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You Can Be Had

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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.

Fuck.

“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.”

“What?”

“Do it!”

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.

Chapter Text

The crypt of St-Martin-in-the-Fields isn’t where Jonathan thought his night out would end, but here he is, with the man from the Mission – his name is Grant, apparently – who insists that what he needs is hot sweet tea. Jonathan doesn’t like tea, and he doesn’t take sugar, but if hot sweet tea will help him win the bet he’ll drink it. Also, it’s cold down here: he’s beginning to regret telling William to take his jacket.

“Here,” Grant says, “put this round you.”

Well, that’s the uniform jacket off, which is a good start. He wasn’t wrong about the nice arse, or about the broad shoulders and chest. Mmm. Grant is very easy on the eye: handsome in a boy-next-door sort of way, which isn’t Jonathan’s usual taste, but he looks like he’s not all milk and biscuits.

It’s oddly comforting, having the jacket around his shoulders. Like a hug, sort of. He wonders if he is in shock. He asked William to punch him and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but he feels a bit shaky.

There’s a little staff kitchen, off to the side of the lobby opposite the café, with a first aid kit on the worktop. Grant sits him down on one of the stackable wood and metal chairs, wets a piece of cotton wool and sets about cleaning the blood off his face. Jonathan hadn’t thought beyond getting the man’s attention, lowering his resistance by asking for help, but this is intimate in a way he wasn’t expecting. Grant holds his chin to steady him, and his touch is gentle but firm. He’s standing between Jonathan’s legs, so close that Jonathan can feel the warmth of his body and smell his skin. A clean smell, faintly spicy. Some sort of wood-scented soap. Cedar-wood, maybe. It’s nice.

He’s half-drowsy with that and the warmth of Grant’s jacket and the feeling of being cared for, when Grant says “Are you going to report it?”

“Report –?”

“The mugging,” says Grant. “To the police.”

“Oh,” Jonathan says, catching up belatedly. “Oh. No, honestly, I’ll be fine. And anyway they’re bound to have got away by now.”

“Well, yes,” Grant says. “But I doubt you’re the only one they’ve attacked. If you can give the police a description –”

“I didn’t really get a good look at them,” Jonathan says, much too quickly.

“Didn’t you,” Grant says. It doesn’t sound like a question.

Jonathan looks up at him, and the don’t-bullshit-me expression in those beautiful brown eyes goes right through him.

Fuck. He catches his breath.

“I – ah. What I said before, about the mugging, that wasn’t true.”

Not good enough, the eyes tell him.

“I lied to you,” he says.

Grant’s expression softens a fraction.

“I’m sorry,” Jonathan says, and finds to his astonishment that he means it.

“Are you going to tell me the truth now?” The question stings even more because there’s no heat in it. Grant sounds – detached, indifferent, as if he’s mildly curious at best.

“I made a bet,” Jonathan says, unhappily.

“A bet? What sort of bet?”

Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb; the bet’s as good as lost anyway. Jonathan takes a deep breath and tells him the whole story. He expects shock, maybe disgust, certainly anger, but Grant just listens.

“What’s Empire?” he asks, when Jonathan comes to a stop.

Jonathan groans. “Client from hell,” he says. “Their CEO’s a complete fucking megalomaniac. Art can’t stand him. No-one can.”

“But you took the bet,” Grant says. “You want what he’s offering that much.”

“I didn’t know it was going to be Empire,” Jonathan says. “But yes. Yes, I do.”

He knows it’s no good trying to explain to Grant how that night with Art had made his brain stop spinning for once, made everything go white and quiet and completely at peace. Nothing like it, before or since, and he’s tried.

“Anyway,” he says, “Sorry again. You’ve been very kind.”

Grant fills the kettle and switches it on. “Tea?”

He ought to go home, but he doesn’t want to. He wants this strange interlude not to end, wants it not to be tomorrow, when he’ll have to ring Emma and say he’s doing the Empire job, and he’ll never hear the end of it from William, and Art will look at him with mild disappointment and a crushing lack of surprise.

“I’d rather have coffee,” he says.

Grant looks dubious, but he spoons brown granules into a mug from the catering-size tin on the worktop. “No accounting for tastes,” he says, amused.

Jonathan is fairly sure he isn’t just talking about the coffee, which is indeed spectacularly nasty when it comes, though tea would be worse.

“So,” Grant says, “What were you supposed to do to prove you’d won the bet?”

Jonathan spits out a mouthful of coffee. He’s not sure if Grant timed that question deliberately, but he wouldn’t put it past him.

“Um,” he says. “Text him a photo of you in my bed, probably.”

Which is a very distracting idea, and much too easy to imagine. If they’d met in other circumstances he’d be backing Grant against the kitchen cupboards and making a heavy pass, because damn, the man is hot. But if Jonathan tries that now, odds are he’s going to get punched again, and Grant looks like he’d hit harder than William.

Grant raises his eyebrows. “I hope you were at least going to buy me dinner first.”

Is he flirting? He can’t be. He’s just saying that to wind Jonathan up.

“That’s not how it works,” Jonathan says. He can’t remember the last time he had dinner with anyone before having sex with them.

“Pity,” Grant says, and grins. “There’s a Cuban place in Borough I’ve heard good things about.”

“I could take you there anyway,” Jonathan says, not expecting Grant to rise to the bait. “Call it an apology.”

“All right,” Grant says, “you’re on.”

Jonathan nearly falls off his chair.

Chapter Text

“So,” William says, when Jonathan calls round to retrieve his jacket, “how did it go with your missionary?”

“Good, thanks,” Jonathan says. It’s not entirely bravado, though there’s an element of that.

“Don’t tell me you shagged him!” William’s sceptical, but there’s a flattering undertone there that says he thinks Jonathan could have done it.

“Not yet,” Jonathan says. “We’re having dinner tonight.”

Dinner? Bloody hell, you must be losing your touch.”

“Oh right, and you think you could do better, do you?”

“I’m not the one who made the bet,” William says, smug as you like.

“No,” says Jonathan, nettled, “and you’re not the one who’s getting a night in Art’s dungeon.”

William’s smug look intensifies, a thing Jonathan would have sworn was impossible.

“Art’s asked me round tonight, actually,” he says. “Think of us having fun when you’re making small talk with your God-botherer.”

Shit. That is such a typical Art move. Of course he knew William would tell Jonathan, first chance he got.

“He says he’s got some new kit he wants to try out,” William adds, and that’s an image Jonathan really didn’t need to carry around in his head for the rest of the day.

“Oh well,” says Jonathan, “I suppose he’s got to practise on someone.”

“Fuck you,” William says, with that look that makes Jonathan feel like he’s just kicked a puppy.

“Come on, you know I didn’t mean it.”

“Sure,” William says, but he’s looking away rather than at him. Fuck.

“I’m sorry,” Jonathan says, and pulls him into a hug.

“You can be a right bastard, you know that?” William says. He hugs Jonathan back and bites his ear, harder than is strictly necessary.

“Ow,” Jonathan says. “I know. I’m jealous, OK? Of both of you,” he adds, which isn’t quite true.

“Don’t push it,” William says. “Wanker.”

