[The Last Leg] Strictly Romance
Sunday 11th March 2018
Summary: A year after their holiday romance in Rio, and as Jonnie starts on Strictly Come Dancing, Josh and Jonnie have another go at a relationship.
With the bar after their second para-athletics show full of athletes, it felt like Rio again. After a few drinks and conversations, Josh and Jonnie had got into the spirit of things by sitting together in a corner. It was something they'd done enough in Rio and after the welcome home show that everyone left them to it. This time they weren't just talking: they'd pushed their drinks closer to the centre of the table and were both hunched over their phones.
"I'm not doing much until Superhero Tri and the Diamond League in Birmingham next month." Jonnie pointed at his screen to show Josh the weekend in question.
Josh glanced over, then returned to his own phone. "I have another week of Josh filming, but then I have a lot more free time."
Jonnie studied his calendar. "So we could do something at the beginning of August."
"Okay." Josh nodded and scrolled down. "What about the rest of August? I'm going to the Fringe once this series is over, but only for a week."
Jonnie hesitated. Josh tore his attention away from his phone, concerned about the meaning of Jonnie's silence. "You can't tell anyone this." Jonnie lowered his voice, leaning in a little closer. "But I've been asked to do Strictly Come Dancing. Rehearsals start straight after Birmingham and I don't know how much time I'll have after that."
"Really?" Josh hadn't thought of Jonnie as much of a dancer, but then the question had never come up. Neither of them had even discussed dancing in any form.
Jonnie shrugged. "I was going to take a year off athletics anyway and I can't pass up the chance to be the first contestant with a disability to be on Strictly."
"You only know how to be first at things." Josh grinned.
Jonnie smiled back. "If I don't win, it'll be a whole new experience for me."
Returning to his phone, Josh looked through his calendar, noticing how much busier he would be in the autumn when the Fringe was over and comedians were in demand again. He frowned. "So how much time is Strictly going to take up?"
Jonnie tapped to bring up an email. "Only a few days a week until the launch show, then nearly every day." He angled his screen so Josh could see the dates. Jonnie wasn't kidding about how little free time he'd have, once it really got going.
"Is there going to be any time for us in there?" Josh let his now-dark phone slide onto the table, accompanied by a sigh.
"It's not that bad." Jonnie placed his phone on his table next to Josh's.
Josh shook his head. "How is this any different to a year ago? We struggled then and its clear nothing has changed." He turned in his seat to give Jonnie a challenging look. It felt like there was always going to be something getting in the way. Except at the Paralympics, but a relationship that lasted a few days every four years wasn't worth having.
Jonnie reached for Josh's hands. Josh let him take them. Jonnie's hands were warm and comfortable and reminded Josh of other things he'd done with them in Rio. It didn't help Josh's conviction that they shouldn't do this.
"A year ago," Jonnie said, "we were trying to recapture Rio and we couldn't do that here. This time we're going to start from the beginning and take it slow."
"There's slow and then there's not seeing each other for months. That's glacial." Josh tried to take his hands away from Jonnie's, but Jonnie held on tighter.
"Isn't it worth trying to fit a few dates in?" Jonnie's puppy dog expression made Josh stop tugging. "Still feeling the same way about each other almost a year later has got to make it worth a try, surely."
After the welcome home show, nearly a year ago, in this same bar and at the same table, Josh and Jonnie had concluded that it wasn't working. They agreed to go back to being friends and since then they hadn't avoided each other, they'd just not made any plans to see each other. They'd been fine being friends over text messages. But when they'd seen each other before the show Josh could tell from Jonnie's eyes he still wanted Josh as much as Josh wanted him.
"Feelings aren't enough. How are we going to know this will work?"
Jonnie looked amused. "By trying it? Do you always know whether a relationship will work before you've even been on a date?"
"No," Josh admitted, smiling himself as he recognised the logic. "But that's the problem, isn't it? We haven't been on a date." They had watched athletics and some other sports in Rio, but always with other members of Team GB or The Last Leg crew.
"Then let's go on one." Josh was unconvinced and must have looked it, because Jonnie squeezed his hands. "Just one date and we'll take it from there. If it doesn't work out at least we'll have tried."
Josh couldn't fault Jonnie's reasoning. Besides, he wanted to go on a date with Jonnie. "Okay. but if it doesn't work this time we don't try again, and just stay friends." He couldn't keep doing this, whatever feelings he had.
Jonnie nodded. "All right."
"Anything you want to do for our first official date?" Maybe something different from what they'd tried before in England would be good start, but he wanted to see what Jonnie had in mind.
Jonnie let Josh's hands go and tapped on his phone to wake it up, checked it and then turned back to Josh. "I should be able to get us tickets to the World Athletics Championships if you'd like to go."
Josh hadn't thought about going. He hadn't been to any athletics events outside of the Paralympics. He wasn't sure if doing something so similar to what they'd done in Rio was a good idea or a bad one. Although being in a stadium with sixty thousand other people would force them to go slow with their relationship, if nothing else. "Yeah, why not," he concluded.
"Then it's a date." Jonnie smiled and rested a hand on Josh's shoulder.
Josh reached for his drink, 'accidentally' trailing his fingers down Jonnie's leg. And then, because they'd been sequestered away by themselves too long, they re-joined the party.
"Ow." Josh reached down to rub his knee.
Jonnie hid a smile behind his drink. "If you want to play footsie there's no use doing it with my prosthetic."
"Because I always play footsie with my knees." Josh smiled anyway. The truth was they were squeezed into at a small table in the corner and any time he tried to stretch out his legs he hit Jonnie. Which always ended up with Josh coming off worse.
"Is this place usually so busy?" Jonnie replaced his glass on the table and looked around the restaurant.
There were two loud groups who made up the bulk of the diners. Despite being at the other end of the room, the noisiest was a hen night, who were presumably getting started on their evening. The biggest, in the centre, was a birthday party, made obvious by the helium balloon at one end of the table.
"I don't think so." Josh didn't go here often, despite it being only ten minutes walk from his house. "Why would you have your eighteenth in Nandos?"
Jonnie shrugged. "Maybe she really likes Nandos."
Josh couldn't see the appeal. He didn't dislike the place, but it was probably better if you were prepared to eat chicken. "My nineteenth was bigger than my eighteenth." He pulled his drink closer to him and turned the glass in his hands. "I was at university so I knew more people." It had possibly been the biggest birthday he'd ever had. Certainly the drunkest.
Jonnie smiled and leaned back in his chair. "I was the last of my friends to turn eighteen, so that was pretty epic. But my nineteenth wasn't much of a big night out. I was training for the Paralympics."
Josh raised his eyebrows. "Worked out okay for you."
"I have no regrets." Jonnie reached over to squeeze Josh's hand.
The place grew rowdier while they ate, so when the waitress came to take their plates away Josh asked for the bill. While they were finishing their drinks two women from the hen night came over, all smiles. They wore short dresses and had pink feather boas around their necks. Josh thought they looked young, although they could well be Jonnie's age. It was easy to forget Jonnie was young too.
"Hi guys," they chorused, waving the ends of their feather boas.
Josh and Jonnie smiled, Josh's more guarded.
"I have to ask, which one of us do you think is prettier?" They looked at each and giggled, which negated any prettiness as far as Josh was concerned. Plus talking about how pretty other girls were while on a date didn't feel right.
He glanced over at Jonnie, whose smile had slipped a little. "I think you both are," Jonnie replied.
"How could I possibly choose?" Josh smiled at them, hoping they'd accept that.
"But you have to," the blonde one said. "It's for a forfeit."
"You could just say it's me." The red-head stepped closer to Josh, who had to resist the urge to lean back, if only because there was no space to lean back into. She smelt of wine and he wondered how much they'd had. And whether they'd remember this in the morning.
"Oh, look, here's the bill." Jonnie reached out to take it from the waitress, who had come up behind the blonde while Josh was busy worrying about the red-head.
"Well, we must be going." Josh finished his drink while Jonnie pulled some notes from his wallet. "Lovely to meet you, hope you have a good night." Standing up was awkward, but the red-head got the message and moved away.
Jonnie managed to edge around the blonde and they didn't quite run for the door. Once outside they set off for Josh's house and laughed.
"I thought stag nights could be bad," Josh said, glancing back to check they hadn't been followed.
Jonnie shook his head. "If that's what hen nights are like I'm glad I've never been invited to one."
"With that hair you'll have to be careful you don't get confused for a woman and invited to one." Josh grinned.
"Hey!" But Jonnie was smiling. "I don't criticise your hair."
"I'm not criticising, I like it." He reached up to stroke Jonnie's hair. He was looking forward to running his hands through it, should Jonnie ever wear it down.
As Josh dropped his hand, Jonnie took it and only let go once they reached Josh's house. Already this was a better date than the last one. Much as they'd enjoyed their time at the athletics last week, by the time they'd made it out of the Olympic Park Jonnie hadn't been able to stay any longer than for a quick drink at a nearby pub before needing to get a train home. With so many people around all they'd been able to do was to hug each other goodbye. After Josh had complained that they might as well have gone as friends, Jonnie insisted on another date, which he had declared was their first proper date.
Josh didn't want this evening to end when they hadn't done anything more than have dinner, as they might have done as friends. So he asked. "Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?"
Jonnie frowned and took a small step back.
Josh took pity on him and clarified. "Asking you in for coffee might mean something else, but tea is only tea. In a mug."
"In that case I'd love to." Jonnie smiled and followed Josh inside.
Josh left Jonnie studying his bookcase, while he made the tea. The cats were out, as they often were at this time of night, so they had the sofa to themselves. When they'd sat down, Jonnie asked, "How's your knee?" and reached out a hand to rub it.
Josh had forgotten all about banging it earlier. After all, it hadn't been that hard and it had been more of a surprise than anything. "I think I'll survive," he said, doing his best to sound pathetic.
Jonnie laughed, but left his hand where it was. Josh covered it with his own and they linked their fingers. This was more intimate than any of the times they'd touched each other recently and Josh was glad they'd ended the evening somewhere more private.
And now they weren't in public they could talk about Strictly. The BBC were taking their sweet time to announce all of this year's contestants. "Have you been practising your dancing skills?"
"I only dance when I'm drunk." Jonnie shook his head. "But maybe you should be on it next year. I saw you dancing at the Opening Ceremony in Rio." Although his expression was serious there was a hint of a smile on Jonnie's face that Josh didn't miss.
"That was knackering." Josh leaned his head against the back of the sofa as if he'd done it five minutes ago rather than eleven months. You only have to dance for a couple of minutes on Strictly, we had to do it for an hour and a half. And it wasn't really dancing." He shook his head. "I'll stick to supporting you."
Jonnie grinned. "Rehearsals start in a week in a half. I have three days in a row in London, so we should be able to meet up then, if you're free."
Josh nodded. He would be back from Edinburgh a couple of days before that. "You could stay here while you're rehearsing." The words were out of his mouth before he considered how it sounded.
Jonnie took his hand off Josh's knee and wrapped both around his mug.
"I have a spare room." Which is what Josh had been thinking about when he made the offer. He should have mentioned it sooner. He reached out to rest a hand on Jonnie's arm. "It will be easier to see each other if neither of us have to go anywhere." More like Rio, he didn't say, because it wouldn't be anything like Rio. Not when they were taking things slow.
Jonnie breathed a sigh of relief. "I'd love to."
Tonight, though, Jonnie had to leave in time to get the train home. Josh walked him to the front door so he could kiss him in the hallway. It started soft and slow, a kiss that could go on forever. Josh raised a hand to the back of Jonnie's neck, and Jonnie closed the gap between them with an arm around Josh's waist.
Afterwards, Josh didn't want Jonnie to leave. He kept his hands where they were, reminding himself he wanted this to work this time. Much as he wanted to go further - even more so after that kiss - he didn't want to jeopardise it for one night of passion. "Taking things slow is harder than I thought it would be."
"I know." Jonnie sighed, his breath tickling Josh's cheek. "But I think you're worth waiting for."
Josh kissed him again, but kept it short, not wanting to it to lead to anything else before they could stop themselves. He let go of Jonnie with some reluctance, and Jonnie stepped back.
"Have fun in Edinburgh," Jonnie said and Josh nodded. "I'll see you the week after next."
When he'd gone Josh leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths. A week and a half was like too long to wait to kiss Jonnie again. But if it cooled their passions, perhaps it was a good thing.
Josh spent the day cleaning, and clearing out all the crap that somehow gravitated to the spare room and end up forgotten about. He had to move stuff piled up on the spare bed before he could make it. It was less because he was house proud and more because he was putting off writing. He had tried to do some, between the cleaning, but whenever he picked up a pen his thoughts turned to Jonnie.
Although Jonnie wasn't likely to judge the cleanliness of Josh's house, especially since he'd already been here once, even if it was only for a couple of hours at the end of an evening. But the cleaning also had the effect of working off some of his nervous energy. He'd never had a boyfriend or girlfriend to stay but sleep in a different room. When he thought too much about it, it felt strange, however much he was looking forward to seeing Jonnie again.
Once Josh was tired of cleaning, he turned to the television. In August it was almost all terrible, but it was enough to calm him down. By the time Jonnie arrived Josh was rested and prepared to have him in his house, but not his bed, all night.
"How was your first rehearsal?" Josh asked, standing aside to let Jonnie in.
"Fun. Tiring. Everyone's great, though and the pros are really patient with us. I brought you this to say thank you for letting me stay." He held up a six pack of beer. He looked more happy than tired, Josh thought.
"Thank you." Josh took it from him. "Although I notice it's the sort of present you also get the benefit of."
Jonnie grinned. "Guilty as charged."
Josh took it as read that now was a good time to start and took the beer to the kitchen. Jonnie left his bag in the hall and followed. While Josh poured the beer, one of his cats came to investigate. Jonnie crouched to stroke her. She sniffed at his hand and then rubbed her cheek against it.
"I love my dogs," Jonnie said, smiling at the cat, "but sometimes I miss living with cats."
"What made you get dogs?" Josh asked, as he led Jonnie to the lounge, the cat in their wake.
"I think it was living on my own for the first time."
Josh passed Jonnie one of the beers, then sat on the sofa. Jonnie followed suit and the cat eyed the space between them. It wasn't big enough for a cat, but she was going to sit there anyway. Both Josh and Jonnie moved closer to the edge of the sofa to give her enough space to curl up.
"I wanted a pet that was pleased to see me when I got home," Jonnie continued.
Josh smiled. "No one ever said that about cats." He idly stroked the cat along her back, but she was too busy washing to purr.
"So what have you been doing with your day?" Jonnie sipped at his beer.
"Cleaning and tidying mostly." Josh ducked his head, a little embarrassed to admit it. Even though it was something that needed doing from time to time. Probably more often than he did it, if he was honest.
