It was getting to the point in the night where people were moving on. Midnight had long since come and gone, the fireworks were over and the mood was changing.
It was the point in the night where choices are made, and destinies are found. Whether to call it quits and start the long slide to sobriety, or have another shot and head for oblivion. Whether to ask for a number, or suggest a taxi-share, or head home alone. Whether to forget everything and dance until the music stops. Every choice with a consequence, every bleary decision a turning point in life.
The first crossroads of the year.
"So," said Bradley, loud in Colin's ear. "We're going to get coffee and then back to mine. You coming?"
"Okay," said Colin, beaming at him, and shrugged on his coat.
The coffee place was about half way between the club and Bradley's flat, and the streets got progressively quieter along the way. Colin walked next to Katie, who was glued to her phone as text after text appeared from people wishing her a happy new year. Her face lit up every time, but once or twice he noticed something different there, a shadow in her eyes. He wanted to ask her about it but he wasn't so drunk that he didn't recognise it wasn't the right time. So he just smiled at her a lot between texts and insulted her shiny new iPhone, mostly for the girly pink cover she kept it in.
Twenty minutes later, sitting in a booth with Katie, Bradley and a mate of Bradley's from drama school, Colin made patterns in the whipped cream on his hot chocolate with a wooden stirrer and listened, warmth seeping through to his bones.
"I always thought it must be a bit crap having a birthday around Christmas," Katie said. "Doesn't it all get mixed up together?"
"That's a common misconception," Colin said. "Actually I think it's better. People make more of an effort, because they feel sorry for you. Go out of their way to make things special," and his eyes flicked to Bradley, he couldn't help it, and Bradley gave him the tiniest smile without even breaking stride in the conversation he was having with Chris. "I always got loads more presents, people overcompensating."
The sky cracked and whooshed; a late firework exploded over the Thames.
"Always get a pretty big party, too," Colin added.
Katie was about to say something, but her phone beeped again.
Never better than this year, Colin thought to himself, licking chocolate off the stirrer. Best time ever.
He thought Bradley was looking at him again, but this time he didn't dare look back.
He took a gulp of hot chocolate, and didn't notice until Katie pointed it out that he'd got cream on his nose.
Bradley found it hilarious.
About a dozen of them went back to Bradley's flat; a few of Colin's mates, some of Bradley's, Katie and a girl Bradley's mate Liam had found somewhere along the line. Bradley took just long enough to get his key in the lock to make it clear to anyone with an eye to notice that he was pissed. But not very, Colin thought. He'd seen him worse.
He wondered how pissed he was himself; his lips felt a bit numb but that was probably the cold. Probably.
They spilled into Bradley's living room, a bottle of scotch or something was produced, music started from somewhere. Colin took off his jacket and hung it on the peg in the hall and stood, hands shoved in his pockets, not quite sure what to do next.
"Hey, Morgan," Bradley said. "Give us a hand in the kitchen?"
Colin grinned, couldn't help it. He followed Bradley obediently across the living room, through the door and into the little hallway beyond. The kitchen led off to the left, then the spare room that Bradley used as a sort of games room, then the bathroom, then the bedroom on the right.
Bradley didn't turn left. He turned right.
"Bradley? I thought you said-"
Bradley grabbed Colin securely by the wrist, and yanked him into his bedroom.
The door shut behind them, the light came on and Colin found himself suddenly pressed against the wall, Bradley kissing him frantically.
Colin kissed back, his heart soaring, his fingers in Bradley's hair, his tongue in Bradley's mouth, his thigh slipping so easily between Bradley's legs.
"Oh God," Bradley murmured, kissing Colin's neck. "I couldn't last much longer."
"Impatient," said Colin, fumbling for Bradley's shirt, tugging it up, desperate for the touch of skin.
"Oh, come on, tell me you haven't been gagging for it all night."
"For you, Bradley? What makes you say that?"
Bradley's palm landed on the bulge in Colin's jeans and squeezed. Colin yelped.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Colin said. "That just happened. Just now."
Bradley only had to look at him, one eyebrow raised, for Colin to collapse into giggles.
Bradley followed him a second later and they collapsed against the wall, gasping for breath, still laughing long after they'd forgotten what was so funny.
"Shhhhh," said Colin, putting a finger to his lips. "They'll hear. Then they'll know we're in here."
Bradley clapped a hand across his mouth. "'s right," he said, somewhat muffled. "Y'll h'v t'b'qu't."
Colin peeled his hand away and whispered, loud, "What?"
"You'll have to be quiet," Bradley hissed.
