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Jonny hadn’t watched Sherlock. It wasn’t anything personal, obviously: at the time, he had no idea what Danny had in mind – who he had in mind. They’d read together four or five times before the cast list was finally confirmed, and at the party, Benedict shook Jonny’s hand, palm rougher than Jonny expected. “I’m thrilled, honestly just thrilled,” he said, in that voice, like smoke and honey.

“Me too,” Jonny smiled, hoping that it looked sincere. It wasn’t Benedict’s fault, after all, the way this was shaping up, with his star in the ascendant and Jonny’s, well. Jonny was proud of some of the work he’d done in the past few years, but it had been a while since you could see his star without the assistance of Greenwich Observatory.

They had four weeks at the start without the rest of the cast, time and space to discover the characters without the complications of the story. The script was in a state of constant evolution and Mark and Bruno were working out the staging as they went along. Maybe it was the fact they only had half of Danny’s attention at any given time that meant he didn’t realise until the second week that their scenes together weren’t working. He wasn’t feeling patient.

“Are you both too fucking well brought up or something? Benedict, this story is disgusting to you. He burned a family to death, for fuck’s sake. Polite interest won’t do.”

“Yes, but it’s not just disgusting, is it?” Benedict retorted, turning his back on Jonny to remonstrate with Danny face-to-face. “He’s fascinated at the same time.”

“Of course, that’s the point! But you’re making it look like a conversation about house prices.”

“Right, yes, okay,” Benedict said, narrow shoulders slumping inside his t-shirt. Everything he’d worn since they started rehearsing looked like it had been washed too many times, as if one overly-emphatic gesture might result in the sharp edge of his shoulder blade ripping through the fabric. He turned back to Jonny with a tight smile. “From the top?”

Two hours later, they had reversed the roles, to no avail. “React!” Danny bellowed at Jonny from the other side of the room. “He’s not someone you got talking to in a bus queue!”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Jonny demanded. Danny just shook his head.

Work started with Toby the following day, and that helped no one. It became rapidly apparent that Toby was a sadist. His ideas were probably inspired, but neither Jonny nor Benedict could have had an alternative career in dance and the things he expected of them were beyond unreasonable. Watching Benedict made it worse somehow: the awkward twist of his wrists, the snap and clatter as he fell to the floor, the shock of pain visible on his face in the moment before he schooled his features into a more neutral expression. Toby would put a foot on Benedict’s back and twist his shoulder until the angle was so unnatural that Jonny felt nauseated. “Your turn,” Toby would say afterwards as Benedict crouched on the floor, head down, a bottle of water untouched in front of him. After four hours of that every morning, Jonny’s body ached, and even emotionally, he had little left in the tank.

“Where’s the energy?” Danny asked. Jonny looked at Benedict, who had his arms crossed over his chest, white shirt stretching hard at the elbows. “You need to show how you feel about each other. Like, right here,” Danny said, stabbing at his copy of the script with a finger, “what is Victor feeling?”

“Nothing good,” Benedict said. He caught Jonny’s eye briefly and then looked away, unreadable. “I’m going for a piss.”

Danny sat them down that night before they went home. “I don’t need to tell you that this is critical, boys, it’s pivotal. You’ll drag the whole thing down on its arse, and I’ll murder you both in your sleep. No pressure.”

“You could try directing us, Danny, instead of threatening us,” Jonny suggested, but Danny shook his head.

“Just fucking figure it out. I don’t have time for this.”

“Brilliant,” Benedict said, after Danny had left them alone, drawing out every syllable. Jonny’s jaw clenched involuntarily. “None of this makes sense to me,” he continued, turning to look at Jonny, expression tight with controlled fury, colour high in his cheeks. “We had a spark during the readings.” His tone was accusatory. Jonny thought briefly of punching him right in his peculiar face.

The thing was, though, that it didn’t make sense. Danny had always been a wizard about chemistry, and Jonny had seen it in the audition stage as clearly as Benedict apparently had. He was pretty sure Danny hadn’t even auditioned anyone other than the two of them. Benedict worked the way that Danny liked, too, instinctive and fearless when it came to experimentation, like Ewan – like Jonny himself, or at least he liked to think so. Jonny didn’t dislike Benedict either: he wasn’t relaxed, exactly, but he smiled more than Jonny had expected and it was easy to make him laugh. He had a charisma that verged on freakish.

