Bradley’s voice wriggles its way into Colin’s dream and gradually Colin becomes aware of the heavy weight on top of him.
“Hmpf,” he answers and tries to bury his face in his pillow only to accidentally bump his head against Bradley’s. “Get off my pillow.”
He hears Bradley’s snicker and feels it too since Bradley has a bit of a wet snicker, when you’re really close to him. Which Colin is what with Bradley being half on top of him (and his pillow).
“Good morning, sleeping beauty!” Bradley says and licks Colin’s cheek. “We got classes in two hours.”
“Good morning, Mr. Filthy Mouth Morning Breath,” Bradley corrects himself, his breath warm on Colin’s wet skin. “I’m glad you’re awake now. I nearly died because of the loneliness.”
“Fuck off,” Colin repeats and really means ‘you can’t be lonely when you are squashing me’. But he trusts Bradley to understand that.
“No, really,” Bradley insists and Colin reluctantly opens one eye when Bradley rolls off of him. “When I am awake and you –“
“Where you going?” Colin interrupts and grabs Bradley’s shoulder, hand fisting in his t-shirt. Assured that Bradley can’t escape, he closes his eye again.
“As I was saying,” Bradley continues but settles next to Colin once more, his hand on Colin’s belly, “Naturally, I get lonely when I’m awake and you’re lying there like a corpse. If corpses snored, that is.”
“When you say ‘lonely’ you mean ‘bored’,” Colin says and covers Bradley’s hand on his belly with his own.
“It’s like you know me,” Bradley answers happily and presses his nose against Colin’s cheek.
They fall silent for a moment but Colin waits for Bradley to say something else. He knows Bradley and there are just a few occasions when he is silent for longer than two minutes; mostly it is either when he is asleep (though he frequently even talks in his sleep and Colin has had whole conversations with him then), when he is building robots or when they are having sex, the slow Sunday Morning all-day-long kind. Bradley’s hand on his belly is stroking slow circles, but lazy and without any purpose, so Colin deducts that it’s possibility number four which keeps him silent: Plan hatching.
“Do you love me?” Bradley asks a minute later, voice dark and sexy.
“No, I don’t,” Colin lies because he isn’t stupid.
“Yes, you do,” Bradley contradicts him and lightly kisses the spot right under Colin’s ear. Colin hums in response and feels Bradley smile against his skin. “Yes, you do,” Bradley repeats, even quieter, “which is why –“
“No,” Colin says. “Whatever it is, if it involves getting up, the answer is no.”
Bradley pulls back and Colin knows without opening his eyes that Bradley is pulling a face. He pats Bradley’s hand on his belly. With a sigh, Bradley relents and Colin feels the mattress moving when he sits up and gets up.
Colin only opens his eyes when he hears Bradley’s footsteps on the carpet and a door being opened and closed. He half sits up in their bed and looks around in their tiny bedroom in confusion before peering into the narrow hallway. Bradley is nowhere to be seen.
He grabs his mobile from the nightstand and Bradley answers after the first ring.
“Aw, do you miss me already?”
Colin lets his head drop back onto the pillow. “Where did you go?”
“On a mission. A very secret and strictly need-to-know one.”
“Are you on the loo?”
“If I were, I’d let you know; in detail.”
“Thank you, that’s terrific of you, Bradley.”
Bradley laughs and there is the noise of another door being opened, heavy hinges creaking. Then there is the distant sound of cars and is that a bird singing?
“Are you outside?” Colin asks. “In your underwear?”
“I’m wearing my football shorts; perfectly acceptable for the general public. – Good morning, Mrs. White!”
“You are trying to get us evicted.”
“It’s Mrs. White and Denny! I’m just being polite and besides, I think she is blind anyway, and the dog likes me.”
“Don’t touch it, it’ll catch your fleas.”
“If you find my body hygiene so repulsing why do you like licking me everywhere so much?”
“Please tell me that Mrs. White is gone by now.”
“I think she fancies me.”
“You’re a moron.”
There are muffled noises again, Bradley holding his phone between his shoulder and his cheek while he fiddles with his keys. A moment later, there is a satisfied laugh and Bradley’s belated response,
“I am a moron with WSC though.”
“Your secret mission was fetching your footie mag?”
“My life is incredibly exciting, I know. Do you want me to tell you about my heroic quest in a little more detail? I actually passed this curly haired bloke in the hallway and naturally, I –“
“I’m hanging up now, Bradley,” Colin says and does.
By the time Bradley’s key turns in the keyhole, Colin has managed to drag himself out of bed and clear a path to the kitchen by kicking all the clothes and books that litter the hallway a little closer to the walls.
Bradley (indeed in nothing but his boxer shorts and one of Colin’s shirts that is a little too small for him) stops in the doorframe, reading in his magazine. Colin watches him chewing on his bottom lip, holding the door knob still in his hand. Then he catches himself thinking that there can’t possibly be anything sexier than Bradley in his underwear, on the doorstep to their flat (their flat), with his dirty naked feet and completely lost in football. Sometimes loving someone is ridiculously easy.
Eventually Colin asks, “Was there anything else in the mail?”
Bradley absentmindedly hums an affirmation.
“The phone bill by any chance?”
“Give me the other letters then,” Colin prompts and holds out his hand expectantly. Bradley looks up from his magazine, surprised.
“Oh, I left them in the letterbox. Did you want them?”
It’s late Monday morning and Orlando has allowed himself the luxury stay in bed till mid morning. He is entitled to, he figures, because he’s just solved this tricky murder case all by himself and everyone (including himself) was immensely impressed with him. So he figures he won’t get yelled at by his guv for coming in late today, have a bit of a lie in and a proper breakfast instead of something gulped down half out of the door.
He decides to upgrade on the proper by picking up his mail, something that he usually does on his way out to work. But real breakfast requires something to read alongside your cuppa tea.
When he walks down the short paved walkway to the letterboxes he passes an ancient guy with an incredibly ugly Yorkshire terrier. The old guy glowers at him and his dog growls. Orlando still smiles at them because it is not that surprising since being a DI may sound fancy, but it doesn’t pay that well. So, Orlando’s house is not really in the top ten of great neighbourhoods. Not even in the top fifty really. He fishes his mail out of the letterbox and turns back to the house and starts to open letter after letter with the biggest of the keys on his key ring.
Back in his flat he pours himself a cup of tea and sits down at the tiny table in his kitchen that he hardly ever uses. He switches on the radio and while he chews on his first bite of toast, he starts with the letters. He spills a little milk over his tax return notice and gets a bit of jam on the junk mail, and he is on his second egg when he gets to the plain white envelope with the black rim. He pushes the spoon between his lips to pull the letter out and reads.
“Even if death comes as a salvation from long suffering it still leaves us grieving. We mourn the death of one of our finest, of our grandmother, mother and aunt, of our wonderful Catherine Warner. We will miss you, Cathy.”
The simple black lettering on thick white paper stares at Orlando, itself as uncompromising as the death it announces. The unpleasant chill that ran down his shoulders once he’d realized what kind of letter he was about to read has settled in his belly. Orlando swallows and slowly pulls the spoon from his lips.
No matter how much working in the CID should steel you against death, obituaries always leave Orlando feeling sort of sad and empty inside.
Except for one thing.
He has absolutely no idea who ‘Catherine Warner’ is.
Frowning heavily he puts the letter down and picks up the envelope, searching for the sender in hope of illumination. What his eyes catch on is the neatly written address of the recipient.
‘To Mr. Sean Bean,’ it reads.
“Bugger,” he mutters to the empty kitchen. “I’m never having bloody breakfast at home again.”
He stuffs the letter back into the envelope and looks contemplatively at its torn top. There is no way this would go by unnoticed and Orlando has always prided himself to be a decent person who stands up for his mistakes - and sometimes for the ones Cols makes too, because he may be a bit of a prick (no, really, he even has a badge that says “DI Colin Farrell – professional arsehole”) and but he is Orlando’s best mate.
This is why not ten minutes later he finds himself outside the front door, searching for “Sean Bean” on the huge alignment of names next to the doorbells. There is just too many of them and, stumbling over “John Wayne”, “Dick Cockhead” and others, Orlando isn’t sure if his search for “Bean” will come up with results or whether the man hides behind one of those incredibly clever pseudonyms. His eyes stumble over some names he can’t decipher and over one sign that reads “Morgan <3 James” before he finally finds a simple printed out “Bean” on the third floor.
He fingers the letter while he is in the elevator and feels stupid for feeling nervous when he rings the doorbell of the last flat on the corridor. He has delivered bad news more than once, he tells himself, which was far worse than this.
It takes a little while – in which Orlando thinks that the inhabitant of the flat might very well not be at home at all – until the door is opened by a blond man in a football shirt and track bottoms.
“What do you want?” the man asks, voice as gruff as his words.
“Hi,” Orlando says, trying very hard to not let his DI nature (which screams ‘football hooligan!’ at him) get the better of him, “I live a few floors upstairs and accidentally got your mail.”
He holds out the envelope which the other man takes reluctantly. After one glance at it, the blond looks up at him with a sceptical frown.
“It‘s been opened,” he states, waiting.
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that. I didn’t look at the address until it was too late.”
“You read it, too?”
Orlando knows an interrogation when he sees one (and is usually on the other end of the questions) but he supposes he deserves it. Truthfully he nods.
“I see,” says Bean, still eyeing him with scrutinizing intensity. “And was money in it that you accidentally took out?”
“Would I have brought you the letter if I did?”
The older man doesn’t respond but still stands in his doorway, looking doubtful.
Orlando tries again, amusement winning over the initial incredulity, “Do I look like I’d nick from other people’s mail?”
“Appearances can be deceiving.”
Returning the lack of politeness now, Orlando looks Bean up and down, just like he does it with your average low life criminal, and finally says, “Yeah, and sometimes they tell you just what you need to know about a person.”
For a moment, and for the first time during their brief encounter, Bean looks confused. Then he glances down at himself, right down to his bare feet, and much to Orlando’s surprise there is a smile on his lips now as their eyes meet again.
Orlando instantly feels like a fool for taking the bait so easily – he really needs to work on that temper thing – and scratching his head he says, “Look, mate, I’m sorry about the letter.”
“What does it say then?” Bean asks, half raising the envelope.
“You better read that for yourself, I reckon.”
The small smile disappears from the other man’s lips and yeah, Orlando hates this part, when people realize there is no use hanging on to the hope that for once Orlando could be the bearer of good news. Bean doesn’t retreat into his flat, though, but leans against the doorframe and fishes the letter out right there. Orlando isn’t sure whether he is supposed to leave anyway but decides against it, buries his hands in the pockets of his slacks and waits.
“Huh,” Bean grunts eventually, fingers of the hand which is holding the letter rubbing lightly against the paper as if to check that it’s really there.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Orlando says.
Bean looks up from his letter, a frown knitting his brows together. “I have no bloody clue who Catherine Warner is,” he says.
Orlando’s eyebrows shoot up and despite himself he grins and replies, “I know that feeling.”
Bean looks at the sender’s address, holding the envelope closer to his face to be able to decipher the small writing. He squints and Orlando thinks that maybe he usually wears glasses.
“Might be my nutty Aunt Cathy,” he murmurs but doesn’t seem all that sure about it.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Orlando repeats, more on autopilot than anything because all this is rather absurd.
Lowering the letter a little, Bean looks at him again and strangely enough by now Orlando finds the reappearance of the dubious look on the other man’s face reassuring.
“Why do you sound like you work for a funeral home?”
Orlando chuckles dryly; just yesterday he ranted at Cols about how very stupid all these learned-by-heart condoling phrases sound like.
“I’m a cop,” he says, by way of explanation.
“Ah,” Bean replies noncommittally and if he is reassessing, he doesn’t really let on. He folds the letter in two and pushes it into the pocket of his track bottoms. “Well.”
“Well,” Orlando echoes. “I’ll be gone then. Again, sorry about your Aunt Cathy and the mixup.”
“Thanks for returning it,” Bean says after a moment. “The letter.”
Orlando nods and turns on his heels, the sound of the closing door following him down the hallway. This is what you get for sleeping in late, he figures, and gets changed for work.
Bradley has his suspicions about Colin sometimes. Colin, Bradley is quite certain of that, is a – what do you call male witches? Wizards? Bradley is sure Colin is a wizard. For example, Colin can do things with his tongue that are humanly impossible, and Bradley is not thinking about dirty sex things (at least not exclusively) but about the fact that Colin can lick the tip of his own nose.
Another good example for Colin’s not so secret wizard identity is how they leave their flat together each morning but while Bradley always has to run to catch the bus, Colin is in his seat already and smiles at him when Bradley plops down next to him, completely out of breath.
“How do you do that?” Bradley will ask once he has caught his breath. “It’s inhuman! Are you a wizard?”
Colin will pat Bradley’s leg condescendingly (but also kind of nicely) and answer, “I don’t get distracted by cans lying on the street.” or “I didn’t fall asleep on the waiting bench.”
And Bradley will entwine his fingers with Colin’s and say, “I need my morning football practice, keeps me alert and all that.” Or “You could have woken me up, you idiot.”
This morning though, Bradley only has to jog to catch the bus and is so confused to not find Colin already inside that he is still standing in the aisle when Colin throws himself into the bus right before the door closes.
“Where did you come from?” Bradley asks, looking over his shoulder, as Colin pushes him down the gangway and towards two empty seats. Once he has manoeuvred Bradley onto the bench, Colin grins down at him and Bradley kind of loses his track of thought because the dimples on Colin’s face demand all his attention.
“I was fetching our newspaper,” Colin says and sounds intensely pleased with himself.
“Huh?” Bradley asks intelligently.
In response, Colin makes a big show out of pulling the newspaper out of his ratty messenger bag and unfolding it. It’s clearly not made for people to read it on cramped busses and Colin accidentally slaps Bradley in the face in the process. Bradley is a bit put off by that and by the fact that holding the newspaper requires both of Colin’s hands so none of them is available for Bradley to hold.
“Let’s see what the job market has to offer,” Colin says in his best posh London accent (which is quite crap, if Bradley might say so; Colin always sounds like the poster boy for Guinness beer and four leaf clovers). “Have you ever thought of a career change? They are looking for swimming instructors apparently.”
Bradley peers over Colin’s shoulder but the articles about stock don’t surprise him as much as the date on the top of the page: Thursday. Today.
Bradley points at the page and crinkling it a bit by that. “Where did you get that?”
“I rummaged through a rubbish bin,” Colin lies without looking up. “I also found an unused condom and a broken umbrella.”
“Pink. With little elephants on it.”
“The condom? Neat.”
Bradley lets Colin read for a moment and of course Colin instantly switches from the accidentally chosen job advertisements to the section with the cartoons. But when Bradley gets bored with looking out of the window and absentmindedly prodding at the stuffing of his seat he nudges Colin’s shoulder with his own.
“So you’re telling me that you wizarded it into your bag?”
“You stole it from a little homeless lady who used it as bedding?”
Colin looks up from the page and arches both eyebrows. Bradley’s automatic response is to smile extraordinarily sweetly at him. He can’t help it, it’s the fault of Colin’s ears that move whenever he raises his brows and Bradley thinks that is fantastic.
“No, I didn’t rob a homeless lady,” Colin says then. “I pulled it out of our letterbox like a normal person.”
“But you’re not a normal person.”
“You’re welcome. Do you want to know what you are?”
“No,” Colin says and looks down onto his newspaper but Bradley knows that he is lying because he knows Colin. So he tells him.
“I am pretty certain that you’re a wizard from some magic fairy tale.”
Colin’s mouth twitches but he’s not looking up from underneath his messy bangs. Instead he remarks, “And I’m pretty certain that you’re a moron. And extremely bent.”
“I am extremely certain that that was offensive.”
“I’m sorry, I take it back. You’re not bent.”
Bradley leans over and licks Colin’s cheek, both to prove to the world in general (consisting mostly of the napping man in the row next to theirs) that Colin is a big fat liar and because he kind of likes the feeling of Colin’s stubble against his tongue.
Instantly Colin tries to push him away, his hand covering most of Bradley’s face while doing so. So Bradley’s voice is a little muffled when he points out,
“We haven’t subscribed to any newspaper, Colin.”
“I know,” Colin says, wiping his cheek with the sleeve of his jacket. “But there it was and what was I supposed to do with it?”
“What you’re saying is that you just don’t know where it came from? So it could have been the bedding of a homeless elderly lady!”
“If a homeless grandmother has a letterbox in our house, then yes.”
Bradley puts on his best super-shocked expression and Colin grins in response. When Bradley pushes his head a little closer to Colin’s, Colin eyes him a little sceptically at first (because he has this insane phobia involving Bradley’s spit and his face). But then his expression softens and he shifts a little in his seat, so Bradley can look over his shoulder without having to crane his neck. Then he searches through his stolen paper until he has found the sports section.
Under the unfolded newspaper Bradley rests his hand on Colin’s thigh and thinks that he wouldn’t mind their bus getting stuck in traffic on the way to university.
Orlando is still fighting with his tie when the front door falls shut behind him. He walks slowly to not trip himself up since all his attention is focused on the blasted thing around his neck. Really, solving mass murder cases is easier than tying ties and sometimes he asks himself what on earth the perks of ‘plain clothes’ are supposed to be when he is required to wear a suit and a tie anyways.
Critically he looks down at the knot, as far as he can see it it looks half way presentable like this. Now he can focus on the rest of the world, which mainly consists of an unsurprisingly grey early spring sky and the block of flats on the other side of the road which is just as eye-cancer-inducing as the one Orlando has just stepped out of.
Cols’s car is nowhere to be seen which normally wouldn’t annoy Orlando – he’s far past letting anything that Cols does raise his hackles – if it weren’t for his day having started with egg yolk on his perfectly good red tie and this last minute replacement-disaster. He uses the time to check his letterbox and when there is nothing in it, he returns to fiddling with his tie, the letterbox still open and his key still dangling from its door.
“Fucking hell, not fucking again!”
Orlando’s attention veers from his tie to the dark voice that sounds just as fed up with this day already as Orlando feels. When he looks up, someone is standing next to him in front of another letterbox. Orlando squints, eyes quickly scanning the other man who continues to mutter curses under his breath while staring at his obviously empty letterbox. Impeccably dressed in an obviously tailor-made pinstripe suit under his dark blue coat, the other man doesn’t quite fit in here and automatically Orlando’s hand raises again to fiddle with his tie; the other man’s is tied perfectly, just like he is clean shaven and – wait a moment.
“Morning,” Orlando says, almost even before it really has sunk in that this is in fact the rude football hooligan from the third floor.
Bean turns his head and scowls at Orlando who now definitely recognizes him – not many people whose glare should come with a weapons permit.
“Oh, it’s you,” he says. “Yeah, yeah, morning. – Some bloody morning this is.”
“Mine was ruined by egg yolk, what did yours in?” Orlando asks and closes his letterbox. He has to give it an extra push, the lock is a bit rusty.
“My fucking newspaper has fucking vanished,” Bean replies and shoves the tiny door of his letterbox shut. “Again. Bloody neighbourhood.”
“Horrible, yes,” Orlando agrees lightly and leans back against the row of letterboxes, hands in his pockets. “I have yet to meet someone who isn’t a filthy mouthed hooligan with a temper.”
“Exactly,” Bean says without any irony in his voice and carefully turns the key in the lock.
Orlando is not sure whether the other man didn’t draw the connection to his own behaviour or just possesses a sense of humour as dry as bone, so he bites back his smile and just nods sympathetically.
“This is the second time this week alone, and it’s only Wednesday,” Bean grumbles. After a second of silent contemplation – and really Orlando can only guess what’s going on behind his green eyes – he shakes his head as if to himself. His tone of voice is different, less gravelly when he says, “And there I was thinking the whole neighbourhood was illiterate. I should prolly be pleasantly surprised, shouldn’t I?”
“I’m not illiterate either if that adds to your consolation, I’m slightly dyslectic though.” This time Orlando grins and there is an answering smile on Bean’s face, too. Quick to blow a fuse apparently, but as quick to calm down again.
The angry tension in Bean’s posture has disappeared just like that, like a coat shed effortlessly, and the change of bearing completely alters the other man’s appearance. Right now, there is nothing reminding of the uncouth rudeness; in front of Orlando and in midst the grey of the morning and their neighbourhood there is just a well dressed blond stranger with a guarded but not unfriendly expression on his rather handsome face.
Orlando holds out his hand. “My name’s Orlando Bloom, by the way.”
“Sean Bean,” the other man introduces himself in return, taking Orlando’s hand and shaking it briefly and firmly. There’s a smile playing around his lips when he adds, “But you already knew that since you read my mail.”
“Well, I intended to restrict that solely to the obituaries, but if you’re offering…” Orlando jokes.
“So it wasn’t you who nicked my paper?”
“I really don’t need to because I get all the exciting gory stuff first hand.”
Remembrance flashes over Bean’s face and he nods slowly. “Oh, you’re a cop, right? Cynicism comes with the profession, I take it?”
“Oh, that is only on days that start with egg yolk on my clothes and other people’s immaculate style silently mocking my tie failure, I assure you,” Orlando replies dryly and with a pointed look at the other man’s beautifully tailored suit he adds by way of explanation, “I almost didn’t recognize you earlier.”
The other man reacts to the compliment by rubbing his broad chin somewhat self consciously but clearly remembers their first encounter and replies, “Yeah, last week, eh? Monday is my day off. I told you that appearances may be deceiving.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that,” Orlando says and adds friendly mockery in his voice, “So, with you, it’s football hooligan on Mondays and slum lord for the rest of the week, is it?”
Bean doesn’t react to the joking tone of Orlando’s voice or to his words, and after a moment of silence Orlando would gladly take back what he just said. Insulting your mates is one thing, but something else entirely when you hardly know the other person.
Finally, Bean’s eyes narrow and their piercing green is firmly fixed on Orlando when he remarks, “You’re a bit of a prick, aren’t you?”
Orlando laughs quietly and for a second is rather surprised to actually feel relieved. “So I’ve been told. I seriously meant it about the suit, though. It’s really nice.”
“Benefit of the job,” Bean says. “I’m a tailor, not a slum lord though. Sorry to disappoint. Maybe you should polish up your deduction technique alongside your people skills.”
Orlando recognises the affronting advice for what it is, a peace offering and something more, and nods in agreement, his voice completely serious. “Yeah, I prolly should. Maybe you could give me pointers for the latter.”
“I might,” Bean replies, playing along, “if you in return find the thief of my paper. I’d appreciate tarring and feathering.”
“I’ll have the entire CID on it by noon.”
By now Orlando’s grin seems to be permanently engraved into his face. When from the corners of his eyes he sees the Mazda pulling up he almost regrets the interruption but pushes himself away from the mail boxes at Cols’s first insistent honking.
“I’m afraid that’s my ride. Gotta be off.”
“Good day and all,” Bean nods. “Now go, catch my newspaper thief, Officer Bloom.”
“DI Bloom,” Orlando corrects, already on his way to the car, “but ’Orlando’ will do!”
Bean’s voice rises easily and Orlando reckons it’s one of the perks of being a football hooligan again. “It’s been nice trading insults with you, Orlando!”
Orlando laughs, turning around as he pulls the car door open. “Yeah, we should do that again sometime.”
He squeezes himself into the passenger seat of the ancient car that perpetually smells of fast food and Cols steps on the gas even before he has pulled the door completely closed.
“Who was that?” Cols wants to know, barely avoiding a collision with a parking car as he pulls back onto the road.
“Neighbour,” Orlando answers. “The one whose mail I got.”
“Didn’t you say he were some shady thug?” Cols asks with mild interest. “Looked posh enough to me.”
“Yeah well,” Orlando shrugs and fastens the seatbelt before he starts fiddling with the radio. “He’s a bit of an arse.”
Cols just throws him a sideway glance, silent and contemplative and somewhat reassessing. Which is when Orlando figures that he might have said that with a bit too much fondness.
Angel and Katie wave at them from across the room after Colin has paid for his and Bradley’s lunch. The girls have obviously already finished eating which makes Colin doubt the plan of joining them because Katie steals food from everyone and Angel makes huge puppy dog eyes at you until you give it to her willingly and Colin is really hungry. But Bradley already started making his way through the crowded Mensa (using both charm and elbows), so Colin follows, juggling his tray, his newspaper, his bag, his jacket.
“Hey, why are you still here?” Bradley asks as they set their trays down on the girls’ table. “I thought your classes ended way before ours on Tuesdays.”
“Which they do,” Katie says, her hand already in Colin’s French Fries. “But I was a bit busy having my breasts ogled.”
“They are pretty,” Colin agrees and Katie mumbles something around the stolen fries that Colin figures is supposed to be ‘gee thanks’.
“By whom?” Bradley asks, “It’s not like boob oogling is a proper course of study? It’s not a proper subject, is it? Now, if there was a football course of studies, okay, I’d buy that, but boobs?”
“It could be,” Angel says contemplatively.
“’Different shapes of breasts as a metaphor for cultural development’,” Colin suggests and Katie nods in agreement while chewing.
“I can’t believe you’re making me the voice of reason here!” Bradley sounds slightly affronted. “Why am I the only one not distracted to the point of idiocy by Katie’s breasts?”
“It’s because you’re gay,” Colin explains to him absentmindedly while he is rearranging the red and green veggies on his plate.
Angel shakes her head. “General gayness doesn’t count. I like looking at breasts, too, and I’m not into girls.”
And Katie says to Bradley, “You’re not gay, you’re pathologically fixated on Colin. And no offense, Colin, but you kind of suck in the cleavage department.”
Colin shrugs. “I’m not sure how not having breasts could be a downgrade for a bloke, so no offense taken.”
Bradley sits back in his chair, throwing his arms up dramatically, “Will someone please answer me: Who was oogling Katie’s breasts in the first place? You’re all missing the really important part of this conversation.”
“You mean the gossipy and passing judgment on other people’s moral integrity part?” Angel asks.
“Clearly,” Bradley nods emphatically and to Katie he says, “Myself and Colin are also chivalrously offering our skills in punching oglers’ eyes, if you’d like us to defend your honour.”
Katie’s eyebrows rise behind her black rimmed glasses. “Yeah, I don’t think I need white knights, Bradley.”
“Also, what honour?” Colin asks as innocently as he manages which, given the fact that Katie tosses one of his own fries at his head, doesn’t seem to be much. The fry sticks to his hair and before his hand has located it, Bradley has picked it off his head and eaten it.
“Aw, look,” Angel says to Katie in a horrible stage whisper, “they’re delousing each other, too!”
“That’s as disgusting as it is cute.”
“WHO WAS OGLING BREASTS?” Bradley shouts.
Around them, at the other tables, heads turn in their direction and Bradley says, with an uncaring shrug and his hands raised, “What? It’s an important question!”
A few tsk’ing noises and pc-headshakings later, Angel finally takes pity and explains. “Katie went to our English Prof after the class because she wanted to ask him something about the possibility of going to France.”
“And basically,” Katie continues, “he was explaining the entire European Exchange Programme exclusively to my breasts.”
“I’m sure they like breasts on the continent, too,” Bradley says in his oddly sincere reassuring tone of voice. “Les French especially. You should be as right as rain.”
“Maybe your Prof did that because he thought they were your spare brains,” Colin muses instead, slurping the last of his Coke. “’The woman with two brains’?”
Angel and Katie frown at him and Bradley is visibly counting one breast, two breasts, one head, adds up and comes to the conclusion, “Shouldn’t that be ‘three brains’, Colin?”
“It was a quote,” Colin says. “Never mind.”
“Every time you claim that,” Angel says sceptically, waving a fry in Colin’s face, “I ask myself whether that is true. We never know any of the stuff you’re allegedly quoting from, you might just as well make all that stuff up. How do we know you’re not just a weird random person?”
“Actually,” Bradley says and looks at Colin with that stupidly pretty broad and proud smile of his, “he really is a weird and random chap.”
“You say the sweetest things,” Colin replies but the irony doesn’t really resonate as strongly in his voice as he planned it.
“And can we go back to discussing my breasts now?” interrupts Katie and pushes her glasses back up her nose, looking back and forth between Bradley and Colin. “If I wanted overly sugary sweetness for desert, I’d have bought pudding.”
“There is pudding?!” Bradley shouts, jumps up and strides off purposefully in one smooth even if slightly hasty motion.
While watching Bradley making a bee line for the food again Colin asks, “So, you’re planning on going to Europe for a semester?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Katie replies with a shrug and a glance to Angel.
“Yeah, France sounds cool, except we don’t speak French,” Angel agrees.
“You have this all thought through,” Colin remarks distractedly and smiles to himself when Bradley tries to jump the queue probably announcing that he is just back for second helpings and hence should be allowed to.
When Colin glances back to Angel and Katie both of them look at him with that expression on their faces, the one they usually reserve for window shopping in front of pet stores.
“You do realise,” Angel says slowly, “that we actually think trying something new might be a cool thing, don’t you?
“Yeah, there are people – meaning Angel and myself,” Katie chimes in, “whose thirst for adventures isn’t quenched by sharing a flat with Bradley’s 1000 smelly socks.”
“Bradley doesn’t own 500 pairs of socks,” Colin says, “just one, which is the main reason for the rich odour.”
Angel and Katie share a look and if Colin translates it correctly their silent conversation goes something like ‘why do we even bother’ – ‘I don’t know, it’s hopeless’. He has no idea what they are talking about because his and Bradley’s flat is alright and who wants to live in France anyway? Bradley would constantly get into accidental fights with French people and Colin would have no way of talking him out of them because his only French consists of ‘La, c’est une fromagerie’.
“Hey, can I have a look at that?” Katie asks abruptly, clearly considering the topic closed, and tugs at the newspaper under Colin’s tray. Colin lifts his food so Katie can pull the paper towards her and since between the four of them they seem to have this big commune sharing thing going on, Angel takes another chicken wing from Bradley’s unguarded plate before they both disappear behind the newspaper.
“Oh,” says Angel after a moment, sounding slightly disappointed, “you already did the crossword?”
Colin hums in affirmation but can’t elaborate due to large amounts of broccoli in his mouth.
Katie’s face appears above the rim of the paper and she quotes, “’Capitol city of Cuba – Hulala’?”
“Creator of Microsoft – Satan’,” Angel reads out. “Seriously?”
Colin swallows audibly around his mouthful of food and, the fork already well on its way to his mouth again, just says, “Bradley doesn’t really agree with the traditional concept of solving crosswords.”
“Since when is one of the Knights of the Round Table called ‘Pinceloz’?” Angel asks with something close to real curiosity.
“‘Lancelot’ didn’t fit,” Colin explains reasonably.
“It didn’t occur to him that it might have something to do with his interpretation of the other prompts?”
Colin just shakes his head.
“And you’re positive,” says Katie, “that Bradley really is a student here –“
“Of mechanical engineering,” Angel adds before she lets Katie continue.
“And not just the slightly retarded janitor or something?”
“I’m sure ‘creative’ was the adjective you were searching for,” Colin corrects her.
Bradley chooses that moment to come back to their table with two huge bowls of pudding and a glass of Coke in his arms.
“If by creative you mean retarded then yes,” Katie translates a little belatedly from behind the paper.
“You need to stop calling my boyfriend retarded, McGrath,” Bradley orders and puts the Coke down in front of Colin.
“She didn’t,” Colin says and instantly picks up his drink. “She called you retarded.”
“You and your breasts are slanderous hussies,” Bradley decides. Then he slumps down on his chair again, his knee bumping against Colin’s under the table. He has brought himself a soup spoon for his pudding and waves that in front of Katie for emphasis, which might look sort of threatening if Katie wasn’t still hidden behind the newspaper.
“See where your newspaper stealing gets us?” Bradley asks Colin a moment later around a mouthful of vanilla pudding, his arm resting on the back of Colin’s chair as he leans closer.
“It’s not stealing if I plan to return it,” Colin says and has to work to keep a straight face.
Bradley licks pudding from the corner of his mouth and says, quietly as if in confidentiality, “You haven’t before, have you? And anyway, how can you return a newspaper? It’s used now!”
“Yes, because you did the crossword,” Colin informs him even quieter, leaning in.
“Because you stole it and read every article in it and I am surprised that you didn’t start cutting out coupons.”
“Yet.” Colin pats Bradley’s arm. It’s supposed to be patronizing but turns into a stroke down his naked arm, feeling Bradley’s body heat against his palm.
Angel ruins it though by peering out from behind the newspaper wall again.
“Colin is a criminal element now?”
“Oh yeah,” Colin says dryly and pulls his hand back which earns him a little face scrunch from Bradley. “Wanted dead or alive and everything.”
“It was only a matter of time, looking at the neighbourhood you two live in,” Angel says contemplatively.
“They are the reason why the neighbourhood is so fucked up,” says Katie to Angel.
“If by any chance you ever wonder why people keep talking to your breast-brains,” Bradley replies, licking his pudding spoon, “it’s because your other brain is a mean bitch.”
“This mean bitch bought you new trainers on her last trip to Paris,” Katie reminds him, “and she wrote you a very sweet postcard on top of that.”
“Actually, I wrote the postcard,” corrects Angel. “And it was addressed to Colin, too.”
“Firstly, you made me pay for the shoes, so that doesn’t count,” Bradley says to Katie, “and secondly, what postcard?”
Katie arches an eyebrow, clearly not sure whether to buy Bradley’s apparent puzzlement. Angel looks back and forth between Katie and Colin, obviously not believing Bradley’s bafflement either (which is what you get from crying wolf all the time).
Colin doesn’t even remember when they last received legitimate mail that wasn’t bills and he definitely would recall a postcard full of Angel-babble. He shifts a little, his shoulders brushing against Bradley’s lower arm on the back of his chair, so that Bradley looks over to him, naturally trusting Colin to back him up.
“Don’t ever order anything important to our home address,” Colin says. “It’s an energy sucking, mail eating black hole.”
Orlando is buried in work again for a few weeks. Cols says he is a workaholic – though his exact words are “ye’re so bloody fascinated with all that murder and deceit, sometimes I reckon ye’re a closet psychopath”. But Orlando gives every case his guv drops on his table 110% of his attention simply because he figures that’s what you gotta do when you’re a cop. When you’re, say, a baker and make a mistake the worst that can happen is that your customers throw their cupcakes at your head and maybe instigate a flour-fight in your bakery. When you’re a cop and you make mistakes, bad guys get away unpunished.
If this means leaving for work so early and staying in so late sometimes that he doesn’t see his house during daytime then he simply tells himself it’s a good thing because the house is godawfully ugly anyway; he’s an optimist that way. Unsurprisingly enough the neighbourhood is more or less deserted when Orlando leaves or comes home and the only other people he can remember even only so much as _seeing_ in and around his house are Mrs. White and her little bulldog and this young guy with the pixyish features (and Orlando only remembers him because he and Cols had a conversation about jug ears in the car later which quickly revolved around blowjobs because Cols has a dirty imagination). Living in a huge apartment complex is about the most anonymous it can get.
