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"It’s about his arrogance. That whole passage is about his arrogance."

"No," Benedict said, plucking the cigarette from Jonny’s fingers and taking a long drag. "It can’t be that simple. It has to be about his lack of empathy, or – lack of emotional understanding. Otherwise every line is just saying the same thing."

"He doesn’t demonstrate empathy because why would he empathise with the Creature? That would be like me trying to empathise with a dog or something."

"It really wouldn’t." Benedict rolled onto his side and propped his head on a hand, elbow resting on the pillow. Their legs were still loosely intertwined under the duvet, Benedict’s ankle now digging uncomfortably into Jonny’s calf muscle. "Not unless you’ve debated the merits of great works of literature with family pets as a matter of course." He took another drag, cigarette cupped almost entirely within his palm like something secret, and blew the smoke out slowly. Jonny had an idea that he knew precisely how good he looked.

"Well, we did have this parakeet once…" he said, just to watch Benedict’s mouth curve into a smile, to see the lines at the corners of his eyes. "Could I have my cigarette back, please? I thought you had stopped smoking."

"I thought you had," Benedict retorted, handing over what was left of it with a pout.

"Tomorrow," Jonny said, as Benedict slid back under the covers, a cold hand settling across Jonny’s stomach, "we can give up again tomorrow."

 

The week before the previews was the busiest yet, everything ramping up towards the dress rehearsals on Friday and Saturday. Jonny thought half the cast had probably figured out they were fucking by then. Naomie knew: he could tell from the way she looked discreetly elsewhere when they spoke to each other too softly, touched too much. She had scenes with them in both roles, and maybe that allowed her to read them so closely. More likely she had just smelled it on them after some lunch break where Jonny had Benedict crowded into a secluded corner, one hand shoved inside his yoga pants, getting him off as he panted into Jonny’s ear.

Danny knew, of course. Danny had probably engineered the whole thing in the first place.

No one said anything about it, and Jonny was sure that wouldn’t change. No one would say anything that might interfere with the chemistry, two central performances now strong enough to carry whatever might be going wrong with the rest of the show. Jonny hadn’t spoken about it with Benedict either, which might have seemed strange if it weren’t for the fact they never spoke about anything other than the play. The characters grew more real with every day of rehearsals and Jonny could feel them solidifying, like moss furring the inside of his mind the more time he spent occupying them – the more time they spent occupying him. He watched Benedict’s parallel progress, tiny changes in his demeanour and his speech which would probably go undetected by someone who wasn’t entangled with him so intimately. Sometimes Jonny would speak to him and just for the first second, it wouldn’t be Benedict who was listening. He wondered if Benedict dreamt as the characters, the way Jonny sometimes did. This was the ineluctable process of theatre, a feeling of transportation Jonny had never been able to replicate with drugs or even sex, but this time amplified by the constant feedback loop between him and Benedict. Some days it felt like he couldn’t breathe as himself any more. He felt like an artist, exhilarated. He felt consumed.

"Are you even eating?" Michele asked, her image briefly freezing in the Skype window as the connection wavered.

"Sometimes, when I remember."

"Jonny," she said with a sigh.

"Look, I’m kidding. Benedict’s cooking for me right now," he said, looking over the top of the laptop into the kitchen, where Benedict was fussing with prawns, removing the shells.

"Thank god one of you has some sense."

After the call had ended, Benedict came through to the living room, closing the laptop before kneeling in front of the couch and spreading Jonny’s thighs.

"She’ll be here in ten days," Jonny said, as Benedict settled, leaning forward to unzip Jonny’s trousers, pushing his underwear out of the way.

"Mmmm," Benedict murmured, perhaps an acknowledgement. He sucked Jonny’s cock slowly, drawing it out, pleasure sparking at the base of Jonny’s spine as he threaded his fingers through the soft curls of Benedict’s hair.

"Your mouth," he said, "god, your mouth." He came with a wordless groan, abdominal muscles protesting as he curled over. His body ached constantly. He was convinced he’d broken a toe, but it was just something to use, something to help him understand the Creature. For a quiet moment afterwards, neither of them moved, and Jonny looked at the laptop, wondering why he didn’t feel guiltier.

