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The Fairy of Shalott - Part 3/4

Part 1
Part 2

On Wednesday, they move Bradley from the hospital to his flat. It’s bigger than Colin’s – apparently, footballers make more money than unlucky wannabe-actors. Mrs James fusses and frets a lot making sure Bradley’s comfortable, and sends Colin to the nearest supermarket twice with money and a list of things to buy, and each time he gets back with huge bags. There’s no way Bradley will be able to eat it all before it gets rotten, unless he’s a reincarnation of Gargantua. Colin imagines Bradley so fat at the end of these two months that he can’t fit into his king-size bed. The image is disgusting and at the same time horribly cute, like a kitten that’s just eaten a mouse and is covered with blood and pieces of fur is still cute.

Maybe he should stop thinking so much; obviously, it doesn’t do him any good.

Mrs James has Colin arrange everything Bradley might need, from his laptop to a clean handkerchief, in the order she thinks perfect, and gives them both a lot of instructions on what to do and how to do it, before she leaves and the flat becomes very quiet and peaceful. Well, it would be peaceful here, if Colin didn’t find himself freaking out again.

“Make yourself at home,” Bradley says. “I bet there are loads of vegetables and other healthy stuff in the fridge, but we could order pizza and watch something. I’m starving, to be honest.”

“You’re insane,” Colin declares. “You people are both raving mad.” He glances at the door, which closed after Mrs James approximately a minute ago. “The family of Mad Hatters. For all you know, I might be an axe-murderer, and it’s not like you can run away from me now if I fancy chopping you up and dumping into the Thames. Hell, for all I know, you may be an axe-murderer, keeping plastic bags with his victims under the bed. Yet, she leaves me here with you like it’s supposed to be this way. And you behave like you’ve known me your whole life.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not an axe-murderer,” Bradley sounds highly amused by Colin’s worries. “If you have any doubts, though, you can check under the bed. You’ll find some porn mags, I think, and several stray socks, but nothing more incriminating. Go on, check. You’ll have to look under it anyway, you’ve signed up for cleaning the flat regularly for me until I can do it myself, there’s no chance I’ll be able to keep any awful axe-murdering secrets from you. Oh, and I don’t think you are a maniac. I’ll hold to this opinion until you prove me wrong by killing me in my sleep and raping my dead body or something.”

“Fuck off, you nitwit,” Colin says, because there’s not much else he can say after that speech.

He turns away and walks out of the bedroom, which helps him reach two goals at once: firstly, to not look at Bradley’s smug face, secondly, to cross the small corridor and get to the phone in the living room and order some fucking pizza, because he’s starving, too.

“I’ll have anything with meat and cheese – the more, the better!” Bradley shouts.

“Fuck off!” shouts Colin back again, but when the girl at the pizza house picks up, he asks for a regular veggie pizza and for something with as much meat on it as they can manage to put without the pile falling apart – and if it tries to fall apart anyway, would they be so kind as to glue it all together with obscene amounts of melted cheese?

They watch Dead Poets Society, because it’s the first DVD Colin fishes from the shelf with his eyes closed. The pizza is so greasy that Colin suspects he’ll have to change the sheets on the bed – they eat lying on the covers, but the grease is everywhere. Bradley smells like over fried bacon and burnt cheese and something very far-away and innocent, like a high glass with milk on a sunny Sunday morning when you’re six.

They don’t touch each other, but Colin is still aware of Bradley’s presence. He doesn’t know if it’s exhaustion and lots of heavy food combined, or just Bradley being next to him, but he feels a little bit drunk, content, and kind of floating, and somewhat dizzy, and his every sense is as acute as it’s rarely been before.

He doesn’t freak out any more, ‘cause it appears to be useless – Bradley trusts him, or pretends to quite successfully, and laughs all his reasonable diatribes off. Instead of that, Colin listens to John Keating reciting poem after poem, and watches Bradley mouth the words silently along with the man on the screen.

“Do you like this film so much that you actually know it by heart?”

“Do I?” Bradley looks confused. “I suppose. I’ve watched it many times.”

Colin stretches on the bed, relaxing fully. He feels Bradley looking at him, though the film is still on and it’s a much more interesting sight to behold. On the other hand, if Bradley’s watched it countless times, Colin might count here as something new and not studied thoroughly yet.

