The fine art of procrastination

or stuff I wrote when I should have been writing something else

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BBC Merlin rpf: "Mull"; pg13; Part 1 of 2
Title: Mull
Rating: pg13
Pairing: Bradley/Colin
Warnings: erm, would you believe...angst?
Spoilers: a few for the plot of "The Island"
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin, The Island, Colin or Bradley, unfortunately. I just made it up.

MULL - PART 1 of 2

Bradley collapsed backwards onto the bed, panting, his heart thrumming in response as it pumped his blood faster. His body sang a litany of exertion, skin tingling with sweat, heat trickling from every pore. He arched his back – hips, ribcage and throat thrusting upwards until his spine stretched and cracked and he slumped bonelessly onto the mattress again, spent.

“Bradley,” his mother’s voice drifted up the stairs, “don’t take too long over your shower. Dinner’s in 20 minutes.”

Propping himself up on his elbows he called back through the open door. “Okay, Mum.”

He sat up and bent to unlace his trainers, toed them off and stripped the warm damp socks from his feet, tossing them aside. His t-shirt followed but he kept the shorts on. It wouldn’t do to give his mother heart failure if she came up the stairs just in time to confront him naked on his way to the bathroom.

Grabbing fresh underwear from the drawer and his jeans from the chair where he’d flung them earlier, Bradley made for the door and then paused. He turned back, stalked over to the bed and, with a rueful grin, bent to scoop the discarded running gear from the floor. Time was when the socks would have sat there until they became crispy balls of contention, fodder in the age old war of supremacy between teenagers and parents.

‘But it’s my room. You said I could do whatever I wanted with it.”

‘That doesn’t mean living like a pig, Bradley.  Dirty dishes, dirty clothes – it’s disgusting.”

You’ve been in there? You’ve invaded my privacy!”

“Oh for heaven’s sake! You’re the one complaining about having nothing to wear. And no wonder – it was all rotting on your bedroom floor. If you want privacy and clean socks then try putting them in the laundry basket.”

Bradley smiled as he padded along the hallway to the bathroom, dropped his gear into said basket, and turned on the shower. He had been whining, his hormone riddled brain unable to reconcile the newly-acquired knowledge that cleanliness and popularity were undoubtedly linked with the frustration of being unable to locate any boxer shorts that had been worn for less than three days.

They’d had some right old run-ins, his mum and him – god, he’d been awful, and sometimes she’d been a real pain – but they’d come through it and now they were close; really close, without being...weird. Bradley hadn’t realised how lucky he was until he’d got to the Drama Centre and other students had talked about their relationships with their parents. Then he’d learned enough about neglect and projection and possessiveness to finally be grateful for what he had, rather than resentful of what was missing.

He stepped out of the shower and reached for a towel. His muscles were relaxed from the exercise and the hot water but the ripple of restless energy which had driven him to run was still there, coiled tight in his gut, stirring occasionally like a snake flicking its tail.

Don’t think. Bradley chided himself as he dried off and climbed into his clothes. Have tea with your mum and go to the pub.

“So have you decided where you’re going yet?”

Bradley paused, a forkful of broccoli half way to his mouth. “Going?”

His mother tipped her head to one side, raised a brow and smiled at him indulgently, “On holiday – with Rob and the rest of the boys?”

“Oh,” Bradley shook his head, “no, still thinking about it.” He forked in the greens, skewered a mouthful of chicken, and tried to focus on how good his Mum’s cooking was rather than how bad he felt. His mates had been waiting on him coming home before booking their own holidays and so far he’d done nothing but make excuses.

She let him eat, finishing her own, more modest, helping before speaking again. “What about those scripts...Ruth, is it?...sent on to you?” She reached for his empty plate and began stacking it with hers. “It’s wonderful that so many people want you to work with them.”

He grinned, “Yeah, it is. And I know how lucky I am, not to be worrying about where the next job’s coming from.”

She slid her hand across the table and squeezed his quickly, then caught up his empty glass. “It isn’t luck, Bradley. You got that part because you’re talented, and you’ve worked hard at it. I’m proud of you.” And she also knew him well enough to retreat into the kitchen at that point, calmly stacking the dishwasher. “You want some more milk?” She glanced over her shoulder.

“No thanks, Mum.” He got up and brought the condiments and stuff over, opening a cupboard to put them away. They moved around the kitchen together, a well choreographed domestic pattern. “The meal was great, thank you.”

She leaned back against the work surface, drying her hands, “Dessert?”

“Better not,” he patted his midriff, “got to look after my assets, now that I’m in such demand.”

She nodded sagely. “Ah, so they’re all parts calling for the ripped six-pack? Tough break.”

