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I see a lily on thy brow

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Colin was always shaken at the end of the play, always pale and shaken, having given his all to his final scene, a death so harrowing because he played it so real… The young man had a touch of genius about him, obvious even amidst this incredible cast. Brendan had decided – oh, months ago now, while they were still in rehearsals – to give him his due and never even try to upstage him. Mickey’s end was sharper yet always much quieter and quicker than Luke’s.

And then once the play was done Brendan would help Colin to his feet, and smile at him, pat his back reassuringly, occasionally even wrap an arm round his shoulders – and maybe they would have all held hands anyway for the final bow, an ensemble in spirit as well as fact, but Brendan made certain that it would be so every night. The old man of the cast had to have some privileges, and one of those was making certain that he would hold Colin’s hand each night, and silently though perhaps futilely send him some of Brendan’s own warmth.

Perhaps it made a difference, perhaps it didn’t, but Colin was usually smiling gamely by the second bow and genuinely by the third. And then they escaped, and Colin always had first dibs on the shower so that he could wash the blood off.

The others were in high spirits that night, looking forward to their one day off the next day, and they all changed quickly, and then went out to fraternise with the fans before heading home. Brendan had a measured post–show rhythm he’d developed over the years. Actors were a superstitious lot, and he was no different, so he always stuck to his routine. This time the others were gone in a flash, even Ben – and Brendan could tell exactly where they were and what was happening from the hubbub outside the stage door. He thought he’d join them once he was changed, and have a bit of fun himself.

Except that as he headed for the bathroom to wash his hands properly before changing out of his costume, he found that Colin was still in the shower. Colin was still there, leaning forward with both hands flat on the tiled wall, and his head bent low so that the water pummelled his back, and as Brendan watched Colin shifted a little and rolled his head so that his nape was massaged instead, as if he were carrying the tension so high within him.

Brendan stalled there for long moments, his instincts clamouring that something was wrong. Colin never took this long. Even if he wasn’t doing the stage door thing, even if there were no friends or family waiting for him, his post–show routine was always briskly efficient… Except for, apparently, that night.

Brendan took a step closer, and quietly said, “Colin.” Which was next to useless, of course, with the man standing there beneath the shower with the water turned on full. Brendan stepped closer still, and tapped gently at the glass with a knuckle, and again said, “Colin.”

The younger man’s head swung around to look at him, and he stood up straight, his lower body turning away discreetly – not out of his own embarrassment, but due to an instinctive politeness. Which was all well and good, but Colin remained silent, and Brendan was dismayed to find that he was looking as pale and shaken as if he were still on stage, as if he’d just died all over again.

“Colin? What’s wrong?”

Colin simply shook his head, and offered a wan smile, before shrugging, as if indicating that Brendan should pay him no mind.

Well, fuck that.

Despite the fact that Colin lifted a hand as if to bid him farewell and send him on his way, Brendan shifted closer still, and slid open the shower door – and to his own surprise as well as Colin’s, he stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

That earned him a gasping kind of laugh, given that Brendan was still dressed in Mickey’s vest, trousers and socks – their bloody shirts had already been whisked away to be laundered. Colin’s wan smile had almost become a grin in response to Brendan’s chutzpah, which was nice. But it wasn’t yet enough.

Brendan intended nothing improper, so he carefully kept his gaze focussed on Colin’s pale brow – augmented now by a fading rose on each cheekbone – and he lifted his hands to Colin’s shoulders, which looked right now the strongest part of him, and he stepped forward, easing Colin into an embrace, murmuring, “Skinny Luke… Skinny Luke…”

Colin exhaled “Mickey…” on a breath, and let himself be held, his head at last falling to tuck in beside Brendan’s.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked amiably, as if the answer could only involve good things.

“Nothing… Nothing, really. I’m all right.” And yet still he stood there leaning into Brendan’s arms, his hands now at Brendan’s waist as if seeking balance.

Brendan couldn’t help but state the obvious. “Something’s gone awry…”

“No, really…” and Colin started drawing away again, offering a fond yet apologetic smile. “I’m fine, Brendan. Honestly.”

And Brendan knew well enough by now that if Colin didn’t want to tell you a thing, nothing could pry it from him. So he returned the fondness with interest, and though he let Colin regain his own two feet again, Brendan let his hands still shape themselves to Colin’s shoulders. Then he leant in, lifting so that Colin instinctively knew to lower his head, and Brendan gently closed Colin’s wild eyes by pressing kisses four to those lids with their long lashes. “Peace,” he murmured.

“Peace,” Colin agreed – and at last he sounded like he meant it.

Brendan smiled to himself, and said, “Colin Morgan, I love thee true.”

And Colin really was smiling now, partly in appreciation, but mostly with humour. He drew away, and at last Brendan let his hands fall so the two of them were no longer touching. “Get away with you!” Colin said with a laugh.

“Okay, okay!” Brendan backed off, and let himself out of the shower. “You take care, Colin,” he added as he closed the door again. “Promise me that, at least.”

Colin was smiling at him quite happily now. So that was all right. “I’m fine, Brendan. But… thank you.”

“Any time.” And then Brendan got out of there while he could, returning to his dressing room to find that Quentin from Costume was there with Mickey’s shoes in hand but looking in bemusement at the place in which Brendan usually hung Mickey’s suit. They were all used to Brendan’s routine by now, and tonight must have been the first night he’d broken it. “Sorry, Quentin –”

Brendan excused the drenched state of his clothes by blaming Daniel, who’d pushed him into the shower as a lark. This was accepted with an easy shrug, as if such things were only to be expected from Daniel, so Brendan didn’t feel too bad about maligning his co–star.

And in any case, he had other things on his mind, so he snuck out the fire exit alone and he dwelled on them on his way home, the Tube journey a blur, until at last he lay in his own bed and his imaginings lulled him asleep… and there he dreamed of things that could never be.