Word Count: 7,614
Warning: Some small depiction of religious guilt, but not intended to offend (in fact, this is loosely based on a real incident with a friend of mine). Rather a lot of overly analysed emotion, and possibly even angsty schmoop (the horror! :) A first time fic.
Summary: Life is not always a Lou Reed song.
Drink Sangria in the park - Lou Reed
“It’s Sunday,” carolled Bradley, not particularly tunefully, as he waved his sword around his head. “Bright beautiful Sunday!”
He looked down at Colin, grinning madly, and watched as Colin tipped his head up, his eyes squinting against the power of the electric bulb shining behind Bradley’s head. Bradley expected him to be as happy as he was, since it was just gone midnight, and they’d stop filming soon. At least, he bloody hoped they’d stop filming soon. He wanted Colin to share in the joy, come back with a sarcastic rejoinder of his own, comment on Bradley’s skill with a sword, or lack thereof, anything except what he actually did, which was to check the clock on the wall, and then move his head out of the light and into Bradley’s shadow.
Then Bradley was staring down at the top of Colin’s head, the dark hair messy, curling away from the crown, as Colin bent his head back to his script – which Bradley happened to know he didn’t need to read, because they’d just been filming it. He blinked, and stared at the strands of hair curling by Colin’s neck. Although Bradley wasn’t being quite honest with himself. He’d seen a wince too. Hadn’t he? A twitch of the delicate skin by Colin’s eyes, something like a grimace of… guilt, if Bradley wasn’t much mistaken. Possibly the shadow of a swallow in Colin’s throat.
No, that was too much to garner in a second’s glance, but he had been looking very carefully indeed, and it was bright in here, with the bulb minus a shade as it was. They were in the rehearsal room at the studios in Cardiff, and Bradley definitely considered it to be a bit no frills. Although what did they need frills for, as he often declared, obviously they’d only get spoilt and complacent, and their heads would get too big to walk through doors. Katie would laugh then and add that it was only Bradley that needed to worry about that, and Bradley would flip her off, but he’d be smiling, because he liked playing the straight man, once in a while. He liked oiling the wheels of their team, their interactions, making people comfortable, even if they laughed at him.
So it was perfectly acceptable that he’d been staring that carefully at Colin, that he might notice such little things, because it was all part of the rich tapestry of their lives. Wasn't it?
"Colin..?" asked Bradley, uncertain and hating it. Hating not knowing immediately what the problem was, hating that he had to even ask - like a girl - but thinking that something needed to be said. Not even sure why it needed to be said, only that he, Bradley, didn't like it when Colin turned his face away, when he didn't look up, when he hunched into himself like Merlin was having a bad day.
It was called acting for a bloody reason, Bradley thought, he was having none of this nasty method stuff, and poked Colin hard in the head. Who made a muffled noise of protest, but Bradley did at least succeed in getting him to look up.
"Colin…" said Bradley in a warning tone, which meant that he achieved a flickering grin, and the slight frown lines between Colin’s eyebrows became smooth again, lost in his smile.
"So what are you going to do on our day off?" said Bradley, feeling bullish, not really knowing how to achieve anything more subtle, but willing to batter away at the locked doors of Colin Morgan until something better came along.
"I don't know. It's not really a day off, you see."
Bradley could have sworn that Colin's accent had got thicker, and he wasn't so oblivious that he couldn't tell there was something else going on - although he'd be buggered if he knew what.
He reached out a knuckle, and rubbed the top of Colin's head, pushing it to one side. Companionable, annoying, locker-room stuff. "Just leave it for once, yeah. You know your lines. Have a bit of fun."
Colin looked up again, and Bradley's fingers ended up sliding a little through his hair, silky soft strands tight against his skin. Bradley's breath caught and hitched, his throat suddenly dry.
Colin was still smiling, as though he knew a secret, or as though he couldn't pity Bradley enough.
"You don't get it," he said, "It's Sunday, you see. It's not meant for fun."
And Bradley huffed and swallowed, and his brain was slow and stuffed with stupid, or something, because what he came out with was, "I'll show you some fun. You just come with me."
The oddest thing about it all, was that Colin did.
It began with Bradley waking up with his back in a knot, and his t-shirt rucked up under his arms, and the slight scratch of a blanket dragging at his stomach. He pushed it off, scratching at his belly button, somnolent still, moving slowly, aware of the mild aches and pains of sleeping awkwardly, not yet aware enough of the reasons why. He shifted, and realised there was the sofa arm digging into his cheek, and then, blinking awake, he stretched and pushed himself into an upright position, the blanket slipping to pool at his feet.
