Grant's uniform certainly makes him stand out in a crowd. Jonathan should have known he'd be wearing it, coming from work, but it still comes as a shock; he's got used to seeing him in civvies.
“Hello,” he says, trying not to stare.
“Hello,” says Grant. It sounds like a question, as if he's not quite sure of his welcome.
Jonathan hugs him, brief and awkward, the sort of straight-guy hug he and William would normally send up sky-high (“no hips, no hands below the waist, finish off with a manly pat on the back to show you're not queer”). Even that feels weirdly conspicuous, and the kiss he'd assumed he'd start with is definitely off the cards.
It's better once they're inside the Odeon and the lights go down, though he's still very aware of what an odd couple they make. The light from the screen glints off Grant's brass buttons, all of which stay firmly buttoned up. Jonathan gets a disconcerting flash of memory, the comforting weight of that jacket around his shoulders keeping out the chill of the crypt in St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and the warm, faintly spicy smell of Grant's skin as he cleaned the blood off Jonathan's face where William had punched him. There's the same scent now, headier in the darkness. He breathes it in and leans closer, murmurs “It's good to see you.”
Grant gives a little huff of laughter. “But even better now you can't, right?”
“Ha,” says Jonathan, embarrassed at the truth of it. He puts his hand on Grant's thigh, which certainly works as a distraction.
Grant grips the hand rather firmly and removes it, placing it on the armrest between them. He relaxes his grip but doesn't let go, instead lacing his fingers through Jonathan's.
Jonathan hasn't held hands in the back row of the flicks for years. He doesn't usually do hand-holding, but then he doesn't usually do dates either. It's strange to be sitting here side by side in the dark, touching just this much, Grant's hand holding his lightly, curiously, his thumb occasionally brushing the back of Jonathan's hand or tracing the inside of his wrist. If he'd paid more attention in biology lessons he'd know how many millions of nerve endings there are in the hand; it feels like Grant's waking up all of them. He's hopelessly turned on just from this, distracted and slightly dizzy. He doesn't even know if Grant's doing it on purpose.
He imagines kneeling between Grant's legs, unzipping those ridiculous red trousers and sucking him off while everyone's watching the chases and explosions on the screen, imagines Grant's hands twisting in his hair, fuck. Screw Star Wars, what he wants more than anything in the world right now is to be alone with Grant somewhere they won't be interrupted by sodding Art or William or anyone else, get him out of that blasted uniform and give him such a bloody fantastic seeing-to that he'll never want to get dressed again.
“Enjoying it?” Grant murmurs.
Jonathan shivers at the touch of Grant's lips against his ear. “Mmm,” he says.
The worst of it is, it's true. He is so fucking doomed.
“Thank you,” Grant says as they leave the cinema. “I haven’t seen a Star Wars film in years.”
Jonathan hasn’t seen most of this one, being too distracted to take it in. He’s obviously still hazy with lust and not thinking properly, because the next thing he knows, he’s suggested a marathon DVD session at his place. The plan is that they’ll watch the films in Machete Order, but any attempt to concentrate on A New Hope is clearly hopeless. Instead, there’s a long drawn-out kissing session on the sofa, from which Grant eventually extricates himself saying he’s on the early rota next day and has to go, leaving Jonathan with an epic case of blue balls.
It’s the most frustrating time Jonathan’s ever had with anyone he was trying to get into bed, and it keeps on happening over the next few evenings they spend together. Grant continues to be an unfairly good kisser. Disastrously so, as far as Jonathan’s concerned: he seems only too happy to go on kissing until Jonathan loses all sense of time because he’s so wracked with desire. They kiss until Grant is heavy-eyed, his mouth swollen, his shirt crumpled from hugging, and he looks – blissful, Jonathan thinks. Looks as if he’s got what he wanted. All right for some.
Jonathan can hardly believe that he’s doing this, over and over again. The words for it seem to mock him. Making out. Fooling around. These are not expressions that should be used about the actions of two grown men together. But here he and Grant are again, kissing up a storm on Jonathan’s sofa. He’s so hard it hurts, and he knows he’s not going to get off, and that there’s nothing he can do about it.
The first time it happened, first time Grant initiated the kissing and didn’t just kiss him back, he thought his luck was in. He’d managed to undo two buttons on Grant’s shirt before he stopped him. Unsure whether that was no or just not yet, Jonathan went back to kissing, which was lovely. They’d kissed until Grant was panting, his cock hard against Jonathan’s thigh, but when Jonathan gave him an encouraging squeeze Grant pulled his hand away and went on kissing him as if nothing had happened. Jonathan knew he should check what kind of no that had been, but the kiss made him so hot and breathless he couldn’t think, much less form words. And he didn’t want it to stop. Why should he? He’d always liked kissing and didn’t get enough of it. Given the Mission stuff, Grant probably needed time to get comfortable with this before they moved on to the next stage.