"You didn't need to do that." Jonnie reached over the cat to rest a hand on Josh's arm. "I haven't noticed anything any different from the last time I was here."
Josh smiled. "But the spare room was a mess. You would have noticed if you couldn't get to the bed."
Jonnie chuckled in agreement. "If you've been in the house all day it's about time you left it." He stood up and held a hand out. "Let's go out to dinner."
As long as they ate, Josh didn't mind what they did, so he took Jonnie's hand and they went to the pizza place down the road.
Being a Monday, there weren't many people in there. Although it made Josh feel more exposed, even though he asked for a table at the back. He wasn't the sort of person to kiss someone across the table in a restaurant anyway, and didn't think Jonnie was either. Even in Rio they hadn't done anything in public which could be construed as anything more than friends. So even here, he kept his hands - and his knees - to himself so no one would guess they weren't two friends having dinner.
After dinner, and over more beers, Jonnie demonstrated some of the moves he'd been learning, which Josh attempted to copy, with little success. But he'd never thought he was Strictly material anyway. And one day of rehearsing wasn't enough to make Jonnie much of a teacher either.
By the time they gave up the cats had both gone out and they had the sofa to themselves, so they could finally sit closer together. Josh lay an arm across Jonnie's shoulders. Jonnie leaned closer, with an arm round Josh's waist. They hadn't done enough of this in the past and it gave Josh a whole new appreciation for going slow. Especially the way Jonnie moved his fingers to caress Josh through his shirt.
"Any plans for tomorrow?" Jonnie asked.
Josh rubbed his thumb against Jonnie's shoulder. "I should do some writing."
"What are you writing?"
"My next tour. It's been long enough now I've forgotten how much hard work it is, but remember all the good bits. So now I want to do another one."
Jonnie brightened. "I love watching your stand up."
"It won't be for a while yet." Although Josh smiled. "It'll take a year to write by the time I've done all the procrastination I can."
Josh loved making Jonnie laugh. It somehow did more for his ego than anyone else laughing at his jokes. He turned to kiss Jonnie, bringing a hand up to Jonnie's cheek. The contrast of beard and skin made his palm tingle.
Josh brushed his lips against Jonnie's before they parted. "This is nice." And not like Rio, where they hadn't taken the time to kiss without it leading to anything else.
"It is." Jonnie yawned, letting go of Josh to hold his hand in front of his mouth. "Sorry. I think dancing has taken more out of me than I thought. You don't mind if I go to bed?"
Much as Josh would rather spend some more time kissing, he shook his head and let go of Jonnie. "What sort of a host would I be if I forced you to stay up?"
Jonnie smiled and kissed Josh again, which made their parting a little easier to handle. But Jonnie kept it short before heading up to the spare room. At least the view of Jonnie's arse helped.
Afterwards, he could hear Jonnie moving around upstairs. To put it out of his mind he picked up his book. But no matter how hard he concentrated he kept thinking about what Jonnie was doing and how much he was wearing. After he read the same paragraph three times without taking it in he dropped it back onto the coffee table.
He then fished his phone out from underneath the book and scrolled through the screens for time wasters, ending up watching random YouTube videos. They at least didn't require so much focus and Jonnie was bound to be asleep soon anyway.
Josh was grateful and guilty for feeling grateful that the second night he was staying Jonnie went out to dinner with some of the other Strictly contestants. By the time Jonnie got to Josh's house they wouldn't have long together. Much as Josh wanted to spend more time with Jonnie, it didn't make going to bed in separate rooms easier.
At least he'd seen Jonnie that morning. Unused to having someone else in the house, Jonnie getting up had woken Josh. And then he'd heard the cats meowing at Jonnie for breakfast, so Josh had to get up and feed them before they tripped Jonnie up.
He hadn't expected Jonnie to greet him with a cup of tea. Jonnie had insisted he was making one for himself anyway, so it was no bother, but it was still Josh's house and Josh should be making Jonnie tea. But Josh hadn't had enough sleep and Jonnie was not taking no for an answer, so Josh drank the tea. And waited for Jonnie to leave before going back to bed.
When Jonnie arrived after dinner they spent their evening much the same as last night: drinking beer, chatting and kissing. Then Jonnie went to bed. Once he'd gone, Josh leaned his head against the back of the sofa and sighed. If he and Jonnie were sleeping together then he could have stayed at Josh's house any time he needed to and it wouldn't have been a problem.
Josh really liked Jonnie's company, but he couldn't relax the same as if he knew Jonnie was going back to his own house. Or they were both headed for the same bed. At this rate, Jonnie's time on Strictly was going to seem like it was lasting forever, even if he was the first celebrity to go out. Which Josh hoped he wasn't.
The next morning he spent less time lazing around in bed after Jonnie got up. He made it to the kitchen while Jonnie was still boiling the kettle.
"Sleep well?" Jonnie asked, pouring milk into two mugs.
"Yes, fine, thanks." At least he had once he'd stopped thinking of Jonnie in the next room. The cats both tried to trip him up, wrapping themselves around his legs and purring, so he fed them. When he returned to the kitchen Jonnie passed him a mug, which he took without a protest. Arguing wasn't worth the effort and he needed the caffeine this morning. "How did you sleep?"
"Out like a light." The toaster popped and Jonnie retrieved the toast and started buttering it. He had obviously found his way around Josh's small kitchen. "Dancing is more mentally tiring than I'm used to." The toast buttered, he passed the plate to Josh.
Unthinking, Josh took it. Then frowned. "Isn't this for you?"
"You have it. I'll make another." He was already filling the toaster with another two slices.
"But you're my guest." Josh held the plate out. "I should be making you breakfast, not the other way round."
Jonnie didn't even look round. "But you had a late night and you're up early. I've had more sleep than you."
Josh had tiptoed up to bed, but if Jonnie wasn't used to having someone moving about in the house it might not have been quiet enough. "I didn't mean to wake you. But I can nap later." He held the plate closer to Jonnie.
But Jonnie shook his head.
Josh sighed and took his breakfast into the lounge to eat it before it got cold. He waited until Jonnie joined him at the table to broach the topic that had been worrying him. "I've liked having you around. It's been good to spend time together."
Jonnie smiled around his toast. "It has."
"But." Josh brought his mug closer to him and studied the remnants of his tea as if it would tell him the right thing to say. "It's been a bit strange not sleeping together. I don't mean that we should," he added quickly, in case Jonnie thought that was what he meant. "But I don't think we're at the right point of this relationship to be in the same house overnight." Yet he was still guilty at effectively barring Jonnie from staying again for a while.
Jonnie sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I can get a hotel next time. The BBC will pay, after all." Josh turned his attention to Jonnie, only to find him Jonnie staring at his plate, so Josh couldn't see his face properly. "We can go out for dinner or get room service and hang out for a while."
Josh smiled. "I'd like that," he said softly. "And we could still spend as much time together as we have these past few days." He reached out to brush the back of Jonnie's hand.
Jonnie met his eyes, smiling too. "If we do this right, one day I'll be able to stay after Strictly without the awkwardness."
"I'd like that," Josh said softly, and Jonnie squeezed his hand before heading upstairs.
Once he'd gone Josh breathed a sigh of relief that Jonnie felt the same as he did. He didn't regret inviting Jonnie to stay, despite the awkwardness, because he'd missed Jonnie while he'd been in Edinburgh and Jonnie had been racing.
He decided to leave the washing up for later and met Jonnie in the hall before he went. "Good luck with rehearsals."
Jonnie's reply was to drop his bag and grab Josh's collar to tug him closer and kiss him hard. Josh gripped first Jonnie's t-shirt, then his hips to keep him close. But they couldn't keep up the intensity for long and had to break apart, breathing hard.
Jonnie let go of Josh, stepped backwards and picked his bag up, holding it with both hands. Josh put his hands in his dressing gown pockets so he wouldn't be tempted to repeat the kiss. He didn't want to make Jonnie late for rehearsals.
"I'll see you next week." Jonnie took a deep breath before breaking eye contact.
All Josh could do was nod.
Although he was running late and looking forward to seeing Adam, Alex and Jonnie, Josh walked slower than usual from the bus stop to Adam's house. He was here because Jonnie and Adam had been talking. Adam had complained about the house being empty while his wife and daughters were in Australia and Jonnie had needed a place to stay before the Strictly launch tomorrow. Then apparently the truth about him and Josh had come out, although Jonnie was a bit vague on exactly how and what he'd told Adam. Which didn't do much to stop Josh worrying. He was hoping the extra time had given Jonnie a chance to speak to Adam about it, so Josh didn't have to.
"About time too," Adam said, when Josh arrived. "Any later and you were in danger of having to eat black veggie burgers."
Josh thought that was always a danger with barbecues, but had learnt it was best not to question Adam's skills in that department. Far better to stick to teasing him about Australians and their barbecues. Although today he didn't mention it, concerned about what teasing he'd get in return. "I brought beer." He held it up to show Adam.
"Great. Bring it through." Adam motioned towards the back of the house and Josh followed him to the back garden, where Alex and Jonnie were leaning against the table and talking.
Despite Adam knowing what was going on between Josh and Jonnie, Josh didn't know if Alex was up to date. To be on the safe side, all he did was to smile at Jonnie, who returned it, then turned to Adam to discus the barbecue. Josh left them to it and headed to the kitchen to drop off the beer he'd brought and open a bottle.
Alex came over empty-handed and Josh passed him a beer. "What I don't get," Alex said, "is why Jonnie's staying here, if the two of you are going out together."
So Adam had told Alex. At least it meant Josh didn't have to. He had been feeling guilty that Alex would be the only person here out of the loop. Although right now he'd have been happier leaving the questions until later. "We're taking things slow." He sipped at his beer.
Alex had a disbelieving expression. "But in Rio you were at it like rabbits."
Josh coughed, some of his beer going down the wrong way. He wouldn't have put it like that. In retrospect, at the time they hadn't considered how loud they were. Alex's hotel room had been next to Josh's. Although it had been obvious what was going on when Alex had gone to use their shared bathroom and was met by Jonnie on the way out of it. That sort of thing was hard to cover up.
"It was only a holiday romance. It wasn't the same when we came back so we're starting again," Josh explained, in a tone like he'd explained it a hundred times, although it was the first.
"Okay." Alex said slowly. "So you're just hanging out, then sleeping in different places?"
"Yes," Josh said firmly, hoping that was the end of the conversation. He'd have left the room, if Alex wasn't standing in the doorway.
As Josh took a step closer Alex raised his arms out to the sides, blocking the doorway. "And you're fine with that?" Alex sounded sceptical.
Josh wasn't sure himself, but he had agreed with Jonnie it would be best. And they had managed more dates than last autumn, even including The Crystal Maze. "It's a bit weird." Josh sighed. "He stayed at mine last week. We slept in separate rooms," he added, in case Alex got the wrong impression. Although it shouldn't matter what sort of impression Alex got. "And then he made me breakfast in the mornings." He frowned. "I think he's trying too hard to make sure I like him."
Alex gestured with his beer in Josh's direction. "So your main complaints about him are that he won't sleep with you and he makes you breakfast."
Josh shrugged. "When you put it like that..."
"You have to hold on to him." He gestured with his bottle at Josh. "Do you know how long it's been since my wife made me breakfast?"
Josh raised his eyebrows. "How long has it been since you made her breakfast?"
Alex opened his mouth, then closed it. "That's not important."
Josh hid a smile by sipping at his beer.
"Make sure you don't let Jonnie get away this time." Alex leaned a little closer. "Hold on to him. Do whatever he wants."
Josh shook his head. Even though Alex was married it didn't mean he was the best at giving relationship advice. Josh hadn't had the occasion to be on the receiving end of it until now and wasn't impressed. "Being a doormat is not the best grounds for a relationship."
"It is when you're punching above your weight."
Josh glared at Alex, who laughed in response.
"He's right," Adam said. Josh hadn't heard Adam come inside and now he stood behind Alex. "You are punching above your weight."
Josh glared at Adam, who grinned. And moved aside so Josh could see Jonnie had followed him and was trying not to laugh. "Why am I friends with you lot?"
"You're our token able-bodied friend." But at least Alex moved, so Josh could go back into the garden. Alex patted him on the back on the way past.
Outside, Adam returned to the barbecue. "You're going to have to take some of these vegetarian sausages home with you." Adam turned them over. "Unless you eat them all."
"I don't mind eating some of them," Jonnie offered.
Josh gave Alex a look that said 'See what I mean?'. Alex rolled his eyes.
Adam couldn't have looked more surprised if Jonnie had announced he was going to run marathons from now on.
Jonnie said, "They don't have much less meat than ordinary sausages."
Adam shrugged, acknowledging the truth of that, and shook his head, which apparently closed the matter. "There's some salad in the fridge. Can one of you get it?"
"I'll do it," Josh offered. Anything to escape from Alex and his insinuations.
"I'll help." Jonnie left his beer on the table next to Josh's and followed Josh inside.
Once they were alone in the kitchen Jonnie said, "I don't think you're punching above your weight."
Josh turned so his back was to the fridge and reached out to take Jonnie's hand. His conversation with Alex had shown him they were not in private, but they were finally in a room, alone, and not likely to be overheard if they kept their voices down. Although he wasn't worried about Alex's comment - it was the sort of teasing he was used to. But Jonnie being the kind gentleman he was, couldn't let it go and Josh liked him all the more for it.
"You're sweet and kind and funny," Jonnie went on, raising a hand and rubbing his thumb along Josh's jawline. "Why wouldn't I fancy you?"
Josh smiled and tugged on Jonnie's hand, who stepped a little closer. He was about to kiss Jonnie when he saw movement over Jonnie's shoulder. He frowned and stood on tiptoe so he could see better.
"We're being watched, aren't we?" Jonnie guessed.
"Yes." Josh sighed, then turned to Jonnie as he had an idea. "Want to give them a show?"
Jonnie grinned. "Any time."
They made the kiss look good. Which wasn't difficult: it had been a few days since they'd seen each other, after all. Josh grabbed at Jonnie's hip. Jonnie responded by pressing Josh against the fridge.
It was only when they parted when Josh felt the magnets digging into his back. He was reluctant to move, but Jonnie shifted a little to the side so Josh could get a good view out of the window.
"They're pretending not to see," Josh reported. "Wait, now they're making throwing up motions."
Jonnie ducked his head, laughing.
Josh rolled his eyes at his friends' antics. "But any more of a show and they'll come in here with a bucket of water." He wouldn't put it past them.
"Maybe we should get the salad." Jonnie's expression was a fond one as he dropped his hand from Josh's cheek.
Josh nodded, although he was slow to let go of Jonnie. Once outside again, Josh ignored Adam and Alex's grins and acted as if nothing had happened.
Jonnie twirled in the small space between the hotel bed and the door. It gave Josh a chance to examine his spray tan. And other parts of him. "What do you think?" Jonnie asked, when he was facing Josh again.
