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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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Strange/Major Grant (spoilers episode 3)

(Anonymous) 2015-06-06 09:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I can't be the only one who enjoyed the tension between Strange and Major Grant in ep3

Wellington: Where's the magician?
Strange: Here, sir.
Grant: I would counsel against placing too much reliance-
Wellington: Yes, Grant, I'm sure you would.

Grant: Perhaps we have reached the limits of your abilities, Mr Strange?

ok I just love this dynamic. First Grant disdains Strange and thinks he's ridiculous and is just getting in the way / has no place being there. Then comes grudging respect after the forest. Then the "are you married" conversation.... then Grant gets all worried over Strange after the spell to raise the dead Neapolitans.

I need fic where Grant starts worrying over Merlin's wellbeing in spite of himself, stuff like Wellington keeps over-taxing Strange and Strange is having a hard time coping with the harsh realities of war and missing his wife, and even though Grant tries to resist it (he's seen too many close friends die) he can't help looking out for Strange / finds he respects the magician more and more / is growing fond of him.

Re: Strange/Major Grant (spoilers episode 3)

(Anonymous) 2015-06-07 05:01 pm (UTC)(link)
Found this, it's Strange/Wellington but these pairings are so rare it may be rtyi nonetheless (warning it contains noncon) http://archiveofourown.org/works/4089787

Re: Strange/Major Grant (spoilers episode 3)

(Anonymous) 2015-06-07 10:41 pm (UTC)(link)

FILL: Strange/Grant, 1/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-23 11:09 pm (UTC)(link)
More soon!


It was not until the affair with the Neapolitan corpses that Major Grant became very concerned about Mr Strange the magician. Before this time Grant had been satisfied that Strange's education in warfare, while doubtless a rude and abrupt one, was proceeding as might be expected. It is a hard thing to watch other men die around you and come out yourself alive, but it is a hard thing that every soldier must develop a tolerance for, alongside pot-holed roads and an empty belly.

Mr Strange had been most troubled by the death of his servant, which was to be expected of any one who had not yet been two months in the Peninsula and furthermore had not been expressly trained for war. Grant thought it prudent to shew him some kindness at this time, for his weather-magic during the French attack had been impressive. It led Grant to believe that Strange may be of much greater use than he had first supposed, and it would therefore not do for him to become so disillusioned with Portugal as to leave. However, it would also not do for him to imagine that this was the sort of incident to which one should attach great import or sentimentality.

That evening Major Grant made sure that Wellington intended to invite the magician to supper, which he did, and made sure that Mr Strange attended, thinking that it would not do him good to eat alone. Strange was silent throughout the meal, however, contemplating his rabbit stew with such intensity that Grant wondered if he was doing some magic to it, and half-expected the food to come back to life as a much put-out rabbit. But in the end Mr Strange just ate it.

"Major Grant tells me that your conversation with the trees was not entirely pointless," Lord Wellington said, towards the end of the meal.

After a short silence, Strange realised that he was being addressed, and looked up. He cleared his throat. "Is that so, my Lord?"

"Indeed. It seems that you succeeded in having some sort of dialogue with them before you were interrupted by the French. Does this mean that it will be possible for you to move forests in the future?"

"I cannot say," Strange replied. "I did not get very far in finding out the opinion of the trees on the matter."

"But you will be able to speak to them again?"

"Yes. That will be possible. Although without my books it will be more complicated."

"Very well," said Wellington, and pushed his empty plate away. "Major Grant, please take Mr Strange to a section of woodland with fewer French in it after supper. See if he has more success without being fired upon. I do not require any particular area of forest to be moved at this time, Mr Strange, so I leave it to your discretion as to how you might like to rearrange the landscape. I hope that this will make it easier for you to do as you are commanded upon the next occasion that the trees are so inconvenient as to stand in our way."

It was in Lord Wellington's nature to order a thing done at the soonest possible point after he had thought of it, since in his position a delay of days or even hours very often meant the life or death of any number of soldiers. However, there seemed no great hurry for Mr Strange to return to the woodland, and Major Grant believed it would make no difference if they waited until the morning. Indeed, a night's sleep would most probably do Mr Strange some good and improve his chances of success.

