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This Is Not Them

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The only sound Paul hears is his own breathing. He smells smoke, and alcohol and sweat, and something musky that he can identify as the typical scent of the Cavern Club's Saturday evening. People are pressed up against each other, having a minimum space for moving in the dark, corridor -like club. Paul has always thought of it as a cave, and apparently so have the owners.

He can only hear his own breathing. The thumping sound of the stereos doesn't reach his ears, nor does the noise that surrounds him. He stares at the beer on the table in front of him and once again thinks about George's words, readying himself.

“You should jus' get into action, probably. Not sit 'round all day.”

He feels the silence around him press down. It presses, and pushes, and he lowers his head. So easy for George to say. Easy for George not to understand.

Not that he hasn't been following the advice, no. That's why he's here this evening, once again, like a hunter searching for a prey, and not leaving without one. He squeezes his eyes shut and he opens them again.

Three months, that's how long he’s been doing this. And he's getting a hang of it. Never mind that he feels cheap, feels like a male prostitute, no. He needs it, needs the pleasure and the release, and he's going to find some tonight, again.

He feels like a whore.

His breathing quickens and he feels his hands shaking against the cool glass. It is too cool, almost cold. Paul wants to pull away, but he cannot move. Blood is pumping in his ears and he is falling, and he can't breathe. His chest tightens and there is nothing around him, the people, the bodies fade to the background. It's silent in his head, and it's dark. He gasps for breath, and feels like he will never catch another whisk of air again. He can only see the beer on the table and the only sound in the club is in, out, in, out-

A face hovers before his, a hand on his shoulder. Something like concern passes over the eyes that seem dark in the dim light of the Cavern. A strong smell of cigarettes hits his nose and Paul blinks, shivering slightly.

“Yeah?” he asks, voice dull, empty, and there is nothing in him. He is dark, and he can't hear, can't feel and-

“Got a ciggie, mate?” the man leaning towards him enquires. Paul tries to sharpen his gaze on the man, but he is under water. Why can he still hear his breathing? He is under water, and he can't breathe, he is drowning, and it is dark and he can't feel-

“Woah,” the stranger says and places both of his hands on Paul's shoulders, turning him, searching for his eyes. “Seems like ye need some air. C'mon.”

Paul doesn’t know how to stand up. He doesn't know how he gets on his feet, or how he is suddenly outside.  There's a hand on his back, pushing him forward. He stumbles over at the alley and somehow manages to meet the wall opposite to the club entrance.

Cold air washes over him and he relishes it, not having realised how awfully hot it was inside. He presses his forehead against the cool brick wall and breathes.

He can hear the cracking of stones under the feet of the stranger and feels relief. He is normal again. He is hearing.

“Feels better, eh?” the man says and Paul hears him light a cigarette. The smell soon reaches him and he inhales deeply, still not moving.

“Yeah,” he answers lowly after a few moments have passed. The darkness of his eyelids is comforting and for that small second, his whole world consists of cracking stones and smoke. The man behind him is constantly moving his weight from one feet to another; he is restless, and Paul can feel his own skin itch.

“Seems like it,” the other says and that finally gets him turning, opening his eyes. He squints as the streetlight hits him in the face, and looks at the man standing a few feet away from him.

“Thanks,” he says and leans his back on the wall, feeling like he should still be gasping. He takes in the worn leather jacket that rests on the man's shoulders and the cigarette hanging from his fingers.

He can see a small stubble under the stranger's chin and knows that his gaze lingers there for one second too long.

“No problem,” the man answers slowly, bringing the smoke on his lips and breathing it in. Paul follows the movement with his eyes, and swallows when they land on the other's mouth.

They stare at each other and Paul can feel the anticipation growing in him. It would be easy; he knows what the man is looking for. It's not cigarettes, no. Those he has already.

“Just a bit too many people,” Paul tilts his head, trying to look like nothing happened, like he hadn't been close to falling. He's good at it, can hide it from everyone except George when he tunes out.

And it happens less now, now that he's got back into action. He can handle himself. It's just, sometimes there are days that are worse. When he can't concentrate.

That's when he needs company.

“That it is,” the man says. He's of Paul's age, or a bit older. He seems older, but probably not over thirty, certainly not forty. No, those Paul avoids. He's not that cheap, or desperate.

Silence falls over them where they just look at each other, Paul feeling his head clear up, and the guy watching him with eyes that now, in the streetlight, are a mix of gold and brown and black. There is a certain kind of wildness in them and Paul feels like they pierce his body, nailing him down.

He sees lust and makes his decision, knowing that he can't go back into the club, and feeling like this wouldn't be too bad of a choice.

“So,” he begins and the man shifts his weight again, the faint echo of the cracking sounds in Paul's ears. “Yours or mine?”

He's learnt that sometimes it's better to skip the awkward and uncomfortable speeches and go straight to the point. This acquaintance feels like he would approve that.

Paul's not wrong, as the other suddenly smiles, a wolfish, dangerous grin spreading on his lips and oh, Paul feels his stomach knot, feels his body get ready for sex.

“I don’t take people to my place,” is the man's answer and Paul nods, comforted by the idea that at least this isn't that kind of a person who takes you to their place, and you are never seen again.

“Mine, then,” he says, and without waiting for an answer turns and starts heading towards his flat, just a fifteen minute’ walk away. He hears the man follow him, and the smell of the cigarette wraps around Paul as they walk in silence.

He doesn't expect there to be chatting; there rarely is. He picks people that don't speak, who just wish to have some fun for one night. Paul is not a slut. He doesn't enjoy having one night stands, he doesn't like the feeling of waking up to an empty bed. He wants stability, wants to cuddle up with someone in front of the television, wants to make tea for two in the morning. He does not want to be alone.

Neither does he want to spend his days at home, sitting around on his own, staring at the wall and think about things that are in the past, that don't matter now. He's done that already. And then George, he of all people, told him to get some action.

So Paul does, and he has, and he gives himself to strangers, something that only a year ago seemed like the whole epitome of absurdity and never-dos. But that is not now, and now Paul is happy to bend himself for someone who wants the same as he; Relief.

There is no chatting, no meaningless pleasantries, no small jokes about the world around them. But the silence speaks for itself, and Paul is happy to be out of the Cavern, doesn't think he's going back soon. He is self-preserving and he knows that one more step inside that club would probably break him. He is not falling now, but it is only a matter of time.

The silence speaks of misfortune, and desperation. Paul knows. He's had those before. He is one of those.

He wonders if he'll ever hear the man's name.

They reach his flat in thirteen minutes, Paul having set a quick pace. He climbs up the stairs to the third floor and grasps his keys a bit nervously before opening the door. This part is something he'll never know how to do; how fast can they get into bed? Will there be any awkward small talk? Or will the stranger change his mind? That has happened before as well.

He pushes the door open and steps in, putting the keys back into his pocket. He reaches for the light switch and-

The door slams shut and Paul feels hands grab him, push him forward and against the wall. His forehead hits the ugly wallpaper he hasn't changed yet and then there is a body against his back, hands holding him in place. Paul gasps and he hears a moan behind him as the man presses his very, very hard crotch area against Paul's arse.

“Lube?” the guy rasps, his breath in Paul's ear, “Lube, for God's sake!”

“B-bedr-” Paul starts to say, but the man bites down on his earlobe and the rest of his word disappears among a string of curses. He can't move, and the man is pulling his jacket off, almost tearing it down. Hands are soon back on him, exploring his t-shirt covered shape. Then they get lower, lower, and are resting on Paul's bottom, and they squeeze, and Paul feels the other's crotch against him again, and he is burning with fire and he needs more.

“Bedroom, then,” he hears and he can't quite place the words; his head is swinging and he supports himself against the wall, his knees having turned into jelly.

The man grabs him and turns him around, and Paul can see his eyes, even if there is still dark in the room.

He shivers and brings his hands up, pushes the man further away and then, assuring himself mentally that he still knows how to move his legs, hurries into his bedroom.

He doesn't know when was the last time he was this desperate, but it was probably last week. The man's lips are still burning against his skin and he shivers again, feeling goosebumps all over his skin. He lifts his head from the lube he's taken out and stares at the guy, who has stopped at the bedroom door.

They look at each other, and Paul doesn't know why, but he has a fleeting thought of how nice it would be to see this sight every evening.

The man walks up to him, takes the lube, and pushes Paul down on the bed, getting on top of him. Paul wants him naked; wants to see how his body looks in the darkness broken by the streetlight that is just under Paul's bedroom window. He pulls the man's shirt and the other answers by pushing Paul's t-shirt up, and then his mouth is on Paul's skin, and everything that was stable in the world seems to crumble as Paul arches at the touch.

There is something freeing in sex, Paul thinks, as he is being fucked into the mattress forcefully, painfully, and satisfyingly. There is something freeing in the way the man pulls his arse in the air, grabbing his dick while slamming back inside him.

There is something freeing in the way they gasp and grunt and moan in unison as they come, and Paul shudders as his body is rocked by both the orgasm and the man's final thrusts. He feels free and he flies, and he is a bird and the sky opens above him, nothing in his way, and he can feel.

*~**~*

He does not expect the man to stay. Afterwards, when the man has got rid of the condom and Paul has cleaned himself up, there is nothing left. Paul tugs on his comfortable sweatpants and a t-shirt and eyes at the man warily. Sometimes they stay; sometimes there is even a small shared moment of having a snack before they disappear into the night, and Paul is left behind, in his small flat, but which is too big for one.

Paul does not think this guy would be one of those, spending time for chatting when you can go and search for another lay. Or go home after a well-spent time and get up in the morning and never look back.

Paul wonders secretly, as he does so often, if this one is even out of the closet, if he's married, if he has children. He seems a tad young for that, though, but you never know.

The man hasn't put on clothes, except for his briefs. He's sitting cross-legged on Paul's bed, as if it was his flat, his bed. He is lighting a cigarette, but Paul doesn't mind. Not the first time, not the last, that someone smokes in his room. Might even be George, sometimes.

He tilts his head and tries to think, but his head is in a lull, acknowledging the fact that he has drunk, and just had an excellent fuck. He mentally shakes himself and forces his words out through the hazy fog that his mind has turned into.

There is a condom in his pocket, and he briefly wonders how it got there, and when. Does it matter?

“I got booze in the fridge, if you like.”

The man glances up at him, his expression unfathomable. Paul stares back, suddenly desperate that the man stays. There is a jab in his stomach, and his breathing almost stops as the sudden, hopeless need hits him square in the chest. He does not want to spend the night alone.

He might as well just die if that is the case.

The man looks at him, an unknown, weird expression passing over his face, and then he shrugs. The light from his cigarette is illuminating his face, but making his eyes black, and Paul still doesn't know their colour. Not that it matters at all.

“I don't think you should be drinking anymore tonight, mate,” he says, and Paul blinks. He hadn't expected that answer.

“Want something else then?” he asks and lifts one eyebrow. The stranger (and is he even that anymore, because he's had his dick in Paul's arse) narrows his eyes and takes a long drag from his fag.

“Your arse,” is the answer and Paul stills, his brain stumbling over those two words. He blinks and the man seems to notice how hard it is for him to think, because he chuckles lowly, stands up.

“Maybe later then. Some water could do you good,” he is saying, but Paul is still thinking about the words before, and he is lit up with hope that maybe, just maybe, this guy would stay, if only till first light. If he was gone by the time Paul woke up, that would be okay. Because that would mean that Paul got to sleep. Alone, he isn’t able to, not properly.

Too long a time next to someone. Too little time not.

“Yeah, okay,” he says and tries not to show the hopeful flash in his eyes as the man approaches.

He stops just ten inches away from Paul. There is a small quirk in the corner of his mouth and Paul swallows, his eyes dropping to the man's lips before dragging up, from the aquiline nose to his strong eyebrows, so different from Paul's arched, girly things.

He sometimes wonders if people pick him up because he looks so feminine, so that they could still go around and prove themselves to be men.

“Show us the way, then,” the man says quietly, making Paul shiver. He nods and turns around, walks through the living room into the kitchen. He grabs two glasses, does not glance at the photos in the fridge. He's learnt not to look at them, because they just hurt. But he cannot take them off.

The man, however, leans closer and squints at them. Paul thinks of switching the light on, if only to finally see the other properly.

“Girlfriend?” the guy asks, straightening his back, an unreadable expression on his face. Paul would have such as well, if he had fucked someone in their flat and then found out that there was a girl, probably even nearby.

He shakes his head and feels a sting in his chest, feels like he is this close to falling, to dropping the glasses on the floor and cutting himself up with them.

“Ex,” he mutters and just like always, that one tiny word shoots through him like a bullet and leaves another open wound, leaves him bleeding without anyone to patch him up. He is full of wounds, and he wonders how long it'll take that he's bled dry.

The man makes a small, confused noise through his nose and reaches for the glasses, takes them from Paul. He turns and fills them with water, offering one of them back.

Paul takes it and thinks that nothing has ever tasted better than water given by someone who at least seems to care, if just a little bit.

So many nights, sleeping on the sofa, without kind words, without anyone taking care of him as he comes back to the flat drunk, thoughts and visions slurring to vague memories in the morning.

He drinks the water and stares at the man, wondering if he is going to share his name. But Paul is fine without it, too. He is just fine.

“Need more?” the man asks and Paul nods before he thinks, wants more of this stranger's kindness. The other fills his glass again, his fingers brushing against Paul's hand as he gives the object back.

“D’ye do this often?” he asks all of a sudden and Paul frowns, not knowing what he means.

“What?” he asks and the man sighs, waves his hand around.

“Bring strange people to your home. Let 'em fuck you.”

“Oh.”

Paul doesn't know what to say. He does. He did. Does he?

“I guess,” he answers and the man let's out a hum, glances back at the photo. He doesn't say anything, then. He comes over to Paul, and his eyes hold a measuring look, as if he's weighing something in his mind. Whether to stay or leave, Paul thinks.

“She left?” the man murmurs, takes the now-empty glass from Paul. He places it on top of a counter and Paul follows the movement before meeting the man's eyes. They look dark brown, now, but the pupils are dilated, and Paul sees lust, hidden behind a wall of blankness. He knows how to identify lust.

“She heard I'm bi,” he says, swallowing something that felt like sandpaper. “Said that- ...she wasn't gonna be one of those whose boyfriend cheated on them with a man.” Those words still hurt. His heart is still shattered, and his mind is blank when he thinks of the moment he came home and Jane sat in the living room, her stuff already packed. He doesn't want to think about it, but he does. And it hurts.

“Was she goin' to be?” the man asks quietly, a soft note to his voice. As if he was sympathising.

“No,” Paul answers after a minute, shaking his head slowly. “I loved her.”

The feeling that comes from two men standing in a kitchen, talking about things that they don't want to even think about is odd. Paul feels strange, as if he was dreaming. He doesn't think that the conversation is real, because no one, no one says things like they just did, not if they are meeting for the first time, not if they are men. The other seems kind, but there is a reason why he was looking for company. Paul knows that he can either be really desperate for sex, or running from his own problems. He doesn't know why the man is bringing up Jane, why he wants to know. He's not sure it matters at all.

Does anything matter?

They stare at each other and Paul tilts his head, his mind clouding over. Sex matters: sex makes him feel alive. Sex didn't exist with Jane; it was only fooling around. Now Paul has learnt the true definition of sex, of giving himself, of getting to himself. He would still be with Jane, if he could. But he isn't, and he has a man standing in front of him, a man who said that he wanted Paul's arse.

He can give himself to this one, he thinks. He's already done it, but twice the same night is something more. And the man would stay a bit longer.

“Bedroom,” he whispers and the other raises his eyebrow, the contemplating expression still on his face. The man is still not sure whether to stay or not. Paul- Paul needs him to stay-

So, the man has to be seduced. Right. Paul knows how to do that, too. He's learnt, and he's been forced to, but it hasn't been totally without his own appreciation. But one never knows what kind of people are brought in. So he's had to learn all kinds of stuff.

(He doesn't think of that one who had a fetish of choking the people he slept with, and Paul had been tied to the bed, and the man had almost strangled him, and he doesn't think about it. He rolls with sex as it comes, because how else can he live? But he does not think about that one. He can't.)

He leans closer and lets his eyelids drop, putting on his best lust-filled expression.

“She's gone,” he says softly and breaks the man's personal space, presses his mouth against the other's neck, where his ear joins to his throat. He licks at the man's skin slowly, tentatively and feels blood rush into his head, into his groin as the tastes the man.

“She doesn't matter,” he breathes and feels the other shudder. He is pleased with himself; he is not a whore, not a slut, but he does know how to act like one. He doesn't know what that says about him.

The man makes an incoherent noise through his mouth and Paul feels him tilt his head slowly, giving Paul more access to his skin. Paul takes a deep breath in and puts his hand on the man's stomach. He is grateful that the guy didn't put his shirt back on; it would just slow things down and now, now everything Paul wants stands in front of him. Nothing matters as his vision turns blurry at the edges and his body is shaking with want. He lowers his hand and grasps the man's erection through his briefs.

They both groan at the contact and Paul pushes the other backwards, against the wall. He keeps his mouth on the man's skin, sucking his throat as his fingers palm the hard shaft between them.

“Fuck me,” he breathes and he feels the man's body moan at his words. He doesn't stop, he doesn't give himself time to think. This is sex, and this is thoughtless, and this is just him and some other guy, filling their need, stroking each other-

Paul gasps as the other pushes a hand inside his sweatpants, tugs at his length roughly. Another hand is grabbing his hair and pulling his head back, and then that mouth is on him again, latched against his collarbone. The hold in his hair tightens and his back arches as he is bent backwards, and he just has to stop touching the man, because he can barely reach the other now, and his mind isn't working, his hand has stopped-

“Still ready from earlier,” the guy mutters, and Paul lets out a strangled sound that is all he can make in this position, and before he knows he is flipped over, pushed against the kitchen table. His hands meet the hard surface and he can barely keep his eyes open. A hand goes into his pocket, pulling out the unused condom, and his trousers are pushed down, his shirt up.

He hears the man groan approvingly and he has the decency to blush, at least. He's heard praises before, but somehow, this man just looking at him, not saying a word, feels bigger than anything else. He feels fingers probing him.

He doesn't think he's going to need any preparation, because he's already so stretched from his weekly adventures, and from earlier, and the man seems to come to the same conclusion, because soon his hand is away, touching Paul's sides instead.

That is the second time that Paul is fucked that night, and nothing makes him feel more alive. He gnaws at the table with his nails as his prostate is being hit over and over again, and he is groaning, and maybe even crying, because it is so good. The man drags his lips over Paul's back as he thrusts in and out and his hands are stroking Paul's waist, holding him strongly, firmly, and Paul feels safe. He offers his arse, emitting a long, throaty moan, letting his head fall back, knowing what the sight of his back curving, his muscles flexing does to people.

The man can now reach his shoulder, and he bites down on it, and Paul wails, pushing back against the other, and he doesn't want it to stop, doesn't-

-and then he is coming in strong, short spurts, and he knows the man is coming too, from the way he jerks, and that is good. Paul hates it when people keep fucking him after he's come. It doesn't feel nice then, and his body is over-sensitive; can't take any prostate stimulation before he's had some time to recover. He feels relief that this man seems to know that as well, seems to be thinking about making Paul feel good. It's too rare that the guys he picks do that.

He breathes against the table, tired, extremely exhausted. The man pulls out, and Paul can hear him throw away the condom he had pulled out from Paul’s pocket. Then he comes back, and gently takes a hold of Paul, pulls him up.

“Let's get you to bed,” he says, and Paul follows him into the bedroom, lets the man push him down. He knows that the other won't stay longer, but he is so tired. He doesn't really care, because finally, he could...

Sleep.

*~**~*

The next time it's someone else, a talkative, cheerful blonde. Paul doesn't like him, not really, but he gives excellent head and wants Paul to fuck him, and who is he to say no? So they fuck in a bathroom in the back of a club that Paul's never been in before, isn't sure about its name either. It feels great, to be the one thrusting. But he remembers the auburn-haired man's hands on his waist and feels a strange ache somewhere in him that has nothing to do with the fact that this blonde is tight.

The time after that it's a brunette, and a girl. Paul is a bit hesitating when the girl coyly takes a hold of his hand and places it on her breast, but forces the doubts out of his head quickly. He appreciates a woman's body as much as that of a man, even though lately he's felt the need to be fucked stronger than ever. But in the end, it is great, and he is in a good mood for the following week.

Well.

In as good as he can, given the circumstances.

It is five weeks and six different people after that Paul's life changes, and the light he thought he started to see dims again and blackens out, and Paul is lost.

He meets the man when he's on his way to the Cavern; first time in these five weeks. He sees the man before the other sees him, and the man is talking on his mobile phone with a tired, angry tone in his voice. Paul doesn't listen, because it's not his place to do it, but his pulse accelerates at the thought of this man, and the sex. He's hunting; he's not in danger of falling, not for now. He is not inside a pub, and he's sober. He can think, and he has a new chance to get fucked by this guy, who somehow left Paul craving for more, tearing the walls and the furniture when he couldn't fill his want with watching porn and jerking off.

The man finishes the phone call with a frustrated 'fuck' and Paul smiles to himself, remembering how the man swore during their... time together. It makes him hot, and his knees are buckling when he makes his way towards the man.

The other glances up at him and freezes. Paul feels a jolt in his stomach for being recognised. He himself could not tell apart all those people he had fucked, but he remembered this man's eyes. And the reddish colour of his hair when the cigarette light hit it.

“Got a ciggie, mate?” he asks, and something flickers in those eyes, black and burning again. Paul swallows as the man tilts his head, eyebrows raising as his eyes narrow.

“Wouldn't have one yourself?” he asks, and Paul tugs out a cigarette packet from his pocket. The man snorts a laugh and pulls out a lighter.

They smoke. The grey -now white, in the light of the street lamp- cloud that hangs over them thickens every time they breath out. There are no words exchanged. The night is dry, and there are stones in the ground that rattle beneath their feet. Paul remembers, and relishes the memory.

The man drops the fag to the ground and crushes it to pieces with his heel. Paul breathes the last bit of smoke in and lets it come out from his nose, pour out of his mouth like a waterfall. The man watches.

And then he, without saying anything, nods towards the way where Paul's flat is, and Paul's stomach does a wild spin.

He turns and after getting rid of the fag, starts walking, a hundred percent aware of the steps following him.

*~**~*

Paul lays awake in his bed, stares at the ceiling. He didn't catch the man's name this time either; probably never will, now.

He feels like the other would still be inside him, filling him to the core. The hole in his heart hasn't gone anywhere, though.

The man has left. There were no words changed, and Paul knows people do that. Not speaking after sex. But last time, last time the man was kind, and they talked, even if it was rubbish, even if it tore Paul's heart apart to say that Jane didn't matter, that she was nothing. Jane is everything, and Paul can see her face when he closes his eyes. Her red hair flames in his mind and he feels tears running down to his hairline. Jane would never, ever leave without saying a word.

Paul is not sure if he preferred that she did that, for once. How can he enjoy anyone else's touch when that is the reason she left? Or what she thought, was. Paul can't catch her hair in his thoughts; they run away from his fingers, and he is left alone, sitting in the living room in shock, without a word to say.

How is he supposed to say “no, I would never touch another”, when that is all that there is? That is his life, and Paul is slowly accepting it; he has become a whore. Something that three months ago he would have denied.

He must stop, and he knows it. The man's, the stranger's touch is still burning, and his skin is cold and hot where a hickey is forming. He feels sick, but he cannot stop feeling it. The other didn't say a word, even if he was kind, and Paul feels loneliness crush him, and he feels the man on top of him, fucking deep into him, can still almost hear the whispered 'fuck' in the air as they come at the same time, and the man's hands hold Paul down and...

He is dirty with another man's touch.

He has enjoyed it as well.

Paul turns over and switches off the bedside lamp. In the darkness, it doesn't matter if one cries, because there is no one to hear. The darkness is like Paul's mind, and he cannot see anything.

Jane laughs behind his eyelids and her voice rings through his ears.

“Knew it would come to this, faggot!”

*~**~*

“What would you do?” Paul asks, his cell phone on his ear as he walks in a circle, kicking a stone in front of him. It is night, and it has just stopped raining. Paul has almost caved in, but he can't. He kicks the stone.

“What do you mean?” George's voice is soothing on the line and Paul stops walking, looks up at the sky. The grey clouds hang on top of him. Paul wouldn't be surprised if they just fell, and buried him, and he drowned.

He is close to the Cavern, and he is almost caving in. He feels dead, and he needs, he needs something tonight. It has been two weeks since the man left without saying anything, and Paul hangs on the edge of a cliff. He thought it to be a good idea to get some air, but his feet have betrayed him, have brought him here. Paul looks at the sky. His eyes are wet.

“If you realised you were a whore,” he says, and he hears nothing. George has gone silent, probably sitting in his living room, having said goodnight to Pattie. He has a flat, he has a girlfriend, and they are happy together. Pattie feels sorry for Paul. George never liked Jane that much. George wants Paul to feel alive again.

Not in this way, perhaps.

“Are you?” There is now a careful tone in George's next words and Paul closes his eyes, sighs.

“I go in, I get a guy, I get fucked. Isn't that what it is?”

His voice is small and he walks over to a house next to him, leans into the cool brick wall. Stones crack beneath his shoes and he almost sobs, wants them to stop. He is breaking. The darkness is closing in.

“It's not,” George is saying, but Paul can't hear him. There is water in his ears, and he can only hear his own heart beating, his breathing, and his vision in blurring. “It's not, Paul. You don't take money. You do it for your own good.”

“What is the difference,” Paul mumbles, and he can barely keep himself straight, the brick wall his only link to the world outside him. The stones are cracking, and it is louder now, ringing in Paul's ears. “What is the difference,” he repeats, and he hears George take a sharp, alarmed breath.

“Paul, where are you even?

“I'm-” he starts, but everything is turning over. He concentrates in breathing, tries to count them. They burn his lungs and he gasps again and again. Jane laughs. Jane shakes her head and says, rudely, coldly, 'and when you die, there's no one there to really care'.

Paul thinks it is somehow poetic. He can't breathe.

“Paul! Paul !! PA-

“-ul!!”

Paul coughs and slowly registers something on his face. There is a paper-bag against his nose and mouth, the kind that you put bread in. He can still smell the grains and wheat as he breathes in, and out, and there is a hand holding the back of his head, keeping him in place. His phone has fallen.

“There,” he hears, and he tries to open his eyes. They feel heavy, and he can barely lift his eyelids. His vision is blurry and the only thing he can make out is the fuzzy form of the streetlight.

The stones are cracking and Paul understands that he is leaning against someone, his weight almost totally on top of them, and that someone is holding a paper-bag against his face. Helping him. Caring.

“Wh-” he starts, but it ends up as an incoherent mumble. He breathes deeply in the bread's smell and then, after a short moment of collecting himself, he opens his eyes.

He stares into dark pools of worry and familiarity and wonders, what has he ever done right to have this man once again catching him as he falls, helping him, saving him. He jerks, tries to speak, but it comes out as a muffle. The man, that man, hushes him.

“Breathe,” is all he says, and Paul complies, closes his eyes again. He feels the man's leather jacket against him and it lets out a squeaking sound as the man corrects his position. Then, slowly, Paul is lowered to the ground and pressed against the man's chest, and he is cradled by arms that are familiar, and he breathes. He can breathe. He has never felt so relieved.

The man is soft and warm. His other arm is around Paul, and it brings safety. Paul lets out a deep sigh and then takes in an equally deep breath. He feels, for a moment, that everything is going to be fine. His legs feel weak and his mind is fuzzy, and there is one thought in his head that thrums against his forehead. He has to thank the man somehow.

How can he do that? By offering his arse? His mouth? Paul would certainly be happy to suck the man off. He wants to do it. He feels his mouth water as his heartbeat kicks up, and he opens his eyes and meets the man's gaze.

Can he do it? Is it okay for him to- despite the state he just was in- Can he?

He wants it. God, he needs to thank this man, and he has to stop thinking about Jane, and about the things he gets up to whenever he brings someone home- But this man? Paul has already been with him. He is safe. One more time doesn’t make Paul a whore, right? It is just sex, seeking relief from someone who searches for it as well.

He is going to thank this man.

“Better?” the man asks and Paul just nods silently, still holding the eye contact. It is intense, and burning, as if the man knows exactly what is going through Paul's head. Slowly, he pulls the paper-bag away. He shifts, and Paul scrambles on his feet before turning and pulling the man up as well, feeling slightly light in the head. His knees are shaking.

Getting down on them should help with that, maybe.

“Thank you,” he says, because there is nothing else that he could say first. He is still looking at the man, and the man staring at him, and Paul's heart is beating once again like this was the last day of the Earth. He leans closer.

“Thank you,” he says again and the man's eyes flick down, towards his lips, and then some sort of a dark, wry, and grin-ish expression spreads on his face. It is faint, and it is not even a real smile, but Paul looks at the man's mouth nevertheless. The other licks his lips.

“Couldn't just leave ye lyin’ about,” the man then says with a raspy voice which Paul has started to think as his natural tone. It is rough and nasal, and it makes Paul feel like someone threw a bucket of ice over his back while setting his chest on fire. He does not understand his reaction, apart from the plain sexual attraction. Because this man attracts him.

Paul does not say anything more as he takes a step in and closes the gap between them. His hands remain at his sides and he curls his fingers into loose fists. And he kisses the man.

The kiss is not hesitant; Paul knows how to do this. A part of him is horrified how ready he is for sex again, so soon after what just happened, but he tells himself to stop thinking. This way he does not have to go to the Cavern. He does not have to hunt. To be a whore.

But does it matter in the end who he is? He is kissing the man, and he tastes cigarettes, but not alcohol. What had the other been doing before coming to Paul?

He pulls back and looks into the man's eyes. They are black and pierce through Paul, and he shivers.

The man tilts his head, and there is a single drop of saliva on his lower lip. He darts his tongue out, wiping it away, and Paul's breathing becomes erratic. He cannot wait for his flat, cannot make himself to walk all that way. He wants to kiss the man again; but he wants to thank him as well, and has he not already become someone who is willing to do anything for sex? The man has basically paid already -the paper-bag still in his hand proves that.

Paul does what he is good at; he pushes the man against the brick wall and ravishes his mouth. The other drops the paper-bag and brings his hand up to hold Paul's head in place, and Paul reaches down. He puts his palm between their bodies, against the rough fabric of black jeans, and presses down on the man's crotch.

The kiss is broken by a gasp from the other, but Paul does not let go. He feels addicted to the man's mouth, wants to have it slide against his over and over again.

The man pushes him away slightly, taking a hold of Paul's hair and pulling his head backwards, stares at him with burning eyes. The hold of his fingers is tight and hurts, but Paul is only more turned on. He starts fumbling with the man's belt.

“Want me again, huh?” the other mutters and Paul moans, tries to nod. There is something hesitant in the man's expression; as if he wasn't sure whether to do this to Paul or not.

“If ye're one hundred percent sure,” he continues in a breathy voice, his expression not changing, and Paul nods fervently, gasping.

“Yes, yes-” he starts saying, fully aware that he sounds like a slut in bad porn, but he never gets to finish as he is pushed down on his knees, and the man more or less tears his jeans open, and Paul's mouth starts watering.

The man pulls his dick out and Paul leans closer. It is exciting and satisfying to do this where anyone could see; no one is going to, of course, and in these parts of the city people do not question. Paul has learnt that as well.

He leans closer, and opens his mouth, and then he doesn't have to do anything. The man holds his hair, has his fingers fisted in it, and then he pushes his penis into Paul's mouth, pulls out and back in. He curses and let out a strangled groan, and Paul lets his tongue rub against the soft skin before his head is pulled back, his throat opens, and the man fucks his mouth without mercy. But he lets Paul breathe when Paul needs it, and something twists in Paul’s chest that has nothing to do with pleasure.

