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We All Write Our Own Endings

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It doesn't snow in downtown Los Angeles. In fact, when he first moved there, Bradley discovered by googling "snow in LA" that the greatest snowfall ever recorded was only 1.96 inches back in 1932. He doesn't know how the world survived before Google was able to tell them everything they never needed to know.

Bradley likes being able to spout random facts. It gives him an edge over the people he meets at mundane dinner parties in the Hollywood Hills, given the only facts they seem to be able to spout are which surgeon they prefer for a quick non-surgical nosejob and whose batch of coke is the best that week.

This is the time of the year that he misses the snow the most. Christmas in the UK was always bitter cold and figgy pudding and the Royal Variety Performance on the telly. He could always go to New York for a week or so — at least there'd be snow — but it wouldn't be the same. After nearly five years, he feels himself getting pulled inexorably towards the mother country, feels the ache of homesickness in his gut every day.

It feels like forever since he's been home. His mum teases him every time they talk that he should change his name to Brad officially because Bradley just isn't American enough for a blond-haired Hollywood boy like him. He laughs and shrugs it off and knows she's just joking, but something stings in his chest when she says it, like she expects him to not be him anymore.

Not that he can blame her; some days he feels like there's nothing left of who he was before he left for Hollywood, leaving Merlin behind like it had never existed. Bradley's always been fond of compartmentalisation. It keeps him sane, and while he knows some people called him a cold, heartless bastard for just up and leaving the way he did, it was the only way for him to really move on.

It doesn't mean he doesn't regret it though, on the occasions that he lets himself think about it.

Blond hair, blue eyes and a decent American accent made Bradley a marketable commodity when he arrived in LA four months after Merlin wrapped. On the days when he feels maudlin, it almost makes him bitter to think about it, which is ridiculous really, because who ever complained about being able to get work in an iron-tough industry like he has? If Eoin could see him now, he'd be shoulderbarging him and accusing him of being a "fucking Hollywood princess, it's so hard to be you, isn't it, mate?" and he'd be right, too.

He was damn lucky, booking a successful pilot the first time out, helped largely by the fact that Nick had more than a few similarities to Arthur. Bradley wondered at the time if he'd ever play a bloke who wasn't posh and snarky with daddy issues ever again, but apparently the ladies loved it, just like they did in the days of Merlin.

Hopkins Med, the NBC mid-season replacement, continues in its ratings annilihation. The freshman show, following a group of final-year med students at Johns Hopkins, succeeds due to strong writing and superb casting, particularly noticeable in the will-they won't-they pairing of troubled party boy Nick Wood (played by British import Bradley James) and studious, up-tight Brenda Andrews (played by Lily Collins.) The undeniable chemistry between James and Collins sizzles and reminds us of such classic couples as George Clooney and Julianna Margulies in ER's first season.

"See?" Cynthia had thrust the Entertainment Weekly review in his face over breakfast at DuPars, "They love you, sweetheart. Undeniable chemistry!"

"Yeah," Bradley had said, staring out the window. It hadn't been the first time he'd heard that, and he had dug his fingernails into his palms, a life-long habit that always worked when he needed to distract himself from thoughts and memories that were best left untouched.

He dated Lily for two years. She was the perfect girlfriend in public and a great friend in private and when they broke up the fans were horribly upset, except for those special ones who truly believed they were destined to be her replacement.

Bradley wonders if they'd still want him so much if they knew. Maybe. Perhaps they'd think they had the power to turn him straight.

The show went for three and a half seasons, and Bradley got three Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and two People's Choice Awards before they got cancelled due to dwindling ratings. In the four months since the cancellation, he's already been sent scripts for an indie film, a Judd Apatow comedy, and a new pilot being developed by Bad Robot.

It's ridiculous even entertaining the notion of being dissatisfied with his life when he has pretty much everything he's ever wanted: a gorgeous beachfront home, celebrity friends, and a job that most blokes would have killed for. And if he has to fake it 24/7, then that's the price he pays for all the shiny things.

He tries to shake off the malaise with a party in Malibu, a couple of lines, and a bottle of Patron he shares with a lean little dirty-blond twink who sucks him off in his car afterwards. None of it works, though, it just makes him more empty. Bradley's so sick of feeling numb and he knows that he can't be here for Christmas. Not again.

He wants to go home. Needs to.

"I don't know how long for," Bradley tells Cynthia in her office on Wilshire Boulevard. "And I know it's not a good time to be out of sight, but —"

"Oh honey," she says, hands steepled under her chin, "anyone could see you've been homesick for months now, you poor thing. I'll give the London office a call and we'll see what we can do, hmmm?"

Considering the practice he's had at it, Bradley wonders why he is still so utterly terrible at keeping most things from everyone around him.

***

His mum is ecstatic to see him of course, and thoroughly spoils him with cranberry-glazed turkey served with sage and chestnut stuffing, the hugest ham he has ever seen, three different puddings and more champagne than he can drink. She ignores his completely weak protests of the amount of carbs he's consuming, because while he thinks he probably should care about putting on a stone over Christmas, he really doesn't.

It feels normal, safe — like he isn't missing a large chunk of himself.

They watch the Queen's Christmas Message together, and Bradley falls asleep on the settee, full of food and alcohol and feeling happier than he has in years.

He moves into a flat in Westminster in the new year. It's insanely expensive, but it's gorgeous: a huge master bedroom and a decently-sized spare room both with ensuites and an enormous kitchen. It's a far cry from the apartments he used to stay in when he was last in the UK — it's much more grown up. Most importantly, it's secure. The last thing he needs is for the tabloids to start hanging around, waiting for a glimpse of anything that they can speculate about.

He remembers someone once told him that if he cared a great deal less about what everyone else thought, then maybe he'd be happy. Maybe.

He closes his eyes to try and quiet the ghosts.

***

William Morris calls him a few weeks later. His new rep there is a bloke by the name of Andy Morecombe and while he's young and energetic and quite pleasant in person, on the phone he sounds like a used car salesman.

"Look, I know you're just getting settled in, son, but I thought you might want to jump on this." He pauses. "I'll send the script over and then you come in and see me so we can chat. They asked for you personally, so I'd say it's a fairly sure bet once you've met with them. If you want to, that is."

"Sure." Bradley yawns. "That sounds pretty promising. Maybe." He's seen so many awful scripts in the weeks he's been back that he's not exactly jumping out of his skin to read this one. And if he gets one more that's a fucking period drama, he’s going to have a nervous breakdown.

"Who's directing?" he asks, drumming his fingers on the glass tabletop.

"Michael Magee," Andy says, and when Bradley grunts his approval, he laughs. "Approve, do we?"

"Uh, yeah, ever so slightly." Bradley grins. "Saw his last film at the TriBeCa festival last year, really great stuff."

Raw, emotional, fearless — that's what Bradley would have said if he hadn't been so gobsmacked.

"Great. It's a wonderful script from what I've seen, Bradley," Andy says. "Just — Just keep an open mind, alright?"

Oh god, it is another period drama. Fantastic.

When the courier arrives that day, Bradley settles down with a cuppa and a couple of gingernuts, and rips open the packet. The working title of the film is Blood and Daffodils and when he flicks to the first page Bradley exhales audibly. Not period, thank christ. Not that he would've expected Magee to be involved with your stock-standard period drama, anyway.

The role they want him for is a detective inspector with Scotland Yard. Bradley smiles; his ten-year-old self would be jumping for joy right now. Then he gets six pages in and he chokes on his tea.

10. INT: BAR - NIGHT

Ben sits alone, a glass of scotch in front of him. Steven, a slim brunette of around twenty-five, sits down next to him.

STEVEN: Anyone sitting here?

Ben looks up. His eyes travel up and down Steven's body. He's tempted.

BEN: It seems you are (gestures for Steven to sit down).

STEVEN: I'm...

BEN (INTERRUPTS): No names, if you don't mind.

STEVEN (GRINNING): I don't mind at all. So would you like to get out of here?

BEN: I would.

11. INT: STEVEN'S BEDROOM - NIGHT

Steven moves in to kiss Ben, who pushes him away.

BEN: I don't kiss.

STEVEN (LAUGHING): Of course you don't.

BEN (EXPRESSIONLESS): Turn around.

Steven turns and faces the wall, undoes his trousers. Ben bites his lip and palms Steven's arse, slowly.

STEVEN (GROANING): You closet cases are always the hottest.

BEN (GROWLING): Shut up.

They fuck.

Bradley's mouth is completely dry and he’s pretty sure he’s going to faint.

Open mind indeed. If only Andy knew.

If you want to go, then go, Bradley. Go to LA and be a star, long as you can stay in that closet just a little longer, yeah?

Fuck. He shuts his eyes tight and spends a few minutes trying to clear his mind. He really does not need to be hearing Colin's voice in his head, not now. He walks over to the wet bar and pours himself a couple of fingers of scotch, lifts it to his lips and thinks better of it, slamming it back down and filling the tumbler almost to the top.

He sits back down with the script, taking a huge gulp before reading on.

It unfolds that Ben's sister dies in suspicious circumstances, so he takes a leave of absence and goes back home to Templeton for the funeral. When he gets there, he discovers his first clandestine boyfriend, Toby, has returned to Templeton and has been teaching at the local primary school along with his late sister. Toby becomes targeted by the killer and Ben decides to stay in Templeton after the funeral, conducting his own investigation of the case while keeping an eye on Toby.

Unfortunately, the writing is really fucking good. The two leads are particularly meaty roles and there's an emotional rawness to his character that Bradley's been dying for his whole career. With Magee's direction, it will be an amazing project.

It would be perfect, if it wasn't for the fact that Bradley's character is a self-hating closet case. The irony, it burns. And okay, Bradley doesn't exactly hate himself because he happens to be bent, he doesn't hate himself at all actually, and he isn't exactly copping off with nameless blokes in bars on a regular basis or anything — well, not often, anyway. It's just — well he had to make a choice and he chose his career. It was his choice to make, after all. Nobody else's. The more he tells himself that the more he believes it, too.

Lately though, he's been questioning whether it was worth it at all. Bradley can barely remember when everything was simple and he was happy. That seems like another lifetime now, and after years of being more famous than he ever anticipated, he wants his life back. It's not like he's going to suddenly become a walking London Pride advertisement or anything. He's definitely not ready for that, but he's also thoroughly tired of all the bullshit in LA and maybe this project is just what he needs to reestablish himself as a serious actor, not just a heartthrob doctor on the telly.

It's a risk, no doubt, but it's a risk that could pay off. Even if it doesn't, he asks himself if he really cares that much, and the truth is that he really doesn't know. He's completely exhausted from faking it most days and Bradley's not even sure if he has it in him anymore. After everything he's given up, he wonders whether it would really be the worst thing, to be forced to tell the truth.

If he's really honest with himself, it's why he left LA in the first place.

***

Stuart, the film's producer, is so passionate that Bradley's instantly charmed when he meets him and Michael Magee for lunch the following week at Hakkasan.

"So Bradley, you've read the script. What are your thoughts?" Stuart asks, practically bouncing in his seat.

Bradley takes a mouthful of Szechuan Wagyu and washes it down with a hearty sip of Riesling before saying, "Well, Stuart, I was blown away you asked for me, pretty chuffed actually. I'm a big fan of Michael's here and the script was —"

"Confronting?" Michael asks, grinning. "I hope it was, anyway."

Bradley's stomach ties itself in knots. He nods slowly. "Yeah, I'd say confronting is a pretty appropriate word to use."

"Good." Michael leans forward. "The thing is, I think we've reached a point where we're still very careful about showing anything explicitly gay on film. Which is a little ridiculous really, given how attitudes have changed in the last few years. We thought turning your classic British romance-murder-mystery on its head might be a fun thing to play with. If you've seen my work, you know I love working with actors who're willing to take risks and this role is definitely not safe."

"That's an understatement," Bradley says, his voice slightly uneven.

"Too risky?" Michael asks.

Bradley finishes his glass of wine and thinks — really thinks about it for a minute. On the one hand, he'd be immersing himself in a role that has quite stark similarities to him and confronting doesn't even begin to cover it. On the other hand, this is the kind of role he's been dreaming of playing his whole life: dark, broken and real, and he knows it would be devastating to see another actor play a role that he turned down because he couldn't separate himself from the character. At the end of the day, it's just a job, it doesn't have to mean more than that.

"No," he says, firmly. "I can do this. I... I want to do this."

Lunch lasts four hours. They talk in-depth about Ben, asking Bradley his thoughts and by the end of it, Bradley is excited about the vision Michael has for the film.

"We've wanted you for Ben ever since we started talking about this project, Bradley, I'm so thrilled we're all on the same page." Stuart wraps Bradley in a hug that nearly suffocates him, "Just think about how much this is going to change things for you."

Bradley thinks that might be the biggest understatement he's ever heard.

The next morning, the courier arrives with the contract. He signs it almost straight away, afraid he'll change his mind if he spends too long thinking about it.

***

Bradley heads to Paris the next day for a week. His heart races at the thought of being there again after 5 years. He spends the first day being horribly maudlin, sitting on the terrace of the Cafe de la Nouvelle Marie with an espresso and a pain aux chocolat. He pictures himself almost 7 years ago, at the same table, laughing with them all at the passers-by and remarking on just how ridiculously French everyone was, before leaving for Compeigne.

He hasn't called any of them since he's been back, not even the knights.

He misses them. All of them.

He calls Rupert immediately, figures that if he doesn't it'll slip his mind again and it'll be another month before he knows it.

"Bloody hell, we all thought you'd died!" Rupert's never quite learned how not to project whilst on the telephone. "What's been going on? Where are you?"

"I'm in Paris, actually. At that old cafe we used to go to with Angel and Katie."

If Rupert catches the omission, he doesn't say anything.

"Is the girl with the eyepatch still there?"

Bradley roars with laughter. "God, I'd forgotten about her. No, I gather she's long gone."

"Do you want some company?"

Rupert barely gets the question out before Bradley is interrupting him with, "Yes. God, yes."

