It starts, as many things in this bizarre universe that is BBC funded dramedy have, with the rather innocuous comment, "Nah; think I'll skip the pub tonight, 'sall the same to you. Early call, you know."
He's being honest, here; series three is coming along nicely now, and there's a war on the horizon with Mercia. All exciting developments, plot-wise, of course, but what it translates to for one Bradley James is the disorienting feeling that his whole body is one endless bruise, an excessive amount of time in the training yard, and early morning calls four or five days a week. Not that he minds, of course—he's over the moon, as he's assured his overly concerned mother every time she calls to make sure he's taking proper care of himself. This, he reminds her (parroting, not entirely unconsciously, the words of his publicist and the hardworking middlemen at the Beeb), is keeping people interested, which is great for the show, and fantastic for Bradley. Arthur's character is evolving, transforming from princeling to once and future king, and that's worth a few sore muscles, he laughs.
Of course, mind, the complete disinterest (or, to be more accurate, disinclination) to spend time after filming out with his cast-mates—now mates in the truest sense? Yeah, not so much with the fantastic, there. Still, this is his life and his career and he loves it, so mostly when he says those things to his mother on the phone (and email and by way of other well-intentioned family members, and, occasionally, even via post), he's not just toting the party line, he really believes it.
The others profess some disappointment, of course, when he begs off their outings, and Katie in particular manages to tinge her regretful entreaties with a threatening sort of heft that leaves Bradley equal parts nervous and admiring. Still, they don't press him too hard, any more, not like they did when filming resumed three months prior and his schedule first complicated matters. They're mates, right, but they're cast-mates too; they get it. So now these conversations are something like rehearsals themselves; small performative moments in which Bradley is all brash regret and innuendo, and the others respond with a ready mix of bed time jokes and pleas for his return from the land of epic fail. He retorts (there's some spontaneity here—the success of his comeback and the subsequent quality of the ensuing repartee is, always, anyone's game [though it's generally understood that, as in Stratego, Bradley's manhood will suffer a sound rhetorical thrashing if Santiago or Angel champion his cause against Katie, whose position is always firmly in the 'Bradley's a pissant for retiring' camp, and, in the style of poker, no one wins against Tony]), laughs are had all around, and by some dreadfully old cat lady hour of the night, he returns to the hotel to watch bad French soaps or re-read Good Omens.
Still, this one night, three months in, and the conversation takes a turn.
"Well sure, Bradley," Katie rolls her eyes. "It must be at least half seven. If you strayed to the pub, you might return too late to feed your ten cats, and then where would you be?"
Angel smiles into her drink as Bradley fobs off (read: attempts and fails to do so) McGrath's accusation that he is, in fact, a cat lady. "I'll have you know," he adopts an imperious tone, "that I'm quite manly. And virile. And catless—" Colin's grin is epic at this point, and Katie's looking smug, that wretched woman, "—though clearly I'm stuck with you and your catiness—"
There's a collective groan as Bradley's play on words falls over them with the subtlety of an awkward elephant. "Eugh," Katie's nose scrunches up. She's still attractive, and Bradley takes a moment to think the worse of her, "I can't believe that just happened." Angel nods, her curls bouncing slightly, "I believe it. It's entirely in keeping with our Bradley's recent transition from man to 'actor.'"
Colin nods, his very ears solemn in their prominence: "As we know, the latter category trade their humanity for the privilege of having white M&Ms in their trailers. Wikipedia tells me so, and thus it must be true."
Bradley takes inordinate satisfaction in Colin's laughed-yelp as he is kicked under the table.
"You're all jealous because you can't negotiate your way into homogenous M&M territory," he winks. "Are you even on franchised candy?"
"No, you've got me, I'm afraid," Angel sighs. "My demands for Cornetto's fall on deaf ears, I'm told, 'ere Gwen bears Arthur a son and my continued presence is iron clad." Katie snorts, and Angel's grin becomes a sort of innocent leer, if such a thing were possible, as she leans over the mess table towards an amused Bradley. "Fancy helping a servant out, Mr. James?"
