Cardiff , 2012
It started with a kiss at a party in Bristol, which they never spoke of, because Colin was fairly certain Bradley didn't even remember it. Then there was a strange conversation about gay sex which led (inevitably) to a demonstration, because Bradley was a curious straight boy and Colin was a reckless twenty-three year old who didn't, for once, listen to the voice of sense and reason in his head.
Then there were a lot of times, a lot of places. It was a Thing, but they never really put a name to it. It was sex and friendship and sometimes there were hints of something else, but it wasn't regular and it wasn't exclusive. Sometimes that hurt Colin, and sometimes it hurt Bradley, but it was whatever it was, and life was so crazy they both needed someone to cling to in the dark.
And sometimes - a lot of the time - it was fun. Like, there's this one time that Colin remembers clear as day, though it was years ago and there was nothing really remarkable about it. They were lying on Colin's hotel bed in Pierrefonds, Bradley propped against the headboard and Colin leaning back against his chest. They'd had sex as soon as they got back from filming and they were still naked, reading the script for the next block. Or rather, Colin was. Bradley pretended to be, his chin propped on Colin's shoulder, but he kept zoning out. Colin's blow jobs often had that effect on him.
"Is it just me," Bradley said, "or am I not in this one much?"
"Clearly they decided to focus on the real talent in the show."
Bradley savagely tickled Colin's ribs. Colin giggled and batted his hand away.
"Seriously, though, a couple of banter scenes and a 'save Uther!' moment and that's it."
"And yet again I tell you: the show's not called 'Arthur', is it?"
"Obviously an oversight."
"You can have a nice rest. Have a bath ready for me when I come home. Bring me lunch."
"Yeah, right, Colin."
Colin tipped his head back to whisper in Bradley's ear, dropping his voice to a husky baritone. "You can be waiting on the bed. Oiled and naked."
He felt Bradley swallow, and Bradley looked at him, his eyes dark with the passion he used to keep carefully under control. Not any more. Now it lived just under the surface, ready for Colin to ignite it with a single glance. They kissed, and Colin turned around, straddling Bradley's thighs and cupping his face in his hands.
Colin would never admit it out loud, but Bradley was an amazing kisser. Firm and insistent, and he had this habit of nipping at Colin's lower lip that made his spine tingle. It was nothing like his stage kisses, and nothing like anyone Colin had kissed before. It was the same with sex. They fit together in the most amazing ways. Colin trusted him.
"Cols, can I...." Bradley's voice stuttered out before he could speak the words. He could never manage to say it out loud. But he tugged Colin further into his lap and rocked up, leaving nothing to the imagination.
"Alright," said Colin. Bradley's eyes lit up and a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. "You sure you want it?"
"Don't fucking tease."
They didn't do this often. Mostly it was blow jobs and wanking each other off, and Colin really, really loved to get off rubbing his hard prick along the firm, lean muscle of Bradley's thigh. But sometimes Bradley wanted to fuck him up the arse. Maybe it was the part of him that was still the straight boy, maybe he just liked it. Colin liked it too. He'd be on all fours on the bed and just Bradley's slick fingers inside him were enough to make his cock as hard as fucking iron and his legs trembly. But there was this feeling, when Bradley's prick pushed in, hot and hard and hitting all the right places, and Colin's mind went blank and there was nothing but feeling. Feeling horny, feeling full, feeling the come rise up from his balls, feeling right and whole and in love.
Bradley would kiss Colin's neck and run his hand over his shoulder, plant a kiss there, too. He would be gentle and kind and way too careful, and he set fire to Colin from the inside out and it was the best damn feeling in the whole fucking world and then...
Then they'd kiss, and shower, and everything would go back to the way it was.
And Colin would take a moment to close his eyes, while the hot water pounded on the back of his neck, and he'd feel something tight in his belly, but he kept it inside. This thing between them could be a lot of things, but never that. There wasn't time, it wouldn't work, and like Richard always said, never fall in love with a straight boy.
It was inevitable, then that it should come to this. It's a chilly, rainy night in Cardiff and Bradley comes to Colin who's stepped outside of the club for fresh air, and he says, "It's all sorted. I'm leaving for LA in a few weeks."
And Colin says, "Great, man, I'm pleased for you." He already said goodbye weeks ago, when Arthur died in Merlin's arms and left him, and, well, it's not like he expected anything else.
So they stand there in silence and watch the rain smack down on the pavement and Colin feels really calm and quiet as his heart shuts down and somewhere there's hurt but he knows what to do with that. He's made a career of knowing what to do with that.
