picture by Sphinx
The Problems of Friendships with Dragons
Notes: I cut a bit off at the end of this for the Yuletide fic, but have put it back in here in brackets for completeness' sake. Please feel free to include that bit or leave it out according to your taste when reading the story.
The Problems of Friendships with Dragons
It was, Tenzing Tharkay decided, altogether embarrassing to always be the one to hold up Temeraire's departures and unharnessing. He certainly wished he could avoid it, but he couldn't help it. His damaged hands were still thickly bandaged, making them clumsy in addition to painful, and the rest of his body didn't feel all that much better either. It made climbing in and out of the belly netting extremely difficult ... and slow.
Of course everybody knew how badly he had been injured when Laurence had found him and most of them were considerate enough. They were supposed to be his friends, of a sort, after all. Even those that weren't friendly hadn't complained about his slowness so far, or at least not in his presence, but there was Temeraire himself to consider as well as the crew and strange as it might sound Tharkay felt that he couldn't quite consider himself Temeraire's friend these days - though this, too, certainly wasn't anything he or Temeraire could help. Nor did Tharkay feel that he could at all blame Laurence for the problem, and yet it was Laurence that had come between them when he had regained his memory at the sight of Tharkay after failing to recognise his dragon for so long.
It was inexplicable and disturbing. Temeraire was bonded to Laurence in a way that wasn't even possible between two human men, no matter how closely they were related, and Tharkay most certainly was not related to Laurence in any way. It simply didn't make sense that he should be more recognisable than Laurence's own dragon!
Temeraire had every right to demand an explanation and while Tharkay himself had none either he had gone to render whatever apology he could make to the dragon as soon as the surgeon had permitted it.
And Temeraire had feigned tiredness and disinterest and refused to discuss the subject. He couldn't have shown more clearly how hurt and confused he was, but at least he hadn't been aggressive about it and Tharkay hoped that his attempt at an apology would ensure that he remained that way. They hadn't actually spoken since, though, each doing his best to avoid the other while the situation grew more awkward with every day.
At first, Tharkay had merely kept silent because he had felt that that must be Temeraire's wish, but by now he, too, had become too afraid of the conversation.
Being the last to laboriously climb off somebody you weren't talking to was ... well, altogether embarrassing, for lack of a more fitting word.
Still, he had done this very same thing yesterday and the day before yesterday and Temeraire had said nothing then. He would not say anything today.
Tharkay reached out and wormed his hand under the next leather strip. He couldn't actually grip anything properly with those bandages, so he had developed a technique to hook his hands under the strips instead. It was slow, but it worked.
He pulled his left hand free and was looking for a place to push it in again when he felt his right hand slip. That strip was too loose! Why hadn't he checked that before he'd used it? The thought flashed through his mind, but there was no time to worry about what he should have done now. He had to stop himself somehow, find some purchase, but of course his bandaged hands struggled in vain to grip at the leather. They could not hold anything.
His hand slid free. For a moment, his feet still stood on their own wobbly strips, but then he made some wrong movement, probably shifted his weight a heartbeat too late or a fraction of an inch too far and fell ... into a large, scaly, black hand.
"Got you!" Temeraire announced, sounding very pleased with himself. He pulled Tharkay up to the level of his nostrils rather than lower him to the ground, though. "Perhaps I ought to just carry you," he mused. "It would be faster and safer."
"Until we get into a fight and you want your talons free to claw at your opponent," Tharkay pointed out. "Then I'd be in the way."
Not to mention what might happen if Temeraire grew tired or got distracted and relaxed his grip without thinking. A fall from the belly netting while Temeraire was on the ground would probably have hurt, but not killed him. A fall in mid-flight, however, meant certain death.
"Well, I can still lift you up and down," Temeraire decided. "That will improve things as well, only not as much."
He started to lower his talon, but then stopped.
"Tharkay," he began and then switched quite abruptly to the whistling tongue of the wild dragons that few people here besides them understood. "Why did Laurence know you when he didn’t know me? What are you to him."