There is one exception however, and that is rather uncanny. He keeps running into Sean and while this puzzles him a bit – he’s been living here for three years already and Sean doesn’t seem like he has just moved in either, and yet they’d never met before but now can’t stop running into one another – he doesn’t complain.
When in the morning he leaves the house and finds Sean (in what Orlando supposes is his equivalent to pyjamas – footie shirt and track bottoms) hurrying outside to fetch his newspaper, they trade a few words, something along the lines of “Off to write parking tickets again, Orlando?” and “I really like your jimjams, mate”. And when in the evening they find themselves stuck together in the unbelievably slow elevator, and Sean looks indecently fancy in one of his many expensive looking suits and maybe smells of a pint or two, Orlando says “Are you roaming the corridors in search for poor souls to evict?” and Sean answers “Such as yourselves you mean? Nah, I’ll get the exterminator for that.” And they’ll grin at one another and wish each other a good one before they part ways again.
Orlando finds his guv’s brutal straightforwardness easy to work with, and he is mates with Cols because Cols may be terribly blunt most of the times but he is honest and he is real. So he figures that this weird relationship he accidentally developed with Sean somewhat is part of a pattern. There is a bit more to it though, if Orlando is honest with himself (which he usually is because it saves so much time). While he can’t really put it into words he knows exactly that his long days are disproportionately more bearable when he gets to trade a few insults with Sean.
It’s on a Wednesday evening that he leaves the CID fairly early for his standards. When he walks the short walk home from the Tube station, he actually finds himself surprised by how far spring has progressed while he wasn’t looking. The handful of trees that someone has planted in front of his apartment complex in a questionable attempt to brighten up the neighbourhood have fresh light green leaves now and look ready enough to shade the balconies facing this side, in case the sun should decide to show up. Orlando has a quick chat with Mrs. White who sort of ambushes him on the short walkway to the house – if Orlando were paranoid he’d think that she is a spy, as it is he just figures that she is about the nosiest person he ever encountered.
He finally manages to detach himself from the old lady and is standing in front of the front door, fiddling with his keys.
“You’re home early,” someone (Northern accent, dark voice, friendly amusement – Sean) calls.
Orlando looks over his shoulder and frowns for a second when he finds no one there.
“Up here, Detective Inspector,” prompts Sean.
Orlando lays his head back and squints a little, spotting the other man instantly. Sean stands on his balcony on the third floor, elbows propped up on the stone wall that surrounds it, and he is looking right down at him, waving with the hand that is holding a cigarette.
“Good evening to you, too!” Orlando calls. “How are you doing?”
“Fine, cheers. Catch any murderers today?”
“Truckloads of ‘em. Design any new suits today?”
Sean laughs and when he straightens up a little, Orlando can see that at least he’s not wearing his suit jacket, shirt and tie any longer but just a simple white t-shirt.
“It sounds kind of lame in comparison, doesn’t it?” he calls back. “Tailoring in contrast to crime fighting?”
Orlando pushes his hands back into the pockets of his trousers and shrugs. “So, contemplating career choices is your idea of evening entertainment, I take it?”
“Actually, no,” Sean says and falls silent. Orlando waits for a moment and is about to pull his keys out to finally let himself in. Then Sean makes up his mind, takes another drag from his cigarette and continues. “I was planning to watch the Champions League match later. Do you follow football?”
“Glory, Glory Man United!” Orlando starts singing instantly on the top of his lungs. “Glory, Glory Man -.”
“That’s just plain disgusting,” Sean interrupts him.
“Sod off,” Orlando laughs. “I have a lovely singing voice.”
“I’m serious, you should be arrested,” Sean insists and adds, “I’m seriously contemplating to root for Bayern Munich tonight.”
Orlando shakes his head and scowls up at Sean. “That is plain disgusting. And unpatriotic.”
Sean shrugs with one shoulder and takes another drag from his cigarette. “You got specific plans for tonight then?” he asks, offer implicit but there in his voice nonetheless.
Orlando raises his eyebrows in surprise at that. He manages to silence the little voice of excitement in him (the one shouting “Footie!” and “Company!” and Orlando is sure that this says about him that he a. is a closet hooligan and b. needs to do something about his social life), and only a second belated he answers with the usual light tone of voice,
“Are you offering to strangle me with the scarf of whatever loser team you support?”
“Blades,” Sean clarifies. “And yes, probably, during half time.”
Orlando laughs and nods, answering to the implicit offer, “Yeah alright.”
“Right,” Sean confirms, stubs out his cigarette and straightens up. “You know where to find me.”
Orlando chuckles and lets himself into the house. While he is waiting for the elevator he loosens his tie and rolls his shoulders against the tenseness that has accumulated there. He starts shedding his clothes as soon as he has entered his flat – shoes and socks toed off in the hallway, jacket thrown over the single chair in his bedroom, followed by his tie, shirt and undershirt. He sniffs his armpits, scratches his sweaty neck and decides that a shower is in order.
He steps under the spray and lets the lukewarm water wash away today’s dust as well as this day’s frustration and unfinished business. When he opens his eyes again, the steady stream of water still massaging his scalp, he looks down at himself, smiles wistfully when he realizes that his hands have already washed him, all on autopilot. Thinks that it has been quite a while since anybody but himself touched him, since he has touched anyone besides himself intentionally, intimately. It also has been quite a while since he even noticed. He spends a minute and a half missing this feeling, then he turns the water as cold as it gets and that shocks him out of the accidental funk in seconds.
He gets dressed again (jeans and yes, his United shirt) and then realizes that he has nothing in his flat to act as a sort of proper ‘thanks for inviting me over’ prezzie. As he wanders through his flat, still towelling his hair, he has to admit that it is mostly due to the fact that he hasn’t got much stuff in his flat, period.
The only things that are personalising his otherwise generic living room are the Van Gogh prints on the wall, edges slightly battered from age. He stares at his living room table, empty if it weren’t for the assembly of this week’s mail that he has yet to read properly. So far it’s just roughly organised into different piles – personal, bills and spam. The latter pile consists mostly of various leaflets for delivery services. Smiling to himself, he picks those up and grabs his keys.
When Sean opens the door to his flat in jeans and a t-shirt, Orlando almost has to laugh at the expression on his face. A bit of the same scepticism that was so dominant when they first met and a touch of confusion, directed at what Orlando holds in his hands.
“Uhm,” Sean says and takes the colourful papers that Orlando holds out to him.
“The alternative was flowers but I thought that might be awkward,” Orlando says, grinning.
Sean squints at the writing on the leaflets and clearly wishes for his glasses, but absentmindedly pushes his door open further in silent invitation. Leafing through Orlando’s present of delivery service ads, he murmurs, “Actually, I quite like flowers.”
“Duly noted, mate,” Orlando replies, stepping inside. “Next time it’ll be a bunch of blood red roses. Tonight though, I’ll pay for the pizza or whatever since you so generously decided to share your telly and your beer with me.”
“I didn’t say anything about beer,” Sean replies, closing the door.
Orlando chuckles and lets his eyes wander through the hallway and the living room as he enters it; for once not having to pay close attention to every detail because his job requires it but because he is actually curious. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ – and Sean has reminded him of that repeatedly, hasn’t he – but Orlando still believes that you can learn a lot about a person if you just look closely enough.
Sean’s flat fittingly looks like a schizophrenic personality is living there. The clean style of the simple but tasteful leather couch, the white and clear-lined furniture and the huge plasma screen TV certainly fit Sean’s posh day-job appearance. They share the space however, with beer bottles on the window sill and a good half dozen of washed out t-shirts messily arranged on a clothes hanger in one corner, a slightly rumpled Blades flag pinned to the wall right over it.
“Nice,” Orlando says, nodding at the telly, and Sean takes the compliment silently, just as he hands him a bottle of beer without comment. The pre-game coverage has already started, sound turned low at the moment, and Orlando sits down in one of the comfy chairs close to the sofa, eyes already firmly fixed on the telly.
“Pizza or Chinese?” Sean asks, still studying Orlando’s leaflets dedicatedly.
“Either is fine with me,” Orlando replies, “They beat us in first leg. We really, really need to win this one, and proper.”
From the corners of his eyes Orlando sees Sean looking up and the other man replies with a grunt, “You really had to wear that shirt and sully my chair, didn’t you?”
Orlando laughs and takes the first sip of his beer, cold liquid feeling perfect. “Sod off, as if you’re rooting for Bayern. – I’ll have a Pizza Hawaii or Chop Suey.”
Sean grumbles something but tosses Orlando the remote control before he gets up to order. Orlando instantly turns up the volume and sits back in his chair, but only for a moment because the pre-game discussion has him on the edge of his seat again.
Sean returns promptly and Orlando is pleased to notice that – despite his earlier threats – the other man clearly is on United’s side, European rivalry winning out over anything else. Still, he tosses his beer cap at Orlando and tells him to “shut the fuck up” when Orlando starts singing about the glory of Man United as soon as Old Trafford is shown and the players take to the field. But Orlando figures he can let that go, mostly because his singing voice really is kind of crap.
The game has barely started when Gibson scores for the first time and they both shout in delight, probably disturbing everyone else in their house with their racket. Orlando is so high on adrenaline already that he barely hears the doorbell that rings not a minute later.
“Delivery is here,” Sean says without taking his eyes off the telly, “you go and pay him.”
“Some host you are,” Orlando laughs but gets up and walks half backwards to not miss any of the action. He buzzes the delivery man in and stands in the middle of the hallway to be able to still see the telly.
The man ‘Oi’s him twice before Orlando even notices his presence. Reluctantly Orlando turns around and manages to smile at the spotty and bored looking guy on the threshold.
“Twenty fifty,” the guy grunts, holding out a plastic bag.
“Move yer fucking arse, for fuck’s sake!” Sean shouts in the living room.
The delivery man arches his eyebrows and Orlando snatches the bag from him.
“Come on, PASS you fucking stupid – NO!” Sean shouts again.
Orlando cranes his neck to see while blindly fishing for the required money in his wallet, unseeingly thrusts what he believes to be the right sum into the waiting man’s hand and –
“Come OOON!” Sean bellows, urgently enough for Orlando to instantly hurry back into the living room, plastic bag dangling from his hand, just in time to see Sean jumping up from his seat as Nani turns in Valencia’s cross, scoring United’s second in only seven minutes.
“YEESS!” Orlando shouts, carelessly dropping the food on the floor to watch the slow motion replay practically glued to the telly, pointing and grinning like a lunatic when the ball goes past Butt again. “This is my team!”
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Sean tells him, but he is still standing and sporting a grin so broad that Orlando can’t help but feeling even higher because of it.
“I think I left your door open,” Orlando says but doesn’t move to do something about it, his eyes following Rooney and the ball again.
“Oh, splendid, did you write invitation cards for home invaders as well?” Sean replies, picking up the food and giving Orlando’s shoulder a nudge. “Jesus Christ, what kind of copper are you?”
Orlando swats Sean’s hand away but they both smile when their eyes meet and Orlando moves to shut the door while Sean fetches cutlery.
Despite the food they manage to continuously comment on the rest of the first half – mostly consisting of hollering threats against the ref, fretting about Rooney’s ankle and shouting futilely at Rafael. When Nani scores his second – and United’s well deserved third – Orlando has long forgotten about his Chop Suey, cheering at the top of his lungs.
Munich’s first goal however – two minutes before half time – is a bloody annoyance and Orlando seriously needs the interval to get his heartbeat under control again. Sean, for all his randomly uttered hatred against United in general, seems to feel similar and Orlando even sees his hands shaking a bit when he puts his empty beer bottle onto the floor.
“I need a cigarette,” Sean announces, gets up and moves towards the balcony door. “Do you want one?”
“Nah,” Orlando replies but gets up as well, “I quit. But I could do with another beer; you?”
Sean nods and gestures in the general direction of the kitchen. “Help yourself.”
One of the perks of living in the same flat complex is that Orlando knows the layout of Sean’s flat inside out because it’s the same as his own. Wistfully he notes how different Sean’s kitchen looks nevertheless, and again notes the mixture of obviously extremely well cared for plants and the array of dirty dishes in the sink, before he fetches two fresh beers.
When he joins Sean on the balcony, they talk about the match so far, trade insults again (football related this time) and gush properly about the beautiful view – “Did you ever notice that a nudist lives right across the road?” Sean asks and at Orlando’s baffled expression he elaborates, “I’m serious. He does yoga or some other Asian thing on his balcony sometimes, completely starkers.”
The second half begins and all Orlando can think of is that after the first leg of 2:1 United can’t afford to let anything else through now.
Five minutes after the kickoff Rafael is red-carded and Orlando is shouting at the telly.
Five minutes later, Rooney is limping so heavily that he needs to be replaced and Sean is cursing a blue streak while Orlando just stares at the big plasma and hopes, prays that this won’t make a difference.
Of course it does. In the 74th Robben scores for Bayern again.
In the end, United comes out ahead 3:2, but that doesn’t matter; Bayern wins on away goals and that puts an end to United’s hopes of reaching the Champions League Final.
“Well, crap,” Sean says after it’s over, voice slightly rough from all the shouting.
“Ngh,” Orlando answers, his face still buried in his hands. “We were so close.”
“Football’s a funny old game.”
Orlando lowers his hands in order to glare at Sean. “Tell me you didn’t just say that.”
Sean half smirks and takes another drag from his bottle.
“Let me get this straight,” Orlando insists, “your idea of comfort is to bash me over the head with clichés?”
“Would you rather I gave you a hug?” Sean asks, rather condescending and still smirking.
Orlando groans and flips him off. “After a disaster of these proportions? Nothing short of mindblowing comfort sex would do.”
There’s a moment of silence and maybe Orlando would categorise it tentatively as awkward, if he weren’t still too busy with being angry at the world in general and feeling sorry for himself.
“Well, you might have to buy me flowers first after all,” Sean replies eventually, eyes firmly fixed on the telly again.
Orlando isn’t sure what to read into that tone of voice, is pretty certain to detect both irony as well as something more careful there. ‘Something’, Orlando decides, is too difficult and fickle for him to try to decipher at this moment.
“Duly noted,” he simply says in the end.
They watch a few interviews on the match and Sean’s dry comments on the most ridiculous statements make Orlando smile again and finish his beer in peace. Only after all the post-match hassle he looks at his watch.
“As addictive as that gigantic telly of yours is, I should get going,” he says. “I got an early start tomorrow.”
“So I gathered,” Sean replies and gets up when Orlando pushes himself out of his comfy chair.
“Yeah well, it’s like that sometimes, it’ll ease off eventually.” Orlando puts his beer bottle down next to the others on the window sill before he turns towards the hallway.
Sean chuckles. “You just keep telling yourself that.”
On the threshold Orlando turns around once more. He’s not sure how you say “thanks for letting me yell at your telly for two hours” without sounding like an idiot, so he just grins.
“Thanks for dinner,” Sean says instead, a smile playing around his lips. “You’re a splendid cook.”
Orlando finds himself torn between surprise and relief at the utter lack of awkwardness in that insult and gladly plays along. “Yeah, I know. I was particularly proud of the fortune cookies.”
“Really. Mine said ‘You’re going to be pleasantly surprised’.”
Orlando pushes his hands into the pockets of his jeans and takes a few steps back into the floor, still facing Sean.
“And were you?” he asks.
Sean just laughs, raises his hand in silent goodbye and shuts the door.
Orlando takes that as a ‘yes’ and doesn’t disagree.
Bradley falls out of bed on Saturday morning. For once it hasn’t got anything to do with Colin whose innocent looks are completely deceiving by the way. Colin doesn’t only hog the covers but also kicks in his sleep so Bradley, who doesn’t fancy being kicked out of his chocolate-cookies-and-naked-Colin dreams, rolls away from him and ends up sleeping on the floor. It’s not like that today, mostly because Bradley actually wakes up when he falls out of bed (he landed rather uncomfortably on some of Colin’s books) and when he manages to sit up and look at the bed, Colin is lying there under a mountain of blankets, all innocent and probably curled up into a ball (and snoring like a freight train).
Bradley has always believed in the benefit of the doubt thing so he just gets up and – whoa, hey there reminder of the booze cruise of last night – sways slightly on his feet.
“Colin?” Bradley asks.
“Co-lin?” Bradley coos.
Colin continues to snore.
“Cooolin,” Bradley whines.
Colin stops snoring but only for the moment it takes him to bury himself even more under the covers.
Bradley heaves a sigh of epic proportions and when that doesn’t wake Colin he wanders into the kitchen in search for food. The day continues to be completely disastrous because there is NO food in the fridge and Bradley is just about to sit down at the kitchen table and cry pathetically and shout for Colin to make it better when he remembers that it was his turn to go shopping for groceries. He is a man of action and also, he is pretty sure that he won’t survive the next three hours if he doesn’t get something to eat, so he decides to do the right thing and goes shopping.
It turns out to be a terrific day outside and Bradley notices that there is a surprising amount of people on the streets when the sun is shining. He thinks that he maybe should have taken the time to take a shower when the lady behind him at the cash register scrunches up her nose and gives him dirty looks. Or maybe that has something to do with him wearing what Colin likes to refer to as “your underwear, for heaven’s sake!”, even though it really is a pair of his footie shorts and he is even wearing footwear today (albeit, the temperatures aren’t really high enough yet for flipflops).
Anyways. When he comes home – and he even picked up the mail on his way up! – , loud snoring greets him and Bradley quickly checks in on Colin (judging from the sound of it alone it would have been more than possible that there is an obese construction worker snoring in his bed rather than Bradley’s slender and all-long-limbs boyfriend). After that he walks straight into the kitchen and congratulates himself on his planning-ahead; he packed all the stuff that needed to go into the fridge into one bag, so all he has to do now is squeeze the entire bag into the fridge and tada, done.
Then he proceeds to eat half of the contents of the other bag and drinks half a carton of milk (luckily, he has packed the milk on top because he is awesome like that).
Then he reads the sports section of the newspaper that Colin accidentally stole on Thursday and spends five minutes being miffed about Man United’s bad luck again and consoles himself with another banana.
Then he decides to shower.
Then he briefly entertains the thought of doing some equations for his current uni project.
Then he plays video games in the living room for a bit.
Then he seriously thinks about vacuuming the flat.
Colin still hasn’t woken up. Bradley is Bored. With a capital B.
Bradley sighs ostentatiously (again) and returns to the bedroom with the brilliant plan in his mind of annoying Colin awake so that they can play video games together. He sort of completely forgets about that course of action though when he enters the bedroom.
The morning sun has reached their bedroom window and heated the room up enough for Colin to kick away all the blankets. He’s lying on his belly now, arms and legs stretched out as if in his sleep he is trying to hug the entire bed since Bradley is not there to cuddle up to.
Bradley remembers dimly that they came home last night very late and very drunk and as of yet he hasn’t recalled any further details. But apparently they were too wasted to undress properly. Colin managed to get rid of his shoes and his jeans alright and from waist down he is just wearing his boxers and one sock, but waist up? He is still completely dressed for a night out and even still has his striped beanie on his head. He looks like a complete idiot and Bradley thinks “I’m in love with this complete idiot” and doesn’t have room in his head for any thoughts beside that.
He crouches down next to the bed and carefully reaches for the beanie and gently removes it. Colin’s hair sticks up, electrified from the wool, and Bradley has to grin at the sight. Right then, Colin opens his eyes.
“Hey,” he croaks and the corners of his mouth rise to a sleepy smile.
“Hey yourself,” Bradley answers quietly and doesn’t move when Colin, a little clumsily, reaches out and brushes his fingers against Bradley’s cheek.
“You shaved already,” Colin says as his fingertips caress Bradley’s jawline.
“I was bored,” Bradley replies. He turns his head to kiss Colin’s thumb. “I also showered, bought food and killed a couple dozen of zombies.”
“What time is it?” Colin asks in response, shifting slightly away from Bradley, so he can glance at the alarm clock.
“Early,” Bradley reassures him.
He follows as Colin shuffles over on the mattress to make room for him. Colin’s hands come to rest on his sides as Bradley straddles him and looks down at him.
“So, I’m not supposed to get up?” Colin guesses with the smile ever present on his lips.
“Nope. I’m thinking the day can just as well be spent in bed.” Bradley says and shifts, so he can support himself with one arm and touch Colin at the same time.
“What if I am hungry?” Colin’s hands slowly stroke up and down Bradley’s sides, fingers slipping under the rim of his t-shirt where they pushed the fabric up. Tiny pleasant shivers run over Bradley’s skin at this littlest of skin contacts and he knows his voice to have dropped a little when he shakes his head and answers,
“Should’ve thought of that before.”
“I was asleep before,” Colin points out, his murmur bringing out his accent.
Bradley shrugs and brushes over Colin’s messy hair with a flat hand, smoothing it before he cards his fingers through it.
“Whatever. You’re mine now. Harhar.”
Colin tilts his head a little and regards Bradley contemplatively for a moment. While Bradley tries to not get lost in his eyes and fails miserably for the most part, Colin reaches up and cups Bradley’s cheek in his palm.
“’m always yours,” he reminds Bradley. “Especially in my full morning breath glory.”
“Mmm, ashtray and pubfloor flavoured kisses, my favourite.”
Bradley leans down further, propping himself up on both his elbows as his lower arms frame Colin’s head.
“Good morning,” he says.
Colin chuckles quietly but replies earnestly, “Good morning, Bradley.”
Bradley leans down this little bit more and closes the distance between them, letting his lips brush lightly against Colin’s. He knows how this goes but is still completely swept away by the sudden flicker of urgency that surges through him, just because underneath him, Colin parts his lips ever so lightly and shifts just that bit to fit perfectly between Bradley’s legs. Bradley lets his tongue demand entrance and it is granted instantly as Colin kisses back, he lowers himself more and that is answered with a pleased sigh and Colin pulling him closer yet. Colin does taste of a night well spent but Bradley really couldn’t care less, feels Colin pushing up against him, feels the familiar hardness of Colin’s cock against his belly.
When he comes up for air, briefly and breathing heavily, thinking nothing but that they are wearing way too many clothes, Colin chuckles lowly and murmurs,
“You taste of toothpaste.”
Bradley hears the tease and the fondness and that little bit of self-consciousness in Colin’s voice, and laughs quietly because he feels so stupidly happy and what else is there to do?
“Shut up already,” he orders laughingly and kisses him again.
Blindly Colin tugs at Bradley’s t-shirt and Bradley quickly pulls it over his head, barely interrupting the kiss.
“Finally,” Colin murmurs as he runs his hands over Bradley’s naked shoulder blades.
“Stop complaining and focus on getting naked yourself, Colin,” Bradley smiles against his lips and his fingers start working with the buttons of Colin’s shirt. Colin grunts impatiently and pushes Bradley’s hand away, shimmying under him until he can pull his shirt up.
Bradley snickers helplessly when Colin gets his head stuck in his shirt and cusses unintelligibly. As soon as he has managed to free his head though and glares up at Bradley, Bradley forgets all words of mockery, right along with all the other words in the English language.
“Bradley -,” Colin grumbles, arms still trapped in the shirt.
“Idiot,” Bradley answers and pretty much attacks Colin’s mouth while he pins his hands down. Colin protests wordlessly but then groans into the kiss, twisting under him in an attempt to get free, to get his hands on him, to get closer.
It proves to be easier to get rid of their boxer shorts and Colin’s kisses become lightheaded and unfocused when Bradley caresses the inside of his thigh with his flat hand, fingers pressing lightly into the muscle as he revels in the feeling of warmth and softness under his palm. Colin wraps his fingers firmly around the back of Bradley’s neck and pulls him into the kiss, swallows Bradley’s grateful groan when he wraps his long fingers around Bradley’s aching cock. Bradley thrusts into the offered fist, pushes his left arm under Colin’s body to pull him closer against himself, Colin’s cock hot and wet trapped between them.
He loses track of time for a long moment, dizzy from the heat generated between them as Colin licks his mouth open and strokes his cock just right. Sweat drips from Bradley’s nose onto Colin’s jaw when Bradley breaks the kiss.
“God, Colin –“ he starts even though he knows he won’t have the words to end the sentence.
“Yeah,” Colin agrees to the unspoken sentiment and his eyelids flutter when Bradley thrusts down, his belly against Colin’s cock. “Yeah, me too. C’mon.”
There’s such dark urgency in Colin’s voice that Bradley has to bury his face in his neck, needs to force himself to calm down again. If there is anything more gorgeous than Colin – who always is so composed and dry-humoured about everything – urging him on, pushing up against him and reaching for the nightstand without wanting to let go of him, well if there is anything more gorgeous than that then Bradley doesn’t want to know because it’d surely kill him.
Colin nibbles at his earlobe, whispers, “A little help here?” against Bradley’s ear while tapping his shoulder with the lubricant.
“I’m pretty busy already,” Bradley murmurs against his neck, tasting the sweat on Colin’s skin on his tongue.
“You’re not, you lazy bum,” Colin chuckles but lets go of Bradley’s cock in order to open the tube himself.
“I am,” Bradley insists. “I’m completely dedicated to the task of not coming in the next ten seconds.”
Colin laughs quietly. His right hand is back on Bradley’s cock, wet and slick now, and his left is curling against Bradley’s shoulder when he shuffles up a little and spreads his legs a little wider, guiding him.
“While you’re so focused and everything,” he says, “could you maybe also -?”
Bradley’s brain snaps back to attention at the promised heat and yes and more. He pushes himself up on one arm, takes over and guides himself, pushes slowly but insistently. Colin’s eyes flutter shut and his breathing changes into a low, pleased moan when Bradley breaches him. Bradley wishes he could see him properly and not through this thick haze of ‘God, fuck, I want you so much’.
He allows Colin to adjust to this, allows himself to drown in the sensation of being inside Colin and just rocks his hips slowly, shallowly, gently. He really tries to concentrate on looking at Colin’s face, up so close that he can see each and every familiar line on it, his sharply outlined cheekbones. He can’t get enough of Colin’s lips, always curved into this smile that can’t decide whether to be amused or pleased and manages to be both at the same time.
Colin opens his eyes again, blinks repeatedly and Bradley’s mouth twitches, so good to know that he isn’t the only one having trouble focussing. But of course it’s Colin who manages that first, it’s Colin who wraps his legs around Bradley and pulls him in deeper, it’s Colin who leans up and kisses him, it’s Colin whose fingernails dig into Bradley’s shoulder as he wordlessly urges him on to move already, Bradley.
Bradley lets him because it’s Colin and Colin knows what Bradley wants – what they both want – better than even Bradley himself. He lets himself get swept away from the overwhelming chaotic wave of want and need and force and tenderness, lets Colin roll them over and pushes up into him as he holds Colin’s hips, hipbones sharp against his palms, sits up with Colin in his lap because Colin’s mouth needs to be kissed, pins Colin down under him again, thrusting hard and fast and deep, with his arm wrapped around Colin’s shoulder.
“Bradley,” Colin whispers and Bradley is glad because he’s so focused on being Colin’s and being so fucking close, that he might’ve forgotten who he was if it wasn’t for Colin to remind him over and over again with that quiet and breathless voice of his. “Bradley.”
He holds Colin down while he thrusts into him, his sweat drips onto Colin’s skin and Colin bucks under him and into Bradley’s fist. He watches when suddenly Colin comes and his eyes widen before he surges up and kisses Bradley so hard it almost hurts. And then Bradley, too, comes like this and instantly and Colin’s mouth dominates his as he loses himself completely.
When the blood stops rushing quite so loudly in his ears, Bradley nuzzles his face against Colin’s neck, pulling him close. Colin’s breathing is a constant content hum against his ear and he is stroking slow erratic circles over Bradley’s shoulder. And Bradley starts laughing, quietly and steadily, because his brain has only now caught up with the intense joy of what they just did, and laughing feels like release, like coming down to earth again.
“You know, I just realised something,” Colin says almost contemplatively.
Bradley presses his nose against his neck to tell him that he is listening albeit still chuckling. But Colin pulls away a little so that he can look at Bradley properly.
“And what would that be, Colin?” Bradley asks and still finds himself unable to reign in his smile.
“This,” Colin says and a sudden grin flashes over his face, imminent reaction to Bradley’s laughter, “is quite possibly the thing I love most about you.”
Bradley knows exactly what Colin is talking about and infecting Colin with his stupid happiness has always been his best loved pastime. He still doesn’t quite know how to respond to Colin’s words properly. So he softly kisses Colin’s lips again, and then says,
“I have your stuff all over my hand.”
He feels Colin’s mouth twisting into a grin, “What am I supposed to say, I got your merry sperm in me.”
“Mmm, dirty talk. I like it,” Bradley kisses Colin again before he carefully pulls out and rolls himself off of him to find something to wipe his hand with.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised,” says Colin and kisses Bradley’s shoulder before slumping down on the bed again. “I could go back to sleep straight away now.”
“You’re a lazy tart,” Bradley comments.
“Must be your influence,” Colin counters.
“Hey, I’ve been up for hours already. I even went out for groceries earlier,” Bradley says, somewhat proudly, and – his hand clean again – flops down beside him, his hand on Colin’s flat stomach. “I bought bread and cheese and Weetabix and everything. I even got you a newspaper.”
Colin turns his head on the pillow and regards him with arched eyebrows. “You stole my paper for me?”
“No, Colin,” Bradley says and reaches behind himself to the floor, where he has dropped the paper and the mail earlier. “I bought it at the kiosk, like any person who is not a notorious clepto would have.” He drops the newspaper onto Colin’s face and watches him flail a little before he manages to get his arms coordinated and pick the paper up.
“This is not a newspaper, this is The Sun.”
Bradley shrugs and shuffles through the handful of letters he has dropped between them on the mattress. “I am absolutely positive that they focus on the most important news.”
“’Hand of Dog – Maradona’s face OP after pet mauls him’”, Colin reads out in response.
Bradley shuffles over, crunching letters under him. “Let me see, are there pictures?”
Colin pulls the paper away as Bradley tries to grab it and they kind of wrestle for it but Bradley gets distracted by Colin’s mouth on his and by sharp paper cutting into his side.
“Oh, we got mail by the way,” he says as he breaks the kiss that Colin has instigated. “A postcard from New York. With the statue of liberty on it.”
“Who do we know who travelled to New York?” Colin asks, stroking Bradley’s arm but letting him reach for the card. “Did Katie and Angel decide on the US instead of France without telling us?”
Bradley picks it up and looks at the address. “Nope, and we don’t know anyone in New York either. But apparently someone named Jake –“ he stops, reads the name again and pronounces it carefully, “Yil-En-hoo-luh-hay or something does. – Seriously, what kind of name is that?”
“We really shouldn’t read other people’s mail,” Colin says. “It makes me feel dirty.”
“You feel dirty because you just let me do dirty things to you and now have my sweat all over you, Colin,” Bradley explains to him patiently, fingertips lightly stroking Colin’s upper arm while he reads the card. “I want to keep this, it’s juicy and besides I always wanted a picture of the statue of liberty for our fridge.”
Colin picks up his Sun again and unfolds it, resting his head on Bradley’s biceps as Bradley puts an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s see whether your card can beat The Sun in terms of juicy news.”
Bradley shifts onto his side and drapes his left arm, the one Colin is not using as a pillow, over Colin’s stomach as he buries his face in Colin’s mob of sweaty black hair.
“I want to hear the full story on Maradona’s face munching,” he mumbles into it.
“Do you want me to run another background check on the family members, sir?” Zac asks as soon as they have left the house.
Orlando waits with his answer until they are out of hearing distance and then says, “Focus on the uncle as soon, as we’re back in the office.”
“Of course, sir,” Zac answers and beeps open their car, parked in the driveway.
Zac has pulled the car back onto the road and Orlando has spent five minutes watching the quaint and picturesque neighbourhood go by outside his window (Murder? Here? It cannot be! – How often he has heard that.), when Zac gets restless behind the steering wheel.
“Sir?” he glances over at Orlando who is still staring out of the window. “I’d like to do some deeper digging on the wife as well, sir.”
“I know,” Orlando replies. No matter how often he has told his Sergeant that it might come in handy to not have ‘I THINK YOU DID IT’ in bold black marker written across his forehead, Zac’s face is what you might call ‘overly expressive’. But his gut feeling generally is solid, if you exclude his taste in music. Therefore Orlando nods easily, “You do that, maybe something will turn up.”
Zac seems satisfied and they drive in silence for a while. The radio is turned off and the traffic is light enough but despite all that, Orlando can’t bring himself to focus properly on the case; too many things that don’t add up causing him a headache.
When Zac stops the car at a traffic light, Orlando loosens his tie a little and says, “I just don’t know.”
“Sir?” Zac glances at him with confusion. “What do you want us to do now, sir?”
“Start excluding some suspects,” Orlando decides with a sigh, “Let’s start with the uncle, see where that leaves us.”
“It’s Wednesday. He should be at the races this afternoon,” Zac says and Orlando remembers that something like a gambling problem has been insinuated. Good thing that Zac has a memory like an elephant. “Romford Racetrack they said was his home turf, I think.”
“Right.” Orlando massages the bridge of his nose between his fingers, unsuccessfully wills his headache to go away. To no avail, though, doesn’t work like that. Zac keeps glancing at him and finally Orlando decides, “Right, so you’re going back to run that background check on the wife and the uncle and it’s dog racing this afternoon then.”
“What are you gonna do in the meantime, sir?” Zac asks and with his genuinely concerned earnestness Orlando wouldn’t be surprised to receive the order to get himself some chicken soup next.
“Try to clear my head,” he says.
He lets Zac drop him off near the river and he aimlessly strolls down the embankment, watches boats go by as masses of people stream past him. Scattered thoughts about too much work and not enough distance float through his head like drifting trash on the Thames.
And after half an hour of boat gazing and deliberately thinking nothing specific he finds that his thoughts have carried him to Sean, of all people.
It’s not all that surprising. Orlando really has worked a lot and one could argue that hanging out with someone who lives in the same house as you do is simply absolutely perfect in terms of efficiency and practicality. What is surprising is that Orlando knows he’d be kidding himself if he honestly said that this was the reason why he was spending so much of his (little) free time with Sean. It’s not like they’re doing anything profound, mostly it’s either shouting at Sean’s telly or having a beer on Orlando’s balcony (which has the benefit of no naked yoga in plain view). But that right now his mind has led him straight back to Sean to find comfort in there like a bloody port in a storm, that is not only incredibly cheesy and melodramatic it’s also kind of true.
A quick glance at his watch affirms what Orlando’s belly has been telling him for a while now; it’s lunch time. Stepping once again out of the flow of moving masses on the embankment, Orlando pulls out his mobile and dials Sean’s number.
