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These Yellow Sands

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from The Tempest, modern text

Ariel's Song:
Come onto these yellow sands,
And we’ll join hands,
When you’ve curtsied and kissed
The waves into silence.
Prance lightly here and there,
And the sweet spirits bear
The burden.

~|~

“I’m kind of surprised they never installed seating in the yard, you know,” Bradley says, thinking about the public face of The Globe, the one the audience sees. “I mean, I’m all for authenticity but you’d think if there was ever a good reason for plastic chairs, watching hours of theatre would be it.”

“I think there’s a really simple reason for that,” Colin mutters beside him, talking out the side of his mouth while make-up’s applied to his face, the result eerily reminiscent of talking to someone who’s been botoxed within an inch of their life.

“I know, I know. Suppose it’s to keep the look of it genuine and vintage,” Bradley says, watching Colin’s new face come together under brush and pencil.

“Oh no, nothin’ like that.” Colin twists in his chair a little, shooting Bradley a sideways glance and earning a sigh from Sally, the long-suffering make-up lady. “It’s to keep the plebs awake through Troilus and Cressida.

Bradley snorts. “There’s a losing battle if I’ve ever heard one. Maybe they just sleep standing up.”

“Yeah. It starts out as a way to get some culture but pretty soon it’s all about just catching up on some sleep.” He tilts his head minutely, cogs visibly turning in his head. ”Never thought, but maybe you can absorb Shakespeare by osmosis. Like, just, standing in the yard. It gets in you even when you’re sleeping.”

Bradley nods grimly. “Like Donald Sutherland.”

Colin’s eyebrows climb. “Wow, that’s. Um. Don’t know what they’re teaching you over there but I never heard of him being a raging somnophiliac.”

“The pod, Cols, keep up. I meant the body-snatching pod, not the actual— Anyway. However it gets in you, by osmosis or just good old possession, it’s obvious that the spirit of Shakespeare compels them.” Bradley keeps his face straight as anything and Colin snickers, shoulders shaking against the chair he’s reclining in, getting another frustrated tut from Sally.

Suitably chastised, they fall silent. Bradley looks around the dressing room, taking in the inner sanctum of the modern section, the place not seen even on special tours. The room’s pretty cramped, and all around there are actors in varying states of readiness for their performance. It’s like being inside The Globe’s beating heart, thrumming and vital as people rush like blood all around it, down the stairs and out to the theatre part, then back again.

Bradley follows the sweep of brushes over pale eyelids, free to look at Colin while his eyes are closed, while he’s trapped in between leaving himself behind and putting on the new skin. It’s startling how Colin’s already half stepped into the role, only a foot still himself and the rest of him already sprite. Bradley’s fascinated; Merlin’s look hadn’t been a far cry from Colin, but this is different. Above his immaculately made-up face though, the hair looks like a mess of springy black fluff. Bradley grins.

“Your hair, Cols. The term is, I believe, a shock. A shock of hair. It’s the first time the expression has made sense to me. I finally understand it.”

“Was told to grow it out. It was a real hardship, too.”

Bradley smiles, thinking it was probably the very opposite, seeing as Colin had had to keep it so short for years.

“God, couldn’t wait to cut mine when we wrapped.” He watches Sally’s product-slicked hands style Colin’s black hair, sweeping it off his face and back into a quiff which has no right suiting him but really does. “Don’t think I told you, Mum came to see you a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yeah?” Colin’s happy grin is frankly a bit weird, coming at Bradley sideways from his almost immobile face, and immediately Bradley time-trips right back to those ridiculously early calls when they’d both be half asleep in adjacent make-up chairs, grunting at each other in the pre-dawn speak that had always made Tony grin indulgently. Bradley had had this sense that it would never end, always living in the moment, in the take, in the scene.

There was a time when he’d never wanted it to end.

Bradley nods. “Said you looked very nice in your feathers and your gold pompadour.”

“Jealousy’s such an ugly emotion,” Colin says, smirking and relaxed, legs crossed at the ankles. Not for the first time Bradley’s stomach warms at the stretch of him, the colt legs, the sinewy arms.

Colin’s eyelashes flutter minutely under the onslaught of pink, and Bradley smiles, inexplicably fond. He didn’t get to see this part of the prep the last time he was here for the opening of the play. He never came backstage that night, not wanting to spoil Colin’s focus with his unexpected arrival. They’d not seen each other in months and Bradley hadn’t wanted to make it about him being back in London. So he’d watched quietly along with the rest of the crowd, getting the full effect of Colin’s entrance halfway through the second act, gasping along with everyone else at the outrageous turns of his costume as he gallivanted around the stage.

“Oh no, no really. Said you were the prettiest of all the ladies.”

“’S ‘cause she hasn’t seen you go all out yet.”

“And she never will.”

“Make a very pretty girl, you.”

“Course I would, look at me. But I wouldn’t steal your thunder, it wouldn’t be right.” But this is right, Bradley thinks. This is right and he’s bloody well missed it.

“You couldn’t find my thunder, let alone steal it,” Colin says, and his mouth doesn’t so much as—

“How are you even speaking? Are you a ventriloquist?”

“Yes. It’s one of my new skills. That and spawning zombies in Minecraft.”

“Why would you want to—what?”

“Gotta get rid of my excess villagers somehow.”

Bradley slowly blinks. “I have no idea what you just said.”

“Didn’t say anything. Must’ve been the dummy.”

Bradley laughs and laughs, catching Sally ducking her face to hide a big grin.

 

~|~

“Sure you don’t want me to find you a spot in one of the galleries? Bit boring in here all by yourself,” Colin says a little later, finally done in make-up and looking the part of someone’s ethereal spirit animal. Most of the others have already left, and Colin’s waiting for his call. The dressing room’s a lot quieter now that most of its occupants are gone, and Bradley takes a moment to try and identify the feeling in his chest. The air tastes like it’s charged, and it’s probably Colin’s anticipation rubbing off on him, the thrill of going on stage which never gets old, no matter how many times one does it.

“You go on and prance about and I’ll stay right here. Plan on getting closely acquainted with that very cosy looking couch.” Bradley fake-yawns for effect, scratching at his chest.

Colin’s lip quirks. “Don’t fall asleep on it, though.”

“Are you afraid I might drool on it?”

“Oh, it’s not that. ‘S dangerous.” Colin stretches his arms good and long above his head, muscles flexing beneath, making the plasticky tassels on his costume ripple like porcupine quills. Bradley follows the movement, thoughts melting around Colin using all that honed muscle to propel himself around the stage like a feathered Tarzan.

He looks up and Colin’s watching him, obviously waiting for his reply, which is several awkward seconds too late. Bradley clears his throat, clutching at the thread of conversation.

“Oh? So comfortable I’ll never want to get up?”

“It’s only comfy looking.

“Ah. Dangerous in the deceive-you-to-enter-its-domain-and-reshape-your-spine-into-a-pretzel kind of way, then.”

Colin shakes his head with a devious little tip-up of the chin the way he does when he’s being a cheeky shit, and Bradley’s mind stutters and skips so somehow it feels like he’d never left England. “It’ll actually eat you.”

“Is it a killer couch, then?”

“Only out of necessity.”

“It’s compelled to kill? Is it hiding serial killer tendencies beneath its upholstered facade?”

Bradley can’t help smiling when Colin starts bouncing on his toes, the little plastic feathers flapping around. It’s so familiar, but absurdly it underlines that time’s passed for them both and they’re not in Camelot anymore. It feels like decades.

“It’s just hungry,” Colin says, voice bouncing a little along with the rest of him, and he’s either not noticed Bradley’s mood shift, or he’s ignoring it.

