Bradley James and louis_garneau, the meeting.
It's a gorgeous fall afternoon, and Bradley has managed to escape just about everyone, for once. Sure, his mobile's still on, and sure, he's told the cast manager his general route, but it's his day off and he's going to make the most of it.
Camera bag slung carefully around his neck, he parks his rental Mini carefully off the roadway, locks it all up--French countryside or no French countryside, it's hard to quit city-bred habits--and heads up the small hill he'd seen from the main highway. His mates might chaff him about his 'birdwatching' or 'shutterbugging,' but there's bound to be loads of photo ops up there, and there's something about being alone out here that gives his mind, busy with roles and lines and characterizations, time to relax and recharge. Somewhere behind him in that bloody great white castle, Colin and Tony are doing retakes of scenes, and the effects guys are taping sound, but out here, it's just him and the hawk circling high above.
Honestly he's not sure where he is, precisely. But that's half the fun.
He snaps some shots of the hawk, but it's hard to get a good photo at such a distance, and he scrambles further up the slope, glad he's worn his oldest trainers and jeans, only stopping to shove sweaty hair off his forehead and take a breather halfway up. He glances back down the hill at his little car, surprised at how far he's come, and pushes on through brush and high grasses, sure there will be a completely killer view once he gets to the top.
And there is. He finally pulls himself up to the rocky outcrop at the top of the hill, and stands still, a little stunned at what he can see.
Hidden behind the hill is a truly gorgeous estate. Sprawling, immaculate, huge but somehow still tasteful and elegant, and clearly occupied. There are cars in the large, shaded carport, and movement of people here and there on the grounds. It doesn't look like a theme park creation, like the castle they use for "Merlin," but rather a true manor house from ages gone by. He'd had no idea that there was a hotel here, or a resort, or a chateau, whatever it might be.
He picks his jaw up from where he's been gaping, and grabs his camera. The way the light falls across the clock tower is absolutely gorgeous, and the stained glass in the tower is gleaming in the sun. He's going to get some brilliant photos out of this, he just knows it, and starts clicking away, focusing on the tower and the windows, the warm old stones in the sunlight.
There are cameras everywhere, so small the naked eye can't see them. But they're monitored 24/7 and guards patrol the grounds, keeping in touch with base as they go. So the moment Bradley crosses onto Citadel property, they start closing in on him, cutting off any escape. "What do you think you're doing?" Mark asks, defaulting to French as he steps up beside the man, motioning for Jean and Francois to keep back for the moment.
Bradley's been so focused on his lens that when he hears the deep voice barking at him in French, he startles and spins around so fast he nearly falls. And his French isn't very good, but he can tell instantly that the very large man glowering at him, with his two very large friends behind him, is probably not just asking him the time.
"I'm hiking. Um. Birdwatching?" he tries, putting his hands in the air, erring on the side of safety. The bloke is *very* large. "Um. Les oiseaux, je les aimes? And le photography." He holds up his camera hopefully.
Recognizing a fellow countryman, Mark switches to English. "Maybe so, but this is private property you've stumbled onto, and the owners don't allow photographers on the grounds."
"Shite," Bradley drops his hands, realizing he's dealing with security guards, big, professional ones, and that this could be bad. Wary, he takes a small step back. "Sorry mate, I didn't know it was private. My car's back down there," he waves towards where he left the road. "I didn't realize, didn't see any signs. Sorry. I'm really just taking some pictures for my album."
"Go check the car," Mark barks over his shoulder in French to the other guards. "And have base run the plates." He turns back to the intruder, who looks harmless enough and nods. "I'm sure it's just an honest mistake," he allows, again switching to his native language. "But you'll have to come with me and talk to the owner - unless you want to be charged with trespassing."
"Charged with...hang on, what's this about?" Bradley's over his shock and getting a little angry, and somewhere in there there's just a bit of fear. He's all alone in a foreign country, and his passport and ID and mobile are in the car. "I took some bloody pictures of a building! Where are they going?" He turns a little to watch the two silent guards climb down the hill towards his car. "Why the hell should I go anywhere with you? Who's to say your boss isn't some crazed serial killer?"
He gives the guard his most imperious look, the one he's practiced so hard for Arthur, right down his nose. The fact that he has to look up a good six inches to do it doesn't matter, he assures himself.
