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MASTER POST

****

Dover, September 1797

Ray meets the new boy at the worst possible time. He's gotten himself completely tangled in Laetificat's harness and is hanging upside down, cursing and laughing at himself as the blood rushes to his head, and then he hears someone clear their throat.

"Oh, no you don’t, Rudy," Ray calls, wagging a finger in the air warningly. "Time's not up yet, I've almost got this. Your pudding will be mine." He just needs another three minutes and he'll totally have won the bet, he knows it.

There's a short silence filled with the low rumbling conversation of dragons and the hiss of steam, and then a voice speaks up, and it isn't Rudy:

"I was told to ask Ensign Person where to stow my belongings."

Ray doesn't recognize the voice, which isn't unusual; dragons come and go in the Dover covert fairly regularly, and there's always a flurry of new officers and ensigns when they do. But it's a young voice, dripping an upper class accent all over the stone ground, and Ray is abruptly curious. He maneuvers so he can swing himself around and there's the kid, twenty feet below him. He looks about Ray's age--okay, maybe a bit older, closer to thirteen--the guy's definitely taller than Ray is, anyway, and he's got blue eyes, wow. Blue blue blue, and bright pale hair like frost.

"Hi," Ray says dizzily.

The boy blinks up at him, looking suddenly uncertain. Even upside down, Ray can see he's upset, tight mouth and white knuckles on his bag. They don't usually get lads his age turning up in the Corps—the nobles don't send their sons to join up as officers until they're sixteen or more, and the poor families like Ray’s that can't afford to feed extra mouths, they all ship their kids off by the time they’re eight years old.

Ray tilts his head, takes in the bright glint of brass on the kid's boots, the finely enameled trunk. There's a story here, a story behind this boy with the sharp blue eyes, and Ray is curious. He only has another four or five minutes to undo this crazy knot of hellfire and harness that McGraw had created that morning or he loses tonight's pudding to Pappy and Rudy. But... what the hell. Ray will just wheedle an extra share out of the kitchens later. He's still pretty scrawny and the cooks always fold if he widens his eyes pleadingly at them.

"So you're joining up?" he calls down, and begins fighting to get his left arm free. "Hey, they didn't tell me we were getting anyone new." Typical, Ray's always the last to know, even if he's apparently been assigned welcoming duty. Such is his lot in life. "Well, anyway, yes. I'm Ensign Raymond Person, but you can call me Ray, and I'll get you squared away in two jiffs. Three jiffs." He smiles winningly. He's pretty sure his face is tomato-red by now. "I'm almost done up here."

"Bradley Colbert," the boy says stiffly, nodding. He forebears to comment on how many jiffs it will actually take Ray to get down, or what a jiff is, even, so Ray likes him already. "I just got in from London."

"Huh, London. Wow." Ray remembers what it was like when he'd first got to Dover, seven years old, a sniveling little runt. Miserable, that's what it'd been. He's never been to London, but he figures leaving has to be hard no matter where you're leaving from. Maybe it's even harder when you're older, getting dumped out of a life of luxury into a pack of bumblers like McGraw and Sixta, everybody knowing each other and no one knowing you. Plus, Ray barely remembers a life without dragons in it, and this Bradley kid's probably never even seen them before, not in London.

Ray imagines London’s a lot like Dover, only grayer, stretched and pulled like taffy, the steeples and chimneys scraping the sky and leaving no space for color and wings. But it's not like he knows for sure. Maybe London's got lots of color, lots of dragons. Maybe Brad can tell him about it, about the tall buildings and streets and people. Maybe Brad's met the Queen.

Ray's pondering this and not paying attention, and his hand slips. Suddenly he's chewing a faceful of harness and it tastes horrible. He spits out a scrap of burnt leather and grimaces. "Ugh, tastes like a boot that went up Satan's arse."

There's the slightest hint of a smile on the boy's face, now. Ray's never needed very much encouragement, so he hams it up, rubs at his face with the back of his hand and swoons like he's dying.

"Wow," Brad observes dryly, cocking an eyebrow. "So, to whom does this boot belong? Or is there just an ownerless boot lodged in the Devil's backside?"

Ray feels his heart do something weird, like it's flopped over sideways or something and now he can't breathe right. Sometimes he kind of thinks maybe Pappy and Espera and the others get tired of him, is all. Ray can't stop talking, or moving, or thinking, he just can't, and then the others snap and throw things at him or make a bet that gets him out of their hair for a while. Ray goes with it. But maybe this new kid won't mind all the talking so much. He's smiling up at Ray, a strange, tiny smile that Ray likes immensely.

"I'll tell you who the boot belongs to," Ray says, and positions himself so his head no longer points directly at the ground. "One of our lieutenants tied this bloody harness into his own belt this morning, and then fell off the side and took two of our riflemen with him, and he actually fired off a damned shot! Can you believe it? He could have hit anybody, he's just lucky it backfired and set flame to his coat instead. So he starts flapping around and everyone gets tangled together in a giant fiery mess, it was hilarious! You should have seen it; you picked the wrong time of day to join up. Anyway, now the whole left side of the harness is, as you can see, snarled to hell and back, but I might be able to salvage some of it. Then the groundsmen can patch it up and use it on one of the lightweights. If it's done before dinner, Pappy and Rudy owe me their puddings," he finishes in a rush. He'd waved around an arm to illustrate McGraw's flapping, and now he's swinging back and forth gently in the breeze. It's fun, in a nauseating kind of way, so he kicks his legs to get a bit more momentum.

Brad's staring at him, blinking. "How do you get air when you do talk?" he inquires finally. "Do you have an extra set of lungs?"

"I just get more words out of one breath than other people, I suppose." He shrugs cheerfully, and then yelps as a knot unexpectedly slips loose and he faceplants amongst the coils again. His curses are muffled, and Brad laughs. Even as Ray flails uncomfortably, he feels a rush of triumph.

"Well," Brad says, setting down his bag and rolling up his sleeves. "I have to say, Raymond, chewing the knot loose doesn't seem like the best tactic. I'll be down here waiting for you all night, and neither of us will get pudding."

"Hey," Ray says, beaming. Brad is surprisingly quick-handed, swarming up the unmangled parts of the harness with ease, and then he's hanging next to Ray, cocking his head and regarding the mess of knots coolly. "I'll have you know this crap was way worse an hour ago, wasn't it, Laet?"

The giant scarlet head cranes around and inspects the cocoon of boy and knotted leather. Next to him, Brad has gone perfectly still. Maybe he's never talked to a dragon before, Ray thinks. And even if he has, it probably wasn't a Regal Copper like Laetificat. Laetificat's enormous, bigger than houses—probably bigger than that castle in London, even. And her teeth are fantastic, most of them the size of Ray himself. Which, okay, isn't saying much for a thirteen year old, but it's pretty big for a tooth.

"It was a much larger knot before," Laetificat says, and Ray grins and punches the air victoriously with his free arm. "You've done quite well, Ray. Though I do think Captain Portland would disapprove of your language."

"Aww," Ray says, and manages to extricate his arm and thread another of the harness loops free. "Hey, Laet, have you met Brad yet? He's our new cadet, isn't he great? He's going to help me with this mess."

"Pleasure to meet you, my lady," Brad says politely, and Laet huffs out a rumbling laugh.

"My lady," Ray chortles, and nearly asphyxiates himself before Brad rolls his eyes and hauls him free of the make-shift noose he'd created himself. "You'll fit in great."

"I can't tell you how much it heartens me to have your esteem, Raymond," Brad replies, making a face at him, and oh man, Ray is totally going to make sure Brad gets the bunk next to his.

