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Before The Fringe

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August 1960 is coming to an end. An end to summer, an end to the Fringe, and most worryingly for Peter Cook, an end to his time with Dudley Moore.

The cuddly, cheeky, doe-eyed musical prodigy who has stormed into his life like a tornado. Turned his life upside down. Turned his world inside out.

Peter Cook does not get crushes. He is twenty-three years old, and he hasn’t had a crush since grammar school. He’s had girlfriends and relationships, yes. But he stays in control. He does not get crushes - certainly never crushes on people he works with.

But now it seems he has one. A big crush. A very big crush on his very small, very male co-star.

There’s something about Dudley that makes him feel… lighter. Giddy whenever Dudley so much as looks at him.

Looks at him with those deep brown eyes, sparkling with mischief.

He feels intense jealousy anytime those eyes are directed at anyone but himself.

Even in sketches, where Dudley is contractually obligated to be interacting with people who are not Peter Cook on stage, Peter finds himself doing or saying things just to get that attention back.

He’s always been an appalling show off.

It seems he’s met his match.

Whenever it’s Peter’s turn to interact with the others on stage, it’s Dudley that is pulling faces and making inappropriate noises.

Peter likes to think it’s for him. That Dudley’s trying to make him laugh.

Which is patently ridiculous.

This is their job. They’re being paid to be funny. Any genuine enjoyment they get from performing the same sketches and delivering the same jokes for the hundredth time is inconsequential.

Although that still doesn’t explain why, every evening, it’s just the two of them in the pub, downing pints. Laughing, talking and sharing what Peter would normally consider to be a little too much physical contact. When it comes to Dudley, it’s never enough.

He just wants to wrap his arms around Dudley and keep him there… which is perhaps the wettest, most pathetic, lovesick thought he’s ever had.

Then Dudley winks at him from across the room and he feels like he’s floating on air.

It’s not healthy, to be this dependent on a colleague. To be this needy for praise and affection from someone who is being paid to spend time with him.

At the end of the run, it’s most likely they’ll go their separate ways, never to see each other again. He’s heard that Dudley has a very promising career as a composer ahead of him. He can’t imagine that the prodigal pianist will want to give that up. He’s listened to the passion with which Dudley talks about music.

He often wishes he’d been forced to take up an instrument from an early age.

Peter is lost in his thoughts when their current subject of preoccupation slams open the door and strides into their shared dressing room.

Dudley knows how to make an entrance.

“Evening, Cook.”

Dudley is so confident. Peter feels nervous. He never gets nervous.

“Please, call me Peter. It’s been long enough!” He regrets the words the second they’re out of his mouth. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? They all call each other by surname. Even Dudley and Bennett who have known each other the longest. They might have been working together for months on a show that is about to come to an end, but Peter may as well have just proposed marriage for all the implications that inviting Dudley to call him by his first name has.

Dudley gives him an assessing look, narrowing his eyes slightly before smiling. Jesus, that smile. It just does things to him. It’s all teeth and crinkling eyes and dimples and Peter is so far gone it’s going to be the end of him.

“Alright then, Peter.” Dudley imbues his name with so much softness and promise that Peter’s glad for the stage makeup that’s hopefully going some way towards hiding the blush that he can feel spreading across his face.

As it happens, Dudley has just returned to grab his jacket before heading out to go for a walk.

Peter collapses on the sofa as soon as the door has closed behind him, head in his hands. ‘Pull yourself together,’ he thinks. ‘Unrequited pining is not an attractive look on anyone.’

The door bursts open again and Peter looks up. Dudley has returned.

“Are you alright, Peter?” he asks.

“Fine.” Peter squeaks.

Peter looks up at him, and Dudley sits next to him on the couch. He can feel his heart rate accelerating. “Are you quite sure you’re alright?” Dudley’s hand reaches out to touch Peter’s forehead and the touch is scalding.

“You don’t seem to have a temperature.” Dudley says, almost to himself. Peter is holding his breath as Dudley’s face is inclined towards his. So close he can just reach out and. No. Bad thoughts. Do not think those thoughts. They may have been passably appropriate in the sex-starved hot-box of hormones that was public school, but they are absolutely not appropriate in the real world.

Peter has his eyes closed as Dudley’s hand rests on his forehead, hoping that the black abyss behind his eyelids will help expel the thoughts he is having about the man belonging to the fingers that are even now twirling the curl above his forehead.

Wait.

He opens his eyes to see Dudley’s mouth quirk up into a smile in one corner, his eyes looking positively devilish.

“Well, well, well.” Dudley chuckles.

The nerves are back again, although Peter is now feeling somewhat more confident that his hopeless lovestruck pangs might not be entirely unrequited.

“So, Peter.” Dudley begins, fingers still playing with his hair. He hasn’t had a chance to get it cut lately, so it’s grown rather long. “How long have you been harbouring these thoughts, then?“

Peter finds himself compelled to answer honestly. There’s something about Dudley that just makes him want to confess. “Since the first time you started hopping around as a one legged Tarzan,” he replies. Slightly hesitantly, he asks, “You?”