“Is it going to absorb me like the hedge in Goblet of Fire? Will I become couch fodder?”

“Don’t talk about it like it’s not here. Gets upset.”

“Does it eat just anyone, or does it discriminate? Does it only eat blonds? Or is it performing a public service like Hannibal and eating the rude?” Bradley turns away to ease the band around his chest, strolls over to the couch, looking it over distrustfully.

Colin’s shoes squeak a little as he jumps. “Needs meat. Don’t think it likes skin and bones.”

“Well it’s no wonder you’ve survived this long, then.” He looks away while Colin stretches his legs.

“Oh, I’ve dodged the bullet a couple of times. There was this one time I tripped over someone’s feet and went over in a bit of a tangle, ended up falling on the couch sort of arse-first and I think it tried for a nibble, but that must’ve been eye opening because it’s left me well alone since.”

Laugh startled out of him, Bradley throws his head back, helplessly sucked into the visual of the couch chewing on Colin’s tiny arse and giving up in disgust. He hasn’t been this interested in a conversation about nothing for a long time. There’s been nobody to have one with.

Colin’s stage call finally comes yelled through from outside the door, and they sober up, rearranging their faces into something less private. Colin’s breath is a little faster than before, his cheeks a little flushed, even under the pale make-up. The way his body fills a space is different now. More intense than the ambling lope Bradley had gotten used to with Merlin walking beside him every day. He almost doesn’t recognise Colin, and it’s up in the air whether it’s the role that makes him different, or if it’s the distancing they’ve gone through in recent months after being together almost every single day for years. Bradley hates it.

“You’ll be all right then?” Colin says, impish around the eyes, but sharp. Really looking. Bradley’s hands twitch at the scrutiny, and he stops himself from crossing his arms. Colin tips his head sideways, considering. “Manage all on your lonesome?”

“God’s sake, just go be brilliant and leave me alone so I can start going through your things in peace.”

It’s Colin’s turn to laugh, and he does, giving Bradley a look that says, I know you’re not even kidding but it’s your own funeral over his shoulder as he walks out to go be Ariel.

Bradley stands there for a moment, listening to the sounds of Colin’s receding footsteps, until all he can hear is the distant echoes of theatre voices and the clap of sudden quiet in his own head.

 

~|~

There is definitely something off about the couch. Bradley’s behind is on its way to meet what should be cushioned comfort when there’s a moment of wow, this seems to be taking a bit too long, and then it’s much like sitting in his mum’s old Mini Cooper with his knees around his ears.

Colin’s garish orange eyesore of a rucksack’s right there within arms’ reach and Bradley grabs it without a second thought, settles it in his lap, fingers immediately diving in and fishing out Colin’s iPod, already looking forward to shaking his head over it and tutting. He’s long suspected Colin of planting things in there especially to disturb him.

He listens for a little while, flicking from song to song, which sort of feels like he’s getting the measure of Colin’s mood, the things he’s feeling and thinking lately. It’s weird in there like it’s always been, but he likes it. It’s nice. There’s still music to stick your head in ovens by from Colin’s old favourites, but there’s also stuff Bradley would never hear otherwise, and he’s always loved that about Colin’s iPod. About Colin.

Sinking into the backrest of the killer couch with Colin’s enormous earphones on, he happens upon a couple of tracks he really likes the feel of, and then there’s a song about living in salt and Colin might be in the same building and they’re having dinner at his later, but the lack of him right here and right now punches Bradley square in the gut like a fist.

Without conscious thought, his hand’s back in Colin’s bag and when it comes out there’s a couple of crumpled t-shirts clutched in it. He recognises one of them, places it loose and comfortable over Colin’s bony shoulders in a memory from years ago, Colin answering that of course Merlin would win, Bradley made a really good point one time, Harry Potter needs a wand, and I don’t. It was the Barbican, and Colin had been wearing this faded, dark blue t-shirt paired with a stubbly face that made Bradley look twice for never having noticed it before.

Bradley can’t put it down. It’s a relic of ...something. He’s holding a piece of Colin in his hand. Before he even lifts it, before he presses it against his own face, he knows what it’ll smell like, would know the scent anywhere. He breathes in the tang of familiar aftershave with its light underpin of sweat, and heat crawls up the lattice of his ribs because Colin’s shoulders would fill this shirt in a different way now than he remembers—there’d still be the hard nubs of bony shoulders and there’d still be an angle of scrawny neck his palm fits neatly around, but Colin’s more solid now across the chest and shoulders; Bradley’s not blind. He should leave it alone, he knows. He should put it back in Colin’s rucksack and just—

Instead, he breathes in hard enough to make himself lightheaded, sucks the scent of Colin down into his lungs, makes room for it in his body and then quickly shoves the shirt inside the sleeve of his own jacket, screaming what are you doing at himself from the other side of his mind where it’s still functioning. He bundles the whole guilty parcel under his arm and walks out to find a spot in the audience because apparently he can’t be trusted by himself after all.

 

~|~

It’s not even two months later that he’s rushing back up the stairs to his rented LA apartment thinking about the possibility of an evening chill with a, “Just be a sec,” thrown over his shoulder to friends waiting on the sidewalk outside. He grabs a jacket out of the pile that’s never been properly unpacked and stops completely dead in the entry of the wardrobe, hand digging into a sleeve that’s way too thickly padded.

When he pushes his fingers in, they sink into a soft wad of cotton.

It’s overcast outside. He looks out the window almost expecting rain to be spitting on the glass, but it never rains here. He looks back to the bundle in his hands, passing the fabric between his fingers. There was a song once, he thinks, something about how you could miss someone even when they were right there. He didn’t really get it at the time.

He lingers there for a moment, and there's the tug of a memory on the edge of his mind, of a bowl of complimentary chocolates in some Green Room somewhere, he already with a handful of his favourites on the way to his mouth and Colin laughing around his own mouthful saying, ah, but if you don’t try the other ones how do you know which ones you really do want, instead of the ones you’re just used to having, which Bradley thought was rather stupid. He’s always known what he likes, but now as his fingers dig into the sleeve of his jacket, he’s not so sure Colin’s way hasn’t got something going for it.

He stows the glanced-on thought away as carefully as the jacket itself, folded into a neat bundle with a piece of Colin tucked safe inside, the whole parcel shoved gently down and out of sight.

 

~|~

Autumn’s turning before he finds himself barely unloaded from plane to cab to house to tube and in a familiar darkness again, face hidden under a cap and ensconced in the wings of another London theatre with Colin’s name wrapped in a neon garland. And though he hasn't stolen anything this time, he feels illicit anyway.

The air's sweaty with a nervous kind of energy all through the first twenty minutes as the audience begins to settle into the feel of it, into the relationship between the characters. He’s read about it, of course he has; happy and proud of Colin, he’s read the reviews and knows what to expect from the play but it still sends floods of heat rushing up into his face.

Colin, legs about a mile longer and more wiry than the coltish stilts Bradley remembers, electrifies him. The scene’s not really meant to be pretty or sexy, it’s actually downright awkward. Almost comedic, with the slightly loose rope and grunting and yelling. But Bradley’s eyes feel Clockwork Orange open, and there’s not two thoughts to rub together in his head as he watches Colin get almost-fucked up against a jukebox, and maybe seeing Colin in a sort-of sex scene has slapped him on a pale and sun-shy place a little harder than it has any right to.

He watches till the end, watches Skinny’s gradual, stunned death with a lump in his throat, half because he’s swallowing down pride at how awkward and confronting it is and half because it’s Colin bleeding out on the ground and it’s quite horrible, actually. It leaves him feeling scooped out and numb.