Bradley’s mouth dropped open. “Mum!” He protested but she was laughing too hard to care. The hand holding the towel was wrapped round her middle, the other gripping the edge of the sink, holding her upright. And it was so great, seeing her like that, he couldn’t help laughing, too.

Once she’d recovered enough to let him, he hugged and then scolded her. “I’ll have you know there’s some serious drama in there. It’s not all action and fantasy stuff.” But most of it was, and Bradley’s common sense, plus the notes Ruth pinned to each script she sent on, told him he’d have to be careful not to let himself get pigeon-holed like that.

“I’m glad to hear it,” his mum smiled and took her coffee through to the living room, Bradley following in her wake. “So have you decided on anything?”

He flopped down into the armchair opposite hers. “I’ve only been home three weeks. Are you trying to get rid of me already?”

Her frown was only momentary. “Of course not, darling. You know I love having you here, but I also know the signs. And now that you’re finally awake, you’re bored...restless.” She paused, studying him, and he deliberately held her gaze. Because not to would only arouse her suspicions – or that overactive imagination of hers that he cursed, but also thanked god he’d inherited when he had to fight blue stick monster of the week. “That’s why I’m surprised you haven’t booked the holiday. I thought you must have decided on a work project instead.”

Bradley nodded and finally looked away. He didn’t know what to say because he wasn’t sure why he couldn’t settle on anything, either. The last few weeks in France and Wales, ground down with exhaustion, he’d fantasised about coming home, sleeping it off, and then kicking over the traces, booking a long break somewhere seriously hot and laid back, where he could fool about with his mates, get drunk and get laid. Now he was here, all slept out, filled to the brim with vegetables, milk and motherly affection...and none of the choices before him seemed so attractive any more.

He’d stalled Rob, Nicky and the rest one time too many and he’d promised to give them an answer in the pub tonight. They were putting the final options together and all he had to do was choose. Only he didn’t want to go and he didn’t know how to tell them that. Because they’d been so fucking great about it, not only waiting for him, but deciding to dig a bit deeper into their own pockets so they could go somewhere further afield, where there was less chance of Bradley getting recognised. Yeah, Nicky had ribbed him, ‘can’t stand the thought of all the totty mooning over Prince Arthur,’ and scowled and rolled his eyes, ‘we want some action, too, eh lads?’ But Bradley knew they were doing it for him, so he could relax and not worry about what people were thinking.

As for the scripts...Bradley sighed. He shouldn’t even attempt to make professional decisions, the mood he was in. Ruth clearly wanted him to take the indie movie. Her notes said ‘edgy, different, one-to-watch director’. But it started in less than six weeks (not first choice or what?) and he wouldn’t finish on it until right before they went back to shooting ‘Merlin’. If they went back to shooting ‘Merlin’, Bradley reminded himself. It wasn’t in the bag yet and the thought of it not happening made him feel sick. Don’t think, Bradley. If he took anything – and Bradley knew, professionally, that he couldn’t afford to sit about, even if for once he didn’t need the money – it would probably be the four-part drama for Channel 4. A different channel was no bad thing and the script scared the shit out of him. Not that it was a frightening story – shocking maybe – more that the part they wanted him for was way outside his comfort zone. He was surprised and flattered to be considered for it and he hadn’t a clue how he’d play it. Plus it didn’t start until January, which left plenty of time for...whatever he was going to do next.

Bradley jumped when he felt the hand on his hair. His mum was standing right beside him.

“I’m not going to ask, but you know I’m here if you want to tell me, right?”

His mouth tipped up at one corner. “Yeah, thanks Mum.”


Back in his room, surrounded by football pennants, team photos and poster heroes, and with his common sense warring with the nagging in his belly, it might as well have been 1999 again. What was the point of the wisdom of age, if you had to be so old to acquire it that you were too knackered to put it to any use? Right on cue, his BlackBerry buzzed.


Bradley sat on the edge of the bed. nothin much. dinner was gd.

lucky u, i’m starved. veggies=aliens here. chat?

Bradley typed ‘sure’ and then deleted it. no, soz, pub wiv mates soon. how’s shoot?

It took a minute before the reply came through. He had said coverage was lousy.

weather shite, freezin nuts off, knackered. wot am I doin here?

Bradley smiled. carvin out internat film career, u ungr8ful arse

oh, ok J hav gd time @ pub x

Bradley sat looking at the message for longer than was necessary. He wasn’t expected to reply. Colin always ended his final text of a conversation that way. That was what it meant – bye. Eventually, he got up. Time for the pub.

