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The first time, Jon’s talking with a bored looking producer at an awards night. Or maybe it was a charity event? Jon can’t remember. He remembers free booze, and a lot of people he didn’t know; the room smelled corporate, the carpets were grey.

“Oh, you must meet Russell,” says Steve the producer, and Jon’s sure he’s just looking for a way out of the conversation.

“Actually,” Russell replies, “we used to live together.”

The producer smiles along as Russell continues, “Terrible break up.”

Jon and Steve look at Russell in surprise, faces slack. Steve laughs awkwardly, Jon doesn’t. Neither does Russell. Suddenly there are urgent phone calls and trips to the WC, transparent excuses to escape the awkwardness.

Jon doesn’t really think about the exchange again: he’s busy with filming and writing. His sister has a birthday and his mum wants help planning a holiday to Spain. It’s autumn and he enjoys the city despite himself, the colours of the trees and the whisper of winter in the air. He doesn’t really even miss Russell anymore, not like he did when they first stopped talking, painful and obvious in a way he still can’t put into words.

 

The next time they meet it’s at a wrap party for a new show being made by mutual friend. The friend is, of course, talking to more important people. So they’re introduced to each other by a sweet girl in a pencil skirt, probably someone's assistant. His mind bucks at the ridiculousness of showbiz, that a grown up might need an assistant.

The girl - "Chloe," she says in a rush of Oxbridge diction and a firm dry handshake - begins ambitiously. “Russell, you must have seen Jon’s work on '8 Out of 10 Cats', he’s really very funny.”

Jon shifts awkwardly, laughs self deprecatingly, because he still can’t take praise without looking for the hidden barb.

“Chloe, I can’t bear to. Far too painful,” Russell says.

Chloe looks startled, not quite sure how to interpret that comment.

Jon takes mercy. “Chloe, I think he’s being unkind about my looks."

“No, it just makes me miss you," Russell says, addressing Jon directly for the first time in years. Chloe’s face registers surprise before it smooths over with professionalism. Jon doesn’t quite manage the same.

 

It just keeps happening, both the unexpected meeting and Russell’s... joke? Jon has no fucking idea what it’s all about. One time it’s at an engagement party and then again in a corridor on the way to separate production meetings. Russell’s insinuations at the engagement party are ridiculous enough that he gets Russell's number through a mutual friend (a downright gleeful looking mutual friend), action must surely be taken.

Jon stares at the number for about a week. Indecision eats at him. "Can you please stop acting as if we were previously in a sexual relationship to strangers at industry dos" is rather clunky, as is "Were we sleeping together and I forgot?" or the more embarrassing "If you're going to act like we've fucked can I at least get a handjob?" so instead he goes with "Pint at The Imperial this Thursday?" which he feels nicely combines the three.

Russell’s reply suggests he still has the autocorrect turned off on his phone. Either that or he’s wilfully ignoring it which doesn't seem out of the question.

busy soz next tuesday better

Jon's not sure if that's a question, but he replies in the affirmative.

 

When Jon sketches out the scene in his head, he imagines just asking Russell straight off what his game is, like a posh school master, not brooking any ridiculous excuses. Of course that's not how it goes down. They meet at the pub and a sudden downpour means it's unexpectedly busy, humidity hanging in the air and dampness underfoot, a bouquet of umbrellas by the door. Russell's there before him, unprecedented, and has staked out a small table.

Jon goes up to get drinks and then awkwardly doubles back to ask Russell what he wants. It'd never been an easy guess. Jon remembers having to ask barmen for raspberry lemonade on more than one occasion. Russell says he'll have a pint and that's new, he used to only drink beer when he was around people he didn't know that well, and Jon finds himself hoping his taste has changed. Jon gets recognised a bit these days, which is ridiculous, and it must happen to Russell even more, but neither the clientele nor the barman shows any interest in them.

When they are sitting with pints in hands and legs awkwardly dangling off bar stools (that might just be Jon) all he finds to say is, "How've you been?"

“Yeah, good mate. The show's going well.”

“How's your family?”

They talk like that, in very polite circles, for an extraordinary amount of time. It's excruciating and boring and the fact they each get another pint is the only reassuring thing because he knows both of them would've gone home after this kind of rubbish conversation with almost anyone else.

But they both stay and a few pints in Jon asks, “Why do you keep going on like we've slept together?" It comes out embarrassingly plaintive and wanting.

Russell must have heard it differently because he shies back and says "Didn't think you had an issue with-"

"You know I don't, it's not," Jon gestures with his hands at gayness. "No problem. But we didn't, I mean... it's just, that’s not the truth."

