Three days before they’re due to start shooting series four, Colin Morgan comes out on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.
In a tiny flat on the South Bank, staring at the telly through the rivulets of coffee he’s just sprayed out in a rather impressive manner, Bradley James remarks, in an absent, sort of dazed voice, “My life is over.”
It isn’t until midway through filming series three that the boredom really hits them fully.
Bradley is lying on the cold cobblestones of the castle courtyard, waiting for the crew to finish fixing a broken floodlight. He’s trying to distract himself by thinking up new ways to look manfully and conveniently unconscious. He asks himself idly, what would Michael Rosenbaum do?
Colin is slumped next to him and threatening to fall asleep against Bradley’s raised knee, because he’s long since given up trying to find new ways to wave his hand around and mumble die, ridiculous plot device of the week, die! in Old English.
“I am bored,” Bradley declares to the stars above him. “Bored, bored, bored, bored.”
He punctuates this by poking whatever part of Colin happens to be within reach, which turns out to be one of his ridiculously slender wrists. Colin swats at Bradley’s hand with an annoyed grunt, but doesn’t reply.
“Dying of boredom, Morgan,” Bradley whines, trying to poke him again, and the whole thing threatens to degenerate into a truly embarrassing and half-hearted slapfight until Colin traps Bradley's hand against his chest and twists around to rest the back of his head on top of it. Lifting his other hand to retaliate and mess up Colin’s hair is too much of an effort, so Bradley just sighs in defeat.
After a moment, Colin says, “This morning, at the hotel, I passed Katie on her way back from the laundry room.”
When nothing else is forthcoming, Bradley raises his head and stares at Colin’s profile. “Yes? And? Are you trying to finish me off?” he asks.
Colin grins and starts wiggling around to reach the pocket of Merlin’s jacket. Bradley is about to tell him to knock it off, because Colin’s moving weight on his belly is distracting, when a piece of cloth hits him in the face. He sputters and holds the offending item away for inspection.
It’s pink. And frilly. And printed all over with tiny. Pink. Velociraptors.
“She dropped them in the corridor as I was passing by,” Colin says, sounding entirely too smug.
Bradley forgives him completely. “You stole Katie’s knickers,” he says, awed. “You stole Katie’s pink, frilly, velociraptor knickers.”
“Well, technically, she lost them. I... graciously rescued them,” Colin reasons.
Bradley grins. “Give me your iPhone. Right now.”
They barely have time to process the fact that the knickers went for a thousand pounds on Ebay before Katie’s wrath falls upon them. There are threats of curses and castration, in language foul enough to make a sailor blush.
Bradley’s entire stack of white pants vanishes that evening, only to magically reappear the next day, bright pink. Colin (not to mention the entire costume department) laughs and laughs and laughs, until he gets a text message from Angel that reads:
Gone with K to Paris for the day. Champs-Élysées, here we come! Thank you so much!
When they check, Colin’s credit card is missing from his wallet.
Bradley grins like a madman. “The war. Is on,” he declares gleefully, and Colin is apparently miffed enough about the card not to point out how terrible this idea probably is.
They steal Katie’s needlepoint work before she comes back from Paris, and stitch rude messages in bad French on them (Colin’s reads Katie est un merde and Bradley’s Tu vais mouru alone and ratatouiller!).
All of Colin’s food is mysteriously sprinkled with bacon for a week. After he finds some in his coffee, he gets Bradley to steal Angel’s iPod and erase everything on it except Bryan Adams’ Greatest Hits. Katie hacks into his Facebook account that evening, changes his name to Princess Rosetta Sparklypants, and younicorns half his photos.
That is so last year, Katie, and also, I bet that’s your little fantasy, he writes on her wall when he figures out she changed his password to mrscolinmorgan. Har, har, har.
They probably should have stopped there, but they haven’t had this much fun in forever and the planning, the scheming and even the subsequent suffering of consequences quickly gets addictive. Colin brags for a week about the Ginger Incident, even after the girls make it very uncomfortable for him to sit on his left arse cheek for days. For his part, Bradley is incredibly proud of the Time With the Goat, despite the fact that it led to the Thing with the Crazy Fangirl and the French Poetry.
