The only true map of a thing is itself. Meanwhile, Noel ponders his and Julian's existence in a way only he can.


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Length: words

Notes: Thanks as always to Ms. Thieving Gypsy for being a wonderful beta.

There are lifetimes that have slipped through his fingers. He feels them every time he mounts the stage and the click of his boots on that holy ground reverberates up through his heels. He paints these vivid landscapes in words, but only for fleeting moments. Each universe, each character discarded as quickly as they are snatched up.

There’s a whole story that hasn’t been told, a vast world behind each joke. He seals them with laughter and flings them aside. They pile next to him like crumpled paper in a waste bin.

The air is his drawing board. Back to it, as they say. Pull out another, play with it for a while, toss aside. Come back to the good ones, always, but you’ll never get any closer to saying it all.

The only true map of a thing is itself, isn’t that right?

Noel thinks these inane thoughts as he crawls his two favorite fingers like little feet over Julian’s shoulders, wonders how many Harlem Globetrotting basketballs have skidded over a similar path in this whole universe, ever.

Julian shifts, but it is a comfortable movement and he looks over at Noel, grins without canines, then turns back to Dave’s story about… something or other; Noel can’t keep track of everyone else’s universes. Well, most everyone else. Like a monarch, he deigns to make exceptions for his very favorites.

Noel yawns though he doesn’t need to—all exaggerated and it comes too late, his arm is already over Julian’s shoulder before he even opens his mouth. Timing all wrong. He likes to fuck with tradition a bit. Julian will know he’s being a twat and will forgive him for it.

Though now he really does have to yawn; useless, that. Mike laughs, asks if it’s going to be an early night for Grandpa. It’s useless to explain so Noel flips him a V and steals a swig of Julian’s lager. He’s not a big fan of macho alcohol anymore but can’t quite remember when that all started.

He’s drinking bitch beer, pomegranate flavoured, because he’s a five year old at heart and wants everything to taste like sweets. That’s what he figures. He isn’t in need of a nap, though. Storytime might be nice.

He doesn’t readily admit there exists a sneaking part of him that thinks its more intriguing, subversive, and a bit coy to order women’s drinks. He wonders if others find him alluring or off-putting and wants to quiz the room on the matter.

Julian has reclaimed his lager in the time that Noel’s mind was wandering, and Noel is swimming in deja vu. How many times have they been to this club, anyway? Not even this club in particular; they’re all just this club now. He has thought these thoughts and made the same actions over and over, like a human tessellation.

“I don’t much care for humans, I prefer people,” He blares in mono at Julian’s ear, who shoots him a look of mild annoyance at his inconsiderate volume. The music isn’t really all that loud, no need to shout. He is rude, he knows.

“I thought you preferred small woodland creatures and robots.” Julian recovers and quips, and Noel can tell he is caught in his own circle of events as well. Familiarity is both a comfort and a bore.

“I hate cycles too, they’re so predictable…” Noel laments, ignoring Julian’s reply, and leans heavily against his arm. “When is something really new going to happen, Ju?”

The others have drifted apart in all the Brownian motion of the crowd, and he clings to Julian like a lone electron, just orbiting, buzzing in place. A straggling limpet.

Julian has finished his lager and is looking at him in that quizzically knowing fashion of his. “When you make it happen,” he seems to be saying.

Noel shakes himself on the inside; on the outside, he is leering. “Stop staring, you old paedo.”

Julian supports him without comment, just laughs in a short little way that says he’s fairly amused and shoots back, “Grave robber.”

Noel loops his arm through Julian’s and tugs him toward the bar; somehow in the midst of all his thinking, he has finished his Breezer without noticing, and that is a good sign that maybe some cycles will be broken tonight after all.

He is trying to braid a lime green pipe-cleaner into Mike’s hair without much success. They are all used to his flights of childish fancy and tolerate it in a genial manner, though not without teasing now and again. He forgets all about it when Rich bounds into the dressing room, his shoes squeaking because Rich only seems to walk on his toes, even when he isn’t.

Mike huffs and tries to extricate the fuzzy invader as Noel joins Rich in a do-si-do and swings his partner round and round. Whooping and hollering like maniacs or banshees, they pummel into Julian with an audible smack. He wasn’t expecting it, he’d just been following Rich—though such things inevitably lead to collision, really.

Noel laughs at him from the floor by way of greeting. He is sprawled in what is probably an undignified way. Julian blinks down at him, brow slightly furrowed in annoyance as he gingerly rubs his ribs where said collision occurred.

Noel sits up a bit and looks about.

Shouting an apology, Rich has already toddled off and collapsed on a couch. He starts verbally harassing Mike, who is still carding his hair with sensitive fingers, as if Noel might have left a land mine in there as well.

