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fic: Summer in Weymouth

Title: Summer in Weymouth
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Pairing: young!Grant/young!Strange
Rating: NC-17
Content notes: there's a lot of heavy drinking in this one, as well as the sex
Wordcount: 6326
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine.
Summary: AU in which Grant and Strange meet as young men in Weymouth, ten years before the events of the Peninsular War.
A/N: written for this prompt on the kinkmeme, with additional inspiration from this fanart by pervvvy on tumblr; this fic is for the artist and OP. Thanks to everyone who commented on the fic at the kinkmeme or on tumblr, to solitaryjo for information about Grant's family background, to [personal profile] lilliburlero and [personal profile] 2ndskin for their encouragement and to [personal profile] theicescholar for help and advice. Special thanks to pervvvy for the lovely prompt and art, and to [personal profile] kalypso for her wonderful beta work throughout and for suggesting the elephant.




“Devil take the fellow!” Colquhoun Grant said aloud, glaring at the letter on the table in front of him.

He did not like to refuse his mother any thing she asked, but the last thing he wanted to do with his precious leave was play nursemaid to Mrs Erquistoune's milksop of a nephew. A spoilt brat, that much was clear, and an Englishman into the bargain. He wondered briefly whether it would be worth pretending he had not received the letter, but his mother would be bound to find him out. It was a saying in Forres that you couldn't keep any thing from “Mrs Pro”, and he had reason enough to know the truth of that. He wished his mother less sharp-eyed, or less interferingly charitable, or both. With all the delights that Weymouth had to offer, it was deucedly hard to be burdened with this wretched Strange, only because the man's aunt had been at school with Grant's mother.

“Mrs Erquistoune is most dreadfully concerned,” his mother had written. “It appears that Mr Strange has been crossed in love, and talks wildly of making away with himself. Do, my dear Colquhoun, seek him out and write to assure us that all is well with him.”

Grant doubted very much that all was well with Jonathan Strange, though he did not think he would find the young man weltering in his own gore, or expiring with a bottle marked POISON clutched in his hand. Men have died from time to time, and the worms have eaten them, but not for love, he thought sourly. It was far more likely that he would have to listen to yet another tedious tale of woe, or to sit politely through the disappointed lover's interminable bad verses to the fair and heartless She. Grant had seen so many of his friends through the pangs of disprized love that he could almost have written an epic poem on the subject, or perhaps a three-volume novel. It was the price he paid for remaining heart-whole himself, he supposed.

Sighing heavily, he put up his mother's letter and went in search of Strange's lodgings. His direction was a shabby house in a narrow side-street near the sands, which Grant rather wondered at. It seemed an unlikely choice for someone who spent so much of the year in Charlotte-square, but perhaps Mrs Erquistoune's nephew was less well off than his Edinburgh relations.

The landlady sniffed when he announced his errand, and gave it as her opinion that he would find Strange still abed. She looked as if for two pins she would have said a good deal more about her lodger's unsatisfactory habits, but not being sure who Grant was she refrained from further comment.

Grant went up the rickety stairs to the first floor and knocked at the door.

“Go away!” said a peevish voice, sounding as if its owner was barely awake.

Grant counted to ten, rather slowly, rolled his eyes at his mother's misplaced loyalty to her old schoolfellow, cursed under his breath, and knocked again, somewhat louder this time. “Mr Strange!” he called. “I would speak with you, sir.”

A ripe oath from Strange was followed by the metallic sound of some heavy object - a candlestick, perhaps, or a tankard - striking the other side of the door with great force.

“Mr Strange!” said Grant, more sharply than before. “I must speak with you.”

This produced a loud cry of vexation, and the sound of someone stumbling out of bed and across the room. The door was jerked violently open, and a wild-haired, wild-eyed and apparently naked young man glared out at Grant.

“Who the devil are you?” Strange demanded. “And what the - what do you mean by this intrusion?”

