Actions

Work Header

An Irrevocable Condition

Work Text:

The guest suite Tharkay extended Laurence was in good repair, but the library was another matter entirely.

“Oh,” Temeraire said unhappily, looking in through an empty window pane.

“I’m afraid that my relatives are not interested in books, even if they had been inclined to spend on upkeep.” Tharkay used the toe of his boot to poke at a pile of leaves that had accumulated in the corner. “The volumes would have been quite out of date, even if the room was in better repair. My own priorities are rather towards renovating the living areas in the east wing at the moment, and reinvesting in land management for my tenants. The library continues to suffer for it.”

“As well it must,” Laurence reassured him. Although it was hard to see the beautiful room brought low, it was only fair that Tharkay spent his money on his people and on the most important spots first. Laurence had learned at least those priorities, watching his father manage his estates. There was always more that needed doing than money to be had, and even in his return after the war, Laurence had watched his brother sigh and regretfully put aside the purchase of a hunting stud for his stables in order to buy new draft horses for the harvest.

“But Laurence,” Temeraire said that evening, as Laurence read the Principia, despite the fact that Temeraire had long since memorized it, “could we not help with the library? We do have the funds for it.”

“We are guests in Tharkay’s house,” Laurence reminded him, leaning back against the wooden wall of Temeraire’s pavilion. “While we can give Tharkay gifts as tokens of our appreciation and affection, we cannot make wholesale changes to his living place.”

Temeraire tapped his claws against the floor, the Principia quiet forgotten. Laurence waited, which he had found was the best way to draw him out these days. “But Laurence, is my pavilion not a significant change?” Temeraire asked.

The pavilion had been finished the night Laurence and Temeraire had arrived. Temeraire had been planning on bunking down in the woods surrounding Tharkay’s estate, but as they landed the last builder doffed his hat to Temeraire and then Tharkay, before leaving with his tools slung over his shoulder. “I thought you were making some of your land free for us to build on,” Laurence had asked Tharkay quietly, as Temeraire investigated the nooks and crannies of his new home, proclaiming it all to be extremely satisfactory, even if the paint wasn’t dry just yet. “This seems rather more than that.”

“While I do look forward to my tenants’ eventual realization of the new way of things, I thought it best not to alarm them with an unexpected dragon in the woods. With the pavilion they will be under the impression that he is a tame dragon. At least until they hear him talk politics.” Tharkay arched an eyebrow to convey the ridiculousness of ever considering Temeraire tame in the same way one would tame a wild horse or a falcon.

“You did not have to put yourself through such trouble,” Laurence said, as he always seemed to be saying to Tharkay, in one form or another.

Tharkay had just shrugged, and gone to show Temeraire where room had been left for future additions, should he want them.

The pavilion had smelled of fresh paint and varnish for a week before the scent had dissipated. It must have been started at least two months before Tharkay informed them of the dragon reserved Parliament seat, and even then Laurence suspected that Tharkay must have paid extra for it all to be finished in time. If Laurence had to guess, work on the pavilion even preceded repairs to the house, although he was carefully not asking Tharkay about the timelines. It was enough that they had put Tharkay out, it would have been far too much to call attention to the fact.

“It is,” Laurence was forced to acknowledge.

“Therefore, it would make sense to pay Tharkay back in return by helping with the library,” Temeraire said, in the maddening way he had of trying to apply logic to human mores. If there was one thing that Temeraire had taught Laurence, it was that human societies obeyed only their own internal logic.

“I’m afraid not, my dear,” Laurence said, sighing slightly under his breath. “To do so would be rude, implying that we’re trading tit for tat, rather than accepting Tharkay’s hospitality as a token of his friendship.”

“A pavilion is a rather large gift,” Temeriare stated, with more firmness. Temeriare had been inquiring about the costs associated with building a pavilion of his own; between Tharkay’s initial offer and their arrival to a fully completed building of their own, he had developed a good sense of the investment involved.