“I will admit to being fairly impressed by this one,” Bradley says against the heavy wooden door of the wardrobe. He can hear Colin snort, on the outside. “Any sign of her?” Bradley asks, listening for the high-pitched squeal of the terrifying twelve-year-old the girls had 'graciously invited' to the set. She had tackled him this morning, declaiming her undying love for his bewitching, Jacob-worthy pectorals. Or something similar. He fervently hopes Colin had translated that wrong.
In retaliation, Bradley decides to change their strategy and go for a Surge.
“It worked for Bush in Iraq,” he says confidently, as he goes through the pile of supplies amassed on Colin’s bed, putting the final touches on Step One: Wiggle Richard’s Wig.
“It didn’t work in Iraq, Bradley. That’s my point,” Colin replies.
Still, he doesn’t stop working on Step Two: Eye-Sporking Sparkly Script, so Bradley ignores him.
It’s one in the morning when they declare Step Three: Dubious Female Hygiene Products done, push everything off the bed and flop dead on top of the covers and mostly on top of each other.
When Katie and Angel seem to fearfully avoid them for a whole week after the Surge is implemented and no attempt is made on their manhood, Bradley tackles Colin to his bed until he concedes that Bradley is the King of all Pranksters, and that he should at least be knighted for his considerable genius.
“I am GOD,” he declares.
“You’re a moron,” Colin mumbles as he tries to catch his breath. “Now get out of my room and let me sleep.”
“This is my room, Colin,” Bradley replies, amused.
Colin frowns. “But this is my alarm clock,” he says intelligently.
“And your coat, and your stupid favourite hoodie and your stack of atrociously pretentious cds, and your dirty, non-pink underpants. You are a horrible slob, Morgan, now shove over.” He pulls at the pillow Colin stole shamelessly, and hogs the covers until Colin is forced to attach himself to Bradley’s back, grumbling about immature, attention-starved bullies. Bradley sleeps the sleep of the blissfully wicked.
They really should have known better.
Two weeks later, in the middle of the worst heat wave Pierrefonds has seen in 50 years, Colin and Bradley realize in horror that the girls have been biding their time.
That night, the AC unit in Bradley’s room gives out in a truly spectacular and rather suspicious show of sparks and coloured smoke. At three in the morning, after his fifth cold shower and tenth trip to the ice machine, Bradley gives up and drags himself to Colin’s room, shoves him to one side of his bed and sprawls under the cool breeze, letting out a truly obscene groan of relief that has Colin raising his head sleepily, frowning briefly as if he’s about to ask a question, before flopping back down and muttering, “Keep your sweaty flesh to yourself, James.”
Three miserably short hours later, Colin's alarm clock screams bloody murder in Bradley's ears and he blearily goes back to his suffocating room to take yet another shower. There’s a sudden strange hiccup in the pipes next door, followed by a high-pitched shriek, then a manlier roar: “WHAT THE BLOODY GNAAAAH?”
Colin barges in three seconds later, the white cloth around his waist the only part of him not splattered with something brown Bradley really has no desire to identify.
“Right,” Bradley declares, stepping out of the shower and offering Colin a clean towel.
The hotel staff have apparently all reverted to not knowing a word of English, and it takes them an hour to finally gather that Bradley's AC is foutue and Colin’s bathroom is temporairement condamnée and that the hotel is complètement booké and has no other chambre de libre and that everyone was very, very désolé du désagrément.
That night, Bradley wakes up absolutely freezing to Colin spreading every spare blanket, towel and bathrobe he can find on top of the bed and crawling under the pile with him. He shoves his not so much fingers as icicles in Bradley’s armpits and says against the back of his neck, “the AC’s at minus twenty. Is that even possible? They stole the remote and I can’t even find a plug.” There’s a little bit of awe in his voice, but mostly, Bradley just hears abject fear.
