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Between Salt Water and the Sea Strand

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The afternoon sky was overcast, with a chill breeze coming off the ocean. The mild surf broke noisily on the beach, with occasional, louder crashes bringing a muted roar from the rocks at the far end. There was a youth wearing board shorts and shirt standing near an old shed, the only building at the beach besides the vandalised bathhouse. The kid was tall and slim with long red hair in a braid, maybe about 16 years old. The shed door had a hand-lettered sign:

 

The dirt parking area held only one car, which had a surfboard on top. Scanning the beach, Laurence saw no one else present. The youth was staring out at the waves, fingers tucked in the small pockets of the shorts. Laurence walked over. “There’s no surfing at this beach,” he said.

The youth looked at him, frowning slightly. “I know.” Hazel eyes flicked over him, then turned back to the waves.

At the sound of the kid’s voice, pitched higher than he’d expected, Laurence revised the age estimate down a couple years. Perhaps the car didn’t belong to the kid. He looked along the beach again. No heads bobbing in the waves; but down by the far end, sitting on the rocks, was a figure he hadn’t noticed before. The guy was pretty well camouflaged in dark, dirty jeans and a dirty, dark gray hoodie. He had his arms wrapped around his legs and sat hunched over like just another rock. He was watching the waves, or perhaps the gulls that swooped and soared, crying out to one another.

The man looked more like a bum than a surfer, though. Inwardly shrugging, Laurence moved past the kid to knock at the shed door. It opened under his hand. Inside were a woman and a man, both about Laurence’s own age. The woman was maybe a year or two older, or that could be the scar puckering the left side of her face making her look older. The man was maybe a year or two younger, or it could be the streak of sunburn crossing his cheeks that made him look younger. He was taller than Laurence himself but gangly as all get out. Both of them had dark hair worn short.

“Hey, Harcourt!” greeted the woman to the youth, who had come in behind Laurence with a soft ‘excuse me.’ “You must be Laurence,” continued the woman. “I’m Roland, and this is Granby.”

“Hi,” said Laurence. “Nice to meet you all.”


“We go by last names because I can’t stand my first name,” explained Roland.

“That and at our previous station - the main one at Hollow - there were about three or four Johns,” added Granby. “I’d just as soon be ‘Granby’ as ‘John G’.”

“Sure,” said Laurence. “‘Laurence’ suits me fine.”

“We’ll give Chenery a few more minutes to show up, then we’ll get started,” said Roland.

Laurence nodded and took a moment to look around the office. Roland was lounging on a sofa which might have been green at one time and now sagged under squashed cushions. It looked and smelled like something scavenged off the sidewalk in front of a frat house. Harcourt sat neatly in the opposite corner from Roland. Across from them Granby’s long limbs were slumped in a large upholstered armchair. It had been some sort of tartan at one time and now was mostly patches of brown. It might have been another thrift find, or possibly lifeguards were just hard on their furniture.

In the corner there was an old wooden desk supplied with a folding chair. A filing cabinet stood next to it. The other side of the room consisted of a kitchenette, including a small table with a couple more folding chairs. Carved out of a corner of the kitchenette was a small room, which Laurence guessed was a bathroom/changing area.

While he had been looking around, the quiet conversation between Roland and Granby had become more heated.

“I can’t believe you refused Little!” cried Granby.

“Of course I did,” replied Roland. “I was looking out for you.”

He sputtered. “What? How’s that!?”

She tilted her head and squinted her eyes, and spoke slowly as if to a young child. “Because you’d never see each other, except possibly on weekends if you were both scheduled for the same shift. And while you two are super-cute together, it’s probably best if you be cute on your own time, not while working.”

“Oh. Right.” He looked a little abashed.

Roland turned towards Laurence. “Surprisingly, he’s a pretty good lifeguard, but not the brightest bulb in the box.”

“Hey!” Granby objected.

Roland smiled broadly, and Harcourt’s lips twitched.

“Well, I’m done waiting on Chenery,” said Roland. “Laurence, you wanna take a seat? You’re making me nervous, standing about in that tall looming way.” Sprawled along half the couch and several square feet of floor, Roland didn’t look in the least nervous.

Laurence walked over to the desk and snagged the folding chair, turning it to face the others. He sat down carefully, making sure it would hold his weight. The others all eyed him as the chair creaked and settled.

“All right, then,” said Roland. “You all know that I’m the supervisor for this station. Laurence will be shift supervisor for the summer.”

This provoked another exclamation from Granby. “What?! How’s the newbie get promoted over me?! I’ve been working the beaches around here for seven years - where have you been a lifeguard before?” This last was posed rather aggressively to Laurence.

Somewhat taken aback, he replied, “I, uh, I haven’t, technically.”

“What the actual fuck --” started Granby, until Roland spoke over him.

“The newbie’s got other relevant experience, so shut the fuck up, Granby.”

“Other relevant experience my ass,” he muttered. “You mean he’s blond and built and--”

“Yo, Granby, another word outta you and it will be your ass - handed to you on a plate by yours truly.” Roland spoke quietly but firmly. Granby subsided.

“What is a shift supervisor anyway?” asked Harcourt. “I mean, there’s only going to be one of us on duty at a time, right?”

“Two on weekends, otherwise only the one, yeah,” answered Roland.

“Shift super means you get half again what the rest of us peons earn,” said Granby, obviously still resentful.

“I don’t even earn half again as much,” stressed Roland. “Shift super gets more hours and a slightly higher rate of pay than the rest of you. Also he gets to be on-call for emergencies and deal with the shit y’all dish out and the paperwork I don’t wanna do.”

“Which is all of it,” retorted Granby.

Roland grinned. “Hell yeah. I got better things to do. Surf’s up at Hollow!” She turned to face Laurence. “Speaking of, your first task will be to write up this week’s schedule. The two of us get no more than thirty-six hours, and make sure that includes office bullshit and paperwork time. The rest are part-timers and they get no more than twenty hours - make that closer to eighteen or nineteen. Be sure to allow fifteen minutes at the start of each day for opening, another fifteen at the end for closing, and say fifteen minute shift overlap. Got it?”

“Sure, no problem,” agreed Laurence.

“The Friday evening shift - which starts in about ten minutes - is considered weekend. Laurence, you get to work tonight, and, you lucky dog you: You get to pick one of these two dweebs to work with you.”

Granby scowled at him, evidently not over his resentment. Harcourt was facing away and seemed nervous. Laurence sighed inwardly. He’d rather give Granby some time to get over himself, but Harcourt seemed so uncomfortable and Laurence wasn’t sure why. New to lifeguarding? Probably better to work with Roland in the midday shift tomorrow, in that case.

“Granby can stay,” Laurence decided. At least he knew what Granby’s deal was; better not to appear like he was avoiding him.

“Excellent!” said Roland. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then, Harcourt. Need a lift?” The youth nodded and they both got up to leave. “Oh, Laurence - assuming Chenery shows his face at some time tonight, smack him upside the head for me, will you?”

“Sure.” He smiled. He liked Roland; he expected to enjoy working with her this summer.

Granby stalked out after Roland. Laurence waited a beat and followed. “Set up the chair, will you?” he called. “I’m going for a swim.” He stripped off his sweatshirt and the long-sleeved tee he’d worn under it and placed them neatly in a pile with his shoes and backpack near the shed. He headed straight into the ocean, diving under the water when he was up to his thighs.

The water wasn’t much colder than the air. The mild swell made swimming fairly easy and enjoyable. The beach was mostly sand, turning to rounded rocks as he got to about head height. The slope was fairly shallow. Out from shore, the slope got a bit steeper, but still not much. Laurence didn’t swim too far out this first visit. He focussed on learning the currents, the pockets where the bottom deepened, what the ground was like.

He swam the length of beach and back again. When he emerged from the water he noticed a few more people had come to the beach, though none were in the water. Some couples strolled along the tide line; a small family group was building castles in the sand. Granby was sitting in the chair, rescue buoy stowed underneath, whistle around his neck, arms crossed, and scowling at the world.

Laurence grabbed his towel out of his pack and dried off. Towel draped around his neck, he went over to Granby and told him what he’d noticed about conditions and current. “Does that sound about right?” he asked.

Granby shrugged with one shoulder. “I guess. This beach has been closed for ages; no one’s supposed to have been swimming here.”

Laurence nodded. They were both quiet a moment, watching the other visitors. “Well,” he said finally, “I’m going into the office to work on the schedule. Let me know if anything exciting happens. You know, like someone actually goes in the water.”

Granby nodded, looking off in the distance, not acknowledging Laurence’s (admittedly poor) attempt at humour.

Laurence sighed, and headed into the office.

 

Working up a schedule wasn’t too hard. Laurence had written up duty rosters hundreds of times, with much more challenging restrictions than the ones he had now.

Through the open door he heard raised voices, including Granby’s, which was starting to sound a bit shrill. Laurence went out to see what was up.

A large man, likely the father to the three children around him, had been trying to start a small campfire. Granby was telling him, correctly, that no fires of any kind were allowed at this beach. The man was more or less ignoring Granby. “Look here, kid,” Laurence heard the man say, “stick to watching out for the little ones, hey? Then there won’t be any trouble. I know what I’m doing.”

Laurence walked over to the group. Neatly side-stepping through the kids, he stood next to Granby. “Lighting fires is not permitted here,” he said quietly and firmly.

The man squinted up at him, sighed, and stood up to face him. Laurence looked back levely, shoulders relaxed, unimpressed. “Son, I’m just trying to have a nice picnic here at the beach with my kids, okay? Look around you,” the man said, gesturing at all the sand, the ocean a dozen feet away. “I’m not gonna start a wildfire or anything, jesus.”

“Fires are not permitted,” repeated Laurence. He kept his gaze and voice even. Unobtrusively, and unconsciously, he worked his feet on the sand to ensure a good purchase.

