"Stay over at mine tonight," Colin murmurs into Bradley’s ear.
Colin's faux-leather jacket feels smooth and cool against Bradley's overheated skin, their arms still slung over each other's shoulders after someone made them mug for yet another photograph.
"You mean, this morning?" Bradley says, glancing down at the 4am glow of his watch.
It's the series four wrap party. They're surrounded by their friends and colleagues. Colin’s breath is hot in the shell of his ear, smells of lager and lime and that weird cinnamon gum he chews sometimes in between drinks, and most importantly, Colin is not making sense.
"I mean," Colin says, lowering his voice and sliding his hand down to the small of Bradley's back, "how about now?”
It takes Bradley a second to register what exactly Colin has said because all he can think is a drunken stream of hand on my back hand on my back Fatboy Slim song stuck in my head hand near my arse, but when he does hear the words for what they are, his body involuntarily stiffens and his eyes widen and dart around the room to check if anyone else is aiming a camera their way.
"Erm," Colin says, dropping his arm from Bradley's back and beginning to pull away. "Sorry, I—"
Bradley's hand flexes on his shoulder, making the sort of decision he only makes when he’s just drunk enough to be impulsive and, possibly, utterly stupid. It’s not that he’s never considered hooking up with Colin before; it’s just that he never expected either one of them to actually suggest it.
Colin turns back to him, his eyes drift down to Bradley's lips, and it occurs to Bradley that’s been happening rather often tonight. Then it occurs to him that he might’ve been doing the same thing to Colin all night as well. Sometimes timing doesn’t make any sense: You drink with someone, and you turn to them, and you think, now, where you hadn’t thought it before.
Bradley has been drinking quite a bit. It seems like the sort of excuse people make in these situations, right? If they end poorly?
"Okay," Bradley says before he can’t.
"Okay?" Colin says, voice a little scratchy from overuse.
Bradley meets his eyes. "Yeah. Let’s — that. Let’s go.”
Colin presses Bradley against his door before it's even closed properly, the latch snicking shut as their full weight impacts. Bradley’s whole body zones in on Colin's hand flat against his chest, Colin's other hand cradling the back of his head before it smacks against the door, Colin's breath hot on his lips. Bradley's arms feel heavy but comfortable when he wraps them around Colin's waist.
"What are we even doing?" Colin says, a little breathless, tilting a half-smile and trailing his fingers down the back of Bradley’s neck. The last drink Bradley had must be hitting him now: He feels dizzy and unfocused, his skin over-warm and sensitised.
"I don’t — you’re the one who suggested—" He flutters his fingers against Colin’s back. “—suggestiveness."
Colin huffs a laugh and ducks his head. When he lifts it a moment later, his fingers tighten around the back of Bradley’s neck and his hand on Bradley's chest slides down to his jeans. He lightly rubs his knuckles across the front, and Bradley is relieved to find that at least he didn't drink so much their night might be over before they've really begun.
"I really just wanted—" Colin's voice catches as Bradley slides one hand between them and starts to stroke the length of Colin through his jeans, amazed to find he’s already as hard as Bradley is. “This, this,” Colin babbles. “Fuck, Bradley, do you even realise how you—"
"Your bed's right there," Bradley interrupts, anxious, fumbling with Colin’s zipper.
Colin drops his head and groans into the crook of Bradley's neck as Bradley reaches beneath the waistband of Colin's boxers and gets his hand on Colin's cock.
"Bed would— bed would help," Colin stammers, and they both literally fall onto the bed, tripping over each other as they try to take off their clothes.
The problem is: The sex is terrible.
Bradley lifts his head off the pillow. "What are you doing down there?"
Colin's worried face pops up between Bradley's thighs where he's spread out on the bed. "You don't like that?"
"Nobody likes that, Colin." The truth is, the nerves around Bradley's arsehole had felt so stimulated, it freaked Bradley out; it felt too intimate, too — too. Colin's face down there, Colin inside Bradley's body — how would Bradley ever be able to look him in the eye again? Listen to him speak when he knows how that tongue feels pressing inside of him?
"I was under the impression there are thousands — probably millions — of people who like precisely that," Colin says, absently licking his lips, and Bradley can't help but imagine for a moment that Colin loves any sort of oral sex, loves going down on women and making them come from his lips and tongue alone.
"Well," Bradley tugs on Colin's hair a little. "I'm not one of them."
"Noted." Colin hesitantly smooths his hands up the inside of Bradley's thighs, rests them on his hipbones. "Who knew you had some weird hang-ups about your arsehole?"
"They are perfectly normal hang-ups!" Bradley drops his hands onto Colin's shoulders. "In fact, they are not even hung-up! They are things people feel when they want to keep mouths and arses in their proper places — away from each other.”
Colin gives him that look he has where he's desperately trying not to roll his eyes at Bradley. "What about here, then?" he says, voice dry, and dips his head toward Bradley's crotch. "Can I put my mouth here?"
Bradley's head falls back onto the pillow as Colin begins to suck on his bollocks. "That—" Colin licks up his cock, dips his tongue into the slit. "Why didn't you just start there like a normal— mmph."
“Teeth! Teeth! Jesus, could you—"
“You want more teeth?” Colin's lips are swollen, his chest heaving for breath, and his hair's stuck up at all sorts of angles where Bradley has been gripping it.
“Who wants more teeth in their blowjob?” Bradley says, one of his hands lowering to the nape of Colin's neck.
“Maybe it’s a pain kink?” Colin looks a bit sheepish.
