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The Fairy of Shalott - Part 2/4

Part 1

He comes early this afternoon, almost an hour before the twins’ shift is over, and watches them fuss around the store. They are practically identical; Colin knows Gerald from Geoffrey only by their step – the former is confident and nimble even among the scary piles with Tolstoy and Trollope, and the latter is clumsy and noisy, all pulsing with restless vibrant energy. They wear the same clothes and haircuts and they always work their shifts together, and Colin doesn’t know how Richard, who couldn’t tell one from the other even if his life was at stake, manages to handle them. But it’s not Colin’s business anyway, so he never asks.

Customers are either in love with the twins or freaked out by how much they seem to be one person. When a girl cries out “Christ”, seeing them moving towards each other from book-made little corridors, Colin stands up and takes it upon himself to console her and offer some Robert Asprin as a cure for every possible psychological trauma.

He gets a hint of a smile from Gerald for that and a giggle from Geoffrey. In some aspects, Geoffrey is just as unpredictable and bizarre as Bradley. And Colin still thinks of Bradley, even as he takes the money from the girl and starts, not having anything better to do, filling his unfortunate database with titles and names.

Today he makes sure to save what he did every twenty minutes. He types without looking at the keyboard, the worn keys so familiar that he can name each one with his eyes shut, only by feeling. The twins leave the store at some point, and Colin has to get books from the far corners five times and resorts to asking Richard for help twice, but all in all he does a good job with bringing the chaos to order today.

At least, until Bradley shows up.

“Do you happen to have Sheckley’s The Game of X, by any chance?”

Colin stiffens at the familiar voice.

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” he says lifting his gaze, and it’s Bradley indeed, all light and shiny on this dreary day, his face concentrated, and it looks adorable again, as if he learnt to concentrate while being a cute kid and never re-learnt to do it properly unattractively like an adult should. “What’s it about?”

“It’s about a man who got caught up in a dream – an absurd one, but also endearing of sorts and breathtaking.” The words roll off of Bradley’s tongue like he has written and memorized them before coming here. Most probably he hasn’t, but Colin wouldn’t put anything past Bradley.

“Really? Does it have a happy ending?”

“If you call it happy.” Bradley bites his lower lip, lost in his thoughts. “He decided to stay in that dream. It could get him killed any day, but he loved it enough to believe that he’d be lucky enough to make it through safe and sound.”

“It’s kinda optimistic in comparison to Isherwood you bought last time,” Colin says carefully. Bradley is a bomb waiting to explode, and Colin would really wish to put an end to this conversation but he doesn’t know how.

“It is,” Bradley agrees, looking like he doesn’t really agree.

“So what is it you want?” Colin’s patience is running out pretty quickly. He’s no saint and Bradley keeps pushing him with his mere existence which is just not fair, to think of it.

“A book.” Bradley looks surprised. “Sheckley’s…”

“I’ve heard that the first time, thanks,” Colin interrupts. “I don’t know about Isherwood, but you can buy loads of Sheckley on every corner, so there was no need to’ve come here for a copy. What do you actually want?”

“I want a book,” Bradley insists. “Is it a crime these days? And you don’t know, maybe this store is the closest to my place and I just can’t be arsed to walk extra miles to look through all the corners in London in case there’s some Sheckley on them.”

“But it isn’t the closest,” Colin suggests.

“It isn’t.” Bradley smiles.

And this is where Colin snaps. The exact moment when it is just one smile too much to bear; he could name it precisely if he glanced at the clock above the door.

“What is it you want?” He doesn’t shout, he hisses, because he suddenly feels out of breath. “What the heck do you want from me? Why the fuck do you keep coming and creeping the shit out of me? Get the hell outta here and don’t come fucking back!”

When he’s that emotional, his Irish accent thickens, growing up on his words like mould until they are almost indistinguishable. Though the intonation would hardly leave any scope for imagination.

Bradley blinks at Colin, slowly, confusedly; then he scratches his nose absent-mindedly, evidently pondering on a possible answer, and sneezes.

“That,” Colin says, feeling the urge to laugh but not exactly feeling cheerful, “was rather anticlimactic of you.”

“Sorry.” Bradley shrugs and leans on the nearest bookcase. “Never been good at such stuff. Next time tell me in advance that I gotta be as dramatic as you are, I’ll do my best.”

