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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, 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.

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!

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FILL: Strange/Grant, 8/9

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