In the morning, Bradley takes off his shirt before sneaking a hand through his bathroom door and turning on the water in the sink.
He cleans off the brown goo in the concièrgerie while Colin brushes his teeth at the water fountain in the lobby. There’s a crazy, haunted look in his eyes that Bradley knows matches his own.
The day is a complete nightmare. The makeup girls give them hell for looking like zombies and pile so much foundation around their eyes that Bradley feels like an embalmed corpse in a funeral home. Once on set, he manages to call Uther "Tony" ten times in a single scene, drop his sword on seven different occasions (twice on his toes) and walk into: a stone column, Richard, horse dung and the backside of said horse.
Colin is filming with Angel all day. Bradley means to ask him about it at lunch, but he takes one look at Colin's face and merely slides over on the bench so they can eat in silence, shoulder to shoulder.
When they come back to the hotel, Colin’s mattress has disappeared from his bed. There are little icicles forming on the frame. They retreat to Bradley’s room, open the (now inexplicably screenless) window as far as it can go, lie down on the bed and try to keep their sweaty, seriously smelly and soon unbearably itchy bodies from touching.
Bradley is helping Colin climb back onto the bed from where he’s fallen off for the third time when they hear the tick, tick, tick of the central heating coming on. Bradley lets out a truly pathetic cry of defeat and reaches for his mobile.
Katie is an unbearably smug bitch on the phone. Bradley hasn’t even opened his mouth when she starts enumerating:
“Right, so, we want coffee and pastries from that place down the street every morning and foot massages between takes whenever we want. Either of you ever come close to our rooms, trailers, personal effects or persons without our express permission and a copious amount of grovelling, we’ll just wait until it’s February in Cardiff again and burn all of your clothes while you’re in costume. Also, you’re forbidden to answer any question during interviews without mentioning either me or Angel as the sole reason for the show’s success, preferably while wearing really pathetic starstruck expressions on your faces. And Angel wants pie.”
She hangs up.
Bradley has never been more grateful that Arthur is spending most of this series pining for Gwen from very much afar. And while it doesn't help with the fear, everyone is very impressed with both his and Colin's acting against Morgana the Recently Evil Witch, so at least some good is coming out of their plight.
Eventually, though, boredom wins out over terror. They briefly entertain the thought of finding new victims, but the production team is off limits, for obvious reasons, and so is the entire crew, because they are not completely suicidal. Richard and Tony are out as well, because well, Richard. And Tony. And Santiago finished filming for the season already, the sneaky bastard.
They have resigned themselves to Death by Terminal Ennui when Bradley gets a phone call from Michael congratulating him on his twentieth convenient blow to the head slash random bout of amnesia.
“Also, tell your boyfriend Tom says he should try varying the eyebrows,” Michael says. “Isolate one, then the other, that kind of shit. If nothing else, it should keep his eyes from glazing over after the hundredth time the camera zooms into his face.”
Bradley looks over to where Colin is slouched in his chair, playing with Bradley’s camera while a makeup girl is retouching his artfully bloodied forehead. Bradley wants to tell Michael that Merlin’s getting the head injury this time, and Arthur has the glowing, possessed eyes. Again. What comes out instead is, “Colin is not my boyfriend, Mike.”
“And millions of hopeful fangirls rejoice,” Colin says, pointing the camera at him. He’s filming, the wanker.
“…mean he hasn’t put out yet?” the voice in his ear is saying. “You should dump that fucking tease and come across the pond.”
“Goodbye, Michael,” Bradley says as he slaps his mobile shut and glares at Colin, who has put the camera down.
“Rosenbaum thinks you’re a terrible boyfriend,” he says.
“Ha! As if! I am clearly getting the raw end of this deal. You don’t even acknowledge our love,” Colin replies, hurt.
“Aw, honey, don’t be like that,” Bradley drawls in his worst American accent possible. He walks up to Colin’s chair, slings an arm around Colin's neck and sits in his lap. “Let me make it up to you, baby.”