Julian makes to move past him, which attracts Noel’s attention once more. He grabs at Julian’s legs—the first evades him, but the second is pounced upon and Julian stops up short. Looks down at him. Noel bats his lashes.

“Want me to kiss it better?”

Julian just snorts. He is amused, now. “What, does your spittle have magical healing properties you never bothered to disclose ‘til now?”

Noel unties his shoe in retaliation. “I invented spittle.”

Julian reaches down and grabs him by the arm, yanks him up even as Noel is trying to reach his other laces. They stand, two loons grinning madly at each other. The others don’t seem to notice or care as they quit the room.

Footsteps echoing off concrete walls, Noel falls in step with Julian’s loping stride as best he can. He’s learned to scuffle a bit faster to make up the height difference. Julian makes it look so easy.

“We should just take a walk,” He decides. Julian looks at him sidelong, hands in his pockets.

“Isn’t that what we’re doing?” A casual observation, and he is smiling again. Noel links their arms and imagines yellow bricks.

“I suppose so. What’s so great about Kansas, anyway?”

This not just a rhetorical question.

Julian gives it serious consideration for a few moments, because he knows when Noel is just being clever and when he is actually trying to say something.

“I don’t think anything, really. Kansas could be anywhere you want it.”

“Genius.” Noel agrees, gives Julian a slap on the arse as he pulls away to stop at a drinking fountain tucked in an alcove. It spits and spurts uncooperatively and he has to hold his hair back with a hand. Water gets on his chin and starts to run down his neck before he wipes it away.

Julian tilts his head. “You homesick?”

He doesn’t mean for a place. Noel nods, considering. He rocks on his heels out of habit.

“Could I be timesick?”

Julian drifts away and he follows. “I’m not a certified PhD,” Julian is saying, “But I think I could make that diagnosis.”

“…are you?” Noel finds himself needing to know that he’s not the only one going in circles around here. Trying to pick up the universes they left in rubbish bins in hotels and apartments and cafes all around the country.

Noel feels himself being squeezed, an arm around his shoulder.

“A bit,” Julian admits, and Noel knows by this, he means: yes, so much I could scream and tear at my hair and froth at the mouth like I’m begging for the bullet.

But he won’t. That’s Noel’s job. He’s crazy enough for the both of them.

Julian carries his anxiety in silence. He walks in beauty like the night, sulking in quiet eloquence.

Noel rolls in the muck and runs howling through the streets like a wild thing.

Somehow it balances.

“Do you ever think about all the worlds, Ju?”

They are at Noel’s flat. He is still timesick, but the familiar surroundings help. Julian is reclining on his bed, long legs crossed in front of him. Noel’s his perpendicular bisector, head on his thighs, knees pointing to heaven with bare feet flat on the bed. He is pulling at the hair on his arm with the hand opposite. Julian is thinking.

“All of ours?”


“We can’t have them all. It would take forever.” Julian is absently rubbing the ends of Noel’s dark locks between his fingers. Noel marvels at split ends. Each hair on his body is another history. His-story. Their story.

“I want forever. I want to know if it circles back around at the end.” His mouth is saying, and it takes his brain a minute to agree, yes, that is what I think. Julian hmms softly.

“Thought you didn’t like cycles?”

Noel rolls his head to look up at those dark eyes that see the world so much like his own.

“I think it depends on the cycle.” He is on a Bundsen burner, warming quickly to his topic. “What if something amazing happened, but it was unexpected and there were no patterns to anything? You’d never get it ever again. You couldn’t blink more than once. You couldn’t breathe. Your heart couldn’t beat.”

He looks at Julian’s shoulder and the way the fabric hangs over his body. The highlights, mid-tones, reflected shadows, core shadows. Julian is smiling softly, Noel can hear it in his voice when he replies.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you think too much.”

Noel sits up, bracing himself with his hands. Stares at Julian.

“I could think us up a whole new universe right now. So could you. How did we meet, anyway?”

“Worlds collide?” Suggests Julian, a wolf wearing a sheepish grin because he knows he’s being trite. Noel laughs.

“I’m the asteroid with the alien bacteria that infest your terrestrial paradise, is that how it goes?” He reaches a hand up to brush his fringe out of his eyes.

Julian catches his wrist, encircles it like it’s some delicate thing he’s afraid to snap.

He pulls Noel to him, which is to say he draws Noel’s hand a little closer and Noel must follow because he’s just orbiting and now gravity has caught up with him and he can only succumb.

Their lips meet and in Julian’s warm breath on his cheek, Noel feels a universe being born.

This one might be here to stay.

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