“For Christ’s sake, this is ridiculous!” the man exclaimed. His kids were starting to look around at everything except the adults. One was playing with a stick in the sand a few feet away.

Out of the corner of his eye, Laurence noticed Granby mimicking his own stance. Good man, he thought. Out loud he said nothing, but kept watching the father.

“Jesus fucking christ, fine,” the man muttered angrily. He kicked the stone circle apart, unconcerned when the rocks hit Laurence’s and Granby’s ankles. Neither of them reacted. The man finished scattering the sticks and twigs and turned away. “Come on, kids. These dickheads don’t allow fun at the beach. We’ll have to go home to eat.”

“Can we come back after?” asked one of the children. Laurence couldn’t hear an answer.

“Thanks,” muttered Granby. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

“No problem,” said Laurence, confused by the apology. “It might take a while for people to get used to the rules here.”

Granby nodded and went back to the chair.

 

The rest of the evening went by fairly quietly. Couples strolling about, a few little kids splashing in the water as the waves flowed ankle-deep up the shore. Some young people climbed about the rocks at the far end, but as long as they didn’t try to swim near there they weren’t the lifeguards’ concern. Technically the rocks were out of the guarded area altogether, but Laurence expected to warn swimmers away if they started at the beach but got too close to the rocks. One other group tried to start a fire but they were dissuaded without difficulty.

Shortly before sundown a tall young man with straight straw-coloured hair came strolling down the beach. Laurence thought nothing of it until he heard Granby call out, “Hey, dumbass!”

The man smiled and waved back. “Yo, Granbites, what’s up?”

Granby snorted and said, “You missed the first meeting, is all, fucking space cadet.”

The man looked genuinely surprised. “Oh, damn. I thought that was tomorrow.”

Granby squinched his face up sceptically. “It’s always on a Friday, douche.”

“Fuck - today’s Friday? I thought it was Thursday.”

Laurence couldn’t tell if it was an act. He supposed if you weren’t working or going to school, one day might seem much like another.

Granby was shaking his head and laughing. “What a tool. Hey, let me introduce you to your new boss. Laurence, this is Chenery.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” said Laurence, shaking his hand.

“Likewise. But I thought Roland was in charge?”

“She is. I’m just the shift super,” explained Laurence. “She sends you a smack upside the head, by the way.”

“Ow,” said Chenery, rubbing the side of his head as if he’d actually been hit. Maybe he had been in the past, or maybe he could imagine it. Laurence almost winced in imaginary sympathy. “Well, I deserved that, anyway. So, shift super, huh? Don’t suppose you can tell me the first shift I work? Looks like the two of you have tonight covered, eh?”

“God, Chenery, you’re such an ass,” muttered Granby.

“And you love my ass,” smirked Chenery.

Laurence cleared his throat. “I can tell you your shifts, in fact. You have tomorrow evening. Roland and Harcourt are working the day.”

“Excellent! I’ll excuse myself now before our dear Granby thinks up any more epithets for me.” He strolled off as casually as he arrived, to the accompaniment of all the insults Granby could muster. They apparently served only to cause Chenery’s gait to exaggerate the sway of his hips, and finally Granby gave up. Not before enjoying the sight, however, to which Laurence also gave his own considered attention.


The evening wore on, families carting home their cranky children and couples huddling together for warmth. At ten o’clock Laurence tried to send Granby home, but he frowned back and told him not to be ridiculous. “I’ll stay and help you close up.” There wasn’t much to do: put the chair and rescue buoy away, lock the shed, flip the sign to display “No Lifeguard - Swim At Own Risk”.

Before leaving, Laurence took one last look down the beach. The growing chill after the sun went down had sent even the most romantic of lovers to warmer places, and the beach appeared empty. Granby said good-bye and Laurence waved him off. Out of curiosity he walked down the beach until he could see the rocks. The city lights reflecting off the overcast sky meant there was never a true darkness here.

The guy in the hoodie and jeans was still there. He was perched on one of the higher rocks, his legs bracing him below. He seemed to be enticing one of the birds - not a gull, an osprey? Some kind of raptor, Laurence thought - to come to his gloved hand.  He considered trying to warn the guy off disturbing the wildlife, but thought better of it. He was just a lifeguard. He wouldn’t make any friends by nosing into other people’s business.

 

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Chapter Text

 

Laurence arrived a bit early for his Sunday afternoon shift, relieving Roland and Granby. Seeing the beach still somewhat deserted, as it had been yesterday, he asked where the beachgoers were that the lifeguards had been hired to watch.

“Oh, they’ll show up,” said Granby. “Soon as word gets around that Little Spark is open.”

“And school gets out for everyone,” added Roland.

“And the weather improves,” put in Granby.

It felt plenty warm to Laurence, who’d been living in a more northern clime until recently. Here it had continued overcast, so perhaps the locals had a different idea of beach-going weather. “Right,” he said. “I have been meaning to ask why Little Spark had been closed up until now.”

Roland and Granby exchanged looks. “‘Hazardous conditions’,” Roland quoted.

“What do ‘hazardous conditions’ mean?” he asked.

“The hoodlums,” muttered Granby.

“There’s the rocks, of course,” answered Roland.

“...and druggies…”

“...riptides…” she continued.

“…gangbangers…”

“…currents bring the sharks in on occasion.”

“Basically watch your wallet and your back,” Granby summed up.

Roland twisted her lips ironically, looking sideways at Granby. “Yeah, there’s a reason why this neighbourhood hasn’t had the funding for lifeguards in the past. It’s not the most influential part of town.”

Granby snorted. “That’s one way to put it,” he said sourly.

 

~*~*~*~

 

After Sunday, Laurence had a couple of days off. When he returned midweek, he found conditions pretty much the same - growing warmer, but still overcast and few visitors. One fairly constant presence was the guy in the hoodie, still watching - feeding? Playing with? - the birds by the rocks. He wasn’t there all the time, but enough to make Laurence’s brain itch. He’d forgotten to research the local laws about wildlife. At least one of the birds the man handled was a raptor, definitely not a gull. An eagle? Laurence also needed a guide to birds. A reason to take a closer look would also be helpful, since technically the rocks were out of his jurisdiction.

The guy kept away from any little kids that clambered over the rocks, but he did hang out with a number of the older teens and young men, most of whom likewise wore ratty hoodies and torn jeans. None of them went swimming. They stood on or nearby the rocks, hunched over and smoking.

They were quiet. None of the horseplay most youths enjoyed with their friends, no shoving or laughing or calling out. Laurence thought about Granby’s definition of ‘hazardous conditions’. Of course, if the druggies or gang members or whatever weren’t hanging out here, they’d just be on some corner or in some alley in town. But then, there wasn’t much police presence out here. Laurence couldn’t recall seeing any - not even a patrol vehicle swinging by the parking lot. Perhaps they came later in the night, after the lifeguards went home.

When Laurence arrived for his Thursday evening shift, hoodie guy was in his usual spot, alone with the birds. Granby was on his way off-shift. Laurence asked him if he knew of any policies about disturbing the wildlife.

Granby frowned and gave him an odd look. “Yeah, Roland has a policy. If it ain’t life-threatening, it ain’t our problem. We’re lifeguards, not policemen. So leave it alone.”

Laurence nodded his understanding. “Speaking of policemen, did you see the note about the presentation on Friday?”

Granby snorted. “That fellow Rankin and whatever toadie he’s got trailing after him these days. Yeah, I saw it. See you tomorrow.” He waved and strode off.

“See you,” said Laurence to the retreating back.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Lieutenant Rankin was a tall, slim young man, fair-haired with a narrow face and a beaky nose. He was well-spoken and a few years older than Laurence. He was accompanied by an officer who didn’t say much, and whose name Laurence didn’t quite catch. Worthing? Farthen? Something like that.

Roland briefly introduced them, said she’d heard the spiel before, and went outside to man the chair. Rankin spoke concisely and Laurence listened attentively, though he noticed that Granby and Harcourt were slouched in attitudes of intense boredom. Chenery affected a courteous pose, but also appeared to be engaging in some sort of rock-paper-scissors game with Granby. Laurence was vaguely ashamed of his fellows.

The gist of Rankin’s speech was about drug dealing in the neighbourhood. “We’ve mostly chased it off the city streets; now it’s spread onto the beach, which is harder for our officers to patrol. We’re asking for your help in identifying any suspicious activity.”

Laurence frowned. “What do you want us to do if we see any?”

Rankin smiled politely. “Simply call the number on this card.” He passed out plain white business cards with the city police seal on them and a phone number in large type. “As much information as you can provide about who, what, where, and when would be much appreciated.”

Laurence asked a couple more questions and received perfunctory answers, although Rankin’s eyes looked him over more asessingly. The session was over in about fifteen minutes, at which time the others bolted out the door.

Laurence asked Rankin and the other officer (Fossen? Farsing?) if they’d care for some coffee or tea. He thought there might be some biscuits hiding somewhere…

“No, thank you, I’m afraid we must be on our way,” answered Rankin for both of them, though the officer’s eyes had lit up at the offer. Poor fellow was taller, skinnier and lankier than Rankin. The lieutenant opened the door and let the other officer through. He paused before following. “I’m guessing you’re new around here.” As Laurence nodded, Rankin slipped the card back out of his hand and wrote on the reverse. “That’s my number, if you have any more questions or, uh, would like recommendations for the best coffee houses or such in the area.”

Laurence took the proffered card and smiled. “Thank you. I appreciate that.” Rankin nodded and left.

 

Laurence rejoined his co-workers, who were already in heated debate.

“If you’re gonna make us come in just to listen to some pigs’ bullshit then you at least oughta feed us,” Granby was saying to Roland.

“‘Pigs’ bullshit’?” teased Chenery. “Wouldn’t that be--”

“Oh, shut up,” snapped Granby.