Maybe it’s the way Bradley deals with the world. Whatever takes his fancy, he grabs it and doesn’t let go until he learns its insides and outsides, and the connections, and the strings, and the internal rules and laws, and never actually lets go after that, because it’s gonna be a part of him forever.

Colin imagines Bradley as a drop of tree resin and himself as a sluggish reckless fly. One movement of Bradley’s, and they’ll be found in several thousand years as a piece of amber, together, stuck one into another, still so very different things inherently, but now inseparable without irreparable damage to either of them.

It’s disturbing to have such thoughts when he’s completely sober. What’s more disturbing, however, is that Colin can tell Bradley all this bizarre shit that’s going on in his mind, and Bradley will love it, and go along with it, and develop it, until they both crack and laugh so hard that they can’t breathe.

He’s not going to, though. To tell Bradley, that is. He’s way too sober for that.

“If I were someone else, would you trust me, I mean, him or her, so much?” he asks instead. “What if I were Helen or the twins?”

“Are they Irish? I prefer my caretakers Irish.” Bradley steals a slice of Colin’s pizza and Colin lets him. He’s stuffed already anyway.

“Well, you could’ve met Katie,” he remembers. “Actually, you met her. She works in the coffee shop where you were reading that Isherwood. When I think of it, her pinky finger is twice more Irish than I am.”

“Is she a fairy too?”

“No,” Colin confesses. “She’s more like a banshee type, I think. Or a harpy. Or something. But she’s really cool if you don’t piss her off.”

“Not interested,” Bradley waves all of Katie’s awesomeness off so casually, as if things like that are lying around in the street and he doesn’t know how to get rid of them. “There’s no one a man can trust his broken leg with but fairies.”

“Why’s that?”

“Why? Well, because they are magic, of course,” Bradley says.

So you think I’m magic, then, Colin thinks, but doesn’t say it out loud. What does that make you if I’m a fairy? The idiot who danced with fairies all night long, and came back home in the morning a fair bunch of years later?

The film is so long that Bradley falls asleep before it finishes. Colin has to clean up the rubbish, and switch the DVD-player off, and put the pills for tomorrow morning on Bradley’s cupboard, and prepare some kind of breakfast so Bradley doesn’t die of starvation until Colin gets off work, and make sure all the doors are locked before he goes home. He does all that, but also, with his jacket already on, he leans down to touch Bradley’s hair – soft and freshly washed at some point today, while Colin was away at the supermarket, and shining in the low electric light from the corridor – and whispers, quietly, barely heard by himself:

“We live on crispy pancakes,
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain lake,
With frogs for our watch-dogs,
All night awake.”

Bradley stirs in his sleep and mumbles something incoherent and disgruntled, as though he wants the continuation of the poem, but that’s all Colin recalls from his childhood (and he’s not even sure he’s got this small bit right).

He steps back and lets himself out of the flat into the chilly streets of London.

The Nut Job
hows work?

Irish Fairy
pretty dull. sold some antique conan doyle today to a man with a bright blue tie – the highlight of the day. howr u?

The Nut Job
reading that agatha christie u brought to the hospital. suspect the gardener but he has a perfect alibi so im kinda lost here

Irish Fairy
what alibi? gardeners cant have an alibi theyr always guilty unless its the butler

The Nut Job
theres no gardener in the story so the alibis flawless

Irish Fairy
is there a butler? if not the storys rubbish throw it under the bed to all ur bags with the victims. was gonna to take the trash out to the bins at some point anyway

The Nut Job
whenr u back today?

Irish Fairy
at 4 or 5. ish. gotta do sth after work today

Irish Fairy
u want sth? ill buy it on my way to urs

The Nut Job
nah got everything i need

Irish Fairy

The Nut Job
u seen nuns on the run?

Irish Fairy
yeah why?

The Nut Job
wanna watch again 2night?

Irish Fairy
u bet

The mysterious “something” Colin has to do after work is another audition. He doesn’t get his hopes high on this one, but he has it on good authority (his agent) that they are looking for someone of roughly his type. And he does almost run into a guy leaving the studio – a tall thin guy with a mop of quite unruly dark hair.