"Of course it is, Jon Joe,” and Russell hasn't called him that in years. No one has. He'd even trained his mum out of it.

"I think I'd remembered if we'd, y'know," he gestures crudely and Russell giggles.

"Of course you'd fucking remember!" Russell says, voice a bit too high, defensive.

"Pretty confident of your abilities, aren't you?"

“Yeah I am,” says Russell and makes his fingers into a V and wiggles his tongue enthusiastically.

“You know I don't actually have a...?” Jon trails off and makes a V with his fingers.

Russell smiles. “Similar skill set, and yes I remember.”

Jon’s surprised enough by Russell’s confident answer that he says “What are you even...?”

“One night you and John got super drunk and got your willies out.”

Jon laughs at that. “That did not happen,” he says.

Russell is completely undeterred. “Well, no surprise that you don't remember.”

“You are full of it, mate,” Jon says. The conversation lapses back into less outrageous topics after that: mutual friends, the footy and BBC gossip.

They get kicked out at what seems far too early an hour, the barman looking at them with an expression that suggests he doesn’t care if this is a long awaited reunion, it’s just a regular Tuesday night for him and he wants to get home and put his feet up.

Russell kicks his feet against the pavement outside the pub while Jon leans against the dour-looking shopfront of the tobacconist next door.

“We should do this again," Russell says.

 

Jon's pretty drunk when he calls Russell. This kind of bad decision would not be made sober, was not on his to do list for the day.

"I don't think they are similar skill sets, really?" he says, immediately, when Russell picks up the phone.

"What?" Russell replies.

"I mean, if it's a guy then it goes out but a girl goes in and also what about the jizz?" Jon says.

"What the fuck are you- oh right, I said-"

"Yeah, you did," Jon replies, indignant that Russell has forgotten.

"Well I was being a dick, I'd probably give you a crappy blowjob," Russell says and laughs.

"Oh."

"Have you been thinking about that a lot, Jon?" Russell says, his voice curious.

“No,” he says firmly, “yes, ok, a bit, maybe.”

“Why?”

“I don't know, it was an odd thing to say.”

“Yeah, it was.”

“Well we've always been a bit odd,” Jon says, and it’s true and he’d loved that. Russell had seemed so normal, a good lad who liked football and mainlining TV shows but something about them together made him a weirdo too. Jon liked being responsible for that.

“Jon, you should probably go to sleep,” Russell says.

Jon huffs. “You're not supposed to be the responsible one.”

“Sometimes I am. It just worked for our whole radio schtick that you were the sensible one and I was the dumb one.”

“You're not not clever,” Jon says, defensive on Russell’s behalf. People think Russell’s dumb because he gets enthusiastic about stuff he likes and those people are missing out.

Russell laughs down the phone at him. “Thanks. Go to bed, you idiot.”

Jon spends all of the next day trying to suppress the memory of the conversation with extremely limited success. He tries and fails to imagine a way he can casually ring Russell and slip in at the end, "Oh, sorry about last night, I don't even remember what I said to be honest".

 

It's an Andy Zaltzman gig where they next bump into each other, hanging out afterwards with a few fellow comedians. Andy's in the corner holding a pint and talking sadly but at large volume about something. When Jon gets close enough he picks up enough words to figure it out: the cricket, of course. He doesn’t care enough about the Ashes to barge his way into the semicircle of conversation, and considers just going home. It’s a weeknight and he should do some writing tomorrow. The venue is uninspiring, and the weather even less so.

He manages to step backwards into someone's conversation. Russell is grinning like a complete dick when Dave (is it Dave? Jon can't even remember whose boyfriend he is) says "You two might not have met: Russell, this is Jon!"

"We have met actually, and fuck does he give a good blow job!"

Dave actually chokes on his beer at that and laughs while Jon goes as red as the terrible carpet, sticky under his feet. "Always nice to get a good review," he tries but his voice comes out squeaky.

Dave apparently suddenly needs to go to the bathroom which is an extremely transparent excuse to get out of the conversation, which... fair enough, really.

"You are such a bloody wanker," Jon says.

“Yeah, well at least I didn't call you at 3am to quiz you on your oral sex technique.”

Okay, so apparently they aren’t taking the ‘pretend it didn’t happen’ route. “It wasn't a quiz, I was just curious.”

“I think I'd do better now, by the way, on the quiz.”

“It wasn't a quiz, and what do you mean?” Jon wonders if Russell’s been blowing guys all week because of a drunken phone call.

“Did you know there are great deal of videos on the internet depicting the act of fellatio?” Russell asks.

“I had no idea,” Jon replies, deadpan.

“Very instructional,” Russell says.

