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The Thing with Bradley James

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So, there was this thing with Bradley James.

It had started on a Saturday, at a party in Bristol. Nothing special, just a friend of Bradley's from drama school, or maybe actual school, Bradley never did explain it properly. The guy was called Sam, and he threw a good party, as it turned out. A hot night in early summer, a band playing in a really cool terraced garden that was laced with fairy-lights and candles. Colin didn't know anyone apart from Bradley, and Bradley didn't know anyone apart from Sam and Sam's girlfriend, but things like that never bothered Bradley. He talked happily to whoever came their way, and Colin was content enough to tag along.

The band was good, and as the evening wore on and Bradley got involved in some ludicrous drinking game, Colin found himself happily sitting on a bench in the garden, letting the music and the alcohol wash through him while he people-watched. No-one took much notice of him and he wondered, idly, if that would last much longer, and if he'd miss it if it didn't. If his life really was about to change as much as everybody seemed to think it would.

It was hard to imagine. He didn't feel any different. Same old Colin.

He was still mulling things over, not unhappily, when Bradley flopped down next to him.

"Oh God," Bradley said, disgustedly. "You're thinking, aren't you?"

Colin shrugged. "It's what people with brains do, Bradley. I wouldn't expect you to understand."

"It's a party. Nobody thinks at parties."

"I do," said Colin.

Bradley shook his head sadly, and they sat in silence for a moment before he said, "so what were you thinking about, with that big brain of yours?"

Colin chose to take him seriously for once. "About how things are going to change. Might change. Do you think things are going to change?"

"Maybe. No point worrying about it." Bradley's eyes were vague, sluggish to focus.

"Things tend to happen in the way you least expect them, I s'pose," Colin mused.

And then Bradley put an arm around his shoulder, pulled him in, and kissed him.

Colin's first reaction was to freeze in shock. Obviously, Bradley was drunk. Colin should probably be outraged, but actually it felt pleasantly different and exciting, so what the Hell. Unfortunately no sooner had Colin thrown caution to the wind and relaxed into it, than Bradley stopped. He gave Colin a very cocky, suggestive sort of a grin, and then got to his feet and wandered somewhat unsteadily away. By the time Colin could think straight again, Bradley was further down the garden, talking to a bunch of strangers.

Colin spent the rest of the party hanging out with the band, who were really cool and friendly, and the whole thing with Bradley was so bizarre that by the time they were trying to work out how to get a taxi back to the hotel, Colin wasn't exactly sure that anything had happened at all. Well, he was pretty sure it had, but he wasn't sure Bradley remembered it and if Bradley didn't remember then it may as well not have happened (what's the sound of one hand clapping?), and that metaphysical thought alone was enough to convince Colin to call it a night and not think about it any more.

Which he didn't, not for weeks. But looking back, that was definitely when it started.

*

Bradley had been keen to point out from the very beginning that he was straight. Colin, who had identified himself as somewhere between bi and gay and who-the-fuck-knew by the time he was fifteen, had learned that this was something a lot of men did when marking out the boundaries in those rare environments where heterosexuality wasn't necessarily the default position. Theatres, film sets and unisex hairdressers' were prime examples of such environments.

Colin couldn't exactly imagine Bradley going to such lengths to inform all his football mates that he was straight, after all.

Bradley, being Bradley, probably thought he was doing the world a favour by being clear and honest about everything from the start, but it rang big-time alarm bells for Colin. Ever since he'd first read 'Colin Morgan sucks cock' on a toilet wall and realised that there was no point getting offended because it was in fact true (never mind that it was in a motorway service station on the M62 and thus very unlikely to be directed at him), he'd decided that coming out was something best done on an ad hoc, need-to-know basis. He'd always been wary of labels, and particularly wary of labellers. Later experiences proved him right. Straight guys who told him they were straight were usually very bad news. They were either in total denial, or horribly confused, or else making an excuse in advance in case he expected anything more than a furtive blow job in the toilets.

Not that Colin had ever given anyone a furtive blow job in the toilets - well, not since school, anyway - but that didn't mean he didn't know about these things.

However, Bradley, being Bradley, didn't exactly fit the pattern. One of Bradley's more endearing qualities was his in-your-face honesty. So Colin took him at his word. He was glad when Bradley relaxed enough to stop mentioning it all the time, and didn't think much more about it.

*

Bradley is a very physical person. He touches a lot, and flings himself around with enormous energy. He bounds through life like some kind of hyperactive Labrador, with no shame or embarrassment or any apparent inhibition at all.