Colin pretends to sulk but there’s a gleam in his eyes that Bradley recognizes as meaning Colin just had An Idea. He doesn’t have the time to ask about it, though, because Colin shakes himself, frowns and grumbles, “I really don’t know why I put up with you,” and sends Bradley flying to the ground with a jerk of his knee.
Bradley realizes what The Idea is when they’re doing a joint interview for Secrets and Magic, a few days later. Bradley is prattling on about their current guest star when Colin seamlessly chimes in and starts waxing lyrical about Bradley’s amazing acting skills and actually patting him on the arm, fingers lingering several seconds too long. Bradley looks down, confused, then up at Colin, and the bastard is making that face, the I am witnessing something incredible and magical and am thoroughly enchanted face. He looks like a demented Disney princess. Bradley recoils in horror and fumbles his way through a pathetic answer about method acting.
The moment the camera stop rolling, Colin dissolves into laughter. “What the bloody hell was that, Morgan?” Bradley yells.
“Oh, sweetheart!” Colin exclaims. “Sometimes I’m just so proud, I can’t help myself!” He’s clutching at his chest dramatically, tears of laughter in his eyes.
Bradley throws his empty water bottle at Colin’s head, and also his script as the wanker runs for the door, still laughing.
Bradley is understandably upset about Colin’s sudden betrayal. He thought they were mates! They survived frilly underwear and fangirls and hypothermia together. How dare he turn on Bradley now?
He sulks for a good two hours before plotting his revenge.
He arranges to get caught coming out of Colin’s shower when Angel’s supposed to come make sure he’s up. Annoyingly, she just rolls her eyes at him, turns around and yells at him to wake his stupid boyfriend. To retaliate, Colin moves in the stuff he hadn't already littered Bradley’s room with, making sure to cover every available surface with his entire collection of ironic t-shirts. When Katie peeks through the door, she simply laughs and says, “Whipped, James, completely whipped.”
This was bollocks. Bradley much preferred when it was them against the girls, mainly because Bradley was a genius at pranks. The thing is, he isn’t so good at this twisted game of chicken they seem to be playing now, and Colin is a bloody mastermind at it.
Bradley gushes over Colin’s ears at lunch, and the same night, there’s a bloody epic poem (in perfect iambic pentameter) about his teeth taped to the door of his room. He makes a show of going to the pharmacie for condoms, and the next morning Arthur’s coat pockets are inexplicably filled with lube packets (Frances from costume merely lifts an eyebrow and tells him severely that if she finds stains on the leathers, they will have words). He complains loudly about Colin’s snoring and later finds the bastard sobbingly confessing to Richard that he “doesn’t know how to make him happy” and “maybe I’m not worthy.” Everybody gives him the stink eye for a week.
At that point, it occurs to Bradley that nobody on set seems very surprised by their sudden fake love affair. He’d at least expected the Julians to give them a lecture about family dramas and the value of discretion, but all they get is the usual fantastic chemistry as always and incomprehensible nonsense about female audiences, John Barrowman and bromances. He remembers that these blokes are the ones writing the Dragon’s dialogue and gives up.
Quicker than Bradley realizes, it’s the last day of filming. They’re in the courtyard again and Merlin has just called him a prat for the tenth take in a row when Jeremy calls out, “All right, it’s a wrap, boys!”
He’s about to turn the proud housewife routine on Colin when the git beats him to it by striding over, bending him backwards like a proper Hollywood starlet and snogging the daylights out of him.
It’s an extremely showy kiss, all angled jaws and half-closed eyelids, mouths closed. Colin’s arm is cradling Bradley’s head and his hand is tight on his shoulder. His other hand is gripping his hip and Bradley's fingers close over it on their own. For balance. It’s really quite a chaste kiss, and Bradley blames the fact that he’s almost upside down for the dizziness he feels regardless. Just before finally letting go, Colin parts his lips, runs the tip of his tongue across Bradley’s upper lip, quick, and whispers “I win” against his mouth, voice strangely serious, before turning back to the catcalls and whistles the crew is throwing and grinning like a fool.