Roland interrupted the incipient bickering match. “I have been thinking that it would be fun to have a weekly get-together - with food - but not on the weekends, even though most of us are already here.”

“Why not?” whined Granby.

Chenery gave a smug, superior look. “Dear Gee, you really must learn either to think, like our Laurie here, or else keep your yap shut, like Harcourt. The answer is that we’re here because they --” indicating the beach visitors, who were out in force this warm evening, “-- are here. If we were to gather about our grill, or whatever snacks we had, they’d either invite themselves to the party, look enviously on, or complain that the lifeguards were neglecting their duty in favour of stuffing their faces--”

“Or any combination of those,” said Roland, cutting Chenery off as Granby’s face grew darker. “Quite right. I was thinking Tuesday at shift change. It’s pretty quiet then. We can bitch about idiot swimmers and lack of equipment and everything else.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Harcourt.

“Thanks, chief,” Chenery agreed, and Granby nodded.

“Well then, I’m off,” said Roland. “Laurence, I believe you’re up again. Which of these deadbeat moochers is staying on with you? Do you have this week’s schedule worked out yet?”

“No, I do not,” he confessed. “I was waiting to hear if people had any concerns or needed changes.”

At this he was inundated with complaints. “This every other day business has got me downright confused, Laurie,” said Chenery. “I can’t keep track of the days as it is, whether I’m on or off.”

“My hours are all over the place,” Granby complained. “How am I supposed to find another job if I’m working these crazy shifts?”

“We need to know our schedules in advance,” added Harcourt.

Roland smirked. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, shift supervisor.” She started to leave.

“Wait,” called Laurence. “Do you have any problems with your shifts?”

“No,” she answered over her shoulder with a smile. “I’m easy.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Saturday dawned warm and sunny, becoming hot by late afternoon when Laurence’s shift started. Visitors to the beach were out in force, or so it seemed to him, though when he remarked on it to Roland, who was on her way off-shift, she simply smiled, crinkling her eyes, and said, “Sure.”

Before she could move on, a young child, of indeterminate age and sex (at least Laurence lacked the experience to determine either), squinted up at Roland and asked, “What happened to your face?”

“I told a shark to stay away from the beaches and it got mad at me.”

The child’s eyes widened. “You got into a fight with a shark?!”

“Just a little one. I punched ’im in the nose and it swam away.”

“Wow,” the child breathed, in that hero-worshiping way. Laurence, who was pretty sure the tale was a complete fabrication, was hard put to it not to roll his eyes or give Roland a Look. It was her scar; she could tell whatever story she liked about it. Though encouraging kids to think someone could tangle with a shark and return with all their limbs intact wasn’t something Laurence would recommend.

His respectful manner was saved from its test by the child’s mother running up. “There you are! Don’t be bothering the lifeguards,” she scolded the youngster. “They’re working.”

“It’s no trouble,” said Roland, smiling.

“Thanks,” returned the woman. “And thank you also for re-opening Little Spark. Hollow Bay and the other beaches are just packed! It’s lovely how empty it is here.”



Despite the increased numbers, people were pretty well-behaved, from the lifeguards’ point of view. Swimmers stayed reasonably close to the area around the chair; no dangerous horseplay or fighting. Laurence took advantage of having Chenery on shift with him to walk up and down the area. He was thinking about the police’s concern over drug dealing.

The beach was relatively narrow, a strip of sand between the ocean and the grass- and shrub-covered bluffs. Several paths led over the bluffs back into the edge of the city. Some people came in that way, although most either drove or walked the poorly maintained road that led to the dirt parking lot near the bathhouse and lifeguard office. Those building were at one edge of the beach, which turned into grassy marshland at that end. A culvert drained stormwater from the city streets into the ocean somewhere in there.

At the far end were the rocks, of course. The sandy grassy bluff became a rocky cliff near them, making for a discouraging barrier. However, the hoodie-clad smoking youths seemed to appear and disappear from the rocks without traversing the beach. Laurence figured there must be another path through or around the rocks back into town, though he hadn’t gone looking for it himself. Yet.

 

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Chapter Text

 

What crowds Little Spark enjoyed had thinned out by Sunday evening, and it looked to be another quiet shift. Laurence and Harcourt took turns manning the chair and swimming or walking about.

Hoodie guy was sitting on the rocks, alone except for his eagle. Osprey. Whichever. Laurence watched him for a moment, then made a decision. He climbed up on the rocks, thankful for his investment in appropriate water shoes, the soles giving him a decent grip. He found a spot to sit a few feet away from the guy, who’d been ignoring him, although Laurence knew he’d been watching him out of the corner of his eye.

“Hey,” he offered. No response. “My name is Laurence,” he tried again. The guy took out a cigarette and lit up.

Once Laurence determined upon a course of action he was not so easily discouraged. “I’m a lifeguard here, you might have noticed.” After the expected silence, he continued. “I’ve seen you around here a lot, just thought I would come over and say hi.” He didn’t anticipate an answer and he didn’t receive one. He leant back awkwardly on his arms and watched the birds and the crashing waves. He’d always loved watching the surf break upon rocks, listening to the roar, although nowadays the sight and sound gave him a constant underlying layer of alarm. He tried to ignore that and simply enjoy the repetitious, meditative experience.

Hoodie guy finished his cigarette and stubbed it out, putting the remnant in a pocket. “She don’t like company,” he said, speaking at last.

She who? wondered Laurence. The sea? Then he saw the man jerking his chin towards the eagle, now perched some yards away. “The bird?” he asked.

The man nodded. Laurence remained quiet, confused. Finally, the man spoke again. “You said your piece.”

Don’t like company, right, thought Laurence. He sighed and stood up, started to make his way back to the beach. He looked back over his shoulder, intending to make one last remark; instead catching the appraising look the man had been giving his backside. He was checking me out! thought Laurence, caught between indignation and amusement. Don’t like company my ass. He almost gave himself away with a Granby-like snort at the thought. He forgot what he’d meant to say, and faced forwards again to continue his climb down.

It had been the first time he’d seen the man’s face clearly. His complexion was naturally brown, although also likely darkened from the sun. His eyes were dark brown, set wide apart, with an almond shape to them. The little fringe of hair Laurence could see under the hoodie was black and straight. He was young, Laurence’s age or maybe a bit older; it was hard to tell with the lines from sun exposure.

It was a surprisingly attractive face. There was intelligence and humour in it that Laurence hadn’t expected. The guy had been embarrassed to be caught looking, but there had been a touch of self-directed irony in the midst of the chagrin. It had been in the slight lift of the side of his mouth, in the crinkle at the edge of his eyes. Any indignation had faded away and Laurence was left with only a feeling of shared amusement.

He reached the sand and remembered what he meant to say. Turning, he saw that the eagle had come to the man’s hand. He forgot again his intended comment, instead exclaiming, “Is she yours?”

The guy didn’t turn towards him, but Laurence could still see the smile on his face as he nodded, watching the eagle.



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Chapter Text

 

Although he had the day off, Laurence arrived early for the Tuesday gathering. Chenery had taken to calling it the ‘feu de joie’, mostly because it provoked fits of laughter at Granby’s attempt to pronounce it, and a disapproving frown from Laurence, who knew what the phrase really meant.

Laurence went into the shed-office to get a bit of work done, then sighed at the condition of the place. He took some time to clean a bit. Granby was lounging on the couch, frowning over a textbook and fiddling with his phone.

Chenery came in while Laurence was wiping down the sink area, and instantly started teasing him about tidying. Still facing away, Laurence rolled his eyes. Over his shoulder, he said, "Someone needs to keep this place from becoming a complete sty. So far I’ve only ever seen Harcourt make any effort.” Getting worked up into his rant, he turned to face the others. “And he is the youngest! The rest of you should be setting the example for him!”

Granby and Chenery shared a look and poorly-disguised giggle-snorts. Puzzled by their reaction, Laurence wondered if perhaps cleaning was a form of hazing for the ‘newbies’.

Roland entered the shed. “‘Setting an example for him’ who?” she asked.

“Harcourt,” replied Laurence. “Unless it is traditional for the newest lifeguards to be set the cleaning tasks in here.”

More muffled laughter from the men. Roland said, “No, not that I’ve heard of. Mostly it’s just whoever cares enough. But I thought you said --”

Granby mumbled, “And gets paid for it.”

“Harcourt does not get paid any extra!” Laurence shot back.

Roland, apparently still confused, asked, “Him - Harcourt?”

“Well, yes,” said Laurence. “He is the only other I have noticed cleaning up in here.”

Roland chuckled. “Oh, uh, think you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick there.”

“No, no, don’t spoil it!” exclaimed Chenery.

“Don’t spoil what?” asked Laurence, looking around. The penny dropped and he slumped, hiding his face in his hand. “Oh. Harcourt is a she, isn’t she.”

Granby laughed, not unkindly. “She wanted to see how long it took you.”

Laurence thought it over, then grew indignant again. “Wait, that makes it even worse! You all act as if she is your maid!”

The others cried out in protest but Laurence spoke over them. “Come on, men. Little Spark may have been neglected as of late but there is no need to live in squalor.”

Roland laughed. “Well, I’ll leave you men to it, then. I’m on shift. Enjoy!” She smirked as she went back out the door.

 

 

A short while later they were all gathered around the small grill they had set up near the chair. “At Hollow we would have a real bonfire,” grumbled Granby. “All the lifeguards would come. From all the beaches, I mean.”

“So why do we not join them?” asked Laurence.

Granby shot him a dark look. “Who needs ’em.”

“He means we weren’t invited,” said Chenery cheerfully, placing hot dogs and burgers on the grill.

“I, for one, do not need their ‘team-building exercises’ or any of the rest of the little games they play,” said Roland, smiling. “I got my own budget, we can do what we like, and we don’t have to share. Drink?”

