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beckoning the great divide

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Richard had insisted on watching.

Taron likes to fancy himself a dedicated actor, really throws himself into roles headfirst, so when Dex suggests they shave his hairline up for the later Elton scenes he shrugs and says sure, go for it, let’s do the job right. Doesn’t even hesitate. It’s not until he’s sat in the chair with his hair falling in tufts to the floor below that he starts to have some doubts.

“Oh, mate,” Richard says delightedly from behind. “You’re a stunner. Really. It suits you.”

“Kindly fuck off,” Taron says back, and watches the razor go higher still.

He’s in his late twenties, freshly single and still a bit heartsick about it, and now badly balding, of all things. It’s not like he’s even got time to breathe, let alone think about dating, but—there is something humbling about knowing that you’re maybe not at the top of your game. Especially when sharing the same air as Richard Madden, who has, if anything, only gotten better-looking over time. He’s got a premature grey streak and the internet has created Instagram accounts for it, for fuck’s sake.

He knows, because he keeps getting tagged in them.

Richard brushes some of the loose hair off Taron’s shoulder and grins at him in the mirror. “I’m telling you. You pull it off so nicely. You’re going to have to beat the ladies off with a stick.”

“Can someone get him out of here?” Taron says loudly, which just makes Richard laugh.

The only beating he’s done, recently, is late at night with his hand shoved down his pants, half-wrecked with exhaustion. He’s had spotty WiFi and four hours of rolling around on a bed with Richard, on-camera, and that was the extent of it. At least you’ve got an okay personality his mate from back home had texted, when he was three drinks deep and feeling a little vulnerable, which just goes to show his friends are the worst and he really ought to search for new ones. He’ll start by exiling Richard. Wipe the smirk off his face.

“Honestly, though,” Richard says, and squeezes Taron’s neck in an assuaging way. “With that jawline, you can’t go wrong. Couldn’t look bad if you tried.”

So maybe he’ll hold off.

***

“We,” Richard tells him gravely, “deserve a drink.”

They’re at the tail end of a long day of shooting. Taron’s about worn thin, his voice hoarse and his eyes burning with hard-earned fatigue. His brain’s too wired to sleep, knows it’ll be hours before he can actually wind it down, shut it off, but he wants a comfortable sofa. Wants sweatpants and something cloyingly sweet. Wants easy.

“Not going out,” he says. “Can’t. Too tired. Come to mine. I’ve got loud music and sticky floors, I’ve got shitty beer, I’ll put on a sports game that neither of us care about, it’ll be just like the real deal.”

“Why are your floors sticky?” Richard asks, looking concerned.

***

The room feels natural with Richard in it. Taron’s life feels natural with Richard in it. It is frankly absurd how fast that’d happened.

heads up bois, one of his mates from Aberystwyth had sent in their longstanding group text, after he’d listened to Taron ramble on for a good quarter of an hour. He gets carried away sometimes. He knows he does. taron’s got a new man in his life.

Call me Mrs Madden, Taron had written back. Proud and unbothered. Sent a thumbs-up selfie with Rich for good measure.

***

In truth, it’s probably for the best that Taron’s single. He’s never been capable of pouring his heart in two directions and right now it’s firmly vested in filming, in embodying a legend of a man, in not fucking this up. He deeply and desperately wants to not fuck this up.

Might be nice to get laid, though. If he had the time. The energy. The anonymity at will.

He makes the mistake of mentioning this to Richard. It was meant to be a joint commiseration. A life of us actors, huh? sort of thing, but Richard just hmms and doesn’t agree. He looks at him seriously, thoughtfully. He quirks an eyebrow and says, after too long a pause, “Want me to blow you?”

Just like that.

“You are such a prick,” Taron laughs, and shoves at him with the heel of his foot.

The thing is, though.

Richard isn’t laughing. Even though he was the one that made the joke. Because of course it’s a joke. Of course he wouldn’t—they’d never even—

“I mean it,” Richard says easily. “I’ve been told I’m not half bad.”

Taron stops laughing then, too.

He knows about Richard, obviously. Has for ages. It was a nonissue between them. Barely a blip. They spent so much time together; they talked a big game, playing each other’s wingmen when they weren’t too done in to go out, but ending most nights as they’d started them: backseat, alone, together, pleasantly buzzed, swapping shared stories of failed attempts, enjoying each other’s company far more than any stranger’s—

It’d never come up, this.

Perhaps an oversight on Taron’s part.

“Yeah, alright,” Taron says. Throwing caution to the wind. Vague enough that he can deny it, later. Remember that time you thought I was actually going to—

Richard shifts on the sofa. Reaches for his waistband. Casual as anything. “You’re not going to be weird about this tomorrow, are you,” he says, pausing with his fingers splayed against Taron’s hips.