Which made it very obvious, the night he knocked on the door of Colin's hotel room in France and just stood there, head drooping, bottle of wine in one hand and his phone and room keys in the other, that there was something wrong. He hesitated on the threshold, looking so confused and unhappy that for a moment Colin thought something really dreadful had happened.

"Bradley?"

"Hi. Bored?"

Colin shrugged. "You want to come in?"

Bradley smiled then, and he did come in. He never quite got around to saying what was bothering him. By the time they'd finished the wine (Colin drinking out of a plastic cup and Bradley pretty much straight from the bottle) he seemed to be back to normal. They talked about home and swapped stories about drama school. There was a noise outside, some kind of argument which was over by the time they got to the window, but they stood there for a while looking out at the twinkling lights, and Colin said they looked like alien spaceships and Bradley laughed and called him a dork.

Not too long after that they agreed it was getting late and they had to be up early in the morning, and Bradley clapped Colin on the shoulder. His mouth very slightly brushed Colin's ear as he turned around to open the door, but that could happen to anyone, especially after a few drinks.

So Colin didn't think very much about that, either.

*

Life was particularly good for Colin Morgan that summer in Pierrefonds. He was doing exactly the kind of work he wanted to, with brilliant people, in a stunning place. He was learning all the time. His days were full and he was exhausted, but it was a buzzy, exciting feeling, and there's no way he wanted any of it to stop.

He was lying on the grass under a tree when Bradley found him, ten minutes break turned into half an hour thanks to some kind of electrical failure. Bradley stood over Colin, straddling him with booted feet around Colin's hip level, and looked down. The bright afternoon sun made a silhouette of him.

"Fancy going out tonight?"

Colin gaze slid up from Bradley's linen-clad knees to the edge of his mail shirt to his chest and finally settled on his face. "Tonight?"

"Yeah. There's something I want to ask you about."

"Okay. What's up?"

"Nothing much, it'll wait. Gotta go, invisible monster to kill."

And with that Bradley was striding away, leaving Colin a little confused and decidedly curious.

It was late, of course, by the time they were done for the day and back at the hotel. Colin showered - he'd intended to make it a quick one, but the searing hot water felt so good pounding his aching muscles that he stood there until he was pink and hot and blissfully relaxed. He dried off and dressed in jeans and t-shirt. He left his hair damp, curling around his ears and temples.

He found Bradley waiting for him downstairs in the hotel lobby, tapping impatiently on the arm of the chair he sat in. He got up when he spotted Colin.

"Took your time, Morgan."

"I was dirty," said Colin cheerfully. "Where d'you want to go?"

"Somewhere we can talk." Bradley looked tense and a little anxious, and Colin started to worry a little about what could be wrong.

They ended up in a tiny bar a few streets away from the hotel, one of those places that's a street cafe by day and an odd little bar at night. The night was warm but they sat inside, opposite each other at a small wooden table.

"It's like this," said Bradley, without any preamble. "I've been considering this part. In a movie. It's a very small part, but." He hesitated.

"Hmm?" Colin leaned forwards, forearms crossed on the table, watching Bradley carefully.

"It's a gay character," said Bradley.

"Oh, okay."

"And I was wondering...." Bradley looked up at Colin through his long, blond eyelashes, and that was the moment he blew it, right there. "If you might coach me."

Colin leaned back, eyes closed, disappointment hitting him in the chest like a fucking hammer. "Shit, Bradley."

"Unless you're not... I kind of heard you-"

Colin sighed. He opened his eyes to see Bradley visibly flailing; he couldn't quite meet Colin's eye and his left knee was jiggling. "You kind of heard what?" Colin asked, pissed off enough to want to make Bradley squirm.

"It doesn't matter. Sorry."

"Why?"

"I thought you were gay." Bradley's gaze rested on his glass. He swirled the wine in it a little too hard; it splashed on his fingers. He swore softly and licked it off.

And while he was doing all this, Colin was thinking. Fast. Then he said, "well, I'm not."

"Shit. I'm sorry. I shouldn't listen to gossip."

Colin took a deep breath. "Are you coming on to me?"

Bradley stared at him, wide-eyed with shock or dismay, Colin couldn't tell which. "No! I wouldn't, no!"

"That's right," said Colin, head tipped down a little, looking up slyly at Bradley. "You're straight."

"Yes. Yes, exactly! Which is why I need help with the part."

"I see."