He hangs around after the end, gets down on one knee and pretends to tie his shoelaces for about fifteen minutes until the place clears a little, then takes off the cap and switches his face to shy so he can get into Harold Pinter’s innards, nodding at production people with a careful, studied modesty, hi, hi, yes hello, no, let’s not make a fuss, just here to congratulate Col— yes, thank you, I’ll just get out of your— no, it’s fine, I can find my way, all fine, yes—

And then there are shoulders above a long stretch of back and he’d know the shape of that body in a line-up anywhere, any time of day. Colin's with Ben, heads bent together, low and confiding, and he wants to go to them, to him, wants to say hello, but doesn't.

Instead, Bradley watches as another bloke approaches them, gives Ben a familiar squeeze around the bicep and sends a friendly greeting Colin’s way. Bradley’s nails are neatly pared but there’s still enough of them to emboss half moons into his palms as he watches the three of them getting ready to leave together. Colin’s looking dark under the eyes, and drawn, like he used to when they worked late to get a difficult scene just right. There had been times he couldn’t come neatly out of Merlin’s head, knocking around his hotel room well into the night with Bradley worrying at him through the wall.

He watches from a distance as Colin pulls a ridiculous pompom-topped cap down over hair that’s black-sleek like an otter after a deep dive, and Bradley’s left standing in an emptying hall, feeling like a right tool for flying in and turning up without a word and expecting Colin to sense him.

Back at his flat he crawls into bed with a tub of ice cream for dinner and reruns of SG-1 on the telly.

He’s well on the way to sinking comfortably into a chocolate coma when his eyes slide over the suitcase scrum, which he hasn’t so much unpacked as picked the eyes out of, and beyond it into the black maw of the open wardrobe. He tongues the cradle of the spoon until all he can taste is metal.

The leather parcel's in there somewhere along with its cottony Colin filling. He can feel it though he can’t see it, and much later when he’s finally under the covers in the dark with his dick in his hand, he comes hard, hit with an overwhelming feeling of something clicking into place in his mind, the idea of burying his nose in the soft, worn cotton. He lies shocked and panting afterwards, a lightbulb moment strobing for attention behind his eyelids.

When Bradley wakes after a few hours of fitful sleep, he’s disoriented, thinking Eoin’s home because there’s a sliver of light from the bathroom visible under his door. Eventually he remembers Eoin’s on the other side of the world busy tweeting ungrammatical social commentary, probably from the toilet.

Bradley studies the pattern of light and wonders if there’s a scientific name for the shape. Maybe if he just stares at it long enough, he’ll fall asleep through sheer boredom.

Twenty minutes later he finally throws back the covers and pads over to the wardrobe, the hems of his pyjama bottoms scuffing the floor.

All the ribbing they’d endured over the years: the hearts drawn on water bottles, the fond amusement of their colleagues and friends- all of it’s led them to Colin marrying his work and Bradley wondering what he wants to be when he grows up, weighted on one side and listing like he’s missing a fin, thinking, can’t be the only one to feel like this, surely other people do too, don’t they?

His breath shorts out on a memory of Colin in a chair beside him with a script open across his lap, an umbrella warding off the sun, the shade of it tinting him smurfy. “It’s gonna be one of those days, Bradley,” he’d said, meaning he was having trouble with Merlin being a git or they’d forgotten to stock up on the watery swill he drinks instead of milk like normal people. In his silent flat, Bradley leans against the doorjamb, winded.

When he finds the jacket, a tight little bundle stashed carefully away in the back of the sweet irony that is the closet, the hair on his arms prickles. Slowly, he reaches inside the sleeve and pulls out the lifted t-shirt, rubbing the faded cotton between his fingers.

Colin’s probably sleeping right now. He’d be so warm in sleep, body swaddled tight in a sausage roll made of the covers, a garnish of hair poking out the top in a black thatch.

He holds the shirt to his mouth, touching his lips to fabric worn soft with years of use and washing, of Colin’s body filling it, of his skin rubbing inside it.

Tentatively, he noses at it, letting the scent go to his head and his gut and his groin, settling into his bones with shocking ease and not nearly enough shame. He holds the shirt to his face with one hand while the other fits neatly around the tip of his dick that’s found the gape of his pyjama bottoms.

Open-handed, he rubs his palm over himself, thinking he ought to stop it now. Now. Really, very much now, Bradley, even as he happens upon a headier stab of scent that spears right through his body from nose to cock. He sucks in an abrupt lungful of air, realises he’s found an armhole and fuck it, fuckfuckfuck he’s so turned on he’s aching. He closes his fingers over his dick, half folding to the floor with how good it feels to give in.

Being bunched up and shoved away seems to have had the effect of vacuum-locking its scent. Colin’s shirt still smells like sweat, like his skin, and if Bradley just mashes his face in it for a moment, warms it up with his own breath and heat and inhales, that’s Colin right there. The lingering scent of Colin’s body is firing off a salvo in his synapses and damn. Damn. Bradley’s head falls back to thump against the wall, laughing, amazed and inexplicably sad.

He presses the shirt to his temple and slides his hand into the slit of his pyjamas, easing his dick out and spreading his legs so he can reach under his balls and get at himself properly.

This time he comes with Colin’s shirt wadded between shoulder the cheek, with the tips of two fingers in his arse and his spine trying to melt into the wall, almost sobbing with relief at finally, finally identifying the pressure that's been sitting heavy as a lump of coal beneath his diaphragm.

When it's over he goes back to bed and lies with his eyes wide open, staring at nothing, the euphoria of having solved a puzzle replaced by despair at the impossible, futile stupidity of it all.

When he calls Colin two days later, he doesn’t contradict the assumption that he’s only just arrived back home and sure, dinner would be great, yeah, it’s been ages.

 

~|~

They’re well into their fourth beers, most of Colin’s crockery is wearing a film of mint chutney and all that’s left of the curry is congealed globs clinging to the corners of the plastic containers when Bradley’s control really starts slipping. There have been moments over the years when the barrier seemed to be really thin and Bradley had almost fallen through it, but nothing like this. It’s one thing to stumble over a too-longish look at someone’s mouth and get a bit hung up on the pink of it, and on the fascinating shapes it makes, but another thing altogether to look at that same mouth and want to fucking devour it and fill it in turns, not sure which first or maybe just all at once.

Two hours ago he had a stupid urge to brush the flop of black hair away from Colin’s eyes and now he can’t stop turning it over and over in his mind, overthinking it so hard that his head pounds. If he’d just done if offhandedly at the time, it would have been almost nothing, just fingers and hair and a fond gesture. Instead, it’s turned into an elephant which will trample him if he lifts his hand to Colin’s face. Next, he’ll be lighting a votive at the graveside of their friendship, where the tombstone will say Death By Overstepping. It’s ridiculous. Bradley is ridiculous.

He watches Colin laughing, flicking the free-range mop out of his eyes and it suddenly dawns on him that he could live and die by that smiling face every single day for the rest of his life and never be bored. It’d always be like the hair, new but still so stupidly, completely Colin and shit, that’s a bit much.

Suddenly it’s not fun to be lounging on Colin’s couch and talking about everything and nothing. He sits up straight, starting to feel a bit sick.

Colin looks up at him from his cushion nest on the floor where he’s leaning up against the couch, braced elbows and all-the-way-to-Sunday legs splayed carelessly across the floor. There’s a tiny speck of korma smeared into the crease of his cheek, disappearing into a dimple, and Bradley wonders how it’d go down if he just said look, this might sound strange but I’m compelled to lick your face and maybe the rest of you too so just lie back and think of whatever it is you like to think of and I’ll try to not soil you too much with my depravity but I can’t promise both of us are getting out of here with their dignity intact. No, but for serious.

