nefhiriel: (Dragon!Bush)
[personal profile] nefhiriel
Here's part two of the crossover!  I'm not even going to make excuses for it this time, because you've all been so wonderfully understanding of my authority foibles.  ^^ I would never have written more on this without all the encouragement. *hugs to all*

And hugs and dark chocolate to my sister/beta extraordinaire, [livejournal.com profile] imbecamiel , who continually slaves away behind the scenes to make my stories presentable. <3



Lookit what Cami drew me for my birthday! 
                         See, compare:
I'm in love with so much about this picture, particularly how she's perfected Argentian's ruff to look like a bicorn hat. ( <--- )

I also love the way she did the markings on his feet. Very mutt-like. XD (Poor Argentian.)

And last, but certainly not least, she drew Horatio in the picture--and I know of, and completely sympathize with, her hatred of drawing people. So that is absolutely the measure how much love she put into this. ;)

(She says to point out that she's aware that the dragon-to-human size difference isn't quite to scale. I blame her not at all for not wanting to redraw Horatio smaller.)
 
 
 Without further ado, the story:

***

“You look cold, Captain.”

Horatio turned, surprised at the contact, and Argentian pulled back from nudging Horatio's shoulder with his nose, looking taken aback by his own actions. “I did not intend to...” the dragon began.

“Argentian,” Horatio interrupted, humorously, “You're not going to break me. At least not so easily.” He reached up, instinctively, to offer a reassuring stroke upon the dragon's muzzle—then felt compelled to pause for permission, hand not quite making contact. Argentian lowered his head the necessary distance, and Horatio smiled at the success, simply letting it linger for a moment before withdrawing his hand.

“Yes,” he answered the dragon's initial comment, as if nothing had transpired, “I am cold.” The weather was taking a turn for the colder. Soon things would be as frozen as the war had, apparently, become. He was trying not to chafe at the lack of orders.

Though Horatio hadn't felt the cold during their formation maneuvers, now that they'd stopped the chill seemed to creep even through his heavy aviator's coat.

“Do go inside, then,” Argentian suggested. “Warm yourself by the fire.”

Coming from Argentian, it was a positively mother-hennish sign of concern. Or, perhaps, Horatio thought, he himself was simply becoming better at reading the dragon's concern.

“I will, for a while. But it is early, yet. I thought perhaps...” Horatio trailed off, surreptitiously glancing up to gage Argentian's reaction. He'd known the dragon for over a week, now, and on one level it seemed as if their quiet understanding of each other had existed for much longer. On another level, Horatio was continually reminded of how little he really understood of the thoughts transpiring behind those steady blue eyes. He knew a lot about dragons in general, but not, it seemed, nearly enough to be certain of how to handle Argentian. Indeed, “handle” was not even the correct word. You “handled” a wild creature, and there was nothing remotely wild or unintelligent about Argentian.

“Yes, Captain?” Argentian prodded.

Horatio shook himself and forged ahead. “I thought perhaps you might not mind if I read to you for a while.” He knew not all dragons enjoyed that sort of thing, but he'd known Pellew to read the occasional chapter to Briseis, and had been weighing whether or not he should make the offer to Argentian.

To his relief, Argentian's eyes widened slightly in what Horatio had come to recognize as Argentian's version of keen interest. “I would like that very much,” was all he said, however, and then, more circumspectly, “Only, it is getting cold, and you are a bit wet from when it rained earlier, and perhaps you should stay indoors.”

Horatio couldn't help but laugh—and blast the dragon's perfect sense of decorum.

Argentian looked predictably affronted, drawing himself up in surprise, no doubt, at Horatio's response. “I did mean to dictate to you, Captain,” he said, sounding more embarrassed than anything. “Or...have I said something very amusing?”

Horatio suppressed his laughter, though he could not help smiling. “I am in perfectly good health. I wish you would not distress yourself over a little rain and cold. I've stayed out for much longer in much worse and come to no harm.”

Argentian looked very subdued, for all the world like a great big puppy enduring a scolding. “I am...sorry.”

Blast the dragon. Was he trying to make him feel guilty? “I didn't mean it like that, Argentian. Blast it...” he said it aloud this time, and aimed at himself, tinged with rueful apology. “I'm not very good at this, but I am trying.”

“You are a very good captain, Horatio, Sir,” Argentian said quickly, earnestly—and, Horatio noted, for the first time using his given name in place of merely “captain,” even if it was followed by a ubiquitous “sir.”

“But I wish to be more than just a good captain, Argentian. I wish to be your friend as well. I have seen captains treat their dragons as little more than transport—and I have seen captains treat their dragons as the equals they are. I will not be the former.”