He’s sweating. Already, he’s sweating. This must be some sort of fever dream. Richard has lost his fucking mind. They both have. It’s happened. They’ve cracked.

“No,” Taron says thickly.

Richard nods, satisfied, and nudges Taron’s knees apart.

***

Afterwards, when he’s cleaned up and come down—it hadn’t taken long, two months of anxious buildup to a frantic, needed release—Taron presses back into the sofa, hesitates a moment, then looks at Richard’s crotch.

“Should I—?” he says, with a stupid gesture. He should probably, right. Fair is fair and all.

He’s never done it before, but he’s got the blueprints down. Thinks he could fumble through a handie, at least.

“No need,” Richard says breezily, and reaches for the bottle at his feet. “Want another beer?”

***

Richard sticks around long enough to finish off the six-pack, and they joke and laugh and talk about foolish inane things, like Richard hadn’t just had Taron’s cock in his mouth. Like he hadn’t rinsed the taste out with Corona. Like this was something that they did. Just after midnight Richard bids him a jaunty goodnight and heads out and Taron flops into bed, alone. Spent and bewildered.

He grabs his phone from the nightstand. Takes him five tries to come up with a suitable message to a mate from back home, not the whole group, he’s not ready for that, but: he’s got to tell someone. He’s not good at keeping his mouth shut. It’s gotten him in trouble in interviews before.

Not entirely sure why or how but I think I just got a bj from Richard Madden, he sends.

F U C K O F F, his mate writes back, followed immediately by: how is it that you’re ACTUALLY living all my gayest wet dreams?

***

Taron buys Richard a chocolate croissant the next morning and then agonizes over it the entire way there, considers chucking it in the bin as soon as he makes it to set. He’d promised he wouldn’t be weird. He’s not going to be weird. It’s normal to buy your mate breakfast. He’s never done it before, but it’s only a coincidence that he’s decided to start today.

Richard intercepts his self-torment, timely and dapper, and looks at the crumpled bag.

“This is not a thank you for the blowjob gift,” Taron tells him seriously.

“That’s good,” Richard says. “I’d hope it’d be something a bit nicer than a croissant, if it were.”

“Did you want a string of pearls?”

Richard raises his eyebrows.

“Not what I meant,” Taron mutters, and shoves the pastry in his hands.

***

It feels like it was probably a one-off deal. Richard’s good deed of the month, or something. Because things between them really aren’t weird. Because they don’t talk about it after that. Because Richard doesn’t ever let his gaze linger too long, doesn’t flash him conspiratorial smiles in crowded rooms. Doesn’t acknowledge it at all.

After two solid weeks of this, Taron starts to doubt it even happened. Like maybe he’d somehow hallucinated the entire thing, drunk and lonely and having spent too much time with Richard’s naked body pressed against his own. It wouldn’t be the weirdest fantasy he’s ever had.

But then.

It’s a late shoot, hours winding down into nothing, and Taron’s feeling off. Missing cues, stumbling over his words. Jaw-clenchingly frustrated. He gets like this, sometimes, too in his own head, and particularly when everything is riding on him. If he doesn’t do his own job right a hundred others can’t do theirs—and it weighs heavy and unpleasant, to carry so much responsibility.

God. He’d be a shit Spiderman.

He’s nipped off to his trailer for a break and a bit of brooding when the door creaks open. There are only a handful of people that wouldn’t have bothered to knock. Probably only one that would stick his head in and say, “Need a longer timeout, or is it okay if I intrude?”

Taron rolls his eyes but waves Richard in.

He’s never once considered Richard an intrusion. Funny how those things seem to go.

Richard closes the door behind him and leans back against it. “Alright, T?” he says, searching him with his eyes like he can see inside his fucking soul. Richard’s never made him feel nervous before. Right now he feels ridiculously exposed.

“Stress is getting to me, I think,” Taron admits, fingertips pressed against his temples. Gaze lit on the ground. “I’m just—tense. And it’s noticeable, I know it is. Burning daylight out there.”

Richard’s quiet, a moment. Then, low and significant: “What do you need?”

“I dunno, I...” Taron breaks off, because he’s—Richard’s question had sounded more like a solution. Just say the words, that sort of thing. But he can’t assume. He doesn’t want to assume. “I dunno,” he repeats.

“C’mere.”

Taron looks up, finally. Richard beckons him forward with a short nod, calm and steady and sure. How, Taron wants to know, does he always seem so sure.

He stands up before he can second-guess it. Crosses the room, stops just in front of Richard. Richard smiles, gently, and runs his thumb along Taron’s bottom lip. Like he’s trying to iron out the frown.

