Angel sees him lurking about stupidly in stupid hallways half an hour or so later, stops, says, "Oh, Colin, Colin," and drags him off to the nearest pub. There she sits and pats his hand occasionally and doesn't ask him what's wrong, and Colin wishes bitterly he'd had the good sense to go and fall in love with her instead, because at least she's not the type to go around kissing people for the sheer entertainment value.
"What?" she says blankly. "Yes! No! Well. I mean. There was the dancer." Colin looks up at her sharply, and the dregs of his embittered soul must be plain on his face, because she quickly adds hastily, "But it was all mutual, and anyway you'd never go 'round kissing people you didn't love. Er. You haven't, have you?"
"No," says Colin darkly, turning back to his beer. "No, I don't love anyone."
"That's not true!" Angel pats him on the hand again, just like Bradley had patted him on the knee. "You love your family. And me. And Katie and Bradley."
Colin snorts. "Right."
Out of the corner of his eye Colin sees Angel narrow her eyes at him. If he bothered to look up from his glass, he guesses he'd find it's one of those shrewd looks women get when they're seeing all the things you aren't saying. He doesn't look up, though. Beer has really a hypnotic sort of brownness to it. You can just stare at it and see it getting brownier and swirlier and beerier the longer you look. Ooh, and if you shake it it gets all frothy. Whee.
"I know something else you love, too," Angel says, evidently choosing to ignore whatever damning conclusions she's reached from watching Colin study the foam in his mug.
"Yeah?" he asks disinterestedly. She sighs.
"You love Merlin," she says.
Colin does look up then.
Angel gives him a smile. "The character, I mean."
Colin thinks about this. "He's kinda stupid," he volunteers after a moment.
Angel's smile gets bigger. "You love him because he's got a big heart and he tries so hard to be good to his friends," she says. "You love him because he cares so much, like you, and you're both always trying to become better people."
Colin frowns. "I guess," he says. "Maybe?" He thinks of what he said to Bradley earlier, and can't picture the resemblance at all. "I'm nothing like Merlin, though," he says gloomily.
"Not even a little bit?" Angel prompts. Colin wishes she'd quit patting him on the arm, but it feels a bit nice for all that. "Not even when he does dumb things and then runs around trying to fix them?"
"Nope." Colin sloshes his mug for emphasis. Angel covers her mouth with her hand and giggles. "I'm not running around fixing anything. Nothing to fix anyway."
"All right, Colin," Angel says. Angel sounds - well, she sounds some word he can't quite think of right now, but he knows it's an annoying word. Also, Colin suspects he is slightly drunk.
"Just because I'm nice doesn't mean I'm nice," he scowls. "I mean, for all you know, I could be the one going around breaking people's hearts and saying unfixable things. It doesn't always have to be him just because he's the one with the - " he gestures sagely at the bar counter. " - the, you know. All the. Hair."
There's a slight pause, and Angel asks gently, "You mean Bradley?"
Colin leans back in his chair and does not answer, does not write an invisible image on the ceiling of Bradley looking like he'd been gut-punched when Colin left him.
"Oh, Colin," Angel says again, and doesn't mention fixing anything after that.
Colin's hangover is a violent reminder of why he generally sucks at debauchery of any kind, even when he's only debauching himself. Angel had taken him back to his hotel room and kissed him on the forehead before putting him to bed, and Colin had only had time to spare a grateful thought that Bradley hadn't still been in his room waiting for him when he got back before falling promptly asleep.
When he awakes, however, the pieces of his brain that aren't wriggling around crying out for water and more sleep and possibly cyanide are full of worry. He has a long shooting schedule today, and (of course) most of it will be spent with Bradley.
Who, incidentally, looks drawn and miserable, and has to spend an extra half hour with makeup just to cover up the circles under his eyes.
(Which Colin only knows because he has to spend the extra half-hour erasing the red-eyed hungover look, but that's hardly relevant.)
It's the first day of shooting for the latest episode, which is (of course) so ridiculously homoerotic you could replace all the chain mail with neon pink spangles and no one would even notice. It's bad enough that Julian 2 is all over the script, but Colin realizes once he's on set that he has no idea who's directing today, and if it's Stuart...
Please, he thinks, directing his prayer to whatever gods watch over brokenhearted actors and ridiculously gay television series. Please don't let it be Stuart.