They take the Eurostar together, just the two of them. They were the last of the cast to finish, and the crew won’t be done with second unit filming until next week. Colin is still unbearably smug, but thankfully, he’s also completely exhausted and he passes out against Bradley fifteen minutes in. Bradley reclines both their seats and slips an arm around Colin’s shoulders, lets the dark head rest in the crook of his neck. It’s more comfortable that way.
They have different cabs waiting for them at St. Pancras. Colin’s off to America in less than twelve hours, filming some HBO miniseries that will probably win every award ever while Bradley will be flubbing lines at the Young Vic for most of the hiatus. They most likely won’t see each other before next year, so Bradley bumps Colin’s shoulder as they walk to the cars. Colin looks up at him with this sort of strangely expectant expression and Bradley forgets what he was going to say, if he ever knew.
He’s about to start babbling about how Colin’s pasty arse won’t survive the California sun and how he should stay away from Rosenbaum at all costs when he spots them over Colin’s shoulder: two paparazzi lurking a few meters away. Maybe Amy Winehouse was on the train.
It's perfect. Bradley grins insanely at Colin, takes a step back and yells, in this atrocious stage voice:
“I can’t do it anymore, Colin. I can’t stand the secrets and the lies.”
Colin looks at him like he’s lost his mind.
“If you truly loved me,” he continues, “you would want to shout it from the rooftops. If you loved me,” he finishes triumphantly, “you’d shout it on television!”
Bradley takes the time to bask in the glory of Colin’s horrified expression, before hauling his suitcase in the taxi and climbing in himself with a last “See you next year, pumpkin!” as the car drives away.
The heady glow of victory fades pretty quickly, Bradley realizes, feeling disappointed. He has a few weeks free before he’s due in London for rehearsal, so he goes back home for a bit. It’s truly great to see everyone again, except nobody seems particularly impressed by Bradley defeating Colin’s ego, which completely stifles his hard-earned right to gloat. He feels disproportionately let down by this fact.
Bradley could get over this if it weren't for the fact that he keeps getting sort of confused by the absence of a certain black mop of hair that’s usually somewhere in his peripheral vision all day long. The nights are even worse. He can’t stop reaching across his tiny twin bed for a shoulder that’s not there and trying to entangle his feet with some invisible person's and bumping his toes against the wall instead.
Bradley realizes with horror that he might actually be pining and hauls his arse to his flat in London a week earlier than he needs to, goes out that same night and picks himself a boyfriend.
He acknowledges that he probably overreacted a little bit, but he had forgotten the joys of regular sex, so he keeps the guy around. Aiden is nice enough, after all, and perfectly decent in bed. He is also, as Katie points out when she drops by for one of her utterly evil surprise visits, Irish, scrawny and with a full head of dark curls. Bradley kicks her out in outrage, then paces around the flat to cool down until his eyes fall on Aiden’s Death Cab t-shirt. He kicks that as well, then finally himself, mentally, and dumps Aiden two days later.
The rest of his hiatus is spent missing Colin and mourning his complete lack of dignity. Possibly, he is also delivering a not completely atrocious performance as Romeo at the Young Vic, but he can’t be sure.
Before he knows it, the play ends and Bradley has a week left before they’re due back in Cardiff. Looking around his seriously filthy flat, he shakes himself just enough to run to the corner store and buy a stupid amount of alcohol. If he's to be this pathetic, he refuses to be so while sober.
Five hours and an indeterminate number of bottles later, Bradley feels much better. Filming is about to start, he reasons, and he will see Colin again and finally, finally get to gloat, which he’s decided is what he needs to get this stupid thing out of his system. He will savour this feeling for a few days, and then let Colin off the hook so they can start plotting Santiago’s long-overdue demise. Michael Fucking Rosenbaum will stop calling because Arthur will discover Merlin’s secret this series or heaven help him, Bradley will jump off Pierrefonds’ highest anachronistic turret. There will be inappropriate touching, stupid jokes and fake-flirting, and the regular accidental passing out on each other’s beds. Then, Bradley will stop feeling like he's about to fall in love with his costar for no apparent reason and everything will be brilliant. Bradley mentally applauds his flawless plan before passing out, face first, on his couch and sleeping for fifteen hours straight.