Oh yes, he'd made Colin come home with him. Somehow, making Colin have fun on a Sunday involved having him there all day - and it was true, Colin's flat was an inconvenient distance away. Bradley remembered being irritable about it, and going on and on about it until Colin had agreed. Which meant, apparently, that Colin got his bed in return. Bradley still found the logic of that escaped him.
He sat on the edge of the sofa his head hanging down and vaguely detached thoughts floated through his brain. He'd made Colin come home with him. Colin was sleeping in his bed. The congruity of these ideas pleased him in some sleepy way, they felt right in a peculiar fashion. The idea of Colin sleeping among his familiar sheets and duvet, creased warm cotton enfolding him, the hairs on his legs brushing it as he kicked in his sleep - because he did, Bradley had seen that often enough on location - these were pleasant thoughts, they warmed him, even here, in his living room, sat on the edge of his sofa.
Colin had come home with him. Colin had… Bradley shot upright, and sure enough, Colin was staring at him from the breakfast bar of his kitchenette. Colin always woke up freakishly early, Bradley had known that, everybody knew that. Before he'd fallen asleep Bradley had contemplated that, wondered if it was worth it. If he should have fought for his bed, because Colin would barely use it.
Colin was smiling though. He had a mug of coffee, Bradley could smell it in the air now he thought about it, a comforting smell. He wondered if there was some left in the cafetiere. Colin was smiling at him, and the corners of his eyes were turned up, their curved lids squeezed into little half moons. There was a hint of pink on Colin's cheeks, a tousled air about the rest of him. Bradley felt he should be embarrassed for the look of the thing, but truthfully, he just felt warm. This was a good idea. He was going to make Colin enjoy himself. He was going to stop being so… Colin-ish, and just have a good day.
Bradley faked a frown in return, before pulling off his t-shirt in one swift movement and heading for the shower. Somehow, waking up knowing that Colin had been sleeping in his bed was just the start of that good day. He turned back to throw his t-shirt in the washing hamper, and caught sight of Colin's parted lips, his mouth formed into a distinct oh of surprise, his cheeks gone even more pink. It made Bradley grin himself then.
The start of a perfect day.
There'd been toast with the coffee, with jam, two of the very best smells and tastes right there, all rolled up together, and Bradley had wished there'd been bacon in the flat too, but for Colin's perfect day he could hardly include bacon. Pity really.
Bradley made up for it by buying Colin an enormous muffin instead, as soon as they went out. It was breezy, a fine summer in Wales, the wind coming in straight off the sea. Bradley considered it good that it wasn't raining, which wouldn’t have helped his plans, so he was grateful for small mercies.
"Where are we going?" Colin asked, as he walked next to him, his hands deep in the pockets of his ratty brown hoodie.
"Never you mind, young padawan," said Bradley, "Just leave it all to me." And then bit his lip in embarrassment, he was trying for cool, not geek chic, the honour of that usually went, unsurprisingly, to Colin. Bradley wanted to play to his strengths today.
Colin bumped his elbow, and Bradley immediately forgot about it, instead getting involved in an argument over the driving. Really, as if he was going to let Colin drive and spoil the surprise. He made him wait outside the supermarket too while he picked up supplies. They didn’t need to drive for long, but Bradley wanted the car on hand, for later. He had nebulous plans that were taking shape even as he poked Colin in the side, every time the useless man looked like he might be drifting off into an introspective distance where Bradley couldn’t follow.
Colin seemed amenable, at least, to being poked. Resigned even. Bradley didn’t want Colin to be resigned to Bradley’s presence. He wanted him relaxed next to him in the car, legs stretched out, his hands in his lap, playing with the frayed ends of his sleeves. Bradley wanted Colin paying attention, he wanted him teasing him back, and most of all he wanted him cheerful, happy even.
The shadows that lurked in the corners of Colin’s eyes were not acceptable, and Bradley was not putting up with it. Not at all.
“Cefn Mably Farm Park?” Colin read on the sign as they drove through the gates. It was said with amusement, and a certain amount of scepticism.
"Don't worry," said Bradley, his voice short, his tone lordly, "The little bunnies and lambkins aren't going in the pot today. It's perfectly safe for you."
Colin narrowed his eyes, but his hands came out of his sleeves, like baby birds emerging from their nest; they'd been all tucked away, and now they were showing themselves in the not quite sunshine. Bradley didn't know when he'd realised that Colin's hands were an indicator of his moods, but he did know that, and he was pleased to see them now. Thin fingers, slightly larger knuckles, pale skin. He wanted to grab one, he realised, to hold on. He wanted to stop them being tucked away again.
The wind slapped that desire out of him. That and all the screaming kids. Bradley winced, perhaps this had been a bad idea after all. But then he looked over at Colin as they strolled around the picnic area, before pausing to take in the playground. There was a sandpit and two small boys furiously digging, throwing sand over one another, stoically oblivious to the mess they were making. Colin nudged Bradley and pointed, his arm swaying in the stiffening breeze.