“My name is Grant, sir,” Grant said, a little stiffly, trying not to stare. There was rather a lot of Strange not to stare at.

“And what is that to me?” snapped Strange. “I don't know you, sir, and I don't wish to know you. Kindly go away and leave me alone. My head aches confoundedly.”

“Does it indeed?” said Grant, interested in spite of himself. “Claret or brandy?”

Strange squinted at him, rather in the manner of an owl caught in daylight. “Claret,” he said, wincing. “And Madeira. I think it was the Madeira. Though it might have been the gin, when the Madeira ran out.”

Grant winced in sympathy. Gin? Good lord! “What you need,” he said, “is hock and soda-water.”

Strange shuddered. “What I need, Mr What-d'you-call-'em, is to be left to die in peace.”

Grant laughed outright at that, earning a fresh glare from Strange. “Alas, sir, that is what I cannot do. But I will fetch you hock and soda-water with pleasure. Wait here,” he added, which on reflection was a foolish thing to say, since Strange evidently had no intention of going any where.

A tavern in the next street provided the hock and soda-water, and Grant took it up, to the landlady's additional disapproval. Strange was still bare-legged, but at least had put his shirt on. The room was a most extraordinary disorder of clothes and papers and dirty wine-glasses, and other objects Grant thought it prudent not to examine too closely.

“Now then,” he said, when Strange had swallowed a glass of hock and soda-water with much complaining, “you look a little less cheap than you did at first.”

Strange grumbled that he supposed Grant expected to be thanked for that.

“Hardly,” Grant said with a grin.

This seemed to surprise Strange, who looked at him as if he was seeing him for the first time. “Who did you say you were?”

“Lieutenant Colquhoun Grant of the 11th Foot, at your service,” Grant said, with a slight inclination of the head. “My mother is an old friend of your aunt Erquistoune, and she wrote -”

“My aunt wrote to you?” said Strange, incredulous.

“ - no, your aunt wrote to my mother,” Grant said, “and my mother wrote to me. You know how it is.”

He remembered too late that Strange did not have a mother: she had died when he was quite small, Mrs Erquistoune had told Mrs Grant. He wanted to apologise, but thought this would only make things worse. “Have some more hock and soda-water,” he offered instead.

“Thank you,” said Strange, with an ironic air that suggested he knew exactly what Grant was thinking. He drank another glass, and Grant watched him in embarrassed silence.

“Well,” Grant said at last, and cleared his throat. “I can report that you are alive, at any rate. I should take my leave of you.”

“Don't be an ass,” said Strange, apparently cheered by the spectacle of Grant's awkwardness. “Have you breakfasted?”

Grant's stomach rumbled at the thought of food. “Hours ago,” he said. “It's almost noon.”

“Half an hour ago I would have sworn I never wanted to eat again,” said Strange. “Now I'm famished. Do you like eggs?”

Grant did like eggs, but had never seen any one eat three in such rapid succession as Strange did over breakfast at the neighbouring tavern. By the time Grant had finished his beefsteak, Strange had told him all about the wretched Marianne and her incomprehensible preference for the fellow with the glass eye and the estate in Jamaica, and Grant had invited Strange to play cards with him and the other young officers that evening. Strange accepted, somewhat ungraciously, saying that he might as well do that as any thing else.

Relieved that Strange had turned out to be so much less of a milksop and a bore than he had expected, Grant returned to his own lodgings to write to his mother with a cheering bulletin for Mrs Erquistoune. He found that he was quite looking forward to playing cards with his new acquaintance: this might be one of those rare occasions when filial virtue brought its own reward.


**

Though grudging at first, Strange became as eager to partake of the delights of Weymouth as Grant himself, and joined him in drinking, gaming and card-parties. The officers welcomed him as one of their number at cards, at least to begin with. Eventually they complained of his luck and skill, though no one went so far as to accuse him of cheating, or seemed to think such an accusation warranted. Grant reflected that Strange’s good fortune at cards was just as well, given the bills that were mounting up for the heroic quantities of claret, brandy and Madeira the two of them consumed together, not to mention the hock and soda-water with which they solaced their morning heads.