Bradley isn't at all surprised when Rupert arrives at his hotel room with Eoin and Tom in tow.

"Oh wonderful," he drawls, "the whole gang of miscreants is here. Has anyone told all the farmers to lock up their sheep?"

He stands there and allows himself to be almost bowled over by the three of them, and he hugs them back, fiercely.

They don't even leave the hotel room, opting instead to sit on the soft carpet and call room service, gorging themselves on chateaubriand and three bottles of Chateau Cantemerle Bordeaux.

"Sorry I've been such a crap friend," Bradley says. "I'm really — there's no excuse."

"'s alright," Eoin says, swigging the last drop of wine from the bottle. "We all know you're Mr. Popular Hollywood Arsehole these days, we don't expect you to descend from on-high too often to join the rest of us plebs."

"Bite me," Bradley says, kicking him in the ribs.

"Seriously though, you'd better call Angel," Rupert manages to get out between belches. "She's much scarier than we are, and significantly more pissed off at you."

"I'll call her," Bradley promises. It's only half a lie, because he will call her eventually, but right now he can think of only one person he wants to talk to less than Angel.

The next night they all go out clubbing at Rex. Rupert and Tom pike early, and Bradley's sure that at least part of that is because they're both married now and Eoin being terminally single makes him the worst possible influence when it comes to picking up random girls.

Bradley's pretty sure Eoin is going to use the Merlin card to pull till he's sixty.

They end up in the VIP room with two girls, a blonde and a brunette who speak very little English. They sit on the couch and Eoin and the blonde kiss wet and open-mouthed while the brunette straddles Bradley's lap and feeds him Cristal from the bottle. It's easy enough for Bradley, he's good at faking this, especially when he's drunk on good champagne. He pulls her in, one hand on her back and the other in her hair, kisses her deep and thorough and pretends she is someone else entirely.

***

Three weeks later, Bradley gets a call from Tamara, Stuart's assistant at Crashed, asking if he'd have time to come into the studio that week for a reading.

"They've narrowed the actors auditioning for Toby down to two, Mr. James, and both the studio and Michael thought it might be a good idea to get you in for the recalls, see how everything clicks."

Bradley's throat constricts and his palms start to sweat as they always do when he's nervous. He's come to grips with the fact that he's playing someone not completely dissimilar to himself, and the whole simulated sex part — that's easy, he's done that before, albeit with girls. The intimacy though, the completely raw emotional connection, that's entirely different.

"Mr. James? Are you still there?"

"Sorry, Tamara, a million miles away. And please do call me Bradley." Hearing a girl probably 10 years his junior calling him Mr. James makes Bradley feel horribly old.

She giggles. "Yes. Of course. Bradley. Well. Uh. Sorry, what day would you be free?"

"Any day'll be good for me," he says, phone under his ear as he stirs a sugarcube into his tea. “Oh and by the way, Tamara, who will I be reading with, out of interest?"

He tries for mild interest rather than desperation, but he doesn't think his nonchalance is very convincing.

"Oh, sure." She hesitates, obviously looking down at her list. "They've called back Jeremy Anthony and Henry Whitworth. You know them?"

"I know of them." He's not sure he can picture either one of them as Toby, but he knows he shouldn't be drawing his own conclusions before he's even read with them, and at the end of the day it isn't his call to make anyway. It would potentially ruin the film however if whoever gets Toby isn't someone Bradley has a strong connection with. They both really need to be able to trust each other implicitly.

He hasn't allowed himself to trust anyone like that in a very long time.

Thursday morning, he wakes at 5am and hits the gym. He runs on the treadmill until beads of perspiration start hitting the display. It's been several days since he's gone so hard with the exercise. He's going to have to be much more disciplined with his workout routine in the coming months. Given the amount of time he'll be spending onscreen in various states of undress, fucked if he isn't making sure his arse looks as spectacular as possible.

With that thought fresh in his mind, he wipes himself down with his sweat towel and settles into his lower body circuit, performing squat after squat with form that would make his LA trainer proud. His quads and glutes ache and burn and perhaps it’s slightly masochistic of him, but it feels good; it blocks out everything else and quiets all the noise in his head that he can't seem to suppress.

He showers and changes into more appropriate clothes for the studio: jeans, a black pullover, and motorcycle boots, and throws his workout clothes into his gym bag. He takes the Tube to Tottenham Court Road, his nerves wound tight.

He's missed out on his own audition process this time and there's just a tinge of regret about that, which is probably quite sick and twisted because who would miss putting themselves through the hell of laying it all on the line only to be rejected? But there's that part of it that's a drug, an adrenaline rush. Today though, that's different for him. It's more like a first read when he doesn't know his castmates, with no idea of how things are going to pan out, but he throws himself into the uncertainty of it all anyway.

Given how much fear Bradley's swallowing down, he thinks he needn't be worried about any lack of adrenaline.

***

Within minutes of Bradley meeting Jeremy Anthony, he wants to yell, "See? I was right, hah!" because there is no way in hell that this actor is even remotely right for Toby. He's too smooth, too sure of himself, and it shows in his line reading. Bradley's thankful that they aren't covering any of the later scenes because he'd rather gargle acid than have to kiss this absolute tosser.

Henry Whitworth is due at 2 o'clock, but according to Stuart, his agent called that morning to let them know that he wouldn't be available.

"I think," Stuart says, a tinge of something like smugness in his voice, "that he suddenly became unavailable when he realised just how real the sex scenes would be."

"You know," Michael says, pulling apart a croissant with his fingers, "I'm surprised. I thought he was gutsier than that. Good that we found out now and not later. So we're back to square one, then." Michael drops his head down and rubs his temples.

"Not exactly." Stuart taps his pen on the table. "Bradley, how would you be placed to come back at 4 o'clock? We've a couple of options we need to talk through. Does that work for you?"

"Yeah, sure."

He sits in the cafe across the road, catching up on emails on his Blackberry. There's one from Eoin clearly written in some state of drunkenness, because all it says is sorry i haven't and Bradley writes back with Sorry you haven't what, you Irish git? PS: It's only 2 in the bloody afternoon, why are you embarrassingly pissed already? Oh I know, because you're breathing!

He opens up his script and goes through it line-by-line, making sub-text notes in the margins with his pencil while he eats an egg sandwich and drinks a cup of horribly watery tea. Before he knows it, it's 3.45pm and time to head back.

When he gets back to the studio, Tamara is sitting outside Stuart's office, painting her nails.

"Hello, Bradley." She blushes and lowers her eyelashes.

"They ready for me?" he asks, leaning forward on her desk and giving his most dazzling smile back at her. He's always enjoyed flirting, no matter what the outcome. It's part of why no one has ever suspected he's anything other than 100 percent straight.

Almost no one.

"Yeah, they've got an actor in with them right now, but they'd like you to pop in and read if you're ready."

"Course. Anyone I know?"

She grins. "Oh yes."

He can hear voices chattering and he picks them out: Stuart, Michael and another voice that sounds so familiar to him. When he opens the door, his skin prickles and he's unsteady on his feet.

Colin.

For a moment, Bradley’s world stops and he’s thinking slow like treacle. His breathing is hitched and awkward and his heart is pounding so hard that he can feel it in his throat. Everything’s frozen and the only person aware of it is him.

It doesn't seem real, seeing Colin like this, here of all places. It's wrong to have him this close, after years of trying to forget him. Bradley's vaguely aware that there are other people in the room, but he can't bring himself to break the awkward silence, his tongue thick and useless in his mouth, his gut twisting with anxiety.

"Bradley. Good to see you." Colin is the first to speak. Of course. It just figures. Perfect Colin with his utterly unflappable professionalism. But Bradley can hear the tension in his voice. Nobody else would probably even notice, but Bradley knows him far too well to ignore the thin, clipped tone of his voice.

"Cols."

Stuart clears his throat. "Sorry to spring this on you, Bradley. We didn't even know if Colin would be able to make it in today, he's only just got back from —"

"Home, actually. Armagh."

Bradley's gut clenches tight. He doesn't want to think about Armagh and Colin in the same breath. The last time they were there things were very different. Bradley was different.

He never says Colin’s name aloud, tries not to even think it most days. Yet here he is, standing in front of Bradley, and it's like he never left Bradley's consciousness. He notes the laughlines around Colin's eyes, the hint of grey in his sideburns and stubble. He looks more serious, pensive almost. But he's so familiar too, his deep blue eyes, full mouth and sharp cheekbones and not even Bradley's memories measure up to the sight of him. It makes Bradley want to get away, to just walk out. It also makes him not want to, which is an even scarier thought.

God, I've missed you, he wants to say, you have no idea how much.

Colin always had a way of getting in through Bradley's barriers and making him honest, especially when Bradley didn't want to be.

"Yes, Armagh." Stuart's voice cuts through the uncomfortable silence, "and we had Colin in mind some time ago but we thought it wasn't going to work out, but, well, here we are."

Of course they thought of him. Why wouldn't they? How easy for them to headline two actors that have a history, established chemistry and what have you. It's a no-brainer, really. That doesn't stop Bradley from feeling like the ground just fell out from under him.

"Yes." Bradley says, carefully keeping his voice level. "Sorry if I seemed a bit caught off-guard. Just, like you said, a mite surprised."

"Of course." Michael opens his notebook. "Whenever you're both ready, we'd love you to take scene 20, if you don't mind."

Colin nods. Bradley inhales slow and steady. He grabs a seat and plants himself opposite Colin, trying very hard not to let his eyes linger on Colin's long, slender fingers flicking through the script to the right page.

20. INT: TOBY'S CLASSROOM AT TEMPLETON COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL — EVENING

Toby is sitting at his desk, marking. Ben walks in and stands in the doorframe, watching him for a moment, before Toby looks up and catches him.

TOBY: What are you doing here?

BEN: Lovely. I suppose a polite 'hello' would be out of the question.

TOBY: Hello. (BEAT) What exactly are you doing here, Detective Inspector?

BEN: You know bloody well what I'm doing here, Toby. I came to bury my sister, remember?

TOBY: I know that, and I'm — you know how sorry I am about Liz. I didn't mean to — but what are you doing here, Ben? In my classroom?

BEN: Just checking in on an old friend.

TOBY: Ah. Checking up on me?

BEN: Someone has to, Toby, you're taking risks.

TOBY: I think I can take care of myself.

BEN: That's debatable. (BEAT) Are you still getting those phone calls?

TOBY: Christ, how is it you've been back in my life for less than 12 hours and you're already trying to control it?

BEN: Oh for fuck's sake, Toby, I'm just trying to do my job.

TOBY: Ah, I see. So you're on duty here, are you? I'm sure that's completely above board, not a conflict of interest at all

BEN: Just let me help you, Toby.

TOBY: No thank you. I don't need a bodyguard and I have assignments to mark, so if you'll excuse me —

BEN: I'd forgotten...

TOBY: What?

BEN: Just how gorgeous you look when you're indignant.

TOBY: (He softens, smiles a little) You haven't changed a bit.

BEN: Would you rather I had?

TOBY: I didn't say that. (BEAT) Goodnight, Detective Inspector Farrow.

BEN: Goodnight, Toby.

It's electric. The transitions in the scene from anger to flirting, the subtext with such weight behind it, such tightly wound tension. Bradley's shaking with the anticipation of not knowing what's going to happen next. God, he's missed this, the feeling of just losing himself in a scene with Colin. He and Colin have moved in closer, leaning forward in their chairs, occupying each other's space. Bradley isn't aware of how or when it happened, but their faces are so close now he can count Colin's eyelashes. The room is silent, so heavy with tension that he's scared to breathe and break this thing that's between them.

"That was," Stuart breathes. "Absolutely —"

"Perfect," Michael says, sounding amazed. "Thank you, Colin. Bradley."

This is what he'd been dreading from the moment he got the script, really. This kind of connection was what the material called for; and it's almost as if it had to be Colin. Not that he ever would have allowed himself to think it.

He remembers their first table read together for Merlin. The exhilaration in his gut at the way they bounced off each other, the push and pull. He'd never had anything like it with another actor before and no-one else has even come close to it since.

"Bradley, could you give us a moment?" Stuart asks.

"Course." Bradley leaves, closing the door behind him. He looks around and sees that Tamara's gone and the office is deserted. Only then does he dare to let it all hit him. He falls into a nearby chair and mutters "fuckfuckfuck" under his breath.

Colin. Here. It's the first time in years that Bradley regrets ever giving up smoking, because he needs something right now to take the edge off.

Ten minutes with Colin is enough to bring it all rushing back and no matter how successful Bradley's been at shoving his memories of Colin into boxes and locking them away, it's futile now. He's here and all-too-familiar, and Bradley remembers everything like it was yesterday.

The first time they kissed was at the Season Four wrap party. It had been in full swing when Bradley arrived, all his knights in tow. They'd already been drinking for a couple of hours, with Eoin insisting on shots of something hideously alcoholic that in all honesty tasted like paint stripper.

They'd all piled into the photo booth, too many of them all at once and Eoin had decided to bare his arse for the camera. Tom and Rupert had both made girly squeaking noises and Ade had just looked a bit sick, though Bradley had thought that was probably more to do with the booze and not Eoin's arse. Eoin did have a rather spectacular arse, after all.

Then it had been the four of them: Bradley, Katie, Angel, and Colin. Colin had been wearing that leather jacket and his hair was all dishevelled like he'd just had someone's hands in it and Bradley couldn't look away. Bradley had never been particularly good at hiding anything and well, Colin hadn't exactly discouraged it. Born flirt he was, and it used to drive Bradley absolutely fucking mental seeing Colin hanging off Eoin or the make-up girls or even fucking Johnny, for god's sake.

Then, just as the camera went off, the little minx leaned in and whispered, "You look good. Then again, you always look good. Fucking great, actually," and Bradley had been forced to cover his crotch with his hands in case he had scared the girls and anyone who looked at the photos afterward.

