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jsmn_kink ([personal profile] jsmn_kink) wrote in [community profile] jsmn_kinkmeme2015-06-06 08:02 pm
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☆ Round One!

Welcome to the first round of the Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Kink Meme at [community profile] jsmn_kinkmeme!

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FILL: Strange/Grant, 4/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-03 12:15 am (UTC)(link)
Strange was chiefly employed to perform weather-magic whenever any fighting occurred. The difficulty here, of course, was that weather calculated to annoy the French – rain to create mud that sucked at their boots, or fog to blind them – necessarily had the same effect on the British soldiers too. Strange had some success whipping up wind-storms to blow gravel and general detritus in the enemy's direction, although he did not entirely avoid hitting a number of Englishmen in the back; still, this was certainly better than being hit in the face, and the French were much weakened by this treatment.

Lord Wellington, however, had begun to believe that the key to success lay not only in the physical destruction of the French troops, but also in the destruction of their spirits and mental faculties. "Buonaparte has stoked a fire in their bellies and made them mad for fighting," he told Strange. "I would have you strike fear into their hearts and doubt into their minds. What can you do about that?"

Strange experimented for a while with dream-magic, but, as he explained it to Major Grant, it was one thing to get into a fellow's dream and walk around in it, and another thing entirely to have any influence over what that dream might be. "I suppose it might unnerve them a little if they find they have all been dreaming of the same man," he said, "but I am not sure I am the man to do the unnerving. Probably they all wonder why they are dreaming of a tired Englishman who looks only as if he would like to sit down and have his dinner."

So Wellington and Strange together hit upon the notion of attempting to frighten the French in battle, rather than simply slowing their progress or damaging their arms. With a little experimentation Strange was able to conjure phantasms that flew at the enemy soldiers, sending many of them fleeing in terror. Great dragons that appeared to breathe fire, angels with wrath blazing in their eyes, and black-wreathed skeletons seemed to be the most effective. Any brave French troops that remained found that the dragon or angel or skeleton, when it reached them, had no substance in it at all, and could not hurt them. But enough of their fellows had retreated that it hardly mattered.

By now Buonaparte's forces were on the run from the British Army, who pursued them doggedly across Spain. But this did not mean that whenever Wellington's soldiers caught up with the French the fighting was quick and easy, for their desperation made them fierce: the English magician scared them, but the thought of their defeat scared them more. Wellington respected this attitude, and doubled his efforts to destroy every last man.

They spent a particularly bloody afternoon on a farmstead a few miles outside of Avila. Such was the confusion in the French ranks that Strange was able to direct his horrors so that the enemy fled straight onto the English bayonets. Grant was on horseback, and circled the battlefield, making sure that no escape route for the French had been missed. There were still traces of the magical fog that had been called down near the beginning of the battle, and although much of it had faded by now, a French soldier appeared before him rather more abruptly than he might have done if the air around them had been clear. Grant drew his sword, expecting the man to surrender, but instead, wild-eyed and panting, the soldier drew his dagger and ran towards his horse. Grant cut him down before he had lifted his arm to attack.

In the place where the soldier had been before Grant killed him, now that the fog was drifting away, there was a clear view to the raised hillock where Jonathan Strange stood. He was far enough from the thick of the fighting to be able to see the lay of the land, although close enough that cavalry circled about him occasionally to dispose of any Frenchmen who had come too near. Grant thought that it was only at these times that Strange looked any thing like a magician in the way he had imagined a magician to look before he had met one. His coat whipped about him in the wind, he had one arm raised to direct his next spell, and upon his face, even at this distance, Grant could see an expression of determined ferocity.

Another officer was riding away from Strange and towards a group of retreating French infantry. One of the French soldiers turned about and pulled a pistol from his pocket, and with surprizing accuracy shot the officer dead. His horse reared up in fear and his body fell off onto the ground. Strange jumped at the noise of the gunshot, which had been very near him, and wheeled around to face it. For a moment he was again an English gentleman on a foreign battlefield, appalled at what he saw there. Then, with renewed fury, he made fists of his hands and pushed them upwards into the air. As he did so, the weeds and grass around the feet of the nearby French soldiers curled around their ankles, tripping them up and holding them down where they fell, and before very long some English soldiers came and killed them.

By the time the battle was over it was early evening. Grant was exhausted, and covered in grime and dust, but quite uninjured. Along with four or five others, including Strange, he was required to spend the next hour with Lord Wellington as they discussed what must be done next (which was that the field must be cleared of bodies, the army must rest, and then those French who had managed to escape must be pursued at all speed the next morning). While they were doing this they all ate bread and ham, and then Grant was dismissed to sleep.

The lonely farmhouse served as Wellington's temporary headquarters, and tents had been put up at a great enough distance from the battlefield that the bodies could not be seen or smelt as the burial details cleared them away. Strange had also been dismissed, and he and Grant walked together through the encampment, watching the men gathering around cook-fires, dressing wounds, and settling themselves for sleep. Although Grant was very tired indeed, his body seemed to quiver with the energy of the battle and his head still rang with its noise. Strange walked in silence beside him, but his fingers played fretfully over the cuffs of his coat, and Grant could tell he was afflicted with the same tense agitation.

Some of the officers, including Grant, had been billeted instead to small outbuildings. A tent had been erected somewhere for Strange, but when they reached Grant's shelter for the night he invited Strange to come inside and take a drink with him before they slept, which he did.