"Fuck me later," Benedict said eventually, rubbing a hand across his jeans where the material pulled taut over his erection.

The food was cold, but they ate it anyway, in a hurry.

 

There was no routine, as such, but somehow they always ended up in the same bed. Some nights, they went for a drink after work. They had even gone to the cinema once, to watch something Oscar-nominated and worthy, but Jonny had fallen asleep after the first twenty minutes and judging from Benedict’s sketchy recapitulation of the plot afterwards, he had too. Leisure time had become a distant memory at this point anyway, with rehearsals fifteen hours a day.

"You’re doing the press shots at two, and someone from the Guardian is coming down at the same time," Margo told them, pushing her headset back over one ear.

"The Guardian?" Benedict frowned. "We don’t open for another three weeks."

"It’s not a review. They just want to write something about the production for the start of the previews."

"So they don’t need to speak to us?"

"Well, obviously they need to speak to you. Just say nice things about each other," she advised.

"Impossible task," Jonny muttered and Benedict smirked.

The photography crew set up in a tiny space at the far end of the theatre complex and told them to stay in their own clothes. Benedict was garrulous, peppering the photographer with ideas for shots and flirting with the lighting assistant who looked unsure whether to be charmed or terrified.

"Ben," Jonny said eventually, "can you stand still for five minutes? We’ll be here all day." Benedict stilled immediately, placing a hand for the briefest moment on Jonny’s forearm as if to steady himself. Jonny felt goosebumps rise on his skin underneath his sleeve. They accepted direction from the photographer, working through a series of poses until Benedict was in profile, looking at Jonny who stared straight ahead. After a few seconds, Benedict leaned over until his mouth was against Jonny’s ear.

"I want you," he said, whisper-quiet, the gravel in his voice making it something felt as much as heard. The photographer kept snapping as Benedict pulled away and Jonny grimaced, desire twisting in his chest like anxiety.

"Brilliant, that’s everything we need, boys," the photographer said, and Benedict clapped Jonny on the back. It hadn’t even taken an hour, in the end.

"You didn’t think that might have been the smallest bit inappropriate?" Jonny asked as they walked back through the bowels of the National, vibrations from a passing tube train rumbling up through their feet.

"Bit late to start worrying about that, really," Benedict said mildly. It wasn’t true, of course: they were careful, mostly, and they had certain limits. Didn’t they? Jonny turned the thought over in his mind until they were back at the Olivier, straight into rehearsal, no more time for thinking.

They spent the evening working on the birth scene after most of the cast and crew had gone home. Video footage had been banned as a rehearsal tool, but it didn’t matter – Jonny was certain he learned as much from watching Benedict’s performance as he would do from watching his own. Danny had started giving them notes together, the same notes for the same problems they were both having.

"You can’t use your feet before you’ve found them. There’s too much pushing with your heels." Danny was looking at Jonny, but it was Benedict who answered.

"No. That’s random. It’s not pushing, it’s just – flailing."

"It looks wrong," Danny said, crossing his arms over his chest. Benedict slouched back in his seat as Jonny leaned forward, forearms on his thighs.

"We’ll check with Buster," he said, and Danny smiled at him sharply.

"You do that, but just remember Buster’s not the one directing this play."

Back at the flat, crammed together on the couch, they clicked through the videos on Jonny’s laptop, Buster at 33 weeks, at 35 weeks, at 42 weeks. They’d dissected his movement so many times, but Jonny didn’t ever forget, didn’t ever lose that brief moment of wonder that Buster was his, his and Michele’s, a person they had created from nothing. They’d used that too, when they were trying to make sense of Victor. Benedict was unabashedly broody, far more so than Jonny had ever been. It wasn’t possible, not really, to explain what it felt like to hold your son, but Jonny tried over and over, employing ever more outlandish analogies whilst Benedict nodded seriously.

"I’m going to put this one on my phone," Benedict called through to the kitchen as Jonny put bread under the grill, took cheese from the fridge. "The one in your mum’s garden."