"Do you reckon that could have been us?" he offered, and Bradley huffed at that, before moving closer, getting Colin in the lea of his body, not quite tucking his chin into Colin's shoulder.
"If it was, I'm Bradley there, on the right, with the green jacket, because he's actually achieving something, Colin."
"It's just a hole in the ground," said Colin, but he'd moved closer too, and there was a smile line in the corner of his eye, a conspiratorial air. "It's a great thing to be digging on a Sunday - digging holes that get filled up just as fast with more sand. It’s innocent."
Bradley wished he could turn his head, could see Colin again, but he'd moved too close. So close, in fact, that Bradley could feel his shiver in the teeth of the wind. He had an overwhelming urge to protect the stupid git, because Colin always seemed to feel the cold so badly. Bradley’s hand abortively shot out, grasping the edge of Colin's hoodie, and having found a pocket, he pushed his hand right in. Bradley didn't startle, because it was just a reflex, just what you’d do when you found a pocket right there, it didn't mean anything. But Colin's hand was deep inside already, slightly cooler than Bradley's and a little sweaty. Bradley held himself absolutely still, not even daring to breathe. Then Colin's hand turned over in the close darkness that Bradley was imagining, but couldn't see. He turned his hand over and grasped Bradley's just for a minute, and it was just a little warmth, just a tiny point of contact, but Bradley felt like he was warming the whole world.
They watched the kids play, until Colin said, "I've missed this," randomly, apropos of nothing, because as far as Bradley knew they'd never done this before. Farm parks, or kids, or holding hands.
Then Colin tugged Bradley away, and there was a another smile on his face, a different one, and Bradley decided he could make a list of Colin's smiles, he really could. It wouldn't even be short.
They went and looked at the geese then, and the rabbits, and the chickens. Bradley bought Colin a bunch of carrots, which they fed the donkeys and the impatient goats. Colin scratched them all between the ears, and looked absolutely delighted when they nibbled on his fingers.
Bradley kept pointing Colin towards more animals, as they walked between the small paddocks. He also made him wipe the drool from his fingers onto his own shirt, despite Colin’s threat to the contrary. Bradley laughed and hooked an arm around his neck, and realised that he wouldn't really have minded, even if Colin had. In fact, that little nugget of self-revelation kept him occupied right up to lunch.
“Well?” Bradley asked, “What do you think?”
He wasn’t waiting anxiously, he wasn’t. Ok, maybe he was, but he was refusing to give into it, at any rate.
“Look, it’s not a roast dinner and all the trimmings…” Bradley knew what was due a Sunday lunch, a proper Sunday lunch. “We could go to the pub, there was a Harvester we passed on the way here.”
Bradley didn’t want to go to the pub. He couldn’t explain it, only, in a pub, surrounded by chatter and football on the telly, somehow he didn’t think that Colin would stay happy. He’d withdraw, Bradley was sure of it, he’d brood, even while they both shovelled down roast spuds by the bucket-load. Bradley loved roast potatoes, of course he did, but there was a time for that, and somehow Bradley didn’t think this was it.
He didn’t really want to consider it too hard, but Colin wouldn’t have his undivided attention in a pub, and… Well. He wouldn’t have Colin’s. Bradley stared at him expectantly.
“What did you have in mind?” Colin asked at last, as though the weight of Bradley’s gaze was drawing it out of him. Although it didn’t look like he minded all that much. Bradley could feel himself lighting up, and he watched Colin’s smile unfurl at his obvious pleasure.
“Nothing fancy, right? We’re relaxing if it kills us. So… Picnic?”
Colin laughed, his gaze sliding out of the car windows to look at the lowering clouds. Summer in Wales.
“You’ve really thought about this,” said Colin, and Bradley wondered. Had he, had he really? They hung around a lot on set, him and Colin, but surely this was a spur of the moment decision, he’d only had a while last night to think about it, and then in the shower this morning. He wondered if he should admit the truth. Nah, not yet. The punchline should be a long time coming.
“Don’t worry,” said Bradley, with confidence, “I have a plan.”
Half an hour later with the car safely parked by Cardiff station, and ambling along the road by the castle, Bradley nudged Colin with his elbow and pointed up. The stone animals crawling over the wall were difficult to miss, but anything that kept Colin smiling had to be a good thing. Then he hurried him on in a meandering trail that took them up past the edge of Bute Park, and over the river. Colin raised an enquiring eyebrow at the park but Bradley shook his head. He had other ideas. He got them a little lost by attempting a more scenic route than just walking down the Cowbridge Road, but the streets were pretty enough, and it wasn’t really the point. Walking next to Colin was what mattered, teasing him about his terrible taste in emo music. Having his giggle sputter into the air, and knowing he’d been the one to make Colin laugh.
