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It's Complicated

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It's Complicated - title page by altocello

Compiegne

‘Life doesn’t get much better than this,’ said Rupert.

Colin, stretched out in the grass nearby with his face turned towards the dappled sunlight, rumbled an ineloquent agreement. It was Saturday morning, and the cast and crew had the whole weekend to themselves here in France, to make of what they would. Contentment welled within Colin like the purest spring water bubbling up through wholesome earth to greet the daylight.

Work doesn’t get much better than this!’ Rupert continued after a timeless while.

Colin glanced across at where Rupert sprawled, his golden–brown curls tumbled amidst the long grasses, his heroic profile sharp against the dark green of distant trees. ‘A free weekend in France…?’ Colin prompted.

‘You can’t knock the perks!’

‘True,’ Colin said, for after all he’d been thinking much the same thing.

Perhaps Rupert picked up on a slight sense of disappointment, however, because after another while drifted by he turned towards Colin, lifting up onto one elbow to consider him carefully before shifting his gaze away towards the blue reach of sky. ‘It’s a great cast and crew,’ Rupert offered. ‘A happy set. Lots of fun!’

‘You fit right in.’

‘Thank you!’

This response was rather more eager than Colin had been expecting from the usually laidback Rupert – apart from which, surely it had been an obvious observation. Rupert’s role had grown from a one–liner, which he’d totally frozen on, into a recurring character, and all because everyone enjoyed having Rupert around. Tony had taken up this noble cause with Johnny and Julian, arguing on everyone’s behalf that surely if Arthur was eventually going to collect together a whole Round Table of knights, they’d better start by having at least one who survived the closing credits. And therefore why not Rupert, who not only looked the part but could obviously carry a more significant role, and who everyone liked…?

‘Thank you,’ Rupert repeated, in quieter tones, before the silence could grow uncomfortable. ‘It’s such a privilege to be working with – well, you as well, of course, but Anthony, and Richard –’

‘I love Richard!’ Colin found himself blurting out, perhaps in an effort to make up for his surprised silence of moments before.

Rupert grinned at him. ‘Of course you do! We all do. Such a kind old gent, and an absolute genius. It’s like attending a master class, working with him.’

‘I know! And I get the lion’s share of that,’ Colin announced, not bothering to tone down the smugness. ‘I wouldn’t swap roles with anyone.’

‘I bet he wouldn’t either. You two get on really well! I guess you have a lot in common, you and Richard.’

Colin glanced at the man, but Rupert had dropped his gaze to the grass stretching between them, and Colin couldn’t make out his expression. He replied with a grunt of guarded agreement.

‘You’re both geniuses…’ Rupert continued, a little frown knotting between his brows now, and his fingers weaving between long stems of grass. ‘You’re both really… well, strong–willed.’

‘Stubborn,’ Colin offered with a nod.

Rupert didn’t even pause. ‘You’re both… very private people.’

He said, belligerently, ‘Are you asking if I’m gay, like Richard?’

To his credit, Rupert only quailed for a moment. ‘I’m asking if he has magic, like you!’

Colin guffawed. ‘Where’d that come from?’

‘Everyone knows you have magic, Colin,’ Rupert said as if it were perfectly reasonable. ‘It’s the only explanation for why you are who you are.’

‘So you’re not asking if I’m gay?’

Rupert scrunched up his face. ‘Are you…?’

‘Why d’you want to know?’

‘Just curious.’

Well, thought Colin, the main cast had all by now found out in one way or another, and Rupert was pretty much the seventh cast member. And he seemed to be completely trustworthy. One of those rare individuals who never said anything about anyone he couldn’t say in front of the subject.

‘I wouldn’t tell anyone –’ Rupert sighed, and seemed driven to be more honest than politic. ‘I wouldn’t tell anyone who didn’t need to know more than you need to keep it private.’

‘And I do need to keep it private,’ Colin confirmed.

Rupert looked at him for a moment. ‘Then you are…?’

‘Yes.’

‘Excellent!’ Rupert had broken into a smile as broad as if it were Christmas.

Colin regarded him suspiciously.

But that didn’t even put a dent in Rupert’s good humour. The man rolled forward so he was lying on his front, leaning up on his elbows – quite close now – and gazing down at Colin rather happily. Eventually he confided, ‘Richard is in love with you.’

It was Colin’s turn to scrunch up his face. ‘Why d’you think that?’

‘Well, who wouldn’t be?’

You’re not.’

‘But I’m straight.’

‘What are you so curious about, then?’ Colin demanded.

Rupert made an apologetic kind of ‘awww’, and backed down a bit. ‘Don’t let’s argue. I’ll stop being nosy.’

Which made Colin feel magnanimous. ‘Curious is all right. Goes with the territory, with actors.’

‘Right. Character analysis.’

‘Exactly.’

Rupert rolled away onto his back, and the two of them settled again. But Colin was very aware that Rupert was considering him from behind a tumble of golden-brown curls. And he was cautiously realising that he was considering Rupert right back.

‘Where have you been?’ Bradley demanded as they got back to the hotel, where he’d apparently been loitering in the lobby. One elbow held a football tucked against his waist.

After a brief moment’s silence, which Colin stubbornly did not fill, Rupert said, ‘We just went for a walk along the river. It’s a lovely day!’

Bradley nodded, all barely suppressed energy. Then he brandished a brochure – no, a menu at Colin. ‘I found a place for you that does salads. Look at that! There must be twenty different salads there.’

Colin did him the favour of taking the menu and pondering it. His French was still fairly rudimentary, but he immediately spotted the usual problem. ‘Most of these include meat, Bradley. Look: lardons is bacon or ham or whatever.’

When Colin glanced back up at him, he found that Bradley looked pale and exposed, as if a nerve ending had just been hit. Rupert must have seen it, too, for he indicated the football and smoothly offered, ‘You want to go kick that around for a while, Bradley? We could grab some lunch after.’

A moment passed, then Bradley nodded, and turned a wan yet genuine smile on Rupert.

But it wasn’t as if Colin had intended to refuse the invitation. ‘It’s almost one already, and I’m starved. Why don’t we try this place –’ his gesture indicated the menu, and his glance included Rupert as well as Bradley – ‘and then you guys can kick the ball around?’

‘Sure,’ said Rupert, as happy and obliging as ever.

‘What about the bacon?’ Bradley asked.

‘I’ll tell them to leave it out.’

Bradley looked at Colin for a moment, as if waiting for a further explanation or objection. But then at last he shrugged with a casualness he didn’t really mean, and said, ‘Sure. Come on, then.’

And Bradley led the way, glancing aside at Colin every now and then as if for reassurance, with Rupert steadily following along behind the two of them.

Colin indulged himself after a surprisingly good lunch, doing nothing but just lying back in the grass again – not even checking his phone let alone using it to handle the latest messages, not giving a second thought to the scripts back in his hotel room. He simply lay there, and gifted himself the pleasure of watching his two colleagues as they kicked and tackled and ran with the ball back and forth within a fluidly–defined area of parkland.

Colin let himself have the luxury of admiring them, each as gorgeous as the other with their beautiful hair and lovely hands, their limber bodies and eager energies. They were both straight, of course, but they were both showing off a bit for him and for each other, competing between themselves as much for Colin’s attention as for possession of the ball. Laughing every now and then between breaths panting just enough to be audible, getting just a bit too physical in their jostling press, their glances bright as they sought his approval – occasionally even as they sought his seconding of their own admiration of their competitor.

And finally when they were done, the game over with honours even, they came to sprawl back at either side of him, the sweet tang of their fresh sweat like ozone in the air, and Colin closed his eyes and drifted away into contented daydreams.

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

Cardiff

The set for Gaius’s chambers was truly awesome, but depending on the desired effect it wasn’t always easy to light. It seemed there was to be another delay while things were reset. Colin wasn’t much in the mood for chat, so he bent a frown over the script again, and put at least half his attention towards revising the beats of emphasis and turns of emotion he’d planned for this scene.

Bradley could certainly take a hint these days, and headed for the ever–patient Richard, who was sitting on a bench towards the far end of the set. It seemed they soon discovered a shared love for an obscure old American tv show called Soap or some such thing, and after a few exclamations of fellow feeling they were exchanging quotes, and Bradley was recreating various absurdities much to Richard’s amusement. Colin couldn’t help but smile to himself in response to Richard’s hearty chuckles and increasingly breathless encouragement.

There followed a set piece in which – apparently – a character who was pathologically attached to his ventriloquist’s dummy, couldn’t find the thing, and in a wide–eyed panic he was picking up whatever objects came to hand and was communicating via them. Bradley was acting this out, staggering about distraught and twisting around in paranoia, while using the props as make–do dummies, from a mute old apple to the weird rabbit mask; finally cradling Gaius’s medicine case in one arm while surreptitiously tilting the lid open, crying piteously, ‘Help! Help!’