Josh raised his eyes to Jonnie's face. "You're not as orange as I thought you would be."
Jonnie smiled. "It was a professional spray tan. I had to wear paper pants and everything."
"So they had to spray all the bits that show when you dance, then." Josh kept a straight face.
Jonnie laughed. "I'm dancing in my pants the same week you present The Last Leg in your pants."
"Too late." Josh raised his chin. "I already explained the stock market in the shower."
"I remember that." Jonnie grinned as he perched on the end the bed. "But I don't think I took in anything you said."
Josh joined Jonnie on the bed. "I forgot it about five minutes after we recorded it." But he was distracted by Jonnie's tattoos. He reached out a hand to Jonnie's arm, skimming his fingers across one."I wondered if it would cover up your tattoos." It hadn't - they were as clear as they always were. Not that he'd spent any time studying them, but they stood out when Jonnie was wearing short sleeves.
"I think there would have to be a lot more on me to do that."
Josh glanced up to see Jonnie was focussed intently on him. Josh held his gaze for a moment, before bending to kiss where his fingers had just been. Jonnie's arm twitched, but since he didn't move it away, Josh carried on. After kissing one tattoo he straightened up and licked his lips. "That's definitely fake tan. I'd recognise the taste of it anywhere."
"Do you make a habit of licking tanned people?" Jonnie grinned.
Josh shook his head. "No, I drink it straight out of the bottle."
Which made Jonnie laugh, his head thrown back. It was infectious and Josh laughed along with him.
Afterwards, Josh leaned forward to kiss Jonnie, one hand on the back of Jonnie's neck tickling the skin there. Jonnie's hands went to Josh's waist, one of them rubbing Josh's back before slipping beneath Josh's shirt. Josh's skin had goosebumps where Jonnie caressed it. Encouraged, Josh leaned in a little further. Before he knew it Jonnie was lying back on the bed, Josh on top of him.
Josh let go of him and sat up, worrying. "What's wrong?"
Jonnie pushed himself upright, his eyes on the desk behind Josh. He was silent for so long Josh reached a hand towards him, before thinking better of it. All the same, Jonnie flinched as Josh pulled his hand back. Josh folded his hands in his lap, trying not to feel rejected. This wasn't anything they hadn't done before, but Jonnie hadn't reacted like this before.
At last Jonnie swallowed and spoke, his voice low. "Aside from Rio, the only other time I've been with a man was in 2012."
There was an obvious joke there about the Paralympics. Had this been any other time Josh would have made it, but this wasn't the sort of situation to make light of. As it was, he wasn't sure why Jonnie thought his inexperience with men mattered. "And in Rio that was me. It's still me now."
Jonnie shook his head slightly. "What we have now is more than lust. And beer. It doesn't feel the same." He wrapped his arms around himself.
Rio hadn't been just lust and beer. Not for Josh anyway. He thought it had been the same for Jonnie but now wasn't sure. He shifted back a little on the bed. But he said nothing about it for now, keeping the conversation on Jonnie's feelings instead. "I'm not judging you on your technique." Quieter he admitted, "I've only had girlfriends since university, so I'm a little rusty myself."
Jonnie at last met Josh's eyes, a hopeful expression on his face.
But if Jonnie was happier now, Josh wasn't. He took a deep breath. "Rio was mostly lust," he said, failing to keep his tone light. "And some beer. But there were feelings as well." He picked at the duvet. He knew the present was important, not why they'd got together in Rio, but he still felt a little cheated. "For me at least," he added, his voice just above a whisper.
There was guilt on Jonnie's face. "It was weird having you feel my buttocks before Rio when I had a crush on you."
Josh breathed a sigh of relief. "It was weird for me too." Not so weird he couldn't make jokes, but he'd felt such a disconnect between his body and his brain at the time. Admitting his crush and passing it off as a joke on the show made everything much easier.
"I was still at the point of thinking I could never fancy anyone else," Jonnie admitted.
Josh remembered Jonnie splitting up with his girlfriend. It had been easy to empathise when his own relationship had fallen apart not long before. He reached for Jonnie's hand, giving a light touch on the back of it, relieved when Jonnie didn't pull away.
"I went out with my last boyfriend for a year." He focussed on Jonnie's hand. Talking about it with anyone, especially his current boyfriend was strange. But in light of this evening's confessions, it would make Jonnie feel less insecure. "We got together at a New Year party at uni. When we were still together at Christmas I thought it was time to tell my parents. I got very drunk on Christmas Eve, told them I was bisexual, had a boyfriend and if they didn't like it I was going to move in with him."
He glanced up to see Jonnie's raised eyebrows.
"I was drunk," he repeated. "Although not so drunk I didn't remember it the next day. Or feel hideously embarrassed."
"But they were fine with it," Jonnie guessed.
Josh nodded. "And a week later, at another New Year party I caught him kissing someone else."
"I'm sorry," Jonnie said softly, taking Josh's hand in his.
It had been a long time ago now, but Josh could still see the two of them kissing, his suddenly-ex-boyfriend unrepentant at being discovered. He met Jonnie's blue eyes, a far better view than his mental image. "At least coming out hadn't been that bad. But I did find it hard to trust men for a while after that." Hence the focus on girlfriends. Until now. Not that fancying Jonnie had been deliberate, if it was possible to do such a thing. But he couldn't imagine Jonnie cheating on his partner. And if he did, he'd probably confess straight afterwards.
Jonnie's expression turned thoughtful. "I told my parents in 2012."
"After you won a gold medal." It hadn't been hard to guess. "That definitely seemed like a good time to come out."
Jonnie nodded. "They could hardly hate me after that."
Josh shook his head. "I can't imagine your mum hating anyone. I can see where you get it from," he added with a smile, and Jonnie blushed. "But neither of us are perfect," he concluded. "Although I am expecting you to win Strictly. No pressure."
Jonnie smiled. "I think you're going to be disappointed."
"Never." Josh squeezed Jonnie's hand.
Jonnie smiled and put an arm round Josh. Josh hugged him, resting his head against Jonnie's shoulder. Jonnie smelt of spray tan, which made Josh smile, but the arm around him reminded him of nights in Rio spent cuddled up to each other. He missed sleeping with Jonnie - actual sleeping. Maybe that was because those had been the only quiet moments they had in Rio. Even without sleeping together - in any sense of the word - Josh felt closer to Jonnie now that he had a year ago.
Josh made a noise in agreement. Before he could let go, Jonnie moved in for a kiss. It wasn't hard to make sure they stayed upright this time. This kiss felt more like intimate than lustful. Josh thought if they could keep this relationship going the way it was they could end up with something better than they would have had last year if they'd carried on from where they were.
Josh knew Jonnie and Oti were due to arrive during The Last Leg rehearsals, after they'd done It Takes Two. The day had gone so slowly, but at least concentrating on the rehearsal stopping him from thinking about Jonnie too much.
They'd got into a habit of seeing each other on Sundays, which was Jonnie's only day off from Strictly. However, last weekend Josh had a back to school cold, even though it was a week before the new series of The Last Leg started. He hadn't wanted Jonnie to come round in case he caught it and it affected his Strictly performance. Jonnie had tried to protest, but Josh hadn't let Jonnie talk him round, no matter how much he wanted Jonnie to.
In lieu of their usual date they'd FaceTimed. Speaking to Jonnie had cheered Josh up, as had Jonnie's dogs trying to get in on the act. Josh's cats had just decided that him lying around made a good bed and that was about as much attention as they showed him. Jonnie had sent him a different kitten picture with 'Get Well Soon' every day, but it still wasn't the same as seeing him in person.
At last the never-ending rehearsal was over, and Adam, Josh and Alex went out to meet their guests. After introductions all round, Josh excused himself to work on some jokes. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence, so no one would think anything of it. But before he left the group he glanced over at Jonnie, who gave a small nod.
A few minutes later Jonnie knocked on Josh's dressing room door and came in. While he'd been waiting Josh had managed to sit down for about ten seconds, then spent the rest of the time pacing. At the knock he changed direction. When the door shut they met in the middle of the room with a desperate kiss.
While they kissed Jonnie kept walking and Josh didn't notice he'd gone with it until he fetched up against the sofa, then fell backwards onto it. He didn't care: Jonnie had ended up on top of him, his body warm against Josh's, and they were still kissing.
Of course that was the moment Alex knocked and opened the door.
Josh and Jonnie broke off instantly, a little breathless. Josh had to crane his neck to see who it was. It wasn't unusual for the three of them to visit each other's dressing rooms before the show to work on jokes or just sit and chat. But this evening he hadn't expected it. He'd thought Adam and Alex would have guessed Jonnie was in here with him.
Alex's face was a picture. "It's not important." He closed the door, eyes wide.
If it had been anyone else Josh would have been mortified. As it was he laughed. Jonnie did the same, burying his face against Josh's shoulder.
Almost exactly the same thing had happened in Rio in Jonnie's room. Jonnie had made sure Aled, his room mate, was out for the evening, but either he'd come back earlier than expected or Josh and Jonnie had taken longer than they thought. Fortunately they were both still mostly clothed when Aled had walked in, but his expression had been exactly like Alex's.
It was a few moments before they managed to calm down and sit up. Josh leaned against Jonnie, wanting to touch him while he still could. Once they went on set they'd have to pretend there was nothing more between them than friendship. "At least it was only Alex." Josh was sure Alex had got the wrong idea, but at least seeing Josh and Jonnie kissing wouldn't have come as a complete surprise.
Jonnie nodded, then said quietly, "Oti knows too." When Josh sat up straight he saw Jonnie's expression was worried. Was it because she had reacted badly?
"You told her?" Josh was surprised, but not upset. Jonnie and Oti were friends after all, and they saw each other six days a week.
"She noticed you kept sending me messages and she asked if you were my boyfriend. She was joking, but I didn't realise and I got defensive." Jonnie winced.
Josh shook his head. "I was only messaging you jokes. Well, mostly jokes." It had started with Josh sending Jonnie previews of some of his Last Leg jokes. Jonnie had sent some back and then it had got competitive. Especially with the whole internet of jokes at their disposal, and no way of telling who had cheated and who had come up with them on their own. Although Josh would maintain they were all his own work, no matter what the truth might be.
"I know." Jonnie relaxed and smiled. "But it's fine. It's why she was looking forward to meeting you tonight."
That did explain why she'd been a lot more excited about meeting Josh than she had about meeting Adam or Alex or either of their guests. "I'm glad to have met her. Even if only briefly." There would be more time after the show, even though Jonnie and Oti wouldn't be able to stay too late, given their early start tomorrow.
Jonnie drew closer for a kiss and Josh took advantage of the time they had alone together before he had to go on set.
"Jonnie," Adam began, once they'd stopped for adverts. "You still want to dance with Josh?"
Jonnie glanced over at Josh and raised his eyebrows.
Josh shrugged. "Why not." At least he'd got the intense look down with Alex - surely it would be easier with Jonnie, even though they had an audience. Of people who would no doubt take photos and post them on Twitter. On second thoughts, maybe he was best off skipping the intense look part of the dance.
The audience, happy to have some extra entertainment during the break, cheered as Josh and Jonnie headed over to the centre of the studio. They assumed their starting positions, this time with Josh playing the part Alex had, and turning his head to see Jonnie standing behind him. It was then that Josh remembered why he'd danced with Alex. With Jonnie he was suddenly nervous. The audience thought that his crush on Jonnie was a joke, but it didn't help. Neither did the hint of fear in Jonnie's eyes.
Josh knew one way to diffuse the tension; he stuck his tongue out.
It made Jonnie laugh, but Adam groaned, having had a good view from his desk. "That is why you didn't get to do this on the show." He gestured in their direction.
Josh grinned, but managed not to laugh when Jonnie, now standing up straight again, winked at him.
Adam sighed. "Why don't you skip the staring and go straight to the dancing? We do only have four minutes."
Josh faced the front again and Jonnie shuffled a little closer, so they were touching. Josh was too self-conscious of being in public to feel anything. But it meant he was a lot stiffer than he should be. He winced when Jonnie tried to place his arm over his shoulder. Oti had made it look easy earlier. Josh tried to force himself to relax. At least Jonnie's hand on his waist meant he didn't fall over when Jonnie spun him round.
The dip wasn't as graceful as it had been when Jonnie and Oti demonstrated it, but at least they sort of managed it. However, Josh couldn't resist spoiling it at the last minute by winking at Jonnie, who nearly dropped him.
As they made their way back to the sofa (or box, in Josh's case), accompanied by laughter from their audience, Adam shook his head. "It's just as well you don't have any plans to do Strictly," he said to Josh.
"I'm sorry." Jonnie ran a hand over his face, while Josh's view of him shifted to Jonnie's beige lounge wall.
Josh waited until Jonnie tilted his phone back to face himself before asking, "Is your friend okay?"
"He will be. Maybe." Jonnie shook his head. "Breaking up is hard and they'd been going out for a couple of years." He frowned. "Or it might have been three."
Josh nodded, frowning. One of the things he liked about Jonnie was how much he cared about others. So he couldn't fault Jonnie for spending the day with a friend who had been blind-sided by the end of his relationship. However, he still hated that it meant he didn't get to see Jonnie. And felt guilty that he was making so many demands on Jonnie's free time. "I miss you," he said with a heavy sigh.
Jonnie smiled. "You're talking to me right now."
Josh shook his head. "FaceTime's not the same." They messaged each other every day and sometimes FaceTimed during the week. But Josh lived for their Sundays together. He hated that they didn't live closer to each other, that going slow meant they couldn't spend Saturday nights in bed and resented Strictly for taking up so much of Jonnie's time.
"I know." Jonnie sighed.
It wasn't the first weekend they'd missed either. How many more were there going to be when FaceTime was the best they could manage? "I can't do next weekend. I have a wedding and I won't be back until late. Can you do an evening next week?" So far evenings had been out because Jonnie's training hours were long and he often had media duties in the evenings. But surely he could manage dinner once, if he really wanted to see Josh.
"I can't." Jonnie turned away from the camera. "I have some evening commitments next week and Wednesday I'm seeing some friends I keep needing to cancel on."
Josh closed his eyes. It was beginning to feel like it was 2016 all over again, but with Strictly taking over Jonnie's life instead of Josh's tour taking over his. Although Strictly would be over in a few months, Jonnie's usual training hours were almost as long. The trouble was that neither of them had time for a relationship with someone else who also didn't have time for a relationship. Going slow hadn't fixed anything there.
"We knew this would be hard," Jonnie said softly.
Josh opened his eyes, but couldn't bear to see the guilty expression on Jonnie's face. He angled his phone away, so Jonnie could still see some of him, but he couldn't see Jonnie properly.
"I knew Strictly would take over my life for four months. Or until I get knocked out," Jonnie went on.
