"This is the last take," Julian announced.
Colin took deep breaths through his nose that were anything but calming. Not that he was supposed to be calm, anyway – the scene was an emotional one, though for once the writers had decided to cut out all the cheesy lines and swelling music. "This scene," they'd said, "will be raw. There won't be any irony or tears. Just let Colin and Bradley say the lines, and we'll see where it goes from there."
If Colin was going to do one scene perfectly in his whole career, he wanted it to be this one.
He positioned himself at the table, leaning against it and schooling his expression into one of worry and disapproval. Bradley stood by the fireplace with an extra who was fumbling slightly with the armour he was going to strap onto Bradley. Colin resisted the urge to snort. He'd been able to handle the fake armour for years.
Bradley met his eyes for a moment and looked away, channelling Arthur like he'd never done before.
"Three," someone said in a somber voice, "two, action!"
The extra sprang into action, his fumbling hands suddenly the cautious ones of a servant as he pulled the pauldron over Bradley's – Arthur's – head. Arthur attempted to smile at him, but it was too difficult. He nodded instead. The servant, recognising his cue, bowed and exited the room quietly.
The air was stifling.
"You're not coming," Arthur said mildly, without glancing Merlin's way. He fiddled with his vambraces.
"I know," said Merlin. His entire body screamed that he knew, damn it, and he wished he didn't. It wasn't that he didn't trust Arthur to lead this battle – it was just that he didn't trust what might happen to the kingdom in his absence. "This is one of those times that I'm going to tell you something's a bad idea –"
"– and I'll ignore you, yes."
"But you shouldn't," he finally exploded. He wanted to stalk over to his master, hit him upside the head, but that wasn't going to help his case. Nothing was going to at this point. Arthur was still trying to get his vambraces clasped. With an exasperated sigh, Merlin waved his hand and said the familiar, guttural words, watching as the armour tightened to perfection.
"Thanks," Arthur muttered. He picked up his sword next, still avoiding Merlin's angry gaze.
Merlin shifted off the table and clapped his hands to Arthur's shoulders, forcing him to look him in the eyes. Slowly, beseechingly, he said, "I can help you. You know I can."
Arthur gave him the Look. The one that meant, Yes, Merlin, I'm well aware you could take me apart with less than one blow, but now is really not the time.
"It's pointless arguing," he said, not bothering to move Merlin's hands away. "Camelot needs you here in case Morgana decides to sweep in and claim the throne while I'm gone. You're not coming, Merlin, and that's final."
Arthur grinned. "Sorry, what was that?"
"I said you're a prat!" Merlin said, giving his shoulders a shake. "What if Morgana's waiting for you at Camlann? Then what will you do? I'll be here in an empty castle, worrying like a housewife, and none of you will return. You don't stand a chance against magic without me."
They both knew it was true. If Morgana or her sister were to make an appearance at Camlann, they'd all be dead. Arthur, Gwaine, Leon… everyone.
It wasn't exactly Morgana that Merlin was worried about, though.
"What if Mordred…" he began, casting around for a way to end the thought. Arthur nodded, suddenly grave.
"Then I'll be dead, won't I?" Arthur said. "Let's just hope he doesn't."
"You are such a – Arthur, I have been protecting your stupid arse for years, and you're just going to march there and hope that everything will turn out all right?"
"Glad we understand each other," said Arthur, ducking under Merlin's grasp to sheath his sword properly. He caught sight of Merlin's mutinous look and sighed in a very long-suffering sort of way, which Merlin thought was right rich coming from him. "I'll be fine, Merlin, stop worrying your little boots off. I'll keep Gwaine on the lookout for a creepy midget in a cloak, all right?"
That, quite honestly, didn't make Merlin feel any better.
Some of his reluctance must have shown on his face, because Arthur rolled his eyes and said, "Fine, I'll get Percival to keep a lookout. Your friend won't come to any harm if I have anything to say about it."
"It's not Gwaine I'm worried about," Merlin said. Then, he paused in thought. "Well, actually, that's not true; I'm worried sick about Gwaine. The moron will probably be on the front lines. That's not the point, though, Arthur. It's you I'm most worried for. If you fall, what happens to Camelot? We no longer have a Queen –" he felt a rush of guilt at Arthur's flinch, but pressed on, "– and its only defense is me. I can't rule a kingdom!"