“Do you really—”
“No, but I— I’ve never done this with another bloke, so I’m— "
"Oh." Bradley feels his face heat all of a sudden, as if the room didn't already feel warm enough. He'd figured as much, but it feels different somehow hearing it aloud, that he’s doing this with Bradley when he’s never done it with another man before. Hell, it’s mostly new to Bradley as well.
"Yeah." Colin looks back down at where he's still holding Bradley's cock. "So, do want me to—"
"—continue?" Bradley says, at the same time Colin finishes, "—stop?"
They stare at each other.
"You want to stop?" Bradley says, pulling his hands back and laying them flat on the sheets.
"No, I just— if you weren't feeling it, I don't want you to—"
"I'm still hard, aren't I?"
"Yes. So— mmph."
Bradley returns his hands to Colin's hair.
"Do you expect me to try that thing you tried on me?" Bradley says, afterward, settling between Colin's legs.
"That th— oh, that." Colin is definitely blushing. "No, you can just— well, you can try whatever you're comfortable w—"
He chokes on the word a little as Bradley sees how much of him he can fit in his mouth.
It's not much.
"How about I just—" Bradley says, coughing and feeling a creeping embarrassment at his unskilled enthusiasm. He wraps a hand around Colin’s cock instead as Colin slides a hand into Bradley's hair and takes a firm grip.
Bradley licks at the slit, at the salty-tang of him that's been pooling there. Sucks on the head a little as he moves his hand. Isn't sure all the alcohol in Cardiff could make him ever forget the way Colin groans when he sucks harder.
He’s just building a rhythm between his hand and mouth when he realises his jaw hurts like hell, and it feels like his body is yelling at him: WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME HAVE SEX RIGHT NOW WHEN ALL YOU HAVE DONE TO ME IN THE PAST TWENTY-FOUR HOURS IS SWORDFIGHT AND CONSUME OBSCENE AMOUNTS OF ALCOHOL. CLOSE YOUR MOUTH AND LET ME GO TO SLEEP.
So, he pulls his mouth off Colin’s cock and rests his forehead against Colin’s hip.
Colin makes an awfully undignified half-yelping sort of sound that Bradley would totally tease him about in any other situation.
“Wh— are you stopping?” He tugs at Bradley’s hair.
Bradley lets out a tired moan at the release of tension. “Exhausted,” he mumbles against Colin’s skin and half-heartedly pumps his hand on Colin’s cock once.
Colin makes another weird sound that Bradley finds inexplicably hot.
“I hate you so much right now,” Colin says, but even through his exasperation it sounds like he also means but I still find you incredibly endearing. Or maybe Bradley just tends to think most people find his failings endearing in spite of it all. What if he’s been wrong all these years and when they say, “You are terrible at this,” what they actually mean is, “You are terrible at this”? It would certainly explain the looks some of his ex-girlfriends used to give him when he was going down on them.
After a moment, Colin’s hand overlaps with Bradley’s and starts to impatiently twist up and down his cock.
“Hey!” Bradley says, lifting his head, suddenly wide awake. He tightens his grip and glares up at Colin, who inhales sharply and drops both hands back into Bradley’s hair. Bradley licks at the head, and Colin bites his lip, and Bradley realises: They haven’t even kissed. They’ve— fuck, Colin made him come, and Bradley is trying to make Colin come, and they’re — they’re Bradley and Colin, and they haven’t even kissed, what are they doing?
There’s something unnameable, ungraspable, unsomething in his chest as this hits him, and it’s too much for his tired, still-intoxicated mind to handle right now. He keeps moving his hand. He takes Colin back into his mouth, lets his own fist bump against his lips as he gets messy in his rhythm, anxious to see Colin come apart for him. And when Colin’s fingers practically yank out his hair, Bradley comes up for air, pumps his hand and watches Colin’s flushed throat as he collapses onto the pillow, feels the rumble of Colin’s groan throughout his body as he comes on Bradley’s neck.
Colin wakes him later that morning with a strained voice and half smile.
"Have to leave for Ireland in an hour," he says, sat on the edge of the bed.
“This is your room,” Bradley mumbles half into the pillow.
“Well, only for the rest of the morning. You can leave whenever you’re awake.”
“M’awake.” Bradley reaches blearily for the first bit of Colin he can touch, which happens to be his knee where it's crooked onto the mattress toward Bradley. "You are not going to be able to say a thing in that interview without everyone knowing why your throat is shot to hell," he adds, dragging his fingertip in looping patterns on Colin's kneecap.
"What, from sucking your cock?" Colin says, and Bradley marvels at the fact that 1) that’s something that actually happened last night and 2) Colin is rolling his eyes while saying it. "I hardly think anyone will connect the two. Besides, I'll be with Katie and Eoin. I'm sure we'll all give the excuse of celebrating the end of another series."
"Never underestimate those two and their ability to make suggestive comments about everything."
Colin just quirks a smile and shakes his head. He reaches down to Bradley's hand and traces his fingertip up Bradley's arm in a straight line, the light scritch of his nail making Bradley feel both shivery and grounded. Colin traces the line back down and squeezes Bradley's hand in his own for a second.
"Don't be a stranger," Colin says, and Bradley hears, Well, that’s that, but we can still be friends, which frankly is more than he expected after last night. They’d been impulsive and had no idea what they were doing and neither of them even does this with other men, what the hell.
"You’ll be back next month, yeah?" Bradley says.
"I'll be there," Colin says, and lets go of his hand.