>Bradley Fucking James, 16:37 January 24 2013
Hey, Colin. That time you won that award. That was fucking brilliant, that was.
>Bradley Fucking James, 19:12 June 13 2014
Had a great meeting today. Something big on the way.
Pleased for you, man. Saw Alex the other day. Our little Mordred, all grown up.
>Bradley Fucking James, 19:42
I see you've completely forgotten the bastard put a sword through me last time we met.
Unlike some of us I have no time to waste on petty grudges.
>Bradley Fucking James, 04:00 July 4, 2016
Saw the Living and the Dead. So fucking proud of you, man. Eoin says hi. He's got some TV show too, I told him you don't have Netflix
It's 4am Bradley.
>Bradley Fucking James, 04:06
Shit. I forgot you're not here.
Good night, Bradley.
> BFJ 00:17, June 27 2017
Made it back to the hotel. Have to say it again, man, bloody brilliant performance.
> Colin 00:23
Thanks, man. :)
> BFJ 00:24
Really good to see you again.
> Colin 00:37
Yeah. I missed your stupid face.
There's a pang. There's always a pang. Like, Bradley looks into his eyes and there's this bubble again and they're in it and nothing else exists, and Bradley's looking at him and the world lights up and all the praise he doesn't believe from other people drips into him from Bradley like nectar to a bee and now Colin's flying. And it can't happen. It wasn't anything. It was a bubble and it burst like it always did, and now he's at this party his agent dragged him to. It's a week after he saw Bradley for the first time in years, and he's busy shutting down the memory of how fucking blue Bradley's eyes are when suddenly Alex is walking across the room and smiling.
He hasn't seen Alex in years either.
"I'm sorry I didn't catch Gloria. I heard you were amazing," Alex says.
"Thanks," says Colin. "How have you been? Versailles still fun?"
"Yeah, loads of fun. I mean, night shoots last week, you know what that's like."
"It's been incredible though."
"I saw the first season. You look great in a dress."
Alex laughs. "I learned from the best." They clinked glasses. "I heard Bradley came to the press night."
"Yeah. Yeah, it was nice of him."
Alex raises an eyebrow, and Colin shrugs. Alex is one of the few people who knows that he and Bradley had a thing. He came into a room without knocking. He's never told, as far as Colin knows.
"I was thinking," Alex says, and there's this quirk to his mouth. It's a bit wicked and Colin can see why he gets the parts he does. "Bradley's staying with us for a couple of nights in Paris on his way to Tuscany next month. Why don't you come over?"
"Oh, it's nice of you to ask, but-"
"Please." Alex's eyes are round and big like a puppy's. "It would be good to catch up. Besides, I owe you for getting me through that audition." A woman catches Alex's attention from across the room; Colin registers her as Lauren. Alex's new girlfriend.
"I'll think about it," says Colin, and Alex clinks his glass again, and goes to her.
Colin has no intention of going to France. Why would he? He's got so much work on, and he's had enough of the Eurostar to last a lifetime.
But after Alex's third Whatsapp message (complete with a photo of him in a wet Philippe wig, looking sad) he gives in, and next thing he knows he's at St Pancras with an overnight bag and a ticket to France, and it's like nothing has changed in five years.
For one thing, Colin expected Alex's 'us' in 'staying with us' to mean him and Lauren. It didn't. It means him and Evan.
Well, fair enough. Colin doesn't judge. It's all open and above board, and Alex looks happy. Evan's gracious and kind, and they talk about music. He tells this hilarious story about some prank Alex played on him and put on Instagram. It makes Colin nostalgic and at the same time intensely grateful that they didn't have Instagram back when they were making Merlin.
And then Bradley comes into the room, and Colin's breath catches in his throat. His hair is still damp from the shower and when he spots Colin his face lights up. Colin catches sight of his reflection in a mirror just by where Bradley's standing. He's grinning like an idiot.
He knocks back his drink and Evan immediately gives him another.
"Dinner in twenty minutes," says Alex. "You're not allergic to anything new, are you Colin?"
"Just the same, thanks," says Colin.
"Great," says Bradley. "Does that mean we're all eating rabbit food?"
"Ah, you've lived in America too long, Bradley," says Alex. "The whole of Europe's vegan now."
Bradley laughs, that bark of a laugh that used to be the soundtrack to Colin's life, and Colin laughs too.
It's so easy. The wine flows, and the banter flows, and Colin hasn't laughed so much in he can't remember how long. He likes Evan a lot. He's smart and funny and he and Alex have this spark. He has his arm around Alex's shoulder and they look at each other like... Like...
Colin glances at Bradley, sitting next to him on the sofa.
