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Little Steps (The "It Started Out Like This..." Remix)

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Only minutes have passed since he sat down, but Bradley’s already wishing for a clipboard-wielding assistant to rush into the room and announce,

“So sorry, Mr James, there’s been a mistake! You’re meant to be down the hall in room 18 for the Merlin read-through, but you’ve accidentally stumbled into an audition for the role of Scruffy Art Student in the triumphant return of ‘Give My Head Peace’. Follow me and we’ll put this to rights!”

Alas, no.

The man across from him is speaking, blue-grey eyes animated with the expectation of a reply. Problem is, Bradley hasn’t understood a single word he’s just said.

How the hell is this supposed to work?

Smile and wave, Bradley’s mother’s voice echoes inside his head. Smile and wave.

Bradley smiles, though he refrains from a wave since they're sitting at a table together and it might make him look a bit simple.

Then Irish smiles back, and it’s like a basketful of puppies got their fairy wings in Cupcake Town.

At some point, Bradley stops waiting to be rescued and sits back, just watching the lilt spill from that fascinating mouth.

***

Bradley’s default setting is “clown”, and fighting this natural tendency is giving him a headache.

Normally he’d have no problem allowing his brain to spew out lowbrow jokes, turning every incomprehensible Irish word into innuendo about Colin’s mouthful of an accent.

He could mine the reservoir of bad puns all day and quote oneliners from Deliverance about pretty mouths, but then there are the handheld cams. Everywhere, and all the time.

Bradley thinks his mum is possibly the only person interested in watching what they capture as they run around on set with them like it’s Candid Camera. With any luck, he can leverage the diaries they’re filming against having to actually report in by phone.

So to spare his mum, he puts a lid on all his jokes and stumbles his way through amateur commentaries about getting suckered into buying strawberries more expensive than imported bloody caviar.

He tries to be on the ball enough to not burst into peals of laughter about the horrors of gingerism, and to follow Colin’s lead into exhilarating new territory where the humour makes no sense and pigtail pulling is the new black.

And this whole time, Colin’s holding back—Bradley can see it. He can feel it. Oh, Colin’s jovial and fun- he participates in everything, handles whatever is thrown their way with such aplomb.

So much so that Bradley begins to wonder what it will take to crack that polite exterior, to get at the innards of Colin’s clockwork, to hear him ticking and understand him better. He wants in, Bradley does.

And then one freezing cold morning when there’s not enough coffee in all the world, Colin sidles over looking very pleased with himself.

“What’s pink and fluffy?” he says, warm breath glancing off Bradley’s cheek as they wait for the call-in to a scene. Bradley just blinks, still not quite awake enough to snap into his stumbling version of witty banter.

Stepping directly in front, close enough for Bradley to see the sprinkling of freckles across his nose even under the make-up, Colin looks him dead in the eye. With all the seriousness of an apocalyptic harbinger, he whispers, “Pink. Fluff.”

It takes Bradley ten minutes to get his girlish giggles under control.

And just like that, it’s on.

***

Looking back, it’s been all these little steps, so small they were hardly noticeable in the moment. They’re glued at the hip and shoulder half the time, and Bradley has long since stopped telling himself it’s just Arthur and Merlin rubbing off on them.

He’s pretty sure that Arthur wouldn’t know Merlin’s scent the way Bradley knows Colin’s scent, warm and talcumy. Clean.

There is a glove in Bradley's room, not hidden exactly, but not really out in the open either. Colin's glove.

He's not sure how he's ended up with this single thermal fleece glove, but it's there, tucked away among Bradley's things like a little navy kitten, all rolled up.

Once, there was almost a week where they had no scenes to film together, and he hadn't seen Colin for days. He'd been looking for something in his bag and there it was- Colin's glove. Weird, he'd thought. Trust Colin to get around with one glove for his perma-frost hands. Instinctively, he'd fondled it- so soft, so nice to rub between his fingers.

Bradley had fallen asleep on the couch watching late night TV and woke up hours later with it tucked in tight against his cheek, a hint of that scent of talc still ghosting the fibers, warm and comforting.

Can't very well give it back now, after spending the night with it, can he? So it's just there, among Bradley's things. He'll remember to give it back one day.

There are other little steps, too. 

They watch movies together some nights, and their ridiculous commentary is often more interesting than the actual dialogue. Sometimes, their elbows touch and it’s the only thing Bradley remembers after two hours spent in front of the box.

Colin delivers everything with all the deadpan he can muster, all of it, and Bradley’s still catching up with that, still getting used to operating at their peculiar wavelength. It’s like a secret clubhouse and he and Colin have the only keys. It’s fantastic.

Then, one night, they’re half-pissed on a Saturday night and stumbling back to the hotel in the rain. It’s a little party, with the girls there and Santiago too, and they're all unwilling to let the night end.