Arthur stared at him for a very long moment. Then, without warning, he stepped forward and pulled Merlin into a bear-hug.
"See you when I get back," he said.
"You won't be back," Merlin said.
"No, probably not." They stayed, wrapped around each other, for an indeterminable amount of time. Then, "See you, anyway."
With what seemed like a great effort, Arthur broke away and, with one last smile, turned for the door. Merlin magicked it open, managing a smile at the laugh it drew from his master's lips.
"Thank you, Merlin," he said in the doorway.
"It's been my pleasure, Your Majesty. Most of the time, anyway. When you're not being a prat."
The words were in Arthur's throat, I'm sorry, I just can't have you in danger alongside me when you'll only try to bring me back, but they stuck there. And so, without turning back, Arthur walked through the corridors with purpose, ready to face his destiny.
Merlin collapsed into Arthur's chair, hiding his face in his hands, and he held that position until someone yelled, "Cut!"
Colin took deep breaths through his nose, this time to calm himself down, but it was impossible. He lifted his head, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes, and was unsurprised to see most of the crew crying along with him. Bradley walked back in the room, the lines of his body tense.
The first person to break the tentative silence, of course, was Angel.
She launched herself into Bradley's arms from where she'd sat, just out of the camera's sight. She was dressed in normal, street clothes, because she'd finished filming three days prior, but had stuck around to watch the rest.
"You bastards," she sniffled. "I hate you both so much right now."
Bradley buried his face in her hair, pretending like he wasn't crying, too.
With shaky movements, Colin stood and joined them, wrapping his arms around both of his friends. Before long, the entire cast and crew had morphed into a giant mob of an embrace, and the only dry eye in the room was Katie's, who appeared to be in some kind of shock.
"It's over," she said in disbelief. Santiago drew her closer between him and Anthony.
It's over, repeated Colin's brain.
He met Bradley's eyes over Angel's head, and he knew that Bradley couldn't really wrap his head around it, either. The last take, the last scene, the last season. Merlin was over.
The night pressed down like a cloak, giving the illusion of a dream and making it that much harder to believe it was their last.
"Okay, so," Eoin started, "what's the first thing you're all doing now that you're not property of the Beeb?"
"Cutting my hair," Katie said immediately. "It's all coming off. All of it. The fans'll think I'm Merlin, not Morgana."
"An improvement, then," Colin quipped.
They were gathered outside, away from the mass of celebrating/mourning people. A small fire burned in the firepit, the crackling and popping a much more comforting sound than the music and loud, sad conversations of the wrap party. They'd left as a group, a solid pack, and nobody had tried stopping them. There was no point, anyway - half the people in the building might never see them again, so why bother?
Colin caught Bradley's eye across the flames and grinned. Bradley, sitting cross-legged on the dewy grass with Angel's head on his shoulder, returned the smile.
Katie laughed and whacked Colin in the arm. He stuck his tongue out at her, feeling childish and carefree.
"I'm growing my hair out," he said, poking at the fire with a knotted branch.
"Back to your hippy ways?" Rupert teased, nursing a comically large bottle of what appeared to be rum. There was a rumble of forced laughter through the circle.
It was over. Everything they'd worked for, strived towards, was done.
It was like that last day of school before you had to brave the real world, Colin thought. You were scared and anxious - didn't want to leave your friends behind, didn't want to plunge head-first into the unknown, didn't quite know what to do with yourself.
"I'm gaining as much weight as I can possibly pack on," Emilia groaned, looking down at her near-skeletal figure. "Looking weak and ill really did a toll on me."
Angel smiled. "I'm never touching Bradley again." Which was kind of a strange sentiment, considering the way she was pressed against his side.
And so it continued.
Rupert and Eoin couldn't wait to get home and shave; Tom never again wanted to see what five in the morning looked like; and Ade badly wanted to go back to his London flat and pretend like the French language never existed.
This was an odd kind of intimacy - sitting in the dark, huddled around a firepit in someone else's yard, someone they didn't even know, and whispering plans that, while silly and almost inane, were huge leaps out of their comfort zones. For six years, Katie's hair had never been shorter than her waist and Colin's had never been longer than his ears and Angel still instinctively curled around her pretend husband like personal space was an urban legend and every single one of them got up at an ungodly hour to make magic.