And yet they'd tried this again because if it worked the reward would be greater. And it felt like it had been, until now. Jonnie had convinced him it would be worth it, but now Josh was having doubts. Nothing was easy any more and he wasn't sure they could even go back to being friends like they had last year.
He knew there were people who had long distance relationships, who were happy to rarely see each other in person. But Josh wasn't the sort of person who could happily do that. Seeing each other less often was the death knell of any relationship. Yet there were things that had to be more important than a relationship. Right now, that was Strictly.
"I don't think this is going to work," he said quietly.
Josh glanced at his phone to see Jonnie swallow. "It will if we both want it to."
"Don't be so naive." Josh gave a mirthless chuckle.
"It sounds." Jonnie's voice cracked and he shook his head before trying again. "It sounds like you don't want this to work."
"Of course I do." Josh huffed. "You're the one who can't find time in his busy schedule for his boyfriend." He stuck his chin out. It was all Jonnie's fault, after all.
"You're the one who can't fit me in next weekend." Jonnie's tone was defensive. He ran a hand through his hair, then sounded defeated. "I'll cancel on my friends, they'll understand."
Now Jonnie was making Josh feel like the bad guy. All he was trying to do was to make this work. If it didn't then the only option was to break up and Josh didn't like that choice. He didn't want to make it. Nor did he want Jonnie to make it. "No, don't do that." He sighed. "Your friends will be around longer."
"Josh?" Jonnie's eyes were wide and Josh regretted looking at the screen. "We can work this out. We don't have to break up."
"What choice do we have?" Josh took a shaky breath and rested his phone on a cushion to steady it.
"Let's not do anything hasty." Jonnie's voice trembled. "I'll call you tomorrow okay?"
Josh shook his head and punched the off button. Tomorrow wouldn't bring them any more choices and speaking to Jonnie was just going to make everything worse.
Today Josh was glad of the break between rehearsal and recording on The Last Leg. He generally used the time to work on his jokes, but this week he was looking forward to sitting in his dressing room, not having to interact with anyone. Although it was unusual for him, it hadn't been a usual week and everything felt out of place.
Despite his relief at getting through the rehearsal still being his usual upbeat self on the surface, he stopped dead in the doorway of his dressing room. Jonnie was pacing around between the sofa and the desk. When Josh opened the door he stopped mid-step, his expression hopeful.
Josh took a step backwards, but found he'd trodden on Adam, who was right behind him. Josh hadn't noticed Adam follow him. He hadn't noticed much of anything lately.
"You've been as miserable as sin all week," Adam said to Josh, before turning to Jonnie. "And you've been texting me multiple times a day, asking about Josh. So the two of you are going to talk. I don't care if you stay together or break up as long as I'm not in the middle of it. And you come up with some decent jokes." He pointed to Josh.
Josh tried not to look guilty. Adam had mentioned Jonnie's texts, but Josh hadn't wanted to speak to him. Or explain what was going on. Now he was in the same room as Jonnie he didn't know how he thought nearly a week apart could do what ten months couldn't.
Adam stepped away and Josh was almost hit by the door, before he raised his hand out to hold it open. But before Josh could decide whether to stay in the room or go back out into the corridor, Adam returned.
"Oh, and you're not coming out of here until you've worked things out. If it means Alex and I have to do the show on our own, then we will." He left again.
Josh stepped into the room, letting the door close behind him. Goodness knows who Adam might speak to or what he'd say, but Josh could imagine he would follow through with his threat.
Although no one could overhear them, neither Josh nor Jonnie said anything. Josh didn't know what to do with his hands, wiping them on his trousers and then trying to keep them still. Jonnie hooked his thumbs on the edge of his pockets, incidentally making him more handsome, which didn't help. They kept to opposite ends of the room.
"I didn't mean to get Adam involved like this." An regretful expression passed over Jonnie's face. "But you weren't answering my texts or calls and I wasn't sure..."
Josh wasn't sure either. Hence why he'd thought it was best not to answer. "I'm sorry I've been avoiding you." Adam had made it seem like he couldn't dodge the issue any longer, but all he needed to do was convince Jonnie to stop bothering Adam and act like he was all right. No one would be any the wiser.
Jonnie didn't say anything for a minute. Just as Josh was wondering if he'd try leaving or speaking, he picked the latter. "Why have you been avoiding me?"
Josh shook his head, not having a good answer to that.
"Josh." Jonnie took a step forward. "It can't be that bad."
Josh might have smiled at the irony of that statement, if it hadn't been for the strained atmosphere in the room. And Jonnie's presence making him doubt himself. He bowed his head before admitting, "If we're going to break up it should be sooner rather than later." He'd gone on without Jonnie last year, it shouldn't be too hard to do it again. Yet it already was.
"Why do you want to break up?" Jonnie's voice was small and Josh barely heard him.
"I don't." It had come out before he could think what he was saying. "If we can't find the time to see each other, what's the point?"
Jonnie sighed. "This isn't like last year."
"No?" Josh raised his eyes to meet Jonnie's, his tone daring Jonnie to say otherwise. It felt like last year to him.
"No," Jonnie said firmly. "We've learnt from last year." He folded his arms. "I know this isn't the best timing for a new relationship."
Josh shook his head, although he agreed. "There's never going to be a good time for us." He shrugged with his hands out then let them drop, lightly slapping his thighs. "At what point do you think we'll both have some time for this relationship?" He didn't mean his tone to be as confrontational as it came out.
Jonnie studied Josh's feet. "Would it help if we had sex?"
"No," Josh said quickly. And a little too forcefully, given the way Jonnie's head popped up. "This is not about sex." Yes, he wanted to. It had been good during Rio, so he was sure it could be again here. But he had agreed to go slowly and Jonnie clearly wasn't ready. Josh could wait. Sex wasn't the only part of their relationship now. And he liked that spending time with Jonnie, talking and touching. They hadn't done enough of that in Rio.
Jonnie took a step forwards. "Maybe I can come down here on Fridays. There's some time between Strictly rehearsals and The Last Leg. At least we'd get an hour or two together."
Josh focussed on a spot on the wall to the left of Jonnie. He recognised Jonnie was trying to put some effort into appeasing him. At some point he was going to have to compromise or break up. Since he didn't want to do the latter that left the former. Which he wasn't sure he could do and still end up with both of them being happy. "I don't want to keep you up late if it means you'll be too tired to dance well on Saturdays."
Jonnie sighed. "I don't know what else to do." He sounded defeated.
Josh hated that he'd upset Jonnie, but it had been necessary. Or at least he'd thought so at the time. Now, with Jonnie in front of him, he wasn't so sure. It was hard to push him away when he wanted to do the opposite. Perhaps it was worth trying to compromise and give their relationship a third chance. He took a deep breath, trying not to feel like he was about to jump off a cliff.
"Maybe I can drop in on my way back from the wedding on Sunday," he said slowly. He took a step towards Jonnie, who now had a more hopeful expression on his face. All Josh would have to do was to cut down on the drinking and staying up late and he could leave early enough to have an evening with Jonnie. It would make the wedding more dull, but the result would be worth it. As long as Jonnie agreed.
Jonnie relaxed his stance and smiled. "I'd like that. I can take the dogs on a long walk to wear them out before you get there, so we'll have some time to ourselves."
"Sounds perfect." Josh smiled himself. Somehow they'd ended up right in front of each other, yet Josh still hesitated.
"I've missed you," Jonnie said softly. His fingers brushed against Josh's hand.
Josh grabbed them and held on like they were a rope stopping him from going over that cliff.
"I hope you have a week's worth of jokes stored up." Jonnie grinned and Josh relaxed his grip on Jonnie's fingers, taking his hand properly.
When Jonnie leaned in for a kiss Josh met Jonnie's lips with his own. It was all the sweeter given the time it had been since they'd last seen each other in person. Josh savoured the kiss, keeping it slow and drawing Jonnie closer. Not breaking up was much easier than trying to walk away from Jonnie.
Josh's timing was perfect. He pulled up at Jonnie's house at the same time as Jonnie and the dogs returned from a walk. The dogs were as pleased to see him as they always were, but after greeting him they made a beeline for the sofa, where they lay half on one another and went to sleep. Which left Josh and Jonnie alone, as planned.
"How was the wedding?" Jonnie asked, as he made tea, not needing to ask if Josh wanted any.
Josh leaned against the kitchen side, watching Jonnie. "The bride and groom were happy. That's what's most important."
Jonnie raised his eyebrows. "Yes, but did you enjoy yourself?"
"I'm not a big fan of weddings," he admitted. Since he was next to the fridge he passed Jonnie the milk. "And it was a cousin getting married, so there was more family than I usually like to see in one place and nowhere to escape. And no free bar. And a long drive." Which had meant leaving home early on Saturday, and therefore leaving The Last Leg much earlier than usual. He'd missed out and still not got enough sleep.
Jonnie grinned. "You're here now."
"I am." He kissed Jonnie when he passed Josh a mug of tea. He intended it to be brief, but he'd spent most of the past week thinking they would have to break up and most of yesterday watching two people talk about how much they were in love. He needed to see Jonnie more than he thought. Jonnie had no complaints about the length of the kiss.
Once they made it to the lounge Josh sat on the sofa and took a restorative sip of tea. And then discovered that although Jonnie's dogs were small, they still took up a lot of space on the sofa and there was nowhere for Jonnie to sit.
But Jonnie had a solution: he sat on Josh.
Josh transferred his tea to his other hand so he could put an arm around Jonnie, who leaned down to kiss him. The tea and the kisses were making him feel less strung out and more awake.
"Your buttocks are bit uneven." Josh grinned.
"I've been neglecting my glutes." Jonnie wriggled, so Josh could feel how much they were neglected. "I'll work on them after Strictly."
"I didn't say I minded. It's very 2012." Josh leaned up for another kiss. But he'd have to stop doing that before they ended up spilling their drinks. "How did Strictly go last night?"
"It was okay. I'm getting better, but then so is everyone else." Jonnie sipped his tea. "You didn't see it?"
Josh shook his head. "The hotel wifi was slow." He couldn't trust Jonnie's judgement on how he danced, since he always put himself down. Josh would have to watch it for himself, once he got home. "And I could hardly tell everyone I needed to go off in the evening to watch Strictly because my boyfriend was on it."
Jonnie smiled. "You could, you know. We don't have to keep it a secret."
Josh sipped at his tea while he considered that. Jonnie was right, it would make life a lot easier. Yet he was afraid to. "This is still too new." Although he knew it was illogical, it felt as if it was something that would break if too many people knew about it.
"You're still worried it's not going to work." Jonnie looked worried himself, although whether it was about the same thing, Josh didn't know.
"A bit," Josh admitted, studying his tea. After all, they'd spent most of the last week almost, sort of broken up. They clearly hadn't exorcised all of last year's demons and it wasn't definite that things would be better this time round. Even though they'd already lasted longer than last year.
"I don't mind." Jonnie's hand on his cheek made Josh raise his head. "We can keep it a secret if you want. Whatever makes you happy."
"You make me happy." Josh kissed him again, almost spilling his tea in Jonnie's lap with his enthusiasm.
Jonnie didn't only provide tea, he also made dinner. Well, microwaved some curry, but Josh wasn't about to complain. The hotel breakfast had been fine, if mostly eggs, but his lunch had been a soggy motorway service station sandwich that he hadn't been able to finish.
Afterwards Jonnie refused to let Josh help with the washing up. Josh wanted to argue. He felt guilty about Jonnie's tendency to do things for him. Surely Jonnie would get annoyed about how one-sided that was sooner or later. But despite the curry he didn't have the energy. Instead, he retreated to the now-empty sofa and searched for Jonnie's dance on YouTube. Which Josh really enjoyed. All that time in the gym had paid off in the lifts.
A minute later it was dark and he could hear Jonnie outside, talking to his dogs. His phone had ended up face down on his chest and he picked it up to check the time. He'd been asleep for a couple of hours. He had been tired, but hadn't thought he was that tired.
He yawned, stretched and winced. Leaving his phone on the coffee table, he went over to the back door. Through it he could see Jonnie in the garden, throwing balls to his dogs. When Josh opened the door, Jonnie fixed his eyes on Josh, smiling.
When Jonnie came inside, trailed by his dogs, Josh said, "You should have woken me."
Jonnie shook his head. "You looked like you needed the sleep."
Obviously he did, but he could sleep late tomorrow and he'd come here to see Jonnie, not nap on his sofa. He shook his head, then rubbed the back of his neck.
"You all right?" Jonnie sounded concerned.
Josh nodded, then winced again. He'd have to stop doing that. "Slept in an odd position."
"I can help." Jonnie shut the door, the dogs happy to continue playing indoors."I'm good at massages."
"Is there anything you can't do?" Josh asked, smiling.
Jonnie laughed. "Dance."
Josh laughed with him, then Jonnie took his hand to lead him over to the sofa. Josh sat sideways on it, one leg under him, so Jonnie could sit behind. Jonnie rested his hands on Josh's shoulders before he started on Josh's neck. Jonnie's touch sent a warm feeling down Josh's spine. Until Jonnie's thumbs slipped inside Josh's shirt and Josh shivered. "Your hands are cold." Although it wasn't a complaint, exactly. He'd take Jonnie's hands on his skin any way he could get them.
"It would be easier with your shirt off."
Josh turned himself round, to see Jonnie blowing on his hands to warm them up. It was about time they removed some clothes and Josh had been waiting for Jonnie to suggest it. If he'd known a massage would do it he'd have faked something ages ago.
After Josh threw his shirt across the back of the sofa Jonnie returned to his massage. His hands were a lot warmer now, so couldn't be blamed for Josh's goosebumps. He soon found Jonnie was good at massages and was doing wonders for Josh's neck. It hurt less and Josh relaxed, but didn't say anything in case Jonnie stopped.
However, Jonnie must have sensed his massage had done its job, or perhaps he'd noticed Josh's range of movement was better, because he stilled his hands on Josh's shoulders. Josh was going to say something, but before he could Jonnie pressed soft kisses to the back of his neck. The goosebumps were back as Jonnie worked his way down Josh's spine.
All Josh could touch of Jonnie from here was his leg, so he did, placing a firm hand on Jonnie's thigh and working upwards, marvelling at the muscles he could beneath his hand. He'd forgotten what they felt like. And in Rio he'd been too distracted by the rest of the Jonnie to spend that much time on his legs.
Jonnie reached the bottom of Josh's spine at the same time as Josh got close to the top of Jonnie's leg. Josh squeezed a little. Despite what he'd told Jonnie about not needing to have sex, he hoped Jonnie would continue. And because he wanted to, not because he thought it might keep Josh in this relationship.
However, Jonnie took Josh's hand before he could get right to the top of his leg. Josh couldn't reach any further anyway, but he had no intention of doing anything Jonnie wasn't enthusiastic about. The trouble with Josh having his back to Jonnie was that it was harder to tell what Jonnie wanted.