Yeah. Like that.
They have a couple of months left on Versailles, Evan tells Bradley, and no news of another season yet. No new contract. Colin watches Evan's fingers stroking the curve of Alex's neck and wonders, what next? What will happen to this, when Evan goes back to Canada or LA, and Alex is back in London with Lauren?
"Hey, Cols. Can I top you up?"
Bradley holds out the bottle and Colin brings his glass to meet it. "Thanks."
Bradley holds his wrist to keep the glass still while he pours. Colin thinks he hears Alex say something like "Look, I told you," to Evan. Bradley's hand falls away again, and when Colin looks at Alex, Evan is kissing him, one hand cupping the side of Alex's beautiful face.
Colin and Bradley exchange a look, and Colin's stomach has butterflies.
"Funny story," says Alex, when the kiss ends. He sits up a bit straighter, and pulls Evan's hand over his heart. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Colin."
"Really?" says Evan.
"I called him up in a panic when I got the audition. He was very reassuring."
Colin gives Alex a look, because he's not sure how much of the story he's going to tell. It had been a long afternoon, talking about sexuality and acting and how to wear a dress, and they'd ended up fucking on Colin's living room rug and, well, it had been very clear that Eoin had been right all along: Alex really wasn't straight.
"To Colin." Alex raises his glass."And gay Paris." He pronounces it the French way.
"Gay Paris," echoes Evan. They all drink.
"What happens in Paris stays in Paris, right?" said Colin. Alex winks at him. Colin realises he's a bit drunk.
"Can I just say I love your accent?" says Evan. "Oh, wait, it's like one of those jokes! An Englishman, a Welshman and an Irishman walk into an apartment."
"So, what's the punchline?" says Alex.
"Well, the night is yet young," said Bradley. "More wine?"
Alex and Evan go to bed at about three am, and Colin tidies up, loading the glasses and the dessert bowls into the dishwasher. When he returns to the living room it's empty. Bradley's out on the balcony. Colin goes to say goodbye.
Bradley's looking out over the city, a muddle of slanting roofs, the Eiffel Tower reaching up to the sky.
"It looks a lot better at night, doesn't it?" says Colin. "You just see the pretty lights and the lines. Not just brutal engineering and big bits of metal bolted together."
"It always reminds me of Meccano."
"Yeah. Yeah, I can see that."
"Great view, though."
"They have it a lot easier than we did, don't they? All set up in a flat like this. It's a lot different from the hotel in Pierrefonds."
"I dunno. I've got some pretty fond memories of that hotel."
He didn't mean those memories, not specifically, but a muscle twitches in Bradley's face and he looks down. He's gripping the balcony rail like he's on a white-knuckle ride.
"I envy Alex," Bradley says.
"Why's that then?"
"He's so... Free. It seems so easy for him."
"Things have changed, I guess."
"God, yes. He used to be so innocent. Wide-eyed Welsh boy."
"Or so it appeared." Colin waggles his fingers. "Maybe it was an illusion all along."
Bradley snorts. "It's funny, I feel kind of like a proud father. Or a big brother, maybe."
"You're doing pretty well for yourself too. Off to Italy. Royalty again."
"Kind of, I guess."
"Please tell me you've done some research this time."
"I'll get by." The corner of Bradley's mouth twitches down as he tries not to laugh, and Colin nudges shoulders with him.
They look at France together, so close Colin can feel the warmth of his body.
Bradley looks down at the rail. "So you've got plenty lined up?"
"Yeah, fair bit. Back on Humans in September."
"Sounds about right, eh? Me in the past, you in the future."
Bradley looks sort of upset and uncertain. He glances up at Colin and Colin leans in. He doesn't mean to. It just happens. He remembers how soft Bradley's hair is. How he snores. How he sings all the time, giving a mostly off-key musical commentary of what he's doing at any particular moment. Colin wonders what he's like on set now. Whether he's grown up. Whether LA has beaten all that out of him.
Colin kisses him.
Bradley kisses back.
Colin pulls away.
"Sorry," he says, instinctively, licking his lower lip.
"No." Bradley's hand is on Colin's arm. He doesn't take it away. "Please. Don't be."
"I'm not. I mean, I don't. Unless." Bradley's eyes are so big and so blue and Colin reaches out to touch his hair. It's as soft as it ever was. Soft as candy floss. Soft as silk.
"Colin, if you don't then I'll-"
He kisses Bradley again. Harder this time. Their arms wind around each other and hold on, and the kiss is making Colin's head spin and his breath come short. He'd wondered if he'd imagined kissing Bradley being this good, but he hadn't. It's the fucking best kiss he's had in five years and he doesn't want it to stop.