And then he drops down to his knees.

“Fuck, Richard,” Taron hisses, hand shooting up to brace against the door. “Jesus, you can’t just—” An unexpected wave of want tears through him. Breath caught in his throat.

Richard takes his expression in. “This help, you think?” he asks, curling a hand just behind Taron’s knee. Searing into his skin. “Might make you feel better?”

“Yes, I—God, yes.”

His Elton trousers are particularly tight today. If he’d expected this he might’ve changed first. Something looser. Easier.

Richard doesn’t seem too put off by the job.

They’re on borrowed time. They both know that. Richard doesn’t mess around or draw it out; he gets his pants shoved down just far enough. He wraps his mouth around him in a way that’s torturously hot, no teasing, just practiced and perfect, like this is what he was meant to do. His fingers graze over the fine hairs on Taron’s thighs and Taron feels like he’s fit to combust, trying to bite back groans (Richard’s just doing him a favor—it’d be overkill to groan, right) and then groaning desperately anyway when Richard takes him deeper. There’s an entire crew on the other side of the wall, busy and unsuspecting, and it does something to him, having Richard—all to himself. Like this. His calves are practically trembling when he draws close, and he threads his hands into Richard’s hair and tugs. “Fuck, Richard,” he murmurs again. “Fuck, gonna come—”

Richard hums encouragingly around him. That’s all it takes.

He drops his head against his forearm, after, for a moment long enough to gather himself. Richard climbs to his feet and rubs a hand over his shoulders. Slow and circular. Comforting. “Good?” he asks quietly, and Taron lets out a muffled moan.

“Good. So good.”

“Good,” Richard says again. “See you out there?”

He lifts his head in surprise. Richard shoots him a wink, fucking Bond-level suave, and disappears out the door just as swiftly as he’d come.

Taron hadn’t even gotten the chance to offer to do him back.

He really was going to have to find something better than a croissant.

***

He and Richard spend a day off together. Wholly spontaneous, strolling down sunlit streets in baseball hats and shades, wandering into quiet divey pubs, ordering lagers before noon, trading war stories of jobs that’d gone bad (“Spacey,” Taron says with a grimace; Richard tells him about the sleepless nights during Bodyguard, the three separate dentist appointments he’d made because he was afraid he was giving himself lockjaw), Taron shoving his earbuds at Richard and making him listen to too many songs, Richard just smiling contently through them, playing one or two of his own. They don’t touch. They just… are.

It’s the most relaxed Taron’s felt in months.

It makes him want—more.

***

“Are you only doing this because you feel bad for me with this haircut?” Taron asks the third time, Richard pressing heated kisses across his hipbone, illuminated by the blue glow of the television, an old movie they’d agreed to watch and then hadn’t.

“Yes,” Richard says, without pause.

***

It should probably feel like the world’s greatest setup, Taron thinks. No work, just reward. He would’ve killed for this as an awkward horny teenager.

Except.

Except they’re arguing over lunch one day. Richard’s a lovely man with terrible opinions, and he’s claiming that pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza, the absolute philistine, when Taron decides that he’d quite like to have a turn himself. Just that easily. Not out of obligation, not to make things fair. He wants to. Richard’s skills are—admirable. But there are other things about him, too. His stupidly-handsome face. His harebrained ideas, whispered against Taron’s ear at breaks, always harmless, always kind. The fact that he laughs at Taron’s jokes, even when they’re not funny. Especially when they’re not funny. That they could spend an entire day together and Taron’s still disappointed when he leaves.

So far things between them have felt transactional, almost. Charitable. Let me give you a hand, like maybe Richard’s just the type of fellow that performs fellatio on all his friends in need. Nothing personal to it.

Bad pizza take and all, Taron’s starting to think that maybe he wants something personal to it.

The problem is: Richard never kisses him, before or after. Never spends the night. Never turns it into more than it is.

It’s utterly ridiculous, but he has no idea if Richard wants that too.

What if he’s not into it, he asks his mate over text, because he’s the only bloody person in his life that he can talk to about this, because it’d be a betrayal of trust with their mutual friends, because he’s not about to tell his mam how adept Richard is with his mouth.

not into having his dick sucked?? he writes back, a few hours later. jesus christ taron i know you're not that dumb.

Rude, but it’s a fairly solid point.

***

A fourth time happens, drunk and sloppy. Taron wakes up with a hangover and a horrifying stain on his socks. A fifth time, out of boredom, almost, a might as well dip in their day, except Taron’s been drowning in doubt for so long now, thinking back to that first time, and every time since, Richard carelessly waving him away, don’t worry about it, he says, again and again, no bother—

No bother—

***

Before he knows it, it’s all but over.

