They leave the crew behind and jump on a bus heading away from town, because they can, because after months of living in one another's laps they'll all be glad for the time apart.
They don't discuss where they're going, they don't even possess a map, though perhaps they should have found one. Bradley shoulders a bag packed with hoodies, two pairs of jeans and clean underwear and Colin keeps some food, drink and the French for Dummies phrase book. They both have some Euros tucked away in plastic bags; they're ready for an adventure.
The sun is high in the sky as the bus rattles down a crumbly country lane, green fields on either side. Colin stares out of the window and trains his eyes to the far horizon where the trees of the forest stand in an uneven line, and Bradley takes his time flicking through the phrase book, lips moving silently as he says lines to himself. Colin finds himself dividing his attention between the view and the furrow between Bradley's brows and strange, warm excitement bubbles in his chest.
"Where shall we go first?" he asks, putting out a hand to stop the turning of pages.
Bradley looks up and rolls his eyes, snatching the book away. "Isn't the idea of this whole thing not to have a plan?"
Well, yes, Colin supposes it is.
Their first stop is a small village. Colin counted to three thousand in his head (it may have been more or less, he lost count five times) and they got off at the following stop. It's not the first tiny French village they've visited (after a while they all start to look the same) but in the name of adventure they go on, wend their way through the cobbled streets into the village proper until they reach the small row of shops. They're regarded with open curiosity, the locals not bothering to hide their interest and maybe a hint of suspicion. Bradley attempts to make conversation but they look increasingly unimpressed with his attempts at butchering their language and Colin has to pull him away, laughing.
It doesn't take long to make a complete tour around the place and barely an hour later they come around to where they started. Bradley complains of being hungry so they follow the path to the edges of the forest where they settle in the shade more out of habit than necessity, now. They have sandwiches and left-over cake from the wrap party; between the two of them they've managed to forget to pack napkins and they both end up sticky with sugar and icing. Colin wipes his hands on the ground, careful of his jeans, but Bradley just slides his fingers into his mouth and licks them clean, slowly, careless flashes of tongue and obscenity. Colin has to look away. He makes a joke about Bradley's manners and they end up tussling like children in the grass.
The rain takes them completely by surprise.
After lunch they decide to follow the forest path for a while. Bradley's happy, Colin can tell from the way he rushes ahead, climbing onto the branches he can reach. Colin follows at a more sedate pace, coming up to where Bradley's feet dangle at chest height. He puts a hand on top of one blue-and-black trainer.
"If you're not careful you'll break your neck, then this holiday will definitely be ruined."
Bradley laughs and wiggles his foot. "You'll just have to save me if I fall."
Colin has to snort at the cheesiness of it all.
They break the rules and talk about plans. Bradley wants to travel for a while, see the rest of Europe and maybe South America; he's heard it's beautiful this time of year and wants to see for himself. Colin hasn't made up his mind yet. He has two months before he needs to be in London for a production and so far he's just looking forward to sinking into his own bed and seeing a familiar view out of the window. He misses home in the abstract, lingering way one does when they've been away for so long they're not really sure of the details anymore. He can recall the stone pavements and curling streets, the warmth of his house, but he can't be sure of the colour of the lamp posts or the placements of shops in the high street. He'd like to take Bradley there at some point; merge the two parts of his life together to see if they'd fit. He'd like them to.
They're there for a while, Colin leaning against the tree trunk to lessen the strain in his neck from looking up, and they don't notice the sky darkening under the branch cover until they're suddenly drenched. Bradley shouts in surprise and slips off his perch, arms and legs flailing in free fall. Colin does, in fact, get to save him when he falls, darting forward and grabbing on to any parts he can reach.
"My hero," Bradley breathes from where they’re both sprawled, winded, against the soil, which is now rapidly turning into mud. His chest is heaving but he's laughing, so he can't have been hurt too badly. Colin elbows him in lieu of an I told you so and Bradley shoves at him, mouth open and the corners of his eyes crinkled. There’s rainwater dripping from his hair, flowing in rivulets down his cheeks and into his red, wet mouth. Colin props himself up onto one elbow and leans in close. Lost in the moment or just incredibly stupid, he waits. Bradley’s eyes open wide in surprise, but he doesn’t move away.
They stumble out from the tree line and the rain is even more heavy in the open. They’re mud-covered and shivering, carrying sodden, heavy bags that are probably beyond saving now. Bradley keeps a tight hold of Colin's hand, their fingers slipping, as they splash through puddles back to the village. There are still people around, prepared and armed with umbrellas and raincoats, and the suspicious looks give way to concealed smiles and even open laughter as they catch sight of Colin and Bradley. No doubt it's difficult to be threatening when one resembles a half-drowned forest animal.
Colin finds them the only hotel in the area--a small, two-storey house, homely and warm looking. They can't get many visitors around here. They attempt to communicate with the receptionist, carefully prying apart the soaked pages of their phrase book only to find the ink has run. She takes pity on them and speaks slowly, her English much better than their French, pointing out the prices helpfully illustrated on the board behind her and they half-guess, half-mime the rest.
They find a moment of awkwardness when deciding which rooms to take. Bradley suggests a single to save on the funds and then flushes red all the way down his neck. Colin ducks his head to hide his laugh but can't look away from the dark patch forming along the line of Bradley's jaw where only ten minutes ago Colin was just a little too enthusiastic and bit down. Bradley didn't seem to mind.
'We'll take it," Colin decides for them, pointing to the board. The receptionist doesn't even blink, just presses buttons and types a few words into the old computer before handing them a single key and pointing up the stairs.
Bradley keeps looking at him the entire walk up the stairs, along the corridor and even when Colin closes the door behind them and drops his rucksack in relief; he's not trying to be sneaky about it and he doesn't seem ready to ask questions. Colin swallows, the situation suddenly seeming different out of the downpour and inside, more in context, maybe. Actions have consequences here.
"I don't--" he says, attempting to tuck his hands into his hoodie pockets, but it's too wet to be comfortable. Bradley is still just looking at him. “Do you have to look at me like that? I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Bradley smiles then and it’s the silly, crooked teeth smile that he rarely shows the cameras. “Only you would, Colin,” he says, shaking his head and coming closer until their toes almost touch. He puts down his bag next to Colin’s and then reaches out and cups a hand around the back of Colin’s arm.
“Only I would what?” Colin asks, swallows once more against the dryness in his throat.
Bradley shrugs, the motion bringing them closer. “Just--only you, I guess.”
Colin blinks, surprised. Bradley is still and earnest, the way he always is when he’s serious about something and Colin’s not sure how to handle this quietness. There’s pressure here building between them, the expectation of some sort of conclusion to what Colin started. Except Colin doesn’t know how to end it or let it rise to its natural climax, so, in a perhaps poorly calculated but desperate attempt at lightening the mood, he says, “Eloquent as always, I see.”
Bradley pinches him, fingers quick and sharp against the inside of Colin’s elbow. He says, reproachfully, “At least one of us knows what he’s doing,” before backing Colin into the closed door and kissing him, and it’s nothing like the careful kisses from earlier. Colin swallows his automatic retort and has to agree with Bradley, though he would never admit that out loud.
The sun makes an appearance as they wait for the first morning bus. The air is crisp from the downpour and they stand close together--sure enough that one slight movement brings them into contact, but the intent is still novel enough that they let their eyes pass over the glistening road, the rows of hedges; anywhere but each other.
They seat themselves right at the back, where their dishevelled states won’t frighten the locals, and bump shoulders and knees as the bus rolls over the uneven ground.
Colin stares out of the window again, grinning stupidly out at the fields and trees. He counts to three thousand.