Jonathan likes this time of day - the not-so-small hours, after a good night's clubbing. It'll still be dark for ages yet, though it's so warm it doesn't feel like December. He drapes his jacket over his shoulders and breathes in the sour-sharp air of the city streets.
He and Art and William sit in Bar Italia till it closes at 5, then walk through Soho. Art is grumbling about the lack of all-night places in London, how the developers have taken the heart out of the city, how it would all have been different fifty years ago.
“Well, you would know,” William says, and Art smacks him hard on the arse and calls him a cheeky young whippersnapper.
Art isn't that old - he's got a decade and a half on Jonathan and William, but he likes to play at being a grumpy old man. It's all part of his image as a strict disciplinarian; the boys at the club love it. A skilled top is hard to find these days, and Art's one of the best: no wonder they're queuing up for his favours.
He's never invited Jonathan to come home with him again after that one time, but he must know he'd go like a shot. The marks Art left on him took days to fade; for months after the bruises had gone, Jonathan would finger the places where they'd been and find himself getting hard again, remembering everything Art had done and said. He'd forced himself to stop that eventually, because it made being around Art so fucking awkward, but that night was still firmly lodged in his memory.
William is still sulking because the skinny boy in the leather trousers and waistcoat didn't want to give him his number, and still blaming Jonathan for it. It's not the first time it's happened, and Jonathan doesn't know what he's supposed to do about it. William is cute, if you like them pouting and puppyish and ginger, and he's a lot of fun in bed, but if someone doesn't fancy you they don't, and that's all there is to it. It's hardly Jonathan's fault if they fancy him instead, as he points out.
This doesn't improve William's mood, though it seems to amuse Art when William says Jonathan should make his clubbing persona into a magic act.
“Merlin,” Art says, with a considering air. “It suits you.”
“Merlin didn't do sex magic,” Jonathan protests, and realizes - too late - that he's only made it worse.
“That's not how I remember Excalibur,” William says, clearly enjoying his discomfiture as Art laughs at him.
“Haven't seen it,” Jonathan says, in a doomed attempt to divert the conversation.
Art's not falling for the film chat. “You're not that irresistible,” he says. “You're still going home alone.”
“Do you mind?” snaps Jonathan, stung. “I can get anyone I want, thank you very much.”
“Want to bet?” Art teases him.
“How much?” Jonathan says. His mouth is dry, and the glint in Art's eye makes him feel short of breath.
“You lose, you do my next PR job for free,” Art says.
William whistles; they all know Jonathan's professional services don't come cheap. “What does he get if he wins?”
“A night in the dungeon, lucky boy,” Art says.
He's not joking, and Jonathan can't even try to pretend he doesn't want it. The thought of it makes his palms sweat.
“You're on,” he says. “Next time at the club, pick your man and I'll show you.”
“Who said anything about the club?” Art says. “I choose him.”
Jonathan looks where he's pointing, and oh shit.
There's a Save-A-Soul Mission band assembling in front of Nelson's column. It's too early for a carol concert, but maybe they're going to warm up with a prayer meeting.
“Which one?” Jonathan says, though he has a feeling he already knows.
“Bass drum,” says Arthur.
Bass drum is short and fair-haired, broad-shouldered, looks as if he has a nice arse under that red uniform jacket. Very much Jonathan's type, as Art bloody well knows.
“You cheat!” Jonathan says, outraged. “OK, don't pick someone from the club, but the Save-A-Soul Mission, seriously?”
“Well then,” Art says gleefully, “I'll tell Emma to expect your call, shall I? She'll think it's Christmas.”
Maybe it's the thought of Emma's scorn when she finds out Art won his services in a bet, never mind what the bet was about, or maybe it's the smirk on William's face right now, but Jonathan is not having this.
“Oh come on,” he says, trying to sound more confident than he feels. “You don't get free PR that easily.”
“Don't I?” Art says, with a grin that makes Jonathan feel he's naked in Trafalgar Square.
Whatever happens now, he is so screwed.
It's as unpromising a setting for seduction as anyone could imagine, but he's damned if he's going to give up without a fight.
“Take my jacket,” he says to William, “and punch me.”
William doesn’t need telling again. Doesn’t pull his punches either. Obviously the business with the skinny leatherboy still rankles.
“Ow!” Jonathan doesn’t think his nose is broken, but it’s definitely bleeding. That and the missing jacket should make him look plausible as a mugging victim in need of Christian charity.
“You’re mad,” William announces. He sucks his knuckles.
“Fine, whatever,” says Jonathan. “Now piss off, I’ve got a bet to win.”
Art raises an eyebrow. He looks faintly impressed, which isn’t a look you see often on him. William still looks puzzled, as if he doesn’t quite get it.
“Come along, William,” says Art. “Oh, by the way, Jonathan, the next job’s for Empire, in case you want to get a head start.”
“Fuck. Off. Seriously, fuck off, the pair of you,” Jonathan says.
He doesn’t watch them go: he’s too busy plotting his next move, and wondering how long it’ll take to get the man from the Mission out of that fetching red uniform.