Paul has found two sides in blowjobs: one is where the dominator is the person who blows, stripping the other man from any resistance and power. The second side is where the giver is being controlled, is taken, and used. In porn, it is almost always the latter option that is seen. Paul is familiar with both.

He lets out a moan and the man pulls away for a second, lets him take a good breath. Paul goes after the member, though, latches his mouth against it and sucks at the tip, swirling his tongue around it. He is becoming the dominant one; the man's hold of his hair slackens and he has pressed his head against the brick wall, his eyes closed. The light a street lamp makes his skin look yellow, and his eyelashes are visible from Paul's perspective.

The man is utterly handsome, and Paul relishes the chance to have his cock in his mouth.

He starts bobbing his head, taking in more and more. The man groans, looks down at him. Paul does not know why the other looks so broken. But he does not question, holds the gaze and sucks, and the man's hold of his head is gentle.

His heart is beating and for a small moment he forgets that he has a dick in his mouth.

The man lets out a sigh, his eyes fall closed, and then his hips start moving again and Paul lets his jaw fall wide open, looks up at the man as he kneels there, relaxed and turned on, and there is something utterly fascinating in the way the other's expression twists with pleasure.

The man holds his head in place and comes in his mouth, and Paul feels satisfaction wash over him.

He sucks the member dry, letting it fall from his mouth. His throat is made of sand and his dick is aching, and he hopes that the man has energy to come to Paul's flat. Now it is too late to say that Paul would not want to fuck.

The man tucks himself in after taking a few deep breaths, and then he is lighting a cigarette. The paper-bag is in the ground next to Paul, where it has fallen. It is silent again, their breathing and the small hiss of the streetlight the only sound present.

Paul reaches for his phone. It has shut down when falling and Paul feels a small twinge at not being available. George is probably really, really worried, no wonder with the way the call was cut.

He presses the power button on the side of the phone and watches how the screen lights with the Samsung logo. Then he notices a whole loaf of bread, lying on the ground some distance away.

He stares at it, then looks at the paper-bag, and he understands.

The stones crack and he lifts his head, alarmed, but the man has only corrected his position. He is watching Paul, with dark eyes that have no things to say. Paul swallows and his hard-on pulses between his legs. The man's taste in his mouth lingers.

“My place?” he asks and the man doesn't say anything, only cracks a small smile and nods. Paul hides his relief by standing up, and then they are walking, the man once again behind him, and Paul's phone shows five missed calls and seven text messages.

He almost feels bad, but the man's come is on his tongue, and he cannot find it in himself to be truly sorry for George.

*~**~*

“Paul!!” George's voice pierces through his ear and he grimaces, pulls the phone a bit farther from his ear.

“I'm alright,” he hisses and glances towards the kitchen where the man is getting some water to drink. They have engaged in a passionate, wordless session where Paul rode and the man groaned. Basically. Now he is in the bedroom, naked, and calling George. Somehow, he thought it would be a good idea to do it now, to let his friend know he is okay. Apparently, he has made a mistake.

“Have you got any idea how fuckin' worried I've been??!George is practically shouting and Paul can hear a car passing by from the phone. He frowns.

“Are you outside?” he asks and hears George huff, let out a breathy laugh.

“I bloody am, went lookin' for you. Passed by Cavern and have been runnin' the streets ever since!”

“Shit,” Paul swears, “I'm sorry. The phone fell and-”

“I don't bloody care, okay?? I'm comin' over.”

“George!” Paul exclaims, forgets that there is someone else in the flat as well. The sound of the water pouring from faucet stops. “You can't!!”

“I don't care if you have a thousand naked people over, I'm comin'.”

“If you dare I'm-” Paul starts, but George dials off. Paul stares at the phone with a disbelieving expression on his face and then he curses, throws the phone on the bed.

“Motherfuckin'-” he starts, but cuts it off and slides to sit down on the bed, buries his head in his hands. He doesn't need George now, doesn't want it to be his shoulder comforting him.

He swallows and rubs his eyes, hearing footsteps.

“Problems with a guy?” the man asks and Paul lifts his head, looks at the other that is standing in the doorway. He nods and sighs.

“Went looking for me,” he mutters and wraps his hands around his stomach, leans on his thighs. “He's coming over, apparently.”

“Now?” The man raises his eyebrows and comes then to sit next to Paul, offers him a glass of water. Paul takes it and thinks how weird the situation is. How weird his relationship with this man is, when he doesn't even know the other's name.

He nods and watches how the man's expression doesn't change. As if he does not care at all.

Paul does care. He cannot let George meet this man, and cannot let this man meet George. What would they think of each other? What would George think of Paul, because hearing that one's friend is a whore is another thing than actually seeing it be true.

“Do you want me to leave?” the man asks in a casual tone, leans back on his hands. Paul's eyes follow his body, from his face down to his knees, and then up to his penis that is hanging now soft and satisfied between the man's legs. Paul has had that dick in his mouth.

All of a sudden, he feels like gagging. It is the thought of George coming here that does it to him, as well as the memory of how he had wanted this man's cock, how he had taken it straight without hesitation. It burns behind his eyelids and his breathing quickens.

The man frowns and sits straight up, leans closer.

“Ye got some serious problems, mate,” is all he says and stands up, starts looking for his clothes. Paul feels like crying, because doesn't he know it himself, as well? He has fallen into a pit and he cannot get up. It was Jane, bloody Jane that did this to him, and he wants nothing more than to forget her. He wants to be himself again, not this pathetic, miserable being that only lives for sex with anonymous people.

He would take Jane back any second if she wanted it.

“As if I'd want to be with someone like you,” Jane chides into his ear and he presses a hand on his mouth, holds back tears. It feels like he is on the verge of crying all the time, even at work. It doesn't show, though; no one at work has even noticed that Jane left, not to mention what came after.

He hears the man walk past him, and then when he's almost in the doorway he stops and silence falls.

Then, a voice, rough and stripped of all emotion, speaks through the pain in Paul's heart.

"Ye sure ye don't want me to stay?”

Paul does not say anything, cannot even utter a noise, but he lifts his face and looks at the man, probably for the last time. For even if they have run into each other for several times now during the last few months, it is highly unlikely that it would happen again. Paul does not believe in fate, does not believe that there would be no other meaning behind these meanings than coincidence.

Coincidences are just that. Rare and unlikable happenings that really have no meaning.

He looks at the man, and the man looks at him, and Paul nods.

The man leaves and there is nothing left in the flat to make Jane's laugh go away.

*~**~*

George pushes inside the moment Paul opens the door, grabs him, and pushes him against the wall. Paul's mind is taken to the first time he had that man in his flat, licking and biting his neck and making Paul open his legs gladly.

He blinks and takes in the sweaty appearance of his friend. George is panting, his expression is twisted into anger and worry and his hair looks like he had just got out of shower when Paul first called him from the street, and had not even dried it before running out.

He feels a stab in his chest and he lifts his hands defensively, inhaling sharply.

They stare at each other in silence before George's hold of his shirt loosens and the man wraps his arms around Paul, burying his head in his shoulder.

“I was so fucking worried,” he says in a strange, strangled voice, and Paul pats his back awkwardly. He and George, well, are not normally as physical as Paul would be with any other person. It is probably because George is not a person to seek closeness from anyone else but his girlfriend.

“I'm sorry,” Paul mumbles and George lets out a choked laugh, pulls away.

“As if I'd believe,” he mutters and turns away, goes into the kitchen, and opens the fridge with familiar movements.

“You still haven't been shopping?” the younger man asks and Paul shrugs, sits down at the kitchen table. He remembers how deliciously fucked he was against it.

His mind is hazy as George goes through his cupboards, throws glasses into the sink and grimaces as the garbage can is opened.

“Paul,” his friend sighs and Paul doesn't react at first, only when George leans over the table to try to reach his eyes. “You need help. You can't go on like this.”

“Like what?” Paul asks defensively, frowns and pulls back. He stands up as George sighs frustrated.

“You don't eat properly, you don't sleep at all! You move like a ghost through the days, and you call me late in the evening from a street, saying that you're a whore and then start hyperventilating, an' then I lose contact and have no idea if ye're even alive!!”

Whenever George becomes angry enough, his accent gets stronger. Paul suspects it's because the lad usually watches his words, but forgets to do that when shouting.

“Not usually,” Paul mutters and George throws his hand up, points at the sink.

“I come here once a week to check that you have food in your fridge and that you've taken care of the dishes, and almost every week I have to take you to do the groceries! Paul, you're fucked up!”

Paul rubs his eyes, and he staggers backwards. George lets out an alarmed noise that might be a curse word, might be Paul's name. Then his hands grab Paul and ease him down to the floor, holding him securely.

Paul shakes his head and a sob escapes his mouth.

“Don't judge,” he says and George hushes him, holds him. He doesn't feel right; he is bony and hard in places where Jane had been soft.

“I don't want to see you be like this,” George mutters, pulls back and looks at Paul deeply. “I don't know how to help you.”

“Stop babysitting me,” Paul's voice is broken and even he doesn't listen to his words. He knows that George will continue coming over, will continue to chide him as long as Paul is like this.

“I don't wanna be like this,” he mumbles and George sighs, hugs him again strongly. Paul knows he wants to help; has tried to make Paul see a doctor, has done his best to be constantly available if Paul needs him, has made sure that Paul has stayed alive.

Paul is not going to die. He’s over that period already. At least he thinks so.

George leaves after Paul has promised to eat, and shower, and drink, and clean the kitchen. He tries to threaten that he might even bring Pattie over one time. Paul almost laughs at that, because there is no way George would ever do it. He wouldn’t make Paul go through that kind of horror.

He finds the quietness of his bedroom making him restless and he moves over to the sofa for the rest of the night, falling asleep in the unusual spot easier than he originally anticipated. He is exhausted from both sex and all the emotional stuff George makes him go through every time the lad visits.

He doesn’t clean the kitchen and doesn’t eat.

For whose sake would he do it anyroad?

*~**~*

“It’s so nice to have you over!” Pattie exclaims and Paul ducks his head, smiles as he’s taking off his jacket. Pattie hurls around him, chatting and patting him on the shoulders, complaining that he’s lost weight (again). George is smiling wryly from where he's standing, leaning into a door frame. Paul shoots him a slightly annoyed glance while Pattie is looking elsewhere.

He isn't sure how he has ended up in this situation, but it has something to do with George's excellent skills at making Paul feel guilty. It only really needed a carefully placed “y'know, last weekend I was so worried”, and Paul, somehow, had already agreed to come over. But he knows that he wasn't fair to George, and, well. He is sure he can do without sex this weekend.

He is constantly aware of how stupid that sentence sounds like. Obsessed with sex? Paul? He sure hopes not.

He walks into George and Pattie's flat, where the two have been living together for three years, now. It is quite large, but small in a way that in case there are babies in the future, a move is a necessity. The living room is joint with the kitchen, and then there is a bathroom and a bedroom. The decoration is cute and well-thought, Pattie having an endless love for home design TV shows. In the bookshelf, there are a million different magazines about sofas, beds, tables, styles, rooms… Paul isn't even sure whether there are other books in the house.

He walks over to the sofa and sits down on it carefully, George soon appearing beside him with two beer bottles in his hands. Pattie brings crisps, and then sits down into an armchair, smoothing her shirt in the process. She is shining, her eyes holding genuine happiness at seeing Paul on her sofa.

Paul feels slightly bad for feeling so bad.

“How have you been?” Pattie asks, seems to be bursting with the question. Paul takes a beer from George and shrugs, lets a smile reach his lips. It is ridiculous how easy it is to pull his cover up, make it seem like nothing it wrong. George is staring at him with a tight expression.

“Pretty fine. Busy with work, y'know. Not much happenin' otherwise,” he answers, the lie rolling off his tongue easily. It's the same whenever he talks to his family; lies, lies, lies.

Will it ever end?

“You haven't been around,” Pattie says, like she has come to this observation in the middle of a night and is proud of it. Paul wants to grimace, but instead takes a sip of the beer.

“Haven't really thought about it,” he says, settles against the sofa, trying to make himself as comfortable as possible. “There's so much going on.”

Pattie smiles, but now there is something distant in her eyes. Paul has a fleeting thought of how last weekend must have been for her; George answering his phone, soon dissolving into shouting Paul's name, and then running out of the flat. What has he told her? Does Pattie know?

Is she disapproving, or understanding? Paul is suddenly sure that Pattie knows at least something.

He feels like he cannot breathe.

“He prefers to stay home when he isn't at work,” George says and leans a bit to the right, his elbow resting against the sofa's armrest. Then he lifts his legs on the sofa, sitting half on top of them, and his toes nudge against Paul's thigh.

George always knows when Paul is close to falling. Can hear it from his breathing, apparently. And he knows exactly what to do to get him momentarily out of it.

Paul inhales deeply, calmly, and sips at the beer again, nodding along.

“I'm always jus' so tired,” he says and pulls a face. Pattie smiles and nods, taking a crisp.

It is so awkward, and uncomfortable. At least in Paul's opinion. Why is he here?? He would have preferred getting run over by a car. At least then this… this all would end.

“What've you been doin' then?” he asks, his mouth around the crisp. Pattie laughs and Paul pulls a face, George smiling as well.

“Nothing much. Except… George, does he know?”

George raises his eyebrows and shakes his head.

“I knew you'd get mad if I told him.”

Paul's interest perks at that and he looks at Pattie, waiting. It is apparent from his expression and Pattie laughs some more. Paul winks at her and his face melts into a soft smile.

He has always liked Pattie's laugh. She is good for George, and she doesn't care about Paul's sexuality. She has cut all the relations she used to have with Jane, as well.

“Well,” Pattie says and places her hands on her slim thighs, just seeming to radiate happiness. “We haven't told this to anyone, yet, really.”

“I'm all ears,” Paul says, anticipation in his stomach. He glances at George, who looks suddenly shy. George? Shy??

“We're-” Pattie looks at George, and then a smile breaks on both of their faces.

“We're engaged!”

Paul stares. His head turns and he stares at George, and the biggest thought in his head is, for once, not sad. No. He feels slightly betrayed, in a good way. It is a funny feeling. It feels funny to be happy.

“You didn't tell me before?? he exclaims at George, who grimaces, before Paul is up, rushing to embrace Pattie. Pattie laughs against his chest, and Paul's heart clenches at someone sounding so utterly euphoric.

After a round of hugs they sit back in their seats and the chatter begins, Pattie starting to talk about the wedding plans with enthusiasm. George looks like he has heard this part at least a hundred times, and Paul smiles. The lad is so lucky.

His stomach falls when the thought enters his head. No- he wants it to go away. He can't destroy this happy moment with his own, private misery-

'Me and Jane would be already married, if she didn ’t leave.'

Paul had planned to pop the question, but Jane left first. And Paul lost the woman he loved -loves- and everything he was, everything he used to be, was destroyed.

How could he deny his own sexuality? But how could he be fine with it when it is the thing that brought his life down and made him lose Jane? And he still fucks men, and he feels guilty. But at least he feels something.

He is trying to deny one aspect of himself, of what makes him himself, and on the other hand trying to embrace it as much as he can.

Why- why does he do that-

His breathing is quickening again and he sees George glance at him with a slight frown in the middle of his brow. Pattie hasn't noticed, too into her detailed plans about the flower arrangements. George pushes his toe strongly against Paul's thigh, but it doesn't help.

He and Jane would be married by now

Suddenly there is a sound from the kitchen, a song starting to play. Pattie lifts her eyebrows and gets on her feet.

“That's Mum. She said she'd call today-”

“Take it into the bedroom, yeah?” George asks and Pattie throws him a look of utter obviousness. “Tell her we say hi!”

Pattie grabs her phone, winks at them, and disappears into the bedroom, soon her soft voice starting up with a cheerful greeting.

Paul turns towards George with a panicked gasp escaping from his mouth.

“I can't- George- I can't-he chokes, and George is there, holding him by his shoulders, shaking gently.

“Paul- listen- Mate, I know it's hard,” George says, their voices quiet. Paul shakes and wants to cry, but there's no way he allows such a thing now.

“Why am I like this?” he asks in a broken voice, “How did I become this??”

He doesn't know. He wants to know. He wants to go back into who he was before. Didn't he use to- Wasn't he an optimist, even in the direst of situations? What happened?

George doesn't look like he has an answer. He just looks sad, shaking his head. Looking like someone has died.

Paul guesses that the person he used to be before, has.

“Maybe- Well, you started- I'm not saying it's wrong, but-” George starts, looking uncomfortable. He takes a deep breath and his gaze on Paul feels heavy, but calming. “Maybe you should stop going out for a while. It seems to cause a lot of stress.”

Paul kind of wants to laugh, because it was George who suggested it in the first place. But no one thought that it would escalate like this. That Paul would become a whore.

He isn't. He is NOT.

George pats him on the shoulders, and they soon resume their beer-drinking, waiting for Pattie to come back. Paul is calmer, ready to plunge himself into wedding designs, and he thinks about what George said.

Maybe he should leave it for a while. Leave everything, and just trust in his own hand in case there is a need.

*~**~*

“That’s right, that’s right,” a man is groaning, babbling nonsense, thrusting in and out of Paul’s mouth, holding his head in place. Paul chokes, one small stone pressing painfully against a bone in his knee. It feels like the stone is existing only to give him a reminder of him being an utter failure as a human being. Why is he doing this again? Why does he feel the need to give himself to an utter stranger like this? This isn’t even- this isn’t even that man, but a complete stranger.

It doesn’t even feel good. He is just left dirty, with a disgusting taste in his mouth, and there is nothing that he gets out of this. Nothing. Not even good sex.

It’s been two weeks since he was at George’s place, and three since the catastrophic discussion in his kitchen. He is back in his old habits, has broken because he isn't strong enough, spending his weekends by roaming through the alleys of Liverpool’s night, loitering around club doors, waiting for someone who would catch his eye. He doesn’t care about the gender, but somehow always ends up with men. Women have long hair; in certain light, it might look red. Women have soft curves and breasts; in a certain hazy moment, they might make you think it was someone you know. A woman’s voice is easily recognised; it might even make you think that someone would call your name any moment.

He knows why he always ends up with men. But why does he have to go for sex? Why can’t he just get a- get a grip and start living again?

He knows it's because during sex he can at least feel something.

The man shudders and thrusts deep into Paul's throat, holding onto his head as he comes. He hasn't asked permission, but maybe he thought that it would be okay, to come into Paul’s mouth. Paul doesn't mind, not really, but would appreciate a chance to breath. His nose is pressed against the man's pubic hair and his air is running short, his throat filling with the man's come, his mouth filled with the man himself.

He pushes against the man's thighs and manages to break free from the hard grip that the man has on his hair. He pulls back and inhales, and one final spurt from the man hits him on his cheek. He is pulled up to his feet and pressed against the tile wall, a hand running down his jaw.

“You're gorgeous,” the man is talking in a husky voice, his hand going inside Paul's trousers. He grasps at Paul and wanks him off, and Paul is soon writhing in his hands, doesn't care how the man calls him, if he can come. And at that moment, things aren't so bad. He can live with this.

(Later, when he is showering, alone at home, he cries and has to kneel down on the floor to keep himself from falling. Later he finds a few pounds from his pocket and feels dirty at even touching that money. He doesn't throw it away. He buries it deep into his drawers and doesn't look in again.)

*~**~*

It is then that his life changes, forever.

He is on his way to the Cavern, feeling sure of himself. His step is lighter than usual, and he even feels like humming to himself as he makes his way through the narrow alleys, knowing all the shortcuts. It has been a good couple of weeks; ever since he found the money from his pocket it is like something has calmed down inside him. If he is a whore, so what? He could earn fortunes by this. He likes sex, is somewhat obsessed with it- but it isn't uncontrollable.

It is funny how his thoughts change when he is feeling better. But this is the first time in months that he feels this good, and he's decided to celebrate it by going into the club for the first time in weeks. He can handle the crowds. He can handle himself. He lights up a cigarette while walking, feeling even slightly giddy. He feels so good-!

He walks past a dark alley that he knows doesn't have anything there. It is used, roughly spoken, for sex. It is not unusual to hear something from there, and this time is not different. Paul is ready to walk away, continue on his path like he has heard nothing, but there is something strange in the voices.

C'mon, lovely,” a man is saying, and Paul can hear clothes rustling. There are also grunts, gasping, muffled sounds-

“Wanker- I'm not in the mood-”

Another voice.

Paul freezes.

He couldn't forget that voice.

Hmmm, pet-

“Cut it off!”

Paul drops the cigarette into the ground, his heart pounding. The man that had spoken first sounds drunk, his words slurring together. And the other-

The other is that man.

Paul would know his voice.

He walks closer, and there are more of those sounds that Paul can now identify as one person struggling against the other. His steps become more hurried, and the alley comes into his sight of view.

A large man, with neat clothes and a stubble, is pushing another down. He has opened his trousers and his dick is hanging out, although it is not even erect. The guy has to be really pissed to not notice that. And the other man-

It is him. He is trying to get away, cursing and grunting, looking openly disgusted when the drunkard's midsection is coming closer to his face. His hands are pushing the other man’s thighs, but it's no use, it seems, as his head is stuck.

Heat surges through Paul's body, heat that he hasn't known in a long time- it is rage. Pure anger, and he- he feels alive-

“Hey!” he shouts and runs forward, grabs the large man by the shoulder. He thought it would be easy to push the man away, but he is bigger than Paul anticipated. And much more aware of his surroundings than Paul was waiting for.

The man's hand comes up and slams against Paul, and Paul feels his back hit the opposite brick wall, his world turning upside down for a moment. Then hands are on him, holding his head in a death grip, and a tongue is pushing inside his mouth. Paul feels dazed, his head swirling, can't even struggle as the drunk man kisses him, starts rutting against him, moans about him being such a pretty boy-

The man's mouth disappears from his.

And an explosive sound follows when his, Paul's man's fist connects against the boozer's face.

The moment seems slow, Paul staring at the movement for what seems like an eternity. His man's leather jacket is stretching around his right arm, giving in to give a wider swing into the punch. His face holds pure anger and disgust, and something that Paul cannot quite place. Is it fear? No… it doesn’t quite look like it.

It is an excellent right jab, and very, very effective. Their attacker goes down, even though he is so drunk that it probably didn't need much, and then the man is straightening, turning towards Paul-

-and he grabs Paul by the wrist and they are running, away, as fast as they can. Their breathing mixes up together into sounds of panting and gasping, their feet hitting the ground with the same rhythm. The man is fast, is dragging Paul behind him, and Paul is still feeling light in the head… Did he hit it against the wall? He might have, but his memory is fuzzy. Everything blurs together as they dash through the alleys, and Paul knows the route.

It goes straight towards his flat.

They end up in front of Paul’s door, sucking in breaths, slumping against the wall. The man lets go of Paul’s hand, and Paul feels something empty swirl in his chest. He doesn’t know if he should try to say something. Maybe a thanks? Should he invite the man in?

…Are they going to have sex? Although the man said before that he was not in the mood. Maybe he is in the mood for Paul? Paul feels a familiar jolt in his stomach, and then, without words, he steps up to the door and opens it.

He turns to look at the man with raised eyebrows, and the other lets out a sigh of relief.

“Yes, fuck, thanks,” he says, and Paul feels a tug of satisfaction in his stomach as he walks in, the man at his heels.

His chest feels tight, though, and it has nothing to do with lust.

“Water?” he asks, and then pauses. “Beer?”

The man takes off his jacket and his shoes as well. Paul looks at the weirdly domestic thing to do -usually no one gets their shoes off, if not in the bedroom. Somehow this act suggests that the man might even stay for a while, even though Paul doesn’t dare to hope.

At Paul’s words, he looks up and tilts his head, pursing his lips.

“Water -then beer,” he says, and there is a glint of humour in his eye. Paul feels a smile light up his face, and he grins quickly at the other before taking his own jacket off. His heart is still pumping fast, but it is getting slower, and Paul can almost feel something like excitement in his stomach. Running for his life like that- it felt good.

He sees the man looking at his face with an emotion that could be wonder and fascination, but it is only visible for a few seconds before the expression closes off into a careful mask.

Paul gets them water from the kitchen and takes two beer cans on the table to rest. The man comes to his side, taking the glass of water from Paul and nods, thanking him wordlessly.

His eyes hold an enquiring look, and now in the kitchen light Paul, finally, sees them to be proper, warm brown. Something in his stomach nags him at the look, and he gets lost into the gaze.

They stare at each other in silence, and Paul’s head is starting to feel light. What is happening?

“You doin’ better?” The man turns his head abruptly, like he, too, got lost in Paul’s eyes. Paul blinks, the man goes at the beers, taking one and throwing the other to him. Paul catches it easily, his body in sync with the man’s movements, even though his mind is severely lagging behind.

“I- well, for the moment,” he says after a while, because it is the truth. The man hums and opens the beer, taking a small sip. So, not drinking to get drunk, tonight.

“Good,” is the answer, and Paul feels something warm bloom in his body. The man has worried for Paul. Has cared about him. Even for a little while, even for a few seconds.

“…You?” he asks in return, leaning against the oven, crossing one arm over his chest, holding the opened beer can in his hand with a relaxed stance. He doesn’t know whether the man has been doing badly, or if he has any problems at all. Usually people that seek the same as Paul do. Unless they think he’s a whore and are there just for the pleasure.

The man shrugs.

“Been worse,” he says, and hauls himself on top of the kitchen table. He swings his legs in the air for a moment, and Paul feels himself smile again. It feels good, smiling. Normal.

The man looks at him again, and now his eyebrows knit together.

“You don’t smile much in these days, do ye?” he asks, and Paul tenses before taking a hurried sip of his beer. Well… at work?

“Not so many reasons to,” he sighs, and the man lets out an understanding noise.

“Been there,” is all he says, and Paul is left wondering about his current companion. He wants to know more, but he knows better than to press. It is awful when people do that to him, so he doesn’t do it to the others.

Silence falls upon them, where they only look at each other, wordless emotions passing between them. It is understanding, knowledge of what the other has gone through; It is hesitation, because in the end they do not know each other at all. Paul doesn’t even know the man’s name, but he isn’t going to ask, even though the question is burning deep down in his abdomen, wants to come out. Paul feels like he needs a name to this person, who has somehow made it through all his barriers, and is now looking at all of Paul’s pain in silence, not saying anything, and certainly not judging.

Paul has a feeling that he has only scratched the surface into the other’s mind. Even now, after the things they’ve said, Paul has a feeling that this man is distancing himself, pulling a cover around him to protect his thoughts.

Paul is more than fine with that. He just hopes he wouldn’t be such an open book in front of his strange guest.

The man tilts his head, his lips pressing tightly together.

“Losing people is never easy, isn’t it?” he then says, takes a large gulp of his beer. “Especially if they leave unfairly.”

Paul can only nod, trying to ignore the way that his stomach falls at losing eye contact with the man.

“But you jus’ gotta go on,” the man continues, not looking at Paul, now, but at the fridge, his eyes glazing over with a memory that’s not Paul’s to know. “Gotta pick yourself up, ‘cos otherwise you’re just left in a shamble.”

“I’d do it if I knew how,” Paul mutters. “I don’t know how I became… this.”

It is so odd, how he can just say it to this man. With George it took him two painful, dark months to really open up about the way he was hurting. With George, these words are always said with pain surging through him, but this time he feels nothing.

No, it’s not nothing. It’s… calmness?

Something about this man just calms Paul down. Maybe it is the way that he’s saved Paul, already several times. Paul knows he can trust the man, because in the face of a real situation, he has acted without hesitation, has done his best to get Paul to safety. Just like today.

“Thanks for today,” he says as the thought comes up. The man looks at him sharply, and then a small smile curves on his lips.

Paul is left staring, thoughts disappearing from his mind, his heart jumping up into a gallop.

Now, with the lights on, it feels like he is seeing it for the first time. It seems genuine, something that makes Paul realise all the other smiles he has seen have been forced. Just like those Paul sees in the mirror.

But the man’s smile is one of the most beautiful things he has seen in the world.

“Same goes for you, too,” the man says, the smile still staying on. Paul wants to go up and ravish that mouth; He wants to take a picture of it and hang it above his bed, and he wants to- he doesn’t know what he wants, otherwise than see that smile again.

“…Great right jab,” he says, letting humour sweep into his voice. It is not difficult at all, as he is suddenly feeling awfully giddy over that smile.

The smile widens into a grin, and Paul is breathless.

“Thanks,” the man says, his voice sincere, but with an undertone of something… with joy? No, that is not quite the emotion. Joyful satisfaction? The man’s expression reminds Paul of a schoolboy that has done something bad, and is certainly proud of it.

Mischievousness? That is the right word.

God damn, his mood is brightening only by seeing that grin. How is it possible?

He starts giggling. It begins quietly, like he isn’t sure about how to do it anymore, if it is the right thing to do. Then it grows up and he laughs out loud, the beer can jumping up and down in his shaking hand.

“He just- just went down-” he laughs, and the man looks at him, the smile still on his lips, and then he- he starts snickering as well.

“The wanker wasn’t even hard,” he says, and then breaks into a full laugh, and God, Paul’s chest is filling with something bright, and he laughs more, leans forward. It is funny- now that they have escaped the situation, spent some time discussing the darkest of feelings, and then end up with the memory of the drunkard being flagged

In the end, he doesn’t know whether he is laughing or crying, because the feeling in his chest is happiness. He doesn’t remember when he has last felt this pure, bright emotion. It’s been so long, and he feels so relieved. He feels like he has hope, like he can get up of this pit where he has fallen into. He feels, at this moment, that he could get better. He laughs so hard he has to fight to keep himself on his feet, and he feels free.

And then suddenly there is a pair of lips on his mouth, those same lips that before had been spread into such a breath-taking smile, and Paul gasps, his hold of the beer can almost disappearing, his laughter vanishing with his sharp intake. The man kisses him, and it is not like their earlier ones; it is not dirty, nor deep, but more careful, almost questioning. It is warm and soft, and Paul can’t help but feel faint in the legs at being the one to receive such a gift.

He pushes the beer on top of the oven behind him, and then his hands are free for a moment before he pushes them up, pulls the man’s head closer. He tilts his head and opens his mouth properly, and their tongues meet softly, but without hesitation.

Paul kisses the man like he used to kiss Jane. The thought makes him shudder, and he chases it away. It means nothing; it’s just a kiss. Even though- even though Paul’s heart has never felt this big and tight in his chest.

They push each other into the bedroom, pull off their clothes in a strange haze where they cannot stop kissing each other. Paul feels like giggling when the man mouths at his navel, and he gives in to the urge, wriggling himself and laughing. The man looks up at him, stares for a moment with that same, fascinated expression as before, and then comes up for another kiss. It is like he cannot stop doing it, and Paul doesn’t mind at all. His mind feels light, like something extremely heavy has been lifted.

He comes into the man’s mouth later, the irony of it making him smile. So, he was in the mood when it came to Paul’s dick.

They wait a moment, kissing and caressing each other, and then the man pushes himself into Paul’s mouth, sitting on top of Paul’s chest, stopping him from moving, and they both groan. Paul listens to the sounds the man makes, the small curse words that escape his lips, and looks up and sees the man’s expression. He looks lost in the pleasure, and Paul pulls a hand up, runs it over the man’s waist. He could do this forever, if it meant seeing this face hovering above him for the whole time, of having the man’s scent in his nostrils this strong.

When it’s over, they both collapse on the bed, and the man lights up a cigarette. He offers one to Paul as well, and they smoke in silence.

The man seems more hesitant now, like he is closing off. The smile has vanished from his face, and he is avoiding Paul’s gaze.

Paul leaves the other be, although something terribly empty is pooling up in his stomach.

They go to sleep, and somehow curling up against the man doesn’t feel odd or awkward at all. Paul lets himself sigh deeply when they have both settled down under the blanket, a strong, safe arm around him tightly, and he falls asleep.

