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a better happier st sebastian

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Grant had been in Paris between the wars for a brief period, nominally with the charge of helping to shore up the Bourbons. The Bourbons were a family badly need of shoring-up, there was no doubt. However, in reality, he had done whatever Wellington asked, and he had indulged his melancholy the rest of the time. He had taken up with a tousle-haired journalist whose boyish smile was alarmingly sweet; then, when the journalist threw him over (on account of his "tedious English disposition"), with a lawyer who had dark curls and an endearing hint of buck teeth. Oh, yes; Grant was resigned to the slow disaster of his choices. He fucked the journalist face-down, touching his auburn hair, kissing the nape of his neck, where it formed loose curls; he let the lawyer, who was a tender lover, fuck him and afterwards take his cock in his mouth, so that Grant could rest a hand against his face and close his eyes and picture a man who was not present.

He was discreet, and he did not think Wellington knew about it, though Wellington was too much a gentleman to say if he did. Still, when the first chance came for him to return to London, Wellington strongly encouraged him to go. "Get your head on straight," the Duke said briskly. "Get abreast of this business, whatever has got you sulking around like the plainest girl at the county dance."

Grant didn't, of course, get abreast of it; in London, he drank a great deal, and played billiards with Strange and De Lancey at the Bedford, and bedded an untalented poet who came from money and had a passion for magic. The poet was ginger, but his hair was just the right texture, fine and silky and very lightweight, and Grant loved to stroke it while they were in the midst of the act. They were good together, good in bed; they had just the right tempo. The poet did not mind Grant's slow, long, slightly desperate kisses, as Grant was well aware that many men would and did, and he liked to be taken, and Grant liked to take him. But after a while the poet declined to continue their relation, saying rather cuttingly that he would "prefer to be with a man who cares to look at me."

So for a time Grant bedded no one, and Strange remarked on his obvious ill temper, and De Lancey was the recipient of more than one savage commentary on some small habit to which Grant had not previously objected. Grant wished rather guiltily for a war to return to, a proper war. Not the boredom of France, but the raked hillsides of the Peninsula and the Spanish lamps, the cool nights when they would go up into the rough mountain country and Strange would doze by the fire with him, the shadows turning his face unreadable, so that he was not the bumbling darling of London dinner parties, but far more wild and remote and severe.

And then Buonaparte returned, and he had his proper war— or at least he was promised it, but he came to Brussels and found that it was very much like London, or at least it was very much like France: filled with fashionable rooms where he was expected to make conversation of the most light and amusing fashion. He might, he thought, have been very good at this before, but now he felt as though he were all the time carrying around a broken mirror, and everyone affected not to notice this. They laughed and slandered each other as he smiled uncomfortably, and excused himself from conversations, and looked for Strange in every room.

But Christ how much worse when he did find Strange, who looked as bewildered as Grant himself felt, and who moved like a startled animal through the society houses, his hands rattling sometimes when he tried to set a teacup in a saucer. Grant settled a gaze on him and wished he could make it stick, like a kind of honey, slow and tangible, something heavy he poured over Strange's limbs. Something he could lick off—

Not safe, these thoughts. Not even safe to look, not with his heart all the time inside his mouth— which, he had come to think, was not a pretty poetic device, but a way of living that tasted of blood and fear and sick. He longed for the journalist, the lawyer, the poet, for the actor he'd spent a night with in Edinburgh, for anyone he could fuck simply to get the wanting out of him. Why was his body so implacable about it? When he got a hand on his cock, it was always the same: the same thoughts of peeling the clothes off Strange, of Strange watching as he did this, with a knowing, minutely puckish smile, with that little, secretive, held-still grin. Of pinning Strange down and having him, not in the ordinary way— a few brief shoves with a lot of work behind them, and, yes, the satisfaction of spending yourself into a body, but for all that only an evening's act that was done when the sweat dried— but owning him, buying him inch by inch with pleasure, Strange rendering himself up under Grant's hands.