"Okay," Jonny shouted. He glanced briefly at the digital display on the cooker. It was almost three in the morning. He walked to the doorway, leaning against the frame to watch Benedict plugging a cable into the laptop. "Doesn’t she wonder where you are?"

Benedict looked up, half his attention still focused on fishing his phone out of his pocket. "What?"

"Olivia."

"Oh." He looked down, plugged the other end of the cable into the iPhone and clicked some buttons, shaking his head the whole time. Then he straightened up, rubbed the fingers of one hand over his mouth. Even at this distance, Jonny could see the bruises on his wrists. "She knows what I’m like," he said with a shrug.

"What are you like?" Jonny asked, no inflection to his voice. Tension cramped his stomach for a sudden moment.

"Ravenous," Benedict said, setting his phone down and walking towards the kitchen, clutching Jonny’s bicep briefly as he squeezed past him in the doorway. "I hope you’re not burning that toast."

 

The next morning, the day of the first dress rehearsal, they were in the back of a cab, Benedict drumming his fingers absent-mindedly on Jonny’s thigh as he looked out of the window. They were late, always, for everything. Jonny was used to charming his way out of his bad manners, but these days he let Benedict speak for both of them. No one expected a separate explanation. "I think I’m getting sick," Benedict said, sounding dreamy. They’d fucked in the shower and Jonny’s skin felt overheated still, his shirt sticking to the small of his back.

"That’s not like you," he murmured.

"Oh, don’t be unkind," Benedict said, moving to lean his head against Jonny’s shoulder. "Not today." His hair smelled of Jonny’s shampoo and Jonny felt a horrible pang of need wash through him, something that wasn’t just about sex, or just about work. He pushed Benedict away and Benedict looked at him, irritated.

"Sorry," he said, not quite sure what he was apologising for, tangling his fingers with Benedict’s on his thigh, "sorry." Benedict rubbed a thumb across his knuckles and sighed.

"You know they’ve asked us to present an award together at the Oliviers?"

"Danny told me. He gave me the impression that we’re doing it whether we want to or not. I think he’s more anxious about ingratiating himself with the theatre world than he admits, you know."

"I want to do it," Benedict said, gazing through the window of the cab again. "I’ll have friends there."

"Of course," Jonny said, thinking that he should ask Michele to bring his tux. She’d be here by then. Would she want to go? Probably not, he decided. She hated things that were too English, whatever that meant, and she’d rather be with Buster. Anyway, Danny would want him to network. Then he thought: he’ll have friends there. Doesn’t he have friends here?

"Are you nervous?" Benedict asked, and Jonny turned to his head to find Benedict had been looking at him.

"A little. I’ll feel much better after today. You?"

"Yes. Excited too," he offered, attempting a smile that failed to convince. Jonny lifted his free hand and touched his fingers briefly to Benedict’s mouth.

"Do you really think you’re getting sick?"

"It’s just my throat," Benedict said, turning to the window again. "I’ll have someone find me some echinacea once we get there. It’s nothing."

 

The day passed in a rush. They’d trialled everything before – wardrobe and make up, the scene changes, the music – but not all at the same time, and Jonny could feel his own anxiety reflected back at him from everyone he spoke to. He would play the Creature this time around, and Benedict sat with him while the make-up artists transformed him so that they could run lines. The scene with the Female Creature’s death was the weakest they had together, both characters already so close to insanity that the impact they had on each other was difficult to make clear. In the end, they talked more about the staging than about the script, until eventually they were sitting in silence, watching as the Creature’s stitches were painted and glued on.

"Ben," Margo popped her head round the door an hour before they were due to start, "we need you in wardrobe."

"Be right there," he said, smiling at her before meeting Jonny’s eyes in the mirror.

"How’s your throat?"

"Fine, yeah, I think." Benedict got to his feet, curling his hand into a loose fist and knocking Jonny gently on his naked shoulder a few times. "I should –" he said, gesturing towards the door, and Jonny nodded.

