Bradley can’t quite believe he’s doing it. He doesn’t let himself think about it, not until he’s picking up his phone and scrolling for the number, pressing send. Ring, ring. Then it hits him, what he’s doing, and he almost hangs up. But that would be cowardly. And Colin would know he hadn’t gone through with it. Maybe he could pass it off as a butt dial. Maybe he should text first. Maybe he should…
That voice, as familiar as a brother. He has no choice now but to speak.
“Hey, mate. How are you?”
“Um. I’m good. How are you?”
“Good, good. You didn’t change your number.”
“Why would I do that?”
The silence that follows is more painful than a bullet wound, but at least Colin doesn’t hang up. That means he might, possibly, not hate Bradley with a fiery passion. Maybe he only hates him a little. Or maybe less than that.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” he says. Colin doesn’t reply, but Bradley thinks he detects something that sounds like a sigh. Of exasperation or pain, he can’t say. “Sorry to just ring you like this without a warning, but I’m in town, actually. Was wondering if I could ask you for a favor. Your play—”
“I can get you a seat, no problem. Two tickets? One for Georgia?”
“No, no. Just me. I mean, I’m all alone.” He winces at the Freudian slip. But it wasn’t as though he had asked Colin to wait for him. He hadn’t asked for anything: that was the problem. He hadn’t asked for anything until it was too late, and there hadn’t been any falling out, just a parting of ways, an absence of communication. A lack. And then years.
The soft chuckle on the end of the line comes as a distracting dissonance. He can’t stop himself from smiling back. “What’s so funny?”
“Bradley, are you listening to the Les Miserables soundtrack? Still?”
Bradley feels his face get hot. He’s been so absent-minded, psyching himself up for the call, he’s forgotten to turn down his Spotify playlist. He does it now, stabbing the little speaker icon on his keyboard like it’s a spider.
“You’re hearing things, mate.”
“Oh, you can’t deny it now. I distinctly heard the mournful croon of Eponine.”
“It just came up on shuffle. Forces beyond my control.”
“If that’s what you have to tell yourself to sleep at night.”
“I sleep perfectly well, I’ll have you know. At least I didn’t have a Cats poster on my wall at uni.”
Colin laughs out loud. “Right, well 2012 called and it wants it’s hackneyed adaptation back.”
And they’re off, just like old times, ribbing each other until Bradley’s cheeks hurt and his heart feels ten tonnes lighter. Until of course he remembers it’s not old times, and he wonders whether Colin will want to see him, if he’s somehow forcing himself on Colin without his consent. But when Colin ends the call (time for lunch with friends), it’s with a sweet “I’m glad you’re coming tonight. Meet me backstage after?” And Bradley can hardly believe he’s heard right.
He tries not to read too much into it for the rest of the day. What exactly was Colin’s tone? Was he wistful, was it the way he would talk to any of his friends? But he’s as antsy as the day before an audition, unable to concentrate until the clock nears six and he throws on a baseball cap and a casual jacket so he won’t look like he tried too hard. He fears Colin will see through him all the same, that Colin will know that he’s trying hard not to be trying hard. He rolls his eyes at himself in the mirror, checking his freshly shaven face for smoothness. What is he even expecting? He is going to see a play, and that is all.
He takes a deep breath, and it begins.
Colin is gorgeous, of course. He inhabits this role like he does all others—he slides into the character in a way Bradley has never quite been able to emulate. But this time he feels no stab of envy with his admiration. He lets himself drift and forget about their meeting afterwards, focusing instead on the delight of watching Colin perform, noticing the familiar, small gestures Colin makes with his hands. Maybe he’s the only one in the audience who sees the things that are still Colin, in spite of his method. It’s a tantalizing and dangerous thought to consider.
His American accent is excellent. Maybe not quite as good as Bradley’s has gotten since he moved to the states, but close. He plays the part of Dean so well that Bradley is rooting for him, even if he is desperate and somewhat of a ‘boozing schmoozer’, as described by the Guardian in a review he most certainly did not read that morning. The hipster glasses are too much. Oh, to be the lenses on those frames . . . Oh! to be the frames against that brow . . . Bradley pinches himself. Colin will want to know what he thought and he will expect reasonable answers, not maudlin Shakespearean references. Actually, maybe he will expect those.