So Josh turned round and found getting close enough to kiss Jonnie was a good excuse to sit half in his lap. Wanting to get his hands on Jonnie's skin, he pushed Jonnie's t-shirt up from the bottom and Jonnie let Josh pull it over his head. While Josh was dropping it behind him on the sofa, Jonnie leaned forward to kiss at his chest.
Josh smiled, Jonnie's kisses warming him. Josh had a good view of Jonnie's muscles. He hadn't thought he'd been into muscles, until he'd seen Jonnie topless in Rio and then it turned out he was really into muscles on Jonnie. He traced them as Jonnie's chest rose and fell faster than usual. Not that Josh was any better in that respect and there was no way Jonnie couldn't feel how fast Josh's heart was beating.
"One good thing about going slow--" he gasped as Jonnie kissed a particularly sensitive part. It was a moment before he could finish his sentence. "Is getting to find out what you like." Memories from Rio were coming back to him and he made Jonnie gasp in turn.
Jonnie paused to smile up at Josh. "I like that too." He raised a hand to the back of Josh's neck to bring him closer for another kiss.
Josh held Jonnie close, not wanting to let him go. Distantly, he heard a noise he couldn't place. He frowned as their lips parted and Jonnie stood. Still half sitting on him, Josh had no choice but to roll away. And he wanted to know what had disturbed them. He followed Jonnie to the kitchen and found one of the dogs had been sick. Josh made a face.
Jonnie crouched to check on his dog. She didn't look happy, which wasn't a surprise. "What's wrong with you?" He stroked the dog behind the ears. "Did you eat something you shouldn't?"
The other dog was sniffing at the vomit, so Josh went over to her. "You don't want to eat that," he told her, and grabbed her collar to keep her away from it.
Jonnie glanced over. "Thank you." He smiled at Josh, but there was worry in his eyes. "Can you take them both back to the lounge while I clean this up?"
"Of course." Josh reached out to grab the other dog's collar and dragged them both into the hall. They weren't too enthusiastic about going, so once they were just about in the lounge he gave up and held onto them.
Once Jonnie had finished Josh let go of both dogs. Jonnie picked up the one who'd been sick and sat on the sofa, the dog in his lap. "I don't know what's wrong with her. I hope it's that she's eaten something she shouldn't. I'll have to keep an eye on her and take her to the vets if she's still not well tomorrow morning."
Josh nodded and reached over to stroke the dog, at the same time as the other dog jumped onto Jonnie's lap. Both dogs vied for space. "It's time I went anyway. I don't want to fall asleep on the drive home." Jonnie didn't need Josh distracting him from this dogs.
"I'm sorry the evening ended this way." Jonnie's expression was one of disappointment.
Josh felt the same way, but he understood Jonnie's dogs came first. "It's not your fault." He plucked his shirt off the sofa and slid his arms into the sleeves. "Let me know how she is tomorrow."
Jonnie smiled and took Josh's hand, while he was in the middle of doing the buttons up, and tugged him closer for a kiss.
Mindful of what had happened last time they were in Josh's dressing room before The Last Leg started, Josh and Jonnie greeted each other standing still, so they could spring apart at a moment's notice. Not that Alex was likely to repeat his mistake, given the look he had given Josh when they came out of rehearsal to greet their guests. Josh and Jonnie hadn't gone two weeks without seeing each other this time, so they weren't as desperate to be in each other's arms. Although it didn't stop Josh from kissing Jonnie enthusiastically once they were alone in Josh's dressing room.
"How are the dogs?" Josh asked when they eventually parted, and sat on the sofa with their arms around each other.
"Still fine. She must have eaten something when I wasn't looking." Jonnie shook his head.
"Maybe she was jealous and wanted your attention." Josh grinned.
Jonnie chuckled and kissed Josh again.
"Speaking of, we can't stay in here all evening." Josh sighed and rested his head against Jonnie's shoulder. "I should talk to our guests. And if I'm not there James will ask where I am." And goodness knows what Alex or Adam might say.
Jonnie dropped his gaze to the floor for a moment. "When I took a year off I thought I'd have more time to spend with my friends and family. I didn't expect to fit a boyfriend in there too."
Josh sat up a little straighter, not letting go of Jonnie yet. "You don't regret it, do you?"
"No, I don't." Jonnie smiled and reached for Josh's hand. "I know I don't complain about it as much, but I wish we could see each other more often too."
Josh smiled and kissed Jonnie's palm, ignoring the insinuation that he complained too much. Jonnie hadn't seemed to mind so much how often they saw each other, so Josh felt he needed to make sure their time together happened. Even if it was never going to be as often as he'd like. "We'll have to wait another eight weeks until you're out of Strictly, then we'll have more time."
Jonnie looked amused. "That's a very optimistic estimate of my chances."
Josh grinned. "Look at this way: either you win Strictly, which I am still expecting you to do by the way, or you don't win, but we get to see more of each other sooner."
"Win win." Jonnie kissed him.
The longer it went on for the harder it would be to stop, so Josh pulled away reluctantly. "We should go," he said glancing at his watch. They both stood, but still had time for another kiss before they left.
In the green room after the show, James told anyone who cared to listen the story of when he'd slept in a bush in Basingstoke. Josh had heard the story before, but Jonnie hadn't. Wanting to spend as much time with Jonnie as possible, Josh stuck close to him. But he was happy to listen to any of James's scrapes again. He told the stories well and they were funny. And over the years, Josh had forgotten some of the details.
"I still don't know how you manage to get into these things," Josh said afterwards, while Jonnie was still leaning against Josh, laughing.
James shrugged. "I'm just that sort of guy." Then he dropped his gaze and an expression of understanding spread across his face. "A lot of things make sense now."
Josh frowned, but glanced where James had looked and realised what he was referring to: he and Jonnie were holding hands. Josh didn't remember taking it. Or Jonnie taking his. For a moment he thought about letting go, but it wasn't as if they were hiding their relationship. Not really. And James was a friend.
Jonnie, however, tried to move away but Josh held on tighter.
"What things exactly?" Josh asked, because he wasn't sure what he'd done in the past that would warrant suspicion.
"All the times you weren't around." James gestured with his drink. "Times when you were busy, but were secretive about what you were doing. And who you were doing them with."
Okay, so maybe he had been hiding it. Coming out and saying he was going out with someone who was Jonnie Peacock, who happened to be a man, and a well known one at that, was a big thing. He glanced over at Jonnie, who was letting him to take the lead. Which was fair enough, since Jonnie and James had only met this evening.
Josh shrugged. "So, now you know." He made it sound like it didn't matter, but he stood stiffly, clinging to Jonnie's hand. He didn't think James would react badly, but you could never be sure.
"Yeah," James said slowly. "So how did you pull an athlete?"
Josh rolled his eyes, but relaxed. The teasing was normal. "By being funny."
Jonnie elbowed him in the ribs. Josh tried to sidestep away from Jonnie's elbow, but forgot to let go of Jonnie's hand, so it didn't go well.
"You should try it sometime." Josh grinned at James.
For Jonnie, Fridays and Saturdays were long days of rehearsing and performing. It meant Jonnie and Oti couldn't stay too late after the show. Oti had already gone when Jonnie showed signs of flagging. Josh had been ready for this, given that the same thing had happened when he was last on three weeks ago. Josh understood why Jonnie didn't want to leave, but being awake enough to dance well was important. So Josh pushed him to say goodnight to everyone, which took a while. It was just as well Josh had started when he had.
Josh walked Jonnie to the door, where they had some privacy to kiss goodnight. Afterwards, Jonnie took Josh's hands. "When I told Aled about us he asked me how I pulled a comedian because I couldn't possibly be funny enough."
Josh smiled. Maybe he'd been worrying over nothing and their relationship wouldn't end because people knew about it. He wasn't surprised Jonnie had told Aled. At least he was a safe bet and they knew what he thought of their relationship, even if it was only based on one incident in Rio,
"Turns out I had something about one-legged sprinters. Who knew?"
"So you wouldn't fancy me if I was a long distance runner?" Jonnie grinned.
"Oh, no, I can only concentrate for eleven seconds at a time." Josh grinned too. "But if you can get your time down to ten seconds that would be even better."
"I'll do my best." Jonnie kissed him again.
Josh wished he didn't have to leave yet, but he did, and Josh had to let him go. At least they would be seeing each other again in two days.
Josh stayed in the corridor for a moment before returning to the green room. Where he found Alex waiting outside. "If Jonnie is leaving and you're not it must mean you're still not sleeping with him."
Josh sighed. Not this again. "Or I wanted to stay longer."
Alex gave him a look that said he didn't believe Josh's explanation.
Josh pushed past him. "I am not discussing my sex life with you."
"Because you haven't got one," Alex shouted after him.
Josh ignored him and went for another drink and a chat with someone else.
It had been three months since their first date at the World Athletics Championships. It felt like things were going well, except that taking it slow seemed to have turned as glacial as Josh had feared it would be. It wasn't all bad: he liked spending time with Jonnie and Jonnie was a really good kisser. But after Alex's comments about his sex life, or lack of it, Josh hadn't been able to stop thinking about it.
Because Jonnie had been hesitant about going further, Josh had been waiting for him to make the first move. It seemed like he had, when they'd both ended up topless at his house, but since then they hadn't even got that far. Josh hadn't wanted to push him before he was ready but he was starting to wonder if they'd ever get to that point again. It seemed that if Josh wanted to have sex any time soon he was going to have to do something about it himself.
Having thought about it, he'd concluded that what had made it easier in Rio is that they'd just done it, not thought about it and not taken their time over it. That, and the atmosphere over there during the Paralympics, had probably meant Jonnie's fears hadn't surfaced. Josh would need to a find another way of making Jonnie not think about it or wait three years for the next Paralympics, which was far too far away. Fortunately, he had a plan.
He spent the week joke writing, then turned up at the Strictly studios after the recording. Jonnie was too pleased to see him to question it and Josh had suggested that Jonnie might like to hear a few jokes he'd come up with for his next tour. It wasn't hard to make his tone suggest he was unsure about how funny these jokes were.
Although these jokes might come in handy, in reality they were directed at Jonnie's sense of humour, which Josh thought he had a good handle on by now. He hoped Jonnie would end up nicely relaxed, with a side of appreciative at Josh's joke writing skills. Then Josh would pounce. Albeit perhaps not literally. Sowing the seeds during the week with a few previews helped convince Jonnie to go back to his hotel room after the show and listen to Josh's jokes.
After Jonnie showed off his pirate leg, which Josh agreed was cool, Jonnie relaxed on his bed, while Josh stood at the bottom of it, notebook in hand. It wasn't a long routine, but Josh hit all the right notes. By the end of it Jonnie was face down, laughing into a pillow. Which was right where Josh wanted him.
While Jonnie wasn't paying attention Josh came round the bed, tossed his notebook on the bedside table and lay beside Jonnie. "So, you liked it then."
Jonnie rolled over to face Josh, but could hardly speak for laughing. "Amazing," he managed to get out. "You're so funny." He placed a hand on Josh's chest.
Josh smiled, resisting the urge to lay his hand on top of Jonnie's. "That's just as well. I need to be funny to pay the bills."
Although Jonnie kissed him it didn't last long before he broke away laughing.
Fortunately Josh had made plans in case Jonnie ended up a little too relaxed. And it also gave him a good reason to take some clothes off. "I have one more thing. But it's only for you, I'm not doing this on the tour." The reasons why became clear when Josh sat up and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a nipple ring. A joke he'd tried on Elis on the set of Josh, although for very different reasons.
Jonnie's eyes widened and he stopped laughing. "Josh!"
Josh smiled. "You like it?" He took his shirt off and threw it on the floor behind him, not caring where it landed.
"I... Josh..." Jonnie gingerly reached out a hand to touch it.
Having needed to put it on before he left the house meant it was on reasonably tight. It wouldn't have been any use if it had fallen off. But now it was starting to get uncomfortable, so Josh was glad it was worth the reaction. However, Jonnie touching it meant spilled it over into too much pain and Josh gritted his teeth when he pulled it off a little too quickly. Then sighed in relief as the pain subsided.
But Jonnie cried out in surprise and fear.
"It was fake." Josh grinned as he held it up for Jonnie to see.
"Oh." Jonnie put a hand to his chest. "Josh, you scared me!"
"Sorry." Which he wasn't at all and didn't even bother to pretend as he dropped the ring on the bedside table behind him. He didn't see Jonnie pick up a pillow and therefore was surprised when he turned back and Jonnie hit him with it. Josh laughed and picked up the other pillow to fight back.
After a few minutes Josh cried for mercy and Jonnie let go of his pillow in favour of kissing him. Josh kissed him back, but didn't push for any more, still wanting to give Jonnie the chance to make a move.
But Jonnie broke the kiss as it was becoming heated. "You don't have any more surprises like that do you?"
Josh didn't hide his disappointment at the end of the kiss, but he refused to worry this wasn't going to work because he hadn't finished yet. Although he held Jonnie's gaze for a moment more before he grinned. "Well, since you mention it." He drew Jonnie's eyes downward, as Josh's hands went to his flies.
Jonnie's eyes went wide. "No," he breathed. "You didn't." He covered his mouth with his hand.
He didn't - the fake nipple ring had been painful enough. But it was fun to make Jonnie think he did. For a moment anyway, until Josh knelt up on the bed, dropped his trousers and revealed his pants. Which would have been perfectly ordinary, had it not been for the pictures of peanuts and the 'May contain nuts' slogan on them.
Jonnie lay back, his hands over his face as he laughed.
Josh stayed where he was, as if kneeling on a bed with his trousers round his knees was a perfectly normal position to be in. "I searched the internet for sexy pants."
Jonnie took his hands away to side-eye the pants. "No, you didn't."
"Oh, are they not sexy?" Josh pouted.
Jonnie shook his head and laughed again. "Are you wearing anything else odd?"
He was getting the idea. Josh kicked his shoes off and slid off the bed to remove his trousers and drop them on the floor. Jonnie leaned over to see Josh was wearing long socks. Plymouth Argyll socks, of course, but normally the sort of thing worn by footballers, not stand up comedians. Unless they were trying to seduce their boyfriend with laughter.
Jonnie sat up, frowning. "Okay, why the socks?"
Back on the bed, Josh lay his legs across Jonnie's lap, so Jonnie would have a good view of his socks. And Josh had the excuse to get close to Jonnie again. "You know how it's terribly un-sexy to be naked apart from socks?"
Although Jonnie nodded, he looked a little suspicious.
Josh soldiered on regardless. "They've done a study and found that's not true of long socks."
Jonnie's eyes narrowed. "I think that only counts if they're on women."