In fact, Bradley didn't even realise that he'd actually cocked it all up until Colin's steps faltered, and then stopped altogether. Bradley looked back, suddenly conscious that the plan was somehow beginning to unravel, that things were taking too long. Cold reality was seeping into the day like water through a paper bag. He'd wanted things to be magical. He'd wanted to give Colin something perfect. And now…
Colin was staring up at a church. The blue wooden board on the wall declared it to be St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church, and Bradley’s heart gave a sudden thump, before sinking to his boots. Colin’s face was sort of blank, but it looked like he was making it that way, as though he’d like to screw it up with some strong emotion, but he wasn’t allowing himself to. Some of the cryptic stuff Colin had been spouting made more sense now, particularly if Colin was religious. Bradley hadn’t even thought about it, that Colin was from Armagh, and that therefore he might be Catholic, it hadn’t even really crossed his mind. But he probably wouldn’t have thought that it mattered even if he had known. Back home, his family were comfortably C of E, nothing fancy, going to church maybe once in a while, often only the midnight carol service on Christmas Eve. He just didn’t think about it. But if Colin’s family was religious, it explained some stuff, maybe, some of Colin’s strangeness? The way that Bradley thought they might be getting close, and then not so much. The way that Colin’s black moods seemed to coincide with the end of the week. Except… Did it explain anything? Really?
“Colin?” Bradley slid up behind Colin, bumping his shoulder, offering a show of solidarity, even if he wasn’t sure what he was actually solid with, even if he felt like he was twisting in the wind.
Colin’s eyes were half-shut, and he turned his head towards Bradley’s voice, but there was no other reaction. A slant to his mouth maybe.
“What’s up?” asked Bradley, wanting to ask ‘what’s wrong’ but not quite daring to attempt that. Half a gale was still whipping past them on its way from the sea, and Bradley tried crowding up behind Colin again, keeping him sheltered from the worst of it, offering support. He wished he was brave enough to reach for Colin’s hand again, deliberately this time, however soppy and stupid it would make him feel. He was twisted up inside with it all, not sure how to express anything when he wasn’t on stage or in front of a camera. For a second Bradley thought it would be all right, because Colin leaned back into him, his skinny body moulding itself to Bradley’s, and he dragged in a quick breath, sucking it through clenched teeth, tingles chasing themselves down his body in a shiver. But then Colin pulled away, his mouth twisting, and then he was running, Converses slapping away on the pavement, incongruous in Bradley’s slow-to-catch-up mind.
A cold wet drop landed on his cheek and Bradley thought it could have been the Heaven’s weeping for the wreck of his plans, but it was just the rain, that had threatened forever, and was now finally falling. Bradley blinked, just once, as his thoughts unfroze, and then he was off after Colin, trainers eating up the ground, breath puffing out into the air, as the plastic bag he was carrying bumped against his thigh.
He was damned if he was going to let it go at that. He’d promised Colin some fun, not a fucking guilt trip, and the fact he’d managed to cock things up so spectacularly probably came as no surprise. Even if it was accidental, he was still responsible for it, and he was going to bloody well sort it out. Not to mention that Colin was a skinny streak of nothing who’d probably never even seen the inside of a gym, and Bradley, besides actually knowing how to work out, Bradley had played football since he was five, and if there was one thing he knew he could do, it was run. He would catch up with Colin, and then, then they would talk, they would… His mind failed him at that point, but he didn’t stop. He stretched out his body, his legs pumping, his muscles flexing. Bradley ran.
It was ironic really. Bradley caught up with Colin just as he reached the gates of Victoria Park, which had been his intended destination for them all along. The rain was coming down in earnest now, and Bradley was running into it, cold little drops exploding onto his skin. His denim jacket was soaked through at the shoulders, and water was dripping from his hair down the back of his neck. If he hadn’t been warm from running it might have been unpleasant. Bradley wondered if Colin had even noticed the rain.
When he grabbed his shoulder Colin span round, his hands held up, fist clenched, and if Bradley didn’t know better, he’d have thought that Colin might have been going to hit him. It didn’t make sense, Colin wasn’t violent, Colin was the least violent bloke Bradley knew. As Bradley stood there in the street, heaving breaths into his lungs, watching Colin’s eyes widen and then narrow again, a hopeless sort of resentment, twisting at his mouth, Bradley wondered if he was in some kind of alien land, some kind of alternative universe, a demon dimension, like in Buffy, where his friends all turned on him and he was left alone.