Of course it's Stuart.
Five hours later they're sharing a sleeping bag in an actual cave - seriously, there's filming on location and then there's filming in a bloody grotto with real live bats - and Arthur and Merlin are huddling together for warmth while a CG blizzard rages just outside.
"Okay, Colin, could you scoot closer to Bradley?" asks Stuart.
Colin, very stiffly, so as not to send Bradley into any unseemly fits of gay panic, does so.
Bradley, equally stiffly, does not react at all, with gay panic or any other kind of panic, or even Look-I'm-not-panicking-now-can-we-please-g
"Bradley, can you move your head in toward - yeah, that's right. You're sharing body heat so you won't die, make it look convincing."
There's an awkward moment where Bradley rearranges the blankets around them, careful not to brush Colin's legs with his own. "This good?" he calls.
"Great," says Stuart.
And then they have to lie there for forty-five minutes while five different camera angles and sixteen different lights are adjusted.
They're well into minute thirty-eight or so, each having stuck to his own side of the wall of silence, when Bradley inhales and says, too cheerily, "Well, at least now we know how awkward it can get. We've done the whole uncomfortable first meeting, gotten that out of the way. Now we can just... move on." He says it casually, but Colin can hear the question that doesn't quite stay out of Bradley's voice.
"Right," Colin answers flatly.
There's some shifting around behind him and then Bradley touches Colin on the shoulder - warm and spread wide, his fingertips just brushing the edge of Colin's throat. Colin flinches but Bradley doesn't take his hand away. "Look," he begins, and Colin can't help but snap, "I don't need you to apologize."
"Evidently, you do," Bradley bites back, and then Colin is twisting away from him, just enough to get out from under Bradley's hold on him and send Stuart into a fit about undoing the last hour of camerawork.
"Fine," Colin mutters, sliding back again, mutinously close to Bradley this time, silently daring Bradley to touch him again. This is a stupid scene in a stupid show, and there must be better ways to make a career than this. Their blankets are stifling, Bradley's body next to him doesn't bear thinking about, and it's all a bit too much for Colin, who tucks his hand under his head and closes his eyes.
"Cols," Bradley says next to him - half-whispers, really. "I really am sorry. I was an idiot. Total ass."
Colin doesn't say anything.
"But you know me. You know I would never ever have hurt you if I'd had a choice."
Colin freezes. He can't answer that, so he doesn't. Even with his back to him he can tell when Bradley's shoulders slump.
"Just," Bradley says. "Could you at least give me some time?"
After a moment, Colin shrugs.
"Time for what?" he says. "Nothing's changed."
Next to him Bradley goes suddenly, awfully quiet, and that brief surge of hope flares again in Colin's ribcage. He shuts his eyes against it. He doesn't know what Bradley wants from him, and he's too tired of the whole thing already to bother figuring out.
Fifteen minutes later they're ready to roll scene, and Colin lets himself pretend, just for a moment or two, that all the words Arthur is whispering in Merlin's ear as he sleeps, all the things he is saying and all the things he isn't, are real.
IN THE CAVE
We're lucky the candle hasn't burnt out yet.
MERLIN murmurs and turns in the blankets next to ARTHUR.
ARTHUR drags the candle closer to them and burrows down.
He studies MERLIN while MERLIN tries to sleep.
Arthur, don't - don't go near them.
Merlin? Are you all right?
It's all right. It's all right, Merlin.
You can sleep. I'm here. We're alive.
MERLIN gradually relaxes. ARTHUR continues to watch him.
You really are the worst manservant alive.
You can't cook, you can't fight, you can
barely ride a horse. I'm embarrassed to be
seen with you in polite company.
He reaches out and strokes MERLIN's hair as he speaks.
And yet, you're just - there's just
something about you. I don't think I ever
met anyone who was as dumb as you
and still so - I don't even know
what to make of you half the time. I just
know that if I ever - if we ever weren't -
I don't think I could bear it. I don't think
I could bear to -
He gives MERLIN a long, meaningful look.
Well. Good night. Clod.
A week passes. Angel doesn't tell anyone about whatever isn't happening between Bradley and Colin.
Who aren't speaking to each other.
Which is perfectly fine with Colin. Really.
Then, on Monday, this is what happens:
Colin more or less barges in and says, "You are a complete arse and I don't want to work with you!" and stands there.