Mark laughs, shaking his head in amusement. "First of all, you're on private property. And there are signs - on the posts down there, over there, and there," he says, pointing in the various directions. "You can either come with me and explain what you were doing to my boss and convince him you didn't take any pictures you shouldn't have been or we can wait here while I call the police and you can explain yourself to them. And the owners here will file charges against you for trespassing." He shrugs. Honestly, he could care less, and if the kid won't come with him, then great, he won't have to bother Louis after all.
"Oh, *bloody* hell," Bradley mutters, rubbing his hand over his face. He can see the headlines now if he's arrested: 'Merlin star arrested in sneak spy grab: secret love affair??' It's more, much more than he wants to deal with, and his shoulders slump in defeat. At least this great goon isn't taking his camera. "All right. Fine. I warn you, though, I'll be noticed if I go missing. I've people waiting for me at home."
"Don't worry," Mark says, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm sure we'll get this straightened out quickly." He calls in to base, asking them to contact Marie and let Louis know they've found someone on the grounds: he'll bring the guy up the back stairs. "Get going," he orders, motioning for the man to walk in front of him. "Head for those rose bushes on the left."
Frowning, Bradley goes where he's pointed. This is a cock-up for the books. He can only hope that this is all some major misunderstanding...maybe an over-enthusiastic security guard, here, aiming for a promotion or the boss's eye? It's all so ridiculous, and he can't quite believe what's happened with his rare, precious day off. He wishes he could understand a bit more French so he'd know what was going on on that radio.
"This is bollocks," he informs the guard, even as he's circling the rosebushes, seeing a faint track down the slope and following it. The manor looms larger with every step. "Kidnapping or something. I know, I know, I'm not going to change your mind, but I just thought you should know." He also knows he could probably outrun the bigger man, but that he'd never make it back to his car, not three against one.
This time Mark does roll his eyes. "Feel free to call the police when you leave and complain," he says. "You'll find they're a little more concerned with keeping the owners happy than wayward tourists." Besides which, they haven't had to make anyone disappear in a long time. He motions again in the direction of the castle, guiding the guy towards the back door.
"Arse," Bradley mutters, looking at the imposing door with a little trepidation. He's an actor, he reminds himself. He straightens up and puts his chin in the air, looking every inch the young royal, shaking his fringe out of his eyes and striding through the door when it's opened to him. Clearly the back entrance, he notes, seeing crates and pallets stacked up, used for deliveries.
He doesn't see a soul as he walks up the narrow staircase, which is a bit creepy, especially with the guard's footsteps heavy behind him, but he keeps his head high. No good meeting this mythical owner of the place looking like a paparazzo or a thief.
"Around the corner, first door on your left," Mark orders, scanning the hall ahead of them as they make their way to the office. Marie's just inside and by the look on her face, she's already been debriefed.
"He's in his office," she tells Mark, addressing their visitor in English. "Can I get you something to drink? We have coffee, tea, juice..."
"Um," Bradley says, blinking at the beautiful, efficient woman who's suddenly appeared and seems to be treating him as some sort of visitor, instead of an intruder. He'd been half-expecting a dungeon, to be honest. "Water would be lovely. Bit of a climb I had, getting up there. And then getting down. Thanks, very much." Never let it be said that Bradley James forgot the manners his mum taught him.
The room he's standing in is ridiculously opulent, and if he hadn't just come off a set of royalty, he'd no doubt be staring. As it is, he's wondering if they rent this place out for television shoots, and if so, if he could talk the producer into using it. A few tapestries and it'd be gorgeous as some knightly castle. He takes the water with his most charming smile. "I don't suppose we could just agree that this is a misunderstanding, so I can be on my way?"
"Not until you've spoken with Monsieur Garneau," Marie says simply. "He's expecting you though and this shouldn't take long." She nods to Mark that she'll take things from here and motions for the visitor to follow her. "You're English?"
"British citizen," Bradley replies promptly, following her without so much as a wave to the goon. She seems much nicer. "Loyal subject of Her Majesty the Queen. I have a passport and all, I shouldn't try locking me in a dungeon, the consulate frowns on that in these times of peace. Or so I hear." He can't help but glance around curiously, and his fingers itch for his camera, still hanging around his neck.