The days have dwindled too fast, blood and sweat and tears, Dexter hugging him extra hard after long takes. All of them bone-weary but hiding it. Unnecessarily late nights, lingering small talk, no one wanting to be the first to leave. A mental countdown and then—it’s done.

There’s a wrap party. It’s bittersweet, the way they always are, blinked back tears and topped-off glasses, shouts of laughter and recounted inside jokes, an incredible amount of embraces, and Richard hanging around the periphery because Taron hasn’t known him long but he knows this: Richard doesn’t do goodbyes.

Taron gives him space. Doesn’t call him out, doesn’t drag him back in when he slips out the back door for a cigarette.

He hasn’t known him long, but he knows this: he is not saying goodbye to Richard tonight.

He can’t.

He won’t.

***

Late into the night, after his fourth or fifth weepy toast, Taron decides it’s probably time to go. He’s emptied two champagne flutes, a smattering of vodka sodas, a shot that’d burned like smoke. He’s a little unsteady on his feet, but good. He’s said every thanks, kissed every cheek. Except for one. He tries to look casual, but seizes an opportunity: sidles up besides Richard the second he’s alone, says very coolly, “My car’s here. Want to head out?”

Richard nods, easy. Grabs his coat and follows him to the door. They pass unseen into the brisk early-morning air, the moon bright and full, and Richard looks good in any lighting but especially like this, here, tonight. Taron feels like he’s been counting down the minutes without even meaning to, anticipation unfurling in his chest, the entire evening a pleasant lead-in to this.

Alone, with Richard. Again.

“Doesn’t feel real,” Richard says, sliding after him into the backseat. He collapses back against the leather, lets his eyes close. His hair’s rumpled and his top three buttons are undone and Taron wants to finish the job. With his teeth.

So maybe the vodka’d been more than a smattering.

“I know. How’d it go by so fast?” Taron folds his hands in his lap and doesn’t put his mouth anywhere near Richard’s neck. Keeps a respectful distance. Thinks he might burst out of his skin with the effort. “Feels like I just met you yesterday.”

Richard’s eyes flicker back open and he looks at Taron with a carefully raised eyebrow. “Does it really,” he says, and Taron goes warm all the way down his neck.

“No,” he murmurs, after a beat. “It actually doesn’t feel like that at all.”

Richard smiles and reaches forward, tugs at Taron’s collar. “What’s it feel like, then?”

He has to take a breath to steady himself. In, through his nose. Out. No bother, Richard always says. How can he not be bothered. “Like you’ve been a nuisance in my life forever,” he says finally, and Richard laughs, quiet but pleased.

“You’re the nuisance,” he says back, pinching Taron’s cheek before dropping his hand back to his side. “I’m just along for the ride.”

There isn’t a discussion when the car stops, isn’t an invite; Richard follows Taron up, like there was no other option. Like it was normal for them to go home together. Like this was something that they did. Taron realizes his palms are sweaty when he digs through his pocket for the key. “Haven’t got anything to drink,” he says, stepping aside to let Richard through first. “So we’ll have to—”

Richard pulls Taron inside by his jacket, the rest of the thought dying in his throat, like he doesn’t want to waste a second, like he’s had a countdown too. The door closes behind them. Richard crowds in close to Taron, pushes him up against the wall, and starts to lower himself to his knees like he had nearly every time before.

Taron shoots out a hand to stop him.

Like he never has before.

Richard freezes, his shirt crumpled in Taron’s fist, a worry line creasing his forehead. “Shit, sorry, T,” he manages, looking properly stricken for the first time since they’d start doing this. Whatever this was. “Shouldn’t have—I just thought—”

“You never let me,” Taron says.

“What?”

“Let me.

He turns them around bodily and it’s his turn to shove Richard up against the door. To drag fingers down Richard’s chest. To work at Richard’s belt, bold and determined.

“Taron,” Richard says softly, watching him.

Taron stops on command. He reels himself back in, huffs out a short breath.

“Are you not into this?” he asks, at last. Feels stupid and boyish, after, but the question hangs heavy in the air. He has to know. “Because you’re really sending me mixed messages here, Rich.”

Richard’s brow furrows even more. He’s always—careful, with his thoughts, his words. In a way that Taron never is. “I’m into this,” he says, finally. Firmly.

“Then why don’t you ever want—”

“It’s not that I don’t want,” Richard says. He leans back against the wall, uneasy. Rucks up his hair even further with one hand. “Jesus. I do. I just… don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Of course. Of course Richard’s a fucking gentleman. Of course that’s why.