It did not take Grant long to conclude that this Marianne must be a fool, and altogether unworthy of Strange’s esteem. He knew from experience that there was no use in saying so to Strange, however: time alone would cure his heartache, and meanwhile what he needed was diversion. Grant was happy to provide him with that, though doubtless his way of doing so was not quite what either aunt Erquistoune or “Mrs Pro” had had in mind.


Far from being the clog on his pleasures that Grant had gloomily imagined, Strange proved a most welcome addition to them. The race between a herd of pigs and a flock of turkeys which later found fame in Miss Edgeworth’s novel Belinda was his idea, though unlike Miss Edgeworth’s hero they did not wager 100 guineas on the result; it would have been a colossal waste of drinking-money if they had lost. It was Strange’s fault (Grant said) that they had woken up once in a ditch after carousing till the small hours with the officers of the neighbouring camp. Strange countered this by pointing out that it was Grant’s fault that they had lost their way on a country ramble the following week and been forced to spend the night in a haystack, which was much more uncomfortable than the ditch.

They had limped back to Weymouth the morning after the haystack incident, still picking straws out of each other’s hair, and run slap into Marianne and her one-eyed beau parading along the Esplanade. Grant, who had never seen the girl before, did not recognize at first who she was, and then was astonished that Strange could be breaking his heart over so unworthy an object. She was pretty, he supposed, if you liked that sort of thing, but so prinking and vulgar that he wondered how Strange could ever have endured her.

Marianne tittered angrily at the sight of her rejected suitor and his friend in such a state of dishevelment, and declared they looked for all the world like a pair of apes.

What is that to you? Grant thought, but did not say. If the wretched girl didn’t want Strange herself, why should she resent his finding pleasure elsewhere? She glared at Grant almost as she might have done at a rival, which was absurd.

De Lancey, too, showed signs of jealousy, though of a different kind from Marianne’s; he complained that Grant had quite forsaken his old companions for this new friend, and looked with increasing scepticism on Grant’s pleas of filial duty. “Damn it, man,” he said, “surely you don’t have to spend every waking hour with the fellow now he is in no danger of blowing his brains out.”

Grant had laughed it off, though the thought of Strange blowing his brains out gave him an unpleasant sensation, even spoken in jest. He went on spending as much time with Strange as their various social duties and engagements would permit, which was a great deal. When he looked back on his time in Weymouth before Strange, it seemed insipid in comparison. He did not think he had ever laughed so much with any one: not at Strange’s jokes, which in truth were mostly pretty bad, but at the absurdity of the universe, which had become so unexpectedly clear since they met. It was as if the colours of the world had lain sleeping, like La Belle au Bois Dormant, until – no, that was a foolish comparison. It was more like an experiment in chemistry, where the introduction of a new substance produced a transformation in all the existing elements.



***

Evidently the encounter with Grant and Strange had piqued Marianne’s vanity, for Strange was invited to dine with her and Mr Glass Eye some days later, an invitation from which Grant was pointedly and explicitly excluded. Naturally Strange accepted, though Grant wished he had not. It had sometimes seemed to him that Strange was beginning to recover from his disappointment, though it was true that these signs of recovery always ended in a noisy and (Grant privately thought) somewhat theatrical relapse into woe. But dinner with the engaged couple could do no good, and might jeopardize his recovery altogether. There was nothing to be done, however: Grant got more than usually drunk with the officers that night, and barely restrained himself from punching De Lancey on the nose for jeering at him about Strange’s absence. He woke the next day with the worst morning head he could remember since his first debauch, and alone.