Laurence was about to decline, displaying the coffee he already had, when he realised she was offering a can of hard cider. “I… don’t mind if I do, thanks,” he said, taking it.

“I won’t be indulging, since I’m on duty, but the rest of you feel free,” she said.

So they did, and a very pleasant time was enjoyed by all. When appetites were sated and conversation ran low, Laurence asked about the guy in the hoodie, with the bird.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen Bird Dude hanging about,” observed Chenery.

“Uh-huh. So what’s his story?”

“Um, he’s a dude with a bird. What else did you want to know?”

“Look, all of you are always telling me how I am new here and the rest of you have been here forever, so what I’m wondering is, have you seen him around town? Do you know anything about him?”

The others all exchanged quizzical glances and shook their heads.

“Don’t think he’s taken, Laurie. Always see him alone. So, he’s all yours, my young buck!” Chenery teased.

The others all joined in laughter at Laurence’s exasperated look. He supposed he should have known better, anyway.

With five underpaid and overactive young people to feed, the food and drink ran out fairly quickly. There wasn’t much (yet) to really bitch about, so one by one they drifted away to wherever lifeguards went when off duty.

Laurence stayed around, partly, he told himself, because he wanted to talk over some things with Roland, one supervisor to another. Mostly, he wouldn’t acknowledge to himself, because he hadn’t made much in the way of friends here (yet) and wished to enjoy what little social life he had.

It was true that he hadn’t been able to spend much time with Roland. They were never on shift together, and the overlaps were rarely even fifteen minutes long. He did feel he ought to know her better. As his supervisor. Fellow. Supervisor.

The cider was really good, actually. She had good taste. As well as many other… good… attributes.

Laurence was still hanging about at ten, when the beach closed down. Or at least the lifeguard stand did. He helped her put everything away. He felt pleasantly warm and tingly. His tongue was loosened enough, or so he thought it should be; maybe loosened enough to tie into knots, because he couldn’t seem to make the words come out right.

Fortunately, Roland had no such problems. After laughing at him for a bit, she took pity and his hand and led him inside the office. She knew where the clean towels were kept and she draped several over the sofa. Soon, she and Laurence were also draped over it, and each other.


~*~*~*~


The following afternoon Laurence was making his leisurely way to Little Spark, wondering how early for his evening shift he should arrive. Was too early too obvious? Was just on time too neglectful? Then he remembered that Roland didn’t have the day shift, having been on last night.

To distract himself from his idiocy, he spent the time wandering about the neighbourhood near Little Spark, something he hadn’t done much, for all that it seemed he spent every waking moment not at work walking his dog all about the city. Their course usually took them to the other side of town, however. They really should explore more, he thought. He made himself pay more attention to his surroundings instead of reminiscing about last night.

A short time into his meanderings he saw Lieutenant Rankin and stopped, astonished. Though why he should be astonished he didn’t know; it was hardly surprising the man should be keeping an eye on the streets around Little Spark. He supposed it was that he had so few acquaintances in the city at all, so that to come across any one of them was somehow remarkable.

Rankin had seen him too and walked over to greet him. “Good day,” he said, smiling and shaking Laurence’s hand. “Laurence, is it? Care to join me for lunch? When I was here last Friday I noticed a Vietnamese food truck I haven’t tried before. Some of these run-down sketchy places make surprisingly tasty dishes, for a very reasonable price. A lieutenant’s pay does not stretch very far, and I expect a lifeguard’s rather less.” A sympathetic smile took any sting out of his words and Laurence smiled back and agreed.

They leaned against a nearby wall, holding plate in one hand and plastic fork in the other. Their drinks were balanced precariously on a window ledge. While they ate, they chatted on a number of innocuous subjects: tastes in cuisine, the weather, swimming and other sports. They were engaged in an animated discussion of tactics in Capture the Flag when Rankin asked, “Do you happen to play chess?”

Laurence smiled, a little slyly. “When I can find an opponent.”

“Aha! You are on!” Rankin knew of a park where tables and sets were provided - part of last year’s grant for ‘community enrichment’. Some sets even remained intact.

The men intent on their game, their conversation lagged for a time. Finally Rankin tipped over his king. “I am out of practice. Will you give me another game?”

Laurence checked the time. “One more, and then I must go on duty.”

“On duty, just so,” said Rankin, smirking.

Laurence determined to beat him again.

The opening moves went quickly and both concentrated on establishing their positions. During the middlegame, Rankin resumed their conversation, probably in an attempt to break Laurence’s focus, he thought uncharitably. “You’re intelligent and perceptive, unlike most of our local yahoos,” Rankin said. “What brings you to this backwater?”

“Work,” Laurence answered succinctly, not wanting to go into his primary motivation. Friendly as Rankin was being, he would certainly ridicule Laurence’s main purpose for coming to Laglan City specifically.

Rankin raised a sceptical brow. “No lifeguarding work for you elsewhere?”

Laurence shrugged. “The same could be said of you, Lieutenant. Obviously it is not affection for the place that has you policing here rather than somewhere more, hmm, cosmopolitan.”

Rankin smiled. “Yes, well. An ambitious man takes his opportunities for promotion where he can find them.”

“I wish you well in your career, then.”

“Thank you. I have high hopes of my position here, the task force I’m leading.”

Laurence hummed in acknowledgement, his mind on the vulnerability in the position of Rankin’s rook. There was little more from the man after that than a few muttered imprecations.

They parted on good terms, Laurence agreeing to meet him at a nearby coffee shop the following week and Rankin promising to brush up on his game.

 

~*~*~*~


The next couple of shifts were quiet, which was good because Laurence’s mind was just about everywhere but the beach, no matter how hard he scolded it to pay attention.

Friday brought excitement of an unwelcome order.

It started routinely enough. Fridays were payday, so everyone showed up at the shift change. Laurence would be working the evening shift, so he arrived a bit early, as usual. Chenery was on the day shift, and as usual, busy flirting with several of the least-clad beachgoers. Laurence scanned the surf, an automatic habit, when something out in the waves caught his eye. Yes, it was definitely a struggling swimmer - wild flailing, head pulled under randomly. Laurence didn’t have his whistle. He glanced back at Chenery, who was turned away, doing something under the chair - the lifeguard chair, which was set mid-beach, too far for Laurence to call out and be heard over the shouts of the many playing children and young people.

He took off into the water.

With strong strokes enhanced by adrenaline, it didn’t take long to reach the victim. Here there was a strong lateral current and an undertow that Laurence worked hard to stay atop of. The panicking girl was apparently being dragged under by it. “Hey, I’m a lifeguard!” he called out. “I’m here to help!” He moved his left arm into range of the flailing limbs, where it was struck and latched onto. Quickly he wrapped it around the girl, hoping she would latch only onto the one arm, leaving him free to swim back with his right arm and legs.

No such luck. She continued gasping and coughing, choking. She was unresponsive to his calming words and instructions. She kept kicking her legs down and flailing with the arm that wasn’t holding tight to his, as though she were going to climb out of the water on a non-existent ladder. The flailing arm reached his head and pushed it under.

Stuck underwater, caught between surf and undertow, trying to manoeuvre a girl made exceptionally strong by fear of drowning, Laurence didn’t panic. He knew what he had to do, but was reluctant to use the brutal method.

He was saved from his dilemma by the lifeguard’s buoy being shoved under his body. Chenery had arrived, only a few seconds behind Laurence, as the girl had been that much farther from the chair. What Chenery had been doing under it, of course, was grabbing the buoy.

Laurence was such an idiot.

While Chenery towed both of them back, Laurence gradually got the girl latched onto the buoy instead of him, so he could assist in the pull.

By the time they touched ground, the girl was composed enough to breathe normally and respond to their questions. They helped her back to her mother and made sure her colour and breathing were good, with no other signs of shock. Both mother and daughter were anxious to leave, and with a final admonition to have the girl’s lungs checked out medically, they let them go.

Laurence turned to Chenery, preparing to apologise. Chenery beat him to speech, though, smirking as he spoke. “Nice work, Blondie. So glad to have you here to show us all the way.”

Laurence looked down, rubbing his hand across his eyes. When he opened his eyes again, it was to see Roland, looking grim. She walked towards the office, gesturing for him to follow. They passed Harcourt, wide-eyed and gaping, whom Roland told briefly to man the chair.

Inside, Roland let loose. “You weren’t prepared, you didn’t follow procedure, what the hell were you thinking? No, don’t answer that. Don’t play the fucking hero, got it? We’re all lifeguards here, being a supervisor doesn’t make you a superhero. You gotta trust in your coworkers. Chenery had the shift, had the rescue - let him do his job.”

Laurence knew it. Fortunately, he’d also had lots of experience in taking a dressing-down. He stood quietly and responded simply, “Yes, ma’am.”

This took her aback. “Ma’am?” she said after a pause. “What the hell?”

Now Laurence was confused. “Um, sir?”

That provoked a bark of laughter from Roland, and Chenery chuckled. “Where did you do lifeguarding before, anyway?” he asked.

“I, uh, I was with the Coast Guard,” he answered sheepishly. Not reflecting too well on the service there, he thought contritely.

Chenery was apparently amused. “Oh-ho! The Coast Guard! Well, I didn’t know we had a professional here, Captain!”

And now Laurence had another nickname. He couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than ‘Laurie’.


||||||||||~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*#*#*#*#*#*#*

 

Chapter Text

Saturday afternoon at shift change Laurence tried to apologise to Roland. “I wasn’t thinking,” he said.

She frowned. “It’s not going to happen again, is it?”

He hastened to reassure her and she waved him off. “No worries, then. Enjoy the evening. The day folks kept us busy.” She watched as a youngster came up to them. “And here’s another one now.”

“That was so cool, how you helped that guy swim away from the rocks,” the boy gushed.

“Thanks,” said Roland, smiling.

