They had sat in companionable silence for a time, tasting words in their mouths that neither one was yet brave enough to say. "Sing something else for me," William asked at length.
Grant thought for a moment. His gaze fell upon the bouquet of flowers and he placed his fingers on the keys.
Oh my love is like a red, red rose / That’s newly sprung in June /
Oh my love is like the melody / That’s sweetly played in tune /
So fair art thou, my bonny one / So deep in love am I /
And I will love thee still, my dear / Till all the seas go dry…
Suddenly his voice faded off, the lyrics dying on his tongue and his fingers slipping on the keys. William had leaned closer and brushed his lips to Grant's right temple. When Grant didn't move away, William kept his face there, against Grant's warm skin; the tip of his nose touched Grant's cheek as he moved his lips to Grant's ear and whispered softly: "Don't stop."
With an effort, Grant kept playing, his heart drumming so loudly in his head that he could barely discern the melody. William lay his brow against the side of Grant's head, breathing in the scent of his hair, his cologne, drinking the man in until he was drunk and dizzy and blissful.
Then the music stopped abruptly and Grant's hand was on William's arm, turning him around.
Grant held William's face with both hands as he kissed him. It was not a tentative kiss, either, risking little, but a full, forceful kiss that stole breath and sense and inhibition. Scarcely daring to believe it was happening, William raised his right hand and laid it over Grant's left, feeling those strong tendons and knuckles and slender fingers and golden hairs, feeling the world shift underneath him.
"I may have been wrong," Grant murmured, his lips still touching William's as he spoke, hands still holding the younger man's face.
"About what?" William asked, almost too breathless to speak.
"About wanting to punch Arthur the next time I see him." Grant paused to taste William's bottom lip again before proceeding. "I think I may want to kiss him now."
William grinned. "But not like this, I hope."
"No," Grant smiled, shaking his head a little, unable to take his eyes off William's swollen lips. "Not like this." He seized the other man and kissed him again, this time running the splayed fingers of one hand through that wealth of ginger hair, and William moaned softly into Grant's mouth, clutching at his biceps through the fabric of his shirt. They alternated the angle of the kiss, shifting right and left, tasting one another with urgency and heat, until -- abruptly -- Grant broke away.
"Not getting cold feet again, are you?" William teased, though a shiver of fear ran underneath his words. "I'm not to take no for an answer, remember?"
"Those were Arthur's instructions, not mine."
"Well, for all his flaws you must admit that he's a man who knows what he's about," William said. "Winning wars and holding lines. But whatever it is you're about to argue, Colquhoun, it doesn't matter. I'm not giving up." William glanced from Grant's warm eyes to his mouth and he couldn't help himself: he pressed forward, touching his own lips to Grant's again. "I want Scotland," he whispered. "I want all your hills and your all valleys."
Grant laughed. "But my job. It's not an easy life I'm living at the moment, William. And I couldn't even tell you about anything I'd be doing."
William could hardly contain himself as he waited for Grant to stop speaking. "As chance would have it, I'm about to take on a job of a similar nature. I'm leaving the private sector. I've been offered another position."
Grant shook his head. "There, then -- you see? It could never work. We'd end up never being in the city at the same time--"
"Not this one, maybe. But there are an awful lot of cities in the world." When Grant merely stared at him in bewilderment, William laughed. "Fate has a hand in everything, Colquhoun, and it's even more powerful than Arthur. Remember I told you that I hadn't seen him in years until I bumped into him in Westminster last week? Well, we talked a bit and he found out I was doing programming and -- he offered me a job in your bureau. Told me there would be a lot of travel, a little danger, and that I'd be partnering up with his best agent. Of course he didn't tell me that agent's name at the time, but -- I think I've figured it out."
Grant had no words. He merely stared at William for a few seconds, shook his head, and grabbed the younger man. It was a brief kiss, William laughing too hard and too joyfully to indulge for long.
"Should we eat supper now?" William asked when they tore themselves away from each other. He glanced at the table, the covered silver dishes, the bucket of melted ice.
"Do you think it's still warm after all this time?" Grant asked.
"Doubtful. How do you feel about cold chicken and champagne?"
"Well, considering how this is the best date I've ever been on," Grant smiled, "I think it will be just fine."
Jonathan Strange’s eyes fluttered open and his first sight was his wife’s face bent close over him, gazing at him in concern. He smiled and, remembering the mistake he had made earlier -- before the Pineapples came to punish him -- he fumbled for her hand.