The recognition that he expected to find Strange by his side on waking came as a shock. True, they more often woke up in a ditch or a haystack or under a table with yesterday’s clothes on, but there had been other mornings of late when they had awoken in a shared bed – Grant’s, for preference, being more comfortable. He could never remember the going to bed or getting undressed, though he always woke with his shirt still on, which Strange teased him about as a sign of prudery. Strange himself slept naked, and his nakedness and warmth made him, if truth be told, a distracting presence on these occasions. Grant exercised all the gentlemanly restraint of which he was capable and did not offer to touch him, much though he would have liked to do so.

He did not think any thing had happened between them when they were still disguised in drink. If it had, it seemed hardly fair that he should not be able to remember it the next day. Grant was accustomed to the ways of his fellow officers, who could happily perform acts at night that they excused in the morning with claims of having been unusually drunk. But he and Strange were so often very drunk that it was hard to see how they could well be more so: that excuse would not serve.

There was a pounding at the door: it hurt his head.

“Go away!” he said, and groaned at the effort of speaking.

The door opened and Strange came in like a whirlwind, slamming it behind him. He was very pale, and clutching a letter. He sat down heavily on the bed, ignoring Grant’s protests and curses, and brandished the letter in his face.

“What do you think?” he cried indignantly. “My old monster of a father says I am too extravagant, and must go back to Shropshire.”

Grant felt cold and sick. He closed his eyes, but that made the room spin, so he opened them again.

“He can’t mean it, of course,” Strange said, and his mouth twisted. “The last thing he wants is to have his useless lump of a son cluttering up the place. He can’t stand the sight of me.”

Strange had never spoken much about his father, though Grant knew there was little confidence or esteem between them. But there was a bitterness and self-contempt in his voice now that Grant could hardly bear to hear.

“Then he is a damned fool as well as a monster!” he said hotly.

Strange looked startled at this, and Grant flushed with vexation. He knew well enough that abusing a man’s relations to his face was ill advised, even when the man himself had begun the topic. He muttered something confused about how Strange’s father ought to want his son at home. Since his next words would have been the unnatural old wretch and he could not immediately think of any others, he fell silent.

“You don’t want me to go back to Ashfair, do you?” said Strange. He looked hurt, which was intolerable.

“Of course not!” Grant shouted, and winced; the shouting made his head hurt worse than ever.

“Hmm,” said Strange, who at least had now stopped looking hurt, but was regarding him rather oddly. He got up off the bed and mixed a glass of hock and soda-water, which Grant forced himself to swallow. When he had drunk that, Strange took the glass away and brought him a cool damp cloth to put on his forehead.

“This is what you get for drinking with those officers instead of me,” he said, laying his hand gently on Grant’s head.

“And whose fault is that?” Grant demanded, vexed not only by the injustice of the accusation but by an unreasonable desire to put his hand on Strange’s and keep it there. “How was Marianne, by the way?”

“Ghastly,” Strange said, apparently without thinking, and then “I mean, the evening was ghastly.” He took his hand away, rather abruptly.

“Hmm,” Grant said. It was his turn now to look narrowly at Strange, who had coloured slightly. His suspicions that Strange was not as heartbroken about Marianne as he liked to pretend were confirmed.

“There’s a circus come to town, with wild beasts,” said Strange, evidently determined to change the subject. “They are encamped on the common. We should go.”

Grant did not argue; in their present state, he thought that they could both benefit from the diversion.


****

Strange laughed heartily at the antics of the clowns, though Grant thought this might be because he was half-seas-over already. His eyes had that hazy look they got when he was fuddled with drink: Grant thought he should not find that look as endearing as he did. Indeed, it would be better if he did not find so many things about Strange endearing. It seemed extraordinary to him now that he had ever complained about the necessity of making Strange’s acquaintance. He could not imagine how he would do without him, and did not want to try, though he knew that the parting must come. Even if Strange’s father did not insist on his son’s return to Shropshire, Grant was bound to be recalled to duty before long: the thought gave him a sharp pain under his breastbone and he took another draught from the bottle to chase it away.

“Elephants!” Strange exclaimed in delight.