The kid beamed back and seemed about to leave, but then asked, “Did you get hurt?” pointing to Roland’s face.

“Oh, that was a long time ago,” she replied. “You ever heard of the kind of jellyfish they call man-o-war?”

“Uh-huh.”

“They’re not kidding about the ‘war’ part,” she informed him seriously.

The boy gaped, horrified. Roland winked at Laurence and strode off.

 

Chenery, sharing the shift with Laurence, likewise waved off his attempted apology. “No fear, Captain!” he said with a lazy, mocking salute.

Captain. Captain was definitely worse than ‘Laurie’.

 

The warm clear skies and mild (seemingly mild) surf had lured plenty of visitors to the beach. He and Chenery took turns keeping watch from the chair and stretching their legs along the strand. Laurence recognised many of the regulars and was working on learning their names.

Dusk was growing and the visitors thinning when he wandered up near the rocks. Hoodie guy was there, standing on the sand and smoking with a small group of - friends, were they? Acquaintances, anyway. Laurence's eye was caught by what looked like an exchange of a package for money.

He hesitated. Not actually his job, but the police had asked for their help. Observation, not interference. At least he was thinking it through this time, he thought wryly. He walked up to the small group, who eyed him with unconcealed disgust. “Good evening,” he greeted them with a smile.

“... the fuck you want,” one of them mumbled.

“Drug dealing is not allowed here,” he replied politely.

One of them chuckled meanly and muttered something Laurence couldn’t hear. The one who’d spoken first said with a martial glint, “Who says we’re fuckin’ dealing?”

Laurence stared at each of them in turn. Hoodie guy had stayed quiet during the exchange, watching him with cool eyes. Laurence smiled again. “Just letting you know. Enjoy your evening,” he added and walked away.

He heard the first one hiss, “Who’s the fucking narc?” and someone muttering quietly, “There’s no narc…” The rest he couldn’t hear.

 

||||||||||~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*#*#*#*#*#*#*

 

Chapter Text

Laurence dug out the card Rankin had given him and called the tip line printed on it. He described Hoodie Guy and the others that were with him and the exchange he saw. When he hung up he felt vaguely ill from guilt. Narc. Informant. Rat. But the kids, argued his conscience. He told his brain to shut up and focus on lifeguarding.

~*~*~*~

Tuesday evenings continued to be called ‘feu de joie’ in lieu of a better name. Although Laurence’s French was not great, he did correct Granby’s pronunciation from ‘few de joy’ to ‘fu du schwa’, which was the closest he could come to it himself. This at least put an end to Chenery’s gales of laughter.

Laurence had offered to alternate the Tuesday night shifts with Roland, so she could take a turn at relaxing and ‘indulging’, but she’d declined. “I gotta be there anyway, might as well get paid for it.”

This Tuesday was the third of the season and the second gathering. For once, Laurence did not make an effort to be prompt. By the time he arrived, the rest were already gathered, including a couple of strangers.

Chenery was the first to spot him. “Hey, Laurie! Tonight we are graced with an august presence!”

Everyone groaned, and Granby rolled his eyes. He introduced the quiet, unassuming young man beside him. “This is my - my husband,” he said with a defiant tone and jerk of his long chin, “Augustine Little.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Laurence, smiling and shaking Little by the hand.

“Likewise. I’ve slipped off from Hollow for the moment, but will have to get back soon, I’m afraid,” Little said with an apologetic look towards Granby.

The other stranger turned out to be Chenery’s girlfriend, apparently called ‘Dull’, though she seemed a lively young woman to Laurence. Probably another of Chenery’s humorous sobriquets.

“If I had known this was friends and family night, I would have brought my dog,” Laurence joked. To his surprise, his suggestion was taken up.

“Oh, do!” said ‘Dull’. “I love dogs!”

Harcourt and Granby agreed, and Laurence looked to Roland, who simply smiled and nodded. Surprised but game, he said decisively, “All right then, I will.”

“Our Laurie has hidden depths,” teased Chenery, “and is willing to share them! To the Captain!” he added, raising his drink in a toast.

“Hear, hear,” chorused the others, while Laurence felt his face heat and shook his head. He downed the rest of his cider and thought of a way to poke Chenery back, and also perhaps get the attention off of himself.

He didn’t have much of a singing voice, but made an attempt: “Chen-chenery Chen-chenery Chen-chen-cher-ee…” he sang out.

Everyone gave him odd looks.

Oh, come on, he wasn’t that bad. “What?” he said. “It’s Mary Poppins!”

Granby caught on. “Oh! A sweep is as lucky as --” he added in tune.

Chenery interrupted. “No, no, no - if this is about me, then it’s going to be Chen-chenery Chen-chenery Chen-chen-cher-ee, a lifeguard’s as sexy as sexy can be!” he sang in a strong tenor.

Everyone groaned and Roland cried out, “Oh my god, Laurence, you’ve given him his own theme song, fuck.”

~*~*~*~

As they had agreed the previous week, the next day Laurence met up with Rankin - “Call me Jeremy, please” - at a local coffee shop, then moved on to the chess table in the park. While they played, they conversed idly on a variety of subjects. Laurence won again, but the lieutenant had clearly been studying up. When Laurence said as much while they set up for the next game, Jeremy agreed. “I think we both look to expand beyond our current limits. Surely, you must have aims higher than saving tourons from the hazards of their idiocy, I imagine?”

“I go back to university in the fall.”

“Of course,” he smirked. “What are you studying?”

“Ocean Sciences.”

“Indeed. Unlike your cohorts, you are not one for this provincial slum, I know.”

Laurence frowned, confused. “Granby is likewise attending college. As is Harcourt, I believe.”

Rankin snorted. “Young Granby is learning a trade and the lovely Miss Cathy is looking for her Mrs degree.”

Laurence turned his attention back to the game. Generally he found the lieutenant a pleasant and conversable companion, but he decided to avoid discussing their mutual acquaintances in the future.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The following Tuesday, Laurence brought his dog to the weekly gathering, as he’d been invited to.

“That’s a dog?!” exclaimed Granby. “It looks like a wolf crossed with a grizzly bear!”

The dog, who had been enthusiastically but politely greeting everyone, gave Granby a somewhat offended look.

“He’s an Imperial,” said Harcourt.

“He certainly looks an empire unto himself,” said Chenery.

“They’re bred not far from here,” continued Harcourt. “But you don’t see them around very often. Only a few people have one.”

“I should think so,” said Granby. “They must cost a fortune to feed.”

Chenery laughed. “I wouldn’t like the task of cleaning up after him!”

The dog turned his offended gaze on Chenery.

Dull, who had been just as enthusiastically petting it, said, “He’s a darling! What’s his name?”

“Temeraire,” said Laurence.


Temeraire’s excellent manners won over the group fairly quickly, which was not a surprise to Laurence, who thought that everyone should admire the dog as much as he himself did. Despite what Granby said, Temeraire did not look anything like a bear, or even (much) like a wolf. He was large, true, but elegant. His coat was mostly sleek - a medium length that lay in close waves along his sides. Around his neck the hair was thicker and longer, making it stand out from his body, like a ruff. He was a deep black colour, with areas on the fringes that shaded to a blue-gray. His head and muzzle were long and elegant, something like a greyhound, with alert, intelligent eyes.

Temeraire was equally taken with the lifeguards and basked in their attention. While they were all getting to know each other, Laurence looked around. Although Dull was present, Little hadn’t come (“Working”, said Granby, wrinkling his nose). The beach, as usual on Tuesdays, was fairly quiet.

Hoodie Guy was in his usual spot on the rocks.

Laurence hesitated a moment, watching his dog and his coworkers get acquainted, then made his decision. Motioning to Temeraire to remain, he picked up a hotdog off the grill and slid it into a bun, then headed towards the rocks.

If Hoodie Guy was going to be hanging out near the beach all summer, it behooved them to make his acquaintance, too. Plus, he looked a bit skinny.

Hoodie Guy seemed torn between trying to ignore his approach and side-eyeing him. Laurence ignored the other man’s reticence and offered him the hotdog, gesturing to the grill the others were all gathered around. “Come join us. We have plenty to share.”

The man stared at the hotdog, then frowned, puzzled, at Laurence. Finally he gave a sort of facial shrug and stood up. Laurence smiled and they walked back to the grill.

“Sorry, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced - I’m Laurence.” He’d heard Hoodie Guy called something like Sharky but he’d assumed that was some sort of nickname.

The man looked at him a moment before offering: “Tharkay.”

Laurence smiled again and held out his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Tharkay.”

Tharkay narrowed his eyes, but took Laurence’s hand in a brief but firm shake.

Laurence introduced him to the others, naming each. They responded with brief greetings or nods. Chenery gave his casual salute. Tharkay nodded back to each.

“And this is my dog, Temeraire.” He’d been waiting at a polite distance, inquisitive, with a slight tail wag. Tharkay held out his hand for Temeraire to sniff. The two made friends quickly, which eased Laurence’s tension considerably.

The party continued with everyone eating and drinking and talking and laughing. Well, except for Tharkay, who remained quiet and a bit separate from the others. He’d eaten the hotdog Laurence had offered earlier, but taken nothing else, except for one can Laurence pressed on him.

Temeraire was much more vocal and sociable. When he looked longingly at the hotdogs giving off a savoury scent as they roasted on the grill, Dull tried to offer him one, but Laurence intervened. “I’m sorry, he shouldn’t eat that. It doesn’t agree with his digestion.”

Temeraire turned his reproachful look on Laurence.

“Plus I fed you at home! Greedy!” Laurence laughed.

Temeraire went back to his spot between Laurence and Tharkay and lay down, curling into a circle with the tip of his tail overlapping his nose. His eye was still visibly tracking the hotdogs. Laurence cheerfully scratched along his back and Temeraire heaved a big sigh.