"Really?" Josh was making the whole thing up, sure Jonnie wasn't going to ask him to prove it. He hadn't expected a discussion on the subject. To divert Jonnie's attention he stood on the bed and struck a ridiculous pose. "Is this not sexy?" He ignored the fact that still wearing pants meant he wasn't technically wearing only socks. Removing his pants was too big a step to take yet.
Jonnie responded exactly as Josh hoped: he laughed.
Having achieved his objective, Josh sat back down, next to Jonnie this time. "Why don't you take your trousers off and show me how sexy short socks are in comparison?" Well, short socks and a pirate leg. Which Jonnie hadn't shown any signs of wanting to take off at any point. Josh suspected the leg would be coming out on other occasions.
This was the part where Josh hoped Jonnie was relaxed enough. Josh tried not to show his nerves, but his heartbeat was quicker than it had been during their last kiss. Not wanting to stare at Jonnie too intently, he pretended his socks were falling down and adjusted them. They were a little too long for him and did look silly pulled over his knees.
Perhaps it was bringing Jonnie's attention back to how ridiculous Josh looked that made him laugh again and do as Josh asked: taking his trousers off. Jonnie lay back down, elbow on the bed and his head on his hand. "What do you think?" He waved a hand down his body.
Josh appeared to be considering his opinion before he answered. However, he was actually taking in a half-naked Jonnie. Who was worth taking in. He'd done some of that in Rio, but it was usually followed by doing more than just looking. Josh was hoping it would be the same tonight. He had to swallow before he replied and his voice still came out a little hoarse. "On you, it works."
Although he smiled, Jonnie shook his head. "You're in a funny mood tonight."
"All that laughing has gone to my head." Josh shifted on the bed so he and Jonnie were inches apart. "I love making you laugh." He kept his voice low, so Jonnie had to be close to hear. He'd run out of gimmicks and at some point they would have to stop laughing in order to feel something else entirely. He was already breathing faster with the anticipation.
"I love you making me laugh." Jonnie put a hand to Josh's cheek, his stare intense and his eyes dark.
Josh took the opportunity to kiss Jonnie, bringing them closer with a hand on Jonnie's back. Which he moved around and down, slowly so Jonnie could object if he wanted. But when Josh's hand ended up in Jonnie's pants, Jonnie didn't stop him.
Afterwards, when Josh felt a little less like he might melt into the bed, he reached down to take his socks off. "They itch," he explained in response to Jonnie's questioning look. "I think I should have washed them first."
Jonnie laughed and shook his head. "I've never known anyone use comedy as foreplay before."
"That's because you've never been with a comedian before. Although," Josh added, "you shouldn't expect it every time. I will run out of jokes."
Jonnie was quiet, his face turned to the ceiling and Josh worried that bringing up a next time had been too soon. He was certain Jonnie had enjoyed himself, but he couldn't tell what was going through Jonnie's mind now he had the opportunity to think about what they'd just done. "You do want to do this again, don't you?" Josh asked, trying not to sound too insecure.
Jonnie shifted closer, reaching out a hand to Josh's chest. "I don't know what I was scared of," Jonnie said quietly. Although he was watching as his fingers traced patterns on Josh's chest. "It's just you."
"It's just me." Josh placed his hand over Jonnie's.
Jonnie met Josh's eyes, before kissing him softly. "I definitely want do this again."
Josh relaxed. "But without the comedy underpants. I only bought one pair."
Jonnie sighed and flung his controller away from him. It landed on the sofa, bounced and ended up in a precarious position on the edge. "There must be something wrong with this controller." Jonnie stared at it for a moment, then nudged back, so it wouldn't fall.
Having flung his arms up in the air in celebration, Josh dropped them. He should be sympathetic but Jonnie's pout was too amusing. He knew Jonnie was competitive, but hadn't seen the results of it in person before. "You are a terrible loser."
"I like winning. And I nearly went out of Strictly last night." Jonnie sounded a little pathetic.
Josh patted him on the leg, although it didn't stop him from rolling his eyes. He knew Jonnie felt bad about being in the dance off. It was only natural when he wanted to win. And was enjoying himself and wanted to continue dancing.
The reveal show hadn't aired yet but Josh had found out what had happened when Oti called him on Saturday night. Although she'd spoken to Jonnie straight after the recording and had lifted his spirits, she was concerned about him over the weekend. Between them they'd agreed the best thing Josh could do was to keep Jonnie's mind off it. On Monday he'd be too busy learning a new dance to reflect on the previous one.
Josh and Jonnie had filled the day with an escape room, a trip to the pub and once they were back home Josh plugged his Xbox in. These days Josh only had the time to play while on tour. Although it always got competitive it was still different enough from doing stand up to be relaxing. All Jonnie would admit was that it had been a while since he'd played. Either it had been more than a year ago or he wasn't that good at FIFA. Or there was something wrong with one of Josh's controllers.
Jonnie sighed. "We'll have to play again and swap controllers this time." He picked up his mistreated controller and held it out to Josh.
Josh resisted rolling his eyes again. "All right." He took the offered controller, but then had to set about untangling them. Jonnie had dithered over which was better before they started the game and now the cables were all twisted round each other.
Jonnie stood and side-stepped out of the way. "Another beer?" He gestured towards Josh's almost-empty glass.
"Yes, please." He smiled at Jonnie. Jonnie still seemed to be determined to take care of Josh, even when they were in Josh's house. Josh was yet to work out how to stop him and was certainly not going to put any effort into it today. Fetching drinks at least kept Jonnie occupied. And Josh in beer.
While Josh was wondering how two cables could get so knotted up in such a short space of time, one of the cats strolled in and chose Jonnie's seat on the sofa to sleep on. Josh watched her settle down to wash and decided to leave her be. It was another thing to distract Jonnie with.
When Jonnie returned he placed their now-full glasses on the coffee table, then glared at the cat, hands on his hips. The cat stared back, then lazily returned to washing her paw.
"This is their house," Josh pointed out. The cats were above mere humans in the pecking order for comfortable seats and always proved hard to move.
Jonnie turned his glare on Josh, which made Josh laugh. After a moment Jonnie sighed and he sat on the floor, with his back against the sofa. The cat stretched, so briefly her paw was against Jonnie's shoulder. He looked resigned to it.
Josh passed Jonnie what had been Josh's controller in the last game. He sipped at his beer, then joined Jonnie on the floor, close enough so his right leg pressed up against Jonnie's left.
Jonnie rested his head on Josh's shoulder. "I don't want Strictly to end, but I know I'm not good enough to last many more weeks."
So they were talking about this after all. And from here, Josh couldn't distract him with kisses, as he'd done last night. "Didn't you just want to get to Halloween so you could be a pirate with a wooden leg?"
"Everyone knows all good pirates only have one leg." But Jonnie sighed. "There were a couple of weeks when it was going so well and I thought..."
Josh dislodged Jonnie so he can face him. "It has been fun. I've enjoyed watching you dance. Especially when you have your shirt open."
Jonnie ducked his head, but not before Josh saw his smile.
"But think about all the time you'll have to go around shirtless when it's over." Which Josh knew was never. For someone with a six pack he was shy about showing it off. It was surprising but endearing.
"I know." Jonnie sounded long-suffering. "I know I'll have so much time afterwards and I'll be able to do so many things. But I'd rather dance."
Josh smiled. "I bet you never thought you'd say that when you signed up."
"No." Jonnie's expression was wistful.
"You do need to do Winter Wonderwheels to beat Adam." Josh was better at comedy than comfort and making Jonnie laugh would do his spirits good. "He keeps going on about it. I think he has a cunning plan and I'm not sure it involves any actual training."
That made Jonnie smile. "I do need to beat Adam after his Superhero Tri time was faster than mine."
Josh nodded. "Just because he's Australian doesn't mean he should win all sporting events. Or any sporting events. At all. Ever."
Jonnie laughed. "Thank you." He kissed Josh softly. "For listening and making me laugh."
"All part of the service." Now Jonnie was feeling less sorry for himself Josh held his controller up. "And now I need to beat you at FIFA again."
Which was all the inducement Jonnie needed pick up his own controller and start playing. "Oh, no. I'm going to win this time."
This game was more closely fought, the previous having been a good warm up for them both. After Jonnie narrowly missed a goal, Josh decided the best way to make sure he won was to resort to dirty tricks. Being shorter than Jonnie meant it was easy to get his foot against Jonnie's ankle, then slide it up his leg. However, it turned out not to be such a good idea as he first thought, as there was only so far he could get without moving away. Doing that would mean not being able to concentrate on the game.
Jonnie glanced over at him. "You didn't think that through, did you?"
"No," Josh admitted sheepishly. It hadn't even made any difference to Jonnie's playing. He tried resting his controller on Jonnie's leg, but since he was busy using most of his fingers in the game, that didn't get him far either. He gave up when Jonnie scored a goal.
Jonnie raised his arms in the air in celebration, while Josh protested. "I was right there!" He pointed at the screen. His goalie had been inches away from the ball.
"You're too slow." Jonnie gave him a smug look. "Too busy trying to distract me."
Much as Josh wanted to refute that accusation, he couldn't. However, it wasn't going to stop his campaign. It meant he had to step it up. While Jonnie was busy replaying his goal, Josh shifted over to sit on Jonnie's lap.
Jonnie didn't even take his hands off his controller. He raised his arms over Josh's head, ending up with one arm round Josh's back.
It would be hard to move from this position now, even if he wanted to. Although it didn't stop Josh from sighing in the vicinity of Jonnie's ear.
Jonnie turned to blow at Josh's face, fogging his glasses up briefly.
"All right, you win," Josh conceded. "I'll play fair." Not that he meant a word of it.
"I won't." Jonnie tightened his arms around Josh.
Which made it even harder to manoeuvre and do anything at all to Jonnie. It was a good thing Josh only needed to move his hands to play the game. However, Jonnie hadn't made Josh's dirty tricks plan completely impossible: Josh could still wriggle a bit
"Stop that," Jonnie said, not sounding as if he minded that much.
"Stop what?" Josh put on his best innocent expression, not taking his eyes off the screen.
"You know what." Jonnie spoke into Josh's ear, making Josh shiver.
But it was Jonnie's second goal, at the end of the match, that made him stop. And blame his lack of goals on his inability to move his arms.
Jonnie was particularly smug, Josh found, when he turned to him. "Best of three?"
Josh weighed up his options. Taunting Jonnie was fun, and Jonnie winning might improve his mood even more. But the last thing he wanted to do was let Jonnie win. Partly because Jonnie might be suspicious and partly because Josh didn't like losing. Ending in a draw was appealing. He concluded by resting a hand on Jonnie's chest and saying a low voice, "Or we could do something we'll both win."
Jonnie smiled and kissed him.
Josh could hear the music as he approached the dance studio. When he glanced through the small window in the door he saw the Strictly crew sitting by one wall, heads bent over a phone and discussing something. Oti and Jonnie were in the middle of the room with their backs to the door. Oti was demonstrating a series of steps. As Josh watched, Jonnie tried to copy but got his feet muddled halfway through.
Thinking he could sneak in, Josh opened the door. However, it happened to be at the same time as Jonnie turned to face it. Jonnie stumbled over his steps, then gave up and came over to Josh, as the door closed behind him.
"What are you doing here?" Jonnie smiled and pushed the hair back from his face.
"Oti invited me." Josh peered over Jonnie's shoulder to smile at Oti as came up behind Jonnie.
"You've been working too hard," she said to Jonnie. "I asked Josh to make sure you took an evening off before you wear yourself out."
Jonnie turned to her. "I don't want to be in the dance off again because I haven't worked hard enough."
Oti ignored him. "He got here late again. So we have another half an hour before I'll let him go."
Jonnie shrugged, not at all contrite at his tardiness.
"I don't mind waiting," Josh said to Oti. "I brought a book."
"Great." Oti tapped on Jonnie's shoulder to bring his attention back to training. Jonnie returned to the centre of the room, although not without a glance back at Josh, who nodded to the crew and settled himself in the corner, pulling his book out of his bag.
Despite opening the book, he didn't read any of it. What Jonnie was doing was too distracting. He wasn't even doing anything in particular, merely looking handsome, despite being sweaty. And Josh liked his expression of concentration. At least he had the book for cover and held he it up so he could watch Jonnie as much as he liked.
Josh would be the first to admit he didn't know much about ballroom dancing, beyond what he'd picked up from Strictly. But that didn't stop him from admiring Jonnie's dedication and muscles. And it turned out to be an unexpectedly good angle from which to admire Jonnie's arse.
Now he'd been to Jonnie's house a few times Josh knew he had to hang back while Jonnie greeted his dogs. At first Josh had tried to sidle past, but that only worked once. After that he was required to give them some attention too. Not that he was complaining about being recognised by Jonnie's dogs. Even if they weren't very choosy about who gave them attention.
"I need to take them for a walk." Jonnie sounded apologetic for needing to prioritise his dogs.
Josh understood, although he wondered whether the dogs wanted a walk just because they heard the word. "I can stay and cook dinner," he said, hanging his coat up.
"You don't have to." Jonnie picked up the dogs' leads and came over to Josh, trailed by the dogs. "I can get a takeaway on the way back."
"I don't mind." Josh shrugged. "Besides, a takeaway's not going to help you lose weight." Josh lightly punched Jonnie's stomach, which couldn't be said to be fat, for all the talk of being the only celebrity to gain weight while doing Strictly.
Jonnie shook his head, but smiled. "All right." He kissed Josh and left with the dogs.
Once they'd gone, Josh went through Jonnie's cupboards, searching for something he could make that would be ready when Jonnie returned. He hadn't spent much time in Jonnie's kitchen, so he only knew where the mugs and the teabags lived, and had to guess at the rest.
It was the freezer that proved most interesting. In a drawer with an opened box of burgers, there was also an unopened box of veggie burgers and a packet of vegetarian sausages. He stared at them for a moment before deciding to save them for another time.
After closing the freezer he found some suitable ingredients and cracked on with a meal they could both eat. It was all ready and he turned the heat off at the same time as Jonnie and the dogs returned. All three of them came to investigate. Josh was glad the dogs were small enough that they couldn't reach anything.
"Something smells good." Jonnie shooed his dogs out of the room.
Josh kissed him, pushing him back against the cupboards.
Jonnie's eyebrows rose when Josh let him go. "What did I do to deserve that?"
"I opened the freezer."
"Well." Jonnie coughed and ducked his head. "I thought some vegetarian things might be useful."
"They are." Josh kissed him again, although shorter this time and without so much passion. It was no use getting distracted when dinner was ready.
Jonnie rested his hands on Josh's hips. "I'm glad." He smiled. "I love you and I want you to be at home here."
Josh took a step back, out of Jonnie's reach. "I... you..." He'd temporarily forgotten how to breathe. He took another step back then bolted out of the kitchen to the lounge, where he'd dumped his bag. He reached into the front pocket for his inhaler. Asthma wasn't the reason he felt like someone had dumped a big weight on his chest, but taking his inhaler required him to change his breathing. And there was something to be said for the psychological effect of being able to take something. And gripping onto the inhaler for dear life.