It was frustrating. The soles of Jonny’s feet were constantly black from rehearsing barefoot, he wasn’t eating enough, and he missed his kid.

“You need to watch each other,” Danny told them early one Sunday morning, as Jonny swallowed mouthful after mouthful of scalding hot coffee, conscious of Benedict next to him doing the same. “Movements and mannerisms, all that stuff. There can only be two characters here, not four. We’re not putting on a different play every second night.”

They’d made a joke of it, staring at each other, trying to anticipate one another’s movement, before Toby had arrived and plunged them back into the slough of despond.

It wasn’t until later that day that Jonny realised he’d been watching Benedict all along anyway. It was unnerving to be watched back, though. Benedict kept a little notebook with his copy of the script and he would make annotations, first on the script, then in the book, with a pencil. Sometimes Jonny would look up and catch Benedict staring at him. It all made perfect professional sense, of course, but something about it made Jonny’s skin itch.

By the end of the third week, the characters were starting to emerge. It would be nice to say that he and Benedict weren’t competitive about it – naturally that’s what they would tell journalists in the fullness of time – but the reality was that Jonny was constantly pushing for his own interpretations to become the standard that Danny accepted. Benedict forced him to keep his game up, that was for sure. Maybe he forced him to keep his guard up too, Jonny mused, because when it came to their scenes together, it seemed impossible for them to give each other what they needed.

That evening, Danny appeared in Jonny’s dressing room and banged an unopened bottle of vodka down on the dressing table in front of him. “Find Benedict,” he said, “and get drunk.” Two minutes later, he reappeared, dragging Benedict behind him by the wrist. “Drunk,” he said again, giving them both a black look before leaving.

Jonny met Benedict’s eyes, and Benedict shrugged. He looked like hell.

“Have you lost weight too?”

“Nearly a stone, apparently.”

Jonny opened the bottle slowly and sniffed at it. It smelled like paint stripper. “I think this is actually quite expensive stuff.”

“I don’t really like vodka,” Benedict said. Jonny poured a couple of generous measures into plastic cups and Benedict took one, looking at it dubiously.

“Do you think we’re going to fuck this up completely?”

Benedict smiled half-heartedly. “It looks almost inevitable at this stage, certainly.” He lifted his cup to his mouth and drained it in one quick swallow, screwing up his face afterwards.

“Well, here’s to fucking up,” Jonny said, and drained his own cup.

They drank most of the bottle in the dressing room, and then went back to the flat where Jonny was staying and finished it off with anything they could find to eat – olives from a jar, breakfast cereal, microwave popcorn. Jonny couldn’t remember talking about anything other than the play, about what it was supposed to be. “It’s nothing new,” he remembered telling Benedict, “that they love each other and hate each other. I’ve played that part before. I’ve fucking lived that before, you know what I mean? Love and hate.”

“It’s not that,” Benedict said, running his fingers through his hair over and over again. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the couch, still drinking from the plastic tumbler Jonny had given him in the dressing room. “Not just love and hate. They are each other. You know? It’s just…doubling. Mirrors. You see?” In his cups, Benedict talked more with his hands, carelessly graceful with every flick of his wrist. His cheekbones were sharper than they’d been a few weeks ago. Watching him, Jonny’s stomach felt hollow. “It’s not two characters, really. Just two halves of the same thing.”

Jonny remembered getting up during the night and vomiting, and, later, hearing Benedict vomit into what turned out to be the kitchen sink, unable to find the bathroom. In the morning Benedict said he’d left Danny a message saying they weren’t going in, but they manhandled themselves into a taxi anyway. Benedict spent most of the day curled on the stage with a jacket pillowed under his head, asleep, while Jonny pored over his copy of the novel, trying to find something that would unlock it, whatever it was that they couldn’t find in the script that would make it work. His head throbbed. Eventually he put the book down and lay on the stage himself, turning his head to look at Benedict. His t-shirt had ridden up at the back, and Jonny could see the bones of his spine in his lower back, too prominent, something horribly vulnerable about it.