Everything had led up to this point: the dueling and spells and tears and take after take after take. All of it was done so they could live this exact moment, triumphant and excited for the looming future.
Only they didn't feel any sort of triumph. Or excitement, for that matter.
"What about you, San?" Ade asked, nudging the quiet man's thigh with his bottle of beer. "What's the first thing you're gonna do?"
For a moment, Santiago didn't speak. He gazed into the low-burning flames as though the answers to life's biggest questions were hidden somewhere among the embers. Then, he said, "Travel. Hang out with Anna more." He smiled vaguely at his newly-ex-co-stars. "Live, I guess."
"I'm going to miss you," said Katie, choking on her own words. "All of you. It's so hard to think - you know, that it's over. I mean, look at us. We're a family." She looked around the circle beseechingly. "We are, and I can't - I mean -"
She was cut off by a sob, wrangled from her own throat. Heart aching, Colin gripped her shoulders, stroking his fingertips over the cotton of her orange shirt. He briefly wondered why it was such a bad fit when Katie's clothing was normally perfect, before realising with a jolt that it was one of Bradley's old sleep-shirts.
"I know what you mean," he said in a low voice. "I mean, here I am, twenty-seven years old, and I feel… like I'm reliving that last night in Armagh before life set in, y'know?"
"I wish it didn't have to end," Rupert said, morose.
There was a long stretch where the only sounds were those of the fire and the din from inside the house, before -
"Maybe it doesn't," said Bradley. His voice was hoarse from lack of use (and yelling insults at Rupert across the party, when they'd still been inside) and he looked up. His eyes bored into Colin's as he continued. "Maybe there's still that last summer. With all the road trips and beach parties. That last little bit of delusion."
"No, listen!" he pleaded. "Two weeks. Two more weeks. We can go on holiday together, to, like, South France, or, you know, Spain, or -"
"My family owns a beach house," Santiago interrupted. "It's in Italy, though."
"That's perfect! What do you say, guys? Italy? Italy?"
Colin exchanged a look with a watery-eyed Katie.
"I don't know…"
"Bradley, I just don't think…"
"No!" Angel exclaimed, sitting upright so quickly that Rupert slopped some of his rum on the ground. "That's a brilliant idea! Two weeks more, yeah?" She turned her tried and true Bambi-eyes on the rest of the group. "Just fourteen days. C'mon, guys, please?"
"I'm game," Eoin shrugged.
"Can't," Emilia said regretfully. "My cousin's wedding is on the fifth and it's a non-negotiable engagement. I can't up and leave the country, he'll throw a fit."
"Same," Ade said. "Not the - not the wedding thing - but I can't go either. I've got an audition lined up."
"Well, my schedule's wide open as always." Rupert glanced at Tom, who nodded his agreement. "It sounds like a ton of fun, really. Even if it is two more weeks of Bradley."
"Yeah!" Bradley said rather enthusiastically for someone who'd just been insulted. He and Angel turned to the silent Irishmen ("Wouldn't you be an Irishwoman, McGrath?"
"Nah, only the crazy fem-Nazis insist on that. I'm pretty obviously not a man, so I don't mind you using typically masculine terms for me. Now, go away, Bradley, aren't you supposed to be working or something? That is why the Js are paying you.") in synchronity.
"Col?" asked Bradley, gazing into Colin's eyes in a move that was very unfair. "Micky-G?"
Katie's glare at the nickname was the stuff of nightmares, even with puffy red eyes. She coolly gave him instructions that made Rupert wince, but that wouldn't deter him for a moment.
"Is that a yes?" he asked hopefully.
She rolled her eyes. "Not exactly. It's more like a 'That sounds stupid, I'd rather not'."
"But you were so damn sad just a minute ago that we were all separating! I thought, you know -"
"I still am sad, but that doesn't mean I want to spend more time with you eejits!"
"Katie, that's not very -"
"Katie." Angel was using her extra-strength doe eyes, complete with sad, not-quite-whiny voice - Katie's composure was crumbling in front of their very eyes. "Please, pretty please? Don't make me the lone vagina in an ocean of testosterone!"
"Fine, fine," Katie said. Hastily, before Angel brought out the waterworks. "I'll go with you on your pointless trip to Italy, but don't expect me to be happy about it."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Angel beamed.