Grant was about to suggest this to Lord Wellington, with the reasoning that in the morning there would be better light for the magician to work by. But before he could do so the dessert was brought in and Wellington had already begun to address Colonel Murray on the subject of the disposal of the 43rd company on the following day.

On reflection, Grant decided that it might well do Mr Strange some good to press on with his magic that evening. After his first experience of violence his night's sleep would doubtless be much disturbed, and in fact the opportunity to concentrate his mind on some other thing was one he ought to receive gratefully. Grant smiled across the dinner table at Strange in a way that might shew him that the evening's assignment would not be so taxing as the afternoon's, but Mr Strange had returned his gaze to the tablecloth and did not see.

After dinner, Major Grant and Mr Strange rode a couple of miles south to an area of woodland in which intelligence suggested no French soldiers were to be found. The moon shone clear in the sky and gave enough light for them to see by. Strange was very quiet upon the journey and Grant judged it respectful to leave him to his thoughts. Strange carried with him his silver basin held on by a strap across his back, but his saddlebags, usually weighed down with quantities of books, were empty.

When they had ridden a short way into the forest and tied their horses to a tree, Strange opened one of the saddlebags, and Grant saw that he had been mistaken. There were two books inside, but both were small, and had not been visible. One was the stout, squat notebook in which he had seen Strange scribbling from time to time with the stub of a pencil. The other was a slim bound volume. Strange put both of the books into the pockets of the coat that Grant had been obliged to lend him before they set off, when it became apparent that Strange had left his own overcoat covering the body of his manservant that afternoon, and there would not be time to retrieve it. This was exactly the sort of behaviour that must not be encouraged if Mr Strange was to survive the war.

"We must find the oldest tree," Strange announced, and immediately strode off in what appeared to be an indiscriminate direction. It was the first thing he had said in over an hour. Grant followed him, taking care that they did not lose sight of the horses. The moonlight through the tree-branches cast odd shadows upon the ground and the scene might have felt quite eerie were it not for the sound of Strange's boots crashing loudly through the undergrowth.

"What about that one?" Grant asked. He pointed to a huge, gnarled tree-stump that sat resolutely among its younger, livelier cousins. The bark was wet and covered in moss, and the surface of the stump was much obscured by dead leaves and creeping things, but he could see plainly that it was very much older than any other tree nearby.

Strange turned, and looked at where he was pointing. "That tree is dead, sir," he said, and began to walk away again. "I cannot talk to it."

Grant caught Strange up a little further on, standing before a tree that was thick enough that he could not have wrapped his arms around it. It appeared he had decided that this would do. But as to how to proceed he seemed at a loss.

"Can I help at all?" Grant asked.

"I have become very reliant upon my books," Strange said. He did not turn to face Major Grant as he spoke, but instead looked very intently at the tree in front of him. "Some time ago I did magic mostly without them. But through study I have come to appreciate the benefits afforded by book-magic. One of those is specificity. Very often when I first did spells they would be effective, but not quite in the way I had intended."

"Was that so terrible?"

"Terrible?" replied Strange, a little surprized. "No. Usually it was rather amusing."

"And do you think you can perform this spell without your books?"

Strange lifted one hand and placed it on the tree trunk. His fingers curled slightly against the bark. "Perhaps. Only I do not know that I want to."

"Then it is lucky that you do not need to consider that," said Grant. "You have been ordered to do so by Lord Wellington himself. And surely the trees won't mind so very much. I would have thought they would appreciate the change of scenery."

"We cannot imagine what it is they want. They have a wild consciousness not at all like ours. It is quite frightening," Strange said, rather matter-of-factly. "But I am not afraid of speaking to them again. I am simply not sure that I want to do something because it is Lord Wellington's whim."

This last was spoken with the arrogance and anger of a man who has received some slight at the hand of an acquaintance, since this was presumably the nearest comparable circumstance in Strange's life so far. While Grant was at first shocked, he was struck quickly by the difficulty of the situation in which he found himself. Strange was understandably very upset by the day's events and did not have full control of his emotions. Usually the only men to express such sentiments were young officers who had not yet mastered themselves, and it was appropriate to reprimand them. Strong discipline must be the cornerstone of the army, and it was through discipline administered by others and by himself that Major Grant had become Wellington's most successful intelligence officer. However, it would be most irregular for Grant to speak to Mr Strange now as he would to a young soldier. Indeed, he did not think there were many years between them.