Jonathan gropes his arse affectionately. “Oh god, you’re going to tell me all about it, aren’t you?”

“Only if you ask nicely.”

“Oh really?” Jonathan says, and rolls his eyes. “Knowing you, I’ll be getting a blow-by-blow account whether I want one or not.”

“Serves you right if you do,” William says. “Where are you off to tonight?”

“Havana.”

Havana? You’ll never make it in time for dinner. Breakfast, maybe.”

“The restaurant, you idiot,” Jonathan says, and William laughs.

“Well, at least the food should be hot, even if the company isn’t.”

“Oh, he’s that all right.”

“Oooh,” William says, in playground tones, “You fancy him!”

“I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for singing hymns,” Jonathan admits. “He’s got a very nice arse.”

“Bet it’s not as nice as mine.”

Jonathan laughs and squeezes him again. “I’ll let you know.”

 

Grant’s arse looks even nicer in jeans, as it turns out. It’s probably just as well he didn’t wear his uniform to dinner – it would have made them rather conspicuous. But why do Christians always dress at least two decades older than their actual age? That blue cardigan belongs on someone’s granddad. And that shirt can’t have been ironed since he bought it, and the t-shirt underneath is distinctly dull, and – fuck it, Grant still looks gorgeous, and distractingly huggable. Which is not how Jonathan should be thinking about someone he’s planning to seduce.

There’s a look of appreciation as well as friendliness in those chocolate-brown eyes, and Jonathan feels a little shiver of excitement. He imagines calling up Art tomorrow and saying So, when do I collect my winnings?

Don’t get carried away, Strange. Focus on the task in hand.

In hand makes him grin to himself. Oh great, he is apparently twelve again, smirking at bad puns about sex.

“What?” Grant says.

“Nothing – just, it’s nice to see you,” Jonathan says feebly.

“It’s nice to see you too,” Grant says, and smiles.

Whoa. That is one hell of a smile. Jonathan reels a bit, half expecting to see Disney bluebirds fluttering around Grant’s head.

“So,” he says. “Um. Should we – go in?”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Grant says, deadpan. “If we’re going to have dinner.”

Whatever Jonathan was expecting from dinner with Mission Man, it didn’t include getting flustered and being teased about it before they’ve even got inside the restaurant. If this is how the evening starts, fuck knows how it’s going to end.

 

Grant is surprisingly good company, for a God-botherer. He asks a lot of questions about Jonathan’s life, about Art and William and the club, as if he’s genuinely interested. Doesn’t seem either prurient or judgmental. Maybe it’s part of the training – if you’re going to be a missionary in Soho, you can’t be too easily shocked or you’ll never get anywhere. Between that and the tequila Jonathan probably shouldn’t have had on top of a short night (Grant’s on soft drinks, of course), he gets a bit too relaxed and tells a story about the club that was definitely funny when it left his brain but is clearly very much not so at the point of delivery.

“Sorry,” he says. “Let’s change the subject. Did you always want to be a missionary?”

Grant is silent and for a moment Jonathan thinks he’s blown it completely. You fucking idiot, Strange.

“I wanted to be in a band,” Grant says.

“On drums?”

“Guitar,” Grant says, “sometimes keyboards. And vocals.”

He’d be a good singer, with that voice.

“Do you still play?”

“For pleasure, and sometimes for work. Visiting care homes, that sort of thing.”

“I’d like to hear you sing,” Jonathan says impulsively.

“In a care home?” Grant says, with a grin, knowing that’s not what he means.

“For pleasure,” Jonathan says, and gives him his best come-to-bed look.

This turns out to be a tactical error: Grant flushes angrily and says “Seriously, this bet is not happening. Get that through your head.”

“OK,” says Jonathan, and shrugs. “It was worth a try, though.”

“So how was it supposed to work?” Grant asks. “Were you going to get bonus points for a target who’d never done it with a man? Double bonus points for one who’d never done it with a woman either?”

Jonathan’s about to protest at target, when the implications of Grant’s second question sink in, and his jaw drops. Grant can’t mean that. Can he? Bloody hell, the guy must be in his mid-thirties, and he’s fucking gorgeous, how could he possibly have got to this age and never –

“Thirty-six,” Grant says, as if he can hear Jonathan’s thoughts. “And no, not with anyone.”

It’s the worst possible moment for the waiter to appear with enquiries about coffee and dessert.

“I don’t think so, thank you,” Grant says repressively. “Unless you want something?”

“Can you give us a minute, please?” Jonathan says. He’s not going to let it end here, not when this is the last chance he’s likely to get.

“Of course, sir,” the waiter says, and retreats, radiating tact. He’s a pretty boy: if Jonathan didn’t have a job to do, he’d definitely be checking him out and probably asking what time he gets off.

“Why haven’t you?” Jonathan says, genuinely curious. It can’t just be the God stuff, surely.

Grant’s face is still flushed, but he doesn’t drop his gaze. “Not everyone thinks sex is that important, you know.”

“Didn’t you ever want to?”

“Not really,” Grant says, which isn’t exactly No. “I move around a lot with the Mission. There’s not much chance to build a relationship with anyone.”

“You don’t have to be in a relationship to have sex,” Jonathan objects.

You don’t, obviously,” Grant says, a bit tartly.

The waiter reappears while Jonathan’s still trying to come up with a response to that.

“Arroz con leche,” Jonathan says, before Grant can forestall him. “And a coffee for me, please.”

Grant doesn’t look best pleased, but says he’ll have the same. Since apparently we’re staying hangs in the air unsaid. Jonathan resists the urge to point out that he started this conversation, and hopes the rice pudding takes a while to arrive.

“Doesn’t it bother you, doing something so intimate with a stranger?” Grant asks.

This probably isn’t the moment to expound on the joys of casual sex, but Jonathan tries anyway. “It is intimate, and it – there’s something that feels good about that with someone you don’t know, something that feels real, the two of you making it up as you go along…” He trails off, seeing the closed look on Grant’s face.

“Oh well,” Grant says. “No accounting for tastes, right?’

“No,” Jonathan says.

The awkward silence is not made any less awkward by the arrival of dessert, though at least it provides something of a distraction.

“Don’t you ever get turned on?” Jonathan asks, because he can’t help wondering.

“Sometimes, yes,” Grant says.

“So what do you do?” Jonathan blunders on. “Wait for it to go away of its own accord?”

“Same thing most men on their own do, I imagine,” Grant says. “See to myself.”

Jonathan chokes on his arroz con leche, and Grant leans across the table and thumps him on the back.

“Thank you,” Jonathan says, when he’s stopped spluttering. “What’s the” – don’t say missionary position, for fuck’s sake – “Mission’s line on that?”

“There are worse things than wanking,” Grant says, which nearly makes Jonathan choke again. “Having sex with someone I didn’t care about would be worse, for me. Or using someone.”

He looks at Jonathan as sternly as he did in the crypt, and Jonathan feels himself flushing with shame. Trying to screw Grant when the only reason he’s doing it is to have sex with Art is a pretty shabby way to behave, however he tries to excuse it to himself. He doesn’t like the way he must look to Grant right now.

“Why did you agree to have dinner with me?” he asks, trying to regain some measure of control.