He wakes up around eight o’clock at night and is nursing a pint of coffee and the mother of all hangovers when Colin ruins his life on national television.
The first day back, Bradley miraculously manages to hide from Colin entirely. It is still an absolute shite day though, as everybody he meets feels the need to congratulate him on... Bradley doesn’t exactly know what, being on the cover page of the Star? He lies to anyone who asks him if he’s seen his better half yet. He goes through sword practice and rehearsal with Tony in a paranoid daze, looking over his shoulder constantly.
When he finally closes the door of his hotel room that night, he lets out a long sigh of relief. And chokes right in the middle of it when he notices Colin’s ratty suitcase besides his own. He scans the room in dawning horror. Rooms. There’s a living area in front of the semi-closed off bedroom. A bedroom with a single, king-size bed.
He’s still clinging to the hope that this is just a stupid mix-up with the hotel when a key clicks in the door. Colin comes in, looks from the suitcases to the living room, to the bed, to Bradley, and bursts out laughing.
“This is not funny, Morgan!” Bradley rages as Colin wheezes, collapsed on the couch. Bradley struggles to stay angry as he drinks in the sight of Colin for the first time in months. He tries (and fails utterly) not to drop his gaze on Colin’s exposed neck and collarbone, or the expanse of skin revealed by his rucked-up t-shirt. Colin came back from California with just the tiniest hint of a tan and some new, lean muscles on his frame and Bradley miserably admits to himself that he looks bloody gorgeous. He whimpers.
“Listen,” Bradley says, finally, “we have to fake break up, all right?”
Colin sobers immediately and sits up. “What?”
“Look, it’s all well and good to be partners in crime and save each other from boredom and crazy costars and for you to fall asleep on me all the time and clutter my room with your rubbish...”
“Bradley...” Colin interrupts.
“But,” Bradley carries on, pointing an accusing finger at Colin, “it’s quite another to put up with the looks, and the surprise groping and the single, king-size bed...”
“Bradley!” Colin tries again.
“And the well wishes and the leering and the inquiries about my sexual health and...”
“BRADLEY!” Colin shouts. “I declared my deep and everlasting love for you on Jonathan Ross!”
“YES!” Bradley yells back. “And now you will exact your revenge on me like the completely shite friend you are and I don’t think I can take any more of your fake kisses and...”
But apparently, that’s a lie. Apparently, he has no problem at all with more of Colin’s fake kisses. Except there is no one to deceive here, nobody to dare, and this kiss has a lot more tongue than the last and Colin’s not holding him like a romance-novel heroine. He’s got one hand in Bradley’s hair, carding through it urgently, and the other at the small of his back, lifting his shirt to fit his palm against Bradley's skin and press him forward. Bradley links his arms around Colin’s shoulders and nudges his head sideways to deepen the kiss. Colin’s lower lip fits perfectly between his own and his tongue leaves burning trails against his lips that set desire pooling low in his belly.
“Um,” says Bradley, licking his lips, when they finally come up for air.
“Yeah,” Colin replies. He’s got that Disney princess look again, except more subdued, a little bit hesitant and a lot hopeful.
Bradley leans in again to taste.
“Hey, Bradley,” Colin murmurs some time later.
Bradley makes an indistinct, sleepy noise under him.
Colin rolls over to the side of the bed and rummages through their discarded clothes for a moment. When Bradley pulls him back against him, impatient, Colin is holding a piece of cloth in his hand.
“I broke into Santiago’s room before coming here,” he says, waving the purple thong above Bradley’s face.
“I think I love you,” Bradley blurts out, stunned.
Colin’s eyes turn soft above him and Bradley has to pull him down to hide his own incredulous smile against the side of Colin’s neck.