Argentian gave a soft, incredulous snort. “You could never be the former, Captain. I am certain of it.”

Unfortunately, humans could blush, and Horatio nearly did at the genuine compliment. He changed the subject quickly back to the original question. “I do not have a very large library at my disposal. They're really little more than war manuals—books on tactics—and books of mathematics, but for now...”

“War manuals?” Argentian repeated, and this time nobody could have mistaken his eagerness.

An hour later, after having had something to eat and time to warm himself near the fire, Horatio re-emerged from the warmth of the officers' quarters with several thick tomes under his arm, and a dry coat over his shoulders.

Argentian lifted his head as Horatio approached, inspecting him briefly with a critical eye, as if searching out signs of impending illness. Finding none, he gave a small toss of his head, shaking his ruff like a relieved bird shakes the rain from its feathers, and settled it again.

They read for several hours, until the dim evening light began to make it difficult. Though his voice was tired, it was with real regret that Horatio was forced to close the book. He leaned his head back against Argentian's side, the heat radiating from his scales providing plenty of warmth, and the rise and fall of the dragon's breathing creating a soothing motion that could've easily put him to sleep if he'd closed his eyes.

“Captain?” came the dragon-whisper, Argentian clearly wondering if he had closed his eyes and fallen asleep.

“Mmm,” Horatio acknowledged him with a murmur.

“Are you quite warm enough?”

“Mmm...yes. Perfectly so.” Despite his best efforts, Horatio found his eyelids had begun to droop. “Would you mind terribly if I slept right here?”

His answer was a rustle, and the touch of a wing spreading out to shelter him—at first Argentian seemed to hold it out, hovering uncertainly, then gently settled the wing over him, closing in the warmth.

***

“Archie, have you ever heard Argentian mention anything particular that he might like to own?”

Kennedy looked up from his plate in surprise. “Own?”

“Yes—you know what I mean. The sort of things dragons generally like.”

“What, you mean a great deal of gaudy jewelry, and other shiny odds-and-ends—anything that sparkles?” Kennedy said, not derisively—but certainly incredulously, considering the particular dragon in question. “Argentian? Hardly.” He frowned a little as he chewed on a bite of food. “I've never heard him say anything, certainly. And really, you know, I don't think that sort of thing would suit him.”

“No,” Horatio agreed, sitting back in his chair, “I don't believe they would.” It was late, and the dining hall was mostly deserted. “Argentian is not easily impressed, I think.”

“Leastways not by a bunch of cheap baubles. His captain, on the other hand...” Kennedy gave an upwards glance, and a smirk, “Argentian worships the ground he walks on.”

Archie.”

“What? It's clear as day, Horatio.” Kennedy, still smirking, took the advice of Horatio's glare and abandoned his point. “At any rate, if you want to know what Argentian would like, why don't you just ask him?”

“It's not that simple.”

“Would you like me to ask him for you?”

“Certainly not.”

“Horatio,” Kennedy said slowly, setting down his fork, “he'll like whatever you get him, you know.”

“Don't start that again,” Horatio warned, wary of more teasing. “And did I say I was getting him anything? I'm only considering it. It's nearly Christmas, after all, and, well...” He shrugged, not sure where he'd been headed, and wishing now that he hadn't raised the topic with Archie at all.

But Archie said, quite seriously: “I think it's a wonderful idea. Though it would probably never even occur to Argentian to ask for anything, I think it would please him no end if you did get him something. Anyway, I don't believe there's a dragon alive who'd be able to dislike a present from his captain. All you have to do is find something that suits Argentian.”

“Right,” Horatio said, less certainly. “Something that suits him.”

The only problem was—even after weeks of spending time with the dragon—he hadn't the first clue what might fall under that category.

“Ask him, Horatio,” Archie urged. “He might've put the fear of God into Styles with that steely look of his, but he won't bite. Not you.”

Thank you, Mister Kennedy.”

***

It was not long before Horatio was afforded the opportunity to do as Archie had suggested.

“Argentian,” he began, as casually as he could manage, turning the page of the book he held, “apart from books, is there anything that you are particularly fond of?”

“Fond of?” Argentian repeated, a bit blearily. His head had come to rest on his forepaws as he'd listened to Horatio read, and he seemed to be growing quite drowsy after consuming several sheep for his supper.

“Yes. Fond of. Isn't there anything else you enjoy?”

“Well,” Argentian said, ponderously, “I've heard a violin and cello played together, and that was very nice to listen to. Captain Windamere could play the violin a little, as well—though only badly, he said—and he would sometimes borrow another captain's instrument to play it for a while.” He was watching Horatio not exactly hopefully, but with something that was worse: a sort of calm assurance, as if he would've no more dreamed of doubting his captain's musical ability than he would have doubted Horatio's ability to fight, or carry polite conversation, or read.