It was a stupid thought, because he wasn’t alone. He wouldn’t be alone even if Colin never spoke to him again, but Bradley’s heart still sank. He didn’t want to be fighting with Colin. He didn’t even really know what they’d be fighting over, but he did know that he didn’t want to do it. He was full of irritation and a dull kind of anger, that covered up his helplessness. He clutched harder at Colin’s shoulder, and shook him.
“What? What the fuck is wrong, Morgan? I don’t understand, I don’t get it. It was just a church!”
And Colin laughed, but it wasn’t like earlier, it wasn’t happy and sputtering, it was jeering and full of weird despair, as though Colin couldn’t help it, as though it was forced out of him. Bradley shook him again, just once, and then he stopped.
“Leave me alone, Bradley. Bradders,” Colin was almost spitting the words, “You go off and enjoy your Sunday, your Sunday roast, your footie, and your self-satisfaction, all sat on your fat stupid complacent arse. Go on then, what the fuck are you waiting for? Get out of here!”
And Bradley clutched desperately at Colin’s hoodie and tried to understand. Tried to get why Colin was trying to push him away, why he didn’t let himself get pushed, why he’d been pushing back, in little ways, all bloody day. Colin stared at him, his eyes looking pale and bruised in the cold, his hair plastered flat to his skull with the rain.
“No,” said Bradley, with certainty. He wasn’t sure what he did want to do, but he wasn’t about to give in to this, not without – what? An explanation? An apology? Mostly, Bradley realised, he wanted Colin to…
Kiss him, apparently. Colin’s lips on Bradley’s were cold, but his tongue was as warm as a furnace, as it pushed its way inside his mouth. He tried to ask Colin what he was doing, but all he managed was a kind of sighing groan, and no-one could be expected to know what that meant. Except it seemed that Colin did, because he was pushing himself into Bradley’s space, his knee insinuating itself between Bradley’s thighs, the whole skinny length of him pressed hot and hard against him. Colin’s damp clothes were chill and rough where they touched him but they warmed up quickly, and Colin’s hands were tucking themselves under the hem of his jacket and splaying themselves against his back, icy to the touch but warming as quickly as everything else.
Bradley tasted rain, and chocolate, and Colin, and he should be pushing him back, away, asking him, what the fuck? Why now, why here – asking him why wasn’t he protesting, why he wasn’t more shocked, more surprised? Bradley groaned again, properly, as Colin’s tongue did something unexpectedly filthy, and almost without volition he found his fingers in Colin’s hair, their wet strands tugging at his fingers, shaping his palms to cup the delicate bones of Colin’s skull.
It was the weather that forced the issue. The downpour suddenly got unexpectedly heavier and Bradley realised that while parts of his body didn’t care, he did mind that Colin was becoming more and more like a drowned rat. He suspected Colin didn’t give a damn, but that was besides the point – someone had to be the responsible one here. There was an echo of incredulous laughter in the back of his head, but Bradley ignored it, because it sounded like Katie.
He dragged himself back, finally, reluctantly, but he didn’t let go of Colin’s hoodie, just in case he was still skittish. Then he dragged Colin in a stumbling run through the gates of Victoria Park, threading through the flowerbeds, all reds and yellows, cheerful even in the rain, and onto the bandstand. Where it was dry, or at least, not actively wet. Colin didn’t resist, which Bradley was grateful for, but suspicious. He thought that Colin was going along with things terribly easily. Then he thought again, and decided that Colin wasn’t the only one.
They stared at each other for a few seconds, and Bradley felt all the awkwardness that was natural in a situation like this start to seep into the air around them, making it thick and heavy. The rain hissed down, turning the green vistas of the park into a shimmering grey. Bradley began fussing with his coat, taking it off, trying to wring water out of the sleeves, anything to make things easier. His lips were still tingling from the kiss, and he licked them, chasing the taste. Marvelling at it, at the turn of events, at the complete fucking surprise of it all. Amazed at the fact he wasn’t freaking out more.
“Well?” demanded Colin, and Bradley scuffed his feet, and stared anywhere but straight at him. He could hear the slight scrape of Colin’s hands rubbing together. He could hear the click of Colin’s teeth.
“Aren’t you going to say anything? Aren’t you going to have a go at me, Bradley? Call me a faggot, and a poof. Tell me I’m unnatural, and that I’m going to Hell… You can, you know – it’s not like I don’t bloody well know that, ok?”