Instead, Grant spoke as firmly as he could without saying any thing he thought might cause offence. "I'm afraid that acting at the behest of Lord Wellington is something you will have to become used to. What may seem like a whim to you will most likely emerge as part of a greater plan. I strongly advise you to accept that he is your commander and should not be questioned."

"I find it very difficult not to ask questions," Strange said. "And I find it very difficult to respect those who will not have questions asked of them."

"That is a very noble attitude in England. But it is not one that will do in Portugal."

Strange turned to look at him, and in his eyes for a moment Grant saw something quite furious. But although Strange was not a soldier, he was an English gentleman, and as such had a greater degree of control over himself than many men the world over. After a moment the flash of anger was gone and he only looked very sad.

"You are right, Major Grant," he said, and turned again to the tree.

"I'm sorry about your man," Grant said, after a moment, to Strange's back. "The loss of those you are responsible for is a difficult thing to bear. But I think you will bear it with the knowledge that he died in good cause."

Strange did not reply to this, and Grant did not push the matter further. He watched as Strange placed his hand once more upon the tree, and for a moment closed his eyes. Then he opened them again. "Earlier I used rather a long Latin incantation that was set down in Pevensey. I do not remember it now."

Grant leaned against the next tree to the one that Strange was examining, and folded his arms. He began to get the feeling that they might be there for a while.

Strange now pulled from his pocket the book that was not the one he used for writing notes, and began to flip through its pages. He was muttering under his breath, but in a way that seemed more like a man talking to himself than a magician casting a spell.

"What is that book, sir?" Grant asked him.

"It is the only one I have left," said Strange. "It is a children's book. But I remember it contains a particular verse about the magic of trees." He muttered a little more that Grant could not hear, and then he said, "Here it is."

"What does it tell you?"

Strange coughed to clear his throat, and then he read what was on the page before him. Something about his voice, which until now had been tinged with weariness, seemed stronger and more powerful as he spoke the words. Grant could not have described exactly why this should be, since his voice did not grow any louder, but it was Grant's very distinct impression that this was so.

Strange read:

"The ivy promised to bind England's enemies;
Briars and thorns promised to whip them;
The hawthorn said he would answer any question;
The birch said he would make doors to other countries;
The yew brought us weapons;
The raven punished our enemies;
The oak watched the distant hills;
The rain washed away all sorrow."

Then he lowered the book and looked again at Major Grant, and back to the tree.

"What does it mean?"

"It is a description of the contracts the Raven King is supposed to have made with various elements of the forest. Unfortunately, if such contracts were made, they would have been with English forests only. I am not sure Portuguese trees will believe themselves in any way bound to such things."

"Anyhow," said Grant, "this is an ash-tree, is it not? That was not in your verse."

"No," Strange agreed. "But it is said that ash-trees will mourn until the Raven King comes home again."

"Is that so?"

Strange shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps. Again, it does not seem likely that a Portuguese ash-tree has any interest in the Raven King at all."

But he laid his hand once again upon the bark, and closed his eyes. This time something happened. Grant could not say precisely what it was, but it was as if the brightness of the moon had been increased and as if every leaf in the forest straightened itself upon its branch, although he was not sure that either of these things actually took place. Grant stopt leaning against the tree next to him and stood upright.

Strange was breathing very deeply, his fingers digging into the damp bark, and then the tree before him began to make a similar noise to that emitted by the other forest earlier that day. It was something like a cross between a creak and a groan. One by one, the trees around them joined in, some louder than others, some more high-pitched, some rumbling so low that Grant could feel vibrations upon the forest floor. Before too long this noise was so loud that Grant would have covered his ears if the thought had not struck him that it might be very rude to do so. So he stood and watched as Strange began to tremble all over, and the cacophony of sound reached a crescendo; and then quite suddenly it stopt. Strange let his hand fall again to his side and opened his eyes.