“I think it is best to leave the matter for a time where we can more naturally do Tharkay a favor, to convey our own high opinion in return,” Laurence settled on. He himself rather hoped that the chance for turnabout would come soon, though not in such an intimate matter as to assist with Tharkay’s house. It felt ill mannered to let Tharkay put them up in such accommodations and not in some way seek to repay him. Laurence promised himself that he would look for a way to redress the imbalance as soon as possible.

Laurence went back to the Principia, although his audience seemed somewhat distracted the rest of the evening.

***

Temeraire spent the next morning considering various strategies to approach Tharkay while unpacking his books from the rather disorganized storage chests. They had not had the time to put them all away neatly, and they were all jumbled up with regards to genre, to say nothing of alphabetization. Even if Temeraire could not put them away properly, at least they would be organized within the chests for future unpacking.

He spent a second to mourn the loss of his crew. Their smaller hands would have made quicker work of arranging the books amongst each other.

A light tapping came from the entrance of the pavilion, Tharkay hitting his walking stick against the wall as a polite sort of knock.

“I am headed out to review the plot before they break ground on the new village church. I was wondering if you would like to join me?” Tharkay’s tan coat was embroidered with silk threads, and his boot buckles shone silver. Temeriare couldn’t help but approve.

“I suppose I ought to meet my future constituents,” Temeriare said, putting the book he was holding back in the chest.

“That would likely be wise,” Tharkay agreed. “Should I fetch Laurence?”

Laurence was sitting with Mr. Bell, Tharkay’s stewart, working on the best way to ship and store his remaining belongings until he and Temeraire had a house to call their own. Normally Laurence would naturally come with them, but Temeraire wanted to take advantage of the time to talk to Tharkay alone.

“No,” Temeraire said, “I would not want to disturb Laurence while he’s working.”

Tharkay raised an eyebrow but merely said, “As you wish. Shall we go?”

The flight was short and did not provide an opportunity for Temeraire to broach the topic, as the village was only a league from Tharkay’s house. Temeriare landed in the village square and Tharkay disembarked, adjusting his cravat and jacket. Temeraire wished he had thought to put on his breastplates before they flew over.

In no time at all they had attracted a crowd, a dozen or so people standing in a loose circle around Temeriare. “M’lord. What brings you to town?” A man in a blacksmith’s apron tugged on his forelock. He spoke to Tharkay but eyed Temeriare like he might go on a rampage if the man stopped looking at him for even a second.

“Mr. Clark,” Tharkay said with a nod. “Temeraire and I stopped by to review the work for the new church. Temeraire, I’m pleased to introduce you to Mr. Clark, our blacksmith. Mr. Clark, this is Temeraire; you’ve likely heard of his valor during the War.”

“Tharkay is very kind,” Temeraire said with a bow. “Of course without his own efforts it would have all been for naught.”

Clark tugged his forelock again. “And how’s your house holding up?” he asked gruffly.

“Mr. Clark did some work on your pavilion.” Tharkay nodded to another, red haired man to Clark’s left and a third man, holding an ax. “As did Mr. Kay and Mr. Hardiwick.”

“The pavilion is quite excellent, thank you. Very sound construction.” Temeraire felt he should bow again, so he did. It was strange to stand in front of the men and feel as if he were auditioning, but Temeraire supposed it was, and that he would need to get used to it, if he were to seek a seat in Parliament.

“Temeraire is settled in our district and will be standing for election for Parliament in the fall,” Tharkay said, echoing Temariare’s thoughts.

“We’re a dragon district now, I suppose,” said Hardiwick, with minimal inflection to indicate how he felt about the fact.

“Indeed,” Tharkay said.

“I look forward to learning more about the--our district,” Temeraire added. “And getting to know all of the fine people who live here.”

“We’re the largest town,” Kay said, although Temeraire thought he was being a bit generous with the definition of a town. There couldn’t been more than two dozen houses clustered around the green, with one forge and one large building that stood at the head, likely an inn of some sort.