Richard was in paroxysms of laughter by then, and even Colin had lifted his head to watch with a grin. When Bradley was finally done, the surrounding crew broke into applause led by Richard, and Bradley took his suitably extravagant bows.

As everyone returned to work, Bradley contritely assisted the props guys to set everything back to rights, while the makeup girl waited good–naturedly by Richard for him to calm down; she needed to repair the damage done by his tears of laughter. Nevertheless, Colin caught sight of a distinctly unamused Johnny Capps staring hard at Bradley.

And perhaps Johnny even had a point, for it took all of Richard’s skill to then play a sober Gaius, and Colin could glimpse underneath it all the mirth still bubbling away in Richard’s belly – which in turn inspired a happy spark in Colin. He did love Richard, it was true, and it was a joy to see him so happy. But there was no denying that the afternoon’s filming was not their smoothest.

Once the scene was finally done, Bradley wandered over to David, the director for that block, apparently willing to make any amends necessary with an apology and a bit of banter, or whatever else might be needed. Colin checked his call sheet and the time on his phone; he had a spare twenty minutes before he was needed again. Hoping for some fresh air, he quickly gathered his things together, half aware that Richard had paused nearby – though Richard seemed to be watching Bradley, perhaps making sure that all was well, perhaps waiting to see if he need add his own apology for inciting the situation.

When Colin moved to head off, Richard stopped him with a gentle hand laid on Colin’s arm. ‘Do you have a moment, my friend? Indulge me, would you?’

‘Of course,’ Colin said with a smile, polite though genuine enough. And he followed Richard through to the dressing rooms at the back of the warehouse, and into the one that Richard had for his exclusive use whenever in Cardiff.

Richard was still bubbling over deep inside, and could barely wait until the door was closed behind them, before bursting out, ‘Oh, isn’t he marvellous!’

Colin must have looked rather surprised, though he did at least twig to the subject. ‘Bradley, you mean.’

‘Yes. Yes! Oh, a thousand times yes.’ Richard couldn’t even stand still, he was overflowing with so much joy. Colin had never seen anything like it. ‘He is magnificent. You saw what he did! The original scene was wonderful, truly wonderful, but he just transformed it. Oh, he has no real idea of just how good he is, does he? He hardly dares dream of it.’

An irrepressible grin was quirking Colin’s mouth. ‘Bradley has all the makings of an excellent actor,’ he agreed, realising by now that such praise wouldn’t be enough.

‘You are being very cautious, my friend,’ Richard chided him quite happily, ‘and I suspect you are teasing me. Oh, but he is not like us, is he? So open, so vulnerable, so exuberant! So willing to live his life proving everything upon his pulses. There!’ Richard exclaimed, taking a step back towards where Colin stood near the door. ‘He drives me to misquote my favourite authors. So you see what has happened, don’t you?’

‘I think I do,’ Colin affirmed, still wryly grinning – though Richard’s confession poured on regardless.

‘Oh, it’s impossible!’ Richard said, still rejoicing. ‘I can’t tell anyone else. I shouldn’t even tell you. No one would understand – though perhaps you might, Colin, my dear friend. I love him,’ Richard said, in lower heartfelt tones. ‘There, I’ve finally said it out loud. I love Bradley, and there’s no fool like an old fool in love.’

‘You’re not a fool,’ Colin protested fondly.

‘He is all the things I am not – beautiful and open and pure – and he is glorious.’

Colin was laughing by now. ‘You really do have it bad!’

‘This is only the second time in my life that I have loved,’ Richard declared quite seriously. ‘And there’s no question of – The first was impossible, too. Oh, but when I love, I love with all my heart and soul.’

The PA crackled into life above them, and announced a requirement for Colin to be in the Council Chambers set in five minutes. Colin liked to have a moment to prepare, so he shifted a little towards the door. ‘All right if I…?’

‘Of course, of course! Thank you for listening to me. You are very kind to such an idiotic old man.’ Richard had settled a little within himself, and seemed content. He was also turning away, but he smiled with grateful fondness at Colin.

‘Say it again,’ Colin urged mischievously. ‘If you’ve really no one else to tell. Tell me again.’

And Richard’s smile just glowed. ‘I love him,’ he repeated quietly. ‘I love Bradley.’

‘Good,’ said Colin. ‘That’s really great.’ And he turned and opened the door.

And Bradley was there.

Bradley was standing there on the threshold, frozen in shock with his hand lifted as if about to knock, his mouth open as if about to call Colin’s name, or Richard’s.

As Colin stared at him in horror, Bradley’s gaze shifted and met Richard’s across the room. And Bradley’s pale face flushed with mortification – Then worse than that. It twisted with distaste.

Colin gasped at this primal reaction – somewhat understandable, perhaps, but horrible – and turned towards Richard. Hardly even aware of moving, he was across the room in a moment, and helping poor Richard to sit in his armchair. Poor dear Richard, just as pale and mortified as Bradley, but then swamped with bitter humiliation at his affections being so dismissed.

He crouched there at Richard’s side, holding his near hand in both of his own. ‘Richard,’ he murmured, trying to find a way through to the man. Trying to ensure he wouldn’t lose himself. ‘Richard…’

Richard covered his face with his other hand, but managed a glance to see if their witness had lingered. Colin looked, too, to see Bradley still standing there. Bradley looking so utterly defenceless, a turmoil of conflicting emotions brewing, but obviously still mortified and nigh on disgusted. Too cruel for Richard to see such immediate reactions, without any civilised veneer to soften them.

Colin said, ‘Bradley, please. Go tell them I’ll be a minute longer.’

The young man was almost too shocked to take this in, but after a moment, he nodded abruptly, and turned. Walked away. The door remained open, but that hardly mattered at this point.

‘Richard… Richard. Tell me you’re going to be all right.’

He took a moment to rally, but eventually he managed faintly, ‘Oh my dear. This is the most awful thing.’

‘No. No, it’ll work out all right.’

‘How will it?’ And Richard looked at him as if honestly wanting to know. Well, at least he was engaging with something outside himself.

‘Will you be OK? I’m going to text Angel and Katie; get one of them to come sit with you.’ He was thumbing the message into his phone even as he spoke. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell them why.’

Richard seemed utterly lost for words. But then he stirred himself. ‘You must go to him,’ Richard demanded of Colin, his hand now clasping Colin’s instead of the other way around. ‘Don’t fret about me. I’ve survived worse than this…’ He trailed off, as if trying to remember what, exactly. ‘I’ll be fine,’ he continued after a moment. ‘But go after him, Colin. Please. He’ll listen to you. He trusts you.’

Colin eyed the man, wondering for a moment what he was being asked to do.

‘Reassure him. Please. Tell him it means nothing.’

‘It doesn’t mean nothing, Richard,’ he complained.

‘It does for him. It means nothing to him. And so it should! He doesn’t have to fear – it’s not as if I’d try anything. I wouldn’t. I didn’t even want him to know.’

‘Oh, Richard,’ Colin said, feeling something within him crack apart in sympathy with his friend’s pain. ‘I’ve got to get on set,’ he added – even as the PA crackled into life again and announced, ‘When you’re ready, Colin.’

Richard looked at him. ‘Do what you have to do. But if you’ve ever loved, Colin, then you must know all I care about is that Bradley shouldn’t feel any pain. Not for a moment longer.’

‘All right, all right,’ Colin muttered, sitting back on his heels. Truth be told, he’d have been fine steering Bradley through his shock, if no one else Colin cared about was involved. If Bradley hadn’t inflicted such hurt on Richard that the man was dismissing his own deepest feelings as insignificant.

Angel appeared at last, and made all the right pragmatic yet soothing noises, took Richard’s hand and pressed an affectionate daughterly kiss to his forehead, then went to put the kettle on for tea. Richard rallied and brightened, if only because he needed to regain a public layer or two, but he seemed well enough.

Colin stood, but then leaned in close again, and pressed his mouth rather more intimately to Richard's cheek. ‘All right, I’ll go see to Bradley,’ he promised quietly, while Angel hummed a sweet song and busied herself with cups and teabags, ‘if you’ll stop beating yourself up over this. You’ve done nothing wrong. You feel nothing wrong.’

‘You are very good to me, my dear,’ Richard said lightly, lifting a hand to lightly caress Colin’s cheek. It wasn’t really a reply, but there was a hint of the old sparkle in his eye when he looked at Colin, so Colin let him get away with it. ‘You are magic, you know…’

Angel was looking at them both rather fondly. Colin laughed, and then he dashed off to the Council Chambers set.

Everyone was waiting on him, of course. Even Bradley, who was pacing along the far length of the set, up and back, up and back. His arms were crossed and his face was fixed and pale. God only knew if he’d do any useful work in such a state.

All right. Colin had never yet played the Difficult Star, so perhaps they would let him get away with it this once. He went over to David, and quietly asked, ‘Five minutes. We’ve had a minor crisis. But if you can let me have five minutes, I’ll get it sorted, and we’ll get the work done.’