“You’re an idiot,” Taron says kindly, after a disbelieving pause. “You look at me and I get hard these days, and you still think I wouldn’t want to— Might not be as good as you, frankly, but I’d quite like to give it a go—”

“Alright,” Richard says. His ears have gone slightly pink. “Alright. If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” Taron says. He doesn’t even hesitate. He goes back to grappling with Richard’s belt, his heart rate picking up, unfiltered want coursing through his own veins. He wants to go down on Richard and draw sinful noises out of him and make him come unglued, sure, but he also just wants—Richard. He doesn’t want this to be transactional. He wants Richard. “Can I kiss you,” he murmurs, a finger hooked in his belt loop.

Richard looks vaguely surprised, but then he grins, doesn’t give a real answer; he reaches up and knocks his hat off—Taron nearly complains, he’s still got 90s Elton hair, half-convinced it’ll ruin the mood—but then Richard cups his hands over Taron’s ears and pulls him in for a kiss. Unbothered. It’s gentle, tentative, at first, nothing like on-set kisses; not choreographed or overthought, just slow and sweet, expensive Scotch on Richard’s breath, and then it isn’t. Richard deepens the kiss, hungry and searching, his fingers curling more possessively around Taron’s neck. Richard kisses him like he’s making up for lost time.

It’s as good as Taron’s imagined.

Maybe even better.

He pulls away and tips his forehead against Richard’s shoulder, still tugging feebly at Richard’s belt. “Bed, I think,” he says, and Richard nods and finishes the job himself. Belt freed and dropped to the floor unceremoniously, and a trail of clothing after it: Richard’s coat, first, then shirt, crumpled and careless. Taron nearly twists his arms up in his jacket, trying to get out of it, and Richard laughs and moves forward to help him. He attends to Taron’s shirt for him, kissing him sweetly after every other button. Then that, too, joins the pile.

Richard shucks his trousers off last, crawls back on the bed, and looks at Taron. It’s subtle, but there’s something uncertain in his expression. Taron immediately wants to kiss it away.

“Called my mate for tips,” Taron admits, climbing up on the mattress, bracketing Richard’s hips with his knees. He puts a palm flat on Richard’s stomach and Richard breathes in sharply.

“Yeah? Get anything useful?”

Taron dips his neck forward and presses his lips against Richard’s ribcage. Just once, chaste, and then lower. They’d spent hours rolling around together, like this, but it feels unbelievably new. To want this. To be allowed this. “No,” he murmurs against Richard’s skin. “He laughed at me and said ‘whatever you do, just don’t bite down.’”

“On the contrary,” Richard says, “I think that’s great advice.” He thrifts his fingers into Taron’s hair, scratches lightly against his hairline, and then adds, as if he can’t stop himself, “But, you know, you don’t have to—”

“If you don’t shut up I will bite down,” Taron says, and scrapes his teeth against Richard’s stomach as a warning. Richard’s hips shift up, almost at once, and Taron leans back in surprise. “Oh,” he says, “oh,” and chases after that again, lightly biting at the skin on Richard’s hipbone.

“Fuck, Taron,” Richard hisses, and it’s the first time he’s elicited that response—it’s gone the other way, plenty—and it sends prickles down Taron’s spine.

“I’m gonna,” Taron says, soothing the spot he’d bitten with a kiss, “I’m gonna blow you now,” and messily pulls Richard’s pants down his thighs, no finesse. Richard laughs again, warm and not unkind, and it’s that more than anything that incites him to go on. He hadn’t just asked a mate. He’d done research, on his computer. He’d watched videos. He’d had a wank thinking about this near a dozen times.

He takes Richard’s dick in his hand, thoughtfully. Considers the game plan. And then he wraps his mouth around him.

Richard makes a soft noise and grips Taron’s hair tighter, which is all the encouragement he needs. He’s half-hard himself, and it’s weird how not weird it is, Richard’s dick in his mouth, bobbing his head up and down and messy, yes, he’s got loads to learn in terms of technique, but so fucking good. He keeps at it til his jaw aches, til Richard’s white-knuckling the duvet, til Richard moans deep and says breathlessly, “Here, Taron, hang on, I’m gonna—”

“S’okay—” Taron tries, but Richard pulls at his shoulders until he eases off, says, “Next time, next time,” like he’s afraid that if he comes in Taron’s mouth there won’t be a next time, and Taron thinks to tell him later how dumb that is but replaces his lips with his hand, anyway, same eager pace, and presses kisses to whatever parts of Richard’s body he can reach. His hip. His side. He sinks his teeth down on Richard’s stomach, again, and Richard curses loudly and comes with his fingers scrabbling down Taron’s back.

Taron waits a moment before he shifts back up the bed, grabs the box of tissues from the nightstand. He wipes his hand off, mostly, but then looks at Richard and cheekily licks his thumb clean, just to prove a point. It’s not like it’s fucking candy, but. It’s Richard.