“And growing,” Tharkay agreed. “That’s why we’re here, actually. Mr. Bell tells me that work will begin on the new church soon.”

The blacksmith’s face lit up at the mention of the church. “We’re starting on the foundations next week after services, and the men have agreed to all contribute.”

He continued on about the details of the building from floor to eaves, which would apparently contain a bell. Temeraire did his best to follow the explanation, although Clark went a bit beyond his understanding when he delved into the details of the masonry and carpentry.

“It sounds like it will be a beautiful structure,” Temeraire said, when Clark had finished. Kay and most of the other men had left during the blacksmith’s explanation. Temeraire would not have been surprised if they had heard the same speech many times before. “And pray, what will be the cost, when all is said and done?”

“Very little,” Hardiwick said, turning from where he was talking with Tharkay. “For Mr. Tharkay has provided the land, and we are giving our labor to the Lord.”

“As is proper,” Clark said with a great deal of satisfaction. Hardiwick did not respond.

“I’m pleased to oblige,” Tharkay said. “And of course, with the fine work that has been done on Temeraire’s pavilion, I have no doubt that the work on the church will be exemplary.”

“Yes,” Temeraire said, seizing the opportunity presented. “When I have need of further building, I will be more than eager to work with all of you.”

Hardiwich smiled, bouncing the handle of his ax against his leg. “Well that is a fine compliment indeed.”

After they said their farewells, Temerarie flew back with Tharkay. “Are there many other places I must visit, before the fall?”

“As the only dragon living in our district,” Tharkay said, looking up at Temeraire thoughtfully, “your seat in Parliament is all but assured. There is technically no must involved.”

“While that’s true, I would like to know my district, and the people I represent,” Temeraire said, dragging a claw through the dirt. “And that will be difficult if I go to London without having met most of them.”

Tharkay smiled, a rare enough expression on his face that Temeraire could only recall seeing it a half dozen times before. “You and Laurence never cease to set your own standards for decency, do you?”

“Well,” Temeraire said, “I have been trying to read more of Burke, on his writings of the duty of representatives. And while I might very well owe the people my judgement, how can I properly judge what is best for my district without knowing my district?”

“How indeed,” Tharkay said, a little mocking, as if thinking of some of the past members of parliament he had met. “I suspect that your district will be rather astounded by this novel approach by their new representative.”

“I was thinking,” Temeraire said, sensing another opening, “that perhaps it would be easiest to have them all come meet me, in one place. If we have a ball, or a dinner of some sort, then it would be an excellent way to bring together all of the people I should meet. That has always worked for Laurence and I in the past.”

Tharkay sighed. “I’m afraid that as much as I wish I could assist by hosting, my house is not in shape to entertain visitors, and will likely not be before the fall.”

Temeraire could feel his ruff pick up with eagerness. “Of course, I would no more dream of asking you to cover all the work on your own than I would of asking Laurence to walk all of the way to London. I would assist with the repair of the library, and the ballroom as well. Since it was my request in the first place, and I would not want to put you to the inconvenience of funding it.”

Tharkay smiled like a cat that had not only caught the canary, but that had found a whole nest of hatchlings. Clearly he too saw the foolishness of Laurence’s hang ups around propriety and repayment. “Of course. I’m more than happy to have you make my home your own, for however long you would like to.”

“I’m so glad,” Temeraire said. “I’m sure that Laurence will be as well.”

***

Mr. Bell had been very helpful with his suggestions, but when Laurence left his company to go talk to Temeriare, the pavilion was empty. And Tharkay was nowhere to be found, not even in the ballroom or the library.

Laurence retreated to his rooms with a book, but found that he could not remember from one sentence to the next what it was about. He promptly abandoned it when he saw Temeraire fly into his pavilion, with Tharkay’s tan jacket standing out against his neck.

Laurence quickly headed down, encountering Tharkay in the entrance way. “I could not find you after I finished with Mr. Bell,” Laurence said, trying not to sound betrayed. It was not as if he and Tharkay had made plans or promises to meet up, or as if Tharkay did not have business of his own to attend to.