“You alright?” Colin asks, and Bradley opens and closes his mouth a couple of times because nothing good can come of him speaking right now.

Colin looks at him for a long moment, speculative and unflinching, lips rubbing together like he’s savouring the last of the flavour on them, and Bradley will likely trip on this moment for years, coming across it unsuspecting, injected randomly between other thoughts for no reason at all except to rise up and thwap him in the face.

It’s raining cats and dogs outside, almost a torrential downpour. Water sluices noisily down the brick and the street lamps outside wear diffused halos; the ones further out in the park look like floating globes. Bradley’s never felt trapped at Colin’s flat before, but it’s undeniably the sensation he’s experiencing now.

The TV blares with a sudden peal of laughter, and Colin’s attention is drawn away for only a moment, but it’s just enough. The lights are too bright, the beer buzz too shallow, and Bradley can’t even remember what the fuck they’re supposed to be watching, because he’s been paying attention to a different show all night.

“ —Can’t tell me that’s not rigged,” Colin says, gesticulating about something or other, sleeves of his jumper rolled up to the elbows. They’re the same arms but Bradley’s eyes must be wired to his brain differently now because they’re seeing muscle roiling under the same skin and translating that to something he apparently very much likes the look of. Evidently, while Bradley’s been busy making a clean break from Arthur, Colin’s body had broadened, his arms had stopped looking like jointed twigs and got all this hard, lean cord on them, and—

“Think the park’s turning into a swamp out there,” he says, blinking Colin out from under his eyelids.

Colin hums, flips his head back to look out the window, dragging a hand through his hair and finger-combing through the thick black of it. The slight disturbance is enough to send the scent of his shampoo into the air between them and straight to Bradley’s gut, pulling, pulling inside like it’s being threaded all the way through his belly button to his balls with yarn that’s the colour of a stolen t-shirt, defiled now and not returnable.

“Would hate to be out in it,” Colin says absently. “Crash here, if you want.”

Jesus Christ, Bradley has lost his fucking mind and as much as he’d like to blame it on copious amounts of lager, it’s clear that the root of the problem is his inability to look at Colin for fear of saying something monumentally stupid.

Colin lifts his Corona with loosely looped fingers, and Bradley’s attention skewers down to red lips shaped to a pouty suck, and he has to forcibly remind himself that- something. Or other. It had seemed really important. He closes his eyes, squeezes them shut.

He gives it a moment before opening them again, intending to say something about the show to derail his mind from where it’s stuck and circling on a dangerous track, but what comes out instead is, “Pretty tight with young Whishaw, then?”

And what. The hell. But it’s too late, the words are out and they’re flapping around making a great big noise, and Colin’s head slowly pivots around to look at him from under that ludicrous fringe. Bradley pans around at the empty beer bottles, starts counting down from ten and yeah, this whole night was a baaaaad idea.

“What are you on about, then,” Colin says, and when Bradley looks back he’s caught in the sights of eyes bright and pin sharp.

“Nothing. Just. Came to see the show a couple of nights ago and missed you afterwards. Saw you leaving.”

“Did you now,” Colin says, face turned into his own shoulder, roses high on his cheeks.

Bradley hums for lack of an answer, but maybe that’s answer enough for Colin.

“Lovely people, Ben and his man,” Colin says, and Bradley’s body flash-burns all over. He wants so much to ask, to know for sure. He needs to.

He does not ask.

Colin’s red-cheeked when he turns back to the telly, and Bradley's not imagining the secret little smile; he can't be so drunk as to miss that. In fact, suddenly he's hardly drunk at all. He's painfully, grippingly sober.

"How lovely?" He asks, eyes focused on the bright pink curve of Colin's ear. The words come easier when Colin’s not looking directly at him, though they close his throat up like breathing ash.

Colin scoots back against the couch and sits up, deliberate and contained, cross-legged on the floor.

"Very lovely." He looks back at Bradley with smiling eyes, naughty beneath that flop of hair, and it's an expression Bradley knows well, but wants to know even better.

"Sometimes they have me for dinner at theirs." His voice is so quiet Bradley hardly hears it over the roar inside his head.

His throat clicks as he swallows. “Do they.”

Colin grins, looks away with a slant of head that Bradley used to think of as coy; an impression he was disavowed of not long into filming season one when he finally developed the ability to actually understand the words coming out of Colin’s mouth.

Colin’s eyes come back first, sliding over Bradley by degrees; first his outstretched legs where he lingers on the knees until Bradley’s fighting an overwhelming urge to fidget and then up and up over his body until their eyes meet. The rest of Colin follows till he’s facing Bradley again, riveting him to the couch with his completely focused gaze, screwing his belly into a hot, hard knot. The noise of TV and rain fade to insignificance. The moment stretches and sticks.

“Just dinner?”

“To start with.” Colin’s chin tilts up in silent challenge. A droplet of sweat rolls down the groove of Bradley’s back. He can’t look away, panic inching cold fingers up his neck, thinking he’s more anxious right now than during any audition he’s ever attended. He takes a punt at breaking the tension.

“Pics or it didn’t happen, Cols, you know that.”

Colin side-eyes his MacBook which sits gleaming on his desk. When he looks back to Bradley, it’s with a slow dip of lashes and a sort of nervous flick of tongue over his lip.

Bradley’s jaw drops. “No,” he manages, heart climbing into his throat. “No way. No.”

There’s a loaded moment where Colin doesn’t laugh and call him a berk, doesn’t deny it, doesn’t so much as twitch an eye, and Bradley’s eyes must be saucers. “Fuck. Are you—Really?”

Colin's looking at him with a reserved little smile like they can still back out of this and they'll be fine, they'll be okay, and Bradley means to say, AHAHA got me, good one, Morgan, but what comes out is, "Can I see?"

Bradley senses the precipice they’re standing on, Colin’s light voice belying the tension Bradley can sense in the coil of his body. “You sure?”

Bradley raises his eyebrow in challenge; he gets a quirked lip in return, though no, of course he’s not fucking sure, not now, maybe not ever. But before he can even process the noise in his head, Colin's back with his MacBook, setting it down on the floor and opening it to a desktop that's a standard Apple nighttime-over-rolling-desert-dunes shot. Bradley huffs a nervous laugh with how perfectly Colin it is not to delve into the guts of technology to change the background to something personal. Then he remembers what he thinks they’re about to look at and the laughter dies a sudden, choked off death.

Colin's fingers skip through menus, pause at one that's named Mobile bills 2011 and then he gives Bradley a last look over, bottom lip sucked in, considering. He sinks his teeth in a little, enough to make a bloodless dent in the plumpness, and Bradley's riveted there, eyes to lips, his own mouth dry as tinder.

“So tell me this is daft.”

“It’s daft, Cols.” Somewhat disconnected, Bradley’s brain lodges an unsuccessful attempt at tearing his eyes away from the fascinating groove in Colin’s bottom lip.

“It’s a bad idea, something so private and all.”

“The worst you’ve ever had.”

“Say you don’t want to.”

The pelting of rain against glass eases a little and they both stop breathing long enough for the air to simmer to gravy.

Colin doesn't look away from Bradley's face while his finger double-clicks and Bradley's breath catches, eyes sliding to the computer as a window jumps to life.

His brain takes a moment to adjust to what it's looking at—a confirmation that no, he hasn't misunderstood what Colin was inferring—and lets in a snippet of knees and splayed fingers and a bed dressed in green. He closes his eyes. Breathes deep. Opens them again, ready this time. Well, readier.

It's not like the internet porn he's used to seeing, and a thought flits through that maybe he's been watching the wrong kind, and if he’d just kept clicking and following random links, he’d have stumbled on something real like this eventually. It's soft and sweet and though a moment ago he’d have bet his carefully cultivated investment fund against the odds of Colin Morgan ever appearing in a skin flick—and therefore not actually formed any expectations of what it might be like—this is really not what he’d have expected.