Colin knocked back a gulp of weird French lager, and wondered if it was by any stretch of the imagination possible that Bradley was telling the truth.

"Look," said Bradley. "Can we forget this conversation ever happened?"

"It's one of those things you need to be careful about," Colin said. "You can't just go up to a guy you think is gay and ask for a demonstration."

"It wasn't just any guy. It was you."

Something about the way he said 'you' made Colin warm and happy inside. He told himself it was because it was really good to have friends that cared about you, and moved swiftly on. "Think about, it, Bradley. Would you go up to a random girl and tell her you were curious about sex and would she fuck you?"

Bradley grinned a somewhat apologetic grin and shrugged one shoulder. "Actually that's pretty much how I lost my virginity."

And then they both laughed. A lot.

By the time they were done, and Bradley had bought another round of drinks, Colin was remembering that kiss in the garden in Bristol, and thinking what a fucked-up little straight boy Bradley James was, and how he might just want to help him after all.

He really shouldn't think things like that, though.

*

"It's not like I was asking you to show me," Bradley said, much later when they were collapsed on a sofa in the hotel lounge.

They'd just been talking about Arthur's horse and the strange habit it had of trying to eat fluffy microphone windshields (but only the blue ones) so it took Colin a moment to work out what Bradley meant.

"I know," Colin said, eventually.

"I wouldn't do that."

Colin glanced sideways at Bradley, trying to work out how drunk he was. He didn't have the full-on glazed expression yet, so probably not all that. Probably.

"What's the movie about?" Colin asked.

"I don't know, some independent thing. It's not important. I probably won't. Schedules and shit, you know how it is. Just something Tony mentioned."

Colin considered this for a minute, then said, "okay."

"I suppose it might have been a bit of an excuse," Bradley admitted, finally. "I was curious."

"Ah."

"Don't you ever get curious?"

Colin gave Bradley a long look.

"But you said you weren't gay," said Bradley, well out of his depth.

"It's complicated."

"Well, obviously. Everything about Colin Morgan is complicated."

Colin laughed, as much out of relief that Bradley was being Bradley as anything else.

"So, what?" said Bradley. "You swing both ways?" He ticked his finger like a pendulum.

"I don't really think of it that way. I fancy people. Whatever gender they are."

"So it doesn't matter what they look like? That's very noble."

"I didn't say that. Of course it matters what they look like. Well, not, I mean..." Colin floundered. Bradley laughed at him. "You're such a bastard."

The thing was, Colin knew, he'd been here once too often already in his barely-started adult life to not recognise what was happening. Anyone else and he would have brushed it all off with a joke and that would have been that. But this was Bradley, and for some reason, Colin always ended up letting Bradley take liberties he wouldn't imagine allowing with anyone else.

So he tried again. "It's not about what sex people are. I'm just attracted to people. Attractive people, that I find attractive."

There was a pause, and then Colin added, "not gingers, obviously."

"Perish the thought. Dogs?"

Colin's mouth twisted into a smirk as he tried not to laugh. "Just horses."

"No wonder Sweet Ears has a boom-mic fetish."

And then Colin decided enough was enough, took hold of Bradley's shirt to tug him close, and kissed him.

*

"This is beyond weird."

Bradley stood in Colin's hotel room, at the foot of the bed, hands shoved in his pockets. There was a glimpse of wrist between the cuff of his shirt and his jeans pocket; a hint of delicate bones and supple tendon, shifting as Bradley balled and unballed his fist.

"Yeah," said Colin. "It is."

"Perhaps we could start with the telling part," Bradley said. "That might be enough, to y'know..."

"I wasn't exactly planning on throwing you on the bed and fucking you senseless," said Colin, outrageous with nerves, voice low, words all blurring together. But it was enough to shock Bradley into sitting down on the bed, suddenly, with a nervous laugh that Colin hadn't heard before.

It was enough to make Colin take pity on him. He went to the window and retrieved a couple of bottles of water from behind the curtain (coolest place in the room), tossed one to Bradley and sat down on the bed next to him.

"What d'you want to know?" Colin said. "Go on, ask. Anything you like."

"Oh God. I don't know. How did you know you were... whatever you are?"

Colin had never talked about any of this with anyone. He and Richard danced around some of it sometimes, just the edges, but not proper talking. "I don't know. I was confused for a while, and then it sort of worked out. I read a lot."

"God, Morgan, you think books are the answer to everything. Which did you go with first, men or girls?"