After the photos were all done and the crew and Rupert were making idiots of themselves on the dance floor, Colin had dragged Bradley into one of the empty rooms and stroked Bradley's cheek with his hand. When Bradley had leaned into it, Colin had lowered his head and kissed him, just brushed his lips over Bradley's, softly. Bradley had been fairly drunk so it took him a while to respond and to register the fact in his brain that Colin Morgan was kissing him. But finally he had kissed him back, had licked Colin's lips and pushed him up against the wall, snogging him relentlessly. Bradley hadn't kissed like that since he was in high school and he had Natalie Chartwell on his Mum's settee. Colin was a much better kisser than she was and he had tasted like gin and cigarettes and Bradley had instantly wanted more.

"Sorry,” Colin had said, after Bradley had stepped back. “I've just been waiting for that for years, James, got a bit impatient waiting for you to make a move."

Bradley had laughed, muttered, "I didn't even know you cared," then dropped to his knees and spent long, long minutes learning what Colin's cock felt like, tasted like in his mouth. Colin had come with a fist shoved in his mouth and his hand clutched in Bradley's hair.

It's a memory that he really doesn't need right now. Bradley's tried so hard to forget, but hearing Colin's voice curling around his ears: the tone and timbre of it is so familiar it aches. He's forgotten nothing.

Colin gets under his skin, always has, and in a short time he feels like he's back to where he was ten years ago: stupidly besotted and unable to think about anything but Colin fucking Morgan.

He hears the door to the room open and he tries not to look, but he's always had a morbid sense of curiosity. When his eyes flick up, Colin’s walking toward him, wiping his hands on his jeans. Colin immediately looks away, and it's such a marked change from the way he was inside the audition room. Colin always did seem so in control, so cool and professional when he was focused on the work, but afterwards was often quite a different story.

"Hi," Colin says, his voice tight. "They, uh, offered me the part."

"Of course they did, you idiot. You were great, and Jeremy Anthony was appallingly bad. His breath was foul, too. Seriously rancid. Your Welsh accent still sucks, though."

Colin laughs, but it sounds hollow.

"You're going to take it, right? You'd be a fool not to."

"Yeah. I'm going to... going to take it." Colin pauses, biting his lip like he always does when he's trying to think of what to say. "So what are we going to do? I mean, how are we —"

Bradley wants to be an adult, wants to be honest and lay it all out and then maybe they can both get past what happened that week in late January when everything came crumbling down. He wants to tell Colin just how much he's missed him.

But he isn't ready for that, doesn't know how to even begin, so he just shrugs and says, "We'll be alright, Cols. It's not like we haven't done this before."

Colin smiles a little, and says, "Yeah. It's — it's good to see you, Bradley. Been too long."

Bradley stands up and grips Colin's shoulder. "Yeah. This'll be great."

If Colin notices the waver in Bradley's voice he doesn't say anything, he just waves and walks down the corridor.

Bradley gets home around 6 o'clock, heats up some leftover Thai food and turns on the telly. There's nothing on, but he keeps flicking through channels while he shovels Pad Thai into his mouth. He settles on an old episode of Fawlty Towers which never fails to make him laugh, but it isn't working this evening. The riotous antics of Basil Fawlty just aren't enough to distract him from how fucking good Colin looked: the shadow of his eyelashes against his skin and how perfect they were together, the way they fit just like they always did.

He catches the tube to Charing Cross and heads to Heaven. The VIP room's already packed when he gets there and he downs a tequila shot to get him on his way. The bloke he eyes next to him at the bar has black, messy hair and deep blue eyes.

"Drink's on me," he says, throwing down a tenner.

"Thanks." The guy looks up at him and raises his glass, slams it back. The mouth is all wrong, but it'll do. He'll do.

Bradley fucks him in the toilets with his face pushed into the cubicle wall and Bradley's fingers gripped tight on his slim hips. He tries not to think about the little differences, like his voice and his accent or the fact that he's shorter than Bradley is and Bradley has to bend his knees to fuck him. It's easier to focus on the similarities when he can't see his face. Bradley buries his nose in the guy's hair which is curly and lush and smells like Tea Tree shampoo.

***

He arranges to meet Angel for lunch the next day and steels himself for the onslaught.

"Nice of you to finally call," she says, eyebrow raised. "I thought you'd forgotten I existed. Oh no, hang on, that would make me Colin."

Bradley flinches as he picks at his naan bread. "Angel, please. I'd really love it if we could talk about anything but Colin today. Do you think you can save the mum lecture for another time?"

It's the main reason he'd avoided talking to her for so long, truth be told. Katie and Angel had been the only ones he'd trusted with his and Colin's secret and in Angel's case she'd found out in the most embarrassing way possible, catching him and Colin at it in the make-up trailer when they thought everyone had gone home.

She'd been so angry when it all fell apart, and that, Bradley knew, was his fault. He hadn't exactly denied the rumours flying about in regards to him and Angel; in fact he'd encouraged them. She'd always felt hurt that he used her as a cover, and him taking off to the US and cutting off all contact with her, with all of them, had made it so much worse.

"I'm sorry," he says, grabbing her hand and squeezing it. "I shouldn't have been such a giant coward. I didn't really know what to do and now — now I don't know what to do to make it okay."

She looks at him with such fondness that it breaks Bradley's heart. "It's alright. Really. I'm just — I missed you."

"Missed you too."

She puts her hand out and squeezes his arm. "I just want you to be happy. Both of you."

That's what I want too, he wants to say, but instead he just shovels chicken korma into his mouth and avoids her eyes.

***

A month later, Bradley's in Harvey Nicks looking for a good bottle of Chardonnay when his mobile rings. It's a number he hasn't seen before. Bradley doesn't ever pick up calls from numbers he doesn't recognise; it could be anyone after all — old hook-up, tabloid journalist, some nutter who thinks it’s her destiny to marry Arthur Pendragon — the possibilities are endless. He lets it go to voicemail and forgets about it.

He checks his messages when he gets home. There's one from his mum checking if he remembered his cousin's birthday was next Friday, one from Tamara at Crashed reminding him of the date and time for the first table read, and the call he missed that morning.

"Erm, Bradley? Yeah, it's me. Colin."

Bradley flinches. It's unconscionable that he'd ever forget what Colin sounds like and the fact that Colin even thought for a second that he did, stings.

"So I was thinking we should — if you're interested, maybe we could get together? Run some lines and do some work breaking down the script? That is, if you want to."

Colin's voice is deep and rich and that accent that used to curl itself around Bradley's ear always made him absolutely fucking crazy. He remembers what it was like those first months in LA, praying every time the phone rang that it'd be Colin, calling him to say "I've changed my mind, please just — can we start again?" but Bradley knew he was fooling himself. Colin's like fucking ice when he's hurt; he never rages, never even raises his voice, just walks away.

It took Bradley three months to delete Colin's number from his phone, and god knows how long to stop wishing he hadn't.

It takes him two hours of sitting there, finger hovering over the call button, before he manages to bite the bullet and call.

"Cols — Colin, it's me."

There's a breathy pause on the other end, and a half-whispered, "Hey. How's it going?"

"Y'know," Bradley tries to sound matter-of-fact and light, but he's sure Colin sees right through it. "Got your message. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, just —"

"Been busy. Yeah."

"So — Uh — I was thinking that it's definitely a good idea. Getting together, I mean." Bradley's shaking now. He digs his fingernails into his palm and the twinge of pain takes the edge off a little.

"That'd be great." Colin says, voice shakier than Bradley's heard it in a long time

"Maybe Saturday? I'm free all day and you could come over here. If that works for you, that is."

"Yeah, that's — that'd be grand. What's your address?"

"It's 6 Ennismore Gardens Mews."

Colin laughs and it makes Bradley bristle. "Something funny?"

"Sorry," Colin says. "It's just that sometimes, I guess I forget how differently our lives turned out."

"Yeah," Bradley says, softening a little. "Me too."

Colin turns up on Saturday morning around 11, his hair all messed up from the wind. His cheeks are rosy and he's wearing a hoodie that looks about two sizes too large for him. He looks gorgeous, and Bradley hates that he notices that.

"So this is the old flat," Bradley says, closing the door behind him. "I'll give you the tour."

"It's pretty awesome," Colin remarks as they walk through the living room to the master bedroom, and Bradley is suddenly very uncomfortable. He hasn't been alone with Colin in a bedroom since —

"Yeah, it's alright," he says quickly, guiding Colin back out to the living room and briefly showing him the guest bedroom and the kitchen area. "Bit of a rip-off of course, but what can you do? You want a drink or something?"

God. It's so awkward. They used to know how to be with each other, they used to laugh and joke and know how to sit for hours not even having to say a thing but now Bradley feels like he has to fill every silence, just like when they first met. It's so foreign to him, being strangers with Colin.

"Yeah, tea'd be great. Thanks." Colin sits down on the couch, rummages around in his backpack, and pulls out his script — along with a pen, a pencil, and an exercise book.

Bradley boils the kettle, all the while trying not to stare at Colin, mapping out the differences in his face and body. He's broader now, especially through the chest and shoulders, and Bradley wonders what it would feel like to wrap his arms around him, to feel the resistance of hard muscle against his hands. He wasn't skinny that last year they were together, but he wasn't built like this either, and Bradley thinks Colin could pin him down without any effort whatsoever. And that thought isn't welcome at all, not when Colin's right there. He has more lines on his face too, and Bradley wants to see him smile, see if his eyes crinkle more than they used to.

He makes the tea whilst Colin, face pinched in concentration, flips through his exercise book.

"So," Bradley starts, placing both cups of tea on coasters on the glass table-top in front Colin, "where did you want to start?"

Colin looks up. "I just wanted to say something about before. It's not — I didn't mean to sound like I was judging you or anything, y'know?"

"I know. I know you didn't mean it like that, mate. Hell, we can't all work with Jean-Luc Picard or be bloody Puck, can we? Some of us are just happy to get a hefty pay packet." Bradley grins and punches Colin in the shoulder.

"You knew that I —? I always thought the last thing you would've wanted was to keep a track of what I was doing."

Of course, you complete wanker, he wants to say. Do you know me at all? But Bradley can't blame Colin for thinking that he had no idea; most days Bradley kept him from his mind for his own sanity, after all. But there'd always be that moment where he slipped, and that's when he'd end up poring over reviews and pictures and YouTube clips for hours. Colin looking drop-dead fucking gorgeous in leather pants, black tank top and glitter everywhere as a Puck who looked like he belonged on a float at London Pride. Alongside Sir Patrick Stewart in the TV adaptation of Noises Off, and owning the role that he won the Olivier Award for, Katurian in Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman.

"Oh y'know," Bradley says, shrugging. "It was hard to miss, really."

Colin grins. "Well, I may have caught a bit of you on the telly from time to time."

He blushes then, staring down at the floor, and all Bradley can think about is how ridiculous his cheekbones still are.

Bradley swallows around the lump in his throat and manages to choke out: "So — shall we start?"

Two hours later, they're both cross-legged on the floor, reading through the first scene they have together for the tenth time and Bradley's twitching.

"Bored?" Colin asks.

It's not that Bradley doesn't get the importance of script analysis, he does, but he's starving and besides, he doesn't quite get off on technique like Colin does. At the end of the day, he's always been more of an organic actor.

"How about some food?" Bradley asks, trying to ignore the way Colin grins like he knows Bradley so well that he could predict that's what he was going to say next.

"I could definitely eat. Pizza?"

And this is all too familiar. Kicking back and reading lines, discussing their characters over a beer and pizza. Long days that turned into nights when they were both too drunk to stand, holding each other up and getting so close that it felt like they were breathing the same air.

It's so easy, slipping back into this easy way that the two of them have, unlike the awkwardness before and Bradley wonders if Colin's feeling the same way he is. Whether he remembers everything just as clearly as Bradley does.

"Pizza it is. One with extra pepperoni for me and one with tofu, mung beans and hummus for you." Bradley grins, ignoring Colin's eye roll and he feels like it might be the first time he's smiled like that in years.

***

The readthrough takes place in a small warehouse space down the road from the Crashed offices three weeks later, and for once, Bradley turns up so early that there's nobody else there and in fact no one to even let him in. He's smug that he's there before Colin "I am a serious actor, ask me how" Morgan and also ever so slightly shocked.

Colin arrives ten minutes later, his backpack slung over one shoulder and his hair shoved under an Old Vic cap. "Woke up a bit late this morning, didn't have time to wash my hair."

"Late?" Bradley smirks. "You? I'd have pegged you for camping out overnight so that everyone could see what a horrendous, girly swot you are."

And this is new and yet old at the same time. It's been a long time since Bradley's felt like bantering the day away with anyone, let alone Colin, and the rehearsal at his place had been the gateway, like all he needed was the familiarity of this thing they do in a place that felt safe. It's like none of the past five years even matter, like they're Bradders and Cols all over again.

He's kidding himself of course; they can't just sweep years of hurt and anger and self-destructive behaviour under the table and act as if nothing's changed. There’s going to be fallout at some point, but not yet, not today. They've wasted enough time not being in each other's lives at all. The emptiness he's felt all these years had fuck all to do with being in a strange city that didn't feel like home, surrounded by fake bastards kissing his arse every second of the day, and everything to do with the empty space that used to be occupied by Colin.

"You're in fine form today, James." Colin's arms are crossed and he's got that smile on his face, the one that's reserved for Bradley only, the one that says you are a giant pillock, but I'm strangely charmed by you.

And — yeah. Colin hasn't called him James in a very long time.

He's relieved when Tamara turns up to let them in, because he doesn't know what to say next.

Within twenty minutes they're joined by the rest of the cast and a few members of the production team and after Bradley and Colin nod and say hello, the actors all sit down at the table. It's always strange, this first meeting, what with the posturing and competing egos. Bradley's very grateful that there is at least one friendly face in the cast who doesn't 'play the game' and never has.

He loves Amanda Whitehead, the actress playing his mum, instantly. She reminds him of his own mum, but she's got a raucous laugh and a bawdy sense of humour.