A loud bird cry sounded, startling them. It cut through the endless complaints of the gulls like a thin but very sharp knife. Temeraire sat up, then stood up, tail alert and nose facing the rocks. Tharkay’s eagle was gliding towards them, but swooped up above the dog, circling and crying out. Temeraire responded with a low growl in his throat.

“Oh, hush it, you,” said Laurence, and made him sit and then lie back down, which he consented to do so long as he had his forelegs and head in Laurence’s lap.

Tharkay had stood and took a step or two away from the group, beckoning the eagle down to his hoodie-covered hand. She did finally land, looking askance at the others and hissing with raised wings at Temeraire.

Laurence kept the dog down, saying, “Yes, we all know you could take her on, there’s no need to prove it. She’s being aggressive because she’s scared of you, don’t you understand? We won’t let her hurt you.” At that Temeraire looked quite indignant. Laurence chuckled. “See? Just ignore her, then she will know you are not afraid.” Temeraire apparently took his advice, choosing to ignore all three of them - the eagle, Tharkay, and Laurence too.

Tharkay sat down again, the eagle having moved to his shoulder. Dull tried to engage him in conversation about the bird, but as his responses were mostly monosyllabic or non-existent she soon gave up.

“How is Little?” Laurence asked Granby. “How are things going for him at Hollow?”

“Oh, he’s fine,” Granby answered. “Things are about the same as always over there.”

“Nah, they can’t be,” put in Chenery.

Granby frowned. “Why not?”

“Why, they’re missing yours truly, of course!” He rode over Granby’s scoff. “And you, and our own inimitable Roland. Why, I expect life is quite boring there.”

“What, with ten times the crowds? I doubt ‘boring’ is the right word.”

The conversation turned to general discussions of lifeguard work, anecdotes, and comparisons of different beaches. Tharkay kept quiet, but his eagle put in an occasional word, sometimes taking off on her own business, but always returning.

Laurence collected another hotdog and drink for himself, offering another of each to Tharkay, who waved them off. Laurence settled a little in front of Temeraire, then leaned back into the curl of his side. The dog was big enough to support a full-grown man and made for a surprisingly comfortable bolster. Laurence listened to the others talk, watched the stars emerge in the clear skies above, and felt wonderfully content.

When there was only one lonely last shriveled dog on the grill, Tharkay gestured towards it. The others shook their heads and Chenery said, “Have at it.”

Tharaky fed it in pieces to his eagle.

Dull had established a position near Temeraire, petting him until his head was lying in her lap, eyes slitted shut in bliss. “How did you ever get him, anyway?” she asked.

Laurence said, “Oh, it’s a long story.” At the same time his dog issued a series of soft woofs, interspersed with a throaty row-row-row which was not quite growl. The cadences of Temeraire’s vocalisations were strangely like the rhythms of speech.

Dull laughed. “Is he trying to tell me?”

“Yes,” answered Laurence seriously.

Chenery reached his long leg over to nudge Laurence with a foot. “C’mon, Captain, this is the night for long stories. Regale us!”

Harcourt and Roland agreed but Laurence shook his head again. Temeraire woofed more energetically.

Granby frowned. “Hey, if you are with the Coast Guard, why are you slumming it with us?”

Laurence groaned and put a hand up to his face.

“Oi, Gransy, don’t be rude!” said Chenery with a grin and a wink.

Temeraire stood up, spilling Laurence to the sand. The dog nudged at Laurence’s head, licked his face, then sat down, gazing earnestly into Laurence's face. He woofed insistently, front paws dancing, then calming as he lifted one to rest on Laurence’s arm.

Laurence sat up. “It’s not that great a story,” he said, half to his dog and half to Granby.

Temeraire shook his head and woofed some more. “Woof! Wroo-oow. Woof. Woof!”

“Yes, my dear, I know you like the story,” Laurence said, stroking his dog. “But I don’t know why,” he added to the others.

“Woof! Woof woof woof wrroow-wrroow wroooow!”

“Well, true, it does have a happy ending.”

The dog sat down next to him, leaning against him and panting cheerfully.

“You think I should tell everyone?”

The dog replied with a throaty little whine in a soft tone as leaned a little more into Laurence.

Laurence looked around at all the curious, amused faces.

“All right, so, the first thing is that I was never really in the Coast Guard. I was in an officer training program.”

“Aye-aye, Captain!” This from Chenery, naturally.

“You’re not any more?” asked Granby.

“No, that’s how Temeraire comes into it. We were on a training run - all of us cadets. I was at the conn, working alongside the First Officer on Navigation, when Cadet Riley on Communications received an incoming message…”

With the smell of the sea and the cool evening breeze, it was easy for Laurence to immerse himself in the memory as he related the events.

~~~ 

When Lieutenant Purbeck had heard the message, he’d told Riley to relay it to Captain Croft immediately. “Now, Laurence,” he’d said, turning back to their station, “assuming the Captain confirms the assistance request, what course would you expect him to order?”

Fortunately, Laurence understood navigation inside and out and could answer by rote, because his mind was consumed by the message - smugglers! And they were to help capture them! They’d assisted in search and rescues before, and done some routine heave-tos for checking registration, but never anything this exciting. He kept exchanging wide-eyed glances with Riley, both of them nearly vibrating out of their skin.

The Captain ordered the course they’d anticipated, and now it was hurry up and wait until they got there. The training vessel Reliant was old and small, but the trainees had recently cleaned her thoroughly, including rebuilding and re-tuning the engine before setting out on the cruise. She was beautifully responsive and covered the miles swiftly.

Meanwhile Captain Croft called all hands and told them what to expect. “We’ll be assisting the Commendable in intercepting a suspected smuggler. The Commendable will be taking the lead. Our presence is to discourage the suspect from continuing to run - they won’t be able to outrun us both. We will maintain a safe distance from the suspect; the Commendable will make the final approach.”

It was all still very exciting, especially for Riley at Communications and Laurence at Navigation. Messages were continually sent back and forth, many of them encoded(!) to prevent the smuggler from overhearing. Once they were closing in, Navigation was kept busy making this adjustment and that to outmanoeuvre the smugglers in concert with the Commendable .

Eventually the suspicious vessel surrendered. Riley was listening in to the communications between it and the Commendable. “What are they saying?” he asked in an aside to Laurence. “The smugglers - I can’t understand it.”

“I don’t think it’s English,” said Laurence.

“Not Spanish, either,” said Purbeck.

“It sounds like French, maybe?” said Laurence. He had to read a foreign language as part of his degree requirements. He was learning French, but he wasn’t much good at it. “Something about friends, friendship.”

Both Riley and Purbeck snorted, which drew a baleful glare from Captain Croft and they all quieted.

The Commendable successfully arrested the smugglers and confiscated the contraband. In consultation with Croft, the decision was made to have the Reliant bring the prisoners, their boat, and the impounded goods back to the nearest Coast Guard station. The Commendable would continue on patrol, as there were indications of possibly one or more other smugglers in the area.

~~~ 

“This is all very fascinating, Laurie, but where does your giant dog come into it?” interrupted Chenery.

Laurence blinked himself back to the present. “Ah, right at this point, actually. He was with the smugglers. He was just a puppy - his eyes were not yet opened.”

“Awww, I bet he was so cute!” said Dull.

Temeraire did not dignify this with an acknowledgement.

Granby frowned, puzzled. “Why on earth did smugglers have a newborn puppy with them?”

“I have no idea. We never did find out - at least I didn’t. And yes, he was very cute, even though he was big for a puppy - over five pounds already.”

Temeraire sat up straight, looking slightly away from Laurence, but his dignity was destroyed by Laurence’s enthusiastic scratching all along his neck and behind his ears, which the dog never could resist.

“Was the dam there too, to take care of such a young puppy?” asked Harcourt. “He can’t have been weaned yet.”

“No, that was the problem. Without his dam, we had to bottle feed him. As you can imagine, since he was so large and growing fast, he needed a lot of feeding.”

“The smugglers must have been caring for him already, right? Were they able to continue?”

Laurence shook his head. “Captain Croft would not allow it. The problem was that the Reliant is a fairly small vessel, not designed for carrying prisoners. On a training run, there were already more people - crew plus cadets - than was typical. But fewer of the crew and officers were full Coast Guard members; we cadets were expected to pull some weight.

“With the addition of the prisoners, their goods, and hauling their boat aboard, we were overcrowded. The jerry-rigged brig was barely fit for the prisoners. There was no room for the puppy - or rather, no room for the items they needed to care for him. Which they did have, fortunately. Bottles and formula and such.”

“Then who did take care of him?” asked Harcourt. “It must have been a lot of work.”

“Oh, yes, it was,” recalled Laurence. “That… that was rather the crux of the issue.”

~~~

With the extra work and the extra bodies on board, they had gone to twelve-hour shifts, Laurence explained. There had never been much personal space on board and now most of the cadets had to share bunks - switching with a cadet on the opposite shift.

At first there had been plenty of volunteers to help cuddle and feed the large but still very cute puppy. However, as exhaustion and lack of space began to take its toll, Laurence had a more difficult time finding someone to take care of it during his on-shift.

“Come on, Riley,” he begged. “You just need to hold him in your bunk while you are sleeping.”

“Uh-huh. And get up several times to warm the formula and feed him and clean up his messes. Sorry, Will, I can’t. I need sleep if I’m going to be functional on shift.”

~~~

“Wait up,” Chenery interrupted again. “How was it you got stuck with puppy duty?”

“Well, someone had to,” said Laurence defensively.

“You know,” said Granby, eyeing him consideringly, “that does rather explain a lot.”

Laurence frowned and was about to ask for clarification when Roland spoke up. “Let the man finish his story. Go on.” She motioned with her hand.

Laurence sighed and ducked his head, not sure how to explain the next part.

“Or… you don’t have to, if you don’t want,” Dull offered kindly.

