The Palace of Sans-Souci

Julian, Noel, some semblance of adulthood, and how some things have changed.


Characters: ,




Warning: ,


Length: words

Notes: Disclaimer: This is a complete work of fiction. In no way am I implying anything about real people’s personal lives, nor do I intend any offense.

The Palace of Sans-Souci by jeudi

Noel wakes up. There’s no drifting open of eyes, no languid stretching, no dozing until he’s ready to face the world. He sits straight up all of a sudden, his heart pounding like he’s been ripped out of a bad dream, but his mind is blank.

His head is killing him, he realises as the bright light of day hits him full-on. He is not on his sofa, nor any sofa he can immediately place. His trousers are undone. He decides not to linger on that thought. With a hefty groan he sits up to survey the room. There are beer bottles and nearly-empty glasses on every surface, the last droplets of abandoned drinks catching the sunlight and gleaming in a variety of colours.

A couple is asleep on the floor, curled tightly around each other. Noel rubs his temples, trying to remember his night. It’s impossible to distinguish it from any other. They’re like a series of canvases splattered with the same paint, only slight variations between them. He gets up unsteadily and pats his pockets to make sure he still has his mobile and his wallet. He hears a noise and follows it to the kitchen where he finds a man frying an egg.

“Alright?” Noel says, his voice sounding alien and gargled in his own ears. The man nods in reply. “Mind calling me a cab, mate?”

“Not my house.” The man grunts as he flips the egg. The oily smell of it makes Noel’s nose wrinkle in disgust.

Noel sighs. “Know the address?” The man pulls out his mobile and pushes quite a few buttons before answering Noel’s question. “Cheers,” Noel says and lets himself out, squinting hard against the onslaught of daylight.

He goes through the names in his phone absentmindedly as he is waiting for the car. He almost calls Dee, but he knows she will only berate him. Noel’s got a splitting headache and an unpleasant taste in his mouth and he’s in the mood to be coddled. It’s Julian, then, of course.

“Hey,” he hears Julian say after two rings.

Noel groans piteously into the phone.

“Rough night?” Julian asks with a low, rumbling laugh that makes Noel warm in the pit of his belly.

“I’ve got such a blinder.”

“Poor thing,” Julian says with a complete lack of anything that resembles sympathy.

“Come out tonight,” he says recklessly. Julian’s breathing crackles steadily through the earpiece. “Miss you,” he adds, and Julian exhales heavily.

“Come over for dinner if you like.”

Noel frowns. He can picture it—quiet Julian and quiet Julia and two squalling babies all sat around the table. It riles up something possessive inside him and his desire to see Julian, to have Julian to himself for a bit, intensifies.

“Come to a gig with me,” he presses, “you’ll enjoy it.”

“Yeah,” Julian says after a pause so long that if Noel didn’t know Julian so well he’d think he’d lost reception, “yeah, okay.”

“Great,” Noel enthuses, smiling in delight. He can’t remember the last time he did something non-Boosh related with Julian.

“I’ve got to go. Call me later, yeah?”

“Love you,” Noel drops casually, rocking back on his heels.

Julian clears his throat. “See you tonight,” he says. It means he’s with someone else, probably Julia, maybe one of his music buddies, otherwise Noel knows Julian would say it back.

When he gets home, Dee rolls her eyes at the sorry sight of him and fetches him some aspirin and his favourite cape.

The first time he and Julian fucked, Noel was on Ecstasy. He remembers his skin itching with need, remembers being balanced on his elbows, wanting to see where Julian was pushing into him.

As soon as Julian was fully inside, Noel convulsed with a pathetic whimper and then came all over both of their stomachs.

I’m sorry,” he had whispered frantically, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” and he remembers Julian murmuring for him to hush as he pulled out carefully and thrust between Noel’s thighs to get off.

They didn’t speak about it afterwards. Julian was up and dressed by the time Noel awakened sore and feeling like shit, but it had started a long litany of sexual encounters governed by Noel’s chemical intake. He never meant for it to be that way, but they both fell into perpetuating the pattern.

This was a bad idea, Noel thinks sourly. At first Julian had stayed close to him, needing the constant reassurance of physical contact, kindling a smouldering fire between them, but he’d slipped away at some point to stand at the back, unwilling to dance and disliking the crush of bodies near the stage. Noel tries to forget about him and enjoy the music, but his irritation is too chafing.

