Strange and Stranger

The hallway clock had just struck noon when Arabella Strange ducked into the cramped study to take her leave of her distracted magician husband. Jonathan was surrounded by the usual profusion of papers, some held down by lit candelabra, ink pots half empty, teetering books, and various knick knacks. She held her tongue at this extreme want of economy. Arabella knew that they had plenty of money and yet it still piqued her a little to see him wasting so much ink and paper in such a frivolous manner. She spied a bit of paper that he had balled up that contained a mere fragment of a sentence. Surely he could have simply crossed it out and continued with his notes underneath?

Title: Strange and Stranger

Author: starswan11

Characters: Arabella Strange/Jonathan Strange, Colquhoun Grant/Jonathan Strange, & The Gentleman with Thistledown Hair

Author’s Notes: A random little fic I decided to polish up and get around to posting. All of the fox pictures have turned my head canons inside out so Grant is now a ginger, or at least somewhat ginger and Jonathan has Show!Jonathan hair even though this fic follows more of the book continuity.

Warnings: implied polyamory, mild voyeurism, snogging.

Notes: This fic also appears on the author’s Tumblr site.  Many thanks to starswan11 for letting me archive it here.  You can leave feedback here or on Tumblr; wherever you leave it, it will be appreciated!

~*~

The hallway clock had just struck noon when Arabella Strange ducked into the cramped study to take her leave of her distracted magician husband. Jonathan was surrounded by the usual profusion of papers, some held down by lit candelabra, ink pots half empty, teetering books, and various knick knacks. She held her tongue at this extreme want of economy. Arabella knew that they had plenty of money and yet it still piqued her a little to see him wasting so much ink and paper in such a frivolous manner. She spied a bit of paper that he had balled up that contained a mere fragment of a sentence. Surely he could have simply crossed it out and continued with his notes underneath?

She sighed and walked over to him. He did not notice her presence until she was hovering over him blocking a bit of the light from the high, solitary window.

“Jonathan! I said that I am going out now…”

Flustered, he set down his pen and took her hands in his inky fingers. “I am so sorry, my love. I just, the words won’t come today and it has put me all out of humor.” He fixed her gaze with what he thought to be his most affable, most endearingly awkward smile, the one that always managed to cause Arabella’s cheeks to sprout dimples on either side, her eyes to cast down to the floor in an attempt to keep from letting slip a laugh despite being cross. In short, it was his perpetual get-out-of-jail-free smile and one of the chief reasons, or so he reasoned, that she had consented to marry him in the first place even with all of his other faults.

It was evidently working.

“Yes, I can see that. You needn’t try to work your magician’s tricks on me as an apology.”

“My what? ”  he remarked stunned, letting her fingers slip minutely. He wondered if he was in serious trouble this time. Perhaps he underestimated his tactic.

“Even before you took up this occupation,” she smirked to herself, “You had your ways. Perhaps you were a practical magician all along and you never knew it..” She finished leaning closer to bestow a kiss to the top of his ruffled head.

He frowned like a child and muttered something unintelligible.

Arabella made to leave but turned around for a parting remark.

“Don’t look so put out. Major Grant is stopping by later to keep you company whilst I am away,” and there was a distinctively mischievous glint to her eyes as she closed the door behind her to forestall any last minute rejoinders from her spouse.

Jonathan huffed to nobody and resumed making a complete mess of the desk in front of him. Unbeknownst to him, there was in fact someone else in the room watching his every move with surprising avidity.

The Gentleman with the thistle-down hair had grown bored of  peering at Lady Pole and Stephen via the mirror in his personal chambers, trying to think of an excuse why he should not pass through over to Harley Street and hover over her Ladyship’s chair while she took her tea in the Venetian drawing room, or mess with the silverware that Stephen had just put back, by replacing it with something exquisite and fairy made. He hated to think of him polishing such crude utensils. He was just at the point of popping up in front of him and carrying him bodily away, careful to befuddle the rest of the staff as well as his perfidious employer so that they were none the wiser about his sudden removal when he became rather distracted. Thinking of Stephen had led to thinking of his plans to make him a King and thinking of that had led to him pondering the magicians and how he had quite forgotten lately that he was still sorely vexed with them for their continued interference. And the second one, the slightly less ugly one was, he had heard now writing a book. Well! He would have to look in on this activity.

Which is what brings us back to the current scene. The Gentleman had for many moments now, up until the point when the door had clicked shut behind the charming and lovely Arabella Strange, been seated atop a bureau opposite the hunched, scribbling, occasionally swearing under his breath, would-be magician. He winced to see him bust another pen in his frustration and to, good heavens, he could not be serious… Was he really about to rub ink all over his trousers? They were not very fashionable and the color was quite bland, but not having a cloth to hand was the limit! There was simply no excuse for the vulgarities in which Jonathan Strange seemed content to wallow. Papers were stuck together, others trickled to the floor in a heap. What an incredibly crude fellow he was, the Gentleman thought. Is this what he called work? He might have ventured a bit closer, but as he had failed to produce any legible words, he felt himself unequal to stirring. And his eyesight was quite sharp, preternaturally so.

In fact, he was on the point of leaving again and resigning himself to either acute boredom or reverting to his earlier plan for abduction of his most beloved and treasured friend, or so he reasoned, when there was a knock upon the door.

A slight, sweet-faced young woman entered, curtseyed and announced a male visitor.

“Thank you, Mary”, he thought he heard the magician say.