It seemed that this had been a storage place for tools, and indeed some rusted rakes and scythes still remained propped against the wall, but it was quiet and sheltered inside and Grant was glad of it. He pulled a bottle of whisky from his baggage and handed it to Strange, whose hand shook only very slightly as he took it, and stopt after he had drunk.

"Wellington is right," said Grant, taking the bottle back and drinking himself. "We are closing in. We catch them up ten times more often now than we did a year ago."

"I do not doubt it," Strange said. "I had not thought to use so much magic in a month as I sometimes do in six hours."

Grant nodded. Everybody in the army was, as a rule, tired almost all of the time, but Strange's magic tired him in such a very visible way that it was almost disturbing. "I do not remember what we did before you were here," he said. "Or, in truth, I do, but it was not nearly so successful. You must be very proud."

Strange smiled at him, but it did not reach his eyes. "I do not think I am," he said, quietly. "Perhaps for the first time in my life I am not proud at all."

Grant felt a queer, deep sadness at the sight of Strange, who was still much dishevelled from the battle, and seemed to sag backwards against the grey stone wall. He put down the whisky and took Strange by the shoulders to pull him upright again. "I am sorry for that," he said.

Strange took a sort of stumbling step forwards, as if perhaps he was embarrassed and hoped to move away, but it seemed his body was not up to the task. He did not fall over, but simply slackened in the grip that Grant had on his shoulders. When he did not let go, Strange collapsed entirely against him, and Grant was left holding him up. After a moment, Grant moved his arms around so that they wrapped around his back, holding him very close, and Strange's head rested on his shoulder. They stood like this for what seemed an impossibly long time, but could not really have been so long at all.

"Merlin?" murmured Grant, and his mouth was now very close to Strange's ear.

Strange's arms had hung by his sides, but now he moved them up to hold on to Grant as Grant held on to him. One of his hands curled into the hair at the back of Grant's head and held on to him there too.

All of the restlessness and energy that had felt trapped somewhere beneath Grant's skin had found, most suddenly, an opportunity to expel itself. Grant pulled Strange's body as tight against him as he could, which was not very much closer than they were already standing, and when Strange came willingly, he began to move with rather more speed. Strange's hand in his hair gripped him very hard and Strange himself drew a shuddering breath against his neck as Grant pulled open his jacket and shirt. Then Strange took a step backwards so that he was propped up against the wall, but pulled Grant with him, and indeed moved both his hands down to his hips so that he might pull them together more particularly there.

For a few desperate moments they simply writhed against one another, Strange's breathing ragged and heavy, until Grant could not bear it any longer. He moved backwards only a little so that he could open both of their trousers and drawers, spat into his right hand, and wrapped it as tight as he could around both of them together. Strange choked out a very desperate noise and closed his eyes, and Grant did not have to do much at all before Strange finished, pushing a hand over his own mouth so that he was silent. Grant thrust himself against him only once more, and then let him go so that he might pull more roughly, and very soon he spent himself with a quiet sort of gasp.

After this Grant felt much calmer. He wiped his hand clean on his uniform, which was dirtied enough already that it would not know the difference, and put himself to rights. He felt as if the cacophony of the day's events and the frantic rush of what had just happened had both fallen away, leaving him sated and drowsy, and he could quite happily have gone immediately to bed.

He expected that Strange would feel much the same. But when he looked up from buttoning his trousers, Strange had not moved from his position against the wall, and was looking at a point on the floor. It was not uncommon for one's partner to refuse to meet one's eye at this moment, but Grant had somehow not expected it of Strange.

"Are you all right?" Grant asked him, his voice soft in the dark.

Strange nodded, eyes still downcast, and then he raised his head. He seemed in some way ashamed, which Grant had also not expected. "I did not mean for this to happen," he said, after a moment's pause.

"Do not be troubled by it," said Grant. "It is quite usual."

Strange looked away from him again, and said, "I have never before betrayed my wife."

Grant was so surprized by this statement that he only just stopt himself from laughing aloud, for if this was the case, Strange's unhappiness could be easily assuaged. "Then really," he said, "you need not worry at all. In fact, this is generally supposed among soldiers to be the best way to prevent oneself from doing such a thing. It is different between one man and another. There is not the same sentiment. Even the men who go to the brothels mistake the girls' charms there for something like their women at home. But in this way one need not think of such things."

Grant spoke all of this expressly for Strange's comfort. Strange had not talked often of his wife, but on the few occasions he had done so, it was in a tone of adoration and longing so profound that Grant had not quite known how to reply to him. Grant did not doubt that Strange was a most faithful husband, and that the chief reason he did not often speak of Mrs Strange was his unwillingness to expose her, even in imagination, to the things he must endure in Spain. But when he had done talking, Strange only looked at him with an expression of such abject misery that Grant thought he must somehow have said a very wrong thing.

But Strange only asked, in a flat, tired voice, "Is that so?"

"I have heard it said many times," Grant told him.

Strange nodded slowly, like a man in a dream. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, and when he took it away again Grant was still studying his face. And then, moving suddenly and with surprizing force, Strange grasped the sides of Grant's head in his hands and pressed their mouths very hard together. It was the most acutely human thing that Grant had experienced in so long a time that it was as if he felt it across every part of his mind and body all at once. And when Grant put his arms around him again and opened his mouth, Strange kissed him so harshly, so desperately, that Grant wondered if he had ever until now quite understood how wretched Strange was capable of feeling.

When Strange stopt, Grant held him where he was for a moment longer. "All right, Merlin," he said. Then he ran his hand through Strange's hair and stepped back from him again.

"You are very neat, Major Grant," said Strange, and there was a hint in his voice of the man that Grant spoke to every day.