Sean answers after the second ring. “What?”
“Hey, it’s Orlando. Am I interrupting you with a customer?” Orlando asks, pushing a finger into his free ear to hear Sean better.
“No, not at all,” Sean replies, voice friendlier now. “We got a quiet morning – gives me enough time to work on orders and chat.”
“Enough time to drop out for a quick lunch, too?”
There is a short silence on the other end of the line, and Orlando can clearly picture Sean’s face right now. His default expression of slight reticence that he always wears when something out of his usual patterns happens. And as it is, Orlando remembers that he and Sean actually never have met up outside their crappy apartment house so far.
“Sure,” Sean says after a moment, the surprise in his voice having a careful but pleased ring to it. “You’re not busy?”
“Nah, I let my Sergeant do most of the real work anyways,” Orlando jokes and smiles when he hears Sean’s low chuckle.
“Great minds think alike and all that – I do the same thing, my partner keeps complaining about that though.”
“Well, in my case that’s the beauty of chain of command, he’s not allowed to complain.”
“I don’t think Eric has grasped this concept of seniority at all,” Sean says and is interrupted by a voice in his background. Orlando listens to him listening to it, then Sean calls back at the interrupter, “Shut it, Eric, I’m fantastic to work with.”
“Sad that you seem to be the only one thinking so,” Orlando remarks dryly.
“Excuse me, I thought you called to ask me to lunch, not to slag me off,” Sean replies, amused.
“How do you feel about Greek?”
“I think they ruined the Euro and that’s great for the pound, also it’s a great place for holidays.”
“Haha. Food, Sean.”
“Sure, Greek’s fine with me. In fact, I know this great place, quite close by. Where are you right now?”
Orlando tells him and Sean describes him the way, they agree to meet up in half an hour.
Orlando only needs twenty minutes to get there, a nice little restaurant close to the embankment. He orders a glass of water after one of the waiters has shown him to a table for two on the terrace. There he sits down in the warm spring sun, surrounded by quiet conversations that he isn’t a part of.
He spots Sean a moment before he himself is seen. The older man is talking to the waiter and Orlando raises his hand when Sean looks his way. The polite smile on Sean’s face broadens a little and he comes over, carrying his light coat over his arm and wearing a grey pinstripe suit. He looks undeniably handsome, which is something that Orlando, while feeling rather underdressed in comparison once again, is most definitely able to appreciate.
“Hey,” Sean greats, “have you ordered already? I’m bloody starving.”
“Yes, I got gyros with extra onions for me and a small salad for you,” Orlando replies dryly as Sean pulls back the chair opposite and sits down. “Of course I waited for you, you Neanderthal.”
Sean ignores the friendly welcome and waves the waiter over. “I’ll have a lager, please,” he says and with a glance at Orlando’s glass he asks mockingly, “Do you want a proper drink as well or is that against your low fat diet plan?”
“I’m on duty,” Orlando defends himself, only a little enviously, and when the waiter is gone, Sean turns to him with interest.
“So you’re working after all? It’s not really surprising, considering.”
“Considering what?” Orlando wants to know and loosens his tie a little more.
“Considering you’re a workaholic,” Sean says simply, as if merely stating a fact that is so self-evident that he doesn’t even need to elaborate. His eyes are already on the menu and he is squinting.
“Wasn’t it you who said that making assumptions is never a good thing?” Orlando asks.
Sean turns the page and pulls a face before he fishes out his glasses from the inner pocket of his suit. “I’m not making assumptions,” he replies, “I’m basing this on a long term study of your behaviour throughout April and May so far.”
Orlando laughs and pulls the second menu towards himself. “So basically, you just admitted that you’re stalking me.”
“Basically.” Sean pushes the wire rimmed glasses up his nose, licks his lips at what Orlando can only guess to be culinary anticipation.
“And if I were to tell you that I’m running a similar study and that it turned out that you are an incredibly pompous and self-righteous arsehole?”
Sean closes the menu and regards Orlando curiously for a moment. Then he shakes his head, says, “Only that it didn’t, did it?”
Orlando pulls a face. “Fine, fine, enjoy your view from your moral high ground there.”
Sean chuckles and right when Orlando has decided on what to eat the waiter shows up with Sean’s lager and takes their orders. After that Sean puts his glasses away again, leans back in his chair and says,
“I’ve always pictured you having lunch in form of a sandwich, hunched over some messy desk.” He looks at Orlando contemplatively and Orlando is a bit surprised that Sean bothered picturing him doing anything in his head – let alone something as boring as having lunch. If Sean notices the surprise he doesn’t let on but instead asks conversationally, “I take it this means you caught your murderer for the day?”
Orlando chuckles humourlessly. “No, definitely not.”
“I remember you had this thing about being cynical,” Sean says, tapping his chin and his voice is only half joking. “So, your current case isn’t going all that smoothly?”
“Well, I have something that looks like a home invasion but doesn’t feel like one,” Orlando starts, ticking off points with his fingers. “The people I interviewed so far got enough motive for ten homicides, not just the one. And every single family member acts suspicious in one way or another.”
“Wow, that’s –“ Sean starts but interrupts himself (he is careful with his words at the oddest of times, Orlando noticed that before). “I really wouldn’t want to trade with you.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.” Orlando’s eyebrows hop up almost out of their own volition and Sean laughs quietly. Which is when Orlando decides that the fucked-upness that is his current case can bite him for now. Smiling back, he therefore says, “But mostly because with my salary you wouldn’t be able to afford suits as nice as yours.”
“True and thank you. I suppose there was a compliment hidden somewhere in that insult,” Sean says dryly. “Do I even want to ask what you earn?”
“No, you really don’t,” Orlando laughs. “Rather tell me about your job again. Did you ever tailor for anyone famous? Say, the royal family?”
“Fuck off,” is Sean’s only answer and he drinks more of his beer before he shakes his head, apparently not able to let that one slide. “You’re aware that you’ve asked me that three bloody times already?”
“You know that I don’t read newspapers. Where else am I gonna get my fix of gossip?”
“As I’ve said: Sod off.”
“Well, is there anything else interesting about tailoring?” Orlando asks and manages to keep a straight face for a total of five seconds before he breaks under Sean’s dark glare. Laughing he raises his hands in surrender. “No, seriously now, tell me something about it that completely messes with my prejudiced view of the world in general and your job in particular.”
Sean rolls his eyes but humours him eventually. Orlando, despite the mockery, is genuinely interested – Sean’s a decent story-teller if he puts his mind to it and doesn’t simply fill in most of the blanks with cussing. They receive their food while Orlando is laughing whole-heartedly at Sean’s re-telling of the huge debates over suit patterns he and his father used to have and Orlando enjoys his meal and learns that Sean’s business-partner has no idea how to sew or to design but could sell you a wetsuit for a gala-dinner, he is that good a salesman.
They switch to other topics while they eat – cop shows, cops, politics and whether or not owning a Porsche automatically indicates that you’re a prick – and it’s only when Sean excuses himself to go to the loo that Orlando finds himself not talking animatedly or listening (and laughing) with dedication.
The weather hasn’t changed, it’s as sunny as it has been two hours ago. But as Orlando leans back in his chair, stretches out his legs and lets the warm midday sun kiss his face, he thinks that he really hasn’t been able to appreciate it earlier. He lets his mind drift, the chattering of the people walking by and the distant sound of the water, definitely adding to his feeling of peacefulness.
“I leave you alone for five minutes and you fall asleep on me?”
Orlando opens his eyes to find Sean grinning down at him.
“You should see me after sex,” Orlando jokes back, sitting up, “the minute I get off, I’m out cold. What do I care whether the other bloke gets off or not?”
Must be the midday heat or something, but it takes Orlando a moment to catch up with his own words and he realises what he just said. His family and his mates know that he is gay and even keep trying to set him up with random blokes which is as sweet as it is annoying. So, it’s not like he is in the closet or anything – it’s just that this isn’t really a subject that comes up in your average lunch-conversation, is it?
“I can’t say that that surprises me all that much,” Sean says, interrupting Orlando’s contemplations, and it takes Orlando a second to make the connection back to his own joke while Sean sits back down. “Consideration personified, you are.”
Not a comment, not even a look of surprise – in fact it seems all kinds of bizarre that Orlando seems more surprised by his accidental clarification than Sean. But maybe that’s just his ability to read people is kind of wonky today.
“Public school education,” he says only a little belatedly and by way of explanation, “Always look out for yourself first and foremost.”
“Interesting,” is all Sean answers, smiling, and leans back in his chair with his arms comfortably crossed in front of his chest.
“Tell me you didn’t go to some fancy private school,” Orlando replies. When Sean just shrugs, kind of non-committal but still telling enough, Orlando asks, “What the hell are you doing living in that crappy flat complex then? I mean, even I could afford something better but you?”
“I moved there after my last divorce was finalised a few years back,” Sean says evenly. “My ex kept the old flat and I thought, well –“
Orlando finishes for him, “Why bother? I hear that.” With a smile he adds, “Mind, I didn’t end up there because of a failed relationship but plainly because I got no taste, but still.”
Sean leans forward a bit and pushes his plate away, resting his hands on the table. “Well, if you’d met my last wife you’d not make that distinction.”
“Outch,” Orlando laughs, fingers playing with his tie. “So you didn’t part on good terms then?”
“Let’s just say that I sure know how to pick them,” Sean replies with a small smile. He doesn’t seem too bothered by it though, just a little thoughtful for a moment.
“Last wife?” Orlando quotes and arches a brow by way of prompting.
“In a row of three,” Sean exemplifies and Orlando supposes it’s a bit rude to just outright laugh at him but he does it anyway. Sean waits him out, fingertips tapping on the table, and when Orlando has reigned himself in he says dryly, “I keep forgetting that you’re a giant prick. Thanks for reminding me.”
“You’re most welcome,” Orlando replies graciously but then adds, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, yeah?”
Sean nods easily enough, “It does sound a bit ridiculous, summed up like that.”
“It kinda does. – Three times?” Orlando snickers again, smiles at the waiter who has come to finally take away their plates. When the man is gone Orlando looks at Sean again and says with more seriousness in his voice, “I guess what absolutely astonishes me is – I mean you had two divorces already and still decided to give it another go? I’d never have pegged you to be that optimistic.”
“And by ‘optimistic’ you mean ‘stupid’,” Sean replies dryly.
Orlando shakes his head though. “No, I really don’t.”
“Yeah, well,” Sean says slowly, “I had this fucked up picture in my head of what the right life was supposed to be like – picket fence, pretty bird and all that. Ended with me in that flat and three ex-wives ‘bout ten years back.”
“So, you gave up on the idea of –“ Orlando starts but doesn’t really know how to end his question. ‘The perfect life’? ‘The pursuit of happiness’? ‘Love’? Don’t be ridiculous. – It doesn’t matter, Orlando trusts Sean to get the gist of it anyhow.
“I dunno, maybe, maybe not,” Sean replies and then regards Orlando contemplatively for a moment, like Orlando by now has gotten used to. For someone who is as hot-tempered as Sean is sometimes, he really has astounding discipline (bordering on paranoia) when it comes to guarding his privacy. Eventually he shrugs and says, almost off-hand,
“I reckon it should help some that I stopped searching for all that with the wrong sex at least.”
Orlando frowns at that, a bit confused. Then he thinks about it again. Oh.
“You know,” he says after a moment, “this is probably the most roundabout way I’ve ever heard anyone saying ‘Hey by the way, I’m a fag’. Way to go, Sean.”
Sean chuckles, leans back in his chair again and replies in a mockingly cheerful tone but with a genuine smile directed at Orlando, “Now look who brushed up their deduction skills. And I’d already given up all hope for the local CID.”
“Cheers,” Orlando nods and lets Sean laugh because he clearly deserved that. And Sean has a great laugh, too, rich and dark and just this side of wicked, Orlando wouldn’t mind hearing it a lot more. Again that thought is something that maybe should surprise him more than it does – but really it just feels like a good thing, taking so easily to Sean’s drama-free worldview, to Sean in general.
“Speaking of CID,” Sean remarks after a moment, glancing at his watch, “don’t you have to get back to catching your murderer?”
Orlando groans automatically but it’s really just for show by now and they both know it. Sean is still looking at him, the sun makes him squint a little, showing off the laugh lines around his eyes, as he waits for an answer. And Orlando reckons that Zac will be busy running the requested background checks for at least another hour anyway.
“Oh, I got time for a cuppa coffee if you do,” he says, waving the waiter over from the other end of the well filled terrace. “You owe me some private school stories after all.”
“Darling, I’m always happy to see you,” Bradley’s mum says and Colin senses the ‘but’ that is about to follow even if Bradley doesn’t because he is too occupied beaming at his mother. “But what do you want with my kitchen?”
They are already standing in Mrs. James’s kitchen and Colin thinks that it’s a bit late to ask this question, sort of like when the invaders have already taken the walls of your castle and only then you think fit to ask ‘Oh, hello there chaps, what is it that you want?’. Only that this isn’t a fort but Mrs. James well cared for eggshell and lime coloured kitchen.
Bradley however (who indeed is the equivalent of a one-man-storm-troop and people can’t resist his charm anyway so it’s futile to even try) envelops his mother in a big hug, nearly crushing the woman, and accidentally slaps her over the head with the magazine he is holding in his hand. Then he announces,
“Mom, I need your kitchen because as you know myself and Colin live in this absolutely horrid flat and we don’t even have a fridge but have to store all our perishables close to the window and hope for a cold day outside.”
Bradley’s mum pushes herself out of her son’s embrace and looks at Colin with this strange mixture of exasperation and concern that Colin figures only mothers can manage.
“Is that true, Colin?” she asks and behind her back, Bradley makes wide gestures, mostly telling him that Colin should just confirm Bradley’s bunch of lies.
“It’s a bunch of lies,” says Colin. Bradley’s mom looks relieved and Bradley looks intensely disappointed in him.
“Alright,” Bradley then says, trying for a second time, “I’m here because we have a blokes’ flat and only have pizza in our fridge err freezer, and I need proper cooking ingredients.”
“And you couldn’t just –“ Bradley’s mother starts.
“- go to the shop for the ingredients?” Colin finishes. “What ingredients?”
Mrs. James looks a bit puzzled at Colin’s apparent lack of knowledge and not for the first time Colin has the feeling that she only likes him so much because he relieved her of the babysitting duties of her 26 year old manchild. Bradley looks back and forth between the two of them and decides to tackle Colin first.
“You could show a bit more support, Colin,” he says in what he probably thinks is a convincingly hurt tone. “Or I won’t let you have any of my cookies.”
“There will be cookies?” Colin asks, even more confused and adjusting the strap of his messenger bag on his shoulder. “I didn’t know that.”
“That’s because on the ride here you couldn’t stop talking about noisy quantum fluctuations in special positions,” Bradley says.
Colin opens his mouth and closes it again because he decides that there is so much wrong with Bradley’s assessment of his efforts that he decides to not even bother. Bradley, satisfied with this result anyways, turns to his mum and Colin sees him changing gears to ‘bestest son in the universe’.
“And mum, isn’t it fantastic of me that I want to overcome gender clichés and learn how to bake?” Colin has to bite back a smile but Bradley not only manages to keep the earnest expression on his face but also add, “And hence provide for my family?”
“You mean for Colin?” Bradley’s mum asks and Bradley nods emphatically. Colin feels a bit stupidly in love with both of them at that moment. Finally Bradley’s mum sighs and strokes her son’s shoulder, saying, “I’ll leave you two to it then. But I expect you to clean up after yourselves later, Bradley.”
“Of course,” Bradley says in that voice that roughly translates to ‘Colin will do it’.
As soon as Mrs. James has left her kitchen, Colin slumps down on the kitchen bench, placing his bag next to him.
“I thought we were going to uni today,” he says. “I have lots of work to do, you know.”
“Your holograms can wait,” Bradley says with a dismissive gesture and even though Colin knows (is pretty sure) that Bradley is aware that holographic theory has nothing to do with creating holograms he still cringes. Bradley ignores it. “Baking is far more important.”
“Is this about Angel and Katie calling you a macho man?” Colin asks even though he is already sure that this is about Angel and Katie calling Bradley a macho man and even doing a short impromptu song-and-dance number to drive their point home.
“No, I’ve always loved to bake,” Bradley lies (Bradley is honestly the worst liar Colin has ever met. Not that matters all that much because Bradley hardly ever lies anyway and besides, most of the stuff he talks about is either completely dismissible nonsense or has to do with whacked out engineering epiphanies and no one understands what he is on about anyway.)
“Hello, Colin!” interrupts Bradley Colin’s contemplations. “I just said that I don’t care what those ungrateful French hussies say about me.”
Bradley rolls his eyes. “Angel and Katie, les two exchange élèves du future.”
“Your French hurts my brain.” Colin pulls a face and draws his bag closer to himself. Bradley nods in agreement and then picks up his mom’s apron.
“Isn’t it weird though,” Bradley says, fiddling with the strings of the apron, “that they’ll be gone soon? I mean not that I am gonna miss those slanderous hussies but –“
After a moment Colin fills in the blanks for him because he knows Bradley and he feels the same. “You’re gonna miss those slanderous hussies?”
“Exactly,” Bradley agrees. “Who allowed them to just take off to France to become wine-drinkers and baguette eaters? Next thing, my footie club is collectively joining a nunnery.”
“Monastery,” Colin corrects.
“Exactly. And where would that leave the world, I ask you?” Bradley asks but doesn’t seem to want an answer. Instead he just asks the next question right after, looking at Colin, “Now, are you gonna help me with my hussy cookies or what?”
“No, I’m not and I’m not cleaning up after you either.”
“How do you think you’re gonna earn the rights to get some of my fantastic cookies then?” Bradley asks, crossing his arms in front of his chest. This would be all kinds of impressive if Colin had any faith in Bradley’s baking skills (which he hasn’t because they are nonexistent) and the posture would even be a bit intimidating (not to mention hot) if he wasn’t wearing his mom’s flowery Laura Ashley apron.
“Three reasons,” says Colin as he starts pulling out books out of his bag and placing them in front of him on the kitchen table. “Firstly because you need someone to test them so you won’t get laughed at by Angel and Katie again, secondly because I plan to keep you company and thirdly because you love me.”
Bradley thinks about that for a moment then he nods and he is already starts piling up ingredients on the counter and the table when he says, “Fine, but if I decide to make err... Dalek biscuits you won’t get any.”
“I will,” says Colin without looking up from his string theory textbook.
“Yeah, you will,” affirms Bradley before he sits down opposite of Colin. He is suspiciously quiet for a few moments and Colin finally glances up to find him engrossed in the magazine that he brought.
“Since when does reading up on Arsenal count as honing your baking skills?” Colin asks after watching Bradley’s intensely concentrated face for a while.
“What?” Bradley looks up, confused, but then makes the connection to his magazine. “I’m not. I’m researching proper cookie recipes.”
As proof he lifts the magazine and it clearly is brand-new and is named ‘Modern baking’.
“Where on earth did you get that?”
“I might have temporarily borrowed it without permission,” Bradley answers, already leafing through it again.
“You nicked it?”
At the apparent surprise in Colin’s voice Bradley lifts his gaze again and gapes at him in bewilderment, “Hey, you’ve been stealing some poor bloke’s Guardian for months now!”
“That’s different,” Colin says and his voice really only sounds a little defensive when he elaborates, “I’m taking from someone who is most probably some pompous leftist liberal thinking that living in our house makes him a real communist. You on the other hand just ruined some darling old lady’s month!”
Bradley blinks when Colin has finished and it takes him a moment to find something to reply. With his eyebrows bunched to a frown he finally says, “So what you are telling me is that you profile your nicking victims beforehand and they get what they deserve? You’re the Robin Hood of newspaper theft?”
“And you are the Sheriff of Nottingham,” Colin says deadpan. “Exactly.”
Bradley scrunches up his face and shakes his head. “What happened to ‘giving to the poor’ though, Robin?”
“I’m generously donating the paper to myself because I am poor,” replies Colin and when Bradley just laughs at him he decides that attack is the best form of defence. “Don’t tell me you were planning on giving anything back.”
“I absolutely am,” says Bradley with indignation. “I am going to bake –“ he glances at the page of the magazine that by chance is flipped open, “ – toffee studded snickerdoodles and I’m going to give a whole box of them to –“ this time he glances at the magazine cover for the address, “- oh, to Mrs. White, what do you know. And to your poor leftist liberal communist bloke as well.”
“You stole from Mrs. White,” is all Colin answers, shaking his head, before he concentrates on his book again.
“Shut up, Colin,” is all Bradley replies to that before he gets up and gets to work.
Contrary to popular belief, Bradley is actually capable of working quietly. Back when they were living in that hall and even before they got together (or as Bradley likes to call it “before you stopped denying that you couldn’t think of anything else but me in my footie kit, doing dirty things to you, Colin”) Colin sometimes woke up late in the morning in their shared room to find Bradley sitting at the table next to the window, working on one of the miniature robots he enjoyed building so much.
Colin watched him work, hunched over his current project and trying so hard to be quiet when he put the tools back on the table or had to rummage through his cardboard box of random spare parts. Quiet and careful, just to not wake up Colin. And aside from the quiet sounds of metal on metal and screws being turned, all Colin could hear was his own and Bradley’s even breathing, the busy life outside their room miles away.
That of course was before Bradley turned around and saw Colin watching him and forced him to sing praise to his newest robot baby. But Colin didn’t mind that so much either.
Every time Colin looks up from his textbook now, just to check whether Bradley is still there (even though he can constantly hear his quiet humming along to the radio just fine), Bradley is working dedicatedly on mixing ingredients, closely following the recipe. Every time Colin looks up, the kitchen also looks more and more like the Jameses were victims of a home invasion just recently – boxes and cartons standing around everywhere, egg shells on the counter, milk spills right next to it, apparently every bowl that Mrs. James owns put to use – and it’s for the third time that Colin has to brush flour from the covers of his books when Bradley finally notices.
“You have to break an egg to make an omelette,” Bradley says, not the least bit repentant.
“Only you wreaked an entire chicken farm and then set fire to the ruins,” Colin replies.
Bradley looks down at the space of the table he has cleared for himself and then covered with flour and arches an eyebrow.
“Don’t you –“ Colin warns even though he knows that it’s futile. Bradley just grins at him before he leans down and blows the flour in Colin’s face. Colin blinks whiteness from his lashes and scowls.
“Here, taste my dough,” Bradley then says and makes it sound like the worst pick up line in the history of dating. Still, he has scooped a little amount of dough out of the biggest of his bowls and holds it towards Colin. Colin inspects it closely but it actually looks edible, so he dutifully opens his mouth and licks the sticky sample from Bradley’s fingertips.
“It tastes of toffee,” he announces.
Bradley rolls his eyes and wipes his hand on his apron. “Of course it does, it’s going to be toffee studded snickerdoodles.”
“You really like that name, don’t you?”
“Do you even have to ask?”
“Still,” Colin says, reaching for the bowl and taking another sample, “is it really supposed to taste of nothing but toffee?”
Bradley shrugs. “I might have doubled the amount. Can’t have too much toffee.”
“Right,” Colin says, licking his lips. “You should in fact leave out all the other ingredients.”
“I’m not taking baking advice from some pixie that had a terribly accident with its fairy dust,” Bradley says categorically and pulls the bowl out of Colin’s reach. Still, he starts adding more flour and butter and eggs right after. Kneading with his hands now he nods at Colin’s books and asks, “What are you so focused on anyway?”
Colin shrugs. “I’m still not happy with this course work I am supposed to hand in by the end of the week.”
“I thought it was perfect and you were bloody Einstein?” Bradley asks, his accent a fairly good imitation of Colin’s as he quotes Colin’s slightly overly enthusiastic words from last night.
“Well,” Colin starts and then shrugs, picking at the dust cover of one of his books, “I want it to be really perfect, you know?”
“Because you want to impress your Prof so he can’t help but jump you and then you have blackmail material on him and we will be rich,” Bradley says with a very serious nod. “Gotcha. Brilliant plan.”
“Yes, that –“ replies Colin dryly, “or something to do with postgrad options. But your plan of course sounds far more promising.”
Bradley looks at him, and he is still wearing his mom’s apron and has both his hands in the bowl and there is flour on his right brow. Still, he looks by far more contemplative than Colin is used to and Colin isn’t completely sure what prompted that, isn’t sure he wants to know right now. So, he gets up and puts his books onto the bench.
“Can I use your old computer for a moment?” he asks, brushing the worst of the flour off of himself. “I need to email Professor Wilson.”
The slight frown is still right there on Bradley’s forehead, albeit hiding under his messy fringe, but he nods. “Sure, go ahead. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the ironing board and the sewing machine, my mom turned the room into a shrine of housewomanness.”
“You go on baking your emancipation cookies,” Colin remarks before he pulls the door open. “I reckon you can do with the exercise.”
Bradley’s responding laughter is rich and warm and Colin can still hear it when he climbs the stairs to Bradley’s old room.
When he enters he can’t say that Bradley has been exaggerating with his warnings – the room looks, for the lack of a better description, like a questionable work of modern art, like a collage made by a slightly deranged person.
He sits down on the bright blue desk chair and switches on the antique computer. It starts humming but Colin figures that it might take a while until it’s ready to go.
The layer underneath the one that Mrs. James created with her porcelain figurines and sewing projects is obviously what Bradley left behind when he moved into the hall. There are still a few slightly out of date football posters hanging on the wall. Colin has to grin when he looks at the bed and finds the duvet to sport the Doctor Who logo with a spinning Tardis on blue background. He also knows the bed to be far too small for Bradley now. He’d fall out if he only so much as twitched and Colin can almost hear him bitching about it, too.
The computer announces that it’s ready to be used now and Colin spends a few minutes futilely trying to open his email account until he realises that he actually has to connect the computer to the internet beforehand (seriously, who uses dialup anymore?). He sighs heavily when the PC starts loading and again promises a bit of a wait. He swirls around on Bradley’s old chair until he feels a bit sick.
More subtle things whisper ‘Bradley’ as well, like the empty space next to the abandoned comic books on the shelf where Colin knows Bradley’s collection of Buffy DVDs must have stood. And between the picture frames with family photos that Bradley’s mom has put up there are abandoned miniature robots on the shelves as well. Some are arranged around a picture of a beaming 16 year old Bradley in his football kit, as if they were plotting to rise against their creator.
Colin turns back and finally is able to log into his email account. He types his most pressing questions regarding his assignment, and then adds ‘Would you be free any time this week to discuss my post-graduation options with me?’ as well and hits ‘send’ before he can change his mind.
In their flat, on their kitchen table stands a Dalek cookie jar and a poster of the Tardis is stuck on the back of their bathroom door, Bradley’s Buffy DVDs stand cover to cover with Colin’s Terry Pratchett books on the flimsy shelf in the living room. Bradley owns an obnoxious amount of football stockings that he favourably leaves lying about all over the place, cherishes this washed out Arsenal sweatshirt that Colin likes wearing himself almost as much as he likes Bradley wearing it. The robots that Bradley now builds are quite elaborate (not to mention big – the one called ‘Giant Knight-bot’ for example is indeed that, giant) and Colin thinks they are rather brilliant (even if he sometimes uses them as clothes hangers, though Bradley insists that Colin is not supposed to do that with his birthday gifts).
Colin takes one of the smallest of robots – a tiny horse-like creature – from one of the shelves and slips it into the pocket of his jeans. It can keep the Knight-bot company.
“I thought the PC had eaten you,” Bradley greets him when Colin steps into the kitchen again. “I was about to send a rescue party, consisting of myself.”
He turns around when Colin doesn’t answer immediately. His apron is askew and it’s far too small anyway, stretching over his chest, and there is still flour on his brow. The pink glow on his cheeks as well as the slightly crazed look in his eyes clearly indicate a sugar rush due to too much sampling. Colin kind of feels the same, just from Bradley grinning at him across the room. He closes the distance between them and Bradley raises his messy hands to not grease up their clothes when Colin slips his arms around him.
“Hey,” he says, his hands finding the back pockets of Bradley’s jeans and disappearing in them.
“Hey,” Bradley answers and, his arms still stretched out in a bit of an awkward angle, leans in to kiss Colin on the mouth. He tastes of toffee. “What took you so long?” he asks, after. “Did you skip the email and pay your Prof a visit in person? Or did you surf for porn? I really hope my mom doesn’t know what ‘browser history’ is.”
“Your computer upstairs is really slow. A turtle with arthritis is fast in comparison. Dialup slow.”
Bradley gapes at him and shakes his head disbelievingly. When Colin laughs and kisses him again, Bradley forgets about his messy hands and pulls Colin closer to him instantly. His sticky fingers caress Colin’s neck when he pulls back again, his lips brush against Colin’s, soft and gentle.
“Dialup, hm?” he muses, “I’m so glad I moved out.”
Colin leans his forehead against Bradley’s, answers just as quietly, “You moved in with me just because of my broadband connection?”
“Only reason,” Bradley murmurs affectionately, fingers still stroking the back of Colin’s neck. “What other explanation could there be?”
“I figured as much,” Colin replies.
“Other than that though,” Bradley says against Colin’s lips, kissing him with every word, “I also want to eat err enjoy warm delicious cookie-you.”
Colin pulls back enough to look at Bradley with two arched eyebrows. “Warm delicious cookie-me? What?”
Bradley rolls his eyes ostentatiously, holding Colin at arm’s length (and messing up his black shirt after all).
“Oh Colin, Colin, sometimes I worry about you,” he announces and only then explains, “Buffy?”
“So, now I’m not cookies but a 5 feet tall blonde girl?”
“A kick-ass heroine!” Bradley corrects him. “But no. It’s a Buffy-quote. She says it to Angel in the series finale when they are talking about if they ever can be together and Buffy says –“
“You’re a giant knob.”
“No, that’s not what she says,” Bradley shakes his head and prods Colin’s chest with his index finger. “Clearly you need to rewatch. It’s about growing up and how to be happy with who you are and with whom you’re with. It’s genius.”
Colin feels almost caught red-handed after his short trip down melancholy and memory lane only minutes before but he merely asks dryly, “It’s genius and she’s using food metaphors?”
“Exactly,” Bradley says enthusiastically and Colin figures that to him it makes a whole lot of sense.
“So, can I help with your hussy cookies?” he asks after a moment.
“We’re not making four-leaf clover ones, just so we’re clear about that,” Bradley insists but pushes the bowl with dough into Colin’s arms anyway.
“Penises for the girls and communistic stars for the Guardian subscriber?” Colin suggests.
Bradley throws his head back, laughing loudly.
“Done,” he agrees, radiating renewed baking enthusiasm.
Colin grins and thinks that this is why he doesn’t like change. After all, his life right now is obviously as close to perfect as it can be, how it should always be – minus the traces of flour and cookie dough in his hair maybe.
“Anyway, last weekend, I was visiting my parents back home,” Cols says and waits for Orlando to catch up.
Orlando, who had most of his attention focused on trying to catch the bartender’s eye, hums belatedly and says, “Yes, home, you told me. Home – right end of the rainbow, where they brew proper beer and speak like normal people.”
“It’s Dublin, you dolt,” Cols corrects him, raising his voice enough to turn a few heads. Thankfully the bartender is among them and Orlando can gesture for another round. Satisfied, he can turn his attention back to Cols, leaning right next to him at the bar.
“I believe that’s exactly what I said,” Orlando says.
Cols finishes his previous Amstel and puts the bottle down to have his hands free, which usually heralds a longer story.
“So, I was visiting my Dad and my Mum and it was around Friday evening at nine or something when I grew so bloody fucking sick of them that it was either going out or shooting them in the head.”
The bartender gives Cols an odd look as he puts their beers in front of them but Orlando just replies, “Took you, what, two hours? Must be a new record.”
Cols nods. “I know. I love them, don’t get me wrong, but I love them best from afar. From very far afar. Can’t believe I keep forgetting that.”
“I can’t either, especially since I recall telling you the exact same thing just last week,” Orlando murmurs against the rim of his glass.
Cols just waves that aside dismissively. “If I’d ever listen to anything you said, where would I be?”
“Happily married with 2.5 kids and a mortgage?” Orlando guesses because Cols loves nothing more than telling Orlando in detail how very, very boring he is. For the first couple of years Orlando tried arguing his case by listing things like motorbiking and bungeejumping as his favourite pastimes (which is true enough, even if he doesn’t own a bike and hasn’t jumped from any bridges in a good while). But somewhere along the way he learned that Cols calling him a boring tax consultant is really just Cols-speak for ‘I care about you, mate’.
“You’re the most boring housewife on the Force, I’m serious,” Cols promptly says and takes a moment to shake his head in disapproval before he asks, “Where was I?”
Orlando puts his beer down and rests his elbow on the counter. “You wanted to shoot your parents in the head.”
“Right,” Cols nods, “I didn’t though, as you might’ve imagined. Instead I went out to this pub – and by pub I mean proper pub, Irish pub not some kind of sorry-arse excuse –“
“If you get thrown out of here, I won’t join you sitting in the gutter. I’m gonna stay here and drink my beer, just so you know.”
“You’re a fucking sorry excuse of a friend.”
“I know. – What happened in that pub?”
“I had a few pints and there was this army bloke – completely plastered – and he kept nattering on about queers in the army and what a disgrace that was. And I thought to myself ‘Colin, your best mate is bent and he would cry tears of pain if he heard this’ and because you’re my mate I went over and clogged him one, so it all escalated into a bit of a brawl and I got arrested and spend the night in the same prison cell as a hooker that looked exactly like Marilyn Monroe.”
Cols picks up his beer to lubricate his dry throat and looks expectantly at Orlando. Orlando tilts his head and regards his friend in the dim light of the pub.
“Say, are you still seeing someone about that compulsive lying thing?”
“It happened exactly like I told you,” Cols says, raising his hand as if taking an oath.
“I wish you’d at least leave me out of your fairy tales,” Orlando says, unperturbed. “When did your story derail – did you even visit your parents? I find all this highly disturbing, just so you know.”
“Would it help if I told you that there was this bloke who approached me after the brawl and said ‘Mate, that friend of yours you were defending so heroically; can I have his number?’?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Orlando insists but has to laugh at the honestly curious look on Cols’ face. “Why do I hang out with you again?”
“Because you have no other mates and I am easy,” Cols explains, smiling winningly behind his bottle and toasting Orlando.
“Oi, I do have other friends,” Orlando protests, still laughing.
“Aye, let’s talk about them,” Cols agrees easily and Orlando feels like he just walked into something. Cols leans closer and has his thick brows furrowed to a concentrated frown when he asks, “How’s your boyfriend then?”