Somewhere in the distance there's a rumble of thunder, and Alex and Evan's window must be open because he hears them laugh, and then Bradley laughs, and Colin laughs, and he can't stop until his belly aches, even though he has no idea why he's laughing. He's leaning on the balcony to get his breath back when Bradley says, 'Wow, the sun's coming up'. And they stand together, clinging to each other, and watch the sunrise over Paris for the first time in forever.
Colin doesn't go back to the hotel.
The guest room is tiny and Colin trips over Bradley's bag and falls on the bed. The bed's big, though, and comfortable, not too springy, not too firm, and makes a little bounce when Bradley lands on top of him. They're kissing and pulling at clothes, and there's a little voice at the back of Colin's head saying, 'Are you sure about this?' but Colin's ignoring it.
Bradley's hands are warm and hesitant, rediscovering territory they used to know so well. Colin remembers everything: the ticklish spot at Bradley's waist, how much he loves having his ears nibbled, how good it is to press into his thigh. They get their hands on each other and Bradley must have licked his thumb because it's wet where it touches the tip of Colin's cock, feels so fucking good. Colin comes first, really fast. He doesn't care. He scoots down the bed and takes Bradley's dick in his mouth and yes, he's sucked a few cocks in the last few years but not like this, nothing like this. Bradley's stomach flexes under his cheek and in no time he's swearing and shooting over Colin's tongue. Colin swallows it all down and Bradley pulls him back up to rest his head on the pillow and kisses him, licks at his tongue and teeth, tasting himself. Colin groans, because he's half-hard again already but he's tired. So tired.
He falls asleep in Bradley's arms, but he wakes alone.
Chat : What Happens in Paris....
I'm an arse. Alex tells me I'm an arse.
Am I an arse?
Yes, you're an arse. And you posted this on group chat.
Don't mind us. Now, apologise to Colin.
I'm sorry, Cols. Can we talk?
[COLIN MORGAN HAS LEFT THIS GROUP]
Fuck. What did you do, Bradley?
How's filming going? I got fitted for a very tasty velvet doublet today. Forgot how terrible armour is though. Lucky you in Leo's hoodie, eh? Was he based on you? Clothes wise, I mean. Not personality. Obviously.
U don't have to do this Bradley
At last, he speaks!
Bye, Bradley. I can't do this right now, 2 busy
Nobody uses text speak any more, Morgan. Turn your ducking autocorrect on
Chat: Nothing Happened in Paris. Ever.
You gonna be in London next weekend? We're having a party.
Yeah, might be.
Rupert's coming, and Tom.
Sure. Anyone else?
I invited him. Don't know if he'll make it.
How did you know who I meant?
For Christ's sake, Bradley.
Colin doesn't remember it snowing in London in December before. It's a strange, grey kind of snow, getting greyer when it hits the pavement and meets the grime. But it's soft where it falls on his cheeks and his nose, and it reminds him a bit of being a kid.
He takes a left before the traffic lights and arrives at the old converted theatre Alex has hired out for the party. Typical Alex: it's all gothic and dramatic, a pointy little building with big red doors among a row of flat-fronted shop windows. The door opens and he gets ushered inside. It's an amazing venue. All the 1930s features have been restored, including a huge art deco bar that sweeps around one end of the room. The room's strung from pillar to pillar with fairy lights. To one side are big swing doors that lead to the auditorium. They swing open as Colin watches, throwing out a burst of electro-pop and a flash of bright lights and glo-sticks before they slam shut.
He quickly scans the bar. No Bradley.
Alex comes over and presses a glass of fizzy wine into Colin's hand. "I'm so glad you made it."
Alex looks different; his hair's shorter, apart from one mass of curls which keeps flopping over his right eye, and he's got a beard that's one step further than scruff. Colin recognises the look. They say the first thing women do after a break up is get a new hairstyle. With actors, it's what you do when a part ends. It's like reclaiming a bit of yourself.
Colin's hair and beard are still Leo's. There might be pick-up calls because of the weather delays that made shooting some of the outdoor scenes a bit hairy.
Alex calls Lauren over, and they show him pictures of their new puppy. Eventually Lauren drags Alex off to dance, and Colin makes his way to the bar.
He finds himself standing next to Evan.
"Colin!" Evan gives him a handshake that moves seamlessly to a one-armed hug. "Glad you made it."
"Yeah, well, Alex can be kind of persuasive, you know?"
"Oh yeah," says Evan with feeling. He catches the eye of the bartender and orders drinks. Colin goes for beer this time; the champagne made him a bit lightheaded. He finds himself following Evan to a quieter corner of the bar, near an enormous Christmas tree.