"So," Stuart yells, his voice breaking over the shockingly loud din, "let's get seated and make a start, shall we? Michael?"

Michael stands and waits for everyone to get settled before he begins. "Right, welcome everyone. We're so thrilled everyone could make it today for our first read, get-together, what have you. I thought we'd start by saying our names, who we're playing, or what our function in the crew is, and what you're most looking forward to and dreading about this whole process. Starting with — Bradley."

"Oh. Fantastic. Thanks for the long lead-in-time, Michael." He waits as the laughter dies down and stands up, clearing his throat dramatically. "Alright, well, I'm Bradley James. I like long walks on the beach and Arsenal FC and — well the thing I'm dreading the most is the world seeing my bare arse —"

"We're not!" Amanda interrupts, and the whole room erupts in laughter.

"That's disgusting, you're supposed to be his mum!" someone yells back.

"Alright you lot," Michael says, "let him finish or we'll be here till tomorrow."

"And I guess the thing I'm most looking forward to is — uh — not having to fake a fucking American accent." He nods, curtly and sits back down. Only then does he look over at Colin who's sitting opposite him, and of course it's a lie, the lack of a fake accent isn't what he's most looking forward to at all.

Colin is always nervous when he meets new people. It's part of why he so often gets underestimated and labelled shy.

"Erm, I'm Colin Morgan. I like — erm, a lot of things really. Sorry, that's a rubbish answer. Anyway I'm looking forward to working with this clown again." He gestures at Bradley with his thumb and Bradley feels his chest swell with pride and tries not to read too much into Colin's words, though he wants to very much.

"Can't think of anything I'm not looking forward to. Erm, Bradley's jokes?"

"Ha!" Bradley guffaws. "Not my fault I have a superior wit to you, young padawan."

"Alright you two," Michael says, "let's move on to — Kevin. Come on then."

Colin sits down and Bradley claps a hand on his back. This feels right.

***

It's a great readthrough, and Bradley feels the slight case of nerves he'd been feeling settle as soon as it's over. It's always daunting, not knowing how well a project's been cast, let alone the fact that this is the first film he's had lead billing on, and the material is extremely challenging. There's always that moment of Christ, can I actually do this? Or will everyone see me for the giant fraud I actually am? But the cast is great, and Bradley's happy with his reading. Michael has such a clear vision of what he wants to see that it puts him completely at ease.

He's standing around, having a beer and chatting with Stuart and Colin, when Colin's phone rings. Colin looks at the number and rubs at his eyes, takes a few seconds before he walks away from Bradley and Stu, picking up the call. Bradley can see him fidgeting: playing with a loose thread on the cuff of his jumper. He hears Colin over the general chatter say "half an hour?" then a pause. "Yeah, we're done, I'm just — just chattin' — yeah, out the front at four then. See you soon."

Bradley raises an eyebrow and Colin says quickly, "'s my lift. Sorry, Stu, you were saying?"

He keeps watching Colin and he's obviously uncomfortable now, not chatting as easily or naturally as he was before, so when Colin says his apologies just before four to the few people left over and heads outside, Bradley follows him.

"Bradley, what are you doing?" he groans, looking at his watch. Classic Colin Morgan diversion technique right there.

"Nothing," Bradley says, pursing his lips. "Just wondering why you're sneaking away so early, that's all."

A black BMW pulls up in front of the building and Colin's head drops.

"Look, just. Don't make a big deal out of this, alright? I'll — I'll see you at the station on Sunday, yeah?"

Bradley shakes his head and watches Colin walk over to the car and get in. The driver leans in and kisses him.

Why Colin felt the need to deliberately keep this from him he really doesn't know, but possibly the reaction he's having now might have something to do with it, the jealousy twisting nasty and ugly inside his belly.

The strength of it is worrying.

Bradley goes back inside, grabs his gear and says a quick goodbye to everyone, catches the tube home and starts to drink himself to what he knows will be a truly spectacular hangover.

Eoin is in a bar when Bradley calls him. "Oh my god, you're horrendously drunk aren't you? Please tell me you are, or I'll have to murder you with my bare hands for disturbing my pulling routine."

"I am," he manages to slur, "horrendously drunk."

"Oh christ, what happened?" Eoin asks, yelling over the noise that Bradley can hear in the background. "This has self-destructive bender written all over it."

"Well, yes." Bradley pauses, taking another sip of his vodka and lemonade, which is much stronger than the first one he'd poured, so much so that it makes him grimace. "Let me just tell you that I fucking hate wankers who drive BMWs. And the arseholes who date them. Oh and by the way, Macken, I'm a homosexual."

Eoin laughs, so raucously that he almost sounds like a cackling witch. "Tell me something I don't know, you bloody great poofter. I'll be right over."

When Eoin arrives, the first thing Bradley says to him is, "I never looked at your arse, you know. In case you were worried."

Eoin makes him sit down on the couch and fetches him a huge glass of water and a beer out of the fridge for himself.

"First thing, you're a liar, because my arse is spectacular." He pauses to take a sip. "Second thing? What's Colin done now?"

Bradley just blinks.

"Oh come on, did you really think you were being subtle? Everybody knew. Everybody."

"Oh god." Bradley drinks nearly half of the glass in one hit. "Why didn't you say something? You have no idea how —"

Eoin pats him on the shoulder. "Mate, the last time we went out together you snogged a girl right in front of me. I figured if you'd wanted to tell me then you'd be snogging blokes instead. Or me."

Bradley snorts. "Oh for pity's sake, get over yourself."

"Can't," Eoin says, shrugging. "It's as natural to me as breathing."

"It's a marvel you're single. Really."

"Enough about me." Eoin takes another pull of his beer. "So what's this about tossers in Beemers? Colin has a boyfriend, I take it?"

"Yes. And I don't like him," Bradley says, finishing his water.

"Have you met him?"

"Nope. Don't have to. Hate his guts already."

"Oh mate," Eoin sounds sympathetic and if Bradley had any feeling in his arms right now, he'd probably punch him. "You still — after all this time?"

"Never stopped." It's the first time he's ever admitted it to anyone, even himself.

Eoin pulls him in for a hug and Bradley falls asleep on his chest.

***

Bradley throws up twice before the car arrives to take him to the station on Sunday. The train is at 10am, and he gets up too late to have breakfast, so he just hops in the shower and quickly washes his hair. He brushes his teeth solidly for five minutes because his breath is vile, and throws on his most comfy pair of jeans, his Arsenal jersey and a hoodie.

His hands shake as he ties the laces on his trainers and he tries to clamp down the dread building in his stomach, making his skin prickle. It's different now that it's out in the open like this, the fact that everyone who ever mattered knew about him and Colin. It makes it harder to deny to himself. When he thinks about seeing Colin, knowing what he knows now, his stomach churns and he thinks he might just throw up again.

He arrives at Paddington station just in time to check-in and grab something to eat. He's sitting eating a breakfast wrap and a hash brown and thinking about all the bloody exercise he's going to have to do to work that off, when Colin sits down opposite him.

"Hi," Colin says, eyes downcast and voice low.

"Oh, hello." Bradley tries to sound nonchalant around his mouthful of cholesterol, but he's pretty sure that Colin's not going to buy it for a second.

"So, uh. Been a long time since we've both made this trip, yeah?"

Bradley washes down the last bite of his wrap with disgusting coffee that tastes more like dirty water. He grimaces. "It's — yeah. It's been a while, alright."

The last time they made this trip things were very different. Colin had less worry-lines and Bradley didn't feel like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. They were both completely oblivious to anything that wasn't their own bliss: arse-over-tit for each other. Bradley remembers sneaking away with Colin and snogging him senseless in the boy's loos, rubbing up against him in that tiny space and whispering "Laters," before walking away with a smug grin in his face.

"So," Bradley says. "How's —"

Colin blushes and looks down at his feet and Bradley feels a sick, bitter thrill in his belly.

"His name's Oliver," Colin says. "He's — we've been — for a while now."

"How long?" Bradley asks, playing with the salt and pepper sprinklings on his tray.

"Four years."

Bradley digs his fingernails into his palms. "Great. That's — really great." He looks at his watch and tuts, "Oh well, look at that. Time to go."

He dumps his tray in the rubbish bin and walks off briskly, not looking back to see how far Colin is behind him.

Colin doesn't say a word for the rest of their trip, just sits with headphones on the whole way, staring out the window while listening to one of his oh-so-serious indie bands and writing in his exercise book. Bradley watches Labyrinth on his iPad and when he shuts his eyes he has an inappropriate fantasy where he's Jareth and Colin is Sarah and Bradley fucks him up against the wall of the Goblin Castle. He's embarrassingly hard and so glad Colin has the window seat, because it means Bradley can surreptitiously sneak off to the loo and toss off, without having to push past him in the process.

When he comes back to his seat, Colin looks up and asks, "You alright?"

He looks so concerned and Bradley wants to tell him to piss off, that he's fucking angry at him for not discussing Oliver and my god, could he have a boyfriend with a poncier name? But Bradley can't be angry with him, not for moving on with his life. It's selfish to expect that he wouldn't. Colin isn't his anymore, hasn't been for years, much as it makes his chest ache to think about it. He just needs to move on. They were friends once, before anything ever happened, and it was good, the work was good and everything was fine. Except for the pining and the flirting and —

"Yeah, mate, I'm grand."

Colin laughs nervously. "You've been spending too much time with Eoin, I think."

"Probably." Bradley taps his knee with his fingers. "So Cardiff, eh? Be funny seeing the old town again. Even for just an hour or two."

"Yeah," Colin says softly. "It'll be nice."

***

The drive from Cardiff to Templeton takes about ninety minutes on the M4, so they have lunch in Cardiff with their driver, Matthew, who suggests fish and chips before they hit the road again. It's been a long day and while Bradley's not sticking to his nutritional plan, it's been a long time since he's had fish and chips, proper fish and chips, and as soon as the thought's in his head he can smell it, taste it already, his mouth watering over the sense memory of the glass-like batter, the grease, the melt-in-the mouth chips with salt and vinegar. They go to Top Gun in Whitchurch, and as if the sense memory wasn't enough, he's hit by an overwhelming jolt of nostalgia.

"Remember —?"

"Of course," Bradley says, cutting him off almost curtly. He doesn't know why Colin's bringing it up but he'd rather he didn't in front of Matthew. It was halfway through the first filming block for season five, and they'd ended up drinking a large amount of lager and Jager bombs with Eoin, Tom and Rupert. They caught a cab to Whitchurch and ordered a ridiculous amount of fried food at the chippie, and ended up back at Eoin and Bradley's. When everyone had crashed, Colin had snuck into Bradley's room and licked the salt from his fingers, before giving him a blowjob that nearly made him scream the house down.

He can't let himself remember it, not now, not in public. It's too much, remembering it with his whole body like this, so he wipes his hands with his serviette and tries to will his brain and body into submission. Tries to think of anything but Colin and his filthy, filthy mouth.

"Nothing but salads for me for the rest of the shoot," he says shakily. "I can't afford to ruin this arse."

"It looks just fine to me," Colin says, picking at his chips, a sly grin on his face.

God, Colin always was the most horrendous flirt. It would make Bradley bloody pissed off if not for the fact that he probably doesn't even realise he's doing it. Probably.

"Thanks," he says, "but not all of us were blessed with your waif-like appearance and your ability to eat mountains of fat and carbohydrates and not gain a stone. I'll be doing squats tonight until my brain starts leaking out my ears as it is."

Colin blinks and looks back down at his food and Bradley wonders exactly what's going through his mind. So fucking enigmatic, he thinks, and isn't that always part of the problem right there? With Colin, Bradley hardly ever knows what the hell he's feeling, let alone what he wants.

For all that it's complicated, it's really nice though, hanging out with him again, working with him again, like they did when things were much simpler and less grown-up. It feels like they could have that back and right now, at the end of the day, this, their friendship is more important to Bradley than could've beens and jealous turns over wankers in BMWs.

If he could just get that kiss out of his head, that is. It's hard to move on when all he can think about is Colin being kissed by someone that isn't him, being pressed into the seat, hands on his face and being kissed so thoroughly he can't breathe. Colin looks up then and catches him staring before Bradley forces himself to look away.

They take off again straight after lunch and they share Colin's headphones, listening to 80's and 90's one-hit wonders and arguing over which is the stupider song, Mistadobilina or Tarzan Boy. Halfway through the trip, Bradley's hangover catches up with him and he falls asleep, the strains of Roxette in his ear.

When he wakes, it takes him a moment to realise that he's been asleep on Colin's shoulder. His mouth's wet, and so is Colin's hoodie, which is embarrassing. But the more worrying fact is that Colin's been asleep too, and the two of them are tilted towards each other, Bradley's head on Colin's shoulder, so close that they're practically breathing each other's air. Closer than they've been in years. Colin's hand is resting on Bradley's thigh and Bradley thinks if he turned his head just slightly, their lips would brush together and it would be good, so good.

Oh yes, the friendship's much more important, James, you filthy liar.

He nudges Colin awake and moves a couple of inches sideways so as to put space between them.

Colin stretches. "Sorry, I just closed my eyes for a minute. Felt like a minute, anyway. Did you drool on my shoulder? Ugh." Colin grimaces and picks his shirt up, wrinkling his nose at the wet patch.

"Yeah. Sorry about that." Bradley gets out his handkerchief and wipes Colin's shoulder, making sure the handkerchief's wadded up thickly so his fingers don't touch anything but the material he's using to dry off Colin. He doesn't want to feel the shape of Colin's arm at all, that would be most unhelpful.

"'sokay." Colin's hair is messy, and his voice is thick and raspy, his accent even thicker than when he's not half-asleep. Bradley's cock reacts to it like clockwork. This being friends thing is really, really not going to work.

He's completely and utterly buggered.

***

Templeton is a quiet, quaint little country village and Bradley loves it. It has gorgeous medieval buildings and it's the kind of place that feels like it should exist in another age. There's something so magical about being somewhere that feels so timeless. The village is named for the Knights Templar, who supposedly settled there all those years ago, and it makes him as excited as he was when he was a boy, discovering those stories for the first time. Makes him feel like he did the first time he donned Pendragon red and it really sunk in that he was playing Arthur.