Bradley has to stop himself from asking what exactly Colin means by there, because right now he's not too keen on an answer that doesn't involve Bradley's bed. He probably just means London.
It’s odd, really, how little he’d considered their potential for this — this — whatever that was.
Interviewers ask all the time, “Are you and Colin as close as Arthur and Merlin?” and their colleagues often comment, “Well, you’re a pair now, aren’t you?” and — god help him — Bradley’s mum once asked him, “When am I going to meet this Colin you’re always talking about?”
But it wasn’t until Colin had leaned over and said to him stay over at mine tonight, that he’d really given more thought to them. Himself and Colin, he’d just thought of them as a given. Once they’d fit, they’d fit. You don’t tend to spend much time analysing and dwelling on the things in your life that are always there. Until they aren’t — or until they transform into something else.
It’s not that he’d never thought about trying something other than friendship with Colin; it’d simply been nothing more than the idle thought he has about most people he likes: that momentary sex question that is usually an obvious answer within minutes of meeting someone. With Colin, though, nothing was obvious within minutes of meeting him, so that question had always hung in the back of his mind, unanswered. He’s not sure he’s gotten an answer even now.
"Tom says you're shagging Colin Morgan," Georgia says a couple days later once Bradley's back in London.
Bradley spits out his coffee. He's always wanted to see someone actually do that — accidental spit-spray surprise reaction — because it's so cartoonish, he half-believed it wasn't a genuine reaction people have. There goes that theory.
"You don't have to feel awkward about telling me, Bradley," Georgia says, rolling her eyes and dabbing at the flecks of coffee on her side of the table. "We're friends now," she adds, then takes a big bite of her sandwich and watches a cute dog pass by their patio table as if this is a conversation they have every day, which it most certainly is not.
The thing is, Bradley thinks — swiping his sleeve over his mouth and carefully setting down the rest of his coffee — she's right, they are friends, and Bradley's still a bit startled to find how easily they slipped from sleeping together to being good mates, but seriously, how does she know.
"Why on earth does Tom think Colin and I are—" He swallows. "Are—"
"He said you two left your wrap party together."
"He also said you'd been making eyes at each other all night."
Bradley actually throws his head back and laughs at that. "Making eyes! Who even says that?"
Georgia busies herself with the chips on her plate. "My mum might've found my old Mills and Boon novels the last time I went home."
Bradley loses it. "Oh, oh, I can picture you: Little Georgia May, dreaming of a strapping man to save you from the monotony of Devon, take you up into the wild Highlands."
"You seem to know a lot more about these than the average bloke,” Georgia says, throwing a chip at his face.
Bradley dodges the chip. "I had sisters."
"And you stole their books?"
"They were hilarious!"
"They were adventures."
"Adventures in knickers and quivering members."
"The heroines were daring and fought for what they wanted, Bradley. It wasn't penny dreadful pornography.”
"Right," Bradley said, cheerfully taking a bite of his sandwich, forgetting entirely how they'd even gotten on this topic.
"My point,” Georgia says, “was: Are you and Colin together now?"
Oh. Bradley pauses mid-chew. That's how.
He swallows. "No. Colin and I are not together now."
"But you did shag him, didn't you?" Georgia says.
Bradley feels his face warm.
"You did!" Georgia crows. "Oh my god!"
Bradley looks down at his sandwich and curses himself for being such a terrible liar. Aren't actors supposed to be better liars?
“It was only a one-time thing, okay," he admits to his crumpled napkin. "I think."
Georgia is silent for a moment. Then: "You think?"
Bradley looks up at her.
"Bradley, since when do you hook up with someone and not know how you feel about that? You're forgetting: you and I are basically the same person. I know how these things go."
She's not wrong. One of the things he always liked about Georgia was how they were always on the same page, from the first night they hooked up to the day they decided to keep doing it to the day they agreed not to be a couple anymore.
"Do you know how it goes when you sleep with someone who's not only your same gender, not only your colleague, but also one of your best mates? How would you deal with that?"
Georgia gives him a look that's at once pitying and defiant. "I'd deal with that by deciding that we're best mates first, and best mates talk with each other."
Actually, in Bradley’s experience, best mates more often tend to take the piss out of each other and play football, but he thinks he understands what she means. "What if I don't even know how I feel about this?"
"Then I'd say that's a sign you know exactly how you feel about this, but you're just too much of a pussyfoot to admit it to yourself."
"What does that mean? Hang on— did you just call me a pussyfoot?"
Georgia giggles and pulls an innocent face. "Maybe."
Bradley laughs and shakes his head at her. "Can we just— not talk about this?"
Georgia's expression flattens into the one she'd always give him when he said that while they were still dating.
"Just—" Bradley adds. "Just— not today. Please?"
Georgia rolls her eyes, then picks up her sandwich. "So, tell me about your character in Fast Girls."
Bradley lets out a relieved sigh and latches onto the subject change.
For the rest of the week, in between sleeping, watching crap telly with Eoin, playing football, and more sleeping, Bradley worries that he and Colin have irrevocably fucked up their friendship, not to mention their working relationship. This is why Bradley never sleeps with his castmates; Bradley loves his job, he doesn't want to all of a sudden be one of those millions of people who dread going to work everyday.
But then Colin rings him (because Colin is the only person besides his mother who actually still talks over their mobile instead of texting), says, "Sometimes I wake up and instead of having a song stuck in my head, I have a spell stuck in my head. A spell, Bradley!" and just like that they start talking about nothing at all, and Bradley stops worrying.