Jonnie wasn't far behind and after Josh had taken one puff he took Josh's free hand. He led him over to the sofa and sat him down, none of which required Josh to think about what he was doing. The dogs were nearby, and Jonnie picked up one and dumped her on Josh's lap. "Stroke the dog, it's relaxing."
Josh did as he was told, more out of habit than anything else, dropping his inhaler on the coffee table so he would have both hands free for the dog. They had a tendency to demand attention, but she must have sensed something was up and she sat quietly, only nosing Josh's hand so he'd stroke her.
Jonnie sat beside him, picking the other dog up and settling her on his lap. "Now, tell me what's wrong."
Josh couldn't straight away. Jonnie was remarkably calm for someone who'd told Josh he loved him and Josh felt awful for reacting the way he had. He knew he had to say something, but it took him a few minutes of stroking the dog to calm down and find the right words. When he spoke, it was directed at the dog: he couldn't meet Jonnie's eyes yet. "Every relationship I've had since I became a comedian has ended because I was too busy. I always put my work before my partner." You'd think after the first time he'd have learnt, but it hadn't worked out that way. Josh was aware that didn't explain everything but he didn't know where to go on from there.
"Okay," Jonnie said slowly. "But at the moment I'm busier than you are."
Josh gave a little shake of his head. "Only while you're in Strictly."
"But we agreed to make the effort to see each other and not worry about it when we couldn't. I know it's hard, but it's not going to be like this forever."
Josh wasn't as convinced. Once Jonnie was back to training six days a week and Josh was on tour and working the evenings he was home, he wasn't sure how they'd manage to see each other at all. "No, it's going be worse."
Jonnie sighed. "Don't be so pessimistic. It'll be better before it gets worse."
Josh shook his head. He knew Jonnie was right, but that didn't make anticipating the busier times any better. "But the more serious this gets the harder it'll be when we break up."
It was Jonnie's turn to be silent for a moment. "I can't promise we'll never break up," he said softly.
"I know." Josh failed not to sound frustrated. Logically it was the truth. If Jonnie had tried to promise that Josh would have told him off for it. Yet it didn't make him feel any better.
"Josh." Jonnie reached out a hand and hovered it above Josh's for a moment before stroking the dog in Josh's lap. "You can't go through life never getting into any relationships because you're afraid to get your heart broken."
Josh wanted to protest that he could, except Jonnie had sneaked up on him and stolen his heart while he wasn't paying attention.
Jonnie shifted his hand to take Josh's and Josh let him. "We can still take things slow."
Josh wanted to say it was not slow enough, and yet still too slow at the same time.
"Although we might be taking things much slower if you hadn't seduced me."
Josh raised his head to see Jonnie was grinning and he managed a small smile of his own. "All I did was tell a few jokes."
"And then you stuck your hand in my pants."
"You enjoyed it."
"Of course I did." Jonnie squeezed Josh's hand.
"Things were simpler in Rio," Josh said with a sigh.
"But better since, don’t you think?" Despite his words, Jonnie looked a little worried.
"Yeah." Josh knew he didn’t sound convincing, but it was true. Rio had been fun, but not something they could have sustained beyond a few days. Especially when even on those days he'd needed Alex to cover for him when he'd been late to The Last Leg meetings. Not wanting Jonnie to think he disagreed, he added, "I like the jokes you text me. Although some of them are terrible."
Jonnie grinned, unrepentant, but said, "That gives me an idea. Can I borrow your phone?" He reached into his pocket for his phone, dislodging the dog, who jumped down.
The other followed, making it easier for Josh to get his out. He unlocked it and passed it to Jonnie, curious what he was going to do. He could see Jonnie was doing something with their calendars, but from upside down with Jonnie's fingers in the way it wasn't obvious what it was.
After a couple of minutes Jonnie handed Josh his phone back. "I've shared our calendars," he explained. "So we can both see how busy we are and schedule in our dates. I've only added Sunday's but we can work out when the next one should be on Sunday when we know if I'm still in Strictly."
Josh blinked. It did sound efficient. And something he had no idea it was possible to do.
"With it all scheduled in there, we can both see how to make space for dates. So neither of us can complain that the other is busy. I know it's not much, but it's something."
Now it made sense. "Thank you." It was something, and between that, the dog and the joking over Josh's seduction of Jonnie, Josh started to feel better.
"Maybe we need to be better at talking, rather than overreacting," Jonnie said, dropping his phone on the coffee table.
Josh leaned over to leave his phone beside Jonnie's, but was slow to sit back down and slower to meet Jonnie's eyes. After all, he was the one who overreacted, especially based on this evening. Jonnie was more level-headed.
Jonnie reached for Josh's hand again and Josh focussed on that. "I mean if either of us feel we need more from this relationship, if we're not seeing each other enough or something, we should try discussing it."
Josh tried not to look guilty at that. He did have a tendency to bottle everything up so by the time he raised it with Jonnie he was upset and angry. "I don't know how good I'm going to be at that," he admitted.
"That's why I said 'try'."
Josh finally looked up to see a wry smile on Jonnie's face. "I can give it a try anyway." He leaned over to kiss Jonnie, then rested his head on Jonnie's shoulder. He loved Jonnie all the more for finding ways to help. He resolved to be better in the future so Jonnie didn't have to shoulder all of the burden for making their relationship work. "Sometimes I don't know what I did to deserve you."
"You were funny." Jonnie put his arms round Josh, while made Josh smile and relax.
Jonnie's t-shirt was damp against Josh's cheek, which wasn't a surprise given how sweaty Jonnie had been earlier. "You need a shower," Josh said, as his stomach rumbled. He raised his head and Jonnie let go of him.
"And you need dinner." Jonnie smiled. "It is re-heatable?"
"Then I'll shower, you re-heat dinner and everything will feel better when you don't have an empty stomach."
Although there was time before they went for another kiss.
"Come to Blackpool," Jonnie said in the car the next morning.
"Is it worth it for one night?" Josh glanced over at Jonnie, but he was facing away, concentrating on the cars coming from his right. "It's not that I don't want to, but there isn't much time between rehearsals and recording, and you'll want to spend time after the show with your friends."
"I can spend time with them and you." Jonnie turned onto the main road and glanced over at Josh with a grin. "What if I promise you great sex?"
Josh might have made a joke about how Jonnie could be so sure the sex would be that good, but it was too soon given his freak out the night before. Dinner and a night's sleep made him feel better about their relationship, but hadn't helped the guilt much.
"I don't know." He had a suspicion Jonnie had left this discussion until now, so Jonnie didn't have to face him. And Josh couldn't run away. Not when Jonnie was driving him to the station on the way to training.
"How about bad sex? I can give that a try, if you like."
That did make Josh smile, even though it wasn't enough to change his mind.
"I'd really like your support in person, in case I'm in the dance off again." Jonnie was very focussed on the road ahead.
Josh had to admit that if Jonnie went out he did want to be there for him. But it didn't stop him from being anxious about it. "There are a lot of people there who are going to notice we're sleeping in the same room."
"Would that be such a bad thing?" Jonnie glanced over and Josh met his eyes, before Jonnie turned back to the road. "They are my friends. We have other friends who know."
It was a good point. But it was different because Jonnie hadn't chosen who to be on Strictly with. Josh gazed out of the passenger side window as Jonnie negotiated a busy roundabout. Josh had been to Strictly a couple of weeks ago, but it had been with Adam and Alex, so all three were there as Jonnie's friends from The Last Leg. Josh and Jonnie hadn't got any time alone, but he'd had fun and they had only been there for the recordings. And he had enjoyed himself, so he knew he would in Blackpool too.
"Plenty of others are bringing friends along," Jonnie said, once they were off the roundabout. "The amount the judges have been talking about my bum, I can make a joke about your research of it on The Last Leg."
Josh smiled and gazed back over at Jonnie. "You keep using it to flirt with Bruno. Should I be jealous?"
"Come along and find out." Jonnie grinned again.
Josh made a big show of sighing and saying, "All right." But he smiled when Jonnie glanced round.
"Thank you," Jonnie said softly as they pulled into the station car park. "It means a lot to have to you there."
If Jonnie really wanted him there that much Josh felt like he had to say yes. Part of him did want to, the other part had just needed talking into it. Before Josh got out of the car he leaned over to give Jonnie a kiss. He was looking forward to seeing Jonnie again in a couple of days.
When the reveal show recording ended the audience began picking up their belongings and drifting out, chatting to each other about the result. The dancers, both pro and celebrity, stayed in the centre of the ballroom, most of them wanting to speak to Jonnie.
Josh waited until the ballroom had nearly emptied out before walking from his seat to the dance floor and over to the now-breaking up group. When he hugged Jonnie he asked, "Are you all right?" Josh wasn't sure if last week's experience of being in the dance off had prepared him enough for the possibility of going out.
"I don't think it's hit me yet." Jonnie let him go and Josh could see he wasn't too upset. Yet. "It probably will on Monday morning when I'm not learning a new dance."
"I'm proud of you." Josh took Jonnie's hands. "You went on live TV to do something you'd never done before and lasted nine weeks. That's amazing."
Jonnie beamed. "I'm glad I did it. I don't regret it at all. Even if it has to end already."
Oti broke up their conversation by coming over to hug Josh. He let go of Jonnie and hugged her back. He had forgotten she was someone he wasn't going to see any more, even though he'd only met her a few times. "I'll miss you," she said. "You are the only person who can make him turn up at training on time."
Josh laughed, but before he could make a joke in response Jonnie stepped in. "Don't listen to a word she says."
Oti's answer was to punch Jonnie lightly on the arm.
"Let's go to the bar," Josh suggested, as Jonnie glared at Oti. Oti grinned back. What they all needed was a drink.
"I have to take take all this off first." Jonnie waved a hand in the direction of his outfit.
Josh stepped back so he could take in Jonnie's costume. "I think it suits you. Especially the guyliner."
Jonnie screwed his face up. "I'd forgotten that was there."
Josh grinned. "I dare you to go to the bar with it on."
Jonnie shook his head. "And how am I going to get it off afterwards?" Before Josh could point out that someone else was bound to have some make-up remover Jonnie pointed at him and said, "You get the drinks in, I'll join you when I'm not dressed for a techno tango."
"Where are they going?" Susan brought her drink over to the sofa, which Josh now had to himself. She motioned towards Jonnie, Joe and Davood, who were on their way out of the bar, all in high spirits.
"For a dip in the sea." At least they thought they were. Josh was sure once they discovered how cold and dark it was outside on the beach they'd change their minds.
She frowned. "In November? At night?"
He shrugged. "They said something about going to Blackpool meant they had to go in the sea. They didn't seem to care about the temperature or the time of day." Which Josh had mentioned to Jonnie when he first spoke about it, but Jonnie had waved it off.
After a glance back to the bar she asked, "And how much alcohol was involved?"
"Not as much as you'd expect." Unless Jonnie had drunk some Josh hadn't noticed, it had only been two beers.
"Okay then." She sounded dubious, but appeared to accept that and sat beside him. "So, you and Jonnie..."
If she expected him to fill in the blanks then she'd have a long wait. Josh kept quiet, sipped at his drink and waited for Susan to tell him what she thought she knew. Which he suspected was likely to be the truth, but he didn't want to confirm anything he didn't have to.
She rolled her eyes. "There's something going on between the two of you, isn't there?"
He placed his drink down on the high table beside the sofa, then took a deep breath. He knew Susan, but until now the only people to have worked it out on their own had been confronted with something obvious. This evening they hadn't acted any differently from when they were friends. However, Josh couldn't see the point in lying about it. It wasn't a secret, technically. "Yeah." He sounded like she'd forced a confession from him.
"Oh, the world's not going to end because I noticed." She nudged at his shoulder with hers. "He's a lovely man."
He couldn't help smiling at that. "He is."
"And we're all going to miss him." She sounded wistful, even though Jonnie was still around.
"He's going to miss you all too." He already did miss the celebrities that had already gone. Josh sipped at his drink and then asked the question that had been bothering him. "How did you know about me and Jonnie?"
She shrugged. "From watching you." At his frown she smiled and elaborated. "The way you look at him to see if he's laughing every time you tell a joke. The way he knows when your glass is empty and brings you another drink."
Josh gave a wry smile. He did always want to know what Jonnie thought of his jokes, but he hadn't thought he was as obvious as that. And he couldn't cure Jonnie's habit of bringing him drinks - mostly because he didn't want to.
"And he's been talking about going out with someone, but keeps being vague about it," she added.
He must have looked concerned because she said, "I'm not about to tell anyone, you don't have to worry." Her expression was sympathetic.
"I'm not worried." He ignored her raised eyebrows. "We're not keeping it a secret, we just haven't told many people." And yet most of their friends knew by now.
"It's fine." She patted his arm. "No one here is about to sell the story to Hello magazine. And I'm sure they'd only pay sixpence for it anyway." She grinned and he rolled his eyes.
Jonnie, Joe and Davood's return was no quieter than their exit. They whooped and boasted about how great their dip in the sea had been. At first Josh thought all they'd done was to hang around long enough for people to think they'd done it - after all no one had been crazy enough to go out there with them. But when Jonnie came over, Josh could see that his hair and clothes were wet.
Josh's eyes narrowed.
Jonnie raised a hand. "We only paddled. But it was a bit windy."
Josh sighed. "I don't suppose you thought to take a change of clothes. Or a towel." He suspected the three of them had walked out in what they were wearing without a second thought.
"I think I've got sand in my leg." Jonnie had a sheepish expression on his face.
Josh rolled his eyes.
Susan shook her head. "Men, what can you do with them?"
"Say goodnight," Josh said to Jonnie, standing up and taking his arm. "I'm getting you out of those wet things before you get hypothermia."
"I'm fine." Jonnie stood his ground, making him impossible to move. "All I need is another drink and I'll dry off."
Josh glanced over at Susan for help.
She raised her hands. "Oh, no, he's all yours." She took her drink and left for another part of the bar.
Josh tried a different tack, lowering his voice. "We've barely had five minutes alone all day. How about another five minutes while you change into some dry clothes?" Once he had Jonnie in their room Josh hoped it would be easier to keep him there. Or at any rate, it gave him five minutes to come up with another reason to convince Jonnie to stay.
"All right." Jonnie shrugged and let Josh lead him out of the bar.
Although Josh didn't let go of his arm until they were on their way upstairs. Then he found his hand was damp and had to wipe it on his trousers. "I hope it was worth it."
"It was." Jonnie nodded. "The water was bracing."
Josh recognised that expression for 'freezing but I'm not going to admit it'. Seawater around Britain wasn't exactly known for its warmth even in the summer. In November most sensible, sober people didn't go near it. It was no wonder Jonnie was shivering. Even if he was too stubborn to admit it.