Just like that. Easily.

He wakes up in the middle of the night, but doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything. He feels eyes watching him, the smell of a cigarette burning his nostrils. He doesn’t open his eyes, and tries to keep his breathing as even as possible.

He falls asleep again soon after that, and when he wakes up in the morning, the man is gone.

Something breaks inside Paul, and he cries.

Chapter Text

Paul falls.

He cannot hold onto anything anymore. The world slips through his fingers, and the only thing he can think of is the man, who left.

He doesn’t go to work, takes time off, saying he’s ill. He doesn’t contact his friends, or family. He lies in his bed, shaking, unable to get himself up.

It would be so easy to just lie there, and let his face rest against the pillow, and suffocate.

It’s been three days since he properly ate anything, and his fridge is starting to look empty. He just looks inside, at the empty shelves, not feeling any emotions at all. He wonders if something finally, truly broke in him, but he doesn’t really care. Does anything matter, anymore?

George marches in like an elephant a day later.

“What the fuck, Paul?!” is the first thing he says, screaming, taking in Paul’s appearance. Paul hasn’t washed himself, or shaved, or slept, not since he woke up to his empty bed. “What the fuck is going on??”

George knew he was getting better. So this must feel like a slap in the face. Paul knows George worries, but he cannot help but think that George worries too much. Whatever Paul does with his life, however badly he fucks up, it’s his business. George cannot help him.

“Jus’ didn’t wanna do anything,” he mutters, because George is glaring at him, stripping off his jacket and shoes. The act reminds Paul of the man, and he feels his cheeks get cold and tight -he is paling. George straightens his back, and stops.

And looks at him.

Then, his posture seems to succumb, an expression washing over his face that Paul can’t place. He isn’t sure whether it’s desperation, or if George is giving up on Paul, finally.

“What happened?” his friend says, and the voice is soft. It has a note of understanding beneath the sad tone, and Paul presses his lips tightly together. He suddenly feels like crying. That hasn’t been a familiar feeling during the last few days. Paul hasn’t felt anything.

“Paul,” George says, takes a step closer. Paul’s breath hitches and he scrambles backwards.

“I-I’m fine-he stutters, but to his horror, his voice breaks, and his hands are shaking. George takes two firm steps, is in front of him, grabs a hold of his shoulders and pulls him over to the sofa.

He pushes Paul down on it and sits next to him, holding onto Paul’s hands now. It feels weird, because George was never meant to touch Paul like that. But it is comforting.

“Tell me,” George says, his voice firm and unyielding, and Paul knows he doesn’t have a chance. And he breaks down.

He manages to tell George (almost) everything through the sobs. George is just listening, looking calm at first, then outraged in between, and then sad, which seems to suit his thoughts the best. Paul tells about the first and the second meeting with the man, and of the paper-bag that smelled like bread, and of the drunkard and their run to Paul’s flat, and of the discussion that left Paul raw and open and vulnerable, and of the morning after.

George doesn’t say anything, not until Paul swallows his tears, or tries to, and says, with his voice heavy and thick,

“I don’t know what he’s done to me. I don’t know why I keep thinking about him! Why am I like this-”

“He doesn’t seem the type to care about others.”

Paul shuts his mouth, and stares at George. He feels angry, all of a sudden. The problem, is that the man has cared too much. He has shown Paul kindness that no one else during the past few months have, and he has- it hasn’t been the kind of care that friends would give. It is, in a way, plain and unconsciously done. The man is gentle in his heart, Paul knows it. But he covers his feelings up, won’t let Paul in, although he seems to know what Paul needs.

Paul has no idea what the other would want, or need. But he is willing to give his body to the man if it results in them both being a bit happier.

Although, the current situation isn’t anything resembling to “happier”.

“Okay,” George says slowly. “Maybe he does care. He still left, and it wasn’t the first time-”

“He cares,” Paul interrupts, wiping tears away from his face. “He cares, and I wouldn’t be this mess if he didn’t.”

George is quiet for a moment, just thinking. Paul knows what’s going on in his head. Paul should stop thinking about the man, should stop sleeping with people like he does, should concentrate on work, and his friends, and on getting out of this hole.

Paul just wants to feel again. And with the man, he has managed to do so. Even though, in the end, it has made him feel nothing at all.

But that isn’t true either, right? He wouldn’t be crying if he was truly empty.

“You know what I think of this whole thing,” George says carefully, taking Paul’s hands again and squeezing them. “But I feel like I can’t really stop you. I just want you to know that I’m always here, if you need me.”

Paul wants to say that he doesn’t need George. But he has to admit that he is already feeling calmer, and warmer, and it is as if some kind of a relief has come to rest in his heart for having told the whole ordeal to someone.

“It’s- ever since- ever since she left, you’ve been like this, and-” George takes a deep breath, and his voice is quivering. Paul’s lower lip is starting to tremble.

“I’m just so worried about you all the time. I can’t help but think that someday I’m gonna get a call and-” George’s voice breaks and he cuts himself off, squeezing Paul’s hands even tighter. Paul just sits there, quietly starting to cry again. How can he not care, but still care so much?

“It’s not gonna happen,” he says, shuddering at the thought of George in his flat, a phone in his hand, staring at a wall with wide, disbelieving eyes. He doesn’t want to think about it, and doesn’t want to think about the pain that would next cross over George’s features.

“I can’t be sure,” George says, voice breathy with a desperate note to it. “You should go and see a doctor. It would make me feel a lot better.”

Paul presses his lips tightly together. He hates doctors, and medicine, and everything that would suggest that he is well on his way to a mental hospital. But he knows his state isn’t normal. But he still hates doctors.

“I’ll think about it,” he mutters, turns his head away. George sighs, looks at him tiredly.

“You should go do the groceries,” he says then, and Paul feels the corner of his mouth twitch. Yeah. He should see a doctor, and do the groceries. Two things that just seem impossible.

“I’ll think about that, too,” he says, a small glimpse of his old sense of humour present for a moment, and George seems to be relishing it, his eyes getting clear with sudden wetness. Paul throws a hesitant smile into his direction, and George’s mouth falls slightly open.

Promise,” he says, urgently, and Paul sighs.

“Yeah,” he mutters. “Promise.”

George looks like he’s about to break into tears any moment, so Paul pulls him up from the sofa, into the kitchen, and makes tea for the first time in ages.

George’s face never wavers from that pained, but hopeful expression, and Paul is surprised to find himself wishing that he could give a reason for George’s hope to keep living.

*~**~*

Paul doesn’t half believe it, but he is in a supermarket. He stands right there in front of it, staring at the familiar logo of Sainsbury’s. He has his back-bag, and his wallet, and he has shaved and washed his hair, and put on clean clothes. He feels weird; like he should be a functioning human being, but is just a fake, an actor amongst all the other people. That’s what this feels like. Acting.

Jane loved acting

He shakes his head slightly to get rid of the thought. He is here because he promised to George to do it, and besides, he is starting to get hungry, and… well, he can’t get better if he doesn’t try, right? It all starts with small things, like doing the groceries.

He steps inside and is momentarily overcome with something that feels like a panic attack, but is milder. And it doesn’t show on the outside. It feels like a panic attack inside his mind. There are too many people, too many sounds, too many colours for him to be able to function.

He forces his breathing to stay calm, and looks at the sea of people between the aisles. Sounds seem to explode in his head, and he wonders if it would be bad to vomit right here and now. It’s almost too much.

But he- he promised.

So he gets the list of groceries from his pocket and sets into his task, feeling detached from his body as he takes a cart and starts pushing it around. Never before has he felt this odd, and like he didn’t belong.

He collects everything that is mentioned on the list that George made him before leaving yesterday, making him swear that he would go and do them. George also said that he would come over soon, to check if Paul has done it. Paul doesn’t want to risk George’s wrath, or worse, his tears. He still feels shaken about the emotion in his friend’s words, and of the meaning in them.

He gets onto the aisle that contains cereals. George has only jotted down the word, leaving the ultimate decision to Paul. His mind is slightly swirling from the world around him, and he rushes his cart between the shelves with a sigh of relief. The aisle is empty, aside from a shop assistant that is putting boxes of cereals onto a shelf. Paul breathes deeply in and out, momentarily closing out everything that there is, except his own head. He feels exhausted, and his knees are weak.

He waits that his mind feels more or less clear again, his elbows leaning on the handle of the cart, his head hanging between his shoulders. His hands are shaking slightly, but he knows it’ll pass, if he can only hold a panic attack down. It’s a miracle he’s survived this far, really. Usually more than an hour in the closed, tight space of Cavern is enough, which is what happened the first time he met that man. The aisles in the shop are big, but it still feels like they’re closing in on Paul.

The biggest problem, still, are people. There are just too many.

“Excuse me, but are you all right?” a voice, hesitant and slightly grumpy, swims into his consciousness, his ears feeling like they are full of water. He blinks, and lifts his face.

And the water disappears, but instead of the sounds rushing back into his mind with an exploding force, there is silence.

He stares into the wide eyes of the man.

He’s the shop assistant.

Paul starts to shake.

He wants to cry and scream, he wants to throw himself against the man. He feels his face getting paler by the passing seconds, and for a moment he thinks that he cannot breathe.

The man stares at him. And looks somewhat horrified.

“Y-you-” Paul stars, breathless, straightening himself slightly, and then he feels anger break into him. Pure, incontinent rage.

“You just left!! he shouts, but it isn’t audible enough that anyone would stop and stare. Which, for once, wouldn’t bother Paul at all. He is seething, and he pushes the cart away from him, marches up to the man, whose face is hardening into a passive mask. Paul hates that expression.

“I don’t owe you anything,” the man says, and Paul knows it’s true, but- still-

“Even though I’ve given you so much?he hisses, and the man takes an alarmed look around, making sure that they are still the only ones on the aisle. Paul doesn’t know how the man interprets his words; whether he thinks it’s about the things that Paul said, or about the fact that Paul has repeatedly, without hesitation, given himself to the man to use like he pleases, never asking anything in return. He doesn’t know how he interprets his words.

Youve wanted it as much as I have,” the man says next, and Paul feels like his head is exploding.

“Doesn’t mean it’s been equal-” he starts, but then his eyes glance down, accidentally or not, he doesn’t know.

And there, in the badge that rests against the man’s chest, is his name.

The sounds of the store vanish, again, and Paul’s mind is empty.

John.

All the air in his lungs suddenly disappears, like he’s been punched into the stomach. He stares at the badge, and the man, John, shifts uncomfortably, knowing that Paul’s seen his name.

John.

It feels so right. It’s like something locks in place in Paul’s heart, and he worries about the feeling. But- this man in front of him is John, and it is right.

He looks up, and they stare at each other. Paul feels tension vibrating in every muscle in his body, tension that comes just from looking at… John. He can tell that John feels the same, since he crosses his arms over his chest, his eyes darkening, his expression tight and his shoulders tense.

They are both waiting for something to snap.

“I- I worry,” Paul sucks in his breath, almost feeling like he should be shaking all over. It isn’t the case, for he is standing still like a tree, but it feels like it. The darkness from his mind has disappeared, if even for this small moment, but he doesn’t know what makes these words escape his mouth, isn’t half-aware of them either. “I worry about you- and me.”

John snorts, half looking like he’d want to turn and run and disappear again, or have Paul right there against the cereals.

“Only fools worry,” he says, voice full of something that Paul can’t recognise. His emotions start churning again.

“Okay,” he snaps, “I’ll be a fool just to match your idiocy.”

They stare at each other, the words hanging in the air between them, and then that something snaps.

They crack up simultaneously, their laughter filling the air. Paul feels light again, hearing John’s laugh, and he realises that the sound goes straight into that locked spot in his heart, filling it piece by piece. He worries, but it’s all right, if John is there with him.

Although, Paul dreads, soon he won’t be. Paul has to leave the shop eventually, and then John disappears again, and they might never meet again.

Paul doesn’t believe in fate.

Their laughter dies away, and they are left looking at each other again. John’s gaze is calculating, hesitant, and then he seems to come into some sort of a decision.

He holds out his hand.

“Give me your phone,” he says, and Paul frowns, something swirling in his stomach. He pulls his smartphone out slowly, hands it over to the other man, who quickly jots something down.

He gives it back, and there’s a number on the screen.

Paul stares at it, looks up at John, and the man shrugs.

“My phone number,” he says, quietly, carefully, as if questioning “is this okay?”. Paul gets suddenly a feeling that John might be as scared as he of heartbreak… Or of something similar.

He nods, and saves the number with the name “John”, and there is a warm and fuzzy feeling in his chest that dances around funnily.

“…Want mine?” he asks after a small moment in silence, not sure whether he has the rights to suggest this. Which is funny, because of course he has.

John nods, looking thoughtful, and Paul presses the call button. John gets his own phone out and Paul waits until he sees the screen light up with a foreign number calling.

He’s just about to say his name when John just writes it down, and saves the contact, and puts his phone back into his pocket.

He stares at Paul with a slightly arched eyebrow, as if daring him to say something.

Paul swallows, and says nothing.

There is a small, black thought in his mind that seems to send spikes into his heart, warning him in advance of what he’s starting here.

Just how long has John been aware of his name?

*~**~*

Richard Starkey steps inside his home, a small terraced house with two floors. The garden looks unkempt, something that has bothered him ever since he bought the house, but he just can’t find time for it. He is now, as well, getting home at 18 o’clock, and the long days at work don’t really do wonders to his wishes of working on plants and washing the stones.

He takes off his shoes in the entrance porch and hangs his coat into a closet. He wonders the silence in the house; usually there would be some sort of music playing.

He opens the door to the joint lounge/diner and takes in the sight.

John is sitting on a sofa, head in his hands, a bottle of beer on the sofa table in front of him. It seems that there is only one of those, which is good, but the overall feeling in the room is dark, defeated, and like something heavy is hanging upon it.

Richard sighs and walks in.

“What’s going on?” he asks, even though he knows that the odds of John answering are strongly against him. It’s been a while since he’s seen John like this, though.

…Although the man’s been slightly more irritated and silent during the last few weeks, very often after he’s spent the evening somewhere else. Richard has been wondering whether something is going on, and now it is apparent that there is.

“John?” he asks after a while, comes closer. John doesn’t move, doesn’t even seem to be acknowledging him.

“Well,” Richard then says, “did you remember to do the groceries?”

This gets John to lift his head, and guilt passes over his expression before it disappears. His face is back to the blank mask that Richard has learnt to hate, and he curses mentally. Something is going on, and it’s bad.

“Forgot,” John mutters, his head going down again. Richard exhales deeply and walks into the kitchen that is at the end of the small house, but from where he can still see John’s form on the sofa. He checks the fridge; they can probably make it till tomorrow, when Richard has a free day. He’ll take care of the groceries, if John is in this kind of a mood.

He fixes himself a quick sandwich, grabs a beer, and makes his way over to the two sofas in the lounge. He sits on the one opposite to John, eyeing at his friend with a worried expression.

They sit in silence for a long time, so long that Richard finishes his sandwich and has almost drank the whole beer as well, but then there is John’s voice, and the tone makes Richard shudder. Right. He didn’t wait for this mood, exactly.

“I screwed up.”

The words hang in the air, and Richard feels dread settle into his stomach. What has happened to make John react like this?

“What happened?” he asks, feeling a calm, professional mindset take over him, even though he’s already tired from work. If there’s anything he can do to help John, he won’t hesitate. Being a doctor in the mental field has certainly helped in dealing with John and his depression, which is now fortunately mostly gone. Now the only thing left in the man, besides a chronic, low level depression, is sadness that has wrapped around him so tightly Richard doesn’t think it will ever let go. There is pain, as well, and fear.

“Gave a lad my number,” John mumbles so quietly that Richard can barely hear it. He swallows and takes a sip of the beer to stop his racing mind and think properly.

Well. This hasn’t happened in… it has never happened after that, and Richard can be 100 per cent sure of that.

“Oh. Well?” he says, because he doesn’t know what else he could do. John looks like the whole world is ending, with it being somehow his fault. The man glances up, his face pale.

“I couldn’t- I don’t know why-” he starts, and that, already, tells Richard that they are going to the deep end of the pool. Usually John wouldn’t say these things. Usually he wouldn’t say anything, or at least express uncertainty, or his emotions. Richard remembers how he had to be there to experience John’s pain in the first place, because otherwise he could have never been aware of it.

“A gal?” he asks, and John shakes his head before springing on his feet.

“I just couldn’t- I couldn’t stop myself- he, when he laughed-”

“What’s his name?” Richard leans forward, keeping his eyes keenly on John’s agitated form. The man has now started walking back and forth, looking completely exhausted with anxiousness.

At the question he stops, looks at Richard with pained eyes.

“Paul,” he says, and there is something in the way he says that name that makes a shiver go down Richard’s spine. It makes Richard feel like John is already beyond saving, which is a stupid feeling, but not entirely new.

“Is it him that you’ve been spending the night with?” he asks, and John crosses his arms over his chest, nodding.

“Didn’t mean to, at the first time,” he mutters, his voice hoarse, and Richard frowns at the “first time”. For his knowledge, John has never spent a night with the same person twice, and he also rarely sleeps at their place. “But I got a feelin’, y’know.”

“…What kind of a feeling?” Richard asks after waiting for a moment for John to continue. The man seems to be deep in his thoughts, his posture tense.

“-Like somethin’ real bad would happen,” he then says slowly, and Richard blinks, “if I didn’t stay.”

“How did you meet?” Richard raises an eyebrow, once again dancing carefully around the subject he wants to know more about. He knows that he would never get a straight answer from John if he just asked, “like what”. He is also interested in the answer to his question, his mind slowly piecing up an image of “Paul”.

“In the Cavern,” is the answer, and Richard has a feeling that he hasn’t heard the whole tale. How did John end up going to this lad’s, to Paul’s home in the first place? There must be something in this Paul that has made John look at him more than once.

Richard has a hunch of why John thinks he has made a huge mistake, and it has everything to do with the fear he carries in his heart, but there might be something else to it, as well.

“Is he married? Children?”

John shoots him an appalled glance.

“D’you think I’d waste my time with someone like that?” he asks, genuinely surprised by Richard’s question. Richard laughs quietly, shaking his head.

“Sorry. I just had to make sure.”

John nods, accepting that as an answer. He then seems to fall deep in thought again, emotions passing over his face in a way that tells that he isn’t aware of them. Otherwise the blank mask would come back with speed. Richard makes sure not to look directly at his friend, but drinks the rest of his beer instead, wondering whether they have another one hidden somewhere. Or has John finished his own?

“He’s hurt,” John then speaks, and Richard’s thoughts come to a halt, his mind zooming in on John’s words. “His girl left him ‘cos of his sexuality. ‘T was a hard blow.”

Richard thinks for a moment.

“Do you think he’s-” he starts, but John interrupts him.

“I just couldn’t leave him,” he says, staring at his hands. Richard shuts up. “I tried, so many times, and I kept runnin’ into ‘im again ‘n again. An’ now we’re here. Ringo, his laugh- I’ve never heard anythin’ like it-”

Richard swallows, and leans backwards, meeting the sofa’s backrest. He lifts one leg over the other, crossing his arms.

“And you’re gonna keep in contact with him?” he asks, not sure what he should think of this Paul. So far, he knows that the lad is hurt, he has a wonderful laugh, and John couldn’t leave him. That’s all, and he isn’t sure whether he likes this or not. Definitely not if Paul ends up hurting John.

John looks at him, and there is fear in his gaze. It is gone in a moment, but Richard saw it, and saw it well. He knows why John is afraid, and he feels his heart break at the thought. No one, and certainly not John, would have deserved this, or should have had this life.

“I guess so,” John answers, and then disappears upstairs, his hands visibly shaking.

Richard keeps a paper-bag with him for the rest of the evening, just in case, and writes everything down into one journal he hasn’t, fortunately, opened in some time. He goes back a bit, looks at the latest entries.

There was a time when he felt ridiculously happy at seeing John up and eating the breakfast. In these days it’s a norm, but he feels dread at the thought that there might be a day in the future where getting to wish good morning to the man brings him immense joy and relief, and where he writes into the journal every evening.

He closes the book, glances at the clock on his table, and wonders whether it is possible for John to crumble down just because of one man called Paul.

*~**~*

Paul receives a text message a week later. He has almost got himself back on how he used to be; whenever he’s felt bad, just glancing at John’s phone number has helped. He has it memorised by now, something which only tells of the seriousness of the situation.

He told everything to George when the lad came over, and could, surprisingly, feel something similar to joy when he explained what happened. George looked at him weirdly, but smiled nonetheless. He told Paul to be careful with John, for one never really knew what kind of people there were in this world.

Paul knows he is vulnerable, and that it is easy to take advantage of him. But he ignores the thought and hangs onto the memory of John smiling.

The message is just one word, but it is enough to send Paul spiralling. He looks at it, and looks at it again, and feels like some kind of a haze is taking over him.

Home?

He answers five minutes later, feeling nervous and unsure of what is going on. Yes. He is home. The flat is cleaner than before, and Paul has even hoovered in there. Usually it’s George who does that. He cannot bring himself to do it, because Jane was obsessed with keeping the flat clean, and now shelves that are organised, or the floor that is empty, or a fridge that is full is just enough to send Paul into a hysteric state, if he isn’t careful.

He knows it’s pathetic, but he just can’t stop himself. He wishes he knew how to stop this, he wants to go back to the person he used to be, but he just can’t. He wonders what’s wrong with him.

It’s been ten minutes that he sent the message, and then the doorbell rings.

Holding his breath, not daring to believe it, he walks to the door slowly, and opens it without peeking from the hole.

John stands there, his leather jacket on, an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth. Paul stares at him, and steps aside, not saying anything as John walks in, starts to open the jacket.

Paul doesn’t feel like he should be the one to say the first words.

So they sit on the sofa in silence, and John lights up the cigarette, the bitter smell filling Paul’s nostrils, and he coughs.

He feels slightly awkward, now. He doesn’t even know where he stands in John’s life; whether they are just fuck buddies now, or something more, or on the way there? He has no clue. He doubts that John has either, and has a feeling that the man doesn’t even want to think about how they are.

“Been well?” John then asks, just when the silence is getting unbearable. Paul lets out a breath of relief, and nods.

“Better,” he says, looking up at John. He can’t get enough of the way the man looks like; his nose that curves over his facial features, creating a strong profile. His bushy eyebrows that match his nose, so often pulled into a small, most likely unconscious frown. And Paul can’t help but think of how John’s thin lips look when they are wrapped around Paul’s length, and there is a jolt in his stomach.

“You?” he asks, and John shrugs. They fall into silence again.

Paul bites his lip and then raises an eyebrow.

“A clerk?” he asks. John shoots him a glance, taking a long drag of his cigarette.

“You gotta do something, mate,” he says, and Paul knows it’s true. He probably would’ve given up a long time ago without his job. John isn’t finished, though.

“Can’t just be vomiting in yer own shit,” he says, his voice becoming darker. Paul catches his breath and leans closer unconsciously, hanging onto every word that John says. There is something in the man’s gaze that makes Paul want to hold him and never let go, which is a strange feeling. Maybe because it is a feeling.

“So you jus’ gotta kick yourself up in the mornin’ an’ get to work,” John inhales the cigarette, and then blows a big, white cloud up against the ceiling. The smoke spreads around and curls around Paul, wrapping around him like all the unforgiving feelings he has about the man in front of him.

“Been there?” he asks, quietly. He knows, because he’s been there.

John doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t even look at Paul. He turns his head away, towards the kitchen, and Paul can’t see his expression from this angle.

“Y’know,” John then says, his voice bliss to Paul’s ears, “it’d get easier if you took her off the fridge.”

Paul clamps up. All the feelings that he had are now gone, and he is paling, and his throat is closing. George has said the same thing, but he— he can’t— It’s J-Jane—

John’s hand closes around his shoulder, then, squeezing tightly. And the words between them are spoken softly, without judgement, but with understanding and sorrow.

“I know,” John says, and Paul is, once again, saved.

*~**~*

“I’m stayin’,” John is saying into the phone, sitting on the edge of the bed, one leg folded under him. He’s smoking again, naked, his skin still flushed from the sex they just had. Paul is lying on the bed, just staring at the ceiling, feeling calm and safe. John has promised to stay for the whole night; to be there in the morning, and Paul doesn’t know whether he should be terrified or happy about that. Part of him doesn’t want John to be there, because then it might be that Paul could not stop his odd feelings from going overboard and spilling out. But a bigger part of him fears of John leaving again, and so he takes what he can, and feels relief at John’s promise.

Of course, if the man decides to go, he’ll go. Paul can’t stop him, not when he’s sleeping. And he doubts he could otherwise, either.

“Bloody ‘ell,” John sighs into the phone, rubbing the base of his nose. Paul admires his back, the soft, smooth skin stretching over his spine that curves down all the way down to his backside. “Tell ‘er to stick it up her arse.”

He listens to something on the other side of the call, huffs, and ends the call abruptly. The phone starts ringing a second after, and John cuts it off before quickly shutting down the device.

Paul certainly hopes the “her” isn’t a girlfriend. He wouldn’t be able to do this if there was one.

He doesn’t say anything, and John is just sitting there, staring into space. The movements of his hand are agitated when he brings it up to his lips, smoking without a stop. Paul wonders who it was on the other end of the call. It did sound like a man. A friend? A brother? Paul doesn’t know.

He isn’t going to ask. It is not his place to do so.

Ten minutes later they both get under the blanket, and John lets out a deep sigh. Paul turns on his side, facing John, and they stare at each other in silence.

Paul fears that he isn’t going to wake up to this sight.

“Paul,” John says his name quietly, lying on his back, not looking at him. Paul’s heart twists painfully.

“I promised,” John murmurs, turns his head to meet Paul’s eyes. He looks beautiful but broken, lying there in the faint light that comes from the curtained window.

“I know you did,” Paul says, snuggling deeper into the blanket. It feels warm, warmer than possibly ever before. It’s their shared warmth, and he feels something weirdly joyful in him, momentarily.

They stare at each other, and then John sighs and turns his head away.

“Good night,” he says, and Paul is quiet for a moment before he says it back. And then he closes his eyes, and sleeps.

When he wakes up, John is sitting on the bed, looking at him. His expression is neutral, closed, but when Paul gets up on his elbow, feeling strangely energised, the man’s eyes warm up slightly.

That is a sign to Paul that John cares.

*~**~*

It happens so many times Paul loses count. John comes and goes, sometimes staying for the whole night, sometimes not. He always sees Paul to bed, no matter what. During four weeks, they must see each other for about 20 times, something which seems incomprehensible to Paul. He dares to go back to work after the first of them has passed, and when he tells about it to John, he can see that the man is content with that.

Most of the times their evenings pass with John sitting on the sofa in silence, a guitar in his lap. He is a good player, and Paul sometimes dares to start singing if he recognises the song. The first time he did so, he earned a raised eyebrow and tightened lips, and he almost stopped. But John didn’t say anything, and so Paul thinks it’s okay, sometimes.

John is intelligent. Paul can hear it every time the man opens his mouth. He would spit out something philosophical and life-changing with such bitterness and sarcasm in his voice, and still manage to make is all sound “intellectual”. Paul knows that the man could have been something big, more than just a shop assistant, had the circumstances -whatever they were- been different.

Paul himself could have been something big, he knows. But he never found the right thing.

Whenever John is over, Paul almost finds himself functioning again. He might cook for them; He will certainly make tea. They don’t talk much, and Paul still isn’t sure where, exactly, he stands in John’s life -but he guesses that he must mean something to the other man, since he wants to spend time with Paul as much as this. John’s voice is gentle when he says Paul’s name, and there is, in these days, a strange look in his eyes whenever he looks at Paul.

Sometimes Paul catches him staring, and sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night to the feeling of eyes on him. He never says anything, and doesn’t show that he notices it, but John watches him a lot. But if Paul tries to show affection of some kind, tries to touch more than what’s necessary, John pulls away. So Paul doesn’t touch, and yearns for the small moments when John would put a hand on his thigh briefly, or touch him on the small of his back when they walk together into the kitchen.

Sometimes there are evenings when they don’t have sex, either, and in those evenings John always seems to be in a bad mood in overall. Paul lets him make the first move, always, because that is how it has become. He never knows when John pulls away next, and never knows when the man just wants to lie on the bed together, smoke, and touch.

After sex John always closes up. That is something that Paul has learnt during these weeks. Sometimes he can see something in John’s eyes, an emotion so deep that Paul can’t comprehend it, but afterwards it’s always gone, and they go to sleep without a word. During sex, John is always alive, and Paul knows the feeling, because he is as well. During sex they live together, and feel together, and Paul waits for the moments where John looks at him with an expression that is full of desperate need, and holds him like he was the only thing in the world.

Paul doesn't know if it's just the similarity between their names, Jane and John, that has made it so easy for one to take over the other. It is John that laughs in his mind, but it is not cruel, and it is John that dances behind his eyelids, face lit into a rare, if careful smile. It is John’s name that repeats itself over and over in his head when he thinks about nothing, and it is John that his thoughts turn to when he tries to think anything. John is in his mind, and Paul doesn't know if he has come to stay, but he is strong. Jane feels but a distant memory now, and John fills Paul's every sense, and there is nothing else. Is it just the name?

*~**~*

John pulls away again.

It’s been a week since he last came over. It is the first time this happens ever since they met at the store, and Paul is spiralling. John hasn’t sent a message, hasn’t contacted him in any ways. He is falling again, out of his mind with fear that something has happened to John, or, worse, that the man has just decided to leave him. He doesn’t know what to do with the thought; whether he should dwell on it or try to push it away. It keeps coming back, though, and he can’t truly hide from it.

He doesn’t sleep, and he doesn’t eat. It is difficult to get up in the mornings, and he just lies in the bed, staring at the empty spot beside him. He feels constantly tired, but sleep doesn’t come. He doesn’t see anything good in the world, or in this life. He keeps thinking about John, desperately, hanging onto the thought that someday the man comes back.

One day, he almost walks into the Sainsbury’s. He manages to stop himself that time, and the next as well.

George comes over one day before going to work, looking tired and worried. Even though he’s younger than Paul, there is something old in his eyes when he, without a word, fixes Paul a pea soup, and starts washing the dishes while Paul stares at the food on the table. He doesn’t feel like eating, because it doesn’t matter. And he isn’t hungry, either.

He doesn’t feel guilt when he looks at George’s back, at the jerky movements of his hands when he rinses the soap out of a glass. Drinking, that’s the only thing Paul has done. It is the only thing he can force himself to do, because he knows he might die without it.

He doesn’t want to do that to George, or Pattie. Definitely not before the wedding, because he knows that there would be an empty spot that George couldn’t help but look, and- Paul knows George would cry. If George cries at his wedding, it is out of happiness. Paul is going to assure at least that; so he hangs on.

George sits opposite to him, talking to him, telling how Pattie has advanced in her wedding plans, and how George is getting excited with the decorations as well, because he can’t help but love the things Pattie loves. He doesn’t expect Paul to answer; but he expects him to eat, and Paul, finally, manages to get the soup down.

He feels slightly better that evening, even after George has left, and he thinks that maybe the emptiness in him would go away.

John’s face never leaves his thoughts, but maybe he can learn to cope with it. John will come back some day, because he- he just wouldn’t leave like that. He couldn’t. There must be a reason, at least…

But as Friday comes, Jane is back in his head, screaming with laughter, and Paul knows he can’t wait for John anymore. He needs to find his emotions again.

He forces himself out of his bed, takes a shower, checks his pale face from the mirror in the loo, grabs his jacket and scarf, and goes.

The streets are empty, November sending cold, chilly winds into the alleys. No one with their right mind is outside at this time, and as Paul walks between buildings a familiar haze overtakes his mind. It doesn’t matter where he goes, or from where he’s going to find himself in the morning, because nothing really, truly matters. The only important thing for now is to get Jane’s face out of his mind, but every time he tries to push her away, John’s warm, brown eyes replace her. He feels sick in his stomach, and tries in vain to shut off his mind.