"Yeah." Benedict’s fingers pressed against Jonny’s skin, thumb rubbing the edge of his collarbone. It was too intimate a gesture in a room with other people, but Jonny wanted more, wanted to pull Benedict down by his neck and kiss him full on the mouth until he was breathless.

"Right," he said finally, "see you out there."

"Okay." Jonny managed a tight smile as Benedict walked away. "Oh, wait!" Jonny said, turning sharply in his seat, no doubt to the chagrin of the make-up artist. Benedict had frozen, looking at him. "Break a leg, yeah?"

"Yeah, you too." He walked through the door, leaving Jonny with the Creature, alone.

 

Inside the drum, waiting to be born, Jonny took deep, steady breaths and tried to lose himself to it. They weren’t supposed to be rehearsing the full twenty minutes the Creature would be stuck on the stage before the start of each performance, but Danny’s perfectionism combined with the inevitable technical hitches meant he was in there for a while. Maybe it helped. When they finally got underway, he was as focused as he’d ever been on stage. The rehearsal was shambolic in places and some of the scenes were still desperately workmanlike, but not with Benedict, not with Victor. Jonny could feel energy crackling between them like something physical. He immersed himself fully, watching intently when not on the stage, and he didn’t allow his concentration to waver until the end, the sparse applause from crew sitting in ones and twos in the audience.

Danny gave them notes as a company but Jonny didn’t hear a word he said. He sipped water slowly, feeling raw everywhere, like his skin had been flayed. He was conscious of Benedict’s elbow on the arm of the chair next to him, too close. It took every ounce of professionalism he had to keep himself seated, like a normal human being, when inside his head a voice was screaming at him to get out of the room, away from lights and noise and far too many people. When Danny finally brought the session to an end, Jonny got up without a word and headed quickly for his dressing room, not looking back. Inside, he ripped off the Creature’s jacket and flung it at the couch before sitting at the dressing table. The air felt cool against the bare skin of his chest and back, some of the prosthetic stitches coming loose. Pinned to his mirror were three different pictures of Michele and Buster, one with her dad too. He stared at them, trying to remember where each one had been taken, if he’d been with them. After a minute, he put his head in his hands and breathed. He couldn’t do this, any of it. It had all been a terrible mistake.

Benedict didn’t knock, but he did lock the door behind him. "That was amazing," he said quietly. "I was almost in tears watching you with Karl." Jonny couldn’t speak, could hardly even lift his head. "I know we still need to work on the croft but the final scene is really – I think we’ve nailed it, honestly. Were you – what did you think?" After a few seconds, Jonny turned in his seat and forced himself to stand. Benedict was against the door, dressed still in Victor’s shirt and trousers, barefoot. "Are you alright?"

"Yes. No. Look, I’m just – can you give me five minutes?"

"What’s wrong? Did you hurt yourself? Can I get you something?" he asked, crossing the room and Jonny felt himself shrink back against the dressing table, shoulders curling inwards.

"No, no, please just – stop," he said, last word almost a shout, startlingly loud. Benedict stilled and said nothing, looking at him with concern. "This needs to stop," he said raggedly, "all of this. I can’t keep doing this. We can’t."

"You’re tired," Benedict said. "Let’s just get them to take the make-up off, and we can find some food –"

"No, please, listen to me. It’s too much and it’s – it’s not right."

"Jonny," Benedict said softly and in spite of everything Jonny still felt it shiver up his spine. "That performance was superlative. Can’t you see what we’re doing here?"

"It doesn’t – I have to think about Buster. I’m married. I’m a married man."

"Oh god, really? Have you just remembered?" Benedict snapped and Jonny felt every muscle in his body tense.

"Fuck you, Benedict."

"Look," Benedict said, stepping closer, "don’t do this. You don’t need to do this." He lifted a hand to Jonny’s face but dropped it immediately when Jonny flinched away. "I’m not asking for – you know how it felt on that stage. Please." His tone was pleading and Jonny wasn’t used to hearing that, not from Benedict. He looked down, unable to meet Benedict’s eyes. In his mind, he felt the Creature, cradling Victor in his arms. Impossible to distinguish the on-stage electricity from what he felt now, lucent between them.