Colin, completely starkers—it must be him though his head's out of shot in what feels like deliberate framing—leans back against a headboard in a comfortable sprawl, hands loose on his own thighs. His knees are drawn up, a dark curly head moving softly in between, unmistakably Ben's.

Ben’s hands gentle the underside of Video Colin's legs as he kneels between them, and Bradley wants to see everything and nothing at the same time. There's a blockage in his chest where air should be getting through.

Beside him, Colin's propping up the couch stiff as a board, waiting. Breathing.

"God," Bradley chokes out, and nope. Nope. He can't look away so it's going to have to be everything. Clearing his throat with a little cough, he slides forward and slowly, slowly lowers himself to the ground to lean against the couch beside Colin, and that might be a really big mistake but he’s here now and he can’t go back up.

The rain’s so loud outside, it’s like a thrum of white noise, blanketing everything, even the noise of the TV as Video Colin’s legs inch open. Bradley’s eyeballs are too dry. Colin’s so close he can feel the hair on his arms chasing the sensation of proximity. Bradley’s so still and tense his whole body feels like it’s hovering, repelled by sheer surface tension from all surrounding objects.

His groin gives a deep twitch and he imagines he can feel Colin’s eyes drop to follow the moment. He can’t check. He can’t turn away from the video, can’t acknowledge it. This is the moment. This is it, Bradley thinks, thoughts tinged with panic. If it's a joke, he needs to be laughing right now, right this second, take a big emotional step backwards and pat Colin on the back for being a fucking pornstar. Stop burning a hole in the monitor where there’s a face. In Video Colin’s lap, for god’s sake. Either that, or—

Bradley clears his throat, reaches out, not sure where his hand's going right up until the moment that it touches the MacBook, turns it slightly to cut the yellow glare from the lamp.

He has to look at Colin.

He can’t look at Colin.

On the screen, Video Colin's knee gives a little, and what Bradley thought must be Ben giving him head turns out to be more of a nuzzle near his package where it hangs heavy and barely chubbed between his legs, and Ben's ebb and flow is actually caused by the attention he's getting at the other end of the bed.

"Is that—" Bradley says, sucking in a sharp breath.

"'S Ben's husband, yeah."

"Right." And then, clutching at it because the silence stretches so fucking loud, “What’s his name?”

“Oh. Mark.”

In the video, Ben slips an open-mouthed, sliding kiss onto Colin's thigh, face driven right into the crease of it by momentum from behind where Mark is seeing to his arse, and Video Colin's cock visibly stirs. Bradley’s eyes feel like someone else’s.

"Wow, Col. That’s."

"Yeah."

Beside him, Colin's close, really close, and sure, he's known about Colin's sexuality forever but it's one thing to know, and another to see. An involuntary shudder rolls his stomach up like it’s trying to crawl out of his body.

“When did this...?”

“We were still in rehearsals,” Colin says softly.

Maybe if he just keeps talking. “So how did this come about? I mean, how exactly does one end up in a. Uh,” he says, waving his hand at the monitor just as Video Colin eases his knees really open, making more room for Ben between them. His balls are furry. They’re hanging relaxed and heavy with his dick starting to fill and lift away with little pulses and fuck, he thinks. Fuck everything, as Ben’s hand closes around Video Colin’s cock, kneading at it, pulling, the ghost of it echoing inside Bradley’s pants as his balls draw up in sympathy at the caress.

There’s a quiet murmur from the back of his mind, like ’s Colin’s little iPhone stand they’re using, maybe like that’s somehow vital information and then even that part fizzes and blanks as the action amps up, the gentle coaxing becoming tight, milking pulls as Ben works out the angle and pulls with intent until Colin’s really got it up for him.

Out of shot, Video Colin sighs a breathy little, “Yeah,” and Bradley’s dick finds itself in a very tight spot, bent at a weird angle with the way he’s sitting, and he considers moving before it starts to fold in half but can’t without drawing attention.

In the video, the treatment Ben’s getting at the hands of his husband is making him vocal and it’s the most voyeuristic Bradley’s ever felt. A little foil packet glints in Ben’s hand, and for some reason it’s this practical little detail that makes Bradley’s heart ka-thunk at three times its usual force, the pulse reverberating thickly up in his throat.

Colin’s cock curls into the body with a curve that’s almost a flourish, Bradley notes. Still growing by the looks of it, and dark with blood on the backdrop of Video Colin’s lily white Irish thighs. It’s a nice cock, too. A nice big cock for such a skinny boy. Bradley hears the wet click of his mouth parting only after it’s too late to stop it.

Ben tears the little packet open between fingers and teeth. For a minute everything but the noise in Bradley’s mind stops while Ben pinches the latex nipple between thumb and forefinger, looks up to where Video Colin’s face would be and must get the nod because he starts fitting the condom to the pinking head of the dick in front of his face and deftly unrolling it over the shaft.

An absurd mixture of pride and awe rises up to be acknowledged as Bradley lets go of preconceptions he didn’t even realise he had: that Colin’s a bit of a shy, lone wolf, and that he’s as awkwardly virginal as. Well. As Merlin.

As Video Colin’s fingers close around his own latex-covered dick and competently massage up and down, he thinks, he does this every day, does Colin, has a wank every single day. Bradley can’t believe he’s only just realised Colin is probably exactly the same as he is himself, as all blokes probably are, rubbing one out whenever the opportunity presents itself, very intimately acquainted with his own cock. He’d just never thought about it. Never imagined it. He’s going to be doing plenty of imagining from now on, though.

And then Video Colin coaxes Ben’s mouth open with a gentle thumb, murmuring something out of frame. Ben smiles happily and Bradley’s insides jolt as he spits on the head of the latexed cock, then spreads the spit with his tongue until it’s glistening like a lolly. Bradley’s eyeballs feel swollen, two sizes too big for his face.

A mumble of words and an indistinct groan of what might be assent is all the warning he gets before Ben’s body rocks forward, his mouth falling open on an exhale, the husband’s fingers leaving shiny smears of lube on his bony hips.

“Oh my god,” Bradley chokes out, just in time for Ben to mouth at the head of Video Colin’s dick, then part his lips and suck it in. His mouth is really stretched, opening wide around it. Blood pounds in Bradley’s groin in time with Video Colin’s soft, intimate little huffs, all of it in concert with the pace Ben’s husband is setting.

They watch in silence, and Bradley’s body hasn’t been this alert since he arrived early for fifth form History to be treated to a view of Mrs Anderson getting down on her hands and knees to find her fountain pen cap under her desk, launching young Bradley’s wanking marathon and sending him into an exploratory frenzy.

Near his cheek, there’s a sound of lips parting. Before Bradley’s quite finished processing the shiver which makes his spine want to undulate right out of his body, Colin’s whisper curls into his ear on a hot, humid breath.

“Are you drunk?” Colin leans closer like he’s telling a secret and Bradley’s heart’s going to pound right out of his chest.

He shakes his head, thinking maybe if he gets close enough, he can collect a whisper of skin on skin in the wake of the movement and it’ll still be accidental, just a tiny touch. And then they are touching. Colin scoots back a little more, his body a warm lick all along Bradley’s side until they’re sitting with their shoulders pressed together, watching homemade porn on Colin’s computer and Jesus Christ, that’s pretty far removed from anything Bradley’s imagination might have conjured up in the way of daily aspirations, when he first cracked open a bleary eye this morning.

“Say it.”

“Not even slightly tipsy, Col.”