“Next time?..” Colin snorts and waves the unasked question off. There will be a next time if Bradley thinks so. There’s something of a natural element in Bradley, and the world seems to just go along with his wishes, taking them in like rivers take raindrops, quite effortlessly.

There are rains, though, that make rivers overflow and cause a lot of damage to everything they touch and themselves. That is exactly the reason why Colin dislikes Bradley so much.

Or, maybe, likes him so much. Colin is not sure about that.

“You wanna hang out?” Bradley asks, like nothing happened, and Colin, bewildered, starts doubting his own memory a little bit because something did, but it’s like not a weakest breeze has ever stirred the invincible surface of Bradley’s calmness.

“Water?” Colin asks.

Bradley grins.

“Maybe some soy sauce for you to add to your water if you behave.”

“Deal,” Colin says.

Oh, he is so, so screwed. He doesn’t know why or how exactly, but there’s a distinct feeling of screwedness that is never mistaken.

Before leaving, Bradley actually buys The Game of X, and this simple thing freaks Colin out more than anything else.

There’s no car outside when Colin walks out of the store, though he half-expects to see some fancy sleek thing parked nearby. Bradley is standing too close while Colin locks the doors; he’s watching Colin’s movements without saying anything.

This is so damn awkward.

“So,” says Colin starting to walk down the pavement, “how was your day?”

“We trained.” Bradley flashes him a smile, but Colin knows better than to fall for it: there’s no kittenwatts in it, which is unusual for Bradley, as far as Colin knows. “I took a shower then and read Sheckley for a while. And came here to pick you up. What about you? Have you been your grumpy fairy self with the customers all day?”

“I’ll have you know,” Colin feigns indignation, because it’s easy to be here and now, and the feeling of a bizarre evening awaiting him sends champagne-like bubbles into his blood, “everyone who knows me is sure I’m charming and lovely, and not grumpy at all.”

“Could’ve fooled me.” Bradley snorts.

“Fuck you,” says Colin, and beams at Bradley with a moderate couple of dozens of kittenwatts. “And what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Colin says. He means it as a joke, but he’s always been shit at friendly interaction, which is partly why he’s considered endearing by some people. It comes out too serious and Bradley somehow sobers up, shoving his hands deep into his jacket pockets.

“I’m… not doing all that well. I don’t know if I’ll get a spot on the team, or if they’ll take another youngster in my place when they are tired of me being an idiot on the field.”

“If it helps, you’re an idiot all the time,” Colin says. With Bradley he can afford to be cruel, because Bradley is still practically a random stranger who has no particular place in Colin’s life. It gives certain freedom that Colin likes having.

“It doesn’t.” Bradley smiles artificially again.

They walk side by side, each deep into their own thoughts. It’s getting dark, and Colin thinks that they should probably find a pub or a café or at least a coffee shop, as it’s bloody freezing outside and he’s hungry and thirsty.

“I want to be an actor,” Colin says, looking at the pavement. It’s dirty, after all the rains, and old. It might be several centuries old, for all Colin knows. “I’ve graduated a drama school in Glasgow. I go to some or other audition every week or even more often. I landed a role only once, last year; an emo-kid in an episode of Doctor Who, and that’s it. Well, there was one on stage, while I was still at drama school, but that’s definitely it.”

Bradley nods. It should be offensive in some way, as Colin tells Bradley what he’s never told anyone here in London, something personal and uncomfortable, like pain in a torn muscle, which is always there even if you try not to pay attention, – it isn’t.

“I think you’ll land one again soon,” Bradley says. “Your fairy cheekbones must count for something.”

“Stop this crap with fairies and ghosts, will you?”

“I just say what I think.” Bradley looks at Colin guiltily. “I get that some don’t like it, but I don’t catch up with what’s going on soon enough to shut up.”

“You’re giving me compliments, well, sort of compliments, I suppose. Everyone likes them, I do too. But you actually mean them, and that’s what’s the crap part.”

“What is so crappy about the truth? You told me yourself not to lie.”

“No one expects others to tell the truth, even if they ask for it.”

“Gosh, you people are weird,” Bradley says, sounding so long-suffering, as if he’s an alien who finds humans totally illogical and is in despair trying to understand them.

“Look who’s talking!” Colin laughs, freely and loudly – something he hasn’t done for several months now, especially because of such silly thing.