"There has to be a limit," he said, voice wavering. "Not everything is available. For the play. Not everything."

"Jonny," Benedict said, almost crooning. This time, Jonny didn’t stop him curling a hand around his cheek. "Everything is available." With an effort, Jonny wrenched his eyes up to Benedict’s face. The remnants of his make-up were a disaster, damp hair straggling over his forehead. He looked exhausted and too thin, eyes bruised from lack of sleep. He was uncommonly beautiful.

"I can’t," Jonny said, and it sounded like an apology. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Jonny felt himself inhale and exhale, a miracle of the nervous system. Benedict’s hand drifted from Jonny’s face down over his body.

"Do you know what it’s like, watching you?" He leaned in to brush a kiss against Jonny’s temple, almost more than Jonny could handle and his heart hammered in his chest. "Out there. When you’re him, either of them. When you’re given over to it so – completely." He had both hands on Jonny’s waist now, warm through the Creature’s trousers.

"Benedict," Jonny said, but he didn’t pull away.

"It’s unbearable. I can hardly look at you, Jonny, let alone act opposite you. I’m like something half-formed in comparison, knock-kneed and ambisinister, completely fucking graceless." His voice was shaky, but his hands, unbuttoning the trousers, pushing them down over Jonny’s hips, were sure and certain. His words made Jonny’s skin heat like fever. "I should be crawling on my knees after you, not sharing a fucking stage." Benedict swept the palm of one hand down Jonny’s flank, his body following after it until he was kneeling.

"Benedict," Jonny tried again, but his voice was hoarse, his conviction ebbing away.

"You make me this way, can’t you see that? I’ve never been so lost, so lickerish. I need this from you. I need to know that I have this or else I can’t – we can’t –" he trailed off, looking up into Jonny’s face. He kissed the skin over Jonny’s hip, inches from where Jonny was growing hard.

"Oh," Jonny sighed as Benedict waited, almost completely motionless. "It’s just a play," he said eventually.

"I know," Benedict replied, with a watery smile. Jonny let his fingers trace the angles of Benedict’s face, brushing gently behind his ear where the skin was sensitive, watching his lips part. "Please," Benedict said, little more than a whisper. Jonny closed his eyes, put both hands on the back of Benedict’s head and pulled him in until his soft mouth sank down over Jonny’s erection.

"You’re killing me, Benedict," Jonny ground out as Benedict sucked, all lush, wet heat and the firm pressure of his tongue. "I’m going to come right down your throat." Benedict put his hands on Jonny’s hips and Jonny let himself rock forward over and over, fingers working against Benedict’s scalp. His eyes flicked open as he felt his orgasm building and when he looked down, he saw Victor’s shirt, the Creature’s rends and stitches still all over his body. Benedict looked up as he took Jonny into his throat and Jonny’s knees buckled, leaving him perched on the dressing table. "Ben," he said, the only warning he could manage, before he started coming, every tension blanked from his mind, a perfect absence of thought. Benedict pulled back quickly, catching half of it over his cheek and the edge of his jaw, making Jonny groan. They looked at each other for a few seconds before Benedict reached up and deliberately wiped the mess from his face with the cuff of Victor’s shirt. The costumes wouldn’t be laundered until after they’d opened, Jonny thought, brain slow in the aftermath of orgasm. A second or two later, he realised that had been the point. He slid down onto his knees on the floor and leaned against Benedict’s body, letting Benedict put his arms around him, kissing at his neck and his ear.

"Okay," Benedict murmured, holding him close, "you’re okay."

"You’re too much," Jonny said, and Benedict sighed, manoeuvring them until Jonny was on his back on the floor.

"It’s the play. It will be easier soon," he said, sounding uncertain, pulling the Creature’s trousers down over Jonny’s feet and away, leaving him totally naked. "Once we’re open." He stretched out along the length of Jonny’s body. "It will be easier then."