“Temeraire and I made a quick visit to the village.” Tharkay tapped his cravat, which was perfectly tied, causing Laurence to adjust his own hastily tied and sloppy knot. Laurence had grown rather out of practice in the last few years, and although Tharkay had not been much of a dandy during his travels, since coming into his inheritance he had taken up fashion like a debutant being presented before the ton. It suited him, but the worn, practical gear that had taken them around the world more than once had as well. Laurence suspected that Tharkay could make almost anything suit him through sheer force of personality.

“What brought you there?” Laurence asked, a far more useful topic of contemplation than Tharkay’s sartorial choices.

“Temeraire wanted to met the people he will be representing in Parliament. I believe he felt it was important to introduce himself and understand the lay of the political landscape.” Tharkay’s face had a specific blankness to it, as if he were remembering the time that he had been subjected to a barrage of questions about the different forms of government across the world after Temeraire read Locke.

“Did he lead with his more radical philosophies?” Laurence asked, with a creeping sense of dread. Although he and Temeraire had come to agreement over the years, Laurence knew that it took some time for the average Englishman to believe that a dragon was a thinking being, much less one that deserved equal rights under the law.

“It was a very civilized discussion,” Tharkay said, relenting a little. “The townsfolk are pleased by Temeraire’s willingness to spend money on construction, which should do him well come the elections in the fall.”

“I must thank you again for building the pavilion,” Laurence said, already imagining what additions Temeraire might be considering. “It has made our transition a hundred times easier.”

“And I’m glad of that, but that is not the first project Temeraire is considering. He needs a headquarters, and we have agreed that my ballroom and my library will serve the purpose very well, once we’ve worked together to have them repaired.” Tharkay spoke of the decision blithely, as if Temeraire committing hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds was a minor trifling. As if he had no qualms about letting Temeriare permanently alter his home.

“Tenzing,” Laurence said, at a loss. “You have been generous, more than generous, but this--”

“Will,” Tharkay cut him off, dryly. “Is this more than hiding with you in an ice crevasse for a week? Or following you to Australia? Or Japan? Or enough to make up for you rescuing me in China? And France?”

“Well,” Laurence said, forced to admit the point. “I suppose when you think of it that way. But the rescuing was hardly one sided.”

“Go speak to Temeraire,” Tharkay said, with a pat on the shoulder. “I believe he has some thoughts on politics he wants to share with you. In the meantime, I need to write my architect to let him know his services will be needed again.”

***

“I think that the tops of the doors are a bit low,” Temeraire said, looking at the architectural sketch critically. Hardiwick had drawn up a larger copy for him a week into the work, since otherwise he had to read out loud the details of each feature whenever Temeraire had a question.

“The glass has already arrived, and if we hold off on this for much longer the glazier will leave with none of the work done,” Hardiwick countered. Hardiwick had been extremely dubious about the floor to ceiling glass paneled doors, citing costs and the weather and the fact that nothing like that had ever been build in the district before.

“I would have difficulty fitting through them,” Temeraire said, his certainty growing. “And as that is the whole point, we must make changes.”

Hardiwick looked at Laurence, but the same as all the other times, Laurence just nodded his head towards Temeraire. While Laurence had reviewed the plans and offered his input, he left most of the decisions to Temeraire and Tharkay, deferring to their judgement whenever a decision came up. The townsmen working on the project still looked to him first for decisions, but they had grown quicker at redirecting the question to the appropriate parties as time went on.

“We can’t order any more glass,” Hardiwick said again.

Temeraire used a claw to carefully spread out his copy of the plans. He considered the giant paned windows that could open like doors, that stretched halfway to the ceiling but weren’t high enough. “Could the settings between the panes be larger? That could add extra height, even if we must sacrifice visibility.”

Hardiwick called over Clark for a consultation. “I’d have to forge a new set,” Clark concluded. “But I think that would work well enough.”