"Yes," said Grant. "It comes with much practice. You are not." This was true. Strange had pushed himself forward from the wall and stood upright again, but his jacket and shirt and breeches were all open still, and he was flushed and messy. When the corner of his mouth turned upward in a smile, Grant had the odd sensation of knowing, in the moment of its appearing, that this was an image he would keep with him for a very long time. He said, "You will have to get better at that."

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 4/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-03 01:28 am (UTC)(link)
Nothing could please me more than finding this fantastically wonderful update to this story!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 4/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-03 12:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh my feels, this is beautiful.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 4/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-07 03:19 am (UTC)(link)
This is exactly the kind of thing I've been wanting to read about them since seeing them interact on screen! And I love how Arabella is still very much a presence here.

Also, too. Hot, desperate wartime sexytimes. Because a kink meme fill still has to appeal to the trash can in all of us, but when it's written this well and this thoughtfully it's even better. Thank you for writing this!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 4/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-09 08:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this with such careful attention to the long build up that might realistically lead to this sort of encounter. When the dam finally burst, it made it all the more poignant because you had taken the time to explore Strange's deterioration, and Grant's almost guil response to it. This is one of my favourite JSMN stories. Thank you! Also, and I hope this doesn't sound too needy, please please please for the love of God write more about these two.

FILL: Strange/Grant, 5/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-14 09:46 pm (UTC)(link)
And so, in the months that followed, this became the pattern of his war with Merlin. It was not unusual for things to end this way between them, most often if the day had been strenuous, or if they drank together, providing that one or both of them did not drink themselves into sleep. Strange, having apparently come to temporary terms with his marriage vows, was most usually the instigator of proceedings, and indeed had a far greater appetite for them than Grant had begun to imagine. This was perhaps because Grant had been at war for so very long that and sustained himself on so little that he had almost entirely trained himself to do without. It was no great hardship to re-adjust to this new arrangement.

In Grant's newly-pitched tent, perhaps only a week or two after Avila, Strange had expressed some concern over the dangers of what they were doing. Grant was of the (informed) opinion that as long as one was discreet then one need not worry. The behaviour of officers was not questioned, especially one as highly-respected as Major Grant, both as a matter of discipline and as a matter of course. Strange's behaviour was already an oddity and it did not seem likely that any one would notice any difference. And as for their commander, Grant supposed that if Lord Wellington had any suspicion that relations between his subordinates might improve their comfort and therefore their alertness and reliability, he would be bound to encourage it, his absolute practicality outweighing all other considerations. This last Grant said to Strange somewhat ironically, but the widespread blind eye turned to all manner of behaviour of this kind led him to believe that Wellington was, at the very least, too busy to be interested.

Strange was either happily convinced by all of this, or decided he did not care, and soon he had brought them both to a highly satisfactory conclusion while also pushing his tongue into Grant's mouth in a slightly surprizing, though not unpleasant, manner. The ease and immediacy with which Strange afforded Grant a sort of intimacy he had rarely experienced – and certainly had not experienced since he came to the Peninsula – rather charmed and rather concerned him. It seemed still a chink in the armour that Strange was at last managing to build around himself, even if it was a chink exposed only to him.

One night Strange came to his tent the worse for brandy and shaking uncontroulably all over, and asked quite politely if Grant would be kind enough to hold him still until it stopt. This Grant did, sitting Strange in front of him on the edge of his folding bed and clasping his arms down to his body, and after a time the tremors calmed and ended. Strange breathed out a sigh and, turning, pushed his face into Grant's neck, where he mouthed something wet and incomprehensible. Grant stroked his hair, stroked his back, and Strange pushed himself upwards and outwards so that he could lay down on the bed. Exhausted, fully clothed and quite drunk, he fell at once to sleep. Grant left him there and wandered around the camp in the darkness for an hour or two, inspecting the tents, but the men had already turned in and there was nothing very much to see. He spoke for a while with the officers on watch, and when at last he returned, Strange had gone.

Around this time Grant began to dream quite regularly of Strange. In many ways this was unremarkable, Strange being one of the people he saw most often, and indeed at rather closer proximity than any one else. However, it was unusual in that Grant did not tend to dream at all, or at least when he did he did not remember it, this being the most effective method he had found for avoiding the nightmares that plagued many other soldiers. How exactly he had trained himself to do this he could not have said, but he assumed that at some point he must have decided he simply could not go on without doing so.

His dreams of Strange were neither nightmarish nor everyday, and indeed were not so much dreams of Strange as dreams of a landscape in which Strange happened to appear. Grant recognised the barren red earth with rocky outcrops and occasional bursts of dry grasses as certain parts of Spain, or as an amalgamation of many parts of Spain. In his dreams, Strange was some distance from him in this place, striding away with such purpose that it was almost as if he believed he could walk himself all the way back to England. Grant followed him and called out his name, but Strange did not hear him, and after either a very long time or only a few moments (in dreams one could not quite tell the difference), Grant would wake up. Sometimes Strange was so far away as to be almost a speck on the horizon, and sometimes he was close enough that Grant was sure that he must hear his name being called, but he never gave any appearance of having done so and Grant never reached him.

In reality, Strange was not walking away from any thing. His habitual expression had become one of grim determination and, uniform apart, he could almost be taken for any other soldier in the British Army. When food was scarce he ate what he was given with good grace; when they came upon unpleasant sights he bore them without comment; and when they encountered the French he fought them. Indeed if it were not for the occasions on which they retired privately Grant might have believed that Strange no longer found it difficult to be at war at all. But when they were alone together it seemed Strange felt he at last had permission to expel all of the awful things he felt, and Grant found that he must do his best to help with them. Whether Grant experienced a similar catharsis was something he did not much consider, although he certainly slept very well afterwards.