“Zac’s doing fine,” Orlando answers promptly, “he’s a quick study and alright if you get past his tendency to sing while driving.”
Cols’ frown deepens and he shakes his head.
“Who’s talking about Zac?”
“You were,” Orlando replies, now frowning as well.
“Huh? I said ‘boyfriend’!”
“Yes and you’ve been referring to my Sergeant as my boyfriend for over a year now. Which, I reckon, isn’t exactly the most pc thing you’ve ever done by the way.”
“Whatever,” Cols concedes but still looks at Orlando as if Orlando was incredibly dense. “I wasn’t talking about him.”
When he doesn’t elaborate however, Orlando says, “You’re not exactly being helpful here, you realise that, right?”
Cols drops both his arms onto the wooden bar and rests his head on them, clearly overstating the exasperation as he is prone to do.
“Sean,” he mutters, mostly against his shirt, “I was talking about Sean, you retarded cunt!”
Orlando merely raises his eyebrows. “How was I supposed to know that? I’m not shagging him either after all, so don’t blame me for your blatant display of mad cow disease.”
Cols turns his head that is still resting on his arms so he can glare at Orlando.
“What do you mean, you’re not shagging him?”
“You want me to explain to you again how exactly two blokes shag and then tell you how Sean and I are not doing it?”
Cols scrunches up his face in response to the first half of Orlando’s question (which is definitely not Orlando’s fault; if Cols hadn’t wanted the details then he shouldn’t have kept asking) but quickly recovers. He straightens again and takes a long drag of his Amstel, shaking his head while he is swallowing. Then he demands,
“You’re telling me that over the past weeks I’ve been listening to your fucking endless crooning of ‘Sean this’ and ‘Sean that’ –“
“I haven’t been crooning,” Orlando interrupts. Because he hasn’t.
Cols completely ignores him and goes on, “- and I have been the best supportive mate any queer could fucking dream of –“
“You told me that Sean was a fucking wanker with a personality disorder and I was a retard for so much as living in the same house as him. Just yesterday.”
“ – and all the while you weren’t even shagging the bloke?!”
Cols’ voice is again loud enough for a couple of patrons to turn their heads. And Orlando is pretty sure that Cols is the only one in the pub who finds it appalling that Orlando isn’t shagging ‘the bloke’.
“I never said I was,” he says with a chuckle. “Sorry, mate.”
Cols shakes his head and gestures the bartender to bring them more beer.
“And you wonder why I make up stories about life. It’s because your life causes me fucking depression.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Orlando replies easily. “Now, tell me the real story of your trip – was there even anyone close to Marilyn Monroe?”
This of course predictably leads to Cols waxing on and on about Marilyn while Orlando decides that he can only survive this evening with his mental health intact by getting royally plastered. This happens when he hangs out with Cols, it’s not like it’s news.
It’s not news either he tells himself – after he has staggered out of the pub at fuck knows when and Cols pulled him into something close to a headlock, telling him “I love you, mate, even if you will die a virgin” – that Cols puts things into his head. It has happened before and Orlando has various battle scars to prove that listening to anything that Cols suggests (especially when well lubricated) is stupid. Fun, yes, but ultimately stupid.
So, he drags himself home and on the way there he has to concentrate enough on this whole walking and finding his flat business to successfully ignore the mental image of Cols looking at him with this mixture of exasperation and concern. Cols of all people shouldn’t have the right to look at anyone that way anyhow.
It’s not much later when he is lying in his bed that he has this moment of clarity. The fraction of his brain that isn’t already half asleep or soaked in beer tells him to shut his eyes already and go to sleep but Orlando ignores it to just face what his subconscious, or his inner Cols, or the alcohol (whatever really) is trying to tell him. Because he’s not a bloody coward and besides, it’s the only way to fall asleep.
Sean, Sean, Sean, Sean.
This is what the wordy part of his brain comes up with, and the bit responsible for illustrations provides a kaleidoscope of images, collected throughout the last weeks without him consciously noticing.
Sean pointing his finger at him and laughing full heartedly when Orlando accidentally kicked his beer off the balcony. Sean kneading his hands, brow furrowed and eyes firmly fixed on the match on telly. Sean pacing up and down in his living room shouting at Orlando because Orlando had suggested to take down the Blades flag and Sean couldn’t help himself but react to the bait. Sean on Orlando’s couch, nodding his agreement while Orlando lengthily explained why Van Gogh was the greatest painter of all times. Sean improvising a faceoff between Thatcher and Blair to prove his point in their discussion about unemployment. Sean smoking the last cigarette for the day, an orange gleam in semi-darkness, as the sky had already turned grey and dimmed all the colours. Sean’s broad grin when Orlando came to his posh shop to pick him up for lunch. Sean’s hands loosely resting in his lap as he listened to the tale of Orlando’s sodding stupid-murderer-of-the-week.
Orlando’s mind zeroes in on Sean’s hands right before he falls asleep. Sean’s hands –
Sadly enough, he’s never been good at dictating his brain what exactly to dream. So even if his moment-of-clarity clearly had an opinion on what he should dream about, of course he doesn’t.
Instead he wakes up with a giant hangover and his mobile trying to make his head explode by ringing.
He doesn’t open his eyes but reaches, groaning loudly, for the blasted thing that’s vibrating around on the nightstand.
“What?!” he shouts into the phone, or at least it feels like shouting and it bloody hurts.
“Did you pocket my car keys?”
It takes Orlando a moment to remember what keys are exactly and who the Irish accent belongs to.
“Fuck you, Cols,” he grumbles. “It’s the middle of the night, you wanker.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not,” Cols answers, sounding far too chipper, too sober and too Irish for Orlando’s liking. “I need my keys, Orlando, I need to be somewhere.”
“You got Amstel running through your veins,” Orlando says. “Even if I had your keys I wouldn’t give them to you.”
Orlando doesn’t let him finish but hangs up and manages to drop the mobile onto his pillow before he is out cold again.
It rings again. Some time later, Orlando thinks. Of bloody course.
“Cols, I swear I will fucking kill you if you don’t stop fucking drunk dialling me, you stupid fuck!”
There is a low chuckle at the other end of the line.
“Is this what you sound like when you wake up? In that case, I sincerely hope you have the grace to kick out your one night stands before going to sleep.”
“Good morning, Orlando. This is Sean.” There is a pause after this, as if Sean is waiting for Orlando to catch up.
“Is it Saturday?” Orlando asks.
Again, amusement is as rich as honey in Sean’s voice when he replies. “Last time I checked.”
Orlando grunts something that is supposed to be ‘aha’. Then he basks in the glory that is silence and his brain feeling like it was enveloped in thick cotton wool.
“I’m taking an educated guess and say you went out for a drink or two after work yesterday?” Sean says after a moment.
“Pubcrawl,” Orlando replies, shifting onto his side so he can lie on the phone and doesn’t need to actually hold it. “Sort of.”
“I see,” says Sean. “And given that you’re a bloody lightweight –“
Orlando growls at him.
“- I suppose it took you, what, two small lagers to get plastered?”
“Did you call me just to make fun of me?” Orlando grumbles, rubbing his eyes without opening them.
“No, but it is a pleasant side effect.”
“I don’t know why my brain thought to cast you as Buddha. Clearly you’re an arse.”
Sean’s confused silence is so loud Orlando can clearly hear it on his end of the line.
“I had a dream about you last night,” Orlando says. “You were Buddha. And you told me that you’d come to bring harmony to the world. And yoga. Maybe the two were related.”
If Orlando were sober and awake (or just either of the two) he would maybe doubt whether going for full discovery is really the best option here. As it is, he doesn’t really care.
“How can I be some little grinning fat bloke?” Sean asks.
“This is the part you choose to focus on? Really?”
“Well, the rest just proves that you’re an idiot, doesn’t it?” Sean answers reasonably although around a smirk. “I’m not fat though.”
“No, you’re incredibly fit of course,” Orlando says mockingly even though it really is true enough. “Maybe you should brush up your knowledge of Buddhism though, Sean.”
“I’m sure you’ll get off on enlightening me some time, Orlando,” Sean says, mimicking Orlando’s patronising tone of voice, “you being so wise and all.”
“Now, that’s just low. Don’t drag my Blades into this.”
Orlando is smiling by now and he murmurs, “Sorry.”
“Yeah, fuck off,” Sean replies mildly.
Orlando can hear the clattering of ceramic in the background and the tab being turned on and off again. A cupboard is opened, then the fridge, and there’s Sean’s even breathing underneath all the quiet sounds of everyday morning routine. Orlando listens to him breathe and thinks that maybe he is making himself some tea, thinks that he wouldn’t mind some either, or at least the smell of good strong black tea in the air first thing in the morning when he wakes up, and the sound of Sean puttering about it the kitchen –
He jolts, kind of flailing, as he abruptly wakes himself up again with his first snore.
“Did you just snore at me?” Sean laughs at the other end of the line and can’t stop himself after that but laughs on while Orlando tries to get his wits together again. “Didn’t know you were narcoleptic.”
“Yeah,” Orlando replies while Sean’s still chuckling. He wipes his mouth, checking for drool, and coughs roughly. “Must be the entertaining company.”
He tries opening his eyes and groans unhappily at the brightness flooding his brain instantly. Must be late morning. Still, he rubs away the worst sandpapery feel behind his eyelids, sluggishly sits up and yawns luxuriously. From the sound of it, Sean is slurping tea on the other end of the line and distantly Orlando hears paper rustling.
“Are you reading your paper while you’re on the phone with me?” Orlando asks, doing a fairly good job of sounding peeved.
“Only while you’re napping over there,” Sean replies easily while Orlando tries his best to out of bed and to his feet. “Besides, I have to cherish it whenever I can get my hands on it. And it’s fresh out of the printer, too.”
Orlando chuckles and this time it only feels a little rough in the back of his throat. He idly rubs his Adam’s apple, and then makes a bee line for the bathroom.
“I can’t believe that’s still happening,” he says in reference to the newspaper thing. “Though I find it rather amusing that you get used newspapers.”
“What kind of person fills in other people’s crosswords?” Sean asks back with honest bafflement. “Anyways, I have this very elaborate plan to end it – the stealing and the borrowing. It involves me, a stakeout and a baseball bat.”
“Where would you get a baseball bat from?” Orlando wants to know and pulls a face because of the cold tiles against his naked feet.
“A shop. Obviously.”
“I thought you thought the whole mixed mail thing entertaining by now?” Orlando asks.
He looks at himself in the mirror and well, he’s seen worse hangover victims. He could do with a shave though. Also, he needs to pee.
“That was when I got cookies in the mail,“ Sean says.
Orlando laughs, remembering their intense sticky toffee taste when Sean shared them with him in the elevator. In his momentary condition though, it makes him feel kind of sick.
“Can we talk about something else but disgusting toffee, please?”
“Lightweight,” Sean mocks but complies easily enough. “England’s playing the USA tonight.”
“I know!” Orlando instantly feels better (which also might have something to do with him relieving his bladder right that moment). “First important match of the World Cup and we’re gonna annihilate them.”
“I’d settle for a proper thrashing,” Sean says. “Get our boys properly warmed up for the rest of the Cup.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this all week,” Orlando agrees, phone pressed between his shoulder and his cheek as he tucks himself back in and flushes. “Where are you gonna watch it?”
“The pub,” Sean says and it takes Orlando a moment to mentally switch locations from his local to Sean’s. “You can come along if you want.”
“Took you bloody long enough,” Orlando laughs, quickly rinsing his hands and then leaving the bathroom.
“Is this you saying ‘oh, I’d love to, Sean, thanks so much for inviting me’?”
“Oh, I’d love to, Sean,” Orlando parrots in a false falsetto. “Thanks so much for inviting me. Wanker.”
Sean ignores the mockery and continues to plan the evening. “I reckon we should be there half way early, it’s gonna be packed.”
Orlando nods in response, accidentally bumping his head lightly against his front door, against which he is leaning. “Sure, yeah. I have to catch up with paperwork in the office in the afternoon, so I’ll be in town already.”
“We’ll meet up then?” Sean asks and Orlando thinks he hears the door of the fridge again. Reminds him that breakfast would be good now.
“If you want a tour through the CID you gotta stand in line like everyone else,” he replies while facing the wasteland that is his kitchen.
“As if I care where you write your parking tickets,” Sean mocks but without heat.
“Oh shut up already.”
“Just give me a call when you’re done.”
“Will do. – I’m gonna go and nurse my hangover now,” Orlando says with a smile.
Before Orlando can protest Sean has hung up and Orlando finds himself alone again in the kitchen of his flat. Before, he hardly ever noticed how barely-lived-in his place feels. Huh.
He spends the rest of his morning with the usual Saturday routine – breakfast, shower, doing the dishes, watching some telly and deciding once again that Jamie Oliver is a ponce. Then he leaves for work.
The head office is quiet and there’s hardly anyone around but Orlando doesn’t mind. He neatly arranges the stacks of files on his table, gets himself a cuppa coffee and gets to work. Paperwork is an annoying but easy enough task, it doesn’t require much attention at all so he can let his thoughts stray.
So Cols was right with his remark about him spending much of his free time with Sean and talking about it. So what? Cols is right about a lot of things – starting with his view on the city’s drug problem and ending with his fine taste in hard liquor. What surprises Orlando more is that he himself didn’t even notice. He gets the concept of ‘carpe diem’ just fine, but usually really isn’t the type to just live in the moment.
He of course is hyper aware when his job is concerned but his private life? He glances up from his files, into the empty office and out the window where the sun is shining. It’s Saturday afternoon and it’s great weather outside and he is in the office. Alright, as for his private life there really just has never been much to be hyper aware of, at least not for a rather long time.
So yeah, he likes hanging out with Sean. Simple. Well, that and –
He simply likes Sean.
He is wickedly smart – he has this understated thing down alright, not only in the way he dresses when not wearing a suit but in his accent as well and his clean but simple syntax. It took Orlando a bit to get that Sean’s ‘shop’ was actually quite the upper class enterprise, that Sean went to uni and graduated. He has an opinion about everything, not always (well, rather seldomly) congruent with Orlando’s own but always solidly backed up with arguments and expressed eloquently once he has decided that his opposite is worth his time.
And there is no doubt that Orlando finds him attractive, and that’s not just because he likes them best ruggedly handsome. There is something about his bearing, his controlled facial expressions as well as his spontaneous anger and his open smile that makes Orlando look at him and think that he really gets this man.
One of Orlando’s colleagues bursts into the office, hastily grabs a folder from his desk, storms out again. It’s only then that Orlando notices that he has been holding the stapler in his right hand for quite a while now, without doing anything with it.
It’s bloody Saturday, it’s great weather outside and what the hell is he doing in his office? – Oh yeah, right, he sits behind his desk and watches the clouds go by, holds a stapler, sits there and pretends to work. But really? What exactly is he doing?
Right this moment, Orlando is incredibly glad that he is alone in the office. Because Zac would look at him with his concerned puppy dog eyes and Orlando wouldn’t be surprised if he told him in his overly earnest voice that “singing about it” is always helpful because “it liberates the soul and helps you expressing your true feelings”. Orlando is pretty certain however that what he’s thinking about Sean – what he is feeling for him – isn’t something that he’d like to communicate by bursting into song or impromptu dancing in the office. And that’s not because he’s crap at both things. Thinking about it, it is kind of worrisome that Zac is even on Orlando’s list of people whose advice to consider.
Cols would say that he’s brooding like the wuss that he is, that he should better flush that out of his system with lots of alcohol and make a move already. Liquor really is Cols’ solution for most things not work related, as is spontaneous sex especially if weighed against fingernail-biting.
But hell, Orlando isn’t even brooding in the first place – that would involve too much brow-furrowing for his liking and also he reckons that what with all the self-pity included in it, he’d never get anything done. Besides, there is nothing to brood about, is there?
He leans back in his chair, its hinges creaking as he props his feet up on his desk. He sips from his lukewarm coffee and watches the clouds go by.
He doesn’t really need any advice.
He likes Sean. Likes his wit, his sense of humour, his passion, the way he looks in a suit. He likes his chosen simplicity, his gestures, his sharp focus, his tendency to go on a bit and his laughter. He likes how Sean makes him feel.
And Sean? He may call Orlando a disillusioned (or alternately: delusional) cynic but he also listens to Orlando’s rants about work and just seems to get it. Just like he may come close to punching Orlando during one of their derailed discussions about football (or anything else really), but he also hands him a fresh beer and clicks his own bottle against Orlando’s in silent reconciliation. He values Orlando’s opinion – as long as it’s not about football - , shares his own passion for ‘Macbeth’ with him, calls him when he’s stumbled over a Van Gogh docu on telly or late after work, just to check in.
Orlando has never been a gambler or a dreamer. But he figures his chances here are alright, and that alone? That solid feeling that tells him that there is something between him and Sean that’s so wonderfully different to anything else he has in his life? It makes him smile to himself, a quiet outburst as for a moment he basks in the rising joy and optimism that by far outweighs the little fluttering of nerves underneath.
He takes another sip of his coffee then puts his mug down. And then he returns to work because these files have to be finished.
He doesn’t mind the work. There’s no rush after all. He’s confident that they’ll get there eventually and actually yeah, he rather enjoys the feeling of anticipation, of hope. He is patient.
“If you’re not careful, Bradley, your face will get stuck that way,” Katie says.
“And you’ll look like a Disney character,” Angel adds, “which is never a good thing. Except maybe if you’re Colin, he could score a role as Tinkerbell.”
“Because I’m a pixie?” Colin asks, tilting his head as if thinking hard, and looking at Angel who is sitting on the other side of the aisle in the shuttle bus. “That’s clever.”
Bradley decides that his female friends are stupid and his boyfriend – well he looks a little like a pixie and Bradley seriously considers whether he might get away with calling him ‘Tinkerbell’ from now on but then remembers that Colin throws a mean punch and decides against it. None of these contemplations, however, manage to wipe the broad grin off his face that he’s been wearing for hours now.
“Oh, stop it already, Bradley,” Katie says again from where she is slumped in her seat, half way under the front row. “How can you be so chipper when we’ve been up for endless hours and the sun has barely risen?”
“Does the sun look any different in France?” Colin asks contemplatively and gazes out of the window where the mid morning sun is doing its best to impress him. “Is that why you decided to abandon us and leave to fromage land?”
Angel turns to Katie and says to her, “Changing the subject and making us feel bad now, that’s kind of admirable.”
Katie pulls a face, which is really Katie-speak for “you’re right” (Katie does not like admitting that ever, especially if it includes her being wrong. She’d get along splendidly with Barney Stinson and they could produce fake music videos together, so Katie doesn’t have to admit that Bradley was totally right and “Park Life” was performed by Blur and not Oasis.).
“I’m pretty sure calling it fromage land will earn you a beating from some random Frenchman,” Katie says to Colin, “and I most certainly will stand aside and watch. I’ll buy popcorn.”
“Mmm, popcorn,” Bradley says, and then quickly adds, “no one will beat up Colin today, McGrath. Stop trying to spoil our fun, you spoilsport.”
“Whyever would I spoil our fun on this extremely culturally valuable trip?” Katie asks back.
“We could have gone shopping in Paris,” Angel says with a little sigh.
“Why aren’t you exactly?” Colin asks.
“And miss out on Parc Asterix?” Katie asks, pressing her hand against her chest as if mortally wounded. “The horror!”
Bradley just grins around a mouthful of gummy bears he just stole from Angel’s pile on her small table and turns to Colin.
“We’re going to Parc Asterix!” he says and feels his grin growing even broader now. If he’s not careful, some of the gummy bears in his mouth will use the chance to escape.
Colin looks at him, sort of like Bradley were one of his mathematical equations – one of those that he hasn’t quite figured out yet but can’t stop staring at, thinking about.
“Parc Asterix!” Bradley repeats. Then he turns back to the girls and announces, “I know you’re just as psyched and you just lack the facial expressions to show it. Smile, little Angel, smile!”
He points at Angel, prompting, and he must have magic fingers because Angel breaks into a huge grin and Bradley instantly remembers why they asked them to tag along this weekend. Katie distracts him by tossing a gummy bear at his head but she is smiling as well, so Bradley still considers it a win.
He doesn’t really care if, come tomorrow, he has sore muscles in his cheeks because he can’t stop grinning, just as he’s not even remotely worried about all the amount of cotton candy he plans to eat and vomit out while riding every single rollercoaster in the park.
When they get off the bus that has brought them from their hotel right next to the airport straight to the park, Bradley tells himself that he won’t skip the short walk to the entrance, but mostly because Katie will make fun of him again (and rightfully so). Still, he has to admit that he tugs at Colin an inappropriate amount of times while they wait in line and Colin looks like he feels like an old ragdoll but lets him and Bradley loves him even more for that.
“Explain to me again,” Katie says while they wait to buy their tickets, “why we’re going to Parc Asterix and not the Disney thing?”
“Because Asterix has a helmet with feathers on it,” explains Bradley reasonably (it’s like Katie is slow) and zips Colin’s hoodie jacket open and closed.
“Because Disney is racist and stupid?” Angel suggests. Bradley takes a moment to look at her because Angel is not the one who is supposed to be all Amazon warrior about things, she’s just too nice for that.
“Because it was cheaper,” Colin says and Katie nods.
“And why are we going right now?” she asks not two minutes later. Bradley swears that she is worse than the kid in the back of your car that keeps asking ‘are we there yet?’ the minute you turned on the engine (and that has nothing to do, by the way, with the kid being his baby cousin and Bradley getting utterly lost in the city because Colin can’t read a map). “I mean why didn’t you just come to visit us next semester and go then?”
“Because,” Bradley says, straightening the hood of Colin’s hoodie, “it’s Colin’s birthday gift to me, Katie.”
“Your birthday gift?” asks Angel.
“Your birthday is in October,” says Katie.
“So?” asks Bradley and looks at Colin, a confused frown on his face.
“Why does he give you your birthday gift in the middle of June?” asks Angel.
Colin turns to him and looks at Bradley from under his hoodie’s hood.
Bradley says to him, “I think they think that birthday gifts have to have something to do with one’s actual day of birth.”
“I think you’re right,” says Colin, voice dry and surprised and if Bradley didn’t know him so well he’d actually buy this confusion.
“God, you two are stupid,” decides Katie and rolls her eyes, hooking her arm through Angel’s. Angel laughs and pulls her along, closing the gap in the queue.
“I think we’re pretty terrific,” says Bradley to Colin.
“I think you’re right,” agrees Colin again.
He smiles – one of those flashlike smiles that could light up a pitch black night and that Bradley is in love with since the first time they’ve met. Bradley leans his forehead against Colin’s, their noses brushing against one another, and tugs at the strings of the hoodie.
They shouldn’t even be here, they both have so much work to do, Colin especially because his Prof is a bit of a sadist (at least that’s what Bradley thinks). But Colin – even though he’s really rather overworked and everything – insisted on going because he knew that Bradley really wanted to.
“Thank you,” Bradley murmurs quietly.
Colin doesn’t reply but there’s the flashlike smile again just for him.
“Come on, guys,” Angel calls, “catch up!”
They’ve finally made it to the entrance and while Colin pays for them, Bradley can’t help but beam again, so much that his face hurts. When he looks at Katie, she simultaneously rolls her eyes and yawns. So he puts an arm around her shoulder, ignoring her protest, and drags her with him through the huge gate.
“I’m going to force feed you two huge coffees now,” he says and thinks it is quite the brilliant plan.
“Mnghnah,” Katie says, mostly because Bradley’s embrace is more a headlock.
“Brilliant plan,” Colin says, catching up with Angel in tow, “but she might need to be alive for that treatment.”
“What? Oh right,” Bradley says, releasing Katie and patting her shoulder. She glares at him through a curtain of wild black hair.
“Sorry! Coffee, Katie?” he suggests. “My treat?”
Katie eyes him warily but then a smile appears out of nowhere and she announces, “You go and have your coffee and whatever, Bradley. I’m gonna ride the rollercoaster with the seven loopings right now!”
That said, she takes Angel’s offered hand and practically runs off. Bradley’s mind feels sort of lightningstruck, both by the fact that Katie just smiled at him and that there are SEVEN loopings.
“A second breakfast actually sounds quite appealing,” Colin says contemplatively but laughs when Bradley stares at him in horror. “Oh, come on, Bradley! Seven loopings! Let’s go!” And he grabs Bradley’s arm and they run after the girls.
The ‘Goudrix’ is at the other end of the park and while Bradley almost gets distracted by the fine looking attractions they run past, it’s also the best of choices they could have made because it’s not full at all.
They get seats right behind the girls and Bradley wraps his fingers around the handles and announces that he will laugh in Katie’s face if he hears her shriek. Then he spends the next 90 seconds screaming at the top of his lungs because looping and speed! and more loopings! It’s bloody brilliant and Bradley screams some more, especially when the girls start shrieking in front of them, and Colin is laughing right next to him and it’s AWESOME.
He’s breathless and feels kind of lightheaded when they slow down and abruptly stop, the safety belts clicking open. Katie’s hair is wild when she gets out of the wagon and Angel is slightly wavery on her feet but still points at Bradley and says,
“You screeched like a little girl.”
“I did not!” Bradley protests, remaining seated. To Colin he says, “Let’s go again, alright?”
Colin’s dark hair is a mess and he’s still breathing heavily but he nods eagerly.
“See you two chickenshits later,” Bradley calls to Katie and Angel, waving at them. “Go and ride the Ferris Wheel or something!”
Before the girls can respond they are ushered off and Bradley and Colin smile their brightest smiles at the middle-aged female attendant who gives Bradley merely an arched eyebrow but visibly melts when faced with Colin’s sweet smile of doom and waves them through again.
They go two more times, which makes it 21 loopings in total and 21 times of absolute awesomeness. They finally have to give up their seats because apparently other people would like to enjoy the loopings (seven!) as well. When they walk out Bradley is clutching Colin’s shoulder and Colin has a bit of a deathgrip on Bradley’s elbow because they feel slightly shaky.
“I think I want cotton candy now,” Bradley announces once he can stand on his own without the danger of toppling over.
“Oh, you’re disgusting,” Colin says and indeed looks a bit white around the nose. “You’re not gonna eat anything as long as we’re riding these things!”
Bradley pouts but can only keep that up for five seconds before he shouts, “Oh, lookit! Some free fall thing!”
Within the next two hours Bradley and Colin get thoroughly shaken and tossed around, get dropped from sickening heights and race around in tiny cars at mindblowing speeds. Bradley shouts his throat raw and Colin looks like he is illegally high on super potent endorphins, and it’s bloody brilliant.
They cross paths with the girls again and Katie and Bradley try to one-up one another with the spectacular rides they took (Bradley thinks that he still wins because he is 14 loopings ahead of Katie after all) and then they rush off in different directions to try out what the other two have already done. A bit later though, Bradley decides that the Tonnerre de Zeus is frigging fantastic and that Katie might have won that round after all. Not that he’s going to tell her that.
“Food please?” Colin says after a few more rides and kind of slumps against Bradley as they stumble back onto one of the broad paths. “Hungry.”
Bradley wraps his arm around Colin’s shoulder and says, patting his belly with his free hand, “Oh yes. I could eat an entire wild boar.”
Colin groans and Bradley figures that it must be because he is really hungry and not because of the boar thing because clearly Bradley’s knowledge of Asterix comics is fantastic. They kind of get lost for a while and Bradley realises the park is rather immensely confusing when you’re actually looking for something and don’t just blindly race from one attraction to the next.
They find the quaint Gallic village in the end – it wasn’t all that hard after all, it’s right in the middle of the park and it’s mostly Colin’s fault because he forgot that he had a map in the backpocket of his jeans.
“So, how about my wild boar?” Bradley asks, looking around for a nice place to sit down. It’s not overly full yet but in front of each of the small restaurants that look like they were straight out of Asterix’s village there are a few tables already occupied.
“This village has already been invaded,” Colin says gravely and at Bradley’s questioning glance he points at a wooden table where Katie and Angel are already seated. “Beware of the Roman conquerors.”
“I need to get you one of these flying helmets,” Bradley says, patting Colin’s head. He kind of wants to stop for a moment to run his fingers through Colin’s hair because it’s soft and warm from the sun and it looks ridiculously messy and Bradley just wants to touch it.
But Colin pulls away, laughing. “I could organise us one.”
“Yes, by stealing it, you clepto,” Bradley replies. “We’re not gonna get ourselves arrested by Roman Centurions or something.”
“And by that you mean Katie and Angel?”
“They don’t look like Roman Centurions,” Bradley points out when they’ve almost reached the girls. “They look like drowned rats.”
Katie who obviously heard him turns towards him but since she has both of her cheeks stuffed with what Bradley reckons to be a medieval version of a burger, all she can do is grunt at him and flip him off.
“Was there a spontaneous biblical flood on your end of the park?” Colin asks as he sits down next to Angel.
“Nope,” Angel says, brushing her somewhat damp curls behind her ear (which is a completely futile effort because Angel’s hair always does whatever it likes anyway). “We kind of specialised on water rides.”
“There are water rides?” Bradley asks, already on his feet again. Colin looks up at him with his eyes that are really incredibly blue in the sunlight.
“Bradley, I need food. Now.”
Since Bradley is feeling kind of lightheaded himself he figures that the water rides can wait for half an hour and sits down again, eyeing Katie’s sort-of-burger.
“Hands off, James,” Katie growls even before Bradley can compliment her on her shiny wet hair and her somewhat damp white shirt (and the bra with pink hearts she’s obviously wearing underneath).
Instead, he looks at Colin and says, “I want one of these. Order me one, please?”
“You do realise that my French is reduced to words like fromage and au revoir?” Colin asks.
Angel takes pity on them and orders their lunch for them in what Bradley can only guess is perfect French (he thinks that if Angel accidentally said “Look, my friend is wearing a pink hearts bra” he could’ve seen the reaction in their waiter’s face).
“Your French really has improved,” Colin compliments her afterwards. “I think.”
Angel smiles at him. “Thank you!”
“Is yours even half as good?” Bradley asks Katie. “I mean I’m only asking out of concern, wouldn’t want you to starve in Paris.”
Katie points her greasy finger nearly in Bradley’s face and then says, “Zozo.”
Colin, when looked at for help, thinks for a moment and then translates, pointing his finger just like Katie did.
“Prat. I think it means prat.”
“Someone ask me whether I will miss Angel and her demon friend once they are gone,” Bradley says.
Colin provides promptly, “Are you going to miss Angel and her demon friend once they are gone?”
“Hey!” Katie protests, scowling at Colin from behind her glasses.
“No, I’m not gonna miss Angel and the spawn of hell,” Bradley replies to Colin and then adds with a shrug to Angel. “Sorry, Angel, cling together, swing together and all that.”
“Oh, that’s alright,” Angel says sweetly, hands once again busy trying to tame her mane. “By the way, I ordered you a veggie burger just now.”
Bradley drops his head onto the wooden table and hence only hears the girls’ evil cackle. Why is he spending time with these two? It’s not like he doesn’t have friends by the dozen, at uni and old mates from school, in his footie club and so on. But still he figures he needs to get himself replacements for Angel and Katie; maybe Asterix and Obelix are in the market.
“It’s kind of cool that you move to Paris,” says Colin after a moment. “You can go to Parc Asterix every weekend then.”
Bradley raises his head enough so he can prop his chin up on the back of his hand. Colin is not looking at him but the girls and maybe it’s just because Colin is just now coming down from his rollercoaster high, but he looks almost sad.
Katie, if she notices, aims past that twinge of gloom by saying, “Oh yes, brilliant idea. In fact I am thinking of quitting uni altogether so I can work as one of those costumed comic book characters.”
Angel’s laughter is as light as a bell in Bradley’s ear. “Great, then I’ll find a job with Disney and we can have ideological pillow fights about who is the bigger sell out.”
The girls continue planning their costumes and their pillow fight tactics while slurping from their Cokes, but Bradley only listens with half an ear. Instead he peers up at Colin who is watching Katie’s and Angel’s playful banter, still with that small and sort of wistful smile on his lips. Bradley isn’t sure what is going through his head right now (like he sometimes isn’t), but he stretches out his hand on the table and pokes Colin’s with his pinkie.
“Hey,” he says and means ‘are you okay?’ and ‘you can tell me anything’ and ‘please tell me everything’.
Colin looks down at Bradley and at his poking pinkie.
“Hey,” he replies and when he traps Bradley’s finger under his own, his smile changes to something softer, happier.
Bradley lets his pinkie struggle as if it was trying to escape but Colin just closes his fist tightly around it. The other four fingers of Bradley’s hand come to the rescue and their battle causes Colin to laugh until he’s managed to entwine their fingers on the table. Bradley feels suddenly less hungry which might have something to do with his heart swelling so much that it takes up all the space in his empty stomach.
Angel murmurs something and Katie snorts in response, and Bradley is curious by nature so he raises his head to look at the girls.
“Oh, nothing,” Angel says with that innocent voice of hers that she only uses when she is the complete opposite of innocent.
“We were just wondering,” Katie says, gnawing on one of her last fries, “whether you’ll propose to Colin today.”
“Yeah,” Angel chimes in, still with that innocence personified voice, “after all, we got water rides and loopings and comic book characters serving us food. Isn’t this your idea of romance?”
Bradley wants to protest but the thing is, this is kind of true. Feeling a bit like a rabbit caught in a trap, his eyes automatically search Colin’s. Colin tightens his hold on Bradley’s fingers which Bradley takes to mean ‘I got this’.
“Actually,” Colin says, “I’m the one who thinks this romantic. In fact, we only ever manage to have sex when we’re wearing our lamb and wolf full body costumes.”
The girls burst into laughter and Bradley frowns at Colin – how exactly was that helpful now? Colin however adopts Angel’s smile of innocence and seems not at all perturbed by Bradley’s scowl. So Bradley decides to roll with it.
“I’m the wolf,” he announces and when Colin arches a brow he exemplifies, “I mean you’re from Ireland, land of the sheep. Clearly you are the sheep.” And to the girls he asks, “Wouldn’t he make a terrific little lamb?”
Angel nods slowly, “I can see that...”
Katie however (unsurprisingly) ruins it by saying, “But Colin is the taller of you two. He should get to be the wolf.”
“Now that’s just - ” Bradley starts to complain.
“Baaah,” Katie interrupts. “Braaaahadly.”
“I think this backfired a bit,” Colin remarks.
Bradley, busy fending off Katie who apparently thinks it is ‘fondle Bradley, the little lamb’ time, answers dryly, “You don’t say.”
“Anyway,” Angel says, “back on topic: I think this would be the perfect place for your proposal. Hey, you could do it on the rollercoaster even!” She leans back in her chair as if pressed into the seat by a rollercoaster’s speed and starts shaking from one side to the other while holding on to her chair with both her hands. Then she turns her head at Colin and manages a pretty good ‘Bradley on the rollercoaster’ impersonation while she shouts at Colin, kind of breathlessly, “Colin Morgan, snugglebunny extraordinaire, will you be my wife forever and ever?”