In May, he rode with Strange out into the fields and farmlands, all curtained by a dreary unceasing spring rain. They were headed to the countryside outside Mons, whence Wellington thought that Buonaparte might attack, so that Strange might lay early fortifications for them— new hills which the allied forces might shelter behind, and new forests that might obscure their artillery, but which Buonaparte would not expect, as he would find that he did not know this new landscape.

It was an unpleasant rain that clung to their clothing, and both of them became very irritable and damp.

"Can you not make it stop raining?" Grant finally asked Strange, exasperated, after Strange had complained once too often about it.

"The Duke has said that if I do such a thing, the French will surely notice, and then they will know I am here, and where I am." Strange did not look best pleased with this edict, either.

"Certainly they know you are here; where else would you be?"

"The Duke is concerned they may strike at me."

"They have no defenses against you," Grant said. "No one does." He shut his mouth and wished that he had not said it.

They rode on for a long ways. After a while, Strange said, "That is not true, you know. They could put an end to me easily. I ought to be surprised that they haven't done so yet. Everyone is always going on about how I am not careful enough."

Grant said tightly, "I do not wish to talk about this." He wiped rain off of his mouth.

Strange lapsed into silence. Grant felt they had had an argument, but he was not sure what the argument had been.

They reached the farmhouse from which Strange was meant to do his work. There did not appear to be anyone living in it. Grant supposed they had fled at the rumour of fighting. There were chickens in the yard, firewood by the stable. The rain was still coming down.

"Go in and dry off," Grant said. "I will see to the horses."

Even the warm cave of the stables was a welcome relief, though it did turn his wet clothes rather unpleasant. He forked sweet-smelling hay into the stalls. It was a relief, also, to be away from Strange, from the tension that his presence caused in Grant's body. He waited for a long moment before leaving for the farmhouse, stroking his horse's nose. Then he sighed, and gathered firewood, in case they could cook some dinner instead of eating bread and cheese— they had been riding since dawn, and the sun was almost setting, and now that they had stopped, he found he was hungry.

Inside, Strange had stripped off down to his shirtsleeves and breeches. He was rubbing at his damp hair. When he saw Grant, he said, "I am sorry; I ought to have offered to help you."

Grant shrugged. "You are in my charge; I am accompanying you on your mission."

"Yes, but—" Strange hesitated. "I feel you are angry with me." His eyes probed for some kind of answer.

"No," Grant said. "I am not angry."

The farmhouse was large and full of furniture: beds, tables, quilts, blankets. There were clay dishes stacked in cupboards, herbs on the white walls, a pantry that looked as though it had been ransacked. Grant started a fire in the hearth and toasted some cheese over it. The fire made the house a little hot, but they would have to dry their clothes. Perhaps they could sleep upstairs.

He proceeded to take his own wet things off. He became aware that Strange was watching him.

Strange said, "You seemed so happy to leave London. But then in Brussels you were not. Happy, I mean. I thought perhaps it had made you unhappy to leave your lover."

Grant froze minutely in the act of laying his tunic by the fire. He said very carefully, "I do not know what you mean."

"Oh, honestly, I do not mind. It does not make the least bit of difference. I have, you know—" he waved a hand— "at Cambridge. Haven't we all."

If this was calculated to set Grant at ease, it had been calculated badly, for it did not take into account the effect of Grant imagining, for the first time, some panting boy student's hands on Strange. Pawing at him, perhaps not even kissing him, just a hand in the dark, or who knew what else they had done? Grant stared into the fire. "There is no lover in London," he said flatly. "There was, but there isn't."

"Oh." Strange appeared taken aback. "I am sorry for it."

"Do not be." He straightened. "Haven't you magic to do? There may still be a bit of daylight left."

Strange grimaced. "But it is so very wet," he said plaintively.

Grant frowned at him. "You have grown very pampered since you were in Spain."

