Grant’s wearing the same middle-aged blue cardigan and dull t-shirt he wore for dinner at the Cuban restaurant; it’s infuriating that Jonathan now finds this outfit attractive. There’s an air of suppressed excitement about him today, as if he’s had good news he’s not allowed to share yet. He hugs Jonathan enthusiastically and kisses him, a confident happy kiss that Jonathan can’t help returning, though he’d meant to hold back.
“You smell nice,” Grant says, pressing his nose to Jonathan’s neck.
“So do you,” says Jonathan hoarsely. He wishes Grant would change his soap or aftershave or whatever it is. It has so many associations for him now, it makes him dizzy.
But it’s not going to matter after today, is it? His stomach lurches at the thought.
“Are you OK?” Grant asks. “You look a bit green.”
“I’m fine,” Jonathan lies. “I was just going to make tea.”
“I can make it if you like,” Grant offers.
“I’m not an invalid!” That came out more snappishly than he meant it to. “Sorry. I didn’t sleep much last night.”
“Same here,” Grant says, going a bit pink.
Jonathan is not going to speculate about what that blush means, he absolutely isn’t. He retreats into the kitchen and puts the kettle on.
Grant’s sitting on the sofa looking happy but slightly tense when Jonathan comes back with the tray. Two mugs, a teaspoon, and three small packets of sugar from the café downstairs. He can never be bothered to buy the stuff, since he hardly ever uses it, but he keeps a few packets for visitors.
“What’s with the sugar?” Grant says. He’s been round here often enough that Jonathan knows how he takes his tea by now. “Is one of us supposed to be in shock?”
He’d put the sugar on the tray without thinking about it, but it's true, or about to be. The joke's so close to home that he can’t even pretend to laugh. God knows what his face is doing, but whatever Grant sees there makes him go very still and very pale.
“OK,” Grant says slowly. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong? Because something obviously is.”
There’s no good way to say this. Jonathan takes a deep breath.
“I think we should stop seeing each other.”
Whatever Grant thought he was going to say, it obviously wasn’t that. It lands like a physical blow, rocking him back against the sofa cushions.
There’s a long and horrible silence. Jonathan feels like shit. He ought to say something else, but all the arguments he’d rehearsed in the shower seem to have deserted him.
“You don’t want to see me any more,” Grant says. He sounds numb, as if he can’t take it in yet. “Why don’t you?”
Fucking hell, this hurts. Jonathan wants to unsay the words, wants to hug him and kiss him and forget this whole conversation, but he can’t, he mustn’t. He’s been over this and over this in his mind, it’s only going to get worse if he lets it go on longer. Being trapped in a pattern that’s driving him crazy, or having to tear himself apart from Grant when they’ve grown even closer together than they are now.
“I can’t do this,” he says helplessly. “I can’t go on like this.”
“Like what?” Grant says. There’s an edge of anger in it that flicks Jonathan on the raw.
“Look, I don’t do relationships,” Jonathan says. “Never have, never wanted to. I told you, I like sex. I want sex. Being in a relationship and not having sex is pretty much my idea of hell. I kept hoping things would change between us, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I can’t stand it any more.”
“A relationship?” Grant says. “Is that what this is?”
“What else do you call it?” Jonathan snaps.
“I don’t know, do I?” Grant snaps back. “I haven’t done this before either.”
They glare at each other, speechless with rage and frustration.
“Bell says you’re trying to save me,” Jonathan blurts out into the silence. “You’re not, are you?”
Like the joke about the sugar, it’s a bullseye. Grant flushes to the roots of his hair.
“I – that’s what I thought I was doing, at first,” he says, very uncomfortable. “What I told myself I was doing.”
“Fucking hell!” Jonathan explodes. “Of all the patronizing, interfering –”
“Right, because trying to help someone is so much worse than trying to shag them for a bet!” Grant flings back at him.
“I don’t need your help, thanks!”
“Of course you don’t,” Grant says. “Obviously your life is just fine the way it is.”
“So, what, did you think I’d find Jesus if you went on kissing me long enough?” Jonathan sneers. “I’ve heard of hate the sin, love the sinner, but this is ridiculous.”
“Yeah,” Grant says flatly. “It is. And you know that’s not how it was.”