It's a short shoot, only 28 days, and they're shooting mostly externals in the village. The bulk of the internals will be done on set back in Cardiff, so they're really only there for two weeks, and Bradley thinks he'll be sorry to leave at the end of it. The villagers are so lovely, so welcoming. He doesn't know how welcoming they'd be if they found out the film involved explicit gay sex scenes, but nevertheless, it's nice to be around friendly people who have no idea who he is and expect nothing from him except politeness in return.

They don't stay in Templeton, instead opting for nearby Tenby, which is a tourist town. Templeton is really too small to accommodate actors and a film crew: there's only a pub, a school, three churches and a park, basically. Less than 900 people live there and everybody knows everybody. Not the kind of place Bradley would want to live, but it feels peaceful there, which is a nice respite from living in huge cities for so long.

He settles in very quickly to the routine of waking early, working out and hopping in the car for the short drive to Templeton every morning. The hotel the cast is staying in is not luxury, by any means, but it's old-fashioned and quite beautiful and his room is opposite Colin's, so it feels very familiar to Bradley, familiar and comfortable.

On their first day of shooting, their call gets pushed back. It's raining, but the forecast says it'll clear early afternoon.

"Let's go exploring," Colin suggests. "Not like we'll get a chance otherwise, yeah?"

"Sure, why not?"

They wander around the ruins of Sentence Castle. There isn't much to see of what it used to be, but there's a couple of ancient stone wells and a river. Bradley can't help but think about their trip around Wales, the two of them so excited and so very young. His chest aches when he thinks of how simple everything was back then.

"You're thinking very loudly," Colin says. "Everything okay?"

Bradley wants to laugh, because Colin's fishing and they both know it. But he just reaches out and claps Colin on the back, says, "Just feeling a bit old, mate." It isn't a lie, but it's not exactly the honest truth, either.

They wander back to set and Bradley changes into his costume: trousers and a grey pullover. He carries his peacoat and gloves with him to the make-up trailer, sitting next to Colin who's staring straight ahead at himself in the mirror.

"Now," Eva says, pulling out her brushes, "let's see if we can do something about this horribly plain face."

Colin laughs. "Such a shame he's so plain, isn't it? Awfully hard to find work with a face like his."

Bradley punches him in the shoulder and tries to ignore the warm flush creeping into his cheeks.

"Just do your best," he says, winking at Eva. "I've no doubt you'll do a fantastic job. Not much you can do for those ears though."

Colin rolls his eyes. "I would have thought, James, that after a decade you might come up with some new material."

"Come on," Bradley says as Eva brushes his face with base, "you can't beat the classics."

"Eye closed," Eva says. Bradley shuts his eyes and lets Colin's deep, rich voice curl around his ears.

***

The third day of filming, they shoot the reunion scene, the one they read at Colin's audition.

"No thank you. I don't need a bodyguard and I have assignments to mark, so if you'll excuse me —?"

Colin delivers Toby's line with such deeply-buried anger, such bitterness, and it cuts through Bradley like glass. He's missed this so much, working with someone whose choices are so clear, so precise. It makes Bradley want to push himself, to take risks, to bring his work up to that level.

"I'd forgotten."

"What?" Colin looks up then, and Bradley's blocking is to lean against the wall, and hold his gaze until he looks away. He's holding a pocketbook and pen in his hand, and he lifts the pen to his mouth and taps it against his lip.

"Just how gorgeous you look when you're indignant."

His voice is as low and grating as he can get it, and he notes Colin, gripping Toby's desk with both of his hands, fingers curled tight around the edge before Colin whispers: "You haven't changed a bit."

"Sorry." Bradley crosses over to the desk and stands facing him, leaning down on the desk. "Would you rather I had?"

Colin looks up at him, corners of his mouth twitching, "I didn't say that." It's loaded with heat and it's so intense that it makes Bradley's stomach roll over and his cock swell in his trousers. There's a long beat where the two of them just look at each other and it's almost too much having Colin look at him now.

Colin looks down then, goes back to Toby's marking. "Goodnight, Detective Inspector Farrow."

Colin's hand lies flat on one of the pieces of paper he's marking and Bradley reaches for it, but Colin pulls his hand away.

"Goodnight Toby," he says, softly, and walks away.

"Cut!"

The tension is still heavy in the air as they take a breather for the lighting guys to readjust and make-up to be reapplied. Bradley doesn't look at Colin. It's safer not to.

***

The next day they film scene 32, the almost-kiss, and Bradley thinks he might be even more nervous for that than he was for the gunshot scene. He dreads to think how awful it's going to be when they get to the "intimate" scenes, as Michael likes to call them.

They're both leaning against Toby's car, not looking at each other, and when Michael yells action, Bradley swivels his body in towards Colin's.

He reaches out to touch him, but Colin pulls away.

"This isn't — why are you doing this, Ben?"

Bradley huffs out a laugh. "What? Touching you?"

"No. Well, yes, but —"

"Oh that's clear, Toby. No mixed signals there at all. As usual." He walks over to the opposite car and leans against it, facing Colin. "What are you so damn afraid of?"

Colin folds his arms and looks straight at him. "Well being stalked by a murderer's pretty high on the list right now."

"Oh for fuck's — that's not what I meant and you know it."

Colin looks away and whispers, "I can't go through this, not again."

"But don't you see?" Bradley moves in, close. "We fit. This is — it's just like before, nothing's changed. I still want you, Toby."

Bradley reaches out again, thumb brushing Colin's cheek and he leans into him, his eyes closed.

Colin pushes Bradley's hand away, whispers, "Just — please Ben, you need to — stop."

"Do you really want me to stop?" He smirks, Ben knows that Toby doesn't want him to at all.

"I. Yes. I do."

"Liar." Bradley rubs the pad of his thumb over Colin's bottom lip and leans in, even closer, so their lips are almost touching. "You just keep telling yourself that, Toby. Maybe you might believe it, but I never will."

Colin closes his eyes, says, "Just go. Please."

Bradley shrugs. "Of course." He walks away, down the driveway, not looking back.

When Michael yells "Cut!" Bradley drops down to the ground, face in his hands.

After a long moment, he gets up, shakes out his legs and arms and tilts his head from side to side, cracking the joints in his neck. It's oddly satisfying and a really old habit from football days that his mother always told him off for. "Bradley James, you will end up with the most hideously bad joints if you don't watch out. You won't be young forever you know."

"You okay?" Colin asks, shocking him out of his self-reflection. "That was —"

"A little exhausting."

Colin reaches out and squeezes Bradley's shoulder. "You were amazing."

"Thanks."

"Drink when we get back to the hotel? We're done for the week, they just said. No weekend filming."

"I don't think so."

"Oh. Okay." Colin steps back, putting space between the two of them.

Bradley's stomach twists with guilt, because he didn't mean to sound like an arsehole. He softens his tone. "Really tired, mate. Sorry. Maybe tomorrow?"

"Cool, well, see you in the car then?"

Colin walks away and Bradley wants to run after him, but he stands there and watches, trying to ignore the pain in his chest.

***

The ride back to the hotel is uncomfortable, the kind of awkward silence that makes you want to fill it with mindless chatter, but Bradley isn't even capable of that. He's too lost in his own thoughts, and whenever Matthew asks him a question, Bradley barely manages a two-syllable answer before he's back to focusing on staring out the window.

Colin has to know something's wrong. People in Outer Mongolia could probably tell that something's wrong. Bradley isn't exactly the most subtle person in the world and the fact that his affection for Colin is so fucking transparent has to mean that his negative feelings towards him have to be completely transparent too.

When they get back to the hotel, Colin doesn't say anything, just goes into his room and Bradley finally feels like he can breathe again. He knows it's utterly irrational, this anger, and part of it is tied up in his inability to walk away completely from Ben at the end of a filming day, but there's a part of it that isn't that at all and Bradley needs to deal with it on his own, away from Colin's face making everything worse.

It's inadvisable, but he finds himself calling room service at 11pm, ordering a bottle of wine and a steak and sitting in front of the telly. It doesn't help; in fact he feels like an utter sad bastard, drinking alone while the object of his affection/resentment is so close.

At 1am, the bottle's empty and Bradley's watching some hideous reality show with some of the most appalling people ever to grace the screen. He's not horribly drunk, but he isn't far off and when the pounding on the door comes he knows exactly who it is. He should just ignore Colin and hope he'll go away, but instead he finds himself striding over to the door and opening it.

"Took you long enough." Colin is slurring ever so slightly, and his cheeks are ruddy.

"Told you I was going to bed," Bradley says, coolly.

"Yeah, well." Colin leans against the doorframe. "I knew that was a lie."

"Come in then —" Bradley stands aside, "— before you wake up the whole bloody hotel."

Colin walks in and shuts the door behind him. "Why are you avoiding me, Bradley?" His accent is so thick when he's been drinking that sometimes it's almost incomprehensible.

"Oh come on, Colin. You can't be that dense."

Colin flinches. "Why don't you tell me then? Seems you're dying to, yeah?"

This is possibly the worst situation. Drunk and so many things unresolved, but now that he's been given permission, Bradley can't stop himself, and he spits out, "You're just like him, you know. Toby."

Colin sways a little and looks confused. "What are you even on about?"

"You told me to go, so I went and you didn't once even —"

"Oh we're doing this, are we?" Colin's jaw looks set and he crosses his arms. "You're going to guilt me about not calling, Bradley? That's priceless. Do you think I didn't see your facebook pictures after you left? It was so nice seeing you with your hand up her skirt, really eased the sting of you leaving to see you with a girl."

Fuck.

The back of Bradley's throat tastes bitter and he's struggling to control the waver in his voice. "Look, those pictures weren't anything. Not that I even owe you an explanation, but I was fucking miserable and completely high and we didn't even — nothing happened, alright?"

He's shaking now. "Besides, you were the one who said to leave, Colin, I mean, christ. That's your fucking problem isn't it? You always want too much — everything or nothing for you, mate."

"Everything?"

Colin's face is red and his jaw is set and he's clenching his fists at his side. "All I asked for, Bradley, was you. That's all. And all I got was this much —" He holds his thumb and forefinger up. "Excuse me for not wanting to watch while you pretended you were in fucking love with Angel to anyone who asked. If that's everything then I guess I'm a selfish bastard."

"Glad you finally admit it." Bradley doesn't mean it, but this has gone too far now and he can't seem to stop the words tumbling out, loaded and bitter. "Tell me, Cols. How long did it take you to get down on your knees? A week, a month?"

"Don't fucking call me that." Colin sounds angry, but it's measured and cold, deliberate. "And it didn't take long at all. Is that what you wanted to hear? Want to hear about the first bloke who shoved me up against a wall and fucked me? Want to hear how good it —"

Bradley grabs Colin by the arms, pushes him up against the door. "Stop fucking talking. Now."

"Why? You asked. If you didn't want to know then why the hell did you —"

Bradley puts his hands on Colin's cheeks and presses his lips against Colin's, bruisingly hard. Colin reacts immediately, groaning and opening his mouth and Bradley bites and sucks at his bottom lip before pushing his tongue insistently into Colin's mouth. Colin gets his hands in Bradley's hair, gripping tight and there's nothing tender about this kiss, it's Bradley sucking on Colin's tongue, their teeth banging together, clumsily. Bradley pulls away, and sucks at the base of Colin's neck. He wants to mark him there, for everyone to see; it makes his cock throb just thinking about it and he grabs at Colin's arse and grinds his hips forward, letting him feel how hard he is. Colin hisses and Bradley can't believe how good this is. He smells just like he always did: musky and salty and perfect and Bradley wants to fuck him right here, just lay him out and —

"Stop..." Colin pants out. "Bradley, we have to stop.”

Colin pushes him away, and Bradley tilts his head back, closes his eyes and whispers, "Jesus."

"What the fuck just happened?" Colin sounds panicked, his hitched, his voice completely raw. "I — fuck, I'm so sorry, Bradley. I didn't mean —"

"I did," Bradley admits, and when he sees the pained look on Colin's face he quickly adds, "Not the things I said. It's just been a long time coming, I think. For both of us."

He touches Colin's cheek, gently this time. "But I won't apologise for kissing you, Cols. I've wanted to for —" Months. Years.

Colin steps back. "I — I can't. You know that. I have someone and I can't just — I was never expecting to see you again. It's more complicated than just giving in like this."

"What if it didn't have to be though? What then?"

Colin smiles then, a half-smile which looks regretful and sad. "If only it were that easy."

It is, Bradley wants to yell at him. It's only ever as easy or complicated as we make it. Maybe if he could just keep Colin here and hold him, make him see that it makes sense, that nothing's changed, that all that matters is what they feel — But he isn't in his twenties anymore, and as much he wants to pretend the opposite, he knows that Colin's right.

"I should go," Colin says, slow and drawn out, "Night."

He doesn't watch Colin leave, just waits till the door shuts behind him before he looks up again.

***

He doesn't see Colin at breakfast the next morning, which Bradley's rather glad of because he doesn't know what the hell he'd say to him if he was there. Last night is too fresh, too raw, and Bradley doesn't think he could face Colin mere hours after the fact, with the memory of Colin's tongue in his mouth, and Bradley's face still sore from the burn of Colin's beard against his skin.

It's impulsive and completely immature, but he leaves at 2 o'clock, catches a train to Swansea and a connecting train to Cardiff. The journey takes around 3 hours all up, and he answers emails on his phone, watches a couple of classic Match of the Day episodes on his iPad and has a short nap.

He checks into the Hilton Cardiff and takes a bath. It's been ages since he's had one and he stays in there much longer than he should, the hot water soothing his aching, tired muscles. He doesn't mean to, but he dozes off and when the buzzing of his phone wakes him up, the water has turned luke-warm. Bradley gets out and dries himself off, wraps a towel around his hips and picks up his phone.