There was a day on which some British soldiers drowned while crossing the River Douro. The bridge they were using was very old and it collapsed under the weight of so many men. Strange was called immediately to bring the current under control so that the soldiers might swim to safety, but by the time he had done so, a number of the men had already been dragged below. Strange's actions were nonetheless regarded as heroic, since he had saved many more people than would have otherwise survived, and throughout the day he received much congratulation from officers and men alike.

But Grant thought that he did not seem quite right about it, and so that night he came to Strange's little tent uninvited. Strange was sat on his camp bed staring blankly at the canvas wall, but he looked up when Grant came in and sat down next to him.

"I often think that I have gained a tolerance for this place," Strange said. He was looking ahead of him at the side of the tent again, although Grant assumed in his mind's eye he saw the plains and the villages and the rivers. "But there is always a new and surprizing way for that to be quite overturned."

"You will gain it more permanently," Grant told him. "Every body does. The amount of time it takes varies greatly from man to man and some men give up before they reach it. But I do not think you are likely to do that."

"That is very charitable of you," said Strange.

"No, it is not," Grant replied, a little annoyed. "I base that entirely on your own actions. You have done a great many brave and difficult things in the time you have been here and every body is very pleased with you. Except, I suppose, the French."

"And yet the war seems to stretch on for ever before us. Every body says the French are retreating but we do not seem to have any shortage of them to fight. And every time that happens a good number of people that I know and like are killed. In fact that was managed today even without the French to help us along with it."

Grant nodded. "I do not deny any of that. I think it is a question of perspective. There is a point at which one must submit to one's own helplessness. As a single person there is only so much that one can do. Even Lord Wellington's success is founded upon his ability to inspire and control such a great number of men. Of course each one of us must do his part. But there is some comfort in knowing that however big that part is, it is not the whole. What I mean is – do not despair because there is often nothing that one can do. In fact it is quite freeing to accept that."

Strange seemed to have followed this reasoning with interest. Grant hoped very much that he would find some comfort in it, for Strange appeared to feel a personal responsibility for many deaths that were really nothing to do with him. This was a state of mind often observed in men who wanted very much to be in control of the world around them, and when he had been younger Grant had been among them. He had received similar advice many years earlier and found it very helpful indeed.

"That is very wise," said Strange after a moment. "And I appreciate your telling me so. But I am afraid I do not think it applies to me at all. I cannot think of a single situation in which there is nothing I could have done. In all cases, if I had been faster or more observant or simply better at what I was doing, it would have been possible for me to have prevented every death I have witnessed."

Grant considered this. Then he considered it some more and decided that it might be one of the worst things he had ever heard. He could think of no argument against it and so he said nothing.

"But I own that my situation is unusual," said Strange. His voice had become quiet and angry, although Grant did not think the anger was towards him. Indeed with no clear thing or person to direct his anger at except himself, it seemed that Strange had become quite eaten up by it, and he continued to gaze at the canvas before him with such venom as if the tent had done him some great affront.

"I'm very sorry," Grant said, his voice soft. He reached out his arm and placed it around Strange's shoulder.

As he had done many times before, Strange seemed almost to loosen when Grant touched him, sagging backwards against his arm. "Do not be," he said. "I will just have to do better."

Grant did not imagine that Strange would be in any sort of mood to do any thing except rest or perhaps talk further, but he turned around into Grant's body and took hold of his collar with one hand and his face with the other. Grant held him while they kissed, and ran his hands along his arms and back, and tried in all ways to be gentle and kind to him. But it seemed that Strange did not want this treatment. He pushed Grant backwards with some force across his small bed and bore down on him with his legs astride his waist, and left off kissing him to graze his teeth over his chin and bite at his neck. Grant made no movement of protest (in fact all of this was extremely pleasurable), but after a moment Strange muttered, "Come on, come on," and at this Grant took hold of him by the hips and rolled them both over.

There was no fight for dominance in what they did, but Strange urged him on until Grant held him down quite firmly with one hand on his shoulder and thrust against him, although they were both still fully clothed. This Grant decided was not much good at all, and so he sat up to remove his tunic, and unfastened both of their breeches. Then instead, glancing momentarily and from habit at the flap of the tent (which he had fastened when he came in, and outside of which he could hear nobody for the time being), he moved backwards off of Strange and began to remove his trousers, underwear and boots. He tugged with one hand at the leg of Strange's breeches until he understood and did the same, and Grant then pulled him into his lap and kissed him much harder and more obscenely than before.

Strange by now was making a low noise into his mouth and was pressed up hard against his stomach. Grant lay backwards, pulling Strange down on top of him, and reached down to guide Strange between his thighs, which he parted slightly to make room and then closed tightly around him. Strange gave a small stifled gasp and then thrust into the space he had made, and then again, and again. Grant held on to him by the back of his shirt and his hair as he did this, and after a time Strange bit down quite hard on the join between Grant's shoulder and his neck, half on his skin and half on his shirt, and Grant felt him finish wet and hot but completely silent.

For a long moment Strange stayed where he was and breathed into the damp part of the shirt at Grant's neck, very warm against his skin. But then he sat up and moved back so that he could bring Grant off with his hand, which did not take awfully long. He studied Grant's face as he did so with such intensity that Grant eventually closed his eyes, although he could not have explained why he did this.