“Jesus,” Richard says quietly, flushed and spent and watching him. “You’re—fuck, T, I want to—”

“Anything,” Taron says, unabashed. He reaches down and palms himself a few times, and Richard’s gaze flickers down to follow the motion. “I mean. Yes. Please.”

“Yeah,” Richard agrees, “yeah, come here,” and Taron doesn’t have to be told twice. He goes. Of course he goes.

It’s Richard.

***

He’s got a stupid early flight the next morning, scheduled weeks before he’d known he’d want to spend a lazy morning cocooned against Richard’s body. Just wants to lay about and order room service, almond lattes and crispy toast in bed, unconcerned of crumbs or time tables, of obligation, of real life. Just wants to skim fingertips under the sheets and touch Richard in all the places he hasn’t yet, few though they may be.

His phone buzzes at him insistently. Richard’s eyebrow twitches but he stays asleep as Taron slides out of bed. Showers dreamily, a pleasant ache in his dimple when he grins. Towels off and gets dressed, as slowly as he can. Still Richard doesn’t wake.

His ride’s downstairs and he can’t put it off any longer, eventually, so he sits on the corner of the mattress and lightly touches Richard’s shoulder. Richard groans but peeks an eye open, looking blearily at Taron.

“Hey,” Taron says, “I’ve gotta go.” Richard goes to sit up, but Taron shakes his head, pushes him back to the pillow. “No, don’t. Have a lie-in. Just wanted to say bye.”

“I’ll see you soon, yeah?” Richard mumbles, wrapping a hand around Taron’s wrist and giving it a squeeze.

“Course. Can’t get rid of me that easily.”

“Wouldn’t want to,” Richard says, and closes his eyes again like he couldn’t keep them open if he tried. Taron pauses, wonders briefly what to do; he wants to kiss him goodbye, obviously, but Richard’s half-asleep and they hadn’t actually addressed this before they’d crashed last night, hadn’t talked next steps, and what if Richard thought it was weird? He settles for pressing his lips to Richard’s forehead, brief, like he might’ve long before they’d ever transgressed past a normal fucking friendship, and then he grabs his bags and heads for the door.

“See you, T,” Richard calls sleepily, when his hand’s on the knob, and Taron turns to smile at him.

He will. They will. Of course they will.

“See you,” Taron says, and against all better judgment, he opens the door and leaves.

***

Days pass in a blur. Taron goes home. Wraps his little sisters up in a big hug and doesn’t let go until they wriggle out of his grasp, giggling and playful and unimpressed by his stories. His mum kisses his forehead and smiles like she’s worked something out about him, something new, but she doesn’t say what. His best friends laugh hysterically the first time he takes his hat off, and Taron flips them the bird and shaves his hair down, feels like himself again. Or maybe a different version of himself. Maybe a better one.

And Richard. A world away. They text often (is it weird that i’m still not tired of EJ’s music? Richard sends him; Is it weird that I’m still not tired of you? Taron thinks) and his mates give him a hard time when he finally tells them all, in their hometown pub, halted but smiling. None of them surprised. They send a parade of Game of Thrones gifs in the group message. Start calling him Queen in the North. It’s not the worst nickname he’s ever been bequeathed.

He thinks about Richard too much but can’t bring himself to put it in words. Miss you, mate he texts, hopes it’s enough. call up Dex, Richard writes back. let’s just do it all again.

He would. He fucking would.

***

He snaps a picture of one of his lads at home one evening and posts it online, tipsy and unthinking, and then he wakes up the next morning to a million news outlets reporting he’d come out of the closet. It’s utterly ridiculous, how quickly they’ve all jumped the gun.

He doesn’t care. Not really.

Has to do a bit of tidying up, though.

“I’m not gay,” he tells the Radio Times, to stave off the impending shitstorm, and because it feels right, or mostly right enough. He’s got a tenuous relationship with the public eye, already. Seems absurd that he should have to feel like he owes anyone anything, least of all a truth he’s still working out himself.

As soon as it’s published his group text blows up with screencaps of the interview, followed by a series of laughing emojis and three obnoxious aubergines.

bit gay to be dicked down by richard madden, innit, one of them says.

He should probably change his number.

***

He’s got a press tour for Robin Hood, got talk shows and interviews and countless hours in a car, in a bus, in a plane; Richard’s just as busy, and it takes weeks for their schedules to realign. But they’ve got the launch of the new Range Rover in London, and all they’ve got to do, bless, is show up and look pretty. That morning Taron washes his sheets and stocks the fridge with beer and the sort of sparkling water only Richard likes, and then spends an inordinate amount of time just waiting around. It’s pathetic.