Bradley looks at him for a moment like he's just stopped in from Mars, then puts on a scowl and says, "Well, I don't want to work with you either, not like this!"
"So bloody fix it!" says Colin.
"I asked you for time and you said no!" says Bradley.
"This is complete bollocks," says Colin. "I can't believe I ever thought I was in love with you."
"Same here," snaps Bradley. "Wait, what?"
"Oh, shut up," says Colin, and storms back to his own trailer.
Where Richard is waiting patiently.
"As I was saying," Richard says.
Colin flops down into a chair and says, "Oh, god."
Ed lets everyone have the rest of the day off.
"You," Katie says to Colin just as Colin heads out for dinner. "You're coming with me."
"I am?" It hasn't been a day for smiling, but Katie's worth one or two, Colin reckons.
She gives him a wink. "You are, and no excuses."
She drags him down to the hall to the lobby, where, of course, Tony and Bradley are already waiting for the lifts. Tony gives him a knowing look and says nothing. Colin tries to think of pro-feminist ways to murder Katie McGrath. Bradley doesn't even look at him.
The four of them stand there in an awkward silence until Katie chirps up and asks Tony, "Any word if Ripper's a go for this summer?" and then it's just the two of them talking, Colin studying his tennis shoes while Bradley looks at the walls, until Tony says in a different tone, "But really, the time I have now with all of you is too important for me to waste it worrying about what I can and can't change, don't you think?"
Right on cue the lift comes, and Tony ushers Katie in with a look for both Bradley and Colin, who wind up standing silently in the front like the world's most incompetent bodyguards.
They're halfway downstairs when Katie says suddenly, "No, you know what? This is a bad idea."
"What is?" says Colin. "Dinner?"
Bradley says, "I think dinner's a great idea, personally."
"I think maybe Katie's right," says Tony.
"I am," says Katie. "I am right. I think you two should go make up and make out, fix whatever your problem is, because I refuse to go endure another two weeks with both of you moping around like this. This is so silly, you're friends. Go do what friends do and apologize."
Bradley snorts. "Yeah, it's that simple."
Colin snaps, "With normal people, it usually is," and Bradley grabs his elbow and yanks and hisses back, "Seriously? Because I thought normal people didn't go around for weeks ignoring their best friend."
"Oh, come off it," Colin snaps, jerking away. Next to him Katie winces. "You won't even look at me and suddenly I'm your best friend? Oh, right, is this another one of your jokes?" and then Katie is jamming the button and Tony is dragging them off at the next floor and Bradley is yelling at Colin as if it's all his fault before lapsing into a stony silence, and Tony winds up standing between them like a hall monitor before the next lift comes to take them back to their floor.
"You're both adults," he says when the lift stops. "I don't need to tell you how important a time this is for both of you. I've seen promising actors ruin their entire careers through moments like this. I'd prefer not to see it happen to either of you. You're both far too talented for that."
Colin darts a look over at Bradley. He looks like a thirteen-year-old who just got told off by the principle, red-faced and sullen and still somehow perfectly ridiculous.
Colin feels something heavy give way in his chest. He's never been anything but proud of Bradley, proud of them both. And, hey, Anthony Stewart Head just called them talented, and right now they can't even enjoy it.
"We're okay, Tony," he says. His throat's dry, but he means it, and Tony nods and lets them off.
Colin's half afraid that Bradley will march back to his own room without a word, but instead Bradley gives him a quick look and marches back down the hallway to Colin's.
Colin lets him in, and turns on the light. The air in here is stuffy and Colin didn't have the maids come in this morning so there's leftover pizza still lying open from the night before. He and Angel had ordered in and watched marathons of Extras.
He can see Bradley guest-starring as himself. He'd be charming, dumb, cocky, oblivious. The perfect caricature of himself, and it would almost even be true.
Colin sighs and shut the door. Bradley turns and gives him a look, and Colin looks back, and then they just stare at each other for a ridiculously long moment, until Bradley swings his hands and says, "Look, I apologized. You don't seem to think either of us needs time to get used to this, so I don't know what you want from me."
"You don't even get why I was angry with you, do you?"
"If you'd ever wanted to know whether I swung that way, Colin, all you had to do was ask, I would never have lied to you."