“I’m an idiot,” he mumbled.
“Yes, you are. But you’re my idiot.” Bell leaned down and kissed his lips. “And you ought to know that my head will never be turned by Arthur Wellesley. Or any other man.” She smiled at him. “I’m in this for the long haul.”
Jonathan kissed her fingers. “How long is that?”
“Until the very end. And forever after that.”
They kissed again and Jonathan put his arms around Bell, pulling her down upon him. They rolled together on the hallway carpet, laughing, and Henry -- standing nearby, forgotten -- began to feel rather sick at his stomach.
Or perhaps that was just the helium.
Their hands were clasped, their fingers intermingling, as they walked away from the theatre, down the busy sidewalks toward Grant’s building. When they finally reached the door, William brushed his lips against Grant’s cheek and gently pulled away.
“I think I should say goodnight now,” he explained. “I want to take this slow. I want to have the time to enjoy every moment, to anticipate everything. This is too important to me, too special, to rush-- if that makes any sense?”
Grant smiled. “Yeah, it does. And we have time. The rest of our lives, in fact.” He reached up and pushed a tendril of ginger hair back from the younger man’s brow. “But I can see you again? Soon?”
William’s eyes sparkled in the reflected gleam of the building’s lights. “How would tomorrow night work for you? Or tomorrow afternoon? Or tomorrow morning?”
“All of those. All of those work for me.”
“And sooner too,” William added. “I’m just a phone call away. If, you know, you want to make plans for tomorrow. Or just chat. Or if you just want to hear my voice. That’s good too.”
“I’ll do it,” Grant promised.
They went toward each other at the same instant, each enfolding the other in his arms as tightly, as completely, as if he would protect the other man from every harm and every hurt. Had Arthur called him a romantic? Well yes, Grant thought, it was true. All the passion he had held in check for so many years freed itself in that kiss, in the greed and energy with which he tasted William’s lips and tongue. William kissed him with no less ferocity and Grant knew, with a shiver of excitement, that this was the way it would always be between them. They were soldiers, after all, and they would always do battle with each other, each fighting for supremacy, each struggling to be the most passionate, to claim the other through sheer force of touch and kiss.
Their relationship would be one ongoing war. Their bed would be a battlefield.
William broke off breathlessly and let his brow rest against Grant’s. “You should go,” Grant whispered, though he didn’t mean it.
“I should,” William replied, not moving.
Grant’s hand circled slowly against the small of William’s back. “Thank you for tonight. You helped me remember who Colquhoun Grant is.”
Forcing himself to step away, William grinned. “You should never have forgotten him. He’s a wonderful man.” He walked a few steps down the pavement, then turned. “You know, I think I might just be falling in love with him.”
And Grant, feeling a weightlessness that almost disconnected him from reality, stood in the pooled light of the front door and knew the feeling was mutual.
Arthur Wellesley sauntered out of the theatre where he had waited, hunkered down in the shadows of the balcony, until Grant and De Lancey left. He was whistling: one of the tunes Grant had played, though he couldn’t name it. He was immensely pleased with himself -- which was, of course, no new sensation. But still. It was always something to relish.
“Another mission accomplished, madam,” he said aloud as he passed an image of the queen in a shop window. “And now home, to a glass of wine and an early night of well-earned rest.”
At that moment, he looked up at the marquee of the building he was passing. It was discrete by the standards of such places -- just the illuminated outline of a naked woman -- but it was enough to arrest his steps.
“Then again, maybe not,” he said, and turning, went inside.
William De Lancey lay in his bed with a smile on his face, far too distracted to sleep. They were happy thoughts, the things that passed through his mind, and yet there was regret. Now that he had been home for almost an hour, he was beginning to think that “taking things slowly” was immensely overrated. He might by lying in Colquhoun’s arms at that moment or, better yet, not lying. Grant looked like a man with stamina and William had a whole mind full of methods for channeling that energy.
He was just picturing himself exploring Grant’s naked body with eyes and hands and tongue, when his mobile buzzed. He picked it up and beamed.
“Hey there, you.”
“Am I disturbing you?” Grant asked. “Were you asleep?”
“Not likely. I’m wide awake. Thinking about you.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Did you decide on a time for tomorrow?” William asked. “Something you wanted to do?”
“No,” Grant admitted, a smile in his tone. “I just had to hear your voice.”
“Well,” William stammered, heat flooding through him, a joy he could hardly bear making his head spin. “That’s good enough for me.”