The two of them actually do make quick work of the knot, and when they go in to dinner, Ray splits his honorably won extra helping of custard with Brad and manfully resists the urge to stick his tongue out at Rudy and Pappy.

***

Brad, as it turns out, is good at everything. He has about a week where he's a little unsteady in the air, wide-eyed and sticking close to Ray, but after that, he's gold, and everyone knows it. He's only been here a few months, but he's got all the instructors completely besotted, falling over themselves. Even when Brad doesn't know the difference between a double bowline knot and a carrick bend, he's got a way of cocking an eyebrow and drawling that makes it sound like he does, and anyway, he figures out the right of things soon enough. He's bloody quick, learns all the knots and flags and signals in the first two weeks, practices them every night by candlelight until he’s gotten them all memorized.

Ray would hate him, but it's kind of a little bit impossible. All the cadets and ensigns jostle around him, trying to get his attention, but Brad for some reason sticks to Ray's side, draws him into conversations, wants him around. He doesn't mind that Ray's the shortest, scrawniest ensign in the covert. He doesn't mind that Ray's obnoxious, that Ray can't ever seem to rein in his tongue. Brad just talks right back, educated and drawling and completely, utterly vulgar. It cracks Ray up, hearing those circumlocutious epithets coming out of that proper, upright face.

When Ray can't stand still and jiggles his foot or makes up outlandish songs about their dinner menu and Captain Moore's beard, Brad nods solemnly and hums along for the chorus, or beats a sedate accompanying beat against the table. He makes it easier to be still, to be quiet, to let a comfortable silence grow between them. It's amazing how much Brad steadies Ray. Even Captain Portland comments on it, says maybe that Person has the discipline to make an officer of himself yet.

Sometimes Brad gets this cold, distant look, though. Early mornings, right before drills, on the few occasions Brad gets an answer slightly wrong. Ray doesn't like it. He knows Brad is happy to be here most of the time, knows Brad's surprised by how much he likes it here in the Corps—he doesn't know if Brad knows Ray knows that, though. Brad's a private sort of fellow; he talks a lot, but never about himself. Ray doesn't want to scare him off, but not knowing exactly what's wrong is making him itch.

He doesn't think that Brad ran away from home, but it's a possibility. Maybe he was disowned, but Ray can't quite imagine anyone wanting to disown Bradley Colbert, for any reason. Maybe his family defected to France and Brad's standing up for his country. Maybe he's an undercover agent of the Crown, or... Ray doesn't know why Brad's here, but he spends a probably unhealthy amount of time stewing over the possibilities. He should just ask, but he's trying to be patient for once in his life. It's something of an experiment.

So for now, when Brad gets that brittle look on his face, Ray's just extra loud and stirs up trouble with his instructors, or is deliberately terrible at his penmanship. Brad's distracted from whatever awful judgment he thinks is going to fall on him from above by his need to mock Ray into being a better person, pardon his pun (which Ray never does). Ray's already gotten a way better grasp of Greek and Roman history than he'd ever thought possible, just from the insults Brad's cheerfully thrown his way.

Brad's brilliant and going to make the Youngest Captain Ever—it's completely obvious to everyone else, but for some reason Brad doesn't seem to realize it. For Christ's sake, he's stressing out about making bloody ensign.

Even aside from Brad having all the instructors and most of the captains wrapped around his little finger, that is beyond utterly ridiculous. Ray's got a sweet inside connection with Laetificat. Brad has nothing to worry about.

"All the dragons love me," Ray tells Brad grandly as he flashes the tiny make-shift signal flags that he'd fashioned out of leftover sheets and colored rags. It's midnight and they're huddled together in Brad's bunk, sharing a pilfered bag of biscuits. Ray knows he’s spraying Brad with crumbs as he talks, but Brad’s taking it remarkably well.

Well, and he should, since it’s his fault they’re both awake. He'd been keeping Ray up with his nervous staring-at-the-ceiling-and-fretting stillness. Normally Brad just flopped into bed and snuffled about and then fell asleep easily, so his sudden impersonation of a dead body had given Ray a creepy-crawling sensation. He’d finally snapped and sat straight up in bed, hissed ‘Why the hell are you still awake, Colbert? Jesus.’ And then had had the pleasure of seeing Brad startle and nearly fall out of the bed with shock. Sweet revenge, even if it hadn’t lasted long.

Now instead of sleeping, they're studying signal flag patterns.

Again.

"I mean, look at me, I'm irresistible. Who can blame them," Ray continues, trying to remember to whisper. "So you can get any position you want, so long as the position you want is on Laetificat. Why you'd want to be on any other dragon's beyond me, to be honest. Laet's going to see all the best battles. She's the best heavyweight in the Corps." Ray wrinkles his nose in thought. "Well, Excidium's pretty smashing too, I suppose. He can spit acid and all, but you should still stick with me and Laet. I mean, acid, I dunno, have you seen what that stuff can do? Bloody creepy if you ask me. First time I saw him take out a cow with it I couldn't sleep for weeks."

Brad narrows his eyes at the flags for about half a second and then answers decisively. "'Enemy above, prepare for boarding,'" he translates, correctly, of course. He's always correct, the tosser. Then he steals the last biscuit as he says meditatively, "The dragons all know you because you corner them and jabber at them for hours on end while they're trying to sleep. That they 'love you' seems a bit strong, Ray."

Oooh, just for that, Ray's going to give him a bloody hard one. He scrunches his mouth in thought, and then grins triumphantly and throws out a complex pattern of blue and red. Brad blinks, and Ray says, "Hah!" triumphantly. Then lowers his voice because he doesn't want Lenton to drag him out by the ear and make him sleep in the tack room again. And anyway, it's not jabbering, it's making conversation. Ray decides he should point this out. Brad might be a genius, but he's occasionally massively socially inept. That's okay. That's what he has Ray for.

"They like talking to me! Well, when they’re not sleeping. And that Torrentio is a real prick, he doesn’t count, no one likes to talk to him. But the Winchesters have all the best gossip," he informs Brad in a whisper, and they do. Ray knows more about the War effort in the Mediterranean than most of the officers, thanks to them. He got a demerit a few months ago for correcting McGraw in the middle of one of his damn lectures on innate British superiority: he'd said the British had won a maneuver in Sardinia that Ray knew they'd lost, and badly. It'd been worth the demerit to see the bastard splutter. "Winchesters are the best for up-to-date information, being couriers and all," he tells Brad importantly, and he's giving away his best sources, sure, but he doesn't mind. His sources are Brad's sources. "But all the dragons like to be talked to, they've always got things to say.”

"So do you," Brad mutters, still frowning. “‘New French formation of heavyweights to spotted south-southwest. Shift to Longwing formation, with Regal Copper to upper left quadrant’?” he asks uncertainly, and Ray shrugs.

“Almost,” he says, and blinks when Brad hisses out a curse. “No, really, you almost got it. Should have been lower right quadrant, but that was a fucking hard one. I was kind of being a tosser with that. Usually we don’t get long strings of signals like that all in a row, you know?”

“I missed the figure-eight pattern,” Brad murmurs to himself, fists clenched so tightly the bones show whitely through the skin. “Fuck, that was it. The figure-eight instead of the double loop.”

Ray bites his lip, and, after dithering a moment, reaches out and knocks his fist against Brad’s hand, hopes it’ll smooth it out before Brad cracks a knuckle or something.

“Hey, it’s fine,” he says, eyes wide and trying to catch Brad’s eyes. “What, who do you think here’s going to care? Me? Fuck, no. That’s why we’re practicing, right?”