"Yes," Strange said with a petulant frown. "I have enjoyed it."

"You are a child," Grant said tolerantly.

In the end, Strange did get out his silver basin and find some water to pour in it. He peered at it and made a quick slashing gesture. The room darkened, and light spilled forth from the basin. It was a very eerie sight. "I told the Duke," Strange said distractedly, "that I would keep looking for the French, although it is not very useful. There are so very many places I would have to look." He frowned at something in the water, and moved his hand.

Grant stretched out on the rug before the fire, at the feet of Strange's armchair, hoping the heat would dry his shirt. "Aren't you supposed to be making hills?"

"I will do it tomorrow. Oh, do not give me that look; you will not mind the extra time; you dislike Brussels extremely."

"Yes," Grant said. "I suppose I do."

"All those horrible people, wanting me to come to their dinner parties so they can make me do magic tricks. Half of them are French spies, Wellington says."

Grant snorted. "He is very suspicious. Surely not half. Though if Buonaparte showed his face, you can be sure they'd all be quickly throwing violets." He paused. He looked at Strange through the magical twilight. Strange wore a little scowl of concentration or distaste. A stray curl kept threatening to fall in his eyes, and he kept irritably brushing it back again. Grant felt that terrible, fatal surge of wanting. He looked quickly away again. After a while he said, "Does it really bother you so much?"

"Hmm?" Strange glanced up. "Oh, the magic tricks. Yes and no. It never used to. Only—" He chewed his lip, looking self-conscious. "No, it— I suppose it does not bother me."

"Merlin—" Grant laughed. "You cannot admit that it bothers you, and then expect me to believe that it does not."

Strange looked down into the basin again. He drew a line across the water. Grant could not tell if he were doing magic or just idly tracing a shape. Light that looked as though it came from underneath the water gleamed up from his fingertip. It was very beautiful, that light. Like the light of a lost city that had been buried under the waves for years and years.

"I suppose," Strange said tentatively, looking surprisingly shy, like he was not altogether sure that he wanted to make the idea he was voicing public, "I do not feel it is a trick. Maybe it once was. I do not think I can believe that anymore. Only I cannot show people the world that all of it belongs to. It is not the parlour world. And there is— perhaps there is a kind of indignity in playing with it." He laughed uncomfortably. "So speaks the man who walked into a mirror."

"That did not feel like a trick," Grant said.

It thrilled him to remember how it had felt— like something wild and dangerous. Like a piece of the war had appeared in the midst of a London room. The hard fierce look on Strange's face; the power that had seemed to spill out of him. Like the air before a lightning storm. The hair on Grant's arms had stood on end. He had been so aroused, just for an instant; wanting to seize Strange and crush him up against a wall, knock the breath out of him; feel him gasping for air, electric with energy. Grant was aroused again, remembering it now. He shifted uncomfortably.

Strange said, a very slow smile blooming on his face, "You like it."

Grant made a dismissive sound.

"You like it," Strange said again, wonderingly.

"It is not my job to like or dislike it."

"That is not what I said." He set the basin to one side, breaking the spell that was on it. The darkness lifted a little, but the sun had set, and the world's own shadows made the room murky. "You like it when I do magic. I think— I think you like it when you are a little afraid of me."

"No," Grant said. He was not sure what he was denying.

"I could make you tell me the truth," Strange said. His voice was very low and deliberate. "There is more than one spell for it. I could make you tell me all kinds of things."

Grant could not quite wholly strangle the little sound of breath that this statement seemed to force out of him. He could feel his heart uncomfortably at all of his pulse points. His skin felt unbearable to be in. "Merlin—" he said, intending to stop this, intending to say, It is not kind of you to play this game. His voice faltered.

"Is that why you threw over your lover?" Strange asked. He had a look of fascination. He had leant forwards towards Grant, without seeming to mean to. "Because he could not do magic?"

"He threw me over," Grant managed, his throat tight. He felt a spike of shame.