“Do I?” Jonathan says, and Grant flinches.
“I kissed you because I wanted to,” he says, the colour ebbing from his face again. “I wanted you. I thought you knew.”
Jonathan’s anger collapses like a burst balloon, leaving only weariness and sadness. He doesn’t know which is worse – Grant saying it now, when it’s too late, or saying it in the past tense.
“I thought you did, but you kept saying no,” Jonathan says, as neutrally as he can. No point in recriminations now. “So yeah, some mixed signals there, I think.”
“I – yeah,” Grant says. “Sorry about that. It’s complicated.”
“Is there someone else?” Jonathan says, startled. It never occurred to him that there could be, but isn’t that what it’s complicated usually means?
“Not for me,” Grant says, surprised in his turn. “Well, there’s God, but I’m not sure that counts.”
Which is a conversation Jonathan really doesn’t feel up to having. He takes a mouthful of tea instead; it’s cold now, and even more disgusting than he expected. Sugar could hardly make it worse.
“Ugh, that’s foul. I need coffee. Do you want fresh tea?”
“OK,” Grant says, as if he doesn’t really care one way or the other. “Thanks.”
There’s a pack of condoms on the coffee-table when he comes back that definitely wasn’t there before. Jonathan stares at it till his coffee mug tips, scalding his hand and making him curse. He puts the mugs down, fetches a damp cloth and mops the table, his mind still refusing to process what this means.
“Did you bring those?”
Stupid question. The Condom Fairy doesn’t exist, and they’re not the brand he buys himself. There’s nowhere else they could have come from.
Grant nods. He looks as if he’s barely holding himself together, as if he can’t quite believe how much this hurts. “I thought, New Year, good time to make a new start,” he says, and his mouth twists. “How’s that for bad timing?”
“Pretty spectacular,” Jonathan says. His throat is tight.
“Yeah, this is really not how I thought today was going to go,” says Grant. He scrubs the back of his hand across his eyes.
“Oh Christ,” Jonathan says. It all makes sense now, the way Grant was when he arrived. Poor sod turns up all happy and excited, thinking today's the day they’re finally going to have sex, and instead he gets dumped.
This is unbearable. He pushes the mugs out of harm’s way and takes Grant in his arms.
“I’m sorry,” he says, pressing his lips against Grant’s hair. “I’m so sorry.”
He holds Grant tight and lets him cry and shake. He can’t process any of this. All he knows is that he wants to make it stop hurting, for both of them. He kisses Grant’s hair and his forehead and the side of his face next to his ear, and the corner of his mouth, and Grant makes a soft broken noise and kisses him back.
It’s a rough desperate kiss, with none of Grant’s usual finesse. He bites at Jonathan’s lip and pulls his hair, hard. Fuck, that feels good. Grant pushes him backwards and pins him down on the sofa with his hands above his head. It’s like the night before Art’s party again, except this time Grant thrusts against him over and over, until Jonathan’s panting and writhing underneath him, helpless with arousal. Grant bites the junction of his neck and shoulder, a bright flare of sensation that makes Jonathan cry out and buck up against him. He’s dizzy with the blurring of pain and pleasure, and still half in shock that this is actually happening.
Grant sits back on his haunches and lets go of Jonathan’s wrists, oh god, why has he stopped? But before he can protest at the loss, Grant pushes his hands up under his t-shirt, stroking his chest and pinching his nipples. Christ. He’s a natural at this, or else he’s been doing his homework – and fuck, if that idea doesn’t get Jonathan harder than ever. They’re pulling at each other’s clothes now (off with that stupid cardigan, hallelujah), till they're stripped to the waist and embracing skin to skin, both of them gasping at how good it feels. Grant slides down to kiss his chest and his stomach, and Jonathan moans at the heat of his mouth. Grant’s face is smooth against his skin: the thought of him shaving close and careful for this, wanting it, planning for it, is almost too much. He sucks and bites at Jonathan’s nipples, not quite hard enough, but the teasing promise of it still makes Jonathan whimper. Grant tugs at the drawstring of Jonathan’s trousers and shoves his hand under the waistband to grasp his cock. Jonathan grits his teeth against the pleasure, so acute he almost comes on the spot.