There’s Bradley’s answering laughter, like a portion of magic salve on old wounds, healing some invisible cuts and cracks inside Colin, and he feels that breathing becomes noticeably easier as Bradley steps onto the road with his back forward and his face still to Colin, still laughing his throaty laugh that seems warm, like mulled wine. There’s evening darkness around Bradley trying to stick to his light hair and white teeth and sparkling eyes. There’re also two bright rays highlighting Bradley from his left, making him shine unbearably, before there’s a thud, and Bradley is thrown away from the rays, somewhere far where his body looks like a piece of dirty cloth on the pavement.

Colin hears tires screeching, and then someone is screaming but it’s not Bradley.

He runs to Bradley, and the air around him feels thick. Bradley is lying on his back, pale, with his eyes closed, his posture awkward like he’s broken in several impossible places, but he’s breathing, his heart’s beating when Colin presses his ear to Bradley’s chest in order to know for sure.

There’s something wet and annoying in his eyes, and he blinks furiously all the time while he fumbles for the phone and dials the emergency, keeping his free hand on Bradley’s wrist, never losing his pulse, which is really fast and not so steady, but it’s there nonetheless.

Bradley can’t die. Bradley mustn’t die.

Colin doesn’t think past that. He’s pretty sure he stops thinking altogether.

Bradley eyes are still closed. Colin sits on the pavement, looking at Bradley’s eyelashes, dark brown unlike his hair, and waits for them to flutter. They never do.

He registers the help coming only because they want him to let go of Bradley’s wrist, but he can’t, though he’s no idea why, he can’t let go, it’s the matter of life and death, and there’s someone’s voice full of irritation: “Give this one something, for Christ’s sake, he’s in shock! At least, I don’t know, a blanket”. Then Colin feels unfamiliar heavy warmth on his shoulders and a sharp stab of a needle in his arm.

He remembers his grip slackening, but he drifts into drug-induced unconsciousness before finally letting go.

He wakes up to a recognizable hospital smell and the feeling of crisp cheap linen under his cheek.

“This is not fair,” says someone beside him. It takes Colin about ten full seconds to recognize the voice and to sit up like he’s been kicked: it’s Bradley.

“Not fair?” Colin repeats without thinking much of what the hell Bradley’s trying to say by that.

“Yeah, mate, exactly.” Bradley looks worse for wear, but definitely alive. His left leg’s in a cast, and he keeps his palm splayed on his ribs so they must be damaged as well. There’s a green sticky bandage on his forehead, just where his hair starts, and there are shadows under his eyes as if he hasn’t slept at all. “I talked about us breaking legs, remember? Well, you are safe and sound and I’m here with my bone feeling like it’s been chewed by something big and even more grumpy than you are.”

Colin can’t hold back a flicker of a smile at the words, but there’s nothing cheerful in Bradley’s face.

He’s a footballer, Colin remembers with sudden, harsh clarity. He’s just started his professional career as it is. He can’t afford to lie around for many weeks waiting for his leg to heal – without training, with only hope that his leg will recover to its former strength.

Only he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Not anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Colin says; words come out stunted as the realization of what happened dawns on him fully. He slips from his bed to the floor and clutches at Bradley’s hand – Bradley, not having expected that, doesn’t return the squeeze, but Colin holds on tightly anyway. “God, I’m sorry. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have even been there when that car…”

He has to take a breath to continue.

“I’m so sorry, Bradley,” he says again, and there’s nothing more left to say, and he stays there silent, nailed to the floor by the weight of huge, huge, huge guilt.

“Don’t say that.” Bradley’s false light mood is broken, and his voice is quivering a little. “It’s not your fault those idiots were drunk and didn’t know to keep to the speed limit. Not your fault I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“It is,” Colin breathes out, pressing his forehead to the edge of Bradley’s bed.

“It isn’t,” Bradley says, too softly and warmly for someone who is the one needing comfort here. “It really isn’t, fairy.”

For once, Colin doesn’t object to being called ridiculous names.

“Is it bad?” he asks instead. “What do the doctors say?”

“Doctor Todd says it was nasty.” Bradley squeezes Colin’s hand, so slightly it might be just a subconscious movement. “Like, the bone cracked in two and sticking out from the flesh. Good thing I haven’t seen it, I’m not really good with blood and… other ew stuff. They put it all back where it belongs and there’s a cast and basically all I have to do is lie down and wait for a couple of months, at least.”