It was the last words that got Bradley stepping forwards. Colin’s voice was jagged, with odd dips and breaks. He didn’t sound anything like himself, although his accent was still thickening. Somehow, Bradley knew, this had very little to do with him, but that didn’t really matter. His own reactions to this he could examine at another time, later, in the comfort and privacy of his own mind. Bradley felt his hands were clammy, and he was clumsy all of a sudden, but it needed to be done, because Colin needed him. He couldn’t let himself be afraid, or ask himself what he was doing. Bradley stepped forward and took one dizzying breath before reaching out and pulling at Colin’s sleeves, interrupting the low and bitter muttering. He leaned in, slowly, his eyes wide, giving Colin time to pull away, and then he was kissing him, for the second time, and the first time of his own volition. It was slow this time, but not tentative, instead it was sweet and soft. Colin’s lips were still cool, but Bradley explored his mouth with thoroughness and care, warming him with his lips and breath, mindful as he kissed him that Colin was cold enough that his teeth were chattering. It was such a little thing, but Bradley realised that knowing it squeezed his heart in his chest.
He paused them both, holding Colin still, breathing each other’s air, and then he rubbed at Colin’s arms, briskly, until he squawked, “Hey!” It wasn’t much, but after the tension, and the insults, it made Bradley chuckle. Colin too apparently found it hilarious and they stood there under the bandstand, in each other’s arms, and laughed and laughed.
Afterwards, Bradley turned Colin round and sat him down between his thighs, back to chest, and picked up his own coat to tuck round him. Bradley could almost hear Colin rolling his eyes, but still neither of them seemed to want to move. Slowly, Colin's teeth stopped chattering. They were in their own little world, in the park, in the rain. Bradley didn’t want to break the mood, it was a unique day, even if it hadn’t exactly been perfect. He marvelled at himself. He'd kissed Colin, and Colin had kissed him back. Bloody hell.
As Bradley shifted his coat, the carrier bag he’d been lugging round clinked and rolled a little. It was their forgotten lunch. Colin reached for it, and Bradley let him, watching his long fingers plucking open the plastic to reveal a bottle of Rioja, one of Sprite, some apples, oranges, batons of French bread, and creamy garlic soft cheese. Bradley had never noticed how strong and dextrous Colin’s hands were, he’d never even thought about it before, any more than he’d wondered about what it might feel like to have Colin pressed up against him like this, to feel the bumps of his spine, the delicate play of muscles in his back. Colin’s neck was right there, and on a whim, a still terrifyingly new impulse, Bradley leaned forward and nuzzled it, smelling ozone and cool rain and Colin, his skin scratching headily against the slight growth of Bradley’s beard.
Colin froze for a split second and Bradley thought he’d cocked it up again, but then he loosened against Bradley, his body curving to fit, until there was no room for anything at all but Bradley and Colin and the warmth that was building up, caught in the small spaces in their slowly drying clothes.
“Sorry,” said Colin, at length, and Bradley tucked his hands more solidly around Colin’s belly, in case of accident.
“For what?” he replied, trying for light, not quite succeeding.
"For being a fucked up arse."
Bradley blinked, and opened his mouth before closing it again. "It’s ok. We're all fucked up in one way or another. 'They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad etc etc…' Oh bugger. Sorry."
Colin had tensed again and Bradley prepared for another fight, another flight. Colin was silent for a few seconds, but he relaxed this time, deliberately, Bradley thought.
"It's not your fault." Colin turned his head. Bradley could see the slope of his nose, the curve of one plump lip. "It's not theirs either, really. Or even the Church's. It's just…"
Bradley watched Colin bite that same lip. "As a Catholic you're meant to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, confess sins at least once a year, receive the Eucharist at least once during Easter season, and observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence as established by the Church, you know, like Lent and such."
Colin paused. Bradley wondered if this dry recitation was supposed to fool him. Probably not - it was intended to fool Colin himself, Bradley decided, shifting his hand up to Colin's chest, trying to be comforting, feeling his heartbeat strong and steady under his palm.
"So?" Bradley prompted.
"So I don't really believe in it any more. I don't go to Mass, I don't go to confession. I'm a humanist."
"Thought you were a vegetarian," said Bradley, and then added quickly, "Sorry, sorry, I can't help myself."
It had made Colin smile though, Bradley could see the curve, the hint of a dimple, so that was something.
"It's just… It seems to be one thing to say it, to think you believe it, but it's another to have the whole fibre of your being reject everything you ever learned growing up. I thought I could do it, but sometimes…"
“Sometimes I feel guilty. And it gets to me. That’s the Catholics eternal disease, guilt. It never lets you go.”
Bradley tightened his hold a little, wondering. He was a simple bloke really, he had the odd thing here and there that he regretted, but nothing to do with the existential nature of his soul. He thought it was probably getting on alright, but he didn’t dwell.
“Can’t you – I don’t know – just forget about the bad stuff?” he asked, feeling helpless.