Between acts, he does some speed in the grimy bathroom with a friend, a band promoter or something, and sends Julian indignant text messages that get no reply. He rejoins the crowd and lets himself be buffeted about by their flailing until he feels his anger has been pounded out by the bass and by the endless collision of limbs.

He finds Julian at the bar afterwards. “Didn’t get my texts?” he asks snippily.

Julian fishes his mobile out of his pocket and looks at it sheepishly. “Sorry,” he says, lowering his head so he doesn’t have to raise his voice, “didn’t hear it.”

Noel shrugs it off and peels his sweaty t-shirt away from his chest to fan himself. He can still feel the buzz of his high, but he knows it’s not at the level where Julian will notice something amiss.

“Should we?” Julian says, nodding his head towards the exit. Noel follows him out, but he doesn’t want their night to end here. His proposals of getting a drink are all rebuffed. Feeling sulky, he slides into Julian’s cab after him. He gets a funny look from Julian, but no comment.

They make idle chitchat on the way to Julian’s. When the car pulls up to the kerb, Julian looks away guiltily and says, “It’s late. Everyone will be asleep.”

Noel hadn’t been expecting an invitation to come inside, but it still feels like a slap in the face. “Night, then,” he says shortly. Julian looks at him, helpless and pathetic, and then just hands the driver some cash and gets out of the car. Noel watches Julian’s shadow play over the ground as he walks to his door.

At the last second, he tells the driver he has something to pick up and pays him to wait. His heels clatter on the cement as he runs to catch up, and Julian turns and looks at him with a surprised expression.

Julian is far too fucking passive sometimes, and doesn’t utter a word of protest as Noel puts his hand over Julian’s and turns his key in the lock and pushes him inside. He sucks Julian off, quick and messy, Julian’s back against the door and his hands twisting in Noel’s hair.

He cuffs Noel lightly afterwards, which Noel doesn’t think is proper thanks for a blowjob. “Talk soon?” Julian says lamely while Noel wipes his mouth and plays his tongue over his teeth and wishes for a drink.

“Of course,” Noel says, stretching to kiss just below Julian’s right eye. Julian pulls the door open and closes it as soon as Noel is outside. He hears the deadbolt being turned. The driver looks at him balefully while Noel gives Dee a ring. She’s at a club with Rich. Noel gives the man the address and is quite happy there’s more excitement to be wrung out of the evening.

Noel’s life is like a record on repeat. He makes new friends every night but they’re just flashing lights, might as well be imaginary. Noel could pull anyone he wanted, but it doesn’t quicken him the way it used to. He gets used to seeing his name in the tabloids and it doesn’t matter what they say about him, just that he’s there in ink on paper.

It used to be him and Julian, one beast, tearing it up, now Noel’s out and busy every night with an ever shifting set of people. Noel is easily distracted and everyone he meets brings him some form of amusement, but only the constants like Dee and Melvis and Rich ever truly make things real and fun.

He goes to a Robots show the next night. He never gets tired of watching them perform, raw and electric and sexual up on stage, pure magic. Thoughts of what happened with Julian the evening before are far, far behind him, lost somewhere along the winding path. The truth of it is, as much as Julian is an omnipresent part of Noel’s thoughts, he is not as often at the forefront as he used to be. There’s no need, really, when their places in each other’s lives have been so well established.

Later, he and Dee party hop, ending up at some event for some magazine where Johnny Borrell smokes them both up and Noel laughs and thinks about painting and loses, badly, at pool to Willy Borrell. Dee calls him a disgrace and drags him off to dance. Noel is sweaty, his eyeliner running, early morning stubble starting to show, but he feels golden like this, absolutely beautiful.

He let Julian watch him do coke once after they had an argument. They’ve only had a few fights, and Noel can’t even remember what it was about, just that he pretended he didn’t know Julian was in the room even though he did and snorted three small lines off of some bird’s compact mirror.

Julian knew about Noel’s recreational indulgences, of course, like he knew everything, but Noel generally stuck to beer when he was with Julian just to be polite. Just as soon as he was starting to feel the effects, Julian grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. Caught by surprise, Noel’s head snapped back like a rag doll’s. Julian was red in the face, Noel remembers, his mouth open with wanting to yell at Noel, but he was too shitfaced to come up with anything coherent.

The rest of the night is a fractured blur, but that, for certain, was around when the drift started—occasionally bumpy, but by and large just as gentle as it was inevitable. Their collaboration never truly suffered, their chemistry just as strong as ever, but their private lives split and diverged.