Afterwards Strange leaned down and kissed him much more gently and carefully. Grant tugged at the front of his shirt until he came down next to him, and for a time they lay side by side with their bare legs tangling together. Grant could not remember the last time he had done any such thing. The aching feeling it gave him in his breast was so great as to be almost intolerable. But soon they heard the talking and shouting of other men moving around close by.

"What if you stayed here?" Strange murmured. His arm was thrown across Grant's chest and his fingers brushed against the side of his face.

"Mmm," said Grant, but then he gave a rueful sort of smile and shook his head.

Strange smiled too, in a similar manner. Then he pulled himself up and off the bed, and found in his baggage a rag to clean them up with. They both put on their trousers and then Grant sat on the edge of the bed and pulled on his tunic and his boots.

Strange sat at the other end of the bed and watched him. "Thank you," he said.

"Don't," Grant said. "It's not a case of – don't."

Then Grant went back to his own tent. Aside from his dream of Strange walking on the horizon he slept like the dead.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 5/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-15 07:50 am (UTC)(link)
This ongoing story is like... my favoritest favoritest, in the most bleak and despairing kind of way.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 5/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-15 03:37 pm (UTC)(link)
the best. The best. The very very best

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 5/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-15 04:17 pm (UTC)(link)
This is too good. I have such an intense array of emotions about these two and the perfect way you write them.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 5/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-15 04:40 pm (UTC)(link)
A!A, you have wrecked me. This is one of the most accomplished fics in the fandom. Your characterisation of Strange and Grant is beautifully judged, the whole thing is so atmospheric, and so perfectly poised. I feel hot and cold all over. Thank you for writing this poignant, heartbreaking fic. I would say more, but I have run out of superlatives.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 5/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-16 03:59 am (UTC)(link)
such clean prose, spot-on characterization and heartbreaking dynamic, your fill continues to break my heart (in a good way)... thank you for keeping this up!

FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-16 11:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Lord Wellington and the British Army were as much as ever in need of Strange's magic, and after over a year in their employ, Strange was quite a different magician. Immediately following the loss of his books he had been forced to improvise much of what he did, which seemed from Grant's point of view to go rather well, but Strange complained about it often and spoke wistfully of the great assistance he would gain from some kind of written instruction. Whenever he did something well Strange would scribble furiously in his notebook (and, indeed, whenever he did something badly, presumably as a warning against following the same steps again), and soon he was consulting his self-made prescriptions with the regularity of his old wooden-chested library.

In Madrid, Strange returned to headquarters one afternoon much excited. He had found a bookseller still trading in a side-street, and through a combination of broken Spanish and evocative mime he had discovered that there was a book about magic for sale. This he had paid for and brought back with him, and all the officers present, along with Lord Wellington, crowded around the table to see it. It was called Magia blanca y negra de las brujas y hechiceros and looked to be in some state of disrepair, with a number of pages torn and some missing. While Strange had picked up some Spanish phrases, he could not read the language well at all, so the book was given to Grant and two other Spanish-speaking officers to see if they could make sense of it. Unfortunately their ignorance of magical terminology, along with the frequent discovery of a missing page, meant that they did not do very well either and eventually the excitement about the book died down.

Strange said that in any case his command over the Peninsular magic in the book would not have been as strong as it was over English magic. He told Grant that while the practice of magic must have at some time been universal, it was believed always to have been deeply rooted in the earth and stones and sky of the place in which it was done, and the magicians that came from those places were rooted there too, even if they travelled far and wide afterward.

"So even though we are abroad," Strange explained, "I am still an Englishman performing English magic. I daresay an Englishman could perform Spanish magic if he had to, and of course I would gain some assistance from having Spain right here under my feet to help with it, but I would have a tenth of the success of any Spaniard who knew how to perform it."

But Strange kept the book with him and said that some of the engravings might be useful. These chiefly depicted what appeared to be witches, who were variously mixing potions, dancing in circles, and carrying children away from their houses. Grant privately found these fairly unpleasant and did not see what relevance they might have to the defeat of Napoleon, but he did not say so.

Indeed Strange did not return much to Magia blanca y negra except as a curiosity, and Grant noticed also that he consulted his own notebook with less frequency now than he had before. His regular spells (the relocation of rivers, trees, hills and buildings, the management of the weather, and the conjuring of fearful apparitions) were all now second nature to him, and when he was required to expand or adjust these, he did so with confidence and without recourse to his notes. When Wellington asked him to do things he had never done before, such as to create a magical bridge out of the stones on a riverbed when no other building material was evident, Strange generally made an attempt on instinct alone – usually with moderate to significant success – and ironed out the details later. In fact magical bridges had become something of a speciality of his in the wake of the disastrous Douro crossing some months earlier. In short, Strange was even more a practical and even less a theoretical magician than he had been at any time before.

Despite all of this, Strange very rarely went any where without his copy of A Child's History of the Raven King. This was almost certainly in part due to the inscription from Mrs Strange on the first page, but he also continued to consult it longer after he had left other theoretical matters behind. Grant by now had read this book from cover to cover a number of times, the first at Strange's suggestion, and the following of his own volition. Grant had been brought up partly near Edinburgh and partly in Berkshire, and never having lived within the bounds of John Uskglass's kingdom, the Raven King had not resonated in his childhood in the way that he evidently had in many other men's. But he recognised in the book some presumably historical information that matched his memory of things he had learnt: John Uskglass had been stolen away to Faerie as an infant, had returned in 1110 to claim the land between the Tweed and the Trent from King Henry, and after ruling for three centuries, had left England in 1434. All of this was presented in the manner of a story-book, which of course it was, along with traditional verses about the life and deeds of the King, and some illustrated accounts of notable pieces of magic he had done.