The guy has the advantage of much neater ears than Colin’s own, though.

Colin smiles, stepping into the studio. It’s stuffy in here, and the three people sitting at the desk at the far end look annoyed and tired.

Colin lets out about eighty kittenwatts, and the grumpy faces in front of him lighten involuntarily, just a bit.

“Good afternoon,” he says. “I’m Colin, Colin Morgan,” he reminds. “Let’s start auditioning me?” he looks at them askance, much more hopeful and nervous than he’s willing to let on, even to himself.

There’s always a chance. A starting actor never knows what his star role is; he’s looking for it like a wolf for his prey, and each time he misses he only becomes hungrier, and it goes on until he gives up or gets it. Many give up. Even more are still looking.

Some make it.

“Let’s do it, especially since you’re so eager.” The man in the middle smirks at him and gives him several pages. “I’ll be feeding you Sally’s lines.”

Colin takes the pages, feeling his guts tighten and knot so much that it hurts. He knows the general outline of the character, but he sees the actual words for the first time, and he looks them through quickly, trying to put some emotions and characterisation into them even before he actually understands what they mean.

“A few days ago, I go into the toilets. Tony and Gary were in there. They're butt naked, Tony has Gary by his hair – like this – He's just doin' him. Doggy style... And Tony's like, "Ooo who's your daddy? I'M your daddy! I'm BIG daddy! Oh! Oh yeah, you like that? Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, I'm daddy cooool!" So I'm guessing they ran away to continue their illicit homosexual affair. And I ask you, in this world of intolerance and prejudice, who are – WHO are WE to condemn them?”

Well, Colin is not into the habit of judging anybody, especially a fictional character, by their first words (maybe only a little bit), but he’s sure these ones are, if nothing else, memorable.

By the end of the film, Bradley’s plaster is decorated with the words “God is like a shamrock” and a picture of shamrock done with a purple felt-tip pen – a very schematic one, because Colin may have many talents, but drawing isn’t really one of them, even if they paused the film to Google shamrock for Colin to have a model. Nonetheless, Bradley seems satisfied with the result.

“Write something else,” he suggests. “There’s plenty of space.”

Colin snorts, and after a moment’s thought, writes: “Carpe diem.” Blame the films for whatever verbal shit they leave stuck in his head; if it goes on like it does, after these two months the plaster will be fully covered with quotes. Maybe he needs to buy more felt-tip pens, to provide some colour variety.

“I approve of your choice,” Bradley says, reading what Colin wrote. “Why did you remember it?”

“Dunno.” Colin puts the pen away and sits up opposite Bradley. There are plates on the bed between them, and Colin picks up an apple that one of them started eating half an hour ago. He can’t remember who it was, Bradley or himself, and after some contemplation he decides it doesn’t matter. “I was just hoping to catch something important today, I guess.”

“An audition?” Bradley cocks his head to the side.

Colin bites the apple, which has already partly gone brown.

“Bingo. I don’t know if they’ll pick me in the end, there are plenty of others, you know. They’ll call my agent when they are done with the whole casting thing.”

“The point of the acting job, innit?” Bradley takes a bottle of juice from the cupboard and takes a sip, not bothering to use a cup. “Keeps you on your toes.”

“The point of the acting job is acting.” Colin rolls his eyes and slips away from the bed. The room is stuffy and he opens the window. Humid, cold wind fills the room almost immediately and Bradley sneezes.

It’s dark already, and Colin still has dishes to do and some laundry to conduct. Also, he needs to cook something for Bradley, at least make sandwiches, because tomorrow he works all day long. Bradley has loads of Mary Stewart and Tennyson to read, but he can’t live off the food for mind and soul only, can he.

He starts collecting plates and cups, which are way too numerous for two people. Bradley pulls the duvet over his shoulders and watches Colin for some time before saying:

“Stay the night.”


“It’s late, and it’s going to rain, if I know anything about London weather. You wanna catch cold instead of a role? Besides, there’s a couch in the living-room, and there’s lots of spare sheets and blankets.”

“There’s no second pillow.”

“I’ll give you mine,” Bradley offers. “Come on, stay. Or do you have a cat you gotta feed tonight?”

“Nope, no cat. Not even a single cockroach, to be honest.”

