catherine's corner

beautiful stranger

"Meet me by the back stairs," Grantaire said, and gave him precise directions. Jocelin didn't ask why this place, why this late hour when the cafe is clearly shut. He never asks questions.

He leans against the rough stone wall, his mind a blank. Around him the heavy darkness smells of dust and sweat, and the lights twinkling in the square seem very far away. Ordinarily it is impossible to be alone in the city: by day crowds hurry through the street, by night neighbors snore and quarrel. But in this Stygian alleyway, nothing breathes. Jocelin hugs his coat around him despite the warmth of the night, and waits.

Patience is one of his talents.

The sound of footsteps startles him. He catches his breath, straightening; but it is only Grantaire, arriving at last from the other direction. Jocelin offers him a smile.

"You came," Grantaire says, hushed.

"I said I would."

Grantaire's smile is far from attractive, but it is rare, and rarer still that it lacks bitterness. "So you did." He crosses the alley, and the smile is hidden in shadow before it fades. "And here you are."

"Here I am," Jocelin agrees mildly, knowing his cue. He slips his arms around Grantaire's waist, under the shabby coat, and kisses him with studied passion. The kiss tastes of hot copper, and lasts until breath fails them both.

"God." Grantaire's voice is faint. He edges back into the shadows, and touches Jocelin's cheek with a shyness strange in him. "Beautiful. Why did you have to be so beautiful?"

This is verging upon maudlin. Their affair is scarcely a week old, and Jocelin knows instinctively that if he lets his lover break down now, it will end tonight, long before it suits him. "How you flatter," he says dryly, and seizes Grantaire's hands. "How you do flatter, mon ami. Don't talk, kiss me."

Grantaire offers no argument. He presses Jocelin against the wall, fumbling to divest him of his coat, notably not patient tonight. Jocelin laughs breathlessly, between kisses. Days wasted in furtive courtship and compliments. If you just wanted a back-alley fuck, my friend, you could have said so in the first place. He runs his fingers down Grantaire's back, earning a gasp.

Yet when he slides a hand lower, he finds himself gently fended off. Startled, he glances up, but Grantaire avoids his eyes and kisses him again.

Timidity he can understand, in men accustomed to women, and brutal haste no longer disconcerts him, but this is something new. He tries a subtler approach, to no avail; Grantaire catches his wrist and guides his hand away. "All right," Jocelin breathes, half laughing. "All right, chéri."

"Now who's talking?" Grantaire demands in an undertone.

"All right." He relaxes into the embrace, enjoying the novelty of caresses he need not bother returning. He likes the way Grantaire touches him, gentle and steady despite his urgency. The air around them thickens, and Jocelin leans back against the cool stone, trembling. Grantaire's breath is hot against his cheek.

"God, you're beautiful, beautiful. Let me--"

"Yes." Jocelin tangles his hands in the coarse dark hair. "Whatever you like. Yes."

Half senseless with kisses, he cannot find the wit to make even a token protest when Grantaire lets him go and crouches at his feet. He has just time to be glad that he bathed this afternoon, before coherent thought deserts him in a rush, and he braces his feet to keep his knees from giving way.

And then Grantaire is careful, even painstaking, lingering as though -- Jocelin thinks dizzily -- he's enjoying the whole business. Once or twice he leaves off entirely, only to begin again in the time it takes for Jocelin's vision to clear. His lips, his tongue are as gentle as his hands were, and more thorough.

"God," Jocelin manages, between shuddering breaths, and fails to hear the answer, caught up in a red wave of sensation that rises and rises and never quite breaks--

And then does, leaving him dazed, storm-tossed against the wall, barely able to stand. His hand is knotted in Grantaire's sleeve, and Grantaire is leaning against him, whispering something of which only half the words are audible. "God, Julien--"

"Jocelin," Jocelin says. He is used to being called Julien, or Joseph, or any number of less peculiar names. But Grantaire averts his face, as though caught in some truly insulting gaffe, and stands so suddenly that Jocelin, still unsteady, nearly loses his footing. He catches at Grantaire's shoulder, fastening his trousers with his free hand, and sense begins to return to him. "I'm sorry," he says softly, to that look of acute and angry shame. "I-- I'm sorry."

"My fault."

"Nobody's fault." Jocelin embraces him. "Come home with me. Please?"

But Grantaire pulls free, shrugging his coat around him, still not meeting his eyes. "No," he says shortly, and then, "Can't. I-- Later."

Jocelin bites his tongue. "All right."

Grantaire walks off without a word, then, a dark and defensive figure in the shadows, soon lost to sight. Jocelin watches him go. He feels cold again, and strangely diminished. The damnable thing about shame, he thinks, is that it's contagious.

But he could wish, all the same, that he had pity to spare for the man.