"Why?"

Grant shut his eyes. Oh hell, he thought. "I believe it is considered poor manners, while actually in the act of love, to continually imagine another man's face."

A short silence. He could hear the fire flicker, Strange's breathing. After a moment a wet noise, as Strange licked his lips. "And what did you imagine doing?" he asked a little hoarsely. "What were you doing, when you imagined... my face?"

"What do you think I was doing?" Grant said tiredly.

"I understand there are a number of options."

Grant chanced a look at Strange. Strange was sitting at the very edge of his armchair. His breath was coming quickly. His eyes were fixed on Grant, and Grant had a small revelation: Strange was playing with fire, and he knew it. He was not so confident as he pretended; indeed he was perhaps a little afraid. Grant thought he himself did not have room for fear. He felt he was floating high above the scene before him. There was an unreality to it.

"... What would you like me to have been doing?" he asked, turning to face Strange. It could have sounded like a challenge, he thought, a dare; perhaps that was how he had meant it, but it came out like a plea. He reached out, not taking his eyes off Strange, and very gently touched a hand to his bare ankle. He felt not unlike he was surrendering.

Strange made a shocked noise, but he did not move away.

Grant stroked his thumb over the soft skin there, under the arch of the bone, just the little curving inch of it. He felt this was the most erotic touch he had experienced since— he did not know when. Since before the poet, the artist, the journalist. Just this skin, and his skin warm and slow against it.

"You can," Strange started, and stopped. His voice was trembling a little.

"What?" Grant asked, barely more than a breath. "Tell me. Tell me what I can do."

"Sh-show me," Strange managed. He swallowed. "What you imagined."

Grant lowered his head to watch his hand clasp around Strange's ankle. An act of possession. He said, "We would require a bed for that."

Strange jerked his head towards the farmhouse's upper storey. "We have one," he said.

So then: a shockingly frantic rush towards the ramshackle staircase, warped boards creaking under their weight, and Grant kissed him for the first time midway between stair-steps, a kiss that only halfway resembled a kiss, and was otherwise just him pressing his tongue into Strange's mouth slowly, moaning a little at the sensation of it, at the way Strange opened his mouth to let him push in. He dug heavy, clumsy fingers into Strange's curls and for a moment he did not even kiss him, but only pressed their foreheads together, breathing against Strange's mouth, cradling his head, feeling overwhelmed and dazed.

Strange took his hands gently. "Come," he murmured after a while, and led Grant up to where a square rustic bed was waiting beneath a country quilt for them.

Strange lit candles in a very practical fashion. Grant stood in the doorway and watched him move across the room. His hands were shaking as he held the spill, and this made the flame waver. In the long shadows that it cast, the walls seemed to quaver and shake.

When the room was aglow Strange sat matter-of-factly on the bed. The movement seemed very deliberately plain, as though he meant to suggest there was nothing remarkable about it. But his face was a little anxious. He looked at Grant from under his eyelashes, as though daring him to do something.

Grant moved towards him with an almost-drunken lurch. When he reached him, he sank to his knees and laid his head in Strange's lap. He felt Strange card fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes. He whispered, "Merlin— Merlin, tell me I can, tell me you'll let me— I want— I want to—" But he could not think how to explain.

Strange lifted his face in warm hands and studied his eyes for a long moment, then kissed him chastely on the forehead. "Yes," he said. "I grant you permission."

And Grant made a noise even at that. It was like a door had opened and he had fallen through it. He clambered up onto the bed, tipping Strange beneath him and kneeling over his body, feverishly kissing his jaw and neck, the pale skin of his chest where his shirt lay open, the soft tawny hair when his mouth dipped lower. He found a nipple and probed it with his tongue, noting how Strange gasped and pushed up into him. He had thought that Strange would be responsive, thirsty for touch, a man who felt touch very extremely, and he was not disappointed. When he caught his teeth against that nipple, Strange cried out and grasped at him, and Grant had to take his trembling hands and press them down hard against the quilt. Then he performed the same motion again; again and again, and now that little cry was a moan, and he could feel how hard Strange had grown under him.