David considered him coolly for a moment, and then nodded once. He turned to the set at large. ‘Quick tea break, guys. Be back here in five!’

Everyone obligingly melted away with nary a sigh let alone a groan, and Colin went to Bradley, paced with him up to the far end of the set, and then caught him by the elbow before he could turn. ‘Bradley. Talk to me.’

Bradley just stared at him kind of wild–eyed, and he swallowed as if he couldn’t bear the sour taste of the words he wanted to say.

‘Come on. We’ve got five minutes we shouldn’t have, to get you past this so we can get on with the job.’

‘I’m good to go,’ Bradley insisted in a thick voice.

‘You are not.’ Colin waited for a moment, folding his arms impatiently. He wanted to demand what the hell Bradley was thinking, looking on Richard with disgust, but he knew that wouldn’t get him anywhere. When Bradley remained silent, Colin figured he may as well pass on the gist of Richard’s message. ‘He doesn’t expect anything from you, you know. He knows this only goes one way. He doesn’t even want anything from you.’

Bradley’s bright sharp gaze was examining him. ‘That’s not how it works.’

‘How what works?’

‘Love.’

Colin sighed. Well, he supposed, at least Bradley wasn’t characterising it as weird gay lust, or whatever. He’d called it by its proper name. Love.

‘You love someone, you want them,’ Bradley insisted.

‘Not this time. Richard knows nothing can happen. Nothing will ever happen. You can trust him, you know.’

Bradley nodded distractedly, and Colin let him think for a moment. Then Bradley asked in a whisper, ‘Does he think I’m –?’

‘Gay? No.’ Colin risked rolling his eyes. Don’t be ridiculous. ‘He knows you’re not. He just thinks you’re rather wonderful, is all.’

‘Well –’ Bradley cleared his throat, and managed in something more like his usual tones, ‘Well, can’t blame him for that, I suppose.’

‘Right…’ Colin said, laying on the scepticism.

‘It was always going to be one of you falling for me.’

‘Get over yourself, James!’

‘Maybe both,’ Bradley smugly added as he led the way back down the set. People were regathering.

‘All right, guys?’ David asked.

‘We’re good to go,’ said Bradley.

Colin let out a long breath. Crisis averted. Temporarily at least.

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

Compiegne

Thank God for Rupert…

A vague general agreement for the cast and creatives to go out for a meal together had grown and then dwindled, and eventually resolved into it being just the four of them: Colin, Bradley, Richard and Rupert. Which could have been massively awkward. Not that Richard hadn’t been scrupulously polite and self–effacing since The Crisis in Cardiff, and not that Bradley hadn’t made an awesome effort to pretend that nothing had changed. Still, Bradley couldn’t seem to even face Richard directly any more, let alone look at him or meet his gaze, with a rare exception made as necessary when they were playing Arthur and Gaius.

Meanwhile, Richard was as warm and courteous and friendly as ever, but he was having to adjust to wearing his heart on his sleeve – which Bradley did as a matter of course, but which didn’t come naturally to Richard or Colin. Which meant that being with Richard these days, even though he very much wanted to keep him company, often set Colin on edge in sympathy with his friend’s exposure. And Bradley was having to deal with hiding his confusions and discomfort around someone he genuinely liked and respected. They were all on a learning curve.

Except for Rupert, of course – who was perfectly aware of the stilted relations between the other three, even if he didn’t quite guess at the cause. And of course, being a natural–born gentleman, he did whatever he could to smooth things through. That evening, following Colin’s lead, he hadn’t listened for a moment longer than necessary to Richard’s demurrals about staying behind after all and leaving the three young men to it – seeing that Colin obviously felt Richard’s scruples should be ignored, Rupert simply swept the four of them out the door and up the street, chatting casually about the day’s filming on the way, telling some anecdote that perhaps none of the other three quite managed to grasp, but which provided a welcome distraction.

Then they were at the restaurant, and Richard and Bradley could each hide from the others in close consideration of their menus. Eventually Bradley’s voice piped up from the other side of his. ‘What’s andouillette sausage?’

A moment passed. Neither Rupert nor Colin had a clue. Finally Richard tentatively offered, ‘You might approach the dish with caution, Bradley. It contains… well, offal. The least savoury kind.’

Colin looked up in time to see Bradley’s mouth twist in excessive distaste. With a pang he recognised an echo of how Bradley had greeted the notion that Richard loved him. A glance at Richard was enough to confirm that Richard recognised it, too, and was hurt and humbled.

But then, just as Colin was about to leap in and say something – anything – to deflect the conversation, Bradley himself made the effort. ‘What would you recommend, Richard?’ he asked, a bit roughly, but genuinely. He cleared his throat. ‘Help me out here.’

Richard gathered himself. His hand lifted for a moment, fingers fluttering, and then settled again. ‘If you’re in the mood for saucisse –’ Two spots of colour appeared on Richard’s cheeks as he realised he might be digging himself in deeper. ‘Try the paysanne sausages,’ he managed to continue. ‘Country style sausages. They shouldn’t contain anything unexpected.’

‘Thank you,’ said Bradley, and he waited for Richard to lift his gaze, so he could add directly, ‘I appreciate it.’

Richard coloured further, and couldn’t hide a pleased smile. Both of them retreated behind their lifted menus again. ‘Avec frittes, of course,’ added Bradley from behind his.

‘Of course!’ echoed Richard.

Rupert had been looking from one to the other, belatedly realising that he’d been very wrong about who Richard was in love with. He looked across at Colin, finally, his brow lifted quizzically. Colin quirked a smile at him, and shrugged. Who’d have thought?

Rupert grinned in response, and nodded his satisfaction. Oh, that’s marvellous.

Once they’d placed their orders, a pause ensued which might have become uncomfortable again. But Rupert looked around him, and smoothly filled the silence. ‘Musical theatre!’ he said, sitting back in his chair though his hands were each placed flat on the table. ‘What would be your ideal role? What do you dream of playing?’

‘Oh!’ Richard said, intrigued.

Colin was grinning at the man for being the perfect companion, though he had to disappoint with his answer. ‘I’d be the guy who collects the rubbish after.’

‘No way!’ Rupert protested.

‘Seriously. Two left feet, and my voice isn’t strong enough. I’ll stick to straight acting… so to speak.’

Rupert eyed him narrowly. ‘You could do it if you put your mind to it, Colin Morgan. You’d be awesome.’

‘If you’re going to try flattering me or challenging me into it, you’re doomed to failure.’

‘Ah yes, stubborn. I remember.’ Rupert turned to Bradley. ‘What about you?’

Bradley glanced away, grimaced, and then gazed down at some neutral spot on the table. ‘Likewise. Not sure if I’m cut out for it.’

‘But if you were,’ Rupert persisted.

‘Well, then.’ Bradley cleared his throat. ‘I always thought it would be really cool to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.’

This was greeted with various surprised and impressed noises. ‘Why Judas?’ asked Rupert.

‘He’s got all the best songs.’

‘True.’ Apparently Rupert was still scrambling with this one, though. ‘I always imagined him as… the lean and hungry type.’

Bradley’s mouth flattened, though he shrugged this off as if he were already getting used to it. ‘Like Colin, you mean?’

‘Well –’ It wasn’t often that Rupert put his foot in it so thoroughly. Not often at all.

‘Bradley could certainly play Judas,’ Richard smoothly supplied. ‘And if it is playing against type, then why not? He has the talent to carry it off, and to do it so well that all the old expectations are overturned.’

‘Oh, of course,’ Rupert murmured, while Colin grinned his assent, and Bradley sat there caught between self–consciousness and happiness.

‘Didn’t I once hear you say,’ Richard carefully addressed him, ‘that you wanted to play Mercutio? Not Romeo. I really commend you for that. You’re more than capable, of course, and a serious actor with your exceptional looks has to be careful to shake up people’s notions every now and then.’

Colin and Rupert were just onlookers at this point, while Richard continued complimenting Bradley to within an inch of his life. Either of them might have tried to rescue him, but Bradley was looking as if it were an experience more exquisite than excruciating.

‘You are a truly beautiful young man, Bradley,’ Richard finally finished. ‘In all the most important ways.’

And Bradley eventually managed to say, very levelly yet deeply heartfelt, ‘Thank you, Richard.’

‘You’re welcome, Bradley.’

Well, none of them quite knew where to go from there, but at least the silence encompassed them now, rather than dividing them. Their meals arrived, and there was the usual fuss, but none of them moved, or said anything beyond a ‘Merci’ to the waiters. None of them even picked up their cutlery, let alone started to eat.

Until at last Rupert sighed, and wistfully declaimed, ‘I was adored once too.’

And then they all laughed, and the mood lightened. And together they settled in for a wonderful evening convivially shared.