It was a display of a part of the dragon's personality that Horatio was becoming more familiar with. Argentian might hold himself to exacting standards, critically, without any apparent emotion, comparing himself to other dragons. But where his captain was concerned... Well, as much as he was loath to admit it, Archie seemed to be right.

It was awkward to be so aware of your own very imperfectness, and look up and see the light of almost child-like admiration shining in Argentian's unblinking eyes.

“I wish I could oblige you, but I am afraid I do not even play a little, or badly. I've never touched an instrument in my life.” Indeed, he'd scarcely so much as hummed a tune properly. “I confess, I've never been able to understand music in the slightest.”

Argentian, to Horatio's surprise, gave a rumble, like a laugh. “You'll pardon my saying so, Captain, but I do not think one is supposed to understand music.”

“Then what in the blazes is one supposed to do with it?” Horatio demanded without heat, and only a little sarcasm.

“Appreciate it for what it is, I believe,” Argentian replied, still amused.

“Ah,” Horatio said, none the wiser for this revelation. “Perhaps you might show me how some day.”

“I would be delighted, Captain.”

“But isn't there anything else?” Horatio pressed after a moment's silence.

“I am...not entirely certain what you mean. Should I want something else?”

“My dear,” Horatio exclaimed in exasperation, “a want is not something one is ordered to have. I am talking of preferences. Isn't there anything you have ever wished to possess as your own?”

“You mean...” Argentian spoke slowly, eyes shifting beneath drooping eyelids to regard Horatio almost with suspicion, “something like the string of pearls Briseis has?”

“Exactly,” Horatio seized upon the example with relief.

But then Argentian said, “No. Nothing like that. It is not very practical, although...”

“Yes?”

“It is very fine, and nice to look at.”

Horatio sensed his hesitation, and suggested: “Perhaps it is a bit ostentatious.”

“Yes, perhaps a bit,” Argentian agreed—and this time Horatio was listening for, and found, a distinct note of wistfulness in his voice as he said it.

“All the same, I do not see the harm in it. After all, an aviator does not hesitate to wear a medal he has earned, and I do not see why a dragon might not similarly take pleasure in what could be called a small token of their own valor.”

“I am sure Briseis has earned it,” Argentian offered generously, though still with a hidden thread of envy—and then added with less envy, and, in its place, a wealth of subdued awe: “It does suit her admirably, I think.”

“Mmm,” Horatio concurred, gazing across the courtyard as he considered his next approach carefully. He felt he was close to prying the truth from Argentian.

In the end, he didn't need to say more, for Argentian volunteered sleepily:

“There was a chain I saw a Winchester with, once, which was very bright and silver...”

Horatio waited, willing the dragon to finish.

“It did not seem so terribly impractical, though the medallion was, perhaps, too large.”

“I imagine the medallion was silver as well?”

“Yes,” Argentian replied, voice soft with the kind of fondness Horatio had seen many dragons display for jewelry—though expressed discretely, almost apologetically, as only Argentian would. “There was no jewel on it, only markings etched into it that I never got to see closely. But it looked very bright in the sunlight, I remember.”

Horatio hid a smile, making a studied pretense of flipping through the book of mathematics he'd been reading. “I am sure it was, my dear, and most suitable for any dragon to admire.”

“Do you think so?”

“I do.”

***

Horatio started awake to the sound of rapid knocking on his door. There was an urgency to it that made him bolt up to answer immediately, despite his state of disarray.

It was Matthews, and he started in the instant the door began to open, breathing heavily as if he'd run: “Sir—begging your pardon, but I think you might want to head to the clearing. There's been an incident with some prisoners nearly escaping, and Argentian intervened—”

“—is he injured?” Horatio was already cramming on his boots and grabbing up his jacket to follow Matthews.

“Not that I know of, Sir, but it all happened so fast, and I just caught the end of it, when they were already subduing the Frenchman's dragon—”

“—dragon?” Horatio interrupted again. They were striding down the hall, now, Horatio leading the way himself in quick, long strides.

“Yes, Sir. I don't rightly know how it happened, or where he came from, but apparently it was his captain we had prisoner and the dragon come back to try 'n rescue him.”

Horatio heard it then, as they stepped out of the barracks: the sound of a dragon shrieking—in rage or from pain, or both.

He began to run towards the clearing, the fog of sleep clearing rapidly from his mind, the sound like a physical jolt. He didn't have time to be surprised at the magnitude of combined anger and fear that hit him in a torrent at the thought of Argentian being hurt. He only prayed to God it had not been him who had made that terrible noise.