Major Grant looked around. They were still most certainly in the forest, which was made up of the same sorts of trees as it had a moment ago, but something about it was different. He felt like a man who has been spun around blindfolded and to whom a familiar landscape looks strange and disorienting.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"I have moved the trees," Strange said. "But not the forest. Each tree has simply exchanged places with its next-door neighbour."

This was quite true. Grant saw now that with the exception of the ash-tree with which Strange had first been communing, every tree in the forest was now a small distance to the north, south, east or west, replaced by another tree that had been close at hand. It was a most odd sensation.

"That is remarkable," he said. "Good grief."

Strange put the small book back into the pocket of his coat, and Grant noticed that he looked exhausted. Grant imagined that while doing magic was not quite like fighting, it might tire one in the manner of a long march or a sleepless night.

"It was not so very difficult after all," said Strange. "I think I will be able to do it again."

"Lord Wellington will be most pleased."

"I am glad," said Strange, and began to walk back towards their horses. He did not seem as discombobulated by the rearrangement of the forest as Major Grant, and headed in the right direction without hesitation.

"And was the tree mourning for the Raven King?" Grant asked.

"No," Strange said, over his shoulder. "But it appreciated the concern in that regard I shewed to its English cousins. There is a greater brotherhood between the trees of the world, it seems, than the men."

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 1/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-24 07:05 am (UTC)(link)

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 1/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-24 08:36 am (UTC)(link)
Very good! I really like how you brought in the verse about the trees and worked with that. And Grant trying to understand Strange based on his own experiences - very nice. Looking forward to the next part!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 1/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-24 09:50 pm (UTC)(link)
GOD this is wonderful. The narrative voice is perfect.

FILL: Strange/Grant, 2/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-25 12:41 am (UTC)(link)
Over the following weeks Mr Strange changed the course of two rivers and flattened a large hill, along with building and destroying a new stretch of broad white road each day, all for the benefit of the British Army. Lord Wellington also called upon him very often to shew him visions of other parts of the country in his silver basin. Strange complained that the basin was not really the ideal thing for the job, being too small: he had preferred, in London, to spill water or wine across a polished table-surface and to conjure the vision in that. Using a basin involved much awkward peering into corners that could not quite be seen. Wellington apologised with heavy sarcasm for the lack of table-polish to be found in Portugal.

Major Grant was pleased to see that while Mr Strange could not be said to be enjoying the war exactly, he was certainly managing with it. He was settling into his new life with greater ease than many non-military gentlemen would have done. The camaraderie of the troops he found the most natural thing in the world, evidently being the sort of fellow who could talk and drink with any body who happened to be around him, wherever they had come from and whatever they might want to talk about. While many officers were still wary of his sudden-seeming influence over their commander, and many men were still wary of his magic, both classes of soldier found that they liked him very much, and so their wariness diminished. He had also stopt jumping at the sound of gunfire, unless it was unusually close by.

It was only the repeated and unavoidable fact of death itself that continued to trouble Mr Strange. One day he and Grant stayed an extra morning in the small deserted village which had served for the army's quarters the night before. Wellington had asked that Strange erase by magic all traces of soldiers having camped, eaten and slept there, as he hoped to confound some French spies known to be following their progress at a distance of around two days. The plan was for these spies to follow a false trail (also created by Strange) in utterly the wrong direction, causing them at least to send incorrect intelligence back to their headquarters, and at best to become lost and die in the wilderness.

Once Strange had performed the necessary spells to clear the night's debris, which took some time, he and Grant set off in pursuit of the column of troops. Since every other soldier had already marched or ridden along the road they were now taking, there was much here too for Strange to clear away so that the French spies could not pick up their trail. They came upon a broken baggage-cart, which Strange transported to the bottom of a river they had crossed the week before; a dead horse, which Strange transfigured into a dead mouse and hid among the stones; and finally upon two dead Englishmen. It seemed that they had perished upon the march of wounds inflicted in a skirmish a few days before, and that it had not been possible to bury them properly, as the ground here was sun-baked so hard as to make it impervious to spades. Instead, their bodies had been left a short way out from the road, behind a large boulder and covered by other stones, but the wheel and cry of crows above them meant that they were easily found.