They stay like that, shoulders pressed together for way too long to call it a joke now, to walk away without that spot tingling with the phantom of Colin’s body heat. It’s basically a given what’s about to happen, but not yet. Bradley doesn’t want the before to end.

Beside him, Colin’s hand is only inches away, clawed into the rug, and maybe he’s feeling the same delicious anticipation.

“If you don’t want this, now’s the time to say,” Colin says, eyes unflinching though his breath’s all shallow, head tilted like he can see Bradley’s thoughts more clearly this way.

Bradley huffs a small laugh, reaches out to the MacBook and closes its lid, chopping off the sound mid-groan. The noise from the TV is nothing to the overwhelming thud of his own heart as he turns his body to Colin’s, murmurs, “Watch the rest later,” and moves so slowly he can actually see the pupils of Colin’s eyes dilate as he leans in on an opposing tilt and brushes their lips together.

They press lightly for a moment like it’s just skin, and Bradley thinks, oh, maybe this wasn’t— but Colin opens his mouth to suck in a surprised little breath at the same time as his fingers find Bradley’s jaw, pads pressing in like he wants to feel the mechanics of it. Bradley opens into a kiss that’s less skin and more the layer of shock under it, spreading like a buzz through his body.

Colin’s mouth, the way he kisses, stuns Bradley at the hunger in it, the way Colin can’t seem to settle for one solid swap of lips, but instead kisses in little bursts, breath huffed through his nose like he can’t get enough from just one taste and has to try again and again to get it right.

Bradley’s arm begins to tingle and as he’s rearranging into less of a tangle, he has a burst of clarity that he’s not touching Colin when he could be, so he slides his arm under Colin, closes the other hand on the nearest thing which happens to be the ridge of a hip, bringing Colin closer in a sweep that’s like seeping into each other’s clothes. It’s wonderful; the smell of him screws Bradley’s guts in a brutal twist of want and it’s so much better up close, a concentrate of scent distilled by the heat of Colin’s body.

Gathering his hands up over Colin’s shoulders to his neck, Bradley thumbs over the roughness at Colin’s jaw, easing them both down a notch with a gesture that turns from desperate into something surprisingly tender. He tilts a little until they’re perfectly aligned and Colin’s sharp breaths skim his cheek at the moment their mouths really find each other.

There’s a raw and unfamiliar scrape of stubble over Bradley’s skin as they fit their mouths together properly, and it’s so brilliant he gasps, the shock of the new like standing on a ledge with his toes curling over it. Colin chooses the moment to venture the tip of his tongue in a slick slide, a fistful of Bradley’s shirt twisted in a bunch right about where his heart’s hammering its way out of his throat through the jugular.

Distant thunder cracks through the noise of the rain, and he might never hear a storm again without associating it with a deep and filthy meeting of tongues in the kind of kissing that’s as intense as fucking.

The kiss turns into another and another in a hot slip of tongues, Bradley’s hands wanting and finding the scruff at the nape of Colin’s neck, ploughing through it against the grain to where the thick of it hangs into Colin’s eyes, brushing both their noses. He scrunches his hand in it, pulling a little, and Colin groans, mouth falling open and lax enough that Bradley can nip at that obscene bottom lip, worrying it with a hint of teeth and tongue before working his way in with his whole mouth.

The foot of the couch digs into his back but he hardly feels it, dragging Colin in and in until he’s almost got a lapful, sprawled in a weird confection of lips and hard knees with Bradley jammed in amongst it as a buffer. They end up sliding flat to the floor and at some point someone’s elbow finds the remote control where they’ve rolled on top of it, changing the channel to an abrupt slap of news. Colin’s breathless laugh scuffs Bradley’s mouth as he feels around for the thing, disengaging from the kiss to grab it properly and switch off the set, leaving them in near darkness except the dim lamp nearby. Bradley watches the light dance on a thread of spit stretching between their mouths.

When their eyes meet, Colin’s are glossy and wild. He holds Bradley’s gaze as he comes in for a slow, wet kiss with a sound from the throat that’s so full of desire it curls wet and breathy around Bradley’s balls, bringing them to his body in a heady tightening of skin.

He hooks desperate fingers into Colin’s jumper and traipses across his cheek in a clumsy kiss to get to that smear of korma; it’s his now. Bradley can have it and so he does, licking Colin’s dimple clean, then kissing over to his ear, sucking on the lobe and flicking his tongue over it to feel Colin’s hips stutter helplessly by way of reply.

When he finally gets his hands under the jumper, it’s a revelation of unyielding flesh and hot skin. Bradley’s hands skirt over the ridges of bone, fitting over the wings of shoulder blades, climbing up and down the lattice of Colin’s ribs, noting with great interest the stretch of moving muscle pushing and pulling under the skin.

Colin fists Bradley’s shirt in his hands, pushes up into the embrace, shoulders flexing into his touch like he’s trying to get Bradley’s hands on him everywhere. Bradley just holds on for dear life, letting Colin paw and rub all over him, firm and solid against his chest with no cushioned softness to take the rawness out of it. Colin’s body doesn’t give- it pushes back just as hard and it’s frankly fucking amazing.

They’re the same—their bodies are made the same and it’s the strangest thing Bradley’s ever experienced and also the most galvanising.

“You can’t know how I’ve—” Colin gasps, tongue messy over Bradley’s skin. “God, Bradley, you— I’m— Shit,” he mumbles, nudging hard into Bradley’s neck, sucking at the tendon, pushing until Bradley, overwhelmed, turns his face away on a choked-off, “Fucking hell,” thinking, yes I really, really can, saving it for when there’s a lucid connection between his brain and mouth.

Colin’s shaky breaths break over his neck in waves of hot air, fluttering away half-formed, as though he’d started to speak but forgotten how. He shoves one hand up and up, collecting Bradley’s shirt till his palm scuffs a nipple, startling a moan out of him, and Colin abandons his throat in favour or clutching at his chest, clawed fingers catching on hair and a hot tongue curling around his nipple, sucking it into his mouth with such sloppy abandon that Bradley’s eyes roll back at the shock of want.

He gasps at the desperate trail of teeth and lips that Colin lays on the way down his torso in order to inch his hands to Bradley’s waist, fingers scrabbling, unzipping the wings of Bradley’s flies until there’s nothing but cotton boxers between his hands and the cock inside, and then not even that, as Colin coaxes the fabric down so it’s a bunched-up band around Bradley’s hips.

“Look at that,” Colin says, eyes at the spread of Bradley’s jeans where his cock’s so eager it’s connecting itself to his belly via a string of clear fluid. Bradley collects his wits enough to lean up on an elbow. Their eyes lock.

“Always knew. One day, I always thought,” Colin says and scratches blunt fingertips over Bradley’s chest hair, voice rough and lilting the way it used to back at the beginning.

“Thought what?” Bradley knows what. Wants to hear it all the same.

“Thought I’d have you’s what.” Colin gazes across the span of Bradley’s shoulders, at his arm straining to keep up his weight. Looks at where the reflection from the window’s making a show of raindrops rolling down his stomach as his hands toy with the zipper.

Bradley swallows roughly but his voice still sounds thick. “Have me, then.”

When Colin looks up, his eyes are intense and pained like Bradley’s said something irreversible. When he comes in for a desperate, rambling kiss, Bradley’s breath’s knocked out of him by the longing in it.

Between them they manage to ease off Bradley’s jeans and boxers, Colin scooting down until he’s resting his head on Bradley’s stomach, stopping to nuzzle a kiss at the birthmark below the jut of his ribs, going about it with unscripted tenderness, smoothing his mouth over it like it’s something he’d coveted.