“I will fetch you some oranges,” Colin says so as not to say “I’m sorry” again, because he just wants to repeat it over and over until this suffocating guilt in his chest ceases. “And a book. Do you want a book? I can bring you practically anything from work.”

Bradley looks at Colin in confusion, like he expected that Colin would flee from his life forever this very morning and definitely wouldn’t offer to bring bloody oranges later. Seriously, who does oranges these days? It’s so cheesy, Colin thinks.

“Could you fetch me my phone?” Bradley asks. “It’s in my jacket, over there, on the chair.”

Colin gets up, feeling a bit dizzy, and brings Bradley his jacket, all covered in mud and blood. Why on earth is there blood on the jacket? It must be only on jeans since Bradley broke a leg and not something else, right?

Maybe there was a lot of blood.

Colin sighs deeply and perches on the edge of Bradley’s bed, waiting for the latter to make a few calls.

Bradley talks to his coach first, sounding resolute and vulnerable at the same time, and really brief; then he rings his mum, and spends ten minutes persuading her not to run to him immediately all the way to London, she can totally postpone it till the weekend, and today’s Thursday, which is quite alright.

He adds in the end:

“Yeah, mum, I’m being taken care of. I’ll even get oranges and whatever books I want, you see, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Colin isn’t sure if it’s comfortable or not to be mentioned like this. But taking care of Bradley is something right and warm and pleasantly heavy under his ribs, so he decides to bring Bradley anything he needs, fruit or books or anything, really. It’d be worth this strange but precious feeling.

Colin has never actually taken care of anyone before; he was always the one who got additional biscuits and small lovely favours. It’s nice to be giving, not receiving this once.

And it’s not nuclear physics, right? One can’t screw up taking care of another, it’s simple enough for everyone to be able to make it work if they so wish. Colin is sure he’ll give it a hell of a try.

When Bradley lowers the hand with the phone, a small crease between his eyebrows and an unhappy tilt to his lips, Colin takes the mobile and types his number as if he’s going to call himself.

“Here. That’s my number. I’m working morning shift today,” he explains hastily, “I’ll be back in the afternoon with the oranges and the book. Which one do you want? Oh, and I’ll buy you a toothbrush and other things like that, ok? You’re gonna need it. Something you want, just text me. Ok?”

Bradley frowns.

“Are you serious?”

“Um… yes I am. Why?” Colin knows he’s lame. A deaf man could hear that in his voice.

“Yesterday you could barely stand the sight of me. And now you behave like a mother hen. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind you, but it’s… unexpected. Is it you thinking it’s your fault? Because it’s not, and you don’t need to do it out of guilt.”

“I’m not doing it because I feel guilty.” Colin bites his lower lip, unsure what else to say. “And it’s not like I couldn’t stand the sight of you, really. I like the sight,” he adds with a chuckle, hoping to turn it all into a joke. “It’s you talking that freaks me out, but I think I’ve almost got used to it by now.”

“Well, we shouldn’t let this hard-earned habit go to waste, then,” Bradley says, but he’s not smiling.

“We shouldn’t,” agrees Colin quietly, and smiles at Bradley with a hundred blinding kittenwatts before standing up. “See you in the afternoon.”

Colin expects Bradley to text him during the day. Maybe not with requests for things, but with some silly notions, which Bradley seems to be able to say all day long when he’s talking out loud. Colin isn’t sure what it is that he expects, but anyway, not a single text ever comes. Colin even checks if there’s signal and if the phone is broken.

Everything’s alright, it must be just Bradley not texting.

Which is not alright when Colin thinks of it, but he can deal with it.

Ever the man of his word, Colin looks for a book. It proves to be hard, harder than most things he’s ever done, and between customers Colin spends long minutes wandering around the shelves and trying to picture Bradley’s smile in his mind, Bradley’s clear eyes of someone who doesn’t do much thinking as it is, and Bradley’s tense crease between the eyebrows that shows that there are some rather enigmatic hidden depths inside him, like a distant sound of water rippling shows that there is cool iron-taste water at the bottom of a well.

