They decide it has to stop happening.
Well, technically Paul thinks John decides it has to stop happening. He's always been the one most paranoid about getting caught, but it seems to escalate until the point where it just ends up being torture for him.
Pleasant torture, but torture still.
He is most paranoid about Mimi catching them. "She'd have me castrated, Paul. In fact, she'd probably take me outside and do the job herself, just to be double sure it was done." Paul watches him light a cigarette in a nervous fashion, his hands shaking just slightly, but that could be from the cold. "Then she'd let me back in the house and warn me not to bleed all over her precious carpet," John adds bitterly, blowing smoke out into the freezing December air.
Paul thinks it's all unfounded, this worry that people are 'starting to guess'. He can't see any evidence that George has caught on (his head's too innocent, Paul tries to tell John but John won't have it, calls George a 'crafty bastard') and he certainly doesn't think Dot or Cyn have any idea ("They always seem to giggle when we come in the room." Paul sighs at this, "They're girls, John, that's what they do." ) But he has to relent when John points out that Stu seems to be looking at them differently now. Stu, who might have left his heart in Hamburg, still doesn't miss a trick. And what with John living at that shit-hole they call a flat with him now, he does see a lot more of them together, gets a chance to watch them interact. Sometimes John and Paul will be talking in the corner, deep, hurried conversations (usually innocent, about songs most of the time) and Paul will look up and catch Stu watching them.
Paul actually rather likes it. He almost hopes Stu knows something. He hopes Stu knows that they're closer in more intricate, complicated ways than John and Stu could ever be.
But John isn't so keen on Stu being suspicious; if Stu is away for the night visiting his parents then John will get rid of Paul quickly the next morning, sending him out before it's properly light in case Stu gets back early. "But we've always shared a bed, John, people know that; it's never meant anything to them before."
"No, but it means something now, doesn't it?" John asks, practically pushing Paul down the rickety staircase, handing him his coat.
"God," Paul says, when he's almost out on the street and it feels like the only other person alive is the milkman, "Are you ashamed of me or something?"
But to this John just rolls his eyes over-dramatically. "Bloody hell, you sound like Cyn - grow a pair of testicles Paul, yeah?"
Then the door is slammed in his face and Paul listens to the moody stomp of John's footsteps going back up to the flat from hell.
So it gets to the point where John is so paranoid and grumpy about it, they decide to stop. Paul feels hurt when John says it; "I can't take it anymore, I feel like I'm waiting in line at the gallows for someone to grab me by the scruff of my neck - let's just forget it, eh?" The notion that it's something that can be forgotten cuts into Paul's chest like a knife and makes him feel like he's bleeding.
But he won't show John that, so he just says, "Alright, suit yourself."
And they try to get back to normal. But of course you can't get back to normal just like that, not when last week you were shivering at warm breath on your neck and arching your hips up shamelessly, offering yourself. So Paul resigns himself to the fact that things will never be normal again and hopes Dot doesn't mind him being a little rough with her when he can't help himself any longer. He hopes she doesn't notice when he stops whispering sweet nothings in her ear and just ends up panting instead, fingers digging into his own palms to remind himself not to say John's name instead of hers.
But of course it's not easy - they stop writing together. They try it the first night but Jim and Mike have the television on in the living room so they can't play there and when Paul suggests the bedroom John says, "No, best not," as though he doesn't trust himself. And Paul feels inwardly furious at him for denying them both this.
By week two Paul is starting to think he'd do time just so that he could feel John's skin again. What is it for buggery these days? Two years hard labour? Never killed Oscar Wilde.
And he wants to ask John how he's holding up but he thinks he knows anyway, gets a fair idea when he catches John staring at him one night when they're all out at the Jacaranda. Paul wants to go over there and tell him, "It's alright, you don't have to torture us both, you can have me whenever you want me," but instead he just nods, once, then goes back to dancing with Dot and tries to tell himself this is all there is.
Because that's almost the worst of it - having had it and then lost it, that feeling like his blood is on fire; peeling off John's jeans and settling between his thighs, exposing his neck to give the lips waiting there more room and listening to John groan quietly into the darkness. After he's had that, after he's had the satisfaction of watching John come apart because of him, Paul doesn't quiet know what happens next. How is he supposed to get by without that now? He has to settle for this, dancing with girls in clubs and waiting for Dot to flash him her 'come to bed' eyes - it used to be enough, but not anymore.