Julian, as Noel understands it, thinks they are soul mates. Julian doesn’t think they can be together. Julian thinks it’s better if they don’t spend that much time together socially. Julian is fucking stupid, but Noel lives on.

Sometimes, on rare occasions, it’s too much for Noel—the stares, the requests for pictures and autographs. He’s at one of Dee’s DJ sets when it starts to get to him. He’s nearly smacked her in the head a half dozen times dancing in such a small area when out of nowhere he starts to feel drained, wilted. He ducks below the deck to catch his breath, hooking an arm around Dee’s calf. She tries to shake him off, but he clings to her resolutely.

He thinks of caves, of dark, wet, secret places, crab-like creatures hiding beneath stones and seaweed. He closes his eyes and imagines he’s grown gills, that he’s lived underground so long that he’s lost his sight. Then, he starts to feel the music again, bringing warmth back to his body. He stands and comes back to himself, then spots one of his mates and goes to chat him up.

It’s a dead night. Noel still feels slightly ill from the all-nighter before and he’s starting to wish he’d stayed in, put on woollen socks and curled up on the sofa with Dee. He’s drunk, tired, feeling lost. He shakes his head to try and clear it and looks around the pub. He thinks he sees Julian in the corner and his heart leaps, but of course it’s not him. He’d never be here. He’s at home with his family, probably changing nappies.

Noel pulls out his mobile and sends Julian a text message that says, “Saw someone who looked like you,” then closes his eyes and tries to picture what Julian is doing at this exact moment. It’s an old game. He draws a mental picture of Julian unable to sleep after a rough day, sitting in the room he uses to record music, plucking idly at a guitar when the phone buzzes with Noel’s text.

“Stole my face?” Julian sends him in reply a little while later. Noel can see his slow, sleepy smile in his head perfectly. One day he will be old, he thinks, and maybe then he will want Julian and nothing more. It’s just, sometimes he doesn’t know what’s less real—the parties or the quiet world that Julian retreats to, so lonely and impenetrable that Noel can hardly stand to be around him when Julian sinks into his moods. He has other people now to pull him out of his mires. Noel tells himself he is glad to be rid of the burden.

Dee goes out of town. Noel misses her, but he has Alison and Courtney to take him out as well as a host of other people to pal around with. He’s planning a holiday for the two of them when she returns. There are still hours and hours to while away, though. It’s not often that Noel lets parties spill over to his place; his flat is a retreat from all that, but he’s bored and it’s too quiet with only him so he invites some mates round, the number of which steadily grows until the air inside feels sticky with so many bodies.

There’s something about it that makes him feel nostalgic, a vague emotion that leaves him with the need to reassure himself that even amid this crowd of near-strangers, Julian is still out there and is still his other half. He’s smashed when he rings Julian, having accepted a little of everything that’s been offered to him. Still, he’s able to wheedle Julian into agreeing to a visit tomorrow. This small, sudden worry taken care of, Noel lets himself get back into the swing of things. When he finally passes out sometime in the early morning hours, he’s already completely forgotten about the call.

He’s startled awake by a hand on his arm. Noel inhales deeply and squints and finally recognizes Julian leaning over him. He thinks he’s dreaming until last night’s conversation comes fluttering back. Julian’s eyes shift over and Noel turns his head to follow his gaze to see that sprawled next to him is a topless girl who is decidedly not Dee.

It’s really none of Julian’s concern, and it’s not like Noel owes him any explanations, but he still feels a tinge of embarrassment at the whole situation. He wriggles over and elbows the girl in the side. She mumbles a sleepy protest and then shifts and stretches.

“I should go,” Julian says quietly as he looks down at both of them. The girl grins coquettishly and pushes herself onto her elbows and stares at Julian. “You could stay,” she simpers, her voice morning-rough. Julian blinks in faint shock. He looks back to Noel, unsure what to say. Blatant propositions have always frightened Julian.

“You could stay,” Noel says, reaching to grasp Julian’s arm. He turns to the girl. “And you could go,” he says dismissively. She seems disbelieving at first and then flounces out of bed, finding a shirt to pull on hastily, and then huffs out the room, calling them queers.

Julian smiles softly and gets into bed. Noel scoots over to accommodate him, settling into the warm spot the girl left. Though Julian doesn’t say anything derisive, Noel still despairs of Julian judging him. “I don’t like sleeping alone,” Noel murmurs drowsily.

“I remember,” Julian says, and he sounds nothing but kind.