"I mean,” Colin says about an hour later, “don't you think the belly button has got to start somewhere? It's only—"
Whatever Colin says next is muffled. At first Bradley's not sure if it's because he can't hear anything over the sound of his own laughter or if Colin's covered the mouthpiece.
"Sorry," he says back into the phone a moment later. "My brother's home. Says we're off to our grandparents for the night."
"Ah, time for an evening filled with Grandpap Morgan ranting about the British Army, no doubt."
"Yes, Bradley," Colin says, and Bradley can hear the eye roll, "because my family has nothing better to talk about than the things the English think we talk about."
"So, wait, you don't ever sit around ranting about the English?"
"Oh no, we do that plenty. I just like pointing out how much of a wanker you can be."
Bradley laughs, says, "Right you are," and can hear the huff of laughter from Colin across the line.
"So, I'll—" Colin says, then comes to a full stop.
"What's that?" Bradley says, the sting of anticipation in his gut all of a sudden.
"Nothing," Colin mutters, then a little more clearly says, "I'll talk to you soon?"
And it's in that twinge of uncertainty — that question where it used to be a statement, a fact between them — that it hits Bradley: He's not the only one of them who's been worried about their friendship this past week.
"Yeah, Col. Of course." Bradley takes a deep breath as he hears a little sound of relief from Colin's end. His stomach hurts, but he thinks of Georgia’s advice, and makes himself say, "Hey, should we tal—"
"Neil's telling me to get a move on, sorry!" Colin says in a rush.
"Oh, I— okay," Bradley stammers. "Bye?"
"Bye, Bradley," Colin says, and there's no mistaking the tinge of guilt in his tone when they hang up.
Despite that fumble, and against all expectations, he and Colin start talking even more often than they had before— well, before the incident.
(He refuses to think of it as the time myself and Colin had sex. He's categorising it as the incident because then he doesn't have to automatically visualise the way Colin looked when he came, how his breath caught and his whole body curved toward Bradley’s as Bradley stroked him off; and how Colin really wasn't so terrible at all at sucking his cock once he got past the teeth, because Colin's hand had felt strong and sure and his tongue felt impossibly good, and afterward, with Colin's flat chest breathing against Bradley's, it felt, improbably enough, as though they fit, even more than they had before. As long as Bradley doesn’t think of it as the time myself and Colin had sex, he doesn’t have to admit to himself that most of his previous sexual experiences haven’t even been half as good as that night. He’s not really sure if that’s a reflection on his sexual history, or if he and Colin really were that right together, booze and awkwardness and all.)
Somewhere along the line, Colin has become the person Bradley tells things to. It's like everything Bradley thinks or experiences or wonders about is something he has the pressing need to share with Colin, because everything is more interesting and real through that lens. (Unless it involves football; Colin is rubbish at discussing football in earnest.) Which makes it all the more frustrating that he can't say, "Colin, should we talk about the fact that we sucked each other's cocks and it was sort of terrible but also sort of exactly what I want to do again?" or "Colin, I know this is an excruciating conversation to even start, but were you just experimenting or did we do that because we wanted to be with each other or—?"
But as long as he carefully stays away from that, their conversations are as easy as they’ve been for years. They're the same old Bradley and Colin, talking about nothing and everything and absolutely nothing related to the incident.
A month passes in the pleasantly not-busy way post-series months tend to pass for Bradley — all carefree nights out with old mates and lie-ins as often as he pleases — and then he dives headlong into filming Fast Girls, and all at once his days are filled with good work and early calls again. They’re filled with attractive women pushing themselves toward their very limit physically and emotionally, and Noel Clarke who quickly becomes a director Bradley would follow to the ends of the earth, or at least the outskirts of London. His days are filled with an energy that’s at once familiar and completely different from Merlin, and more often than not, oddly enough, they're still filled with Colin.
There's a lot of waiting around on a film set, and while most of the time, Bradley stays the gregarious guy he tends to be in these situations, the rest of the time, he finds himself skulking beneath bleachers or in stairwells, chatting with Colin on his mobile, saying:
"Did you know that ears are a part of our bodies that never stop growing? Colin, I’m worried for the stability of your tiny head in fifty years.”
Or: "Remember that song we made up about French cheeses? How'd the second verse go again?"
Colin’s doing nothing but traveling — Northern Ireland, Australia, the States — but he calls Bradley just as often. It’s never at a time when Bradley can pick up though, so instead he gets voicemails from him that go:
“I remembered the chorus to that song we made up about Rupert’s beard, but I don’t remember the verse about the quest we had to go on to preserve the beard’s magical properties."
Or: “Listen to this bird —” and then a solid minute of strong winds and a sharp Australian bird call, and Colin’s matter-of-fact conclusion, “That’s very nearly what you sound like when you laugh. If you were a bird, you would be that bird.”
Or, one day, near the end of the shoot: "I'm back in London. When are you finishing up tonight?"
"Couple hours," Bradley says, calling him back as soon as he hears the message.
"Wanna get a pint or two with me?”
Yes, yes, obviously yes, Bradley thinks, but blurts out instead, "We're meeting up in the morning for those interviews with the Beeb.”
Bradley grins. "Good argument.”
“How about that pub around the corner from my flat?” Colin says.
It's only a pint, Bradley keeps repeating in his head on the way to the pub. It's only a night out with a mate.