"It's not about that," says Colin, moving away from the door and into the room. Bradley's leaning against the countertop so Colin leans against the writing desk in the opposite corner. "I don't care whether you like boys."
"Yes, you do," says Bradley bitterly. "Don't try to take back what you said in my trailer."
Colin parses this through, then swallows. "Fine, I won't."
"Good," says Bradley tightly.
"Look, this isn't a game," Colin snaps. He can't stop his own words. "If you're gay it's not like some costume you can just slip on and take off whenever you feel like it."
"I wasn't!" Bradley protests.
"Oh, really? What'd you think you were doing?"
"I - " Bradley runs a hand through his hair. "Look, most people would call it experimenting."
"Yeah, if that's really what it was," Colin says viciously. "It only ever was a joke with you, though, wasn't it?"
"Oh, come on, Colin, look around you," Bradley answers, and this may be the first time Colin has ever heard a real edge of anger enter his voice. "It's been a joke. What do you think we're doing here? What do you think any of this is? You don't think they'll ever actually let Merlin and Arthur kiss, do you?"
Colin starts to fling back a retort and then stops, completely thrown off - not because the thought hasn't ever crossed his mind, but because he can't believe it's ever crossed Bradley's.
"What does any of that have to do with any of this?"
"Because it's the way things are," Bradley says. "Our whole - everything, this culture, this show. What do you think all the subtext is if it's not a game? It's supposed to be one giant cocktease. None if it's supposed to be serious. It's bollocks but that's how it is."
Colin takes a deep breath.
"And you can't blame me for it, either," Bradley says, and Colin swears that right this second he's wishing he had a sword so he could grip the hilt. "I wasn't hurting anyone - you're the one who assumed - "
"What?" Colin's voice flips a notch higher than normal. "How can you think it's my fault for assuming anything when you kiss other men? If anyone's an ass for thinking the wrong thing, it's you -"
"But I didn't know how you felt- "
"- for assuming you could just pretend to be gay whenever you felt like it and it wouldn't matter."
Bradley goes completely still, the way he did that day on the set, and Colin finishes bitterly:
"I mean, it must be nice for you to have the liberty of doing that, just turning it on and off again whenever you want. But a lot of people don't, you know."
"Cols," Bradley says.
"I came out to my parents when I was fifteen and my dad didn't speak to me for a month," Colin blurts, and then there's a thick, rough silence between them that isn't broken until Bradley crosses the space between them and takes Colin's face in his hands and kisses him on the mouth.
It's the last thing Colin's expecting so he gasps and goes still all over for half a moment before the warmth of Bradley's mouth really hits him, and he kisses back because it's warm and stupid and Bradley and hot and ridiculous and amazing.
Bradley's voice catches and he squirms closer, cupping Colin's chin in his giant palm and mouthing his way across Colin's cheekbone. Colin gasps again, for a completely different reason.
"Look, I don't want to guilt you into doing anything you don't want - " he tries nobly.
"Shut up," says Bradley, and, "Okay, right," Colin answers, and then they're pulling each other down to the bed.
"You're such an idiot," Bradley breathes against his skin, and, oh, god, his mouth is so lovely and hot and wet against Colin's throat it almost -
"M'not," Colin mumbles, arching into Bradley's mouth, fumbling for his shirt, and granted it takes him five tries just to pull it off of him, which supports the idiot theory, but, oh, god, Bradley is big-chested and muscled and he doesn't even notice the way Colin's gone slack against him when he pushes Colin back into the pillows.
"You are, you're the biggest idiot alive," Bradley insists, but follows this up by nipping his way across Colin's collarbone in a way that suggests he's okay with Colin's various mental deficiencies. He skims his hand down over Colin's chest, undoing buttons as he goes, and Colin wonders if he can just sort of lie here and be worked over by Bradley's hands and mouth and gorgeous gorgeous body as exchange for having been heartbroken and unprofessional for six days running. It seems only fair that Bradley do all the work now, and - oh, god, touching, that's very, very good, he can do that. He lets out some kind of verbal shiver and licks Bradley's ear, which is apparently the right thing to do because there quickly follows a lot more taking off of clothes and more squirming and touching and rubbing, and the upshot of it is that Bradley's thighs are broad and full and his ass is perfect and if Colin were any shorter his legs might not wrap so perfectly around Bradley's waist, but he does and it fits, and Bradley's breath stutters when Colin brushes the back of his leg with his toes.