Contented by altocello

Contented

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

Paris

Of course Richard didn’t invite him along, but Colin accompanied the man on his weekend trip to Paris by the simple means of happening to catch the same train in Compiegne on the Saturday morning, and sitting by him companionably, then never leaving his side despite the increasingly pointed looks that Richard aimed his way. Finally they were at reception in a dauntingly luxurious hotel, and Colin with his shabby old backpack was still there beside Richard with his smart little designer suitcase, and one of the staff had apparently picked up on Richard’s exasperated confusion and was discreetly murmuring to Richard, ‘Is there a problem, sir…?’

Richard considered Colin long and hard – Colin offered him a winsome smile – and eventually Richard said, ‘No. No, there’s no problem.’ So Colin was permitted to accompany Richard into the lifts, and up to his room – or rather rooms, for there was a living room, a bedroom and a dressing room as well as the enormous bathroom. And once Colin was done wandering about curiously, Richard asked in suspicious tones, ‘What’s going on?’

To which Colin replied, ‘Anything you like.’

‘What I like is solitude.’

Colin tilted his head to acknowledge the point. ‘Anything else that you like.’

‘All I have planned for this afternoon is a long bath and a massage.’

‘Sounds nice. You go right ahead. I could join you in the bath, if you like.’

Richard’s head went back in surprise. ‘Colin –’ he began doubtfully.

‘I’m going to spend the night with you,’ Colin announced, deciding he’d better make it absolutely clear. ‘We can do as much or as little as you want. But, you know… feel free to take advantage. For this weekend, I’m yours.’

A long silence passed as Richard thought about this. Then he asked, ‘Why?’

‘Because you’re my friend. And I love you for how much you love Bradley. You deserve to have – something, even if it’s a poor substitute for what you really want.’

‘You’re offering me pity sex.’

Colin shook his head. ‘I don’t pity you, Richard. I admire you!’ He grinned, and let himself relax a little. ‘You’re quite the role model. I hope I have the same capacity for passion –’

‘When you’re my age, you mean.’

‘At any age,’ he whispered hoarsely. Honestly.

And Richard turned away. But Colin knew that his offer had been accepted.

Colin hardly saw Richard that afternoon; the man spent the hours pursuing all manner of cleansing and grooming and pampering. So late that evening, once Richard began getting ready to settle, Colin went to take a long and thorough shower. It was only fair.

When he emerged again, Richard was already lying in bed – on his back, with the covers neatly arranged over him and drawn almost up to his chin, looking distinctly ill at ease. But the only remaining light was the bedside lamp on the other side of the laughably wide bed, which at least seemed to indicate he was expecting Colin to get in as well. Colin walked over there, and got onto the bed so he was kneeling up tall… and he slowly slipped the hotel’s silk robe back off his shoulders, and let it fall rippling away from him.

Richard let out a little moan, and his gaze devoured the sight of Colin there naked and already showing distinct signs of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, he eventually tore his attention away and looked up directly at Colin, and he asked, ‘Do you really want to be here?’

‘I really do.’

One more moment dragged by before Richard seemed to finally agree. ‘Turn out the light, then.’

Colin had half expected that. He toppled onto his hands and knees, and shifted over towards the light switch. ‘D’you want me to pretend to be Br–’

‘No!’ Richard responded, cutting him off as if he couldn’t bear to even hear the name under these circumstances. ‘No, I don’t want you to pretend anything, my friend.’

Colin twisted around and sat, looking at the man. ‘So, why d’you want the lights out?’

Richard looked a bit sheepish, but he explained, ‘I don’t even want you to pretend to want me… but the dark might make that easier to bear.’

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ Colin muttered – lightly, but certainly conveying his frustration. ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want you.’ He left the lamp on, and shifted forward again onto hands and knees; began stalking closer to Richard.

‘I suppose…’

‘Have you ever known me to do anything I didn’t want to?’

‘No,’ Richard replied, with a helpless smile.

‘Exactly.’ And Colin lowered his head, and met Richard’s mouth with his, and he kissed the man. He kissed him as thoroughly as he knew how, and he only stopped once Richard was kissing him back so hard that Richard’s hands had lifted to grasp tightly at Colin’s shoulders. ‘Now,’ murmured Colin, dusting light kisses across those sweet old cheekbones, ‘what would you like me to do?’

‘Make love to me,’ Richard said. Though even now he added, ‘If you can.’

‘Certainly I can.’

‘I can find partners for… the simple mechanics at any time. But it’s been a long while since –’

‘I understand.’ So Colin settled in to seduce his friend as well as he knew how.

The dry silk of Richard’s skin against his own was delightful, and Richard himself seemed to revel in the feel of Colin against him. Colin imagined that every touch between them was a caress, whether it was his mouth against the hard curve of Richard’s collarbone or his inner thigh against Richard’s hip or his cock eagerly prodding at Richard’s belly while Richard’s cock dragged hungrily against him. He took his time, and he concentrated on Richard, but eventually Colin began to lose himself in that familiar haze of need. It was time to set the right and proper end in motion before he lost all sense of decency. Richard’s hands were spread firm against Colin’s buttocks, encouraging his rhythmic shifting lack of stillness as he lay half over the man. Colin arched up a little, and rolled his hips, to feel Richard’s hands flex against his flesh. ‘I love your hands,’ he murmured.

‘My hands…?’ Richard repeated dazedly.

‘I always noticed them. They’re large. They’re strong. They’d good hands. I always thought I wanted them on me.’

‘Always…?’

‘Now I want you in me. Finger me, would you? I really want to feel you inside me…’

‘Colin…’ Richard’s breaths were louder now, his every pant a wish, a demand.

‘I brought everything… if you want to stay clean… I brought latex gloves…’

‘All right. All right…’ Richard groaned bereft as Colin pulled away to fetch his backpack. ‘Oh God! Hurry… There are times I wish – I wasn’t so fastidious.’

Colin hushed him, quickly coming back to kneel by Richard, bringing all the supplies he thought they’d need. He gave Richard a glove for his right hand, and then squeezed lube onto the first two fingers once it was on. Lay back down over the man so that their cocks were caught side by side between their bellies. And then, while arched tautly back at full arm’s length, he waited still and trembling while Richard pressed one and then worked two fingers inside him. ‘Ah, that’s it,’ he groaned gutturally as Richard began a devastating rhythm. ‘That’s it, oh man, that’s so fuckin’ good…’ as he began a ragged echo of Richard’s thrusts, rubbing himself against Richard – who soon began to push up for more, his free hand tugging Colin back down against himself.

‘Soon now…’ Richard was murmuring. ‘Soon now, my darling…’

‘I want you fucking me!’ Colin demanded, shocking even himself with his own primal need.

Richard groaned, obviously torn between the notion of such glories and his intention of finishing here and now, in exactly the wonderful way they already were. ‘Now, then,’ he cried at last. ‘Do it now, or it will be too late!’

And what had started so long ago as sweet and soft, all kisses and caresses, became a hard urgent fumbling – together they got rid of the glove and rolled a condom onto Richard – Colin turned, with his leg bent so he was lying three–quarters over, and Richard shifted behind him, was pressing into him a moment later, and Colin groaned out a plea, pushing back, shoving himself back – what had begun as romantic became a hard rutting, and it was wonderful, it was fuckin’ wonderful – and Colin curled to reach back between his legs to grab at Richard’s balls and roll them in his palm, the elliptical globes of them still so firm and full, and Richard shouted out, pushed over onto him further, thrusting wildly, deliciously heavy on him, now forcing Colin’s cock to rub up against his own forearm – once twice and it was all over on thrice, and they were both crying out like dying things, and it felt so good, it was so fuckin’ amazin’ that Colin wondered if he’d ever fall back to earth ever again.

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

Compiegne

Where r u??? Bradley had texted. Goss that ur in paris w richard!!!

I am in paris with richard, Colin had replied so that Bradley didn’t call out the Foreign Legion to try to track him down. Dont wait up. And then he’d turned off his phone. He’d had other rather urgent matters demanding his attention.

On the Sunday evening, the chivalrous Brian brought the car over to the train station to whisk Richard and his companion back to the hotel – and by that time, of course, everyone knew that the two gay guys had spent the weekend together. If anyone was still wondering what they’d actually been doing, the doubts were soon laid to rest. Richard emerged from the car with a serene smile, looking superbly content, and Colin followed after with a wild I got lucky grin… Private the two of them may be, but Colin wasn’t going to shirk from paying Richard the compliment of being demonstrably well–shagged.

People had just happened to gather in the foyer and bar area of the hotel, come through from the restaurant or down from the rooms, all agog for confirmation of the goss. They broke into applause as Richard sailed smoothly through, and he entered the elevator to cheers and wolf whistles. Colin loitered, enduring a bit of backslapping and some inappropriately encouraging remarks – until someone finally pressed a beer into his hand, and he downed half of it gratefully. He just nodded along as the comments continued: ‘Good for you, Colin! … I knew it wasn’t doomed to be all one way. Didn’t I tell you it wasn’t hopeless? … Well done, mate! … Good man. The old fellow deserved that. … Good work.’