“I have to be good at this,” Brad says uncertainly, but his hands are relaxing, and Ray grins, punches Brad in the shoulder and picks back up the flags.

“You are good at this, you crazy toff bastard,” Ray says reassuringly, twirling a flag. “That was a damned tricky one, and you almost got it. Man, sometimes I think you forget you’ve only been here a month or so. You don’t have to know everything yet, you know?”

“I should,” Brad starts to say, and Ray waves him off. Sometimes Brad’s crazy. Ray’s learned to accept this.

“Well, anyway, I don’t care if you do or not, so long as you know enough to get stationed with me on Laet, and you’re totally already a shoo-in for that. Even without your brilliant flag-reading skills, which, I assure you, are pretty damned scintillating. Laet loves me—no, shut up, she does, she thinks I’m incorrigible and adorable and plucky, and I am. No sweat, my friend. We’ll get you aboard.”

“Do another,” Brad insists, but his shoulders have relaxed and he’s smiling again—smiling brightly, actually, knocking his knee against Ray’s. Which is pretty cool. Usually Ray’s the one to initiate contact. Brad’s not the most touchy-feely of blokes, though he usually tolerates it when Ray tackles him into a bearhug or goes to sleep on his shoulder. “A hard one, too. I’ll get it this time. Besides, it’s the captains that decide who gets appointed where, isn’t it? The captains and the lieutenants, and they decide that based on reports from the instructors."

Ray shakes his head. "Brother, do you have a lot to learn," he says, and goes through a new signal pattern—he can’t give Brad something easy, or Brad’ll thump him and act snotty and insulted for the rest of the week, so it’s pretty difficult. But Brad’s watching him intently, eyes alert and following the flickering colors deftly. Ray’s pretty sure this one’s in the bag, so he settles back to explain how the Corps really works as he flashes the flags about.

"See, that's not how it goes, not on the really brilliant dragons that have decent captains, anyway, and that's where you want to end up. Sure, you'll get a post on a captain's say-so, but any captain worth their salt takes their dragon's opinions into consideration, I reckon. That's how it goes with Laet and Portland. We had this real tosser of a rifleman aboard for a while, Trombley, and he kept spouting off how dragons were just dumb animals, useless without men aboard. Daft weedy little twat, but he was a crack shot, damned impressive, gotta admit it. And I dunno, maybe he wasn't too bad, just kinda young, hadn't been around dragons much as a kid. But still, he called Laet a horse to her face. She could sneeze the little twit into a billion pieces and he calls her a horse! Jesus wept. He got demoted to ground duty the next day."

“'Injured allied heavyweight to the north-east requires assistance. Respond if able, if not, pass message along to next patrol,' Brad interrupts, and Ray grins.

"Hey, that was a damned tricky one, too! And in the dark, while I was talking up a fucking storm!" he cheers, then croons, "Who's my star cadet? Who's the Corps' golden boy? You are! That's right! Ensign, here you come!"

"You'll wake the others again," Brad chides, rolling his eyes and thumping Ray a little harder than strictly necessary on the shoulder.

"Ow!" Ray whispers, wrinkling his nose, rubbing his shoulder, then subsides. "See, puddin', you'll do brilliant, and then you'll be up with me and Laet permanently. It'll be fantastic, and then we'll make riflemen, and maybe bellmen, and then we'll save the queen and get knighted. Sir Raymond Person!"

"You mean I'll get to listen to you jabber all day for years to come?" Brad drawls; he’s smiling hugely and the last of the tension has gone out of his shoulders. Maybe now they can finally both get some damn sleep. "Marvelous. Can't wait."

"You love it," Ray tells him, and when Brad doesn't deny it, just smiles and rolls his eyes again, Ray feels pretty damn golden himself.

***

Ray's patience is rewarded unexpectedly a few months later, and by that time he's almost forgotten about it. He's spent so long carefully tiptoeing around Brad's past that it's almost second nature by now.

They'd snuck out of the covert the night before and into Dover proper to find some of the whores the older boys were always talking about. It had been a great success, in Ray's opinion, except for how the whores kept pinching his cheeks and calling him adorable, and how Brad kept wheezing with laughter and begging for them to stop before he threw up. That part was kind of off-putting, but then Lilah bought them both a pint at the bar and gave Ray a kiss for free, 'to grow on,' she'd said, and then they got to watch a real saloon show, with dancing girls and a piano.

Ray is singing one of the songs now as he mends harness with Brad. It's a crisp, brilliant spring afternoon, and the wind tastes green with the promise of summer heat. Soon Laetificat would be going into battle, and he and Brad and Pappy and Rudy would be aboard when she did.

"Here's to the maiden of bashful fifteen, and here's to the widow of fifty!" Ray warbles, and jabs a needle through the tough leather. "Here's to the flaunting extravagant queen, and--"

"Do you know, my mother never wanted children," Brad says, out of complete fucking nowhere, and Ray stabs himself with the needle and bites back a cry as bright blood wells up from his palm. He looks at Brad with wide eyes, but Brad is still frowning at his handful of brass clips and straps. "She was one of the darlings of the ton, and I ruined her figure and her complexion." He glances up, briefly, and Ray gets a glimpse of eyes winter cold beneath their lashes before Brad looks down again. His voice turns drawling and dripping with humor, like Brad's talking about someone else. Not his mother, not himself. Someone in a play or story. "I'm told she has since gained them back and is now without peer for beauty once again. But she found having a son around reminded her suitors of her age and hindered her attempts to catch a second husband.” A beat passes. “My father recently died, you see. He was only a naval captain, and he was lost at sea.”

There is a pause where Ray tries to come up with something to say, an offer of sympathy, condolences, something. Then Brad smiles, and it's sharp and painful and Ray wants to find this woman--who has to be as beautiful as Brad says, because Brad himself is all flawless lines, pale golds and blues and roses--he wants to find this aristocratic beauty and throttle her and shove her into a midden until she drowns in shit and garbage. No one should make Brad look like that.

"My mother looks especially beautiful in her widow's weeds," Brad says, smiling. "Her color is well-suited to them. I believe she has her eyes set on a duke, this time. A duke that already has plenty of heirs to spare, and money to spend."

"But," Ray stutters, and this isn't fair. Every other time in his life he can't shut himself up, and now when he needs his mouth to form words, it's failing him, tongue-tied and useless. His own mother was never a beauty. She was gray and tired and had a sharp tongue, but she'd always loved him in her rough way, had dropped kisses on his head and done her best to scrape together money to buy him and his sisters a toffee or two on market days. She hadn't wanted to give Ray up.

He wants to call Brad's mother a bitch, but that can't be right, somehow. He wants to fling his arms around Brad and tell him he's wanted, right here, that he belongs in the Corps, belongs in the air.

"Why not the Navy? Why'd you join the Corps?" he asks finally, which is so totally inadequate he sort of wants to strangle himself, but Brad laughs unexpectedly.

"Would you believe I get seasick?" There's a tiny smile on Brad's face, self-mocking and impossibly dear.

"Get the fuck out of here, you do not." Ray refuses to believe it. Brad is sure-footed on dragonback, taking all the spins and turns and turbulence without ruffling a hair. Ray can't imagine him any differently aboard a ship, regardless of the sea beneath. Surely the sea and sky aren't so different.

"I assure you, Ray, I do. Regardless of the weather, I attempt to relieve myself of my internal organs for hours at a time. I'm told I have impressive range, especially during storms."

"Huh," Ray says. "Well. Good thing you ended up here, then."