Grant seems to find that hard to answer. “Curiosity, I suppose,” he says eventually. “I wondered what sort of man would make a bet like that.”

“And did you find out?” Jonathan says. Shut up, you fool.

“Not entirely,” Grant says, with a wry smile. “But I had a nice evening. Mostly. Thanks for dinner.”

“Can I see you again?” Jonathan asks.

The question takes him by surprise almost as much as it does Grant.

“What?”

“Look,” Jonathan says, thinking oh well, here goes nothing, “I’ve made a complete bollocks of this and you’d be absolutely within your rights to tell me to fuck off but I – I would really appreciate it if you’d give me another chance.”

Grant is silent for a while, thinking. Then he says “How?”

“Could we – I don’t know, pretend we’ve just met, no, OK, not pretend, obviously, but wipe the slate clean somehow?”

Another longish silence. “What for?”

Christ, this is hard work. “Because I like you,” Jonathan says, groping for the right thing to say, “and I’d like to get to know you.”

“We don’t have anything in common,” Grant says doubtfully.

That’s not a no, though, is it? “We don’t know that for sure,” Jonathan says. “I bet if we talked for long enough we’d find something.”

Grant shakes his head. “You really don’t give up, do you?”

The waiter, whose sense of timing now seems to be verging on the sadistic, arrives with the bill, and Jonathan pays it, adding a sarcastically large tip.

“Do you think he’s doing it on purpose?” Grant asks, when he’s gone.

“I was just wondering the same thing,” Jonathan says. “See, we do have something in common.”

Grant laughs, and says “OK.”

“OK?”

“OK, you can see me again.”

“Really?” Jonathan says, too astonished and relieved to pretend not to be.

“Really,” Grant says, looking a bit surprised at himself.

They walk to London Bridge together, close but not touching, and exchange numbers. Grant’s working for the next couple of nights, which is a pain, but they agree to meet for a pub lunch and a walk on his day off.

“Well, goodnight,” Grant says at the entrance to the station.

“Goodnight,” Jonathan says, and hugs him without thinking.

Grant hugs him back, which is also a nice surprise, and they stand there embracing, a little too long for a casual goodbye. Jonathan’s not at all sure it’s a good idea to try for a kiss, but he does it anyway, a tentative kiss that Grant returns, short and sweet.

“Mmm,” Jonathan says, and hugs him harder. “See you on Tuesday. Promise?” He doesn’t want Grant to freak out and change his mind after this.

“I promise,” Grant says, rather breathlessly, and pulls away. “See you then.”

Chapter Text

Jonathan’s phone wakes him with a text message from Art: no words, but a picture that’s the very definition of NSFW. “New kit” apparently means a new set of shibari ropes, gleaming scarlet against William’s pale freckled skin. Christ, he’s sweating already just from thinking how long it must have taken Art to create that intricate pattern of knots, thinking about how Art likes to talk while he’s doing it, talk about the ropes and the knots and what he’s going to do to you when he’s finished tying you up, as casually as if he was talking about the weather… Fuck. Fuck.

He’s got his hand on his cock before he can stop to think, jerking off fast and hard, more desperate than he’s been in months. Bloody Art, he knows exactly what he’s doing sending that picture, probably knows what Jonathan’s doing right now, and oh god if that isn’t the thought that tips him over the edge –

His phone buzzes again, right on cue, while he’s still shuddering and gasping. He wipes his hand on the sheet and squints blearily at the text message.

Three words this time: EMPIRE IS WAITING – it’s not like Art to use capslock, even at this hour of the morning.

Fuck you, Jonathan texts back.

FUCK HIM? Art replies, at speed.

No, Jonathan types. He stares at the Send icon, and changes the message to Not yet. Whatever scruples he felt last night over dinner with Grant, seeing that picture of William has sent them right out of the window.

A burst of ABBA (seriously, Jonathan needs to change that ringtone) heralds an incoming call from Art, who is clearly losing patience now.

“What?” Jonathan says, as if he didn’t know.

“Don’t piss about, J, you took the bet.”

“And your point is?” Jonathan says. “There wasn’t a time limit.”

“Three weeks,” Art snaps. “If you can’t do it in that time, even you have to admit defeat.”

Three weeks is a surprisingly generous allowance. Jonathan’s not fool enough to point this out, obviously; knowing Art, he’d cut the time to a fortnight just to spite him. Anyone would think he wanted Jonathan to win the bet, and Christ, he can't let himself think about that or he won't be able to function at all today.

“OK, done,” he says hastily, and Art laughs. Shit, what did he miss?

“Good” Art says, so pleased with himself he’s almost purring. “Empire’s put the client meeting back to the 6th, so that works nicely. I’ll have Emma send you the files.”

“Don’t bother,” Jonathan says. “I won’t be needing them.”

Art laughs again and rings off.

Three weeks. Three weeks less two days, because their river walk and pub lunch date's not till Tuesday.

He's never needed anything like that long to get someone into bed before. How hard can it be?

 

***

 

“Put some music on, if you want,” Jonathan calls from the kitchen.

The walk by the river had ended up at Borough Market, two streets away from his flat, and it would have been just silly not to invite Grant up for a cup of tea. Grant had looked at him narrowly before accepting, as if he knew this was a variation on “come up and see my etchings”, and yes, OK, that had been the point of the route they'd taken, but you can't blame Jonathan for trying to move things forward. He hopes he's guessed right about what kind of tea to get in; Grant probably has views on tea.

While the kettle's boiling, he sneaks a look at Grant as he bends down to pull a CD from the shelf, admiring the lines of his back and thighs. Fuck, he'd like to get his hands on that. They'd kissed briefly outside the pub when they met, but not touched apart from that. Jonathan had to fight the urge to push Grant up against the wall the minute they got through the door of the flat; no point spoiling his chances by going too fast.

It's a pain that Grant doesn't drink, and after his tequila-fuelled clumsiness at the restaurant Jonathan's not risking it either. Not that he needs alcohol to relax, but trying to seduce a missionary who's also still a virgin at 36 on nothing stronger than tea -

The kettle starts to whistle, and he turns back to the stove, missing the opening bars of whatever Grant's decided to put on. His phone beeps with a text from William: Best. Night. Ever. Drink & debrief tomorrow? xx

Damn, He'd been avoiding the blow-by-blow account of William's night with Art so far, though it was too much to hope he could escape it altogether. If his luck's in, he'll have something better to do tomorrow, but he doesn't want to jinx the possibility by saying so. Anyway, he'll deal with that later.

Grant's singing voice is every bit as good as Jonathan imagined. The thrill of hearing that sound from his sitting-room hits him right before he realizes what Grant's singing, at which point he nearly drops the milk.

“You're the book that I have opened,” Grant sings, “And now I've got to know much more.”

Jonathan carries the tray in and sets it down on the coffee-table. “Of all the songs you could have picked, you go straight for that one,” he says. “OK, that settles it, we're officially soulmates.”

Grant laughs and says “First single I ever bought.”

“Same here,” says Jonathan. “Was your school full of idiots who liked Oasis?”

Grant nods. “Oasis and Blur.”

“I liked Blur,” Jonathan admits. “Though that was more about fancying Damon Albarn. But Massive Attack was proper music.”