"Girls. It was easier, you know what school's like. Besides, the odds are in your favour they'll like you back, so... I don't know. Then I left home and things got more interesting." He shrugged his shoulders and gave Bradley a shy little smile. "Now it tends to be guys. More often. Just not always."

"Ah. See, it's always been girls, for me. Never even thought about it. Except...."

"... except?"

"There was this one guy, at drama school. He had kind of a crush on me, and sometimes I wondered, but. I never really thought I would."

Colin poured a big slug of water into his mouth and swallowed. "So what changed?"

"I don't know," and then, "you."

"Me?"

"Does it hurt?"

"What?"

"Gay sex. Does it hurt? Only I always thought it would, but then people wouldn't do it, would they, and... oh shit. God, Colin, I'm sorry."

"No, it doesn't hurt. Well, not in my experience, anyway. It depends what you do, I suppose."

"Oh."

Bradley stared at the floor, and Colin stared at Bradley for a minute or two, and watched his friend fight the discomfort and the curiosity and confusion, and then, finally, took pity on him. His heart was pounding and he was scared and a little more drunk than was wise, and all he could do was hope that this wasn't some awful mistake that was going to wreck everything in his life that was so good right now. He reached out and touched his fingertips to Bradley's jaw, and when Bradley's head snapped around in surprise he cupped Bradley's cheek in his palm and slowly leaned in and kissed him.

"I could give you a blow job," Colin offered.

Bradley made an astonished sort of squeaking sound, but he recovered fast and pressed his mouth back to Colin's. His tongue flicked out; he tried to take control and make it his (straight boy) but Colin wouldn't let him. He shut the kiss off with Bradley still wanting it, and pressed his face into Bradley's neck instead.

"You have to ask nicely," Colin said, smiling against Bradley's skin.

"Oh, God, Morgan. What are you doing to me?"

Colin's fingers whispered down Bradley's arm, across his belly, down to his belt.

Bradley's hips rocked back; his fingers fluttered at Colin's wrist.

Colin kissed Bradley's throat and jaw as his long fingers made short work of Bradley's belt buckle.

"Please," said Bradley. "If it's okay, I, I, please...."

"Okay," Colin whispered, and sank to his knees on the floor.

Bradley watched Colin undo his jeans as if it was happening to someone else. His cock was hard, pointing just a bit to the right. Colin stroked it, once, through the soft cotton of Bradley's underwear, fucking hard, before he pulled it out and kissed it, just a little kiss, on the tip, and flicked out his tongue, and Bradley yelled "Jesus Christ!" and his hips came off the bed and God, he looked beautiful as he flung his head back, fingers clutching tight at Colin's shoulder. Colin flattened his tongue and licked again, root to tip this time, and Bradley was breathing hard and his belly was quivering with the effort of keeping still. Colin took the root of Bradley's cock in one firm fist, licked his lips and slid his mouth over the head and down the shaft until he kissed his own fingers, and Bradley mumbled "fuckohfuckohfuckMorgan,noI'm,no,Colin", and Colin sucked, and stopped, and waited.

But Bradley James was hot and hard and thick in Colin's mouth, and Colin couldn't wait for long. He sucked again, cheeks hollow, and dragged his mouth off Bradley's dick. Let his tongue lead the way down again. Opened his throat and relaxed his hand, taking nearly all of it. (Okay, he was showing off, but. It was worth it to see the total disbelief and awe and ecstasy on Bradley's face.)

Colin's hands slid around to clutch at Bradley's hips and encourage him to move. To rock. To fuck. Bradley James fucking Colin Morgan's mouth and then Colin couldn't think; it was all wet slide and hard cock and no breath, humping Bradley's fucking leg because he needed something, and Bradley coming apart because of him, Bradley clutching white-knuckle at Colin's shoulder, Bradley trying to warn him and Colin trying to smile around Bradley's cock and taking it all down, every last fucking dribble of mess that shot from Bradley's dick. Sweet and hot and thick and. So. Fucking. Right.

Finally, panting, Colin rocked back on his heels and let Bradley's cock go with a slurpy, poppy sort of sound that made him grunt with laughter he was too hard and short of breath for. He rested his head on Bradley's thigh, Bradley's fingers stroking through Colin's hair with delicious, grateful tenderness.

"So," Colin said, vaguely aware that he was grinning so much his voice came out funny, kind of like Merlin. "Did that hurt?"

"Hardly at all," said Bradley, looking down with huge blue eyes full of affection and amazement and the sure and certain knowledge that his life had changed forever.

And that's when the thing with Bradley James turned into something else.