"Yes," Brad says quietly, and an uncomfortable but warm silence settles between them for the next few minutes. Then Ray realizes Brad is humming, softly, and Ray will be forced to join in on the chorus, Brad knows how that shit works.

"Give me but a friend and a glass, boys," he sings quietly, and doesn't look over, but he doesn’t sing the new bawdy lyrics he’s recently made up, not this time. "I'll show you what 'tis to be gay. I'll ne'er lose my head for a lass, boys."

"We'll live twenty four hours a day," Brad sings back, low and scratchy, and it turns out there is something Bradley Colbert cannot do, and that's carry a tune in a bucket. Ray smiles to himself. He doesn't much mind. Brad Colbert's singing may possibly be the best thing he's ever heard.

***

Spanish Coast, June 1798

Brad is a complete sodding idiot, Ray realizes, wind whipping past his ears. It’s the first real battle they’ve ever been in, their first action. It’s supposed to be amazing, and it isn’t. His eyes are stinging from powder, and Brad has slipped loose of his carabiners and gone to fight the boarders. Fourteen years old, and he’s staring down a Frenchman that has to be two stones heavier and two decades older than he is. The bloody tosser doesn’t even look scared, because he’s clearly insane.

Ray’s going to have to do something, that much is clear. And he admits Brad’s got a point—the captain and his lieutenants are hard pressed by six Frenchmen already, and if this seventh had gotten into the thick of things, well. It’d been drilled into them all: never let a captain be captured.

But what the bloody fuck Brad thinks he’s going to do against this monster of a man, who’s sneering down at the slight teenager, Ray has no fucking clue. Brad probably has a plan, he’s always got a plan, but he’s still sort of new, unfamiliar with the protocol, and Ray knows any second now Laet’s going to roll to try to dislodge most of the boarders, and Brad’s not strapped in anymore.

It’s only been a few seconds, but time is oddly stretched. Ray can hear each of his heartbeats with distinct clarity, the thud-swish, thud-swish of blood in his veins as he unclips his own carabiners and bolts along the length of Laetificat’s back.

Bullets pepper the air around him, and he hears Laet roaring, thinks distantly that she’ll hate getting those removed later. Last time she’d been in battle, the doc had made him and Hasser help with the pliers. He remembers the stink of cauterized flesh in his nose, the scorched smell of crisped scales.

He sees Brad dodge the Frenchman’s saber, sees the man’s face crumple in shock as Brad delivers a sharp kick to one of his knees. It’s like seeing the world in stuttering slides. He doesn’t quite remember reaching Brad, but he’s suddenly clipping their carabiners together and then stuffing his arm beneath the tight band of Laet’s shoulder harness just as the world begins to tilt and spin.

The Frenchman staggers, then falls, and Brad’s arms are tight around Ray’s waist, and he’s still there when the world comes right-side up again.

“You dumb fuck,” Ray breathes. He can’t quite look at Brad. He’s angry. Should he be angry? He is, so he supposes it doesn’t matter. Right or wrong, he’s furious, no point worrying about why when he’s having a hard enough time focusing on not bursting into shocked tears, like some kind of landlubbing, groundbound townie.

“Boarders repelled,” the first lieutenant calls out, and one of the topmen helps Ray and Brad to their feet. Ray shakes out his fingers, numb and bloodless.

“Bravely done,” the man says, clapping Brad, then Ray on the back, and Ray distantly thinks this will help their chances of advancing.

“Ray,” Brad says tentatively, and Ray shrugs his hand off, looks through him. They don’t talk again the whole flight, not really. They pass on the messages from the signal flags, and Ray doesn’t look at Brad’s face, ignores the trembling in his own hands. They are several thousand feet in the air. He remembers the Frenchman’s face as he fell away towards the green swell of earth, the gentle roll of hills. Some poor shepherd or farmer would find the man later, maybe, what was left of him after he’d hit the ground, after the crows and dogs and flies were done with him.

“I have to help Doctor Bennett,” he says to Brad when they land, and Brad scowls.

“Ray, don’t play a scrub with me. What’s wrong? Have you been injured?” Brad’s gaze suddenly sharpens. “Were you—was there—were you shot, Ray?”

What’s wrong, he asks. Was Ray shot, like he has no bloody idea how close he was to death, like he doesn’t care—and Ray hauls back and suddenly his fist hurts and Brad’s mouth is leaking bright red and he looks flabbergasted. Any other time, it’d be hilarious, the wide startled eyes and dumb slack expression of shock.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” he hisses, and then Pappy’s there, tugging him away, talking him down. Pappy’s been in battles before, and he’s got a nice soothing Irish patter. By the time they finish helping Doc Bennett pluck the bullets out of poor Laet’s hide, Ray’s gotten a better grip on himself. He knows they’ve beat the bloody Frogs back from their port again, and that there were no casualties among the men, that the little Winchester that reported the French force approaching has a ripped wing but should mend in a few weeks.

“C’mon,” Rudy says, after exchanging a complicated look with Pappy. They’re in the baths and Ray’s washing splatters of dark dragon blood off of his hands. “You did good, brother. Let’s get a drink in you, yeah?”

Ray kind of wants to just to curl up somewhere and be still, but he lets the older boys lead him off to the mess hall, and it’s actually nice, being around a crowd of people. Everyone’s happy, cheerful after a successful battle, and it all blends into a warm, familiar sound, a cushion of conversations going on around him that he doesn’t have to participate in. Rudy’s somehow gotten a bottle of fine brandy—Ray’s not going to ask tonight, but he’ll definitely worm out his sources later. Somehow Rudy always gets the best, top of the line quality booze, no grog for him. It’s smooth and pear-flavored and Ray finally stops feeling quite so cold, like something more vital and more heated than blood is leaking out of an unseen wound.

Captain Portland even comes by later, smiling, and tells Ray he’s proud, that he’s growing up well. Ray smiles, puffs up, and then remembers that he punched Brad, holy hell. Portland doesn’t know about that, obviously—if he did, Ray’d be on tack duty for months and months to come, demerit on top of demerit. So Brad must not have said anything—well, of course he hadn’t, Brad’s no snitch. But still. Ray starts feeling a bit squirmy and uneasy, and he’s lost the edge of righteous fury. Maybe… fuck, maybe he should apologize. But he doesn’t want to apologize. He’s still angry, still has a hot throb behind his eyes that makes him want to start smashing things. He frowns uncertainly at the table. This shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out, he’s almost positive.

Of course, that’s when Brad slides into the seat next to him, eyes narrowed.

Ray grabs at his glass of brandy and holds it defensively in front of himself. “What, I’m sorry,” he says quickly, then winces, because Brad just raises his eyebrows and looks disdainful. Ray hates that look, it means Brad’s hiding something, hiding behind a polished mirrored surface, and he should never have to hide anything from Ray, ever.

“You’re sorry?” Brad drawls, except it’s a little stilted, because his mouth is swollen, probably painful, and Ray did that. He’d hit Brad! What the fuck had he been thinking? And oh, hell, Ray really doesn’t want to do this here, in front of all their friends and superiors. He bolts the rest of the glass, sets it unsteadily down on the table with a clink that seems strangely loud.

“Outside,” he announces. “We’ll talk outside.” He stands up, and wow. There’s a difference between a pint of bitter and a glass or two of brandy, because he feels like he’s suddenly grown taller, like the floor’s farther away than it should be, and he staggers a bit before adjusting himself. He hears Brad sigh irritably, and oh, there’s the anger again, that Brad thinks he gets to be irritated, and Ray’s stomping for the door before he can think better of it.