He is almost at the Cavern, when a young woman walks towards him. She takes a look at him, and Paul can see her mind calculating the possibilities. He almost opens his mouth and asks whether she would like a drink when a voice reaches him, calling his name breathlessly.

The woman stops, and so does Paul. He blinks, and turns.

John runs up to them, slowing down just when he’s in front of Paul, and doubles over with the effort of containing his breath.

Paul stares at him with wide eyes, his heart jumping up into a gallop, and he’s alive. From the corner of his eye he sees the woman looking intrigued, but he couldn’t care less about her anymore.

It is John. He’s- he’s come back-

John swallows audibly, his breathing heavy, but it’s getting calmer now, and he isn’t moving from his position. Paul is getting nervous, his heartbeat accelerating even more.

“John?” he says, carefully, almost reaching out for the man, but he stops himself at the last minute. He won’t touch, unless John does so. “Alright?”

“…Alright?” John says after a moment, and his tone surprises Paul. The word is said in a hiss, and John’s voice is seething with anger, or frustration, although Paul can’t be sure of the exact emotion behind it.

Surprised and alarmed, he takes a step back as John finally straightens himself, his eyes black and churning with something that Paul can’t place. He hasn’t seen that emotion in John’s eyes before.

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” John almost shouts, walking towards Paul with fury in his step. Paul retreats, until his back hits a wall. John comes up to him, his expression twisted with anger. “The fuck, Paul?!?”

Paul doesn’t know what to say; doesn’t know how to react, either. He just stares, his mouth hanging open, his body starting to shake. He has never been good with people who shout at him, George aside. But he has known George long before he changed.

John looks around them, his whole posture seeming to burn with fire from inside. His gaze meets that of the woman, who looks slightly taken aback.

“What the bloody fuck ‘re ye still doin’ ‘ere??” John screams at her, and she jumps, turns around and runs away, not sparing a glance behind.

Paul’s breathing is getting irregular. That’s bad. That’s very bad- he can’t possibly- not now, and he doesn’t have a paper-bag with himself either-

“J-John,” he chokes, because John is the only one who can stop Paul from going overboard, even when he is the source of the anxiety that’s squeezing Paul’s chest like an iron glove. He doesn’t understand- what has he done? Did he do something wrong? He doesn’t- he doesn’t owe anything to John-

John turns back at him, eyes on fire, ready to start shouting at him, and Paul twitches, automatically presses himself flat against the wall, his throat closing up.

John looks at him, and seems to deflate.

He lets out a huge, deep breath, his shoulders succumbing. His head lowers and he puts his hand on his hip, pressing the other one against his eyes.

“Bloody-” he mutters, and his tone has completely changed. He takes several deep breaths, and then lifts his face.

His eyes are warm, and brown, and they are guilty.

“I didn’t mean to-” John starts, but his mouth snaps shut. Paul supposes that that’s as close to an apology that John can get.

John reaches out then, carefully, and puts a hand on Paul’s shoulder, his expression changing into something determined, as well as slightly scared. Paul sucks in his breath, trying to fight against the iron hand on his heart.

“C’mon,” John says and tugs, and Paul falls forward, his body and mind feeling equally exhausted. John’s arm wraps around his shoulders, and then he is led away from the wall, into a new direction. Paul’s flat is not that way.

“Where-” he gasps, and finds out that it’s still hard to breath, his chest is hurting, even though it seems that he managed to avoid an attack this time. John shushes him, keeps a tight hold of his shoulder.

“You gotta calm down,” he just says, and Paul shuts up, and keeps his mind on his shoulders where John’s arm is heavy and warm.

It is funny how a touch can mean so much, when it’s all you have, and you know that it will soon be gone.

*~**~*

Fifteen minutes later they arrive at their destination. John stops in front of a terraced house that has one large window at the bottom, one small at the top, a dark brown front door, and a rather messy, small garden, all enclosed by a red masonry wall.

Paul has barely time to take it all in when John drags him through the gate and to the door, opens it with rough movements since the door seems to be quite somewhat stiff, and then pushes Paul in.

They are in a small entrance porch. The two of them barely fit in comfortably, and Paul accidentally stumbles over several pairs of shoes. John lets out a small swear as he fumbles around, and then there is a click as he switches on the lights.

They look at each other in silence, and then John comes up to him, tugs at his scarf.

“You can put ‘em in here,” he says and opens a closet right next to them, revealing a bunch of jackets. John takes his leather jacket off and throws it inside, not putting it into a hanger. Then he, leaving Paul, opens a door opposite to the closet, and enters the room that is behind it. Paul doesn’t see in properly, since it’s dark, but he can hear John sighing deeply once he’s out of Paul’s sight.

Paul takes off his jacket slowly, wondering whether he should take off his shoes or not. John didn’t, but Paul doesn’t feel like it would be appropriate to just… enter anyone’s house with them on. He doesn’t even know whether this is John’s home, or if it’s just… Whether Paul is here as a friend, just because he seemed to have a bad moment, and needed help. What if it’s a house that belongs to John’s… partner? If he has one, that is. Paul still hasn’t made up his mind about that.

He steps through the doorway just when the lights go up in the previously unseen room, and he takes in what he sees.

It seems like almost the whole house is there, in one room. There are stairs on his left that lead upstairs, and at the back of the rather large room there is an arc that leads into a small kitchen. Close to it, in the big room, is a kitchen table, as well as two sofas on the other end of the room, where Paul is. There is a bookshelf, and a television, and a drawer, piles of paper on top of it. The floor is covered with a grey carpet, something that would be -and seems to be, by the looks of it- impossible to keep clean.

John is banging around in the kitchen. He closes the fridge, with a packet of something in his mouth, his arms full of other ingredients. Paul doesn’t know what to do, so he just stands, and stares. John throws the stuff on a kitchen counter, pulls out a knife from somewhere and starts cutting onions.

It’s a weird sight, and Paul takes a few careful steps forward, before he can’t help himself and walks over the room, to stand in front of the arc. From John’s movements, it is apparent that he’s done this before, and that he can cook.

Somehow, Paul has never thought that it would be a skill that John possesses.

“You hungry?” John asks then as he throws the onions onto a frying pan, his eyes scrutinising Paul with a stern look. Paul swallows. No, not really, even though the last time he ate was when George came-

“A bit,” he says, his throat feeling dry. John nods, and gets back to what he’s doing.

Then, there is a creak behind Paul, and he starts slightly, spinning his head around to look.

“John?” A voice speaks, and two socks appear to the top of the stairs that land right behind Paul. Paul looks up, his heart in his throat, and-

It is a man, probably not much older than Paul or John, with a strikingly big nose that somehow seems to blend into his other features perfectly and naturally. He’s wearing jeans and a jumper, and looks like he has just woken up from a nap.

He starts coming down, a frown on his face as he stares at Paul, probably taking him in just as Paul is doing to him. There are bags under his strikingly blue eyes, and somehow that gaze makes Paul nervous. It’s too… It’s too knowing, like the man could see everything that is wrong in Paul just with one glance.

But then, after a moment, the expression changes, and there is worry now, and Paul gets a feeling that he could trust his heart to this man. He is confused, and doesn’t understand who this could be. Why would he look at Paul with such an expression? And was that sadness in his eyes?

Then the man nods at him, offering his hand to shake when he arrives at the bottom of the stairs. Paul grabs it and squeezes, although there is not much force in it.

“Nice to meet you,” the man says, after a while, just like that, like Paul wasn’t a complete stranger who just happened to stand in this man’s living room (because Paul is now sure that this is the owner of the house). “I’m Richard.”

“Paul,” he says, warily, and pulls his hand back as soon as he can. Richard smiles, and his whole face lights up in the strangest, gentlest way possible.

“I figured,” he says, humour in his voice, and Paul swallows before forcing a smile on his face. He lets his mask come up, the one he uses at work and with Pattie, and with that mask on no one would know that there was something wrong with him.

“Heard about me?” Paul asks, raising an eyebrow, and Richard rolls his eyes.

“You wouldn’t believe how much,” he says and winks, and it is a miracle, but Paul likes him immediately, and he smiles widely. The man seems to be an easy-going fellow, and there is something in him that makes Paul want to trust him. He has a feeling that before… everything, he would have got on excellently with Richard. Now he’s too afraid to make new friends, in case they turn away when they hear about how he is.

“Speaking of the devil,” Richard then says and steps past Paul, into the kitchen, looking at John with a strange expression. “I didn’t think you’d be cooking today.”

It is said with a strange intonation on the word today, and Paul wonders what it means. Maybe they have shared certain weekdays between them when to cook.

John shrugs and glances up, not at Richard, but at Paul.

“Paul’s hungry,” he just says, emptying a half-full bag of pasta into a pot filled with now boiling water. Paul almost says that he isn’t, but remembers that he is supposed to be.

Richard looks at John, and then at Paul, and then back at John, and then he just nods.

“…Right. I’ll be working then. I’ll join you for the meal.”

His tone is strange, and when he turns and Paul sees his expression clearly, it is baffling. Richard looks almost sorrowful, and there is pity in his blue eyes.

He walks past Paul, smiles at him, and walks back upstairs without saying another word. Soon Paul can hear music, instrumental jazz of some kind, and he looks back towards John.

John’s shoulders are stiff and his mouth is pressed tightly shut, his jaw clenched. His movements with the pan are rough, and Paul takes a deep breath, leaning against the arc.

“Rough day?” he asks, because he feels like he should. He doesn’t know what’s ailing John, why he disappeared for a week, and why he was so angry at finding Paul with the woman, even though it was quite clear that nothing had happened. He doesn’t know the meaning behind Richard’s words and his expressions, or the meaning of John’s shaking hands, but maybe he could, at least once, ask.

John stops in his movements, stares at the pasta for a moment before he sighs deeply, the tension leaving his back.

“Somethin’ like that,” he says, and his expression is, for now, not closed, but Paul doesn’t know which is worse, this or that. Because never would he have wanted to see such a face that John is making.

It’s a bit like the one he imagined George to have after that one phone call that will never, ever come.

*~**~*

“John’s lived here for… what? Nine months?” Richard looks at John and stuffs ketchup-covered pasta into his mouth. He seems to be rather hungry, eating his second portion already. Paul has barely touched his own. He isn’t sure he can keep it in, for some reason.

John shrugs, taking a sip of a beer.

“Somethin’ like that,” he says, and Paul is reminded of the expression he did in the kitchen half an hour earlier. He tries to collect himself and seem like a person who is in control of himself, and smiles at Richard.

“What d’you do for a living then?” he asks, because if he knows something, it is how to be polite. Richard seems pleased with the question.

“I’m a doctor,” he says, “I’ve specialised in neurology, and now I’m also studying mental health. A hard job, but in the end it gives a lot.”

Right. He is a doctor. And even worse, he’s specialised in the area where he can probably catalogue all of Paul’s faults into a long, perfect list within minutes. For a moment Paul feels enraged, because John knows that he hates doctors of all kind, and still brought him here, but he manages to push the feeling down. He is here as a guest, not as a patient.

He smiles again, hoping it doesn’t come off as forced. His legs feel faint, and his heart is taking up a faster pace again.

“Is it interesting?” he asks, because he has no idea how something like that could be interesting, and he knows the question is polite. Richard grins.

“Sure. Getting to understand how human brain works is a never-ending mystery, and I’m lucky enough to be part of those people who can solve that mystery at least a bit. I’m extremely fascinated by the process which overtakes the brain when someone is, for example, suffering from major depression. It just changes the way your brain works, and I still can’t properly understand how. But it happens, and-”

“-And you won’t shut up ‘bout it,” John interrupts him, for some reason looking slightly angry. Richard shoots a gaze full of defiance towards him, and Paul is once again left out into the blue. He looks between the two men with a confused expression, and finally Richard sighs.

“I guess I get carried away a lot more often than I think I do,” he then says, and the easy smile is back on his face. Paul smiles back, not sure what just happened, or if there was a meaning behind Richard’s words that he just didn’t understand, but he decides not to dwell on it.

“What do you do?” Richard asks and reaches for a piece of bread. Paul still hasn’t eaten.

“I’m part of a marketing team,” Paul says, “One of the writers. I do reports and all that sorta jazz, no thinking required. Pretty boring, really.”

Richard grins and nods, and is about to open his mouth for another question, probably, when John suddenly stands up.

“Come, Paul,” is all he says, and then he walks off, over to the stairs, and hops them up. Paul is left staring, confused, feeling anxious.

“Hey,” Richard says quietly, when Paul finally starts to stand up, not wanting to make John wait. “John might be… a bit odd today. Don’t take it personally in any way.”

Paul stares at him, his throat feeling tight, and nods, mouth full of questions he would never ask.

Then Richard smiles and winks, flicking a finger towards the ceiling.

“Have fun! See you in the morning!” he says, and waves, and Paul feels strange with the warm feeling that spreads over him. It feels strange when someone just… cares like that, without asking for anything in return, and is just happy to smile and spread their kindness around.

Paul wishes there were more people in this world like Richard, and walks up the stairs.

John is waiting for him there, and pulls him into a room, and Paul doesn’t have time to look around when a mouth covers his, and he is pressed against the door which shuts with a click. He gasps for breath, grasping for John’s elbows, and John pushes his tongue inside Paul’s mouth, his hands pulling Paul’s shirt up from his trousers. The movements are desperate, and urgent, and Paul isn’t quite sure of the meaning behind them, but he won’t question. Richard’s words dance in his head, and he inhales deeply before grabbing John’s head and pulling him into a deeper kiss, their mouths wide open, licking their way into each other.

They are still kissing when John starts to pull them deeper into the room, and then he is going down, backwards, and Paul falls on top of him on a double bed. The room is dark and he still doesn’t get a chance to see anything, as John comes back to his mouth, and kisses him with force that knocks Paul breathless.

Paul waits for the familiar fire of being alive to take over him, and then proceeds to pull of John’s shirt. John feels strange in his hands; almost submissive, quiet, not taking the upper hand like he usually would. Paul wonders whether he wants a blowjob, because usually they are in this position only for that.

He starts laying kisses on John’s shoulders and down to his chest, pausing to suck a nipple into his mouth. He waits for a hand to press against his hair and guide his head down, towards John’s crotch, but it doesn’t happen. John’s hand comes up to him, yes, but instead of pushing down, it pulls him up, and Paul has time to look confused before John surges forward and kisses him again.

“Paul,” he murmurs between the kisses, and that is odd, because usually they don’t speak during sex. After the first times, when they were just strangers and had to seem normal in each other’s eyes, the sex has been wordless.

But now John is talking.

Paul is feeling almost afraid.

John pulls him closer, holding his head with two hands, kisses him strongly, and speaks.

Fuck me,” he breathes, and Paul sucks in a breath before John’s mouth covers his again. John repeats the words, his hands going down towards Paul’s waist, pulling up his shirt.

John has never said those words. Or let himself be taken by Paul.

Paul pulls back, looks at John, searching for an eye contact. John looks at him, and his gaze is fierce, churning with emotions.

And Paul pushes John down, kisses him while working on his trousers, and then tries to go down on him, but John stops him. He is shaking his head, and shifting, raising his legs, and Paul’s mind swirls when he takes in the sight.

“Lube-” he starts, but then spots a bottle on a bedside table, sitting there in plain sight. He quickly crawls over to get it, and at the same time John reaches over the edge of the bed for something on the floor. He comes up with a condom, and Paul’s heart is thudding against his ribcage.

It isn’t pretty; it isn’t emotional, at first. Paul prepares John, and he isn’t sure whether John’s moans come from pleasure, or something else. It is apparent that John has done this before, because he knows how to relax the right muscles. But they seem stiff, like he has trouble finding them, and Paul wonders just how long it’s been since the last time for the man.

He pushes himself in, and John’s hands shoot up to bring him down into an embrace, and he breathes the same two words again that make Paul’s stomach do jolts. It is slightly difficult to thrust in when pressed against John like this, but Paul doesn’t complain. He lets John do what the man wants, because it is apparent that he needs something.

It doesn’t take him long to find John’s prostate, and then they are fucking, the speed getting faster and faster. John’s clutching his biceps with ferocity, letting out sounds that seem to ripple through Paul, wrapping around his chest, making him feel faint. He forgets about everything else but John under him, and his world becomes John’s face, twisted in pleasure… and something else.

And then John starts crying.

It starts as a sob-like sound that Paul first thinks is a moan, but then John’s hands fly up to cover his eyes, and he is crying, his body rocking with Paul’s thrusts.

Paul halts, stops his movements, his stomach dropping, and…

“Don’t!” John cries out, the words dissolving into sobs. “Don’t.”

Paul pushes in again, and out, and in, and pulls John’s hands away from the man’s eyes. He cradles John’s face into his hands and kisses him, and his tears, and John’s arms wrap tightly around him, holding onto him with such desperateness that Paul isn’t sure whether he’s seen, or felt anything similar to it before.

He comes when he can’t hold himself back anymore, and wanks John off with quick, familiar movements. John sobs out his name when he comes, and then, when it is over, he starts weeping.

Paul, exhausted and confused, scared and worried, crawls up to him and holds him.

That night, they both fall asleep, and Paul wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of silent, suppressed crying.

*~**~*

John: No talking in the morning, locked up in his room, not playing. No crying, expression closed when asked about lunch, no appetite, hasn ’t slept last night either from what I gather third night w/o sleep.

17:37 - John left, no words, don ’t know where he’s gone. J tried to call someone earlier, no response. Probably it ’s PAUL -John hasn ’t seen him this week - considering the mood he’s been in for the whole week, no wonder - no alcohol use today.

20:00 Didn ’t wait for Joh Paul came over. John COOKED. Paul not eating, John in a bad mood. Paul has signs of fatigue and slight malnutrition. Good-looking, although seems fragile. Steady job, writer at a marketing team, doesn ’t like it? Uninterested? Possibly mentally unstable; signs of DEPRESSION-dysthymia? Paul's past - unknown → possible to ask? → FIND OUT

They are having sex, John crying. Can open up to Paul?

22:15 Checked the room -both sleeping. John: no destructive behaviour, can sleep, has eaten, is communicating.

Altogether not too bad, considering the date.

! Mentioned depression during dinner to test Paul ’s reaction -nothing, except from J -Is he going down again?

Talking with Paul might help. → TO DO

Chapter Text

Paul wakes up in the morning, and finds himself to be the first. John is sleeping, his face peaceful, breathing even and calm, so much unlike last evening. His hair is tousled and mouth slightly open, and Paul finds himself staring at the face that he has been unable to forget ever since he first saw it.

He doesn’t think he has ever seen John look like this, though. It is like all of John’s layers have been peeled off, and Paul is now looking at the man himself. He feels like he can’t get enough of the sight, and he lays there for a long time, just staring at John, and thinking. John is beautiful, but even while sleeping he looks exhausted.

He has no answers to what happened last night. He isn’t going to ask, but he worries. Something has to be wrong, because John cried.

There is a loud sound in the air, and it takes a moment from Paul to realise that it was his stomach. He inhales deeply, feeling hunger for the first time in days. Maybe John has finally managed to fix something in Paul. Even if only temporarily, Paul is going to enjoy this while it lasts.

He gets up quietly, not wanting to disturb John’s sleep. He pulls on his clothes and tip-toes to the door, taking a final, fond glance at John before he sneaks out, closing the door as softly as he can, mind in turmoil. He can’t sort out the feelings he gets from seeing John like that. It is almost too many emotions at once, and he knows, deep inside, that he is already beyond saving.

He walks downstairs, and is greeted by Richard’s shining smile from where the man is eating his breakfast.

“Good morning,” Richard says. Paul answers in kind and comes over to the table, collects several breads to put into a toaster before going to look for the said machine.

When he comes back into the lounge with his toasts, Richard has poured him tea. Paul thanks him and sits down, ready to start putting delicious-looking jam on his toast.

“Did you have a good night?” Richard asks, his tone light. Paul looks up at him sharply, waiting to see a sly grin, but is rendered speechless by Richard’s look.

It is knowing, and Richard knows exactly what went on last night. Paul swallows, his movements with the toasts halting.

“I-” he starts, blinking rapidly. Richard sighs and nods.

“Yesterday was the worst day to be in contact with John,” he says, and Paul frowns. What does the man mean? It wasn’t Paul who caused all this!

“I didn’t,” he says, voice tight, because he has to correct Richard’s thoughts. “He- he came to look for me, I guess.”

Richard pauses, looking wondering. He takes a sip of his tea, and lowers it, and then says the words that change it all, that open John’s world to Paul in a brand new way, and Paul isn’t sure he can’t think anymore, because it is too, too painful.

“He lost- John lost someone very important to him.”

Paul can’t speak, can’t think. Richard looks uncomfortable.

“I know it’s not my place to say any of this, but I don’t think he will ever open up about it,” he says, his voice sad, and Paul’s mind is twisting up into knots. “But… well. Yesterday was the day- It’s been a year since- that.”

Almost exactly like for Paul. And now so many things make sense. John makes more sense. And moreover, Paul understands now how John has been able to save him so many times.

John has been there. John knows.

“He-” Paul chokes, but can’t bring himself to say anything. He presses a hand against his mouth, trying to stop himself from starting to cry. The thought of Jane leaving him, the pain that he felt back then, all come back, when he thinks of what John has gone through.

“John had major depression,” Richard continues, carefully. “I don’t think anyone would have thought about it had I not been who I am. I got him medication and helped him through it. It’s now more or less a chronic, slight depression that doesn’t stop him from living. He has his ups and downs, and yesterday was down. Not the worst that I’ve seen, though, and frankly I’m a bit surprised by that.”

Paul listens to it, and can’t speak. This explains everything about yesterday; About the odd exchanges between Richard and John, and about… John crying. Paul is partly relieved, because at least now he knows it wasn’t his fault.

He doesn’t know what he should feel; Pity for John, who has lost someone? Relief at hearing that the man has overcome major depression? Pity for himself, because he lost Jane, and might also lose John any moment, because that is how the man is- Anxiety at Richard’s words… and Paul does understand what the man implies.

Major depression. Paul guesses that it would explain pretty much everything about him. He didn’t know there is something apart from, well, depression. But there are different types of it? And the way Richard talks about it… it sounds like a disease.

Something that can be cured.

Paul feels something in the pit of his stomach, although he isn’t sure what it is.

“He-” he starts again, tries to calm his breathing that has sped up. Richard looks at him sadly. “John- lost?”

Richard leans back in his chair, crosses arms over his chest, and looks sour, like the memory is bitter and painful at the same time.

“Overdose on drugs. Accidental or not, we don’t know.”

Paul is quiet. There is too much in his head right now, and he wants to be on his own to sort it out. It feels like the darkness around him has left, for a moment. He can think clearly, and he knows that he wants to help John. To be the person that John needs.

He feels like he can’t be one, though. He has too many problems on his own. And this good moment will pass in an hour, a day, in a week, in two weeks... And then Paul is back in his bed, not eating, not sleeping, not living. But-

But if it can be cured-

“Do you think-” he starts, swallows, and stares down at his toast. He isn’t hungry anymore, but he has to force the food down. “Do you think that I’m… a replacement?” he looks at Richard, his expression fearful. Something opens in his chest when Richard shakes his head.

“You’re completely you,” he says, tone gentle, and Paul exhales deeply. “Just keep in mind that John- he changes from day to day. I can’t help but fear that you’ll both get hurt in this relationship.”

Paul presses his lips tightly together. Something in him starts burning at those words; Something is born in his chest, and he recognises the feeling with difficulty, now: It’s determination. And then Paul has a clear goal in his mind, because there is no way that he would hurt John.

“Then help us,” he says, his jaw set into a tense line. Richard looks at him sharply, raises an eyebrow. Paul swallows, but the determination doesn’t disappear. It gets stronger. And if this what Paul has is a disease -something that can be cured- Paul wants it. He hasn’t wanted anything this much in a long time.

“Help me get better,” he leans slightly towards Richard, his eyes aflame. “Help me to be like I was before. Then I can help him. I know I can.”

Richard looks contemplative for a moment. Then he nods.

“I need to hear everything about you, then,” he says, his tone warning. Paul feels a jolt of fear in him, but he doesn’t let it come in the way. The feeling of being determined, of knowing where he’s going, is so good, and Paul feels like he is living. He’s going to get better, and he’ll help John, and he’ll- John will be his.

He nods, and Richard smiles softly.

“You don’t have to be ashamed of needing help,” he says. “We can do this unofficially. I can get you proper medication, and kind of work as your doctor, but without any hospitals included. Alright?”

Paul lets out a breath of relief, and nods, his posture relaxing. He straightens himself and looks at his toast.

He glances at Richard, who grins at him easily with encouragement, and then he takes a bite.

God, it is heavenly.

From that on the conversation flows ridiculously easily. Richard asks more about Paul’s job, and Paul asks about his. Richard skirts skillfully around subjects that would make Paul feel uneasy, and Paul almost finds himself laughing at the man’s quick, warm wit. He almost feels like his old self again, and the mood doesn’t disappear when there are hurried steps in the stairs.

Both he and Richard turn to look, and John appears at the bottom of the stairs, clothes thrown on hastily, eyes wide, face pale.

He stops, and takes in the sight, eyes lingering on Paul for much longer than necessary, and then he lets out a huge exhale, his shoulders relaxing.

“There’s yogurt for you in the fridge,” Richard says as a greeting, a smile on his face, and John, looking like he is slightly collecting himself, nods and disappears into the kitchen. Paul glances at Richard, who has a soft, sad look in his eyes.

For the first time in his life, Paul starts to wonder whether it is possible for John to need him as much as Paul needs John, and whether waking up to an empty bed is as much a terror as to Paul.

John comes to the table a minute later, a strawberry yogurt in his hand with a spoon hanging from his fingers. He pauses for a moment, looks at the four available seats, and then sits right next to Paul.

John’s scent fills Paul’s nostrils, and it feels like he’s coming home.

John places the spoon on the table, and scrutinises Richard with an irritated look.

“You’ve told ‘im, haven’t you?” he asks, and Paul tenses momentarily. Richard nods.

John sighs and closes his eyes for a second, and then his hand disappears under the table, and lands on Paul’s thigh.

To Paul’s credit, he doesn’t startle, but there is something warm spreading around his chest as John’s thumb starts slowly stroking his leg.

“Right-o, then,” John says, his tone relieved. Paul has never heard that kind of note in his voice before. He looks at John, their gazes meeting, and John smiles, but now that Paul knows what he’s looking for, he sees pain under what would otherwise seem a normal stretch of lips.

Paul stares at John, and at his smile, and he knows that he can’t turn back anymore from the feeling that is filling him.

*~**~*

Richard has to leave for work, and he takes John aside just before he goes. Paul doesn’t listen, doesn’t even look at them, and starts to clean up the table just to get something to do. He feels like fidgeting and jumping around, anxious without a real reason. He goes and puts the milk into the fridge, and when he comes back into the lounge he sees Richard hugging John quickly, saying something into his ear before he pulls back and is out of the house with a cheerful goodbye.

John turns to look at Paul after a moment, hands crossed over his chest. The moment feels tense, and Paul is tense. It feels like something left with Richard; a sense of calmness that Paul managed to acquire during the breakfast. Now that Richard is not there anymore, John could do anything- Paul knows enough of the man to be able to recognise the expression he’s making. He is thinking of something, a bit like he wasn’t sure what kind of an emotion he should bring to the surface.

Then John speaks.

“Thought it’d do ye good to meet Ringo,” he says, voice indifferent, expression blank. Paul swallows, and nods slowly.

“He’s a nice lad,” he answers, feeling like John is a hunter looking for a prey, and Paul has nowhere to run.

John nods at that, pauses, and looks away, out of the window. The muscles in his arms are tight, and Paul knows that whatever John wants to say, it is difficult. He knows that feeling so well.

He wants to help John so much. He wants to hold the man, and hear whatever he has to say. He wants to know everything about John; when did he start learning the guitar? When, and how did he befriend Richard? Who- who died, and left John alone, hurt him so much that he cried—

And even more. He wants to know John’s favourite foods, favourite films, favourite albums. He wants to know about John’s family; whether he has any, and if he does, do they care? He wants to know about John’s friends.

He wants to be a part of John’s life, where he doesn’t have to question his place, or feel like he is a piece in a puzzle that just doesn’t fit.

He wants to know why John picked him in the Cavern that night, him of all people. What is so special about Paul that John keeps coming back, and gave his phone number in the first place?

It is like his thoughts are transmitted straight into John’s head, because he turns away even more, his back almost towards Paul now, and Paul can’t see his face when he talks.

“Y’know,” the man then starts, and his voice is odd —so many emotions closed in that it can’t sound neutral, despite John probably trying his best. “I know a panic attack when I see one.”

Paul tilts his head, slightly confused.

When he is only silent, John turns his head to throw him a slightly exasperated look, which quickly disappears under a mask of nothing.

“At the Cavern. You were havin’ one,” he says, and turns away again, and pieces lock into places.

Paul takes a step back and falls to sit in a kitchen chair. John looks at him now, his eyes alarmed and worried.

Paul feels like he can’t breathe. Even through his own pain, John has always, ever since they first met, taken care of Paul.

“See, I-” John says, takes a few hesitant steps towards Paul. “I- I know how you feel, Paul,” he mumbles, comes closer, and kneels down on the floor in front of Paul. He takes a hold of Paul’s hands and squeezes, and Paul almost cries.

“I want you to get better,” John says, and they have never had a conversation like this. Paul feels like his heart is expanding, becoming too big, suffocating him into this feeling. He is fighting sobs, visibly now, and John looks at him with his expression breaking into sadness, and something else.

Paul sometimes saw that emotion in Jane’s eyes, before everything happened.

“I- I’m really not strong enough to be there for you,” John’s voice is shaking, and Paul is finally seeing the man in front of him stripped bare. John can go from an emotionless wax figure into this in the matter of just a few moments, and Paul is overwhelmed with the change, with the words, with the emotion behind John’s voice.

“But I know Ringo can help,” John continues, and his eyes are desperate now. Paul, funnily enough, feels like this is entirely out of character for John, who is calm, collected, and strong, and mysterious, and unreachable. But here he is, and Paul can see into his heart.

He can’t say anything; words don’t come out. He just stares at John, his mouth opening, and a strangled sound escapes him. John looks at him sadly, and stands up, cradling Paul’s head into his hands, and kisses him.

Paul can breathe, and John’s next words bury themselves into his head, becoming marked into the feeling of breathing.

Promise me to do whatever he wants,” John says, against his mouth, and Paul leans up to kiss him again. He still doesn’t speak, but now out of fear that John would shut up, remember that he is supposed to be distant, and quiet, and not talking. Paul doesn’t want that; he’ll stay quiet for the rest of his life if it means that John’s true self speaks like this more often.

Paul stays for another night, because John never tells him to go. They watch a movie when Richard has come home, looking delighted at having Paul over for another night. John pulls Paul tightly against him on the sofa, and they hold hands through the whole film. Every now and then, at certain words, John tenses, and Paul squeezes his hand tighter. That always seems to help.

They go upstairs, and John undresses him while kissing him deeply, and Paul has a feeling that something is born between them. He feels like they’re equal, and it seems that John thinks so as well. He lets Paul take the lead, and Paul lets John take him, but it is more than that. It has to be, by the way Paul’s emotions roar at John touching him gently, the man’s lips against his neck, and his hand covering Paul’s, their fingers entwined as their bodies move in unison.

Paul knows that sex sometimes hurts. Sometimes someone thrusts a bit wrong, sometimes he's not prepared enough, though that rarely happens in these days. He knows sex can sometimes hurt. But not in this way. Not in the way this pain crawls around his heart, pushing small needles in it, making him bleed inside until he wants to weep, wants to turn around and pull the man behind him into his arms. Sex isn't supposed to hurt like this.