But then he arrives, and Colin's already got them a table, and facial hair, and — well, those two things are not related. But when Colin looks up and catches Bradley's eyes, all Bradley wants to do is push him down into the booth right then and there and mash their lips together, kiss him like they never did that night.
Instead, he settles with, "I barely ever recognise you when you go all beardy," and slides onto the bench across from him. Their ankles knock together, and Bradley feels a flash of sense memory, of legs tangling as they'd fallen to the bed.
Colin laughs, that full throaty sound that Bradley never quite gets the full effect of over the phone. “Cheers,” he says in his dry Humouring Bradley tone of voice, and slides a glass of stout toward him.
Bradley picks up the glass and tilts it toward Colin before taking a long gulp. He lets the head of the draught gather on his upper lip and stares deadpan back at Colin when he puts his glass down.
Colin purses his lips in that way he does when he’s trying not to laugh. “You’ve gone a bit beardy as well, looks like,” he says, gesturing at his own face.
“What, this?” Bradley says, raising his eyebrows, pointing at his upper lip. The foam feels like it’s already starting to evaporate. “This is a mustache, Colin, not a beard. Honestly, can you not distinguish the two?”
“Seems like more of a stout ‘stache to me, actually,” Colin says and takes a long sip of his own.
Bradley laughs at that. “A stout ‘stache?”
“Just telling it like it is,” Colin says with faux aggression, affecting something like an American accent and twisting his body into an exaggerated shrug, and Bradley barks another laugh. God help him, after all these weeks of only hearing Colin’s voice, he’d missed his stupid face and all the many nuanced ways he looks when he pulls a joke.
Bradley takes another drink and then licks off all of the gathered stout ‘stache. Colin’s eyes immediately drop to his mouth.
“Uh,” Bradley says, and wipes off the rest with his sleeve.
Colin drops his gaze, quickly reaching for his pint and downing about half of it.
Neither of them says anything for a solid five minutes or so, which feels like the longest five minutes of Bradley’s life, and which they simply do not do together. Even when Colin is quiet, Bradley is always one to start babbling about whatever he can to fill the silence. The thing about Colin is, he’s never made Bradley feel obnoxious or unwanted for doing that. Instead, Colin turns to look at him a certain way, or brushes his arm against Bradley’s, and it flips something just right inside of Bradley, makes whatever he’s doing or saying better, somehow, cools him, like Colin is comfortable and accepting of whatever version of Bradley he’s going to be during whatever hour of whatever day.
Bradley cannot accept that he might’ve lost that. Cannot accept this wrong-footed embarrassment, this minefield that is sitting with Colin and wondering if they should hook up again and if they do will that be the right move or wrong?
“I’ve got to —” Bradley slides out of the booth and gestures over his shoulder in the general direction of the toilets when Colin looks up at him.
Colin glances down at his glass, then back up at Bradley, then down again. “So do I,” he says, then downs the rest of his pint in one go as he slides out of the booth.
Which finds them alone, a few minutes later, standing side by side at the sinks, washing their hands. Their shoulders bump together, and when Bradley looks up, their eyes meet in the mirror. Colin’s eyes look just as embarrassed and anxious and desperate as Bradley feels, and all at once Bradley’s got his sudsy hands on Colin’s face, and Colin’s damp hands are scrabbling at Bradley’s shoulder blades, and their mouths — well, they can’t fuck up kissing, can they? Apparently, not. Apparently, this is exactly what Bradley has —
The main door to the toilets swings open, and Colin jolts backward, eyes guilty and disoriented. Bradley tries to ignore the blush of his own cheeks, the slight burn of Colin’s stubble against his skin, as he turns back to the sink to finish rinsing his hands. Whoever just came through the door doesn’t seem to notice them, just ambles past and slaps a stall door closed.
But when Bradley glances back up at Colin through the mirror, Colin meets his eyes again and blurts, “I’m just around the corner.”
Bradley scrubs his palms dry on the backside of his jeans and nods helplessly.
Bradley has actually done the casual hookup thing with a bloke before; he’s not so repressed that he can’t admit that, if only to himself. They were eighteen and a bit drunk on winning a match and drinking too much whisky, and Bradley’s never sure how he gets himself into these situations but they’d pulled down each other’s shorts and jerked each other off in the other boy’s bedroom. His hand had felt tight and warm and sure, and Bradley’s had been frantic and clumsy but thrilled, and it wasn’t better or worse than what he’d done with girls up to that point; it was different. It felt good. But it was what it was, and Bradley didn’t have to worry about feelings and expectations muddling up a good time.
It’s nothing like this thing with Colin.
When they get to Colin’s flat, he presses Bradley up against the door, just like last time, except this time, he also presses his lips to Bradley's. He raises both hands to Bradley’s jaw and licks along the the bow of his upper lip, then slowly sucks Bradley's lower lip between his own. The sensation is so sharp, then sharply subtle, all Bradley can do is wrap his arms around Colin’s waist, pull them flush together, and kiss him back, sinking into it, feeling that yes yes this is what I’ve been missing these past couple months, missing something I’ve never even had.
It’s better this time, somehow. There are still teeth in the wrong places (but sometimes in all the right places as well), and Bradley comes embarrassingly quickly when Colin palms his cock (his hand gentle, then strong and firm and fast), but as he’s got Colin’s cock in his mouth, Colin combs his fingers through Bradley’s hair and babbles (because apparently Colin is the more vocal one of them in bed, who knew), saying, “That’s it, that’s — oh —” his voice hitching mid-syllable. “That’s exactl —” and comes as Bradley strokes his tongue along the smooth length of him and loves every second of it; loves how this is the ease and intimacy he wants with Colin, always.