Rupert, Colin had been aware of all along. Rupert had been startled at first. It took a lot to put Rupert Young on the back foot, but Colin had just managed to do it. As soon as he saw Colin watching, however, Rupert brightened into a heartily approving smile, and gave him two thumbs up. Meanwhile, Bradley loitered in the shadows scowling.

Of course, despite everyone’s support, no one expected or even wanted details, so people returned to their own concerns soon enough, and Colin decided to head upstairs and start getting back into something approaching a work frame of mind. After such a weekend, it was going to be a long week.

He wasn’t surprised to hear a knock at his door within moments of closing it, and while he might have found any one of four or five people there on the threshold, he’d have put money on it being Bradley. And he’d have won, too.

Bradley was still scowling – with hurt. Confusion. Distaste.

Well, they couldn’t talk about it in the corridor, and they’d better get it sorted before the working week began again. Colin sighed. ‘Come in, Bradley.’

The man came in, and paced a bit, too disquiet to settle. Colin just left him to it, and went about re–sorting his gear, emptying his backpack into his laundry bag and suitcase, and then re–filling it again with the things he liked to have with him during a day at the Chateau.

Eventually Bradley burst out, ‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’

‘You know very well what I was doing,’ Colin equably responded.

‘But why? The man’s as old as my grandfather.’

‘So what?’

‘Look, don’t get me wrong, Richard’s a lovely guy. We all – We all like Richard. But this is going too far!’

‘Just because you didn’t fancy him, Bradley James, doesn’t mean he’s not fanciable.’

‘Seriously?’ Bradley demanded. ‘You’re seriously telling me you fancied him. It wasn’t just a pity fuck.’

Colin faced the man very directly. ‘I did – and I do – and it wasn’t. But you are way out of line here, Bradley. You don’t get to talk to me like that. D’you even hear yourself? I don’t think you get to talk to anyone like that.’

Bradley growled a bit, and stalked off as far as he could, jamming the fingers of one hand back through his hair so hard that when he turned and came back, his fringe was sticking up. Colin wasn’t in the mood to laugh. Finally, in more placating terms, Bradley said, ‘Look, I don’t understand. I thought he was meant to be in – I mean, I thought he fancied me.’

Colin guffawed. ‘You jealous, Bradley?’

‘No!’ Though a lingering look that tried to tear itself away gave the lie to that assertion.

‘You didn’t want him,’ Colin explained heavily. ‘You made that pretty clear. Doesn’t mean no one else wants him. Not that it’s really any of your business, who I might or mightn’t want.’

Bradley sounded almost distraught. ‘I just… don’t… understand.’

What don’t you understand?’

‘If you’re lonely – I get that. God knows, I’m lonely, too.’

‘Bradley –’

But Bradley scrambled to protest: ‘It’s not what you think!’

Colin shrugged in exasperation. ‘What is it, then?’ There was no reply. ‘D’you even know, Bradley? D’you know what you’re going on about?’

‘No,’ he replied, kind of airily, as if Colin was the one who needed humouring. ‘No, I don’t suppose that I do.’

Then he was off out the door, not even hesitating as Colin cried after him in annoyance, ‘Brad–ley!’

The door slammed shut. And that – whatever it was – was that.

Monday was horrible, but the work got done, and Richard’s lovely serenity seemed as if it might last forever and ever, and that was worth the peace of mind of fifty lesser men. Or so Colin told himself.

Once the day was done and they were all back at the hotel again, Colin was too restless to settle, so almost without volition he was heading out again into the lingering summer evening, looking for he knew not what. This was really far too beautiful a time and place in which to be so dissatisfied. But for once Colin found himself without the inner resources to rediscover his sense of calm.

It was serendipity, then, to have Rupert falling into step beside him, with those long legs matching his gait effortlessly. ‘Feel like a walk…?’ asked Rupert.

‘Mmm,’ said Colin. I do.

And so they headed out along the river bank yet again, putting the urban behind them and finding the cool quiet of the parkland and beyond that the countryside. They were silent for a long while, and gradually Colin’s inner workings grew less turbulent.

And it wasn’t at all like Rupert to interfere, so when he finally asked, very tentatively, if he might say something, Colin nodded and gave him leave to do so. ‘It’s about Bradley,’ Rupert continued.

Colin sighed, and murmured, ‘Aye.’

‘You might give him a break,’ Rupert said, very directly yet very lightly. ‘It’s confusing! Even I’m confused.’

Colin indicated an acknowledgement of this. For once he wasn’t entirely sure he had all the answers himself.

Rupert continued, in such easy tones. Not presuming or insisting on anything. Just clearing a path through the thicket of confusion. ‘Bradley was just starting to realise what a compliment it was for Richard to fall for him – and then you slip in and take the prize. Bradley’s hardly sure who to be most jealous of.’

‘He doesn’t actually want either of us,’ Colin pointed out.

‘He’s got a little bit of a crush on you. I think just about all of us do. You can call it hero worship, if you like.’

God, Colin and Bradley together… Wouldn’t that be an amazing disaster of epic proportions? ‘I’m probably about the last person Bradley should think about being with.’

‘It’s never that logical, though, is it?’

‘And he’s straight!’

‘Oh, I think the right guy could turn him around. If he wanted to.’

Colin thought about that for a long while, pacing along beside his friend. Eventually he asked, ‘Are you trying to warn me off, or give me a shove in his direction?’

Rupert simply shrugged in his elegant shambolic way. ‘That’s for you to decide. I’m just asking… if you might go easy on him for a while. That’s all.’

‘All right,’ he found himself saying – and the two of them ambled to a stop, and stood there, watching the river slide smoothly by, massive and never–ending. The sky still glowed to one side of them, while the stars were slowly revealing themselves on the other… Colin felt once more as if he knew where he belonged. He said, ‘You’re a good man, Rupert Young.’

‘Oh, maybe I have my moments.’

And he did, in that bewitching French twilight, he was certainly having a moment – Rupert Young, so tall and gentle and sexy and true. Colin stepped closer, lay one hand lightly on the man’s arm, murmured ‘thank you’ and lifted up a little, his face drawn to Rupert’s like a tawdry butterfly seeking nectar from the freshest and most beautiful bloom of all – and Rupert obliged, tilting down just far enough to let Colin press a kiss to his cheek, and then not drawing away when Colin pressed another to his mouth. They hovered there together for a long moment, as the night slowly crept closer, and they knew that they were safe.

Until eventually, quite naturally the moment started to pass, and they simply turned away and started wandering back towards the hotel, and maybe Colin wasn’t the only one who sighed wistfully for all the impossibilities of the world.

But then the lingering moment shattered and crashed as they saw Bradley standing there staring at them, football held forgotten against one hip, and mouth twisted in what looked suspiciously like bitter grief. And Colin could read his heartrending cry: I – don’t – under – stand!

Confused by altocello

Confused

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

Cardiff

Despite his promise to Rupert, Colin refused to talk to Bradley about the things Bradley most wanted to talk about. But he did go easy on him in all other respects, and after a couple of false starts they were soon back into their familiar bantering and mucking about. It wasn’t just the two of them so much anymore now that Rupert was around, but that seemed to help the comfort levels rather than hinder them. When they were all in the right mood, it was just marvellous.

One afternoon the three of them were actually the first to arrive in one of the meeting rooms for a script read–through. As wasn’t unexpected, the lights were off and the ramshackle blinds were drawn. Bradley observed, ‘It’s a bit dark in here!’

And Colin couldn’t help himself. ‘As the actor said to the bishop,’ he muttered, just loud enough for the others to hear him.

‘Ha!’ Bradley shouted a laugh, and Rupert guffawed – before saying with mock innocence to Bradley, who was by the light switch, ‘Turn that on, would you…?’

‘As the actor said to the bishop.’

‘Light me up!’ Bradley contributed, flipping the switch.

‘As the actor said to the bishop.’ Already he hardly even needed to articulate it; he just mumbled something with the right cadence.

‘Why don’t you take a seat?’ Rupert asked Colin, with an expansive gesture which seemed to include his own wide–thighed lap as well as the chair that he dragged close beside him.

‘As the actor said to the bishop.’

Which was when Tony walked in, only to find a suspiciously repressed silence. ‘What mischief are you lot up to…?’ he asked.

At which they all spluttered into laughter. ‘As the actor said to the bishop,’ Colin supplied – which of course set Tony off, too. He was the worst – or maybe that was the best giggler of them all.

Though even Tony managed to control himself once the meeting was underway and Johnny Capps was standing up the front to talk very soberly about where the story arcs of the next block would take the characters. And in fact no one misbehaved until Johnny had the misfortune to say something – afterwards no one could quite agree on exactly what – about it being ‘so very hard for both of us’ – and Bradley couldn’t restrain a surprised snort, which set Tony off giggling, and Rupert had to bury his face in both hands as his shoulders shook silently, and even Colin couldn’t quite repress a chuckle.