He gets outside in the cool night air of the courtyard and starts pacing, trying to outrun his own thoughts. But he can’t, he keeps seeing it again, only it’s not a nameless Frenchman falling, it’s Brad, hand outstretched and eyes wide with surprise, and fuck fuck fuck, Ray’s eyes are getting wet. He’s such an infant.

Brad comes up behind him and Ray shoots him a glance, sees Brad’s face like a thundercloud and his arms crossed over his chest. Ray rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand, trying to pull it together.

“I am sorry,” he says, and he is, but he’s still mad, and fuck, he didn’t even know he could be this much of a mess of emotions, as tangled inside as Laet’s harness had been the day he and Brad’d first met. “I’m sorry I hit you.”

Brad’s peering at him, and he looks bewildered and a bit hurt beneath the outraged posture he’s pulling, and oh, great, now Ray’s feeling guilty again. He puts a hand to his head. Maybe it’s the brandy, or the back and forth of angry-sad-angry-guilty-terrifed-angry, but he’s dizzy with whatever it is.

“Why?” Brad bursts out, and Ray winces. “You’re angry with me. I don’t—what did I do wrong?”

“What did you do?” Ray shouts, and Brad’s eyes go huge and he makes a shushing gesture, which, fine, Ray supposes it’d be best to let sleeping dragons lie, so he moderates his voice a bit. “You almost—you could have died, you enormous sodding tosser, you—”

He’s gotten Brad’s shoulders and is shaking them and his eyes are wet again and he makes himself let go.

Brad still looks confused, and vastly more alarmed than he had before. “Is it…” he ventures. “I should have thanked you for your help. I was going to, I was, only you were being all…” He gestures vaguely at Ray and Ray barks out a laugh.

“I don’t need your thanks,” he sneers, throwing his hands up in the air. “Fine, you really want to know? You want to know what’s wrong?” His voice is shaking, and he doesn’t care. “I was scared. I’m scared. You almost died, and you don’t care, you don’t care, but I do, and everyone else is just, just, patting you on the back, like, ‘Well done, Ensign Colbert, wonderful job on nearly plummeting to your messy death,' but I don’t think it was a good job. It was stupid. You didn’t have to do it. You were stupid, you stupid idiot, and if you ever die I’m going to piss on your grave, don’t you think I fucking won’t.”

“Ray,” Brad says, holding out his hands, palms out, placating, and Ray knocks them aside.

“No, don’t ‘Ray’ me,” he shouts. “I’m not—you can’t just make a face and I’ll forget. You didn’t have to do that, go after that man. You should have told another officer! You should have asked me to come with you. It was stupid, and I can’t stop—I can’t stop thinking about it, and you don’t even—”

Ray,” and Brad’s hands are on his shoulders now, and wow, Ray is crying, this is the worst day of his life. “Ray, I’m… I’m sorry. Ray, I’m sorry.” And then he’s hesitantly wrapping his arms around Ray and Ray just concentrates on breathing for a moment, on the sweat-smell of Brad, on the sound of snoring dragons. “You’re right. I’ll be more careful.”

“Damn straight, you will,” he croaks finally, and shoves Brad away. Brad’s watching him, and Ray raises a hand, drops it again.

“Um,” he says uncertainly, wavering. “Sorry about your face. Your mouth…fuck.”

“Like your scrawny arms could do any real damage to perfection like this,” Brad says easily, and Ray laughs, too loud and bright and relieved, because they’re okay. Brad’s okay. He doesn’t think Ray’s soft, or an infant, and he’s okay. He’s alive. “Come on, lightweight, let’s get you to bed.”

“’m not a lightweight!” Ray says indignantly, and then stumbles over the step back into the barracks. “I just…can’t. Um.”

“Um,” Brad says mockingly, and then, softer, “I really did mean to thank you.”

“Don’t,” Ray says sharply, because he doesn’t want to be thanked for saving Brad’s life. He doesn’t want Brad’s life to need to be saved. He shakes his head like he can get rid of the image, shake it free like a clinging bug or a stray leaf. It sort of works, because he’s distracted by the mess the motion makes of his vision and his footsteps, and the way Brad sounds laughing at him. He gives Brad a lopsided grin, bright as he can. “Hey.”

Brad raises an eyebrow, and waits, and because Ray’s still a little bit mad, he refuses to elaborate, makes Brad ask, which he knows Brad hates. Tough. Ray hates watching Brad almost die.

“What?” Brad says exasperatedly, dumping Ray into his bed, and Ray has a moment where the world spins unpleasantly, but it comes back into focus and it’s Brad, glaring down at him.

“Can we go over the signal flags again?” he asks, not sure why he’s asking. They both know the flags, the signals, backwards and forwards and out of the corners of their eyes and in their sleep, but Brad… Brad just softens, his eyes going bright. Ray likes it, likes that expression on Brad’s face.

“Yes,” Brad says, and starts digging around in Ray’s chest for the practice flags they’d made. “We can do that, Raymond.”

“Thanks,” Ray says, and Brad comes and sits at the head of the bed with him, warm and close, their shoulders and sides and legs all lined up, and then Brad lights a candle and all the shadows go soft and dancing. The barracks are empty, everyone’s still out celebrating, and Ray falls asleep with the soft flurry of flags still before his eyes, slurring out, “Cover Longwing’s right quadrant” and hearing Brad say quietly, “Good, Ray. That’s good.”

***

Dover, May 1801

The trouble with sneaking out and hanging with the streetwalkers in Dover every couple weeks and having them all pinch his cheeks and kiss his forehead and teach him their best bawdy songs is—well, actually, there are multiple levels of trouble. One is that Brad still thinks it’s hilarious, because for some reason the whores talk to him like he’s a grown man, even though he’s only a year or two older than Ray. Just because he’s got a foot and a stone of muscle more. It’s not fair. Even worse, though, is that now that Ray’s finally of an age to actually potentially purchase some lewd company, he still can’t, because all the girls think of him as their little brother, even the newcomers.

Truth be told, he admits he’s not really that interested—he’s heard way too much about the girls’ clients and their diseases and their families and, well, it’s just not that appealing anymore. Mainly he wants to punch most of the dumbass arseholes that the ladies have to deal with.

But anyway, it’s the principle of the thing. It’s unfair. Brad’s already had honest-to-God sex with Joan Tomlinson, and refuses to give Ray any of the details. He won’t even let Ray smell his hand like Garza and Kocher had. It’s driving Ray crazy. Ray’s grown up with Tomlinson and Jacobs and McDonaugh, the young female aviators. He’s known them since he was a squeaker, loves them all, and none of them will have sex with him.

Well, Jacobs let him feel her breasts in the baths a couple years ago in exchange for an opportunity to examine his penis up close, but it didn’t go much further than that. He’d marveled at the odd firmness of her breasts, the hardness of her nipples. She’d crouched down, tilted her head, lifted his cock with a finger and then prodded his balls carefully while Ray giggled helplessly. They both pronounced themselves satisfied with the experiment, though Ray was a little disappointed he hadn’t gotten to explore further, and that’d been that.

But he’s never gone any farther with anyone else, hasn’t really even pressed to. And now Brad has, and Ray can’t stop thinking of it, of how he’d walked in on them, the wet sounds their mouths had made, how much taller Brad was than Tomlinson. It’d just been a flash, Ray rounding a corner in the stables and there they’d been, and he’d backed away immediately, but just that glimpse, it’s still in his head, has been replaying all day, over and over again.