The text message is from Colin, and Bradley decides to be a grown-up and actually read it, rather than deleting it which was his first instinct.

tried to find you but the front desk said you'd gone to Cardiff wtf?

Bradley types back sorry, just needed a break. see you tomorrow?

of course. have a good time.

It's so stilted and clipped and awkward and Bradley really wants to know what's going through Colin's brain after last night.

The VIP lounge at Glam is still as plush and ridiculously gorgeous as Bradley remembers. He sits in a velvet chair, sipping on a glass of really good bourbon, and watching the rich and gorgeous attempt to connect.

"Can I buy you a drink?" The voice is deep, smooth and Welsh-accented. Bradley takes his time looking up and sees it belongs to a tall bloke with messy brown hair. He's wearing a black shirt, artfully ripped around the shoulders, and dark bootcut jeans with brown leather boots. He's lean but muscled in all the right places, and Bradley can't help but feel incredibly smug.

"Still working on this one thanks," he replies, taking another sip from his drink. "You may as well sit down, though."

"I'm Gareth," the bloke says, shaking Bradley's hand as he sinks into the chair opposite him, "and you're Bradley, yeah?"

Bradley smiles. "I am indeed. Merlin fan by any chance?"

"Oh yes." Gareth says, leaning in a little closer, "I've had many dirty little fantasies about Arthur Pendragon." He looks suddenly horrified when Bradley's eyes widen. "Oh god, sorry, that's horribly forward of me, isn't it? I'm more than a little tipsy, I wouldn't normally make a complete git of myself like this."

Bradley laughs, because his backtracking is really quite adorable. This isn't necessarily why he came to the club tonight, but he'd be lying if he said he hadn't thought about it at all.

"That's quite alright, Gareth." Bradley leans in. "Rather flattering actually, to tell you the truth."

"Oh thank god." Gareth smiles wide. "I thought for a minute you might hit me in the face."

"Not at all." Bradley drains his glass and sits back, biting his lip. "Tell you what, I think I've had enough of here. I've got a room back at the Hilton, so why don't you come back there with me for a drink?"

Gareth blinks, his mouth dropping open, like he can't quite believe this is actually happening. Bradley decides then and there that perhaps Eoin's right using Merlin as a pick-up strategy.

"I — you want me to —?"

"Very much," Bradley replies, and he stands up, walking towards the staircase with Gareth following close behind.

They catch a cab and while Bradley would like to jump Gareth straight away, he's still mindful of being too obvious in public. Bradley waits until they're inside his suite before he pushes Gareth up against the door and kisses him, his tongue pushing in deep.

It feels good, just losing himself in someone else's mouth, someone who doesn't know him beyond his face and who he is onscreen. Someone he doesn't have any feelings for beyond sexnowplease. He gets his fingers in Gareth's belt loops and pulls him in, letting him feel how hard he is and it elicits a slow, drawn-out groan.

"God," Gareth says, panting between kisses, "I would never have pegged you for queer until tonight, you know —"

Bradley bites his collarbone, says, "That's the general idea."

"Lucky I was a drunken slut or I'd've never known." He hisses when Bradley sucks on the base of his neck, and the memory of Colin last night, making the same noise, hits him and his belly floods with heat.

Well fuck. That's the last thing he should be thinking about right now. He kisses Gareth again to try and shut it out, but it's too late, and when he closes his eyes all he can see is Colin: Colin's ears and his smile and the way he is when he gets desperate and turned on and stupid with want. The way he feels underneath Bradley, skin slick with sweat as Bradley slides inside him.

Bradley's so very fucked and he steps back, letting go of Gareth and runs his fingers through his own hair. "I'm so sorry. I don't think I can do this."

"Wow, that bad?" Gareth folds his arms. "'Cause here I was thinking we were going to have the fuck of the century."

Bradley shakes his head. "No, it wasn't bad at all. Quite the opposite, actually. And I really am sorry. It's just — things are just a tad complicated for me right now and I thought this would help, but it's probably not the best idea."

It's a pattern he's been repeating for far too long, years if he's honest with himself. And right in the middle of an almost shag might not be the best time for self-reflection where Colin is concerned, but it is what it is.

"Well, that's a shame." Gareth sounds disappointed, but he presses his card into Bradley's hand. "Change your mind, you know where I am."

Bradley doesn't say anything. There's not much he can say.

***

When he gets back to the hotel on Sunday, Bradley hops straight in the shower. 6 hours of travelling in two days may not sound like a lot, but he hasn't slept much either and he’s worn down and sweaty and just flat-out exhausted. He dresses, a soft t-shirt and jogging bottoms and pads across the hallway to Colin's room.

He's rehearsed what he's going to say a dozen times, but all that falls out the window when Colin answers the door.

"Can I —?" Bradley doesn't know how he actually manages to get the words out. His heart's beating erratically; he can feel it in his throat.

"Course," Colin says and stands aside for Bradley to walk in, shutting the door behind him. "How was Cardiff?"

"It was — it was fine."

"I just wanted to say —" he starts, "that I'm sorry for the other night. I thought it was what you wanted and if I put you in an awkward position, Colin, I'm really sorry."

Colin looks tired and drawn. He inhales deeply, says, "I need some time. Not much, just a little, okay? Lot of things to figure out."

He smiles a little, just a half-smile, like he doesn't really mean it and Bradley aches to reach out and touch him, but he holds himself back.

"I think I'll go and crash," he says, stretching. "Pretty zonked. We can — we will talk about this later though, when you're ready, yeah?"

Colin nods.

"Big day tomorrow."

"Yeah," Colin says, biting his lip. "Scene 60. I was going to ask you if you wanted to run lines, but —"

"Not tonight," Bradley says, grinning wryly. "Goodnight, mate."

He doesn't look back to see if Colin's still looking at him when he leaves; he thinks it's probably better that he doesn't know.

***

The next few days are spent doing mostly action shots: Ben chasing down the killer through the old aerodrome, the final confrontation between the two of them, and the scene where Toby gets shot.

It isn't the first time Bradley's worked with fake blood, it's not even the tenth and he's well-versed in the feel of it all over his hands: how sticky and cloying it is and how it takes forever to wash himself clean of it.

Colin lies in his arms, blood smeared down his neck and fake blood oozing from his stomach. Between takes Bradley tells stupid jokes and tries to lighten the mood, but he thinks he's probably the only one with tension knots all through his neck and shoulders.

It's a big scene for him and it takes a full day of holding Colin's limp body and holding back tears.

"Listen you little arsehole, you're not dying, okay?" He wipes at his face and smears fake blood across his cheek. "You're not allowed to leave me, Toby, I absolutely forbid it."

"They'll be here soon, alright? Just — you have to stay awake. I'll keep hitting you until you do, just so you know. You think I was an obsessed stalker before? Just you wait, you've seen nothing yet." He shakes him.

It's like role reversal, sitting on grassland, holding Colin like this. This shot for 5.13 took a whole day to film, too, and Bradley remembers being meltingly hot from the sun and the fucking chainmail. More than that though, he remembers the pain of Arthur saying goodbye to Merlin, how hard that scene was for both of them. Colin doesn't usually have a hard time switching off after a shot, it's Bradley who carries it with him and has to physically shake it off afterwards. That one though, Colin was different: the tears didn't stop when the take did and they hugged so tightly at the end of the day, almost as if they were afraid to let go. Bradley can still feel that hug: how tightly Colin's arms wrapped around him as his body shook with sobs, and how hard it was for Bradley to actually breathe.

Bradley's mum had asked him if he was unable to watch the episode afterwards because it hurt to say goodbye to someone he loved. She was right of course, but it wasn't saying goodbye to Arthur that hurt. That scene was more than just a goodbye to Arthur and Merlin, it was a goodbye for both of them altogether and they had both clutched at each other more than they needed to, desperately held on to each other because they both knew things were coming to an end, that Bradley was leaving.

"Fuck." He breaks down then, "Fuck you, Toby. I can't do this without you. Please hold on."

He presses a kiss to Colin's forehead, and it wasn't remotely in the script, but neither is him whispering "I'm sorry" into Colin's skin, and it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Michael calls cut and Bradley falls back onto the grass, hands clapped over his eyes and breathes deep.

When he sits up again, Colin is watching him intently. "You okay?" he asks, putting out a hand and stroking Bradley's cheek. "You got blood on you."

"Ugh." Bradley grimaces, swallowing down salty tears before he wipes his eyes with his non-bloodied hand. "That shit never comes off."

"We have," Colin says, "the weirdest job."

"Yeah." Bradley stands up and stretches. "I'll be in the make-up trailer if anyone wants me, trying to get this crap off."

As Eva wipes at his face with make-up remover, Bradley stares at himself in the mirror. He thinks about how it felt having Colin in his arms, how it felt like loss when he wasn't there anymore.

Eva gets him as clean as she can, but when he closes his eyes, he can still feel the brush of Colin's fingers on his cheek, how soft they were against his skin.

***

The next block of filming takes place back in Cardiff, so after two weeks in gorgeous, serene Templeton, they pack up and head back to Cardiff to shoot all the internal footage.

"So he hasn't said a thing. I mean, we're talking y'know, mates and all. Just not talking about that."

"So you're just biding your time, then?" Angel asks him when they vidchat on Skype. She looks so happy and he feels a little bit of the weight lifting. Angel's smile was always enough to make his heart burst.

"Yeah." Bradley sighs.

It's harder than he'd ever imagined: being the adult, not being selfish and putting his own feelings before Colin's or trying to numb his emotions by indulging in his own self-destruction.

"It's almost like you've grown up, Bradley." Angel says, but there isn't any heat in it, no malice, she means it.

"Yeah well," he says sullenly, picking at the fraying threads on his sleeve, "it isn't much fun, you know. I don't think I'll make a habit of it."

"Poor baby," she teases, and he feels himself grinning. Everything's so much better just by having talked to her.

The scene they shoot before lunch on Monday is Scene 46. With the exception of the sex scene, this is the one that Bradley's been dreading the most. It takes place in Toby's classroom, starting with an argument regarding Ben's possessiveness, and ends with the two of them kissing.

Kissing scenes don't usually bother Bradley at all, it's all about blocking and there's generally nothing remotely romantic about them. But then he's never actually had to kiss someone that he's had feelings for, so this feels different. Scarier somehow.

"When you're ready," Michael says, "we'll just roll and in your own time, Bradley, just like we discussed before."

Heart hammering in his chest, Bradley leans in and says Ben's line, "I'll ask you again, Toby. Do you want me to stop?" and Colin shakes his head.

"Good."

Bradley puts a hand on the back of Colin's head, fingers curled in his hair and pulls him in gently, brushing his lips softly with his own and then deepening the kiss. Colin just folds into him, and this feels so natural, so good. Colin hardens against his thigh, and he rolls his hips against Colin's, trying to get closer. He's losing control fast and he knows he needs to calm down, but he doesn't know how he's going to.

He forces himself to pull away, whispers Ben's line: "I think we'd better stop unless we want to scandalise the children."

Colin looks up at him and the look of unbridled need on his face, completely naked emotion, makes Bradley's stomach twist with want.

"What if I don't want to stop?"

"Oh fuck you." He traces the outline of Colin's mouth with his forefinger. "I haven't kissed anyone in years, you know. Not since the last time we —"

"Then why. The hell. Did you stop?"

Colin pulls him back in, hands on his scarf and kisses him again, licks into Bradley's mouth. He pushes Colin back against Toby's desk and Colin's hands are under Bradley's shirt now, sliding over his ribs and up towards his chest and when Michael yells "cut", it takes Bradley a minute to step back, not wanting it to end.

"Lovely, guys," Michael says, "just lovely."

It's lunchtime then, and Bradley's vaguely aware of the crew clearing out, heading to Craft Services. It feels like it takes forever, but it's probably only minutes. He and Colin don't move, they just stand there, breathing hard and coming back down.

"I want to kiss you again," Bradley says, not intending to say it out loud, but what's done is done and the fact is, he means it.

"It was — we were — acting," Colin says softly, and Bradley wonders if he even believes it himself.

"Didn't feel much like acting to me," Bradley says. He dares to lean in closer and whisper in Colin's ear, "Did it really feel that way to you? Honestly, Cols?"

"No," Colin admits, shaking his head, "it really didn't."

"I met someone that night in Cardiff," Bradley says. "He was fit and tall and he wanted me to shag him senseless."

Colin flinches.

"I'm sorry. I'm not saying this to hurt you, just needed you to know that — I couldn't follow through on it." He breathes into Colin's neck, "Because I'm fucking crazy about you."

He doesn't want to stop, wants to turn his head just a little further and brush his lips up and down the salt-slicked line of Colin's neck. If he had his way, Bradley would be locking the door and running his fingers, lips and tongue all over Colin's body, making him moan in all the ways he already knows how to, fucking him up against the blackboard.

But this isn't about that. This is about Bradley making Colin know that it's all up to him now. It's oddly liberating really, knowing that there's nothing more he can do and that he's not playing games anymore.

He swears Colin whimpers when he pulls away.

"When you know what you want," Bradley says, "when you're ready to make a decision? I'll be here. Waiting for whatever it is you need."

He isn't running away. Not this time.

"Bradley," Colin says, and his voice sounds rough, stressed.

"Yeah?"

"See you at lunch."

Bradley grins, and gets treated to one of those ridiculous Colin Morgan megawatt smiles, the one that makes his heart feel five times the size and makes his knees go weak. But he has to walk away, because while he may be trying to be an adult, that doesn't mean he isn't still a selfish little boy inside, the one who wants to just take and damn the consequences.

"See you at lunch, Cols," he says, and walks out without looking back.

***

The day they film scene 70, it's pouring with rain so hard that all Bradley can think about while they set the shot up is the sound of it echoing on the tin roof of the warehouse. It reminds him of being a child, the way he always felt safe when the rain was beating down outside and he was all warm and safe inside.

Not that this, today, feels in any way safe.