Then by the third week, when Paul has given up pretending and started moaning John's name into his pillow as he comes in the morning, the atmosphere is so strained that after practice John says, "We probably shouldn't stand so close to each other at the mic." And Paul feels like screaming at him, clenches his fists as he shuts his guitar case and turns around, glad to see that the other three have buggered off somewhere. The Best's garage isn't the best place to have a fight, but there is the odd chair here and there he could whack John over the head with if the need arose.
"What?" he hears himself say. It doesn't sound anything like him at all.
"I just think... You stand too close, alright? I'm sick of it."
Paul would gladly sacrifice Pete's brand new drum kit just to have something to launch at John; it's for the good of the group, after all. He feels hurt warring with anger on the tip of his tongue and when he speaks even he isn't sure which is going to win. "Fine. I tell you what, you guys all carry on practicing here, I'll practice from down in Allerton - that far enough away for you?"
"Don't be so childish, Paul, I just meant - "
"Or maybe you want me out of the group?" Paul storms, vaguely aware that his voice is really loud and hopes he doesn't attract Mona, wondering why she suddenly has a lion roaring in her garage. "Is that what you prefer, John - just get rid of me altogether? Out of sight out of mind, is that it?"
He hears someone breathing sharply, panting almost, and realises it's him. He's probably shaking too, and wonders how he can get out of this with any little dignity intact. John just keeps on staring at him, though Paul knows the blind bastard can't see him from that distance anyway.
"D'you want a fight?" John eventually asks, and Paul almost laughs.
"Well, if it meant I got you to touch me then yeah, why not?"
"I'll fucking kick your head in," John says, and this time Paul really does laugh. But it sounds sad, and it feels sad too, deep in his chest.
"Course you will, John."
The anger has gone out of him now, so Paul turns calmly (not fearful of having his back to John, knows that he's no more likely to kick Paul's head in than he is to suddenly start playing Shadows songs at gigs) and picks up his guitar case. "See you next week."
He walks to the door but stops when John suddenly starts ranting. He doesn't bother to turn around though, doesn't particularly want to see John's face covered in so much anger and frustration when it's leveled at him. "You're such a wanker, Paul. You're pathetic, d'you know that? You can't face up to anything, always hiding behind that smug little smile. D'you think no one knows? Well they do, Paul - they all fucking know and the worst thing is that I know, I've seen it first fucking hand now, haven't I? You're a twisted little coward."
This time the harsh sound of breathing echoing through the empty space of the garage is John's, and Paul doesn't even turn around when he speaks. "Are you finished now?"
"Yes," John eventually says, and Paul walks out without looking back.
It takes three days before Paul hears from anyone. He goes to work then comes straight back home and even ignores Dot when she calls, signals to Mike to say he's gone out then hides in the freezing weather in the back yard because he feels ashamed. Then on Sunday afternoon, when Jim is out for a pint after dinner and Mike has taken some girl to the flicks, there is a knock at the front door.
Paul looks out of the living room window (hides behind the nets) and sees John, propping himself up with one arm against the brickwork, a bottle of something in his hand. Paul almost doesn't answer the second knock that follows.
As soon as he opens the door, the stink of beer hits him - he is reminded of the fete all those years ago.
"You're drunk," he says, and when John looks up Paul can see that his eyes are glassy, probably because of what's in that little brown bottle in his hand.
"Can I come in before I'm sick in your front garden?" John asks, and Paul steps aside. True to his word, John is moments later throwing up in the tiny bathroom upstairs. Paul sits on the bath, vaguely bored.
"How much have you had?"
"Not a lot - no food though, empty stomach." He heaves again and Paul sighs, reaching up to pull the chain when he's done.
"Well, thanks for making this your toilet of choice," Paul says, standing up. "Think you could keep down some tea?"
John looks suitably pathetic, hanging over the loo. His eyes really do look a mess, and his t-shirt has a beer stain down the front - Mimi would have a minor stroke if she saw him out and about like that. John just nods, and thankfully whilst he's downstairs Paul doesn't hear him being sick again; when the tea is made he takes it back up, but surprisingly finds the bathroom empty. He wanders almost disbelievingly into his bedroom and finds John not only on the bed, but underneath the covers.