“I would pay for it, of course.” Temeraire’d learned that if he said the phrase often enough it would unlock forward movement on the work. It also meant that sometimes he sadly eyed his lowered back statements, thinking about how much smaller the numbers had grown since the work had started. Temeraire tried to view it as an investment, which made the outflow of capital sting less.

“Well, it will take me some time,” Clark said, “and I will have to put aside some work on the church, but I can have it ready before the glazier leaves.”

“He can work on the smaller windows in the meantime,” Hardiwick said. Although Clark was the titular head of the work crew, the men looked to Hardiwick for instruction, and he directed the plan for each day. Temeraire didn’t understand why Hardiwick wasn’t in charge, but it had something to do with the roles each man played, and the politics of the village. It wasn’t stopping the work from going forward, so Temeraire had accepted it.

“We should be ready by midsummer,” Laurence said, surveying the progress on the ballroom. The change from only a month past was drastic, with the floor ripped up and the walls of the house mostly demolished for room for the window. Temeraire found it hard to imagine what it would look like when all of the work was completed, but he tried to trust that it would eventually look like the plan.

“Laurence, do you think there’s been enough progress on the ballroom that we could work more on the library?” Temeraire asked. Although he had resigned himself to the fact that the ballroom was more important to his political career, he could not help but feel that the library was the true key to turning a house into a home.

Laurence consulted his own, much smaller plans. “It would make the work on the library go faster, but if we are aiming for midsummer I’m afraid that we must continue to focus on the ballroom, my dear.”

Temeraire had already heard several men working on the house mention how excited their wives were at the prospect of a grand summer ball, and how there hadn’t been such a thing for years and years. There was no getting out of it at this point.

The library was even more of a shell than when Temeraire had first seen it, as Tharkay had removed all of the books and put them in his private rooms, but not much work had been done to restore it. “I do hope that Tharkay’s rooms aren’t too cramped,” Temeraire said, thinking wistfully of all the books that were out of his reach. Even if Tharkay did not expect much from the collection, and even if he would have been more than happy to lend any to Temeraire at a moment’s request, there was something uniquely satisfying about browsing a library that could not be replicated through piecemeal retrieval.

“I will ask him, and offer space in my rooms if he is,” Laurence said.

“I suppose,” Temeraire sighed.

***

That night, after dinner, and after Laurence had his post dinner conversation with Temeraire (covering the theories of Machiavelli, which Temeraire had found interesting even if he held philosophical disagreements with all of it), Laurence visited Tharkay’s rooms.

“I wanted to make sure,” he said, taking another sip of the brandy Tharkay had presented him, “that you had not been overwhelmed by the displaced library.”

“I don’t normally incorporate so many books into my decor,” Tharkay said, gesturing at the stacks of books piled in his sitting room. “But I would not go so far as to say that I am overwhelmed, no. After all, I now have a sitting room, a dressing room, and a bedroom. I fancy that even a collection twice the size would not fill up all the empty space.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever been in your rooms before,” Laurence realized. All of their post dinner drinks had taken place in Laurence’s sitting room, something that Laurence had never truly considered before.

“You’ve never asked,” Tharkay said. “But you are always welcome now that you know you don’t need to worry about being buried underneath an avalanche of books.”

“Thank you,” Laurence said, touched by the sentiment behind the joke. Tharkay had never been one to give of himself lightly, and Laurence knew better than to ignore the privilege, especially in something as intimate as a personal room. “The rooms are quiet spacious, and I look forward to seeing them when they are not doubling as book storage.”

“The last time they were likely put to their proper use, my mother and father were both still alive.” Tharkay said, a strange sort of sad smile on his face.

“I’m sure your wife will one day appreciate the space,” Laurence said, hoping to address the oceans of meaning behind the simple sentence.

“There won’t be one,” Tharkay said, taking a sip of his brandy. “I’ve decided that marriage is not in my future.”