Suddenly, all eyes were on Colin. He glanced around, feeling the temperature in his face rise at the attention. Two more weeks? Two extra weeks of Bradley, when his self-control had only been trained for a set amount of time? That was certainly a… daunting prospect, but the idiot looked so damn excited…
"I'll go," he sighed. There was an outbreak of cheering, mostly from Angel's general direction. Bradley smiled at him like Christmas had come early. Like Colin coming along would just make the whole trip so much better.
"Cool," said Bradley. His teeth were almost startlingly white in the darkness. "When can we leave?"
"Do you happen to have a switchblade on you?"
"Katie, no, that's way too messy. We should have had the foresight to bring along some rat poison or something."
"But then there'd be vomit everywhere! Look, you and I both know it would be much easier if he were to just disappear, yeah? Well, my friend Monique knows a guy -"
"You're not hiring a hitman, we don't have that kind of money."
"I'd be willing to sell my body if that's what it takes."
"That would rake in quite a lot, you're gorgeous, but is it really worth it?"
Together, Katie and Colin looked over to where Bradley was shepherding their ex-co-stars onto the Eurostar with a cheery "All aboard!"
Katie raised an eyebrow, her yet-to-be-chopped hair whipping around her face. The station was windy, enough so that the moment she'd first stepped on the platform, her favourite floppy hat had flown away and landed on the tracks.
"Yes," she said now, "it is. Completely worth it."
The man whose death they were plotting looked over at them. His face fell for a fraction of a second, and Colin was afraid his reluctance and irritation was broadcast across his face.
"Let's go, my little leprechauns!" he called, waving animatedly. "Before the Italian Express leaves without you!"
"God, please let it," muttered Colin, picking up Katie's luggage and shouldering his own duffel bag. Katie gave him a quick smile of thanks before making a face.
"We could always push him in front of the Italian Express and make it look like an accident. The others would back us up completely."
"Yes, well, we can pin the blame on Angel, then, or just inform her of the time Bradley killed her goldfish and then told her they were kamikaze goldfish and desperately wanted to jump out of the hotel window."
When he reached Bradley, Colin was snickering rather loudly indeed at the memory. He exchanged a half-smile with his favourite (but don't tell the others) co-star while Katie, after sparing her fallen hat one last, longing glance, boarded the Eurostar like it was a hearse.
"Excited?" asked Bradley, taking Katie's suitcase from Colin and lifting it onto the train with him.
"Thanks," Colin said, following. "And I don't know. Kind of?"
Bradley rolled his eyes good-naturedly, shoving Katie's suitcase into the closest luggage rack with a grunt as he did so.
"Typical Morgan," he scoffed. "Off to a beautiful beach-side house with his second family and he'd rather be working. That's really really strange, mate."
"I like working," protested Colin, lifting his own bag onto the rack beside Katie's. "It's nice to be someone else for a while, even if it is only for the cameras. You know what I'm saying?"
He got an odd look from Bradley for that.
"I never understood that about you," he said, leading Colin down the train's aisle. "I mean… Colin Morgan is a hell of a bloke. He's talented and really bloody witty. Why would you want to cover him up?"
See, things like that, right there, was why Colin hadn't wanted to go to Italy. He loved these people, God knew he did, but when Bradley made casual comments like that without even realising what they were doing to Colin's insides… it hurt.
They reached the others, who were all glaring at Bradley with varying intensity. Six o'clock in the morning didn't seem to agree with any of them, but Bradley had been incredibly adamant that they arrive in Italy with a lot of daylight to spare. The man seemed impervious to the glowers, however, and sat across from Rupert and Angel with a pointed look at the seat beside him.
Colin pretended not to notice, dropping instead into the empty window seat beside Katie. She pillowed her head on his shoulder, snuggling down for a nap, and he played with the ends of her hair. He'd miss it when it was gone.
Hell, he'd miss her.
(He didn't look over to see what Bradley's expression might have been.)
The ride itself was long and - mostly - quiet.
Bradley, Angel, Tom, and Rupert had started a game of cards, but they seemed to be divided on which game they were playing, exactly, if Bradley's random cries of 'Hit me!' and Angel's 'Do you have any... fives?' were any indication. Santiago was engrossed in what looked like The Merchant of Venice, and Eoin, beside him, was engrossed in dreaming.