Probably a bad idea. He wonders if this lady's boss is some old French coot, pickled in wine and cheese, who gets his only kicks off scaring lost tourists. He's absolutely sure he won't be intimidated, and his chin goes up again. Pity she's taller than he is, though.
Marie merely nods and knocks on the door at the end of the hall. The young man seems pleasant enough, with looks that would easily qualify him for training, but they've dealt with all sorts before and she's not about to make friends (or enemies) until Louis has talked to him.
"Come in," Louis calls, quickly signing the last few papers on his desk and shoving them back into the folder. He glances up to see Marie followed by a young blond man. Their intruder. Who he already knows all about since they've run his plates and checked his immigration records. He stands, offering his hand. "Bonjour. Louis Garneau."
Okay, this is NOT what Bradley had expected. This guy is young. Tall. Absolutely bloody gorgeous, with long dark hair and amazing eyes, and, he thinks a little sadly, probably not someone who watches "Merlin." Not much chance of pulling, then, and then he realizes his thoughts are wandering very badly. Bradley blinks and shakes himself out of it, and meets the extended hand with a firm clasp of his own, tipping his chin up, refusing to feel very short.
"Bradley James. Sorry for all the trouble, really. I didn't see the signs, and your people are...enthusiastic about their work." He grins a little, wryly. "Made quite an adventure out of my little photography expedition, though. What on earth is this place? I've seen less security at Buckingham Palace."
Louis laughs, shaking Bradley's hand firmly before releasing it. "Please have a seat," he says, gesturing to the chairs in front of his desk. "And we'll try and get this resolved as quickly as possible." He hands the folder with the signed papers to Marie and takes a seat himself. "I apologize if our security was at all heavy-handed. This property is part of a private club. Our members trust that they can come here and get away from the public eye, including, but especially, the paparazzi."
Bradley sits with automatic obedience, and smiles a little. "I am the furthest thing from a paparazzo," he explains fervently. His own run-ins haven't been regular yet, but he knows enough to hate them already. "Believe me. I came out here to get away from cameras and questions and prying eyes myself, and do a little birdwatching." He holds up his camera in explanation. "Birds of France, it'll be a collection if I ever get round to it. Mostly it's pictures of my own feet and buildings, so far. I, uh, I'm supposing you'll want me to delete the ones I took here?"
Frankly, he's astonished they haven't just taken his camera and smashed it yet. But he's more and more intrigued, and he's watching Mr. Garneau's hands, graceful and with long fingers, and if he wants to draw this out a bit, he's not going to blame himself.
"May I see them first?" Louis asks, holding out his hand for the camera, well aware Bradley is watching him with interest that is not entirely innocent. "You're an actor then?" As if he doesn't know already. He smiles, his own gaze traveling over the other man.
Bradley has a quick, panicked moment of wondering what, exactly he has on his memory card, before realizing he's got no choice in the matter, really. With some reluctance, he pulls the camera-strap from over his head and hands it over. He's pretty sure it's only some innocent on-set shots, a few of scenery and sets, and of course the photos from today.
"Yeah. Just getting started, really. We're shooting in France, have been since a couple of years ago. You'd think my French would've gotten better, yeah? Not so much. But everyone helps me get by." He thinks he sees a hint of interest in those dark eyes, but knows better than to make any assumptions. Not even in mostly-liberal France. And the uncertainty and attraction are making him talk too much. He forces himself to relax and lounge back in the chair a little.
Louis smiles. "It's hard to pick up languages as an adult," he says, taking the camera and quickly flicking through the pictures until he reaches those of the grounds. "Most of these are fine," he says slowly, carefully checking each over one, "but yes, if you could delete any showing the actual buildings, I would appreciate it." He looks up again. "Should I go ahead and do that?"
"Sure, fine, yeah," Bradley nods, watching Louis's hands again as they move on the camera, catching himself, and knowing he's flushed a little. It's been too long, he scolds himself. And this...resort owner, or whatever he is, is clearly far too posh to be flattered by *that* sort of attention from a scruffy actor-cum-birdwatcher. He scratches at his chin self-consciously, wishing he'd taken a moment to shave that morning, though he knows the blond hair will barely show.