He looks back on the fool he was then with a mixture of envy – ignorance is bliss – and dislike. Because it was that fool, so cocksure about his own irresistible charms, who delivered him up to this slow maddening tease of being with Grant. Every time, he tells himself he has to stop, he has to tell Grant he won’t see him any more, or that things have to change between them. If they’re not going to have sex – and he’s seriously beginning to think they’re not – then the kissing has to stop.
Except that he can’t resist it. Every sodding time Grant pulls him into a hug, moves in for a kiss – every time, Jonathan surrenders. When it comes to Grant, apparently he’s just a boy who can’t say no. It’s as if Grant has used up all the No in the room and there’s none left for him. Yes, his treacherous body says every fucking time, yes. Please, yes. This time, please, yes.
Making all of this a million times worse is the drink and debrief with William, whose blow-by-blow account of a wild night in Art’s dungeon comes with copious illustrations, including a short video that leaves nothing to the imagination. Clearly the shibari ropes were just the tip of the iceberg.
“Bloody hell, talk about a shopping spree,” Jonathan says, unable to look away from William’s encounter with a gleaming new top-of-the-range fucking machine. “All that stuff must have cost a bomb.”
“It was amazing,” William says, beaming. (Seriously, if he says that one more time Jonathan may have to slap him.) “I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
“I’m not surprised,” Jonathan says sourly, as the cries on the video grow sharper and more frantic. “Noisy sod, aren’t you?”
“Oh, like you’d be quiet with that thing pounding your arse,” William says. “Did I tell you how many edges he made me do?”
“Yes,” Jonathan says. “You did.”
His gut is knotted with jealousy, and he’s got a hard-on which almost certainly won’t escape William’s notice. The worst part of the whole business is Art’s sideways look to camera, one eyebrow raised. Stupid to feel that the look is for him, that this whole performance is something Art’s doing at him, but he does.
And meanwhile he’s trapped in this cycle of torment with Grant, like something out of the Greek Underworld. An X-rated version of Tantalus, maybe: the endless craving for fulfilment that’s always just out of reach. He should call it quits, admit he’s failed and take the Empire job. He should go out and get laid. But he can’t give up. It’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Work’s usually the best distraction when other things are going to shit. William once claimed he wouldn’t notice if the building caught fire when he was stuck into a project, but right now his concentration is all over the place. He drags himself to the end of the Hurtfew job, fighting the impulse to trash the whole thing. The client is typically nitpicking about the result (not without reason, god knows, it’s hardly his best work), but then wants him to take on a new campaign right away, apparently with a view to crushing a former business partner who’s been ripping him off. Jonathan tries to explain that that’s really not the sort of work he does, and that Norrell should get his lawyers on the case, because it sounds as if this guy Drawlight needs the arse sued off him. He doesn’t put it quite like that, of course, but Norrell still looks pained, and then starts coming up with other suggestions for projects they could work on together, each more far-fetched and elaborate than the last. Jonathan politely declines all of these, along with Norrell’s surprisingly generous bonus offers. He tells himself he isn’t clearing his desk for Empire, but the shadow of that client meeting in January hangs over him. It’s not long now till his three weeks are up, and he’s still no closer to winning the bet with Art.
Christmas is a complete write-off. Jonathan doesn’t want to spend it helping to entertain the down-and-outs at the Save-A-Soul Mission with Grant, thank you very much, and Grant won’t even try to swap shifts with anyone, even though he’s also on duty for New Year’s Eve. Which is really unfair, and leads to a massive row two days before Christmas when Grant finds Jonathan’s invitation to Art’s New Year’s Eve party with “+1?” sarcastically scrawled across the bottom.
“Are you going?” Grant says, his voice tight with disapproval.
“Might as well, since you’re busy,” Jonathan says, deliberately offhand.
“Oh.” Grant looks hurt, which is completely infuriating. “Who’s your plus one?”
“Nobody,” Jonathan says. “Unless you want to change your plans for New Year’s Eve.”
“I told you, I’m working,” Grant snaps. “And even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t go to a thing like that.”
“It’s a drinks party, not an orgy,” Jonathan says, struggling to keep his temper. “At least half of the guests will be Art’s clients.”
“I don’t care who they are,” Grant says. “I’m not going to that man’s party as your – your trophy.”
OK, that’s the last straw.
“Some fucking trophy,” Jonathan flings back at him. “If that’s what I wanted, I could do a lot better than a miserable uptight puritanical impossible bloody cocktease.”
Grant goes very white. “If that’s how you feel, why do you even bother with me?”
“Fucked if I know,” Jonathan says. “I ought to get my head examined.”
Grant looks at him in silence, a closed, shuttered look. “You won’t, though, will you?” he says, flatly contemptuous. “You don’t have the guts.”
And he goes without another word or a backward glance, leaving Jonathan winded and speechless.