They kissed for minutes with a languor that was surprising given the insistent press of Benedict’s erection against Jonny’s thigh. None of this could possibly be right, but it seemed unavoidable, as irresistible as gravity. It didn’t feel to Jonny like falling in love. It was more like realising, with stark, sick clarity, that he was addicted. "Benedict," Jonny sighed as they moved against each other, pressing and grinding. Benedict’s hands stroked over Jonny’s skin, his palms over Jonny’s torso and down over his thighs. Jonny bent his knee, putting one foot flat on the floor and Benedict drew his fingers between Jonny’s buttocks, tapping against him softly. "Oh god, Benedict," Jonny said again, letting his thighs fall further apart.

"I want you," he said quietly, "all the time."

"Yeah, I – yes," Jonny breathed, as a fingertip slipped inside him, "I know."

Benedict worked him open gradually, one finger replaced with two, slick with a wetness that leaked slowly back out of Jonny’s body. It was warm in the room and they kissed constantly, eyes closed, sweet and lazy with it until Jonny’s thoughts grew unfocused, dreamlike. Benedict still had Victor’s clothes on. Jonny could feel the rough material of the trousers, damp where Benedict ground himself slowly against Jonny’s thigh. "Look at her," he said eventually, voice so low as to be almost inaudible, and Jonny’s pulse raced even before he recognised the words. "Exquisitely constructed…her cheeks, her lips…who would not desire those breasts?"

"Oh god," Jonny groaned, "you can’t do this," but his hips canted, seeking more of Benedict’s touch.

"What if she leaves you? What if she finds someone else?" Benedict went on, as if Jonny had said nothing. He was warm and heavy, over Jonny, against him, inside him. "How will you feel if you’re deserted by her, the only one you can take to your bed – how will you react?" A silence followed. Benedict’s fingers moved steadily, caressing, and Jonny’s head swam. He was growing hard again.

"I will run mad," he said eventually, and Benedict groaned into his mouth, fingers pushing deeper.

"It’s a risk then, isn’t it?"

"No, because I will give her such adoration, such – devotion," he exhaled, as Benedict’s fingers pulled free, "that she will never want to leave." He could hear the rustling of clothes, feel Benedict moving next to him, never losing contact with Jonny’s body.

"So it is a risk I should take?" Benedict replied, once his movement had stilled, and his voice thrilled through Jonny like a reward.

"You must – oh, you must." Benedict was between his legs, leaning forward to drop kisses against his mouth. "She is mine," Jonny said, eyes squeezing tighter shut as Benedict pressed inside him, that initial slow burn of pain that Jonny would think of afterwards, mouth dry. "Please. Please."

"Fuck," Benedict said, carefully sliding deeper. One of his hands clutched Jonny’s bent knee. Jonny opened his eyes to see Benedict braced over him, utterly focused, his eyes glittering.

"Benedict." Jonny reached one hand to rub over Benedict’s dry lips. He was perfect like this, struggling to control the sharp edge of his arousal, his face revealing everything. Jonny’s thoughts were hazy.

"Are you saying you will protect her?" Benedict continued eventually, eyes locked on Jonny’s as he fucked him with long, slow strokes.

"Yes. Oh yes. Nobody will harm her. I will be there."

"Are you saying – oh," Benedict moaned as Jonny spread his thighs further, pushing up to meet Benedict’s thrusts as much as he was able, "you – you will love her?"

"Yes – fuck – yes, I am."

"Because love is not something one can teach, not something – oh god, Jonny," Benedict said in a rush as Jonny took hold of himself and stroked quickly, suddenly close. "Not something one – I can’t – I can’t," he said, thrusts growing jerky and erratic, face flushed and Jonny used his free hand to pull Benedict down by the neck until their bodies were aligned.

"I do, Master," he said against Benedict’s ear, as Benedict panted, grinding into him.

"I’m going to fucking come."

"I do love her, I do love her, I do –"

"Jonny –"

"I do, I do, oh god," Jonny moaned, feeling Benedict shudder into orgasm, body hard on top of Jonny and inside him, everywhere. It took Jonny a few moments longer to bring himself off, messy between them. Benedict didn’t move at all, and when he was done, Jonny threaded the fingers of both hands through the damp mess of Benedict’s curls and held him close.