‘Bradley,’ Johnny said forebodingly.

‘Oh, sir!’ Bradley gamely protested in his quintessential plummy English schoolboy voice. ‘Oh, but, sir…’ as he gestured at Colin. ‘He started it!’

‘That’s enough, Bradley.’

Colin frowned. ‘But I did start it.’

‘I’m sure you did,’ Johnny agreed – ‘before the meeting. There’s a time and a place, Bradley. This isn’t it.’

Bradley was gaping a little at the unfairness of the world, but he didn’t bother arguing any further. After a moment he pressed his lips shut tight, sat forward to prop his elbows on the table, and hung his head over the current script.

None of them dared laugh again for hours.

Colin shouldn’t have overheard. Bradley had left with Katie and Emilia; Rupert had headed off with his mate Metin, their director for this block; everyone else had drifted or dashed away. Colin was the last to leave the table, having been caught up in re–reading the scene where Merlin denounces magic and sorcerers in an attempt to prevent Arthur revenging Ygraine’s death upon Uther, thereby reinforcing Arthur’s prejudices which had until then been showing distinct signs of wavering… And maybe what Merlin was saying was in fact true, with Arthur’s vision of Ygraine perhaps nothing more than a trick, and certainly conjured by Morgause with malicious intent… Colin would have to play the scene with a full enough heart to convince Arthur despite his rage for justice, and yet of course Colin must also acknowledge Merlin’s own sense of loss, knowing he was betraying his cause in the short term with nothing but faith in his destiny playing out in the long term… Actors lived for such jumbles of motivations, and surely Bradley was thrilled to be gifted with the challenge of this script. Colin would certainly have to help lay the right foundations for it all –

A discreet clearing of a throat alerted Colin to the fact that he was now alone in the meeting room, except for Richard and Johnny who were obviously wanting to discuss something without him there. ‘On my way!’ Colin assured them, shoving some things into his backpack, grabbing other bits, and quickly scooping up the three scripts for that block in one arm, before heading out into the corridor. The door swung closed behind him.

He shouldn’t have overheard, but three paces on he almost dropped the scripts, and he crouched briefly to wrestle them into his backpack – found himself under one of the high row of vents and windows that let light and air through to the otherwise grim passageway. And Richard was saying, ‘Don’t quash him, Johnny. You think you’re doing it for the good of the production, but the show will lose out in the long run.’

‘The show isn’t exactly helped by all his disruptions and distractions.’

‘I know he’s rather more exuberant than the usual Englishman. But if you undermine what little bravado he can muster –’

‘Richard, he’s not exactly lacking in confidence. Taking him down a peg or two is as much for his own good as ours. He needs to become more of a team player.’

‘That’s just not so. Take out a peg or two, and the whole facade may come down with it. And that won’t do anyone any good at all.’

Colin was breathless at the immensity of these truths Richard was so evenly telling, at the challenge he was so calmly issuing. A silence stretched in which he didn’t dare move for fear of discovery, here in the centre of things where he didn’t belong.

‘Johnny,’ Richard eventually continued, having received no reply, ‘I realise you don’t find his cockiness as delightful as I do, but at least let him keep it for Arthur’s sake. You’ll agree that much is in the show’s interests.’

‘I’ll think about it,’ the exec producer said. Which was more of a concession than anyone but Richard Wilson would have dared ask for.

‘Thank you, Johnny. I suspect a little tolerance in this matter won’t go unrewarded.’

‘I’ll think about it,’ Johnny repeated, though firmer now, almost as if he had already agreed.

And the conversation was obviously being wound up, so Colin crept along on his Converse–shod feet to hide in the next room along until the coast was clear.

Colin was spending more and more time hanging out in Richard’s dressing room with him. Often they hardly even spoke, but each simply read their scripts or their books, dealt with phone calls and emails. They’d take turns to make tea, and they’d keep each other company.

If Colin ever wondered why Richard didn’t mind the intrusion very much, he soon found an obvious answer in the fact that Bradley or Rupert or both began joining them, tentative at first, but quickly realising their company was welcome. Richard always managed to be relaxed yet reticent around Bradley, as if afraid of offending him, but Colin found it a pleasure to watch Richard basking in Bradley’s presence, and gently encouraging Bradley when he could. It was so delightfully obvious that there was far more to Richard’s love than an attraction to that sweep of golden hair or the summer sky eyes or the proudly chiselled nose. Colin found it almost unbearably touching that Richard was still so very generous despite the fact that he had been so summarily refused.

One afternoon the four of them were all mellowed out with tea and diffuse beams of sunshine, knowing none of them were needed for another two hours or more. Rupert had found a guitar from somewhere – perhaps it was Angel’s – and was quietly picking out tunes. One eventually segued into a song from Jesus Christ Superstar – a song sung by Mary, and later echoed by Judas. They all listened thoughtfully, until Richard softly prompted, ‘Sing for us, Bradley.’

The man smiled, and coloured a little. ‘No…’

‘Go on,’ Rupert said with a nod.

‘Yeah, go on,’ Colin added. ‘You got us all curious with this Judas business, you know.’

Bradley glanced around at each of them, and realised they were sincere. ‘Oh god, all right,’ he grumbled. And he took a moment to find the right mood, the right tone, while Rupert led in with the introduction again. When Bradley sang it was quietly, so it wouldn’t carry beyond their own space, but it was with exactly the right broken passion and raw confusion. He didn’t look at any of them, but sang as if he was as lost and alone as Judas was in those final moments.

I don’t know how to love him…
I don’t know why he moves me…
He’s a man. He’s just a man.
He is not a king – he’s just the same
As anyone I know…
He scares me so.

When he’s cold and dead, will he let me be?
Does he love – does he love me, too?
Does he care for me?

Rupert finished it there on the discordant chord that heralded Judas’s madness and death, and they all looked at each other, astonished.

‘Bradley,’ said Richard after long moments passed, ‘you’d be marvellous.’ Then he added, heartfelt, ‘You are marvellous.’

‘What he said,’ Colin agreed. He’d have defended Bradley’s skills to anyone before. Now he’d defend them to the death.

‘Who’d be your Jesus?’ Rupert asked.

Bradley looked up at him with a grin. ‘Well, you would, of course.’

Rupert seemed very pleased about this.

‘You’ve got the look, and all,’ Bradley continued. His glance alighted on Richard. ‘You could be Pilate, maybe,’ he offered. ‘If you wanted.’

Richard simply glowed. ‘Thank you,’ he murmured, as if all his dreams had just come true.

‘And Colin?’ Rupert asked. ‘Who would Colin play?’

Bradley considered Colin for a long moment, assessing him carefully. And eventually he announced, with a lightness of tone that didn’t do anything to disguise the significance of what he said, ‘Colin has so much magic… he can play whomever he likes.’

And Colin stared back at the man, energy crackling between them as if they were both in thrall to the elements.

Colin got out of there as soon as he decently could, and then managed to avoid any secluded situations in which Bradley might involve himself, but of course that evening there was a knocking at the hotel room door that wasn’t room service. Colin went to the door, and steadied himself by resting his forehead and both hands against it. He didn’t need to look through the peephole to know who was there. ‘What?’ he demanded.

‘It’s me,’ said Bradley.

‘I know it’s you.’

‘We have to talk.’

‘No, we don’t.’

‘Colin –’

‘We really don’t, Bradley.’

There was a pause, before Bradley spoke again – and when he did his tone was lower and more confidential, and he sounded close, as if there was nothing but the door between them now. ‘You can’t deny there’s something happening.’

‘Can’t I?’ he said, as if taking this as a challenge.

‘I’m not talking about it out here. Everyone on this floor will hear us!’

Colin shrugged and grimaced in exasperation, which was of course lost on Bradley. ‘So don’t talk about it!’

‘Look, I know it’s all a bit unexpected, but –’

No, Bradley. Just – no.’

‘Why not?’ Bradley asked, frustration making him louder again.

‘Because –’ Colin said heavily, wanting to put an end to this while he still could. ‘Because you and me, Bradley –’

‘Yes – ?’

‘You and me – would be a – a great – big – marvellous – disaster.’

‘Marvellous?’ echoed Bradley.

‘Disaster,’ confirmed Colin.

‘Col…’ Bradley whispered.

And Colin felt drawn to the man, he really did. He wanted Bradley to whisper his name right in his ear, not through a thick wooden door; he wanted to feel Bradley’s breath tickle so the fine hairs on his skin stood up, he wanted Bradley’s lips to brush against the corner of his jaw, and then for his teeth to take gentle nips at his earlobe, before he…

Dear God…

‘Go away, Bradley,’ he said, low and hard.

Bradley was still in quipping mode, though it sounded as if he’d drawn away a little, as if standing now, ready to walk off. ‘I’m quite the irresistible force, you know. We’ll see how long you last.’

