Title: Our Souls Sit Close and Silently
Fandom: Merlin (RPF)
Word Count: 1800
Summary: Angel doesn’t love Bradley the way Gwen loves Arthur.
Notes: Written for , for .
Our souls sit close and silently within
And their own webs from their own entrails spin;
And when eyes meet far off, our sense is such,
That, spider-like, we feel the tenderest touch
— John Dryden
The little thicket is the picture of romance — or it would be without the cameras and lights and crew members. It would be if it were Gwen and Arthur on this blanket rather than Angel and Bradley, particularly since Bradley is doing his best to make Angel laugh.
It’s not romantic. It is fun, though.
Angel loves Bradley. Truly. And they’ve kissed before, in rehearsal and on film and to tease each other. There have been social kisses when they meet at conventions and award shows, good night kisses when they see each other safely home. She knows his lips. She trusts his lips.
(They are very good lips.)
But Angel doesn’t love Bradley the way Gwen loves Arthur (or even the way Gwen loves Lancelot, and playing a love triangle is not as much fun as you’d think) because Bradley is her playmate, her brother, her friend who wakes her up when she wants a lie-in by pounding on her door and insisting she come play with him, who hides from the wrath of Colin behind her skirts (giggling all the while — Gwen’s frocks are not the best hiding place, which is probably the point) and who has a smile that says Hey, Angel, let’s be bad.
It’s hard to look at Bradley like Gwen would look at Arthur when all she can see is her Bradley.
She practices, trying to put hope and trust and love in her gaze. It makes her want to giggle, to be honest.
“What?” says Bradley, tilting a look at her as the set dresser arranges Gwen’s skirts again. Angel shifts her gaze from watching the breeze play through Bradley’s hair (this Arthur is a true golden boy, while she suspects that Clive Owen was closest to the actual Arturus physically — it feels like time to play Rate The Arthurs with Katie again) to watching the sunlight play through the oak leaves.
“What, what?” says Angel, all innocence.
“What,” says Bradley slowly, as if what he’s about to say is deeply profound, “are you looking at me like that for?”
“Was I looking at you?”
“You were,” Bradley confirms as he flutters his eyelashes.
Angel giggles. “Stop it. I can’t smirk while I’m kissing you.”
“Why not? Isn’t kissing me fun?”
“It’s hilarious,” Angel assures him, and Bradley chuckles and then clears his throat and tries to look serious.
“Are you nervous?”
“No. Why would I be? I’ve kissed you before.”
“I think you’re nervous,” Bradley says and Angel smiles at the oak leaves because she knows what’s coming. “I think you need a little therapy.”
“I do,” says Angel, as seriously as she can. “I am in desperate need.”
Bradley puts his hand on her side. He has good hands, only to be expected on the king of all England. (Albion. Not England yet.) Angel leans her head on her fist and closes her eyes as he takes a deep breath and sings to her, too soft for anyone else to hear, “The itsty-bitsy spider went up the water spout, down came the rain and washed the spider out …”
Angel doesn’t love Bradley most while he’s heroic. She doesn’t love him most in formalwear at events or when he’s giving smiles and autographs, surrounded by fans. She loves him most in moments like this, drowsing in the sunshine while he sings.
“You preposterous baggage!” shouts Bradley as he chases Angel around the catering tent. “You thieving magpie! Stop that girl!”
Angel darts around an extra (who helpfully steps into Bradley’s way and he has to feint and dodge), clutching the prop Excalibur (one of the backups — she wouldn’t dream of playing like this with the main prop) and looking for an exit. Bradley grabs for her but she puts a table between them and dances off. “I have your sword!” she taunts him. “Shouldn’t have let me get my hands on your sword!”
“You don’t know what to do with my sword!” Bradley shouts after her and the tent fills with a chorus of “Oooo!”
Angel stops and holds the sword in the most heroic pose she can think of, her hand on her hip and the sword brandished to ward off all enemies. “I’m the only one who knows how to take care of your sword,” she says with every ounce of queenly dignity she can muster, which is quite a bit, and she doesn’t relinquish an inch when Bradley clambers over the table and jumps in front of her.
There is only one thing to do in this situation, of course. She taps him on the shoulder with the sword. “I dub thee Sir Bradley of Slowpoke,” she says and tucks it under her arm to saunter away.
“I concede. You win this time, Coulby,” Bradley calls after her, and she turns just enough to triumphantly smile.
“I win every time, James.”
The songs are a secret, as much of a secret as you can have on the set of a television programme, but a secret nonetheless. Bradley doesn’t sing to anyone else, not Colin or Anthony or the girls who play his love interests every few episodes. Angel tells no one, not even Katie, because it’s so small and precious she’s afraid if more people know the combined weight of that knowledge will crush it out existence.