Grant looked where he was pointing, and frowned. “You’re seeing double, damn it,” he said. “There’s only one.”

“Elephant, then,” said Strange impatiently. “Don’t be such a miserable pedant.”

The elephant looked sad, Grant thought. Probably it was just his imagination, attributing his own sadness to the creature. He wished they had not come.

“Poor beast,” Strange said, and for a terrible moment Grant thought he must be referring to him. “How sad he looks.”

Grant was not imagining it, then; or at least if he was, they were imagining it together, which felt better somehow.

“I expect he misses India,” he said sagely, and realized that he was deeper in drink than he thought.

Two of the clowns brought in a huge pail of water, and set it down before the elephant, spilling a good deal of it on the ground. The beast sucked water up with his trunk and squirted it at the third clown, who shook his fist at the other two and chased them around the ring while the elephant took up more water and squirted it over himself.

“What that elephant needs,” said Strange owlishly, “is a nice sea-bathe.”

This was such an excellent and obvious notion that Grant could only assent.

“We should take him for a paddle,” Strange said. “After the show, of course.”

“Of course,” Grant agreed. A doubt occurred to him. “Won’t they mind?”

Strange considered this, and took another long pull at the bottle.

“We’ll steal him,” he announced, somewhat too loud for Grant’s peace of mind.

“Shh,” Grant admonished him.

For some reason Strange found this very absurd. He began to giggle. It was such a ridiculous sound that Grant could not forbear laughing as well. The elephant turned to see the source of the noise, and squirted them both with water.

This should have been a sobering experience, but if any thing it made them worse. They laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks, until they were bent double and their sides ached. A lady in the row behind them, who had also been splashed, poked Strange indignantly with her parasol, and this struck them as funnier still.

“We should go,” Grant said, gasping for breath. “Before they throw us out.”

“Can’t get thrown out of a circus,” Strange objected. “Oh, it hurts.”

“Come on,” said Grant, and they staggered out of the tent to collapse, howling with mirth, on the grass of the common outside.

“’S getting dark,” Strange said, when they had finally stopped laughing.

“Too dark for a paddle,” said Grant. “Do it in the morning, first thing.”

“First thing,” Strange agreed. “Let’s go to bed.”

Grant’s stomach clenched. He was not sure he could manage to share a bed with Strange tonight and not touch him: the thought of it made him feel dizzy.

“I should go back to my lodgings,” he said feebly. “I’ll call for you in the morning.”

“Don’t be an ass,” said Strange. “Mine are much more conven – convenient. For the elephant,” he added, in case Grant had forgotten already.

Grant did not have the heart to argue, though he felt sure he would not sleep a wink.

“Ugh, my shirt is still wet,” complained Strange. “Ungrateful brute.”

“He doesn’t know we’re planning a treat for him,” Grant pointed out.

Why this eminently reasonable statement should make Strange start laughing again was a mystery, but it did. They tottered back to his lodgings, shushing each other and giggling by turns, and crept up the stairs to his room so as not to alert the landlady to Grant’s presence. This effort to be quiet was rather spoilt by Grant’s tripping over Strange’s portmanteau, which he alleged Strange had no business leaving in the middle of the floor as a trap for the unwary.

Strange said that it was his room, so he could leave his portmanteau where he liked. He pushed Grant onto the bed, climbed on top of him and began tickling him ruthlessly. Grant was taken entirely by surprize, and besides was laughing so hard that he could not immediately get his breath.

“Stop it!” he gasped, and gripped Strange’s wrists, hard enough to bruise. He rolled Strange onto his back and pinned him down, panting and squirming, with his arms above his head.

“I hate you,” Grant complained. He had a cockstand, and knew that Strange must be aware of it.

“I love you,” Strange said, laughing.

Grant felt cold in the pit of his stomach. “Don’t joke about that,” he said furiously. He let go of Strange’s wrists and made to get off the bed.