He picks Nabokov, and Tolkien, and Fry, and even Sheldon, and puts them all back. They don’t fit with the Bradley of Colin’s imagination, though they may fit nicely with the real Bradley, who Colin doesn’t know at all. At last he chooses Pratchett, some of the Discworld series, because even if Bradley has already read it, it never hurts to reread a Pratchett. Colin’s pretty sure there’s no man on the Earth who wouldn’t smile reading whatever Pratchett has written, and maybe making someone with a broken leg smile is a vital part of taking care of them.

This whole caretaking lark reminds Colin of nuclear physics more and more as time goes by, but once he’s in, he can’t go back even if he wants, like he’s fallen into a river and is taken along with the stream.

There are oranges in the nearest store but they look awful, small and somehow crinkled, as if someone has been sitting on them for quite a while. Colin is torn between buying them because he promised, and choosing something else, and time ticks by and ticks, and he’s afraid he’ll miss the visiting hours altogether.

Oh God.

Colin checks his phone once again – nothing from Bradley, nothing from anyone – and settles for some grapes and a single orange, as a symbol of both his ability to keep his promises, and the fact that the oranges here are actually hideous.

For tomorrow he’d better go to another store, he thinks. Also, he thinks that maybe he should be bothered because he’s making plans for tomorrow, but he isn’t.

Bradley is lying on the bed with his back to the door, and he appears to be asleep. Other people in the ward talk quietly with their relatives and friends who came to visit, and Colin manoeuvres among beds and bags and legs in the aisles, feeling unusually and unsettingly clumsy.

“Hi,” he says, quietly stopping at Bradley’s bed, just to check if he’s really sleeping or just pretending to be, so as not to feel so utterly alone while everyone else has someone there for them. That’s what Colin might do in a situation like Bradley’s.

Bradley stirs and turns slowly on his back, his eyes bleary, his hair a mess.

“Oh,” Bradley says. “I… er… I didn’t think you’d come.”

“Well, I hope you’re glad that I did,” Colin says. The feeling of utmost awkwardness overcomes him, but he fights it because really, they don’t have time for that, the visiting hours are not endless. “I brought you some fruit and a book. How are you?”

“Leg still broken.” Bradley snorts and sits up, rubbing his eyes. “I’ve consumed more pills today than I could imagine, and my coach doesn’t sound happy about my prospects, but otherwise I’m fine. My mum is sure to come and fuss over me this weekend.”

“Good,” Colin says, and sits down on the edge of Bradley’s bed. They are close enough now that Colin can see the subtle changes of colour in Bradley’s eyes – where his irises are lighter, where, closer to the pupil, they are darker. This feels intimate in a way Colin is not sure that he has experienced before.

Bradley smiles at him, and his eyes are suddenly lit up with a kind of impish expression, which surely doesn’t mean that he’s up to any good.

“She wants to meet you, you know,” he says. “My mum. She was really confused when I told her that we met a couple of times and I asked you out, but we didn’t even get to the sitting down and talking part when it happened, and now you’re here for me, a complete stranger.”

Colin blushes, and curses his pale skin giving all his emotions away.

“Well… I’d like to meet her, too, I guess,” he says, ‘cause it’s polite and it’s not like Bradley’s mum is going to bite his head off. He hasn’t done Bradley any harm, after all, not considering the fact that Colin was the reason Bradley was standing there in the street in the first place.

“Really?” Bradley lifts his eyebrows. “Meeting parents even before we kiss at least once – aren’t you a little old-fashioned, my Irish fairy?”

Colin can’t stand it anymore – that’s why he grabs a pillow and hits Bradley on the head.

“Oi!” exclaims Bradley, laughing, and Colin laughs along, and it all suddenly becomes so very easy and simple after that.

Irish Fairy
a girl just asked me which part of twilight i liked best & if i thought edward cullen hot. ew. do i look like i fancy glittering vampires in my free time?

The Nut Job
u certainly look like u know some vampires what with ur paleness & all so cant blame her. do u see the sun, like, ever?

Irish Fairy
ill have you know that all vampires in my life r proper ones they dont glitter & they actually drink blood

The Nut Job
can u invite one 2 spend a night with the head nurse here? shes evil like that chick from the cuckoos nest

Irish Fairy
if u ask nicely i could think of it. theyr busy guys u know virgins to drink up, hunters to throw off their tail. is the head nurse a virgin?