He thinks for a moment that Colin will tease him, will nip or lick at him until Bradley goes insane, and isn’t prepared for Colin to kiss his cock just the same as he’s been kissing his mouth: deep and messy, with such uncontained relish that Bradley slides down to lie flat on his back with a groan of shocked pleasure.

Colin settles between his thighs, an arm thrown up over Bradley’s stomach, hand splayed over his ribs and Bradley reaches for it for something to hold onto and presses the tangle of their fingers to his chest.

The bulk of Colin sprawled across him keeps him tethered to the floor. He wants to see, needs to confirm the thrill of Colin’s mouth sucking him senseless but Colin’s sort of curled over his stomach, making Bradley feel like he’s a treat being hoarded and had and fuck if that doesn’t make it even better, hips trying to buck off the floor to get more of himself into the suck of Colin’s mouth.

It’s intense and a bit desperate and suddenly just so, wetness slipping down his balls where Colin’s got him lifted and cupped. It’s gloriously messy and he’s not being seduced with technique quite so much as being eaten whole, so when Colin lets go of his balls and curls his fingers around the base of his cock, he’s shocked at how knowing they are, and how confident. They start to work him with some purpose and he wants to tell Colin to ease off, wants to slow this down and savour it but absolutely can’t think of how to speak.

Colin makes a sound deep in his chest that’s like abandon, takes his hand on a detour down between his own legs and Bradley groans, head falling back to the floor again with a thump, their fingers sweaty and hot where they’re clasped to his chest.

When Colin’s hand returns to his cock and starts to really inch up and down in time with his mouth where his suck on Bradley’s cockhead is completely relentless, he’s done for, sliding his palm where it naturally seems to fit around the back of Colin’s neck.

Colin flexes back into his hand as though he really likes that and Bradley is gone, his hips lifting off the floor as he comes, fucking up into Colin’s mouth while his fingertips skim his jaw, broken, blissed pieces of oh god, oh my god fluttering out between breaths.

Colin keeps him in his mouth, just holds him there while he calms. When he looks up, he’s bright-eyed and wild and his mouth’s a mess, palming himself through his trousers.

“Come here,” Bradley says, and Colin goes, pushing himself up until he can throw a leg over Bradley’s hips, kneeling over him. He looks at Bradley lying spent and panting beneath him with a hunger that’s too much like being committed to memory and Bradley can’t stand it, doesn’t want it to be like that, doesn’t want to be catalogued away as something to be remembered in a bittersweet haze.

He fiddles with Colin’s fly but his fingers are clumsy and stupid and Colin huffs in frustrated amusement, going about doing it himself. He lowers his trousers just enough, pulling down the waistband of his pants, letting his cock slap up against his belly before fisting it, eyes closing and mouth falling open on the upstroke. Bradley gathers him in, wants him close, and there’s a little stutter in Colin’s movements when he curls a hand over Colin’s neck again which he bookmarks for later. Then they’re kissing, wet open mouths, Colin leaning over him with his weight on one arm.

Bradley reaches down to where Colin’s forearm flexes, follows it to skim over his hand, fingers jostled by the frantic movement. He’s not sure what to do with the angle being all wrong but Colin’s mouth goes lax when Bradley happens to touch his balls so he does it again, emulates what he likes himself. He fondles the skin and tugs a little, cupping and holding, just wanting to touch, to help Colin come. He splays his fingers around the sac, toying with the hair and tightens his hand on Colin’s neck, eating the moan right out of Colin’s mouth.

“I—can I, oh fuck, Bradley,” Colin mutters against his mouth and he thinks he knows what Colin wants, letting go of his balls and pulling up his own shirt instead. Colin groans, head falling to Bradley’s shoulder so he can look down between them and watch himself shoot come all over Bradley’s stomach and chest with a sound that’s almost a sob. He slumps into Bradley’s neck, then sinks sideways till they’re lying side by side on the floor, both of them boneless and shaking.

“Why didn’t we— god, Bradley,” Colin mutters between breaths. “Six fucking— six fucking years,” and then he laughs and laughs like he can’t stop, with his arm flung over his face.

Bradley attempts a smile but his lips aren’t particularly cooperative. He looks up at Colin’s ceiling and thinks something vaguely to the tune of maybe it wouldn’t have tasted this good if we had, and finds his fingers sloppy with the come on his chest, rubbing Colin into his skin.

Without really thinking, he lifts his hand to his face, flicks his tongue over a finger to sample it, curious. In the complete silence that follows, he realises Colin’s watching him, hoarse voice sort of disembodied as it filters out from under his arm. “Jesus.”

Bradley snorts, looking down at himself and he’d get a tissue but there’s already come on his shirt.

“Fuck it,” he says, wiping his hand on it. “Not trying hard enough, Cols. Just a tad higher and I’d be exempt from social interactions for a week on account of an eyepatch.”

He sits up, pulls his shirt up and off, hair following in a swish of static as he wipes down his chest. When he glances at Colin, he finds his eyes glinting black in the dark, lip wedged between his teeth. He shivers, and it’s not entirely from the chill of being naked.

“Borrow one of mine.”

“You mean another one,” Bradley mutters.

Colin’s eyebrows lift in a silent question, and Bradley huffs a great big sigh, going for put-upon, wondering how exactly to explain that he’s been sniffing Colin’s dirty laundry for months like an enormous perv. “Long story, which—”

“I have time.”

“—Which I can’t possibly be expected to recount under these conditions,” he says, his heart swelling to three times its normal size, watching the dimple in Colin’s cheek quiver. “Shower?”

Colin’s smile is blinding.

 

~|~

Of all the things he imagined sex with a man might be like, it’s the steady firmness of their bodies being so alike that’s really getting to Bradley, really turning him on. Colin’s breath is hot on his neck, lips moving slowly over the knobs of his spine. Bradley lets his head fall back, amazed at how good it feels to have Colin there, tall and solid behind him, made the same way.

Colin holds him like he could take the weight of him. It makes Bradley’s insides burn bright and hot.

He’s pliant in Colin’s hands as they soap him up, slippery and slow over his chest, his stomach, scratching lightly at the hair on his body, touching everywhere Colin’s been. He cups Bradley's soft cock and balls, not lingering so much as washing thoroughly, tugging at the foreskin, pulling it back to clean underneath and desire radiates from the base of Bradley’s belly because this is how Colin washes himself. His balls are lifted and passed between slippery, deft fingers, the weight of them fondled and massaged with such care, he closes his eyes and sighs, enjoying the touch for its own sake.

Spreading his legs a little, he splays a hand on the shower glass, feeling weighless and heavy at the same time. By the time Colin’s done, Bradley’s cock’s hanging heavy, still soft but growing fat in Colin’s hand, the massage of water tingling on his chest.

With a light brush of lips to his shoulder, Colin signals he’s moving and then his hands are at Bradley’s back, down over his hips, foaming soap into the cleft of his arse. Bradley drops his head to rest on his arm, astonished at how easy it is to trust Colin with his body this way, to know he’ll be cared for.

Colin’s mouth returns to nibble at his neck while his fingers slide in the soap up and down Bradley’s crack, washing there too. They pry gently, like Colin’s asking if he’s allowed. “Ever do this yourself?”

“Yeah,” he breathes into the meat of his arm, eyes fluttering shut at the gentle suggestion, the slow sweep over his hole.

“Yeah?” Colin says, forehead leaning on Bradley’s shoulder, and Bradley imagines what he’s seeing, his own soapy fingertip pushing ever so slightly at Bradley’s tight, carefully cleaned hole, just testing.

He pushes into the pressure, only a tiny adjustment of angle, enough to pull the tip of Colin’s finger inside, it sliding in on a soapy pass. They both groan.