Now Brad’s sleeping the sleep of the blissfully well-fucked, the tosser, but Ray’s still awake, antsy and unhappy in a deep, skittering way that keeps him from being able to lay still or close his eyes. It’s early yet, the sun barely down, but it’s been brutal, the endless patrolling they’ve been doing lately, and everyone’s conked out early. He can’t even while away the hours with cards or something, he’s stuck here inside his own head. He thinks about trying to pleasure himself, but he can’t focus long enough to come to completion, not with Brad snoring gently a bed away and Espera talking irritably in his sleep across the room.

Finally, moving quietly and carefully, Ray slips out of the room in his stocking feet and makes his way over to the back wall of the courtyard, boots in hand. There’s a maple tree there that stretches over the parapets, and it’s the work of a minute to shimmy over it and out into the town. He feels the slightest, tiniest bit better in the cool night air, the smell of horse urine and refuse and unwashed dock workers washing over him in a distracting miasma.

He makes his way to the saloon, where Scarlet Charlotte lets him buy her a pint and pets his hair. Ray feels a lot better after about an hour of smoke and booze and a gorgeous red-head running her nails over his scalp as he grumbles about Brad and she gives him all the gossip on what general’s been seen where in what town establishment and how one of their French girls keeps getting trouble from noble-minded patriotic countrymen. This neatly distracts Ray from his own troubles by making his blood boil with indignation.

As though Noëlle has anything to do with that bastard Boney; he’s seething just thinking about it. Charlotte laughs and tells him they’ve got their own ways of handling it, not to worry his pretty little head.

“My head is not pretty,” Rays retorts, dignified as he possibly can be when he knows paint in the perfect shape of Charlotte’s lips is daintily imprinted onto his forehead, a blazon that screams ‘plonker who can’t plow a lass and has to settle for forehead kisses instead.’ He scrubs at it ruefully.

“You’ve got it bad, honey,” Charlotte says, pursing her lips into a dainty moue, and Ray glares at her and pillows his head on his arms, ignoring the stickiness of the bar beneath them.

“Got what bad?” he grumbles. “Pretty-head? Is that some sort of terrifying sexual condition now? I suppose you’d know. Ow!”

She’s got a wicked punch for a saloon girl, and he tells her so admiringly.

“You’re sweet,” she says, and Ray sighs.

“Disregarding that that’s the most emasculating thing anyone’s said to me today, you know for a fact it’s not true.”

“You’re a dreadful, hateful, obnoxious little asshole of an aviator,” she agrees. “And if you pinch any more bottoms today, I’ll have Fred toss you out back into the midden. But you’re still sweet.”

“Argh,” Ray says woefully. This probably never happens to Brad. Brad probably just smoldered at Tomlinson and Tomlinson smoldered back and then they both ripped off their clothes and compared rippling abdominal muscles and had hot, terrifyingly competent sex all over the place. “Brad never gets called sweet, I bet,” he says wistfully. “He is, sort of, but not really. Maybe he’s more tart. Not a tart. That’s too common, Brad’s not common. Maybe something spicy. Cinnamon. Cinnamon with almonds. ‘N icing.”

“Petal,” Charlotte says, interrupting his monologue on what sort of pastry Brad would be, for which Ray is grateful, but there’s something slightly odd about her voice. Ray can’t quite place it. He’s had rather a lot to drink, and he’s tired, and it’s loud here by the bar. “Have you met our new pianist yet?”

“You’ve a new pianist?” Ray asks, perking up. He loves music, and sometimes the girls let him fiddle around with the instruments, the jew harps and drums.

“Mm hmm,” she says. “Let me introduce you.”

The pianist is young, only a few years older than Ray himself. He’s got dark hair and green eyes and a lazy smile. His name is Joseph Bones, apparently, and he’s more than happy to let Ray sit next to him and watch him play. He scoots over on the piano bench and pats the worn wood beside him, and Ray plops down, grinning.

“Raymond Person,” Joseph says, charming and lilting, with a Welsh accent. Ray’s always liked those, the rise and fall of the syllables turning the slightest word exotic and musical. “I’ve heard of you. Heard you torment all the girls and tried to make away with one of our gitterns.”

“Well, no worries, friend,” Ray says, widening his eyes innocently. “I doubt I’ll be able to lug your piano far. Maybe if I rope a dragon or two into the scheme. We’ll be musical pirates. If you know any good sea shanties, we may do you the great honor of letting you come along as well.” He’s gratified when Joseph laughs instead of shoving him off the bench.

“Hey, I can turn the pages for you, if you want,” Ray offers, because he really doesn’t want to be sent away. He wants to lose himself in the music, just for a bit, before he drags his miserable self home and back to his cold, empty, virginal bed. “Pay my dues, all that.”

Joe’s great. He’s got a charming smile and a great voice, and he’s possessed of an actual talent for piano, better than the last no-account player they’d had in here, who was fired for vomiting on the patrons and pulling off a girl’s skirt during her act.

Ray spends the rest of the night turning pages, and is pleased that Joe leans into Ray’s side as he plays, that he’s willing to answer Ray’s questions about the mysterious succession of notes and symbols on the paper, explaining the notations. After an hour or so Ray’s finally in a pretty good mood, the best he’s been in since he walked in on Brad and Tomlinson half-naked and kissing. When the bar’s emptied out a bit more, Joe lets Ray attempt a few melodies of his own. Ray can do it if he’s not thinking too hard. He can find the notes he wants, but he still can’t quite read the sheet music, has to slow down and squint. It’s frustrating, but Joe’s patient and teasing, tells him he has a good ear, good hands.

“Thanks,” Ray says, slowing his fingers on the keys, and feels oddly warm, blushing.

The bar’s closing down, and the piano’s off in a dimly lit corner. When Joseph leans in and brushes a strand of hair out of Ray’s eyes, Ray catches his breath and thinks, oh. That’s why Charlotte sounded so strange earlier.

“Is this alright?” Joseph asks, and lets his fingers dance across the keys in a drifting, playful riff that brings his hands flush against Ray’s. Ray startles and there’s a moment of discordance, a moment where he can’t catch his breath. Then he thinks of Brad’s back, Tomlinson’s small delicate hands tracing over it, running down his spine, the trim lines of Brad’s hips, and then he forces his mind blank, concentrates on playing the riff back to Joseph, on speeding it up and changing the key. He smiles his best mid-air smile, all teeth and bravado, and says, “Well, obviously.”

It’s not like he thought it would be. He’s jittery and hot and already hard, just thinking about what could happen. He could drill a hole in a cannonball with his pecker, if he wanted. Which he doesn’t. But it’s alarming, so he doesn’t let himself think about it too much, lets Joseph lead him off into a back hallway and then, after fluttering his hands uselessly for a bit, just goes for it. He’s seen people kissing and being kissed before, and only after he’s already shoved Joseph against the wall and pressed their mouths together does he think to wonder if maybe men don’t do this.

But Joseph is moaning into his mouth, sounding pleased, and his hands are around Ray’s waist, stroking his back, and it feels good, it feels good to be touched. Joseph nips at Ray’s lower lip and everything goes hot and Ray surges up and their teeth are scraping together, wet and messy. It’s messy. Ray didn’t expect that, but it is, it’s messy and good, and he wonders if it was like this for Brad. He wonders if Brad felt this way when Tomlinson circled his waist with her tiny hands. Joseph’s hands aren’t as big as Brad’s, but they’re still quite large, and heavy, and Ray pushes up into them with a gasp.

“Fuck yes, like that,” he says, startled and panting.