And there it was. What could he say?
"I don't know." Well, at least it was the honest truth. "I doubt if Laurence knows himself. It doesn't make any sense at all, after all. I'm quite sure that I am nothing to him, certainly not compared to you. I think such things might just be random. After all, how much sense does it make for a man to simply forget the last several years of his life in the first place?"
"Still," Temeraire said. "Just because he forgot doesn't mean you can just take away my captain."
"And I didn't," Tharkay tried to explain. "He just saw me and remembered. Why would I even want to take him away from you?"
Temeraire glared at him, obviously convinced that everybody must want Laurence for ... well, something or other.
"Why wouldn't you?" he demanded.
"What would I want him for?" Tharkay countered. "I am neither a dragon nor a ship. What would I do with a captain?"
"Well," Temeraire declared, not entirely convinced by that logic. "I'll be keeping my eye on you anyway. Stay away from Laurence."
Tharkay would have been quite happy to promise that, but as luck would have it the object of the conversation interrupted it just then.
"Are you two conspiring against us?" Laurence asked jokingly.
"No, merely discussing my lack of climbing skills," Tharkay assured him. "Temeraire thinks it will be more efficient to lift me."
"That is an excellent idea," Laurence said. "But don't forget your dinner over it, Temeraire. It might insult the cooks."
Temeraire obligingly lowered his hand to let Tharkay dismount, but snarled menacingly when he started to do so on Laurence's side. Tharkay shrugged helplessly at the surprised captain and got off on the other side.
"What in the world is this now?" Laurence asked. "Do you think Tharkay of all people is going to attack me?"
Tharkay decided that this was his cue to leave. Perhaps Laurence would be able to clear the problem with Temeraire. He apparently couldn't.
"Why did you remember him when you didn't remember me?" he heard the dragon demand accusingly as he walked away. Laurence's softer reply didn't carry as far,
Several hours passed before he saw Laurence again.
"Well, I'd never have expected that," the aviator said as he sat down beside Tharkay. "You'd think I'd know the way dragons think by now, but even Temeraire still manages to surprise me."
"Do you have his permission to talk to me then?" Tharkay inquired. "I think he meant to tell me that I wasn't allowed to speak to you when you interrupted us."
Laurence actually smiled at that.
"I think I have convinced him to be reasonable," he said. "I certainly won't let him choose my friends for me, and after all you have done for us I believe, amusing though it might be, I owe you an apology on his behalf. He ought to be grateful that I have my memory back. I certainly am."
"That was more your doing than mine, though," Tharkay pointed out. "My part in it was quite passive."
Another smile. It seemed that he was getting rather good at making Laurence smile, and to his surprise it pleased him more than it ought to. After all what was Laurence to him?
"Either way, I will not allow Temeraire to decide whom I can and cannot talk to and I suggest you don't let him dictate to you either. I have seen what it does to a man if he gives in to his dragon in everything and also what happened when he finally stood up to her. They were both the better for it."
("I am quite dependent on his goodwill right now," he pointed out. "And he does not consider me part of his crew. I'd rather not be forgotten somewhere in the wilderness of Russia."
He could make his own way home from there, of course, but in his current state he'd rather not have to.
Laurence wasn't an easy man to read, but Tharkay had known him long enough to recognise most of the small clues he did give, and he seemed surprised and perhaps even a little hurt right now.
"Would you rather ride on another dragon?" he asked. "It would be easy enough to arrange."
Tharkay hesitated. Temeraire was ... well, an old comrade, but then again Tharkay had ridden on other dragons often enough. He certainly wasn't afraid of any of their companions. They were all more reliable than Arkhady and he'd ridden Arkhady across all of Europe and much of Asia.
Then again, wouldn’t asking for another dragon be saying that he was afraid of Temeraire?
"I suppose that won't be necessary, now that you've spoken with him. Do tell me if he'd rather be rid of me, though."
"He won't," Laurence said firmly.
It sounded more like determination than certainty, but Tharkay decided that it was worth the risk.)