Colin takes the dishes to the kitchen and starts washing them. Bradley doesn’t speak again, probably knowing he won’t be heard distinctly over the sound of running water, and the silence gives Colin a moment to think on the offer.

It’s not like he’ll die without a pillow, not really. It’s staying here with Bradley. Colin is far from thinking that one of them is actually an axe-murderer or that something… unexpected will happen. They are mates, good ones for that matter, and staying over is perfectly justified. It’s just that there’s something disturbing in the idea, as if listening to Bradley toss and turn and snore (does he snore?) in the next room is another step to something unknown to Colin, and big and terrifying, just like agreeing to take care of Bradley was a step to it. Colin doesn’t know the destination point, and he’s trying to figure out if he wants to cover the dishes with lemon-smelling foam. The wind comes into the kitchen from the living-room and crawls under Colin’s baggy jeans, making his hair stand on its end.

He hears Bradley sneezing again, and rushes with the washing to come back to the room as soon as possible and close the window.

The air in the room smells like wet foliage and car exhaust. The lights are still off, and Bradley’s hidden in the shadows and the cloth of the duvet, his hair and eyes the only parts of him eerily bright and shiny in the scarce light from the kitchen on the far end of the corridor.

“If you snore, I may smother you in your sleep,” Colin warns, trying to go for threatening, but Bradley grins widely, his teeth white in the twilight. “I have to get up early.”

“Deal,” Bradley says and licks his lips. “I wonder if…”

“If what?”

“If you could help me get to the bathroom? I, well, got there myself during the day, I held onto the wall, but it’s damn difficult now, and I’m tired…”

“I’ll get crutches for you tomorrow,” Colin interrupts, and takes the duvet off Bradley’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s get you there. You may as well brush your teeth, by the way.”

Colin stands outside the closed bathroom door for a few seconds, not knowing if he should stay here, and therefore listen to Bradley doing what people do in bathrooms, in case he slips, falls, and breaks something else besides the leg. But this is really creepy, and Colin decides that Bradley falling would be heard in every corner of the not-so-big flat, and goes to find clean sheets for himself and do the couch.

The couch is not very comfortable, but, then again, Bradley’s flat is not a five-star hotel. Colin curls under his slightly dusty blankets and tries to fall asleep. As it usually happens, trying leads to the exact opposite result – he’s never felt so awake in his entire life, and he just stares at the ceiling, hoping that sleep will come to him at some point.

“Are you asleep?” asks Bradley from the bedroom.

“No,” Colin states the obvious. “What did you want to hear as an answer anyway?”

“Exactly what I’ve heard, actually.” Bradley’s voice gives away a smile.

“Alright, what did you want to talk about?” Colin gives up on sleep and sits up.

Bradley doesn’t say anything for a while.

“Ah, erm… do you want to go to the bathroom?” Colin tries to guess. “Just a second, I’m getting up…”

“No,” Bradley interrupts him hastily. “Not at all. Hm, thanks, but no. I just… wanted to talk.”

“Oh,” Colin says. “What’s on your mind at this ungodly hour, then?”

It’s not strictly an ungodly hour, it’s around midnight, but Colin is tired and he does have to get up early tomorrow for a whole day of work and caretaking.

“Tell me a story.”


“A story.”

“What, like, to read you a story? About, I dunno, Snow White and the seven dwarfs or about Red Riding Hood?”

“Not that kind of story, you dick. I know all of them by heart like every kid with decent parents, what kind of lame suspense would they be? I meant, a story of yours. Tell me about yourself.”

“Basically, what you are saying is that you were lying in your bed in the middle of the night and thinking about me?”

“Put it the way you like.” Bradley snorts, and Colin feels a rather passionate wish to swat him on the head with the pillow. If he couldn’t fall asleep on it, he could at least make some use of it. “I just want to know more about you. Tell me something. Anything. I don’t ask for an embarrassing story, only for a true one.”