Strange acknowledged the visitor and asked that he be shown in. An attractive man of around thirty wearing an assortment of creams covered by a vibrant red jacket entered. His hair was golden touched with orange hues. In the light of the high window, the Gentleman could see that it was in fact, flaming. He gasped slightly from his perch. He was more than attractive, this guest of the magician’s, he was devilishly handsome! It is said that no one who is the slightest bit ginger can ever be called truly handsome, but on this the Gentleman has always sharply disagreed. In his time, he has met many a beautiful and charming person, men and women both with stunning heads of red or orange-touched hair. Elizabeth, in particular, was one of his absolute favorites. He spent many a scintillating afternoon chatting with her when she was younger, before she had so very much to do and people to have executed. Ah, Elizabeth. That Spenser though. The Gentleman found The Faerie Queen a bit, offensive to his race and relations in spots however well-crafted it was.

But this one….why on earth should he be here? He had to concede that Jonathan Strange was not exceptionally ugly. He was certainly gifted with more beauty than Norrell. He was tolerably attractive, yes. He had nice hair. And his eyes weren’t too shabby. But what riches he seemed to be surrounded with despite his merely adequate good looks! Both his lovely wife and now this one! The Gentleman found it truly baffling.

The beautiful man in red approached the magician and laid a hand on his shoulder. It lingered and squeezed before traveling to the back of his neck ever so slowly. Well, this is interesting. He shifted a little on his perch causing some papers to flutter to the ground.

The two looked up and Grant turned his head in the Gentleman’s direction. The fairy quivered for a moment under his unseeing stare before his attentions reverted back to Strange.

“Are you by any chance…doing magic?”

“What?”, Strange replied either distracted by the touch or by his work, it was difficult to surmise.  “Oh, no. I was just, trying to write down my thoughts. It does feel a bit drafty in here though.“

Upon saying so, Jonathan hovered over a candlestick, and lit it whilst muttering to himself with his back turned. If his friend found this in the slightest bit peculiar, he did not show it. Perhaps it was meant to make them feel warmer? Who could tell what fabulous notions these modern magicians had floating about in their heads! Unless…

The first magician sat back down in a huff, the dark circles under his eyes more clearly visible to the invisible Gentleman from this angle and retrieved his pen. The fairy stifled an invective.

“Well,” Grant said after a moment, taking the pen out of Jonathan’s hand, “how about we do a little spell of our own?”

“But, oh!” Jonathan said startled, “It’s just. My hands are dirty. They’re all over ink.”

He held up his hands quite unnecessarily to prove his point.  Grant rolled his eyes slightly and smirked.

“Merlin, remember that time that we practically rolled around in the mud in the Spanish countryside? A little ink isn’t going to put me off, ” he chuckled.

The Gentleman’s eyebrows shot skyward in a valiant attempt to reach his impressive hairline.

“Though, I suppose we ought to be discreet,” he continued. “It is after all a touch illegal. I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life in a jail cell on top of being kicked out of the army.”

“Hmm. Yes. Though I was more worried about consulting Arabella and gaining herapproval rather than that of the authorities , since we are being so up front about the matter now.”

“That just about sums you up…” he trailed off running his fingers through Jonathan’s dark, wavy hair.

The Gentleman might have coughed or fidgeted had he been human. Instead he vanished and reappeared at the Major’s shoulder in order to get a better look at  the situation. He scanned him up and down as if he were examining a peculiar species of animal. He was, as usual, perplexed that he could stand an inch away and yet these human creatures with their frail senses could not detect him in the least. He did not know if this relieved or irritated him.

He crossed his arms and eyed them greedily as Major Grant pushed back the magician’s chair before sitting in his lap. He studied Jonathan’s face for an age running his hands over his brow, his cheeks, his lips worshipfully before sighing and capturing his mouth in a searing kiss. At least it looked searing from where the fairy was standing.

Jonathan Strange seemed at a loss as to how to receive such effusions as he went a bit rigid. In his arms and fingers there were so many flutterings.

The Gentleman rolled his eyes at how ridiculous he looked. A poor lover on top of being a poor husband. He was not a bit shocked.

There was something prickling along the edges of Jonathan’s magical awareness though he knew not what it was. At length he relaxed and grabbed hold of Grant, running his arms up and around his back to his neck, his face. Now they were spooned together on the chair in danger of collapse, hands running through hair, across lapels, snaking their way inside of a shirt, fingering buttons.

And all the while the Gentleman stood immeasurably still fixing them with a look that was equal parts mournful and malevolent. He no longer wished to revel in this spectacle, a silent and unwitting participant when he could be elsewhere. He indulged more human habits, wringing his hands. He often took note of Stephen’s fidgets, his occasional pacing, a little bit of hand wringing though only in extreme circumstances, much sighing. They seemed to be rubbing off on him.

The Gentleman continued to follow the frenzied movements of their hands with a morbid and sour curiosity. It was the most cruel penance and it threatened to fracture his patience. But even as he was held fast he certainly had great powers at his disposal and there was no need to remain in this insupportable captivity for another moment!

Jonathan let slip a moan and a bottle of ink went flying across the room and smashed on the wall opposite causing bits of black to bleed down menacingly and pool on the floor. If the Gentleman had had a little more forethought in the midst of his temper, he might have hurled the offending candlestick instead, but this course of action was a tad more dramatic and in keeping with his current whims.

“Merlin, what on earth was that!” Grant exclaimed removing his lips and disentangling himself in alarm. “Are you certain you haven’t unwittingly unleashed something in the room?”

“I cannot have. That is to say, earlier I was trying a spell of summoning, but as usual , it did not work. ” He frowned before continuing. “But to be on the safe side, perhaps it would be best if we went elsewhere.”

“Agreed.”

The Gentleman watched, his eyes dark as the the Major bent down to blow out the last remaining candle.

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