Always? His brain snags on the word as he flips onto his back beside Colin, his chest seizing with terror and recognition as he tries to catch his breath. Maybe this is what Georgia meant by knowing something but being too much of a pussyfoot to admit it to himself.
The pair of them are honest-to-god snuggling the next morning.
When Bradley wakes up, he feels more relaxed than he has all hiatus, all loose and warm where their bodies are wrapped around each other. He’s yawning into Colin’s collarbone when Colin eases awake.
“Mm.” Colin’s hand on his back flexes, and he arches closer to Bradley for a moment, before suddenly bolting upright. “Fuck, we have those interviews!”
Bradley just grumbles and tries to pull him back down to snuggle closer.
Colin laughs, low and private, and kisses the exposed side of Bradley’s neck. An ache blooms at the base of Bradley’s spine, the warmth in that affectionate gesture rooting him to the spot. He tightens his arm around Colin’s waist.
“No, seriously,” Colin says, rubbing Bradley’s arm and pulling half-heartedly at his wrist. “Come on.”
Bradley grumbles some more but complies, not sure if he’s more thrilled or horrified at how much he wants to continue waking up like this with Colin.
At least most of their interviews will be aired over the radio, not on television, so they don’t call for makeup and reasonable grooming and fashion choices: They both pull on last night’s clothes, and Bradley adds a baseball cap he finds lying about Colin’s living room as Colin brews them a quick pot of tea before they have to rush off.
Colin huffs a laugh when he comes into the living room to find Bradley stretched the length of the sofa with the hat tipped down over his eyes like a sporty version of a cowboy.
“You lose all sense of mornings when we’re not working,” he says lightly and clunks a mug on the table near Bradley’s head.
Bradley lifts the hat so he can see Colin. “And you are insufferably smug about being a morning person.”
Colin snorts and reaches down to fiddles with the brim of the hat. “Drink your damn tea.”
After recording their radio interviews and video segment via Skype, they stand awkwardly with hands in their pockets on the sidewalk outside of the BBC London offices, and Bradley tries not to feel embarrassed for sitting too close to Colin like a right idiot throughout the interviews.
“You want to come back to mine and order in something to eat?” Colin asks after a moment.
“Sure, I’m starved.”
Colin shuts the door by shoving Bradley flush against it. Well, this is becoming a bit of a theme, Bradley thinks, and then Colin’s on his knees before Bradley can even process what’s happening.
Colin nuzzles Bradley’s lap through his jeans, and he’s hard by the time Colin unzips them and pulls him free. He looks up to meet Bradley’s gaze and kisses the head. He sucks Bradley into him and holds his hips against the door, taking a little more of Bradley’s cock into his mouth each time he moves. It’s slick and hot, and Bradley can barely breathe as he stares down at the shadows of Colin’s cheeks hollowing around his cock.
“Fucking hell, Cols,” Bradley says, and comes so hard he can’t stand, even with Colin’s hands supporting his hips.
He slumps to the floor and tips himself and Colin onto their backs, then rolls toward Colin, panting into the dip of Colin’s collarbone. “That— how have you gotten so good at that so quickly? That is a special skill you could add to your CV.”
He glances up at Colin, who licks his swollen lips and puts on his Pretending to Actually Consider the Mad Things Bradley Suggests face. “Nah, see, I don’t think that’d be an applicable skill for future casting directors. Unless I were going into pornography.”
“Don’t become a porn star,” Bradley pleads, sliding one of his hands against Colin’s on the carpet.
Colin laughs, threads his fingers with Bradley’s. “How do you know I’d be a porn star?”
“Trust me. You’d be a star. Your cheekbones alone would be stars. Not to mention your mouth. Or, oh god your fingers.”
“What, these old things?” Colin says, affecting an American Southern accent and fluttering his free hand in front of Bradley’s face.
Bradley snorts and drops his head to Colin’s chest again. “Just. Y’know. None o’that.”
He can feel Colin’s laughter bubble up again. “I’ve never even considered doing porn, Bradley.”
“Of course you haven’t.”
Colin’s silent for a bit, circling his thumb around the back of Bradley’s hand, and Bradley’s heart is taking a long time to slow down after his orgasm. “Would it really bother you to see me fucking someone else, though?”
The blunt way he says it is so unexpected it darts Bradley to honesty. “Yes.”
“But if it’s just acting and meant to get you off—”
“I haven’t even seen your cock in me yet, so—” Bradley stutters to a halt, realising what he’s said through the weird possessive ache in his chest.
“Hey, hey,” Colin says gently and tugs on Bradley’s hair. Bradley hesitantly meets his eyes. “Yet?”
Colin stares back at him.
“Can I blow you?” Bradley says quickly, avoiding that conversation. “I want to—”
“Yeah. Yes.” Colin drops his gaze and drags his nails up Bradley’s shoulder blades as Bradley lowers himself down Colin’s body.
The next day, they each go home for the Christmas holidays.
On Boxing Day, after a lot too much leftover mulled wine, Bradley lies on the floor of his boyhood bedroom and thinks about Colin and thinks about Colin and thinks about Colin. By mid-evening, he has demarcated his life into B.C. (Before Colin) and A.D. (After Derangement). He actually texts as much to Georgia and immediately regrets it when all she texts back is: YOU ARE A LOT MORE ADORABLE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP FAIL WHEN I DON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT DIRECTLY.