Bradley’s so full of love for them all, and it’s only partly the beer talking—mostly it’s just the pleasure of being there with all these cool people, all these oddballs making his life interesting. They’re all a little bedraggled, and when he looks at Colin, all fluid and loose with the fun they’re having, hair plastered down in black licks like an otter, he sees Colin.

Really sees him. Sees all the parts of him.

The laughter dies in his throat and Bradley just swallows dryly, feeling heavy and weightless at the same time.

Colin’s mouth pinks up once he’s warmed up a little when they file inside, and Bradley recalls the day they first met, and how overwhelmed he was. How he’d concentrated on deciphering what was coming out of that mouth instead of actually seeing it.

He can never unsee it now.

Colin's wet hair glistens under the dim hotel hallway lights and rain drips down his neck. Just a tiny droplet coursing over the graceful tendon, all the way down beneath Colin's collar, leaving a wet trail on his fair skin.

Bradley takes off his wet coat and tries desperately to regain some equilibrium, but it's almost impossible to hear anything over the clamouring of his heart. Colin’s talking with his hands, gesticulating about something or other while Katie laughs and laughs, and all Bradley can see is Colin’s hands, his fingers, his slender throat, the shell of his ear. 

 

 


His beautiful, long fingers, like those of a pianist. He imagines them spread wide over claviature and it’s kind of electrifying when his mind takes the leap and produces a startling visual of naked pianist Colin, and then Bradley’s closing his eyes very, very tightly before he can see that whole picture, just as he realises Colin’s telling a joke.

“—and the doctor says, ‘Sir, you really must stop masturbating,’ and the guy’s like, ‘What? Why?’”

Angel’s not even waiting for the punchline, braying her fantastic, carefree laugh- the one she unleashes when she's completely at ease.

“Because I’m trying to examine you,” Colin finishes with a straight face, and everyone’s laughing now, but all Bradley can see is what Colin’s long fingers might look like tightening around himself and then he’s hurtling out to the loo to breathe, breathe.

***

Minutes later, he opens the door to Katie’s concerned face, but it’s Colin he sees beyond her, shooting him an unreadable glance from the depths of the dimly lit room.

“‘S okay, just tired. Long day,” Bradley says sheepishly, quite happy for them all to gather their things and exchange hugs, filing out into their own rooms to leave him to sort our his errant brain.

When it’s all silent, he looks up, and Colin’s still there. He hasn’t left.

They look at each other for what feels like hours, and Bradley knows something’s there, he’s not imagining it. Can’t be.

“You don’t laugh at my jokes anymore,” Colin says quietly, seriously, like it might be true. Like Bradley doesn’t hang on every single word Colin says.

It’s so ridiculous that Bradley snorts, breaking the paralysing spell. He steps in closer, and normally it would be okay, it would just be them, a manly half-hug or a pat on the back.

But Bradley’s resistance is weak tonight and he's not quite sure how to even begin to explain what's happening to him. He's helplessly drawn to look at Colin’s lips, which are kind of moist like he's just licked them, and very slightly open, though there are no words coming out and—

Bradley closes the distance before he’s even aware of it, before he can second guess himself. Suddenly his breath comes fast like he’s climbed all the stairs to Pierrefonds tower, and he’s paused so close, so very close, letting himself panic about mistakes and friendships wagered and lost.

It’s Colin who finds Bradley’s mouth in the end, before it becomes tense and awkward. Colin, who doesn’t hesitate, pressing in hard and sure with his whole body like there was never any doubt, chest to chest so it’s hard and warm and close. Bradley’s mind flatlines, devoid of anything but Colin’s gorgeous, ridiculous mouth and the press of his surprisingly solid body, hot everywhere they touch.

Oh God, Bradley thinks, even as his heart thunders in his ears and he fills his lungs with Colin’s warm scent while they kiss and kiss like there’s nothing else, their fingers fitting together with the precision of interlocking parts. Somewhere in the very back of his mind, there's a fleeting thought of, I'll keep your hands warm now. You won't need gloves.

Bradley smiles through the kiss- he can't help it. He smiles until his cheeks hurt and then Colin's smiling too, till it's all teeth and laughter and handfuls of hair and warm skin.

It’s perfect.

And when they're breathless and grinning at each other like dorks, lips tingling and hands shaking with this new thing they've discovered, it's even more perfect to collapse on Bradley's bed to make out some more.

Eventually, when they're just blissed with nearness, Bradley can't stop touching Colin's hands, his fingers, the bones of wrists and elbows. He wants to touch everything, but there is time now. They have time, he knows, as he listens to the steady thrum of Colin's heart.

So they fold into bed together and settle in to watch a rerun of Hush, even though Bradley has never bloody liked Riley, and The Gentlemen creep him the fuck out.

It feels like them.

Like it's still them, just Colin and Bradley, and nothing's really changed except there's this huge, unspoken promise of more between them, electrifying his whole body. That, and Colin's cool fingers scratching the hair at his nape is definitely new, and might just make Bradley purr like a cat.

***

Fin

 

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