The Nut Job
not gonna ask anything of u nicely. i dont wanna know about her sexlife y u sayin such disgusting things? ur evil just like her

Irish Fairy
mwa ha ha r u scarred 4 life now?

The Nut Job
u wish

Irish Fairy
a customer gotta go call u after work

Colin doesn’t like sitting on the edge of Bradley’s bed. His back hurts like hell after sitting for hours on this narrow hard edge, half-turned to Bradley, and more often than not it cuts off the blood circulation in his bum; he’s never suspected before that this part of his body could suffer from such an inconvenience.

Today he ends up on the bed, side by side with Bradley, who doesn’t seem to mind – on the contrary, he urges Colin to stretch his limbs before “you go all stiff and stay like you are forever, and you’ll only be able to play Quasimodo after that”. It feels unusual being tucked on a hospital bed beside Bradley, who smells like pills and bandages and a bit like sweat, since he obviously couldn’t take a proper shower with the plaster on, and without anyone who would help him. Unusual, but not unpleasantly so. Bradley is radiating heat like a furnace, perhaps because he’s an athlete, and Colin’s own fingers are always cold, so he puts them on the side of Bradley’s neck to get warm, and laughs at Bradley’s indignant spluttering and rather lame attempts to push Colin off to the floor.

It’s easy to forget that they are not alone. Bradley has this fascinating ability to fill all the space available with himself, with his laughter, and voice, and sparkling eyes, and smooth hot skin. Their feet get caught up in Bradley’s blanket, and they are trying to untangle the whole mess, which is not easy with the bulky plaster and three kicking plasterless feet and with draining fits of unmanly giggling.

Colin is so busy laughing into Bradley’s shoulder and listening to Bradley telling him some amazing utter nonsense about bananas, Godzillas, and aliens, that he doesn’t hear the ward door opening and a new person coming in.

“Oh,” Bradley says, stopping his banana tale in the middle of a phrase. “Hi mum.”

Colin stiffens in Bradley’s half-embrace, not really ready to turn around and face the mum. It’s probably rude, though, to stay like that, and he forces himself to move and smile without getting caught up in the twists of the blanket even more.

“Good afternoon, Mrs…” he says and has to stop because he doesn’t know Bradley’s surname. It just never occurred to him to ask.

“James, dear, it’s Mrs James.” she smiles encouragingly, and Colin blushes, wishing he was anywhere but here right now. “You must be Colin. I’ve heard a lot about you from Bradley on the phone.”

“Have you?” Colin mutters. “Well… nothing too terrible… I hope.”

“Only the good things.” She’s got the same smile as Bradley’s, which is, of course, no surprise. “Thanks for taking care of Bradley all these days.”

“You’re welcome.” Colin feels his ears burning. Judging by the fact that Bradley’s silent, he must be quite flabbergasted too. “It’s no hardship at all, really. He’s nice when he doesn’t act like a crazy pillock, so…”

Mrs James laughs, and Colin gets a half-hearted nudge on his ribs from a pouting Bradley. Probably that wasn’t the wisest thing to say, considering all circumstances, but Colin can’t very well catch the words that are already out of his mouth.

“How are you feeling, darling? When can you go home?” Mrs James ruffles her son’s hair.

“Fine.” Bradley shrugs. “Well, apart from the leg, you know. They say I gotta stay for a couple of days more, so that they can X-ray me one more time and make sure it’s started healing alright, so if they do – make sure, I mean – I’ll be out of here soon.”

Bradley’s from Devon, Colin remembers. His mum will probably take him there with her – she’s got a job back there and a chance to take care of him properly, and now, when training is out of the question, there’s nothing here in London that’d actually be a reason for Bradley to stay, especially with so many sensible reasons to go.

Colin suddenly feels both chilled to the bones and hot-flushed and starts scrambling out of the bed. There’s something hollow and clenching inside him; it must be his stomach reminding him that he hasn’t had any lunch today. He may as well go and find at least a coffee machine to buy the overly sugary and totally disgusting brownish drink that they sell there.

Nobody stops him, as Mrs James and Bradley seem to be fully absorbed in their conversation. He makes good use of his discreet escape; he splashes some cold water onto his face in the toilets, and he manages to kick the old coffee machine just right and get a plastic cup with the brownish drink that’s, for some reason, called coffee.