Tharkay had taken the loss of Sara hard, but Laurence had not realized that it had gone that deep. He supposed it had never been brought up, and like revealing his rooms, Tharkay had not planned to bring it up until Laurence asked. “Perhaps,” he ventured, “you may meet someone who will change your mind?”

Tharkay barked out a laugh, before lapsing into silence. Laurence, for not the first time, realized that he himself would likely never marry. Although he was no longer subjected to the orders of the Aerial Corps, Temeraires’ career in politics would likely involve nearly as much travel, if much less getting shot at. And unlike the other members of Parliament, Laurence would have no complimentary status to offer a wife, holding no position of his own. He also could not draw on feelings of love to cushion the blow of travel, or to create tolerance for a loved one’s profession. Asking for someone to love him enough to follow Temeraire was one step too far, especially when he could never give them full possession of his heart in return.

“To bachelorhood,” Laurence proposed, leaning out of his arm chair to clink his glass against Tharkay’s.

“To bachelorhood,” Tharkay echoed, and topped up both their brandies.

***

Laurence woke the next morning with a sore neck, but in surprisingly good shape, given that he had apparently slept the night in Tharkay’s armchair. There was a blanket draped over him, but he was alone in the sitting room.

He stood and stretched, twisting his neck from side to side. He absently folded up his blanket, and prepared to retreat to his room when Tharkay entered, squinting a little against the morning sun.

“Did I forget to leave last night?” Laurence asked, for lack of anything better to say.

Tharkay shrugged, and then looked like he regretted the action. “It would have been more accurate to say you fell asleep before you could leave.”

“Well, at least that will make it easier for Cook to make breakfast,” Laurence said, trying to find an upside. Tharkay’s cook was new, and often flustered by the irregular hours the two men kept. Laurence had heard her sigh longingly for a woman’s touch around the house, something she apparently would never get, based on the conversation he had had last night.

“True enough,” Tharkay agreed. “I hope you didn’t hurt yourself too badly by sleeping in a chair. You looked comfortable enough, and I have napped in these chairs a few times to no ill effect.”

“My neck is less than happy at the results, but I am otherwise well.” Laurence handed Tharkay the blanket, which he simply place back on the airchair.

“I’m glad to hear that.” Tharkay said. “Come, let’s to breakfast.”

***

Laurence kept stretching his neck. “Did you sleep on it funny?” Temeraire asked. Although humans didn’t seem to have enough neck to cause them difficulties, he had hear more than one crew member complain about aches and pains in the region after a night’s sleep on the hard ground to know that it could be a concern. And Laurence was not getting any younger, a thought that Temeraire did not like to dwell on, no matter how true it was.

“I’m afraid that I slept in Tharkay’s rooms last night,” Laurence said absently, turning it back and forth. “It should be better by tomorrow.”

Temeraire blinked. Laurence almost never slept outside of his assigned quarters, unless he was sleeping with Temeraire, or he was being forced to sleep elsewhere. The only time that Temeraire could remember him doing so was when he was keeping time with Admiral Roland. And while that was all well and good since Roland belonged to Excidium, and Laurence would not have any long term confusion about his proper place with Temeraire, it would be even better if Laurence was sleeping with Tharkay. Although Tharkay had never properly been part of Temeraire’s crew, that was a mere technicality. After all, Tharkay had traveled all around the world with them, and had proven more loyal and true than many of the men assigned by the Corps.

“Will you be going back to Tharkay’s rooms again?” Temeraire asked, trying to be sensitive to delicate nature of the relationship. After all, Granby had made the most awful fuss after Iskierka had been so indiscreet about him and Little. Temeraire was sure he could do better than that.

“He has invited me, and I will most likely take him up on it,” Laurence said. “Although you’ll be pleased to know that he’s not been buried in books at all, as he has more than enough space to keep them.”

“Yes,” Temeraire said with a nod. “Of course, very pleased indeed. I’m hardly worried about the library anymore at all.”