It's so weird, talking through with the director and your co-star the very intricate choreography of simulated sex, what needs to happen when. It takes Bradley back to watching bad amateur porn where the director yells out, "Okay, Nathan, now suck his cock. Okay Dean, come on his face." So hot, yet so not hot.

Michael likes to work a little differently. He tells both Bradley and Colin what needs to happen in the scene, what marks they need to hit, but because of the fact that he likes his actors to be raw and real and organic, he tells them he wants them to improvise.

It's a closed set, only the bare minimum of crew, because Michael wants Bradley and Colin to feel as safe as they possibly can. Bradley thinks that improvising sex with Colin is actually the most dangerous thing he could think of. He really needs parameters when it comes to Colin, and being told to just go for it and see what comes to you is not exactly helping him to concentrate, or think like Ben and not like Bradley.

When Colin walks over to him to see if he's okay, he just waves him off, lets him know he needs some time to get to the right place. Colin's look is one of recognition; he's seen Bradley like this too many times to count and vice versa. Bradley jumps up and down on the spot a dozen times, shakes his arms and legs and warms up vocally for a few minutes.

Then he's ready.

Michael yells that they're rolling, and Bradley crouches down in front of Colin, sitting on Ben's bed, looking at Toby's shoes.

Colin smiles down at Bradley and says, "Being shot gives a man perspective. Makes him want different things."

"And what do you want?"

"I want you. That much hasn't changed. I just — I've had enough of blame, Ben. We've wasted too much time blaming each other when you could have been —"

"Yes?"

He leans in, mouth on Bradley's ear, "inside me."

Bradley kisses him, hard. He pulls Colin up, hands under his armpits and hauls him up onto the bed. The thing that dawns on Bradley is just how much they fit, even like this, even in the most awkward of circumstances, with people watching and filming and them having to hold themselves in positions that are fucking uncomfortable. The way Colin folds into him though, the way he fucking smells, it's just all so damned familiar to him and he knows exactly where to put his hands, without even thinking about it. They're just lucky that Ben feels that way about Toby too, because otherwise he wouldn't be able to work at all, not with Colin pressed up against him, groaning in his ear like that.

Michael keeps the camera rolling as Bradley unbuttons Colin's jeans, drawing them down, slowly. He bites the inside of Colin's knee and when Colin's head goes back, Bradley lowers his head and bites again, further up this time, closer to the edge of his boxers.

"Cut!" Michael yells. "Alright, set-up for the next shot."

Bradley feels the bottom drop out of his stomach as he looks down and sees Colin staring up at him, blue eyes to fucking drown in. It takes all of his strength to look away, to roll off of him and just breathe.

***

After a full day, it's done, and Bradley was right to be dreading it for many reasons. Mostly though because after hours of carefully choreographed kissing and touching and getting undressed and dressed over and over, Bradley's completely fucking exhausted and never wants to have sex again.

It's much easier to pretend to himself, if only a few hours, that at the end of the day it was all just acting. Nothing real about it.

The next day is their last day of filming, and it feels bittersweet. They film the second classroom scene, where Toby admits to Ben that he knew his sister was in trouble. Bradley longs to do some theatre next, because shooting out of order like this is enough to fuck with anyone's brain, let alone going from happy and sexy to bitter and awkward.

Afterwards, when the crew have applauded them and they've hopped in the car to head back to the hotel, Colin turns to Bradley and asks him softly, "If you could take anything back, what would it be?"

Bradley looks down at the floor and says, without hesitation, "Leaving without trying to get you to come with me."

It's a long, silent drive back to the hotel, with Bradley chewing the inside of his cheek, nervously.

***

Bradley's so exhausted after the day's over that he lies back on his bed, on top of the sheets and takes what he fully intends to be a short nap before the party. By the time he actually wakes up, it's 8 o'clock and his phone's buzzing with message after message of variations on where the hell are you?

He showers and changes and heads to the wrap party in a taxi, texting Stuart to say that he's on his way and please save me some booze. He hasn't heard from Colin, which he's sure isn't intentional, but it doesn't stop his stupid brain from conjuring up images he doesn't want to see: Colin, drunk and pliant, sprawled on a couch with various unnamed men and women and forgetting all about Bradley.

Wrap party sex always was Colin's thing, after all.

When Bradley arrives, it's obvious they've all been partying for at least a couple of hours. There's pounding music coming from the direction of the dance floor and the loud chatter of drunken conversations trying to compete with the bass.

Stuart spots him as soon as he walks in the door and marches him to the bar, saying, "...hell of a lot of catching up to do, Bradley, we'll sort you out."

There are several shots of something green lined up on the bar. Stuart and a couple of girls that Bradley recognises from Crashed hand him shot after shot in succession, which he rapidly drinks, slamming the glasses down on the bar after each one.

"Absinthe?" Bradley grimaces, wiping his mouth. "That brings back horrible memories, incidentally."

"At least you're on your way," Stuart says, slapping him on the back. "Congratulations, Bradley. Job well done."

He smiles and nods, grabs a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, and takes a huge gulp to kill the taste.

"You haven't seen Colin, have you?" he asks, trying to keep his voice as even as he possibly can to stop himself from sounding too desperate.

"Last time I saw him, Amanda was getting him drunk. I think she was saying something about helping him drown his sorrows."

"Sorrows?"

"Yeah, that boyfriend of his was supposed to come tonight, but something happened, apparently. I don't know what, though, I'm always behind on the gossip."

"You and me both," Bradley says, his throat suddenly dry. "I think I'll go mingle, if you don't mind, Stu. Thanks for the hideous shots."

He tips his champagne glass at Stuart and wanders in the direction of the dance floor, trying to get his heartbeat to slow the fuck down. Whatever happened, he's grateful, but he doesn't dare to let himself hope that it isn't just some minor thing.

He finishes his glass far too quickly, nerves making him thirsty, and when another tray passes, he grabs another champagne flute, spilling a little in the process, thanks to his shaky hands.

The dance floor is packed with drunk actors and crew alike, dancing horribly. But he still can't see Colin. He walks away, heading for the curtained room over the other side of the dance floor. It's all billowy white curtains and couches with mood lighting, and chilled-out music. He spots Colin on a couch talking intently with Amanda, their foreheads pressed together. He looks gorgeous, his cheeks flushed and his hair tousled and Bradley can't help but think back to another wrap party many, many years ago.

He walks over to them, clearing his throat to get their attention.

"Oh, about time you arrived, son." Amanda stands up and kisses Bradley's cheek. "We were all worried you'd gotten lost."

"Just a bit delayed," Bradley says. He looks over to Colin and his eyes are focused, intensely blue even in the muted light. "I was thinking I might steal Colin here if you don't mind, Mum, got some stuff to catch up on."

She smiles, and Bradley can't help but wonder just how much she knows.

"Of course." She leans down and hugs Colin. "I'll catch you later, Irish."

"I thought you weren't coming," Colin says, as soon as she's gone.

"Yeah, sorry about that." He sits down on the other end of the couch, angled towards Colin. "Made the mistake of lying down for five minutes and I completely crashed."

Colin nods. "I'm not surprised. You looked fucking exhausted in the car this evening."

Bradley swallows, hard. "I — uh — I heard something happened tonight. With Oliver."

"Yeah." Colin takes a deep breath and picks up the tumbler in front of him, drains the amber-coloured liquid at the bottom and puts the glass down again. "We had a fight. A big one."

"What about?"

"You, actually." Colin looks tired, and Bradley wonders just how draining it must be to be the kind of person who so often holds everything in the way he does.

"I wondered," Bradley says, "why you didn't tell me he was coming in the first place."

Colin looks away, and Bradley feels like punching the air. His heart is racing, and he finishes his drink, placing the flute on the table.

"I think —" Colin stammers, "I think you know why."

"Because it would have been horribly uncomfortable?"

"Yeah." Colin sounds like he wants to say more, but he bites his lip and doesn't.

"Are you glad? That he didn't come, I mean?" Bradley can't help but push it now, there's something warm and liquid growing in his stomach and he moves closer, leaning in so he's occupying Colin's space.

"Yeah. I am." Colin looks down at his shoes, like there's some sort of escape from what's happening now. But Bradley's come too far to retreat now.

"You said you fought about me," he says, his voice slightly broken, raspy. "Tell me — exactly what he said."

Colin sighs, wiping his mouth with his thumb, and Bradley watches the movement, his eyes tracking it almost in slow-motion, noticing that Colin's thumb comes away wet. Bradley wants to just reach forward and take that thumb into his mouth, taste the droplets of sweat and liquor and underneath it, Colin.

"I told him I didn't want him to come to Cardiff. That's how it started, I told him that I would prefer it if he didn't come."

"Why?"

"Because of you. Us. He wouldn't understand."

"So what did he say to that?"

Colin huffs out a laugh. "Well, he said quite a lot. Mostly that he was happy not coming, because then he wouldn't have to watch me trailing after you like, and I quote, 'a bitch in heat'."

Bradley just stares at Colin, holds his gaze and doesn't look away.

"It's true," Colin says, softly. "No one else exists when you're around. Never has."

Bradley sighs and leans forward, lays his hand on Colin's thigh. It's warm and underneath the denim he can feel the shape of him. Colin's right in front of him and he seems far too far away.

"You have no idea," Bradley says, his voice is rough, quaking, "how much I've missed you."

"Yes I do," Colin whispers, and he lays his hand over Bradley's lacing their fingers together. The sensation of Colin's fingers skimming over his is electric, and Bradley's so on edge it's like his nerve endings are in overdrive.

"I was an idiot," Colin says. "I just didn't know if I could do this again, not after last time. It was pretty rough, y'know?"

"I know." Bradley pulls Colin towards him, one hand on the back of his neck. "You know what? We do have a lot to talk about, Cols, but I don't think I want to talk anymore."

"But —" They're so close now that when Colin speaks, Bradley can feel warm breath on his skin. "People will see."

"Then they'll see."

They all know anyway. It's not like he's ever been good at hiding it, even though he thought they were being so discreet all those years ago. Everyone knew then and he'd be shocked if they didn't know now, given the amount of pining he's been doing and the fact they had to snog on bloody camera.

They're not on camera now. No choreographed positions or character motivations, just Bradley leaning forward into the intoxicating heat between them. He brushes his lips over Colin's, soft and featherlight and it feels like it did 7 years ago when Colin dragged him by the hand into that empty room. Colin groans, and it sounds like pure need. The sound of it goes straight to his cock, makes it twitch violently in his jeans.

Colin reaches for him, pushing Bradley back into the couch, moving so he's in his lap: knees on either side of Bradley's hips. This is so much better than the drunken kiss they shared just weeks ago. Bradley takes his time relaxing into it, enjoying it without feeling like he has to rush. This isn't their first kiss by any stretch of the imagination, but Bradley's treating it like it is, like it's a new beginning and he draws it out, ignoring Colin's attempts to take control of the pace. He holds him there, hands gripped tight on his arms and licks slow and deep, reacquainting himself with Colin's mouth.

Colin though, he's impatient. He pulls back, panting, then dives back in, kissing Bradley fiercely, not letting the way Bradley is grabbing him control a bloody thing. Bradley gives in then, just opens for this force of nature on top of him, and clenches his fists tight in Colin's hair as they kiss open-mouthed and obscene. It’s been so long since Bradley's felt anything like this from just a kiss and his want is so fierce, burning in his belly, that it frightens him.

Colin whimpers as he sucks on Bradley's tongue and it's Bradley's turn to groan when Colin grinds his hips down, pressing into him, so hard that Bradley can't think about taking it slow anymore. Fuck that, he just wants to push Colin off so Bradley can get down on his knees and suck him, get the taste of him in his mouth like he's been dying to for weeks now.

"Christ," Colin moans under his breath, "I think we need to — need to stop."

"You — you want to stop?" Bradley can barely get the words out he's breathing so hard, so fiercely turned-on.

"No," Colin says, and Bradley can see that he doesn't, it looks like Colin's aching with it just like he is, the desperate need to touch. "But we are not doing this here, in some half-drunken rush. Not after five years of waiting."

"God, no," Bradley says. He wants to do this slow and private, wants to watch Colin, his head thrown back and his mouth open, his face twisted in pleasure. Wants to hear him beg, making those delicious little half-bitten-off noises as Bradley takes him apart piece by piece.

He wants to make sure that Colin feels the same way, so he reaches out and grabs Colin's wrist, his thumb rubbing at the pulsepoint, slow and suggestive.

Colin moans at the contact and closes his eyes. Bradley loves him like this, uninhibited and raw, not controlled at all.

"I knew this would happen as soon as I saw you," Colin says, breathily. "So did Oliver, it seems.”

Bradley swallows, hard and tries to tamp down on the ugly feeling rising in his chest. "I would suggest, mate, that you might want to refrain from mentioning that name in my presence, at least tonight, because all it makes me want to do is tear your fucking clothes off and fuck you right here on this settee and not care if you come or not."

"Fuck."

Colin's mouth is open and he's breathing hard. Bradley gets his fingers in Colin's hair and pulls him in so he can whisper in his ear, "You like that? Like me being all jealous and possessive, do you?"

"Yes," Colin says, his voice hitched. "Always did."

"I'm going to shag you for hours," Bradley promises, his fingers tight around Colin's wrist. "Can't wait to get my hands on you properly."

"Yeah," Colin groans in his ear, "yeah, fuck."

"Go on then," he says, low and quiet, dropping Colin's wrist and pushing him back, a hand on Colin's chest. "Meet you outside in fifteen minutes."

***

It takes them a good twenty minutes or so to get away. It's the nature of a party like this: everyone's drunk and therefore wants to have a deep and meaningful farewell. Bradley, being the lead, couldn't ever skip out without indulging every member of the cast and crew still standing, not if he cares about not being called a diva for the rest of his career, that is.