“OI!” Bradley protests while Katie nearly falls out of her chair, laughing so hard.
“Only with Bradley, it would be much more romantic and hot and not –“ Colin says dryly but with conviction and instead of finishing his sentence he just gestures at Angel, kind of appalled.
“I love you,” Bradley bursts out.
“Parc Asterix clearly is ideal,” Katie says, recovered from her laughing fit. “Bradley, you should propose here.”
“Yes,” Angel agrees, “do it!”
“Do it,” repeats Katie.
“Please don’t,” says Colin, smiling.
“I might,” Bradley says thoughtfully. “Rollercoasters are brilliant after all.”
“On the other hand,” Angel chimes in, mostly because she is evil, tipping her finger to her chin thoughtfully, “if he turns you down, you can’t instantly run away and cry.”
“Good point,” says Katie, “unless he jumped out of the rollercoaster in full speed.”
“Oh shut up, you two harpies!” Bradley tells both of them. “Colin wouldn’t turn me down in the first place, would you, Colin?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Colin agrees. “At least not until we’ve reached solid ground again.”
“See?” Bradley says triumphantly. “You two are just stupid.”
Katie looks at him, brushing strands of hair out of her face. “Well, someone at our table is, we can agree on that.”
Bradley wants so do something incredibly mature to end this argument – preferably punch Katie – but he has better things to do now since their food is being served. Angel lied about the veggie burger thing and Bradley tells her that she is terrific, which she for some reason takes as permission to eat from his plate. He is mostly okay with that because the meal is huge and he doesn’t mind this whole ‘food sharing’ thing because usually he is on the other end of it.
After lunch he decides that everyone needs loads of sugar for desert and drags them to about every sweets stand he can find. The other three agree that they might avoid the big rides for a while. Bradley doesn’t approve of that plan, partly because he thinks that you have only lived properly if you puked pink vomit from a staggering height. But they still stick together and Bradley is quickly over his “Katie is Julius Caesar and I need to murder her” kind of disapproval.
The haunted house has the girls actually shrieking – always a good thing Bradley thinks while hiding only a little bit behind Colin – and he and Colin beat Katie and Angel at the Challenge of Caesar in the Mad House, something that they spend the next hour or so rubbing in.
Angel drags them into a rollercoaster that “just looks so damn cute, doesn’t it” and it turns out that it is actually less a rollercoaster and more a tortoise train for the elderly and weak of heart (the non-existent queue might have tipped them off). Bradley doesn’t mind and spends the better part of the drive trying to lick the taste of candy floss out of Colin’s mouth. Colin’s hand on his face is warm, his kisses are sweet and soft.
Bradley says, “This is probably the most terrific time of my life” against Colin’s lips to which Colin murmurs back, “More terrific than when we have sex?” and Bradley asks him whether they maybe could shag on a rollercoaster some time because that would be super-terrific.
When they think that their bellies can stomach it, they tackle the water rides and head towards the Menhir Express. They come out exhilarated and thoroughly wet and Angel hooks her arm through Colin’s and announces that the sane part of their group will now have coffee. Katie and Bradley look at one another and race towards something that is called “The big splash”, only in French. It turns out that it really delivers what its name promises. Bradley sits next to Katie in the first row and they get completely soaked, grinning at one another from behind wet fringes.
“Your bra has pink hearts on it,” Bradley informs her when their wagon finally slows down. “I approve.”
“I didn’t think you’d notice,” Katie says, fishing her glasses out of her pocket again. “Breasts usually aren’t your thing.”
“I’m making an exception for yours,” Bradley says, water dripping from the tip of his nose. “Because they are magnificent.”
“Why, thank you,” Katie laughs. “You say such nice things, Bradley.”
Bradley looks at her wet and smiling face, glasses slightly askew and then realises, “I’m gonna miss you, you stupid wench.”
Katie lightly punches his shoulder. “Stop trying to make me cry, you wanker”, she says and “You’ll take care of Colin for us, won’t you?”
Bradley looks at her because even if she is one of the smartest persons he knows sometimes she’s really intensely dim.
“I promise,” he says anyway. “Wanna go again?”
Of course they go again and make their round through all of the other water rides as well before Angel and Colin catch up with them again. They find themselves a patch of grass and sit down there, Katie and Bradley so they can dry in the sun, Colin and Angel so they can ridicule them.
After that Bradley kind of loses track of where they go and how they get there but he doesn’t mind getting dragged around by Colin from one adrenaline high to the next. Besides, he decides somewhere along the way that what little focus he has left should be spent on watching Colin anyway – and maybe sometimes a sideways glance to Angel’s smile and Katie’s boobs err glare. Colin’s cheeks are slightly reddened and Bradley knows it’s not just from the sun, and he is smiling, smiling for real and Bradley loves it so much, especially since Colin has been kind of gloomy lately.
Bradley tries to make sure to not indecently fondle him as a result of his own happiness. But still somehow the photo that Angel takes of him and Colin together with Asterix and Obelix shows Bradley snogging the living daylights out of his smiling relaxed happy boyfriend.
They leave the park utterly exhausted and with bellies full of questionable junk food á la France, and only because the attendants practically usher them out (Bradley thinks that despite his slight pot belly filled with candy apple he might have had a good chance in a fight with Methusalix). Back on the shuttle bus, Katie and Angel instantly lean their heads together and shut their eyes even before they have left the parking lot. The bus smells of sweat and candy and sunlight.
“I will never eat anything again,” Colin groans and with something like fascination Bradley watches him smoothing out his black t-shirt, stroking over the little bump that is his full belly.
“Don’t be silly,” Bradley says, leaning back in his chair and propping his knees up against the front row. “More candy floss would still fit.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Colin insists.
“Candy apples?” Bradley suggests.
Colin fiddles with the ear buds of his i-pod but shakes his head. “Nope.”
“Alright,” Bradley tries to think of something else while the shuttle bus gains speed on the street, “how about –“
“Not even a wafer thin mint, Bradley.”
“Why would I suggest a mint?” Bradley asks, confused and turns to look at Colin. “Half of the fun of feeding you sweets is licking the sugar off of you later.”
“It was a quote,” Colin explains and finally looks up from his buds. “Don’t you remember ‘The meaning of life’? The fat bloke in the restaurant?”
Bradley grins. “Course I do, he puked all over the place in the end. Good fun.”
“There you are,” Colin says with a nod. “I’m that fat bloke.”
“No, you’re really not.”
Bradley looks at him fondly and then nudges Colin’s shoulder with his own. Colin’s is bony and Bradley secretly agrees with his mom’s assessment that Colin needs to eat more. If he could only cook something else but pizza, Bradley would totally see to it. Maybe he should attend one of these cooking courses. Or, better, he is going to watch Jamie Oliver more often.
“I could be,” Colin insists. His fingertips brush softly against the shell of Bradley’s ear when he puts in the right bud of his i-pod. It’s tickling a bit but Bradley really doesn’t mind. “If I were fat.”
“But you’re really, really not,” Bradley repeats, smiling. “If it’s of any consolation, you’re maybe not fat and disgusting but at least you’re rather weird and sometimes you smell funny.”
Colin flashes him a smile, a slightly more subdued one after their long long day of cheering and grinning.
“I love you,” he says.
If Bradley was stupid and had thought that his day couldn’t get any more terrific or that he could ever grow tired of hearing these three words from Colin, then right now he would be surprised. But he’s not stupid and so he isn’t surprised at all by the fact that Colin saying this still makes him feel so –
“You make me happy,” he says quietly, leans his forehead against Colin’s.
Colin blushes a little and replies, “You say the corniest things sometimes. Don’t let the girls hear.”
“I don’t care,” Bradley says, “If they mock my love I’ll just treat them with disdain.”
“You ignoring them is supposed to be a punishment?” Colin asks with a chuckle, his breath warm against Bradley’s chin.
“Stop trying to ruin this moment of romance,” Bradley orders. “Turn the music on.”
Colin laughs but for once does what he is told and when the first melodies start Bradley thinks judging by the choice of music that it’s really Colin who is the closet romantic, not him. It’ll be their secret. Bradley doesn’t mind being the keeper of it. He likes having secrets with Colin.
Five minutes later, he is fast asleep, his head resting against Colin’s bony shoulder.
So, the unthinkable happened. Normally, Orlando would rather have money on North Korea in the World Cup than believe this might ever occur but his sergeant, his best mate and his mother have found something to agree on.
Orlando would be all for that (he is all for world peace and that crap as well after all) if it weren’t for the particular topic. Orlando supposes all three of them beg to differ, but he actually thinks that his own private life is exactly that, his own and private.
However, he seems to be the minority here.
“Orli, I have to ask,” his mother says when they sit in her living room and Orlando has his mouth full of cake. “Have you found someone to date yet?”
Orlando frowns at her in utter confusion and manages a questioning grunt. His mother piles more cake onto his plate (mostly to keep him silent) but Orlando swallows and replies sceptically, “Why?”
His mom laughs and shakes her head as if there was absolutely no reason for her asking. Times like these Orlando would really like to remind her that he is a DI and knows when someone is lying.
“I just thought,” she says casually after a minute or two. “You know this really, really nice and good looking man just joined my theatre group –“
“Then I suggest you go and ask him out immediately,” Orlando interrupts her instantly. “Now, where has the time gone? I really need to get going.”
And it’s not just his mother. Cols for some reason believes himself to be the Irish version of Cupid, if Cupid worked for the drug squad and had a bit of a gambling problem.
“If you don’t do something about that stupid big gay crush of yours already,” Cols says as he parks his car in the garage, “I swear I will personally kidnap the fucking bloke, tie you two together on some pink fluffy bed, squirt arse lube all over you and put on Cindy fucking Lauper. For Christ’s sakes, do something – nah, do him already, you frigging coward!”
Orlando is too impressed by the amount of completely offensive things that Cols managed to pack into that one sentence to reply right away. And when he manages to say, “Mind your own business, idiot” Cols has not only already left his car but has also locked Orlando in. Accidentally, he claims later but Orlando knows he is a fucking liar.
It doesn’t stop there either however.
“Sir?” Zac says, standing in the doorframe to Orlando’s office.
“What?” Orlando asks, slightly distracted as he is sorting through the statements for his current case.
“Here is the research you asked me to gather, sir,” Zac says and stretches out his arm to put the small pile of papers onto Orlando’s desk without actually stepping too close to said desk.
Orlando frowns a little at that and asks himself whether he forgot to put on deodorant today, but then he reaches for the small pile. Zac hurries out of the office, but Orlando is quicker with his skimming through the pages than his sergeant is to get out of earshot.
“Efron!” Orlando shouts and Zac has barely shown his face (slightly nervous looking) in the door again before Orlando waves a couple of printouts in his face, “Could you explain to me how exactly these found their way into the research about local sewer systems?”
Orlando sighs – how Zac believes that Orlando still falls for his baby face is really beyond him – and says, “I don’t see the connection between our case and,” he looks at the first page in his hand, “’Top five greatest first dates in London’.”
“Uhm,” Zac says and shifts from one foot to the other. “I just thought... uhm, well... err, DI Farrell said...”
“For heaven’s sake,” Orlando groans and shakes his head. He looks at Zac again and says, very slowly, “I’d appreciate it if you kept your nose out of my private business.”
“Of course, sir,” Zac responds immediately and hurries away when Orlando waves him off. However, his head reappears a few seconds later and he says, “If I just might say so – if I were to take someone on a first date, I’d pick the hot air balloon because –“
“Get out,” Orlando growls, “of my office.”
He is not all that surprised by Zac’s choice and figures that the guy would probably sing serenades on the balloon trip as well. He skims through the rest of the printouts and decides that there was a good reason why he hasn’t been seeing anyone for so long – clearly, people who go on first dates (or at least surf the net for tips for such first dates) are completely bonkers.
He is absolutely not going to ask Sean to go rock climbing with him or to take pottery lessons. Jesus Christ.
It’s Thursday, late afternoon, and Orlando is on his way to take the Tube back home. It’s just his luck that it starts to rain about the second he has left the office. Since he doesn’t fancy getting soaked he is shop hopping – on the way to the Tube station he spends a bit of time in one shop until he decides that it’s too boring, then he hurries along the street to the next one, avoiding most of the rain. He has made his way to a men’s fashion store when his mobile rings.
“Hello?” he says, stepping closer to one of the racks so he won’t be in anyone’s way.
“Hey, Orlando, it’s me.”
“Me?” Orlando asks, even though he knows perfectly well who is on the other end. “That’s probably the most unhelpful way of introducing oneself ever.”
“Oh fine, fine. This is Sean Bean, born 1959 in Sheffield, Northern England. May I speak to the prick who owns this phone, please?”
Orlando chuckles and replies in a business-like voice, “Please hold!”
Sean dutifully waits for a moment, but then he scoffs and says, “Right. Prick.” and hangs up.
Orlando pulls his mobile away from his ear and laughs, a little too loudly for the quaint shop maybe, and he hurries to put on a businesslike expression again as he pretends to go through the ties on display. He calls Sean back immediately.
“You hung up on me, you wanker!” Orlando protests, keeping his voice low though.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Sean lies calmly. “Who is this?”
“Orlando Bloom, born in Canterbury in 1977, carrying a weapon.”
“Picture me scared,” Sean laughs and then changes topics. “Are you still working?”
“No. I’m trying to get to the Tube without being caught by the hurricane happening outside.”
“God yes, shitawful weather, isn’t it? Caught me by surprise as well.”
“And you’re probably too cheap to buy yourself an umbrella, right?”
“Sod off,” Sean says amicably, “not everyone is as fashionable as you are and runs around with a plastic bag as a hat.”
“I only ever did that this one time and I was drunk!” Orlando protests, smiling. “Besides, I wasn’t the one with the sniffles the day after, was I?”
“Yeah, whatever. So, no plastic bag today I take it?”
“Actually no,” Orlando replies. He picks up a striped blue tie and holds it up to his chest, inspecting himself in front of the nearest mirror. “For the moment I’ve found shelter in a men’s fashion store.”
“Traitor,” Sean scolds him.
“As if I could afford your suits, mate.” Orlando pulls a face at the sight of himself (the tie, to be precise) and puts it down again. “God, I hate ties.”
“I’ll remember and get one of those t-shirts with a cummerbund and a tie printed onto it for your birthday.”
Orlando laughs, “I bet those make you cry, don’t they?”
Tentatively Orlando picks up another tie, a light green one this time. “Are you still at the shop?”
“No, actually. I was on my way home as well. Ended up in the Royal Academy.”
Orlando’s eyebrows rise out of their own volition and without even looking closer at the tie he lowers his hand again. He asks back, “You’re phoning me from the Royal Academy of Arts? Don’t they have a rule against mobile use?”
“I’m standing in the foyer,” Sean reassures him and it explains his quiet voice. “It’s rather helpful to look as if I was important and had actual business there.”
Orlando can practically hear Sean smiling to that and the smile is still evident in his voice when he says, “The reason why I’m calling – Did you know they have a Van Gogh exhibition here at the moment?”
“Seriously?” Orlando asks, interest instantly distracting him from all the other ties.
“Yeah, it’s err... hold on a minute,” Sean responds and Orlando guesses that he is fishing out his glasses.
Orlando puts the green tie down again, nods at the shop assistant in good bye and leaves the shop while waiting for Sean to speak.
Just as Orlando has stepped outside again, slight drizzle awaiting him, Sean says, obviously reading from a poster or a brochure, “’The Real Van Gogh – The Artist and his Letters. The Royal Academy of Arts presents a landmark exhibition of the work of Vincent Van Gogh. The focus of the exhibition is the artist’s remarkable correspondence.’.”
“That sounds great!”
“I thought you might think so.”
Sean falls silent but it seems like he’s not done talking. Orlando slows down on the walkway, pulling up the collar of his jacket against the drizzle, and waits. It takes Sean another moment and Orlando has stopped altogether in midst the hurrying masses on the sidewalk. Maybe Sean’s just reading the brochure, got distracted by the pictures.
“I agree, by the way,” Sean says, pauses for a moment, and then asks, “Would you like to go and see it?”
The rain is cold on Orlando’s face, the sound of the wind and the hurried wet footsteps are loud and distracting. But still, Orlando is sure enough, this is somehow different from Sean telling him to join him in the pub or to come down already to watch telly with him.
This is Sean asking, this is him picking something that he knows Orlando loves, this is him really, really caring what Orlando will answer.
“Yes,” Orlando says, hopes that Sean hears that the enthusiasm in his voice is not just for Van Gogh but – oh, bugger hope and subtle hints. He runs his fingers through his by now wet hair and says, “If you let me treat you to dinner before.”
Now it’s Sean’s turn to be silent.
Orlando’s not sure what he exactly planned to say but he is pretty certain that he has asked Sean out just now – well, that they’ve asked each other out -, and Sean knows it, too. And usually he is fond of these silences, he even is a bit fond of this one because it means again that Sean gets it – but he’s still willing him to bloody say something already.
“Well,” Sean finally says, slowly and carefully. “Indian?”
Orlando laughs, relieved and pleased, and cradles the phone closer to his ear.
“I could get my head around that,” he agrees. “How about tomorrow night?”
“That’s great,” Sean says and Orlando is pretty sure they’re not just talking food here.
The silence that follows is different again, appreciative and quiet and a bunch of other things that fill Orlando with this sense of anticipation and simple happiness. It’s interrupted by someone running into Orlando and cursing at him.
“Well, fuck you, too,” Orlando responds, half loud and on auto-pilot.
“What?” Sean asks, confused.
“Not you,” Orlando hurries to say and starts walking again, “I just noticed that it’s not the best of ideas to stand outside and chat in the middle of a frigging hurricane.”
“God, you’re an idiot,” Sean laughs in response. “Get yourself home already or you’ll catch pneumonia.”
“Good luck with the rain.”
“I kind of hate you.”
Except he doesn’t.
Orlando hangs up and since he’s wet now anyway he makes a bee line for the next Tube station and gets home.
The rest of the evening he specifically doesn’t spend with fretting over what to wear the next day, fretting that Sean might call him up and cancel, fretting over Sean maybe being a terrible kisser, fretting over him maybe being a terrible lay. He doesn’t do any of these things because after all, he’s not completely retarded. Instead he takes a long and hot shower and watches football. Also, he lies to Cols on the phone about his plans for the upcoming weekend because it’s his Friday night and he doesn’t want to share it with anyone but Sean.
The sun is shining the next day and Orlando doesn’t mind making his way through the ever busy streets to get to the restaurant, situated in one of the quieter side streets not far from the Royal Academy.
He is overly punctual but when from the entrance he glances across the room he sees Sean already among the guests, busy reading what Orlando guesses is the wine card. And once again, Orlando finds himself almost baffled by how effortlessly smart he is dressed, in dark trousers and a light blue shirt.
Sean looks up when Orlando has almost reached the table and smiles that gorgeous smile of his.
Instead of a greeting Orlando says, “Shit, I forgot to get flowers. Again.”
It takes Sean a moment, but then he chuckles, “Nevermind. I reckon there are a few sunflowers inside the RA that you can nick instead.”
“There will be no stealing whatsoever today.”
Sean leans back in his chair, shakes his head as if seriously disappointed and says, “And there I was thinking at least the promise of Van Gogh could lure you away from the CID for once, you workaholic.”
“You’re a real charmer, aren’t you?” Orlando laughs. Even though said in jest, it’s quite true. If you find it charming that someone insults you on a regular basis. Orlando, in fact, does. Especially since this name-calling as a form of hello is just like always and it’s comfortable.
They chitchat about their day like they always do and only after the waiter has taken their orders Orlando asks, “Do you know what the experts say about taking people to museums?”
Sean arches an eyebrow. “What kind of experts?”
“Well, internet-bloggers, I suppose. People that write lengthy posts about what to do on first dates.”
A smile tugs at Sean’s lips. “You googled first date etiquette?”
“I most certainly didn’t,” Orlando laughs, touching his chest right over the last button of his cardigan as if deeply wounded. “It’s a long and boring story which, trust me, you don’t want to hear. Sufficient to say, it mostly involves my fuck up of a best mate and my insubordinate sergeant.”
“I see,” Sean replies, sounding not fully convinced however. “So what do they say then? About museums?”
Orlando clears his throat and says in a voice that in his estimation is the closest to what a blogger must sound like (which is mostly very American, in Orlando’s opinion), “’Taking your date to a museum is a great idea. Most museums are so boring that you can concentrate all your energy on getting to know each other better.’”
Sean bursts out laughing and for a moment Orlando is too focussed on simply watching him to concentrate on feeling smug.
“But I suppose,” Orlando adds after a moment, acting contemplative, “it’s true enough the other way round as well. I’m rather glad that I get to look at Van Gogh instead of having to get to know you better.”
Sean shakes his head, still chuckling, and there is that calculating sexy smirk on his lips when he answers, “Yeah, likewise. I reckon I know you too well already anyways.”
Orlando doesn’t really know how to answer that – random insult reflex aside. Sean’s right, he knows him indeed and asking him out to see Van Gogh (of all things) was just one of the many proofs for that. On the other hand though? There is this persistent eagerness in Orlando to learn even more about him, to get to know him better yet.
Sean is watching him silently and Orlando realises that it’s his turn to say something.
“Well, since I’m completely delightful,” he says lightly, “I suppose you consider yourself incredibly lucky already.”
Sean laughs, that gorgeous rich dark sound, and leans forward a little to pick up his glass.
“I’ll drink to that.”
Their conversations over dinner partly revolve around the usual random things and Sean still calls him a prick and one time nearly pokes Orlando’s eye out with his fork in agitation when they discuss England’s chances against Germany in the Round of 16 in two days.
But Orlando also practically feels his intensely focused look when he himself can’t stop praising Wilde, or even when he’s just quietly enjoying his really great meal. Automatically this makes him smile in response (which isn’t all that helpful in the middle of an argument about whether or not loving “This Sporting Life” makes Sean a bloody socialist or not) and Sean smiles back but then casts his eyes down and Orlando thinks that he didn’t know before that Sean was a bit shy and treasures that discovery.
After Orlando has paid, they leave the restaurant and head straight for the Royal Academy. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the exhibition, it is full enough but Orlando couldn’t care less. For the first half hour he feels drunk on the intensely rich colours, and he and Sean wander about in the rooms aimlessly until Orlando’s thirst has been quenched at least a little.
He turns to face Sean whose concentration is still on the landscape in front of them. He smiles when he notices Orlando’s look.
“It’s rather brilliant, isn’t it?” Orlando asks.
“If there’s one thing,” Sean replies, “that I never understood about galleries, then that it’s all so quiet and posh when all I really want to do is –“
He searches for words for a moment but Orlando cuts in first, “Molest the paintings?”
Sean grins and shrugs, “Summat like that.”
“I thought so.” The next group of people closes in on the painting in front of which they stand and Orlando touches Sean’s arm, suggesting, “Let’s go and look for the letters.”
The rooms in which some of Van Gogh’s correspondence is on display (such a neat handwriting and lots and lots of sketches, too) are a little less populated. They start reading after Sean has pulled out his glasses and Orlando has called him blind as a bat.
Orlando finds a passage in which Van Gogh compares in-laws to cannibals and Sean tells him to stop laughing, it’s true enough in his experience, then they try to compare the sketches to the paintings on display and enjoy the guessing game. Sean finds a passage in which the artist ponders about emigration and they stand in front of the same display case for a good twenty minutes, sharing stories of their respective times abroad as well as dream destinations.
They drift apart for a while after that, but when Orlando looks up from a handful of coloured sketches he has been admiring, Sean catches his eye and from across the relatively empty room gestures him to come over.
Orlando’s eyes first focuses on the tiny sketches of two Dutch women at the end of the letter, one with a traditional and slightly weird headdress.
“You didn’t wave me over to mock my plastic bag hat again, did you?” he asks quietly, leaning over the display case, close to Sean.
“What? No, I didn’t,” Sean chuckles. “I just thought you might like this bit.” He points at the letter’s translation and, apparently not sure whether Orlando will find the part, he leaves his hand outstretched on the display case and reads it out quietly, “’My word, these anxieties... who can live in modern life without catching his share of them? The best consolation, if not the only remedy, is, it still seems to me, profound friendships.’”
Orlando continues to read even after Sean has fallen silent – ‘even if these have the disadvantage of anchoring us in life more solidly than may appear desirable to us in the days of great suffering.’
He straightens again after he has finished reading, rests his hands on the glass and stands close enough to Sean now that even his quietly spoken words seem loud in his own ears.
“That’s one way of looking at it,” he says. Sean looks at him questioningly, so he exemplifies, “I mean I know the man suffered from chronic depression and I get how this affects everything in one’s life –“
“But?” Sean prompts.
Orlando scratches his neck and looks Sean in the eyes. Behind the glasses they seem even greener, even more focused, and even if Sean obviously hasn’t quite sussed out where Orlando is going with this, they rest on him steadily, trusting him to explain.
“I mean this starts out hopeful and ends pessimistic,” Orlando says slowly. “I just think that it should be the other way around.”
Because while life might be a bugger sometimes, ultimately there are friendship – and love – and they do make it better. Orlando knows this, and looking at Sean now (so close and yet not close enough) he is even surer of it. After a moment Sean nods.
“Yes,” he agrees simply. “That is what it should be like. You’re right.”
Orlando smiles in response and his smile grows a little wider when on the display case he feels Sean’s hand covering his own. It’s warm and heavy and right then all Orlando can think of is how he wants to kiss him, touch him even more.
To kiss him – all it would need is this tiny little shift forward, they are standing so close already, close enough for Orlando to smell Sean’s aftershave and Sean, close enough to see the laugh lines around his eyes. So close and (God, he wants him) Sean’s gaze is still locked with his own, only for a second it slips down to Orlando’s mouth – Orlando swallows hard when he looks back up. He wants nothing more than to kiss Sean right now, can’t seem to move, is too transfixed by his presence, his attention, that all he can do is stare, feel his heart thundering, want Sean.
So so close and Sean licks his lips, Orlando he can see the wetness glistening on them and Sean’s hand tightens its grip on Orlando’s in encouragement, in anticipation.
Just lean in. Kiss him –
A guided group of museum visitors rolls toward the entrance of their room, Orlando sees them from the corners of his eyes, hears them despite his thundering heartbeat. Sean must hear them too, because his next breath comes out as a sigh and he momentarily breaks their eyelock to glance towards the door. His eyes find Orlando’s again only a moment later though and Orlando takes a deep breath – pulling himself away even the littlest bit almost hurts.
Quietly Orlando says, “God, I really want to kiss you.” Regret mingles with lightheaded humour in his voice. “But I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop again.”
For another moment Sean keeps staring at him as though everything in him screams that he bloody wants this anyway. Then his expression softens, he relaxes.
“Inconvenient,” Orlando agrees and finally manages to take a step back, pulls his hand out from under Sean’s, his thumb brushing over Sean’s fingers.
They turn toward the display case again as the room is filled with new visitors.
“’Even if these have the disadvantage of anchoring us in life more solidly than may appear desirable’,” Orlando reads out again and shakes his head. Nothing has ever felt as wrong as this, right now.
“Well,” Sean says, his tone of voice fitting their friendly banter again as they walk on to the next room. “It makes kind of sense if you only exchange ‘anchoring in life’ for ‘anchoring in our flat complex’.”
Orlando chuckles, laughter being a good enough consolation prize for the moment.
“I won’t dispute that,” he says and wants to add something but kind of forgets what it was.
“What is it?” asks Sean quietly and it’s only then that Orlando realises that in a room full of Van Goghs it’s not the pictures he is staring at but Sean.
“This is a fantastic exhibition,” Orlando says.
“Yes, it is.”
“And it was – I mean it is great that you found it and we’re here,” Orlando adds.
Sean smiles, pleased even though he is obviously still not all that sure where Orlando is going with this.
“I agree,” he says then.
Orlando only quickly glances around the room – all the people from different nations and in different ages in front of all these great works of art – and he so gets their enthusiasm, just that right now there seems to be someone who is even worthier of his complete focus. When his eyes meet Sean’s again, the other man tilts his head a little.
“It’s a bit crowded in here though, isn’t it?” Sean says slowly, takes his glasses off and glances towards the exit in silent suggestion.
Orlando grins and his fingertips brush over the light fabric of Sean’s shirt as he touches his arm.
“You know,” he says, “that’s exactly what I was thinking just now.”
They look at a few more paintings on their way to the exit, not really in a hurry to get out but still not as sort of aimlessly wandering about as they were earlier. It takes them a while to find the exit, mostly due to the masses of people in the rooms with them, despite the late hour.
Still, Sean is muttering curses about bloody blind people bumbling about once they have reached the foyer and Orlando flashes him a grin over his shoulder as he squeezes through the main entrance, out into the courtyard. There he stops for a moment so Sean can catch up and inhales deeply, warm summer air being one of the most pleasant simple things to enjoy.
“Fancy a stroll?” Orlando suggests. “Regents Park maybe, or the river?”
“Whatever you like,” Sean agrees and adds mockingly, “I mean if I had my way we’d be taking the 90 minutes guided tour through the RA right now. In Dutch.”
“Right,” snorts Orlando, steering them right on the still fairly busy sidewalk. “90 minutes that I was gonna spend in the gift shop.”
“Trying on straw hats?” asks Sean with interest.
Orlando looks at him with mock scepticism. “What is it with you and your obsession with my headwear?”
“It’s more an odd fascination with your hair,” Sean replies. He looks contemplatively at Orlando’s head as if this is something he really has been thinking about. “Is it curly when you grow it out?”
“Ridiculously so even,” Orlando admits, laughing as he runs a hand through his shortly cropped hair, nearly elbowing someone in the face in the process.
“Right,” Sean replies, grinning at Orlando’s near miss.
“I love this city, but sometimes it’s just too darn full,” Orlando defends himself. “Whenever I’m making gestures to explain something I always have to pay attention to not accidentally slap someone in the face.”
Sean chuckles. “I bet that has happened a few times.”
Orlando looks at him in mock indignation and it’s only then that he realises that he even now has raised his hands.
“Yeah well,” he says, mimicking Sean’s posture by burying his hands in his pockets, his shoulder lightly bumping against Sean’s. “Animated gesturing is at least better than emphasising everything by bedazzling it with curse words.”
“I have no fucking clue what the hell you’re bloody talking about,” says Sean, his accent deliberately thick. A moment later he adds, in his normal voice, “Oh, by the way, did I tell you, I received a postcard from some French amusement park, filled with obscenities.”
“Addressed to you?” Orlando asks in mild amusement, glancing at Sean again as they have to wait at a traffic light.
“No, of course not,” Sean laughs. “To a B. James, from someone named Katie. I was rather appalled when I read it.”
“And by ‘appalled’ you mean ‘greatly entertained’?” Orlando replies as they quickly cross the street.
“Did you at least forward it afterwards?”
“Do I look like I’d nick other people’s mail?” Sean asks and there’s a twinkle in his eye that tells Orlando that he’s being quoted and mocked.
“Well, appearances can be deceiving sometimes,” he replies with a small smile just as they reach the entrance of the park.
Sean looks at him as if he wants to reply something but then just chuckles. As they step into the park, the noise from the busy street is swallowed by the thick hedges, replaced by the sound of the light evening breeze in the trees’ leaves.
“I like this time of the year,” Sean says, walking close to Orlando. “When in the evening it’s still warm enough to be outside without freezing your arse off, when it’s light for so long.”
Orlando hums in silent agreement to that and they slow down a little. He breathes in the smell of soil, still warm from sunlight, of freshly cut grass. As they walk silently side by side he thinks that maybe it’s the imprint that Van Gogh’s paintings left in his mind, maybe it’s just the late evening sun but the colours of the park seem warmer, brighter around him.
There aren’t many people about, and only the odd jogger passes them. A cyclist comes up behind them, Orlando hears him when Sean’s hand already lightly touches his back. He steps aside, closer to Sean, and the cyclist drives past them without even veering. Sean’s hand stays where it is, lightly resting in the small of his back and if Orlando had been lost in thought there for a moment, he’s sharply focussed again now. It’s paradoxical almost, how it’s like Sean isn’t even aware that he’s doing it and how it’s the only thing Orlando can concentrate on right now.
“Sean?” he says quietly.
Sean looks at him questioningly for a second, only then seems to realise how close they’re walking, that he is still touching Orlando, and half smiles, casts his eyes down.
“Sean,” Orlando prompts again and their eyes meet again.
They’ve stopped on the side of the narrow walkway, facing each other and God, how can you know someone for so many weeks and still be so suddenly and forcefully struck with how utterly gorgeous he is?
“You know I meant what I said,” Orlando says. “Back in the Academy.”
“That only proles fly to Mallorca?” Sean asks, deliberately misunderstanding him. His hand presses a little more against the small of Orlando’s back however, and despite his stupid joke Orlando can see understanding in his eyes, can see the same want from before lingering there.
“Yeah, explains why you’d go,” he jokes back, aims for a dry tone of voice but hears something so much richer, so much more earnest in it instead. He lets his right hand rest lightly on Sean’s hip. “I wasn’t talking about that though.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I was talking about –,” Orlando says, licks his lips for they feel dry all of a sudden, thinks ‘how I want to kiss you’ but doesn’t believe he needs to say it. His other hand finds Sean’s hip as well, he is so aware of Sean’s touch against his back, his upper arm.
“I know,” replies Sean so quietly that it’s nothing more than a murmur. Amusement mingles with something darker in his voice, a mixture so effortlessly intoxicating, when he adds, “I was already wondering whether you’d forgotten about that again.”
Orlando snorts, sound a little too loud for how close they are standing but nevermind.
“Right. I had. And I certainly don’t want to now, kiss you that is.”
“I figured as much,” replies Sean and strokes over Orlando’s shoulder, his eyes temporarily leaving Orlando’s to follow the path of his own hand. They still twinkle with amusement, but only just, when he looks back up. “Then by all means, don’t.”
Orlando takes that little step closer that still has been separating them. Warmth is spreading from Sean’s body, the solidness of his chest against Orlando’s own turns Orlando breathless, leaves him with his voice merely a whisper.
“Ah, I won’t,” he murmurs, their faces close enough for his exhale to reflect from Sean’s lips. “Not ever.”
Sean chuckles quietly and the tip of his nose brushes against Orlando’s. He tilts his head and Orlando mirrors the movement, his breath shaky when Sean parts his lips just so, waits. Orlando slides his hands up Sean’s sides, their touch as light as Sean’s, lets his eyelids flutter shut but still their lips aren’t touching, their kiss still lingering between them like an unspoken promise. He turns his head a little more, Sean moves with him and they are so close that Orlando can almost feel it when Sean licks his lips.