“Like that?” Joseph teases, and twists his hand and oh Christ, the feel of someone else’s skin, someone else’s hand upon him, it’s not the same as touching himself at all. He stutters out a warning and then comes all over Joseph’s fingers. He feels as though he has keys and notes and tempos written all over his body for Joseph to read, like his body’s an instrument and he’s played an unfamiliar song for the first time, and now he’ll never stop hearing it thrumming underneath his skin. His body can feel like this, electric and desperate and alive. He had no idea.

“Well, that was embarrassingly quick,” Ray notes, gulping in air and staring at the ceiling, his muscles too limp for him to hold up his head properly. Joseph just throws back his own head and laughs.

“You’re young,” he says, and for once it sounds like that’s a good thing. “Give it another minute or so, yeah? You’ll be standing to attention again, if I’ve anything to say about it.”

Ray wants to taste the sweat he can see glistening in the hollow of Joseph’s throat, so he leans in and nuzzles. Joseph makes an interested, purring noise and rocks his hips against Ray’s again. Ray feels shaky all over, and there’s a hard hot line against his thigh. He remembers the girls talking about men liking their mouths, and Ray wants to learn that, wants to be able to do that. Wants to be able to make a man gasp and moan and call his name, even if—even if he doesn’t want to examine his reasons too closely, he wants to know how, wants to be good at it.

He drops to his knees on the hard, dusty floor and Joseph’s eyes fly wide open, and then go to half-mast.

“You’re sure?” he asks, eyes dark, and runs his thumb over Ray’s lower lip. Ray feels like every blood vessel in his entire body is engorged, like every scrap of skin he owns is awake and thrumming and aware. He opens his mouth and laves his tongue over Joseph’s finger, tentatively scrapes his teeth over the calloused pad, and Joseph hisses, “Christ.”

Ray knows he can’t be extremely good at this. He’s sloppy and choking and Joseph keeps having to guide his head to keep him on tempo, on the right pace. But Ray likes it, likes the cock in his mouth, the stretch and salt-taste of it, likes the sharp sting of tugging fingers in his hair. He moans around Joseph, imagines Tomlinson like this, on her knees, looking up at Brad, Brad’s hands cradling the back of her skull. Did she do this, did she, did Brad like it? Joseph likes it, he must, because when Ray glances up from beneath his lashes, Joseph’s mouth is open and he looks wrecked, panting.

When Ray chokes on his seed, dribbles it everywhere and coughs a hacking, terrible cough, because Lord, he thinks the blasted stuff is in his lungs, Joseph just slumps against the wall and blinks, breathing. Eventually he leans over and wipes Ray’s face clean with his shirt tail, kisses his mouth, like he’s tasting himself, and somehow that’s absolutely ungodly, lewdly hot. Then Joseph drops to his own knees and returns the favor, and Ray feels like he really is going to die.

He staggers back out to the bar afterwards, and it’s late, so late the sun has to be coming up soon, and he’s got to make it back to the barracks before the light does or he’s in deep shit. Charlotte and Lilah see him, sweaty and wrecked, his clothing a shambles, and they’re both smirking. Ray blushes, but then pulls himself together and manages to tell them he wants tips later, since now they’re all in this business of pleasuring men together. Though Ray supposes he won’t be selling his wares, since he does have a job to do on dragonback and he can’t afford to be distracted by the doubtless countless clients he’d attract when there’s a war going on. Then he kisses his hand to the both of them and scampers into the street before they can tease him any further. It’s a cool night, the salty sea breeze stinging his flushed cheeks, and he eels along the dark alleys and manages to avoid confrontations with any drunkards or wastrels.

He has time for an hour or two of sleep after all, he realizes gratefully, toeing off his shoes and stealing back into their room. He feels strange, oddly light, and a bit like he might have a nasty headache when he wakes up in the morning—he had put away a rather lot of beer before Charlotte’d led him over to Joseph’s Piano Bench of Sexual Awakenings. He’s shucking off his trousers and changing into a clean nightshirt, silent and congratulating himself on his obviously excellent skills at stealth, and then he sees Brad watching him. All the breath leaves his lungs in a rush.

Brad’s laying in bed, hair limned in moonlight that’s coming in from the window, and his eyes are glittering and alert. Ray makes himself move again, tries to finish buttoning up his shirt with clumsy fingers. He tries to be nonchalant, wonders if he smells like sex. Like male sex. Female sex probably smells different, somehow. He sketches a tiny wave at Brad, who doesn’t respond, just stares, and then Ray crawls into bed. A moment passes and he turns his head and Brad’s still watching at him, creepy bastard that he is, with his face terrifyingly blank.

What?” Ray mouths, and feels a shock of guilty heat when he thinks of how red and used his lips must look, how maybe Brad can see that. It’s dark, but Brad has excellent vision. Ray knows this. He wonders if maybe he wants Brad to see. He licks his lips, and Christ, is he getting hard again? He is. How miserable. Being sixteen is awful.

“You went to town,” Brad mouths back, face stony and unhappy. The ‘without me’ is unsaid but lingers in the air between them.

“You were sleeping,” Ray hisses, and then because he’s an idiot and hates when Brad glares at him, he caves and apologizes. “Sorry.” Sorry for kissing someone that’s not you. Sorry for wanting to kiss you. Sorry for how I’m never going to tell you what happened tonight, because I always tell you everything, but not this. Never this. Ray doesn’t know how he’s going to survive this, this hot painful wanting. It was easier not having it all so clearly emblazoned in his head, the things he wants to do.

“It’s not serious,” Brad whispers back, and Ray blinks.

“Huh?” he snorts inelegantly.

“Me and Tomlinson. I know you saw us. I just wanted you to know. I’m not courting her or anything.”

“Well, I should bloody well hope not!” Ray splutters, and Garza coughs warningly, so he lowers his voice again. “She’d shove any flowers you brought her up your bumhole. What’s a girl like Tomlinson want with courting? She’ll have her own dragon, soon enough.”

“I know that,” Brad said, and his face is just the way Ray likes it, one side of his mouth crooked down slightly in exasperation, but his eyes still fond and somehow smiling. Brad can smile with just his eyes, with a lift of a brow, it’s uncanny and bizarre and probably witchcraft and it takes everything Ray has not to bury his face in his pillow and moan, because this is his life now. He’s a useless, besotted pansy. He’s probably going to start writing odes to Bradley Colbert’s eyebrows any day now, and bringing him flowers, and then Tomlinson will laugh herself sick and Brad will shove the damn plants up Ray’s arse, and wow. Wow, now is not the time to think of Brad and Ray’s arse and all the anecdotes Ray’s every heard on the joys of buggery. He squirms uncomfortably and realizes Brad’s been talking this whole time.

“Uh,” he whispers, and Brad nods, looking satisfied, and Ray is drawing a total blank on what he was saying. He racks his head, and some autopilot version of himself had apparently been listening after all, because he remembers Brad saying something about how they’re all too busy for relationships, that the Corps is their duty or mistress or wife or whatever, and how Ray needs to be more responsible and not sneak out and be such a twat, and if he’s useless for the rest of the day, Brad’s going to beat his lousy, soused arse black and blue with his boot. Typical Brad rant.

“You can beat my arse anytime you want,” Ray agrees automatically, and Brad blinks. And wow, that is more than enough for one night. Ray ignores Brad’s open mouth—We’re ignoring! He tells his cock sternly, Ignore, and then rolls over, buries his face in his pillow, and tries not to dream.


PART TWO

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
oh_mcgee
Apr. 21st, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
I have not read Temeraire - plan to - but I will read just about anything, esepcially anything you write and especially Brad/Ray. Dragons is a definite plus.

Ray ignores Brad’s open mouth—We’re ignoring! He tells his cock sternly.