“I’m not joking,” Strange said, and caught him round the neck. He pulled Grant’s head down and kissed him full on the mouth.

*****

Grant remained frozen in shock for a long moment, unable to respond. Then he kissed him back as hard as he could, a clumsy desperate kiss that made Strange moan under him and clutch at his shoulders. Strange hooked his leg around Grant’s, pulling him closer, and oh god, his prick was as rigid as Grant’s own, pressing hot against him through his clothes. Grant put his hand to it and squeezed, and Strange whined and pushed up into his touch. The excitement of this was so great that it made Grant dizzy, and he had to pull back from the kiss.

“Don’t stop, why have you stopped?” Strange cried.

“Can’t breathe,” Grant said. He was trying to undo Strange’s breeches, but his hands were shaking too much. “Take those damned things off.”

“You too,” Strange said, who was making no better a job of unfastening Grant’s clothes than Grant was of his. He cursed the inventor of buttonholes with startling fluency, which made Grant laugh. This did not help with the unbuttoning.

“Quicker to – undress ourselves,” Grant panted, and Strange agreed.

They sat side by side on the bed, stripping as if for a race. Even this proved no easy task: Grant’s buttons seemed to be possessed, and he would gladly have echoed Strange’s curses, if the thought of having the man soon naked in his arms had not almost robbed him of breath.

“Come on, come on!” Strange urged him.

Grant could not free himself from his shirt, which had knotted itself maliciously around his head. He gave a cry of vexation, and then a gasp as Strange’s hands brushed against his neck.

“Hold still, can’t you?” Strange growled, and tugged the shirt off by force.

“Ow!” Grant protested. “Are my ears still on?”

“Be quiet,” Strange said, laughing, and pushed him down onto his back again. His hands were hot and trembling; Grant felt giddy with lust and anticipation.

Strange knelt over him and leaned down for a kiss, and now it was Grant’s turn to clutch at him and pull him down till they were pressed full length against each other, gasping at the shock of it.

“Christ,” Strange said, and thrust shallowly against him. Grant cupped his beautiful arse with both hands and squeezed, and Strange swore and ground his hips down harder, his prick sliding against Grant’s.

“Fuck,” Grant said. It felt so good he thought he might faint. “Oh god. Oh.”

He pressed up against Strange and kissed him again, and they were moving together now, rough and messy and frantic. Grant pushed his hand between them and clutched at Strange’s prick, and Strange gave a choked cry and spent, hot and slick over Grant’s fist and their sweat-stuck bodies. Grant thrust against him, hard and slippery and impossibly good, again and again and then he was gone, helpless and lost to himself, the pleasure so acute he had to bite Strange’s shoulder to keep from shouting the house down.

“Marking your territory?” Strange asked, panting.

Grant was too breathless to reply, but the question made him convulse hotly again when he thought he was done. He gave Strange another, more deliberate bite for good measure, drawing a long satisfied groan from him as he collapsed on top of Grant.

“Christ, you’re heavy,” Grant said. He was grinning like a fool, and could not stop. “That Marianne doesn’t know what a lucky escape she had.”

“Marianne who?” Strange said, sounding so genuinely puzzled that for a moment Grant did not realize he was joking.

“You villain!” he said, digging Strange hard in the ribs.

Strange yelped and swore, twisting out of his grasp and choking with laughter.

“How long?” Grant demanded sternly. “How long have you been – pretending to mind about her?”

Strange had the grace to look abashed, as well he might. “A while,” he admitted.

“In god’s name, why?” said Grant, utterly bewildered.

“I thought you were just being kind,” Strange said. “I thought if you knew I was forgetting her, you’d stop bothering with me.”

“Blockhead!” Grant said, and kissed him soundly out of sheer exasperation.

Strange returned the kiss with enthusiasm, pushing his tongue between Grant’s lips. Not to be outdone, Grant caressed it with his own and sucked at it until Strange moaned wantonly into his mouth.