“You stubborn wanker,” Sean says softly, almost soundlessly but yet with so much amusement and affection and exasperation that Orlando has to chuckle, their lips brushing against one another as he laughs silently.
He breathes, “I’m not really,” against Sean’s lips, soft and moist, and can’t think of any other words to say right now, still wants to continue talking just to feel them like this again. Until Sean leans in and presses the gentlest of kisses onto his mouth.
Orlando exhales, so fucking thankful to Sean for finally ending this stupid game, so very thankful that this feels like it does. He moves his lips in a silent ‘cheers’, or something close to that, it doesn’t matter because Sean will understand.
Sean curls his hand against Orlando’s shoulder, breathes something like relief and God, yes in response – and like that they are kissing and it’s something that Orlando’s brain seems to have troubles processing, needs to repeat over and over. They’re kissing, he’s kissing Sean, Sean’s kissing him, lips tentative and demanding both, and he can feel Sean breathe, tastes Sean on his tongue because they are kissing, kissing.
The gravel underneath his shoes scrunches as he shifts, closer yet, and Sean’s hand on his back pulls him in, holds him there, the same increase of that wicked tender urgency that Orlando tastes in their kiss. He raises his hand to the back of Sean’s head, can’t help but smile into their kiss and curl his tongue against Sean’s when it rushes through him how lucky he is to be allowed to do his, to touch him like this – his hair soft and his pulse beating strongly underneath Orlando’s fingertips –, feels almost delirious when it hits him for how long he has wanted this.
Some of that must be in his kiss, that urgency, that greedy haste to make up for lost time, because in response Sean is breathing harder, he grips Orlando’s shoulder with responding need and want, bare all reticence and scepticism that usually would be so typical for him.
Orlando can’t keep track of all the details of how perfect this is – how Sean tastes, how his lips feel against his own and the slight stubble on his upper lip sandpaper sharp against Orlando’s skin, helping him focus and such a fantastic feeling in its own right, how his muscles feel under Orlando’s grip, how his body feels just so right against his own and makes him so aware of every little touch and yet drown in the overall sensation at the same time.
And Sean seems just as drunk on this as he is, his hold on Orlando has tightened as if he desperately needs something to cling to, to keep him grounded, his breathing is heavy now, his hands can’t settle anywhere like he can’t decide where he wants them, which part of Orlando he needs to touch the most right this instant.
Orlando forces his own blind urgency to retreat a little to give them a second to catch their breaths. And after that second, Sean’s lips become pliant as he gives in, he moans in ever so quiet agreement when Orlando starts kissing his lower lip, the corner of his mouth, light and gentle again. These kisses are returned by Sean a moment later and Orlando feels the tip of his tongue against his upper lip, tracing, tasting, savouring – and Orlando lets him, holds still, breath hitching only ever so lightly when Sean takes his time exploring.
“I’ve been thinking about this,” Sean whispers against his lips eventually, the quiet earnestness almost more intimate than the kiss itself.
Orlando curls his fingers against the back of Sean’s head, short fine hair running through the spaces between them. He tilts his head a little, his nose against Sean’s cheek and Sean’s breath soft against his.
When Orlando strokes through his hair Sean murmurs, “You were right.”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Orlando chides mildly, smiles when Sean snorts quietly in response and runs his hand over Orlando’s shoulder. Then he remembers to add, “Right about what?”
Sean pulls back a little to be able to look at him, his fingertips against Orlando’s neck, right above his cardigan. The sun has finally gone down, leaving the park in greyish twilight but Orlando still sees the green of Sean’s eyes and the unfamiliar, familiar look in them as he regards Orlando.
“About not wanting to stop again,” Sean replies.
Orlando grins because this is so true and so utterly cheesy that he reckons he really must be completely drunk on this already for not finding it ridiculous. A small smile plays around Sean’s lips as if he’s thinking the same thing about his own words just now but he still doesn’t take them back.
So Orlando says, “That’s quite brilliant, isn’t it?” and kisses Sean’s mouth again, just like Sean has kissed him before, lightly and gently. “I’m quite brilliant,” he adds quietly, smirking.
“Conceited is what you are,” Sean corrects him, his thumb brushing against Orlando’s temple and his heartbeat strong against Orlando’s chest. He returns the kiss, licks Orlando’s mouth open and murmurs into it, “And a complete prick.”
Orlando laughs and kisses back instead of replying. He gets what Sean is saying anyway and he is happy enough to let it stand.
“When exactly did we decide to have karaoke at our farewell party?” Katie asks, slightly tipsy and slightly baffled.
Angel carefully balances her glass filled to the brim with what Colin assumes to be something from the cocktail bar aka the kitchen (and is very green) as she sits down on the couch next to Katie.
“I don’t think we did,” she says but doesn’t seem completely sure either.
“You invited us to your party,” Colin replies and thinks that this really explains it all.
“Yeah, this is why we already packed away all our valuables,” Angel says and smiles at Colin (who hasn’t nicked anything in a while and not just because the pseudo-communist is more careful with his paper now).
“Be nice,” Katie says to Angel, slapping her lightly, “Brads said he was a clepto on the mend. We have to be supportive.”
“You’re both doing a stellar job,” Colin remarks dryly before turning around, eyes automatically searching Bradley.
The living room of Katie’s and Angel’s flat is already stripped of most of the furniture but Bradley transformed the scarily ugly but rather solid coffee table into a stage on the other end of the room and has dragged Matt and Rupert onto it with him. Matt and Rupert seem to have slight difficulties standing which is less due to the limited space on the table (Bradley has wrapped his arms around them for security reasons anyway) but mostly due to the fact that they are pissing drunk already.
“So this is love, or so you tell me,” they shout to the slightly tinny sound of the stereo, “as you’re walking ooout the door –“
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” says Katie.
“He sounds like a tortured dolphin,” muses Angel.
Colin throws the last few peanuts he is holding in his hand at them. Thankfully the rest of the people in the room beg to differ, some spontaneously take out their lighters, others just start hollering along.
“Soohometimes, just for a moment,” Bradley and the rest of the room sings (though calling it ‘singing’ might be stretching it a bit), “I reeeeeach out, hope you’re still there!”
Bradley lets go of Rupert’s shoulder in order to dramatically stretch out his hand towards Angel and Katie on the couch.
“Miiiiles awaaay!!!” he screeches.
Rupert falls off the table and lands on his arse on the floor. Still, even from there he’s a rather reliable backup (Matt has specialised on air-guitar for the moment). Bradley has skipped a few lines in the lyrics because he thought it more important to point his finger at Rupert and laugh. But he starts once again, all the more dramatically reaching out to Katie and Angel.
“Nothin’ left of what we had, just when I neeeeded you mohost – you were miiiiles awaahay!”
The music goes on playing and Colin is pretty sure that the song has more than just one stanza but neither Rupert nor Bradley seem to know any more of the lyrics, so they just keep hollering “Miles away!” and the more enthusiastic front row of the guests attempts a headbanging session.
“I hope he tries to stage dive and cracks open his skull,” says Katie.
“I don’t think it would make a difference,” Angel tells her as she is passing on her green juice.
“You two are seriously unappreciative,” Colin says to them and wishes he had more peanuts to toss.
“Does he serenade you like this?” Angel wants to know.
“He probably does Color Me Bad and has a special mating dance to ‘I wanna sex you up’,” Katie tells her.
“Haven’t we performed ‘I just died in your arms tonight’ for you?” Colin asks. “Bradley does a great pantomime.”
Bradley interrupts them by coming up to them and he takes Colin’s beer from him and downs it in one go before announcing, “This party is brilliant!”
He smells of beer and sweat and Bradley and Colin glances at the coffee-table stage onto which two girls have climbed to accompany Matt and his air guitar, dirty dancing to some Guns’n’Roses song.
“This party is stuck in a time capsule from the 1980s,” Colin says.
“Don’t be silly,” Bradley replies, handing the empty glass back to Colin and throwing an arm around his shoulder. “’Garden of Eden’ was released in 1991.”
“You’re a neverending source of enlightenment,” says Colin.
“Who sings 80s power ballads on someone’s farewell party?” Katie asks, apparently a bit behind in their conversation. “Or an end-of-semester party? Or any party for that matter?”
“People who love you and don’t want you gone,” Bradley says earnestly but adds after a moment of contemplation, “Or people who just think that power ballads are brilliant.”
“Which they are,” agrees Colin.
“No wonder we’re emigrating,” says Angel.
Bradley just grins at them, his overly confident grin – and Colin figures that Bradley has every right to be confident because there is still lots of beer left and no one in their right (drunk) mind can resist a good karaoke forever.
Someone puts on something more danceable and Angel and Katie disappear in the crowd (meaning the 15 people that are squeezed into the small living room). Bradley disappears into the kitchen, for obvious reasons.
Colin spends the next few hours having interesting conversations about medieval English literature, Japanese cosplay and string theory. He is fairly proud of himself for holding his ground in all three conversations even though he has no idea of the middle ages and was 15 minutes into the cosplay conversation before he understood what ‘cosplay’ even means. There should just be more party talk about string theory, he decides silently.
Around two o’clock the karaoke machine is put to use again and Katie and Angel perform “Bad Romance” for the (not yet comatose) guests. Bradley comments on it by shaking his head and saying, “Now, that’s just sad”.
Colin finds something strangely appealing in the accompanying twitching and stomping and watches the whole thing. Katie and Angel forget about their performance after about two thirds of the song and start hugging each other and random people around the impromptu stage. Colin watches Katie wrap her arms and legs around Bradley and she screeches when Bradley licks her face, hugging her close so she can’t escape. Angel mirrors Katie’s monkey-climbing-the-palm-tree act and jumps onto Bradley’s back, so that Bradley wavers and they all fall down in a collective heap, taking several others down with them.
From the bottom of the heap only Bradley’s legs stick out and when he manages to turn his head to look at Colin his grin is broad even though he is shouting, “Help me, Colin! Katie’s bosom is trying to smother me!”
Colin just raises his empty glass and disappears into the kitchen, thinking that somehow all good parties end with Bradley as the literal centre of attention and either Katie or Angel sitting on his head.
Despite the racket coming from the living room – loud enough to not only wake the neighbours but also anyone else within a two mile radius – the empty kitchen already looks like a post-apocalyptic modern art instalment. Or like someone has used it as a bowling alley for a wrecking ball. Only that it doesn’t matter since no one will have to make this particular kitchen inhabitable again because Katie and Angel are moving out anyway. They’ll never have poker nights with pizza in here anymore and Colin won’t be able lose all his money to Katie and fall from the chair with the wobbly leg at the same time.
“What are you doing in here all by yourself?”
Colin turns around and Angel, her hair slightly messy and her skirt somewhat askew, stands in the doorway.
“Looking for beer, I think.”
“We ran out of beer about an hour ago,” Angel reminds him. “Bradley wanted to sing the Duff beer song about it but Katie threatened to kick him.”
“Oh, right,” Colin answers, a small smile curving his lips.
Angel pulls open the door of the fridge. “We still have French wine, a bit of whisky and oh, look at that, purple syrup. I’m not sure if the three go together though.”
“I’ll have a coke,” Colin decides, helping himself to a glass. “Bradley found out the syrup tastes like armpit.”
“And you trust his judgment?”
“He made me try it, it’s true.”
“He said it tastes of armpit and then had you drink it?”
Angel looks at him with a look that Colin supposes she’d give a puppy if it peed on the carpet again. Then and without warning she wraps her arms around him, hugging him so tightly that it almost hurts. Colin is maybe a bit drunk and a bit surprised, so it takes him a moment to return the embrace, and he has to be careful not to spill his Coke over her.
“Uh,” he manages.
“You and Bradley are the most bonkers guys I know,” Angel says and squeezes him even tighter before releasing him, holding him by the shoulders. “Don’t ever change, you hear?”
“Uh?” Colin repeats intelligently. “I don’t plan to? Can you even plan something like that?”
“If anyone can,” Angel says solemly (Colin thinks she is a bit drunk), “then it’s you. Because you’re Colin.”
Colin means to say something like ‘thank you’ or ‘clearly you don’t know me all that well then’. Instead, he says,
“I really wish you wouldn’t leave.”
And again Angel hugs him and says something like, “Naaaw, Colin,” against his hoodie.
“Are you patronising me right now?” Colin asks, hugging back. “I’m not sure I like it.”
“We’ll be back in seven months,” Angel says. “If only because someone needs to make sure you don’t overwork yourself.”
“Right,” Colin answers but apparently he is not that good at pretending to be gullible.
“Colin,” Angel says and grabs Colin’s arm, “c’mon, I want to show you something.”
He lets her lead him out of the kitchen and back into the living room. Apparently most of the guests took the ‘Bad Romance’ karaoke as the cue to leave because it is much emptier than it was a few minutes ago.
In the middle of the room Bradley and Katie still lie on the spotty carpet, right where they fell down. They aren’t tickle-fighting any longer but Katie’s head is resting on Bradley’s chest and she has her face turned toward him. Bradley has pillowed his head on one arm and the fingers of his free hand idly card through the strands of Katie’s long and messy black hair while he listens to her. Colin can’t make out what she is telling him, her voice too quiet against the still playing music, but a smile flashes over Bradley’s face in response to her words.
“You still think we’ll leave and never come back?” asks Angel quietly.
“Scientifically speaking this doesn’t prove anything,” Colin says but smiles a little.
“Oh, for God’s sake, you nerd,” she answers in mock exasperation. “Just grab your footie mascot and get yourselves home already.”
“Because I don’t fall for your cheap party tricks of reassurance?”
“Because we need someone to lift all the heavy stuff tomorrow afternoon and Bradley needs his sleep or he gets whiney,” Angel says with a smirk.
She needn’t have worried about that and they both know it.
Bradley can catch a nap anytime and anywhere and he proves that to Colin right after they’ve left the girls’ flat. He tells Colin about his theories on robots vs. vampires on the way to the Tube station but promptly starts snoring as soon as they sit in the Tube. He briefly wakes up when Colin drags him out and to the bus station but there nearly falls onto his face because he almost falls asleep while still standing up, and he is drooling onto Colin’s shoulder for the entire bus ride.
Colin doesn’t mind the drool or the snoring, fishes Bradley’s i-pod out of his leather jacket and listens to music. He starts with the mix that Bradley has named ‘My friend the hangover’ but that one is followed by ‘Real blokes cry too’. And he spends a bit of time staring at Bradley and thinking that he doesn’t know anyone besides Bradley who would put John Mayer, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Roxette into the same folder, and he spends a bit of time staring out of the window and nearly drowns in melancholy while chiding himself for not just changing back to the hangover songs.
As soon as they step out of the bus and into the dark night, Bradley stretches luxuriously, yawns hugely and effortlessly picks up his monologue about killer robots and hopelessly outgunned armies of the undead as they walk home.
“- anyway, I think that even my toaster-slayer-robot would have no difficulties at least chopping up a baby vampire,” Bradley muses as they step out of the elevator. “I mean it had no problems with the toaster and that has an exoskeleton which is quite difficult to crack in contrast to baby skin which I believe is rather soft, even with vampires. Right?”
He touches Colin’s arm, waiting for affirmation, and looks at him eagerly. Colin stares back and asks himself whether they’ll still be having conversations about massacring the undead when they are fifty. Despite Bradley’s completely serious face right now, he somehow doubts it.
And isn’t that the most wretched feeling?
“I could exchange the circular saw for a water pistol with holy water,” Bradley suggests tentatively when the silence stretches as long as the hallway they are standing in. “Or a giant swinging scythe? Colin?”
He makes this little surprised sound when Colin grabs the collar of his jacket and kisses him.
The force of Colin’s kiss throws him somewhat off balance, and Colin too, so Bradley’s back connects with the wall and this time the sound he is making into Colin’s mouth is more a pained grunt. Colin doesn’t care, on the contrary, each sound that Bradley makes, makes Colin want to kiss him even harder.
His tongue tangles with Bradley’s and their kiss tastes of beer and the late night, of tiredness and need – but maybe it’s just Colin’s need and not Bradley’s, Colin can’t tell. He holds on tighter to Bradley’s jacket and traps him against the wall when he makes another small sound, something caught between a moan and a whimper.
“Colin,” Bradley says when he can, when Colin is not attacking his mouth that viciously for a moment, when he had time to catch a breath. “Colin –“
Colin hears the question in Bradley’s voice but he also hears the responding need underneath it, like all it takes for Bradley to want him desperately is Colin wanting him, too – no matter the time or the place.
Colin presses his body against Bradley’s, ignores Bradley’s attempts to touch him carefully but feels his warmth and his muscles, his solidity as well as his confusion and wants him so bad it hurts, hurts more than the bruising biting kisses he’s inflicting on Bradley.
Bradley’s grip on his arms tightens and when he pushes at Colin it’s with intent and determination and it’s only that, not the gentle coaxing that Colin knows Bradley to prefer, which gets Colin to let go of his mouth and pull back enough for Bradley to growl,
“Flat. Now. – Nutter.”
It’s almost funny, the way Bradley’s voice is torn between sounding amused, exhilarated or overwhelmed, but he holds Colin back right now, prevents him from biting, touching, kissing him anymore right here. Still Colin can tell from his eyes, almost black, that he wants this – whatever ‘this’ is, neither of them knows and Colin wishes he could tell Bradley that he hasn’t got a clue either but can’t even find words enough for that.
Instead, his eyes fixate on Bradley’s kiss-bruised mouth and he takes out the key to the flat, dragging, pushing, pulling Bradley with him, inside.
“Fuck, stop shoving me against walls,” Bradley curses when his back hits the door and crashes it shut, but his hands are already pulling at Colin’s jacket, pushing it down, just so he can get his hands on Colin’s shoulders.
“Bradley,” Colin replies and it’s really the only thing he can think of saying, it’s the only thing that he can think right this moment, along with how much he wants him and that it can never be enough. He pulls Bradley’s t-shirt up and his hands start roaming over naked skin, jittery unfulfilling touches because he can’t bring himself to linger, to take enough time to really appreciate how Bradley’s naked skin feels under him and how Bradley’s pleased little exhales are responses to Colin’s touches.
It’s Bradley himself who thinks of getting out of his leather jacket, and it’s Bradley who pushes Colin away for long enough to drag his shirt over his head. It’s still tangled around his right hand when it comes to cup the back of Colin’s head as Colin leans down to press his face against the place right above Bradley’s collar bone. Colin digs his fingers into the muscles of Bradley’s upper chest and with a low thud Bradley’s head connects with the wood of the door.
“Colin, Colin,” he whispers, his voice is low and Colin’s alone but Colin still feels like this isn’t enough, latches his mouth onto Bradley’s neck, feels him inhale sharply, Adam’s apple moving convulsively as he closes his mouth over it and sucks. Bradley’s touches are hard and almost hurting now, tugging at Colin’s hair and scratching over Colin’s shoulder through the shirt, angrily desperate to find something to cling to and trying to strip Colin even barer than he already feels. Colin ignores the persistent tugging on his clothes, spreads his hands wide to touch as much of Bradley’s chest as he can.
He feels the buttons of his abandoned jacket digging painfully into his knees as he drops down onto them in front of Bradley. Tiny flashes of pain shooting up his thighs make him suddenly and painfully aware of how hard he is himself. He wants to press the heel of his hand against his erection to keep it in check, wants – God so much – Bradley’s hands on him, and his mouth. But he needs both of his hands for Bradley’s belt and the buttons of his jeans now and to hold Bradley’s hips back over which he doesn’t seem to have any control anymore.
He inhales sharply, dizzy with excitement when he gets the jeans open and can smell Bradley’s arousal, his mouth waters instantly. The mere idea of having Bradley’s cock for himself, of tasting and smelling and feeling him, of taking as much of him as he wants, makes his touches almost frantical and yet it’s sososo calming and this is exactly what he needs right now.
“God, Colin,” Bradley moans and his knees tremble, threaten to buckle when Colin pushes them further apart to slide between them. He moans again, such a quiet “please, please darling, please” when Colin presses his face against Bradley’s black briefs, rubs his cheek against the hardness underneath the soft cotton before his fingers find the waistband and pull them down.
Bradley’s hands instantly come down – and Colin almost has to laugh at Bradley’s urge to touch his own cock as soon as it’s exposed but he doesn’t. Instead he lets Bradley grip himself, the other hand on the back of Colin’s head, and he kisses Bradley’s knuckles, licks over Bradley’s thumb and the tip of his cock, wet with precome already. Bradley’s fingers uncurl to grace Colin’s chin, the tip of his cock resting on Colin’s lower lip, and Colin inhales one deep breath before he takes Bradley’s cock into his mouth and sucks.
“Fuck, fuck, Colin,” Bradley chants but falls silent when Colin takes him deeper, sucks him harder, as if all words were sucked out of him all at once and all that was left in him was this nameless gigantic craving inside of him like that black hole that is still tearing at Colin’s insides. It’s a bit better now that he is full with Bradley, with his heavy taste and smell. It is pleasure, pure and simple and unspoiled with fear of tomorrow and melancholy of the past, it’s just the present, just the here and now and what he feels right this moment.
He pulls back a little so he can gulp down a few quick breaths, his tongue swirling around the head of Bradley’s cock, keeping him speechless and on his toes, and he moans around him when he pushes Bradley’s hand out of the way so he can have his cock all for himself. Bradley lets him, the hand on the back of Colin’s head twitching but otherwise keeping still, the one gentle touch in all of this. Colin sucks his cock deeper into his mouth again, runs his hands over Bradley’s strong naked thighs, round their sides and his fingers dig into their flesh, right underneath his buttocks, silently urging him on, daring him, pleading him to push deeper into his mouth like he needs it right now.
And Bradley gets it, he tries to catch his breath, tries to pull himself together before he starts thrusting into Colin’s mouth, pulls Colin’s head towards him as he keeps shoving deep into Colin’s throat. Colin lets him and his eyes drift shut as tears from the effort run freely. He’s so full with Bradley that he can’t think of anything else but how much Bradley wants him and he reaches down, undoes his own trousers, starts fisting his own erection – in the same rhythm with which Bradley is pushing against the back of his throat and beyond, choking him, filling him. In the same rhythm in which Bradley keeps saying his name breathlessly, a curse and a prayer at the same time, like Colin is the only thing that he can think of.
He doesn’t care about coming, only cares about the slow smouldering warmth of arousal spreading, such a contrast to Bradley’s by now hard and bruising thrusts into him and yet caused by them. Bradley comes, quiet quiet sounds spilling from his lips as he erupts into Colin’s mouth, thick bitter streaks of come that won’t end.
Colin stops stroking himself altogether, holds completely still and lets Bradley fill his mouth and his throat, calm all of a sudden.
Bradley finally inhales and apparently finds himself back in the hallway of their flat, his knees give in and he drops down to the floor, his thighs half covering Colin’s. He smells of fresh sweat when he leans in close, cradles Colin’s face with both his hands and just stares at him in unfocused satisfaction and sharp wonderment.
Colin slowly licks his lips (numb) and swallows, his throat raw.
Bradley opens his mouth as if to say something but then he doesn’t. He just keeps staring at Colin in the almost darkness of their flat, only a streetlight coming from the window illuminating his features, his fingers trembling ever so lightly against the skin of Colin’s face. Then he leans in and softly kisses Colin’s swollen lips, pulls him towards him and hugs him tight, fingers fisting in Colin’s shirt.
And Colin wraps his arms around Bradley’s shoulders, skin warm and muscles tense, buries his face in the crook of Bradley’s neck and mouths against it, “Bradley, Bradley.” Because it’s still the only thing he can think.
Eventually, Bradley starts kissing his neck and his light kisses follow the path of his fingers, up Colin’s neck and along his jawline, soft kisses for his cheek and the corner of his mouth, his cupid’s bow.
“Sometimes,” he murmurs against Colin’s mouth without finishing the sentence. He keeps kissing him and it takes him a while to find other words. Again, he’s not pulling far away, only so he can speak. “Sometimes I think you’re a crazy person, really Colin,” he says affectionately and strokes through Colin’s hair. “Why are you a crazy person?”
“Because your robot talk gets me all hot and bothered?” Colin replies, his voice raw and he clears his throat. Bradley kisses his lips again as if trying to smooth out the roughness and doesn’t call Colin on his stupid deflecting joke.
“C’mon, let’s get up,” he says instead a little while later but Colin buries his hand in Bradley’s hair, silences him by prolonging the kiss yet a little more.
It’s only when Colin’s legs start to feel numb that he reacts to Bradley’s gentle coaxing, and Bradley has to help him up because his calves have fallen asleep.
“You should’ve listened to me,” Bradley says, pulling Colin up and wrapping his arm around Colin’s waist. “If now your legs need to be amputated you won’t get any sympathy from me.”
“You kept kissing me,” Colin says and it’s partly true. Bradley promptly leans in and does it again, open mouthed and yet teasing, as his fingers play with the rim of Colin’s shirt.
“You should take this off,” he says, tugging at the fabric.
“Now there’s a suggestion worth listening to,” answers Colin.
They manage to keep kissing, walk to their bedroom, get rid of all their clothes – it takes them some time but all the kissing and touching comes in the way of efficiency. Colin laughs when Bradley’s fingers accidentally tickle him (“Stop it, stop it!” – “I’m just trying to be helpful, Colin!”) and Bradley is hard again when they’ve finally managed to get the last item of clothing of.
They stand at the foot of their bed and Bradley tries pulling Colin with him but Colin just pushes him down and when Bradley looks up at him, propped up on his elbows, Colin gestures him to turn over onto his belly. Bradley laughs and rolls his eyes but does what he’s told, calls Colin “a mean bully who bullies” when Colin lightly slaps his butt as he crawls between his spread legs.
Bradley still bitches playfully and Colin tells him to shut up, being insanely beautiful will only get him so far. Bradley falls silent and pulls Colin down for another, slightly awkwardly placed kiss and Colin knows that Bradley (Bradley!) is a little bit embarrassed.
The urgency that attacked Colin earlier is more manageable now, it’s still there and Colin doesn’t know how he’d feel if he couldn’t touch Bradley any way he wanted. But Bradley lets him and so he takes his time now, Bradley’s quietly laughed teases turning into pleased silent encouragements when Colin pushes into him. Bradley tightens his grip on Colin’s hand when Colin leans down, his chest touching Bradley’s back, and marks Bradley’s neck with small kiss after kiss.
Colin loses track of time, doesn’t know how long they move together like this and wave after wave of pleasure and Bradley’s quietly spoken words wash over him.
After – and after Bradley has woken from his climax induced mini-coma and complained about Colin’s weight on top of him, pushing him off a bit unceremoniously but pulling him close a second later – after, Colin has his eyes closed and listens to his heartbeat, can barely believe how frantic it was hammering against his chest earlier.
“Now will you tell me what’s up with you?” Bradley asks then, kissing Colin’s upper arm.
“I promise I will,” replies Colin and raises his hand to let his fingertips grace over Bradley’s cheek. “As soon as I’ve figured it out.”
“Can’t I help? I’m a fantastic listener, you know.”
“Yes, because you tend to fall asleep during,” says Colin and sure enough Bradley yawns in response. Quieter and more seriously now, Colin adds, “You are quite fantastic really.”
Bradley yawns again and flops onto his back, motions a little uncoordinated but almost masking the pleased embarrassment.
“I have a bet with Katie,” he says after a moment of silence.
“Another one?” asks Colin because Bradley’s and Katie’s relationship is defined by one-upmanship and ridiculous bets and hardly ever can they agree on who won either. “Who is going to be the judge of this one?”
“You and Angel,” Bradley says, turning his head on the pillow to face Colin. “Duh.”
A smile tugs at Colin’s lips and he shifts a little closer to Bradley, finding that perfect and warm spot right beside him.
“Okay. What kind of bet?”
“Serious business,” Bradley says, sort of sluggishly licking his lips. “Tomorrow, whoever of us is gonna cry first because of the goodbye and shit, has to buy the other ten tins of Fray Bento’s pie.”
Colin chuckles, not surprised, but still asks, “What would anyone do with ten tins of that?”
“Eat it,” Bradley replies, completely serious. Then after a moment he adds, “For instance, the girls could serve it at their ‘Oi, guys, we’re back’ bash next year. Pie party, brilliant.”
Bradley’s complete confidence in how the future will work out will never fail to amaze Colin. Like always it’s infectious, resonates in Colin as well. He leans closer, kisses the bridge of Bradley’s nose, his forehead.
“I’ll make sure,” Bradley says in response, his voice is slightly slurry as if on the brink of slumber. “We’ll have vegetarian pie, too. Promise.”
It really is a great summer for football, and talking about it is almost as much fun as watching it. And unlike Sean – whose schizo persona has him curse the Three Lions and defend them to the death in one breath – Orlando is over England’s elimination pretty quickly and enjoys the following matches just fine.
That the World Cup also diverts everyone else’s attention from all other topics – including Orlando’s love life – is an added bonus. He suffers through a few half-hearted attempts of Cols’ version of looking out for him (“Have you buttfucked your boytoy yet?” and “You realise that your cock can fall off if you never use it? Just saying.”) but other than that his private life actually stays that way, private.
Because no matter how endearing caring friends can be, he doesn’t get how there should be any need for a lengthy analysis, just because he and Sean are on kissing terms now. ‘Just because’, hah. Okay, so Sean is a pretty terrific kisser.
But he and Sean also still hang out after work, or they don’t when Orlando has to follow a hot lead or Sean needs to finish special orders. They still sit on Sean’s balcony, spy on the nudist yoga nutter on the other side of the road and speculate which drugs their mailman took this week (Sean got a catalogue for lingerie in the mail on Monday – possibly in exchange for his once again missing paper).
They still swap work stories, Sean is still judgmental and insightful, sarcastic and congenial (all at the same time even, especially when Orlando needs to get the latest murder case off his chest), he asks Orlando’s opinion on all kinds of things starting with asparagus and how to prepare it and ending with Wilde. And Orlando learns bits and pieces of random trivia about Sean that his brain somehow all thinks necessary to file under ‘important’.
So, Orlando figures if no one is interested in these bits of his and Sean’s friendship, how would they even begin to understand what touching Sean, kissing him is like?
Thank God for the distracting powers of football, yeah.
The second semi-final Orlando watches after work in one of the pubs which early on in the World Cup, Sean has declared suitable for footie purposes. It’s as crowded as you’d expect a good public viewing spot to be during the semi-final, especially given the sunny weather.
Amongst all the people that came here straight from work, all wearing similar suits, it takes about five minutes to lose sight of almost every familiar face. This even includes Eric, Sean’s business partner as well as best mate, who is nowhere to be seen, despite his height and his rather sticking-out persona.
Sean is the only one who is pretty darn easy to keep track off because he is in his England jersey, slightly rumpled and a complete contrast to the expensive pinstripe trousers and the dress-shoes he is wearing.
“If you brought your strip to work with you,” Orlando says and he is standing close enough to Sean that the other man turns his head immediately, “then why didn’t you bring a pair of tracky bums as well?”
Sean takes a sip from his beer and his eyes dart towards the telly for the fraction of a second – auto-pilot – before he answers.
“I didn’t so much bring it as wore it all day.”
“You sold suits for 3000 quid wearing that?” Orlando asks, honestly baffled. Although he won’t deny that, looking like this, Sean could probably sell him anything.
Sean smirks, as if reading his mind, and licks the taste of beer from his lips. “I wore it underneath.”
“God, you’re bonkers,” Orlando laughs and interrupts himself by staring at the TV screen for a few captivating seconds. When the attack doesn’t end in a goal he looks back at Sean, picking up where they’ve left off. “We’re in the middle of a bloody heat wave and you’re wearing – no really, you’re bonkers.”
Sean merely shrugs. “My shop has air conditioning, remember? Besides, I wear it pre-emptively celebrating Germany’s brutal annihilation in this game. Will serve them right.”
Orlando hides his smile behind his glass (a smile he wouldn’t mind Sean seeing, but is not meant for anyone else) and lightly clicks his glass against Sean’s.
“Yeah, I get it. Makes you sort of Superman, doesn’t it? Only British. And crazier.”
“And what does that make you?” Sean asks in return, his voice dropping a little and yeah, Orlando knows when he’s being flirted with.
“How should I know?” he laughs. “I already used up all my comic book knowledge with that reference.”
“I suppose there has to be some damsel in distress,” Sean muses thoughtfully.
“Forget I said anything.”
“About me being Superman? I don’t think so.”
Before Orlando can respond, someone else says, “Now, there’s a surprise.”
Orlando turns around and finds Eric standing half behind them, a fresh beer in his hand and looking down at Sean.
“He fights for the helpless and restores justice,” Eric announces, momentarily dropping his slight Australian accent in favour of a clichéd American one. “And all the while he struts around in spandex and serves as a warning for all fashion victims.”
“Who included you into this conversation?” Sean enquires mildly.
“You can’t compare yourselves to Superman and Lois Lane and expect me to walk past without comment,” Eric answers reasonably.
“Hah, I knew there was a damsel in distress,” Sean says, satisfaction in his voice and his eyes and he points at Orlando with his free hand.
Orlando looks back and forth between Sean and Eric, grinning at one another, and can see why they are best mates – despite the age difference and the different background there is clearly this liking for idiotic humour that ties them together.
“I am the only one in this round,” Orlando says, “who owns a gun and is allowed to shoot people with it. And I am the damsel?”
“Your friend has a point,” nods Eric thoughtfully and one of his big hands lands on Sean’s shoulder in a consoling pat. “I guess you’re the one having to wear the tutu after all, mate.”
Eric’s voice is carrying as it is, booming laughter adding to the effect, and a few people around them momentarily glance over. Eric doesn’t even notice (which probably says a lot about him) and Sean doesn’t seem perturbed by any of it either but just drinks more of his beer.
“You’re a real friend,” he says dryly. “Wouldn’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Glad to be of help,” Eric answers promptly. “Anything else I can do?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Sean replies sarcastically, his eyes already back on the match.
Eric furrows his brows but stays silent long enough for Orlando to concentrate on the telly again. It’s a fairly entertaining match, neither of the teams really goes for it as of yet but there’s some good football being played there.
“So, Orlando,” Eric says and now his hand lands on Orlando’s shoulder instead. “Sean says you’re a cop?”
“Yeah,” Orlando nods, turning back to the other man. “CID, homicide.”
“Ah,” makes Eric and there is something slightly off in his voice, Orlando just can’t place it yet. A moment later he adds, “And you support ManU?”
“United it is,” Orlando agrees once again even though slightly confused by the randomness of the questions.
Eric rubs his chin and regards Orlando with a critical eye. “And I gather you can’t cook either?”