He doesn’t want to be intrusive and, after some thinking, he buys an apple from the machine in the hall and eats and drinks sitting on the sofa for visitors in front of the nurse’s desk. He’d probably go home at this point, and just text Bradley later, but he has left his jacket hanging on the headboard of the bed, and his backpack lying on the floor next to the cupboard; and it’s cold outside, and lots of mostly random but important stuff is kept in the backpack, so there’s no way he’s leaving without popping back to the ward.

When he comes back, the visiting hours are almost over and Mrs James looks like she’s about to leave.

“Ah, Colin, there you are.” she smiles at him again. “We thought of calling you if you didn’t show up.”

“Erm, I thought, well, that, maybe, I shouldn’t be loitering around while you’re talking and all, so, well.” He stumbles and just shuts up after that, not sure he’ll be able to say anything right. He has already made enough of an idiot of himself for one day.

“It’s alright, darling.” she says, like she understands. Bradley is silent; he just looks at Colin very intently, as if studying his reactions. “I was persuading Bradley to come back to Devon with me for a couple of months until he recovers, but he thinks he’ll be just fine here in London. Well, he can’t be, not on his own, can he? With a broken leg there’s no way he can do any housework, and hiring help is pretty expensive. We can afford it, though…”

Here it is, Colin thinks. Here’s his cue to step into the conversation and say what seems natural to say, despite the fact that he’s only known Bradley very briefly, and has little right to make suggestions like that. The idea freaks him out a bit, and terrifies him, and looks like something a lot bigger on the inside then on the outside, like the TARDIS or something equally absurd, and fantastic, and awesome, and it’s not really his place to come up with it.

He decides to say something along the lines of ‘I think it’s best for him to come back with you, yeah, the most reasonable thing to do.’, but then he meets Bradley’s gaze, unblinking and hard and strangely desperate, and something shifts neatly inside his head like a switch.

Isn’t reasonable overrated, he thinks.

He doesn’t break the eye contact with Bradley while speaking, though he actually addresses Bradley’s mother:

“I suppose there’s no need to make him travel all the way home with his leg in this state, it would be really uncomfortable. And about hiring some help… I’d be happy to do whatever’s necessary for him, and I don’t need any money. Well, not unless Bradley’s used to eating caviar in buckets for dinner, for that I’ll have to ask for some financial support.”

Colin sees Bradley catching his breath, his pupils going wider in disbelief and joy, his lips curling slowly into a lopsided and totally mad grin.

Oh God, Colin thinks absent-mindedly, what am I getting myself into.

His blood is pounding in his ears, but not deafeningly enough for him not to hear Mrs James’ response:

“You’d do that? Are you sure, Colin? Taking care of someone who can only lie down and ask for this and that to be brought to their bedside is really hard work.”

They had probably discussed it while he was away fighting the coffee machine. Bradley must have come up with the suggestion that Colin would look after him just fine, and Mrs James must have said that no one can expect someone they’ve known for a few days to willingly take such a burden on their shoulders. And Bradley may have offered to wait and see if Colin volunteered to help all by himself, which would prove Mrs James wrong and Bradley right.

You little mad bastard, Colin thinks, with tenderness he himself doesn’t expect to feel towards Bradley.

“Well, doing the housework for him would be just like doing it for myself, wouldn’t it? And if he’s more obnoxious than usual because of having to lie down, I can always beat him up with a pillow and make him some porridge for breakfast.”

“Hey, I hate porridge!” Bradley protests.

“I know.” Colin smirks. He can go on with threats like that if they always make Bradley scowl so adorably, he decides, forgetting for a moment that they aren’t alone in the room.

Mrs James chuckles softly, cutting Colin’s reverie short.

“Well, as long as you are determined to take good care of my son…”

“I am, ma'am.” Colin salutes her, grinning from ear to ear and letting an uncontrollably large amount of kittenwatts out. The border has been crossed; why not try and enjoy the decision he’s made while he can?

“I think you’ll have great fun together, boys,” she says, and this time around it’s Bradley who can’t help but blush profusely.

Colin doesn’t know exactly why Bradley’s blushing, but nonetheless, it doesn’t seem uncalled for.

Part 3



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2012 02:17 am (UTC)
Oh my God, this is making me delirious with happiness. I LOVE THEM. Thank you so much for this story! <3
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )