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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, 6/?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How should I know?" said Grant.

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

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

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

"Hello," said Grant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But I did not mean to intrude."

"Were you walking in dreams on purpose?"

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

"Whose dreams did you expect to reach?"

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

"I see," said Grant.

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

"What do you mean?" asked Grant.

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

"I see," Grant said, again.

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

"I am very sorry," said Grant.

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

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

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

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

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

"Do not think of it at all."

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

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

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

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Anyway, keep writing this, never stop.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-27 05:30 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for replying (and sorry for being annoying). Take your time, I'm just happy that you have no intention to stop writing this wonderful story!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-07-27 23:52 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 6/?

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

FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 01:09 am (UTC)(link)



Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

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

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 10:40 am (UTC)(link)
Why this. As always, you're an incredible writer A!A. I have to. I have to go sit under my desk and make sad faces for a bit now.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-07-31 12:00 pm (UTC)(link)
We shall hope that Strange will pay our fine Grant a visit that night. Well, there's still a hope, I'll stick to it.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-01 10:39 am (UTC)(link)
Oh my GOODNESS this is the most heartbreaking and beautiful thing!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-04 04:36 am (UTC)(link)
these two are so full of feels and pain. how can anyone not like them. ahah. ha. ha. ha. *laughing through horrible sobbing*

A!A you are a treasure.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-04 11:34 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, poor, poor Grant, and poor Jonathan too. A!A, my heart is breaking for them, and I'm not a sentimental type. This continues to be one of the most excellent pieces of fanfic I have ever read in any fandom.

Oh god, I just had a thought. Remember at the end of episode 4, when TV!Grant comes in to tell Strange that Wellington wants him back? I saw that as a soldier bracing himself for a battle, with a spark of excitement; now all I can see is a man in love clutching at straws.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-04 09:44 pm (UTC)(link)
SOOOOO INTO THIS! I've been refreshing the Colquhoun Grant tag on AO3 for many weeks hoping that something like this might appear; SO GLAD I finally made my way over here!!

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-05 07:25 am (UTC)(link)
*keeps updating thread every hour*

So sad and yet so good! Waiting for the next part with baited breath.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-07 07:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Sorry, don't want to seem pushy, I just wanted to say that I really wait for this fill to be updated (more like I desperately need another shot because your writing is realy addictive). It will make me absolutely happy.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) 2015-08-09 11:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Not pushy at all! Everybody has been very patient while I have been painfully slowly writing this. All being well, the final part should go up tomorrow.

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-09 23:55 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 16:01 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 16:55 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 17:34 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 17:51 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 18:07 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 18:25 (UTC) - Expand

Re: FILL: Strange/Grant, 7/?

(Anonymous) - 2015-08-10 18:36 (UTC) - Expand

FILL: Strange/Grant, 8/9

(Anonymous) 2015-08-11 01:56 am (UTC)(link)
It was nearly a month later when they reached Bordeaux. Lord Wellington, being content that Toulouse was sufficiently occupied, was now on his way to Paris, but the majority of soldiers were to embark either for England or for the war in America. Grant was bound for England, but had been entrusted with overseeing a good deal of business in Wellington's stead in Bordeaux before leaving, probably another month hence. Strange was returning home immediately.

"Goodbye, Merlin," Wellington had said, shaking his hand, when their parties diverged north of Toulouse. "Your acquaintance has been most thoroughly unusual. I hope to hear good news of you."

"Thank you, my Lord," said Strange. "I hope we will meet again under happier circumstances."

"Oh! What could be happier than this?" asked Wellington, as a musket fired accidentally somewhere in the ranks, followed by some distant, irritated shouting.

On the march from Toulouse, Strange moved between a sort of wild exultation at the knowledge that his ordeal was nearly over, and a deep exhaustion that had settled in now that he was no longer required to be ready to fight at any moment. This made him appear almost as unstable as he had been in the early days that Grant had known him. He and Grant remained often in each other's company, but there was something a little different about the way they spoke to each other, a shared lack of reference to whatever it was that existed between them.

Eventually Grant, Strange, and thousands of soldiers of the British Army arrived on a warm May afternoon in Bordeaux, which they proceeded somewhat to overrun. The ale-houses, wine-shops and brothels did exceedingly good trade, while a quantity of the citizens of Bordeaux retired in displeasure to the surrounding country until the army would be so good as to leave.

Strange was leaving the very next morning on one of the first ships to sail. Of course, since a good deal of other soldiers were leaving then too, there was something of a festival mood in the city, from which Grant and Strange were not exempt. It was well-known that the magician was sailing in the morning and so any man who saw him and knew him came to speak to Strange and to offer him a drink. The conclusion of all of this was that somewhere in the early hours Strange disappeared briefly among a cluster of the 14th Light Dragoons, and when Grant remembered to look for him he was nowhere to be found. Admittedly Grant was not in a particularly fit state for investigatory work at this point.