Their final day of the four weeks was also to be their final day with Toby for a fortnight, about which Jonny was not remotely sad. Danny asked them both to do a full rehearsal of the opening scenes of the play, everything from the creature’s birth until he meets De Lacey. Ultimately this would be the litmus test of Toby’s work, and there was an air of tension in the room, although Jonny consoled himself with the fact that Toby would probably get sacked along with himself and Benedict if it was appalling. Benedict was first, and it was captivating, better even than Jonny had expected from the rehearsals. His movement was incredible. Jonny went straight afterwards, hardly leaving enough time for Benedict to listen to Danny and Toby’s notes, unable to wait. He allowed himself to get lost in it, thrashing and writhing against the stage, inhabiting the role as fully as if the theatre had been full. By the end of it, his clothes were soaked through with sweat and he was shaking, lowering himself to sit cross-legged on the floor. There was a long minute of silence before everyone started to clap. Jonny realised he’d been better. Better than Benedict. He looked over to find Benedict gazing at him, lips quirking into a smile, and he felt a rush of delight. Finally, a triumph.

He spent almost an hour that night videochatting with Michele. He tried to explain how it had felt, something like a breakthrough, but none of it seemed real compared with Buster and the new words he was learning every day. He made himself some pasta but couldn’t settle enough to eat it, then couldn’t concentrate on the prep work he wanted to do before the following day, eventually just staring out of the window at cars trying to manoeuvre in and out of the parking spaces on the street.

At half-past ten, there was a knock at the door, and he opened it to find Benedict, looking dishevelled, with a bottle of wine in one hand. “Sorry, can I come in?” he said, before brushing past Jonny without waiting for an answer. Jonny followed him into the kitchen, where he put the wine down on the counter and then took his bag off his shoulder, taking his script from inside. “I thought of something we haven’t tried,” he said, waving the script in front of him. He looked focussed in a way Jonny had only ever seen him in rehearsals.

“Yeah? Was it conducting a séance, because I’ve already tried that and Mary Shelley had fuck all to say for herself.”

“No,” Benedict said. He visibly hesitated for a moment and then walked across to Jonny, kissing him briefly, a hand against his face. He pulled back and studied Jonny’s face. The only feeling Jonny’s brain could identify through the confusion was a delighted sort of surprise at the unfamiliar pinkness in Benedict’s cheeks, and then Benedict leaned forward and kissed him again. He did it properly this time, more definite, his tongue pressing against Jonny’s bottom lip for a second before Jonny opened his mouth. It lasted about a minute, Benedict’s thumb stroking gently over Jonny’s cheekbone. They made quiet, wet sounds in the silence of the kitchen and Jonny could hardly believe that he hadn’t thought of this, not once. When Benedict pulled away again, Jonny found that he had one hand gripping the zip of Benedict’s leather jacket and his mouth was incredibly wet.

“This was what you wanted to try?” he said, surprised at how normal his voice sounded.

“I’ve never spent such a long time watching someone I wasn’t trying to fuck.” Benedict’s gaze trailed slowly down Jonny’s body as he spoke, lingering here and there in a way that made Jonny’s skin heat. This was unreal.

“Take it up with Danny if it’s too much.”

“No.” Benedict met Jonny’s eyes. “That’s not what I mean. There’s just something about you I can’t get. I need to make sense of you or this play is never going to work.”

“And you think sucking my cock will make it all clearer?” There was more to this, a series of witty ripostes lined up inside Jonny’s head, but he was stopped short by Benedict’s audible gasp. Jonny’s fingers were still closed around Benedict’s jacket and he looked at Benedict’s mouth, his lips slightly parted, tried to imagine them sliding over Jonny’s skin. “Oh,” he said, feeling suddenly shaky. Benedict curled a hand round the back of his neck and slid it upwards, fingers pressing firmly against the smoothness of Jonny’s scalp before sliding back down again, pushing the pressure out of Jonny’s neck and making his nerve endings tingle. It felt heavenly.