"If you throw up on my sheets, I'll kill you," Paul says, setting down the steaming cup of tea on the bedside table. He doesn't know where to sit (it's his own room, for God's sake!) so he perches on the floor opposite the bed, sipping from his mug. He watches John's eyes as they first take in the tea, then him.
"I was talking about me," John says, and Paul feels like he's stepping into a conversation halfway through.
"In Pete's garage - I was talking about me, not you."
Paul raises his eyebrows. "This is the moment when most normal people would say sorry."
Instead John just sits up slightly, reaches out and takes the tea, blowing on it a little before he takes a gulp.
"So as an apology you thought you'd come here drunk?"
John sighs. "I'm not drunk."
"Yes you are; you're less drunk than the prick who arrived on my doorstep half an hour ago, but you're still drunk."
John seems suitably chastised. Either that or he's too inebriated for a comeback, but Paul has seem him slurring his words and still throwing out wittier retorts than most people.
There is a (strangely comfortable) silence for a good long time whilst they both drink their tea and then - "Can you get us a butty, Paul? I'm starving."
"Bloody hell!" he says, exasperated. "This isn't a bloody drop-in centre, John!" But even as he says it he is putting his almost empty mug of tea down and leaving the bedroom. John gets jam, because no one has been shopping yet this week so that's all there is. Still, he tucks into it eagerly enough, and hands Paul back the empty plate before lying down again, seemingly content.
"That was nice," he says, looking for all the world like a little boy. "Mimi never feeds me anymore."
"That's because you screamed at her you were an adult now and moved out," Paul points out. Sitting on the floor is hurting his back and John seems relaxed enough not to glare at him for it, so he gets up and goes to sit on the bed. His bed, after all.
John shifts his feet to make room for him, but thankfully it's not the usual way he has been jumping away from him recently, like Paul has just had a diagnosis of leprosy. There is another brief silence (like he's working up to it) and John says, "You're not the coward, I am."
"I know," Paul replies. "You were the one who couldn't handle it, not me."
"I didn't want anyone finding out."
"No one had found out, John," Paul sighs. "Anyway, forget it now - water under the bridge."
At this, John sits up slightly, leaning on his elbow and squinting at Paul. "Is it?"
"Water under the bridge?"
"Well," Paul shrugs, "You said - "
"Yeah, but we've agreed most of what I say is shit, haven't we?" For a second they just look at each other, Paul trying to weigh up exactly what it is he stands to lose here - his sanity again? The best friendship he's ever stumbled across in his poor little lifetime? "I was wrong, alright? I was a coward and a dickhead and I thought I could stop when it turns out..." John trails off and Paul watches his fingers pick at one of the frayed edges of the blanket on the bed. Then suddenly he snaps out of it. "Look, if you don't then I'll just go back to drinking. And then you'll have a liver on your conscience - my liver, all speckled and diseased."
Paul smiles totally against his own will. "How heavy is this liver?" he asks. "Because if it's not too weighty, I reckon my conscience can take it; I don't have much else on there."
And suddenly it's like a weight lifts off Paul's shoulders when John grins. "Oh, it's heavy," he says. "Massive. Might give you a hump on your back, carrying it around - girls would laugh and small children would be scared."
Paul knows he shouldn't; knows that no matter how hard it is to stop now, it'll be harder further down the line, when they've got even closer, learnt to rely even more on each other - it might even break up the group one day, and Paul pictures George, Pete and Stu ten years in the future, devastated just because he couldn't do the right thing right now.
But there are some things you want even though you try to stop yourself. And some things that just need to be played out until the end, like fate.
So he leans forward, placing a hand either side of John, lying snuggled beneath his bed covers, and kisses John's mouth. It feels like a relief, like he's been going without something essential for the past three weeks.
John pulls him down, kisses the life out of him, hands slipping into his hair to hold him close, stop him getting away. And Paul isn't sure when this thing will finally explode - because it will, because something will have to break at some point, one day John will be that coward again, or Paul will - but for now he doesn't care, with John warm and responsive underneath him, gently tugging at the edge of his jumper, trying to get it off. For now he'll just let them both have what they want, and hang the consequences.