Other things are secret, too. Like when the wind tosses her curls about her face and Bradley catches them — to keep them, he says, from blowing away. Or when they lie on her bed and talk, and their hands slide over and around each other’s like otters playing in the sea. Or when they climb to the top of the tower in Pierrefonds and eat strawberries while they watch the sun come up. Or when he sits between her feet and she places her hands on his shoulders and he leans back, trusting her to support him.
(That’s not the secret. The secret is that she always will.)
“Who’s your favorite?” says Bradley as he draws his fingers over her bare sole.
He tickles her in punishment, and Angel shrieks and jerks her foot, trying to free herself from his dastardly grasp.
“Who’s your favorite?”
He is determined. His future-king-of-England-fingers are agile and his grip is strong. “Who’s your favorite?”
“Graham Chaplin!” She twists with determination but it’s not enough. “His Camelot was a silly place!”
“I’m your favorite!” Bradley insists. “Say it!”
“You’re my favorite!” she gasps between giggles. “You’re my favorite Arthur.”
Bradley releases her foot. “As it should be.”
“On TV,” she amends and he grabs her foot again.
They watch a scene between Colin and Katie, as Bradley stands behind Angel and holds her with his arms loosely around her neck. As sad as this scene makes her feel (the tale of Camelot is, in the end, a tragedy if you look at it a certain way, and the rift between Merlin and Morgana is a large part of it in this retelling), she feels strangely, utterly content in this moment. Bradley’s costume smells like it was dried in the sun and the man himself is warm and solid behind her. She suspects if they weren’t filming Bradley would sing to her again, since he knows she finds these scenes hard to watch and would appreciate the comfort.
Angel wants to tell him a secret, the secret that nobody knows. You’re more than my favorite Arthur. You’re my favorite Bradley.
The end of filming is always hard because they never know if they’ll be back next year. Angel gives hugs and kisses and collect phone numbers and email addresses, gives Colin’s ears a final affectionate rub and lays her head on Katie’s shoulder.
Finally it’s time to say goodbye to Bradley, and he holds out his arms, smiling that let’s be bad smile. “You’d better call me,” he says as Angel hugs him.
She tilts her head, smiles her most queenly smile. “Call me first.”
He looks at her as if it’s a challenge. “All right, I will.”
Angel doesn’t believe him, because they’ll both be busy and it’s easy to lose track of people when you don’t see them every waking moment and a few that are half-asleep, but she kisses his cheek anyway.
And then it’s home again, family, friends, auditions, scripts, classes. The life of a working actor when the series is on hiatus and everyone is waiting for news.
There comes a day when several small things go wrong like the universe is conspiring to annoy her to death — a broken heel, a rescheduled appointment, a shattered glass — and she’s sweeping up the kitchen when she realizes she hasn’t spoken to Bradley for weeks. More than that, she wants Bradley to hold her while he sings.
It’s nothing, it’s stupid, but it still makes tears sting in her eyes and she leans her head against the fridge and longs for him, yearns for him, desires him in a way that makes her pulse throb and her hands clench. She misses her friend. She misses her playmate. She misses her Bradley.
It’s perfect like poetry when someone knocks on the door.
She opens the door and doesn’t even say hello when she sees Bradley. She just tugs him inside and buries her face in his neck.
“Sorry I didn’t call,” says Bradley, holding her just as tight, and that’s when she kisses him.
She tells him about it all, this endless summer and the way she fills her days, the people she’s met and hoped to meet and failed to meet, even about the broken glass still scattered on her kitchen floor, as they lie in her bed. (Dressed. They will make love, she knows. Maybe not tonight, but soon.) He tells her about his travels, about his family and the movies he’s being offered and the scripts he’s read. It’s just tender and soft like this, it’s what she’s missed about him most, this quietude.
“Did you miss me?” he asks after they’ve both fallen silent for a while, feet entangled and knees touching. His fingers walk over hers like a spider crawling up the water spout.
Angel says, “Yes,” simply. “Did you?”
“I missed you terribly,” says Bradley and there’s no playfulness in his tone, just a serious sort of warmth that Angel has never heard before and likes very much. “You’re the first person I wanted to see when I got back. There’s half-a-dozen people I need to call and see and all I want is you.”
She pushes her fingers between his, weaving them together, stronger than a thread. “Sing to me,” she requests.
Bradley chuckles, another warm, soft sound, and gathers her to him. Angel leans her head against his chest and drowses as Bradley sings.