“I can’t sleep,” Benedict said, the last word bitten off. He lifted Jonny’s hand away from his jacket and placed it over his crotch, pressing his erection into Jonny’s palm. “Jonny.”

“Is this…just about the play?” Jonny’s voice betrayed the strain he was starting to feel. He looked from Benedict’s mouth to his eyes and back, his free hand splayed against the kitchen cabinet behind him.

“I don’t know,” Benedict hissed, pressing his hips forward in tiny, rocking movements and Jonny thought desperately about what it would be like to get him off, his face, the sounds he would make.

“Fuck,” he said, and Benedict kissed him again, fierce this time, pressing himself into Jonny until Jonny started kissing back. He moved both hands into Benedict’s hair, holding him close as he ground himself against Jonny’s body, bending him back over the worktop. They shoved and grabbed, aggressive with each other in a way they had never been on set and it seemed ludicrous to imagine that Danny had accused them of being overly diffident, inert. Jonny wasn’t sure he’d ever been so unambiguously hard.

Benedict shrugged out of his leather jacket and then let his hands creep up under Jonny’s t-shirt, fingers brushing over his flank, ticklish, making him jerk. “Christ,” Benedict said, and then pulled the shirt up and over his head in one deft movement, letting it fall to the floor. “Christ,” he said again, gazing at Jonny’s body, unabashed. Jonny watched him watching, cataloguing his shallow breaths and the redness of his lips. Generally he tried not to fuck around with people he was working with – generally, he thought with a pang of conscience, he tried not to fuck around with people who weren’t his wife. Benedict leaned in to mouth across Jonny’s neck, kissing none too gently, finding the places that made Jonny exhale with need and it was impossible, now, already too late to stop.

“What do you want?” Jonny asked, sliding his hands inside the collar of Benedict’s shirt, warm smooth skin and the hard lines of his clavicle.

“Take off my clothes,” he said against Jonny’s neck, voice low and filled with heat. “Undress me.” It was more an order than a plea, and Jonny’s hands moved automatically to unbutton Benedict’s shirt, pushing him away until there was space to drag it over his shoulders and off. Underneath, livid purple and red bruises stood in stark relief against the milk white of his skin at his shoulders and across his ribcage on one side. Underneath his trousers, the bruising was worse, angry-looking smudges across the jut of his hips and again at his knees with yellow and green marks all down his slim thighs. The pattern was not unfamiliar to Jonny: it was like undressing himself in a longer, leaner frame.

“What the fuck,” Jonny breathed, taking in the whole picture of Benedict’s body, eyes resting finally on the line of his cock inside his underwear. “This job’s a fucking nightmare.” Benedict caught his mouth in a hard kiss.

“Take your trousers off, okay?” he said, pulling back and holding Jonny’s face in both hands. “I want to – uhhh,” and then they were kissing again. Jonny shoved a thigh forward, between Benedict’s legs, and placed both hands on his arse, pulling him in until Benedict was grinding against him, riding his quadriceps through layers of cotton and denim. Benedict’s arms looped over his shoulders, pressing their chests together as Benedict sucked at Jonny’s neck. He smelled of some understated cologne and his slim body was angular, hard with muscle, reminding Jonny of everything he loved about being with a man. The fact that it was Benedict, the guy he’d been watching, thinking about, obsessing over for weeks – it was almost too much.

“God, that’s good,” Jonny said, as Benedict kissed over his jaw, his ear. He tightened his grip on Benedict’s buttocks, pulling him closer, and Benedict groaned. “Could you come from this?” He needed to know, every detail, every last thing.

“Maybe, god, maybe,” Benedict said, heavy against Jonny’s body. “You want that?” Jonny tipped Benedict’s face up until he was looking directly into the pale glass of his eyes.

“Fucking hell, Ben.”

“Just take them off, okay?” he said, pressing kisses at the corner of Jonny’s mouth, pleading. “Take everything off.”