Colin smiled again, but Bradley didn’t think there was much humour in it. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll do that. I’ll just forget about eternal damnation and my Mam being disappointed in me, and my Nana not talking to me, and Neil just being so bloody cheerful all the time…”
Colin trailed off and Bradley realised they’d managed to get past generalised guilt and were onto something more specific.
“But they’re your family.” Bradley thought back to the sprawling Devon farmhouse, with its flagstoned floors and rag rugs, and Mum making bread ‘the old-fashioned way’ because she wanted to give it a go.
“I know. That’s why it matters so much.” Colin twisted round in Bradley’s arms and stared at him; his eyes were ridiculously blue. This close Bradley could see the faint dark five o’clock shadow Colin was always sporting. He wanted to touch. “Look, Bradley, what did your parents say to you when you came out?”
Bradley stared back, and then looked down, a little ashamed. “Umm. Nothing? I haven’t ever… It’s… I’m sure they’d be fine with it though.”
Colin snorted. “Mine weren’t. I didn’t come out either, so much as get caught with my hand down Ryan Dempsey’s pants. And then it was endless rounds of confession, and ‘counselling’ and being told that it was ok, as long as I wasn’t ‘practicing’. You know what that means? It means it’s ok to have unnatural urges, as long as you don’t act on them. As long as you’re celibate.”
“And then what?” Bradley couldn’t imagine it really, it was like an alien world. He tried to imagine his Mum taking him to counselling just because he was gay, and he couldn’t.
“I went to Glasgow for college. And I tried to forget about it all. And now we just don’t talk about it. It’s like nothing ever happened.”
“But…” Bradley broke off, he didn’t know what Colin wanted him to say. He felt guilty himself, the merest shadow of the guilt Colin probably suffered, because he’d never suffered any kind of trauma. Not like that. Not yet anyway. Colin turned his head and settled back against Bradley, staring out into the park and watching the rain fall.
Bradley swallowed. His voice sounded husky to him. “So if seeing the Church made you feel worse, does that mean you’ve been… practicing, then?”
Colin’s eyes widened and this time he turned round completely, enough that Bradley’s jacket shifted, letting in drafts of cold air. “You’re having me on, right?” he poked Bradley in the ribs, a bittersweet smile playing round his mouth. “Let’s get back to civilization, yeah? Before there’s any practicing to be done.” Colin let the smile drop, looking tired but still happier than he had been, and suddenly Bradley wanted to do more than just kiss him, an abrupt heady frisson of want. “Cheers, though, for making me see sense, I’d thought… I don’t know what I’d thought. That I’d been wrong. That I was wrong. That I’d fallen for yet another straight boy. Bloody hell, I’ve been mixed up.” And he laughed, shakily.
“Sorry,” said Bradley, in advance of things, because he was, he really was. He’d been a stupidly oblivious fool, and he’d had this dumb idea to make Colin have some fun. When things weren’t that simple. When he should have known that.
He looked down so he didn’t have to meet Colin’s eyes any more, staring at the open-necked shirt Colin was wearing instead. Marvelling at the bloody ugly clothes Colin always seemed to find.
“In London,” said Bradley, at last, squeezing his palms into Colin’s side, feeling his hoodie ruck up, clammy against his fingers, the stripe of Colin’s skin underneath shockingly warm. “At the Drama Centre, we didn’t talk about it, because it was so obvious. Everyone knew who was gay, and who was bi, who was curious, who just liked dressing up. And sometimes the labels shifted, because no-one really cared enough to even label people mostly, and it just sort of felt normal, you know? And I had friends, and who they got off with didn’t matter, really – and it was such a great time, free and creative in the best ways. I loved it. And I got used to being part of a crowd who weren’t that bothered about personal space.”
Bradley stared at the top button of Colin’s shirt, while noting it was far too big for him. “Even before that, at school, in the drama club, on the footie team – physical contact wasn’t a big deal. It was what you did. Normal.”
“Bradley?” Colin’s adam’s apple moved as he talked. The hollows of his collar bones were fascinating, and Bradley swallowed. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Ask me how many blokes I’ve snogged.”
Colin cocked his head, Bradley could tell in the play of muscles in his neck. “Am I going to regret this? Were you the college cocktease, Bradley? How many? I won’t care.”
“Just the one.”
Bradley was prepared for the next move. He’d thought it through, as much as he was able to, and he had a feeling… He might be playing everything by ear, but still, he’d always been pretty good at improvisation. When Colin went to lunge away from him, Bradley caught him round the middle, then ducked his head as Colin flailed, and only got a slight clip around the ear. His mind was buzzing, and his ear throbbed, but in the depths of his belly he was tingling. Bradley rather thought he wanted to explore this at a later date, maybe, if he could get Colin to forgive him. God, he wanted to kiss him right now.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know!” He was shouting now. Shouting at Colin in a park, in the rain. So stupid. “I want to though, ask me. Ask me how many blokes I want to snog!”
