A/N: ever since I read the "Temeraire frolicking in the little Asian lake" scene in book three, I kept wondering when and how he had learned about Laurence being Jane's lover, as obviously he had known. So I had to make up a story to answer my own question. :)
Disclaimer: I still don't own Temeraire, and sadly not even Laurence, Novik does. If I did own the latter, I would pretty much follow Jane's example and invite him for a round of piquet to my room, make him drink some alcohol, then…
Thanks to Michael for the beta!
Of Birds and Bees and Dragons
Covert of Sydney, 1816
Temeraire did not remember when he had last seen his captain wear such a wide grin as he did on this sunny late September morning. Having spent eight years in the southern hemisphere, it was no longer strange for Temeraire that September here was just as lovely as April in England. September in Australia meant the arrival of spring, and Laurence, whose favourite season had always been spring, seemed invigorated by it. But was it just the fact that it was spring? Could the season in itself conjure such a wide grin on the captain's face? Or was it something else?
As Laurence drew nearer, his grin shone brighter and brighter, and the corners of his mouth were twitching, suggesting that he was trying to fight his facial muscles, trying to straighten them, to no avail.
"Good morning, my dear," he gently patted Temeraire's muzzle, and that was when the dragon stiffened. A long-buried memory resurfaced – a memory of eleven years ago. A memory of a late September morning in the covert of Dover, shortly before their first real battle. It had been not nearly as nice a September morning as this one was, as autumn in England usually brought with itself chill and fog and rain, but something had made that morning different from any earlier ones: Temeraire's sense of smell had been confused.
Covert of Dover, 1805
"Laurence," Temeraire said, shielding himself and his captain from the light drizzle with his wings, "you smell odd."
"Odd?" the man arched an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean?"
"You do not smell like yourself."
Laurence pulled the lapel of his coat to his nose and sniffed. "I don't smell anything out of the ordinary. Do you mean I stink? Should I get a bath?"
"Oh, no, not at all, you never stink, dear Laurence," Temeraire shook his head, knowing that his captain had always laid great emphasis on personal hygiene. "I mean… you do not smell like you usually do… you smell not like yourself, but… like yourself and someone else as well."
"What?" Laurence's eyes widened and his expression suggested he was beginning to worry about his dragon's mental health. "Who else?"
"Well…" Temeraire replied, "I haven't smelled everyone in the covert so very closely, but… I think you smell like Jane Roland. And I wonder why?"
Temeraire had never seen his captain blush as badly as he had upon hearing this question.
"Er… you know… Jane and I… have been… rather… close to each other."
"You mean, you sat next to her at the breakfast table?" the dragon enquired, then, as if answering his own question, shook his head. "No, that cannot be. You sat close to Granby, Berkley, Harcourt and the others several times, and never smelled of them as strongly as you smell of Jane now."
Despite the autumn chill, the man began sweating, small beads running down the sides of his face. "Well… Temeraire… do you remember that discussion we had… a few days ago?"
"Which discussion, Laurence? We have had lots of them recently," the dragon replied. "Actually, we have always had lots of discussions, which is good, I love conversing with you."
"I too love conversing with you, but…" Laurence averted his eyes and began examining the wet grass under his feet. "I meant… that discussion about Dunne and Collins'… escapades."
"Oh, you mean the whores," Temeraire nodded eagerly, making his captain flush even more, if such a thing was possible.
"Yes," Laurence gulped. "Well… so… you said you knew what some of my officers were doing with those women, and…"
"Not exactly, Laurence," Temeraire cut in. "Victoriatus at Loch Laggan only told me that men liked visiting the whores, and it was pleasant for them, whatever they did with them. But he didn't tell me what they really did. I am still curious to learn about that. Do you have any books on the topic?"
"Books?" Laurence's eyes bulged.
"Judging by your expression, you do not. Oh well," Temeraire sighed. "You can still tell me yourself. But first pray tell what does Jane have to do with the whores?"
"Jane… O Lord," Laurence covered his face with his palms. "Nothing! I mean… she is nothing like those women, but… the truth is… I did with her what Dunne and Collins did with those women. There. I have said it." He straightened his back, giving the expression of a soldier just having returned from the war, victorious. As though he had fought a real battle with himself just to utter those few words. And, knowing Laurence, he probably had.
"Yes, you have said it. But what have you done with her?" Temeraire pressed, a little confused about his captain's behaviour. Laurence had never been reluctant to talk about anything, but the question of whores had rendered him almost speechless the last time as well. And Temeraire did not know why.
Laurence groaned and muttered something along the lines "why couldn't Victoriatus tell him everything and spare me the trouble?"
"Tell me everything? What everything?" the dragon enquired.
"Well…" Laurence looked up, his face still horribly flushed, "everything… about mating."
"Oh, mating," Temeraire breathed. "So that is what it is all about! I know what it is!"
"Yes," Temeraire nodded, pleased that he was not so very ignorant after all. "I once saw Vindicatus with a female Yellow Reaper, and Victoriatus said that is what they were doing. Trying for an egg."