For perhaps an hour or so Grant remained in the company of the other officers who had been with them, until it was proposed that they move to another tavern. They all went out into the street, which was full of soldiers and other people, and began to walk down it in a direction that seemed as good as any. But after a little while Grant felt someone catch at his hand. He supposed it to be either a beggar or a whore and turned to shake them off, and found instead that it was Strange. He looked very still and dark among the noise and movement and red coats that thronged around them, and Grant was arrested by the sight of him in a way that he had managed not to be over the past few weeks.

"Will you come with me?" Strange asked, and Grant did not even answer. He just stepped towards him and left his hand in Strange's so that he pulled him through the river of people in whatever direction he chose.

They walked for a short time until they turned into a street that was no so well-lit, although just as full of bodies. Strange dropt his hand and Grant followed him to the door of a boarding-house. Inside it was almost as crowded as the street outside. Nobody paid them any attention as they threaded their way to the staircase, the parlour being busy with soldiers and women who presumably did not fit into the rooms available or could not afford them.

It seemed Strange had already taken a room. Once they had climbed the stairs he led Grant along a corridor, which was the first empty place Grant had seen all evening, and unlocked a door. Grant followed him in to a room that was small but not at all unpleasant. There was a grate with a fire, dying now, but the warmth of which was evident; a mirror on the wall that was plain but scrubbed clean; a table with a shaving-bowl; and an iron-framed bed that was probably not large by the general standards of beds, but was unimaginably luxurious by the standards of war. Strange's things were all in one corner where he had left them before coming to find him: his baggage, his overcoat, his silver basin. Grant looked about him in a sort of daze, and realized, as one often does when confronted suddenly with a quiet, calm place, that he was very much more drunk than he had supposed. But at the sound of the key turning he looked up.

Strange had locked the door and placed the key on the shaving-table. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry. I couldn't – "

Grant actually might have been interested to hear the end of this statement, but before he could stop himself he had taken Strange by the collar and kissed him very hard. Strange leant back against the door and Grant went with him. Indeed Grant only stopt and pulled back because he found he had to breathe. When he did so the sight of Strange – pliant under his hands, mouth open and wet – was so very arousing that he had to turn his face to one side. He could hear and feel Strange breathing heavily against his ear.

"Yes," Strange said. "Something like that."

Grant turned to look at him again. For a moment they stayed where they were, but then Strange pushed him gently away. Before Grant could protest at this, Strange took off his jacket and began to unbutton his waistcoat, holding his gaze all the while, and for the first time the significance of the locked room came to him. Grant began to pull at the buttons of his tunic and then stood on one foot at a time to pull off his boots. For a short while he became distracted from his own task by pulling Strange's shirt over his head for him, which Grant judged not to have been removed at all quickly enough.

While Grant had at some point or other seen every part of Strange's anatomy he had never actually seen all of it at once, and when at last he was naked, Grant was a little shocked by the sight. Although the war had given him callouses on his hands and feet and worn away any softnesses of his body, Grant thought as he looked at Strange that there was still something delicate there that the Peninsula had not entirely managed to destroy. Although delicate did not seem quite the right word. Perhaps it was simply the reminder of how very human he was. However, these thoughts were mostly overtaken by far baser ones, and Strange's expression as Grant removed his own underwear indicated something similar.

Strange took a step towards him and for the first time they kissed with every part of their bodies pressed together. Grant was so overcome with both the physical sensation of it and the knowledge that this would not ever happen again that he could do nothing of any use, and only held Strange against him until Strange began with small movements to direct him towards the bed. There they lay down, and Grant ran his hands once along the length of Strange's whole body, since this too was something he could do for the first and last time. Then he leant over Strange with his knees on either side of his hips and kissed him again. But it seemed the alcohol had loosened Grant's tongue and he found that he was saying, over and over, very close to Strange's mouth, "Please – please – please – "

"Please what?" Strange asked him. "What would you have?"

Grant swallowed. He did not know why he had been saying it. But as he considered the question a very clear answer came to him, and so without pause he gave it. "Would you do some magic?"

Strange did not look as if this was the answer he was expecting. After a moment, he said, "What sort of magic?"

"I do not much care," said Grant. "Only I would like to see you to do something that is not for Wellington or for the army or for the war at all. I would like you to do some magic for – " For me. "For yourself."

Grant moved to one side so that Strange had a little more space; he did not know if being on top of him would hinder any magic, or at least make it more difficult to concentrate. Strange had propt himself up against the pillows and appeared to be giving the matter some thought. "I do not know what to do," he said, with a half-frown that creased his face in a way that Grant found quite beautiful. "I do not think there are any spells particularly for this." Then an unwelcome thought seemed to strike him and he looked rather annoyed. "Or if there are, Mr Norrell has not let me read about them."