They’ve arranged to share a car. It’s cloudy and grey outside, the sort of chill that bites, and Taron hurries out when it pulls in; throws the door open and climbs up, and there’s a blast of warmth from the heater, and Richard. Taron’s stomach gives a pleasant jolt, and it’s like—like they hadn’t missed a day. He pulls Richard in for a tight hug and a kiss on the head, standard greeting, and has to stop himself from suggesting they skive off and head back inside instead. Warm up in other ways.

“You’re cheerful,” Richard observes, flattening down the collar of Taron’s jacket. He’s smiling, calm and steady, when Taron’s practically jumping out of his skin.

“Yeah, well,” Taron says, “I guess I just really love—cars,” and Richard laughs and flicks at the brim of Taron’s hat.

The ride’s not nearly long enough. They catch up on the last month, but they don’t touch, much, other than an incidental elbow rub, or Richard hovering over his shoulder for a selfie. Taron doesn’t know how to initiate it in a way that wouldn’t be weird, isn’t going to try and hold Richard’s hand when they’d never even said what this was. If it’s anything. They hadn’t even said if it was anything.

The evening flies by. A lot of car talk, a lot of pictures taken. A lot of drinks waved away because Taron wants to be clear-headed, tonight. It’s a great event, all things considered. Taron can’t wait to leave.

Richard finds him this time. Puts a hand on his back but doesn’t let it linger. “I think I’m going to head out,” he says, and a thrill runs through Taron’s body, unbidden.

“Yeah, great, let me just find my coat—”

Richard hesitates, like he wasn’t expecting that response. “Oh,” he says, after a beat. Tugs at his scarf. “Taron, mate, I thought—I thought maybe you’d want to stick around. I called for a car.”

“I don’t want to stick around,” Taron says, uncertainly. Richard’s more interested in cars than he’s ever been. He’s mostly just interested in—Richard.

“Right,” Richard says softly. Then: “Look, T, I think I should head back to my place. I’m exhausted. Early morning tomorrow, y’know?”

It’s like all of the air drains out of Taron at once. His intent is pretty fucking clear. Maybe Richard does have an early morning tomorrow. Maybe he is exhausted. They all are. It’s the nature of their industry.

We can be quick, then, Taron wants to say. Can make it a challenge.

That is not what Richard means.

“Oh,” Taron says, tries to sound upbeat. “Okay, yeah. Of course.”

Richard looks at him. Gives him a weary smile. They’re in public, and Taron can’t do a fucking thing about it. He was stupid to presume. They’d never said this was a thing, right. They’d never said.

“It was so good to see you,” Richard says, and gives him a one-armed hug that’s perfectly normal, the sort you’d give to any coworker. Any coworker who’s, coincidentally, had their dick in your mouth. Maybe it was circumstantial. Maybe Richard really was just that fucking nice. An olive branch on hard work days. Let me give you a hand, just like he’d thought. So fucking presumptuous.

Taron goes home alone. Sleeps on the sofa. Doesn’t feel like messing up the sheets.

***

never liked him, his mate texts the next morning, loyal to a goddamn fault. have i mentioned how much i loved the Red Wedding?

***

The holidays come and go. They’re lovely, family-filled and fun, and the month after; Taron’s spending as much time as he can at home, because he’s got a feeling his life’s about to implode and he wants to soak it up before it does. He and Richard exchange New Years texts, little niceties, and then Richard wins a goddamn Golden Globe and Taron leaves a drunken congratulatory voicemail that he only half-regrets the next day. They aren’t fighting. They’re perfectly cordial, even friendly.

Taron’s starting to realize that it was senseless to think anything could ever happen between them, out in the real world. They were actors. Richard was a man. They lived in the public eye, by choice. Rocketman was a cozy bubble, sure, where they could get away with quiet indiscretions. But no one could live in a bubble forever. One way or another, bubbles were bound to fucking pop.

By the time the BAFTAs roll around, Taron’s sure he’s moved past it. They’re presenting with Jamie, and things are fine. They’re fine.

And then he sees Richard.

Sharp suit, his eyes impossibly blue; the last few months come rushing back to Taron and it seems stupid that he’d spent so long thinking he wasn’t attracted to Richard. That he was just one of his pals. Mrs Madden, he’d joked. Not much of a fucking joke.

Richard smiles, a real smile, and they hug like they hadn’t—ended things. The things they’d never officially started. It’s fine.

“My god,” Jamie says, giving them both a squeeze. Buoyant and happy to be back together. Taron’s heart feels strangely full, in spite of it all. “Have you two always been this ugly?”

“I have,” Richard says. “Jury’s still out on Taron, though. Has he ever been ugly?”