Colin gets stuck talking to May and Bradley spends long, long minutes staring at him, completely focused on Colin's eyes and his mouth. The memory of Colin's mouth on his cock slams through him, and he can remember exactly how it feels to be engulfed in that perfect, wet heat. Colin looks up, catches him staring and his eyes widen. Bradley had forgotten what it felt like, to have the weight of Colin's stare on him like this and it's almost too much, such intense focus. It makes him feel naked and when Colin bites at his lower lip, his eyes dark, Bradley has to look away.

Finally. Fucking finally, they're free and they jump into the first taxi waiting on the rank outside the party.

"Novotel please, mate," Bradley says, jumping when he feels Colin's fingers skating up the inside seam of his jeans towards his crotch. It makes his cock throb, and he barely manages to bite back a moan.

He glares at Colin, and gets one of those who me? I am so innocent and pure looks in return.

"That isn't going to work, you know," Bradley says through gritted teeth. "I know you too well."

Colin shrugs. "I don't know what you're talking about," and Bradley can't help but grin at the absolutely transparent effort on Colin's part to provoke him.

He grabs Colin's wrist and rubs the heel of his hand slowly up and down the length of Bradley's cock.

"That's what you want, isn't it?" he whispers, then shoves Colin's hand away. "And that's all you're getting for now, you fucking tease. Just slow. The fuck. Down."

Colin just laughs, and Bradley looks out the window, trying to desperately get himself under control so he doesn't just decide the hell with it and push him down on the backseat and rut fast and hard against his arse, causing the poor cabbie to drive off the road. He's waited too long for this and it's too important to treat it like one of his casual hook-ups. It's Colin, and it isn't just sex, and while he's dying to get his hands on him, it doesn't have to be over in ten minutes flat, he doesn't want it to be.

If only he could get his body to listen to his brain, though, that's the key here and he's just about out of his skin when the taxi pulls up outside the hotel. He doesn't know how he manages to pay, but he does, pulling the notes out of his wallet with shaking fingers.

Bradley's hardly aware of anything when they walk through the hotel lobby, except for the fact that Colin is too far away from him and there are people all around them and he just wants them all gone now so that he can touch. The minute they are in the lift and the doors close, Colin pushes him up against the back wall and gets his thigh in between Bradley's legs, pushing against his crotch.

"Couldn't wait anymore, Bradley, jesus fucking christ."

"Oh fuck." Bradley's head goes back and Colin presses a thigh against his cock. This isn't how he planned it at all and he should tell Colin to back off, push him away, but he's entirely distracted by the feel of hard muscle rubbing him.

The lift dings and they jump apart as the doors open. There's no one there. It takes Bradley a few seconds to realise the lift has hit their floor.

"Come on." Colin grabs him by the arm and walks the two of them to his room, not looking back at Bradley. Bradley wonders if it's easier that way to hold it together, not being able to see his face.

As soon as the doors closed, Bradley pulls Colin in, his hands on Colin's waist. He holds him there, kissing him wet and so deep that it makes Bradley's legs unsteady. This time Colin stops trying to fight it and sinks into the slow laziness of it. His hands rest on the back of Bradley's head, and Bradley fucks Colin's mouth with his tongue, lush and deep.

"Missed this." Bradley sighs, and he takes a moment to mouth at Colin's jawline, making sure to scrape over smooth skin with his stubble. He remembers just how much Colin likes it, and just like clockwork, Colin whimpers.

"Yeah," Bradley whispers in his ear, "there's a lot of things I remember, Colin."

"Show-off," Colin says, his voice shaky. His cheeks are red, his mouth wet and open and when Bradley pulls back and just stares at him, he reaches for Bradley, one hand tangled in his hair and pulling Bradley back in. He rests his lips at the corner of Colin's mouth, licking him there and avoiding him when Colin tries to kiss him back.

Colin groans. "Who's a tease now?"

Bradley just laughs and pulls his shirt over his head, throwing it down on the floor. He toes his sneakers off and drops to his knees.

"May I?" he asks, his hands resting on the buttons at Colin's crotch.

"Fuck. Yes."

Bradley's fingers are thick and useless and it takes him a few attempts just to unbutton Colin's jeans. Colin says, "Here, let me" and helps Bradley get his jeans open and pushed down his hips.

Bradley edges his fingers under the hem of Colin's sweatshirt and he can't even believe this is happening, that he's running his fingers over skin that he's been dying to touch for so long — touch properly, without a film crew standing around watching.

He palms Colin's ribs, skimming his hands over them before he trails his fingers down to Colin's boxers and frees his cock, which is as thick and gorgeous as Bradley remembers. He touches it, his fingers skating lightly over the head and Colin shivers and arches his back. Bradley doesn't know how he's managed to go so long without seeing Colin do just that.

"Been dreaming about this," Bradley says, his fingers sliding slow and deliberate over Colin's cock, "you have no idea."

Colin laughs. "Uh, yeah, pretty sure I do, actually." He reaches out and touches Bradley, his hand gentle on the back of Bradley's head and Bradley moves in, his lips just about touching Colin's cock. Colin inhales sharply and Bradley lets his tongue slide over the head, just once. He smells so good, and tastes even better when Bradley laps at the drops of precome beading at the slit.

"Love the way you taste," he says, before inching forward, taking Colin's cock into his mouth. It's just as hard and hot as he remembers and he lets his tongue drag along the underside when he backs off before pushing forward again, taking him all the way in.

It's been a long time since Bradley's sucked anyone. With the blokes he screwed in clubs or in hotel rooms he never wanted to, but with Colin it was always different. He was always different, and it feels so good to be doing this again, his nose pressed up against Colin's belly and his mouth full with his cock.

"Bradley," Colin whines, and Bradley starts to pull off again, until only the head is left in his mouth. He licks at it, little laps of his tongue as he watches Colin with his head thrown back and his eyes closed, his teeth worrying his lower lip. Excitement coils in his stomach at the sight of Colin, needy and unaware of just how sinful he looks and he shoves forward again, taking him in slow and wet. Bradley loves this so much and he can't help moaning around Colin's cock in his mouth, he drops a hand to his own crotch and just pushes against it.

"God, you're fucking obscene," Colin says, barely whispering, "can I —?"

He gets his hands in Bradley's hair and holds him there. It's all Bradley can do just to nod and not babble yesfuckingdoitColinfuckmymouthplease like a bloody lunatic. Colin holds him in place with his hands and grinds his hips back and forth, fucking Bradley's mouth with as much control as Bradley imagines he can muster. He's not rough, but not gentle either, and Bradley is so ridiculously turned on by this: his mouth full of Colin's cock, the taste of him and the sight of Colin, usually so controlled, so calculated, losing his mind. It's heady and intoxicating, knowing that Bradley is doing this to him, making him as crazy as Colin has made him these past months. He doesn't ever want to stop.

Colin's thrusts become rougher, more erratic and he twists his fingers roughly in Bradley's hair. It makes Bradley giddy with want, seeing him losing control like this. His jaw is aching now, becoming more and more cramped every time Colin pushes in deeper, and it's so fucking good. He traces down the cleft of Colin's arse with his forefinger. It's a promise which just seems to amp things up for Colin even more.

"Yeah. Fuck," Colin groans, and Bradley lingers, rubbing Colin's hole with the pad of his finger.

Thinking about it, about fucking him, it makes Bradley's groin pool with heat. It's all he's thought about for months now and the memory of fucking Colin has always been there, so vivid, even when he was trying to forget about him for the sake of his sanity. He can remember exactly what Colin looks like, legs wrapped around him and his head thrown back, his heel slipping in the sweat pooled at the base of Bradley's spine and the mere thought of it now makes him ache with need.

Bradley thinks about how hard he is, how much he wants to get off and how easy it would be just to shove his hand inside his jeans and stroke himself rough and fast right now. But he'd rather not miss out on what's he's now envisioning in great, dirty detail. Colin shoves in, hard, and Bradley's eyes are watering with the force of it as Colin swears under his breath and comes.

Bradley swallows and looks up. Colin is watching him with the most raw, open expression of need he thinks he's ever seen and when Colin pulls out, Bradley wipes his mouth, watching Colin's eyes track the entire movement of his hand over his abused lips.

"Fuck," Colin breathes out, "that was — I haven't — not in a long time like that."

Bradley gets to his feet. His knees are sore, but he can't bring himself to care. He unbuttons his jeans and pulls them down, along with his briefs. Colin doesn't stop watching him for a second.

Bradley lifts a hand up to touch Colin's face and Colin grabs it, sucking two of Bradley's fingers into his mouth, scraping them with his teeth and sliding his mouth slow and wet down to the base.

"Next time," Colin says, "I'll be on my knees for you faster than you can blink."

"I don't know," Bradley says, mouth upturned. "I can blink pretty fast."

"Are you going to fuck me," Colin asks, stripping the rest of his clothes off, "or just make terrible jokes until I die of frustration?"

"I'm a bit tired," Bradley says, yawning. "Maybe I need a nap, instead."

When Colin shrugs and tries to move away, Bradley grabs him and pulls him in with one arm wrapped around his middle. "Don't even think about it."

Colin pulls back and lays a hand on Bradley's belly, just above his cock, and Bradley feels like his skin is on fire, his cock twitching at the almost-contact.

"You're so fucking hard," Colin says, his voice tight. "Can't wait to feel you."

Bradley kisses him, a hand clutched in his hair and he groans as Colin bites at his lips and sucks on Bradley's tongue. His skin is hot and prickly, pleasure sparking in his nerves, and if they don't do this soon, he's going to come right there, all over himself without any trouble whatsoever.

"Get on the bed," Bradley says, his voice rough.

He turns around, reaching for his gym bag and pulls out condoms and a packet of lube, throws them on the bed.

When he turns back, Colin is on his stomach, looking back at Bradley.

He shakes his head. "Not like that. On your back." His voice is shaky.

Colin raises an eyebrow, but he flips over.

"I can't —" he climbs onto the bed, his hands sliding up Colin's thighs and splaying them open. "I always fucked them face-down, because if I didn't it was your face I saw. I can't fuck you like that. Not today.”

"Jesus, Bradley," Colin breathes and reaches for him, grabbing his hand and pulling Bradley down towards him.

Bradley opens the packet of lube and coats his fingers, pushes two fingers inside. Colin is as hot and tight as he always was, and he groans when Bradley gets his fingers in as far as they'll go, curling deep inside him.

He withdraws his fingers and just rubs at Colin's hole, ignoring Colin's demands for him to speed up, pushing in again, slowly and fucking him lazy and shallow.

"Told you before," Bradley breathes against Colin's thigh, "Not rushing." He drags his tongue all the way up till he reaches the crease at his hipbone. Colin is getting hard again and Bradley fights the temptation to replace his fingers with his tongue, eating him out slow and relentless while Colin writhes under Bradley's mouth. That can wait.

The more impatient Colin gets, the more Bradley slows down. He stops fucking him altogether, taking his fingers away and moving up Colin's body to suck on his nipples for long minutes, biting and licking them until Colin's writhing, pleading for Bradley to get his fingers back inside him.

He pushes his fingers back in, slow, so slow that it must be torture, inching them in until they're as deep as they can go and Colin's bucking his hips forward, trying to get them in even deeper.

"Please," he begs, "I need your cock. Now Bradley."

It's addictive having Colin like this, desperate and mindlessly begging, and Bradley's already thinking about what he's going to do to him after he fucks him. His cock is aching with the need to be inside him though, and he's waited so long for this, wanted it so much that he knows he can't drag it out any longer.

Bradley rolls the condom on and gets Colin's legs wrapped around his back so he can push slowly inside into Colin's gloriously tight heat. It's so fucking good, the way Colin is clamped tight around him and it's almost too much being this close, this intimate. Bradley can't believe he was ever able to walk away from this.

He bottoms out, and Colin whispers, "come on then, do it," and Bradley groans and begins to fuck him with hard, deep thrusts.

Colin is making the most gorgeous, needy sounds and he’s clutching at Bradley, like he needs to touch but he doesn't know where to put his hands. He's watching Bradley, and every time Bradley moves forward, fucking him deep, he can see such raw need in Colin's expression: his mouth wide open, his eyes dark and his face twisted in pleasure. It makes him absolutely fucking wild with lust, and more, and he pushes in even deeper, just screws Colin the way he's wanted to for months, years.

Colin huffs out a laugh. "Don't think I didn't notice your 'tools of the trade' in your gym bag, James. How very prepared and slutty of you. Bit of a hook-up with your cardio and weights, hmm?"

Bradley licks Colin's mouth when he thrusts forward, says, "I haven't. Not for ages. There's been no-one who —"

"I don't care," Colin says, grinding the words out, "don't care about any of that. Just need you."

Colin's hand drops down to fist his own cock and Bradley watches him as he rocks his hips forward and back, driving his cock deep inside him. Colin doesn't take long, and soon he's coming, his head thrown back, swearing under his breath. It feels unbelievable, Colin's arse clenched so tight around him and Bradley can feel his own orgasm building. He shoves inside Colin one last time, as deep as he can go, and it's too much: the heat, the tightness of him and the fact that it's Colin and he comes, intense burst of pleasure crashing through him and he's shaking and moaning, his forehead pressed into the sweat-slicked skin of Colin's neck as he comes down.

Bradley just lies there, panting, utterly broken from pleasure, and it takes him a minute to come down, to come back to himself. Colin's hand strokes at his forehead and Bradley kisses him once, just a quick brush of lips, as he pulls out, disposing the condom in the rubbish.

"Okay," Colin says, stretching, "that was possibly worth waiting five years for."

Colin looks so gorgeous, his forehead beaded with sweat and his hair stuck to it. His mouth is red and used and Bradley can't help reaching out.

"I don't want to stop touching you," he admits.

Colin smiles wide and bites the pads of Bradley's fingers when he pulls away. "So don't."

***

When he wakes the next morning, Bradley doesn't have second-thoughts or crippling self-doubt. Just an overwhelming feeling that things are more right than they have been in a long time.

They eat breakfast in bed, naked, and when Colin spills orange juice on him (because he is the clumsiest wanker in the entire United Kingdom when he's satiated and half-asleep,) Bradley doesn't even care.