But this was— this was just the barest— he could not even conceive of how little this was compared to all he wanted to do. He released Strange's hands to tear at his shirt, pulling it up and over his head, and then his own shirt, and he thought for a moment that Strange was going to touch him, which was not at all what he wanted, but instead Strange— lying back and looking at him— slowly placed his hands back where Grant had held them.

Grant let out a breath that betrayed his arousal. He smoothed his hands up Strange's arms and circled his wrists, just to feel Strange strain against him a little, and then push up, a slide of hips against hips.

Grant bent his head and sucked a stain into Strange's jawline, just under his ear. "Stay," he whispered.

Strange gave a shaky nod.

Grant transferred his hands to Strange's chest. He was a skilled lover in the technical sense, he supposed— he liked to please people, and had deliberately learned to do so, with all his customary focus and discipline— but it was another thing entirely to employ those skills on Strange. He did not want to seem as though he were executing tricks. He wanted Strange to understand the violence of the wanting that lived all the time inside of him. He did not quite know how to do that, now that he had come to this moment.

He stroked his hands down Strange's sides, watching the faint shiver of muscles. "It wasn't just the man in London," he said. "There were— others. I thought of you when I was touching them. How you would taste, how you would sound. Had anyone had you. Would I be the first. I wanted to be the first. So that no one else would know how you looked, how you sounded when you took me into you; so that they wouldn't—"

His hand was gripping at Strange's hip. When he moved it, it left ghostly prints. Strange was watching him, his eyes hot and excited. His mouth was a little open, and his breath rushed through it. "You are the first," he whispered.

Grant exhaled hard. He had to shut his eyes. Pressed against his breeches, his cock jumped, and when he opened his eyes again Strange was eyeing it hungrily, with perhaps a little apprehension. Grant wanted to grind down against him. God, it would feel good, it would just— his body wanted anything at all, wanted just to use Strange for anything he could get, but no, no—

Very gently, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss at the hollow of Strange's throat. He slid down till he was kneeling before him.

Strange propped himself up on his elbows, looking uncertain, perhaps unsure if he were allowed to move. He stretched out a hand to touch the side of Grant's face, and Grant turned to press his mouth to it— a slow wet kiss that quickly turned dirty, because it was so evidently Strange's hand, with the small pale scar from Salamanca that cut across the base of his thumb, the faint tremble he could never seem to cure, the long fingers unmarred by any labour, even the labour of sword and gun... Grant took the thumb in his mouth and, with his tongue, mapped its circumference, then pulled off to trace the scar below it; to thrust his tongue between the fingers, in the crevices of life-lines.

"So perfect," he breathed against the palm. "Do you even know how— perfect—"

Strange made a high dazed sound at that. He was staring, obviously and shockingly affected, his hips shuddering in little subdued thrusts. That in turn made Grant almost queasy with desire. He reached out and touched Strange's cock through the cloth of his trousers. Strange's head fell back; he thrust forwards, into Grant's hand. Grant stroked him slowly, lingering to rub a finger where the cloth had grown damp at the tip of his cock.

"Please," Strange said in a rush. He bit his lip. His cheeks were very flushed. He suffered extremely from that particularly English propensity to blush; with his disarrayed curls, he had something of the look of a debauched schoolboy.

Grant wanted to say, Please what? He wanted to tease, as he would have teased in the lines: Please what, Merlin? You must learn to be more precise. But he found himself saying instead: "Yes— yes— yes—" and with unsteady hands working at the buttons of Strange's trousers, scrabbling to get them off so he could touch Strange's cock, so he could hold the hot weight of it in his hand.