‘I’m the original immovable object,’ Colin advised him. ‘We’ll see who outlasts who.’

A silence fell. After a long moment Colin dared to peep out to see what was going on. Bradley was still there, but he was staring down at the carpet now, as if suddenly feeling doubt.

Excellent.

‘Good night, Bradley,’ Colin said, in the same tones as he’d said Go away.

And Bradley turned away, muttering something that might have been Night, Col, and then he was gone.

Colin had to go sit down, he was shaking so hard.

Conflicted by altocello

Conflicted

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

Fforest Fawr

Colin hadn’t slept very well the past couple of nights, so when there was a break between scenes he headed gratefully for the chairs set up for the actors. There was no one else there, though he’d been sure Richard had already retreated in this direction. Who knew, though? Richard was so rarely on location with them that they’d all been joking about him jinxing the day’s filming, and it all ending up on the cutting room floor.

As Colin blearily contemplated matters he realised that he really didn’t want to even be sitting upright – but now he thought about it, no doubt Richard had gone to claim the tiny trailer they all shared, for the sake of putting his feet up properly. Colin could make do here. He snagged his coat, lay it out on the dryer grass just beyond the little stone wall behind the chairs, and stretched out on it, with his script for a makeshift pillow.

He must have drifted off immediately, for he blinked, and then saw that the sun had shifted around so far that he was all but his boots in shadow now – and Bradley was saying mournfully, ‘Honestly. I only want to understand…’

Colin blinked again, wondering if this was a bad dream. But apparently not. Richard replied in diffident tones, ‘I’m afraid Colin is the only one who can help you there. If you talk to Colin about it –’

‘He won’t. He won’t talk about it. He won’t let me in, or he just walks away.’

‘You’ve tried, then. You’ve made it clear what you intended?’

Bradley sighed. ‘Only about a hundred times, and yes.’

The two of them must be sitting in the chairs, between scenes, and assuming themselves alone. They were speaking very quietly, but also quite unguardedly… Colin glanced about him, wondering if there was any way he could just crawl off without giving away his presence. But it didn’t seem so. They’d see him and they’d probably hear him if he so much as shifted where he lay.

‘I’m sorry, Richard,’ Bradley was continuing. ‘I know you, uh – well, you liked me once. I don’t want to – I don’t want to be insensitive, or take advantage. But I don’t know who else to talk with.’

‘Quite,’ said Richard, agreeing with this last remark, and apparently letting the rest flow past him. Colin could tell from his tone that Richard was pleased Bradley had sought him out – and also nervous.

‘I’d talk to Rupert, maybe, but – but Colin kissed him. I saw them. I mean, Rupert’s straight like me, and Colin kisses him anyway, but then there’s this – this intense kind of thing going on between us, and he won’t even talk about it. So, what’s that about?’

After a moment, Richard observed, ‘It can all be very confusing, I know.’

‘For me, you mean,’ Bradley said sourly.

‘For anyone,’ Richard gently corrected.

‘Oh.’ Bradley sounded a little surprised. ‘Thanks.’

‘I wonder if…’ Richard ventured, ‘if Colin simply doesn’t trust this… intense feeling to last. Especially as you’re straight, Bradley. Perhaps he assumes it will pass.’

‘Maybe it will. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything about it while it’s here. Does it? I mean, it doesn’t have to be serious, it doesn’t have to last forever, and –’

A silence stretched before Richard prompted, ‘And…?’

‘And I’m – I mean, maybe he’s lonely, too. And we don’t need to be. Do we?’

Richard took his time with that, and Bradley let him. Eventually Richard said, ‘You’ve always struck me as a very sincere person, Bradley.’

‘Sincere?’

‘In the best possible ways. I know you like to joke around, and you’re very enjoyable company – but when things really matter, when it’s important, then I believe you have too much respect for others to be anything other than – earnest.’

Colin could hear Bradley shift on his chair, as he mentally wrestled with that. ‘Are you saying I’m too serious for him? I mean, really…?’

‘In a way, yes. Colin is a very serious person, too. If he felt it would do you both more harm than good –’

‘He said it would be a marvellous disaster,’ Bradley offered.

Richard huffed out a breath of laughter. ‘Marvellous, yes. But I think you can understand he’s not the sort who’d appreciate having a tumultuous love life.’

‘Oh.’

‘Certainly not while he’s still so young. I think he wants to be able to focus on his career, for now.’

‘I see.’

‘Does that help, a little?’

‘Yes, it does.’ There was a comfortable silence, before Bradley tentatively said, ‘You didn’t think it would be a disaster. With me.’

‘Oh no, of course not. But then, an old man might be permitted to indulge in fancies that are… quite impossible. Colin is dealing with realities.’

‘Impossible because of me.’

‘No, my dear, not at all. Not at all. Only because of me.’

There was a shuffle, and a shifting, and then steps. Bradley had stood up, and was no doubt ready to make his exit. He declared, very chivalrously – and Colin imagined him bowing to Richard, or some such gesture – ‘Not impossible at all, then.’

‘Oh!’ cried Richard, as if overcome – and Colin pictured his hand fluttering and then settling over his own heart, as he dealt with this overwhelming compliment. Bradley strode off. And Colin continued to lie there, cold now the sun had moved around completely, but determined that Richard should be left alone to have his moment and enjoy it, too.

Compass Rose Knot by altocello

London

The last few weeks of filming were crazy–busy, but eventually it was over; the producers spared a moment in which to breathe a sigh of relief, the directors retired to the editing suites, the sets and props were packed away – and the actors dispersed as fast as if it were the last day of school.

They would all be meeting up again soon, though. The wrap party was planned for a Saturday night, the tenth of October. The evening before Bradley’s birthday. Colin pondered this occasionally, wondering if Bradley would take the opportunity to again test his irresistibility against Colin’s immovability. Whether he’d ask Colin to participate in whatever he had planned for his birthday the following day. Whether he’d try to ask for some kind of date, or make plans to see each other during the hiatus. Whether…

Whether Colin wanted him to.

There. He’d thought it. He could hardly deny that Bradley was beyond handsome, and fit; he had a good heart, and was great company. Colin couldn’t lie to himself about Bradley’s eligibility as a lover, even if the man had been straight until now. Colin could even acknowledge that part of him, deep down within his very core, wanted to give himself over to the kind of all–consuming passion he knew Bradley would inevitably provoke.

But not yet. Not yet.

On the evening itself, Colin didn’t know whether to be reassured or not that Bradley had dressed up for the occasion in a suit and tie. He looked… gorgeous, with his golden hair cunningly dishevelled and the knot of his tie loosened just enough to hint at later abandon… Colin swallowed nervously, but Bradley didn’t do more than nod a greeting across the room, and then take his time mingling with all and sundry.

When the band started and Tony and Sarah led the way onto the dance floor, Colin looked up to see Bradley set off with a purposeful stride. He quailed for a moment – before realising Bradley wasn’t heading towards Colin. No. It soon became clear that he was heading for Richard, who was sitting deep in convivial conversation with Julian, Jeremy and Rachel.

Colin gaped a little, and turned to watch.

With a lovely half–bow, Bradley offered his hand to Richard, and asked a question. The four of them stared back at him – and then Julian, Jeremy and Rachel turned to Richard with delighted smiles. Finally Richard was brave enough to stand, and take Bradley’s hand. And then the two of them were out there with all the other couples – Bradley seeking and receiving a bit of guidance from Richard at first, but soon they were turning about the dance floor in a loose kind of waltz with Bradley leading, and everyone was watching them and grinning like it was the most marvellous thing ever. Which it was. Even Johnny raised his glass to Bradley as he passed, and nodded at him in appreciation.

All the other couples were male and female, but by the start of the next song Katie had led Angel out there in a show of solidarity. And Colin found Rupert at his elbow, looking on with a beautiful grin. ‘Isn’t that great? Bradley’s a true gent.’

‘Richard will be happy,’ Colin agreed, cautiously.

Rupert turned to consider him, and Colin looked back. He liked Rupert’s choice of casual clothes, which looked fairly random but were actually beautifully harmonised shades of charcoal and grey and sage green, with natural textures from silky to nubbled. And of course it was all topped off by that genial face, and tumble of golden–brown curls, and the beard just starting to show a bit of salt amidst the pepper. Rupert looked gorgeous. And hopeful. ‘Would you dance with me?’ he asked, tentatively, as if expecting a refusal.

‘Course I would,’ said Colin, scornful of Rupert’s doubt.

Then they were out there, with Rupert quite naturally leading – and Colin let himself relax and enjoy being taken in hand for once, and whenever he glimpsed Richard’s sweet old face lit up with joy, Colin grinned and couldn’t help but feel it, too.

And inevitably it was becoming abundantly clear to everyone that it wasn’t Colin who Richard was in love with, despite their weekend together in Paris – but any concerned looks sent Colin’s way could hardly remain pitying when he was dancing with Rupert. Within two or three songs, everyone had adjusted to a nearer approximation of the truth, and had then gone on to gossip about whatever the next salacious titbit might be.