When it ends, Bradley is almost bereft. He stands and lets himself be ushered by the throng into the lobby.
Maybe it isn’t a good idea to go back, after all. He doesn’t know what he wants now any more than he did four years ago. Colin might be seeing someone, and to hear about that would break the rest of Bradley’s heart. No, he’d rather believe Colin is living chastely and giving it all to his art. No half-drunken snogging in alleys, no silent fucking in hotel rooms too close to other cast members, no soft morning cuddles, and definitely no promises whispered into sleeping ears.
Bradley wishes he were selfless. He would like to say he wants Colin to be happy, not lonely, and do so without jealousy, but so far, that hasn’t happened. He wonders if it ever will. Still, he isn’t a coward. He doesn’t want Colin to think he’s one, either.
With a new determination, Bradley turns around and heads back towards the security entrance.
He is slightly sweaty from his performance, freshly changed into jeans and a T-shirt, but Bradley can smell his warmth. He is wearing a hat too, but his ears no longer protrude like they once did. Bradley doesn’t care one way or the other; Colin has always looked beautiful to him. They have both—begrudgingly—worried about their appearances too much to make a comment of it now.
He stares for another second. If not for Bradley’s light jacket, they could have coordinated outfits.
“Didn’t think you were going to come,” Colin says, too quiet for the others to hear. He turns away to dispose of the washcloth, and Bradley can see his Adam’s apple bob.
“Well, I was pretty pissed when you dissed Eponine earlier, but I forgive you.”
“Do you?” Colin averts his eyes, and suddenly the question obviously holds more weight than he intended.
Bradley decides to play it off. He is tired of being serious. “Buy me a pint and I’ll think about it.”
“You got it. But no snakebites. Remember what happened last time?”
“That was you, not me.” There might have been a dress involved. One of Katie’s, Bradley thinks.
“Oh, right.” The relief in Colin’s smile makes Bradley’s heart thump a painful beat.
Their secret spot is three Tube stops away, and Bradley is surprised Colin mentions it, but agrees. They take a black cab for more privacy. En route, Colin seems relaxed and happy, and Bradley lets his mood drift along. It feels comfortable in the way that time with old friends often does, which surprises Bradley. Maybe the resentment and anger was all in his head. Or maybe Colin is protecting himself. In either case, he’ll take this over the awkwardness on the phone.
They talk about the play, about the relevance to journalism and politics today. They agree that the prime minister who-shall-not-be-named is off her head and that the president of the US is even more mental. When Bradley floats the idea of moving back, Colin just smiles and nods. It’s clear he’s not getting invested, which is fine. They are just a couple of mates out for a pint.
Bradley insists on paying the fare and they both tumble out onto the kerb, Colin’s limbs lanky and graceful. He hasn’t said a word about Bradley’s nose beyond ‘you look good’, and for that Bradley is thankful. They have both made sacrifices to be more palatable to a world that still rewards conventionality.
The pub is quiet and dark, far enough from the touristy part of London to be safe from fans. Bradley and Colin find a spot at the bar while Colin orders for the both of them—a pale lager without too much alcohol. Once it had always been whisky to start, but those were the days when they trusted each other.
Bradley’s hand brushes Colin’s bare arm as he picks up his drink. It’s not an intentional move, but Colin gives him a look, and Bradley knows he is in trouble. He’s been fooling himself all day. If he can’t take Colin Morgan home with him tonight, he will die.
They both raise their glasses. “Salud,” says Colin, before downing half his pint. Bradley watches his throat work and wonders what Colin is thinking.
“Was it okay that I came tonight?” Bradley asks.
“It was fine. It was good. It’s good to see you.” Colin flushes, suddenly looking vulnerable. “I’ve said that before.”
“It’s okay. It’s weird, I know.”
“It’s weird, but it isn’t weird. Which is the really weird part, right?”
“Exactly,” Bradley agrees. “Drink every time it gets weird.” They both take a sip and laugh.
Colin scans the room. “So, do you want to sit?”
Bradley nods and leads them to a nearby table. There are only a few other patrons in the place; it’s late and near closing. He avoids the one in the corner that used to be ‘theirs’, not wanting to push his luck. For a moment they both nurse their pints in silence, looking at one another.
