Our Rob or Ross

For the Life on Mars challenge- Noel is back in time to when he first met Julian, or is he?


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Notes: The title is only funny if you watch Red Dwarf. I’m quite hazy on what actually happened when they met, so this is my version of events. Oh and the standup is taken from Julian’s actual routine.

Thanks to plainjane for the beta.

Our Rob or Ross by Replenished

Noel’s body gave an involuntary twitch, causing him to step forward slightly. Blinking rapidly, he tried to clear his blurred vision. That didn’t seem to help so he closed his eyes and pulled at his lip with his teeth in concentration. His stomach felt heavy, like he’d binged on way too many carbs. As the flashing behind his lids eased he started to take in some of the noises that surrounded him.

“Oright, mate. What you after?”

Noel’s eyes flew open and he turned slightly, taking in the scene around him. The question had been posed to him by a bloke behind the bar. He was clearly in a lively pub, music barely audible under the noisy chatter of the punters. The bartender frowned impatiently so Noel flashed him a winning smile. That seemed to have little effect so he ordered a beer. He felt shaky and disorientated and as his drink was put in front of him he tried to recall how he got here.

“Shit.” He had reached into his pocket and found nothing. Usually he’d have at least a crumpled up note in there. Normally he would miss them when doing his laundry and later discover the soggy mess.

The bartender sucked at his teeth, giving Noel a barely suppressed sneer.

Noel patted around his trousers and suddenly produced a wallet from his back pocket. His look of triumph faded after he had handed the money over but the bartender had long disappeared.

He tapped the wallet on the back of his other hand sharply. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d carried a wallet, shit, he didn’t even realise he still owned one. That wasn’t the only thing though. He was wearing trousers; he never wore trousers anymore, especially not loose fitting slacks like these.

Noel began to take stock of his memory. Where had he been last? Some party. What had he been doing? Having fun, obviously; drinking and someone had produced a little bag from somewhere. He remembered Julian had been there early on but had left soon after things got interesting.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the PA boomed, and the crowd shushed slightly,”please welcome to the stage- Julian Barratt!”

“Coming at ya like a beam, like a ray, like a laser, like a beam of light in the night I’m like light beam I’m coming at ya like a tiny little mm, like a pin like a tiny little beaver like I’m nibbling at ya like oh get off, and I’m like a surprise man coming at ya when you’d least expect like a monkey out of a bag of crisps, ah! Get out! Ah I can’t see ah… Hello.”

Noel was yanked out of his reverie by the start of the routine. He whipped around to face the small stage to see HIM. The announcement of the name had pricked Noel’s ears up but it wasn’t until that oh so familiar voice had launched into his favourite bit that he focused all his attention towards the lean man jittering nervously on stage.

What the fuck is going on.

It was definitely Julian but so much more youthful, his shoulders hunched up, his face clean shaven. Noel’s eyes flicked around the room wildly, everything seemed normal, like the hundreds of pubs he had probably been in over the course of his life.

“If you wanna have fun right, in London, in the town of London as I call it…”

Yet there he was, up there, doing that routine. Noel hadn’t heard it in ages, parts of it had been appropriated for other skits but the full thing had been shelved. Julian didn’t do stand up anymore, he was focussed on his life and doing more ‘deep penetrating theatre’.

I’ve definitely lost it ‘coz this is way too vivid to be a dream.

Noel went back to staring at Julian. There was no doubt in his mind. Julian looked totally different.

“And like wear their skin as a kind of leisure suit.”

The crowd sat stunned for a moment, then clapped and cheered enthusiastically. It was all so familiar to Noel; it was just like it had been in the early days. Julian hopped off the stage hurriedly, disappearing backstage.

The music was pumped back up, playing the pub stalwart Oasis’ Wonderwall. Noel stood dazed, still staring at the spot where Julian had disappeared behind the curtain. He let out his breathe, which he felt like he’d been holding for the whole routine.

Pull yourself together, just clear your mind for a second and think this through. Oh that’s it, that must be it. It’s a hallucination, a drug induced hallucination. What the hell was in that stuff. This is the freakiest and most unsettling trip I’ve ever been on. So I just have to ride it out, let the chemicals do there thing and I’ll come down in a couple of hours.

Noel put down his mostly empty drink on the bar and headed off the find a toilet. Apparently you could still need to pee in a hallucination.

Pushing open the bathroom door, he moved purposefully towards the urinal. If there was one thing he’d learnt about a pub like this, is that if you looked like Noel did, you didn’t hang around in the toilets. He stopped abruptly in front of the grimy mirror, his reflection having caught his eye.

“Well look at you,” he murmured, watching his lips moving in the reflection. He studied them to make sure it was really him looking back. And it was him, yet so different; his face softer with round cheeks, his hair short and blonde and his clothes. They were so daggy he actually winced at his own image.

This is really how I used to look, isn’t it. I’m so… ordinary.

Noel turned his face in profile, cataloguing all the parts of his face that had made such a radical change in the mirror.