“Grant, oh fuck, please,” – Colley, he should have said Colley but it’s too late now – “want to touch you, let me, please let me –”
“Yes,” Grant says fiercely, and pulls Jonathan’s hand to his crotch. “Yes.”
Whoever invented zips and buttons ought to be shot. His hands are shaking so much he can hardly get a grip on fabric and metal, but somehow it happens and there he is with the beautiful hot weight of Grant’s cock in his hand, and Grant swearing and jerking under his touch, his own hand rough and eager on Jonathan’s erection. They’re neither of them going to last long at this rate – he wants to be naked with Grant but he can’t wait, can’t hold out. It’s clumsy and desperate and a little too dry, and they can’t find a shared rhythm, fuck –
“Wait,” Jonathan says, “let me, like this –”
He takes Grant’s hand and puts it to his mouth, licking the palm with the flat of his tongue, tasting salt and a faint bitterness. He goes on licking over and over, pushing his tongue between Grant’s fingers, making him moan and squirm at the sensation. Jonathan presses his cock against Grant’s and wraps Grant’s hand around the two of them, then closes his own hand around Grant’s and works them together. Grant’s breath catches at the first stroke. He leans in, pressing his forehead against Jonathan’s, and thrusts against Jonathan’s cock into the ring of their joined hands, yes, like that, fuck. Jonathan can’t breathe, his heart racing, blood hammering in his ears as he and Grant push against each other. He brushes his thumb over the wet tip of Grant’s cock, and Grant comes, crying out as if the pleasure’s wrenched from him. Jonathan fucks against him as he trembles and sobs for breath, the slippery tightness of Grant’s hand now so unbearably good, he can’t hold out any longer, and he’s gone, coming so hard he sees stars.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Did he say that out loud? No, apparently. Just as well. God. He’s afloat on a tide of pleasure, weak with it, heavy-limbed, grinning like a fool. The room smells of sex: it's the best smell in the world. They're a sticky, sweaty mess, the pair of them. Too far to the bedroom for tissues, or the bathroom for a wet flannel, and he's not going to use that coffee-stained cloth from the kitchen. He reaches for his t-shirt and cleans them both with it.
Grant’s eyes are closed and he’s still trembling. Jonathan holds him close, so full of unexpected tenderness for this man that he can hardly breathe. It’s not just the usual post-sex euphoria; he knows what that feels like and this is different. It’s as if someone’s tied a rope around his heart and Grant’s and pulled it tight. The thought of parting from him is unbearable.
But he doesn’t have to now, does he? They can do this. Happiness bubbles up in him, so sharp he thinks he might be going to weep. There are words in his throat he never thought he’d want to say. I love you. Stay with me. He opens his mouth to say them, but Grant speaks first.
“So, do you take a picture for Art now? Or does this not count? Because it does for me, just so you know.”
The shock of it takes his breath away, like a cold sea wave full in the face.
“What the – ? Yes, it counts. And no, I’m not going to take a picture.”
“Why not?” Grant says. His eyes are open now, but he’s not looking at Jonathan. “I thought that was what you wanted, to win your bet.”
“Yeah, I thought that too,” Jonathan says. It’s like an explosion in his head. “But not any more.”
“You wondered why I kept saying no?” Grant says. “That’s why.”
“Fuck,” Jonathan says. “Fuck.”
“I wanted to be with you,” says Grant, still looking away. “But I knew it’d be over once you’d won the bet.”
“You knew wrong,” Jonathan says firmly. He can see Grant doesn’t believe him. “Look, I’ll show you.”
His phone’s on the coffee-table, on silent – he’d meant to switch it off, but forgot. Thank fuck Art didn’t call in the middle of all that. He yanks his trousers back up and gets off the sofa: this isn’t a call he wants to make naked and lying down. Grant gives him a hard stare – this had better be good – and puts his own clothes to rights, which wasn’t Jonathan’s intention, but it’s too late to say that now.
“Right.” Jonathan finds Art’s text from last night and holds the phone out so Grant can see. “This is from Art, OK?”
He hits the call icon at the top of the screen and waits for the ringing tone.
“Jonathan!” Art says, obnoxiously cheerful. “You missed all the fun, running off like that.”
“Yeah, Happy New Year to you too,” Jonathan says, annoyed in spite of himself.
“William said you’d been sick; I hope it wasn’t the canapés.”