***

The work on the ballroom proceeded apace, and shockingly even seemed to be on schedule for the midsummer ball, which had grown in telling to epic proportions. Laurence was not sure he had ever seen another building project proceed so smoothly, and mentioned as much to both Tharkay and Temeraire.

“Yes,” Temeraire said, looking pleased and somewhat proprietary at the work crew. “I barely mind the costs, now that we’re finally seeing what it will look like in the end.”

He had taken to laying on the completed patio in front of the ballroom, and watching the men work, lending his superior strength and size as needed. Laurence suspected it had the effect of rendering Temeraire much less frightening to the men in the work crew, and to the village at large. Though the district had never had much truck with dragons, Temeraire’s assistance, and the way that he let their children clamber over him when they came to visit their fathers, had rendered him both unthreatening and helpful. Laurence imagined it was hard to be afraid of a being that had corrected your daughters and sons on the pronunciation of Napoleon, and then directed a re-enactment of Waterloo using sticks from the forest, with Clark’s son as a stand in for the Incan dragons, roaring as loud as his lungs would let him.

“You’ve doomed us,” Tharkay said with a sigh, when Laurence shared his observations during their now customary post-dinner brandy in Tharkay’s rooms. “We’ll promptly run over budget and won’t finish until the winter equinox.”

“That’s what I turned to you for, Tenzing,” Laurence said, shaking his head and smiling. “Your unfailingly cheerful attitude.”

“Careful now,” Tharkay said, settling deeper into his armchair. “We’ve been spending too much time together, you’re even beginning to sound like me. Soon you might even question whether a gentleman can honorably be a spy.”

“I resolved that one long ago,” Laurence said, glad he still had something new to offer Tharkay. “As you have been a spy, and never anything less than a gentleman at heart, it is clear that gentlemen may spy.”

Tharkay did not have fair enough skin to easily show a blush, but Laurence fancied that the tips of his ears were somewhat red at the compliment. “Well, now I know we’ve spent too much time together,” Tharkay said, finally.

“Nonsense,” Laurence said, happy to have got the last word in.

***

“You haven’t slept in Tharkay’s rooms lately,” Temeraire pointed out as Laurence bedded down in his pavilion on a warmer June night.

“It was only that once,” Laurence said, rearranging his bedroll at the thought. He didn’t fancy waking up with a stiff neck again.

“Oh.” Laurence looked up, at the disappointment in Temeraire’s voice.

“I assure you, my dear, my rooms are more than satisfactory. Tharkay’s done an excellent job with the repair work and I am extremely comfortable there.” Although Laurence had reassured him when they arrived that they were more than up to snuff, Temeraire had not been able to see most of his rooms, as Laurence had windows only in the bedroom. Laurence supposed it had been praying on his mind, with all of the work being done on the rest of the house.

“That’s very good of him,” Temeraire said. He paused, before venturing, “Has he been sleeping with you there instead?”

After several pointed follow up questions, Laurence rocked back on his heels, both shocked and not shocked to learn that Temeraire had thought that he and Tharkay were lovers.

“But how was I to know!” Temeraire exclaimed. “It all seemed so very logical. Us living here together with him, you spending the night in his rooms, neither of you showing any desire to take a wife!”

“Have I ever given hints that I might be of such inclination?” Laurence said. A shudder made its way down his spine, at the damage he might have accidentally done to his friendship. “Do you think that Tenzing…”

“How am I to know?” Temeraire said, curling himself up rather sniffily. “Apparently I’ve been reading the situation wrong this entire time.”

“My dear,” Laurence said, before running aground on the mores of human romantic proclivities. “Tharkay and I are not like that,” he finally said, because all of Temeraire’s points would have been damning in a judgement before high society, but that simply wasn’t how things were. And Laurence could only hope that he had not imposed on Tharkay in any way, or endangered their friendship.

“So you’ve said,” Temeraire said, still sounding less than pleased.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have some matters to see to,” Laurence said before setting off towards Tharkay’s office.

Tharkay was alone when Laurence arrived, so there was no one else to comment on his extremely flustered mein.