The scene was one of chaos. The flash of yellow and red was what immediately caught his attention—Briseis was reared back with a forepaw upon the neck of a large Chanson-de-Guerre. Apparently, it was the French dragon that had made those noises, for it was even now keening pathetically, eyes tracking the movements of some dozen men, half of whom were in chains, being manhandled by several glaring marines towards a waiting wagon.

And there was Argentian, watching attentively over the situation, close at hand to a marine who held one of the prisoners at gunpoint. Disheveled and hatless as the prisoner was, his uniform—and, more than that, the agonized and guilty expression he wore—made it clear the man was the French captain the dragon had come for.

But Horatio wasn't given time to register much more than this, for a shout was suddenly raised as one of the prisoners broke free, driving his elbow into the stomach of a nearby guard. Several of his compatriots acted along with him, scattering in a blind bid for freedom. Horatio found himself right in the path of one of the escapees, and was just preparing to stop the man when, with a roar and a gust raised by flapping wings, he found his view completely blocked by Argentian's shoulder, the dragon's tail lashing angrily back and forth behind him.

Horatio instinctively raised a staying hand, Argentian's name on his lips, half fearing the dragon was about to tear the man limb from limb. The growling reverberation of rage Argentian had given was so at odds with the painstakingly polite behavior Horatio was accustomed to seeing from the dragon that he felt momentarily stunned by it. Of course Argentian knew how to fight. It had simply never occurred to him that Argentian might fight...well, quite so much like a dragon.

Argentian turned after a moment, expression still fierce and snarling at first—then, looking at Horatio, the cold fire faded from his eyes, leaving him the carefully mannered Argentian once more.

“Good morning, Captain. Are you all right?”

“Am I all right?” Horatio echoed in disbelief, trying to get a better glimpse beyond Argentian to where orders were being shouted by the now surly marines as they recaptured their prisoners yet again. “You haven't killed him, have you?”

“Not a scratch. Although,” Argentian added darkly, “I should have liked to.”

Argentian,” Horatio scolded, but mildly. “He wasn't even armed—he could hardly have done me any damage.”

Argentian made a noise that could've been assent, or a grumble.

There was more action around them, now, as several curious dragons arrived upon the scene to help with the French dragon—though the Chanson-de-Guerre seemed to have gone limp from exhaustion and defeat as its captain was taken away.

“What in God's name...” Pellew began, coming up beside Horatio and surveying the scene.

Helpfully, Briseis came over in a triumphant gait, exclaiming: “It was wonderful! He was there before any of us knew what was happening, and he swooped in and he trounced her, and he—”

Horatio was familiar with Briseis' love for words, and for narrating a situation at length—and Pellew even more so.

Pellew interrupted, impatiently, “Briseis—the short version, my dear, if you please.”

“Argentian trounced her,” Briseis repeated, ruff twitching excitedly, yellow eyes wide. She could appear at times very much like a young and excited Winchester in a Regal Copper's body. “He had her downed, all by himself, even before I arrived, and she is so much bigger than he is, too.”

Argentian did not seem offended by the back-handed nature of that compliment. Indeed, he looked vaguely discomfited by the enthusiasm, and rather as if he would've liked to tell Briseis to be quiet. Instead, he relayed with all the officiousness that Briseis lacked: “She was wounded beforehand, Captain. I believe she was left for dead when her crew was captured—only, as you can see, she is very much alive. She returned to try to rescue her captain, and I have stopped her with Briseis' help.”

“I see,” Pellew said, watching as the last of the prisoners was put into the wagon. “And you trounced her, eh?”

Argentian's ruff twitched a little, too, though not with excitement. “I have prevented her from retaking her captain, Sir.”

“And a job well done, too,” Pellew commented, stroking Briseis’ neck.

But Argentian seemed to be waiting for Horatio's response—which he gave, heartily, with a swell of pride.

“Very well done, my dear. Very well done indeed.”

Later that day, after the situation had been fully contained—and after Argentian's equally proud crew had given the dragon three raucous cheers, much to Argentian's embarrassment—Horatio sought out Archie.

“Something on your mind?” Archie, ever able to read his moods, obviously knew very well that there was something on his mind even before he opened his mouth.

Horatio leaned his shoulder against the sturdy mantle above the fireplace, the warmth of the flames penetrating the chill acquired through a day of being out of doors. “I think I know what to get Argentian.”

“Yes?”

“I had thought to give it to him nearer Christmas. But I believe I have a better idea. I could use your help with it.”

Archie smiled. “I am entirely at your disposal, Captain.”

***
 
Epilogue to come. :) 

Index:
Chapter 1
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nefhiriel

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