“I didn’t think you – liked me that way,” Strange gasped when they broke apart for air. “I’d be naked in bed with you and you never laid a hand on me.”

Grant swore. “Do you have any notion how hard it was – oh, stop laughing, you wretch! How was I supposed to know what you wanted when you kept acting heartbroken about that stupid girl?”

Strange wisely did not attempt to answer this in words, but began kissing Grant’s neck and fondling him in an altogether shameless manner. Grant would have thought it was too soon for his spent prick to show any interest again, but Strange seemed to have an unerring instinct for the most sensitive and inflaming spots to tease at with his lips and tongue, and his clever hands were starting a trail of fire under Grant’s skin. He writhed under the touch, feeling languor turn to renewed desire.

“I want you in my mouth,” Strange said against his neck.

“Oh god,” Grant said, trying not to go cross-eyed.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it,” said Strange. He began to kiss his way down Grant’s chest. “Because I have.”

Grant had not allowed himself to think of any such thing from Strange, and would not have expected him to propose it. He wondered dizzily where Strange had acquired his knowledge or experience, and decided he did not care. It was the last coherent thought he had for some time. Strange licked softly along his inner thighs, making him squirm and curse; he breathed over the head of Grant’s prick and touched his tongue to it. Grant’s hips jerked upwards, but Strange held him down firmly, an arm across his pelvis; he wrapped his other hand around the base of Grant’s prick and took him between his lips, sucking gently at first and then more ardently, and caressing the underside of the head with his tongue.

This time the pleasure was slower in building, so close to his previous crisis, but Grant found there was only so much of this delicious torture he could withstand before he was spending again, shuddering and crying out, heedless of who might hear him. Strange coughed and spluttered and swallowed him down, then licked him clean, despite Grant’s feeble attempts to stop him.

“Too much,” Grant gasped, and Strange desisted. He wiped the back of his mouth with his hand, and sat back on his haunches, looking enormously pleased with himself.

“You are impossible,” said Grant, rather shakily.

Strange gave him a wicked grin. “Hardly,” he said.

“Come here,” Grant said. “Let’s see how you like it.”

He took hold of Strange’s erect prick and gave it a firm stroke. Strange made a startled noise and thrust into his hand.

“Not that way,” Grant said, and squeezed him tight, so that he could not thrust again. “Kneel over me.” His mouth was watering for Strange’s cock, longing to touch and to taste. He had not done this often, and he had never wanted it more.

It took some trial and error to arrange matters to their mutual satisfaction, but at last he had Strange where he wanted him – he found it best to hold on to his hips so that Strange did not choke him by thrusting too hard or too deep. Like this, Grant could draw out the pleasure, varying the pace of his sucking and licking to bring Strange to the edge of completion and hold him there, teasing him relentlessly until he was desperate for release.

“Please,” Strange begged at last, “ohgodpleasenowplease, I can’t –”

Grant moved one hand from Strange’s hips to cup his balls, pressing his fingers up behind them. Strange gave a sharp cry and spent, the pulses of his pleasure hot and salt and thick across Grant’s tongue. His thighs were clamped tight around Grant’s throat, almost suffocating him, and he slumped forward heavily, leaning his head against the wall; it took all Grant’s strength to push him back so that he could breathe. Strange groaned in protest, but rolled over, and the two of them lay collapsed and panting side by side for some time, unable to speak.

The candles were guttering now, nearly spent, but just light enough to see by.

“So,” said Strange, grinning, “do you still hate me?”

“You abominable coxcomb,” Grant began, fully intending to tease him by saying More than ever. But he saw that the smile did not reach Strange’s eyes, which had a naked and defenceless look that touched him almost past bearing. “You know perfectly well that I - oh, come here!”

He could not say the words, but he could kiss Strange again and again, and hug him as if he would never let him go. Strange’s arms around his neck were heavy with bliss, and his small murmurs of satisfaction were the last sounds in Grant’s ears as he tumbled into sleep.