Though she'd woken up hours before, Katie kept using Colin as a very angular pillow, twining her fingers through his and tracing pictures on the back of his hand with her others. They didn't dare talk, lest they were dragged into the Blackjack/Go Fish/Crazy Eights/Poker game that was going on.
Colin, she traced. He nodded, a silent Yeah? She turned her head slightly, into his shoulder, and made her invisible letters in slow, sure strokes.
This is going to be a disaster.
He laughed, drawing the attention of his conscious friends. Katie giggled, too, giving the jig up, and without invitation they squeezed into the other booth to join the game.
It was more fun than Colin expected, considering he had Angel's pointy elbows poking him the whole time, and Bradley seemed reluctant at best to meet his eyes - not that, you know, he noticed.
"Bullshit!" Katie yelled, startling Eoin awake. Colin hadn't laughed so hard in a very long time.
Disaster, maybe, but at least he got to share it with his favourite people.
Santiago swore it wasn't a long walk to his aunt and uncle's summer home and, besides, they might as well look around the village some. The atmosphere of the place was so inviting, Colin would never be quite sure if that were true. He could have been shouldering his canvas bag for hours and he wouldn't have noticed. There was just so much to take in.
The streets were so colourful and bustling, they might have been at a really big family reunion. Everyone seemed to know each other, and there were a few older people who recognised Santiago, waved at him, asked him about his grandparents.
The sun beat down high overhead, warming up the asphalt and making the group sweat. Katie muttered bitterly about her fallen hat, and how useful it could be right then.
Friendly voices lilted in the air, pleasing to Colin's ear.
Italian had always felt to Colin like a very fluid sort of language, and he'd never guessed how it could snap and crack with anger, all clipped consanants and quiet vowels and chided children. And the children were everywhere - shrieking and laughing in the universal language of playtime as they chased each other through the streets. One knocked into Eoin and said what was likely to be a lightning-fast apology, but none of them were entirely certain. The boy had run off again before anyone could ask Santiago for translation.
Each person, window, animal, or shop they passed, Colin learned something new. He may not have known the village's total population, or the state of the economy, or even the name, but his senses were going absolutely haywire with all the new information presented to them. One house smelled of baking pies, and the whole group laughed as Rupert's stomach audibly protested against its near-emptiness.
"I agree completely," Bradley said, shifting his hold on Angel's suitcase for the seventh time in a block. (Not that Colin was counting. That would be creepy.) "Are we nearly there?"
"Nearly," promised Santiago. Nobody was sure if they believed him.
After another few blocks, it was rather obvious that Santiago was taking them down the long route on purpose, but Colin didn't mind. The closer they got to the edge of the cliff the village was located on, the louder the sea was, and the stronger the smell of fish got, making Angel sneeze. Santiago led them to the very edge, leaning precariously over to inhale what must have been pure salt. The wind blew his hair back, spraying him with mist, and it looked so invigorating that Colin followed suit.
He had a bit of a panic at first - oh fuck oh god why am I doing this oh fuck I'm going to fall and die I just know it I never should have come to Italy - but he closed his eyes against the draft and imagined it could carry him away.
"That's quite enough of that," he heard Bradley say in an unusally short voice, and Colin was pulled by the back of his shirt to safer ground. Colin didn't even protest, he was that far gone.
"That's the house, there," said Santiago, pointing to a house straight out of a cartoon. The walls were orange and the shutters, roof, and door; green. It was perched about halfway down the cliffside, a mile or so from the sandy beach below.
"Wow," breathed Angel, accurately summing up Colin's thoughts.
To get to the cliffside house, the group had to skirt around the crumbling rocks and not-so-stable ledges impeding their journey. Bradley seemed particularly unhappy with this, constantly picking Angel up to get her out of harm's way or steering Colin in a more appropriate direction. It would be annoying if it weren't so endearing.
The wraparound deck only had one narrow flight of steps, that appeared to wind all the way down to the beach, so Santiago, when he reached the deck, hefted his suitcase onto it, then lifted himself after it. He helped the others load their luggage onto the worn, wooden planks, and even gave Katie a hand up. Angel claimed she could do it herself, but she struggled so much that Tom finally boosted her, using his height to an advantage. Colin briefly considered asking for a leg up, too, but told himself not to chicken out, the deck was only a foot above his head or so, he could do it.