The frown on Orlando’s forehead deepens. Automatically he looks over to Sean who clearly has his mind in South Africa however, eyes glued to the telly.
“I can’t cook?” Orlando repeats the question.
Eric takes it as an affirmation and nods slowly.
“I see. – And say, you aren’t by any chance married?” At Orlando’s disbelieving silence he clarifies, “Or currently in another relationship? One you forgot to tell Sean about maybe?”
Before Orlando can reply Sean cuts in, not even taking his eyes off the screen, “Eric, shut it. You’re not even a little funny.”
Eric seems to take a moment to mull that over, then a grin spreads over his face.
“I’m absolutely hilarious,” he replies and pats Orlando’s shoulder again, his laughing eyes meeting Orlando’s. “And Orlando agrees with me, don’t you?”
“Sure...” Orlando says slowly, a bit confused to when exactly this entire conversation turned completely weird.
“If you hurt him, I will break every bone in your body,” Eric says very seriously in what Orlando thinks is supposed to be an Italian mafia accent.
“De Niro? Now you’re just embarrassing yourself,” Sean says and shakes his head before he looks at Orlando.
For the fraction of a second Orlando wonders whether something specific has happened to warrant Eric’s mafia act – and if so, whether Sean will tell him about it. But right now there is merely amusement evident in Sean’s features before he rolls his eyes, the exasperation obviously neither unusual nor particularly serious.
Orlando smirks in response. So, he’s just getting the comedy version of the best-mate-talk now? In the middle of the semi-finals. Right.
“I’m being a good and caring mate, that’s what I am,” Eric says, affirming Orlando’s silent assessment while trying to keep a straight face (unsuccessfully), and to Orlando he says, “You better watch your step, mate.”
As much as Orlando understands what this kind of conversation means – and he himself gave variations of the same speech to various girl-friends of Cols’ after all – it’s rather ridiculous. As if he’d ever intentionally do something to hurt Sean. Please.
So he just replies dryly, “Yeah, I don’t think it works that way, mate,”
Sean laughs at that and is about to add something but then swirls around, pointing at the TV screen frantically, following Spain’s attack.
“Oooh, look at that pass! Bloody fantastic!” he comments enthusiastically, the previous topic instantly forgotten.
Orlando watches Eric shake his head in mild bemusement now, but isn’t all that surprised over this abrupt end of the conversation himself. Sean’s idea of having a serious talk doesn’t start with ‘so, what is this thing between us then?’ but with ‘come off it, clearly the Greenpoint Stadium has a better pitch than Durban!’. Orlando knows that.
“Hey,” Sean says, turning back to Orlando a moment later, “Are you doing anything on Friday night?”
“You?” he offers.
Both Sean and Eric laugh at that and while Eric just raises his glass, toasting him, before he turns back to the telly, Sean keeps looking at Orlando.
“I’d have been a bit subtler than that,” he says.
“And by that you mean that you are gonna force me to watch one of your communistic propaganda movies again?”
“Do I need to explain to you again how ‘This Sporting Life’ is not bloody propaganda?”
“Please don’t,” Orlando laughs and raises his hands in the age-old gesture of capitulation. “I surrender.”
Satisfied, Sean chuckles and turns his attention back to the match.
On Friday evening Sean calls him on his mobile when Orlando has just left for work to ask him what to order in. Orlando is hungry enough that he leaves the choice up to Sean and when he turns up at Sean’s doorstep, in a t-shirt and tracky bottoms (because he is not leaving the house again) the smell of Chinese food already awaits him.
It turns out however, that their biggest obstacle isn’t their differing taste in movies but Sean’s equipment. Orlando inhales the first spring roll while Sean fiddles with his DVD player unsuccessfully and Orlando nearly snorts soy sauce through his nose when Sean blows a fuse and picks up his DVD player and shakes it violently, shouting at the “fucking cunt of a fucking machine” to work already.
Unsurprisingly enough this doesn’t make the DVD player work any better and Orlando lets Sean rant for as long as it takes him to eat the rest of his second spring roll. Then he suggests that they could just go upstairs and watch the film in Orlando’s flat.
“Your flat is a breeding ground for diseases,” Sean grumbles, mostly because he is still pissed at his DVD player.
“My cleaning lady was there today,” Orlando says. “It’s quite alright actually.”
“I still don’t see how letting some stranger into your home is supposed to be a good thing.”
“I let you in,” Orlando counters smiling.
“I meant,” Sean exemplifies but he can’t help but smile back, “someone who snoops through your mail and steals your change. Oh, and makes up for your stinking laziness and does the dishes and takes out the trash.”
“Yeah, now that you mention it,” Orlando says thoughtfully and packs up the rest of the food. “You never do that, it’s kind of disappointing.”
“What am I supposed to answer to that?” Sean asks already at the door, amusement lingering on his lips. “’Can I do you now, sir?’”
“And house cleaning has reached a whole new level of sexy,” Orlando responds, laughing.
When they step out of the elevator on Orlando’s floor Sean says,
“I’d just like to remember you that I paid for the food which means that you’re not allowed to bitch at my movie.”
“Fine, I promise,” Orlando replies, aiming for slight exasperation that somehow won’t come, and opens the door to his flat. “Come on in, sit down and put on your stupid flick. Whatever.”
Sean pats Orlando’s arm as he walks past him into the living room. “Help me out here: Are you just a terrible host or have you really not grasped the whole concept of wooing someone?”
Orlando toes off his trainers (and his socks, it’s bloody warm) and looks up to see Sean helping himself to a beer from the fridge.
“I need to woo you?”
Sean turns around again, fresh bottle in his hand. He opens it and looks Orlando up and down contemplatively. Orlando lets him, well aware of his slightly too casual almost-pyjamas outfit.
“Nah,” Sean decides after a moment. “You’re doing fine as it is.”
Orlando grins and plops down on the couch, putting the food down on the coffee table and leaving enough room next to him for Sean.
“Would it help my case,” he asks around a huge mouthful of crispy duck, “if I got you flowers after all? I would, you know.”
Sean fiddles with the remote control for the DVD player, lifting it up to inspect the small buttons from up close.
“Only if they come with some heartfelt poetry,” he says distractedly.
“I’m not gonna write you poems, mate,” Orlando laughs, slurping in noodles. “I mean, I really fancy you, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not gonna start and try to find rhyme words for it.”
“Thank Christ for small blessings,” Sean replies, finally finding the right buttons and starting the DVD. Satisfied he sits down next to Orlando, pulls one of the boxes with the food towards him and starts eating.
“What are we watching anyway?” Orlando asks, eyeing Sean sceptically when the DVD starts and the menu looks as if it’s from 1900 or something.
“The perfect Friday night flick,” Sean answers cryptically. “Christ, your telly is tiny.”
“You brought a black and white silent movie to torture me?” Orlando guesses. “A romcom silent movie?”
“Yes, exactly” Sean says with complete seriousness in his voice. “Because that’s my definition of a perfect Friday night. I also plan to take advantage of you once you are sobbing over the tragic love story. Idiot.” He scoffs, then answers for real, “It’s Peter O’Toole shooting Nazis.”
“I would kiss you but I got my mouth full of delicious duck,” Orlando mumbles equally seriously around his dinner.
“That’s alright,” Sean says, all mockery gone, and smiles before he casts his eyes down, staring into his box. “I can wait.”
‘Yeah but I can’t’ flashes through Orlando’s mind as he is looking at Sean now. As much as he fancies Sean’s opinionated, slightly rough-around-the-edges ruffian persona, it’s this quietness, always lingering somewhere between calm confidence and shy reticence, that is impossible to resist.
And he could just draw him in for a kiss now – after he’d swallowed, alright - could just reach out and touch him now.
His hand brings the fork up to his mouth again on auto-pilot and he continues to eat, still staring at Sean. He could. For all the time they spend together and for all the times he has touched Sean now, the knowledge of this liberty still makes him feel somewhat overwhelmed.
He doesn’t need to hold back.
But the film starts and he is sort of curious because despite his teasing, Sean actually has quite good taste. So, rather unsurprisingly he spends a good ten minutes with his fortune cookie raised and almost touching his mouth, too enthralled to actually eat it. And Sean who obviously has watched the film several times already still grips Orlando’s knee reflexively when the suspense is almost killing them.
Only when the credits roll, Sean finally lets go again. Frowning slightly at the abandonment of his knee, Orlando turns to look at him and finds Sean looking back expectantly.
“So?” Sean asks.
“That,” Orlando says with utter seriousness, hands gesturing to underline what he is saying, “was absolutely brilliant!”
A smile takes over Sean’s face and he nods his agreement.
“O’Toole was so fantastic,” Orlando says, shifting slightly on the sofa so that he is properly facing Sean now, “that I almost forgive you all the other shitty flicks you made me watch up to now.”
Sean just laughs and shakes his head.
“Whatever. I’m just pleased you like this one,” he says, so earnestly that Orlando can’t help but smile at him.
“Enjoyed the movie, enjoyed the food, enjoy the company,” he replies sincerely. “I’d have a hard time coming up with a better way to spend my Friday night.”
He reaches out, lets his fingers play with the soft cotton of Sean’s simple longsleeve. Sean looks down at his hand and up again.
“Me neither,” he agrees, but after a moment he tilts his head slightly contemplatively, “Well, there is one thing –“
With that he leans over and kisses Orlando. His lips are still slightly greasy from the food and it’s just a light kiss, an invitation more than a conquering.
But without really giving it a thought, Orlando has been waiting for this all evening, maybe all day, and he is done waiting. His hand fists in the fabric of Sean’s shirt and he pulls him close, kissing him properly. Sean responds in kind instantly and Orlando exhales – so pleased about this – when Sean’s hand cups the back of his head to keep him close as they shift on the couch to get closer to one another.
It’s sort of really imperfect though, their moving together. Orlando hisses in pain when their elbows knock together and Sean grunts in mild annoyance as Orlando’s knee pushes against the inside of his thigh rather abruptly. Orlando snickers and in response Sean ‘accidentally’ bites his tongue.
“I wonder,” Orlando says, “whether this is approximately how bumblebees mate.”
Sean laughs out loud and tightens his grip on Orlando’s neck and his arm at the same time.
“Must be you. I’m usually graceful as fuck.”
“Oh, piss off,” Orlando replies in mock exasperation. But contrary to his words he pushes Sean back against the backrest of the couch, moving to straddle his lap. “Just let me steer.”
Sean hums noncommittally, mind obviously stranded somewhere between automatic objection and appreciating Orlando’s weight on his thighs. Orlando leans in, their lips touching again, and responds with the same kind of low hum, hands on Sean’s shoulders. Their grip tightens when Sean kisses him again, lips and tongue and teeth and definitely no instant surrender in that kiss.
Orlando groans into his mouth as Sean’s hands stroke up his thighs, slide around and cup his bum, reeling him in. He breaks the kiss again, breathing heavy and already hard, when he feels Sean’s responding hardness pressing against his own. His hand fists in Sean’s hair and he pulls his head back, exposing Sean’s throat.
“Fuck, what am I gonna do with you?” he says, breathless laughter just a thin veil over the want he feels surging through him.
Sean looks at him from under lowered eyelids. He doesn’t fight Orlando’s grip on him but still responds with the same amount of playful challenge, “You? With me? Is this the moment we have to flip for it then?”
Orlando wants to answer straight away but gets distracted by Sean’s throat for a moment, starts nuzzling his neck, licking his jaw before he replies.
“Any other time I’d so be looking forward to having a pissing contest about this with you, trust me.” He laughs against Sean’s jaw when Sean automatically pulls him down and pushes up against him. “But as it happens right now –“
“Oh shut up already,” Sean interrupts him and jerks his head free. “You’re fine either way, I get it. Me too. Now get to it.”
In response, Orlando licks Sean’s mouth open again and only when Sean lets him in, slips his hands under Orlando’s tee he murmurs, “C’mon, let’s move this to the bedroom. I’m too old for a teenage romp on the couch.”
“Thank heavens,” Sean laughs and attempts to sit up, Orlando still in his lap. “My back would’ve killed me tomorrow.”
“Can’t have that,” Orlando gets to his feet and pulls Sean up before he leads the way, “I still have use for you tomorrow and all that.”
Sean chuckles in response and Orlando has already pulled his t-shirt over his head when they reach the bedroom.
When he turns around to face Sean again, Sean’s eyes are on him, slowly making their way down his naked chest, lingering at the tattoo over the rim of his tracky bottoms. Orlando’s heart is beating faster in response to the intensity of that gaze, only increasing with the time that Sean takes to look his fill.
“Christ, you’re gorgeous,” Sean says quietly, almost more to himself than to Orlando.
Orlando’s smile comes easily when Sean’s eyes finally meet his own again, and he unties the drawstring of his tracky bottoms, drops them, steps out of them. Sean doesn’t say anything but takes off his own shirt, and he unbuckles his belt when Orlando pulls down his boxer briefs, naked now and waiting for Sean to catch up.
There really isn’t anything sexy about someone undressing, really there isn’t, it’s such a mundane task – especially getting out of your socks. But Orlando still can’t help but stare at Sean the entire time it takes, his mouth dry and his cock bloody achingly hard without even the littlest touch when Sean is done.
He places his hand on Sean’s chest, says, “I’ve been wanting to do this.”
Sean’s reaction is as predictable as it reinforces Orlando’s statement. He casts his eyes down automatically, a smile playing around his lips when he looks up again and his fingers lightly stroke down Orlando’s naked arm.
Orlando hums against Sean’s lips when their lips meet again, when their skin touches. Just like their kiss, Sean’s touches are exploring, learning, conquering and Orlando runs his hands down his naked back, rests them right over the curve of his bum so he can pull him closer.
They lie down on the bed, side by side at first and always kissing as they just revel in the decadence of having all the time in the world. Orlando pushes the urgent need down, knows it’ll be all that much better later, and he takes Sean’s pleased quiet moans as agreement. Even when Sean pulls him half on top of him – so much more of their skin touching now, Orlando’s leg pushing Sean’s thighs apart – and his hand only covers Orlando’s erection long after Orlando’s has found Sean’s, even then there is nothing hasty about any of this. It’s savouring.
“Don’t stop,” Sean whispers against Orlando’s earlobe and Orlando digs his teeth a little deeper into his shoulder, feels a shudder running through Sean like electric current when he grips his cock a little harder.
Sean drops small kisses just below Orlando’s ear, his fingernails digging into the sensitive flesh of Orlando’s side when Orlando murmurs against his lips, “This is so great.”
Sean lets go of his cock and Orlando smiles into their kiss when he automatically wipes his hand on the sheets before bringing it up to touch Orlando’s cheek. And Orlando breaks the kiss, turns his head towards the caress, watches Sean watching him.
And it’s funny, how this is exactly like Orlando thinks it should be and how at the same time he never imagined it like this. He knows Sean, his moods and his faults, his patience and his humour, and yet right now it feels like he is a complete stranger. Someone Orlando has just met and can learn about, fall for all over again.
Sean’s fingers that have been idly caressing over the curve of Orlando’s butt, slide a little lower, right to where his butt meets his thigh and goddamn, it’s the most ticklish spot on his entire –
“Jesus, fuck!” he hisses, laughing, and twists away from Sean.
Sean laughs out loud, a little too gleeful, and follows Orlando, reversing their position and looking down at him.
“I take it that spot is a bit sensitive?” he asks completely unnecessarily.
“Oh, what gave it away?” Orlando replies sarcastically. He wraps his fingers around Sean’s cock again, smirking when Sean hisses in response to the sharpness of fingernails while pushing against him at the same time.
“’s that mean we can stop tarting about now?” Sean asks slightly breathlessly.
“And get to the good part?” Orlando finishes, arching both eyebrows. “Hopefully. I’m disgustingly bored right now.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Sean laughs as his fingers trace Orlando’s collarbone as he holds him down.
“You offering?” Orlando asks, voice rough and teasing both.
“Yeah, okay,” Sean murmurs against his lips, quiet and serious. “I’d like that.”
He kisses Orlando lightly, and Orlando’s eyes flutter shut on their own accord. When Orlando says he doesn’t need to bother with too much prepping however, he just tells him to shut his gob. Orlando laughs at that, but relaxes again, lets him for a while.
Sean growls automatically when eventually Orlando decides someone needs to pick up the pace and pushes him off. But he relents, rests on his side next to Orlando and rolls a condom on while Orlando turns his hips enough to make this work.
“About bloody time,” Orlando murmurs, twisting his upper body back so he can put his arm around Sean’s shoulder and draw him in.
Finally finally Sean settles behind him, pushes into him, shushes him with another kiss, his hand on Orlando’s belly. Slow, so slow – he lets him adjust, his slightly hitched breath the only indicator of his impatience.
“How is this?” he asks, rocking into Orlando, his palm now pressing against the inside of Orlando’s thigh.
“God, fuck,” Orlando answers, meaning ‘quite alright, thanks’.
“Good?” Sean asks again, and it’s not just smugness in his voice, there is also real caring, some tentativeness. And fuck, if that doesn’t counterbalance the burn of being breeched, if that doesn’t make Orlando want to kiss him hard and deep and never stop.
“You tell me,” he replies quietly, pushing back against him and relaxing his muscles. “Good?”
“Christ, I love sex,” Sean exhales in response and smirks when Orlando just chuckles at that heartfelt confession.
“Yeah, I can tell,” Orlando says, moans in affirmation because he can’t help himself and Sean has finally stopped holding back, moves properly. “You’re quite good at it, too.”
“Why, thank you,” Sean is still smiling as he kisses him again. “Likewise.”
But the light teasing soon makes way for solid, heavy hunger.
There is nothing quite like having sex with someone for the first time and every one of Sean’s touches reminds Orlando of that. One of the most beautiful things about it is how he really, really notices everything about his partner, all the little details, sometimes unexpected and maybe even weird and so often so gorgeous.
Now, it is intense pleasure running through Orlando’s body like red hot lava, thick and slow and so, so damn good. Sean’s thrusts are precise and just this side of perfect and unfamiliar that there’s always an edge to it, something that makes Orlando push back for more, twist under him to get more, kiss him to demand more. The way Sean moves inside him, touches him, the way he tastes and sounds.
But what increases his own pleasure tenfold is when he sees it mirrored in Sean’s reactions – that responding mixture of surprise and pride over making him feel this way.
He wraps his hand around his own cock, Sean’s fingers grace over the back of his hand but not objecting. Orlando groans, burying his face in the crook of Sean’s neck, when his own touch – steadily familiar and efficient – adds to the pleasure. Sean kisses him harder now, again reacting to Orlando picking up the pace once more, both of them so very close now.
Orlando comes first, thinks ‘don’t stop, don’t ever bloody stop, God just like that’ or says it, he isn’t sure. His breathing stops when he coats his fist with his come, returns in fluttering hiccups when Sean fucks him through it, keeps him high as a kite for so much longer.
Sean’s grip on Orlando’s hipbone hardens when his rhythm falters and even if he hears it for the first time, Orlando can tell from Sean’s quiet moan against his mouth exactly when he comes. And in turn he kisses Sean through it, catches whispered words spilling from his mouth and returns them.
The kiss changes slowly, effortlessly from needy and sloppy back to lighter, is barely a kiss at all when they both chuckle and try to catch their breaths.
“That was quite decent,” Sean remarks, stroking up Orlando’s chest.
“Wasn’t it just?” Orlando replies with the same kind of understatement, pulling back a little so he can look at Sean. He wants to reach up to touch his face, the dimples on his cheeks and only almost too late remembers that his hand is covered in spunk. He pulls a face and wipes it on the sheet.
“How considerate of you,” Sean comments dryly, laugh lines deepening around his eyes.
“Sod off,” Orlando replies before stroking Sean’s upper arm. He still feels Sean inside of him with every little movement, shifts back a bit, so he can feel even more of Sean’s warm body.
“It’s still rather nice,” Sean says, pulling him closer yet.
Orlando turns his head to face him.
“I really fancy you, you know,” he says.
“So I guessed,” Sean replies.
He doesn’t say anything more, but then Orlando hasn’t expected him to either. He knows Sean’s sceptical nature, his reticent realism well enough and respects it, if not more than that. Besides, it’s not the purpose of words of affection to demand a ‘me too’, a confirmation. Orlando is content enough with them just letting Sean know how he feels about this, right now.
It’s only a few lazy kisses later that they manage to separate and Sean finally withdraws. He pulls off the condom and knots it, eyes looking around for the bin and finding it close to the bed. Orlando lets his eyes roam over Sean’s back and his bum as he turns around to toss it, but then he sits up.
“You want something to drink?” he asks, running his left hand through his short cropped hair, damp with sweat, while his other rests lightly on Sean’s thigh.
“Christ, please,” Sean says with enough intensity to make himself chuckle. “And food!”
“What makes you think I allow eating in my bed?” Orlando asks with amusement, getting up.
“I don’t know,” Sean replies, “the biscuit crumbles and the jam stains on the sheets?”
Orlando laughs and flips him off.
“Those were crispy clean sheets, I have you to know.” He raises his voice so Sean can still hear him as he leaves the room, “Before you came and sullied them!”
“Yeah, terribly sorry about that,” Sean calls back, laughing.
Orlando quickly rinses his hands over the kitchen sink and then picks up a water bottle and what he can carry from the leftover Chinese on his coffee table before he returns to the bedroom.
Sean is sitting up, back against the headboard and looks half envious, half appreciative when Orlando drops the assorted food on the bed and drinks half the bottle in one go.
Orlando hands the water to Sean afterwards, settles next to him on the bed again as Sean finishes it. Around a mouthful of still half way tasty noodles he asks,
He meant the food and the drink, and maybe the endorphins still floating through their systems. But Sean lowers the water bottle and looks at him silently. Even when he has swallowed he doesn’t reply right away. Orlando watches him, chewing his food.
“Yeah,” Sean says eventually, placing his hand over Orlando’s nearest body part, which happens to be his foot.
Orlando leans back against the headboard, their shoulders touching, and passes him the box with the Chow Mein.
Happiness? It’s that feeling when you don’t need to analyse something to agree with it, when you’re content with how it is even if you don’t have any labels for it. When he glances at Sean and doesn’t even need any words to describe it, knows that the feeling is mutual.
Bradley plans on doing some serious work on his current project today. However, somehow he gets a bit sidetracked.
First he meets a couple of mates in the library and they discuss the World Cup which nearly leads to them being thrown out. Then he checks his email and receives one of Katie’s rants to which naturally he has to answer with lots of mockery and a bit of compassion. Then he wants to pay Colin a visit at work and when he doesn’t find him in his professor’s rooms he has to leave a message. And then – when he is really on his way to his building there is a group of blokes playing football and they are one man short.
An hour later, Bradley is soaked in sweat and when the other guys leave because they have lectures Bradley lies down on the lawn in front of his university building.
He puts his ear buds in and his sunglasses on and looks up into the blue sky, thinking, ‘This is all really terrific.’
Bradley is a man of simple pleasures. This is not to be confused with ‘Bradley is a simpleton’, as Katie liked to put it. Honestly, he isn’t even sure why he is missing that wretched woman in the first place, she is completely horrible to him.
Anyway. He plays football twice a week and loves it, winning at ‘Mario Kart’ on the Rainbow track makes him grin for hours, and he thinks that mechanical engineering is about the best thing ever. And when he has a bit of a crap day, Bradley just needs to remind himself that he has Colin.
His life clearly is terrific. He should maybe start his own religion, sort of like these Hare Krishna people only with more sex and Wii. He would make a splendid religious leader. The first person he’d recruit for his Church of Bradley would obviously be Colin.
When he first started going out with him – although it’s a bit hard to say when that really started, up to today Bradley isn’t really sure if what Katie called his ‘excessive stalking phase’ can be considered part of the dating already – so when he first started going out with Colin, he couldn’t get enough of him and hence dragged him everywhere with him. Including footie practice which in hindsight was as questionable a move as taking Colin to dinner to ‘Angus Steak House’.
So anyway, Bradley’s mates had all met Colin and they all liked him, mostly because Colin is clearly brilliant but one or two may have been just infected by Bradley’s own enthusiasm (as it happens all the time).
The only exception back then was Santiago (who is sort of Bradley’s best mate, if you don’t count Colin and Katie and probably Angel and Matt. Well, Santiago maybe categorises as Bradley’s best football related mate).
After meeting Colin, Santiago said to Bradley, “Mate, who was that?”
“That,” Bradley answered, “was Colin.” (Stupid question, of course Bradley had introduced him)
Santiago rolled his eyes dramatically (everything he does he does dramatically. He is a drama student after all) and replied, “Yeah, I know. But what do you want with him? Clearly, he is some goth fanatic.”
“Mate, not everyone can be as fond of pink polos as you are,” Bradley argued reasonably.
“Bradley,” Santiago said gravely, “don’t let the emo man ruin your groove.”
First Bradley thought it a bit uncool of his mate that he was clearly ignoring not only Colin’s obvious perfection but also Bradley’s evident infatuation with him. But well, it was the same week that Angel had broken up with Santiago and he had announced that never in his life would he love again and that fate was a cruel monster that ate babies. Santiago operated under the assumption that people who claim to be in love in reality just want to suck the life force out of other people.
Bradley knew better then and knows better now though.
His mobile chirps in his shorts-pocket, announcing that he got a text. He wriggles around on the lawn to reach his phone and receives a few odd glances from students walking by when he curses out loud because he lands on his keys. Mobile finally found, he is not all that surprised to find the new text to be from Colin.
‘Did YOU leave porn post-its all over my desk?’ it says.
Bradley grins when he imagines Colin’s extraordinarily serious face as he wrote this.
‘Who else would?’ he texts back.
Colin replies instantly.
‘Joe. He’s infatuated with me.’
Bradley laughs out loud because there is possibly no one straighter in the entire country than Colin’s work-mate. Before he can reply, there is another text.
‘Don’t be jealous.’
And moments later a third one.
‘Where are you?’
‘The lawn in front of my building,’ Bradley texts back, ‘Come over! Buy me a muffin on the way!’
His phone stays silent and Bradley settles back on the lawn, stretches his legs out and contemplates whether to take his sneakers of or not. He is just about to put his phone back into his pocket when it chirps again.
‘OMG, I’m married to the muffin man!!1!’
“God, you’re an idiot,” Bradley says out loud even there is no one around to hear him or see his broad grin.
Colin’s humour does that with him. Laugh like an insane person and only later ask, “Oi, were you being serious?” – Most of the times Colin isn’t, Bradley has learned that over the years.
Colin without a doubt would make the perfect high priest in the Church of Bradley. During the religious ceremonies he could raise his arms and shout some Latin at the adoring masses. He’d make it sound all holy and ceremonial even though his Latin is probably as bad as his French and translate to something like ‘I wants to whore on Bradley’s cock’. And Bradley would laugh and not be sure whether that was intentional or not.
Bradley closes his eyes, hums along to the music coming from his ipod and tries to think of ways to include robots into the Church of Bradley. They could assist Colin, which he supposes Colin would appreciate immensely.
Something is unceremoniously dropped right onto Bradley’s face.
He makes a bit of an embarrassing noise in response and jerks, then he realises that it’s a paper bag and tells himself that these are rarely lethal.
“You look liked a stranded whale,” Colin says and when Bradley picks the paper bag off his face, he sees Colin make flailing motions above him.
“Well, you try to remain manly and composed when you get attacked by –“ he pulls out his buds, pushes his sunglasses up into his hair and peers into the paper bag, “ooh, a raspberry muffin!”
“A giant one, too,” Colin says, “about as big as your head. And you’re welcome.”
Bradley instantly breaks off a chunk of muffin and stuffs it into his mouth, placing the bag on his chest. Then he looks back up at Colin, who is still regarding him with something like amusement, his hands buried in the pockets of his black cargos.
He nudges Bradley’s shoulder gently with his foot – very gently considering the steel capped combat boot – and asks, “So, do you want to go for lunch?”
“Nah,” Bradley says, stuffing more of the muffin into his mouth. “I’m good. I’d rather you sit with me and tell me fascinating stories.”
“If you urinate on a third rail,” Colin says slowly after sitting down on the lawn facing Bradley, and his voice bears all the seriousness of a lecturing uni prof, “you’re in no danger unless you are kneeling and have the penis of a horse.”
“I know that. I was there when you watched that episode of ‘MythBusters’. It was only yesterday!”
Colin shrugs, wrapping his arms around his bent knees.
“I know. Still, it’s good to know.”
“That it is,” Bradley concedes. “Though I don’t think any horse pees while kneeling. Can horses even kneel?”
Colin gazes down at Bradley with that look in his eyes. That look that many people might mistake for ‘Bradley, you’re daft’ but that really means ‘Bradley, your outside-the-box-thinking is brilliant and turns me on’. Bradley knows about these things.
Bradley shifts a little, rests his left elbow on Colin’s left boot, feels Colin’s thigh against his hip and stares into the sky. His eyes feel all squinty because he isn’t wearing his shades.
The walk ways between the buildings fill with students, most rushing past Bradley’s and Colin’s spot on their way to the next lecture. A few sit down on the lawn as well, chatting and eating and enjoying the sun.
“Wouldn’t it be terrific if we had a show like ‘MythBusters’?” Bradley asks after a while.
“A show about robots and string theory?” Colin asks in response, knitting his brows together. “Who would watch that?”
“I would,” Bradley says instantly and pushes himself up to his elbows. “And it wouldn’t be just about that, it’d be about us, too. Like with Jamie and Adam.”
“And let me guess,” Colin says dryly, “you’d want me to grow a giant moustache.”
“Definitely,” Bradley answers reasonably, smirking as he imagines Colin with a walrus moustache and a beret instead of his constant stubble and the fringe. “After all, you’d need something to make your part of the show interesting. Everyone digs robots but string theory? You have to agree that that’s a bit harder to sell to our viewers.”
“I see. So this is why after the first successful season you cut me loose and continue the show on your own. ‘Sorry Colin, you’re only holding me back, now sod off’.”
Sometimes it’s a bit scary how convincing an actor Colin is, saying bullshit completely straight faced. Even though Bradley knows that he is kidding right now he still looks at him wide eyed and is a little shocked that Colin would even suggest something like that.
“Or,” Colin says after a moment of watching him intently, his tone of voice light, “with all your money you’d support me through my PhD and we’d have a giant gay wedding, so you could call yourself Mrs. Dr. Bradley Morgan.”
Bradley laughs. “Mrs. Dr. Bradley Morgan? Really? There is something seriously wrong with you, Colin.”
“Yeah, I know,” Colin only says but he smiles behind his drawn up knees, so Bradley figures that is okay.
After a moment Bradley asks, “So, PhD?”
He’s not really sure why he picked that particular bit out of Colin’s response. Especially since in Bradley’s mind there’s never been any doubt that Colin is nothing short of brilliant and of course is going to write the most ground-breaking thesis. For some reason though and despite his physics-related brilliance, Colin is sometimes a bit dense and doesn’t see the world as it is, and hence broods and worries. He should just ask Bradley, really.
Colin shifts around and lies down next to Bradley, his head propped onto his messenger bag.
“I’ve been giving it some thought,” he says carefully.
“You don’t say,” Bradley scoffs before he can clap a hand over his mouth.
Colin turns his head and regards him with an arched eyebrow.
“Is this you being supportive?”
“Yes!” Bradley says, then thinks better of it (because that remark kind of sucked, okay), “No! – I mean yes.”
“Shall I just finish my sentence and ignore you?” Colin asks.
“Please,” Bradley agrees gratefully and lies back down.
Colin turns his head back so he can stare up into the sky and Bradley watches his Adam’s apple move as he speaks.
“Professor Wilson has been seriously bugging me about writing a thesis with him for a while but –“
“I didn’t know that,” Bradley says, kind of confused, mostly because he fears that he just forgot about it.
“Yeah, I know,” Colin says and doesn’t look at him. “I haven’t told you, I mean, not really.”
He is still not looking at him and Bradley doesn’t really get it for a moment. He’s not sure why that is though.
“Okay,” he decides eventually and glances over to Colin. “I have an ingrown toenail on my right foot. It doesn’t hurt but it looks a bit disgusting.”
Now Colin turns to look at him. Well, frown at him.
“What has that got to do with anything?”
Bradley shrugs and it takes him a moment to explain.
“I just wanted to prove to you that I don’t tell you everything either,” he says. “So it’s okay if you don’t. You can of course and I’d be – but you don’t have to.”
“I’ve been stalling,” Colin interrupts his babble. With his voice a bit quiet but steady he goes on, “This whole last year, with the post grad course I took. It’s kind of stupid. I love physics and why shouldn’t I write my thesis and maybe stay at university, right?”
He turns to his side and props his head against his hand so he can look at Bradley properly. His face is all serious, like it gets sometimes and his eyes shine in a sort of strange expectation, as if he doesn’t know what exactly the question is but trusts Bradley to have the answer anyway.
So what if Colin isn’t all rainbows all the time? Bradley knows perfectly well that his own amount of cheerfulness would be considered uberhuman by the majority of people. So, Colin brooding sometimes, being all closed off and contemplative, is just normal really.
The only flaw in that reasoning is that calling Colin ‘normal’ – or ‘ordinary’ even – sounds like the wrongest thing ever in Bradley’s ears. Maybe it’s because Bradley is just a big self-involved prat whose happiness depends on Colin’s own and so he wants him cheerful for purely selfish reasons.
Bradley however prefers the explanation that the world is just a better place all around when Colin smiles and makes stupid jokes that Bradley doesn’t get right away.
“It’s just,” Colin tries to explain when Bradley stays silent. “It’s four more years and suddenly there’s a future all planned out and everything.” He reaches out and brushes muffin crumbs from Bradley’s sweaty t-shirt. “When did that happen?”
‘The moment I met you’ Bradley thinks. It’s cheesy but hey, cheese is delicious and besides, it’s just simply true, so there.
“Somewhere between the hall and this morning’s breakfast?” he jokes.
“Can you be a bit more specific?” Colin asks, chuckling.
“Probably not during the time in the hall,” Bradley says promptly. “You were too busy being drunk back then.”
“And being shocked by your random nakedness,” Colin agrees, smoothing the fabric of Bradley’s tee.
“That wasn’t random. That was part of my wooing strategy.”
Bradley stretches a little on the lawn, aiming for lascivious, but all the reaction he gets from Colin is a handful of grass, thrown in his face. He blows the most annoying grass blades out of the way.
“So, you’re not going back to Ireland,” he says.
“Why would I do that?” Colin asks, frowning at him with serious confusion as if that option has never even crossed his mind.
Bradley is sort of very much in love with him right now and that’s not just because Colin takes pity on him and brushes a few of the remaining grass blades off Bradley’s face.
“Do you want to go to Ireland?” Colin asks.