“Massive Attack and Portishead,” Grant says, and sighs. “I wanted to be them so much.”

“I wanted to move to Bristol, but I couldn't convince my dad to go,” Jonathan says, and Grant laughs again.

“How old were you?”

“13, 14,” Jonathan says. “You?”

“11,” Grant says with a grin. “Got the money singing at weddings with the church choir, before my voice broke.”

“I like your singing,” Jonathan says.

Grant goes slightly pink, but looks pleased. He drinks his tea, which seems to meet with his approval; Jonathan still can't see the point of the stuff, but keeps him company.

There's a moment of silence when the song ends, and then Jonathan puts it on again. Grant gives him a mildly quizzical look.

“What?” Jonathan says. “It's my favourite song, and I missed half of it.”

The air crackles between them as the song unfolds for the second time, and the room is full of memories.

I know that I've been mad in love before
And how it could be with you.
Really hurt me, baby, really cut me, baby,
How can there be a day without a night?
You're the book that I have opened,
And now I've got to know much more.

“Yeah,” Jonathan says, a little huskily.

Grant doesn't ask him what he means; they both know what comes next.

The curiousness of your potential kiss
Has got my mind and body aching...

Jonathan's not going to ignore that cue. Neither is Grant, apparently: they move together and kiss properly for the first time, slow and sweet and luxurious, a dance of question and response.

“If he's a good kisser he'll be a good fuck”, William always says, and it's true more often than not. Jonathan really hopes this isn't one of the other times, because Grant is a bloody gorgeous kisser. He wasn't expecting that from someone who claims not to be particularly interested in sex, but it's a very good surprise.

He moans into Grant's mouth and strokes his back, which Grant seems to like, judging by the way he presses against him. Jonathan's just about to untuck Grant's shirt, because he can't wait one more minute to feel warm skin under his hands, when his fucking phone bursts into song: “Waterloo, I was defeated, you won the war.”

Either Art has this place bugged or he has the most diabolical timing Jonathan's ever come across. The shock of it makes him tense up, and Grant breaks away. He stares at Jonathan as if he's trying to focus.

“It's him, isn't it?”

No use trying to deny it, or pretend he doesn't know who Grant's talking about.

“Forget him,” Jonathan says, and goes back to kissing. But the mood is broken; Grant feels awkward and uncomfortable in his arms and pulls away from the embrace.

“I should go,” he says. “Need to pick up my bike from the repair shop before it closes.”

“If Art hadn't called, would you have stayed?” Jonathan asks, knowing he's pushing it.

“Yes, probably,” Grant says, flushing slightly.

Jonathan kisses him again, and Grant kisses him back, harder than before. It almost seems like he's going to relent and stay, but he breaks the kiss and steps back.

“When can I see you again?” Jonathan says, rather breathlessly.

“Oh, it's when now, is it?” Grant says, teasing him a bit.

“You know it is,” Jonathan says, with a grin.

“Cocky,” Grant says, and grins back. “I'm free tomorrow night.”

“Want to see the new Star Wars film?” Jonathan suggests. “I'll switch my phone off, I promise.”

“You'd better!”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes,” Grant says. “Text me the times, OK?”

“OK,” Jonathan says. “See you tomorrow.”

Grant's almost out of the door when he turns back and pulls Jonathan close for a quick fierce kiss that takes him completely by surprise. Then he's gone without a word, leaving Jonathan giddy and elated.

He could cheerfully strangle Art for being such a fucking cockblock, and he'll have to text William and say he can't make that drink and debrief tomorrow. First, though, he's going to think about all the things he would have done to Grant if Art hadn't interrupted them, and have a nice long slow wank.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The 36 hours after the quarrel are the longest of Jonathan’s life. There’s no word from Grant, of course. Probably congratulating himself on a lucky escape from someone he clearly regards as a psychological mess and a gutless coward. Fine, if that’s how he wants to play it, Jonathan’s damned if he’s going to cave in and apologise. But the echoes of the row go round and round in his head. His concentration is shot to hell and he can’t settle to anything. When he tries to sleep all he sees is Grant’s face, white with pain or blank with disgust. He doesn’t know which is worse.

William texts him, hinting that he has more adventures to share. Jonathan doesn’t reply. The last thing he needs is William burbling happily about another wild night in the dungeon. In case Jonathan needed confirmation, there’s a new picture message from Art. He deletes it, not quite quickly enough to blot out the mental image of William evidently just post-climax, messy and sweaty-haired and flushed, with Art’s hand resting casually on his neck.

He goes to the club alone on Christmas Eve, and picks up the leather-boy William fancied. As an attempt to take his mind off Grant, it’s a fucking disaster. Fucking disaster just about sums it up: he changes his mind at the last minute, and the boy gets quite nasty about it. Jonathan’s strong enough to fight him off, and the lashing out stays mostly verbal, but the irony of being called a screwed-up fucking cocktease is not lost on him.

The leather-boy’s accusations are still ringing in his ears as midnight strikes. Christmas Day. No good trying to call Grant – he’ll be in the middle of the Mission’s version of Midnight Mass, presumably. At least he’s with people, even if they are a bunch of God-botherers and down-and-outs. Jonathan doesn’t usually mind being alone but right now it would be nice to have company. Oh well. He curls up in bed, pulls the covers over his head and tries to think of nothing.

He manages to get some sleep eventually, and texts Grant first thing after waking up: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things. Forgive me? J xx

Grant’s response is so fast he thinks their texts must have crossed. I miss you.

A flurry of texts later, they’ve agreed to meet up on Boxing Day, for another river walk that ends up like the first, back at Jonathan’s flat with Massive Attack on the sound system. They kiss and kiss as if they can’t get enough of each other, Grant’s hands tangled in his hair, Grant’s erection digging into his thigh. Jonathan’s giddy with relief, hardly able to believe that it’s really happening at last, it seems as if Grant’s finally changed his mind after the row – and then Grant pulls away from the kiss, and the cycle of torment starts all over again.

It’s the same the next evening, and again two days later, and the evening after that. They’re seeing each other as often as Grant’s work rota allows, trapped in a pattern Jonathan can’t see how to break. He’s half crazy with frustration but the thought of pushing things further makes him queasy, remembering the leather-boy.

They’re careful what they say to each other now, too aware how easy it is to hurt and be hurt. Neither of them mentions Art’s party, though Jonathan catches Grant looking at the invitation over the fireplace. Grant kisses him more fiercely than before, lying full length on top of him and pinning his wrists over his head. There’s a possessiveness in it that makes Jonathan dizzy, and the kiss goes on until he’s moaning and helpless and this close to coming in his pants. He wouldn’t have thought being with Grant could get any more frustrating, but this is downright unbearable.

“You know where I’ll be tomorrow if you want me,” Grant says, pulling away as Jonathan struggles to get his breath back. Grant’s flushed and panting himself, but adamant about leaving.

For the nth time, Jonathan curses himself for a fool. He checks his phone with shaking hands and finds three texts from William asking if he’s still alive and is he coming to the party.