He doesn’t call Colin, and Colin doesn’t call him. Bradley’s not quite sure what’s changed on Colin’s end — what made it possible for them to keep talking after that first drunken time and not now — but he knows that on his own end, he simply can’t ignore the fact anymore that their friendship is no longer just a friendship. There’s no going back from this. He suspects that’s the bloody point.
"Colinnn! Happy birthday, Colin!" Bradley shouts into his phone after the countdown into 2012.
"Thanks! You're the first to say so, seeing as it's barely knocking 12:01," Colin says, sounding far too sober over the line.
"Yes!" Bradley pumps his free fist into the air and Colin laughs as if he knows exactly what Bradley just did.
"Happy new year, Bradley."
"This one'll be positively corking, Col."
"You are unbearably English when you're drunk."
"You are an unbearable bore when you're not drunk enough."
Colin huffs a laugh. "Get back to the party, Bradley."
A burst of noise cuts across the line.
"Are you still in Armagh?" Bradley shouts.
“No, I’m back in London!” Colin shouts back. Bradley’s pretty sure he’s mocking him.
“What! Why are we not at the same party?”
“I thought you were still in Devon,” Colin says.
“No, I came back yesterday! Tom’s throwing this shindig. Where are you?”
“Old drama school mates—”
“You should be here!”
Colin just laughs.
Bradley apparently can’t leave it alone. “If you were here, I’d’ve had someone to kiss at midnight!”
Colin’s laughter hiccups to a stop.
Neither of them calls the other for a week.
Then, Bradley gets an email from Colin that says:
Come see Hamlet at the Young Vic with me on Thursday?
Bradley emails back: To go or not to go?
Colin writes: You're not as hilarious as you think you are.
I'll meet you at yours around 5, Bradley types back, then adds, P.S. yes I am.
Colin answers the door to his flat with shower-wet hair, and Bradley takes one look at him and loses all impulse control.
The kiss isn’t desperate like he’d expected. Bradley mostly needs a reassurance that they’re there, still doing this, whatever it is. Colin dabs his tongue between Bradley’s lips, takes a slow drag and fits them together. Grateful for Colin’s hands on his hips, holding him up like last time, Bradley sinks into the kiss, into Colin and the way he smells and feels and sounds and tastes, sinks into how ordinary and extraordinary it is that only a few months ago, Bradley hadn’t known him this way, not the intimate curl of his tongue when Bradley’s meets his at just the right angle, not the private sound of pleasure deep in his throat when Bradley combs his fingers up through the hair at the nape of his neck, and not the heat and weight of his cock, ready against Bradley’s own cock, straining against their jeans, that sort of friction both new and familiar.
The elevator dings in the corridor behind them.
Colin pulls away with a curse, quickly reaching over and swinging the door shut. When he turns back around and meets Bradley’s eyes, they burst out laughing.
“I didn’t even realise I’d not shut the door,” Bradley says apologetically.
“Wasn’t really at the top of my to-do list just now,” Colin says, grinning mischievously, and finally it’s Bradley who’s got Colin pressed against the door. He rucks up Colin’s shirt and pulls it off him, then lets Colin do the same for him, diving back into each other’s mouths in turn.
Colin slides his hand down the back of Bradley’s jeans and into his underwear, one long finger dipping between his crack. Before Bradley can even prepare himself for the rush of sensation, Colin’s finger is circling his hole, adding just the barest hint of pressure to the tight furl of muscle.
“Is this okay?” Colin says into his ear, and it feels for a second like a whole new version of that first night, of Colin’s breath hot in his ear, closer than ever but not quite close enough.
“Really, really more than okay,” Bradley manages.
“Wait, I have something that’ll make it easier,” Colin says, still not meeting Bradley’s eyes but never stopping the way his hand is moving.
“What, your cock? Because I don’t think that’ll be easier, per se,” Bradley jokes, trying to ease the tension, trying not to come apart with how much he wants this.
Colin laughs, mouth dipping down to his neck, and he sounds a little husky, and god, it is impossible for Bradley to be any harder than he is right now. “No,” Colin says, and now he does pull away enough to look Bradley in the eyes. “Come on.” He slips his free hand into Bradley’s and kisses him quickly, then tugs them toward his bedroom, the hand on Bradley’s arse sliding free.
“We’re going to miss the play,” Bradley says, like that even matters right now.
“Nah, we’ll just replace dinner with this, and then leave for the play,” Colin says, rifling in his dresser drawer.
Bradley’s stomach tightens. Then some more when Colin finds the bottle of lube he’d been looking for.
“Whatever you want, Bradley,” Colin says, and Bradley loves the way Colin says his name when they’re fucking, how it loses the hard D sound, just drops into into a rich A and blurs into the L. Bradley never acted on the theory during all those weeks on their mobiles, but sometimes he thinks he could come just from the sound of Colin’s voice, just from the way Colin says things to him.
Colin drops the little bottle on the bed and starts to slide off his jeans and underwear, and Bradley just stares for a moment at the deep V of his hips as they appear, and the increasingly familiar shape of his cock, and somehow even more vulnerable state of his knees. Then Colin’s reaching for Bradley, unzipping him and sliding both waistbands down over his hips, and Bradley catches his mouth with his own again, can’t help himself as Colin’s hands falter on Bradley’s bare thighs, hands gripped right below his arse. One finger trails back to his arsehole, and he murmurs back into Bradley’s ear, “I want to touch you. Get on the bed.”