“No!” Bradley says instantly. “I vehemently vote for us staying in merry old England where there are no leprechauns to eat us in your sleep.”
“You have them confused with Gremlins again.”
“Either way,” Bradley says graciously. He closes his hand over Colin’s on the lawn and squeezes it before their fingers find their perfect places between one another.
It’s kind of fantastic and relieving in a way, he thinks, that they plan their future together just like this. That there are no Gremlins in it is the cherry on top.
But seriously now, has a part of him really feared sometimes that Colin might just abandon him here once he’s finished studying, to go back to Ireland or wherever really, without him?
He looks up at Colin, Colin with his slight frown, his stupid fringe, his sharply outlined cheekbones and his pouty mouth that make him look wickedly innocent despite the dirty stubble, his dark eyes that regard Bradley silently now.
“If we’re staying here for four more years,” Bradley announces then, “there are a few things I’d like to put on the future-planning agenda.”
“You going into rehab for your stealing problem. Just imagine how much it would suck to get passed over by the Nobel Prize committee just because you’re a clepto. Can’t have that.”
Colin protests laughingly, “I only borrow the paper. Plus, it’s not my fault that we get magazines in the mail that we didn’t order. And the thing with the ice cream was an accident! Besides, I haven’t even picked a topic for my thesis yet, Bradley.”
“I’m just planning ahead,” Bradley says calmly. “Someone has to. Might as well be me. Life consultant would have been my second favourite career choice.”
“And this is probably why you left me helpful letters in form of post-its today?”
Bradley nods, short grass blades tickling his ears as he does so.
“Did you like them? I felt incredibly poetic and romantic earlier.”
“They were delightful,” Colin says dryly, his thumb stroking over the back of Bradley’s hand. “Professor Wilson thought so, too.”
“Did he now?” Bradley asks, grinning and sort of delighted. “Did he like the limerick about your mouth?”
“Yes, it was his favourite.”
Bradley peers over to Colin. Colin looks at him from under his fringe.
“You didn’t show them to him, did you?” Bradley asks then, just to be on the safe side.
Colin shakes his head and smiles slightly lopsidedly. He lets go of Bradley’s hand in order to pull out a pad of square post-its of one of his cargos’ pockets as well as a biro, scribbles something on it. Then he leans over and sticks the small paper to Bradley’s forehead.
Bradley pricks it off, its yellow colour bright against the blue sky.
‘Prat’ it reads.
Bradley grins, then sticks it back onto his forehead. Colin rolls his eyes, then he scribbles on his post-it pad again. He sticks one note onto Bradley’s chest, right to where under his t-shirt his right nipple is located. Then he writes a second one, placing it next to the first just above Bradley’s heart, and a third one next to it.
Bradley removes the post-it that is still sticking to his forehead and half raises his head from the lawn to be able to peer down at his chest.
‘I’ reads the first post-it. There is a crooked heart drawn onto the second, a ‘U’ on the third.
I <3 U.
Colin watches him with a small smile on his lips as Bradley looks over.
“Well, of course you do,” Bradley says, still holding the ‘prat’ post-it between thumb and index finger. He leans over and presses it against Colin’s forehead, running the back of his fingers lightly over Colin’s cheekbone. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Colin contemplates for a moment, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. The post-it moves slightly as he scrunches up his forehead.
“It’s impossible to murder someone with a bullet made out of minced meat.”
Bradley laughs out loud and before Colin can quote more ‘MythBusters’ wisdom at him he leans over and kisses him on the mouth.
He’s never been afraid of what the future will hold. Maybe that’s because he is disgustingly, uberhumanly optimistic. Maybe it’s just because he has faith in Colin, and in himself and in them.
After the end of the World Cup the scumbags of London apparently decided that it was about bloody time to go about their wicked ways once again, not having footie for daily entertainment any longer. Whatever the reason, the crime rates go up once more and Orlando finds himself buried in work once again. But if murder solving was horseracing, the hot money – the bets made by people in the know – would quite often be on him. At least that’s what Cols tells him (and Cols would know) before he makes Orlando get the next round. Orlando figures it’s not conceited to say that he excels at his job when he has solving rates as solid as his backing him up.
And July is no exception. The crime scenes – or suspected crime scenes – that Orlando is sent to provide him with surprisingly clear pictures of what has happened, even before he questions any witnesses. It comes in quite handy that he still is a bit of a workaholic. And yet, when he leaves the office nowadays he doesn’t really take his work with him anymore.
Since they have the same way home and Sean’s shop is actually almost on Orlando’s way to the tube station, he drops in after work when he’s finished early on a hot Friday.
When he walks through the door the air-conditioning instantly feels like a real blessing even though Orlando can’t see Sean anywhere. Eric however, is in plain sight and tending to a customer. Orlando pushes his hands into the pockets of his suit trousers and sets to wait but while Eric seemed to have all his attention on the slightly overweight and very sophisticated looking buyer, he still glances over.
“Good afternoon,” he says and Orlando is almost surprised by the utter professional charm the other man can convey with only two words. Eric smiles at him and adds, “If you are looking for him, he is in the back. Just go through.”
Orlando smiles back and walks to where Eric’s hand has gestured, a simple door at the far end of the shop. He knocks lightly, more out of habit than anything else because he doesn’t really expect an answer.
The adjoining room is well lit and almost as big as the show room. Racks filled with different bundles of cloth are aligned on the walls, framing tables with sewing machines and cutting patterns on them. Orlando, whose eyes automatically searched for Sean at one of the machines, is momentarily surprised to find him sitting at his desk with his back to the door, staring at his laptop.
“Say, are you bumming about on youtube there and let Eric do all the hard work on his own?”
Sean turns his head around at Orlando’s peculiar greeting but smiles when he spots him. He’s taken off his tie but still wears one of the crispy white shirts that are sinfully soft to the touch.
“Contrary to lazy bums such as yourself, I’m working,” he replies, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
“Am I disturbing you then?” Orlando asks seriously.
Sean promptly shakes his head. “No really, you’re not. Come and have a look if you like.”
Sean stays seated and when Orlando has reached him at his desk he places his hand on his shoulder and looks at the screen of the laptop. It shows something like Photoshop, the screen displaying confusing lines.
“The programme is called DressCad,” Sean explains, “it’s a virtual tailoring tool.”
“Neat,” Orlando says and pulls one of the chairs over so he can sit down next to Sean, their knees bumping together. “Although I have no idea what you’re doing there.”
“It’s quite simple really. I can use this to create new cut patterns, starting from scratch or basing them on some of my older ones. The computer creates models and I can fiddle with them until I’m satisfied with the result.” He types in a few measurements and Orlando can see the patterns change immediately. After another click of the mouse the programme switches to something resembling a paper collage and Sean explains once again, “See, it even calculates the most economic way of cutting the cloth, saves me quite a bit of bother. And money.”
“And once you finished with the –“ Orlando gestures at the laptop screen and makes a sort of swirling gesture, “Could it do the sewing for you as well?”
“Not this programme, no,” Sean shakes his head and gets up from his chair, Orlando promptly follows his example. As they walk to one of the other tables, cut patterns and fabrics covering it and a bust next to it, Sean adds, “But I wouldn’t let a computer do the cutting and sewing for me, not even if I could.”
Orlando watches him make minor adjustments to the way the cut out pieces of cloth are arranged on the bust, only vaguely resembling a suit jacket at this point. The matter-of-fact way in which he does it speaks of year long experience as well as dedication to detail.
“I didn’t know you could use computers in tailoring,” Orlando admits. “I guess I never really thought about it.”
“Well, they are a handy tool, aren’t they?” Sean shrugs, tugging at a piece of fabric on the bust’s right shoulder. “I reckon you use them all the time in the CID.”
Orlando laughs and leans back against the nearest table, careful to not mess anything up.
“If by ‘you’ you mean cops in general and not me in particular then yes.”
Amusement makes Sean’s eyes twinkle as he looks at Orlando now.
“Don’t tell me. You’re not a big fan?”
“They hate me and the feeling is mutual,” Orlando jokes but adds, “Of course they are highly valuable, don’t get me wrong. But I prefer having my Sergeant deal with them. Besides, I still believe that my gut feeling can’t be measured in 1s and 0s.”
“I didn’t know you were a copper straight from a 1970s dime novel,” Sean laughs.
Orlando promptly counters, “I didn’t know you were any good with technology introduced after the 1970s.”
Sean leaves the bust be to turn around to look at him now.
“There’s quite a few things you don’t know about me.”
“Believe me,” Orlando says in the same sort of hush-hush voice. “Same here.”
“I’m looking forward to finding out.”
“Well, you might regret saying that,” Orlando counters dryly.
He turns his gaze down at the cuts on the table, merely stating a widely known fact. It’s nothing big really, it’s just the general fucked upness of everyone that he was referring to. With him, being a copper makes him a bit too righteous sometimes and his moral code is fixed rather than discussable. And solving puzzles is such an integral part of his everyday life, it defines a good deal of who he is even outside work. He never takes anything at face value, questions everything and during arguments sometimes falls back on tactics he uses in the interrogation room.
Sean stepped next to him and his shoulder is touching Orlando’s.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” he contradicts Orlando’s ironical comment and it’s the sincerity in his voice that makes Orlando want to lean over and kiss him.
Instead he remarks jokingly, “Too bad your laptop doesn’t do the fittings as well. So you needn’t have to have other people undress for you and keep touching them while you adjust their seams.”
The smile is back on Sean’s lips when he replies, “So, one of your dark secrets is that you’re the psychotic jealous type? Interesting.”
“I don’t know really,” Orlando admits, holding Sean’s gaze. “It’s been a long while since I’ve found myself in a situation like this.”
‘A long while since I felt for anyone what I feel for you’ is what Orlando really means to say. But he supposes Sean gets the gist of it anyway because Sean closes the distance between them and his hand lightly touches Orlando’s shoulder.
And if there is one thing that Orlando already knew about him, is reminded of once again as he parts his lips and allows Sean’s tongue to curl around his own, it is that Sean is an amazing kisser, that their mouths fit just right.
They spend the evening in town, executing one of Sean’s brilliant ideas for a good night out. This time he chooses the pub exhibition in the Red Gate Gallery, a visit that is rather unsurprisingly followed by a topically related “proper piss up in a proper pub” as Sean dubs it. Only moderately drunk, Orlando suggests that they should round the night off with a “proper shag in a proper bed” and they spend half the night finding ways to put the theory of ‘fine either way’ to the test.
Still, the next morning Orlando wakes up exactly two minutes before his alarm clock would have gone off if he were in his own bed. He yawns and stretches, accidentally knocking his hands against the headboard, and sits up. Some morning sunlight shines through the drawn blinds, dimly lighting the room. Sean lies on his back, sound asleep, next to him. His bare chest is rising and falling with each steady breath.
Orlando smiles to himself and a part of him just wants to lie back down and snuggle up. But his mouth feels like something crawled into it and died there over night and he craves a cup of coffee, possibly after he scrubbed his mouth with a scouring agent. So he gets up and spends ten minutes trying to get Sean’s fancy coffee machine to work – some stupid pad system thing with lots of stupidly blinking lights and useless buttons. He curses the bloody thing and hastily pulls the plug when it starts making rather horrid noises in response.
Then he throws on his jeans and t-shirt and grabs Sean’s keys. He leaves the flat quietly, takes the elevator, makes himself a good cup of coffee in his own kitchen and inhales its strong smell on his ride down again.
He turns the key in the hole as quietly as possible and carefully pushes the door open with his free hand.
He needn’t have bothered.
Sean stands in the middle of the hallway in nothing but his boxers, as if something has driven him out of bed, and stares at him with a solid mixture of sleepiness and suspicion.
“Good morning,” Orlando says, putting the keys back onto the small table. “Didn’t figure you’d be up for another hour or two.”
Sean grunts noncommittally and crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“Where do you come from?” he wants to know.
A joke about how he needed to drop by his other lover on the sixth floor is on the tip of Orlando’s tongue but he swallows it, reacting to that hint of something in Sean’s voice. Instead, he says,
“I got myself a cuppa coffee.”
He holds up his mug and Sean looks at the steam that’s coming from it for a long moment.
“You went out for coffee?”
“Why?” Sean asks.
Orlando takes a sip from his mug and shrugs.
“Well, I wouldn’t have needed to if you didn’t own the fabulous gay coffee making version of R2D2.”
Sean doesn’t laugh but at least nods now and doesn’t ask another question.
Orlando watches him from where he is still standing, close to the door because for the first time since that moment in Regents Park the concept of personal space and how one doesn’t just invade it seems to be relevant again.
Sean looks back at him, jaw tense and his gaze somewhat defiant. But the moment the realisation of what that must mean flashes over Orlando’s face, Sean scratches the back of his neck and all of a sudden his eyes seem to find the coffee mug extremely interesting.
Hesitantly Orlando asks, “You thought I sneaked out, didn’t you?”
“Don’t be daft,” Sean replies instantly, voice slightly rough and maybe a bit annoyed but not convincing.
“It’d really be daft,” Orlando agrees, twisting it, “since you know where I live and all that.”
Again, Sean doesn’t reply and Orlando guesses it’s both because a part of him is still suspicious, and another is embarrassed because of it.
“I don’t do sneaky,” Orlando offers after a moment.
“Yeah, I know that. I wasn’t – ”
“Come on, don’t lie to me.”
When Sean looks at him again, his earlier embarrassment made way for something else entirely. Orlando’s not sure how to call it but for once Sean’s expression is not guarded or at least veiled by that careful blankness that he has down perfectly. And even if Orlando doesn’t have a name for it, he feels still something rising inside of him in response to Sean’s tentative and silent revelation, an almost terrifying urge to reach out and grab Sean and tell him ‘Sometimes you’re really daft’ and ‘I think I might be in love with you anyway’.
“I get that you don’t like being caught unaware,” he says instead, keeping his voice quiet and steady, “I quite hate surprises myself.”
Sean huffs in response, more a self-deprecating admission to himself than anything else, but he doesn’t pull back when Orlando reaches out to touch his arm.
“Just don’t tell me some bullshit lie.”
Sean makes an effort to look at Orlando, really look him in the eyes. And Orlando would have been happy with that, it’s enough agreement, even apology as far as Orlando sees it.
But Sean still says eventually, “I get a bit paranoid sometimes. Especially when I’ve just woken up.”
“Okay,” Orlando answers carefully.
“I like you, I do,” Sean says and reaches out to touch Orlando’s shoulder as if he doesn’t trust his words alone to convey the message. “But I’m not good with trust.”
“I don’t want you to just blindly trust me,” Orlando replies instantly and it’s true. Life isn’t a sodding fairy tale, nor would he want it to be. He rests his hand on Sean’s side, just above the rim of his boxers, fingers caressing naked skin when he adds, “Who would do that with a person he’s just known for a few months?”
Sean shrugs but his voice sounds lighter again. “Old ladies, letting con men swindle them out of their life savings?”
“Exactly,” Orlando laughs. “And you’re certainly not an old lady. Even if your coffee machine could have fooled me.”
Sean gently traces the outline of Orlando’s collarbone through his t-shirt, says, “You’re just saying that because you were too daft to use it.”
“Want me to teach you?” Sean asks and there’s that small smile on his lips again that Orlando likes so much.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” Orlando says but follows Sean into the kitchen anyway.
So what does this little episode say about Sean? Orlando has already known that he’s a bit of a paranoid schizo, to put it mildly. And other than that?
A slightly hot-tempered Northerner who likes playing with stereotypes, who both hides behind and ridicules them. A sophisticated loner, slightly peculiar sometimes and very down-to-earth underneath it all. Dry-humoured, utterly reliable, reticent by nurture rather than nature, passionate despite that.
None of this makes Orlando like him less. It’s who Sean is, period.
So Orlando takes care to not catch Sean unaware, to let him remain in control whenever possible. And in turn when reacting to Orlando’s work related rants, Sean manages to find the fine line between voicing his sympathy on some occasions and telling Orlando to get over it already on others. Orlando continues to give his affection freely, accepts that Sean just can’t sometimes. Sean respects Orlando’s need to be on his own every now and then while never letting him doubt that he’d be there if Orlando wanted him to.
Cols starts calling Sean his brother-in-law and throws a handful of paper clips at Orlando’s head when Orlando merely tells him that there is no way that he is related to a dwarfish Irish tramp such as Cols. And Eric stops making random mafia threats in Orlando’s presence. So Orlando supposes something of what he’s feeling and what Sean’s feeling must show even if they are both a bit shit at expressing it sometimes.
It’s not like they change each other or for each other, they just adapt. They don’t need to make room in their lives for the other, they just fit without much ado.
It shows in how Orlando shops for groceries in a slightly different manner now, buying enough beer for himself and Sean on autopilot. It shows in how Sean mentions en passant that he sleeps better when he chatted to Orlando on the phone before. And they get quite the delight out of learning what the other loves best in bed (again and again), neither ever needs to say how much they enjoy having proper breakfast together the next morning, with a newspaper to share (or bitch about its absence).
And Orlando learns to use Sean’s coffee machine, so he doesn’t have to sneak out after he spent the night. Still, living just a few floors apart has its upsides (no matter how buttugly the house itself) – including but not limited to the fact that Orlando can pick up his and Sean’s mail in one go.
It’s what he does this Saturday morning as well when once again Sean isn’t jet awake when Orlando gets up. He re-enters Sean’s flat while rifling through his own letters, Sean’s mail under his arm, and quietly walks back into the bedroom.
When he looks up from the invoice he has been reading, he finds that Sean has shifted in his sleep. He is lying on his side now, his outstretched hand resting on Orlando’s rumpled pillow.
Orlando thinks that he really doesn’t mind sharing a bed with him. Then he smiles to himself as if occurs to him that Sean’s habit of understating sentiments seems to be rubbing off on him. Truth is, he quite loves waking up next to Sean, shifting closer to him even if he can’t fall asleep again. Sean rarely wakes when Orlando touches him. But he’ll put his arm around Orlando’s shoulder or shifts obligingly, entwining their hands when Orlando drapes his arm over his side from behind.
Originally, he just wanted to drop Sean’s letters (minus the newspaper, once again) onto the nightstand but without thinking about it really, he has already toed of his shoes, shucked his jeans again.
The slight movement of the mattress makes Sean open his eyes and as Orlando crawls back up to him, Sean’s gaze follows him, slightly sluggish and a bit unfocussed still. Even though Orlando doubts he is fully awake yet, Sean pulls his hand back from the pillow to make room, and Orlando reaches for it, loosely entwining their fingers.
“Mornin’,” Sean mumbles.
“Sorry I woke you,” Orlando replies. “I really need to work on my SAS skills.”
“Don’t,” Sean disagrees, slowly licks his lips. “I don’t care much for getting strangled in my sleep.”
“Ah, you’re operating under the assumption that I meant the Special Air Service – and you have a bit of a dubious view on that as well, mind. However, the SAS I was referring to means –,” Orlando thinks about it for a moment, then offers, “Special Arse Sex.”
“That’s idiotic,” Sean grunts and uses their entwined hands to punch Orlando.
Orlando huffs at the light impact but brings their hands up to his mouth so he can kiss Sean’s knuckles.
“You say that now,” he laughs, leaning up so he can kiss Sean’s naked shoulder, too. “But my special SAS skills will have you surrendering in no time.”
Sean shifts onto his back and Orlando moves with him. Sean’s hands already slid under Orlando’s t-shirt, pushing it up when he asks dryly, “You’re idea of romance is tautological acronyms now?”
“Barely awake and already being a smartarse,” Orlando chuckles and lets his voice drop when he adds, “It’s quite hot.”
“Then why don’t you shut up and do something about it?”
Orlando does and while the mentioned surrendering really isn’t Sean’s cup of tea, they still end up breathless and sweaty and a bit disgustingly high on endorphins. And since it’s Sean who somehow ended up with Orlando’s come all over his chest, it’s also him who rolls out of bed first, making a bee line for the shower after kissing Orlando’s messy hair.
Orlando wipes the sweat off his face with his t-shirt (another upside on living in the same building: the easily accessible change of clothes), pulls on his jeans again and goes to search the kitchen for food. Already munching on an apple, he’s just contemplating what to make for breakfast – scrambled eggs is one of the few things he can actually manage but he doesn’t really care for burns from hot oil splashes on his naked chest – when the doorbell rings.
The shower is still running, so Orlando puts the eggs down, picks his half eaten apple up and moves to open the door.
“This does not make me the Sherriff of Nottingham!”
There are two young men standing on Sean’s doorstep, a blond one who looks like he got dressed when it was pitch dark in the room (at least that’s the only explanation Orlando has for the pink tee / orange shorts combo and the ancient flipflops) and a dark haired one who rocks the emo look, including the messy hair and the all black clothes, and the sceptical look he is just giving the blond.
“The Sherriff of Nottingham is the one who takes from the poor, Bradley” the dark haired one says in a thick Irish accent, “and claims it’s because all the stuff rightfully belongs to his master who is disgustingly rich anyway and wouldn’t even notice one guardian missing.”
“I think you need to re-read the book,” the one called Bradley points out and Orlando has to agree (well, he hasn’t really got a clue what is going on here, and gets studiously ignored right now, but anyway).
“I prefer the movie version,” the one with the pixyish features says.
Bradley throws his arms up. “Colin, your obsession with Kevin Costner is unhealthy! He has a mullet in half of his movies for heaven’s sake!”
Orlando, by now leaning against the doorframe and watching the slightly retarded discussion in front of him, takes another bite of his apple. The crunching sound makes the two guys finally turn their attention towards him.
“Good morning!” says Bradley, quite chipper.
The one called Colin doesn’t say anything.
Orlando just nods, due to his mouthful of apple.
So Bradley continues, “As it happens, we accidentally got your mail!”
With that announcement he thrusts his hand forward and nearly shoves a big envelope into Orlando’s face. Orlando bites into his apple, holding it between his teeth, as he takes the rather crumpled and mangled envelope which is addressed to Sean.
“I have this theory about our mailman being a stoner hippy,” Bradley says while he scratches his left calf with his right big toe, “I’m pretty sure he drives a beat up Volkswagen –“
“- with flowers and possibly a unicorn painted onto it –,” adds Colin in a tone of voice that tells that he has heard this before.
“ – and he has all the mail in the back of that car, which is a giant love shack for letters, and he mixes stuff up deliberately to bring joy and surprise to people’s lives. It’s the stoner version of ‘The Postman’.”
Orlando is pretty sure he knows how Sean would react to that theory– mostly probably by accusing Bradley of being utterly retarded and reading his mail and then shoving the door into his face. However, Colin chooses to focus on a different part of Bradley’s story.
“’The Postman’? Really?” he asks with astonishment. “After mocking me for ‘Robin Hood’?”
“Mullet,” replies Bradley and apparently thinks this a sufficient argument. “And I didn’t mean it approvingly anyway. Costner movies are evil. Well, maybe except for the one about the mafia, that kind of rocked.”
“Anyway,” Colin says, ignoring him and turning back to Orlando, “what Bradley is trying to say is: We figured you’d appreciate this letter not being squeezed into the letter box for a second time, considering how battered it already looks. So we thought we’d deliver it personally.”
“Well, thanks,” says Orlando. “That’s quite considerate of you.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Bean,” Bradley says politely and Orlando has to bite back a smile at the – understandable but still wrong – assumption but doesn’t correct him.
Colin looks as if he would really like to go now and Orlando supposes it would be a good idea to get rid of these two Good Samaritans before Sean comes out of the bathroom, possibly starkers – the shower has just been turned off.
However Bradley elbows Colin – Orlando isn’t sure whether it’s supposed to be subtle, in which case he royally failed. Colin still ignores him and attempts to take a step back, nodding at Orlando in good bye.
“Colin,” Bradley says and something in his voice reminds Orlando of that of the parole officers he knows. “Aren’t we forgetting something?”
Colin pulls a face, grumbles something into his beard (or the dirty shadow he calls thus) and he glares at Bradley as he grudgingly opens his messenger bag. Orlando isn’t sure what he expected – he’s not as paranoid as Sean to believe that people might pull AK 47s out of their ratty bags right in the middle of your hallway, but he is a bit surprised when he sees what Colin produces.
A rolled up copy of today’s ‘Guardian’.
“We somehow got your newspaper as well,” explains Bradley, smiling broadly at him.
Colin holds out the rolled up paper with obvious reluctance and as Orlando takes hold of it he is pretty certain that for a moment the other man doesn’t want to let it go.
“What a coincidence, eh?” Bradley says brightly. “That wacky mailman, tsk, tsk.”
Orlando (who may not be on duty right now but is still a DI) nods slowly, making the connection.
“Yeah, what a coincidence,” he replies dryly. “Say, you didn’t by any chance fill out the crossword already, did you?”
Both men look at him with huge innocent eyes. Bradley’s face is sort of twitching though, he avoids eye-contact by staring at Orlando’s naked chest instead, and Orlando is pretty sure he is close to a laughing fit. Definitely the worst liar in the history of mankind. Colin however, remains suspiciously straight-faced and just shakes his head.
“No idea what you are talking about, Mr. Bean,” he says with uttermost sincerity.
“I see,” Orlando replies without conviction, again not correcting him. “Nevermind. – Thanks again.”
“Oh, you’re most welcome,” Bradley says instantly. “Glad we could help. Good luck with that crossword, they are terribly difficult sometimes. There was this one time when I –”
This time it’s Colin nudging Bradley and thus cutting off his babbling.
“We’d better be off now,” he says and nods at Orlando. “Have a nice day, Mr. Bean.”
“Yeah, you too,” Orlando replies.
His eyes follow them as they make their way down the hall. Bradley pats Colin’s head, like you would do it with a dog that just understood what ‘house training’ is all about. Colin punches him for that but doesn’t object when, after laughingly holding his stomach in mock pain, Bradley casually throws an arm over his shoulder as they wait for the elevator.
And while Orlando agrees with the bashing that ‘The Postman’ just got (in the middle of one of the oddest pre-coffee conversations he ever had to witness no less), Bradley also had a bit of a point: He finds himself quite amused by this mail-induced ‘meeting the neighbours’.
Shaking his head, he closes the door behind him again, unrolling the newspaper to glance at the headline.
It’s not a minute later and Orlando is still standing in the hallway of the flat, skimming through the lead article when the bathroom door opens.
“Have you taken up talking to yourself,” Sean asks as he comes out, a towel wrapped around his hips, “or am I hearing voices now?”
“Neither,” Orlando says, lowering the newspaper to admire the view. Sean’s skin is still slightly damp from the shower, his hair too and Orlando really wants to run his fingers through it right now.
“Looks like I have a paper today,” Sean remarks as Orlando folds the Guardian up for the time being. “Now there’s a surprise.”
“More than you might think even,” Orlando agrees. “Special door to door delivery it was. That were the voices you heard.”
“Oh, good. Means I’ve not started going insane at least I reckon,” Sean laughs quietly before he focuses on the info itself. “Someone actually brought it up? Who do I have to thank for that?”
“Usually that would be me,” Orlando reminds him with a smirk. “And no, I don’t take credit cards.”
Sean laughs and turns to walk back into the bedroom. Orlando follows – he could just talk a little louder and still be understood, but he’s here for the view. And Sean knows as much, grinning at him as he drops the towel and fetches himself a pair of briefs.
“I reckon,” he asks, pulling them on, “you’d expect me to show my appreciation in a more carnal way?”
“Well, don’t stand there completely naked and gorgeous and expect something else.”
“Cheers,” Sean chuckles, adding a pair of tracky bottoms to his outfit before he reaches for the paper in Orlando’s hand.
Just like Colin before, Orlando doesn’t let go immediately but reels Sean in instead, pressing a kiss onto his mouth because he wanted to do it for a while already and simply because he can. Sean kisses back with the same Saturday morning laziness that Orlando feels but manages to pull the paper out of Orlando’s hand, hiding it behind his back as Orlando tries to grab it back.
“You said today it was someone else though? Bringing the paper?” Sean prompts and huffs in surprise when Orlando just wraps both arms around him in a bear hug. “Christ, I can’t breathe!”
Orlando laughs but loosens the hug enough for Sean to return it, kisses him again before he finally explains.
“The two blokes we see playing footie in front of the house sometimes, they brought it up. They had a letter for you as well, and with that I actually believe that it found its way into their letter box by accident.”
Sean pulls back enough to look at him inquisitively.
“So while I was showering you singlehandedly caught my newspaper thieves?”
“Not so much caught but watched while they first delivered the paper and then all but admitted to nicking it before, but yes.”
“Huh,” Sean grunts, contemplatively, the fingers of his free hand curling in the back of Orlando’s neck. “Did you tar and feather them?”
“I glared at them,” Orlando replies and shows Sean his most serious badass cop glare. Sean just laughs and Orlando agrees that for all the guesswork they did regarding Sean’s Houdini Newspaper this is a rather anticlimactic result.
“You’re a brilliant copper and will make DCI within this year,” he replies with mock seriousness.
“It’s good to hear you have so much faith in me.”
Sean’s fingers still against his skin as he looks at Orlando.
“I do actually, I reckon.”
It doesn’t sound like much, Sean’s understatements never do, and it’s spoken half in jest, just like they usually communicate. But, Orlando thinks and tightens his hug a little more again, but he gets it and that’s what counts. And what if sometimes his heart wants Orlando to shout it from the rooftops? There’s enough time to tackle the big declarations and all that crap some other time.
So, instead of ‘I love you too’ he just snatches the paper back from Sean.
“C’mon, let’s have a cuppa coffee to go with your not-all-that-virginal Guardian.”
Orlando is patient after all, and he is confident that they have all the time in the world.
Chapter 17: The magic between you and I
Just a short snippet that can be fitted in anywhere
Title: The magic between you and I
Pairings: Sean/Orlando, Bradley James / Colin Morgan
Word Count: 1000
Disclaimer: Not true.
A/N: The random pointing today led me to this one which automatically made me think of these dorks, so this story sets in this verse (the "where they all live in the same crappy flat complex and Orlando is a hot copper" AU).
Orlando is equally drunk and tired even though it is the middle of the week and not even that late. His exhaustion can be attributed to his case load – people never seem to lose the taste for murdering their relatives. His state of inebriation is as per usual Col’s fault – Orlando’s best mate still holds on to the belief that both frustration and lack of sleep can be washed away with large quantities of beer .
After struggling only a little bit with his keys, he manages to let himself into the building. Wisely, he decides that this is neither the time to take the stairs nor to actually try and make it to the tenth floor where his own flat is. Better just take himself to the third, gently knock on Sean’s door.
He pushes the button, summoning the elevator, and is very pleased when its dim yellow light comes to life. In seven days of the week, the elevator works on approximately two (Sean, pernickety that he is, has an equally neat and complicated tally sheet sticking to his fridge, documenting this). This clearly is Orlando’s lucky night.
He leans against the nearest wall, and while he waits, he scrapes some of the plaster of it with his thumbnail.
Somewhere on the upper levels, the elevator finally sets into motion – the telltale groaning and grinding sound is something, Orlando considers a siren’s song at this point. However, this isn’t the only sound travelling downwards. There is (and Orlando’s face scrunches up in a frown as he listens intently, thinking his beer-soaked brain is playing tricks on him) actual – well, Orlando wouldn’t call it ‘song’ or ‘music’ in the stricter sense of the word.
When Sean is working in his shop on Sundays, and Eric isn’t in, Orlando sometimes comes by unannounced. And one of the first times he did, he actually stood in the backyard for ten minutes or so, even though the backdoor was open, just listening. Because as it turns out, Orlando’s boyfriend – reserved, taciturn, aloof – likes listening to music when he works. To 80s power ballads to be more precise. And it’s not just that. He likes to sing along.
What Orlando hears now, coming towards him in the lightning fast speed of the flat complex’s sluggish elevator, is something very much like that. In fact, for a moment, Orlando figures it must be Sean (undoubtedly on some nightly covert op, trying to find out who steals his mail or something) in that elevator. Both choice of song and ability to sing it do point to that assumption.
When the indicator above the doors shows that the elevator has reached the third floor, Orlando can make out actual words to the slightly mangled melody.
“- mine tonight. Now I’ve got you iiiin my siiihihihights, with these huuungry eeeeeyes, one look at you and I caaaan’t disguihihihise –“
Orlando is glad he is already leaning against the wall already because he starts snickering so hard that standing upright on his own becomes pretty much impossible.
“Huuuuungry eyes, I feel the magic between you and –“
The song is abruptly interrupted as a second voice (a low murmur, nothing more) apparently objects to the assumptions of anything paranormal or indeed magical going on.
“You love it, stop lying to yourself, Colin,” the singer protests as the “2” lights up on the elevator’s indicator. “Here, I just need to show you how to – stop struggling for heaven’s sake.”
A tiny part of Orlando’s copper brain shakes off the haze of alcohol, and he listens a little more intently for a second. But then the singing is resumed –
“I feel the magic between you and Ihihihi, I want to hold you so hear me out –“
The light indicates they have reached the first floor, and in addition to the music, the usual clanging of the elevator is accompanied by something that very much sound like – a herd of elephants running amok?
“I want to show you what love’s all about, - Darling tonight –“
The elevator reaches the ground floor, and its doors slide open.
Orlando blinks and has to struggle so hard to not just dissolve into helpless giggles again.
There in the elevator stand the two guys who repeatedly stole Sean’s newspaper (“found in their mail”. Yeah, right.). Well, to be precise, the broad shouldered blond one is standing. The dark haired gothy one (Colin?) is somewhat awkwardly suspended from his arms, and he doesn’t look too enthusiastic about it
“Bradley,” he says. “We’ve reached the ground floor. Can you put me down now, please?”
Orlando does start to snicker. He blames the alcohol.
“Is that –,” he starts, then his own snickers temporarily hinder him from continuing.
In the meantime, Colin taps Bradley on his arm, again indicating he’d like to feel solid ground under his feet again now. Bradley once again refuses to acknowledge that suggestion and looks at Orlando as if Orlando has lost his mind.
“Is that-“ Orlando starts again, “’Dirty Dancing you’re doing there?”
Colin shakes his head vehemently.
“Yes,” Bradley confirms.
Colin smacks the back of his head and because Bradley needs one of his hands to rub the spot, he finally does put Colin down.
Colin straightens his clothes, making himself look respectable again (or as respectable as one can look dressed in Doc Marten’s and with about 100 safety pins sticking to you), and walks out of the elevator.
“Good evening,” he says, and Orlando swears if he had a hat, he’d have pulled it – composure and politeness personified.
Bradley stares after him, a rather smitten grin on his face, and the elevator door already starts sliding closed again before he jerks into action and hurries after his dance partner.
Orlando snickers all the way up to Sean’s flat who is still up and opening the door, muttering about the ‘godawful racket in this fucking house – was that you?!’.