Category: Nathan Barley
Pairing: Dan Ashcroft/Jones
Length: 1-5k words
Notes: Not mine. No copyright infringement intended.
Noise Silence by Jackie Thomas
Dan couldn’t sleep. Eventually he just gave up trying and got up. He smoked a cigarette and drifted a teabag through hot water. It was too quiet.
His back still hurt from jumping out of Nathan Barley’s window. The ache sent him on fitful expeditions across the flat in search of a comfortable position to sit or stand or lie down. He ended up at the window.
There was a twist of road leading from their house to the rest of the world and Jones’ old mini might at any moment come rattling down it; the ancient radio at full blast, weighed down by speakers, sound systems, decks, records and the rest. It was possible to hear it coming from south of the river. Nothing about Jones was quiet, after all.
But the road, lit by streetlight and the beginnings of a clear, winter dawn, was empty and he couldn’t hear anything. London had its volume turned down.
Two days ago he had come home to find Jones, the mini and the equipment gone. He hadn’t thought anything of it; it probably just meant a gig. There was no note though, or call. There was usually one or the other if he got an unexpected booking, in case Dan wanted to come along. Which he usually did.
Jones didn’t come home at all that night and Dan didn’t sleep. He put it down to his back bothering him more than usual and not to missing Jones and his ‘time to go to sleep’ mix. But he wasn’t worried. The nature of Jones’ work meant he was more or less nocturnal, and there was no reason he should account for his movements to Dan. Though he usually did.
It was only when Dan came home from work the next day and there was still no sign of Jones he began to wonder. He phoned him a couple of times but he didn’t answer and didn’t call back when he left voicemail.
Then in the awful silence of the night his mind began to construct disasters. What else but a disaster would have prevented Jones from either coming home or sending a text?
There were only two sounds in the flat. Possibly in the world. One was the elderly fridge, eternally and efficiently self-regulating. The other was his sister’s slow sleep breaths. He watched her from the bedroom doorway. Claire was having only her second decent night’s sleep since she had moved in. Otherwise he would have woken her and asked her if she knew where Jones was. Not that she would; she and Jones had not exactly bonded. Incredibly, Jones’ ‘ice cream’ peace offering hadn’t won her over.
Still, he would have liked to talk to her. She was his conscience after all, and the voice of cold reason in the wonderland world he currently occupied. She would have told him to go to back to bed. Jones was a grown up, and an especially annoying one at that, who was more than capable of looking after himself.
She would have been right. In some ways Jones was a lot better at surviving than anyone else Dan knew. But Jones had music. He was music. If you looked through a microscope at Jones’ DNA you would probably find lots of tiny vibrating quavers and crotchets. And his music put him in gentle misalignment with the rest of the world, at odds with the posers and fakers. Unlikely as it might be, given his average decibel level, this seemed to make him vulnerable. Perhaps that was why Dan often felt protective of him.
He looked around the room. It was the flat’s only bedroom and three people’s clothes and bags and hairbrushes now overflowed from the drawers and drifted in waves out of the wardrobe. It was the price they paid for living so centrally.
Before Claire moved in, Dan and Jones occupied the one bed in loose shifts. Dan slept at night, soothed by the sampling and mixing going on in the next room and Jones took his turn after Dan got up or, more often, at four or five am. Dan would often wake to find Jones sleeping next to him.
They never discussed the other mornings when he woke with arms full of Jones. Jones lying across his chest, tightly gripping a handful of his Tshirt, asleep in the circle of Dan’s embrace. Dan would have given a lot to have him safe there now. He would have given a hell of a lot.
He gave the wall a kick. Where the fuck was he?
His back complained so he returned to the living room to sit on Jones’ sofa. They had a sofa each since Claire moved in. Claire had not wanted to take the bed but it was the arrangement that made the most sense in the limited space. She was moving out today. Her flatshare had finally come through. He had been looking forward to getting back to normal.
He didn’t really want to look at the silent void where Jones’ turntables ought to be and he absently picked up a magazine half hidden by a blanket.
He was dismayed to find it was SugarApe. He was horrified to find it was the latest edition folded open at his own contribution. He hadn’t brought it here. He had been trying not to acknowledge its existence. It was his account of his trip to the Grey Lion and his brief tryst with the builder. The builder who had followed him home when he had wanted nothing more than to leave behind the confusion and sordid wrongness of that experience.
