns and stalks out the door.
After a moment John takes out his phone. He lets his thumb hover over the keys.
Then, giving up on the whole night, he throws up his hand and stalks out dramatically too.
John reluctantly packs off Iskierka to visit a friend named Arkady when Qian comes – he has never met the boy but teachers assure him he's a menace, and also that Iskierka makes him worse.
He proposes making himself scarce, too, but Laurence won't have it - “It is your place as well, John - “ and, figuring that some support might be a good idea, he does remain.
He doesn't quite expect Tenzing to show up before Qian's arrival, but in hindsight he really should have.
“Is Temeraire in his room? Surely he is excited. But he will notice if you're nervous, Will.”
“I have little hope of hiding it,” Laurence notes ruefully. “ - My dear friend, thank you for your time. I do not know if I could bear it, if...” He trails off.
John irreverently taps on his phone: 'My dear friend': #shitmyroommatesays
“Of course,” is all Tenzing says.
Despite Laurence's greenness, Temeraire is certainly excited; he bounds out a few minutes later to exclaim over Tenzing's presence and demand if he knows anything about China. Has he ever been there, does he speak the language, does he think Qian will be impressed that Temeraire's Mandarin is so good -
“I am sure she cannot help but be proud of you regardless,” Tenzing says, because even he can curb his sarcasm – sometimes – when speaking to children.
For all the lead-up, Qian's arrival is no disappointment; John peeks out the windows as a sleek black car pulls up and a small, elegantly coiffed Chinese woman steps out in a silver qipao glittering with pearls. It may be designed to impress Temeraire, but it still seems rather over-done for this little city, and Granby thinks back to Laurence's mention of inheritance issues.
Laurence approaches the door and hesitates. The awkwardness is readily alleviated when Temeraire bursts outside and runs toward Qian.
John rushes to the door to where Laurence and Tenzing stand. Qian is kneeling down and touching Temeraire's cheek. “Oh,” she says, in quiet English. “ - You look just like him.”
And then from the car another boy comes out, in tiny black slacks and a blue silk coat, and stares at Temeraire. Their faces are completely identical.
“ - Let us go inside,” Laurence offers.
Half the conversations occur in Mandarin as soon as Qian realizes Temeraire is fluent, and Laurence and Tenzing can both mostly keep up with this, so John spends a good deal of time staring at the ceiling and catching occasional, alarming snatches like “great fire” and “secret” and “death”.
Temeraire and his twin – Chuan – mostly just stare at each other.
“ - And so,” says Qian, slipping suddenly back to English, “We will be in England for a time... It would be a tragedy to be so close, and not know my son. If you both have no objections, I would like for Temeraire to visit sometime; perhaps one day you might visit us in China,” she offers, and Temeraire visibly beams.
Laurence, too, is plainly relieved; visits he can welcome as long as Temeraire stays. “We would be glad to see you more often, Qian.”
John has to wait until Qian leaves to ask what the heck just happened.
“Oh – I am sorry, John. Apparently several members of the family were murdered, so now her family considers it expedient to get into contact with Temeraire after all – just in case something happens and the line would otherwise end.”
“Do you know,” says John, “That I never spent this much time – or any time, really – contemplating death or murder before I met you?”
“What a boring life you must have led,” Tenzing comments.
Volly can't quite match Temeraire or Iskierka's exuberance, which, honestly, makes him the perfect playmate. Even better he's one of very few children they both like, although Iskierka occasionally gets a bit impatient when he doesn't understand something. John thinks she's becoming more sensitive, though...
“Doing much better at classes,” James says cheerfully as they look out a window. The three children are zipping around playing tag. “He just won a race, too – fast little bugger.”
“Well, he seems to enjoy running,” John notes dryly. Volly skips to the side and Temeraire plows into the ground, sputtering.
“Haven't seen Laurence around much,” James says; he lives just down the street. “Something wrong?”
“Oh, there was – it's no problem now.” They watch as Volly tackles Iskierka – he's only about half her size and bounces off her side harmlessly. She immediately takes the opportunity to leap onto Temeraire and throw them both to the ground. James winces.
Then John frowns. “Speaking of, though, Will should be back by now...”
Volly and James leave after awhile. When Laurence doesn't return to the flat that Sunday John is a bit confused – it isn't like him to be so irresponsible. When there's no word on Monday he's worried. By Tuesday John has become outright alarmed.
He calls up the Museum and the workers there are just as bewildered as he is. Tenzing is away in India for undisclosed reasons, so that's no help. Temeraire, despite his efforts to act casual, has realized the problem rapidly. “Well we must of course go search for him!” he says again and again. “We will search all the beaches – what if someone attacked him again?” which honestly doesn't sound like half as ludicrous a possibility as it should be.
“Oh, he will be fine,” is Iskierka's contribution.
John starts making calls to the local hospitals. He's dreading news from one of the morgues, but what he doesn't expect is for a nurse to ask him, “Yes, does your friend talk like the protagonist of a Harlequin historic romance novel?”
“That's him!” John cries.