Suddenly, he remembered how he had stumbled last night. Everyone had laughed, that was until his nose started to run with blood. He had tried to stem the flow but it ran through his fingers and spread out on to the carpet. He had tried to speak, to offer the shocked faces around him reassurance. It was at that point he remembered feeling light headed and weightlessness overcame him.

After that there was nothing, no memory until regaining consciousness in the pub. Noel pressed the back of his index finger to a nostril, studying it with wide eyes. There wasn’t a trace of blood, just his hand, fingers slightly chubbier from the extra weight he now carried.

So I’m dead. He felt a strange kind of finality with that thought. What a lame way to die, the tabloids are gonna love it.

Noel felt his eyes well up.

I’m dead and I’m never gonna see any of them again.

His family- who had, and would, support him through anything. Dee- who would always know how to make him smile and Julian. Grumpy, sweet, endearing Julian. He somehow felt that Julian would be the most hurt by this. It was silly really, when he tried to fathom why that would be but he knew it to be true.

His eyes refocussed on the mirror. But I have seen him again already. What the hell kind of afterlife is this. He pulled out his wallet again and began pulling out the contents. Maybe I’m in one of those special hells, reliving horrible moments over and over.

He pulled out a ticket for the tube and stared at the date. July 1997, huh, that explains my lack of fashion sense.

Someone shoved open the door and Noel quickly re-pocketed his wallet and moved to the urinal.

His mind wandered as he peed, he mulled over what he’d been up to in ’97. He had still been at Art College, he was sure of that. Oh my god! This was it- the night I met Julian. So not hell then, heaven? It was one of the best nights of his life. The night that everything changed and he’d discovered something he loved. Maybe I’m not dead. Maybe I’m unconscious and this is a dream. It’s a fucking vivid dream if it is. It feels just like I’m awake actually experiencing it all.

Whatever this was, Noel felt a new resolve as he headed back out into the pub. He had always been able to go along with flow, so why not enjoy himself, especially if this was it and he was really dead.

Moving through the pub, he recalled hazily what had happened all those years ago. How something about that performance had possessed him to seek Julian out. How Julian had been aloof and a little nervous initially but Noel continued to bug him until they became friends.

He headed to where he knew Julian would be, in the closest thing the pub had to a backstage, a little quiet spot in the corner. He looked at Julian intently as he approached him, hunched around a pint, shielding himself from the room with his shoulders. Julian’s eyes flicked up as Noel stopped in front of him.

“Hi, my name’s Noel, I just watched you, fucking fantastic stuff. I think you and me are pretty similar in our sense of humour; we should do something together, yeah? Not that I’ve ever actually done any stand up before but I’m sure I’d be good at it. Some kind of comedy duo, or something,” Noel stopped his rambling monologue as Julian squinted at him.

“Uh, maybe. Listen mate, I got to head off,” Julian gently pushed his glass away and stepped back. Noel then realised how close he’d been standing. Not close if he’d been chatting with Julian now, but to a total stranger like what he was to this guy, it was pretty full on.

Trying to make himself seem more normal he smiled, but realised that had backfired as Julian was now trying not to make eye contact. Fuck it.

“I’ll see you around Julian,” Noel said and Julian’s eyes locked with his for a moment. Perhaps he was reading too much into it but he could have sworn there was a flicker of recognition in those tiny eyes.

Noel watched Julian skulk away and he felt his heartbeat slow. Julian was so adorable, Noel just wanted to stroke his naked cheeks. So what did I do last time this happened? Oh yeah. He remembered that he’d headed home and began excitedly creating material for his new stand up routine. The one he had just decided to make after seeing Julian. Home, ha ha, my old place, this’ll be fantastic.


The novelty of the situation had worn off quite a bit in the last 24 hours. After he had headed back to his old flat Noel had prowled through all his old belongings. He had then set about going through the wardrobe, putting everything ugly into a big pile. He’d then realised that there was nothing left so had to chuck it all back in.

Still restless he’d begun to paint, with a commitment he hadn’t felt in an age. It was late into the night when Noel had slumped into bed. It wasn’t until the morning that he began getting irritated with the mundane things. He had sulked about the flat through the day, watched some TV but it was all so dated. After venturing out for a while he’d soon returned home after being unable to find anything that suited his GI diet.

Now he was back in the comedy club excitedly preparing himself because he knew that he’d be performing tonight. That was how it’d happened; someone hadn’t turned up, he offered to fill in and Julian was enamoured with him. Noel could see him pacing tensely across the room, with a drink clutched in his hand.


Julian stepped up to bar counter after his performance and ordered his drink. Noel watched him subtly, knowing how Julian could get after a gig. Noel smiled to himself, Julian was so obvious; he clearly wanted to talk to him but was too shy.


“Um hi. What was your name again?”

“Noel. That was another fantastic show.”

Julian snorted, “I think yours kinda threw the audience a bit.” He bobbed his head from side to side. “That’s not to say you weren’t really good, you were. It just messed them up for me.”

“I told you we had a similar style,” Noel grinned.

Julian grinned back, “And you were right.”

I’ve got him now, he can’t resist my charms.