He hadn’t told Jones about it because he knew he would not have been able to explain how the tidy little pub, air thick with secrets had seemed nothing less than a glimpse into his own future. He hadn’t told him because he could not understand his inexplicable conviction that he had betrayed Jones simply by going there.
He began to wonder whether there was a connection between Jones’ disappearance and this last thing he had read while in the flat. He knew his friend would be appalled at his behaviour. It was crass even by SugarApe standards. But it was a bit of an extreme reaction to leave without a word. Jones had forgiven him getting on stage with Nathan Barley, after all. He had forgiven him his moody sister. And, once someone had bothered to tell him Dan was in hospital, he had been full of sympathetic ‘no ways’ when he heard the terrible window saga. Why would this be enough to finally drive him out?
He had to find out though. There was one place Jones would go if he had really left. He had a couple of mates who lived in a squat a few streets away. They were members of the same dj-ing crew and if he was going to crash anywhere it would be there. He dressed quickly and left.
Jones’ mini was parked outside the squat. Apparently this meant Dan could breathe again.
He knocked hard at the door. It was only six thirty and the occupants of the house were not early risers. He was finally, though grudgingly, let in and pointed in the direction of an attic room.
He knocked and, when there was no answer, pushed the door open. It was a bare room, unlived in and cold. It had ripped wallpaper and no curtains and was the sort of place you might expect to find a dead junkie. It gave Dan the creeps but Jones slept, oblivious, on a mattress on the floor.
He had fallen asleep in the striped sweatshirt that made him look vaguely French, his arm slightly covered his forehead and he frowned at whatever dream was troubling him. His kit, all packed away and unused in its cases and boxes, was piled in a corner. A bag of clothes, which Dan had not noticed missing in the current chaos of the flat, was next to the mattress.
Jones woke up, disturbed by the movement in the room. His expression of surprise at seeing Dan faded into discomfort.
“All right?” He said, sitting up and looking at his hands.
Daylight was picking out a pattern of blood or soup splashes on the wall and Dan had to make himself look away from it.
“I-” he started. “I didn’t know where you were.”
Jones glanced quickly up at him.
“That was the idea,” he said. Then he sighed and dragged his jeans from his bag. “Let’s get out of here, yeah?”
Dan nodded with relief and waited as Jones dressed and shrugged on his old grey military coat.
They walked in the direction of the nearest parade of shops. It was a bitterly cold morning and Jones had his collar up and hands plunged into his pockets. They normally would have walked with shoulders touching, Dan listening while Jones told his manic stories. Now Jones was refusing to walk less than an arm’s length from Dan and they didn’t exchange a word.
He hadn’t yet been able to pinpoint exactly why Jones was so disgusted with him, why his visit to the Grey Lion, of his many crimes had tipped the balance against him. Still, it could be worse, Jones could find out about the barber’s cat.
Soon Jones veered off into an Italian cafe, taking Dan along with him by the sleeve of his jacket.
“You’re not going to say anything, are you?” Jones said when the silence had lasted long enough for the coffees to arrive. “You’re not even going to ask me why I left the flat.”
“You read my article,” he said.
“Yeah, I read your article,” Jones replied angrily. “I have to read that stupid magazine to know what you’re thinking, because you never waste your time telling me. You never talk, Dan. I’ve never known anyone so silent.”
Dan looked at him, confused at the turn the conversation had taken. He had always thought there was a ying-yangish harmony to their flat sharing; to the noise and silence of their disparate personalities.
“I didn’t think you minded.”
Jones jabbed at his coffee with a teaspoon, disrupting the pattern of chocolate powder on the cappuccino froth.
“But you’ve got to drop me some clues, mate. Now and then.” He focussed on a point beyond Dan’s shoulder. “Half the time I think you’re ignoring me because I’m an idiot and you hate me –“
“No,” Dan said, so sharply other customers turned to look. Jones’ eyes widened and his expression softened.
“And sometimes when you look at me, or smile at me or say my name in your sleep, I think,” he hesitated. “Well, I think, maybe, you don’t hate me but it’s never going to be anything more than that. Which I totally get. And then – then you go off with some fucking stalker who could have killed you.”
“Shut up, Jones. It wasn’t like that.”
“No? What was it then?”
“Forget him – forget that. It was a job.”
“So what’s your job now, Dan?” Jones said disbelievingly. “Why would you go to a stranger? If you needed something? Why wouldn’t you come to me?”
Dan stared at him. This wasn’t silent sub-text anymore, this was Jones making him look straight at all the things he wanted left hidden. He would have run away if there was a chance his legs would work.