“I’m fine,” Jonathan says shortly.
Grant’s still staring at him as if he doesn’t trust where this is going. Of course, he can’t hear Art’s end of the conversation. Come on, Strange, use what passes for your brain, for fuck’s sake. He switches the phone to speaker mode and says “I’ve got something to tell you.”
“Really?” Art says. “Don’t tell me you’ve finally managed to shag Mission Impossible.”
He’s picked that up from William, or vice versa. Just as well Art’s not in the room, because Grant looks as if he’d like to punch him.
“No,” says Jonathan. “Nothing doing. The bet’s off.”
“Oh dear,” Art says gleefully. “Have you been slapped with a restraining order?”
“Fuck you,” Jonathan says. “And no, I haven’t. It was a stupid bet and I should never have agreed to it in the first place, OK? And don’t even think about sending me the Empire stuff, because I’m not doing it.”
“You disappoint me,” Art says. It’s infuriating that his dungeon voice can still make Jonathan’s gut clench. “I thought you had more stamina.”
Which is a pretty obvious sexual innuendo, and Grant doesn’t like it one bit.
“Oh well, I expect you’ll get over it,” Jonathan says, as rudely as he can.
There’s a sharp intake of breath at the other end, and then Art says “What a pity I won’t get the chance to chastise you properly. Your loss, of course, but it does seem a shame to waste all that nice new kit.”
Jonathan’s not going to rise to that bait; he says nothing.
“Are you quite sure you want to give up now?” Art says. “You’ve got three days left, surely you could at least get a handjob out of him.”
The air’s still heavy with the smell of sex. Grant flushes scarlet, and Jonathan feels himself blushing to the roots of his hair.
“Fuck off, Art,” he says, just a fraction too late.
There’s a silence at the other end, and then Art groans. “You utter fucking idiot. Tell me you didn’t fall for him.”
Jonathan says nothing; he’s not sure he can speak right now.
“You’ll be a laughing-stock at the club if this gets out,” Art warns him.
“I don’t care,” says Jonathan, and finds to his astonishment that it’s true.
Grant’s looking at Jonathan as if he just walked in with the Holy Grail, or maybe as if he is the Holy Grail. He’s still blushing and fuck, he’s gorgeous like this – it catches Jonathan off guard again and takes his breath away.
“Is he there?” Art demands, as the penny finally drops.
Grant gets up off the sofa and holds his hand out for the phone. Jonathan gives it to him, like something in a dream.
“Yes, I’m here,” says Grant.
“I don’t believe I asked to speak to you,” Art says nastily.
“Well, tough shit,” says Grant. “I’ve got something to say to you. You should never have made that bet in the first place, and if you don’t like the consequences you’ve only yourself to blame. Jonathan’s not going to do your PR for you, and even playing by your rules he doesn’t have to, because he won the bet. And in case you missed it, that means he’s just turned you down, you and your stupid dungeon.”
“You poor fool,” Art says. “You’re completely out of your depth. You have no idea what he wants.”
“You still don’t get it, do you?” Grant says, unfazed. Jonathan’s never heard him sound so sure of himself. “He’s with me because he wants to be. We’ll work out the rest as we go along. Now fuck off and find yourself another toy to play with, because this one’s mine.”
He disconnects the call and throws the phone onto the sofa.
Jonathan gazes at him, awestruck. “Wow,” he says. “You were amazing.”
Grant takes him by the neck and kisses him, fierce and possessive. He pushes his hips against him – god, he’s hard again, they both are – and pulls Jonathan’s hair, just this side of too much, it’s perfect. Jonathan moans into his mouth and cups Grant’s arse, pulling him closer, squeezing him tight, he can’t get enough of him. Grant scratches his back, so good, fuck, it feels as if every cell in his body is shouting about it. He kisses him until Jonathan’s legs buckle, until they’re clinging to each other, shaking and gasping.
“I’ve waited long enough for this,” Grant says, when they break apart for air. “Not getting in a queue behind some prat with a pile of expensive equipment.”
Jonathan laughs, giddy and delighted. “So,” he says, “now I’m yours, what are you going to do with me?”
“Everything,” says Grant. He catches the pack of condoms up off the table and pushes Jonathan towards the bedroom.