Fuck it. He might as well go. Better that than drowning his sorrows at home alone on New Year’s Eve because Grant is too busy God-bothering and doing good to come round and drive him to distraction. Christ, if cockteasing was an Olympic sport he’d be a dead cert for the gold medal. Groaning at the images this conjures up, Jonathan texts William Still alive, see you there. He heaves himself up off the sofa and staggers to the bathroom to relieve his frustration in the shower.

 

“No plus one?” Art greets him sweetly. “Pity. I thought his uniform would look suitably festive.”

“He’s working tonight,” Jonathan says, before he can stop himself.

Art raises an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Anyway, you know I don’t do plus ones,” Jonathan adds, too late.

Art gives him a look that says Oh yeah?.

“Yeah, happy New Year to you too, you bastard,” Jonathan says with feeling. “Please tell me you didn’t let William make that bloody awful punch of his again.”

“Not after last year,” Art says with a shudder. “He’s doing food; Ned’s in charge of the drink.”

“OK,” Jonathan says, and kisses him, a ridiculous smacker of a kiss right on the lips.

He’s not sure why he did that. There isn’t even a sprig of mistletoe he can blame it on, because Art’s such a fucking minimalist.

Art looks somewhat taken aback, and then he laughs.

“Go and eat something, you bloody fool,” he says, and slaps Jonathan affectionately on the arse. “Christ, it’s not even nine and you’re already half-cut.”

Jonathan wonders fuzzily if that means it would be OK to kiss Art at midnight, thinks it probably wouldn’t, and realizes he’s drunker than he thought he was. Maybe he should eat something. He’d finally got stuck into the Sandhorse Construction brief today, forgot to have dinner and he’s not too sure about lunch.

William’s in the kitchen, taking a tray of something savoury out of the oven. It smells good.

“Don’t touch that, you pillock,” he says by way of greeting, “you’ll burn yourself. Have one of those cheese tarts, they should be cool enough by now.”

Jonathan bolts three, more or less without tasting them, and feels slightly less fuzzy. “Thanks.”

“I hear you finally got off with Christian,” William says, with a slight air of resentment.

Jonathan’s baffled at first, and then he realizes Christian must be the leather-boy. They hadn’t bothered with names.

“Oh,” he says, embarrassed. He should have known there’d be gossip at the club, though obviously Christian hasn’t told anyone what really happened.

“Bit of a show-off, isn’t he?” William says, and rolls his eyes. “Marking you where anyone can see.”

Jonathan looks down at his wrists and sees the marks there. They’re not from the leather-boy; they’re the ones Grant left last night when he had him pinned down on the sofa. Fuck. Fuck.

“Makes a change from Mission Impossible, anyway,” William says gleefully. “I assume he’s still holding out on you?”

“Fuck off,” Jonathan says. He tries to punch him on the arm, but William dodges and he hits the wall instead. “Ow.”

“Stupid prat,” William says, without heat. “You OK?”

“Yeah,” says Jonathan. “I’m – I should – ’scuse me.”

He barely makes it to the loo before throwing up. Bloody hell, he didn’t think he was that drunk. The room is spinning around him, and then William’s there, holding his head.

“Should we sue M&S, do you think?”

Jonathan groans. He doesn’t want to think about food. Or anything else, for that matter.

“Leave me alone,” he says. “I’ll just die here quietly.”

“Not you,” William says, rubbing his back. “You don’t do anything quietly.”

“Ha ha,” Jonathan says bitterly.

William gives him a glass of water and he rinses his mouth. Ugh. He feels like shit, and not just from the throwing up. Why the fuck did he think it would be a good idea to come here?

He’s always enjoyed New Year’s Eve before, always enjoyed Art’s parties. More often than not, there’d be the fun of clicking with a stranger, seeing some hot guy looking back at him with speculation in his eyes, and the moment when that speculation turned to certainty, when they both knew they’d be starting the New Year with a bloody good shag. But he’s not in the right mood for that tonight, even before he threw up.

Being looked after by William makes him think of Grant patching him up in the crypt of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and the ache of that memory is so powerful it shakes him rigid. He wants to be back there, just the two of them in the quiet of the night, Grant’s jacket around his shoulders like an embrace. He wants to be close and still and cared for. Wants to be held.

He doesn’t do this. He doesn’t do any of this. He can’t be thinking like this.

“Fuck,” he says. “Fuck. Fuck.”

“You’re not going to hurl again, are you?” William says, frankly curious. “I wouldn’t have thought there was anything left.”

“Yes, thank you for that,” Jonathan says wearily. “No, I’m – I have to go.”

“Seriously? You only just got here.”

“Yes, and as you see I’m not well,” says Jonathan. “Look, I don’t want to have to deal with Art, can you tell him I’ve gone home?”

“OK,” William says, a bit doubtfully.

Art’s busy with some people Jonathan doesn’t know, probably clients. It makes it easier for him to slip away unobserved. He’ll go home, have a shower, crawl into bed and forget about Art and Grant and William and everything else.

This plan is working absolutely fine up until the last bit. When the church clock strikes 11 he can’t bear to lie there staring at the ceiling any longer; he has to get up again and go out, though he doesn’t know where he’s going.

It certainly shouldn’t be here. The Mission lights are on, and there’s obviously some sort of grisly party happening, probably nothing stronger than orange squash on offer. The way his luck’s going tonight, it won’t be Grant who answers the door. He presses the buzzer and braces himself to give an explanation to a stranger.

But it’s worse than that.

The door opens and he stares in disbelief at the woman in the red uniform. He hasn’t seen her since she was a skinny kid with pigtails, but he’d know that scowl anywhere.

“Bell,” he says. “What are you doing here?”

Chapter Text

Henry Woodhope’s scary kid sister is the last person Jonathan expected to meet at the Save-A-Soul Mission. He vaguely remembers Henry worrying that she’d fallen in with an evangelical crowd at college, but he had no idea it had gone this far.

She’s a lot better looking than she used to be. Another one wasted on the Mission. It’s just as well Art didn’t challenge him to seduce her instead of Grant. The hostility she’s giving off is so strong he almost wilts under it.

“Jonathan,” she says flatly. “No need to ask what you’re doing here.”

“Oh,” he says, feeling stupid. It hadn’t occurred to him that Grant might talk to anyone at the Mission about him. “Yeah, um. I came to see Grant.”

“He’s working,” Bell says. “And so am I. So how about you just – ” piss off, she obviously wants to say – “go away and let us get on with our job?”

“I’m a sinner!” Jonathan says extravagantly. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing here, or what it is he wants to say to Grant, but he’s buggered if he’s going to let Bell Woodhope chase him off the doorstep. “I am your job!”

Bell’s clearly struggling with an overwhelming urge to say something un-Mission-like, but Grant appears in the hall behind her. His face lights up, and Jonathan lights up in return before he can check himself. Bell’s scowl deepens.

“Your friend’s here,” she says, not looking round.

“I know,” Grant says. He looks so happy that it takes Jonathan’s breath away. “It’s good to see you, Jonathan – come in.”

So Jonathan does.

