‘I have a splinter,’ Bradley announced.
‘Call out the National Guard,’ cried Angel.
‘I’ll alert the media,’ Katie advised. ‘This is going to headline the national news at six.’
When Bradley had no retort for this, and indeed turned his woebegone face towards his last best hope, Colin swallowed the wit and went with friendly concern. ‘All right there, mate?’
‘D’you want me to…’ He didn’t really know what he was offering, but when Bradley nodded and tipped his head back towards the doors – still going with the woebegone – Colin got up and followed the man out of the bar… to a predictable chorus of Awww from the girls.
‘I’ve got a needle,’ Bradley explained as he led the way past reception. ‘I kept one of those little sewing kits, yeah? From the last hotel. And I’ve got Savlon and plasters. I like the fabric plasters, you know? Not the plastic ones.’
‘Course,’ Colin stoutly agreed. They were at Bradley’s door. ‘But you need me to…?’
Another mute nod. And then, once they were both safe on the other side of the door, Bradley confessed, ‘My mum always did this for me.’
‘And… I dunno… I guess I haven’t had a splinter since. Is that weird?’
‘Nah. I haven’t had one for years.’
‘I’m not that accident prone,’ Colin protested.
But Bradley just ran each hand up the other arm, and looked a bit lost. Colin could guess which hand was the problem, and even which finger, cos Bradley was favouring it.
‘All right. Let’s gather the supplies,’ Colin said. ‘And maybe… over here.’ He pulled one of the chairs around so they could sit facing each other in the light streaming in through the window.
Bradley joined him moments later, sitting opposite him readily enough, and not withdrawing even a whisker when Colin shifted forward onto the edge of his seat. But he didn’t hand over the supplies.
‘What’s up?’ Colin asked, in the gentle–brisk tone his Mum used when she was in nurse mode.
‘Well, she… I don’t know what she used to do. But it was like some kind of magic.’ Bradley confided, ‘It never hurt.’
‘Mate, I’ll try not to hurt you, but –’
‘Come on, it can’t be much, this splinter o’ yours. Not even medium–sized evil, yeah? Let me see.’ Not even an instinctive twitch towards him in response. Colin wondered if he should be worried; he was hardly the most dexterous person to be asked to help. ‘It’s not like I’m gonna have to dig around in there. Is it?’
Bradley at last showed him the injured finger–pad, while maintaining a safe distance. ‘It’s only a little one. But, still –’
‘I guess I can’t promise you I have a mum’s kind of magic, but I’ll be careful, Bradley. And you just – I dunno. Tell me all about your favourite soccer match. In great detail. Or just – close your eyes.’
‘Lie back and think of England?’
Colin grinned, relieved by this first sign that Bradley was rallying. ‘Something like that. Come on. Suck it up, James. Be a man.’
Whereupon Bradley slipped right back to woebegone.
‘Oh god,’ Colin groaned. ‘Give me your phone.’
Bradley handed it over without hesitation.
Colin scrolled through the contacts to find ‘Mum’ and hit the dial button. ‘Mrs James? No, it’s Colin. Colin Morgan. Yeah. No, he’s fine, he’s fine. Well.’ He paused for a moment’s solemnity. ‘He has a splinter. Yeah. Katie’s drafting the press release now.’
Bradley shot him a withering look.
‘No, apparently I don’t have a mother’s magic. Merlin’s magic just doesn’t cut it. We need Mum’s magic. – Uh huh. Yeah. Uh huh. – I see.’ He glanced at Bradley. ‘Yes, of course. I’ll keep you posted on that. All right. Thanks, Mrs James! Yeah. Bye.’
‘Well…?’ Bradley demanded.
‘Yeah, all right. For your sake, I’ve been initiated into the secret knowledge of mothers. You gonna let me at you now?’
One last moment of resistance, and then it was as if something switched over in Bradley and he decided he could trust Colin like he trusted his mum.
‘So, how did this happen?’ Colin asked as he settled the back of Bradley’s hand firmly on his own thigh, and bent his head over the finger, examining it closely. Keep him talking, was the advice, along with, Apply enough pressure that it becomes numb. But don’t let him guess that’s what you’re doing. So Colin pretended to keep up a careful examination while encouraging Bradley to rattle on about some prop or other that was a little too medieval, while Colin slowly increased the pressure of his own fingers until Bradley’s finger–pad turned dull red. It was the work of a moment then – three little prods, and a gentle push up along the splinter’s path – and Colin was announcing, ‘There you are!’ while proudly displaying the evil attacker they’d vanquished together.
Bradley’s mouth dropped open, as if he hadn’t even realised that Colin had started. He looked from Colin, to the tiny black splinter on the tip of the needle, and back to Colin, awestruck. ‘It is magic,’ Bradley insisted.
‘Ah well,’ Colin demurred with a shrug. He applied Savlon and a plaster, wrapping the latter around Bradley’s finger firmly enough for reassurance but not too restrictive for blood flow. ‘Now,’ he finally said, keeping hold of Bradley’s hand where it still rested on his thigh. ‘There’s one last spell to work.’
‘What’s –’ Then Bradley blushed. ‘Oh.’
Colin grinned, though he was also feeling a bit pink round the cheeks. ‘Yeah. I have to kiss you better. Cos your Mum told me to.’
‘Kiss it better, maybe,’ Bradley prevaricated. ‘My finger, I mean.’
‘No, I’m sure she said you – kiss you better.’
‘Oh.’ Bradley was stupid amounts of adorable when he blushed. It made him look… Well. Enticing. Despite the fact that he was trying to resist. ‘I don’t really think – Anyway, I’m fine now. I’m cured. You’re done. Really.’ And he tugged at his hand, trying to recover it.
But not trying very hard, Colin thought. ‘Steel yourself, James. Your Mum said it’s a necessary part of the process.’
‘Oh. Well –’
Colin slowly leant forward. Bradley didn’t draw away. He looked like he was finding this horribly embarrassing, but he didn’t stand, or push Colin away, or retrieve his hand, or even sit back. He stayed right where he was, looking enticing and uncertain and – and delicious. Colin found himself running his tongue–tip across his own lower lip – and then he was pressing close, and his hands were cradling both of Bradley’s, while their mouths met – paused for a moment before meshing. And it was sweet and gentle and loving. Not like a mother’s kiss at all.
Bradley was staring at him afterwards, completely undone. Colin sent up a little prayer of gratitude: Thank you, Mrs James. It seemed that Bradley was entirely his in that moment. To do with what he will.
Which would never do, of course. ‘Hey,’ said Colin softly. ‘How about we go back down? Plenty of time later to decide what next.’
A flicker of panic, of doubt.
‘There will be a next,’ Colin said with utter confidence. ‘Just… there’s no need to rush it. Let’s go back down for a while.’
‘All right,’ Bradley gamely agreed.
And then you can decide, Colin thought. Though he was pretty sure by now what that decision would be. He bent his head, lifted Bradley’s injured hand, and pressed a kiss to the back of it. And then the palm. Before letting him go. While Bradley watched him, astonished.
The two of them walked back into the bar, hand in hand. The girls gaped in surprise.
‘All better,’ Colin announced with a grin.
Katie and Angel had no retorts at all. But they smiled. And Bradley… Bradley was looking utterly besotted.
Thank you, Mrs James!