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Bitter Pill To Swallow

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They cross paths constantly.

It’s understandable, really, what with the fact that they’re all apparently best friends, and he and Pym run in the same circles, kind of. Not quite similar enough to warrant this, Grant thinks, curling his lip as he spots Pym and his wife on the other side of the room again, and he’s not even sure what this dinner is even for because he has to attend so many of them. The only thing that matters now is that he somehow manages to avoid the Pyms, which would be easier if it wasn’t for the fact that Bee is going through an especially exaggerated conviction that she and Mary may as well be sisters, and she’s already tugging on his arm and pulling him in their direction.

He briefly panics, thinking wildly of possibly escape routes, and then forces himself back into the present where he’s putting one foot in front of the other across an impromptu dancefloor. Like hell he’s going to spend the rest of the evening hiding from Magnus Pym in the bathroom, and like hell he’s going to admit that that’s precisely what he wants to do.

Mary and Bee are already squealing at each other, complimenting dresses and hair and jewellery and ‘oh, Magnus got it for me, just as a surprise, isn’t he a darling’ followed by ‘oh yes, he sure is!’ and pointed looks from Bee; Grant doesn’t know where to look, because if he stops forcing a smile in her direction he’ll have to look at Pym, who’s wearing a smile of his own that hangs on his face as though it’s the easiest thing in the world. Grant supposes that to other people it looks amicable, the face of a contented person just surveying a room, but of course Grant knows better than that. It’s the kind of smile a person wears when they’re in the presence of someone they know despises them, who also can’t do a damn thing about it. Grant should know, because it’s the only damn smile he ever gets from Magnus Pym.

“Evening, Grant,” Pym says, that perfect blend of pleasant and informal that always forces Grant to remember that as far as anyone is concerned, they’re best pals.

“Little slow, isn’t it?” Grant asks, also pleasantly, but with just enough stress in the words that there would be no mistaking the criticism. Perhaps if he could make it clear that he was displeased about something, Pym would be able to infer the fact that he was essentially a captive here. Judging by the flicker of amusement Grant sees in his eyes, he’s worked it out. Bastard.

“How many of these is it now?” Pym asks. “Has to be the third one in two weeks. Bit excessive, wouldn’t you say?”

“The wives seems to be enjoying themselves at least,” Grant said, still secretly blaming Bee for everything.

“You don’t have to tell me.” There’s an almost theatrical exasperation in Pym’s voice and Grant wonders if the man always thinks he’s on a stage or if that’s just in public. He thinks he knows the answer to that, and he’s glad he isn’t holding a glass because he would have probably broken it. “Of course Mary always wants something new to wear, and it’s as good an excuse as any, isn’t it? She and Bee should start making a date of it.”

“I suppose we could catch a round of golf while they’re gone?” Grant asks, raising an eyebrow. “Maybe a bit of cricket.”

There’s sarcasm all but dripping from his words but of course Pym meets it with a genuine smile.

“Well, if you insist,” he says. “I didn’t think you would ever be the type to offer.”

Pym is almost as spiteful as he is, Grant thinks, so that’s it settled then – Bee and Mary will get their shopping date and leave Grant and Magnus to despise one another around a golf course for several hours. Wonderful.

“Well, you know me,” Grant says drily. “Full of surprises. If you’ll excuse me.”

He makes some half-hearted excuse to head for the bathroom, not that it matters anyway because Pym will see straight through it and Mary and Bee are already five layers in to what looks to be a fifteen layer conversation. Grant weaves through the room, nodding to those he knows vaguely, stopping for a few quick words with those he knows better, until he’s sure the crowds have distorted his path for him. He hovers by the edge of the room, not close enough that it’s obvious, and looks back across the crowd.

Despite the crowd he half expects to see Pym staring right after him but he’s not; instead he’s talking to a shorter bespectacled man that Grant vaguely knows from somewhere or another and now officially dislikes because he can see he’s just another old fool who falls for everything that comes out of Pym’s mouth. Whatever it is, Grant knows it’s bullshit; he can read lips but he’s a little too far away and his vision keeps getting obscured by people passing by, and besides, even if that wasn’t a factor there’s still the way that Pym talks to contend with, quickly and with his head titled down slightly so he looks almost fucking humble, no matter what he’s saying. He’s never quite worked out how Pym can manage to be so full of himself but convince the entire world he’s just like them; Grant spends a lot of time wondering who he learned it from and hating them, too.

Grant could stand there hating him all night, but there was no sense doing that when he could hate him while not looking so suspicious. He remembers he’s supposed to be going to the bathroom so he goes out of the side door and down the carpeted hall, appreciating the sound of the party fading behind him. The bathrooms are empty and overly grand, also carpeted for some god unknown reason, apart from – mercifully – the area around the actual urinals. There’s oak panelling everywhere and art on the walls and a fucking chair in the corner, finely upholstered and set next to a large leafy plant, and Christ, he would think he was in the women’s bathrooms if it wasn’t for the fact there were only two stalls in here.

He doesn’t need to pee so he stands there for a moment, figuring he can head back at any time so long as Pym didn’t see him hovering around. He washes his hands out of some innate urge to never leave a bathroom without his hands washed, and he’s about to leave the peace and quiet and head back into the chaos when the door opens behind him and of course it’s Pym who walks in, because Grant’s fairly certain that the laws of the universe wouldn’t allow it to be anyone else.

“Christ, the whole place is bloody carpeted?”

Grant would have closed his eyes and willed himself patience, if it wasn’t for the fact that the mirror shows Pym’s eyes on Grant’s reflection and not at all on the carpet.

“I think it’s different,” Grant says, just to disagree with him.

“Suppose you would,” Pym replies. “Odd taste in decorating, you. Or is it Bee? I can never remember.”

Pym crosses into the room and his eyes linger for a moment, amused, on the chair.

“Now what do you make of that?” he asked, laughing, and Grant has had just about enough.

“I don’t particularly care,” he says, making his way to the door, but he has to walk past Pym to get to it and his legs fail him at the last moment; he can’t walk fast enough, or he’s scared he’ll stumble, and for god’s sake he wishes Pym would stop smiling at him like that.

“Of course not,” Pym says, still smiling, of course, and as Grant finally forces himself past he reaches out and gently grabs his wrist, his thumb tracing brief circles over the skin on the inside. Grant looks at him, and they’re inches apart, and for one horrible moment Grant thinks Pym’s leaning in to kiss him again, like whatever happened the last time they got heated, or whatever passed for heated, but Pym moves at the last moment and brushes his lips close to Grant’s ear instead. “You don’t care. That is why I love you, after all.”

The words are barely audible but Grant knows he heard them. He jerks his arm away from Pym and stares at him, hating him more than ever, and he wants to say something cutting but that smile is back, that malicious one that everyone thinks is a fucking blessing, and Grant just stares and stares and then abruptly turns for the door, slamming it closed behind him. He wants to comfort himself by telling himself he swore he heard Pym laughing as he did so, laughing at his discomfort or the fact that that’s the only fucking time Grant hears that from him, but Grant knows Pym isn’t the sort to do that.

Grant knows precisely what Magnus Pym is the sort for, and that’s the entire god damn problem.