They all laugh, and Bradley knows its the point in the evening when his absence will be forgiven. Again.
"Nah;" he laughs again, and the others smile, knowing perfectly well what comes next in their routine. "Think I'll skip the pub tonight, 'sall the same to you. Early call, you know." He's rising from the table, fully intending to retort that Gwen can see Arthur about her dilemma any time, when Colin rises as well. "Yeah, I'm on at 7 tomorrow; movie?"
The girls insist that they don't mind--they're meeting several others at the pub, and Bradley deserves some company, since he's so rarely able to be social now--and Bradley's happy to take Colin up on it, if a little thrown by the sudden break with routine.
They settle in his room—all the suites are the same, even if Colin insists that Bradley's bed is larger—and argue amiably between Four Weddings and a Funeral and Ratatouille (Bradley's mother sends films as she finds them, and Bradley loves movies of all sorts), eventually settling down to watch Hugh Grant get buggered in companionable agreement that Britain trumps even animated France at all times. And it's...fun, and easy, and distressingly right to watch movies with Colin beside him in his not-quite-double bed. Even if, after meeting Duckface ("I've never heard her call you that"), Bradley's taken to watching Colin more than the screen.
Because Colin? Colin doesn't—it turns out—watch movies; he embodies them. He's enraptured by them, emboldened by them, and reconfigured from awkward, charming humble Colin to animated, emotive, delighted Colin, whose face and body and, God, eyes soak up the words and movements and colors on the screen and bear them out on Bradley's bed like he's an animate canvas. He mouths all of the words, sounding out choice bits that catch his fancy. He experiences every twist and permutation of the plot in the line of his neck, in the motion (unbidden, it appears to an increasingly enthralled Bradley) of his hands. He laughs and cries and moves through each moment of the film as though it were his universe in that moment.
And Bradley watches, unable to look away--not that Colin notices, his attention, as it is, entirely engaged by the mess Hugh is making of his life ("I suspect the groom is in love with someone else. Your fly is open."), sort of amazed that he's watching Colin Morgan like this.
And when it's over, and Colin's grinning bigger than a fool at the idea of Kristin Scott-Thomas stuck with Prince Charles, he looks at Bradley and says, "I love that movie; it's so charming, you know?"
And Bradley agrees, because watching Colin is like learning what charming is by sight and feel. His own personal Braille.
And so it goes. The script changes, and now, as often as not, neither Bradley nor Colin venture forth, but choose a film and sequester themselves, to watch and learn, respectively.
And watching Colin, Bradley learns a whole new language—words he thought he understood given a new layer of paint and meaning.
The Last Picture Show—Despair.
To Kill A Mockingbird—Compassion.
Sense and Sensibility—Hope.
He itches to take down these emotions as he's absorbing them, and write them back into the lines of Colin's too long frame with his hands, to make sure he's got them right. But he doesn't, even as the movies they've watched climb into the tens, he keeps watching. Colin is an effortless teacher, and Bradley wants to know everything about him.
And then, one night, the script becomes—in one moment—clear.
Colin had chosen this one ("I know, I know we're in France, why watch a film about it, but trust me, this one's amazing! You're culturally illiterate until you've seen it!") and Bradley's resistance is at best a token, since though he's seen ever one of these films so far, he's not once looked at them. But right away, this one is different—the words (in French only, and why was that not a deal breaker for Bradley? He has no idea) were sharper, the diegetic sound crisper, the music sweeping through the room in a way it never had before.
Bradley puzzled through this gamely, his eyes as always on Colin's face, Colin's hands, Colin's mouth—and then, in a moment, when Amelie saw Nino, he knows. He sees the emotion transform Colin's whole being, and bring it to a different sort of life, bigger than before. And he knows that he's just learned what love is.
This was the sort of revelation that not even Bradley could study without application. He smiles, as he watches Colin—for the first time in a dozen such lessons—turn from the film with a smile and a soft, "isn't this wonderful?" And without hesitation, he responds in the same manner in which he's learned—the kiss a yes without condition.