Once in their room Jonnie started removing his clothes. Josh went to the bathroom to find some towels, while he googled hypothermia. Which also had the effect of keeping his mind on the job and not on Jonnie undressing. Jonnie was probably just cold, which wasn't surprising, but following the treatment steps wouldn't do him any harm. None of which involved other things to do while naked.
When he unfolded the bath towels he discovered they were tiny, of course. He handed both to Jonnie, who put them round himself, then sat on the end of the bed and removed his prosthetic. He started shaking it out before catching Josh's expression. He looked a little guilty as Josh fetched the bin from the other side of the room. Josh heard something trickling into it, so there must have been sand in there.
"I'm just cold," Jonnie protested. "I'm not going to die."
"Not if I have anything to do with it." Josh left him to dry himself while he draped Jonnie's wet clothes around the bathroom. He'd been wondering just how far their paddle had gone and how much Jonnie had been wearing at the time. Being able to almost wring the bottoms of Jonnie's trousers out gave him a clue. Everything else was merely damp, but how Jonnie had been comfortable wearing them Josh didn't know. By the time the bathroom was full of Jonnie's clothes the small room smelt of the sea.
Somehow, despite only being here for a couple of days, Jonnie had already spread all his belongings around the room. It meant it took Josh a little while to find something clean and dry for Jonnie to wear, which Josh passed to him in exchange for the now-wet towels. Which left him struggling for somewhere to hang them. Upon trying the wardrobe out of desperation, he found an extra blanket, which he spread on the bed. He was determined to make sure Jonnie was warm.
Since Jonnie hadn't needed Josh to help dry or dress, he couldn't be that bad. He did yawn, but he'd had a long day, so it wasn't a surprise he was tired. His yawn set Josh off and reminded him how long a day he'd had himself. He hadn't left The Last Leg as early as he should have, which meant he hadn't had enough sleep by the time he got on a train to Blackpool. He'd only slept fitfully on the train, worried about missing his stop and how the evening was going to go.
He decided to change into his pyjamas, pretending not to notice Jonnie watching him. Although he still slowed down a little, taking everything off before dressing. Only then did he turn to Jonnie, who returned Josh's grin with no guilt at all.
Once Josh was in bed he yawned again. A moment later Jonnie joined him and Josh cuddled up close to give him some body heat. And because they were alone and he liked cuddling Jonnie. No one was going to interrupt them and neither of them had anywhere else they needed to be until they checked out in the morning.
"Warm enough?" he asked Jonnie.
"Toasty." Jonnie leaned forward to kiss him. "I'm sorry we didn't get to spend much time together today."
Josh made a face. "You taste of salt."
Jonnie grinned. "But now I have a lot more time." He brushed his fingers against Josh's cheek. "Perhaps I could come over on Monday after It Takes Two?"
"Your timing's terrible." Josh shook his head, looking apologetic. "I'm filming Taskmaster on Monday."
"Of course." Jonnie sighed. "We can never both be quiet at the same time."
Josh turned his face to the pillow. He was excited about the Taskmaster recording but he hated that work was still getting between him and Jonnie. He kept thinking that finding time for each other was going to get easier but it never seemed to. Logically he knew it was just one day and Jonnie would have a lot more time now, but it didn't cure the heaviness in his heart.
"I'm hoping you win." Jonnie sounded oblivious to Josh's inner turmoil.
Josh sighed, then turned his head to meet Jonnie's eyes. Despite his light tone, Jonnie looked worried. Josh smiled to try and convince him he didn't need to be. With a similarly light tone he said, "I don't know. It's Champion of Champions so by definition everyone else is good at it. And they've all done Taskmaster more recently than me." He made a face as he remembered some of the tasks and how badly he'd done at them.
Jonnie shook his head. "Stop coming up with excuses. You're great at Taskmaster and you can win it if you believe."
Josh chuckled at sports rhetoric being applied to something like Taskmaster. But Jonnie keeping on with the Taskmaster discussion did make Josh feel a little better and he kissed him.
"We can check our calendars in the morning. I'm sure we'll find some time between this weekend and next." Jonnie was looking a little less worried. "We'll be fine."
Josh nodded and hoped he was right. And he wouldn't taste of salt sometime soon.
"Me being out of Strictly will be a good thing," Jonnie continued, but he sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
Josh raised himself up on one elbow. "Would it help if I told you what an amazing dancer you've been and how proud I am of what you've achieved? More than your Paralympic golds," he added with a grin.
"You said that earlier," Jonnie pointed out, but his expression was lightening.
"Because it's still true." He ran a finger along Jonnie's bottom lip to distract him, but Jonnie caught his finger to kiss it, distracting Josh. It was a moment before he collected his thoughts. "Coming back from Rio was depressing, but we recovered and now it feels like it was a year and two months ago."
To which Jonnie chuckled. "I know I'll get over it." He pressed his lips to the palm of Josh's hand. "I wanted to get in one last bit of fun with Joe and Davood while I still could."
Josh shook his head. "You'll see them again at the final. And on the tour. Not so much seaside, but there'll be a few rivers you can throw yourself into in winter if you're desperate to make your other leg freeze and drop off."
Jonnie laughed this time, burying his head against Josh's shoulder. "You always know how to cheer me up," he said, when he lifted his head again. "And I did promise you great sex if you came to Blackpool." He moved his hand down Josh's back to end up on his arse.
Josh shook his head, but smiled. "Save it until the morning, Casanova. I think you've had quite enough excitement for one night."
Jonnie grinned. "I'm too exciting for you?"
Jonnie laughed and kissed him again, proving Josh's point.
Jonnie was now on The Last Leg for the third time since he and Josh had got together in the summer. Unlike the previous two, Josh didn't get to see Jonnie beforehand. Josh, Adam and Alex had been busy with last-minute rewrites to cover the Oxford Street news, and Jonnie and Oti needed to work on their short dance for the end of the show.
This time Josh didn't mind. A comedy club local to Jonnie must have decided he had too much time on his hands and invited him to an open mic night. Jonnie, in turn, had persuaded Josh to go with him. It meant that Josh had last seen Jonnie yesterday morning, before Josh had gone to work. He was happy to settle for a wave as they passed each other in the corridor before the show.
After the show, when they were all in the green room, it was Oti who spoke to Josh first. She hugged him, as pleased to see him as she had in Blackpool last weekend. "I've loved being on the show," she said.
"It's been great having you." Josh smiled, both from her hug and her enthusiasm. "I'll miss watching you and Jonnie dance on Saturday nights."
"You should come to the tour," she said, just as enthusiastic about that idea.
Josh chuckled. "I think Jonnie's already signed me up for a backstage pass." Some of the dates clashed with The Last Leg, but there was quite a bit he ought to be able to get to. He was looking forward to spending a lot more time with Jonnie, as well as seeing him dance again.
"What have I done?" Upon hearing his name, Jonnie turned from the conversation he was having with Adam and came to stand by Josh, an arm round his waist.
"Signed me up for the Strictly Tour." Josh lay his arm across Jonnie's shoulders.
Jonnie grinned. "I'll get him on Strictly one day."
Josh shook his head. "Stick to working on convincing Adam."
Having followed Jonnie over to the group, albeit slower, Adam was in time to hear Josh's comment.
"I don't know," Adam said, but his tone suggested he was open to be to convinced.
"Oh, but you should." Oti went on to extol all the virtues of Strictly and how good he'd be at it.
Since they weren't paying Josh and Jonnie any attention, Josh took a step backwards, bringing Jonnie with him. Keeping his voice low, in case they were overheard, Josh said, "I like you being on The Last Leg." Jonnie was funny, he laughed at Josh's jokes and he was a popular guest. To say nothing of Josh getting to spend at least some of his Friday evening with him.
"I like being on The Last Leg. It's fun." Jonnie turned thoughtful. "You know, I don't have anything on Saturday mornings any more. I could always come down on Fridays and hang around."
"Really?" Josh brightened. It was a great idea. It wasn't the same as going on a date when Josh could have Jonnie to himself, but they'd get to spend Friday nights and Saturdays together.
Jonnie nodded. "We should make the most of it, before I'm back in training on Saturdays. As long as no one minds." He gestured at Adam and then Alex.
"They won't," Josh promised and finished his drink. Adam and Alex would be bound to take the opportunity to get some teasing in, but they both liked Jonnie, so weren't likely to complain.
Jonnie pointed at Josh's now-empty beer bottle. "Another one?"
Josh passed Jonnie his bottle with a smile and enjoyed the view of Jonnie from behind. Although not for long, because Alex came over.
"Tell me he's staying at yours tonight. And not in your spare room," he said in Josh's ear.
Josh sighed, putting his hands on his hips and glancing up at the ceiling for a moment. "Please can we not discuss this again."
"I'm just looking out for you." Alex sounded defensive.
Josh softened a little at that. He'd got too used to his friends taking the piss to assume Alex meant anything else by it. However, it still wasn't a subject he wanted to discuss with anyone other than Jonnie. "You have nothing to worry about," he assured Alex.
Alex hesitated for a moment, then took Josh at his word. "Good." Although he smiled on seeing Jonnie return with two bottles. "I see he's still getting you drinks."
Josh grinned and accepted his beer. "He runs, dances and fetches drinks. What more could you possibly want?"
"And what do you bring to the relationship?" Alex asked.
Jonnie replied, "Jokes, brains and charm."
Alex made a face. "You two make me sick."
Josh and Jonnie laughed.
Josh was worried. Jonnie had requested they watch Strictly, wanting to see his friends dance. At first Jonnie made comments about the dances and laughed at himself acting like he knew what he was talking about. Despite it not being the same without Jonnie on it, Josh still enjoyed it, now he had someone who knew what really went on giving a running commentary.
But by the time they'd finished their takeaway pizza and there were only two couples left to dance, Jonnie's demeanour had changed. He ended up curled up at one end of the sofa, the cats having gone off in a huff because there was nowhere else for them to sleep. The cat beds not being suitable for cats, obviously.
Josh reached out to Jonnie's leg to get his attention. "Are you sure you want to carry on watching?"
Jonnie nodded, not taking his eyes off the television. "I want to see how everyone's doing."
"I know, but--"
Jonnie cut him off. "It's hard to watch and not be part of it. But I'll get used to it. I'll have to," he added quieter, which didn't do anything for Josh's concerns.
He thought Jonnie was torturing himself unnecessarily. But Josh turning the TV off wasn't going to help. He was better off supporting Jonnie until he worked it out for himself. Josh shifted closer and grabbed Jonnie's shoulder, pulling Jonnie towards him, and keeping him there with an arm round him.
Jonnie rested his head on Josh's shoulder as he sighed and gripped a fistful of Josh's shirt.
They stayed like that for the last two dances, Jonnie watching intently, Josh with an eye on the TV and an eye on Jonnie, and a hand stroking his back.
It was during the Pasodoblethon, which Josh was finding impossible to follow, that Jonnie received a text. He must have been finding the dancing equally incomprehensible, for he got his phone out and frowned at it. Josh couldn't see what it said from his position and he didn't want to read Jonnie's private messages over his shoulder anyway.
Jonnie's expression didn't improve as he tapped on the screen and scrolled through something.
"What is it?" Josh asked, as Jonnie sat up straight, eyes wide.
Jonnie shook his head. "You're not going to like it."
"I already don't like it." Anything that could make Jonnie react like that couldn't be good.
Despite his reluctance Jonnie passed Josh his phone. Displayed on it was an article on one of the gossip magazine sites. It was about the two of them. Someone had been in Blackpool and at the comedy club earlier in the week. Josh might have wondered if Jonnie had a stalker if he hadn't been more preoccupied with the writer having put two and two together to make... well, four, since it was true and he and Jonnie were seeing each other. These sort of people usually got five or six when in reality there was a three at most.
And now he was running away with this metaphor and not paying attention to what he was reading. He scrolled back up a screen. "I can't believe this."
"I know," Jonnie said softly. He made a grab for his phone, but Josh held tight to it, bringing it closer to his body to make sure he kept hold of it.
"They don't know anything. They've taken a bit of circumstantial evidence, added in some speculation and think that counts as facts!" He gestured with his free arm. "This isn't journalism, it's fiction writing."
Jonnie let go. "That's what you don't like it about it?" He sounded disbelieving.
"I don't like their conclusion either." Having established that was all there was to the article Josh turned his attention back to Jonnie. "But I wouldn't have minded so much if they hadn't made most of it up."
Jonnie shook his head. "Sometimes you surprise me. I didn't think you'd be this calm about it."
"I'm not calm, I'm annoyed." He sighed as he handed Jonnie his phone back. "But it's not like we've been hiding it. We just haven't announced it publicly." By now their parents and all of their friends knew about it.
"I know, but I thought it would scare you." Jonnie shrugged. "I mean, the same way me telling you I loved you scared you."
"I thought it would too," Josh admitted. "But it became obvious in Blackpool that it's really not a secret. I've had a week to get used to the idea." Maybe it helped if you knew Josh or Jonnie or both, but Susan wouldn't be the last to notice. Josh had worried about it on the train back from Blackpool, but eventually came to the conclusion that other people knowing might make the two of them more inclined to put the effort in to staying together. And it was more likely those people would help them with it. As Adam had last month, not that Josh had any intention of thanking him for it.
"No, it's not," Jonnie agreed. "But I thought you were happier keeping it to ourselves. Ish."
Josh smiled. That idea had backfired less than a month after their first date. First date this year, anyway. Although Adam and Alex hadn't kept the teasing up after Adam's barbecue. "That was never going to last." He gestured to Jonnie's phone as he handed it back. "I'm too annoyed at their lack of journalism to care about everyone knowing."
Jonnie kissed him, which Josh had to admit, did have the effect of making him less annoyed. "No one who doesn't know us is going to care if we stay together or split up," Jonnie said afterwards. "We're not Brad and Angelina, or Prince Harry and Meghan Markle."
Jonnie always knew how to make him feel better. Josh was feeling more relaxed by the minute. "And most people don't believe a thing they read on those sort of sites," he said, getting into the spirit.
"Even if it's true." Jonnie smiled.
Josh reached out to take Jonnie's hand. "But they did miss an important detail."
"How you're so patient and such an all round nice guy." Josh's thumb made circles on the back of Jonnie's hand. "And I love you for it."
"I do those things because I love you," Jonnie said, blushing.
"I know." Josh moved closer for a kiss, his free hand going to the back of Jonnie's neck, Jonnie moving his to Josh's cheek. They gazed into each other's eyes for a moment, until Josh was distracted by that earworm of a theme song, and glanced over at the television. "We've missed the end of Strictly."
"We saw most of it." Jonnie leaned over to pick the remote control off the coffee table and turn the TV off, before turning back to Josh. "We had something more important to do." He kissed Josh again.
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