“When I was a freshman at drama school, I freaked out about those practical seminars that one of our professors loved,” Colin says. “He took us out, and we had to play this sketch of a role or that in public. Everyone who lived in the area knew his face, and knew what to expect when there were nervous students by his side. Well, that day I had to be a guy who comes over to a table at a street café, asks for a lighter, and suddenly falls over in a fit of some kind. We knew some of the tasks beforehand, I read all I could find about fits, epilepsy, everything, and practised at the hostel in front of my neighbours, who thought I was doing fine. But I was still nervous as hell, I just wasn’t used to doing something like that in public, and as I was approaching a table at random, all I could think of was if I needed to pee in my pants to make the fit look convincing, or if that would be over the top.”

Colin hears Bradley’s muffled giggling, as though he doesn’t want to interrupt the story with comments and laughter but can’t help himself. He must be waiting for the punch line, Colin thinks, and then he’ll unleash his delight unbound.

“I never approached the table I picked,” Colin continues. “I tripped over someone’s bag, or umbrella, or some other treacherous everyday thing. I tried to grab whatever I could in order not to fall, but I only managed to knock down another table together with a chair. A little girl was sitting on that chair. She fell; bruised her arm and scratched her cheek, but otherwise she was fine. Well, scared and in pain, yes, but generally fine. Her mother slapped me on the face which, I think, was pretty understandable, and promised to sue me when she made sure her daughter was alright. I don’t know, maybe she’d do that, and I’d still be paying her money for my clumsiness, but the girl stopped crying by that time and asked if I was hurt. I scratched my elbows and palms, it looked nasty but didn’t leave scars afterwards. She tried to console me, and her mother calmed down seeing that, and in a few minutes they were both helping me up while I was saying sorry for the millionth time. The professor never let me live it down, even though no other… outing of mine turned into such a fiasco.”

Bradley doesn’t laugh and doesn’t say anything. Apparently, he expected a different punch line.

“You didn’t ask for a funny story,” Colin reminds. “Only for a true one.”

“No, I didn’t. Yet it’s curious that you chose this one to tell me, not something funny.”

Colin shrugs, forgetting for a moment that Bradley can’t see him.

“Truth isn’t always funny. I just felt like telling you something that didn’t really cast me in a favourable light, I think.”

I felt like trusting you with a story of stupidity and humiliation, he adds silently.

“Goodnight,” he says and lies back down. The pillow smells like Bradley’s herbal shampoo and cleanliness, and Colin presses his face into it.

“Goodnight, fairy,” echoes Bradley.

Colin falls asleep at some point listening to the restless rustling of Bradley’s sheets and duvet.

At the end of the day Colin is knackered. He has guided through Shalott a bunch of students who appeared determined to get on with their reading, but, it turned out, couldn’t be arsed to remember the names of the required writers they needed correctly – as if the names of most of those writers weren’t obscure enough without confusing all the vowels in them. Seriously, after that particular encounter Colin has to look it up in Wikipedia to make sure there are only six blasting vowels in the English language, because it was hard to believe that a person can make such a huge mess out of such a small amount of them.

Also, he’s been texting Bradley all day long, as Bradley seemed to be bored out of his mind despite the books and DVDs he has at his disposal within an arm’s reach, where Colin has carefully put them. Colin doesn’t mind texting Bradley – he loves it, if he’s honest with himself, but that makes him strangely giddy, and the day passes in a blur of customers and texts and the database to which he’s truly tried to pay attention. And he winces every time his phone vibrates because it might be his agent calling him to say that he’s landed the role or that he hasn’t, but it’s only ever Bradley, and Colin’s nerves are really frayed around the edges by the time he closes the shop and inhales the cold damp air deeply in an attempt to clear his mind.

He chooses to pop into the coffee shop where Katie works tonight. He could do with a sugar overdose and some caffeine before he goes over to Bradley’s to clean up the flat and do all the other things he’s signed up to do.

It’s not like he wishes to back off. He just needs a distraction to let his brain switch from one activity to another. Colin has it all planned many steps ahead; he can function well as long as he has a clear view on what exactly he has to do at every given moment.

Maybe that is why he chose the acting career, though he could try something else. Isn’t it the extreme point of having a clear view, when you’ve got a script which says what you say, where you go, what you do, what you look like while doing all of the above?

When he enters the coffee shop, he sees the twins at the corner table. Katie greets him with a “Hello, long time no see” muffled by a yawn. She’s tired too, and there are shadows under her eyes.

“Hi,” he says. The twins are busy doing a crossword; they are so absorbed with it, as though it’s the most important thing in the world.