It was marvelous to work Strange's cock and watch his body respond, his shoulders jerking and his breath stuttering in his chest. Sometimes a muscle would jump in his jaw or his shoulder that seemed to have no connection to the act. As though Grant were affecting every piece of him, just by the slow pull of his hand, a careful thumb at the tip. He could have done this, he thought, for hours, until he discerned all the logic, until he knew which touch had which effect; he could have watched the pulse jump in Strange's throat, where the skin was damp with sweat, and the way Strange twisted his head from side to side, restless, almost as though he could not stand the pleasure and wished somehow to escape from it.

But he had very specific ideas about the pleasure he wanted to give Strange. So he drew his hand back and rested it at Strange's hip.

"Turn over," he said. He found that his voice was slightly ragged, just from the idea of saying this.

Strange gave him what was probably meant to be a look of betrayal, but instead came off rather like a pout; this was so unexpectedly endearing to Grant that he could not resist it; it elicited from him a small fond smile. He stood and pushed Strange flat, climbing over him and pinning him to the bed with a kiss. Strange thrust his hips up against him with a very pleased sound.

"You are impossible," Grant said, or mostly said, against his mouth. He kissed Strange's nose, his eyelids, his cheeks; he kissed his very faint dimple and the lines by his mouth. He was astonished to find he felt very shaky, as though at any moment he might start to cry. He could not think why this might be. He kissed Strange's mouth once more for good measure. "I am not going to do anything to you that you would not wish. Now turn over."

While Strange somewhat reluctantly complied, Grant rid himself of his own breeches. It was hard not to touch himself, watching the line of Strange's body in the candlelight. Stupidly, Grant found himself thinking of paintings, museums in Paris, halls of statues. Strange was too soft to make a Roman statue. He was not made for that warrior culture of men. But every curved part of him as he rearranged himself was a place where Grant longed to put his mouth. Eventually he did press his mouth to Strange's shoulder, running a light hand over his back.

"Good," he said, keeping his voice very gentle. The way that Strange responded to this— a hungry look and almost a pant of breath— dragged a wave of desire through him and he could not stop himself; he said again: "Good," and then, "Perfect." Strange made a noise like a whimper and arched up under his hand.

Grant trailed that same hand down to his hipbones and knelt behind him on the bed. He pressed a kiss above Strange's sacrum, keeping warm hands stroking at his hips, and then moved those hands to spread his buttocks slightly. His own body was hot with anticipation. He kissed lower, then pressed his mouth in to tongue at that very delicate flesh.

He had expected Strange to startle at it; what he had not expected what the noise the man made after the first shock of it, when Grant had proceeded, pushing into that skin with his licks so that Strange was penetrated very minutely. The noise was a heaving, staggered, submersive gasp, the kind of noise a person might make in the midst of sobbing, or at some other physical extreme. Grant paused, and Strange made a sharper sound, a very desperate sound: no, please! Please! So Grant returned to his task, wetly working the muscle, and after a moment he pushed his tongue much more forcefully in.

Strange went to his elbows. He was making that crying sound. Grant trailed his tongue around the rim and pushed in again, gently but strictly, coaxing that flesh to open. Under his tongue's steady compulsion it did, loosening enough that he could lick against the hot inside. He had to restrain Strange quite firmly at this juncture, because Strange could not control his hips, and did not appear to know whether he wished to thrust against the bed or shove himself back against Grant's mouth. Grant himself was not unaffected: when he drove his tongue into Strange, he was inescapably reminded that soon his cock would be pushing there, pushing into all the places he laved with his tongue to make wet. But he could control himself; Strange had no such control.

Grant took a firm hold on his hips and pulled back a little. He said, very severely but very breathlessly, "Hold still."

Strange mumbled something not very coherent, his face pressed against the counterpane. His hips stilled to a few little jerks.

"Good," Grant said. "Good."

Strange squeezed his eyes shut and moaned.

By now Grant had licked him loose enough that he could introduce a finger easily. He did so, working his tongue around it, curling it to stretch Strange more thoroughly. This produced from Strange a new range of noises, some of which were so intensely erotic and so like what Grant had imagined in his fantasies of Strange that he had to stop because his hands were shaking. At one point, when he had two fingers in Strange and was tonguing his rim relentlessly, he pressed more deeply, and Strange seemed to reach some extreme of unbearable tension, for he slammed his hand against the bed, his fingers digging so hard into the mattress that Grant was surprised they did not burst it, and cried out something that was not really intelligible, but that wound up with, "Please! Please!"

Grant wiped the back of his hand against his mouth. He felt very unsteady. He reached out and drew Strange closer to him; Strange came stumblingly. Grant coaxed him to turn over once more, so that he was lying flat on his back. He was damp with sweat and trembling all over. His cock was very hard and leaking a continuous stream. A flush had spread all across his chest.

Grant leaned over and cupped his face with one hand. He said softly, "Merlin. Jonathan."

Strange blinked at him. He looked very innocent in that moment, wholly undone.

"I am going to—" Grant said. He gestured. "You must relax into it. Than you will find it comes naturally."

Strange nodded jerkily.

On impulse, Grant added, "You're doing so well. You are perfect. Perfect." He brushed his thumb over Strange's cheek.

Strange exhaled and turned his head towards that touch. It was difficult for Grant to take his hand away.

He was gentle when he lifted one of Strange's legs, and even more gentle when he pressed it into his chest. He stroked his own cock, which had also wettened somewhat, spreading that wetness down from the tip, then spat into his hand to make it wetter. He positioned himself where he had worked Strange open, and very carefully began to penetrate him.

It was— he heard himself gasp from very far away, and thought distantly that he sounded like he'd been run through with a sabre. But being run through with a sabre would not be pleasant, and this was as if pleasure itself had wrapped a hand around his cock, except, no, because then the touch would be pleasure's and not that of Strange's body, and here was Strange beneath him, and he was in Strange, pushing into him, that hot slick grip of flesh giving way.

At first he thought that if he actually looked at Strange, if he looked at his bitten lips and damp curls, he would not be able to proceed, because he would finish instantly, and possibly die. But then he found that he could not bear to not look at Strange, so when he was pressed flush against him, still and trembling, swallowing the urge to thrust too quick, he looked and saw that Strange was watching him with an odd look that was half hunger and half tenderness. That was quite insupportable; Grant had to struggle for composure. He dropped his head and his hips flinched; both he and Strange cried out, the sounds overlapping, and after that he could not— he did not—

He drew himself out very slowly, and then pushed as slowly all the way in, as much for himself as for Strange, because he wanted every moment, the whole motion of entering into Strange, the amazement of looking down and seeing Strange taking his cock, seeing him so full with it. But he only had the restraint to do this a few times, before he had to go faster, had to drive his hips in. The first time he shoved himself into Strange fast, Strange gave a small cry that sounded almost hurt, and Grant said desperately, "Is that, did I—" But Strange shook his head, damp curls sticking to his forehead, and said, "No, I— I—"

So Grant did it again, and Strange made the same sound. He groped for his cock, but before he touched it he looked at Grant and pleaded, "Please, can I... ?"

Grant nodded, unable to trust his voice. He watched as Strange's hand began to move, as Strange began pulling at his own cock while Grant was in him, and he thought that he had been wrong before; clearly this was the moment he would die. But he did not die; he thrust again, hard, and then he was doing this over and over again, jolting little cries out of Strange that seemed to crawl under his skin and light fuses out of all the bones and veins of him.

Eventually he lifted Strange's leg up over his shoulder, bending him almost double, so he could get deeper into him; and that made Strange cry out, too, being taken from that angle, and his hand clenched on his cock. This had the effect of driving Grant to thrust even harder, which made Strange cry out more loudly, and so it went. Grant felt he was fucking his own pleasure into Strange, forcing him to take it in some peculiar way, fucking him until he could feel what Grant was feeling. This made him feel savage and more than a little bit desperate, and he shoved wildly into Strange. Yes, he thought, yes, yes— This was what he wanted.