And still it does.

And the pain never leaves his heart when John wraps his arms around Paul, and says in an exhausted, defeated mumble,

“I’ve already lost so many. Don’t wanna lose you too.”

That night, again, Paul wakes up to John watching him quietly, and knows he doesn’t want to see the expression the man is wearing.

*~**~*

Richard comes home into a silent, dark house. He sighs with defeat, having known that John couldn’t stay in a good mood this long. Paul has apparently left, judging by the absence of his shoes, and Richard ponders his thoughts about the man.

He knows Paul needs help, and is more than willing to give that. Sometimes there were glimpses of the person he once had been, and Richard found himself fascinated by that man. He wants to give Paul a chance to get better, because that is what he deserves. Just like John had- and still does.

Richard has a feeling that tonight, he wants to go out. His working schedule is unfortunately slightly irregular at the moment, which means that he has one free day in the middle of a week. Tomorrow is the free day, and he knows that he really needs to think about something else than anything that’s going on in his life at the moment, for a change .

The chances that John would want to come with him are pure zero, but that doesn’t bother him. There is something he has to do with John first, anyway, which will be exhausting enough for them both.

He goes into his room to change off his work clothes, and then goes to knock on John’s door. There is no answer, not at first, but then the door opens.

John looks at him with bloodshot, exhausted eyes, his expression already on the verge of despair. Richard tilts his head, presses his lips tightly together, and says,

“I think it’s time we talk.”

John doesn’t object; not to that. He might not want to talk, and he even might not, with them sitting on the sofas for an hour in total silence, but John knows that Richard wants to help. It doesn’t hurt that Richard is kind of a professional.

“I’ll just get my blanket,” John mutters, disappears into the room for a moment, and Richard gets downstairs, collecting himself mentally. John is always a handful, especially when his mood is down like this, and his depression is acting up in a way that makes everyone around him suffer from it. They are aware of it at his workplace, and John can easily get a few days or a week off with Richard calling the store. He wonders whether he’d better do it this time.

He makes hot cocoa for both of them, puts all the pillows on one sofa, and sets himself on the other. The situation has to be calm with a relaxed feeling around them; like it was just another evening with them hanging around. For their chats John has always needed the extra comfort around him, wrapping up into his blanket, and Richard thinks it is because it reminds John of someone holding him.

John comes down, looking even worse than before. Richard knows that this is going to be a tough session, and is ready to face it. And with John, frankly, nothing is ever easy.

They sit in silence for ages. Richard always waits in case John wants to say something first. Someone might question how Richard can handle this, from month to month, without ever asking anything back from the other man.

The answer is simple; he loves John, and that is all there is. He misses the person John used to be, but sees improvements as well, now. For example, John has vowed to never, ever touch any sort of drugs anymore, if alcohol and cigarettes don’t count.

John doesn’t say anything, but just stares in the direction of the stairs with empty eyes. His jaw is tense, and he looks ready to keel over. Richard’s heart aches, and he talks.

“How do you feel?” he asks, because even though he sees how John feels, he has no idea of the thoughts that go through the man’s head right now. For a while John doesn’t say anything, just continues staring, but then throws a glance towards Richard.

“How does it look like?” he sighs. “Shit.”

Richard only raises an eyebrow, knowing that John knows how this is supposed to go.

So many times they haven’t even made it this far, and John just never answers the question. But maybe Paul has managed to unlock something inside the man.

John closes his eyes, a small frown marring his forehead, his expression tight.

“I thought he’d done something,” he says, and Richard doesn’t question, only assumes that “he” means Paul. It usually does, in these days. “When he didn’t answer. Tried callin’, too.”

Richard digests this for a moment; John just suddenly dashing out during a day where Richard thought he’d just stay locked in his room for the whole time; John coming back with Paul, and cooking for him. John taking Paul into his bed. On that day.

“Where did you find him?” he asks, and John looks angry at that.

“Chattin’ up a bird,” he hisses, and Richard can’t help but wince. It is apparent that John cares about Paul, but just how much, Richard can’t tell. But if John is something, it is possessive, and he doesn’t like sharing anything he considers his own at least with a half of his mind. And Paul, definitely, starts falling into that category.

He knows, too, that John didn’t go to Paul’s place for a week. It is entirely natural that Paul would have wanted to… get some action, especially after the few intense weeks he’s had, with John constantly at his place. He wonders whether Paul has self-destructing behaviour.

“Why didn’t you see him before?” he asks. He knows he has to move on with questions, not statements, because those will make John shut up. Richard isn’t a psychologist, and he certainly isn’t qualified for this, but he trusts in his heart to know the right questions that might help. Besides, he is John’s doctor.

John doesn’t say anything in a long time, and Richard uses the time for blowing into his cocoa several times, thinking about fetching some milk for it, and maybe more sugar. He tries for a sip, but it’s still too hot. He takes a more comfortable position on the sofa, slouching down on it a bit like John is on the other, surrounded by pillows and his blanket. The man would look cute if it wasn’t for the expression on his face, which is raw and full of distressful emotions, thoughts and memories passing behind his eyes that all of them cause him pain.

“Thought it’d help,” John talks suddenly, his voice hoarse. “If I stayed away from ‘im.”

Richard waits for him to continue, but when nothing happens, he prompts John on.

“Help in what way?” he asks, knowing that he is moving on dangerous waters. John might close into himself any moment, now.

John bites his lip, and then, as if resigning, lets out a big exhale, his head falling against the sofa’s backrest. He is sitting sideways, both of his legs on the sofa, the right side of his head resting against the backrest, now.

“I’m only gonna hurt him,” he says. “I can’t help it, but I will. I can’t control myself, when… it’s bad. It’s been getting worse since I met him.”

Richard takes a sip of his cocoa, which is drinkable by now. John means his depression; Richard wonders whether he should put John back on medication.

“I don’t wanna get too close,” John mutters. “Don’t wanna lose him.”

The statements don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, and sound bizarre when said in a way that makes it seem that they have something to do with each other. But Richard knows better; those two sentences are at the base of John’s feelings towards anything, in these days.

He doesn’t want to get too close to anyone, in the fear of losing them, like he lost- him. He doesn’t want to experience the same pain again, doesn’t want to risk it.

But at the same time, Richard is starting to get a feeling that John, really, doesn’t want to lose Paul at this point, either, and wants to get closer.

Richard looks at John sadly, and feels a lump in his throat, just like always when he thinks about the situation, thinks about how John’s beautiful soul and mind were broken in this way. They are still there, beneath the surface, but most of the time John moves through motions, lives through his days on autopilot, seemingly fine, but then there are the days in between, where everything just seems to break. Richard knows it’s because John closes everything in, and in these days, manages to do that. Richard saw the same in Paul, the same “I can’t show weakness, I have to stay strong, so no one thinks there is something wrong with me” - way of thinking. Paul is just not as experienced as John in it… not yet. John has just had a lot of practice, which makes it even worse.

Richard vows to bring Paul up before that has a chance to happen. He couldn’t look at John when it happened without wanting to cry; He isn’t going to look at Paul and see the same thing going on.

In a way, they are war survivors, John and Paul, going on in their lives with the thought that at least they are still alive. Paul is still in that war, and John is suffering from PTSD. Richard does his best to help, but sometimes he can’t. He knows that in the end, he can trust in his skills, though.

Richard knows that John owes him his life. John knows that as well. And maybe that is why he brought Paul to where the lad could meet Richard. Maybe John is as scared of possibly seeing Paul fall into where John used to be, as Richard is of John going there again.

“Do you think there is something to lose?” Richard asks, and isn’t sure what he means. Is it possible for John to lose Paul? Is there a feeling that exists that John feels he could lose? There has to be one, because otherwise John wouldn’t care.

Richard knows that’s not true, either. John cares so much, and about everyone. But he is too hurt to make it show.

John opens his eyes, and the look in them is full of anguish, like he already knows that he has lost.

Then he nods, and the word comes out in a painful whisper, accompanied by tears that Richard knows not to look at.

“Him.

Richard knows that today, they won’t be talking anymore, and he drinks the rest of his cocoa, gets up, and goes into his room to write into the journal, leaving John on the sofa.

When he leaves the house, later that evening, John is there no more, and the absence of his shoes seems to scream in Richard’s ears.

*~**~*

He is sitting in his favourite bar. The music is louder than he’d prefer, but at least the drink is well made. Richard, fortunately having enough money, doesn’t need to think about the price of his alcohol products, and as such always gets the best cocktails he can find.

He meant to think about anything but everything, but finds his mind trailing over to John and Paul. There is something there when those two are in the same room that Richard just can’t stop thinking about. It seems like they are constantly aware of each other’s presence, ready to sacrifice anyone in the room in the favour of paying attention to each other. It is weird, because Richard has only known Paul for two days, but then again, he’s known John for seven years, which counts as something, and has lived through the most difficult time of the man’s life… with him.

The bartender wipes the table in front of him, not having any orders for the moment. Richard knows his face, being a rather regular customer, and knows that those hands make superb cocktails. He lifts his glass out of the way, and then man shoots him a small smile.

He looks tired, but Richard doubts that anyone working in this kind of business would somehow feel energetic at this time of the evening, after a whole day of listening to crap music and people talking way too loudly.

Maybe he’s just becoming a grumpy old doctor, something which Richard has always aspired to do at some point. It is kind of a part of the job description.

The bartender abruptly turns away from the bar, and glances down at something, the movement catching Richard’s eye. Then, as quickly as the man turned, he lifts a phone to his ear, his shoulders suddenly looking much tenser.

Richard watches, because he has nothing better to do, and since they are in a slightly isolated corner from the rest of the bar desk and people, he can also hear what the bartender is saying into the phone.

“Oh no,” he moans, “you’ve had a drink, haven’t you? How many?”

He listens for some time, and his expression is pained. He glances towards the bar and Richard turns his eyes away for that moment, not wanting to get caught. The bartender, after seeing that there is no one requiring his attention, gets back into the call.

“What’d he do now?” he asks, his voice quieter, but loud enough, most likely because of the music playing around them.

Richard feels his concentration slip, and he finds himself thinking of work. He curses himself and mentally shakes himself. That is definitely something he doesn’t want to remember now!

Then, a sentence catches him, and he feels his body tense, his eyes widening.

“I’m sorry, Paul, I’m at work. Please just go to bed, don’t think about him.”

Richard doesn’t really believe in coincidences.

He makes a quick count in his head of the possibilities that the man the bartender is talking to is Paul, John’s Paul. He doesn’t know how it could be possible, and there are a ton of Pauls in Liverpool alone, not to mention the whole of England. But the bartender is talking about some Paul thinking about him, as a male, as of, “thinking of a man”, and by his words Richard deduces that this Paul is apparently very drunk at the moment.

Would Paul get drunk upon going home, after learning everything he had?

“Did that basta- that guy do something to you?” the bartender asks, and Richard quickly glances at his phone. John would have now been gone for about two hours at least, because Richard doesn’t know when he left the house. That would be plenty of time to go to Paul’s place, because from what Richard had gathered, he doesn’t live very far away at all. At least at a walking distance from the Cavern, which is fifteen minutes from Richard’s house.

He sees the bartender let out a small sigh which he interprets as relief, and feels that as well. Chances are that this person is not their Paul, but Richard doesn’t want anyone hurt-

“Fuck, I gotta go,” the bartender looks over his shoulder, and there are several people entering the bar, catching his eye. He grins at them and waves his hand, and the people grin back. Richard thinks he’s seen the lot before, probably in this very place. There are a lot of regulars around tonight. “Listen, mate, just- go to bed, don’t think about John, just- sleep- Paul-”

Richard’s stomach drops, and it feels like the ground beneath his feet is disappearing.

Right.

So the bartender of his favourite bar is Paul’s friend, and even that much that he knows about John. It has to be them, because the chances of them being different people is now null. Richard feels slightly shaky, and he finds himself staring at the bartender intently. Who is he? What is his relation to Paul? And moreover…

Could he help Richard?

His eyes follow the bartender when the man quickly puts the phone away with a tight expression that quickly changes into an amicable smile as he goes and tends to the new customers. He hangs on the other end of the bar for quite some time, but then trails back to where Richard is still sitting, alone, staring at him.

“D’you want another?” the bartender asks, glancing at Richard’s half empty glass. He looks slightly confused, probably having noticed Richard watching him.

Richard thinks for a moment, and makes his decision.

“Do you know Paul?” he says, and looks how the man on the other side of the desk stops in his movements, certain carefulness entering him.

“…Depends on who’s asking,” the bartender says after a while, and Richard wonders about the edge in his tone. Just what kind of a man is Paul?

He might just find out, and be able to help, this way.

“John lives with me,” he says honestly, seeing the other man’s eyes widen in surprise. “Heard you on the phone. I don’t think there is a chance that there would be other John and Paul having a troubled relationship at the moment…” he trails off, and then, to his relief, the bartender shakes his head.

“I doubt it,” he says, and glances around. “Listen, I get off in half an hour. Would you grab a drink with me then?”

Richard agrees to that, enjoying the rest of his cocktail with mixed feelings about the whole ordeal. In principal, he shouldn’t be doing this, and he respects his patients’ secrecy above everything, but- Paul isn’t his patient, at least not yet? Richard is doing this to him as a… friend of some sort, and as such, he can do everything that friends would do to keep someone above the water.

Which, unfortunately, sometimes means talking about them behind their back.

The bartender comes from the back after 35 minutes have passed (Richard’s been following the clock on the wall), and offers his hand with a stiff smile.

“Name’s George,” he says, and Richard shakes his hand, smiling genuinely.

“Richard. But you can call me Ringo.”

George nods, the smile becoming more friendly now.

“Where to?” he asks, and Richard shrugs.

“I assume you know the places better than I do.”

George chuckles at that, and leads him out.

“So,” he then starts when the cool air hits their faces, making Richard feel a shudder in his spine, “John’s… flatmate?”

Richard nods, and George seems to relax. No doubt that he was thinking whether Richard and John had something more going on.

“He lives in my house. I’m renting a room for him, but we basically live there as friends,” Richard says, and George raises an eyebrow.

“A whole house? What d’you do?” he asks, and Richard grins.

“Am a doctor,” he says, feeling himself slip easily into a more comfortable, easy way of talking. George seems like a nice fellow, and considering that he’s here now with Richard, he definitely cares about Paul, which makes him a good man as well.

Of course, in Richard’s opinion, caring about other people should be a norm, and not something that is found out with a pleasant surprise.

“Really?” George looks at him with an astonished expression. It isn’t the first time Richard gets this kind of a reaction; He knows he really doesn’t look the part, and even some of his patients seem to doubt his credibility, until he starts talking. “You certainly get my respect with that. What kind of a doc?”

Richard smiles.

“Neurologist, and I’m studying mental and brain health, which in the future will give me access to neuropsychiatry.”

George lets out a slow whistle.

“Impressive, mate,” he says. “I’m just your average bartender. But I like it.”

Richard nods, grinning.

“Isn’t that what really matters?” he says, and George hums with a small smile on his face.

They walk in silence then, until they reach a small pub that Richard has once been to. George holds the door open for him, and Richard finds himself liking the man more and more as moments pass.

They order beers, and Richard makes sure that his isn’t the strongest one. He isn’t a lightweight, but George’s cocktails are strong, and this pint is half a litre of more alcohol into his veins. They make their way over to a small table at the end of the almost empty pub, and take chairs opposite to each other.

George takes a large gulp of his beer, puts the pint on the table, and leans forward.

“So,” he starts, and Richard gets a feeling that George is vibrating with questions, with the need to know more. “I assume we’re both here for the same reason?”

Richard nods.

“I want to know more about Paul,” he says. “From someone who knows him. I want to find a way to help him.”

George presses his lips tightly together.

“Have you met him?” he asks, and Richard smiles faintly, without real joy in it.

“He spent the last two nights at our place.”

George’s eyebrows rise, and then, slowly, he nods, looking contemplating.

“Well,” he starts, and pauses to take another sip of his beer, a smaller one this time. “Just who is John?”

Richard thinks; he’s afraid he has to tell George as much as he can, in an order to win the man’s trust. He kind of knows already that George is not going to tell anyone about what he hears here -he also knows that George knows that about him, as well.

“John is…” he hesitates, not sure how to describe his dear friend, how to tell about the things that hurt John. John cannot be summarised in one sentence.

“He used to be a mad genius,” he says, and he feels a pang in his heart at the thought of what a brilliant man John was. “He- everything he did, he did it with passion, kind of… burning and crashing his way to his goals, taking everyone with him. He was a true leader in every sense of the word, always knowing where he was going, never giving up.”

George is quiet, examining him with a frown between his eyebrows. He is leaning his chin on both of his hands, taking all of Richard’s words, absorbing them without questioning.

“John was- he was always the sort to to try everything once, y’know?” Richard looks down on his beer, his voice starting to shake. “He was the sun and everything else revolved around him, because… he was such a persona that you couldn’t help but love him from the very first moment. The most charismatic lad I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of them.”

“He doesn’t seem like that anymore, from what I’ve heard,” George says softly, and his tone is careful, already compassionate, already prepared for hearing what went wrong.

“He started taking drugs,” Richard says, the words bitter in this throat. “He and his- his boyfriend, they became addicted,” he squeezes the pint with two hands. “I don’t know the details. John has never, ever talked about it.”

He lifts his head, looks at George in the eye, and he can see a flash of fear in them; George is already guessing what came next.

“His boyfriend died,” Richard mutters, his voice emotionless, but his eyes holding the pain he feels. “Drug overdose.”

“Accidental?” George asks almost immediately. Richard shrugs.

“No one knows. I think John has a hunch, but again, he doesn’t talk.”

They sit in silence for a while, and then Richard collects himself enough for the rest, or at least he hopes he is strong enough for it.

“Whatever John feels, he feels it with all his heart,” he says quietly, the atmosphere around them somber, heavy, sad. “He suffered from a very, very bad depression. I kind of dragged him through it, and-” his voice cuts off and he takes a deep breath. “He’s still healing. He can’t help his actions, or his moods. Which is I am worried for Paul -but for him as well.”

George nods, looking thoughtful, with his lips pressed into a thin line.

“So you wanna know about Paul?” he asks, and Richard sighs.

“I wish there was another way for this, but yes,” he says, looking down at his pint again. “I need to know his past if I want to help him.”

George looks at him, leans back in his chair, and crosses his arms over his chest.

And starts telling the story of a wonderful, caring, happy man, who had it all ruined because of the way he was born.

*~**~*

“It’s funny,” George says when they are exiting the pub an hour later, both looking like they grew older during the discussion. “From what John sounds like… I think that before -before all this happened to both of them- they would have been perfect for each other.”

They walk in silence for a while, and Richard feels his throat tighten, almost feels like crying.

“Maybe they were always meant to be,” he says, and George’s expression looks tense; like he doesn’t want to admit it.

“This is not how they are,” Richard continues, his voice becoming firm, like the one he uses at work. “This is not them.”

George doesn’t say anything, until they reach the subway, where they exchange phone numbers, vow not to say a word to anyone about this, and part ways.

Richard comes home, and John is sleeping on the sofa, reeking of alcohol.

Richard sits at his side, and watches him for a long time, and feels raw pain tearing up his chest at the memory of John’s free laugh.

*~**~*

Paul wakes up in the middle of a night to the sound of a guitar softly playing, the melody calm and hypnotising. He smells cigarettes in the room, and wonders whether John will leave before dawn or not.

*~**~*

Paul wakes up in the middle of a night to a hand softly touching the hair above his ear, and wonders whether John will leave before dawn or not.

*~**~*

Paul wakes up in the middle of a night to hands wrapping around his stomach, pulling his back flush against John’s chest. He wonders whether John will leave before dawn or not.

*~**~*

Paul wakes up in the middle of a night to John pressing his nose against the spot of skin where Paul’s neck meets his shoulder, and to his hand travelling down Paul’s body, settling upon his crotch.

John swallows Paul’s moans into his own mouth, and Paul wonders whether John will leave before dawn or not.

*~**~*

Two weeks have passed since Paul was at John’s place, and he feels himself enter a free fall. If he thought that John would open up, he was wrong. The man seems even more closed now than before, in these days barely looking at Paul in the eye. Paul follows with horror of his own emotions pulling away, day by day, until he is empty. John doesn’t stand by him, doesn’t offer him a way out of it. During sex he can feel, still, and so there won’t be a moment with John where he wouldn’t be suggesting it.

He doesn’t know whether John is becoming bothered by it, or is thankful for Paul’s never-ending sex drive. But Paul is doing it to stay alive. Paul doesn’t want to- Paul doesn’t want to be this empty shell.

There are days where he just can’t move, even if he wanted. He just lies in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering when this hell will end.

One night, he gets drunk. It feels exhilarating; the lights are bright, the music sounds wonderful, and he keeps the television open, laughing at the BBC news anchor, whose name he has long ago forgotten. It’s been ages since he drank like this, and he is soon opening another wine bottle. There is pain in his chest, but he isn’t sure whether it’s the wine, or something else.

John comes over at 21 o’clock, and his expression is blank when he takes in Paul’s appearance. Then he sighs and shakes his head.

“Right, then. Let’s do this properly, like,” he says, his accent blooming comfortingly in Paul’s ears, touching just the right nerves that needed it, and he grabs the wine bottle Paul has put on the floor, ready to be used.

John throws about half of it down in one go. Paul laughs loudly at that, at the thought that John is just as fucked as he is, that they are both so bloody fucked, and there is nothing that could help them.

“Y’know,” John slurs at one point of the night, when Paul’s mind is already on the border of shutting down completely, “alcohol makes depression worse.”

Paul lets out a gurgling sound, and reaches for a bottle, not sure whether it’s the second or the third. John takes it away from him.

“Joooooohn,” Paul whines, and John’s lips twitch. It’s the first time he’s about to smile in weeks, at least in Paul’s presence, and Paul yearns more. He wants more.

“You’ve had quite enough,” John says, and lifts the bottle to his lips, and takes a large gulp. “Don’t ye have work tomorr… tomorrow?” he asks, rolling the ‘r’ on his tongue, eyebrows raised. Paul rolls on his stomach on the sofa where he’s lying; John is sitting cross-legged on the carpet. Paul isn’t sure about the relevance of the question -of course he has work, but he sure as hell is not going. Can’t John see Paul is drowning, and can’t attend to his job? Can’t John see?

DROWNING-

“’M so fucked,” Paul mutters. “Fucked. Sshcrewed.

John looks at him quietly.

“Hurts to know it, doesn’t it?” he says, sounding much more sober than before. Paul reaches for the bottle again, and this time John lets him take it.

Then Paul gets up and throws himself on John, and kisses him, and has sex with him right there on top of the living room carpet. The world is swinging and he isn’t sure whether he can even get himself up, but he feels liberated.

John presses him down and kisses him, and pushes into him a bit later, and Paul finds himself laughing, and he stares at John’s face that looks down on him with an expression that is filled with fear.

“Don’t leave me,” John says, his voice in a whisper, and Paul’s eyes roll in his head, the carpet rubbing his back with every thrust.

“Wwonn’t-” he gasps, and John buries his head into Paul’s shoulder, and Paul registers mildly that John is crying again.

They hold onto each other, and in Paul’s opinion, the night is still young.

*~**~*

He wakes up to an empty house.

His head is killing him, and his mouth tastes like crap, but moreover, there is darkness that descends upon him without a warning, and he lies still, gasping for breath. His ears are filled with mushy water, and he can only hear his heart beating faster and faster. John has left- John is not there. Paul has no memory of almost anything that happened last night, but he knows John was there. He knows, and there is a glass of water on the bedside table, right next to Paul.

He scrambles up to his feet, doubles over, and vomits.

His legs give over and he falls down on his knees into his own vomit, his gut still jerking to push out the last bits of the insides of Paul’s stomach. His hands meet the ground and the pool of vomit, and his body spasms with the final slashes inside him. The ugly smell fills his nostrils and he gags several times more, shaking all over.

And he sobs, and John is gone, and John is not there, and Jane whispers, ‘Did you really think he would care?’.

And there is nothing to make her voice go away.

*~**~*

“I can’t do this,” Paul whispers. George pauses and takes a long drag of his cigarette. They are in Paul’s living room; George came over right at the moment Paul called, and for once, Paul is thankful for the man for being there. He thinks he might slash his throat open, were George not there to remind him of the reasons for which he keeps living. He can’t remember when he last felt this bad.

“You can,” George says. “You just don’t want to.”

They’ve talked about John, after George cleaned up the vomit with his face pale and struck with fear. He ushered Paul into the bathroom to take a shower, gathered his clothes and threw them into the sink, washing them the best he could, and then went to wipe the bedroom floor once more.

Paul doesn’t object to any of George’s doings, only rolls with it. His mind feels numb, and there is only pain in his heart.

“Would you?” Paul shoots back, his voice turning bitter as he thinks about John, and of how he time after time goes, and leaves Paul, pulls away, distances himself, and then waits for Paul to be there, unchanging, always welcoming. He is angry at John, never wants to see the man again.

But John is the one he needs.

George closes his eyes.

“No, not in any world. I would stay away from him,” he turns piercing eyes on Paul. “If I were you.”

“But you’re not,” Paul’s voice loses once again its power and he lets his head fall forward, burying his face into his hands. “I don’t know what to do,” he admits, silently, forcing George to lean towards him on the sofa. The smell of the vomit lingers in his memory, although technically there shouldn’t be any traces of it anywhere anymore. He wonders whether he is going to throw up again, almost feels the repulsive taste on his tongue.

“He is out of my reach,” he chokes finally and wipes his eyes before they have a chance to tear up. He is not going to cry after John.

“He’s out of anyone’s reach,” George sighs and the smoke he blows out is ugly in Paul’s nose, chasing away the memory of vomit. Part of him wonders how George would know; Paul hasn’t told him that much.

Another part just doesn’t care. And that is the side that wins.

He should just leave this be. Leave everything.

Piece by piece, John is destroying him.

Chapter Text

Paul doesn’t answer to John’s texts, to his calls, doesn’t open the door when the man comes banging on it after a few days have passed. He can’t get up; his mind has shut off, and the only thing he feels is constant pain throbbing in his chest.

He doesn’t know why he’s still here.

He wants to go away.

He wants this to end.

His days pass in a blur that makes everything seem indifferent. He doesn’t know why he should eat, since tomorrow will fall upon him soon enough. He isn’t aware of the time -it is all just a big, grey mess in his head.

There is no light.

He keeps his phone on, and answers if the caller is George, but not if it’s John. He sits on his bed and stares at the phone, sees the screen light up with the caller’s name, listens to the buzzing until it ends, and looks at how a text message arrives moments after.

He feels like he is finally ready to give up. There is George’s wedding, yes, but what is the point with that? Why does Paul have to care about it again? He can’t remember.

The only thing in the flat is Jane’s laughter, accompanied by John’s face plastered behind his eyelids, the man’s expression fearful.

‘Don’t leave me,’ the image says in Paul’s head, with a broken voice. Paul doesn’t know where it comes from, whether it is a memory or just a fragment from a dream he’s seen.

That image is the reason why he hasn’t ended it yet.

George comes in with his own key after a week, his face pale, looking like he hasn’t slept in days. He takes in Paul’s face, and then there are silent tears on his cheeks as he says softly ‘oh, Paul’, and rushes forward, pulling him into an embrace.

Paul doesn’t feel.

George makes him eat. He doesn’t speak much, and when he does, his voice is weak and broken. He seems shaken, and relieved. The day before they spoke on the phone, and George didn’t sound like that back then. Paul is not sure what has changed overnight. Has anything changed?

Has Paul changed?

Was it even yesterday, or before that? Or today?

Does it matter?

George moves like a robot through the tasks he usually does at Paul’s place. And somehow, even though he tries to make a conversation later, it feels like he, too, is starting to give up with Paul.

“Remember to eat,” he says, but there is no life in his tone. Only deep, exhausted sadness. Paul doesn’t say anything.

“Try to sleep,” George says after a painful silence. His gaze is turning desperate, and he is looking at Paul like he is trying to pin him down into this life with his eyes. Paul looks back, and he can’t even bring himself to assure George that he will be fine.

“I thought that you could be my best-man,” George says, and his voice breaks, he is blinking rapidly. “If you’d like.”

Paul looks at George.

“I’ll think about it,” he says, his mouth numb, voice faint. George gives him a smile that looks nothing but painful.

Later that evening Paul finds out that George has taken all the painkillers Paul had.

He sits on his bed, and he doesn’t know how much time passes, and he wants to end it.

He wants to go away.

*~**~*

His phone rings, and it’s from an unknown caller.

Paul stares at it, almost wanting to switch off the phone completely, but in the end lifts it up to his ear. It might be Pattie, and there is one spot in Paul’s heart that is not frozen, and that spot is towards her. She has always welcomed him with a warm smile, and she cut off her ties with Jane. She cares.

She’s not John.

“Hello?” he says, his voice cracking slightly, the word tasting weird in his mouth. How long has it been since he spoke? Two days? That’s when George came, he reckons, but he isn’t sure.

“Paul?” a voice asks, and Paul lets out a soft, agreeing sound.

“Thank God!!the person at the other end of the call shouts suddenly, and Paul starts slightly. And he recognises the owner of the voice.

“Richard?” he asks carefully, and hears a few deep breaths.

“Oh, thank- you have no idea how worried I ’ve been!”

Paul considers this slightly odd, since Richard and he don’t really know each other, in the end.

“Why did you call?” he says, feeling oddly exhausted. All he suddenly wants is to lie down and close his eyes. His head feels like something is buzzing inside his brain.

When was the last time he slept? He can’t remember.

He hears Richard take a few more breaths, as if to calm himself down, and then the man’s voice becomes calm, something he must use at work, and Paul feels instantly how the buzzing disappears.

Oddly, this is what he needs. He remembers his words to Richard.

‘Help me get better.’

Paul feels a tug in his stomach, and realises that he feels.

He wants to get out of this indifference.

“You wanted me to help you. I thought to give you space in case you want to be the one to make the first move, but now I think it’s better if I just say what we’re going to do, okay?”

He doesn’t ask what Paul’s been doing, or why he’s been avoiding John. He goes straight into business, and somehow Paul finds this calming.

“Okay,” he says, finds himself agreeing. He hears a click and deduces that it was probably a ballpoint pen.

“Perfect! So, we’ll start with chatting sessions, and then I’ll figure out the best medication for you. I can come to your place, so you don’t have to see John if you don’t want to. We start tomorrow -any questions?”

Paul is feeling slightly breathless, and almost laughs out loud. Richard is assuming Paul is still there tomorrow, and somehow the thought grounds him. He has to be there tomorrow, because Richard thinks he will be. Paul doesn’t want to disappoint people, but lately he hasn’t cared about that. Something in Richard makes him want to do that again, though. He doesn’t want to disappoint Richard by not being there.

“Sure,” he says, his voice sounding more balanced than what he is feeling. He is feeling relief -because it’s like someone else is taking his burden from him. Maybe he can let himself be carried by Richard, at least for now.

He will do whatever Richard wants him to do; isn’t that what he promised to John, as well?

“Great. What’s your address?”

“18 Henry Street, second floor. Name’s there.” Paul says hesitantly. Richard whistles.

Nice spot! I’ll come by at 13 o’clock!”

Paul guesses he doesn’t have a choice.

“Okay,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to do. It is kind of comforting, though, that he doesn’t have to make the decisions. Maybe that is exactly what Richard is aiming for.

Paul just has to trust him, which will be a whole other story.

“Say, Paul… Would you call John today?”

Paul snaps his mouth shut, his blood running cold. He inhales sharply, and hears Richard let out a soft sound.

“I guess not. I’ll tell him you’re fine, alright?”

“Yeah,” Paul says numbly, the buzzing back in his ears. “Tell him-” he chokes, and coughs to cover it up. What can he possibly say to John that wouldn’t make him vulnerable, ready to be stomped on, ready to be broken by the one person in this world that has the power to still do so. Paul is broken. But John could make it so much worse.