 

Of all the weird New Year’s Eve parties he’s been to in his life, this one takes the biscuit. Handing round mince pies and decaf instant coffee to the Mission’s drop-in clients is not an experience Jonathan ever expects to repeat, even with the inducement of Grant smiling at him every chance he gets. There’s no kissing at midnight, though there are a few tears from some of the partygoers, wishing themselves and each other a better year in 2016. When they cross hands to sing Auld Lang Syne, Jonathan gets Bell on one side and a man with a big port-wine birthmark on his face on the other, which is not how he’d have planned it, but may be just as well. He’s not sure he could cope with holding Grant’s hand in public with the lights on, not in his present state. It’s hard enough watching and listening to Grant sing. God, he’s gorgeous.

He offers to help clear up afterwards, because Grant’s obviously not going to leave until it’s finished, and Bell seizes the opportunity to corner him in the kitchen.

“He’s told me all about you,” she says accusingly.

“I’m flattered,” he says, with deliberate lightness. “Do these cups go in the bin?”

“Recycling,” Bell snaps. “You always were selfish, Jonathan. Selfish and spoilt.”

“Hey, don’t hold back, tell me what you really think.”

“I think Colley’s a fool, if you want to know.”

“Colley?” he says, bewildered.

“You don’t even know his name,” she says. There’s an edge of triumph to it, as well as the contempt. “You don’t know anything about him.”

He’s had sex often enough before now with men whose names he didn’t know, but this is different. The jolt of it makes his stomach lurch, like putting his foot on the last step of a staircase and finding it isn’t there after all. He’d heard one of the other Mission bandsmen call him Grant, that first night, and assumed it was his Christian name. What kind of a name is Colley, anyway?

“I told him it was a lost cause, trying to save you,” she says.

It knocks all the breath out of him.

“Save me from what?” he says when he can speak again.

She gives him an old-fashioned look. “Come on, Jonathan, you may be selfish but you’re not stupid. Your – lifestyle.”

Does she mean the gay thing? The BDSM? Surely Grant wouldn’t have told her about Art – would he? Whatever: it’s obviously bullshit. Has to be. There was the row about Art’s party, but that hardly qualifies as Grant trying to save him, does it?

Bell looks at him, her chin up, clearly spoiling for a fight. He’s not going to let her rattle him.

“You mean he only wants me for my soul? I’m crushed,” Jonathan says, striking his forehead theatrically.

“You can joke about it if you like –”

“Thanks, I will.”

“ – but that’s what he’s trying to do,” she insists. “Has been all along.”

Ridiculous to feel a chill at the words, but he does. It can’t be true. He knows it’s not true. Grant couldn’t kiss him the way he does if that’s all it meant. He knows what it feels like to kiss someone who’s not really into it, though it hasn’t happened often. And Grant is really into it. Christ, the way he gets in those long kissing sessions, flushed and panting, his cock iron-hard against Jonathan’s thigh. You can bet he hasn’t told Bell about that.

“He’s got a bloody funny way of going about it, if that’s what he’s after,” Jonathan says, as nonchalantly as he can manage. “But thanks for the warning. Wish Henry a Happy New Year from me.”

She mutters something that sounds suspiciously like Fuck you and starts banging about with a dustpan and brush.

“Jonathan, I swear, if you hurt him –”

“Bell,” Grant’s voice says, gently, and she stops dead.

Jonathan turns round, startled. He hadn’t even heard Grant come in.

There’s one hell of a strained silence. Bell looks as if she’d like to hit somebody, no prizes for guessing who. Jonathan’s reminded of the time he accidentally got between a mother seal and her pup, one summer visiting his cousins in Scotland. He’s not sure what Bell thinks she’s protecting Grant from – heartache, AIDS, the corruption of his immortal soul? – but Grant obviously thinks he can take care of himself. Given his track record to date, Jonathan would have to agree.

“We’re all done in there,” Grant says, and then to Jonathan “It’s good of you to help.”

“You’re welcome.” If Bell wasn’t there, he’d be asking Grant to come home with him. As it is, he says “Can I walk you to the Tube?”

“Oh,” Grant says, a little awkwardly. “I’m staying here tonight, but a walk would be nice. Get some fresh air. I won’t be long, Bell.”

“OK,” she says, not looking at either of them.

It’s a relief to swap that charged atmosphere for the streets full of drunken revellers.

“You could come back with me if you liked,” Jonathan says, because surely it’s worth a try.

Grant shakes his head. “Not tonight.”

Jonathan’s heart leaps. Does that mean he would come, some other night?

“I’ve got tomorrow off,” Grant says. “I could come round in the morning and we could spend the day together. That is, if you’d like to.”

“Yes,” Jonathan says, without a second thought. He’d like to take Grant’s hand, but it still feels weird doing that with a man in a Mission uniform. The conversation with Bell gnaws at him. “What’s Colley short for?”

“Colquhoun,” Grant says ruefully. “It’s a family name.”

“Wow,” says Jonathan. “Please tell me you have a middle name that doesn’t qualify as cruelty to children.”

“No middle name,” Grant says, and grins. “I get called Grant a lot, and that’s fine by me.”

“It suits you,” says Jonathan. He’s not sure Colley does, never mind Colquhoun.

“Did you go to Art’s party?” Grant asks, as if he’s not sure he wants to know the answer.

“For about ten minutes, yes,” says Jonathan. “I – it turned out I wasn’t in the mood for it.”

“Oh.”

Grant seems relieved, though he wouldn’t be if he knew what had really happened. Kissing Art. Punching a wall. Throwing up. Panicking at the realization of what he wanted from Grant... Jonathan knows he has to say something about the way things are between them, but he doesn’t know how. Maybe it’ll be clearer in the morning. Or maybe there’ll be a miracle, Grant will change his mind, or the world will end, or something, and he won’t have to say anything at all.

Grant hugs and kisses him at the entrance to the Tube, heedless of passers-by, and fuck it, here Jonathan is again practically going weak at the knees just from this.

“Happy New Year,” Grant says, with a soft look that catches him under the heart. “See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight,” Jonathan says. “Happy New Year.”

He thinks Grant’s watching him as he goes down the stairs into the Tube, but he doesn’t look back.

His phone starts flashing when he gets above ground again. Three text messages. One from William: Guess where Im spending the night HNY you tosser get well soon xxx. One from Art: Nap sends his regards. Christ, was Nap there? That’d be a first; Art can’t stand the man normally. But it would be just like his warped sense of humour to invite Nap because of the bet, and make sure Jonathan got trapped talking to him. Bastard. Had Art already promised him Jonathan’s services for the Empire brief? He groans, and reads the third text: Thanks again for coming, meant a lot. Sleep well and see you in the morning. Love Grant x

Sleep well. That’s a joke and not a good one. He stares at his phone screen and lets himself imagine tomorrow with Grant as he’s never seen him, a wish-fulfilment encounter with dialogue so melodramatic it makes him squirm. Grant saying he was wrong, he’s been trying to fight it but it’s too strong for him; saying he’s never felt like this about anyone before and he’s scared but yes, yes, he wants to; saying he’s sorry for all the frustration he’s put him through and he wants to make it up to him; saying he wants Jonathan to take him, to fuck him, to make him his

“Damn and blast and bloody hell,” Jonathan says, and hurls his phone across the room. It does not break.