 

It could have been ten minutes later, or it could have been half an hour. Jonny wasn’t sure if they’d dozed.

"You’ve done this, haven’t you, with other people? For work," Jonny clarified, and Benedict groaned, pressing his face into Jonny’s chest.

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

"No," Jonny said, fingers of one hand stroking over Benedict’s shoulder, "I suppose not." It didn’t seem to matter, which was strange in itself – Jonny was by nature the jealous type. Deep down he hated the fact Michele had had a life before him. Nothing seemed to matter with Benedict except the play. "I don’t know how she puts up with you."

"Olivia," Benedict said, voice rumbling against Jonny’s skin. He pulled away and sat up, leaning back on his hands behind him. "She doesn’t. Or she won’t, any more." Jonny rolled onto his side, head pillowed on one arm. The air against his body felt cool.

"Things not good with you two?"

Benedict offered a wan smile. "I’m just waiting for her to put us both out of our misery, in truth."

"You think it’s over?"

"I’ve had so many last chances already. We should have ended it years ago."

"So why didn’t you?"

"Oh, I don’t know," Benedict sighed, reaching around to find Jonny’s bag and rummaging for his cigarettes. "I kept thinking something would change. Me. I kept thinking I would change. That’s what she was hoping too, I expect. Do you think we can get away with smoking in here?"

"In the bathroom, there’s a vent," Jonny said, getting to his feet.

 

"Make a fresh start," Jonny suggested, once they were installed in the tiny en suite, door closed, breathing smoke into the whirring extractor fan. "Ask her to marry you, settle down. I thought that was what you wanted?" Benedict shook his head.

"I’ve asked her. Three times."

"And she turned you down? Oh mate," Jonny said, laughing in spite of himself.

"She agreed to live with me. That was our fresh start. Look how well that turned out."

"Mmm," Jonny murmured, taking a final drag on his cigarette and flicking the end into the toilet. "Maybe you need to stop being a dick."

"Yes," Benedict said, not looking at him, "I am aware."

 

It was late when they made it to bed, late in the morning when they turned up to the theatre and impressively late when they finally started into the second dress rehearsal. Playing Victor was less physically demanding, but Jonny felt tightly coiled nonetheless, spellbound by Benedict’s performance, struggling to find his own pitch in comparison. Danny’s notes this time round were just as exacting, but he allowed that there had been an improvement in the croft scene. "You’ve shifted something, there, boys," he said, and Jonny brushed the backs of his fingers gently against Benedict’s knee. He felt lighter than he had in days.

At the flat, Benedict poured whisky into glasses and handed one to Jonny, who was leaning against the work top. They had the following day off. Benedict clinked his glass against Jonny’s. "Here’s to shifting something."

"I’ll drink to that."

They moved through to the other room and flopped on the sofa, drinking in silence, until Benedict reached a hand to run his fingers round the corner of the laptop on the coffee table in front of them.

"When does she arrive?"

"Lunchtime."

"How do you think Buster will cope with the flight?"

Jonny smiled and shook his head. "He’ll be fine. He’s a trooper."

"It will be nice to meet him," Benedict said softly. "He’s the best movement coach I’ve ever had."

"Yeah." It was all there, the nightmare of the near future, but with the alcohol blurring the edges of his thoughts, it felt blessedly unreal to Jonny at that moment. It would be wonderful to be with Buster again. They drank in silence for another couple of minutes, Jonny thinking about his kid, until Benedict put his glass on the table and stood, grabbing his jacket from the back of the couch and pulling it on. Jonny looked up at him in surprise. "Where are you going?"

"Home." He leaned down and pressed a brief kiss against Jonny’s mouth. "I’ll see you at work."

"Okay," Jonny said, and watched Benedict walk into the tiny hallway and out of the front door. He finished the last mouthful in his glass and leaned his head back against the sofa, closing his eyes. His family arrived tomorrow. The previews started on Monday. For now, there was nothing he could do but sleep.