Taron shakes his head. “Trust me. I was a lump for most of adolescence.”

“Yeah, well, join the club.”

“Can’t commiserate,” Jamie says with a shrug. “I’ve always had the body of a Greek god, myself.”

There are photos—Richard’s hand on his lower back, startlingly familiar—and they present together on stage, and then there’s an after-party that they manage to goad Jamie into joining. Jamie’s got a wife, got a second kid on the way, has gotten really good at saying no, but he shows up for a beer that turns into two, three. Halfway through his fourth beer Taron discovers Jamie’d disappeared without a goodbye, his trademark, and then it’s just him and Richard and a crowd of strangers between them. Richard’s bowtie hanging crooked around his neck.

Taron doesn’t fix it. Doesn’t even try.

But he wants to.

It’s egregiously late when he sees Richard slip off to the bathroom. Music still too loud and pulsing, but the party dying down, watery drinks abandoned, conversations punctuated by yawns. Taron drains the rest of his beer and makes an executive decision. He goes.

He’s been in a room with Richard for four hours and somehow still misses him more than he ever has, a deep ache in his gut. Maybe it is senseless. But Taron’s never been one to chase after good sense. He’s got a track record a mile long. Richard’s name’s at the top of the list.

Richard’s at the sink when he enters. They’re alone. Richard catches his gaze in the mirror. “Hi,” he says, and for once, he doesn’t sound calm and collected. He sounds caught off guard. Taron likes that. That maybe they’re finally on equal footing.

Taron doesn’t say hi back. He tucks his hands in his pockets, leans back against the door. “Did I do something?” he says quietly. Because he’s got to know. Because it’ll eat him up if he doesn’t.

Richard turns the faucet off, reaches for a paper towel. He turns around but doesn’t step any closer, and Taron can see, now, how tired he looks. “What d’you mean?”

“I mean. If it was a—a one night thing, I get it. But you didn’t act like it. Not at first. Did I do something?”

The air in the bathroom is unbearably heavy. Richard scrubs a hand over his forehead and sighs. “Taron,” he says, “you’re straight.”

That is—not what he expected.

“I shouldn’t have,” Richard goes on quickly, miserably, “I feel awful, look, we were both working too hard, spending too much time together, and I—fuck, I was lonely, I don’t know, I thought it was all just fun at first, look, Taron, I’m sorry—”

“I’m not,” Taron says, interrupting. Loud and sure. “I’m not sorry at all.”

“But you’re—”

“Would you quit telling me what I am or what I’m not?”

“I don’t have to,” Richard says, “you’ve made it perfectly clear yourself—”

Taron fixes him with a stare. The Radio Times bit. The media faff he’d nearly forgotten about, at this point, so inconsequential it was. “You’re going to have a lot of issues if you believe everything you read online,” he says, and Richard lets out a quiet snort. Taron steps closer. Reaches out. Straightens Richard’s crooked bowtie. Doesn’t pull away.

“I’m still working things out,” he murmurs. “But, Rich. I am absolutely fucking certain that I want you.”

It registers, he knows, but there’s still some hesitation. “Are you—” he starts, but Taron groans and cuts him off again.

“Come home with me,” he says plainly. “I’ll prove it to you. Spend all night proving it to you, if I must.”

Richard turns his face in, so that his cheek is pressed against Taron’s hand. “You must,” he says, stroking Taron’s wrist. “I really, really think you must.”

***

They undress each other quietly. Taron spends a long time kissing Richard breathless against the wall, point made, and they don’t ever make it to the bedroom; on the sofa, like the first time, but—reciprocated. Feet tangled, Richard’s mouth, Richard’s mouth, and Taron’s hand between Richard’s legs, languid and exploratory, drawing sounds out of him that he’d only imagined, panting into his neck and wanting this to never end.

They’ve got months before the premiere. Eons after. They’ve got time. Plenty of time.

Taron knows exactly how he wants to spend it.

***

oh thank fuck, his mate sends, when he gets around to it. because honestly taron if you won’t bend the knee for that king i WILL

***

“Hair grew back alright, then,” Dexter observes, next time they’re sat around a table at a swanky restaurant in London, Richard pressed warm against his side. They’re not making any big declarations, but Richard’s hand finds the inside of Taron’s knee when he orders, travels up his thigh when Dex is busy studying the menu. It’s easy. With Richard, it almost always is.

He’s stopped wearing hats in public, mostly, although he misses occasionally feeling like Indiana Jones. He hadn’t needed the haircut to reinvent himself. He’s doing okay on his own.

Taron catches Richard’s eye and grins.

“Yeah,” he says, running a hand over his head. Richard gives his leg a squeeze. “Luckily, yeah. Everything turned out just fine."