“Fuck,” Colin whispers, mashing his forehead into Bradley’s back, making him smile and murmur some vague sounds of encouragement. The slow and rhythmic plugging, the first by another person’s finger, is so relentlessly delicious that something deep in his belly sparks, twisting in on itself. Colin bites lightly at his neck but it’s messy and unfocused, all his attention seemingly turned to watching his finger slowly fucking Bradley’s arse, mouthing crumpled breaths into his back.

They’re caught in some kind of time bubble that’s all about chasing their pleasure and Bradley thinks he could stay there forever, just like this, but Colin must have other ideas, creating space between them as he moves.

He inches his way down Bradley’s back, fanning hot air down his spine and goes to his knees, Bradley barely managing to keep breathing as he’s spread with Colin’s big hands, the rounds of his arse kneaded and gazed at. Hot blotches of embarrassment tingle up his chest but he holds still for Colin, allowing himself to be inspected.

He dips his face right into the hot spray for a distraction from the delicious shame of having Colin on his knees like that, the movement sending water coursing down the dip of his spine to his arsehole where it meets Colin’s mouth, the flurry of sensation absolutely setting Bradley on fire as he’s licked and licked, a broken moan clawing out of his chest. When he looks over his shoulder, Colin’s brows are knitted with concentration, a hand on his cock, working soap lather into himself, hard and red between his legs.

“Fuck,” is the best he can manage. He finds the tangle of Colin’s hair and scratches his fingers through it, not quite sure whether he means to pull or push, but then Colin’s up on his feet and molding himself to his back, the blunt stab of hot cock slipping behind Bradley’s balls, and Bradley’s brain crashes in a heap. Colin’s breath stutters into his hair as he fucks the soap between Bradley’s thighs into foam until they both dissolve.

 

~|~

Colin’s never been much of a cuddler, many a hug turning awkward and one-sided if he’s not fully expecting it, so Bradley’s not sure what he’s going to get when they finally fall into bed. It’s kind of lovely to end up on their sides facing each other, and when he plays with Colin’s fingers, he’s not told to piss off, which makes it kind of perfect.

A sliver of streetlight comes in through the window and catches Colin across the shoulder as he hugs his pillow.

“So, the video.”

Colin’s eyes are wary in the dark. “Yeah.”

“Do it often?”

“The video part, or…”

Bradley blinks. Logs it for later. “Let’s assume for the moment that I meant with them.”

“Ah. Only that once,” Colin says quietly, a grin playing at the corner of his mouth.

“Get weird afterwards?”

“Oh, no. They invited me to play for Ben’s birthday. We worked it all out beforehand and it’s been fine. Just, um. Think of me as an extra.”

“An extra.”

“Yeah. Or, I don’t know. A prop.”

“You’re telling me you were the stunt cock in Ben Whishaw’s homemade birthday porn.”

Colin looks at him for a moment like he’s hoping to snatch a witty reply out of thin air, but his mouth opens and closes on a couple of unsatisfactory responses before he gives up, burrowing face-first into the pillow. Bradley smiles, watching his shoulders shake.

What might be fucking stunt cock burbles out from the depths of the pillow, and Bradley starfishes over Colin’s back, mashing his face into warm skin between ear and shoulder. He licks the spread of heat that’s still clinging to Colin, incredulous that he could have lived his life without having this. Without ever realising.

He’s laughing when Colin bucks him off, both of them shoving at each other until they’re side by side again, shoulders touching, leftover chuckles ebbing away to nothing. Under the covers, Bradley finds Colin’s hand as they both stare at the ceiling, the quiet broken only by the rain.

Bradley’s just starting to feel exactly how comfortable Colin’s bed is when the words work themselves out. “So is that what you want this to be too? One time?”

“Well. I did think that, yeah,” Colin says contentedly and Bradley knows. He knows he shouldn’t have been so invested, already preparing to lock up that little safety deposit box inside that had presented itself in readiness. Despite his best efforts, Bradley feels himself bricking up whatever lapse of self preservation had allowed it to pop up in the first place.

“But then I realised that if it was just one time, I wouldn’t get to do the other things I always wanted.”

“What sort of things?” he asks, clearly fishing. Colin schools his features and Bradley’s pulse quickens.

“Long walks on the beach, holding hands. Matching clothes. Watching sunsets together. All of them.”

“I see. All the sunsets, check. Anything else?”

“Yes,” Colin says, flipping his hand so they’re palm to palm and slipping their fingers together. “Joint accounts. Let’s start with Twitter.”

Bradley throws his head back, laughing so hard he makes himself lightheaded. When he’s got himself under control again, Colin’s nudged his way into the nook between his arm and chest and his mouth’s moving lazily over Bradley’s neck, the tip of his nose drawing not-shapes at his jaw. “I also want to do other things.”

Bradley hums a question, the laughter still hiccupping under his breath, ready to be coaxed back out.

“I want to take my time with you,” Colin says with a voice that’s unexpectedly low and rough. “Want to be able to touch you any time I like.” His breath licks over Bradley’s ear as he presses the words into his jaw until Bradley’s not sure if he’s being sexy and close or trying to hide his face for a controlled level of embarrassment.

“Want to get my mouth full of your cock again to make it wet and then sit on it. Want you to let me have a little and tease me till I’m begging you to stuff me full. Want to come all over you. Want you to fuck me against walls and in toilets and on dancefloors. Want you to push my face into the bed and drill my arse through the mattress. Want to put my cock in your mouth, god Bradley, your mouth, I want it so bad, you have no idea. And I want to watch your face as you fuck mine, and all that’s just to start with. Now, don’t know about you but I’m not popping wood every time there’s so much as a stiff breeze anymore, so we’ll definitely be needing to work out some kind of game plan here, going forward.”

“Jesus Christ,” Bradley says, unequal to any task that’s more complex than blinking and breathing.

“Want to know what else?”

He swallows thickly. “Is there anything left?”

Colin smiles. “Want to kiss you in front of our friends.”

The laughter dies in his chest. “Eoin would have an aneurism.”

“Yeah, it’d be grand,” Colin says, fondly. “He’d be loaded after he’d called in all the bets though, so he’d probably be alright with having only half a frontal lobe left, and labels with his name sewn into all his clothes. Also, one more thing.”

“Just one?”

“Yeah but this one’s just. You know. It’s kind of the kicker, so.”

“Go on.”

“When I walk you to the door with the taxi waiting outside to see you off to the airport, I don’t want to think about if you’re coming back, only when.”

Their hands are sweaty, fingers loosely steepled together. Colin’s thumb rubs along Bradley’s until it tickles and he tightens the gaps, weaving their fingers together into a basket.

“Yeah, there’s no way we can cram all this in one day,” Bradley says. “We’re going to have to spread it out. But in essence, I agree.”

“Have you anything of your own to add to the list?”

“Yes.” He licks his lips, nods to himself as though he’s gathering his thoughts. “I want to see what other mobile bills you're hoarding in that folder on your laptop.”

“If you’re very good I’ll even show you what’s in the one called Plumbing Estimates.”

Bradley’s shoulders jerk with quiet laughter. He turns on his side and brings their twined hands up to his chest. In the dark, Colin closes his eyes. He smiles and Bradley leans in to feel it against his lips.

The rain beats the pavement outside in a loud and steady thrum, the slap of it on glass taking Bradley to a place that’s safe while the storm rages outside. He trips on it, really, but the thought won’t stop banging around in his mind: that he’s always felt like that when they’re together and it’s not at all about the location.

A small part of him kicks up a fuss around maybe this being too much too soon, but the rest of him’s a foghorn cutting through with a shout of it's been six years of courting, idiot, and really it feels much more like coming home than anything ever has before.

And Bradley loves coming home.

 

~Fin~