All in all it was a good little book that ought to interest a bright child and even afford some distraction to a bored soldier. But this did not quite explain the eerie feeling that came upon Grant when he read it. It was as if there were another story hidden behind the pages, one that seemed just beyond his understanding. Often when he put the book down he had the odd sensation that he was seeing England before his eyes, overlaid across or perhaps hidden underneath the Spanish landscape.

"That is very interesting," said Strange, when Grant told him this. "I have never had that particular experience, but I agree that one feels very keenly the otherworldliness of the Raven King and his magic when reading the book. But I would not be troubled by it. It is a book about magic rather than a book of magic, and so there can be nothing intrinsically magical about it – it cannot affect you other than by making you think about things in the manner of any book."

"I did not say I was worried," said Grant, rather defensively.

Strange was not only a different magician from the one who had arrived in Portugal, but a different man. He was browner, leaner and fitter, could move faster when a crisis occurred, and could sit more quietly and calmly when one did not. It was natural for the war to have altered him in this way and indeed he could not very well have survived if it had not. But Grant found himself often thinking of the course Strange's life might have taken and what sort of person he would be if he had not come here, and also of whether Strange himself was considering the same thing. Of course the progress of the British Army and their allies if he had not come would have been much slower and not nearly as successful, so it was on balance fortunate that things had worked out in the way they had.

One night Grant was in his tent on his knees before Strange, who sat sprawled on Grant's bed with his legs apart and his head tilted back in quiet pleasure. Grant had an ingrained and precise efficiency in this, and Strange afterwards reciprocated in his own particular unskilled and erratic manner. It was presumably evident to both of them that Grant had very much more experience in performing this service, but Strange had never asked for instruction and Grant had not felt it would be very kind to offer it unbidden. Strange seemed to prefer to work out what best to do through trial and error, and by now he had gathered enough information to perform something that was part effective, part idiosyncratic, and peculiarly tailored to Grant. This combined with his absolute determination was quite enough.

When it was over Grant found he had made a very tight fist in the back of Strange's hair. He pulled gently, and Strange came backwards and then looked up at him. He looked very pleased with his efforts and for a moment he might not have been in an army encampment in Spain but any where at all. He gave Grant a wide smile with a spark of something mischievous in his eye that, when it occasionally appeared, Grant liked very much. It made him consider the man he might have known if they had met under different circumstances. He would not exchange the Jonathan Strange he knew now for another one, but nevertheless he expected they would have got on well with each other had they met in London or in some fashionable city not besieged by war. For a long time it had seemed certain that the unusual and specific circumstance of their acquaintance here was the only reason that they acted in this way together. But now and again Grant was not so sure.

Grant had stopt gripping Strange's hair so tightly but his hand was still at the back of his head. He ruffled his hair, a quick, affectionate gesture that he had not quite planned, and then put himself away. Strange was in good spirits and left shortly afterwards for his own tent, but kissed him lightly on the forehead before he went outside. Generally Strange seemed happier and calmer after these interludes than before, and Grant had always in the back of his mind the assumption that their arrangement was doing Strange some good. But in truth he did not think he would know how to stop it if he thought otherwise and he was not sure that Strange would either.

That night Grant dreamt again of Strange on the Spanish plain. This time Strange was quite near to him and as usual Grant called out and tried to attract his attention. Strange could not or would not hear him, but Grant kept following close behind, and then with a sudden burst of speed he actually came within an arm's length of him. So he reached out and put a hand on Strange's shoulder. "Merlin," he said.

Strange turned around immediately and he regarded Grant with considerable surprize. Despite the fact that Grant had been shouting very loudly it seemed he really had not known that any one was there. "Grant?" he said. "What are you doing here?"

"How should I know?" said Grant.

Strange appeared to be much confused. He looked around him at the endless landscape, and back at Grant. Then he made a movement in the air with his hand and Grant woke up.

Grant sat up in bed. He had come awake with such immediacy and clarity – none of the fog that clings to one after sleep was about him – that he knew at once that the dream had been ended by magic. He was also absolutely sure that the Strange he had just spoken with had been real.

He got out of his bed and opened the flap of the tent. It was still the middle of the night and a light cool breeze was blowing. He peered out into the gloom and saw the watch-fires and the ghostly forms of the other tents. Sure enough, after a minute or two, he saw Strange approaching.

"Hello," said Grant.

"I'm dreadfully sorry," Strange said. He seemed to have come in a hurry and was a little out of breath. "I wanted to apologise. I did not mean at all to trespass on your sleep in that way."

"It's quite all right," said Grant, who was more bemused than any thing else. He stepped back into the tent and Strange followed him.

"I honestly had no idea," Strange was saying. His words ran over each other in their rush to leave him and be heard. "I did not know it was you. I would not have persisted so if I had had the slightest understanding of what I was doing."

Grant frowned and tried to make sense of what he heard. "Have you been always there?" he asked, and Strange's babble stopt at his question. "I have had that dream for almost a year now."

"Yes," Strange said. "I am sorry."

"There is no need to apologise. It has not been distressing."

"But I did not mean to intrude."

"Were you walking in dreams on purpose?"

Strange nodded. "I have been trying to refine the magic for a long time. It is very imprecise. I did not expect that I would be walking in yours."

"Whose dreams did you expect to reach?"