Under him, Strange flinched and drew a ragged breath. His eyes went wide, and he said, "Oh, I'm— oh please— please—"

"Yes," Grant said, though it had not quite been a question, and he felt it as Strange stiffened under him, all his muscles working with the tension of climax. Grant could feel it even inside of him, and he groaned and slowed— unbearable, the deliciousness of it, the resistance— and Strange was jerking up, finishing warm and wet across his chest—

—And then blinking at Grant, dazed, with such a vulnerable expression, as though something important about him had been stripped away, and what was left was this person astonished by pleasure, amazed that he had been allowed such a thing. Oh, Christ, Grant thought. He felt hamstrung by adoration. When he thrust, Strange moaned low in his throat, and Grant thrust again and again, his own throat suddenly tight, and then his whole body was tightening, urging him on, and he had to push, push, push, hammering moans out of Strange, until at last he reached that instant of absoluteness, and felt himself spurt wetly into Strange.

He stayed that way for a moment, letting the last twitches take him. He did not know if this were comfortable for Strange. The position itself was probably somewhat awkward; it had been selfishness on his part, because he had needed to see Strange's face. Now he supposed it did not matter very much.

After a bit, he extracted himself with some discomfort. Strange lowered his legs with a slight wince. He must have seen Grant's fleeting air of self-punishment, because he said, "No, it is only— I am a bit stiff." He lifted himself to his elbows, and gave Grant an expectant look. "Are you not going to... Or do you not?"

"What?" Grant said, feeling foolish. He did not know what to do with himself now. He did not know what Strange would allow him to do. He felt it was better if he did nothing.

"I believe it is customary for people to hold one another," Strange said. His expression was slightly wavering.

"Oh," Grant said. "I did not know if—"

Then he was wrapping Strange in his arms, holding him so tightly that Strange said, slightly breathless, "I believe it is customary to allow them to breathe." But Grant could not seem to understand how to loosen his grasp; he had quite lost command over his body.

"Forgive me," he said. "Forgive me." He pressed a kiss against Strange's shoulder.

"I thought perhaps in the end I was not... quite what you had wanted," Strange said. His voice still had a note of uncertainty.

Grant laughed— perhaps a little wildly— and pressed his head against his shoulder. "You were perfect," he said. "Perfect. Perfect."


They slept like that for a few hours, tangled on the bed, and woke very sore and very dirty. The rain had passed, and the dawn was warm, so they washed— at Grant's urging, Strange made unhappy by the earliness of it.

"Honestly," he said, "I am by far the filthier. If I do not mind—"

"But I am the one who must touch you," Grant said.

They stood naked in the farmyard under the early sunlight, drawing up buckets of waters and dousing one another with them.

Strange screwed up his eyes. "I hate you," he complained. "Look at all I've done for you, as well."

Grant reached out and tucked his wet curls behind his ears. He could not think of anything that he could say to this statement. He thought that probably it was all, anyways, in his face. The silence went on too long. It became a kind of sanction.

Grant cleared his throat at last. "Well," he said, with a very poor attempt at lightness, "it is your own fault that you do not have some magical means of washing. It would be most convenient."

"Magic does not respect convenience," Strange said.

"No. I remember," Grant said. "It is not a trick."

"It never was," Strange said. For a moment it seemed he was saying more. He was saying something very important, something complicated and difficult to interpret. He looked at Grant and he seemed both happy and unhappy. Grant did not quite understand, though, this obscure and secret meaning.

"Oh, come along," he said to Strange. "You are clean enough, I suppose. We may sleep a little longer. There is time still left."

So they trailed damp footprints into the house, and up the set of rickety stairs, and pulled the counterpane off, and lay amidst the bedsheets— curled up like two punctation marks that do not denote ending, only a pause before the story continues again.