Colin tried to kick him, and Bradley ducked his head down, tucking his chin into the back of Colin’s shirt, breathing him in. Just holding on.
Colin stopped trying to fight after another long moment. His voice when it came, was hoarse and low, “You took me on a date, Bradley. You held my fucking hand. What was I supposed to think?”
“That I’m an idiot? That I don’t deserve you? That I want to?”
Bradley wanted to look into Colin’s eyes but he wasn’t sure he quite dared. His hands were clenched in Colin’s t-shirt, and he could feel the beat of Colin’s heart pounding beneath his fingers. But he wasn’t quite as tense, Bradley thought.
“Christ, I thought it was us Irish who were meant to have silver tongues. Let go of me.”
Bradley didn’t want to. He really didn’t. It might be the only chance he got to do this. Colin might despise him for being the cock-teasing straight boy from now on. Their friendship could be ruined, their on-screen chemistry destroyed forever. Bradley leant his head against Colin’s neck, the whisps of black hair there tickling his lips, the sigh he couldn’t seem to suppress stirring them a little. And then he let go.
Colin pushed himself away immediately and jarringly chilly gusts of air began to circulate around Bradley’s body. He shivered and drew his jacket around himself, all the while staring at Colin from under his brows. Colin sat, cross-legged, and stared back at him, until Bradley wanted to squirm, like he was in the headmaster’s office, as though he was a naughty boy again, instead of a man who’d misjudged things a bit. Misjudged his own reactions too, Bradley thought. And wondered when the freak-out would begin.
Slowly, Colin stuck out his finger and poked the food, where it was lying abandoned beside them both. “No meat, I see. That’s unusual.”
Bradley was insulted. What kind of host did Colin think he was? “No salad either,” he countered, “Great. Neither one of us is poisoned. Woo.”
Colin glanced up, his eyes a stormy colour. Bradley caught his breath a little. Perhaps sarcasm wasn’t his best idea. Way to go, Bradley.
“Look,” he said, “I just wanted us to have a picnic in the park, and then afterwards, I’d thought - maybe a film, that’s all.”
Come to think of it, it did feel a bit date-like. He really had been a bit slow on the uptake.
“Transformers 2, maybe. Big explodey robots that turn into things?” Bradley added weakly. “Who doesn’t like giant robots?”
Colin was still staring at him and Bradley longed to talk, to fill the huge gaping silences, the conversational void which Colin never seemed to have a problem with. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, quickly, determined this time that it wouldn't be him to break it. He shifted a bit, and began picking at the seam on the side of his jeans. Every so often he'd look up and glance at Colin. Who continued to just sit there. Until Bradley thought he might actually, literally, explode like the robots.
Eventually, eons later, or maybe just a minute or two, Bradley saw the corner of Colin's mouth begin to twitch, as though it was a shaking muscle that couldn't be kept in check, until Colin's smile spread and chased itself across his face, like a little sun rising. Bradley was grinning back before he even knew it.
Colin jumped to his feet then, and held out his hand to Bradley. "Exploding robots, you say?"
Bradley took it and got pulled to his feet by a surprising amount of wiry strength. "Yeah," he said, cautiously.
"So, if you're going to take me to this boy's own extravaganza, I want a condition."
Bradley stared at him and just about restrained himself from offering his unborn children, or anything at all.
"I want this to be real." Colin was solemn now. "I want you to take me to the cinema, and I want you to mean it. If you can't, then you can just take me back to my flat, ok?"
"But…" Bradley felt daring, still reeling with all these revelations. His stomach was doing flip-flops, and it wasn't just normal nerves. "It's Sunday. Are you sure?"
And he really meant, am who you really want, is this worth the risk? Are you really offering what I think your offering? Even, can I handle it? He felt his throat go dry and his heart speed up.
Colin took a step then towards Bradley, until they were chest to chest. His hair had half-dried and was sticking up, Bradley had a desperate urge to touch it, to press it down. And then he did, because he could, and Colin's hair was fine and soft against his fingers, and Colin himself… Colin himself leaned into Bradley's touch and said, "Sundays aren't for fun remember - they're for serious things, for contemplation and thinking about the future. For deciding what to do. Do you know what you want to do, Bradley?"
And he was full of worry, about whether this made him gay, and what his own coming out might be like, even whether the sex would work out or not, but it didn't matter that much really because Colin was blinking at him, and his smile was on the verge of dropping, teetering at the corners of his lips, and suddenly Bradley realised he couldn't allow that to happen. Not ever. He pushed himself that extra inch and kissed Colin quickly before he let it fall.
"Yes," said Bradley, and meant every word.