Which didn’t last long and could have gone a lot worse, barring the fact that he was now, almost certainly, condemned to burn for all eternity. The list had been impressive – Bali, Bermuda, the Caymans and some others that Bradley’s GCSE geography wasn’t up to – and there’d been an awkward moment when he finally told them he couldn’t and they should go ahead and book without him. But as soon as he explained how crushed he was, that he was waiting to hear about a part, and then compounded that wicked lie with another about not wanting his mum to know until it was certain, so could they please not mention it to their parents – they’d been fine. And so damn supportive that it made his teeth ache with guilt, which is why he hadn’t stayed. Spouting the lie was one thing, but keeping up the charade for the whole evening, while being bought the drinks they insisted on paying for because there was no way they were sponging off him,  would have been too much.

So here he was, back in his room with no-one but his guilty conscience for company – because even mothers had social lives – and it was still embarrassingly early. Like 9.30. Shit. He rang the number twice, hanging up each time before it was answered, then flung the BlackBerry across the bed. Shit.  

Even with his head buried under the pillow he heard it ringing and, while letting it go to voicemail would probably only have made him appear marginally more sad than he already did, he still had some pride. “Yeah?” he said, not looking at the screen, not acknowledging who he knew it would be.

“Thought you said you were in the pub with your mates?” Colin’s brogue was faint, breaking up. He sounded a lot further away than Scotland.

“I was,” Bradley said quietly, “I’m back now.”

Colin laughed and Bradley’s breath hitched at the sound. “Your mum got you under a curfew or something?”

“Nah,” Bradley went for amused, wasn’t entirely sure he’d nailed it, “not really up for it tonight. Still tired, I think.”

“Uh, huh,” Colin sounded genuinely tired. “So why’d ya hang up?”

“I er...I didn’t. Signal kept cutting out – thought I’d try you later.” He was definitely going to hell.

“Seems okay now.”

“Yeah. So, the weather’s bad there, huh?” Way to go, Bradley. Smooth segue...not.

Colin didn’t notice, or chose not to. “Mmm, fecking perishing. ‘s rained for two days solid but today we had to go for it anyway. Perils of a micro budget. Wouldn’t mind so much if this room was warmer.”

“What, they don’t have central heating on Mull?” Colin was always cold, except when it was absolutely sweltering, in France in the height of the summer, and then he was just ‘comfortable’ while everyone around him was melting – or, in Bradley’s case, parboiling in chain mail.

“Mrs Mac – the landlady – doesn’t believe in it,” Colin grumbled, soft and low, and Bradley’s stomach clenched. “There’s a gas fire in here but it’s so old I’m scared I might die of whatsitsface-poisoning if I turn it on for too long. And she opens my windows – to freshen the room – when I’m gone for the day. Brrrr.”

“The landlady? Where the hell are you staying?”

“Um, well, you know the problems they had raising cash to finish this, so I...we all...agreed to, you know, downgrade, to save cash. We’re in a B&B just along the coast from where we were last year. S’okay – it’s closer to most of the locations.”

Bradley let him run on, wondering who he was trying to convince, because it wasn’t any surprise that he’d agree. Colin was always 100 per cent committed to his work, which was why he’d gone straight off an eight month shoot to do the pick-ups.

“How many stars?” Bradley asked and Colin made a noise that he took to be the audible equivalent of a question mark. “The B&B – how many stars does it have?”

“Don’t have a clue. I just sleep here for tantalisingly brief periods of time. Why?”

“Just wondering if the two are related,” Bradley expanded. “You know, five stars is ‘forget it unless you’re Sean Connery’, and...I dunno, two?... is obviously, ‘we saw you coming, you bunch of ...dedicated artists.”

Bradley heard something suspiciously like a giggle from the other end of the line – not that Colin would ever admit to emitting anything so girly.

“I’m sure it’s more than two stars and it’s very nice, just...chilly.”

“Trouble with you, Morgan, is that you’ve got no insulation. You should eat some proper food – put some meat on your bones.”

Colin snorted. Anything about his dietary habits was a well worn routine. “And you’ve been at your Mum’s too long. You’ll be asking me, next, if I’m remembering to brush my teeth and say my prayers. So when are you off on holiday?”

Bradley wondered, for a second or two, whether his mother’s kitchen, or the pub, might be bugged before he remembered that he’d spent countless evenings boring Colin with his holiday wish list. “Haven’t decided yet.”

“Well, I have to say,” Bradley could hear Colin scuffling about as he talked, “I’m surprised. Oof.” More scuffling, something squeaking, and then a sigh. “I’d have laid bets that you’d be bronzing the body beautiful under a tropical sun by now.”

Bradley ignored the body reference and went for the tangent. “What the hell are you doing Morgan? What’s with the sound effects?”