He couldn't, actually. Bradley laughed, helping him up and saying something about how Colin needed to work out more, but Colin couldn't hear him, he was panicking so much at the contact.
Well, that was new. He'd fancied Bradley for quite some time now, but he'd managed to rein it in, keep it under wraps. And he'd certainly never felt so... flustered around him. Unfortunately, this new reaction didn't seem to be going away anytime soon, because when Santiago said that there were four rooms, and to pick a room-mate for the next two weeks, and Bradley immediately nudged Colin with his elbow and gave his famous crooked grin - well, hyperventilation wouldn't have been all that much of an exaggeration.
They loaded their things in through the glass doors, admiring the kitchen enthusiastically. It was certainly big enough for all of them, which Santiago explained was because his aunt and uncle often invited friends to come along to their summer home. Add in his parents and cousins and it was quite the full house.
"Okay," he said, standing in the arch leading to what looked like a hallway. "Before I give you the tour, let's make a few things very clear."
Suddenly his face changed in the most terrifying of ways. Colin personally thought that if Santiago had summoned that particular expression during the Arthur/Lancelot showdown of season five fame, Arthur would have just let him have Gwen - and probably the whole of Camelot as well. He felt a chill go through the group, and Angel drew instinctively closer to Bradley.
"Do not make a mess. In the kitchen or anywhere else. This house stays in spotless shape, or else. Also, there's eight of us, in case you can't count, which equals to eight showers a day or so, so don't be a twat and use up all the hot water. Don't leave the telly or any lights on while you're not using them, because I am not footing an electric bill of a disproportionate amount. Don't keep me up. Don't fall off the cliff. Don't make a mess. Are we clear?"
"Yes, sir," they all said, meekly.
Santiago's expression cleared, and he smiled. "Great. Let me give you the grand tour."
They all spent the day exploring. Rupert decided to explore the sofa and promptly fell asleep. Colin tried his best to avoid Bradley, but he wasn't one to be avoided easily.
"Whatcha doing?" he'd ask as he came out of nowhere. Colin would drop the mango he was examining with a yelp. Guffawing loudly, Bradley clapped his shoulder and made a face at the fruit cart they were standing by. "Ugh. Why don't we just go watch a really bad Italian movie?"
It's not like Colin ever had a choice when it came to this man.
By the end of it all, he was bone-tired from trying to act normal and ready to fall asleep on top of Rupert if need be. He couldn't, though, because Eoin and Tom had, under Santiago's watchul eye, made dinner.
"I've got a date," Angel announced later, when the rest of the group was gathered around the table to eat. Bradley spit out his carrots. She expertly ignored him. "I went swimming earlier - which, by the way, I don't really reccommend. The waves are nuts, I nearly drowned! Luckily Vito was there -" (Bradley snorted derisively) "- to get me out in time."
"Congratulations," Colin smiled.
"Yeah, cheers," said Rupert, raising his glass in a toast.
"No, yeah, see, I'm not okay with this," Bradley protested. Angel scoffed.
"Yeah, no, see, you don't have a say in who I do or don't date, Bradley. So why don't you just eat your sup and bugger off?"
He muttered darkly about how nobody in the group should be allowed to date anyone without the rest of the group's permission, and consequently got booed and some food thrown at him.
He sulked for the rest of the night. Colin thought it was kind of cute.
Waking up to Bradley's light snoring was normal – he'd crashed in Colin's rooms and vice versa enough times that it was almost a soothing sound.
However, opening his eyes to find Bradley sprawled on his stomach, the sheets tangled around his legs and bunched up at his hips was... unexpected. Colin couldn't help it – he stared. Openly. One might even say he was gawping, but when the muscular expanse of Bradley's back was presented to him, he found that he really did not care.
There was something different, Colin decided, about this. After all, he'd seen Bradley sans shirt so many times he could probably sculpt his torso from memory alone. But that was for the cameras, for the fans, and this was Colin's alone.
He let himself ogle for another few minutes, watching the pale dawn light play across Bradley's skin in ripples, before forcing himself to get out of bed and stop being a creepy creeper who creeps.