"It will not do," muttered Strange, looking down at the corpses.

Grant said, "Can you turn them into mice too?"

"I do not think so," said Strange. "Animal transfiguration is a very different matter to that of humans. And even if it were possible – well. I do not think I have the heart in me to do it."

After a moment, Grant said, "I often find it helpful to fancy that these are no longer men. Whatever it is that makes us what we are, I do not think it remains after death. That part of them must be elsewhere now. And so do not trouble yourself unduly about the condition of their bodies."

In actual fact, the condition of their bodies was relatively good. It seemed one man had been killed by an infected wound in the leg and one by a bloody injury to the stomach which had grown worse over time. But the bodies were not yet mutilated by carrion birds and other creatures. Perhaps it was the resemblance to still-living people that Mr Strange found difficult to bear.

"I will do something," he said, but as he raised his right hand, it trembled badly. Grant had noticed this affliction in Strange before, in the wake of the attack they had suffered in the forest, but it had not been so pronounced. Strange clenched the hand immediately into a fist, but this served only to force the tremor through his body, appearing finally in the other hand, which shook by his side.

Strange regarded his trembling left hand with some mixture of puzzlement and distaste. Then he raised it into the air, between himself and Major Grant, and looked at Grant as if asking him what on earth he might do about it. Grant knew very well that this was the sort of thing that ought to be curtailed as soon as possible.

"Merlin," said Grant, sharply, and grasped his hand to still it.

While Grant had expected this to stop the shaking, which it did, he had not expected the iron grip in which he now found his own hand. Strange clenched his fingers as tightly around Grant's as the fist he had made a moment before, and the expression in his eyes was so desperate and seemed to implore so much of him that Grant was quite taken aback by it.

For a moment, they stared at each other in this way. Then Grant felt the sensation he had come to recognise as magic being done. He thought at first that it simply felt as though the ground was shifting beneath his feet, and then it became apparent that it really was. Many tiny cracks were appearing in the hardened red soil, which joined together to form bigger cracks. Grant and Strange let go of each other's hands and stepped back to watch the earth open and swallow up the bodies of the two dead soldiers.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 2/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-25 06:54 am (UTC)(link)
Love this. You've got such a good combination of dry humour – he had also stopt jumping at the sound of gunfire, unless it was unusually close by – and the emotionally very powerful: Strange clenched his fingers as tightly around Grant's as the fist he had made a moment before, and the expression in his eyes was so desperate and seemed to implore so much of him that Grant was quite taken aback by it. Very well done!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 2/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-25 07:14 pm (UTC)(link)
This is absolutely amazing. Please, keep going!

FILL: Strange/Grant, 3/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-27 12:41 am (UTC)(link)
Grant was immediately dispatched to San Giacomo upon the discovery of the location of the Neapolitans' captured cannon. Lord Wellington's assertion that the guns would be theirs by morning had been a little optimistic. It was mid-afternoon of the following day by the time Grant and his men came upon the group of tired, hungry deserters, and it took considerably longer for them to ride back from San Giacomo with their new guns and a number of new Neapolitan prisoners. All in all, it was three days before Grant returned to find Jonathan Strange still in the windmill, surrounded by his shambling, shuffling corpses. It seemed that Wellington had been very busy and had not missed him, and that any other soldiers who had suspected Strange still to be in the mill had been too afraid of the infernal magic done there to approach it.

It was quite clear that Strange had not slept or eaten in any meaningful way since Grant had last seen him, and frankly Grant was surprized that his wits had not deserted him very much further than they had. He was surprized also to find that he was quite angry about the state that Strange had been allowed to get into. He could not very well rebuke Lord Wellington for it; neither could he rebuke any other officer, since none had been commanded to do any thing about it. So he settled for rebuking himself soundly for failing to make sure that Strange was looked out for in his absence. Then he wondered how, when and why he had accepted, even if only from himself, responsibility for the magician's wellbeing.