Bradley was nothing if not thorough; he squired Richard around for the rest of the evening, escorting him to a seat when they were done dancing, and fetching him drinks, before spinning him back out onto the dance floor again. Colin had to wait and wait for a moment in which he might talk to Richard alone.

When Bradley finally had to excuse himself for a minute, Colin slid in to sit beside Richard and lean close. ‘You’re having fun!’ he remarked.

‘I am. Oh, I am.’ Richard was still alight with pleasure. ‘Oh, isn’t he amazing? How kind he is to such a foolish old man… A veritable Mr Knightley!’

‘You deserve it.’

Richard just smiled gently at him, as if knowing that he didn’t but unwilling to argue with such a generous thought.

Colin said, ‘I was gonna suggest I come home with you tonight. Seeing as Paris was such a good idea.’

‘Oh my darling, no. That won’t be necessary. Thank you, but no.’

‘But you don’t think that –’ that Bradley will go home with you… ‘Do you?’

‘No, of course not. Of course not. But I am very happy, my dear. So very happy. I simply don’t want for anything more tonight.’

‘All right,’ said Colin. He could understand that.

Richard glanced up, and started glowing again, which surely signalled Bradley’s return. ‘Thank you, Colin,’ Richard murmured. ‘You are very generous. But I’ll be fine.’

‘Good,’ said Colin as he stood up to make way for the man Richard loved. ‘Good,’ he said to Bradley.

And Bradley nodded in acknowledgement, looking very serious and sober and earnest. Whatever the man thought he was doing, he was content.

Later that night, when Bradley came back from seeing Richard into a taxi, he received a hearty round of applause from everyone – which he waved off with a charmingly bashful smile. Then he went to fetch himself a beer. And as he drank it, propped there by the bar, he looked around to find Colin and to watch him, as if wondering what might happen next. What finally gave Colin courage enough to go talk to him was that Bradley was the one looking a bit wary now.

‘Hey,’ said Colin to Bradley, while standing front–on to the bar and miming an order to the barkeep for another beer.

‘Hey,’ said Bradley to Colin.

Colin took hold of his beer, and downed about half of it at once in desperation.

‘I’ve decided,’ Bradley began in heavy tones –

‘Wait.’ Colin turned to him, wanting to say something before they got into all that. ‘Look, about tonight. You’ve made a good friend of mine happier than he could have imagined. I’ll never forget that.’

Bradley nodded slowly, acknowledging this. Then he said, ‘I didn’t do it for you. I did it for him.’

‘Of course.’

‘And for me,’ Bradley added.

Colin gaped at him a bit. ‘Bradley –’

‘No, look. I’ve decided. Not to be so irresistible anymore.’

That earned the man a guffaw despite the serious subject matter. ‘Is that even possible?’

The corner of Bradley’s mouth kicked up in a smile, though he bent his head to hide it. ‘You were right,’ he said very evenly. ‘It would be too much. While we’re working together, anyway. Let’s forget about it for now.’

‘For now…?’

‘I’m not ruling out something happening later, at some stage during our lives. I’m just saying… not yet.’

‘That’s very reasonable of you,’ Colin complained.

Bradley grinned at him a bit wryly. ‘See, I thought you’d like that.’

‘I’d ’ve thought I would, too!’

‘Not quite so immovable after all, eh?’

‘Apparently not.’ Another moment passed, and he was able to swallow the stupid sense of hurt, and then he could return Bradley’s grin without reservation. ‘You’re a good friend, too, Bradley.’

‘Likewise,’ Bradley replied. And they shook hands, and they parted far more amicably than Colin had ever dared hope for.

Rupert was there waiting. Rupert had always been there waiting. He smiled a little as Colin walked up to him, standing there with a relaxed stance and his hands in his pockets. Deceptively casual.

‘Well, well…’ Rupert said. ‘Colin Morgan.’

‘Rupert Young.’ Colin looked up at him, considering. ‘Think I’m ready for a knight in shining armour… Reckon you fit the bill.’

Rupert nodded, though his hands remained shoved in his pockets, and he observed, ‘You finally made it down to third choice.’

‘Not at all. You’re my first choice.’

‘How so?’

Colin took a breath, and wondered how to tactfully explain. But then he caught up with himself in a rush. He’d long ago realised one of Rupert’s many graces was that Colin could be completely honest with him.

Another breath, and then Colin said, ‘Bradley’s very fanciable, but it would be too much. Way too much. And I liked being with Richard – I liked it a lot – but that wouldn’t be enough, so in love with someone else as he is.’ He looked very directly at Rupert, and concluded, ‘You’re just right.’

‘Sweep me off my feet, why don’t you?’

Colin ignored this, and shrugged apologetically. ‘Took me a while to figure it out, is all.’

‘Well, you’re here now.’

‘That all right with you?’

‘It’s only the best thing I’ve heard all year.’

Confident by altocello

Confident

They found a shadowy alcove in which to make out away from curious gazes, with Rupert leaning back against the wall and Colin gathered up close in his arms. They kissed and kissed like mad things, until Colin’s mouth felt delightfully used and abused, and then they held each other there – or rather, Rupert held Colin, and Colin tucked himself up against the other man, curling his head in against Rupert’s throat, consciousness drifting on the rhythm of Rupert’s strong heartbeat.

All was well. Richard was happy. Rupert was happy. Colin was wondering if this was what bliss felt like. And even Bradley had found some measure of peace, perhaps – and maybe even hope, for he and Katie wandered by at some stage, and Katie was saying, ‘Sure! A sweet quirky blonde tomboy.’

‘A tomboy!’ Bradley protested.

‘She’s all ringlets, bonnets and corsets on screen, but she’s quite the opposite in person.’

‘Katie –’ Bradley began.

‘She’ll be perfect for you. You’ll have so much fun together! You’ll adore her.’

‘But d’you really think that –’

‘Trust me, Bradley. It’s not Colin who’s magic; it’s me. I’m a seer.’

And they were gone. A laugh rumbled through Rupert, which Colin felt more than heard. ‘You’re not magic…?’

‘Feel like I am, being here with you.’

‘That’ll do me.’

They kind of fell through the door of Colin’s flat, hands and mouths all over each other, and Rupert’s long legs tangling with Colin’s while still somehow managing to keep them both upright at the same time. ‘I love your hands,’ Colin babbled, as he led the way in their shambolic dance down the hall towards the bedroom. ‘Everyone in the cast has good hands! But yours are very pretty…’

‘And the rest of me?’

‘Glorious mouth,’ Colin managed between hungry kisses. ‘Never get enough of your mouth. Explore the rest – very soon. Report back – when I can.’

There was a still moment as they paused on the threshold of his room. Rupert leaned in close, forehead to forehead, and murmured, ‘You’ll have to tell me – My first time –’

‘Easy,’ said Colin. ‘Make love to me, if you can.’

‘I can do that,’ Rupert replied, standing tall for a moment to look on Colin in surprise. ‘I can do that,’ he repeated with utter conviction.

Colin laughed in delight. ‘Excellent,’ he said, getting them in motion once more. The bed beckoned. ‘Let’s call it a plan.’

No matter how tall he stretched, Rupert was taller still; no matter how he curled up in need, Rupert’s arms could encompass him; no matter how empty he was, Rupert could fill him full and then some. ‘Perfect,’ Colin whispered huskily as Rupert moved gracefully over him, moved roughly inside him, moved beautifully with him in the most delicious of harmonies. ‘Perfect…’

You are,’ Rupert argued between kisses. ‘You’re perfect.’

We are,’ Colin countered –

With an overwhelmed groan, Rupert reached down between them, his thumb–pad perhaps used to finding a clit but instead rubbing at the base of Colin’s cock, then pushing down between where his balls were drawn up achingly tight, and then running up again, up the hard length of his cock – a shudder quaked deep within Colin, and he suddenly arched back with a cry, and he was nothing in that moment, nothing but Rupert’s cock rammed hard within him, and his own cock throbbing, shooting great long pulses that splashed against his belly and chest – and Rupert was crooning at him in great appreciation, until with a surprised cry he came, too, and the last of his gentleness vanished in the weight of it all.

Afterwards Colin lay in his usual ungainly sprawl, and yet Rupert still managed to hold him – Rupert lay there close by, pressed heavy against him with arms and legs wrapped around Colin as if Rupert were a particularly possessive octopus – but Colin didn’t feel trapped. He felt treasured. And he felt thoroughly satiated, and yet there were already stirrings within each of them, which promised more, and then – maybe not that night, but the next morning, and then later as well – more again after that…

‘Life doesn’t get much better than this,’ said Colin.

And Rupert, stretching out beside him on the bed with his face forever turned towards Colin, rumbled a wordless yet sublimely eloquent agreement.

Compass Rose Knot by altocello