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A Much Better Game

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Only Arthur Wellesley would insist on having the end-of-show party in a sodding mansion in the middle of bloody nowhere. Nobody knew exactly where they were, because Arthur hadn't told them the address and they couldn't get a signal on their phones. He'd organized a coach to transport them from the ADC, which meant everyone was stuck here until the party ended.

The place looked like something out of The Addams Family; apparently it belonged to some friend of Walter Pole’s. Of course Arthur had to start going on about what a perfect space this would be for immersive theatre.

“If he mentions Punchdrunk one more time I swear I’m going to punch him,” Grant muttered. They'd all heard more than enough about Arthur's New York trip and how amazing Sleep No More had been. “Absinthe cocktails, seriously.”

“No, they’re great,” said William expansively – he was already on his second. “You should try one.”

“Thanks,” Grant said. “I’d rather hang on to my liver, if you don’t mind.”

Always till now, when a show went well, he’d get cheerfully wasted at the cast party. If a show went really well, he’d get drunk enough to sing and even play the piano. In extreme cases, there might be dancing. (He’d made William delete that video of him after HMS Pinafore, though too late to prevent the embarrassing comments from half of Medsoc, a bunch of old friends he hadn’t seen since primary school, and his mum.)

And Rocky Horror had been a big hit. They’d sold out the run and had a couple of rave reviews – even Henry Lascelles hadn’t been as poisonous as usual. A lot of that was down to Stephen Black’s musical direction; they’d never had a band as good as this one. But the strain of rehearsing and acting with Jonathan had tested Grant’s self-control to breaking point. If he let himself get drunk tonight, he'd do something disastrous that he'd never live down.

“Who’s the guy with the weird silver hair?” William asked, waving his glass about and spilling half of it. “The one at the bar, trying to get off with Stephen.”

“Yes, thank you, I can see him,” Grant said tetchily. “No idea. Maybe he’s the DJ. Maybe it’s his house.”

Who cared, anyway? In a couple of hours the coach would come and take them back to Cambridge and this would all be over.

“Right, everyone,” Arthur announced, tapping a glass for attention, “time for Hide and Seek.”

“You are fucking joking,” Grant said, none too quietly.

“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun,” William said, giving him an affectionate shove.

Grant glared at him. “Don’t tell me this was your idea.”

“Might have been,” William said, and grinned.

“I hope you get found by Drawlight, you bastard,” said Grant. “Scratch that, I hope you get stuck in a broom cupboard by yourself for the next two hours, being bored out of your tiny mind.”

William downed the rest of his drink and shook his head sorrowfully. “You really need to get laid. How long has it been?”

“Fuck off!” William was right, of course, which only made it worse.

“On the count of three,” Arthur ordered. “One, two, three: GO!”

“Have fun,” William said.

“I won’t,” Grant said, and stomped off to hide.

One good thing – the only good thing – about this venue, there was no shortage of hiding-places. Grant slipped gratefully into a curtained alcove at the far end of a corridor on the attic floor. He’d come round so many corners that he wasn’t quite sure how to get back when it was time to go, but at least he should be safe here.

Famous last words. There were footsteps coming along the corridor, and then a hand grasping the curtain.

Oh, crap.

“Hello,” said Jonathan. “Mind if I join you?”

“Yes I do,” Grant said. “This is Hide and Seek, not Sardines. Go and find your own hiding-place.”

“If it's Hide and Seek, you've already lost,” said Jonathan, stepping in and drawing the curtain behind him. “Sardines is a much better game.”

The alcove, which had seemed like a good hiding-place for one person, was now much too small for comfort. They weren’t quite touching, but so nearly that it was almost worse. Grant swallowed hard and tried to remember how to breathe.

“It's not a bad party,” Jonathan said. “Though I could have done without the absinthe cocktails. Like drinking liquidized aniseed balls.”

Grant snorted with amusement in spite of himself. “Tried that, have you?”

“No,” said Jonathan. “Cracked you up, though, and that’s something. I was beginning to think you didn’t have a sense of humour.”

“I do when something’s funny,” Grant said crushingly.

“You don’t like me, do you?” Jonathan said, after a longish pause.

It should have been easy to say Not much, no. Grant opened his mouth to say it. Nothing happened.

“It’s a shame,” Jonathan went on, “because I like you. Quite a lot.”

That settled it: Grant was actually going to kill William when he got out of here. How was he supposed to cope with Jonathan saying that, with the smell of Jonathan’s skin making him dizzy, and the warmth of his body, so close that his breath stirred Grant’s hair, oh god –

“Do you want me to go?” Jonathan said in a careful tight voice.

He’d seduced Grant on stage night after night, gorgeous and teasing and infuriatingly sure of himself, till Grant didn’t know if he wanted to shag him senseless or smack him into the middle of next week. Probably both.

This was nothing like that. This was impossible, and real.

Say it, you pillock. Make him go away, before something happens that you can’t undo.

“Fuck,” Grant said, and kissed him.

Jonathan made a startled noise and kissed him back, a fierce desperate kiss that made his head swim. He backed Grant against the wall of the alcove and pushed his hands up under his jumper, trying to unbutton his shirt.

It was just as well Grant never liked aniseed balls – the Pavlovian reaction he’d have had to them after tasting absinthe on Jonathan’s tongue didn’t bear thinking about. He groaned and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss and running his hands down Jonathan's back to grope his frankly magnificent arse. William was a genius, this was the best cast party ever, and Hide and Seek was the best game –

“Hang on – did you follow me?” Grant said, catching up belatedly.

Jonathan laughed. “You really don’t know how to play Hide and Seek, do you?”

“Shut up and kiss me again,” Grant said.

Possibly for the first time in his life, Jonathan Strange did exactly as he was told.