They fell into an easy rhythm, bantering back and forth. Noel even tried throwing in a few of their bits from later on.

“The tiny eyes of a crab…”

Julian roared with laughter, thumping the bar in appreciation. At this Noel realised that Julian was very drunk.

“Mind you, with your pointy features, you could be mistaken for a witch,” Julian riffed.

“No doubt, if this were the ‘50s I’d be imprisoned.”

Julian actually wheezed from lack of breath, which degenerated into a coughing fit.

“I’ve got to give up smoking,” he said as he wiped the tears away.

“Time Gentlemen!” the landlord barked out. Looking around Noel saw that they were two of the few remaining drinkers.

“Ah well,” Julian said, and then finished off his drink,”I guess we should call it a night.”

“Why not come ‘round to mine,” Noel blurted out. “For a drink,” he finished lamely.


They walked back to his place slowly, the night air surprisingly warm. Noel still shivered though, this felt all too real. How could it be a hallucination when it felt so natural? Earthy. That was the word that popped into Noel’s head.

“Here we are,” Noel said, trying to cover his thought process with inane chat.

“You sure you don’t mind me coming up, it’s getting late?”

Noel paused, he knew what he was supposed to say here, it was a great joke that he had delivered with a cheeky smile.

“Of course you can come up, but of course, then you can never leave.”

Julian raised his eyebrows and Noel began to panic inside. He hadn’t meant it to come out like that, with a strange catch in his voice. It had sounded kind of pervy, like an invitation.


Julian had spoken so quietly that it took a moment to register. Without thinking Noel moved towards the door to unlock it. He had expected Julian to step back to give him room but instead he felt the heat of his breathe on his shoulder. Noel moved his neck slightly exposing it further to the wonderful feeling.

The walk up the one flight of stairs was so different to how Noel remembered it. Last time they had laughed and chatted all the way up the stairs but this time they were silent.

Inside the flat Noel made no move towards the fridge like he should have done. He didn’t show Julian his music collection, or show him some of his scribbles. Instead he stood next to him dumbly, more unsure of himself than he could remember.

Julian leant in and pressed his lips to Noel’s gently. He then moved back again, his eyes surprisingly wide with dilated pupils. Noel knitted his eyebrows as his tongue darted out, licking his bottom lip.

“I’ve never done that before, kiss a man I mean,” Julian said deeply. “Have you?”

Noel paused; he wanted to say that yes he had, but only with Julian on stage, only as a joke.

“Um, not really.” What am I doing? Yet he could still feel the weight of Julian’s lips on his. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, that much he knew. As he looked at Julian, who had begun to hunch over again with embarrassment, he didn’t care anymore.

Noel kissed Julian back, this time more fiercely. Julian loosened into him, returning his passion.

As the night drew on, Noel forgot all about what was supposed to happen and merely enjoyed the moments as they came.


Noel jarred awake, bright lights finding there way through his eyelids. Squinting blearily he found his focus drawn to a hat across the room. His black hat, the one he’d nabbed from the show with the blue flowers on it. His eyes began to adjust as it became clear why he’d been drawn to it. The rest of the room was starkly white and Noel realised he was in a hospital bed.

He propped himself up on his elbows, smacking his woollen tongue. There was a jug of water and a glass on the bed side and as he reached for it he studied the drip taped to his wrist. Sipping the cool water helped clear his head and he saw the mirror across the room. Hopping off the bed, he pulled the drip along with him.

There I am. The stupid dick himself. Noel watched the sallow dark haired man looking back at him. So it’s back to my stupid pointless life. Only now I’ve got an OD to add to my ever expanding rap sheet.

He didn’t want this anymore; that dream, hallucination, whatever it was, had changed everything. It’d changed him, he could feel it. The little spot within him that had held Julian had expanded and there was no going back.

“You’re up.”

Noel whipped his head around towards the door and felt a horrible light-headedness overcome him again.

“Julian,” he said in a small voice and he could already feel a solid body holding him up.

“Its ok, I’ve got you.” Julian all but carried him back to the bed.

“I’m so sorry, Julian.”

“Pfft, what for.”

“Nothing.” How could he explain it to Julian, how do you tell your best friend that you dreamt that you became lovers? That you would never be able to look at them the same.

“Your family are heading up to see you in an hour or so. Until then it’s just me and you,” Julian said warmly. Noel had expected him to be far angrier, Julian was always embarrassed by the stupid things he did. I guess he’s waiting to make sure I’m ok first, then the silent treatment will start. Noel allowed his hair to fall over his eyes, giving him time to compose himself.

Julian leant forward and brushed Noel’s fringe away and smiled at him fondly. “Hopefully they’ll let me take you home tonight. Although they still aren’t really sure why you passed out, personally I think you need to ease up on the dieting.” He moved even closer and murmured, “You know I think you’re hot not matter what.” He grazed his lips against Noel’s, who moved his head back a fraction.

“What’s wrong? Do you feel all right?”

Noel broke out into a maniac grin, “I feel brilliant, Ju. Better than I have in ages,” and he moved his head to meet Julian’s.

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