Once they were both naked, Benedict took Jonny’s hand and led him through to the sitting room where they’d both ended up sleeping the night of Danny’s vodka. They must have looked ridiculous, cocks bobbing gently in front of them, but when Benedict lay down on the couch and pulled Jonny on top of him, all self-consciousness was forgotten. They pushed and shoved at each other, Jonny mapping out the unfamiliar areas of Benedict’s body, his long limbs and sharp angles, as Benedict did the same in return. Eventually they settled with Jonny mostly on top, and Benedict closed a hand around both of their cocks, unmoving. “Your body,” Benedict breathed, looking down between them. Jonny followed his gaze, feeling shaky. There was something obscene about how obviously aroused they were.

“Will you let me fuck you?” Jonny asked, feeling Benedict’s long fingers tighten briefly, perfect. Benedict looked up at him, lips parted, something wild in his eyes.

“Yes. Yeah. Just – god, it’s been a while.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jonny said, “okay.”

It was warm in the room, with little noise other than the traffic outside, the sound of the occupants of the flat upstairs moving around and the barest idea of their voices. Jonny listened to Benedict breathe as he kissed down his body, taking it as slowly as he could bear. Benedict seemed to have relaxed a little, perhaps now that it was clear this was really going to happen, and he put up no resistance as Jonny moved back between his thighs, bending a knee so that Benedict’s leg was flush against the back of the couch, and putting his other foot on the floor. Jonny slid off the couch alongside it and mouthed his way up the inside of Benedict’s thighs, kissing and licking at the fine dusting of hair there as Benedict groaned and sighed. Pressing Benedict’s knee into the couch with one hand, Jonny licked the crease where his leg met his body and then mouthed over the velvet flesh of his erection, gratified by the way Benedict arched up off the couch in response.

“Fuck, Jonny,” he said, the sound seeming to come from somewhere low in his chest. Jonny took the head of his cock into his mouth, lapping at the slick of moisture there. It had been a while since he’d done this, and he let his lips slide down slowly, reminding himself of the way of it. He moved his free hand to wrap around the shaft, as much to stop Benedict pushing up into his mouth as anything else, and then hollowed his cheeks, drawing a desperate sound from Benedict’s throat. Christ, this was intense.

Shaking a little, Jonny drew back and pulled Benedict forward a bit by his hips until his arse was at the edge of the couch. He mouthed over his balls, down over his perineum, making everything nice and wet until he was ready to push Benedict’s cheeks apart and draw the flat damp of his tongue over Benedict’s anus. Benedict shuddered and Jonny groaned, reaching one hand down to stroke himself as he licked firmly, trying to push inside Benedict’s body. It felt good, the heat and the appalling intimacy of it. He flattened a hand across Benedict’s stomach, feeling Benedict’s cock nudge against his forearm as he lapped at him, making a mess. It was practical, this, but he’d always liked it for what it was anyway, everything it implied about him and about the person he was with, about their appetites, wanton and urgent.

“God, stop,” Benedict said, eventually, reaching down to pull Jonny bodily forward until Jonny was scrambling back up on top of him. They kissed again, Benedict licking at the taste of himself in Jonny’s mouth in a way that made Jonny feel crazy. He slipped a fingertip into Benedict’s arse, pushing inside slowly without too much difficulty as Benedict took hold of his cock. They stayed that way for a while, kissing and touching, sweat slick between their bodies, until Benedict groaned. “There’s lube,” he said, “in my pocket.”

Jonny fingered him slowly. “You were pretty confident,” he said, sounding as breathless as he felt.

“I really wasn’t,” Benedict replied, vulnerability suddenly clear on his face and Jonny leaned down to kiss him, quick and sweet.

The sex was faltering at first, awkward. Jonny had used a tremendous amount of the lube inside Benedict and all over him, on both their dicks, everywhere, and the whole process had been maddening. The first push inside was close to pain, and then abruptly delicious, and Jonny had to close his eyes, breathing quickly, trying to keep his mind blank. He slid in another slow inch before opening his eyes again. Benedict was gorgeous beneath him, body laid out and completely available, a hand around his own cock. “Okay?” Jonny asked, and Benedict exhaled.

“Fuck,” he said, very precisely, pushing up to take more of Jonny’s cock.