Jon doesn’t want to go home anymore, after that, but the conversation is interrupted nonetheless. A young guy, new to the scene, launches into a series of questions for Russell, an edge of competition in his voice. Jon feels a little slighted he isn’t considered enough of a success to warrant the same attention. Mostly though, he’s glad to instead talk to Andy’s sister, a gentle conversation about a recent holiday to the Lake District. As the night goes on he ends up stuck in a conversation about BBC funding that makes him want to die.

It must be close to one in the morning by the time Russell finds Jon again and slides an arm around his neck.

“It's all about not taking too much into your mouth at once,” Russell says, his face is pink from alcohol and his arm is warm against Jon’s neck.

“Right,” Jon replies, his voice croaky, he knows exactly what Russell’s on about.

“Y’don't want to get carried away,” Russell continues, and his lips are very pink, and very close to Jon’s face, they look wet, as if Russells just licked them.

“Um,” is all Jon can manage - Russell has been watching porn because of him and it’s a lot to absorb.

“I think I might, y'know, get carried away. You know what I'm like, always get ahead of myself, if I was giving cock sucking a go I'd probably wanna get all of your cock in my mouth at once.”

“OK, this is now extremely graphic,” interrupts the person next to them, who Jon had completely forgotten existed.

“Yeah, we should go,” Russell says, as if that makes any kind of sense.

Maybe it does, because no one around them looks that surprised when Russell grabs Jon’s hand and pulls him out of the pub into the dark, wet London night. They get a taxi quickly enough that Jon actually feels suspicious of their good fortune.

 

Russell’s place is tidier than Jon would have thought. His keys clang against the stone counter in the kitchen, the lights are too bright, Jon’s not sure what’s supposed to happen now. Russell knows though, pushes him up the hall and in the first door on the right, pushes him right to the edge of the bed and onto it. Jon laughs a little as his body bounces, undignified, on the unmade bed. He stops with a choked off little sound when Russell straddles him and whispers in his ear, “So I’m going to try and not get carried away, but no promises.”

Russell moves against him, presses his weight all down Jon’s front, places a kiss right in between the corner of this mouth and the edge of his jaw. Jon shivers, when Russell breathes against his ear and licks over the shell of his ear, sucks on his earlobe, it turns into a whispery giggle. Russell drags a hand through his hair, a touch too hard. Jon likes it a lot.

“How’s it going, curly?” Russell whispers, right into his ear.

“Can you not call me your mum’s nickname for me right now?” Jon replies, voice too loud somehow for the situation, the mostly dark room, the newness and oldness all at once.

“Whatever you say, curly,” Russell says, and gropes at the bulge in Jon’s jeans.

“So, you going to show me the fruits of your research?”

“Oh, I will. And let me just tell you that research was really long and-”

“Hard. Yeah, I get it.”

“So hard, Jon. I had to take breaks.”

“Can you just get to the point?"

“Okay, I’m ignoring how rude that is when I’m about to go down on you. Don’t act like you aren’t into me watching porn. I remember that time you walked in on me.” Jon really, really does remember, but he stays silent.

“I was just about to get off and you walked in.”

“Oh,” he manages.

“I was so up for it, Jon. And then you fucking walked in and God I wanted to come all over your stupid interrupting face.”

“Urgh.”

Russell is undoing his buttons now, as he talks, with a deftness that pisses Jon off, until it leads to hands on bare skin.

“Your face was so red, and I could tell that you went straight back to your room to have a wank too.”

“Yeah,” Jon confirms, breathless, as Russell reaches to undo his jeans.

Once Russell’s tugged off both their jeans, he kneels back over Jon and makes him move up the bed. He then drops his head and nuzzles at Jon’s dick through the fabric of his pants. Jon can feel the warmth of the air leaving his mouth and the ends of his hair tickle the soft skin of Jon’s inner thighs. Jon doesn’t know if he’s ready for this level of undivided attention from Russell Howard, almost wants to shove him away, to laugh it off. It’s embarrassing, how hard he is, how Russell can see him, can smell him and is going to taste him and Jon knows he makes the worst sounds when he comes.

“Can you just stop thinking whatever you’re thinking?” Russell asks.

“What?”

“Just calm down, okay, I know you’re over thinking it. Sex is supposed to be awkward, that’s what makes it good. You’re allowed to laugh and not always be good at everything.”

“Please don’t laugh at my cock,” he blurts out.

“Jon,” Russell says serious, “I’m into your cock,” and slides up the bed to push Jon’s hand against his own dick, hard in his boxers.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, so,” and Russell moves back down, pushes Jon’s pants out of the way and while Jon’s busy stressing out, licks down the side of his cock.