They look complete, one person in two, their movements synchronized and their concentrated frowns matching perfectly. Colin suddenly feels very weak, and helpless, and lonely, like a child whose mindless parents lost him in a multi-storied shopping centre.

“My usual,” he tells Katie.

“You haven’t been here for almost week,” she points out, getting on with his order. “You’re lucky you haven’t made it longer, I’ve started to forget what your usual is.”

“It’s been a busy week. Like, very busy.”

He doesn’t feel like sharing the details, and Katie rarely insists on him telling her what he’d rather keep to himself.

“Landed a role somewhere?” she asks.


She’s not supposed to know he’s a starting actor too. He never told her, he never wanted anyone to know and pity him for being one more loser in the enormous crowd of losers trying to make it, but not able to break through.

His secrets, however, seem to decide for him who they want to be known to these days.

“Don’t play the dumbo card,” she rolls her eyes. “I’ve been watching Doctor Who this week, because I think David Tennant is cute and saving the universe makes him even cuter, and guess who I’ve seen in the Midnight episode? Emo outfit, snarky comments, weird name with an interdental in the middle – ring any bells?”

“Well, it was me, alright.” He puts the money for the coffee on the counter. “What of it, then? Did you like my performance so much that now you want an autograph?”

He’s being rude, he knows that. But he doesn’t know what is there in keeping his life to himself to feel guilty about, and he feels guilty and he doesn’t want to, and Katie is surely the one to blame, isn’t she?

“Don’t be an arsehole with me, Colin Morgan,” Katie’s accent grows more Irish, and it means she’s really pissed. “I just wondered why the hell you never bothered to tell me you were an actor too while I was blathering on and on about my own ambitions.”

“I’m not an actor, strictly speaking.” He bites his lower lip. What he needs the least is an exhausting unpleasant talk right now. He feels his head starting to ache, and takes a sip of coffee, hoping that the sugar will hit his blood and make the pain stop. “Jethro’s part is the only one on TV I ever got. I work in a bookstore, end of story.”

“What, are you telling me you consider a breathtaking career of a bookseller with tiny wages and no prospects whatsoever so much better than acting that you’ve never looked for another opportunity?”

“Look, what do you want from me now?” Colin looks Katie in the eye. Her very, very indignant eye. “Okay, I was a prick hiding that I desperately want to be an actor as well. I’m sorry. I really am. But I’ve been working today since nine a.m. without a break, and I have this friend with a broken leg I’m taking care of, and I really have to go to him and see how he’s doing, so what do you want? Just tell me, please.”

“Piss off, you dickhead,” she says, but her words lack the real heat now.

“I am a dickhead.” Colin agrees and flashes a hundred kittenwatts at her. They are sure to stop her from spitting into his coffee, or doing something equally spiteful when she gathers her anger again at some point later. Katie is one to hold a grudge for years, if she deems it necessary. “But you still love me, McGrath.”

She sighs helplessly, like he’s her younger brother who did some stupid shit again but she, indeed, loves him no matter how big an idiot he is.

“You’ll make it soon,” Colin says. “You’re perfect for historics, and there’s an audition for a Channel 4 historic docudrama next week. You may end up a princess in that one, who knows? Find out the exact time, date, and place, and nail it.”

He smiles, salutes her with his cup – in which the coffee has probably already gone tepid instead of decently hot – and turns away from the counter to head for the door. It’s only now that he notices the double scrutinizing look the twins are giving him.

Oh, hell. Let the cat out of the bag.

Bradley tunes into Colin’s quite foul mood immediately – Colin doesn’t have to say anything apart from “Hi” for Bradley to give him a measuring look, nod and start to fiddle with his mobile phone. Colin is grateful for the tactfulness all the time while he washes the dishes and makes a quick dinner of a salad and a couple of steaks for Bradley. When he’s back in the room with a bucket and a mop, ready to defeat each and every dusticle that would be so stupid as to stand up to him tonight, Bradley’s still busy with the phone. It looks like he’s texting to someone; long texts full of some kind of information. Colin rolls up his sleeves and splashes the wet mop onto the floor, trying to guess who could be on the receiving end of Bradley’s texts.