Strange did not answer for a moment. Then he said, "My wife's."

"I see," said Grant.

"But it is nigh on impossible to fine-tune the magic in such a way as to specify the dreamer. And physical distance also makes the connexion much more difficult. So I had to simply try my best. And I thought – the thing was this dream appeared so very often. So it seemed to me to be the most likely."

"What do you mean?" asked Grant.

Strange stopt himself speaking again and suddenly he seemed embarrassed. He looked at the ground and cleared his throat. "Well," he said. "One cannot specify the dreamer but one can certainly search for a certain object or idea and latch on to it in the conscious thoughts of others, and by that route enter their dreams. And so I had made the magic work in a way that – that was particularly effective towards any body who was already thinking about me."

"I see," Grant said, again.

"Naturally I supposed Mrs Strange would think of me a good deal. And so despite the distance I thought – you see, this dream was so very persistent. But I could not find the dreamer in it. Of course I was looking for some body who was not there." Strange coughed again. "I did think the landscape was surprizingly accurate. But then Bell has always been good at making a picture out of one's description."

"I am very sorry," said Grant.

"Are you?" said Strange. "Whatever for?"

"Because you have worked so hard to reach Mrs Strange and it has not been possible."

"Yes," Strange said, after a pause, and sat down at the foot of Grant's bed. "Of course I had no luck whenever I did this for such a long time that I think I had stopt expecting ever to meet her. But I had to keep trying."

Grant had remained standing in the small space of the tent. It did not seem appropriate to sit next to Strange and it would seem odd to sit at a distance from him. But he studied the side of Strange's face until he looked up and over at Grant.

"Anyhow," said Strange. "I sincerely apologise for disturbing your sleep so very often."

"Do not think of it at all."

Strange was looking at him still. "You are very kind to me," he said, softly. "Always. I do not know that I deserve it."

This was not the sort of statement that Grant could very well answer at the best of times. Eventually he said, "You are Wellington's magician, sir. You deserve any thing."

Strange gave a short sort of laugh, and then he pushed himself to his feet. "I will leave you to rest," he said. "In peace this time."

Now that they stood face to face, Strange twitched as if he were about to make an instinctive movement and had then thought better of it. Grant thought it would perhaps have been a caress or a kiss. Instead he gripped Grant's upper arm in his right hand and Grant found himself doing the same in mirror image. They held on to each other for a moment quite tightly and then Strange said, "I will see you tomorrow," and turned to duck out of the tent.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-17 07:12 am (UTC)(link)
This is so hearbreaking in a good way, thank you! And please, keep going!

Poor Grant. It seems that he continuously says inappropriate things to Strange, or rather things that Strange doesn't want to hear. It feels like the storm is coming which makes me sad and excited at the same time ;__;

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-17 12:06 pm (UTC)(link)
My heart, my feels, oh. You're weaving a beautiful story here, but it's quite painful <3

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-18 01:46 am (UTC)(link)
Seriously, like, this is a great and beautiful and emotionally rich story that manages to be impeccably perfect in every one of its details, but also you write things like "It was as if there were another story hidden behind the pages, one that seemed just beyond his understanding" and it makes me wish this were not anon because you clearly have AMAZING ideas about magic and narrative in this story-world.

Anyway, keep writing this, never stop.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-18 08:07 am (UTC)(link)
I am loving this so much. You have everything- a beautiful style, amazing atmosphere, perfect characterisation and dialogue and an increasingly intricate and heartbreaking plot. I can't wait for the next part!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-18 08:30 am (UTC)(link)
God there are so many amazing details and unsaid emotions laced through this whole story. I have loved watching the evolution of Strange and you did such a fantastic, delicate job of comparing how much he's changed with the flashes of his old self. You both want this and don't want this to keep going forever because you want to trap them in that moment where they have a chance to make it work.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-25 11:18 pm (UTC)(link)
I hope so much that you didn't drop it. This fill is truly amazing!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-27 12:47 am (UTC)(link)
Hello. Very sweet and kind of you to say so. I am definitely still writing this! I've been busier recently than when I started it so the final couple of parts have been a bit delayed. But should be able to finish the next section soon I hope!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-26 06:04 pm (UTC)(link)
This is perfect.
I know there can be no happily ever after for them, but this is still perfect. As true as Grant's heart, as beautiful as Strange's soul.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 12:59 am (UTC)(link)
"As true as Grant's heart, as beautiful as Strange's soul."
this is my favourite review I've ever had thank you

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-27 02:27 am (UTC)(link)
this is so perfect i ache all over. i wish you would never stop, I wish i could know the whole story through the war, after, in Venice and after _everything_
it's just... so perfect. thank you, author, you wrote my favourite dreams so much better than i could have ever imagined

FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 12:58 am (UTC)(link)
After this Grant no longer dreamt of Jonathan Strange, and as before he did not remember his dreams at all. He also refrained from raising the matter with Strange again, not because he objected to any thing that he had done, but because he had an idea that this would result in a conversation that he did not know how to have. So he did not find out whether Strange ever succeeded in reaching his wife through magical means. He thought, however, that he might sense some change in Strange's spirits or demeanour if he had managed it, and he did not pick up on any such signs.

Other than this things were much the same between them. Both Grant and Strange devoted most of their thoughts and conversation to the day to day challenges of the terrain and the wider strategy of the war. But then one day something extremely surprizing happened. Napoleon Buonaparte abdicated and the war was ended.