“Oh god,” Jonny said, “I can’t – I can’t –”

“Just – Christ,” Benedict said and then between them, over slow moments, Jonny was inside right to the hilt. They were both breathing hard. “Yeah,” Benedict said, arching his neck briefly and then meeting Jonny’s gaze. “Come on,” he demanded and Jonny pulled out a little before sliding back in. “Yeah, that’s – come on,” he said again and Jonny’s control was shredded, unable to be careful any more. He fucked Benedict steadily, pulling out most of the way before slamming back in again, groaning with every stroke as, underneath him, Benedict let his legs fall further open.

“It’s fucking gorgeous, you are fucking gorgeous,” he groaned, and Benedict pulled him down until he was lying along Benedict’s body, a sweeter angle.

“Touch me,” Benedict said, bullying, and Jonny forced a hand between them, finding Benedict’s cock and stroking it quickly, making Benedict tighten around him. Jonny was close, his balls tight, but he didn’t care about showing off or making it last. He just wanted Benedict to come first so that he could see it, watch him falling apart.

“Benedict,” he groaned, feeling Benedict scrape the short nails of one hand down the flesh of his back in response. Jonny pushed himself up on one elbow so that he could see, his hand round Benedict’s cock, his own cock disappearing inside Benedict’s body. “Oh fuck, it’s so good to have you like this.”

“I’m going to come – so hard, so – oh...” Jonny watched him tip over the edge, eyes flicking between Benedict’s face and his cock, fucking him through his orgasm, pulses of come wet between their bodies. He bit down on his lower lip until Benedict opened his eyes again, gazing up at Jonny hazily. “Jonny,” he said, voice sounding broken, and Jonny came with a groan, bent over Benedict’s body, totally lost.

They lay for a long time afterwards, fingers tangling together, until both their bodies were sticky and Jonny could feel Benedict’s nipples hardening in the cold. The aches and pains of the day started to reappear, along with whatever new damage they had done in the past hour or so. Jonny didn’t care.

“Are you thinking –” Benedict started, and then cleared his throat. “Are you thinking about the play?” Jonny turned his face into Benedict’s chest, pressing a kiss into the skin there before propping himself up on one elbow.

“Sort of. Non-specifically.” Benedict looked incredibly relaxed, almost sleepy. Jonny thought of the expression on his face earlier, in the kitchen, when they’d kissed and felt a hard clench of desire in his gut.

“This is what I’ll use, tomorrow.”

“What?” Jonny smiled.

“For work. When they meet, in Geneva. When you’re pacing round me, when you’ve got your fingers round my neck or – oh, when you’re grabbing the journal from my hands,” he said, body arching up slightly at the last thing, as if it were somehow more powerful than the others.

“God,” Jonny said, trailing his fingers down Benedict’s bare chest. “Is this how you usually find connections with your co-stars?” Benedict just laughed, eyes closing briefly.

“This will work,” he said simply, turning to nuzzle his face briefly against Jonny’s skin. “It will work.” Jonny let his head fall back against the cushions and blanked his mind for a moment, allowing it to fill up with how they felt, Victor and the creature. Yes, he thought. It probably will.

Benedict eventually left to find a few hours’ sleep at home before their 8am start at the theatre. That day was their first with the rest of the cast and, after a collective pep talk from Danny, they had half an hour for coffee and to reintroduce themselves to each other, start getting a feel for how the piece would come together. Jonny made the rounds, chatting with people he’d known before and with new faces, figuring out who had which part. He had returned to the coffee jug just before they took it away, and was refilling his cup when he felt a warm hand on the back of his neck, friendly, or perhaps possessive. Body tense, he turned to face Benedict. His face was hard to read, but there was a glimmer in his eyes that looked undeniably like desire.

“Last night –” Benedict offered, and Jonny shook his head, looking down briefly.

“I don’t think we need to talk about it.”

“No,” Benedict agreed. His hand was still round Jonny’s neck, fingers moving almost imperceptibly against his skin. For a shocking moment, Jonny thought he was going to kiss him, but then he smiled briefly and walked away, leaving Jonny’s heart pounding in his chest.

Right, Jonny thought, taking a deep breath. Time to work.