He lies awake for hours, staring into the darkness, trying not to think about Grant. His mind goes round and round in circles. Jealous visions of William tied up naked and begging on the dungeon floor. It could have been you, Art’s scornful look says. Loser. Lurid fantasies about the client meeting with Empire, like something out of a ridiculous 1970s porn film, Art fucking him across the desk while Nap and the others look on, politely bored or waiting their turn. He nearly gets off to that one, god help him, but the image of Bell’s furiously disapproving face cuts across his mind, breaking the spell. He buries his face in the pillow and groans in humiliation and defeat.

Why is Art goading him like this? It must be obvious that Jonathan’s going to lose, but what’s the point in rubbing it in? For the hundredth time Jonathan wishes he’d never taken the stupid bet, never got himself trapped in this impossible situation.

Never met Grant. Does he wish that?

He was doing just fine without Grant in his life, but that’s not the same thing.

I’d like a chance to get to know you, he’d told him at dinner in the Cuban restaurant, spinning a line and finding it was true. Well, he’s had his chance, and look where it’s got him. Oh, sure, he’s a world expert on Grant’s kissing techniques, but apart from that and his love of sci-fi and trance, what does he know now that he didn’t know then?

Bell was right, he didn’t even know Grant’s real name. She’s got under his skin with that one. Her other idea’s still crazy, and he’s not going to believe it. Though wasn’t there some weird sect that went in for what they called flirty-fishing? A sort of evangelical honey-trap. He imagines Grant sneering at him, openly contemptuous: You didn’t think I really wanted to go to bed with you, did you?

Yes,” Jonathan says out loud. “Yes, I fucking did.”

He won’t believe it. He won’t. Grant did want him. Does want him. Would say yes, if it weren’t for the morality angle. He’d made it clear at the restaurant that he wouldn’t want to have sex with someone he didn’t care about. But he is starting to care about Jonathan, isn’t he?

Love Grant x

Lots of people sign their texts with love, but not Grant. And the way he looked at Jonathan, that soft open look…

He imagines that look fading from Grant’s face, imagines him pale with hurt again, the way he was when they had the row about Art’s party. It’s unbearable. He needs hurt to be a simple, measurable thing, the way it is with Art: the infliction of physical pain to the point where he almost uses his safeword, but not quite. He can’t have that responsibility for someone else’s happiness and misery. He’s always resisted getting involved. That’s what the club is about, and the anonymous sex.

Give in to a look like that, and you might as well kiss your freedom goodbye. That’s a look that comes with joint tax returns and matching aprons and always saying “we” instead of “I”. Sleeping together, not a euphemism but dull reality. Wearing a ring on your finger instead of your cock. Happily ever after in hell.

He doesn’t want that. He’s never wanted that. Christ, he can’t breathe. Maybe he’s actually dying. That would solve everything.

Eventually he falls into an exhausted sleep for a few hours, and wakes up ragged and thick-headed. He takes a long shower to clear his brain. It works, as it always does, but he’s left with a queasy sensation of impending doom, a chill in his stomach in spite of all the hot water. He really doesn’t want this confrontation, but there’s no way out of it. When the entryphone buzzes for Grant’s arrival, he almost jumps out of his skin.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Jonathan likes this time of year, the sense of promise and yearning as the evenings stretch out and April turns into May. It’s the perfect time for a party, and this one’s going swimmingly so far, despite the rather odd mix of guests. A bunch of Grant’s work friends from the Menier: Dave, Chris and Adil, Dot the theatre manager, Fiona from the gallery, Stu from the restaurant. Some of Jonathan’s friends from the club - not Art, obviously, but William and Ned and Fitz and Jeremy. A few neighbours from the flats, who he’d said hello to in the courtyard now and then, but never got to know until Grant made friends with them. No God-botherers, thank fuck. Well, there’s Bell, but he doesn’t think of her that way any more.

She hasn’t been acting like a God-botherer at all recently, and he wonders how much longer she’ll stick it at the Mission. She took a lot of flak from her bosses and colleagues for staying friends with Grant, not to mention giving him a roof over his head for several months, and it opened her eyes. Not before time: she’s too intelligent to waste her life with that bunch of bigots. She ought to go to art school, do something with her talents. That portrait of Grant she did for his birthday was breathtakingly good.

Grant’s birthday is the excuse for the party; that, and the new digital piano. He still hasn’t heard it properly since they brought it back from the shop; Grant’s been practising with the headphones on after he gets home from work. But he promised to play something at the party, maybe even sing. Jonathan can hardly wait. He knows Grant’s played for a couple of rehearsals at the Menier when their regular pianist was sick, and that he might have an evening gig in the theatre’s restaurant soon.

Watching Grant at the keyboard, even when he can’t hear the music, is its own kind of pleasure, of course – sometimes almost too much so. Staring at Grant’s hands and thinking of those strong fingers closed around his cock, stroking and teasing him to distraction. Remembering the stinging heat and precision of the way Grant spanks him, till thinking stops and there’s nothing but the peace of pure sensation. Fuck, Jonathan wants him so much he’s practically dying, especially after this afternoon.

It had started with Grant making bread for the party. The sight of him kneading dough, frowning in concentration, smudge of flour on his forehead, sleeves rolled up, had been too much for Jonathan. He couldn’t resist kissing the back of Grant’s neck, nuzzling and biting gently, and stroking him through his jeans until Grant groaned and leaned back against him, surrendering. They’d ended up with Jonathan kneeling on the kitchen floor, desperate to suck Grant off, Grant protesting that he’d get flour and dough in Jonathan’s hair if he pulled it, and Jonathan saying “Do it!” He’d regretted it later, when the hairwashing took so much time that the kitchen timer went off while they were still in the shower, just as he was getting close.

“Bad luck,” Grant said, with a wicked grin. “Maybe later.” He kissed Jonathan lightly on the lips and stepped out of the shower.

Grant turns to look at him now as if he can hear his thoughts, and gives him a grin so full of intent that it takes his breath away. Christ, he looks good in that shirt, the new burgundy one that William made him buy. Of all the things Jonathan could have imagined Grant doing after he’d left the Mission, becoming friends with William must be one of the most improbable. But it seems to work somehow, and the effect on Grant’s wardrobe has been a joy to behold. It should be an arrestable offence for anyone that good-looking to dress that badly, William had announced on meeting Grant, and promptly made it his personal mission to do something about it. Only Grant’s determined self-discipline about money keeps William’s enthusiasm for taking him clothes shopping in check.

It’s a discipline born of never having had much – Jonathan was shocked when he found out how little the Mission paid, and astonished that Grant had still managed to save something out of his living allowance. Just as well, given how long they’d taken to pay him his final month’s salary in lieu of notice. They’d had to cough up in the end, for fear of bad publicity if it went to court. Grant had insisted on paying his way, though Jonathan had said he’d be happy to help out until he found a new job. After he moved into the admin role at the Menier last month – a significant step up from waiting on tables there – he’d become more relaxed about letting Jonathan pay for things sometimes, though he’d refused to let the piano be his moving-in present.

“It’s too big.”

“Not a sentence I often hear from you,” Jonathan said, and grinned.