He knows that Bradley has a whole life which has never included Colin. It could be anyone. His teammate, his childhood friend, his sibling (does he have brothers or sisters?), his axe-murdering accomplice who is impatient to terrorize the city all over again. Ha ha.

Colin isn’t really familiar with the concept of jealousy; he’s used to sharing things and he’s never wanted anyone in his life strongly enough not to respect their right for privacy. He wants privacy for himself, it’s only fair if he gives it to other people as well; especially since it’s easy. Right now, though, he understands what the Blue Beard’s wife must have felt opening the forbidden door: the urge to know, to be a part of what’s kept private is itching inside Colin. He fights it, working over the floor so hard that the mop screeches suspiciously. Colin feels Bradley’s surprised look on his back like a touch.

Bradley can have a sodding girlfriend or a boyfriend for all Colin knows. He made jokes about himself and Colin kissing and dating like a free bloke would, yeah, but jokes aren’t called jokes for nothing, they are something to be laughed at and forgotten.

Colin imagines Bradley calling another person; anyone, really. This Anyone in Colin’s imagination is faceless and their body doesn’t have a definite shape but it’s big and kind of looming. The Anyone visits Bradley while Colin is at work, and chats with him, and helps him to get to the bathroom, and picks films to watch together, and makes him tea, and does thousands of other things that Colin does when he’s finally back.

He imagines Bradley smiling sheepishly and adoringly at the Anyone, and he doesn’t even understand at once that the hot nauseating pang inside him is jealousy.

Idiot, Colin tells himself. Fucking maniac, you want him not to talk to anybody else, or what, lock him up in the basement?

No, he thinks, lying down on his stomach to gather all the dust from under the bed, I just want to be a part of it. A part of everything that’s Bradley.

Oh God, Colin thinks, stunned mid-movement, I actually do.

He doesn’t like the discovery all that much.

Bradley touches Colin’s lower back; not having expected that, Colin shivers. It’s a full-body deep shiver that almost makes him hit the underside of the bed with his head.

“You alright down there? You haven’t moved for half a minute, you’re not asleep, are you?”

“You overestimate the degree of comfort of your floor, Colin replies. There’s a single sock under his elbow and Colin looks around for the other. “I’m just thinking, that’s all.”

“What is it?”

Bradley’s phone chimes with a new text. Colin gathers all the dust that hasn’t been collected with the mop to himself, but the damn sock is nowhere to be found.

“Who are you texting?”

“It’s just my sister, asking what I’m up to and if she can have a picture of me in plaster.” Bradley sounds a tad confused. “I can turn the sound off if it irritates you.”

“No, it’s ok.” Colin gives up on the second sock, grabs the first one, and starts wriggling on his elbows and knees trying to get out of his under-the-bed shelter backwards. He bumps his shoulder into the bed frame once, but it’s fine, there won’t even be a bruise. “What are you up to, then?”

“Actually, I thought of asking you to help me wash my hair.” Bradley looks nervous and flushed saying that. “I haven’t washed it since the day you and mum helped me get back here, and it is dirty already. But I gotta get to the bathroom. I think I can handle it from that point, but…”

“Sure.” Colin isn’t sure why Bradley looks so embarrassed asking this, when he is already used to asking Colin help him to the bathroom when he needs to do much more intimate things than washing his hair. Maybe there’s some trick somewhere in the request, but Colin can’t see it. “Just a second, I… I’ll wrap this up.” He gestures to the floor and the bucket.

“Yeah, of course.”

Colin finishes with the floor quickly, and puts the shampoo on the edge of the bath for Bradley, and turns the water on, and moves the stool that is kept in the bathroom over so that it would be most convenient to sit on it and wash one’s hair.

“Thanks,” Bradley says, when he’s all seated and taken care of. “I’ll get on with it, then.”

That’s a clear dismissal, Colin knows one when he sees one, but he has to check if they have any toothpaste left on the shelves or if he has to buy more tomorrow. It won’t take a minute, and he actually wants the check done while he remembers, and not when they are totally out of any toothpaste whatsoever, especially considering that Bradley likes it fancy and freaky – like, he prefers black toothpaste to the regular white, and he is very enthusiastic about exotic tastes, more so than is healthy in Colin’s opinion.

“Sure, don’t mind me, I’ll be out in a moment.”