“I don’t know,” he says in a faint voice. “I just- I need help.” He presses his free hand against his eye, presses so strongly that the blackness behind his eyelid starts to burst into faint colours. They don’t make John’s face go away.

“And I’m going to give you that, I promise,” Richard’s voice is firm, and somehow, Paul can almost believe him.

*~**~*

The first thing Richard does is make tea. Paul just looks at him, feeling oddly out of words. Usually he wouldn’t say anything either, but this time it feels- it almost feels like he should say something, but can’t find the words. The silence, to him, is awkward, but Richard doesn’t seem to mind.

Paul guesses that he is used to people like Paul.

Richard then marches them over to the sofa, sits Paul down with a bunch of pillows, pushes a steaming hot tea mug into his hands, and sits down on the other end of the sofa, slouching down, completely at ease. Paul feared that this would resemble those therapy lessons he’s seen on television and films, but it isn’t almost the opposite. Richard drops a sugar cube into his tea, blowing into it, making himself entirely comfortable in his spot.

It almost feels like just a regular night, hanging out with your pals.

Paul wraps his sleeves around his fingers so that holding the mug becomes easier and lets it lower down to rest on his thigh. He knows that it would be completely pointless to try and drink now.

Richard doesn’t have any kind of things with him; no notepad, or a recording machine, or a laptop. He is just sitting there, content with his tea mug, and slowly Paul feels his body starting to relax.

Then, Richard flashes a smile into his direction, and talks.

“So,” he starts, and nothing in his tone alarms Paul. “Henry Street. Quite an ideal place.”

Paul sits quietly, then shrugs.

“I guess,” he says. There was a time when it was important. Now Paul would just prefer to be somewhere else, where he couldn’t remember Jane, where the life of the city wasn’t constantly around him.

“Rented or owned?” Richard asks, and Paul tries to remember. For a second, he isn’t completely sure.

“Owned,” he then says, not sure about it. But it has to be, right? He isn’t paying any kind of rent, or is he? George usually takes care of his bills -Paul has given him access to his bank account, when things got too hard. There is no one in this world that he trusts more than George, and so the decision was easy, back then.

Richard nods, looks thoughtful for a moment.

“It’s kind of funny we haven’t run into each other sooner than this. Have you always lived in Liverpool?”

Paul shakes his head.

“In London for a while.”

That’s where he met Jane. Then he got a job from Liverpool, and returned here, with Jane in tow, even though she would have wanted to stay in London. She always went there regularly, though, and said that she could handle it since this way, they both could work.

She used to care about Paul’s wellbeing, and he wonders how that feeling went away.

Richard waits for a moment, maybe for Paul to continue, but then when there is nothing, he speaks again.

“How’d you end up in a marketing team?”

“Got a degree in English,” Paul says, not sure how this small chatting is going to help him in any ways. “I could be a teacher if I wanted to.”

“You don’t want to?”

Paul is quiet. No, at the moment, that is the furthest thing in his mind. But there was a time when he desperately searched for teaching jobs, and didn’t get any.

He doesn’t answer, and Richard doesn’t question.

Paul is slowly making out the pattern; he doesn’t have to talk if he doesn’t want to. He can just sit quietly, stare at the mug in his lap, and Richard won’t bother him. But his presence is comforting, and Paul feels slightly more stable than yesterday. Definitely more stable than on that morning when- when John had just- left-.

Richard’s phone lets out a ping, and he apologises quickly.

“Forgot to turn it off- sorry ‘bout that,” he says, his voice slipping more into the scouse. Paul finds himself liking it when Richard speaks like that, because it feels more natural. It is as if the man has toned his accent down to sound more professional in front of his patients. Paul suspects it can’t be easy to be a respectable doctor at such a young age. He doesn’t know how old Richard is, but is quite sure he isn’t over thirty, just like John isn’t either.

Richard reads the message he received, quickly types an answer, and then switches off the phone. He smiles widely at Paul, twirling a spoon in his tea.

“Penny for your thoughts?” he asks then, his tone gentle. “How have you been?”

Paul swallows.

“I feel like-” he starts, and tries to tell himself that this will help, that speaking will help him, and that Richard is someone Paul can trust in with his whole heart. There is nothing he can’t tell the man, and somehow the thought that Richard was the first to give him a glimpse into John’s mind helps. He guesses that he can say at least something about how he’s been feeling.

“I feel like I’m hanging from a thread,” he says, staring down at his mug. Richard hums, tries his tea, and grimaces as it comes off as too hot. Paul almost wants to smile.

Richard doesn’t say anything, giving him space or nursing his burnt tongue? Paul doesn’t know, but the thought cheers him up a little. Figuratively.

The world didn’t fall at his previous words, so he dares to say something more.

“I want to… go.”

He pauses.

“I can’t take this anymore.”

Richard looks at him now, but quickly turns his head away. He is making a point of not looking at Paul, of giving him the chance to pull away, but also the possibility of letting his feelings pour out without it being embarrassing.

It has never been easy for Paul to talk about his emotions, really. His current state has made it even worse.

“Would you like to tell me where this all started?” Richard asks, gentle and understanding, and Paul presses his lips tightly together; he fears that thinking about that day would pull him into a panic attack.

He knows Richard has to hear it, though.

“I came home,” he says, voice empty. “J- she was here, on the sofa. Had already packed, too.”

He is already feeling his breathing get shallow and fast; his hands start trembling against the mug.

“‘You’re bisexual, aren’t you’, she said. I- I couldn’t start denying it.”

Richard hums quietly, staring at the television on the other side of the room, looking like he’s in deep thought.

“And she said- said that she wasn’t-” Paul’s breathing is stopping, and he is starting to shake, and water is coming up into his ears, and-

A hand lowers on his shoulder, and that is all. But that hand grounds him, and he sucks in his breath, searching for Richard’s eyes.

They are blue, like clear water, and they seem to suck out the liquid from Paul’s head, and he can think clearly again.

“I want-” Richard then says, and his voice hasn’t wavered, is still the same, and Paul relishes hearing it, feels relief wash over him, and almost sobs. “-I want you to think of this as a moment between friends. I’m not your doctor, I’m not a professional here. Imagine that I’m just here, as your most trusted friend, and you know you can tell me anything without me judging you. There is nothing wrong with you. You have a disease, and it can be cured, and you know that talking will help. Talking is the aspirin for the pain inside you.”

Paul stares at him, bordering between panic and complete yielding. He nods, quickly, several times, his heart beating fast. Richard’s hand squeezes his shoulder more tightly.

“You have no reason to feel ashamed of yourself,” he says, and somehow, those are the words that Paul needed the most.

He starts crying, and that afternoon all Richard does is hold him, and Paul clings to him.

By the end of the day, he doesn’t need whom he needs more, John, or Richard.

*~**~*

Richard gets home later that day, and John is waiting for him, staring at him with an urgent, wild gaze. His hands are trembling, and even though there are no words Richard can hear questions screaming in his ears.

“He’s bad, John,” he sighs, tired and worried. “Very bad.”

John’s jaw tenses, and his face is paling quickly. He looks down, expression aghast.

“He needs you to be there,” Richard says, walks past John after his hung his coat into the closet. John looks blankly behind him, before springing into action.

“How bad- how bad, Ringo?!”

Richard stops and takes in John’s white face, his wide eyes, the desperation in them.

He feels exhausted.

Very bad,” he repeats, and sees how John’s chest is starting to move up and down, faster and faster. That is- where did he put the paper-bag? He had it with him at Paul’s place, just in case, in his bag-

John presses his hands against his eyes.

“It’s my fault-” he mumbles, voice raw and full of pain, and Richard sighs again, comes closer, and pulls John into a hug.

“It’s not,” he says firmly, and for the second time today he has someone clutching at him, holding onto him for dear life. He looks at the ceiling, feeling his eyes get wet as he listens to John’s suppressed sobs -the man is not able to let go completely, not even with Richard.

“He needs you to be there,” he says quietly. “Try to do it for him.”

“I- I can’t-” John cries, and Richard hushes him, holds him tighter.

“Don’t let it take you away, John,” he warns; the depression can’t come back with full force. Richard wouldn’t be able to stand through it. John wouldn’t be able to do it. And Paul needs John to be at least- at least partly there.

Were they both to fall… Richard doesn’t even want to think of what would happen.

“He can’t leave me,” John whispers.

Richard is pretty sure that Paul won’t, since he hasn’t been able to let go of Jane, either.

Maybe John could replace her in time. But time is the key word. That is what the both of them need.

In the evening, Richard goes to George’s flat.

They have been talking a lot on the phone, almost every day about the situation. After Paul went quiet on John, George has been their only source of news. Richard has been unable to tell anything to John, and has watched the man crumble in front of his eyes. Richard feels more worried than ever, which is funny, but maybe this time it is because of his shared worry for Paul and John. So it is… kind of a doubled emotion.

He rings the doorbell, and the door is soon opened by a stunning, doll-like beauty. Richard guesses that this must be Pattie, George’s fiancée, and he smiles brightly at her. Her confused expression melts into a sunny smile, and Richard can easily see why George sounds always completely besotted whenever he mentions her.

“Good evening,” he says. “Is George home?”

Pattie nods.

“Yes! You must be Richard. Come in!”

Richard grins at her and walks in, Pattie making way for him. The flat is tastefully decorated and the front door comes straight into a spacious living room that is joint with the kitchen. Blue wallpaper adorns the walls, and the sofa and the armchairs are all the same hue of grey, fitting perfectly and naturally into the room.

Richard is still taking in the room when George peeps his head out from a crack in one of the three doors that Richard can see.

“You made it!” he calls, sounding joyous, but somehow Richard suspects that that would be a true feeling. George looks even more tired than when they last met, and Richard hopes he doesn’t have to start worrying for George’s health as well.

“Wasn’t too hard,” he says with a grin. “Gonna introduce me to your lovely girl?”

George chuckles and Pattie looks shyly at the ground, biting her lip with a smile caressing the corners of her mouth. George skips over to them, and wraps his arm around Pattie’s shoulders.

“So, Ringo, this is Pattie. Pattie, that’s Ringo,” he says, trying to make himself sound formal, but he is grinning now, his eyes only for Pattie. Richard finds himself smiling at that expression, happy to see such an emotion for once. Living with John is sometimes harder than what it seems; there is no true laughter in the house.

He shakes Pattie’s hand, and after a brief discussion he and George withdraw into the office, close the door, and sit down on an old sofa that is covered in worn guitars and ukuleles, until George pushes them down to the floor with hasty movements.

Richard lets out a sigh and his head falls into his hands. George’s smile has vanished.

“I took away the painkillers, like you told me to,” he starts, a small stressed frown appearing between his eyebrows. Richard glances up at him and nods, not sure what he should say. There are so many things that in the end, he doesn’t know if he has anything to tell.

“We should have acted sooner,” he says. “Right when you heard that John left like that.”

George takes out his phone, starts scrolling through the messages they have sent each other during this week.

“What did you find out today? Is Paul- can he get better?” he asks, and there is fear in his voice. Richard presses his lips tightly together, hesitant. He isn’t really supposed to tell, but then again, George is- George is like a family representative at this point, and in a situation where Paul’s life is in danger, Richard can talk about it to the family.

He wonders briefly where Paul’s relatives are, and decides to ask from George later.

“He… well, of course he can get better,” he says. “He just needs proper medication, and support. You’ve been doing wonderfully so far, but I can’t really believe how he hasn’t gone to a doctor before that.”

“Oh, I’ve tried,” George mutters, sounding slightly angry. At himself or at Paul, Richard doesn’t know. “Believe me.”

Richard nods, feeling exhausted.

“I’m going tomorrow again,” he says. “I have to gain his complete trust -and make sure I don’t fail him.”

George snorts.

“As long as you’re not John, I’m pretty sure you can manage.”

Richard sighs. George dislikes John, to the point where Richard isn’t sure whether it’s just dislike or actual hate. George has made it sure many a time, and Richard can understand it. He, too, would hate anyone who seemed to make John’s condition worse.

Aside from Paul, because Paul, in the end, has managed to bring things out from John that Richard hasn’t seen in a year. There is hope, even though it is almost nonexistent at this point. But there is hope, as long as they don’t give up.

“Paul has thought about suicide,” he says, and watches how everything in George seems to stop.

His face pales, and anguish enters his expression slowly. He doesn’t look like he believes Richard -or at least doesn’t want to believe. Richard doesn’t want to, either, but he knows what he heard earlier today, and he definitely knows the implications behind Paul’s words. He isn’t sure whether Paul is completely aware of the heaviness of his words -of how something that for him is the plain truth sounds like to the others.

“What-” George starts, his voice cutting off, his breathing hitching. Fear is grabbing him now, and Richard does his best to stay calm in the situation, even though he, too, would just love to scream with despair.

“He said ‘I want go. I can’t take this anymore.’”

George looks at him, expression completely stunned. Richard knows the feeling; It is too familiar, and his chest feels tight, haunting memories rising to the surface.

John is drinking a bottle of whiskey on the bathroom room. He isn ’t stopping, even though Richard has already said the man’s name, confused, standing in the doorway with his hand still on the door handle. He didn’t find John anywhere in the flat, not until he opened the bathroom door.

He isn ’t sure of what he sees; it is nothing unusual that John would get drunk when left alone, but this-

Richard sees a box that contains painkillers on the floor next to John, opened, a few pills gathered into a small pile.

It feels like his heart skips a beat, and every thought in his head disappears with the pure horror that hits him with full force.

“NO!!” he shouts, and dashes forward. John reacts at that, although slowly -his eyes are glazed over.

Richard grabs the bottle from John's hands, kicks the painkillers away from the man, and then takes a hold of him. He pulls John up while throwing the bottle into the sink, not caring if it breaks, and then takes John out from the bathroom.

He holds John against himself in a death grip, and calls 999. John isn ’t speaking. He only lays there, unresponsive, staring at a wall.

Richard will never experience fear this big again.

He doesn’t want to remember, but still, he does.

“He-” George starts, but his voice gets stuck in his throat. He coughs and sucks in a breath, and a strangled sound escapes his throat. Richard puts a hand on his shoulder, and George grabs it, holds onto it tightly. He tries to keep his breathing even, wiping his other hand over his eyes and face in a repeated motion.

“He won’t do it,” Richard says. “He won’t. George-”

George shakes his head faintly, and Richard shuts up.

“If you can’t- if you can’t promise, then don’t… don’t say that,” George gasps, his voice thick, sounding like he is on the verge of tears.

Richard lowers his head, feeling fear creep into his heart, and pulls his legs up on the sofa, wraps his arms around his knees.

There are not many things to say, now.

Nothing of importance, anyway.

*~**~*

“John doesn’t have many friends, does he?” Paul asks a few days after. Richard stops for a moment in his thoughts, almost looks at Paul. He manages not to, keeping his posture calm and relaxed.

“He used to,” he says, carefully. He has learnt a lot about Paul during the last three days. Richard has come over every day, mostly after work, and now he is here again, the tea mug in his hands enough to keep him looking like he isn’t about to keel over. “They’re all gone, now.”

Paul is quiet for a while, and then talks again.

“Why’d they go?”

Richard sighs. He knows that Paul has friends that he sees whenever he is not feeling so bad (which is not very often), and that most of his friends have no idea of what’s wrong. Paul has certainly mastered his fake smile, even though it couldn’t fool Richard.

“When something terrible like that happens… Your friends can quickly start feeling like you’re a burden in their lives. And so they just don’t come back, after some time.”

Paul is quiet, then, staring blankly in front of him. He looks better than he did three days before, and Richard feels relief that maybe, just maybe, the worst has passed. He has the needed medication figured out, and he is going to bestow it upon Paul today. That requires some rules, though, and Richard is not going to take a no for an answer. Paul has responded well to Richard taking the lead, so he is going to do so now as well.

“Shit friends,” Paul mutters then, not moving, his expression not changing. “John would’ve needed ‘em.”

Richard, still slightly bitter about this particular fact, agrees.

“Do you have any?” he asks, even though he knows, but Paul doesn’t know that.

Paul hums and nods.

“Some,” he answers, fidgeting with his hands. Day by day he has become more accustomed to the pillows, and is now looking comfortable among them, his legs lifted neatly under him.

Richard doesn’t pry; Paul tells him, if he wants to. The need to know is itching him, but he has grown accustomed to it a long time ago. It feels easy to talk with Paul, because compared to John, Paul is a piece of cake. Although, John’s situation was different. He was mourning, so deeply and painfully, and Paul’s depression… Richard isn’t quite sure how it became this bad, but he has his doubts.

Having to blame your own personality is one strong candidate. Jane broke up with Paul by using his sexuality as her weapon, and that, if something, is hurtful.

For all the sex that Paul has (because George has told him), Richard doubts that Paul is fine with his own sexuality. The ultimate goal for Richard is to have Paul accept himself. He isn’t sure how to get there, though.

“Try to hold onto them,” he says, glancing at Paul. “Sometimes friends can help you the most, in bad situations.”

Paul doesn’t say anything, but Richard knows he is thinking of George.

*~**~*

“I couldn’t leave,” George says, his voice faint. “I- it’s Paul. Of course I just couldn ’t leave him into that situation. I’m his friend.”

Richard nods, understands.

“I want him back,” George says, his lower lip shaking almost unnoticeably. “I want Paul back.”

Richard nods.

Sadness creeps around his mind, and he holds himself together, because at least one of them has to keep their head above the water.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice only a breath. “I’m sorry, George.”

George leans against the sofa, and looks exhausted.

“I miss him,” he sighs, and Richard almost breaks down at those words, because he knows them too well.

He misses John so much.

*~**~*

Later that day, Richard gives Paul instructions for his medicine. He had to pull a few ties to get his hands on it, but managed to do it. His colleagues know about Paul and of the situation, and with their help everything went quite smoothly.

“This should help with sleep deprivation as well,” he says, holds the small packet in his hand to show it to Paul. “Might work also on your panic attacks. They won’t work for the first two or three weeks, and you won’t notice any change. You still gotta take them every evening at a certain time, no misses, no buts.”

He puts the packet in Paul’s lap, lets the man examine it. Then he pulls a paper calendar out from his bag, holding it up.

“Here, you will mark an X on each day where you have taken the pills. I’ve written the amount you have to take on the dates, so check it every day. After the first week, the amount you take will double, so make sure to have the right amount of those,” he points at the packet that Paul has now opened, peering inside. His face looks like it is made of wax, and Richard understands well; Paul can’t hide the fact that he’s ill from himself, if he is taking medicine every evening to treat it.

Admitting to yourself that you are not as strong as you thought you were can be quite hurtful, Richard knows. That was the ultimate problem with John as well.

“There might be side-effects,” Richard says, not finished with his lecture. Paul looks up at that, and Richard feels sorry for him. It is for Paul’s best, though, so he can’t waver in this.

“For the first week or so, you might feel like you have a dry mouth, that you’re constantly sweating, or you have constipation or difficulties in urinating, and you might experience your sight blurring. There is no need to become alarmed with any of these symptoms, and it’s possibly you won’t have any. In the long run you might gain weight, but I’ll write a diet for you that can help you avoid that.”

“Not a reason to, really,” Paul mutters at that, and Richard has to admit that some little weight wouldn’t hurt Paul at all.

“We’ll see whether that’s going to apply to you,” he says, his voice kind. Paul nods, his expression blank.

“Remember that the medicine will not work instantly. It will take months for you to feel better, but in the end, it’s entirely worth it. It’s not going to cure you entirely, but rather… make you able to function as you did before, which will in turn help you feel better.”

Richard pauses, waits until Paul looks up at him, a slightly questioning look in his eyes. His full attention is needed for what follows.

“You can’t, under any circumstances, stop taking the medicine on your own. You need my permission for it, and it needs to be stopped gradually. Any changes to this-” he taps the calendar with his forefinger, Paul’s eyes flicking over to it, “-will be made by me, and no one else. Got it?”

Paul nods, and there is a small flash of that wonderful determination in his eyes that last presented itself during that first breakfast they ate together.

“Also, don’t ever mix alcohol with these. It’s better if you stopped drinking altogether. Don’t even think about drinking with these in your system,” Richard makes sure to sound dead serious. Paul nods again, the determined gaze not leaving. He is taking this seriously, and Richard feels hope bloom in his chest. In this short time, he has come to care about the younger man ridiculously much, and he wants nothing else but see him get better.

“Thirdly, don’t ever take more than the amount that I’ve marked down. Even when it feels like it’s not working, don’t take more. That’s vital.”

Paul looks tense, and after a moment nods at that.

“What happens if I do?” he asks, and Richard is thankful for it. He would have said it otherwise as well, but he wants Paul to be interested in himself, and his health. So far, so good.

“You might die,” he says flatly, because sometimes a direct approach is better than anything else.

Paul thinks about it a bit, looks at the calendar, then at the medicine in his lap, and then he nods, for the fourth and the final time.

“Okay,” he says. “I’m going to get better.”

Richard almost cries at that, and when he gets home, he can only smile tiredly at John.

John seems to look even worse, and Richard thinks that here he is, following from the side as Paul starts getting better, starts reaching for the sun again, and John is falling behind, unable to change.

He suggests that John starts taking medicine again. John doesn’t answer, and doesn’t talk in days.

*~**~*

John storms in, not even taking his jacket off. He comes, and grabs a pillow from one of the sofas, and then throws it across the room. Then he takes another one, and slams it to the ground with a small shout of rage.

“Woah! John!” Richard shouts and rushes into the lounge from the kitchen, where he was preparing the dinner. Before John gets another pillow into his hands -and fortunately they are only pillows this time- Richard pushes himself in front of the man, even prepared to defend himself physically. One never quite knows what John will do when overtaken by anger.

It is not an unfamiliar feeling for John, but- there is something different-

“What is going on??” Richard demands, even though he knows that an answer is very unlikely.

To his astonishment, however, John lets out a small, frustrated, angry growl, and- it is a real emotion. Not the kind of subdued, silent burning that Richard has got used to, but real, actual anger. That is different.

For a moment it feels like old John, the one from before, is standing in front of him again -his movements, expressions, posture… It all reminds Richard of a very pissed off Lennon, which is something he hasn’t seen since… that day.

John is fuming, and then he throws his hands in the air, turns slightly away, and explodes.

That CUNT!! There she was, in the middle of the store-”

Richard has no idea of whom they are talking about. He stares, feeling like someone has hit him over the head.

“-Talkin’ on the phone about the grocery list with ‘er sweetheart-”

Richard takes a step back, wishing he had a video camera so he could analyse the conversation better afterwards.

“-That bloody fucking TART, I came this close to punchin’ ‘er square in the middle of that pretty, phony face-”

“John,” Richard interrupts, taking a cautious step forward while John has started to walk forth and back, pacing while wringing his hands, clenching his fists, his eyes aflame. “Who was it?”

John looks at him like he’s gone mad for not understanding something that is, for him, obvious.

JANE!! he shouts, and Richard halts.

“…Jane?” he asks carefully, his mind refusing to work. John has seen- Oh, thank God, he managed to stop himself from hitting her…

“Missus ‘Not-Gonna-Have-You-Cheat-On-Me, I’ll-Just-Break-Your-Heart’ -Jane!” John is yelling, his gaze absolutely wild. “She destroyed him! She made him into what he is today! And he could be so much more-”

Richard sighs and nods. He knows that John’s anger will dissipate only by it coming out, and so he doesn’t try to stop John from expressing this emotion.

The man looks ready to kill, his gaze seeming to burn holes. Richard’s calmness helps a bit, or at least he thinks so.

Then, John suddenly turns on his heels, starting to take hurried steps towards the entrance hall.

“John-” Richard starts, knowing that this is not a good time for John to run off. John stops, and looks at him, and seems to be so alive. He is vibrating, emotions running through him at full speed, and Richard’s heart is running wild at the sight. He can hardly believe what he is seeing.

But now John’s anger is being replaced by another emotion that Richard recognises as anguish.

John shifts, and turns his head, and his eyes glaze over as he stares at the floor, his thoughts making him shudder visibly.

“I-” he starts, and his fingers are squeezed into fists, “I-I’m gonna do better.”

Richard is quiet, but his heart is racing even faster, his expression stunned. This is the first time John has ever voiced a thought like that.

“I have to,” the man continues, voice almost blank, eyes never leaving one spot on the floor.

Then his expression hardens, brow furrows, and his gaze becomes determined, determined in a way that Richard hasn’t seen yet.

I’m gonna do better,” John says again, and now his voice is full of sureness, of promise.

He lifts his head up, glances at Richard, presses his lips tightly together, and starts heading for the door.

“Gonna see Paul,” he says, looks at Richard one more time, and goes.

Richard falls on the sofa and finally breaks down into tears.

John is coming back.

Chapter Text

Paul hasn’t seen John in weeks. He has been taking the medicine, making sure to cross out every day. He has returned to work, and feels weirdly refreshed, even though the medicine should not have that many visible signs yet. At least that’s what Paul has gathered. Maybe it is the fact that he has started something, is doing something to change himself, fighting to get up. That thought gives him enough hope.

He has been feeling slightly anxious, having constantly the need to fidget, to jump around, and he knows that those are side-effects. He has been sleeping better than before, though, and it feels exhilarating. He can actually sleep for hours without waking up.

He is going to get better. He swears.

He has just come home from work. Everyone has been happy to have him around again, and his boss doesn’t mind Paul being away every now and then. Paul has decided -and doesn’t that sound grand, and exciting, deciding something- that he should tell everyone of his condition soon.

He is ill. He has depression, and it is a disease. Paul has medication, and he can get better.

He sits at the kitchen table, eating dinner (fried chicken and rice), and going through the post with his left hand. It has been so long since he did that, but he got the urge to do it now. His whole mood seems to have improved ever since he started taking the pills, and he can do more in these days. He can do things.

He has also started writing a diary, something that according to Richard, should help. Paul had restraints at first, but now he pours his heart out to the little book as often as he can. He writes at least once a day, about how he is feeling that day, of what emotions he currently has. And it’s been helping.

Richard has come almost every day, and now Paul looks forward to those little sessions. They are emotionally draining, leaving Paul exhausted afterwards, but Richard calms him down in a way that no one has been able to. Paul relishes that feeling, waits for it, and has told George about it almost enthusiastically. George encourages him to tell everything to Richard. Paul has a feeling that the two of them would get along swimmingly, and has made a plan to sometimes invite the two of them over at the same time. He mentioned it to George one time, and only received a weird smile.

Paul wonders if it just seemed that way, since George tends to smile weirdly when he’s relieved.

He hasn’t seen John, though, and the man stopped calling ever since Richard gave him the medication.

He lowers the fork on the table to chew the piece of chicken, eyeing at a postcard that is at least two weeks old. It is from his father, who moved to Spain with his new wife a couple of years before. Paul hasn’t contacted him in ages, and remembers that he mentioned breaking up with Jane only quickly. It has been months since that, as well.

Maybe he should call him. He guesses that he misses his old man.

As the thought enters his head, he quickly grabs his diary from the middle of the table where he has placed, just in case. He opens it from a blank page, clicks on the pen he’s stored inside the book, and writes quickly down what he is feeling.

Miss Dad. Want to call him. He sent a postcard. I should tell him everything.

He puts the diary back on where it was, feeling satisfied, like he has done a great feat. He feels almost slightly giddy, something which is certainly odd. But- at the same time he can almost feel how the darkness is running out of his body.

He guesses that he could get addicted into this feeling. It is certainly better than being addicted to sex, because this seems to actually help.

That is another thing. He hasn’t had the slightest urge to have sex with anyone. He misses John, and thinks about the man almost constantly, but he isn’t crying his eyes out, and is certainly not roaming Liverpool’s streets in a desperate attempt to find a one-night stand.

He eats calmly and remembers to drink two glasses of water, marking them down into an application Richard downloaded into his phone. The app reminds him every three hours of drinking, and he can also mark down his weight and amount of sleep into it. Paul likes looking at the graph that he gets at the end of each day; the lines are going up, and that in itself gives Paul hope.

And then his doorbell rings.

Paul knows who it is.

He stops chewing in mid-bite, just swallowing down the rice. The post is forgotten, and the fork is lowered slowly to the plate.

His first though, despite all the odds, isn’t that of pain, or desperation, or of any other feeling he has learnt to associate with the thought of John.

Instead, he glances down, and words run through his head.

‘What am I wearing?’

Then he sits, in a stunned silence, after realising his thoughts. He feels relief, feels almost ridiculously relieved, as well as slightly freaked out. But this- this is a thought he would have had before, when he used to care about such things-

The doorbell rings again, and Paul picks himself up, starting to make his way towards the door. His heart is beating, and the good feeling he previously had in his stomach is quickly fading away. What if- what if John is here to break things off -whatever it is that they have- because however Paul has been feeling better, that is a thought he can’t bear. The good mood is only a passing one, and he doubts that it will last longer than a few days.

Writing into the diary has helped him to recognise his own feelings better, as well as talking with Richard, and he knows that he is fragile. He knows now that any minute, he can go back into what he used to be, just a few weeks prior to this moment.

He hesitates in front of the door, unsure whether he should just let John go away, not open the door at all, just let it be, and live in the belief that there is someone out there who might care about him.

Although, lately, he hasn’t been sure whether John cares at all, or has it all been just for sex, for the emotional power that John gets from being with someone who is doing worse than him.

Paul presses his hands against his eyes shortly, takes a deep breath, and opens the door.

And stares into John’s eyes.

John looks at him, leaning against the wall, just taking him in. He is shaking slightly, Paul notices, and his expression looks like he is holding a ton of emotions in at once, not sure which one of them he should bring out.

He looks different. He looks tired. But there is a flame in his eyes that Paul hasn’t seen before.

Paul is afraid, now.

Slowly, he steps to the side, and gestures for John to enter.

John looks at him, and at the flat, and at Paul’s dress shirt that is pushed tightly into his trousers, and then comes in.

“Tea?” Paul asks when John is taking his shoes off, something which makes Paul’s heart jump up and down in a frenzied pace.

John pauses, and then nods.

“Please,” is all he says, and it comes out roughly, tearing through Paul’s chest like a saw. He turns quickly and hurries into the kitchen, not minding the dinner that isn’t yet finished. John is- John is there, in the flesh, and- his face is just like Paul remembers-

He makes tea, hands shaking, and John doesn’t come into the kitchen. Paul drops two sugar cubes into one of the mugs, because he knows John likes it. He feels incredibly stressed, incredibly anxious, and tense.

This time, he isn’t sure whether those are the side-effects of the medicine, or just John’s presence.

At this point it is clear to him that John is poison, but Paul can’t help but yearn for more.

And the inexplicable relief that he feels when he steps into the living room and John is there, slouching on the sofa like he belongs there, is enough to make Paul know.

His chest runs cold at the realisation, and that in itself, the opposite of the feeling he is supposed to get from this thought, tells everything about what a bad, bad thing this is.

He doesn’t know when exactly he fell for John, but he can’t certainly stop it now.

Can he feel love? Even after all that happened with Jane?

John looks at him, and there is a small smile on his lips as their eyes meet.

“A proper housewife, ye are,” he says, and Paul sets the mugs down on a small table next to the sofa, before reaching for a pillow and whacking the back of John’s head with it.

“You’re a wanker,” he says, the only words that can describe how he feels about John at the moment, and John chuckles, and there is something in the sound that wasn’t there before.

“I’ve been told,” he answers, and Paul marvels at how John can bring a smile out of him, even after all the things that have happened, even when his heart is cold and tight, and his mind full of fear of being in love with this man that will all but destroy him.

He sits down, next to John, and the words are out of his mouth before he can stop them.

“I missed you.”

John looks at him, and his gaze softens, something that Paul suspects the man isn’t completely aware of.

“You’ve gone barmy,” he says, but Paul hears deep emotion underneath the words, and smiles, and for a moment everything is fine.