“No, it’s all right; I might as well,” he said, as Temeraire nuzzled him and licked the side of his face with one long slobbery tongue. “Ugh! Temeraire, let me speak!” He wiped the side of his face off with his t-shirt and resumed the thread of the story. “With the extra stress, the captain needed all of us cadets to step up.”

~~~

In fact, Croft had spoken to Laurence specifically. “Son, I know you’ve got another year at uni after you finish this one, but we’ve been discussing promoting you early. Starting next summer, you’ll be a full ensign.”

“Sir! Th-thank you, sir, that’s… that is quite an honour.” Laurence knew it was possible to finish his degree while serving full time in the Coast Guard. In some ways, it would be even easier to complete his final courses and papers while stationed on board or at base. But the opportunity was very rarely offered, and usually meant a fast track to command. He’d known he’d received high ratings, that his superiors were pleased with his performance, but he’d had no idea he’d been under consideration for early promotion.

“Yes, it is,” said the captain, with a significant look. “If you want it, I need you to demonstrate your ability as an officer now, by acting like one.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Laurence straightened up even further than his usual impeccable posture.

“Right.” Captain Croft proceeded to detail the duties he wanted Laurence to take on and supervise. They were all activities Laurence knew he could handle, and he was proud and pleased that his abilities had been recognised. The captain concluded with, “I won’t be telling you what to do during your off shift.” That there would be precious little free time went unspoken. “However, you can’t be asking your fellow cadets for help with that animal. Those types of requests create undue pressure. You know officers need to avoid such situations.”

“Sir. I understand, sir.” Laurence agreed with much less enthusiasm than he’d had for the earlier part of the conversation. His shoulders drooped with a burden he hadn’t felt from the earlier additional responsibilities.

He was still determined to try.

He got by on very little sleep. He was used to it, from finals at uni and during emergency periods on previous training cruises. There were still a couple of cadets who volunteered to take the puppy, so he didn’t have to ask. He was one of the few who still had his own bunk, so he’d leave him there, and another cadet would fetch him.

Until the shift when complaints came that the pup’s whines and cries were disturbing the sleep of the other cadets in the bunk room.

Laurence looked everywhere for a place he could pen the dog up. All the storage lockers and cupboards were full, and nearly airtight besides.  He tried a corner of the galley (“Nothing doing”, said Cook. “One, no room; two, you know how many regs that’d break?”), under a table (“So where’s our feet supposed to go, mate?”), even under the stowed smugglers’ boat (what little room existed was too hazardous, and the poor thing would cry and wriggle his way out again).

Laurence fashioned a sort of sling for carrying the puppy, similar to the kind that a mother might use to carry her baby. The animal weighed about the same as an infant, but his legs would flop out everywhere and his inquisitive nose sought out everything.

It was difficult commanding the respect of his fellows with a squirming, adorable puppy on his chest, but Laurence persevered.

Until he failed to dodge the captain’s notice and received the reaming of his life. “What the fucking hell were you thinking! I offer you the fucking chance of a fucking lifetime, and this is how you respect it!” Laurence felt his blood flush hot in his face and that was only the start. It went on for several of the longest moments in his life. “...I need you and everyone else focused on your duties, not babying some animal!” the captain finally concluded.

“Sir, yes, sir,” said Laurence stoically.

Croft glowered at him. “Imagine for a moment that those smugglers had been trafficking in humans. We’d be dealing with a shipload of people in various states of health. Would you pick nursemaiding a puppy over a person?”

“But that’s not the question now, sir,” replied Laurence, bordering on insubordination.

The captain considered him. “No. The question now is, are you going to follow orders or not?”

~~~

“And the answer was not,” said Granby quietly.

“It wasn’t fair!” exclaimed Laurence. “He just didn’t… I couldn’t…”

“Face it, Laurence, you’re not one for following orders,” Granby said.

Laurence shook his head. “No, it wasn’t that. I’d been following orders for years. It was…”

“It was Temeraire,” said Harcourt. “The puppy. You fell in love.”

He smiled at that. “Yeah. Yeah I did.”

“So where’s the happy ending?” asked Granby.

“Why, I got Temeraire, of course.” The dog started furiously licking his face, climbing into his lap, knocking him over. He laughed as he fell on his back. “Yes, yes, and you got me too! Oh god, my dear, let me breathe!” Laurence was laughing almost too hard to get the words out and his breath in.

“Dogpile!” cried Chenery. Dull took the opportunity to pet Temeraire vigorously, scratching along both his sides. Chenery pulled Dull down, taking the dog with her.  Granby flung himself across Laurence to get at Temeraire from the other side. Harcourt picked her way carefully through both men to caress the big dog’s long face.

Duty-minded Roland didn’t join in, noted Laurence. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tharkay take the opportunity to wander quietly away.

 

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Chapter Text

When Laurence came in for his Friday afternoon shift, he found the usually laid-back Chenery in a rare taking.

“Hey, Captain, good job inviting that Tharkay dude on Tuesday; he did us a huge favour today,” he said sincerely, but obviously still agitated.

“Why, what happened?” Laurence asked.

“I was chatting with some young people by the chair--” (i.e., his fan club, Laurence translated inwardly) “--when he comes over, apologises for interrupting, in this dry, sardonic way, but says he believes there’s a shark coming in near the swimmers. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or what, so I check, and sure enough, there it is, the bastard. I whistled for all the swimmers to come in.”

“No one was hurt?”

“Nope, no thanks to those assholes over at Hollow.”

“Wait, what did --”

Chenery didn’t wait for him to finish the question. “After I made sure everyone was out of the water, I called the sighting in to the main station - Hollow Bay, y’know - and they said they already knew about it! They’d seen it!”

Laurence was confused. “But, in that case, as we are right next to them, would they not have--”

“Called us?! Damn straight they should’ve! Said they - get this - said they’d ‘forgotten’ we were open this year. Forgot us!”

Laurence was dumbstruck. “How…”

“Can you believe that bullshit?! What do they think we do all day, play Parcheesi? Un-fucking-believable.” Chenery shook his head. “So thanks for bringing Tharkay over earlier. Oh, and next time you see him, pass along my thanks - I didn’t get a chance to say anything to him. By the time I got the swimmers in, he’d taken off.”

Laurence nodded. “You think he said something just because we had him over Tuesday? I mean, wouldn’t he have alerted us anyway?”

Chenery shrugged. “He never has before.”

“Maybe he had never sighted a shark before. How did he see it before us - was it coming from near the rocks?”

Harcourt, who had come in behind Laurence, spoke up. “It was his eagle.”

They all looked at her.

“Eagles eat fish, and also they’re scavengers,” she explained. “They’ll see the fish parts left from a shark meal.”

“So if you think I was slacking, Captain,” began Chenery.

“No, not at all!” said Laurence.

“--I’ll have you know I could barely make the thing out even with the binoculars. I was keeping an eye on the distant swimmers, no fear,” Chenery finished.

“I have none at all, I assure you!” said Laurence sincerely. “And you don’t actually report to me, you know. Perhaps you shouldn’t call me ‘Captain’,” he added, as a hint.

Chenery laughed. “Too late, Captain! You’re stuck with it now. Besides, I was under the impression you didn’t much like ‘Laurie’ either.”

“You could just call me Laurence,” Laurence offered.

“I’ve never in my life known a Laurence to go by Laurence. It’s always Larry. Always,” replied Chenery.

“Laurence is my last name.”

“Oh,” said Chenery.

“Did you not know we’re all going by last names? They told me that the first day.”

“Oh, well. Roland of course. I mean, I’d go by my last name too if my first was Jane.”

“Why? What’s wrong with Jane?” asked Laurence.

“Are you kidding? It’s like something out of Austen, it’s that old,” Chenery answered.

“And Granby?” asked Laurence.

“John, right, there are so many Johns among the city lifeguards we’d have to number them all, like Thing 1 and Thing 2. John 3, he’d be. John Three Granby, say that five times fast,” said Chenery.

“And Harcourt?” Laurence glanced towards the changing room, where she was preparing for her shift.

“Ah-ha-ha-ha, that was a little joke on you, old boy. ‘Catherine’ would’ve given the game up straight away, wouldn’t it?”

“So Chenery is your first name, then?”

“Ah, in a manner,” he answered. “I’m like Cher, see, Chenery’s my only name.” He winked and left via the door where Granby had just come in to collect his paycheck.

Granby snorted. “His first name is John, too.”

“Jonto?” repeated Laurence, questioning.

“Right,” Granby answered. “So in his reckoning I’d be John Three and he’d be John Two.”

“Oh,” said Laurence.

“More like Thing Two,” said Harcourt, who had emerged from the changing room.

They all laughed, including Roland, who had come in from manning the chair. “If he could be John One he’d probably be fine with it,” she commented.

“He could be Thing One,” said Harcourt.

~*~*~*~

 

On Tuesday Laurence brought Temeraire to the feu-de-joie again; when he arrived it was just the five of them. When he again wouldn’t let Temeraire eat any of the hot dogs or burgers on the grill, the dog wandered away to investigate the beach and surroundings. “Don’t go far, Temeraire!” Laurence called after him. He answered with a wave of his tail.

“What kind of name is Temeraire, anyway?” asked Granby. “Seems an odd thing to call a dog.”

“A coast guard name, evidently, Captain,” said Chenery before Laurence could answer.

Harcourt spoke up unexpectedly. “It’s the name of a famous Navy ship.”

Chenery smirked at Granby. “See, told ya.”

Granby scowled. “The Navy isn’t Coast Guard.”

“That’s right, Captain - why didn’t you go for Coast Guard?” Chenery teased.

Laurence rolled his eyes. “Come on, it’s just a name!”

“Damned odd sort of name,” remarked Chenery.

“You have a damned odd way of speaking!” said Laurence, riled.