Laurence let out a deep breath and his shoulders sagged, but not in defeat, rather in relief. "Then I do not need to explain to you how it is done."
"No, I have seen it. It looked quite interesting. I would like to try some day. So, to put things in their rightful place," Temeraire carried on, "Dunne and Collins and the whores mated, and that is what men enjoy doing so much."
"Yes, my dear," Laurence nodded, half-ashamed, half-amused.
"It seems to me that I have so far only received information-snippets… but now I have made the connections," Temeraire drew himself up proudly. "I understand everything. Dunne and Collins want to have eggs with the whores, and you with Jane!"
"WHAT? No, of course not!" Laurence replied hastily.
"No?" Temeraire blinked, once again confused and frustrated – he had thought he had finally understood everything, and it was highly disconcerting to think that he apparently had not. "But… is mating not about eggs?"
Laurence made an embarrassed grimace. "No. At least… not always. Well… it should be… You know, according to our religion, the only reason for mating is supposed to be the procreation of children, but…"
Laurence ran a hand across his hair nervously. "…But it does not work that way."
"Because…" Laurence once again began sweating, and Temeraire had to check if his wings were sheltering his captain from the rain, to make sure that the little rivulets running down Laurence's face were indeed sweat. "Because… the world is not perfect, Temeraire. In a perfect world no one would fall into the sin of fornication, but…"
"What is fornication?"
"Er… it is mating with someone whom you are not married to."
"But Laurence, dragons do not marry!"
The man nodded. "Therefore dragons do not sin when they mate."
"Oh. How good for us, then," Temeraire said smugly. "But Laurence… if it is a sin for you humans… then why do you do it?"
His captain looked appalled, then heaved a sigh of defeat. "You have a point."
"I usually do."
Laurence propped his chin in his palm, and his eyes were distant as he said, "And I must admit I could not really explain, why I do… I am not even in love with Jane…"
"But you enjoy doing it."
Laurence let out an involuntary chuckle. "Yes. I do."
"And that is why you are so embarrassed when addressing the topic," Temeraire drew the conclusion. "Because it is a sin for you humans, but still everyone does it. Or almost everyone."
Flushed, but with mirth glinting in his eyes, Laurence nodded. "It is not easy for me to talk about this… you could say I am a bit of a prude. But Jane…" he muttered, a dreamy little smile on his face, "definitely is not. She is very… straightforward. In every respect."
"So is Emily, she inherited that from her mother," Temeraire opined. "Really, Laurence, does Emily know that you and her mother…?"
At hearing this, all the blood ran out of Laurence's face and he looked like some of the young cadets on the Reliant after having got reacquainted with their latest meal. "O God, I hope not!"
"Why? Do you think she would not understand?"
"No…" Laurence bit into his lower lip, "if she is anything like her mother in this respect, she would understand. If she knows anything about such adult matters at all. Only I would die of shame."
"But… why?" Temeraire wondered. Humans could be so very complicated!
"Because… how do you think she would look at me after that? What would she tell people about me? 'That's my captain who, by the way, bedded my mama?'"
"Oh, I do not think she would tell people… unless she wanted to brag about it."
"Brag?" Laurence choked.
"Yes, why not? Her mother has a fine taste, why not be proud of that? And speaking of Emily," Temeraire carried on in a chit-chatty tone, trying to ignore his captain's deadly pallor, "I think I have just understood something else."
"What, my dear?" Laurence swallowed, a little colour returning to his cheeks.
"A few days ago you said it was somewhat embarrassing that Emily was born out of wedlock, but so far I have not understood why. Now I do. Because what Jane did with Emily's father was sin in the views of human society. Just like what she did with you. Really, Laurence, what will you do if Jane has your egg?"
"Heavens, do not even talk about that," Laurence groaned, once again hiding his face in his palms.
"But if you continue mating with her, she might have an egg, so we have to talk about it," Temeraire insisted. "Or will you stop mating with her after last night?"
Laurence gave his dragon a bashful smirk. "Well… as long as she is willing… I will not stop. And pray do not talk about eggs… let us worry about that when it happens, and hope that it will not happen at all."
And well, it did not happen, even though Temeraire caught Laurence smelling of Jane quite often in the next few years…
Covert of Sydney, 1816
"What is that look, Temeraire?" Laurence frowned upon the dragon, his delighted grin fading from his features. "You look like someone who has just seen a ghost…"
Temeraire shuddered, forcing himself to return from the past to the present, and to remind himself what had sent him down memory lane in the first place.
Laurence had not smelt like anything but himself ever since… well, before the treason. For over nine years his captain had been celibate. At least, judging by the lack of a female scent.
"Are you all right?" Laurence pressed, his eyes radiating worry.
"Yes," Temeraire found his voice, "I do well. And you too do well, if I am not mistaken," he added in a conspiratorial tone. "More than well, to be precise…"
Laurence crossed his arms. "What are you implying?"
"Well…" Temeraire allowed himself a long moment of silence, then, when he saw that Laurence was getting truly impatient, he casually went on, "you smell of Emily."
A/N: reviews would be most welcome!