******

Grant awoke to the sound of Strange complaining that his skin itched and that they should have cleaned themselves before falling asleep. Perhaps nothing else could so well have persuaded him that what had happened between them was not a fever-dream or the invention of his lust-crazed brain. A cold wet cloth, vigorously applied to his person by Strange, was an additional proof of reality that he could well have done without, though it was true that both of them were badly in need of a wash.

“It’s barely light,” he grumbled, squinting at the thin curtains.

“We have an elephant to steal, or have you forgotten?” Strange reproached him.

Grant would gladly have forgone this adventure, but as he supposed the elephant had played some part in their present happiness it seemed ungrateful to do so. He dressed with reluctance, casting sideways glances at Strange, who appeared to be wholly absorbed in the same task. Then Strange looked back at him; their eyes met, and a shock of desire went through Grant, almost doubling him over. It was evident that Strange was equally affected: he flushed scarlet from the base of his throat to the tips of his ears. Grant wondered irritably how long this elephant business would take: he wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of the day in bed with Strange, repeating and expanding on the night’s activities.

“Come on,” Strange said, with a mischievous look that made it even harder for Grant to keep his hands off him. “The sooner we go, the sooner we’ll be back.”

They were in luck: the circus was not yet stirring, and the elephant’s cage was not hard to find. The beast regarded them warily, but refrained from trumpeting his suspicions to rouse his keepers. He seemed pleased at the opening of his cage, and followed them with surprizing docility, Strange leading him by the rope around his neck. Their progress through the quiet streets between the common and the sands had the air of a dream: they did not meet a soul, though it was now beginning to be light. It was Sunday, of course, Grant remembered, but even that surely could not keep the circus abed for much longer.

The tide was on the turn, and they set off across the broad expanse of the sands, leaving an odd trail of footprints behind them. As they neared the waves, the elephant displayed some signs of animation, and Strange was almost pulled off his feet. Grant caught him round the waist and held him up, and they stumbled after the beast to the water’s edge.

“What shall we do if he decides to swim for it?” asked Strange, with an air of consternation.

“Let him, I suppose,” said Grant. “We can hardly prevent him, and I have no intention of being drowned this morning. I have plans for the day.”

Strange hugged him hard, and incidentally let go of the rope. Fortunately for all concerned, the elephant did not seem disposed to make his escape. He appeared quite contented to bathe in the shallows, scooping up water with his trunk and squirting it over himself. Now and then he trumpeted his approval of this arrangement.

They watched from the shore, Strange draped affectionately over Grant and murmuring tenderly filthy suggestions in his ear about his own plans for the day, mostly consisting of things he wanted to do to Grant. Grant was agreeably surprised by the extent of Strange's imagination in this regard, and more than a little stirred; he felt that he would soon be compelled to drag Strange back to his lodgings to put these proposals into action. He was also uneasily aware that it could not be long before the elephant's keeper arrived, and then there would be recriminations at the very least, which would take up hours much better spent in bed.

It would be better if they could persuade the elephant to return quietly to the circus before that happened, but how was this to be done? Grant briefly considered attempting to lure the beast away from the water with some kind of food, but he had no idea what elephants ate, or how he and Strange were to procure it, whatever it was, on a Sunday morning when the whole town appeared to be still asleep. This was what came of making plans when drunk and acting on them sober, he reflected with a sigh.

Something must be done, even if he did not yet know what it was, before more of the day escaped from their grasp. It was not as if they had all the time in the world: summer was ending, and sooner or later their paths must diverge. Grant could not believe that what had begun here would end when they left Weymouth, but he must go where he was sent, and it might be years before they met again. Every moment was precious now, and this morning most of all.

The elephant finally emerged from the waves and made a noise which Grant thought might indicate hunger. This was clearly a fortunate development, and one to be embraced without delay. He seized the end of the rope and passed it to Strange.

“Come on,” he said. “Let's take him back to the circus, and then the rest of the day is ours.”





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