"So that's that, then?" he asks, joking, smiling a little and meeting Louis's eyes. "Not going to toss me in the dungeon? No whips and chains or throwing me to starving dogs? Not that I'm objecting," he adds hastily. It's a bit too early to be discussing alluding to kinks, especially with someone as straight-laced and proper as this Louis seems to be, and given the reactions he's had from previous dates on just that subject. "Just, your man out there seemed to think it was all terribly dire. Threatened arrest and all sorts."
"Well, as I said, our members take their privacy very seriously, and our security is paid very handsomely to enforce it," Louis says, still holding the camera, his eyes on Bradley. "Of course, we do have a dungeon if you'd like to be locked up," he teases, leaning forward to pass the camera back, his fingers brushing Bradley's as he does. Mon dieu. What he would give to have met him under different circumstances, but this, this is too close for comfort.
Bradley blinks again at the teasing smile, eyes going wide at what is clearly a joke, but one that hits a bit close to home. He finds himself smiling back, though, helpless to resist, as he takes the camera back and carefully puts the lens cap on. "Perhaps another time," he answers, mock-seriously, flirting a little as easily as breathing. "I've been warned about strangers offering to show me their dungeons, y'know. Terrible things could happen. It'd be awful to end up as a statistic."
"Ah yes." Louis laughs. "You're wise to take such precautions," he says, getting to his feet. He wishes he could think of some pretext to keep Bradley here for longer but by now Mark knows they've checked him out and is waiting to take him back to his car. "Do you mind if I ask where you're staying?"
"Not at all." Bradley's not particularly modest and he can see the signs of interest, now, clearly on Louis's face. He stands to join his inadvertent host. "We're just a few kilometers north of here,, shooting at the castle, you know it? The great bloody white thing, you can't miss it. We're at the hotel there in town." He grins. "I don't suppose you need it, not with all this," he waves a hand, encompassing the estate, "but I could buy you a drink sometime. Just to say sorry for your trouble."
"And here I was going to offer to buy you dinner for the same reason," Louis says with a smile, even though he knows he shouldn't. Should leave well enough alone and send Bradley on his way. Stick to those who already know what he does, what he wants.
"Hah!" Bradley cheers, clapping his hands together once, happily. "I knew it. I've been nearly-arrested before, but not by anyone nearly as fit as you, and the MP never once looked at my legs." He's practically crowing with enthusiasm and the relief of knowing; not obnoxious or smug, just obviously delighted. "I'll take you up on that offer, Mr. Garneau. Dinner's much nicer than just having a pint down the pub after work one day."
Once again, Louis laughs, shaking his head, mildly amused at Bradley's reaction and hoping he's not going to regret this. "Would tonight be too soon?"
"Tonight would be perfect," Bradley admits, still smiling. "It's my day off and I've a late call tomorrow, so I won't have to run home at some horribly early hour. I definitely need time to get home, shower, and change, though. Anyone sees us together like this, they'll think you're feeding me for charity or something. Should we meet somewhere? You'll know the good places better than I will, I mostly eat in catering, on set."
"There's a place, nothing fancy, but the food is delicious, in the middle of Sarlat, right around the corner from the church, to the right of the market. It's called Chez Le Gaulois." Louis writes the details on a business card, along with his private cellphone number. "How is eight o'clock?"
"Nothing fancy's just my type of place right now," Bradley says, taking the card, brushing fingers with Louis just because he can and he *wants to* and god, this man is gorgeous. "I left my tuxedo in London. Eight sounds perfect." He'll have to drive fast, but that's nothing new, and he's motivated, after all. "And I'll be sure to check for signs before I park, this time."
"Good. We wouldn't want anything to keep you from dinner," Louis says, opening the door to his office and walking Bradley down the hall. "Mark will walk you back to your car and I'll see you tonight." He exchanges a quick few words in French with Mark, including an order not to scare the boy, and then turns back to Bradley. "Again, I apologize for our... enthusiasm, but it is for a good cause, and not all of our visitors have been so innocent in their intent."
"That's okay," Bradley says, even unbending enough to give Mark a little nod. "They were really polite, weren't they, and it was worth it for the chance at a real dinner with good company." He smiles, wide and pleased, at Louis, shoves his fringe out of his face again, and offers his hand. "See you later, then? I'll leave my camera at home, too."
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