"Me? I'm not the one that set off his voice activated phone that time yelling 'Colin' when he came."
"It was faulty," Bradley said.
"It was across the room."
"Shhhh," said Bradley, and that set them giggling again.
"I missed you," Colin admitted, when Bradley had caught his breath and was looking at him with the soft expression that made Colin's heart ache a little.
"I want you so fucking much," Bradley said, his fingers in Colin's hair, his voice completely honest and matter of fact. "Did you have a good time?"
"Yes," said Colin. "Pretty excellent, actually."
"I'm glad," said Bradley, and, "I'm glad you were here. I want you here more. Okay?"
"Okay," breathed Colin.
Bradley kissed him. Soft, this time, tender, his thumb stroking over Colin's cheekbone, his tongue just tickling at Colin's lower lip. Colin looped his arms around Bradley's waist, taking a stealthy approach this time to getting under Bradley's shirt.
It was only six paces from the door to the bed, or at least it was only six paces for Colin; it was probably more like seven or eight for Bradley, which was why they got tangled half way and nearly fell in a heap. Fortunately Bradley caught him and half pushed, half threw him the rest of the way. He landed on the bed with a soft bounce, laughing so hard his belly hurt.
Bradley landed beside him, shhing him again, which didn't help him stop laughing at all, and then Bradley threatened to gag him, which helped even less.
Finally Bradley shoved his hand down Colin's jeans. That stopped the giggles, for sure.
It didn't make him quiet, though.
The first time was rushed and a bit too desperate; Bradley came pretty much as soon as Colin touched his cock, thick and wet all over his hand. It didn't help that Colin laughed at him, by accident really, he definitely wasn't trying to be mean, but after a few mortified moments Bradley saw the funny side, said "there's plenty more where that came from, Morgan, don't think you're getting off lightly," which set them off giggling again until Colin started to lick his hand, looking Bradley right in the eye as his tongue flicked out to swipe up Bradley's come.
Bradley didn't go soft, not even for a second, not even a bit. He unzipped Colin's jeans and for a second Colin thought he was going to come in his pants which would serve him right. But he had better stamina than Bradley and maybe he'd had a little bit more to drink; he breathed and didn't take his eyes from Bradley's, rocking his hips up as Bradley wrapped his hand around his cock and started to stroke, and let the urgency fade to pleasure.
Colin touched Bradley as soon as he could take it and they writhed together, fucking each others' hands in long, slow pumps. After a while Bradley mumbled "want t'see you," and dragged Colin's clothes off - not without difficulty, but between them they managed it, and Bradley wriggled out of his too, and they lay naked on the bed and Colin whispered, "Bradley, I, Bradley, please," and Bradley knew what he meant and slithered down the bed to take Colin in his mouth. Three times, three glorious, slick, wet times Colin pumped into Bradley's mouth before he came.
He drifted afterwards, might have been asleep because then Bradley was coming back from the kitchen, wearing a towel or something around his waist, and he gave Colin a glass of cool, delicious water to drink. It was pretty much the best thing Colin had ever tasted. Afterwards Bradley pulled Colin into his arms and they dozed for a while.
Next time Colin woke up to Bradley kissing the back of his neck; they were on their sides, Bradley curled around his back, one arm draped over Colin's hip, and after a while they fucked like that, Bradley going deep and slow in Colin's body, Bradley's fingers strong and warm on his cock, and Colin realiese he was completely sober, he was there and it reminded him of sunny afternoons in France and all the time in the world and the sheets were so soft, Bradley's voice in his ear breathing his name, everything fluid and real. Like dancing.
"Happy Birthday, you mad Irishman."
Colin blinked his eyes open; Bradley was kneeling by him on the bed, naked, holding out something book-shaped, wrapped in shiny blue paper with 'Happy Birthday' all over it.
"And there's a card," said Bradley, balancing a stiff white envelope on top of the parcel.
It was a long time before Colin got to unwrap the present, because he opened the card first, and it had 'Merlin says have a magic birthday' on it, underneath a picture of, well, Merlin, and that meant that James had to suffer.
"I think this is going to be a lucky year," Bradley said a little while later, exhausted and somewhat sweaty, grinning at Colin like an idiot.
Colin brushed a stray strand of golden hair from Bradley's eyes and said, "it's not luck. Not just luck. It comes down to choices, in the end."
Bradley considered this for a minute and then said, "in that case, we must've made fucking awesome choices the last couple of years."
At which Colin smiled and said, voice soft and strong, "yeah. Yeah, we did."