"I didn't expect to see you here," Colin said. "I mean, I thought you were in LA."
"Flew in yesterday. Or possibly the day before, it's hard to tell with jet lag. But if I'm right, what you mean is 'I didn't expect to see you and Lauren in the same place.'"
"It's none of my business."
"It's cool. None of us is the jealous kind."
Colin remembers watching Georgia and Bradley across a courtyard in Pierrefonds, the sick dread in his stomach. "I'm happy for you, really."
For some reason, Colin glances over his shoulder at that point. It couldn't have been worse timing if he'd tried. There's Bradley, shaking the snow out of his hair and laughing as Tom says something about a wet dog and hits him on the shoulder. Rupert's just behind them both, handing coats to the cloakroom attendant. Bradley's flushed from the cold. He's wearing a really nice red shirt that looks great on him.
"Ah," says Evan.
"No," says Colin, too quickly.
"None of my business, right?"
"No, it's nothing. There's nothing between us."
"Not what it sounded like in Paris." Evan winks at him.
Colin's cheeks go pink.
"Go say hello," Evan says. "They've already noticed you. Too late to run."
Colin turns around and they're walking towards him, Bradley in the lead, flanked by Rupert on one side and Tom on the other. It's just like old times.
"Hey, Colin," Bradley says. "I'm an idiot. Can we talk?"
There's a rooftop terrace (of course there is, Jesus, Alex) and Colin and Bradley climb the narrow spiral staircase from what used to be backstage to get to it. There's a strip of astroturf beneath a canopy, with a few tables and chairs clustered around heaters. There's blankets folded over the back of each chair. Bradley plucks one as they walk past on their way to the railings at the edge of the roof. When they get there he wraps the blanket around Colin's shoulders.
"Well, I feel really manly now," says Colin.
"It's freezing, and you're a skinny Irish boy."
"And who's idea was it to come up here?"
"Right. So it's a conspiracy."
"Cols, come on. This is hard enough, don't you think?"
Colin pulls the blanket a bit tighter around himself, and wonders why he isn't angry. He thought he would be. When Alex invited him here he was all ready to be polite to Bradley, knowing that Bradley would see past his performance to the simmering rage underneath. Because Bradley always did. And he deserved to be shot down for abandoning him in France.
But he's not angry. And he really doesn't want Bradley to see what he's covering up.
"I'm sorry, about what happened in Paris," Bradley says.
Colin can't bring himself to say 'no worries, mate,' or 'water under the bridge,' so he says, fixing his gaze on the spires of Canary Wharf. "How was Italy?"
"I love you," Bradley says.
The snow falls over London and Colin knows he's breathing because he can see it, puff, puff, puff in the cold air.
"I've never run out on anyone before," Bradley says. "Not that I meant to, I had to catch a train, but I should have woken you up or left a note, but in the cold light of day... It just seemed such a mistake. For me, I mean. You're not a mistake. I just-"
"You love me."
Colin turns his head and Bradley's staring at him, his eyes big and helpless and his lips turning blue. He nods at Colin, and bites his lip.
"Wait, this is new," Colin says. "This is... I can't get my head around this."
"It's not new, Colin." Bradley's voice is flat and now it's his turn to look at London. "God knows what we were playing at back then, but this isn't new. Is it?"
Colin took a deep, cold breath and sighed out, "No."
"It took me five years on a different continent to get over you," Bradley said. "And the second you walked on that stage it was as if nothing had changed. I couldn't take my fucking eyes off you."
"People tell me I was good." Colin grins to show it's a joke, but Bradley's not looking.
"I didn't know how to be that. I didn't even know what you wanted."
"But you love me?"
"Yes, Colin, I fucking love you. Do you want me to say it a few more times?"
"I wouldn't mind."
Bradley turns his head, angry.
"Bradley," Colin says, softly.
He reaches out and brushes snow from Bradley's hair.
He kisses him. Briefly, just a brush of lips. The warmth of it spreads through his body like stepping under a hot shower.
"Oh," says Bradley.
Colin rests his forehead on Bradley's, and hums.
"Do you remember that party in Bristol?" Bradley says. "First time I kissed you. I was so shit scared, you wouldn't believe." He lets out a laugh. "I still can't believe I did it."
Colin's heart is full. He twists his fingers in Bradley's damp, silky hair, and kisses him again. "I'm glad you did," he whispers. "But this time, don't leave."
Bradley's arms tighten around him, and he nuzzles at Colin's nose with his. "Promise," he says.