"I'm sorry," Bradley whispers, "I'm sorry," and slides his hands beneath Colin's back and lifts him up when he brings their bodies together, like he knows what he's doing and is incidentally very good at what he's doing.
"You're the biggest bullshitter, you - oh, oh, Bradley, that, yes," Colin says, and Bradley rocks against him and cradles him tight, murmuring hot, wet apologies into Colin's throat, pressing stupid, blind affection everywhere against his skin.
At the cast meeting on Wednesday they get the scripts for the season finale (renewed for round three, thank you very much). There are hugs all round and everyone goes off to read. Shooting starts Friday, read-throughs the next morning.
Half an hour later, Colin hears Bradley yell, "Oh, come ON, you have got to be KIDDING!" through the walls of his hotel room, and bursts out laughing. Guess he knows which page of the script Bradley's on.
"We won't be able to read this," Bradley announces five minutes later, failing to knock as usual (but Colin will forgive him just the once, or well, maybe all the times as long as his is the only room Bradley's entering).
(He's not going to think about that yet, anyway. The important thing is, just this moment, Bradley's here.)
"Have you read it? The bedroom scene? If they push it any further they'll get the show cancelled."
"I dunno," Colin says. "I think it's rather sweet," and Bradley throws his script at Colin's head before hopping on the bed next to him.
"Sweet," he repeats.
"Could be worse," says Colin, suppressing a grin when Bradley pulls him against his chest. He rolls over and pins Bradley's hips into place. Bradley rolls them lazily against Colin's.
"But where do we take these characters?" he says. "They can't just, you know - "
Colin fiddles with the edge of Bradley's shirt, fingers skimming his stomach. "Can't just what?"
Bradley meets his eyes for a second and then looks away. "They can't just stay this much in love and not act on it."
Colin leans in and kisses Bradley, slow and deep, just once, and then Bradley shifts, tugging him closer, one hand cupping the back of his head to ruffle Colin's hair and keep him there, nipping kisses along Bradley's jaw and over his temple while Bradleys movements against him grow even and steady.
"I dunno," he says, some while later. "I think they do act on it. Every time they fight for each other, sacrifice themselves for each other. They're always declaring things. Just not in so many words."
Bradley frowns, but lets Colin stretch out against him, carding his fingers through Colin's hair where it splays across his chest. "We could try reading it through, though, if you like," Colin murmurs. "See how it goes."
"Before tomorrow, you mean?"
"Right now," Colin says.
Bradley's eyes flick wide open.
Colin holds on to him and says, "It wasn't a betrayal - "
"Shut up," Arthur hisses. "I trusted you completely - I loved you - and you - "
"- Tried to serve you in all things," Merlin answers desperately. "I swore I would follow you until I died - I swore to protect you - "
"Camelot needs no protection from a sorcerer. I don't even know you. I never knew you."
"Arthur, look at me - look at me."
Arthur does look at him, at last.
Merlin whispers, a breath away from the biggest relief of his life, "You do know me. You know who I am," and when Arthur reaches for him, Merlin follows.
The shock is so thick no one even calls cut, and when they break apart uncertainty passes between them before Bradley swallows and delivers the last lines of the scene, his hand still cupping Colin's face.
They act through the fadeaway, and still no one calls cut. Finally Bradley gives Colin's arm a squeeze, and Colin breaks scene with his stomach roiling and his hands shaking.
"There goes the third season," someone mutters into the stone-cold silence, and then Katie, fabulous, beautiful Katie McGrath, lets out a sudden long whoop of pure joy - "It's about time!" - and the entire set bursts into applause.
Colin breaks into a grin before he can stop himself. It's a long-shot, no matter what. Jeremy's already on the phone with Julian 1, already shaking his head and calling for thirty minutes.
Still. Maybe it's nothing, but maybe it's something.
He bumps Bradley's arm. Bradley looks a little pale, but he swings his arm around Colin's shoulder and smiles.
"So," says Colin conversationally. "Arthur's gay now." Bradley snorts, then ducks his head. It does nothing to hide the pink in his cheeks.
Colin leans into him, a warm and solid weight against his side. Bradley lets his fingers trail lightly over the back of Colin's neck.
"Yeah," he answers. "I guess we're more alike than I thought."