Bradley finishes pushing off his clothes quicker than he has in his life and sprawls onto the bed, awkwardly, unsure of how Colin wants him.
Reaching for the bottle, Colin pours a generous amount onto his hand and coats his middle finger with it. “Lie back,” he tells Bradley. “Spread your legs for me. Yeah,” he adds a bit hoarsely, smoothing his hands up the insides of Bradley’s thighs when he complies, “just like this.” Then abruptly, he hooks both legs over his shoulders and slips his wet, warming finger just a tiny bit inside of him. He kisses the base of his cock, and moves his finger.
Now, Bradley’s a pretty aware kind of guy when it comes to physical sensation. So to realise there’s a sensation he’s never felt before in a part of his body he’d never really considered before, a space that could be filled like this, Colin’s long finger sliding in and out of him — it’s overwhelming. And when Colin bows his head and sucks on the head of his cock, Bradley’s coming on his lips within seconds.
Colin’s almost there after getting off Bradley, so all it takes is Bradley fisting his cock once, twice, and he’s coming on Bradley’s stomach. They kiss, Bradley tasting himself deep inside of Colin, and it’s strange and new and exactly what Bradley wants.
“Your nipples look funny,” Colin says thoughtfully, after, still lying on the bed as Bradley pulls back on his underwear and leans over Colin to grab his jeans where they’d fallen.
“Oi!” Bradley says, laughing. “You’ve seen my nipples plenty of times and you’re only telling me this now?”
“Well, I’ve not seen them up close and personal very often, have I?”
“What’s funny about them then?
“They’re just . . .” Colin wiggles his fingers in a gesture that could either mean squiggly and magical or I am imitating a squid. “They’re funny,” he explains. “I mean, I like them.”
“Men’s nipples are funny.”
“Yours aren’t especially funny.”
“Well,” Colin says, propping himself up on his elbows. “I’m sort of funny in general, aren’t I?”
“Funny doesn’t even begin to describe you, Morgan,” Bradley says, one side of his mouth curving into a giddy smile at the thoughtful look on Colin’s face.
“Oh really?” Colin says, eyes lighting up.
Bradley leans down and murmurs against his lips, “Really.”
“Mm.” Colin tilts his mouth forward to kiss him, one hand raising to Bradley’s bare shoulder. “Well, then.”
They do make it to the theatre, barely.
At intermission, Bradley starts to make lame Hamlet jokes, but then Colin gushes about seeing David Tennant’s Hamlet and how it redefined everything he’d ever known about the play, and Bradley watches the familiar arcs Colin’s hands make in the air when he’s describing something he’s passionate about. Their legs are crossed toward each other, so Bradley taps the toe of Colin’s shoe with his own and grins when Colin stutters mid-sentence and blushes at him.
Bradley does enjoy the play. He does. But if anyone asks him to talk about his thoughts on it, he’s going to be hard pressed to go into detail about anything aside from the sound of Colin’s laugh in the dark beside him, or the casual touch of their elbows, sharing the same armrest all evening.
“You’re impossible,” Colin says, heaving the sigh of the put-upon, as they eat while they aimlessly walk along the Thames.
“How so?” Bradley says, taking another bite of his delicious lamb kebab.
“You’re eating meat right now, and I still want to kiss you,” Colin says, voice low.
Bradley swallows. This is it. This is the conversation he’s been putting off ever since the wrap party. “Are we —” He can’t, he can’t, he — “Is this a — thing now?” he manages, however weakly.
Colin turns his head toward the river.
They’re both silent for a few steps, then a few steps more.
Bradley shoves the rest of the kebab in his mouth and chews to distract himself from the waiting.
“I asked you to the theatre,” Colin says, quietly, facing forward.
“Well,” Bradley says, swallowing the last of his dinner and crinkling up the wrapper in his fist. “Yes.”
“No, I mean, I asked you out to the bloody theatre, Bradley. I —” His mouth hangs open on the syllable for a second, then he closes it and looks down, shakes his head. “Yes,” he adds, a bit more softly, “this is a —” He makes a face and actually meets Bradley’s eyes when they glance at each other at the same moment. “— can we not call it a ‘thing’?”
Bradley laughs and rubs at the back of his neck. “What can we call it then?”
Colin bumps his shoulder against Bradley’s. His ears are pink when Bradley looks at him again. “Don’t really care what we call it. I just . . .”
He brushes the back of his hand against Bradley’s, like an innocent foreplay to holding hands, and Bradley understands. There’s this giddiness brimming at the center of his chest, like the adrenaline that rises there by the end of a long run, except right now it’s all from Colin.
"My life made so much more sense before you barged into it,” Bradley admits. “Barged into it in the most obnoxiously polite way possible, but still."
"You say the weirdest, sweetest things to me,” Colin says, grinning.
Bradley elbows him. “I’m trying to be romantic here, you wanker.”
“This is you being romantic?” Colin looks amused and relieved and incredulous all at once. It’s a good look on him. Most things are a good look on him, Bradley thinks, but he loves how he’s the one who put that look there.
“Yeah, I —” Bradley links his pinky with Colin’s, and they meet one another’s eyes. “Yes,” Bradley says, an answer to so many questions with Colin, he doesn’t even know where to begin.
“Okay then,” Colin says, smiling small and private.
Bradley grins back, then looks forward again, his cheeks warm.
Colin simply squeezes Bradley’s pinky with his own for a second before releasing it, their hands brushing together on every other step as they continue walking side by side.