Of course this was not so surprizing as all that. Lord Wellington's forces had made such progress as to have driven the French troops out of the Peninsula entirely, and were now pursuing them across their own country. An allied victory seemed very possible and Grant had had many tactical conversations about such an outcome with Wellington and his other closest officers. But the fact remained that Buonaparte had been terrorizing Europe for over a decade, and Grant had now been in the Peninsula for nearly six years attempting to do something about it. The idea that all of this should should end so abruptly seemed somehow ludicrous and not entirely real.

It was some days into a battle in the city of Toulouse that the announcement of Napoleon's surrender reached Wellington. He agreed with Marshal Soult, the commander of the French garrison there, that in light of this news it would be rather pointless to carry on fighting. So Wellington and his soldiers occupied the city and were apparently the victors.

Naturally there was very much business to be done in Toulouse, but there was still time that night for a great celebration among the British Army. Strange had been almost as good a drinker as any officer when he had first arrived and now he was better than many of them. He and Grant and a number of others were awake almost through to dawn, and in fact they only went to bed because the hotel they were in, which was thoughtlessly unprepared for a large delegation of His Majesty's soldiers, actually ran out of alcohol.

But the next morning Strange reported for duty at the appointed hour. He looked exhausted, faintly uncomprehending and extremely hung over, which was exactly how Grant felt, but having been a soldier for a long time Grant was much better at not appearing outwardly to be any of these things. Grant handed him a hip-flask of whisky, a mouthful of which Strange swilled around his mouth and then spat onto the ground. Grant did the same and then they went to Wellington's conference room to find out what would happen now that the war was over.

Lord Wellington's first concern was of course the occupation of Toulouse. After this had been properly established, Wellington and a select number of divisions would proceed to Paris, but the repatriation of much of the British Army would also begin.

In a manner of speaking, Major Grant lived in London. However he had not set foot in England for many years and could not in all honesty remember what living in London might be like. He had a notion that it had involved a quantity of leisure time that seemed rather improbable, and that he had enjoyed the experience. He supposed he would enjoy it again.

"We are going home," was all Strange said to him, over and over again, at the end of the first day. "We are going home." The idea seemed incredible to him too, but there was a wonder and a joy in his tone that implied a knowledge and understanding of what this might mean, which Grant could not quite grasp hold of in his own mind.

Grant had thought a little about the conversation that he and Jonathan Strange would need to have if it became clear that they would both be returning to England. He had not thought about it in great detail up until now because this would have required him to assume not only that they would win the war but also that they would both survive to see such a thing, which taken together seemed dangerously optimistic. Nonetheless he had had these sorts of conversations before, and knew broadly how he ought to raise the matter and what they both ought to say. But some how there never seemed to be quite the right moment. There were no quiet interludes in Toulouse and they were very rarely alone together.

Then about a week after Buonaparte's abdication there was an evening that, had circumstances been otherwise, might have ended in the way they had become accustomed to. Colonel Murray went very suddenly to bed after eating a bad oyster, and Strange and Grant were left by themselves. They walked together back to the house in which Grant was now staying. It was in a small side-street that was quite deserted as they approached. But when they got to the street-door Strange stayed where he was and seemed abruptly to stiffen, as if Wellington had called him to attention.

"Grant," he said, "I have been thinking recently about what will happen when we return to England. Well, I do not know what will happen. I do not know much of any thing any more. But I hope very sincerely that we will be friends when we are there."

Strange delivered all of this while staring so fixedly at a strand of ivy over the door that, considering his known propensity for talking to plants, Grant might well have assumed that the speech was intended for the ivy if it had not been prefaced by his own name. "I hope the same," said Grant.

Strange nodded, but still did not turn to face him. "I am glad you agree. Of course our conduct will have to be very much different there. And in preparation for that…" Here he faltered. It seemed that he had not quite agreed with himself what he wished to say, but Grant understood very well and found that he did not particularly want to hear the rest of it.

"You are quite right," said Grant. "I think it is a good idea for us to begin to behave differently."

Strange finally met his eyes, and smiled at him with a sort of awkward relief. Grant smiled back in a way that he hoped was reassuring. But he was surprized to discover that some part of him had been made deeply unhappy. Since he had been trying to find the right way to begin exactly this conversation himself, it was a very odd thing to feel. He ought to be grateful that Strange was the sort of person he was. In this position many men would suggest that they ought not to see each other in England at all. Indeed in some particular situations in the past Grant had suggested this himself. After a moment of consideration, he realized that in this case the idea was quite intolerable. He did not know if it was the same for Strange.

"Then I shall leave," said Strange, "and see you in the morning."

Grant nodded. He was not much intoxicated but he was overcome with an unusually strong desire to kiss Strange, to push him hard up against the door and lick into his mouth untill he buckled with want. He did not think this was only a contrary notion because they had just agreed that they ought not to do any thing of the sort. In truth he could not say why it was.

"Of course," said Grant. "I am very glad that we understand each other."

As he climbed the stairs to his room Grant was struck by the unreasonably dramatic idea that this had all so disquieted him that he might not sleep at all. But of course like all soldiers he was very tired indeed, and like all soldiers he fell asleep the moment he lay down.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 01:09 am (UTC)(link)
I WAS SO OVERJOYED TO SEE THIS HAD BEEN UPDATED THAT I LEAPT AROUND MY ROOM

AND THEN IT WAS SO PAINFUL

BUT SO GOOD

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 05:25 am (UTC)(link)
I knew that it simply couldn't end happily, but God, it stings so hard. Grant, that poor fellow.

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FILL: Strange/Grant, 8/9

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FILL: Strange/Grant, 9/9

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