It doesn’t mean anything. None of it means anything. If he lets people touch him it doesn’t mean that they’re getting anything, not really. He’s already given himself all away; there’s nothing left, but he gave the biggest part to Julian because he knew he’d keep it safe and that’s why Julian can’t leave him, why Noel can’t let Julian leave him, not ever.

They’re lying on their sides facing each other, but not quite touching. Julian looks over at him like he’s trying to glean Noel’s thoughts, his eyes half-closed. Noel spreads his fingers on the mattress between them in lieu of wrapping himself around Julian because he doesn’t have the energy to move. “Tired?” Noel asks with a smile.

Julian grunts noncommittally.

“Let’s take a nap,” Noel says cheerfully.

“You just woke up,” Julian says, though he sounds half asleep already. Fascinated by the stillness Julian slumps into, Noel reaches over to trace the line of Julian’s jaw. Julian’s eyes crack open. “Thought we were napping,” he grumbles. Noel smiles and touches his hand to Julian’s cheek.

Julian used to stay over when Dee was gone, less when Julia had entered his life, and then stopped completely when she’d gotten pregnant. They’d wake up tangled up in each other’s limbs and kiss lazily until Noel dragged Julian to the shower for a fuck since he couldn’t be arsed to change the sheets after doing it in bed.

He’s talking to Julian about things he wants to put in the movie, rambling like throwing things against the wall to see what will stick. Absentmindedly, he trails his fingers up and down the inside of Julian’s arm and it takes him a few moments to realise Julian has drifted off. Noel smiles and rolls over so he can push his back against Julian’s chest. The sun through the window makes him feel warm and lazy and he sleeps for a very long time.

He goes shopping with Dee when she gets back, looking for things to wear in Morocco. They walk the streets of Camden hand in hand and try on ridiculous outfits and laugh at each other and trade kisses every few minutes. Noel doesn’t like to think about another year passing, but he looks at himself in every fitting room mirror and assures himself he barely looks human, much less looks his age.

There’s a party for Russell’s big send off to Hollywood. Noel isn’t sure it’s the invitation he should’ve accepted that evening because he and Russell aren’t so much mates as they are people who occasionally come together when it’s mutually beneficial.

Still, Noel figures he’s obliged to say something to him, so he searches Russell out and finds him ensconced on the sofa while his friends and various beautiful women mill about.

“Fielding!” Russell cries. “There you are! I’ve been saving this seat for you.” He pats the sofa cushion next to him.

“What about that one?” Noel says, pointing to Russell’s lap. He laughs and Russell laughs harder. Even though Russell spreads his thighs invitingly, Noel still takes the originally offered spot. Flirting is really the only way to deal with Russell, but it’s not something Noel is willing to follow through on.

They chat animatedly about nothing in particular, and it’s not like Noel doesn’t enjoy Russell’s company, but he’s quite aware that Russell doesn’t get him, not really. Every bit of Russell is so very deliberate and it makes something in Noel wary.

It doesn’t take long for them to be interrupted. A girl with too-fake tanned skin comes over to Noel, giggling and stumbling into his lap. He recognizes her, he thinks, a friend of friend.

“Want a bump?” she asks, shaking a tiny bag of coke pinched between her thumb and forefinger. She’s offered him drugs before, Noel thinks idly, but the memory doesn’t flesh itself out any further. She doesn’t wait for an answer, just digs a small amount out on the corner of a credit card and holds it in offering to Noel.

Noel turns his head just the slightest fraction to glance at Russell. “Do you mind?” he asks, remembering Russell’s constantly self-touted sobriety.

“Far be it from me to keep you from your joy.” Russell is obviously trying to be cavalier, but his expression is slightly tense. He watches like Noel is some strange nature program on telly. Noel enjoys the attention even though he resents any implication he doesn’t deserve to do whatever he likes. The idea of an addiction is enough to make Noel wrinkle his nose; it’s something far too ugly for him, but he takes a little decadence and indulgence as his due.

“How’d you do it?” Noel says to keep Russell talking so he doesn’t have to think too hard about the conversation. He’d rather enjoy his buzz and admire partygoers with interesting haircuts and brightly coloured clothes.

“Quit?” Russell asks, and Noel hums an affirmation. “Now, Noel,” Russell says, “if you’d read my Booky Wook, you’d know all about that exciting period of my life.”

Noel laughs. “I tried. Not enough pictures, too many words.”