Paul watches John, then. He definitely looks tired -exhausted, more like. There is something behind his gaze that Paul can’t place, and he feels bothered by it. He should know how to read John, at this point.

He looks at the tea mugs on the table, and the words slip out of his mouth.

“How was it for you?”

John looks at him sharply, but his expression is surprisingly open.

“What?” he asks, tone a bit rude, but then again, John sounds quite often like that. Or at least Paul thinks he does. Has he ever even heard John’s voice properly, or has he always been deceived by the water in his ears, that only now seems to have somewhat left for a moment?

“Getting better,” he says, hesitantly. He fidgets slightly, pulling his other leg under himself, avoiding John’s gaze. John’s eyes are drilling into him.

“God damn hard,” John says, his voice a mixture of emphasised lack of emotion, suppressed anger, and frustration. “Took me bloody months -still in the process.”

Paul is quiet, still looking anywhere but John.

“How bad were you?” he then asks, his voice going quiet. John pauses, never stopping looking at Paul.

They sit in silence for a long time, or at least that’s how it feels for Paul. He is growing more nervous, and it feels like there is something heavy lurking in his mind, making breathing slightly harder. It is as if there was a stone in his lungs, becoming bigger every passing moment, weighing him down.

He recognises the feeling as the one he’s had for the past year. The ever-constant blackness in his body is only looking for a chance to come back; having John here again, not knowing what he is going to do or say, is awful. With Richard, things are easy. Richard is all about being predictable, for making Paul feel good around him. George doesn’t think about it like that, but Paul can still tell what the lad is thinking, most of the time. With John, it is always a gamble.

Paul can’t take the unsureness. He needs something constant in his life, and John is far away from that.

Too far?

“Tried to kill meself,” John says, and Paul’s thoughts come to a halt. It feels like his heart is stopping, and the words swim around in his head without attaching to anything.

“A few times, really. Two first failed, then Ringo caught me the third time, an’ took me into his ‘ouse,” John continues, casual, uninterested on the subject. There is bitterness in his voice, though, and the anger is still present, giving away his true emotions about the subject.

“He’s kept an eye on me ever since,” he crosses his arms over his chest, looking tense, frustrated. “Can’t do a thing without ‘im hoverin’ above me ‘ead.”

Paul is quiet -doesn’t know what to say, since the thought is too horrible. He hates the idea of John being dead, of being so desperate that he tried to take his own life. He can’t imagine how hurt John must have been. It is different from Paul, because even though he is broken, he is not mourning. He doesn’t… he doesn’t wish to die. He only- he only wanted to- wanted to go-

He doesn’t know what to say, so he says the wrong thing.

“I thought about it,” he says, and his voice is empty, his eyes blank, as he thinks of the feeling. Almost now, too, he can feel the indifference in him, the silent question of ‘What reasons do I have to stay here?’. “When you left.”

Silence descends into the room; and Paul looks up at John.

And the emptiness inside him disappears.

John looks absolutely terrified. His eyes are wide, his face has gone pale. His mouth has opened and his expression is stunned, filling slowly with fear.

Paul almost starts crying, because that is the face he doesn’t want to see.

“I didn’t- I wasn’t serious with it-” he starts, helpless, but it is cut short when John’s hands grab him, drag him towards the man, and John is hugging him, holding him against his chest in a death grip. Paul sucks in his breath and clings to John, John’s smell filling his nostrils, and this is what he needs.

“Don’t- don’t ever even think about it-” John says, and his voice is wild. Paul can feel John’s heart beating against his own chest, and John is taking a hold of his head now, smashing their lips together, and Paul moans into his mouth, more out of surprise than of actual want.

John pushes him down so that he lies on his back and follows him, a familiar weight pressing upon him that somehow now feels suffocating. Paul gasps for breath between the kissing, and feels dread settle into his stomach, an opposite to what he is supposed to feel at John’s actions. John- after the sex he might leave-

“J-John-” he tries, and John kisses him again, letting out noises that are desperate to Paul’s ears. “John- not- now-”

John stops, slowly, and lifts his head. He looks at Paul, his eyes wide with a slightly surprised look in them. Then something seems to dawn upon him and he sighs, looks rejected, something dying in his expression.

“The meds,” he mutters, and lowers himself so that he is lying on top of Paul, his body relaxing there.

Paul guesses that his medication might as well be the reason why he is capable of saying no -or why he wants to say it in the first place.

“Can I- Can I stay ‘ere anyway?” John asks quietly, voice muffled by Paul’s shirt, and for a moment Paul is confused. But then he understands, when John’s hands curl against the sofa and his sides, when the man exhales deeply, tension leaving his shoulders.

“…Of course,” Paul says, and lifts his hands up, and wraps them around John.

His heart is beating too fast, and he knows that John is listening to it.

“…Don’t wanna lose you,” John mumbles, almost inaudibly, weakly, but Paul’s heart skips a beat. He tightens his hold of John, and for a moment he thinks that this scene could be out of anyone’s life. Lying on the sofa, holding one’s significant other in their arms- That is something that anyone could do.

Paul and John could be like any other people in the world. Not broken, not hurt in this way. They could have just come home from work, tired but happy to see each other again, could have just eaten the dinner together, afterwards falling down on the sofa into each other’s arms. After a while the jokes would start, about the scrappy workplace, or about something funny that happened during the day, and laughter would ensue, and then they would go to sleep, ready for another day, cuddling up under the covers, and there would be no fear whether one would wake up to an empty house.

Paul swears to get better, so that one day he could have that.

*~**~*

It turns out, later on, that John hasn’t eaten anything in a while. What “a while” means, Paul doesn’t know, but he doesn’t ask. He grabs some of the leftover rice and presents that to John with the chicken. They sit together at the kitchen table, and Paul finishes his meal while John eats his own with an unhurried pace. They don’t say a word, because somehow, after the things Paul heard and said, he doesn’t feel like talking.

There is an image that rises up into his mind constantly, and it’s John lying on the ground, unmoving, face ashen, dead.

He can’t believe that that almost happened thrice.

He wants to cling to the man and never let go, if he can only stop the fourth attempt.

John breaks the silence, the fork hanging between his forefinger and thumb, a couple of rice stuck to it.

“You’ve never tried drugs, ‘ave ye?”

Paul looks at him slowly, swallowing his last piece of chicken. Then he shakes his head, thoughts starting to run wild. Is John- Hopefully he isn’t suggesting-

“Good,” John just says, turns his head away. He does that a lot for someone who is almost constantly looking at Paul. He tends to avoid eye contact whenever they talk, which in turn makes Paul more anxious about their relationship. He just can’t figure John out, no matter how hard he tries.

“…Have you?” he asks after a beat, although he already knows the answer. It was Richard that said it, when he told about John and his… boyfriend, but Paul hasn’t thought about it much. He can only concentrate on the pain that John must have felt.

John sighs, sets down the fork, his gaze lingering on the fridge, on Jane’s photo that is still there. His other hand that is resting on the table clenches into a fist, and there is sudden tension in his upper body. His expression changes, but Paul cannot fathom what it becomes. He doesn’t understand what he’s seeing.

“That was the shittiest thing I could do to meself,” John says, his voice bitter and angry. He doesn’t look away from Jane. “…Become an addict on somethin’ as simple as white powder. God damn stupid. I was a fuckin’ idiot. And weak.”

Paul swallows again, leans back in his chair. He feels sick in his stomach.

“How did you stop?” he asks, quietly. A small shiver seems to go through John, and his whole body is now tense, the muscles in his throat jerking as he swallows. He glances at Paul, and there is fear and pain in his eyes, and then he looks back to Jane. Looks at Paul again, from the corner of his eye, and then at Jane.

He jerks, and presses both hands against his face abruptly, the movement startling Paul. He stands up, and for a moment Paul fears, is full of dread, that John would just walk out, but John only walks to the fridge and-

-tears away the photo, and Paul starts an alarmed shout when there is a ripping sound, and Jane’s face is torn into pieces.

Paul stares in shock as John balls the remains of the photo into one fist, squeezes, and puts them into his pocket.

He turns to look at Paul, his expression thunderous.

“How did you stop living?” he says, and Paul feels like he is punched into the gut, can’t speak, can’t move, and can’t breathe.

He stares at the empty spot in the fridge’s surface, and he is crumbling down.

John comes in front of him, and takes a hold of his head, and kisses him, again and again, his hands shaking against Paul’s cheeks.

“You don’t need ‘er,” he murmurs between the kisses. “You don’t.”

John pulls back and looks at Paul in the eye, and his expression is tight, but eyes full of emotions, the kind that Paul still can’t recognise, doesn’t know what they mean.

Paul chokes, his breath caught in his throat. John presses their mouths together, tasting his lower lip with such care and kindness that Paul didn’t know he was able to present such things.

He wonders what kind of a man John used to be, before. What was he like as a lover? Was he loving, or more of the kind that never showed their true feelings? Did he enjoy romantic dinners with candle light, or would he prefer to take you to a pizzeria? What was his sense of humour like? Would he make Paul laugh? Could Paul make him laugh?

Would there be, if Paul got out of this hole, and could help John as well- would there be a future for the two of them?

He pushes John away, inhaling deeply. He looks at John, bites his lip, and sees John’s eyes drawing to that movement almost naturally, unconsciously.

Their mouths are still close, John’s lips hovering over Paul’s; only not touching. Paul is shivering all over, but it seems that he managed to avoid a panic attack. He feels exhausted, though, and his eyes keep falling past John, towards the fridge.

John takes a strong hold of him and drags him up, soon pulling him into the hallway and through there into the living room. He sits Paul down on the sofa and steps back, seems hesitant. He looks nervous, something that Paul isn’t able to comprehend. It feels completely out of character for John.

“Listen-” John starts, and turns slightly away, avoids Paul’s confused, stare. His hands are shaking still shaking slightly, or it started again just now. Paul can’t tell, and his mind is running too fast for him to be able to analyse the situation in any ways.

“I- I know it’s been a bad year for you,” John says, running a hand through his hair, moving his weight from one leg to another. Paul is thrown back to their first meeting, and it almost feels like the sound of stones cracking under John’s feet is back.

“I’m not makin’ it any better,” John continues, his voice sounding like it’s on the verge of breaking. “But… but… I just-”

And he breathes his next words so quietly that Paul almost doesn’t hear them, almost misses them, with his head already spinning, his mind in the middle of a hurricane. And he stares, and stares, and his heart is hitting against his ribcage like a frenzied drum.

“I don’t wanna stop.”

John looks fragile, and Paul sees it.

John is finally giving him a glimpse inside; showing his heart, vulnerable, so broken, scared, and Paul doesn’t think that he has ever seen anything as beautiful as John in this moment, in all his life.

And, for a second, he forgets everything about Jane. He forgets about his depression, and his world is about John, and he feels spring bloom in his chest as he takes in the man’s words. John doesn’t want to stop. He- he feels the same-

“Whatever it is, between us-” John looks stubbornly at the ground, and Paul is dissolving, not able to look away from the man in front of him, “-I don’t want it to stop. So I might as well… I might as well make it official… Our relationship, I mean.”

Paul is speechless. John looks like he is going to bolt any moment, run out of the flat and never come back. The man’s hand brushes over his pocket, where the remaining of Jane’s photo is. Something flashes over his face, a fleeting expression, and he swallows.

“So I’m- I’m gonna try to be like I was before,” he says, quietly. “You- you’ve made me wanna... try again. And I want to make you feel the same.”

Paul, speechless, reaches out his hand, and John hesitates for a moment before offering his own, his palm hot against Paul’s fingers.

Paul yanks hard, and John lets an alarmed noise as he comes stumbling down, scrambles towards Paul, ends up in his lap. Paul holds him tight, and for a moment John is tense against him before he relaxes, settles himself a bit better on top of Paul’s thighs. His breathing comes out in short exhales, and they clutch at each other, tighter than ever before.

“I-” Paul chokes, his mind reeling, his thoughts disoriented. John- he is not leaving. “I can’t- can’t be what I was, I’ve tried-”

“It’s okay,” John says. “You’re gonna be fine.”

Paul wants to believe that, and he knows that there is no running from John now. He just wouldn’t be able to do that.

John kisses him, and they go to bed together, and fall asleep against each other, and in the morning when Paul wakes up, John is looking at him, and they smile at each other.

It is enough, Paul thinks. It’s enough for him.

*~**~*

Paul is ecstatic. Richard doesn’t know how to describe the man’s mood, other than with those words, but they just somehow seem to fit. He greets Richard with a small smile, and starts making them tea even before Richard has managed to take off his jacket. The winter is upon them, and the weather is cold, freezing rain pouring down almost every day. Richard hates winter, if only because it makes it so much riskier for John to pass out outside after a night in a pub. Richard doesn’t know how the man survived last winter, but maybe at that time he was so down that he couldn’t even make it outside.

Richard hates that he feels relief at the thought.

Paul is chatting about the cold weather and how bothersome it is, since at his workplace the ventilation has always been excellent, way too much so, which is great during the summers and a cursed thing during the winters. Richard comes to stand in the doorway, looking at Paul bustling about in the kitchen.

It is apparent that John did something right. Richard hasn’t seen him yet, knows that he is either at work now, or in a bar.

He decides to try. John’s name, usually during their sessions, has been a taboo. Paul can mention him if he wants, but Richard has kept his mouth shut after the first time. He braces himself, and hopes that he isn’t going to ruin Paul’s good day.

“Do you know where John went off to?” he asks when there is a pause in Paul’s babbling (and really -it is just that. Richard has a feeling that he is getting his first real glimpse at what Paul used to be, if George’s descriptions are accurate). He keeps a keen eye on Paul, but the man doesn’t even seem to hesitate.

“Oh,” he says, and there is a grin on his lips. “He’s at work. He’ll pop around later on, though.”

Richard raises an eyebrow.

“He will?”

Paul nods, opening a cupboard, and looks at his tea collection with a pondering expression.

“He said so,” he says, and Richard is now completely dumbfounded.

What on earth did John do??

He is bursting with curiosity, now. And moreover, he wants to see John, and sit him down, and demand answers. How could he- after a year of them both being so down, and moreover, depressed- how could John make Paul such a promise, and make Paul believe it-

“I take it that you’re feeling good at the moment,” he says, smiling, because that is what he must do, even though his thoughts are running wild, different scenarios jumping up and down in his head. None of them seem possible, though, knowing both John and Paul.

Paul smiles, and looks breathtakingly handsome for a moment. Richard isn’t gay, but he recognises a good-looking man when he sees one, and it is as though he is seeing Paul for the first time, now. Paul is- he is stunning, and Richard feels warmth in his chest for knowing that this is what Paul was before, and that it is possible to bring him back. Because there he is, in front of Richard, right now, and Richard wants to stop time around Paul and never let him move forward from this moment.

Richard, because of his work, knows that this mood will pass. And he feels sorrow for knowing that Paul can’t always be this -yet.

Paul deserves to always have the ability to smile like that.

 “Yeah,” Paul says, takes a randomly selected teabag, fidgeting with it, almost coy. His smile is smaller now, private, and he looks at the teabag with his eyes slightly glazed over. “It’s a good day.”

“Have you remembered to take your medication?” Richard asks, and Paul nods after a moment, on the move again.

“Of course,” he says, dropping the teabag into the teapot. He takes two mugs from the other cupboard, puts them all on a tray. “I, um… I don’t have any urge to have sex. I take that it’s normal?”

Richard is quiet for a second before he nods, steps away from Paul’s way as the man starts hauling the tea towards the living room.

“It is. Should pass after a while, though.”

He follows Paul into the living room, and notes that there is a shirt on the sofa table. He recognises it immediately, and looks at Paul with a questioning look.

“Ah, it’s John’s-” Paul starts, and becomes more serious for a moment, looks at the shirt with a faraway expression. “He… he thought it might help me. Help us, I mean- I gave him mine.”

Richard is already making mental notes of writing this all down, and of talking about it with George. It’s- it’s positive development, and Richard is feeling hopeful. John’s decision yesterday, about trying to do better, and now this… It feels like they are moving into the right direction.

“Right, then,” he says, and a grin breaks out, he smiles at Paul so widely it hurts his cheeks, and claps his hands together to accompany his words. “Let’s start then! Now, where’s my tea?”

Paul grins back, and hops on the sofa, and Richard knows that they will be fine. It might take months, years even, to be completely well, but… They will get there. He knows it. And it’s enough. It has to be.

For the first time in a year, he lets himself feels hope that fills his entire chest, and he can’t help but smile freely, holding Paul’s gaze longer than usually.

Dare he say that there is happiness in Paul’s eyes?

He can’t even bring himself to feel any pain at Paul’s slightly surprising questions.

“What was John like as a boyfriend? Before?”

*~**~*

Paul knocks on the door of his boss and opens it, pushing his head in with raised eyebrows. Susan Gates, a cheerful woman in her late 50’s with sand-coloured short hair looks up at him from her paperwork, and smiles.

“Yes?” she asks, and Paul feels his heart thud in his chest. He steps in and closes the door, takes a deep breath.

He clutches an envelope in his hand, and in that envelope is a paper that Richard has filled and signed, stating that Paul has major depression and that it is an illness. According to Richard, Paul has the rights to get time off from work, and now Paul is going to talk about that with his boss. Not that he’d want that, not really, because work is a great way to keep his mind from wondering to places he doesn’t want it to go, but every now and then… It might prove to be helpful, if he can present the actual reason why he’s taking time off again.

“Um,” he starts, and his mind jumps back to John, who last evening during dinner first listened to Paul fretting over this, and then shut him down with a few selected sentences.

“Tellin’ the boss saved me from losin’ my job. So jus’ bloody do it. They’ll understand… Probably.”

Paul wants to trust that, and he feels like it is too late to run now, either. John is coming over tonight as well, and Paul is looking forward to it. It doesn’t make him anxious, or scared. He waits for the feeling that John gives him; it isn’t desperation anymore, but warmth, and hope. And whenever John has smiled at him during this week, this exceptionally good week, Paul’s heart has jumped with joy, because John, too, looks like he has been freed somehow.

It’s almost as if all they needed was each other, and Paul is fine with that. He doesn’t need Jane. He doesn’t look at the empty spot in the fridge anymore. He doesn’t.

(He does, late at night, when he is fetching water. He stops and stares at the fridge, and there is pain in his chest, and something dark pressing against his temples, but then he hears John let out a small noise in his sleep, and returns to bed, and thinks that that was the last time he looks at the fridge. He curls up beside John, and finds the man staring at him, and smiles and kisses him, and promises to himself that he won’t look at the fridge.) (But he does, every night.)

“There’s this… there’s this thing,” he says, and comes to sit in one of the chairs that are placed in front of Susan’s desk. Susan looks at him with an inviting look, just like always, but Paul knows better than to cross her. She is, after all, his boss.

“I… Well, almost a year ago I… I broke up with my girlfriend,” he says, and just like that, the words are out. Paul feels almost breathless for saying it, and for the sentence to come so easily.

Susan looks surprised, and empathy is entering her expression.

“Oh, Paul, I’m so sorry,” she says after a beat, and sounds like she truly means it. Paul has no reason to suspect that she wouldn’t, but somehow, he has problems in trusting people and their reactions. He doesn’t know if that is because of how many times John let him down, or if it is because of the depression meddling with his thoughts.

“I thought you two were still together.”

“I haven’t really talked about it,” Paul says, turning his gaze away. He squeezes his free hand into a fist, his jaw and shoulders tense. He can’t break apart in front of his boss, so he just has to do this and be over with it, then.

That is what Richard said, more or less. Do it, and then he wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

“I… I became depressed,” he says, his voice almost shaking, but he is going to do this with sheer willpower, if with nothing else. His depression can kiss his arse; he is not going to let it control him anymore.

Susan doesn’t say anything, but nods, a silent encouragement to go on. Paul inhales deeply, and puts the envelope on the table, pushes it forward towards her.

“It’s- it’s all in here,” he says. “I’ve been pretty bad. It’s getting better now… At least so far.”

Susan looks at the envelope, then at Paul, and then takes it carefully into her hands. She opens it and pulls out a pile of papers, eyes at them slowly, her gaze lingering on the description of Paul’s illness.

She seems slightly shocked when she lowers the papers on the table, looks up at Paul with slightly wider eyes than usually.

“I had no idea. So this is the reason you’ve so often called in sick?”

Paul nods, keeping his eyes on his hands, his lips pressed tightly together before he speaks, his voice faint.

“It is… it is getting better now, and I’m- I’m on medication now-”

“Do you want time off?” Susan’s tone indicates that she is back on the business, and ready to take care of the problem, whatever it is. She never leaves things hanging, and for that Paul is rather thankful at the moment.

“I- Well, I can work on most days,” he says, unsure. “But- I never know when the… when the crash comes. If it does, at all.”

Susan nods, looking thoughtful.

“My daughter had depression,” she says. “Most people didn’t understand what kind of a disease it is. She was still at school, and it was almost impossible for us to get her some time off. It helped her a lot when we succeeded, though, since it gave her a chance to concentrate on getting better, not on school work. What we could do is that you ask from your doctor, um… Mr. Starkey-” she glanced down at the papers to look at Richard’s name, “-to write you a two-week sick leave, and then we’ll take another look at the situation. How does that sound?”

Paul is unable to say anything at all. Susan’s words came in one big wave over him, making it difficult to process any of it. Wait. Her daughter had had depression? And- sick leave for two weeks?

“I was about to talk with you about the way your reports have become gradually less… good,” Susan then says, clicks on her computer mouse a few times, and then writes something with unmatched speed, her blue nails hitting the keyboard. “Now that I know what the situation is, I’m not going to do that. There is no reason for you to stress about anything… You’re one of our best writers, so I would prefer to have you always in top form. I am quite sure that you wouldn’t want to produce bad work, either.”

Paul is, once again, quite speechless, but he manages a shake of his head.

“O-of course not,” he stutters, his fingers constantly playing with each other in his lap. He feels strange in his stomach, almost as if he was going to throw up, but it’s… a good feeling. Like a bubble bursting, but he isn’t sure just what kind of a bubble.

Susan nods, and then smiles at him warmly.

“We’ll make sure together that you will get back to speed. Now, I’m giving you the rest of the day off, and you can go and see your doctor, and then come tomorrow morning to give me the note with his signature. I’m going to have someone to fill you in for the next two weeks, and then we’ll look at the situation again. Is this good?”

Paul opens his mouth, closes it, and nods weakly. Susan must see something in his expression because her smile widens, but becomes slightly sad as well.

“Lovely,” she says. “Now, take care of yourself. Remember to go outside as well -that helped my daughter a lot.”

“With this weather?” Paul manages, his lips feeling numb. Susan laughs.

“Better have the rain outside than on the inside,” she says, and winks, and Paul can’t help but smile at her, and he thanks her, and fetches his bag, says quick goodbyes to his co-workers.

He steps out of the building and feels the wind on his face, and he recognises the feeling in his stomach.

It is relief, and he feels like crying, because things are looking better, and Paul is getting better.

*~**~*

“Hello?”

Paul’s stomach drops at hearing that voice, even though he knew to anticipate it.

“Dad? It’s me, Paul,” he says, leaning against John’s chest. They are sitting on the sofa, with Paul in John’s lap, John’s hands tightly wrapped around his stomach. Paul’s voice is weaker than he’d like it to be, almost breaks at the end of the sentence, and John tightens his hold of him, breathes peacefully against his shoulder. Paul places his right hand over John’s and spreads his fingers there. He rests his head against John’s shoulder, his eyes staring at the ceiling with a blurred look. It was John that pulled Paul into his lap, firmly, without hesitation.

He has been much more affectionate these past few days than ever before, ready to touch, ready to be touched. Sometimes he seems to distance himself like he used to do for months, but soon becomes his new (or old?) self again. Paul has noticed that John usually looks at the fridge before the change happens. He doesn’t question. He takes John’s embraces when they come, and falls deeper and deeper in love as the days pass.

“Paul! Is everything alright?”

“What do you mean?” Paul frowns. John’s thumb starts to draw slow circles on his stomach.

“You never call me unless there is something wrong… Has Mike finally made it into a prison?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Paul says, because he doesn’t. His brother hasn’t been in contact with him for ages. He tried once, Paul remembers, but it ended with Paul saying that he didn’t want to be in any contact with him. Mike has kept his distance ever since, but Paul suspects that he might have at least partially a clue of what is going on. George sometimes has a guilty expression when Mike is mentioned.

“So, what is it, then?”

Paul bites his lip, feeling something big and scratchy in his throat. He turns his head slightly, so that his eyes press against John’s neck. He breathes in John’s scent, comforting and safe, and collects himself.

“I- I just wanted to hear how you’re doing, you and Angela.”

“That is rubbish, son. We are doing well -Are you?”

Paul had forgotten how his dad could be, with his dry Liverpudlian wit that could not be fooled. He has missed the old man so much.

He shifts in John’s lap, feeling his hand start to shake slightly over John’s fingers. He can never, ever tell his dad how bad things have been, how bad they are. Dad would insist on coming back to England, and he would see- he would see how bad Paul is.

Hesitation closes around his throat, and for a moment he feels like he is choking. He opens his mouth, tries to say something, but no sound comes out, except for a strangled exhale.

John’s hands untangle themselves around his stomach and cover his hand, pressing it against Paul’s wrinkled dress shirt. John’s fingers are warm and strong, and they hold onto him again tightly, firmly, grounding Paul.

Paul thinks he might cry. He hasn’t felt this kind of warmth in his heart in a long, long time.

“Paul?”

“I-” Paul starts, and his words are cut off. He takes a deep breath and knows, he already knows it, that there is no escaping from his dad, now. He has already given himself away by hesitating like this.

“I have depression,” he says, blurts it out. He is surprised by his own acts and he sits up straight, turns to look at John with wide eyes. John looks at him with an equally astonished expression, and then he offers a hesitant smile and shrugs.

Right. It is out now, so Paul just has to deal with the consequences.

He hates consequences.

He falls back against John and squeezes his eyes shut. His father hasn’t said anything.

“It- it started when Jane left,” he says, voice quivering slightly. “R-remember when I told about that?”

For a while silence, suffocating and heavy, is the only thing present in the room. Then his dad sighs.

“Yes. And- you’ve been holding this in for this long?”

Paul opens his mouth, but can’t speak. He wishes he could nod instead of actually vocalising the ‘yes’.

He hears his dad sigh again, a deep exhale that somehow seems to fall in each and every one of Paul’s bones. Disappointment- that’s what it is, isn’t it? Jim is disappointed, and Paul is a failure, has failed to be a good son, something that one could be proud of.

“So, how bad has it been? Tell me everything.”

Paul blinks rapidly, trying to hold tears in. He takes a shuddering breath. John’s hold of him tightens.

He tells it all. He leaves John out, only says that he has seen a doctor now, that he is getting better. He is crying by the end of it, his dad listening silently.

“I’m so sorry, Dad,” Paul sobs, his head resting against John’s shoulder, tears dropping down from his chin, John’s breath against his neck. John’s hold has never wavered. “I’m so sorry-”

“You have no reason to apologise, Paul,” Jim’s voice is quiet, sad. “I’m sorry for not contacting you earlier -I should have checked on you regularly.”

Paul cries, tries to stop, lets out ugly noises when he tries to contain himself. He hiccups and coughs, feeling mucus fill his nose. He needs to- needs blow his nose before it gets out of hand.

“I’m glad you told me,” his dad continues. “I’m sorry it had to go like this. I love you.”

Paul believes in those words, and hangs onto them.

*~**~*

John sits on the sofa, one of his legs hanging off from it, facing Paul who sits opposite to him. He offers Paul a napkin after napkin, looking at him with slightly downturned lips. Paul cries and cries, sobs rocking his body violently. He is unable to stop, feeling exhausted, and his sobs start to turn into wails, pained moans that carry through the empty feeling flat. He cries into the napkins, blows his nose every ten seconds, and feels like he is being ripped apart.

It is like someone has stabbed a knife into his heart, but instead of killing him, it only turns slowly around in his chest, tearing him open.

He doesn’t know why he feels like this.

“W-w-why am I h-hurting s-s-so m-much-h,” he cries, loudly. His eyes are squeezed closed and he aims for his nose blindly with a napkin, and misses. Hesitantly and slowly he opens his eyes, starts to turn the napkin in his fingers to fold it properly, his body jerking with new sobs. His vision blurs, and it hurts.

John reaches out, and pulls Paul against him tightly. Paul drops the napkin and wraps his arms around the man, cries into his shoulder. It is child-like, open crying, and Paul feels like all the restraints he had against this sort of behaviour have disappeared.

John holds him until finally the sobs disappear, leaving behind an exhausted Paul with bloodshot eyes and cheeks marred with tear streaks.

They sit in silence, John watching Paul. Paul stares into space, wipes away a few final tears that have escaped from his cheeks. He lifts his legs up on the sofa, wraps his arms around them and leans his forehead on his knees. He doesn’t know what to say; the silence feels endless.

“Your dad sounds really nice.”

Paul looks up slowly, meets John’s gaze for a moment before he lets his head fall back into its previous position.

“I guess,” he mumbles, and doesn’t say anything more. A headache is thumping against his temples. He wants to sleep, and never wake up.

John is quiet for a while, and then speaks again.

“So you have a brother?”

Paul hums in response, leaving it like that. He hears a small sound, almost like a sigh which didn’t become one, but was cut off even before it began.

“What is he like?”

Paul doesn’t look up -he closes his eyes, relishes in the darkness. His lips feel numb.

“He’s annoying as hell. A bit younger than me,” he says, curtly. Then he waits.

He counts in fifteen seconds before John talks again.

“What about your mum?”

Paul sighs, his arms tensing.

“Dead,” he says. “When I was fifteen.”

He waits again, counting, and…

“So’s mine.”

Paul lifts his head. He was waiting for the usual ‘oh, I’m sorry’. Those words do not help at all, and he dreaded that he would have to hear them from John. But-

-But John is never going to say them, and if he does, he really, really means them.

His eyes are deep, coloured like honey with the living room’s lightning, and he looks at Paul like he always does. Like he sees completely through him, without giving away anything about himself.

“What-” Paul starts, a helpless sound escaping his throat. John sighs, starts to dig for a cigarette.

“Some drunk bastard ran over her when I was a teen,” he says, lights up the ciggie and blows the smoke up towards the ceiling. “It doesn’t matter though, since she was never really there before that, either... But of course it left a mark.”

Paul looks at him silently, hoping with all his heart that John would continue. He wants to hear everything; wants to know, wants to understand what has made John into the man he is now. And it helps -hearing how he is not the only one.

John understands.

Has Paul fallen for John’s silent understanding, or for the man himself? He doesn’t know, and he does not dare to think of it.

“She left me with my aunt when I was five,” John says and sighs. “Mimi, now she’s a right old hag, but she cares, I guess. A bit too much.”

“Was she the one you wanted to ‘stick it up her arse’? That one time?” Paul asks, the words out of his mouth before he can stop himself. He almost blushes at the realisation that he still remembers that, even though it’s been weeks, months since that phone call that left Paul wondering. He has now figured out that it was Richard that John was talking with, but about whom… Paul has to admit that he has felt slightly fearful every now and then whether John is someone that would remain loyal. What if John already has someone and Paul is the third wheel?

He doesn’t even have any clue about John’s sexuality, so... anything is possible, really.

John looks at him with a weird expression, then nods.

“Probably. If it was ‘er choice, she wouldn’t leave me alone for a minute.”

“She cares,” Paul says quietly, but he has to admit that that sounds slightly annoying. He pauses and takes a deep breath.

“What about your dad?” he asks, regarding John, resting his cheek against his knees. John blows another cloud of smoke towards the ceiling; it starts falling down upon him, and the lightning and the smoke make him look otherworldly. Paul wonders whether he is ever going to see the real John, the one that laughs and smiles, the one that cracks stupid jokes and laughs at them by himself, the one that is loving and kind, if not slightly unsure how to show his feelings.