Colin made his way through the house in the half-light, trying not to wake anyone. He reached the kitchen and searched like a madman for the kettle, which obviously did not want to be found. Once he'd located it – in the tiny cupboard above the fridge, who did that? – he opened drawers at random to find some decent coffee.
He'd obviously underestimated his own near-obsession. All of the reasons for pushing his feelings for Bradley as far back as they could go – bad publicity, the riot the fangirls would cause, having to see the blond every day – didn't seem to exist in this beautiful town.
Once his coffee was ready – black, two sugars – Colin ambled out of the large glass doors and onto the deck. He sat himself on the nearest plastic seat and quietly watched as the sun broke over the roaring sea.
Bradley was straight, he told himself firmly. He'd seen so many women go through his life and bed that there was no doubt in Colin's mind.
"Enjoying the view?" a soft voice broke into Colin's focus, bringing him back to Earth.
He turned and smiled at Santiago, gesturing for the sleep-rumpled man to take a seat beside him.
"I am," he said once Santiago was comfortable. "This place is incredible. Did you come here often as a kid?"
"Not as often as I'd have liked, but yes. I'm trying to convince Anna to come here for Christmas."
"That'd be lovely, yeah," said Colin, smiling despite himself. He hadn't met Santiago's wife yet, but from what he'd gathered from Angel's gushing, she was a sweetheart. He nursed his mug. "I'll be up in Armagh, probably. Unless I get some work thrown at me."
"I think I'm going to quit acting," Santiago said suddenly.
"But – why? I mean, you went to school and you're so talented and you've got a ton of credentials and –"
"I want to start a family."
And Santiago said it in such a serene, matter-of-fact voice that Colin had no doubt he was going to do just that. Colin felt very young.
"What brought this on?" he wondered.
Santiago smiled. "Anna did, actually. She threw a bit of a fit when I got that offer from New Zealand. How are we supposed to raise kids, she said, if you're never home?"
"Wow," Colin breathed. "But how did you just – so calmly, too – I'd have just –"
"Colin," Santiago interrupted, "you'd be amazed and probably scared at what one would do for the person they love."
"But, giving up acting... it just seems a little extreme." That was an understatement. Acting wasn't just a job to Colin, it was a passion, a lifestyle, and he couldn't imagine a single situation in which he'd willingly let it fall to the wayside, no matter who it would please.
"Well," said Santiago, leaning back, "I'm not completely giving it up. I'll do some stage work and some guest spots if they're offered, so long as they're close to home."
"You've got everything all mapped out," Colin sighed. "And I'm, well, a complete wreck. My career's been fairly steady so far, but... I just can't imagine doing what you are. Ever. What does that say about me? Am I incapable of compromise or am I just really selfish?"
Santiago regarded him for a long moment, the salty breeze lifting his hair and dancing around him like a halo. Colin took a gulp of his lukewarm coffee.
"Trust me," the older man finally said. He smiled reassuringly when Colin looked at him. "Love makes everybody do some really stupid things. When you meet the right person you'll do whatever it takes to keep a smile on their face. Even if it makes you uncomfortable or even miserable. You'll see."
Colin was soon wondering if Santiago was a prophet.
"Come on, Cols," pleaded Bradley. "I need to know if the Italian pizza is better than the pizza in Devon."
"Isn't that kind of a given?"
Bradley jutted his lower lip, about five seconds away from bringing out the big guns – his Puppy Eyes. Colin groaned. He was fighting a losing battle, here.
"I can't even eat pizza," Colin said. "I'm allergic to it."
"Of course you are. Come anyway."
"There's no point, I can't eat it. I'll just have to watch the rest of you pig out while I sit there twiddling my thumbs."
"I'll buy you pasta."
"I don't want pasta. I want some chips, all right? I know there's a package somewhere in the kitchen."
"Please?" Bradley said, abandoning all pretense. "For me?"
When Colin looked up from his book into those bright blue eyes, he knew any further resistance would not only be futile, but also rather stupid. "Fine," he grumbled, and squashed the urge to smile when Bradley punched the air, ecstatic.
"And, later," rambled Bradley. "We can go out and buy ridiculous costumes and stalk Angel's date to make sure this Vito character isn't some kind of axe-murderer, Eoin's already agreed to come along, and though Katie said she didn't want to, I'm sure I can convince her, and..."
Whatever it takes to put a smile on their face.
Yeah, Colin would say that was accurate.