“Ten-Tharkay,” Laurence said, standing across from Tharkay’s desk. He realized that he was standing at attention, as if he were in front of a superior officer, and forced himself to relax. “If you have the time, there is something I would like to discuss with you.”

“Of course. Is Temeraire alright?” Tharkay said, putting his pen down, and looking up at Laurence. He motioned to Laurence to sit, but Laurence felt he could not.

“No, he’s fine, it’s…” Laurence found himself stumbling through the explanation, stammering like a schoolboy and using the most awkward of euphemisms. “And of course, I didn’t dream, I wouldn’t dare of damaging our friendship like that. I value you much too highly to think of you in that way.”

“Of course,” Tharkay said again, like biting into a lemon after a month at sea. “I should have known that you would feel that way.”

And with that it was like a mirror flipping over, Laurence realized that he had misjudged the situation terribly.

“It’s not…” Laurence was completely adrift, trying to think of the right words to erase the last five minutes.

“No,” Tharkay said, picking up his pen without looking at Laurence. “It’s not, is it.”

It was like the snap of a leather harness, weightless terror and panic and scrambling to keep from falling. Tharkay had closed himself off completely, and Laurence had not even realized the hurt he had done himself until he could no longer see the echo in Tharkay’s face.

Temeraire was right after all, and Laurence was a fool to have not realized it, to have come to Tharkay in such a bumbling manner. “Tenzing,” Laurence said, trying to come up with words to explain he reciprocated the feelings that he had not even considered a true possibility until that moment.

“If you’ll forgive me, I have work that I need to address,” Tharkay said, still looking at his papers.

“Blast it, Tenzing, no,” Laurence said, grabbing the chair in front of him. “I’m not--”

“You’ve said that already, there’s no need to repeat it,” Tharkay snapped.

“I didn’t know we were in love until watching your heart break broke mine,” Laurence shouted back.

Tharkay opened his mouth, as if to continue the argument, but closed it as what Laurence said sunk in. After a pause that caused Laurence no little stress, Tharkay asked, “Are you sure?”

Laurence reached across the table and pulled Tharkay into a kiss. It was strange at first, but it was Tharkay. And for Tharkay, Laurence would dare the unknown. And it seemed, after a second, that for Laurence, Tharkay would forgive his bruised emotions.

“I’m afraid,” Laurence said, pulling out of the kiss, but not letting go of Tharkay’s lapels, “that you and Temeraire knew the lay of the land long before I did. But now that I am here, you will not find me hesitant to explore new territory.”

Tharkay’s smile was like the first swooping moment of Temeraire’s dive, like a strong wind in the sails, and a unfurling of a whole set of possibilities. “No, Will, if I were forced to describe you I would never use the words hesitant.”

He leaned in for another kiss. “Brilliant, infuriating, oblivious, and wonderfully, truly amazing yes, but hesitant, no.”

“Good,” Laurence said, and then neither of them spoke for some time.

***

Temeraire looked approvingly around the ballroom, tapping his claws along to the music as his constituents danced. Although the library was still not finished, the ball was proving to be a rousing success, and Temeraire was sure that soon enough the remaining shelves would be done, and the floors would be reinforced to hold his weight.

Tharkay rested a hand on Laurence’s shoulder, asking for his attention and leaving it there for a heartbeat longer than was merely friendly. Tharkay used his grip to direct Laurence to the punch table, where Clark was dressed in his Sunday best, and presumably eager to talk more about work on the church.

Since Laurence had proclaimed himself to Tharkay, which Temeriare considered most certainly due to his excellent understanding of human relationships, Laurence had settled into their life at Tharkay’s house--their house--with the pleased disbelief of a man who had never thought he might find himself truly home.

His happiness was infectious, and Temeraire found himself often humming when he considered architectural plans. After all, Parliament didn’t meet all year, and Temeraire had found plenty of places for improvement. He, Laurence, and Tharkay all had a lot of time ahead of them, and work to fill it with. Temeraire was more than happy with that.

Fin