“It’s all this going by last names,” said Chenery. “I feel like I’m in an English public boarding school. ‘Buck up, old boy! There’s a jolly good chap, what?’”

“What,” said Little, just arrived, deadpan.

Everyone laughed.

 

They ate and drank, drank and ate, gossiped and traded stories. Chenery flirted with every pretty young woman who came along (Laurence noticed that to Chenery’s eye most of the young women were pretty). “Is your, uh, friend not joining us tonight?” Laurence asked him.

“Dull? No, she got a better offer,” Chenery replied cheerfully, leering and waving at a girl who was sending coy glances his way.

Laurence shook his head and walked off to recall Temeraire and make sure he wasn’t causing trouble. Most of the beach-goers fell easily for his charming manners, but there were always some people who simply didn’t like dogs.

When they returned, Chenery was haranguing Little about the lack of notice regarding the shark.

“I wasn’t even on shift that day!” protested Little. “I’m not likely to forget you,” he added, nudging Granby, who smiled and nudged back.

Laurence automatically looked towards the rocks, but there was still no sign of Tharkay. In fact Laurence had not seen him all weekend. He had been trying not to worry, and also trying not to make himself (even more) ridiculous to his fellow lifeguards by asking around.

“Did you ever get a chance to thank Tharkay?” he asked Chenery. “I haven’t seen him.”

All right, so he failed on both counts. They all already thought he was ridiculous anyway.

Chenery frowned. “No, don’t think I’ve seen him around either. But if I do, I’ll pass along your love, Captain,” he added cheerfully.

“Yeah, thanks,” said Laurence dryly.

“What kind of name is Tharkay, anyway? I’ve never heard the like,” commented Chenery.

“It’s Nepalese,” said Harcourt. “There was a famous Everest explorer named Tharkay.”

“What are you, a walking encyclopedia?!” exclaimed Chenery.

Harcourt flushed, and Granby kicked Chenery. “Don’t be an ass. Or any more of one than you have to.”

Roland smiled. “It’s possible Harcourt pays attention in school. She might not want to be a lifeguard the rest of her life, unlike some beach bums we know.”

“And love, don’t forget.” Chenery smirked. “But what is it you’re studying that you know all these random facts, Harcourt? Navy ships and eagle diets and Nepalese names…”

“It’s just google,” muttered Harcourt.

“Beg pardon?” asked Laurence.

“I just google stuff,” Harcourt said, holding up her phone. “When I hear something interesting I google it, that’s all.”

Granby kicked Chenery again. “Ha! See, if you’d just think to use google, you could at least pretend to be smart, Chen-chen.”

Chenery responded by shoving a quantity of sand over Granby, spraying some on Little as well. Both men started to pile onto Chenery, who called out to Laurence. “C’mon, Captain! Help your lone subordinate here!”

Thus it dissolved into a general ruckus, with Temeraire happily joining in, bouncing around, over and on, issuing mild play-growls and woofs. Eventually they all collapsed on the sand, Temeraire looking like some strange spotted creature, more sand than black fur. He backed away from the others before shaking himself furiously.

“He’s really quite courteous, isn’t he?” said Granby. “I’ve never known a dog to care who’s about when they shake themselves off.”

“He’s a good dog,” said Laurence, smiling joyfully. He was scratching his hands through Temeraire’s ruff to get out the rest of the sand. “The best. He saved a life, once.”

“What?!” exclaimed Granby.

“Of course he did,” said Chenery indulgently.

“Come on, then, give us the story,” said Roland, smiling.

Harcourt looked expectant. Little was too busy still trying to brush sand off of Granby to say anything.

“It’s not that much of a story,” said Laurence, but continued without further prompting. “We were out sailing on Gibb’s cutter with Riley and another friend. Temeraire wasn’t as big as he is now, but he was still a good-sized dog. Anyway, at one point we were blown over by a sudden strong gust of wind and Gibb’s friend Gordon slipped overboard. The rest of us were busy keeping the boat from capsizing, but Temeraire noticed him fall in and went after him straight away. Gordon was not a strong swimmer and between the waves and the current he might have had a bit of trouble until we could get back to him, but Temeraire was there to get under him, support him and keep him nearby until we could turn around for them.” Laurence huffed a laugh. “The trickiest part was getting Temeraire back on board.”

They all laughed. Temeraire surveyed them with an unimpressed brow.

“Aw, what a hero you are,” said Granby, giving the dog several affectionate rubs.

“Gordon said afterwards that the best part was that with Temeraire to hold onto, he didn’t feel panicked at all, even as we were sailing away, still trying to right the boat. There’s something about having a dog with you.” Laurence rubbed Temeraire enthusiastically from his other side and the dog looked pretty blissed out from the double attention.

“A regular lifesaver, all right. Maybe better than our Captain here, eh?” said Chenery with a cocked brow at Laurence.

Temeraire and Laurence gave identical glares back, but their moods were too good to sustain it. “Maybe,” agreed Laurence with a wry smile at himself.

“You should bring him with you on your shifts,” said Roland.

Laurence look up to see if she was teasing, but she seemed sincere. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. He’s well-mannered, under your voice control, and you’re right, he is a calming presence.”

“Don’t think anyone would mess with you with this beast about,” said Chenery.

“Just make sure you clean up after him.”

The others laughed and Chenery said, “What, you mean he’s not toilet-trained?” The laughter grew and the conversational tone declined with further ribaldry.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Laurence brought Temeraire with him to his next shift, which happened to be the following afternoon, Wednesday, one of the quieter days. He brought along some books that Temeraire enjoyed hearing him read. Laurence had started the habit during the term at university, hoping it would help Temeraire feel engaged when Laurence had to study. It had worked well: Temeraire had sat and listened quietly while he read, instead of whining and pacing and pawing at him.

However, Laurence had found that Temeraire now expected some reading every day, even during the summer break when Laurence himself would prefer to leave all the books firmly closed. He had sold all his textbooks at the end of term, to scrape together what money he could, but he had some other books collected over the years that were too old, battered, or otherwise worthless, at least to the booksellers. He picked a few of these to bring with him and Temeraire to his shift, hoping they would keep the dog calm and entertained during the many slow hours.

Early in the shift the kids were still about. Laurence was busy keeping an eye on them and they were busy making a fuss over Temeraire, who lapped it up. After a couple of hours most of them had left for home and dinner. The people left were mostly the older youth - too old to keep at home and too young to have jobs. They were mostly also too cool to make a fuss over a dog or to splash in the waves. They hung out in clumps on the beach, sometimes tossing or kicking a ball around.

After a bit of staring aimlessly about, nothing much to do or see, Laurence opened a small volume of poetry and began reading to Temeraire, who listened with contentment, leaning up against him. Whenever Laurence stopped, the dog would nudge the book, then place his muzzle on Laurence’s shoulder with a small sigh.

Eventually Laurence’s patience with poetry ran out and he pulled out a geometry text instead. Temeraire listened intently. After a few pages, the dog interrupted with a sharp bark and started furiously scrabbling in the sand.

Laurence looked at the resulting diagrams. “Yes, I know,” he said. “We will get to non-Euclidean geometries later.” He tried to resume reading, but Temeraire whined, knocking the book with his head and then pointing his muzzle at the diagram in the sand.

“Yes,” agreed Laurence, “but the longitudinal lines are not actually parallel--”

Here he was interrupted again by more insistent woofing.

“Latitudinal lines are parallel, and you will note that they do not intersect,” Laurence pointed out.

Temeraire responded with one questioning whine, head tilted.

“Longitudinal lines appear parallel, but in fact they do not intersect the latitudes at right angles, which is part of the definition of Euclidean parallel lines.”

Temeraire barked softly and danced at the side of the diagram he’d drawn.

“Look, it’s easier to show you on a globe.” Laurence glanced around. He called out to some kids who were kicking around an old basketball. “Hey! Can I borrow your ball for a moment?”

“Sure,” said one, and tossed it over. The kids wandered over leisurely.

Laurence held up the ball for Temeraire’s inspection. “See, here at the equator they look like right angles, but as they approach the Arctic and Antarctic circles you can clearly see that they are not--”

More sharp barks came from Temeraire as he clawed out another diagram in the sand.

“OK, right, I know, if they are right angles at the equator, then they do fit the definition, so it contradicts the fourth postulate that they do intersect; but see, they look like right angles, but they are not--”

Temeraire gave one loud bark.

“Because it is on a curved surface, for one. You can only measure right angles on planes--”

Temeraire issued a series of low woofs.

“Right, right, the angles on all four sides of the intersection at the equator are going to be the same, but that does not mean any of them are right angles.”

Temeraire’s vocalisations became softer, questioning.

“Yes, confusing, I know. Like I said, right now we are studying Euclidean geometry, which works well for nearly all practical problems--”

A few quiet barks came from Temeraire.

“Like the pavilion you want me to build for you in the yard at home, for example. And for navigation, when you take into account the Earth’s curvature. Look, we will get to non-Euclidean geometries later, all right?”

Temeraire heaved a big sigh and lay down complacently, head on forepaws.

By this time a group of kids had formed a loose circle around them, watching. “Are you teaching your dog geometry?” asked one of them.

“Um, I guess? I was just reading the text to him. He might say he is teaching me,” Laurence said with a smile.

Another kid spoke up. “Your dog understands maths?”

“Yes, it seems so. Sometimes better than I do, I think.”

“Can you teach me geometry?” asked the first.

“If you like, certainly. At least I can try,” said Laurence agreeably.



Later in the week Laurence and Temeraire could be found surrounded by a small group of kids learning geometry and other mathematics. Often Temeraire was doing the teaching, scraping diagrams in the sand.

Roland and Granby stood by, bemused.

“I’ve heard of kids reading to dogs,” offered Roland, “but dogs teaching maths to kids is a new one for me.”

Granby merely shook his head.

 

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