But then his eye fell upon the fire in the grate, which was by now down to its embers. As Grant watched, Strange held out his hand towards it, and then slowly brought his fingers together into a fist, as if he were crushing something he held in his palm. As he did this the remains of the fire went out completely. A queer chill came into the room which did not seem to be just because the fire was no longer there, but like all magical sensations, Grant would have struggled later to describe it.

Strange cast his eye around the room again, and then, slowly, he opened his hand. One by one, the candles that stood unlit on the table and on the window-sill flickered into life. The wider his hand opened the brighter they burned, until the room was lit with an orange glow and flooded with warmth. Like the chill that preceded them, it did not feel as though these sensations could have been caused by the candles alone. In fact the warmth seemed to sink into Grant's skin and mingle with the heat of the alcohol in his blood to tune his body to an absolute point of desire.

He felt suddenly desperate for touch, and caught the hand that Strange was still holding out. He brought it to his face, nuzzled against it, kissed the knuckles and licked the palm, and then moved it down to where he was by now quite hard. Strange took hold of him immediately, and at that Grant made a deep, harsh noise and began to move into his fist. All of the rather sad, complicated thoughts he had had since they had entered the room seemed to melt away and he was left shaking with a desperation and desire that he could not control. He had had some idea that since this was the last time they would be able to do any thing like this, and that they were unusually unlikely to be disturbed, he ought to consider carefully what should happen and indeed how best to prolong it. But Grant felt as hot and frantic as if he were being fired upon, with the same instinctive, single-minded determination. He found that all he wanted was for Strange to do exactly this, to kiss him and do this, until he spilled. So he pulled Strange by the hip until he straddled him, and pulled him downwards with a hand behind his neck to kiss him, and murmured, "Please, please, please," again. He did not let him go until Strange swiped a thumb over him and he spent, gasping and swallowing, his fingers tangled in Strange's hair.

After this Grant fell back against the pillows. Strange was looking down at him and breathing almost as heavily as if he were the one to have climaxed. He ran his hands carefully along Grant's arms, from his shoulders to his elbows, and then over the hair on his chest, and the stubble at his jaw. Grant took one of his hands by the wrist and kept it there, next to his face, and slipped the tip of Strange's thumb into his mouth. He licked gently at the rough skin at the top, and at the pad, and Strange groaned and jerked his hips slightly forward. He met with nothing, so Grant pushed the pillows higher behind him and sat up a little more so that when Strange moved, he moved against Grant's chest and stomach. Then he let go of Strange's thumb and instead put his index and middle fingers into his mouth, running his tongue along the length of them, sucking a little when he had put them as far in as they would go. Strange watched him with wide black eyes, his face flushed with arousal, rubbing gently up against him and letting Grant do whatever he wished.

Grant took Strange's fingers out of his mouth and moved his hand down between their bodies, between his own legs. "Go on, Merlin," he said, and Strange made a high, hard noise of surprize and want.

They had not done this very many times before: it was an act that generally required more time, care and privacy than they had been able to find during the course of the war, and Grant had also for some reason thought at first that Strange might find it distasteful. But he had been disabused of this notion when eventually he did suggest it, and so he had taught Strange, slowly and carefully, in the dark, how best to prepare him so that it did not hurt very much. Once Strange had had him for the first time he had shewn a surprizing interest in Grant having him in return, but this Grant summarily refused to do until they came to a town where he was able to buy a bottle of olive oil and prepare Strange much more thoroughly. This bottle had been lost some time ago, and since then, having become used to its aid, they had left off. But Grant felt as though every bit of tension in his body had fallen away, and thought that they would be able to do without; and besides he wanted it so very much that he did not care.

Nonetheless Strange put his fingers into his own mouth and made them very much wetter before he would put them into Grant, and when at last he took him, it was far more slowly and deliberately than Grant had imagined. Grant had put one of the pillows under his hips but kept the other behind him so that he could stay half-sitting, half lying where he was, and so that when Strange pushed as far forward as he could they were very close together. Strange stayed near him, not moving, and gave Grant a kiss that started off very tenderly but soon turned rough. Then Grant put his hands at Strange's hips and urged him to move. Strange did this until he started to make sounds that were very long and low, as if they came from somewhere deep inside him that he was not quite opening up on purpose.

When at last Strange finished in him Grant shivered so violently at the sensation that Strange held him tight by the arms. For a short time they stayed as they were, Strange resting against his body with his forehead pressed against Grant's and the sweat cooling on their skin. Grant felt very thoroughly used and glad of it, although when Strange removed himself and lay down by his side, he could not think of any thing they could possibly say to one another. Instead he rolled over and kissed Strange again, pulling their bodies together, and pulling the bedclothes around them. In fact they kissed for so long that at some point Grant fell asleep.

FILL: Strange/Grant, 9/9

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