By the time Grant had overseen the destruction of the mill and the dead men inside it, Strange and Wellington had ridden many miles on to see to the matter of the bridge that Strange must move. Grant did not catch up with them until that night, when the army was quartered in another of Spain's endless supply of ghostly deserted villages. He found Strange in the corner of the room above the empty shop in which he was billeted, slumped on the floor with his head in his hands. He looked up at the sound of Grant's footsteps on the wooden boards, eyes shot through with blood-red lines.

"How are you, Merlin?" Grant asked.

Strange ran his tongue over his lips, which looked dry and cracked, and swallowed. "Oh, I dare say I could be very much worse."

"Indeed," said Grant. "I cannot recommend highly enough the merits of actually using the bed, since you have one for the night."

Strange's mouth twisted into something that bore a very faint resemblance to a smile. "I cannot go to sleep."

Grant knew from experience the peculiar difficulty of falling asleep after many days of forced wakefulness. He nodded in sympathy. "I would lie down nonetheless. Sleep tends to come at the most unexpected moment, usually just as one decides that one might as well get up again."

"You misunderstand me," Strange said. "There is a link between certain types of magic and the dreaming world. It is something to do with doors in our minds being left open. I do not remember the details particularly well. But its only relevance at the moment is that I do not wish to dream about the corpses."

Grant did not wish to dream about the corpses either. In fact, on his long ride back from San Giacomo, he had been pleased to reflect that they were most likely long disposed of and he would not have to see them again on his return. If the memory of them after two brief meetings was unnatural and unpleasant for Grant, their impact on Strange after three days was quite unthinkable. He began to entertain the notion that staying awake for ever might indeed be Strange's most sensible course of action, before eventually deciding that this would probably kill him.

"I am afraid it seems you must," Grant said. He sat down on the floor against the opposite wall and took off his coat, so that the stone was blessedly cool against his back. "Or else you will begin to dream of them while you are awake, which is very much worse."

Strange jerked his head slightly in something that might have been a nod.

"Where did you learn that magic?" Grant asked.

"It is an approximation of something done by the Raven King."

Grant thought about this for a while. Then he said, "I do not remember learning about that sort of thing. One got the impression at school that the Raven King was interested in natural kinds of magic. Communication with the wind and the water, and so forth. Of course my knowledge of magic goes no further than the schoolroom and the playground. But I do not remember any thing like that at all."

Strange nodded, more slowly this time. "I do not think he did it often," he said.

"I do not imagine any one would do it more than once."

"It was different in the time of the Raven King. I think it must have been a very much harsher world. And of course magic was entirely commonplace. It is difficult to know how they would have thought of something like this."

Grant privately thought that there could not ever have been a time in England in which men did not find the sight of half-living, half-dead bodies utterly unnerving, but he said nothing.

Strange's head had drooped forward from his exhaustion, but after a moment he twitched back into an upright position, his mind preventing his body from the sleep it was evidently trying to trick him into. He saw that Grant watched him do this, and then looked down at the floor.

"Please go to sleep," Grant said. "You will be no good to any body at all if you do not. And I will stay here."

Strange looked a little confused. "I do not suggest that there will be any danger. I will be quite all right. It will simply be very unpleasant."

"Yes," Grant agreed. "I will remain here throughout the unpleasantness."

Strange opened his mouth as if to argue, and then seemed to think better of it.

Grant pulled towards him the baggage he had brought and began to look through it for a blanket he might lie down upon. "You had better get into that bed," he said, but when he looked up, Strange was asleep where he sat on the floor.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 3/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-27 08:07 am (UTC)(link)
I continue to love this. Exploring Strange post-Neapolitans is always an A+ in my book – I can't even begin to imagine what a horrific experience that must have been. And the growing trust between him and Grant is really beautiful <3

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 3/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-27 10:02 am (UTC)(link)
You're amazing, this is amazing, never stop

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 3/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-27 12:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Grant looking after Strange as gently as he will allow himself to is going to continue to mess me up so hard. You write them both so well.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 3/?

(Anonymous) 2015-06-27 06:00 pm (UTC)(link)
This is wonderful and everything I want.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 3/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-02 08:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight, I wish for more of this fill because it is wonderful.

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.

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FILL: Strange/Grant, 8/9

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