“Sometimes I think you can’t see me.” Jones said quietly. “Can you even see me?”
He could see Jones. He could see him when he closed his eyes. He could see him in the faces of strangers on the street. He could see him as he pointed and clicked his way across the internet. Sometimes he thought he could see nothing but Jones.
The only place he couldn’t see Jones was in the seat opposite, because he had thrown down the teaspoon and walked out.
When Dan got back to the flat he found Claire shifting her stuff in bin bags and boxes from bedroom to hallway. He helped her for a while before his back went and then he lay stretched out on the kitchen floor. He looked up later to find her hovering over him with a cup of black instant coffee, rattling his bottle of painkillers.
She sat cross legged next to him. She had been a lot sweeter tempered after one night’s sleep, she might even be able to talk to him without spitting after two. She gave him a push to help him sit up.
“Where’s Jones?” She asked.
“He left me.”
He hadn’t meant it to sound quite as gay as that, but then he had never been able to keep anything from Claire. She gave him a look which was somewhere between ‘I knew it’ and ‘I’m telling mum.’
“Because you wanked the builder?” She finally asked. “Serves you right.”
“What shall I do?”
“Stop being a twat.”
This was Claire’s standard advice to him on any number of issues. Lately he’d had a lot of trouble applying it.
They heard a car draw up outside and Claire went out to meet it, thinking it was the friend who was helping her move. Instead, Jones came in carrying his record cases.
“All right, Claire?” he said.
Jones made a few journeys to the car for the rest of his stuff. As he crossed the kitchen, he glanced quickly at Dan. The usual open smile was long gone but Dan thought his expression wasn’t hostile anymore, if anything he seemed embarrassed.
Soon the air filled with the sound of a heavy, gloomy, bass line from the CD player.
“There,” Claire said. “He’s back.”
Claire soon left but Dan hung around in the kitchen, lacking the nerve to venture further into the flat. It was eleven o’clock, he should have been at work but that didn’t seem likely. He could hear Jones in the living room putting his stuff away and then in the bathroom, running a bath.
He finished his coffee and lay back down on the kitchen floor, waiting for the painkillers to kick in. The fridge switched itself on an inch from his head and began to hum through its next cycle. He envied its constancy.
He wondered what he could say to make this all right, or at least to make it go away. Jones wanted him to talk but the thought of attempting to speak all this emotion terrified him. He was better in writing anyway. Maybe soon, when he was ready to define this, he could write Jones a letter. He could probably write him a book. Though Jones had probably had enough of Dan’s writing by now. Why was he such a twat?
He fell asleep lying on the kitchen floor, and woke a couple of hours later. Someone had put blankets from the sofa over him. Someone. Who else would it be? He got up and made his way through the empty living room. He found Jones, perennial nightshift worker, asleep in the bedroom.
He sat on the bed. While the conscious part of his brain was as helpless as ever, a quieter, less listened to side sent a finger to lightly trace the line of Jones’ cheekbone. Jones didn’t wake but restlessly turned from his side to his back.
He rested a hand on the side of Jones’ cheek, a gentle touch but with the intention to disturb. Jones did wake then and looked at Dan through untidy fringe and questioning blue eyes. Dan brushed the hair away, leaned down and kissed him softly.
This was a world away from intense and scary builders in pub toilets. This was several galaxies away. This was everything making sense instead of absolutely nothing. And he suddenly had words to go with it. Words to ask for a little more of Jones’ patience, to ask Jones to think of him if he was thinking of falling in love.
“Look, Jones –“ he began.
“Shut up,” Jones cut him short. He lay, his hand loosely through Dan’s hair since the kiss, his expression thoughtful.
It dawned on Dan he might have got it wrong and Jones might be about to turn him down. If he did he would have to fold himself up, put himself in an envelope and post himself to Timbuktu because that would be the end of him.
But Jones had sat up by then and a smile began on his lips.
“Shut up for five minutes, can’t you.”
He slipped easily into Dan’s arms and kissed him again.
Dan couldn’t sleep. Eventually he just gave up trying and got up. He smoked a cigarette and listened to Jones. The sound tonight was hard and stripped down, something wild and frenzied, more punk than anything. But Jones was beaming like sunshine at him, and winding up.
Dan’s stomach was constantly somersaulting these days and, though his life was still pretty much all over the place, he had stopped envying the fridge. Jones assured him what he was feeling was joy. It was possible. Happiness could very well be this noisy because he had never much liked quiet.