“I’m glad you called,” Colin finally says. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you. It’s been so long, though. I didn’t think you wanted to hear from me.”
“I didn’t think you would want to hear from me, either. But I’m glad that’s not true.” He pauses. “Or is it?”
“Bradley.” Colin sets down his glass. It is nearly empty already. “What happened wasn’t only your fault. I could have called too.”
“I know, but why would you have? I didn’t give you much of a reason.”
“You mean because you waited forever to break up with Georgia even when we were sleeping together?”
The truth bites a little more deeply than Bradley expected, even though he already knows it. “Yeah. But how did you—”
“I have my ways.”
They both drink. Bradley tries to stop himself from feeling pleased Colin has checked up on him; he fails miserably. Their legs brush under the table. Bradley remembers, in a land of myth and a time of magic, when Colin used to come to him after a long day on set. Rub my feet? Bradley, please? When they were in character, Merlin was always waiting on Arthur, but in the real world it was the other way around, entirely. Colin had such a sweet way of asking for favors, Bradley could never resist him.
“I didn’t think it would end like that for us,” Colin says. “Not with a bang, but a whimper. I kept thinking you would call or send me a stupid text—”
“My texts aren’t stupid. They’re witty observations on the state of humankind.”
Colin smiles. “I’m glad to see you haven’t changed. Anyway, it was just one of those things, I guess.”
“One of what things?”
“Oh, you know, actors in close proximity with no one else around, working together, fucking. When it’s not convenient anymore it just ends. No one expects those things to last.”
“Is that really what you think?” Bradley forces his voice to stay calm even as his grip on his glass tightens; he wants it to shatter and make his hand bleed. That would be less painful than hearing this, if Colin is telling the truth.
“Of course not. I just wanted to see what you’d say. Don’t ever go radio silent on me again, ya hear?” Colin’s voice modulates into his impression of ‘old-timey’ with the last few words. Bradley can’t quite get back to relaxed, though. He feels suddenly cold and drains the rest of his pint just as the barman says ‘last call’.
“Another?” he asks, hating the gruffness in his voice. It has always been so difficult to be sincere when he and Colin share the same irreverent sense of humor.
“Why did you come tonight, really?” Colin’s gaze is unflinching.
Once again, Bradley finds himself thinking of the word ‘coward’. He’s not one, is he? How bad can it be to expose himself completely, really?
“Because I missed you, and I hoped you might miss me too.”
“What did you expect to happen? Did you want us to fuck?”
Bradley swallows. “Maybe.”
“All right. Let’s go.” Colin stands, and his stool screeches across the floor. “This place is a bore, anyway.”
“What?” Bradley tries to wrap his mind around the drastic shift in their evening plans, and can’t. He stares up at Colin, wondering if he is playing a part or if this is real.
“Goddamn it, Bradley. Don’t overthink this. I’m horny and I haven’t seen you in years. I’d like to put your cock in my mouth, if that’s okay.”
Heat flares in Bradley’s groin in spite of his surprise. He has dreamed of Colin going down on him, has wanked to the memory more than once. Colin’s beautiful mouth can do wicked things.
“Come on, or go home alone.” Colin crosses his arms, trying to look confident, but Bradley can see it in his eyes, the flash of insecurity. Pain.
He has hurt this man. They have hurt each other, and no matter how easy it might be to fall back into their routine, no matter how much they might want to, it can’t be like this. Obviously Colin doesn’t agree. He turns away and stalks out of the pub, and Bradley follows.
“Col,” he says. “Col, wait up.”
The sidewalk is narrow, and Bradley has to dodge a couple passersby to catch up with Colin, who, with his dastardly long legs, is walking almost at a run. When he grabs Colin’s arm, he expects a rebuff, but instead Colin stops, shoulders slumping. He gives Bradley a rueful smile. “I’m sorry. I’m being a bastard.”
“It’s okay. I deserve it.”
“Please stop castigating yourself.”
“I will if you will.”