Russell chuckles and then is silent for a moment. “Realized I was going to die and went to rehab,” he finally says.

Noel considers this for a moment and then laughs again. “Better stick to dabbling, then,” he says, “I haven’t got the time for all that.”

Russell nods. “I had to render myself unemployable first, plenty of free time then.”

“That won’t happen to me,” Noel says dismissively. He realizes immediately it was a mistake to respond as Russell raises an eyebrow.

“And why’s that?” Russell asks, smirking a little.

“I have Julian.” Noel tries to say it like it doesn’t really mean anything, but Russell has always had an irritating ability to see exactly how badly Julian and Noel need each other. Noel knows that they’ll keep pushing each other into more Boosh projects just so they have a reason to keep working together, maybe forever. He wonders if it will be enough to sustain them, and feels a sharp pain like a splinter digging its way beneath his skin. Then he thinks about how desperately Julian hates to work on his own, and decides it doesn’t bear worrying about.

Russell starts talking about the threesome he’s planning for himself later and Noel decides he’s sufficiently put in his time and excuses himself to pursue other avenues of entertainment for the evening.

There’s some function to be attended that weekend so they can accept yet another award. They are a foursome that night, Julian and Julia and Noel and Dee, nice and neat. Noel drinks too much champagne and mugs for the cameras with Dee while Julian and Julia try to hang back as much as possible.

Julian stays out late with him and Rich in London to celebrate, and it’s almost like old times, drunk and careless revelry. When they are fully wasted, Noel stumbles into Julian and grips his face, thumbs pressing hard against his cheekbones, and stretches to crush their mouths together. They used to kiss like this all the time, fierce and giddy, for long, hot, wet moments before stumbling back on set, on stage, to a party, snickering because no one had a clue what they got up to when they stole away.

It’s more clownish than sexual this time, though, what with Julian being a sloppy drunk, but Noel doesn’t mind the clumsiness. It’s still lovely, comfortable, brilliant—all the things Julian is, and it makes the night feel even more charmed. Noel wishes it would stretch on endlessly, but even he runs out of steam eventually.

In dawn’s light, as they stand waiting for their cars, Julian looks like a tramp, his hair greasy and mussed and his eyes bleary. He’s spilled something on his trousers and his cardigan is buttoned up wrong. Noel laughs under his breath and, with an affectionate smile, goes to undo the buttons. Julian inhales sharply, but he is very still as Noel does the cardigan up correctly.

He reaches up and traces broad stripes beneath Julian’s eyes with his thumbs, wanting to wipe away the dark circles. Julian smiles wanly. Noel sighs. It’s morning, and it’s time to set Julian loose and let him return home.

Noel wakes up in a stranger’s bed. There’s a man asleep next to him. He doesn’t look anything like Julian, Noel decides after some scrutiny, but he can see how he might have thought he did when he was off his tits. He wishes Julian would walk in right now, imagines the look on his face, imagines how he’d phrase it when he told Julian that he’d thought of him the entire time. He doesn’t, of course; Noel’s not in his own house, and even if he were, Julian isn’t given to dropping in unannounced.

There was a time, back in the beginning, when Noel had ridiculous notions about Julian being the only man who would ever touch him. It seems silly and naïve now when they’ve both been with other people for years and Julian doesn’t really give a shit about who Noel fucks.

Noel dresses and leaves before the man wakes up and things get awkward. He sets off listlessly down the street, waiting to get his bearings. Noel sometimes dreams he calls everyone in his mobile and no one remembers who he is, and it feels, wandering around in the still-darkness of the early morning, that it could possibly come true, like he’s nothing but a ghost.

He has a date with Julian at the office the next afternoon. He wakes up just in time to get ready and get there only fifteen minutes late. They’re supposed to be working on the new live show, but they’re both having trouble concentrating and the ideas just aren’t coming. Noel doodles on a notepad and Julian rests his chin on Noel’s shoulder and watches, making an occasional wry comment.

Finally, when Noel has reached his tolerance for boredom, he turns and presses a quick kiss to Julian’s mouth.

“Oh really?” Julian says with a quirk of his lips.

“Really,” Noel says, and then pulls Julian off his chair to send them both tumbling to the floor. Noel pushes the laughing Julian onto his back and then drapes himself over Julian’s chest. Julian looks up at him expectantly and, really, he’s just asking Noel to kiss him again. This time, Noel makes it far less chaste. Julian gives as good as he gets, knows just how to kiss Noel breathless and dizzy after all their time together.