I JUST WANTED TO TELL YOU I LOVE THAT SO HARD. That is all. *reeeeads moar*
novembersmith
Apr. 21st, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
Temeraire is TONS OF FUN, so you definitely should! And yesss, dragons make everything better, IMO.

HEEEE, THANK YOU, BB! I love you tooo. <3<3<3
meeks00
Apr. 21st, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
I CAN'T NOT COMMENT EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE USUALLY COMMENT AT THE END, RIGHT? I cannot CONTAIN myself! I'm squeaaaaaaaaaaaaaling. Literally with glee. My mother looks over at me when I do this, raises a brow a la Nate Fick, and carries on with motherly things while I flail at the wonder of the universe, aka YOU.

I love this SO MUCH. So much is HAPPENING. The boys are friends with brothel chicks! The brothel chicks love them! There are dragons and battles and unrequited love and other loves and jealousy and making up and such lovely FRIENDSHIP.

The part where he's so ANGRY with Brad was perfectly done. I think I've always wanted a scene like that in some way, and you pegged it just how I WANTED. And then Brad's reaction was just great as well! Confused, maybe worried he did something to make Ray not want to be friends -- which shows that Brad loves being friends with Ray, but doesn't even really know that Ray loves being friends with him. UGH. OH, BOYS. It reminds me of that moment in Harry Potter where Hermione is all wail-y when Harry and Ron become friends again after...was it in the fourth book? With the whole jealousy thing about the Goblet of Fire? Umm...oops. I geeked out on you.

OK, when I saw the word count and thought "EPIC," I didn't know that I actually meant "EPICEPIC TO THE MAX." As in, this is a story about...um, life? Like, a volume of something. Like Lord of the Rings, though I actually haven't read those... Anyway. OMG. Four parts more! I'M SO HAPPY.

Also, I've never read Temeraire, but I think I MUST now. Probably just to get over breaking up with your fic once I finish it. :( I hate breaking up with books after they finish. I can see it already.

ONWARDS.
novembersmith
Apr. 22nd, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
YOU CAN COMMENT WHEREVER YOU LIKE, OMG. Thank you SO MUCH. Part of the fun of writing this was having it all come from Ray's POV, where he's sort of baffled that Brad likes him but TOTALLY WILLING TO GO WITH IT, while at the same time trying to show that Brad is quietly hearts-eying at Ray and just as insecure, in a slightly different way! So, YAYYYY, I'm so glad you enjoyed their crazy teenage-boys-in-awkwardness-together selves! \O/

And aahahahaha, geek out at me all you want! ESPECIALLY ABOUT HARRY POTTER. Seriously how epic is grim_lupine's HP/GK AU going to be? SO EPIC, RIGHT? I am bouncing up and down just THINKING about it. And hey, I started my fannish life out as a HP fangirl lurker, so it is only appropriate anyway. *G*

Oh man, I know JUST WHAT YOU MEAN about breaking up with books, I am just like that with LoTR, which ironically you have just mentioned. I've read all the books in the series I can't even tell you how many times, but I think I've only gotten through the very last chapter... maybe three or four? Endings! SO HARD. But if it helps, there is totally a sequel to this one brewing. EVENTUALLY.

<3<3<3<3<3

And now I have rambling crazily back at you. HOPE YOU WERE READY FOR THAT.
meeks00
Apr. 22nd, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
Brad is quietly hearts-eying at Ray and just as insecure, in a slightly different way
YEAH! I love that. Brad is always portrayed as having it so TOGETHER, and he does because he's a BAMF, but he's also a boy-man! All men are boy-men! And he just wants some love. And sexy lovin'. From Ray. Ergo, Brad is love.

Seriously how epic is grim_lupine's HP/GK AU going to be?
INCREDIBLY EPIC. I can't wait. I seriously think it's an amazing idea. I love fandom so much for all of you and your awesome ideas!

SO HARD. But if it helps, there is totally a sequel to this one brewing. EVENTUALLY.
I...

...well. By now, after 50 trillion comments, need I have words? Or has my love been adequately communicated through <3s and exclamation points and caps yet? I have more if you want, though. I ALWAYS have MORE. (<3 !! A;SDKLJSL)
azurelunatic
Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
Eee dragons! And the prostitutes can totally tell a gay one. :D
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novembersmith
Apr. 24th, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
Re: part two
o m g, I found your comments in my inbox and I swear my eyes spontaneously turned into hearts. And yes yes, they are just such a TEAM in the series, and I wanted to explore that, how it might be if they'd grown up together as children, and I'm so glad you liked how it turned out here! I am beaming like a crazy person, seriously. Yes, Ray's never had steadiness or someone that understands him, gets him, and Brad's never had someone that's as loud and honest as Ray, that openly cares about him and understands him, and together they balance perfectly. IMO, anyway. *G* MFEO, that describes it, yessss. BOYS.

And ahahaha, can't you just picture tiny!Ray? He'd be all giant brown eyes and cheekbones and thatch of brown hair, bouncing all over the place. SO ADORABLE. He never stood a chance. And heh, Brad and Ray are both dumb in different ways, which is why it is lucky they have each other, amirite?

Just, omg, thank you so much for these comments, seriously. And WHATEVER, your descriptions and sex and humor and EVERYTHING, they are all awesome and I know it, for I have read them! :P :P :P Your stories and mine would totally pine for each other and then kink out at the very end, obviously.



lassroyale
Jun. 21st, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
I have not watched Generation Kill nor have I read the Temeraire series (though this has inspired me to do so) but I was referred here by neon_footprint and I have to say I am SO FREAKIN' GLAD I DID!

This story is amazing. It's sweet and honest and messy and so awkward in some places that it makes me want to wrap it in a warm towel and hug it. Since I don't know the characters, this reads like a piece of original fiction to me, lol, but that being said, I'd gladly read a whole series of this. Your writing is smooth without trying for it, it reaches just enough to that pleasant ledge and lets you settle in for the ride.

Great job! On to the next chapter.
novembersmith
Jun. 22nd, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, neon_footprint is such a love! I'm so glad she pointed you here and that you enjoyed it! It's always such an awesome feeling knowing you created a story someone can enjoy even if they're not familiar with the characters -- I hope to write professionally one day, so seriously, that's just such a great thing to hear, thank you so much!
regonym
Aug. 13th, 2010 02:37 pm (UTC)
Love love love how well Ray knows Brad in this and vice versa, the little conversational ways they work around each other. The flags o’ friendship, awwww. Loved Brad's Iceman way of talking about his mom, and how desperately Ray tries to break him out of those moods.

When Ray saves Brad’s life and then gets all jfaklsdjfdklas;fja about it afterwards, augh my HEART so amazing~~~

And LOLOLOL Joseph the Sexual Awakening Pianist.

(...I keep looking around for Nate, I can’t help it)
novembersmith
Aug. 18th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
...your icon. IT HAS ME IN IT'S THRALL. pstuuuuump

Also, YAY, TY, DARLING! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I had a lot of fun translating what we get of Brad and Ray's friendship to this universe. But I think no matter what universe they're in, they are the MOST BFF OF BFFs, with an extra side of "OMG SO MARRIED," heh.

(oh man, i know i knowwwwwwwww)
linnet_melody
Apr. 28th, 2012 06:59 pm (UTC)
Okay. So I've got NO IDEA who any of these people are. (Except Laetificat, he's awesome!)

But I look at your icon and I look at your mood images and Brad's dialogue is so proper sometimes and Ray just won't. Stop. Talking! and I'm going to just imagines these boys as dueSouth with leather harnesses and flying, if that's okay? :D

"Look, Ray! Turtles! Dragons!"
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