“Oh,” he says again, breathless.

Russell licks him a couple more times, like his dick’s something tasty, and then closes his mouth over him. Jon wants to buck up into the warmth and pressure. And it’s not that he stops thinking entirely about whether Russell’s dick is bigger (of course it is, the fucking git) or not wanting to come too early or make Russell’s jaw sore by taking too long, but those thoughts recede.

Russell’s mouth feels incredible and he makes little noises around his dick like it’s something amazing. He experiments, shallow dips of his head and then deeper, pulls himself off when he chokes a little.

“I bet you’re into that, you pervert,” he says, grinning up at Jon’s flushed face.

Jon has no comeback for that.

Russell sucks him down again, slower, and Jon traces his hands over the the line of Russell’s eyebrows, the bridge of his nose. He huffs out a noise as his hands drop lower and he feels his own dick through Russell’s cheek. He drags his fingers lower, smears the spit pooling at the corners of Russell’s lips. His lips that are stretched around Jon’s cock. Russell pulls off and the noise, it should be yuck, but Jon groans from the wetness of it, the sight of Russell wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Fucker, you are not allowed to come in my mouth. Warn me, alright?” Russell says, and his voice is a bit scratchy.

“Okay, okay,” Jon agrees.

“Well, aren’t you well behaved when you want my mouth on you?” Russell says, a gleam in his eyes, but he doesn’t exploit it, lowers his mouth and Jon feels a rush of gratitude.

Russell’s sucking harder now, like he wants to pull the orgasm out of him. Jon can feel the pleasure curling up his spine, down his legs. It’s hard to tell Russell to stop but when he does Russell gives him a final lick and a “mm” sound that almost makes him come, before wrapping a hand around him. The handjob isn’t exactly the right angle and even with the spit it’s not as wet as Jon likes, but it’s Russell so it’s working, of course.

Russell says, “Jonny, c’mon want you come, wanna see you...” and that does it, breaks the pressure that was building, like a wave at the beach or a high note in a song. He scrunches his eyes shut, the pleasure curls his toes and he comes, a stream of sticky white making a mess of the sheets.

Of course, Russell doesn’t seem to care about the mess. He ruts up against Jon's side, his dick poking Jon in the ribs, although in his defence he is one orgasm down. Jon shoves down Russell’s boxers and reaches to touch him. His skin is hot and soft, silky along the shaft and spongy at the head and Jon is holding Russell’s cock and it’s hard because of him, it’s kind of amazing. He tries to get the right angle, wants Russell to feel good too. Russell mumbles into his shoulder when he hits the right level of pressure.

Jon’s no good at dirty talk, no good at all, but he mumbles back “Your mouth, felt so good,” and “Your lips are so...” Good, he wants to say again, everything about Russell is so good, for him, to him.

He thinks that might be a bit much, though, so he presses their mouths together instead. The handjob is too frantic to really devote energy to the kiss, it’s more just lips on lips. Russell tastes of him, and his lips are puffy, the sweat is making his hair stick to his forehead.

“Felt so good, to have your cock in my mouth,” Russell says, terrible porn dialogue turned gold in his mouth, and he’s obviously so into sucking Jon’s dick that it’s getting him off because then he comes all over Jon’s hand. And that is just so fucking hot Jon reckons he could get it up again given a chance.

Instead though Russell gets a flannel and cleans them up and chucks it into the attached bathroom. It falls with a wet splat onto the tiles and Jon wants to tell him off for that, but can’t find the energy. Once he’s done Russell tucks Jon into his arms, and hugs tight, just for a second. Just long enough for Jon to enjoy it, before he feels small and babied.

 

Jon falls asleep suddenly, halfway through a thought about setting an alarm. So he doesn’t wake up until the sun creeps through the curtains. It’s not as awkward as it could be. Russell kisses him almost at once, like he’s chasing the awkwardness away, and Jon feels grateful, even if his mouth is gross with the taste of stale beer.

They have Rice Krispies for breakfast, on the couch with the BBC breakfast show on in the background. Russell breaks the mutual silence.

“When we stopped talking, I felt so shit. Like you’d been my girlfriend. I’d never felt sad like that because of a mate, y’know?”

Jon nods. He doesn’t really get where this is going.

“I just kept thinking about it, how if I was going to sit on the couch eating chocolate and listening to Rufus, I should’ve at least got the good bits.”

Jon laughs at that. “And by the good bits you mean...” he mimes a blow job.

“Yeah,” Russell says.

“Well, I really liked the good bits.”

“They were pretty fucking great,” Russell says, and Jon can see his grin out of the side of his eye. He shoves their shoulders together and clinks their cereal bowls together.