“Your attempt at distraction is duly noted,” Grant said, with a look that said I’ll deal with you later. “But we go halves on this one, OK?”

Jonathan agreed, not just because the prospect of being dealt with later made him giddy with anticipation. He knows by now that Grant won’t be budged on some things, and there’s no point trying.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing - far from it. His desire to prove Art wrong, to show he really meant it, made him push for more commitment than Grant was ready for at first. They’d had some fierce rows about that, after Grant came back from that awful visit to his mother in Scotland, and sometimes he thought they wouldn’t make it through those first months. But he’s learned to be patient, to let Grant find his own pace, learned to negotiate and to compromise. And, as of last week, here they are actually living together, a thing he never expected to want with anyone, and that makes him ridiculously happy. The move didn’t take long when it finally happened – despite William’s best efforts, Grant had so few belongings that he could do most of it in one go – but Bell turned up tonight with the last two carrier bags of his stuff, which somehow makes it all seem real in a way it didn’t before.

William starts up a chorus of Happy Birthday To You, and Jonathan puts his arm around Grant’s waist. The warmth of his body and the smell of his skin make Jonathan dizzy with want. He’s never felt such an intense addiction to anyone or anything as he does to being with Grant, in bed or out of it.

The timer pings and Grant ducks into the kitchen to get his biscuits out of the oven, coming back to hug Jonathan enthusiastically.

“We have to replace that thing,” Jonathan murmurs in his ear. He’s developing a Pavlovian reaction to the sound, especially when combined with the smell of baking.

“Do we?” Grant says, mock-surprised. “I thought it was working just fine.”

He kisses Jonathan behind the ear and runs a finger over his wrist just below the silver bracelet. Jonathan manages not to moan, but it’s a close call. Grant knows exactly what he’s doing to him, and it makes him weak at the knees.

Dave the lighting engineer had spotted the bracelet right away, and said “Nice work!” with an admiring grin. Of course, he must be the one who put Grant in touch with Runesmith - he was wearing a bronze version of the same bracelet himself, though his had Firebrand inscribed on it in Elvish rather than Property of C Grant.

Jonathan’s still not sure if “Nice work!” referred to Runesmith as a jeweller or Grant as a dom; either would be equally appropriate. He’d been shocked and delighted to discover just how good Grant was in the role, gently creative but with a wicked streak (the kitchen timer being a case in point). The way Grant makes him feel, deliciously helpless and completely safe, held and known in a way that no one’s ever known him before...

“Is that thing just for decoration, or are you actually going to play it?” William demands, breaking in on Jonathan’s reverie.

“Going to play it,” Grant says, unruffled. He detaches himself gently from Jonathan’s embrace and sits down at the piano.

Whatever Jonathan imagined this would be like melts away as Grant begins to play I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. It starts slow and simple, but builds till Jonathan’s almost breathless. Fuck, he’s good. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel. Bell and the Menier bunch don’t seem surprised, but everyone else looks almost as gobsmacked as Jonathan feels. There’s applause at the end, which Grant acknowledges with a sheepish grin.

“Sing something, Colley,” Bell says. “You promised.”

Grant goes a bit red, but says “OK. This one’s for Jonathan.”

Jonathan doesn’t recognize the song at first, but when he does it takes his breath away:

“As I was walking down by old Thames side,
Oh, my foot and my heart seemed to falter,
For there you were standing by a Custom House landing,
Like Venus risen out of the water.”

William wolf-whistles, and Grant’s blush deepens, but he keeps going:

“And they’ll say, well, it’s because I’m a fool in love
That I swear there’s no beauty before you
And those that deny, or think that I lie,
Oh, those are the ones never saw you.”

Jonathan hasn’t cried in public since he was four years old, and he’s not about to start now, but his eyes are pricking and his throat is tight. He’s still getting used to being able to say “I love you,” and Grant’s even shyer than he is about saying it, so this public declaration is completely unexpected.

“You massive sap,” William says, cheerfully disgusted. “Call yourself a top after that if you dare.”

Grant grins and flicks him a V-sign, barely breaking stride. He carries on playing and singing until Jonathan’s chest aches with happiness and pride at being so entirely loved, acknowledged and claimed in all the ways that matter.

 

Bell’s the last of the guests to leave, and surprises Jonathan by hugging him goodbye.

“Be good to him,” she says, a little shakily. “I know you will be.”

“I’ll try,” Jonathan says, meaning it.

“See you soon, Colley,” she says, and hugs Grant fiercely.

Grant sees her to the lift, and then they’re alone at last, almost shy with the newness of it. No matter how many times he’s stayed over, this feels different.

“Should I carry you over the threshold?” Jonathan says, which makes them both laugh, and the tension is broken.

“Not unless you want to do your back in,” says Grant, and kisses him. “Bed?”

“Yes,” Jonathan says. “Please, yes.” He wants this so much he can hardly stand up straight.

Grant kisses him again and pulls him closer, stroking his back and his arse until Jonathan moans into his mouth.

“Mmm, too good,” Grant says, pulling away reluctantly. “Go on now, before I change my mind and have you on the kitchen floor.”

As tempting as that sounds, Jonathan knows Grant’s got other plans for him tonight, and whatever they are, he doesn’t want to miss any of them. It’s almost a race, though only with himself, getting undressed as fast as his clumsy fingers will allow, till he’s lying on the bed, naked except for the silver bracelet. Grant follows him into the bedroom, unhurried; he’s barefoot and with his shirtsleeves rolled up, but otherwise fully clothed. If Jonathan weren’t achingly hard already, that look would get him there in seconds, as Grant knows perfectly well.

“Hello, gorgeous,” Grant says, eying him appreciatively.

“Hello gorgeous yourself,” Jonathan says. His mouth is dry with lust.

“How good can you be for me, love?” Grant asks, and strokes his neck.

Jonathan shivers under the light touch. “I don’t know,” he says hoarsely.

“All right,” Grant says, and carries on stroking down his chest and stomach, stopping just short of his cock. “Not too many edges tonight. Lie still and don’t make a sound, and I’ll let you come.”

The first time Grant played this game with him, Jonathan lost it right away, paying the penalty for his startled exclamation on hearing the rules. Last time they did it, he’d managed to hold out until Grant tickled him when he was seconds away from coming, making him squirm and yelp and then edging him silly. There’s no way he’ll get that far tonight. He’s going to break sooner rather than later, and the air between them crackles with excitement. They both know how this goes: Grant’s slow tormenting caresses push him to the point where he can’t control himself any longer, teased half out of his mind, moaning and writhing in utter abandonment. Jonathan’s never wanted so much or begged so hard as he does with Grant, never been so exquisitely satisfied when he finally gets to come. He can hardly wait to begin, and yet something in him wants to savour this last moment of anticipation, of lying as still as he can under Grant’s searching gaze, trying to remember how to breathe, his skin tingling and his heart racing.

Grant makes a loose ring of his hand around Jonathan’s cock, close enough for Jonathan to feel the heat of it, but not quite touching. “Say yes if you want this, no if you don’t.”

Yes,” Jonathan says, meaning yes to all of it. To tonight and whatever the future may bring.

“Me too,” says Grant, loving and serious.

He kisses Jonathan, and they begin.