Bradley nods curtly and leans down to pour the water from the shower on his head.

Some of the water goes right to the stool, and in a second Bradley’s soaked through; he tries to turn it away but the stool is now slippery and Bradley moves too swiftly. Colin catches him on the shoulders before he falls, but only barely so.

“I got you,” Colin exhales into Bradley’s wet hair, adrenaline kicking in only now because it has all been so rushed. “You fine?”

“Yes,” Bradley sounds strangled; rather far from fine. “Yes, I’m ok. Let me go, please.”

“Are you sure you can handle this?” Colin lets him go – slowly, to see if Bradley starts falling again – and he’s truly astonished when Bradley’s hands close over his wrists and squeeze, knuckles white, dull pain flaring from under them immediately. “Ouch, Bradley, what are you…”

“No,” Bradley spits, bitter and angry, and Colin thinks mutely that he may have an idea what Bradley’s doing and why he’s doing it. “No, I’m not sure, I’m not fine, I can’t fucking handle it! I broke my goddamn leg, if you hadn’t noticed and now I’m totally – completely – absolutely – fucking useless!”

Bradley pulls Colin to himself with sudden strength; he presses his forehead into Colin’s solar plexus and breathes erratically, in, out, short, ragged, hot breaths. Colin puts his arms around Bradley’s shoulders because it can be the best thing to do right now – just be here for him and not let go.

He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if Bradley starts crying – and no one can say Bradley doesn’t have a reason to do that – but, much to Colin’s relief, Bradley just holds on for dear life and breathes.

“It’s going to be fine,” he whispers to Bradley’s hunched body. He feels the heat, the unsteady heartbeat, the solid alive weight of Bradley, impossibly real, like a dream that comes true and lets you touch it. “I promise. If the football’s no longer an option, we’ll figure it out anyway after you’ve healed properly. You’ll be doing something else you like, and I’ll help you. You have my word, you silly nut job, do you hear me? I’ll be there for you. And it’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fucking brilliant.”

He doesn’t realise he’s the one crying until Bradley raises his hand to wipe off a tear from his cheek. He closes his eyes briefly and leans into the touch.

He knows he has no right to be vulnerable and hurt here, it’s Bradley who needs consolation and reassuring touches and not him, an idiot with all his limbs intact and so many personal issues he could be carrying them around in a big suitcase.

But he wants to nuzzle Bradley’s palm with his cheek so badly, and he lets himself do just that for a few fleeting seconds.

“If it’s going to be so fucking brilliant, why are you crying?” Bradley asks, and there’s a hint of a smile in his voice. His grip on Colin’s wrist loosens and turns tender, tentative instead of almost brutal.

Colin opens his eyes to see Bradley’s, bright and shockingly blue, like sea water touched by sunlight, with wide irises and uneven wet eyelashes.

“The brilliance is so bright it’s blinding,” he says and smiles, not counting how many kittenwatts he lets out. Probably all of them, unimaginable billions of kittenwattage yet unseen, but he doesn’t care.

“I’d like to see that for myself,” Bradley says.

“You will,” Colin promises again. The promises are like anchors keeping him by Bradley’s side, and he drops them into the water of the conversation in abundance.

Bradley nods as though he believes every word of Colin’s.

Bradley still washes his hair after that; Colin lingers at the bathroom door pretending to be doing something else, but in fact just keeping an eye on Bradley for his own safety.

It goes alright, without a single incident.

Colin helps Bradley back to the bedroom, where he has changed the sheets, brushes his teeth, takes off his jeans, but leaves his t-shirt on so that he doesn’t sleep naked.

“Goodnight,” he says, standing in the doorway.

Bradley looks up from the book he’s holding.

“Yeah, goodnight.”

“Erm… ok.” Colin turns to go away, but stops to look back. “I meant everything I said there, you know. I still do.”

“I know,” Bradley agrees, so calm now that Colin would never think it’s the same person who held his wrists in iron fists and seemed shattered to pieces about an hour ago. “Thanks for that, fairy.”

“I have a name, you know,” Colin mutters, without any real hope to get Bradley to call him “Colin”. “You’re welcome, nut job.”

Bradley laughs at Colin’s proudly straightened back.

Part 4