“Oh, good. We thought that might be a symptom. Yes, we have him.”
Apparently, though, Laurence has amnesia.
With that information John calls over Emily to watch the children and shows up at the hospital. When he arrives he looks Laurence up and down: “This is still better than the assassins.”
“The what,” Laurence says.
Laurence stares hard at the pictures John has given him while they walk back to the flat. “Iskierka,” he repeats dutifully. “And I am not to give her anything flammable.”
“Right. Are you sure you're ready for this? You still seem a bit...”
“No, I'm perfectly well,” Laurence determines. “There is no telling if my memory will or will not return; I can only do my utmost to continue, and in any case it would be unfair in the extreme to hurt – Temeraire,” he hesitates over the name, “with my cowardice.”
Roomie taking #selflesshero stereotype to the next level. “Alright. I don't know what I expected.”
As soon as they open the door Temeraire launches himself off the couch. “Laurence! Oh, I am so glad you are well!”
“Hello, Commander,” says Lily. Maximus, one of Temeraire's other friends from school, waves cheerfully. “Is it true that you have injured your brain, and it cannot be fixed? Lily asks with interest.
Laurence coughs awkwardly, but Temeraire interrupts, “Of course it can – I will help him fix it.” And with this rather extraordinary pronouncement he grabs Laurence's hand and drags the man away.
John stares at the remaining two children. “Well,” he says lamely. “ - Biscuits?”
Jane visits the next day, the sight of whom seems to leave Laurence rather impressed; John is a bit gratified to know that the presence of Britain's First Sea Lord awes other people too.
Also, apparently she was in town to visit the museum. She says the HMS Victory there is technically her flagship and official functions happen all the time. “I'm sorry you'll miss our dinner with the duke – you'd have been the only bearable company, I'm sure,” she tells Laurence, who looks a bit alarmed.
After learning about the circumstances of his amnesia, she prompts, “I suppose you don't remember how it happened, either?” They sit around the table. Iskierka and Temeraire, also present, look at Laurence hopefully.
“No, I am afraid not; I washed up ashore and a Japanese tourist found me. His name was Kaneko Hiromasa. He had apparently made a solemn vow to protect and aid whomever he encountered that was in aid, and then stumbled right over me, for which I am fortunate. He was very kind in assisting me to the local hospital.”
John looks around for reactions to this. “Good man,” Roland says. Temeraire nods. Iskierka stares at the the Admiral's dress-sword without paying them any mind.
If Roomie is ever the subject of a Prophecy or Magical Plot Device he will adapt without any problem, John despairs.
Laurence seems to adapt well enough; he even insists on returning to his job the next day. He remembers everything up until seven years before, and the week passes without noticeable incident. He reads to Temeraire each night when his son whines and pleads, and John is relieved to see real fondness developing even if Laurence cannot seem to remember Temeraire. It is something.
Tenzing returns from India the week after. John requests to meet him as soon as he arrives in the country so he can explain the situation. “He's really quite well,” John assures when Tenzing only looks at him with blank, dark eyes. “ - Quite himself, except for. Well. Everything he's forgotten.”
“I see,” says Tenzing, blankly. “ - Perhaps I might return with you, and see him myself?”
John realizes that he forgot to warn Laurence about Tenzing – but then, Laurence has gotten used to odd people traipsing in and out of the place. They head to the flat and both go in.
Laurence looks up from where he's sitting on the couch with Temeraire. “Hello,” John says. “This is - “
“Tenzing,” Laurence breathes. He jerks upright and steps forward.
Tenzing blinks once. “You remember me.”
“I – yes. Yes, of course I do.” Laurence keeps staring at him.
“What,” John can't help but say. “Tenzing?”
“I knew him,” Laurence says. “I knew him and knew myself.”
They both gaze into each others eyes.
“...Excellent,” Tenzing says at last. “I'm glad you're feeling better.”
“Yes. Yes.” Laurence clears his throat. “So am I.” Slowly he sits back on the couch.
John looks at Temeraire. Temeraire looks at him. Iskierka rolls her eyes. Then John realizes he's exchanging looks with seven-year-olds, so he walks into his own room and closes the door.
This is - he should be happy, right? Laurence is better. Except he's better through basically the biggest deus ex machina ever – this is like watching the ticking nuclear reactor countdown in a movie, with the heroes dead and the world destroyed, and then a fucking faerie swoops in from left field and everything is sunshine and roses again. He feels vaguely confused. It's disgusting. It's ridiculous. And what's worse is the fact that Tenzing and Laurence aren't fucking kissing.
When life hands you a story-book cliché, you kiss. That's another cliché, but it's actually the positive part. Tenzing and Laurence need to get on script. And this is basically the moment John realizes he's not going to survive the Tenzing and Laurence show forever, and he begins to plot.
“You know,” John says, “Tenzing visits quite often.”
“Yes,” Laurence agrees cheerfully. Temeraire looks between them impatiently as he makes busy marks on his paper; Iskierka is regarding her own homework dubiously.
“Very often, for someone who doesn't live in the city.”
“Well, he does live alone – he has no obligations elsewhere.”
“I wonder,” John suggests, “If he does not get lonely.”
Laurence seems to hesitate. “I cannot imagine that.”
“Why, I could not imagine another reason he would be here so often.”
Laurence shifts. “Well.”
“I would not want any friend to be unhappy,” says John airily, and now Laurence seems to frown.
Tenzing visits only two days later: “Would you know why Laurence has been introducing me to different men?” he asks very dubiously. “ - He is fantastically awkward about it.”
John can't dilly around anymore. Things are getting ridiculous. He has to confront Laurence. So: stage 1. Get Laurence to admit he likes men.
For awhile he contemplates the idea that Laurence might just be attracted to Tenzing specifically – there are people like that, right? And some people can fall in love without any sexual feelings. Maybe that's why Laurence is so confused! John might be a little less inclined to smack him around the head if he has a legitimate reason to be baffled. He should probably establish that first. So about a week after Laurence's rather disastrous unnamed date he convinces his friend that they should leave Iskierka and Temeraire with Tenzing and go for a walk.
John figures that if any great revelation happens, Laurence can run right back to the flat and declare his undying love. John is a forward-thinker that way.
“You know Laurence,” says John as they trail beside the sea, “sometimes I wish I had more gay friends!”
Laurence side-eyes him. “You have Tenzing,” he says, “And Harcourt is bisexual, and then there is that programmer Dayes, and dear James down the road, and Mr. Hollin, and - “
“Sometimes,” John continues more loudly, “I wish I could just openly talk about things – you understand what I mean?”
“No,” Laurence admits. “But as I only really talk to you and Tenzing very much - “
“Exactly!” John asks, and mentally scrabbles to follow his own train of thought. Yes, he thinks he's making sense. “I hope you know you can talk to us anytime, Laurence – and me especially. Even, and perhaps especially, about personal matters - “
“You know I do,” Laurence says. “I have - “
“Woman problems,” John barrels on, “Or men problems - “
And, there it is: a flinch.
John resists the urge to tweet his triumph. He needs to press his advantage. “So you have had some,” he says, and Laurence flushes.
“I beg your pardon,” he says stiffly, and, nope, John is not going to tweet that - “I do not see how my private life is your concern.”
“It's my concern when it's troubling you.” He glares at Laurence. Laurence glares back.
They stand at an impasse for a moment. Laurence shifts his jaw. Takes a breath. John feels a swell of victory as Laurence averts his gaze.
“I suppose Temeraire mentioned,” he says, resigned.
“...Er, yes,” John says. Aside from being a bit more inclined toward his political books than mathematics lately, Temeraire hasn't done anything unusual at all – by his usual standards, anyway. “That he did.”
“I apologize for any awkwardness.”
“Oh, no, not at all.”
“Of course,” and now Laurence's face is a bit flushed, “I am dearly sorry if the rumors reflect poorly on you.”
“Sure, sure... what rumors, now?”
He's apparently referring to several comments – made by Lord Allendale, overheard by Temeraire, and similar to others going around nearby Portsmouth – that John and Laurence are involved.
“Oh dear god,” he says. “ - That's ridiculous.”
“I – well, ridiculous?” Laurence asks.
“We have nothing in common!”
“We do have two children, John.”
He waves his hand hastily, dismissing the thought. “Well, yes. Other than that. Still. Ridiculous.” He pauses, horrified anew by a new idea. “I wonder if Tenzing thinks...”
“I would doubt that,” says Laurence after a moment.
“Oh, he certainly shan't when I'm through with him,” John says.
“You must believe,” Laurence says sincerely, “That I never had the the slightest intention of deceiving you, or committing any impropriety...”
“Oh, I have no doubt of that,” John sighs.
Naturally he can't ask Laurence about his interests now without seeming like a nosy cad – and sending entirely the wrong message - so John gives up on that line of pursuit. This, incidentally, is about when Laurence comes to him with a proposal:
“Backpacking,” John echoes, like he's the one trekking along mountains. “You and Tenzing. Alone for weeks. I have a question, will you bring one tent or two?”
“I – one, I suppose.” Laurence seems confused. “They are rather heavy, and... if it is too much to ask, John...”
“No! No, on the contrary, you should go. Please. I am sure it will be – extremely beneficial.” When Laurence continues to hesitate he insists, and so the matter is settled. “But you have to promise to take your phone,” he adds, “and skype me updates – just so I know you're fine and Temeraire can see you.”
“Oh, of course,” Laurence agrees immediately, because he's perfectly obliging like that.
When he leaves John opens up twitter. Roomie and T backpacking across a continent. Platonically. #theresonly1tent #someoneisgonnacombust and, after, Will livetweet all updates I get about #theGreatPlatonicHike as they occur
After a moment's thought, he adds,
If they don't kiss by the end of this I s2g I will let Tenzing set me up on a blind date like he keeps asking about
Well. John hopes 'Augustine Little' – what an awful name – is a nice man, because he's apparently lost a bet with himself. Somehow. To recap Laurence and Tenzing's glorious trip across Nepal, it's only necessary to look over his tweets:
Let #theGreatPlatonicHike commence #theybetterkiss
Roomie called me after landing and checked on his son that's adorable (½)
but forget us and go kiss your boyfriend already #theGreatPlatonicHike (2/2)
Roomie sent me a picture of the sunset because he's a dork #theGreatPlatonicHike
Roomie sent me pictures of T posed against the sunset because jfc REALLY
Roomie sent me a pic of sleeping T WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS SUPPOSED TO PLATONICALLY-MEAN #theGreatPLATONICHike
Roomie sent me text: “T is teaching me Napali”... #theGreatPlatonicHike
Maybe they've hooked up and just haven't mentioned it I can only hope #theGreatPlatonicHike
'Nepal is so beautiful' you mean T is beautiful right #theGreatPlatonicHike
What do you mean I'm overinvested in this relationship #theGreatPlatonicHike
Roomie: “There's a full moon tonight T says it will be special' WHAT DOES THAT MEAN #theGreatPlatonicHike
Hey T is texting me he's using his phone again I expected another pigeon
ALERT ROOMIE FELL OFF A CLIFF
A CLIFF HOW
He's sabotaging this hike on purpose I swear
Oh yeah he's fine by the way but he broke his bad arm again
I bet T will make him soup they're disgusting #theGreatPlatonicHike
Laurence heals up nicely – even Temeraire and Iskierka are oddly conscientious of his broken arm for a few weeks, though Tenzing makes himself scarce on their return.
There's often rain or overcast weather of some shape or form in England, but the drenching on the Thursday and Friday about two months later is absolutely miserable; the National Historic Dockyard and Naval Museum is closed down on Saturday for flooding – though poor Laurence is still stuck on the phone making endless calls – and it's with this romantic backdrop that John prepares to finally meet this 'Augustine Little' Tenzing mentioned.
Augustine. Ugh. He sounds like a mousy little lawyer in a tweed jacket.
Oh, god. What if he is a lawyer?
Pacing around the kitchen table and adjusting his collar, he doesn't realize he's said this part aloud until Iskierka giggles and Laurence says, “That would not make him a bad person, John.”
“I bet you wanted to be a lawyer.”
“I always wanted to join the navy – although I did almost enter the church,” Laurence admits.
Of course he did. John tosses out his plans of a nice, restrained evening. “I'm going to get drunk tonight,” he decides. Laurence looks a bit alarmed.
“You know,” Iskierka accuses, “Anne from Maths says alcohol is a sign of a broken home.”
The doorbell, blessedly, saves John from replying.
Augustine Little is not a tiny, tweed-covered lawyer. In fact he's appallingly attractive. The second he says, “Hello,” in his quiet voice John is lost.
Which is why John replies, “Hullo, yes,” and raises his phone to snap a picture. Oh good lord, he types.
“...Um,” says the gorgeous Augustine Little.
“He does that,” says Laurence.
“It means he likes you,” says Iskierka, who until the age of four thought that branding people with wax seals was a good way of expressing affection.
“Oh,” says Augustine, and beams. And so John falls for him just a little more.
They do go to dinner – where John does not, in fact, get drunk – and Augustine is more and more animated as the night wears on. He's an editor and poet for the local paper, clever with words, but he seems hesitant to express something, and at last John sighs, glancing down at his fork – he's eating stir-fry, easily managed with one hand - and says, “You can just ask.”
He doesn't expect Augustine to begin, “About your roommate Laurence - “
John snorts. Augustine looks a little embarrassed, so he has a gulp of water and says, “Oh, don't worry about him. In fact he's spent the whole last month moping about a marriage rejection – to a woman,” he clarifies.
“So he's straight.”
Augustine's wince makes him explain, and of course the man already knows Tenzing. John is obliged at one point to pull out his phone, recounting the entire history for his date's benefit. Eventually he realizes that this level of interest might appear odd, but when he looks to Augustine the man is grinning a little.
“Hiking,” he says.
“I know,” John hisses. His followers probably think he makes this stuff up.
“Someone really needs to tell them,” Augustine marvels.
John grins maniacally until Augustine begins to look unnerved. “What? What did I say?”
“I knew I liked you,” John says fervently.
Quiet day out with the family, is John's cheerful prophecy on his twitter. Ha.
Iskierka runs up along the shore of the beach, kicking sand in her wake. “Daddy,” she says, “I beat it, I beat it!”
“Beat what?” John asks, turning from his inspection of the coast.
Augustine trails after her, cresting a small hill and stumbling in the sand. He brushes his hair with a grimace. “She punched a seagull,” he explains. His sudden proximity to children has left him looking a bit hunted. Augustine's nephew, Immortalis, appears over the hill watching Iskierka with mild fascination.
Iskierka explains, “It was trying to take Temeraire's ice-cream, because he is a coward, but I fought it and I won.”
...John has no idea how to respond to this. “...Um, yes dear, that's...” Temeraire trudges up too, kicking at the sand. “....Have any of you seen Tenzing or Laurence?” he asks quickly.
Temeraire looks around quickly. Immortalis is the one to answer, “No, but they were walking along the coast collecting seashells, I believe.”
Augustine rolls his eyes.
Sometimes John is so, so grateful he is not alone anymore.
“...Right. Let's go try to - “
The words, 'find them' stalls in his throat as footsteps approach. Everyone looks around as Laurence and Tenzing stumble over the crest of the hill soaking-wet.
“Oh, god, what now,” John says.
“A minor problem only.”
“May I borrow your mobile, John?” Laurence asks. His own phone, a great hulking antique, often lacks reception and still makes use of a functioning black antennae. “I fear I lost mine in the waters, and Tenzing needs an ambulance.”
“I am breathing just fine now,” Tenzing says.
Augustine claps a hand over his head and groans.
The children – more inured to the horrors of these two – look unperturbed. “Did you die again?” Iskierka asks. They lean forward – so does Immortalis. Oh, not another one, John catches himself thinking.
“Possibly for the first time,” Tenzing says. “And if you are about to ask if I have seen Hell, the answer is yes, but remind me to take you up to Westminster sometime; we can all peek in at Parliament for an easier view of the place.”
“An ambulance,” Laurence repeats, touching Tenzing's arm anxiously.
“Do not fuss, Will; it is my own fault for stumbling into the waters. And not mentioning I cannot swim. Most of my secrets must be kept, but that one was worth stating, perhaps.”
“How the hell can you not swim,” John asks flatly.
Laurence shoots him a scandalized look. “He nearly died, John.”
“Yes, I'm sure – you're both fond of that, the nearly-dying. We live on the sea, if you haven't noticed – please learn to swim,” he tells Tenzing.
“I shall make it a priority,” Tenzing promises.
He probably will. Bastard.
Needless to say the episode rather puts a damper on the evening. They walk to the nearest road and catch a bus – much to the consternation of the driver, who glares at both Laurence and Tenzing's sodden forms – and then return to the flat.
“It is hardly fair,” Iskierka says as they enter, “That Tenzing has almost died again and yet we are being sent to bed; clearly he is the one who needs coddling.”
“Oh, I don't disagree,” John says dryly. “But I'm afraid you are going to sleep anyway.” He has to hunt down her shiniest gold-colored night-clothes, though, before Iskierka will relent and agree that maybe it is time to sleep.
Laurence is fussing over Tenzing when he finally reappears in the main room; the poor man has finally changed clothes and is covered in blankets. Immortalis is nodding off on the couch next to Augustine.
“I think we had best be going soon,” says the latter with a rueful smile. Augustine looks at his nephew fondly. “Well, that was a very nice day... until the end,” he amends with a glance at Tenzing. “ - and Iskierka is always so full of energy,” which is the nicest thing anyone has said of her. “It is always so lively here, really. You know its wonderful that you've both adopted. Personally I think the process sounds daunting.”
“I do not know that I would have adopted a stranger – Temeraire was special,” Laurence admits. “How did you come to have Iskierka. John, if I may ask?”
“...Legitimately?” he hedges.
“He stole her,” Tenzing huffs, batting away yet another blanket.
“I acquired her,” John argues. “ - What, do not look at me like that! How did you think I lost my arm?” And when Laurence and Augustine stare, he adds, “It all worked out in the end.”
“Though we are still banned from Istanbul,” Tenzing reflects.
Arkady, John determines, is just as much a terror as all the teachers said. He is worse, in fact, and all the worse still because he seems to worship the ground Iskierka walks on. Half a dozen other ragged children – including a particularly scruffy little four-year-old named Wringe – run around the decrepit playground bulldozing into other children and shouting at each other while John looks on.
“I should probably stop her,” he sighs to Tenzing, “But I'm not sure there's a point.”
A nearby woman gives him a nasty look.
Tenzing is only here out of boredom – John thinks he's sulking. Laurence decided to take Temeraire to a science exhibition (Iskierka scoffed and said that everything science was 'easy but uninteresting', to Temeraire's greatest annoyance) and now Tenzing apparently has nothing better to do.
“Whatever happened to that awful eagle of yours,” he has to ask. “Surely you don't leave her alone so often as you visit here?”
“Dead,” Tenzing says bluntly. “In an avalanche.”
“I suppose old age would have been boring.” He pauses. “How does a bird get trapped in an avalanche, anyway?”
“Quite heroically – the Turkish Minister was very grateful.”
John gives up.
“Incidentally, I will be away awhile – legal disputes,” Tenzing dismisses. His family is always trying to sue for his money, but they haven't been successful yet. “Though of course I will be here Saturday.”
“Saturday?” John asks.
“Laurence did not tell you about the date?”
For a moment John goes blank.
Then his brain is overwritten with pure glee. “The date! Yes. Yes. That date. I will see you on Saturday. Of course. For the date.” He grins maniacally, unable to help himself, which is probably why Tenzing raises his eyebrows and excuses himself a moment later before John can demand any details.
John doesn't really mind – he's too busy tweeting the news, victorious.
“Whyever are you still here, John?” Laurence asks. “You will be late to your dinner with Mr. Little.”
John types out “Whyever” #shitmyroommatesays
“I have a few minutes,” he says. “And I wanted to say hello to Tenzing. You understand there's no need to call Augustine 'Mr. Little', don't you? He finds it - odd.”
“I would not want to presume - “
“I would not want to presume.” #shitmyroommatesays “He likes you,” John lies. Well, half-lies. Augustine thinks Laurence is a bit too clean and way, way too into England and Patriotism and he once asked John if Laurence was Overcompensating for Perceived Flaws by being as perfect as possible, which wasn't something John could necessarily deny. But he doesn't not like Laurence. Which is the important part.
“...Alright,” says Laurence reluctantly. It's a victory, and also probably a sign that he's nervous for his date. “Temeraire, dear, please try to leave a little room for our guests. Also, I think you have too many planets.”
“I am putting in the moons also,” Temeraire says. He waves around a light blue balloon and then drops it to rip off a piece of scotch tape, grab a straw from a pile on the floor, and begin taping the straw vertically onto the carpet. Laurence watches with resignation as the child measures the distance between this straw and the last one, carefully, before fastening the balloon on top. “You see? That one is our moon.”
“Very nice,” he sighs. John eyes the long row dubiously. “Do not let Iskierka set them on fire; burning plastic is not good for the environment - “ The doorbell rings, and John straightens with a grin.
“I'll get it!” Temeraire calls.
He bounds to the door in two leaps. “Tenzing! You can help me put up Europa,” he says imperiously.
“I would be quite delighted,” comes the easy reply. “William, I hope you have a good evening.”
“Yes – thank you, Tenzing, I appreciate this.”
John blinks. What? “But,” he blurts, “I thought - “ and they both turn to stare at him.
“Dad,” Temeraire adds, “Let me show you Pluto! I have not put up its moon yet!”
But the hand he tugs belongs to Tenzing – not Laurence.
Tenzing breathes sharply, yanking back sharply and staring at Temeraire. He seems utterly taken aback. Even Temeraire, usually so oblivious, pauses at the sudden tension in the air. Something changes on Tenzing's face, soft, horribly raw.
“I'm sorry, Tenzing,” says Laurence suddenly. “That is most – inappropriate – Temeraire, you should not...“
Tenzing's face shuts down at once.
Temeraire looks between the two, bewildered and bit hurt. “But...“
And then, horribly, his eyes start to well with tears.
Wide-eyed, Laurence bends down, but instead Temeraire lunges for Tenzing and wraps his arms around his legs.
“It is quite fine, Laurence,” Tenzing interrupts suddenly. He shifts to grasp Temeraire's shoulder; the movement conveniently turns his face away. He repeats, “We will be quite fine; you should not be late.”
Laurence looks a little red. He gives up the attempt to meet Tenzing's eye. “Of course – well. Thank you, again.” After a brief pause he awkwardly sticks out his hand. Tenzing hesitates, too, and then returns the grasp.
John wants to scream.
Laurence exits. Tenzing hovers in the doorway a moment, then asks, “Don't you have a date too, John?”
He meets Augustine down the block by their favorite cafe. “So I saw your tweets,” Augustine says. “They finally figured things out, then?”
“I'm going to kill them both,” John snarls.
At one point over the next few weeks Laurence wonders, aloud and with odd persistence, why Tenzing seems to be absent so often. John resists the urge to tell him precisely why.
Mournfully, Temeraire says, “Perhaps he found someone he likes better.” Laurence goes very quiet.
But Tenzing does return – because of course, of course he does – and Laurence, in his typical thick-minded attempt at tact, pretends that nothing happened at all. Tenzing humors him. It's like watching a kitten take a nap in the path of a bullet train.
But Tenzing's return to Portsmouth may not be entirely due to Laurence. About a week after his visits recommence Tenzing declines an offer to spend the day at the park, explaining that he has a business meeting in town.
This attracts John's attention immediately, of course. “What kind of business do you have with anyone,” he asks. As far as he knows Tenzing spends all his time idling in lower England or scandalizing his paternal relatives.
“The private kind,” Tenzing responds, which isn't an answer to invite speculation even if Laurence hadn't been throwing John disapproving looks.
This doesn't stop him, of course, from turning to Laurence as soon as Tenzing is gone: “Did I tell you that he introduced me to an old friend of his once? A drug lord. His friend was a drug lord.”
“Was this in Istanbul?”
“It was in Istanbul,” John confirms.
Laurence has never asked about the Istanbul story and does not ask about it now. That's probably for the best, honestly.
John does, in fact, get out of the flat occasionally. He gets a little peevish when his Internet followers suggest otherwise. Iskierka and Temeraire are both at Primary on Thursday morning, so he's taking a walk by the wharf when he spots Tenzing standing by one of the loading docks.
He's speaking to Admiral Roland.
John stares. Then, glancing around, he turns and dives behind the nearest dumpster.
Two men stand by with cigarettes hanging from their mouths. Smoke peels into the air and disappears. “What,” John deadpans.
He turns his attention back to the scene of interest. Roland looks like she usually does, which is to say like she could trample you under-heel so you had best listen when she speaks. And, indeed, Tenzing is raptly attentive – far more serious than John typically sees him, accustomed almost unconsciously to the half-bemused softness that overcomes Tenzing around Laurence and Temeraire.
Finally the Admiral hands over a small package – no, an envelope, but it's stuffed to the brim and tied with a neat cord. Tenzing tilts his head, tucks the item into the swathes of his coat, and moves away silently. Roland looks after him before turning in the opposite direction and marching off with military swagger.
John carefully edges out from behind the dumpster. Four men stand on the other side eyeing him doubtfully.
“...Avoiding my girlfriend?” he suggests dubiously. A few make understanding sounds and move away. John rolls his eyes and starts the walk home. Jane. Tenzing. Hmm. He dips his hand into his pocket for his phone:
Question: Is a threesome (involving one woman) a good way of easing a guy into homosexuality asking for a friend
It's probably the most resounding 'yes' he's had from his followers about anything.
A moment later his phone rings.
“Good lord, Augustine,” John sighs, picking his way carefully around the pier as he answers. “I have no idea why you're so suspicious...”
Tenzing doesn't mention his 'business associate' again, despite John's prodding and despite the fact that he invites them all to his manor up in Scotland. John always half-dreads these visits; there's something a little appalling about watching Iskierka trample over a new territory, with the new possibilities of getting lost or burning someone else's possessions. At least Tenzing won't mind, he thinks, if his fancy walls gets mysteriously scorched.
It's Laurence's first time here and he looks perfectly at home – naturally. Temeraire flutters around like a miniature magpie, fawning over the golden doorknobs and silver candlesticks until Laurence is flushed from embarrassment, but Laurence himself seems perfectly at ease surrounded by riches and grandeur. It makes John wonder about Wollaton Hall.
“Temeraire, are you alright?”
Temeraire jumps and turns guiltily. He's watching a few hawks in the field; they've interested him the past few days and by all rights he should be riveted, but John has noticed him rubbing away at his gold necklace, and that only ever signifies anxiety. “Oh, I am fine,” Temeraire mutters, and shifts from foot to foot. He points his head entirely in the opposite direction. Temeraire can't lie to save his life.
“Nowhere,” says Temeraire, too quickly. When John continues to stare at him: “We're playing a game.”
“Together?” he asks doubtfully. “ - Willingly?”
“...Yes,” Temeraire says.
John sighs. “Alright. Only... tell me if you break anything.”
Temeraire nods, unfazed.
John wanders away to look for Tenzing and Laurence. If the manor itself is large, the estate grounds are downright ridiculous. Well-kept, however. John wonders what poor sod has the job of managing the place. Tenzing is certainly never around.
He finds Tenzing and Laurence standing near a pond near the back of the manor. They're talking quietly – he considers retreating – but then Laurence raises his head and calls, “John! Come join us,” so he's obliged to move forward.
Tenzing eyes him. Finally he sighs. “You might at least pretend not to be judging me,” he says suddenly. “The admiral mentioned you knew her.” John startles.
“The admiral?” Laurence asks.
“Admiral Roland,” Tenzing says. Laurence blinks.
John glances between them warily. “How do you know her?” he prods finally, deciding he has to ask; Tenzing is clearly enjoying himself too much.
“I'm employed by the government – which occasionally includes working with the navy,” Tenzing says. “Why do you think I found you, Will, that first day on the beach? I was out looking.”
“You were looking?” Laurence echoes.
“You work?” is what John chooses to focus on.
“It is reassuring to know that my disguise as an aimless layabout has been so successful,” Tenzing informs him.
“Oh, god, you're a spy aren't you.” Tenzing probably isn't even his name. John has always been of the opinion that no sane parent should give their child an alliterative name.
Tenzing doesn't deign to give this an answer. “I thought I should allay your concerns, John – whatever they might be. Though I am afraid that I cannot go into detail about my work, and must ask that you not mention it much, either.”
John doesn't see what they could mention, but he recognizes that Tenzing is trying to show some honesty here – and it's significant, certainly, that he's told them this much. Laurence quickly gives his own word and he follows suit.
“I am quite glad you have mentioned this now, and not around the children; I fear they are not discreet,” Laurence sighs.
“Lord, no,” John says. “That is an understatement if I know one. They would both jump at the opportunity to know a spy, of course, but they'd also scream about it from the rooftops, I've no doubt.”
Tenzing still doesn't protest being called a spy, he notes.
After a moments pause, Laurence asks, “Where are Temeraire and Iskierka?”
Pumpkin streaks line the horizon by the time John gives up and heads back toward the pond. Laurence and Tenzing went searching together, but he is looking alone, and his surrender is less out of defeat than self-doubt. John isn't sure that he won't get lost if he starts wandering through the estate by himself.
He doesn't expect to practically trip over the objects of his search.
Temeraire and Iskierka are giggling together under a bush – an odd enough sight, and odder because they aren't doing a very good job of hiding. “Oh, are you making a fuss on purpose?” John sighs.
“Yes,” says Iskierka. “We heard Tenzing telling the Admiral that he's going to make a confession. So we are staying here until Laurence and Tenzing stop being stupid.”
John joins the children behind the bush. “In what way,” he asks, casually.
Well, he has heard worse ideas.
Temeraire snatches the phone from his hand. John tells himself it is Not Good to play tug of war with a child, so he allows it. “You know,” he says.
Yes, John does.
The children are probably wrong, John thinks; he has already heard one confession from Tenzing, and that seems like more than enough for one day. But in any case, they only have to wait a few minutes. Tenzing saunters into sight first. Laurence, rushing behind, seems more anxious. John ogles. His hat is tilted, which is practically an atrocity against nature. Tenzing doesn't seem perturbed. “Will,” he says; his voice carries well in the night.
“We have searched half the property,” Laurence says. “It would not surprise me greatly if they had left. Temeraire, at least, was only too interest in the construction of the gates - “
“It is entirely possible that Iskierka found a way to bribe one of the servants - “
“Or intimidate them - “
“I strongly suspect,” Tenzing says dryly, “That the children are quite fine.”
Will pauses. “You are never optimistic about anything,” he accuses.
“No.” John notices that Tenzing is pointedly eyeing a burnt patch of grass not so far from their spot. “But I am quite certain.”
Laurence, blessedly, takes him at his word. “You always seem to know more than you say; I suppose I know why, at least, after today.”
“But do you realize why I told you that, Will? John was incidental; it is you with whom I wanted to be honest.”
John tries not to feel insulted.
“It must be difficult to be always hiding yourself.”
“I have not thought of it like that – certainly not since finding you on that beach three years ago, Will.”
Iskierka smacks Temeraire on the arm. He looks vaguely affronted.
“I did not mean - “
“I know perfectly well what you mean,” says Tenzing abruptly. “Have you not wanted more than what I have given you?”
“I could not ask for a better friend,” says Will slowly.
“And you will ask for nothing else, either; you have never been able to just say things plainly. But if you will not speak, then I must.”
“I would rather you did not,” Will says.
Tenzing's face shutters. He steps back. But Will moves forward and grasps his arm. “That is – you should not have to – Tenzing, I have been unspeakably cruel, have I not?”
“I suspect I will forgive you.”
“And you do know best,” Will agrees. Then he comes forward, and they are kissing.
John does not reach for his phone. John does not even think about his phone. He feels vaguely like a voyeur, and very much like someone privileged with the sight of a miracle.
Temeraire and Iskierka break the moment by cheering.
“Entirely to my credit, of course,” John says, reclining against one of the manor's garden chairs. He gestures. Augustine humors him by not looking quite as exasperated with this blatant lie as he typically does.
“How so,” he asks. “Were you responsible for Tenzing's revelation? Or perhaps Admiral Roland's fortuitous decision not to marry Will?”
“Well, no; but I did put up with them for three years.”
Augustine pauses to consider this. “True,” he concedes.
“That's mine!” Iskierka shouts nearby.
His followers online occasionally ask for an update on Tenzing and Will, but John can gratefully say he has no need to wonder over their relationship anymore. He glances up once and raises his phone. Augustine, distracted by the children, twists his head around when John snaps a photo.
“Oh, really - “
John posts the picture. Augustine's phone buzzes with an update. He flushes.
“It is time to come inside,” Temeraire declares, walking over; Iskierka mutters something nearby. “Laurence says everything is unpacked, or hidden, which is just as good.”
They rise and follow him inside.
The manor doesn't look much changed. Temeraire's influence is most notable in brighter colors, the rearranged furniture. His favorite books are spread out on the table in the lounge. The place looks, somehow, not only lighter but truly lived-in. “Well, finally,” John says when he sees Laurence. “Glad to be rid of you.”
Laurence smiles faintly. “I will still be near the sea frequently, and I suspect we will visit often.”
“What does a navy-officer do for work on land?” John muses aloud. He's startled when Laurence flushes.
“Well, I have spoken with Admiral Roland...” he trails off.
John looks between Tenzing and Laurence. “Oh.”
Tenzing smiles wryly. “Just so. We will all have many learning experiences, I think - “ he pauses as Temeraire edges between him and Laurence, tilting back on his toes and beaming up at both of them. Something in Tenzing's face softens.
Next to John, Iskierka looks at Augustine suspiciously before grabbing John's hand.
“Oh, I think you'll do just fine,” is John's opinion.
“Everything is perfect,” Temeraire says.
Laurence surveys the place. “While we are here, perhaps we should meet our new neighbors.”
“Good lord – someone bought that stuffy old place?” John is referring to the nearest villa, a nineteenth-century ramshackle monstrosity.
“Mr. Napoleon seemed eager to repair it,” Laurence says. “And his daughter Lien is Temeraire's age.”
“It would be nice to have a good friend.” Temeraire shoots Iskierka a look. “Shall we go?”