“Oh, just nicking the blankets off the other bed. She tucks them in tight. I told you, it’s cold in here.”

“Blankets? Who has blankets any more? Jesus Morgan, make that one star. It sounds like the bloody dark ages. And if it’s that cold, why haven’t you nicked them before you idiot?”

“I steal them every night and every morning Mrs Mac puts them back.” Colin’s voice sounded muffled and Bradley wondered, for an insane moment, if Colin was actually talking to him from under the blankets now. “Even with both lots it’s still freezing, but apparently duvets haven’t made it this far north. The ducks round here need their down. Don’t blame ‘em, but it’s extra tough on the sheep.”

Bradley laughed. He’d missed their crazy conversations. Hell, he missed Colin. Snake in the guts snapped its tail. What the hell was wrong with him? It’d been less than a month. Colin would think he was mad. He’d rip the piss out of him. But Bradley still wanted to ask. Missing need not be mentioned. Probably wasn’t that anyway. He was...readjusting. You spend eight months with someone, you get used to them being around. Like a habit. Like a drug. Like a routine. Coward.

“ still there?”

“Yeah, sorry mate – thought I heard my Mum calling, but it must’ve been someone outside. S’alright. So,” say it, “how much longer are you there for, anyway?”

“Nnn...not sure,” Colin definitely sounded sleepy now, and Bradley tried not to imagine long limbs curled up under a pile of blankets, a face crumpled against a pillow, “Maybe another week.”

“Right, ’cos I was wondering...”


Say it. “Whether you’d like to come on holiday with me? Warm yourself up properly.” Bradley paused, wondering if that had sounded like he was afraid it might have, but Colin didn’t reply so he plunged on. “Just for a few days, you know. I mean, I realise we spend a lot of time together and I don’t want to...well...dominate your life or anything. Ha, ha. But, well, that’s work, isn’t it? And I thought it might be fun to hang out for a bit and relax...together...catch some sun. That is, if you’ve got time and...Colin?”

There was silence on the other end of the line. He wondered whether Colin might have actually fallen asleep but recognised that was most likely wishful thinking on his part. After about a century, Colin cleared his throat.

“Look, Bradley...I’d really love to but I promised my family I’d go home after I’m done here. I haven’t seen them for months and–”

“It’s okay, Col, forget it. I understand.” Bradley was drowning in a flash flood of embarrassment. What the fuck had he been thinking? Of course Colin wanted to see his family. Of course he didn’t want go on holiday with him. Getting together for a day or evening, like they had between seasons last year, was fine. But a holiday – what had possessed him..? Fuck.

“Bradley?” Colin’s voice cut through the haze of humiliation. “Look, I’m sorry, really, but I promised... I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be here, and then I have to give the family at least a couple of weeks, maybe more. And it isn’t fair to keep you waiting. Not when I know how much you’ve been looking forward to it, how much you need the break. You ought to go with your mates, like you’d planned. Send me a postcard, you lucky sod...”

“Yeah, sure,” Bradley thought he might actually die of shame. “Look, I have to go, alright?”

“No, wait, Bradley,” Colin’s voice was husky, and Bradley really was dying now, “I don’t want you to think–”

“Sorry, mate – gotta go. Look, good luck with the filming, yeah? And I’ll see you. Bye.” He cut the connection and curled into a foetal position on the bed.

Asking anyone flat out like that would have been a big enough risk, but Colin? Bradley had never been short of friends but he and Colin were different. They weren’t about sport, or alcohol, or even acting. And it wasn’t about shared history – bar the last couple of years on ‘Merlin’. Bradley couldn’t define what connected them. It hadn’t been immediate, by any stretch of the imagination, but when it had taken root it was on some level his previous friendships hadn’t touched. It had spread beneath his skin until he couldn’t imagine separating himself from it.

It was crass to draw Merlin and Arthur parallels, but Bradley couldn’t deny that there were some. Because he really hadn’t understood Colin when he’d first met him and Bradley bloody well knew that Colin had underestimated him. Their problem was they didn’t have a script team, no deus ex machina to get them out of trouble and back on track. In fact, no consensus about where the effing track was, let alone where it led.

And laying everything else aside, forgetting friendship and destiny and stupid fucking holiday proposals, there was the very real possibility – probability – of their having to work together for the next three years. Fuck.

He tried for all of thirty seconds to ignore the buzz but then he had to look.

if you miss me that much why don’t you come up here?

His buggering life was turning into a soap opera.

very funny morgan. forget it.  i know you’re busy.

fraid of the cold, your highness?

! don’t, ok?

bring thermal underwear. thick socks. pyjamas x

 end of part 1


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