It takes quite a bit of wriggling, but Noel manages to get his hand down Julian’s trousers. Julian’s hips jerk up and he gasps a little as Noel’s fingers curl around his cock and start to squeeze lightly. Noel works him slowly. He wants to eat up the whole afternoon and evening, wants Julian with him like this well into the night. One of Julian’s hands is at Noel’s waist, the other alternately clutches and strokes Noel’s upper arm.

Finally, Julian moves to return the favour, fingers tickling as they make their way around to the button of Noel’s jeans. Noel lets up to tug Julian’s trousers and pants further down his thighs, and to let Julian concentrate on getting his cock out. There’s a lot of fumbling and breathless, choked-off laughter because there’s not enough room to do this properly and Noel refuses to surrender any space between them to make it any easier. Finally, Julian growls and bats Noel’s hand away and starts to jerk them off together.

Noel plants his palms on either side of Julian’s head and pants harshly against the side of Julian’s face. Julian’s cock is hot and slick against his and his grip is just right—tight and sure and somewhat frantic. Noel has long been a big fan of sex, and Julian has always rated that little bit better than the norm.

Julian bites Noel’s shoulder through his t-shirt when he comes. Noel groans and thrusts as best he can against Julian and shudders his way through his orgasm only a moment later. All Noel can do is breathe for a minute or two, lost in sensation, but then feeling creeps back and his arms start to hurt from the strain of holding himself up. He rolls onto his back, shoulder pressed to Julian’s. He rubs the damp spots on his shirt and laughs at the mess they’ve made. Julian smile sardonically and wipes his sticky hand off on Noel’s trousers.

“Bastard,” Noel grins. Julian digs out a pack of cigarettes and lights one up. Noel finds himself quite unwilling to move, so he just closes his eyes and listens to Julian rhythmically inhale and exhale the smoke.

“Do you remember the first time?” Julian asks suddenly.

Noel purses his lips and thinks about it and then, without looking at Julian, spins a slow yarn about how the sex had been almost redundant for him because he had loved Julian so completely for so long. But then, he’d known that Julian was afraid of deconstructing things to the point of destruction, like Noel’s love for him was a spell that could be broken.

He’d always known that it would be perfect with Julian, he says, and it had been, even though that first nudging, hesitant thrust in had hurt, but Noel bit his tongue and stayed quiet because he was a little love-struck fool and he’d waited and waited and waited but he’d been too embarrassed to tell Julian that because he felt pathetic.

“Oh,” Julian had breathed, “you, you’re…” and Noel had been terrified of what he was going to say, afraid that he would acknowledge it, but Julian just groaned and so agonizingly slowly started to move, and later, what seemed like an eternity later, Julian’s cock touched something inside of him and Noel knew he would never be whole again because he would always need this

“Look at me. Look at me,” Noel remembers Julian saying right before he came, as if Noel has ever been able to see anything else.

Noel falls silent then. After a long pause, when his cigarette is finished, Julian says uncertainly, “That’s not how it happened. You were high.”

“It was a long time ago,” Noel says dismissively. He laughs softly and turns his head to kiss Julian’s cheek. “Do you remember when we weren’t doing this?” Julian cocks his head slightly and stares thoughtfully into space. It’s not a surprise to Noel when he doesn’t get an answer.

There are times when Noel feels just as smitten with Julian as the day he first saw him on stage, but it’s tempered now by a lazy, smug sort of contentment. Their relationship is not always fully satisfying and the exact mechanics of it shift endlessly, but Noel knows without a doubt that it will always be something. Soon they will go on tour, Noel thinks, and he looks forward to Julian having no choice but to belong to him for a little while. It will be a fun change of pace.

The sun has started to sink in the sky when they finally get to writing again and it is quite late by the time they part ways.

Dee is fussing with her hair in front of the bathroom mirror when Noel gets home. He kisses the top of her head and then the nape of her neck and then goes to collapse gratefully onto the bed. A strange exhaustion has taken hold of him and Noel feels it right down to his bones. A quick nap, he thinks, will be good before he goes out with Dee for the night.

He dozes fitfully, caught somewhere between dreaming and active thought. In Noel’s head he is straddling Julian’s lap and they are rocking together, Noel’s sweaty forehead nudging against Julian’s and he inhales each time Julian exhales, taking his breath. In his head, he’s coming and coming and it never stops and it will always be enough.

Noel’s mobile starts ringing. Noel wakes up.