“Since the first moment you were sat down opposite me to talk about doing this show. My God, Peter. Do you have any idea what you do to me?”

Relief is apparent in Peter’s eyes as he lets out the breath he’s been holding, and stares at Dudley. He had honestly been terrified of losing this man. “What I do to you?” he asks questioningly.

Gaining a little more confidence, Peter continues, “What exactly do I do to you, Dudley?”

He feels an answering slap to his stomach, making him tense and sink back into the couch. However Dudley doesn’t move his hand. It stays there, the weight of it heavy with implication.

Peter feels helpless. Here is the man, the subject of his forbidden fantasies. The first real love of his life. Practically cuddling with him on the couch. And what is he doing? Sitting there like a stone statue, unmoving.

This needs to change. Summoning courage, Peter lifts his hand, careful not to dislodge the arm that is snaking its way around his ribcage. Gently, he combs his fingers through Dudley’s perfect, soft hair until it comes to rest at the back of his head. It seems he’s not the only one who has failed to keep regular barbershop appointments lately.

Slowly, acting as if Dudley is a wild animal prone to flight, Peter moves in, pulling Dudley towards him.

Their first kiss is soft. Barely any contact between their lips. Dudley’s lips. God. They are made for kissing. Peter’s lips are tingling and he feels it must have had an electrifying effect on Dudley as he feels him move as fast as lightning, swinging a leg over Peter’s lap and settling himself there, somehow managing not to break the tentative contact between their lips the entire time.

At the feeling of Dudley straddling his hips, Peter’s hands immediately move to Dudley’s waist in an attempt to pull him closer. Dudley responds by deepening the kiss and Peter feels his mouth opening to the gentle pressure.

They stay like that for minutes, exploring each other’s mouths, hands roaming gently. Peter lets out a giggle when Dudley’s roaming hands ghost over his ribcage. They have an evening show to do in two hours, so they can’t afford to get too dishevelled.

Gaining confidence, Peter descends his hands to Dudley’s lower back, dipping below the waistband of his trousers.

Dudley breaks the kiss and Peter is devastated.

At the look on Peter’s face, Dudley is quick to placate him.

“Hands above the waistline, sunshine,” he says teasingly.

Peter is more than happy to acquiesce. He lifts his hands, tentatively clutching at Dudley’s hips. Above his belt.

Dudley settles further into him and Peter moans as he grinds against the seam of his trousers.

“Dud,” Peter whines helplessly.

Dudley leans in close to nibble Peter’s earlobe. Peter shivers at the sensation of Dudley’s breath so close.

Peter reaches his arm further around Dudley to rake his fingernails down his back.

He feels Dudley shudder against him, and then there is a knock at their door.

Dudley jumps off him like he’s been electrocuted, nearly falling over backwards.

Miller is calling them. Don Silverman, their producer has an important announcement to make.

“One minute!” Peter shouts, as they both try to make each other look presentable as quickly as possible.

They leave the dressing room and head along the corridor to the larger room that Miller and Bennett have been sharing. They join their costars along with their producer and director.

Silverman is holding an envelope and a bottle of champagne.

“Well, boys. I’ve called you in because I have some special news. There is no doubt that your show has been the pick of the Fringe, this year. You’ve all been reading the reviews. However, the new development is that there has been a great deal of interest from one of the top producers in London in doing a West End run of the review. The ball’s in your court, and whether or not you choose to continue with the show, this is cause for celebration!”

At that, he pops the cork on the champagne and fills six glasses. They toast their success, and Peter attempts to engage in small talk. However, he feels his attention is being continually distracted by Dudley. He can barely string two sentences together and sincerely hopes that he isn’t being too obvious.

An hour later, they’ve managed to extricate themselves from the party and are standing awkwardly in the hallway.

“Well,” Peter says hesitantly.

“Well indeed.” Dudley responds, rocking back and forth gently on his heels, looking up somewhere in the region just above Peter’s left shoulder.

“Look, I understand if…” Peter begins, trying to backpedal. As much as he wants Dudley, he has to be realistic. If pursuing something with him now means that he won’t do the show… it really isn’t worth his career.

“Shh.” Dudley reaches up to place a finger on Peter’s lips shushing him.

Peter looks distinctly uncomfortable, hands grasping awkwardly at his sides.

“Oh, Peter.” Dudley says, reaching up to caress Peter’s face. “I’ve waited six months for this, I’m hardly going to let the threat of a smash West End show spoil it!”

Peter’s face breaks out into a boyish, disbelieving smile. “You want to do it?” he asks hopefully.

“Oh yes. This is going to be fun, loverboy.” Dudley drags Peter back into their dressing room to finish what they started.

As he’s pushed forcefully against the door and feels Dudley’s arms wrap around his neck, bringing him down for yet another soul shattering kiss, Peter is sure that this is the beginning of the best thing that has ever happened to him.