“I don’t know what I want anymore. I thought I was okay . . . without you . . . but here you waltz in with your stupid face and your stupid hair and your stupid jokes, and I just . . . ” He sighs and leans into Bradley, and Bradley takes his weight, holds him close. He doesn’t feel like his arms can get as tight as he wants. A couple of blokes walk by and say something snide about getting a room, but Bradley doesn’t let go. Another group passes, and he thinks one of the girls might recognize them. He doesn’t even care if she takes a picture. Fuck it all.
“I’ve been wanting to do this forever.”
“What, block pedestrian traffic?”
“Be serious, Col. I am, for once. Fuck, Mr Morgan, I’ve missed holding you.”
“I hate you, Bradley.”
“I know.” Bradley rubs his cheek against Colin’s, feels the stubble, the maleness he has missed. The man. He can’t let this man go again. “I think . . . I think I want to stay here and see . . . what we could be. Again. If you want that. You know, this time.”
“If I say yes, will you let me suck your cock tonight? Because I really, really want to.”
“Jesus, Colin.” Bradley inhales just before Colin leans in, sealing their lips together. The kiss sends electric pulses everywhere, especially to Bradley’s cock, which has been woefully neglected in recent months. Colin makes a soft noise as the kiss deepens, and his hard body against Bradley’s tells him all he needs to know about the feeling being mutual. This isn’t the gawky, sweet boy Bradley remembers; this is a gorgeous, confident man, and maybe he doesn’t need to be protected. “Damn it. I’m not going to say no.”
“I’d prefer to leave him out of it.”
Colin laughs, and his beer breath huffs against Bradley’s lips. “Amen.”
“Why does it always have to get Catholic with you?”
Colin grins. “Kiss me, I’m Irish!”
“I’m not here much,” says Colin, as though embarrassed. “My mum picked out a lot of this stuff. It’s horrid, isn’t it? Do you hate it?”
“I don’t. It’s just different.”
“I’m different. I know you are too.” They stand on the threshold of the bedroom, and Bradley can see the shape of a huge white king bed in the darkness. Colin throws on a light and pulls his shirt over his head, so Bradley does the same. When they come back together, it is everything and nothing like it used to be. Bradley works out, but Colin works out. His arms are chiseled and his chest is broad and inviting. It feels amazing, and Bradley runs his hands down to Colin’s narrow waist to pull at his belt, wanting to see what else is different, what else the same.
Legs, strong and muscled. Arse, lovely as always. Feet, narrow and long. Bradley touches every inch and lets Colin do the same. When they are both fully naked, Colin takes charge, pushing Bradley back towards the bed. He goes willingly, falling with a whoosh into the thick down duvet. Colin is on top of him quickly, and they kiss again, tangling hands in each other’s hair. It feels more than a little like coming home, but Bradley doesn’t speak the soppy thought out loud. Instead, he kisses Colin and forgets why he ever ran away from this, when they fit perfectly together.
Just as Bradley is about to flip them over to kiss that lovely arse, Colin wriggles down his body and grasps his aching cock at the root. He looks back up at Bradley with heated eyes and opens his mouth, running his tongue over his lips before placing a kiss on the head. Bradley is leaking profusely, his cock rock hard, and the sensation makes him groan. Colin has always been a teasing little bastard. He takes his time, kissing Bradley all over before finally engulfing him in soft, velvety heat.
Colin starts to work him over and all memories of what used to be slip from his mind; there is only this, here, Colin between his legs looking up at him with a wrecked, hungry expression. He looks like he might want to devour Bradley, and Bradley figures it would be a fine way to go. The momentum builds until Bradley feels his climax approaching far too quickly; there are too many things he wants to do, but it has been too long, and the delight of the sensation carries him away. He touches Colin’s cheek and swipes his thumb over Colin’s swollen lips. He doesn’t deserve this reverent attention, but it’s too late for second thoughts. Colin smiles his dirty smile and sucks Bradley down one last time, and Bradley loses all control.
When he finally regains his capacity for rational thought, he smiles sleepily and reaches for Colin, who is already clambering up the bed. They lie panting next to each other, shoulders touching, and Bradley strokes Colin’s thigh, only to find his cock softening and wet.
“Yeah. I guess that’s silly.” Colin flushes a little.
“I think it’s hot.”
“You would.” He bites his lip, clearly in a teasing mood. Which is fine. Bradley loves it. He loves him and all his moods, the good and the bad. He loves this man: once, now, and always.