He heard stories from Richard.

He has never met that John, but he still misses him. He feels like that John is the one he truly needs.

“Left before I was born,” John says, his eyes darkening. “I’ve never met him.”

Paul stares at John, and feels tears fill his eyes again. Pain is ever-constant, it feels.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice breaking at the end, and John closes his eyes, nods once.

“I’m sorry, too,” he says, and they reach out their hands at the same time, their fingers entwining.

It is enough, Paul thinks. He doesn’t need more.

*~**~*

Paul wakes up in the middle of the night to arms wrapping around his stomach, a breath against his neck, and he doesn’t wonder whether John leaves before dawn or not.

*~**~*

It’s been a week since Paul got Richard sign a note, and presented it to his boss. Susan vowed him to do everything he could to get better, and Paul promised that he would try.

It feels easier to promise things, in these days.

He tends to go walking at least once a day. He hasn’t seen John in three days, now, but it is fine, because they have talked on the phone. It felt weird at first, since Paul is accustomed to long silences between them. On the phone you can’t really do that, and so they have had actual, long discussions. Paul learnt that John loves cats, and wants one, but doesn’t think he would be able to take care of it at the moment. Paul has also learnt that John used to study art history, but never finished his studies, instead falling for drugs. Paul has learnt that John used to do the same as him; sleep with anyone that caught his eye, in a desperate attempt to feel something, to not to spend the nights alone.

He has learnt that John hates being alone, but used to hurt people when he got angry and mad with grief, and keeps away from company so that it doesn’t happen again.

John has made him promise to take his meds every evening, no matter what. Paul is fine with that -he keeps his word. He is ready to give everything to John, and even though there is a looming regret in his stomach as he does so, his heart is content, more hopeful than in a long time. He feels light, almost weightless, as his feet take him down Liverpool’s gritty streets towards the parks that he has never really acknowledged before. He goes to a different one every day, and sits down there on cold, wet benches, and breathes with his eyes closed.

He has identified the pain he felt after the call to his dad. It was pain he felt in the beginning, just after Jane had left. But Paul was too much in a shock, too shaken from Jane’s actions, to actually cry.

He feels like the tears he cried in front of John are the ones that he should have let out a long, long time ago.

And now all he feels is relief. Something big and dark has left him, along with the tears, and he almost wants to cry again just from the freedom he has in his body and mind.

He thinks that this is enough; he can be happy like this. He can think, and he can function, do his work, and he can have John. He can be happy, even though he still does not laugh, does not smile much either.

It’s enough, though, because he has John. And he will get better; he knows he will. There is nothing stopping him, now.

His steps hit the pavement and a cold wind blows some of his hair away from his forehead. He stops to wrap his scarf slightly tighter around his neck, stuffs his hands into his pockets, and goes on. He is almost home, and wonders whether he should go do the groceries now that he is already outside.

He crosses the road, turns around the corner, and stops.

Red hair falls on her shoulders, like rain pouring down from the sky with the sun still shining, beautiful, ageless, warm, and free.

It’s Jane.

She walks hand in hand with a man, talks with him animatedly. She is sporting a smile on her face, her blue eyes sparkling as she looks at her companion. The man is handsome and as he answers to something she said, Paul can hear a strong Liverpudlian accent.

It is Jane.

They are on the other side of the road, and Paul stands, and stares. They do no seem to notice him, too engrossed with each other, too much in love.

Up until the moment they are passing him, and Jane turns her head.

Her gaze meets Paul’s, and for a moment, her smile freezes. It is almost as if her step is faltering, and she holds the eye contact. Paul can’t look away- he is captivated, drinks in the beauty that he thought he’d never see again. He looks at the blue of those eyes, of the way Jane’s hair seem to emphasise every beautiful spot of colour she has in her face, from her pink lips to her purple eyeshadow. Paul stares, and feels how he is slowly starting to shake -this is Jane. It is her- Paul loves-

And a disparaging frown breaks the smooth lines of Jane’s pale skin, and she looks at him with disdain before turning her head away, continuing her way, disappearing behind a corner.

And Paul is left staring.

J-

Nausea hits him with a force that almost knocks him off his feet, and he runs, runs, runs, rushes up into his flat, into the loo, and he grabs the sink with both of his hands, face hovering over it.

He stays there for minutes, shaking, but nothing ever comes out.

The nausea closes in, settles heavily into the pit of his stomach as a black, dense mass, and his mind becomes too tight, too clear, and too loud, and Jane’s laughter is in his ears, her eyes filled with hate and disgust as she looks down at Paul, and her voice is sweet when she speaks, already turning away, her hand already belonging to another.

‘Did you think you were getting better? Look again, darling. I haven’t gone anywhere.

He scrambles into his kitchen cupboard and finds several bottles of red wine. He sits on the sofa and chucks down the first glass without much of a thought.

He pours himself more, and then the tears come.

*~**~*

George waves at Richard from the other end of the street. Richard chuckles and waves back, the movement exaggerated. He hears George laugh and grins widely. There is warmth in his chest when he thinks about his new friend. Even though they mainly talk about John and Paul, sometimes snippets of their own lives make their way into the conversation, and Richard has to admit that George is one of the most interesting human beings he has ever met. Moreover, the lad knows how to make Richard laugh -something that is definitely needed in these days.

“Hiya!” George smiles, cocks his head to one side. “We saw the priest today! Everything is starting to be in order -we just have to get married!”

Richard feels giddy and he pats George on the shoulder, sincerely happy for the other man.

“That’s marvellous, mate,” he says, and George rocks slightly on his heels, just grinning from ear to ear.

It is time for the dinner, and they decided to eat it together today, to exchange news about John and Paul. They start making their way towards a good restaurant (apparently) (George seems to overflow with knowledge of Liverpool’s food life). The day is chilly, and Richard wishes he had taken a hat of some kind. George wears grey earmuffs that should look ridiculous but somehow fit him. Richard comments on them teasingly and earns a mocking look.

“Why, at least I have something to keep my ears warm and healthy, lovingly bought to me by my sweet fiancée, while you’re freezing yourself for fashion,” George retorts back, and they laugh. It feels good; Richard, from having spent the past year with John, has almost forgotten how it feels to spend a lot of time with someone who does not only give him pain, one way or another.

They decide to walk through a park, the route not prolonging their way much. It feels better to be amongst the trees -it is easier to talk about such difficult things as Paul and John.

“They’re both feeling much better,” Richard says. “Or at least it seems so.”

“Paul, at least…” George mutters. “I can’t say about John.”

Richard nods, sighs.

“I feel like he is happier in these days, but… he’s still so afraid.”

He only smiles when he ’s with Paul.

It’s all an act, Richard knows; an act to make Paul feel better. John might be happier, but he is not going to get back to himself like this. Richard is sure that John needs to go to a real therapist; someone who could really help him, not someone who’s only studying mental health as a side hobby. Richard knows how to prove someone’s depression by taking a scan of their brain. He doesn’t know how to make that go away permanently. They’re completely different fields, and even though Richard has done his best, is better at this than most people, he is still not a professional when it comes to giving therapy. He is going to suggest it to Paul as well, since the man seems to be even more receptive in these days.

“Of losing Paul?” George asks, kicks a lone stone that is on his way. Richard shakes his head.

“Of hurting him,” he says, and George lets out a small noise. The lad is still not comfortable with the thought of John being any good for Paul. But Richard knows that they have no other choice but to accept it, and try to help the two of them so that no one gets hurt.

“To be honest,” he says after a while, “I don’t think the situation could get worse. At least I hope they are past that.”

*~**~*

Paul stares at the empty wine bottle blearily, lying on his back on the sofa. The world seems to be turning over slightly, and he feels nauseous. Jane’s face hovers before his whenever he closes his eyes, and no matter how desperately he tries to think of John, she pushes through.

He reaches for the second bottle, almost knocking it over. He starts laughing at his own incompetence, the sound hysterical. Screw Jane. He has John now. John is making him better; Jane made him worse. He doesn’t need her- he doesn’t need her, he has John-

The thought makes him jerk up into a sitting position, his movements slow and clumsy. John- something about John- his vision is blurring and he lowers the bottle on the floor, the world turning upside down for a moment. John wanted him to- what was it?

“Uuurrrgghh,” Paul groans, presses hands against his eyes, and lies back against the soft fabric. He lets his arms fall down, against his chest, and he stares at the ceiling with a hazy mind.

The meds.

That’s it! Paul gets back up, suddenly feeling frenzied. He has to take his medication -that’s what he promised to John! He pushes himself up from the sofa and makes his way towards the kitchen.

He counts the right amount of the meds on his hand, not sure whether he’s seeing double or not. How much is there on his palm?

There is something nagging him in the back of his head; something that had to do with Richard. He almost hears the man’s voice in his head, but it is gone before he can think about it closer. He bumps into the table and chuckles, makes it to the sink with several missteps. He almost hits his head in the cupboard above the sink, and searches for a glass. He isn’t sure how long it takes him to find one -the alcohol is really kicking in now. It feels like he is in a really, really big swing, hanging from it with his head upside down.

He laughs at himself and swallows the pills, content with himself that he remembered.

He scrambles back into the living room, and by the time he gets there, he has blissfully forgotten all about Jane.

*~**~*

Richard and George are sitting on a park bench, having decided to stay there for a while. George knows, by now, about John and Paul’s relationship, of how they have apparently entered one. Richard has fished out all the information he could from John, even though the man has been slightly unwilling to cooperate. He has stayed home for the past three days, exhausted from work, and he has talked on the phone with Paul every day.

“I find that really hard to believe,” George purses his lips, plays with the engagement ring in his finger. Richard allows himself a small smile.

“They’ve talked for hours. Even with-” he pauses, reforms his words carefully. “…John didn’t… John has never done that before.”

George frowns.

“What kind of a man was he in a relationship?”

Richard smiles freely at the same question that Paul presented a week ago, ignoring the pain of thinking of John’s former self.

“His own quirky self, but he cared… cared so much, really. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his partner. Had a great sense of humour, too, loved to do pranks and stuff.”

“I can’t imagine how awful it must have been,” George mutters, and Richard’s smile vanishes. “I couldn’t imagine losing Pattie.”

“Mmh,” Richard hums quietly, wondering how they always end up feeling miserable, no matter how hard they try.

“All his life crumbled down within a few hours,” he says and sighs, his head hanging low, his eyes fixed on the road in front of him. “Seeing him back on his feet would be a dream come true.”

George lets out a small noise, and they lapse into silence, each one in their own thoughts.

*~**~*

Paul lies on the sofa. He is dizzy, and there is something that bothers him.

He should call John. John would know- John would probably know eeevrything. John is so smart, but he doesn’t get the opportunity to show it. Paul feels bad for John. His sight of view shifts slowly, dragging behind the movements of his eyes.

He hums to himself, and thinks about John more. He wants to call John- he needs to know what he’s forgotten.

He doesn’t remember where he left his phone, and so he gets up with difficulty, moans as he sways from side to side. He has to- where is his phone?

He searches for what feels like ages. Finally he spots it, on a kitchen table, and at the same time his eyes fall on the calendar on the wall.

Oh- the meds!

He peers in closer, and there is no cross over this day. He shouldn’t- he shouldn’t forget the meds- he promised John, after all. John would worry if he didn’t take them-

He tries to count the correct amount of the pills, but it’s hard. He checks the number that Richard -Richard, that jolly fellow, a great man, such a great sport- has hand-written down. Wow- the amount is a lot bigger than Paul remembered. Or is it the same as yesterday? Paul can’t- he can’t see clearly- he doesn’t remember there being two calendars on the wall?

He counts the pills again, but gets lost in halfway. He makes a frustrated noise and almost falls down, opting for quickly sitting in a chair. He puts the medication on the table, and rolls the pills one-by-own about seven inches to the right. He laughs at the way they roll and topple over themselves, and by the time he has finished rolling all of them, he has forgotten to worry about the amount.

There is a half-filled glass of water on the table, and Paul grabs it clumsily, manages on the third attempt. He pops the pills into his mouth, two at a time, and swallows them, feeling a sense of pride for having remembered to take them. He reaches for a pen that is hanging from the calendar, and puts a cross over this day.

Oops- it went over tomorrow- that’s okay, Paul can fix it later.

He sits back, his mind blank, and stares hazily in front of him for a moment before he sees his phone again and jumps. He had to call John!

He listens to the dialling tone with his head on the table. He doesn’t know how much time goes by- John doesn’t answer. He calls again, and again, and again. He needs to talk with… John…

He feels nauseous. There is an ache in his stomach that wasn’t there before, or so he thinks. He closes his eyes for a moment, the dialling tone soothing but loud.

“Hi, sorry- I forgot to turn the sound on after work-”

Paul smiles slowly, opening his eyes. He tries to focus them on the oven, but it doesn’t work -his eyes don’t work. He chuckles at the thought.

Oh, God, he feels so tired.

Paul??

“I…” Paul starts, trails off, and smiles widely.

“You ca… you can rrrelax noww,” he says, not sure what he wanted to tell to John. The nausea is getting slightly worse- he needs to… He wants to sleep.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been silent, but John’s voice sounds really odd when the man speaks again. Paul can’t place the feeling- John’s voice is shaking, but Paul has no clue whether that’s just his own imagination.

“Have you- have you been drinking?”

Paul tries to count how many glasses it was, but fails, and bursts into giggles.

“Ssho many…” he says, and there’s a sharp intake. Paul’s eyes are falling closed- he’s so tired. He needs to go to bed. Bed. Yes-

John is saying something, but Paul interrupts him.

“Wh-hait,” he says and puts the phone on the table. He hears John call his name, the man’s tone getting louder.

Pushing against the table with both hands, he is able to get on his feet. He laughs as everything goes around for some time. God, he’s so bladdered -he needs real proper sleep.

He manages to lift the phone back to his ear, takes a step towards the hallway. He almost falls down and staggers to the left, meeting the wall with a thud.

“Ouuch,” he moans and laughs, the sounds trailing up and down uncontrollably. The phone slips down in his palm, but he manages to keep a hold of it. He corrects its position and brings it back to his ear.

“’Ello!” he calls cheerfully and tries to take a new step, supporting himself on the wall. His stomach -why is it in flames -it shouldn’t be, really-

“Please say you haven’t taken the meds? Paul, have you?!John shouts. Why is he shouting? Paul hears strange thumping sounds, like John was running down the stairs in his home.

“Yeeeaaah,” he slurs, resting his head against the wall. How is he still in the kitchen? He was supposed to get into bed. Wasn’t he just moving to go there? “’M so tiirrreed…”

“You gotta- Paul! PAUL!!”

“Ssoooo…” Paul mumbles, his forehead dragging against the wall, going downwards. He wants to… sleep- “-ti…”

“PAUL- No, no- DON’T YOU DARE- PAU -

“…rrd…”

Chapter Text

Richard’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He ignores it, his concentration on George’s words.

“…Of course I’d invite you to the wedding,” the lad says, sighing and shaking his head. “But…”

“Yeah,” Richard agrees. “Paul would know about this, then, and probably John too.”

George grimaces.

“Do you think we’ll ever be able to tell them about this?” he asks, looking slightly pained. He fixes the position of his earmuffs; a minute ago he complained that they were starting to hurt his ears, making Richard smile rather smugly.

“I hope so,” Richard says. “I’m just not sure how they will take it —either they’re fine with it, or then we’ve destroyed our friendships with them…” he trails off when the phone stops buzzing, but then starts again almost immediately.

“Hang on,” he says, George humming next to him. “I probably have to get this.”

He pulls the phone out and looks at the caller.

The good feeling he had from talking with George falls into the pit of his stomach with a thud, and suddenly he feels dread.

It’s John —and the thing about him is that he never, ever is the one to call. Before, yes, but lately…

“It’s John,” he says, his mouth drying. George stops walking, looks at him with a frown. “I- I got to—”

He presses the green button and lifts the phone to his ear, his heart beating in his throat.

“John?” he asks, and—

John is running.

His breathing is heavy, but it sounds shaky —Richard knows that sound. John is crying. His feet create a thumping sound that almost sounds like a frenzied heartbeat.

“John??” Richard calls, louder, George looking very alarmed now. “What’s wrong- John—”

“Paul,” he hears, and yes, John is definitely crying. Richard turns in his place, looking around, almost as if to look for John, to see if he was anywhere near. Cold sweat is breaking the skin of his neck, spreading over his shoulders. He shudders involuntarily.

“What? What about Paul??” he says loudly, voice higher than usual, and now George’s eyes widen. He starts to scramble his own phone out, pressing the screen with touches too forceful, cursing silently when he can’t get the password right at the first attempt.

“Took- called me- h-he—”

“Stop running and tell me!” Richard shouts, panic itching his skin, tightening around his chest. John lets out a small sound —it’s a sound of pure fear, and then it all seems to pour out in one, desperate breath, sobs breaking out at the same time, the thumping never stopping.

“He’s been drinking! Took the m-meds— he’s gone out c-cold, doesn’t answer anymore— Rings, y-ye gotta help, ye said ye’d ‘elp ‘im, Ringo—

“Is he home? Do you have the keys?? Have you called an ambulance??” Richard says, his legs almost giving up under his weight at what he hears. It’s— it’s not possible— Paul was getting better—

“I-I guess— I got the keys— h-he gave ‘em before— I-I d-didn’t call—”

“Oh, Christ,” Richard says with a gasp, then whirls around to look at George, who is holding his phone to his ear, looking anguished.

“Take the phone, keep ‘im talking,” Richard says and pushes his phone to George. “Gimme yours— Paul’s mixed alcohol and meds, he’s unconscious.”

“B-but,” George starts, his face falling, his cheeks turning white in a matter of seconds. Richard’s phone is limply in his hand, his shoulders tensing up and high. He doesn’t make a move to give his own to Richard. “Doesn’t that- doesn’t that kill—”

“YES!” Richard shouts, the urgency of the situation taking over his usual patience. “Give me your phone!!”

George acts, almost dropping his phone before giving it to him. He brings Richard’s own to his ear, looking terrified.

“What do I—” he murmurs, his hands visibly shaking.

“Keep him talking. Ask where he is,” Richard says while cutting an ongoing call to Paul with his heart aching, opens the keypad and jots down another number; a number that’ll take him straight to the ambulance without having to call 999. “Ask details— ask what happened in detail— keep him talking.”

George nods, takes a deep breath, and turns slightly away from Richard to talk. He is barely holding himself together, Richard sees.

He could be doing worse, though, and Richard is thankful to have been with the man. If he had been alone when John’s call came…

“North West Ambulance Service—” a voice answers, and Richard spurs into action.

“This is Doctor Richard Starkey. Urgent emergency in 18 Henry Street, L1 5FS, second floor, the door says McCartney. My patient has mixed alcohol and anti-depressants. He’s unconscious.”

“OK, Doctor Starkey. How long has he been unconscious?”

“At least five minutes,” Richard pushes his free hand into his pocket, trying to stop it from shaking —he is a professional, dammit! He needs to keep control, because he is the only one here who knows how to do it—

“…The ambulance is on the way and should be there in five minutes. Are you present with the patient?”

“No,” Richard says. “Another friend is on the way. He has keys.”

“What is his name?”

“John Lennon. Tell the ambulance to take him to the hospital as well —he is depressed and has attempted suicide in the past, and this is a terrible situation for him. I’ll join him as soon as possible —I’m not far away from the hospital.”

“Understood, sir… What is the name of the patient?”

“Paul McCartney,” Richard says. For some reason he feels cold —he feels like his teeth are on the verge of clattering. It’s fear, he understands, the like he has never felt before. It was another matter with John —Richard was there, he could see what the situation was. John was still awake— he was not in imminent danger, and Richard, although fearing so bad, could see that the situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Now he only knows that Paul is unconscious, and that is all. That is all. He wants to shout and scream with frustration, feels angry for knowing so little.

He waves at George, who looks at him with wide, frightened eyes.

“The ambulance takes John too,” Richard says, and George nods, starts saying it to John. It seems difficult, and he keeps repeating the same words, his voice unnecessarily loud for a normal conversation, sounding more and more scared as moments pass.

“Where is he, George, how far?” Richard asks, and George repeats the question to John. Then he lifts a hand and holds five fingers up.

“John is five minutes away,” Richard says into the phone.

“OK. I can see your work phone number from here —can we contact you with it?”

“I left the phone home —but I’ll be at the hospital in ten minutes,” he says, counting in his head. They’re in the park —it’s a five minute run to the car at maximum, and then a five-minute drive to the hospital.

“Can you give me a number where we can reach you, in any case?”

“Um, yes,” he says, and motions at George for them to turn back and start hurrying for his car. George nods, his expression heartbreaking. He is now just listening to whatever John is saying, and by the look on his face, it is not very uplifting. Richard quickly gives his personal phone number, and the operator confirms it before continuing,

The help is on the way, thank you for calling. With any new information about the situation, call us again.”

“Will do, thank you,” Richard says, and the call ends, and he and George start jogging towards the other end of the park.

“It’ll be fine, John,” George is saying into the phone. “It’ll be— you won’t lose him. You won’t.”

The silence that follows those words, since Richard can’t hear John’s response, almost makes him weep. It closes around his throat and chokes him, and he blinks away the sudden wetness in his eyes.

He feels stupid for realising only now that the amount of medicine Paul took must be much larger than what it should be —usually it wouldn’t be enough, not even with alcohol, to make one unconscious. His feet hit the ground with an increasing speed, and then they are both running as fast as they can, George still trying to hold a conversation with John.

Then George starts crying, almost stumbling over his legs, and Richard knows that John has made it in.

“Just listen to me,” the younger man says, his voice thick, tears falling down his cheeks as they run, and Richard’s heart almost stops at his next words, at what it implicates, at what John is seeing.

Again.

“John, listen— is he breathing??”

There is a beat, silence, and George sobs, Richard grabbing his arm to keep them moving.

“It’ll be fine,” George says, but Richard doesn’t know if he can believe that.

*~**~*

 

———————— Notes originally written on phone ————————

19:37 Paul in a hospital. Overdose. No known reason. Following the situation

20:15 Following the situation.

21:15 Following the situation.

21:30 John: sedatives

———————— end phone notes ————————

23:25 Got home. J and G staying at the hospital. Situation stabilised. Gonna catch a wink and get back.

5:15 back at the hospital. Couldn’t sleep much. No change in Paul, for better or worse.

John hasn’t slept. Had to tell him about me and George. No reaction. Either in shock or doesn’t care?

Can’t do this. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I feel like I let everyone down. Writing more later, when I can think.

 

 

 

He was getting better?

*~**~*

 

Paul opens his eyes, and sees John.

He knows it’s John, even though he can barely see. He feels like he would know John anywhere, really —ever since the beginning there has been something in the man that has made it impossible for Paul to forget him.

It is hard to breathe, as if there was something heavy sitting on his chest. It’s like the water is back in his ears; there are no sounds, except for his own breathing, and a weird, annoying beeping that seems to float inside Paul’s head. He wants it to go away, but it doesn’t — he has no control over it.

He can see John’s fuzzy form, but it is definitely not clear —is Paul under water?

He doesn’t understand.

He has no memory of falling. He doesn’t even feel like he has —he doesn’t feel mentally heavy. But physically it feels like he has lost a grip again, has gone back to where he used to be. His thoughts are moving slowly, and he tries to get a clear view into his memories in vain, to somehow find out what has happened to him.

He doesn’t know where he is, and why John is there. He wants to talk, wants to move, but there is something that stops him from doing both things. His body feels tired, and like it was chained to the mattress, invisible shackles tight around his wrists.

He wonders whether he’s dead.

Has he finally fucked up so bad that he has ended up where he didn’t want to go? (He wanted to go. He didn’t want to die. How to separate those two, he doesn’t know. But he never wanted death itself.) Isn’t this the kind of a feeling you could have? But then again he’s breathing, and with each inhale the heavy feeling in his chest becomes lighter.

He blinks, slowly, sluggish, and tries to say John’s name. It comes out as a noise, an embarrassing, groggy sound that doesn’t resemble anything —it’s like the muscles in his mouth are numb.

John turns his head, and Paul’s sight sharpens enough after another blink, the outer sides of his view blurry, but otherwise clear enough for him to see.

John stares at him, and there is a fleeting moment where Paul manages to see a glimpse of exhausted passivity in his expression before it becomes rage.

Paul doesn’t understand.

“Mmgfrlt,” he says, his tongue feeling swollen. He tries to look around, to see where they are, but he can only see John, wearing a white t-shirt, looking like he has been crying, not sleeping, and like he is furious with Paul.

Paul the beeping noise never ceases to penetrate his ears, and he sees a white curtain behind John, but he doesn’t know what those things mean. He can’t think.

And then John’s voice breaks out, clear and sharp through the water in his ears, and Paul finds out it wasn’t water at all —the room was just silent, aside from his breathing and the beeping, as John’s words are said with a broken intonation, and tears start forming in his eyes.

“What the FUCK were you thinking?!?” he more or less yells, and Paul flinches slowly, wants to pull back and away from John, but he can’t move. He just stares, and tries to ask what exactly it is that he did, but it only comes out as another sound.

He stares with horror slowly forming in his stomach how tears start running down John’s cheeks, and the man lets out a strangled noise, presses his hands against his face tightly. He seems to curl into himself, his shoulders twitching as he does his best to hold back tears. Paul’s heart is aching and he tries to speak, and this time he isn’t sure whether his speechlessness is because of whatever is ailing him, or of the scene playing out in front of him.

“You—” John starts, and shudders, sucks in a breath, turning away. He makes gasping noises, pain pouring out of him in the form of unwanted tears. “Y—”

And then he turns back to Paul, his movements looking forced and stiff, and he speaks, his voice thick, broken:

“You couldn’t just leave me like that!” he says, the words pushing out quickly, and the moment they are out he breaks down into sobs, pressing his arms against his eyes, body jerking violently. He does not want to cry; it’s in every ounce of his body language. It is in the way his shoulders tense and shake right afterwards, and it is in the way the corners of his mouth turn down as heartbreaking sounds leave his throat. The tears drop down from his chin as he almost doubles over, his t-shirt stretching over his back, hands quivering.

Paul opens his mouth, his vision blurring as he feels tears fill his eyes, his chest tearing in two, because John isn’t supposed to cry like this —John isn’t supposed to cry. John is not supposed to feel this much pain… He’s had enough of that. Paul doesn’t want John to feel this bad —and it is Paul’s fault, because he’s done something, and John is so angry with him, and Paul tries to remember what he did so that he can apologise—

—And then suddenly there is movement behind John. The curtain is pulled open and a hazy figure comes forward, accompanied by others as well, and Paul can’t see John anymore, his sight disappearing as more tears come. He tries to complain, tries to call John, but he can’t, and he doesn’t understand.

Somebody is wiping his eyes with a soft cloth, talking to him gently, but his mind is swirling too hard for him to understand what he’s hearing. It’s not like John’s voice that tore through his ears like a chainsaw, clear and loud, unforgiving and relentless.

“Nnh,” he tries to call John, wants him back, and someone hushes him. Paul wants to tell them off, but his mind is feeling heavier as the seconds pass, and his body is melting into the bed, blackness reaching into his sight of view. There is something soothing in the way the cloth passes over his eyes and forehead, again and again, repeating the same pattern.

He feels tired.

Somehow that thought alarms him and his breathing stops momentarily. He inhales deeply, blinks rapidly to get rid of the tears, and ends up squeezing his eyes shut, the cloth wiping away a few tears that gather into the corners of his eyes. He ends up breathing heavily, like a marathon runner, but he feels like he is never able to stop running.

He wants to stop, wants this to end, and somehow that thought is all it takes for his tears to diminish.

He opens his eyes and looks into the tired eyes of Richard, a blue cloth in the man’s hand, a white jacket on resting on his shoulders, open from the front. Underneath it are clothes Paul has seen on him many a time —it almost seems like he has come to work in his home clothes and has just thrown the white jacket over them.

“Hello, Paul,” Richard greets, and his voice oozes exhaustion and relief, his expression shaky. “You gave us a real scare there.”

Paul stares at him, and doesn’t say anything, doesn’t dare to question, because he fears the answer.

He closes his eyes and inhales deeply, and Richard’s cloth passes over his eyes again, and somehow his chest feels slightly less heavy after that.

*~**~*

 

“How much do you remember?” Richard asks. He is alone with Paul, sitting in a chair next to Paul’s bed. Paul knows now that he is in a hospital. How he got there is still unclear, but he has managed to put together some pieces. He doesn’t know what to think.

John was taken away, and hasn’t been seen since. It’s been only a half an hour or so, and since Paul seemed to be “waking up quite well”, the other doctor left with the nurses. Richard said something to them about it being easier for Paul if there weren’t too many strange people in the room, and Paul has to agree; he doesn’t think he could handle someone unknown demanding to know what happened.

Paul would not mind having John there, though. He needs to see the man —every fibre in his body is screaming for him. Paul needs John, needs to see that he is alright, has to tell him that Paul is fine, that Paul is not leaving him. (And maybe also that he loves him, but Paul doesn’t know whether he is ready for that. That would mean giving his heart out to John, opening his chest, and if John chose to raise a gun to his heart instead of embracing him, Paul would die. He would die.)

“Nothing,” Paul says, avoiding Richard’s gaze, keeping his eyes on the white ceiling. Why is everything white anyway? It unnerves Paul for reasons he can’t explain — it’s too calm, too pure, so unlike from Paul’s mind which is dissolving and spinning, slowly becoming a black mess of pain and confusion.

“Nothing?” Richard presses on, leaning forward and clasping his hands together between his knees. He is keeping his eyes on Paul for once, not giving him space to run away. Paul guesses this is so important that he can’t run, now.

“I can remember the morning,” Paul says slowly, not daring to delve into his memories too deeply. He is afraid, feels fear tie around his chest like an icy rope. Whatever it was that made him… do whatever it is that he did, it started with him, with his mind, and maybe, if Paul doesn’t reach for those memories, he will never do it again, will never cause pain like this again to the people he loves.

“And nothing else?” Richard asks, his voice more stern than usually. His face looks like it is made of wax — there is the same kind of stiffness. He looks so tired, and Paul shakes his head, guilt gnawing his insides.

“Nothing else,” he says, and his voice is feeble. He feels his hands shaking slightly.

Richard sighs so lightly that Paul almost doesn’t hear it, but he catches it, and feels his stomach drop. Should he try to remember, so that Richard can help him prevent it from happening again, so that Richard wouldn’t be disappointed in him? Paul knows that he was feeling good — he knows that he felt good this morning. Or is it yesterday morning, now? Or the day before? He doesn’t know.

“What… what did I do?” he asks, slowly, quietly. Richard lifts his hands up to his face and rubs his eyes. He looks exhausted, dead on his feet, and Paul- he— there is so much guilt—

“You… you, well,” Richard says, his voice losing its strength. It is like he is looking for the best way to say what Paul did, and Paul feels even more terrified, now. How could he have— he was doing so good.

“You called John in the evening,” Richard says, lowering his hands and looking at Paul. Suddenly Paul can’t look away from him, and drinks in every word the man says, even though he feels weaker with every passing moment. “You had been drinking, and apparently quite a lot.”

“But…” Paul starts, remembering Richard’s words from when he was first introduced to the meds. “I wasn’t supposed to,” he says, and feels stupid right afterwards, thinks that he sounds childish, but he can’t think of anything else to say. His mind is still mushy, and it is becoming hard to think again. Why would he drink? Why would he be so stupid?

“Yeah,” Richard says, his eyes drilling into Paul’s. “You weren’t. There was also an extra amount of meds in your blood —seems that you’ve taken roughly thrice as much as you should.”

Paul opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. There is a lump in his throat, and he almost thinks that he is going to cry, but it doesn’t happen.

He is not sure whether he is hearing right, or whether he understands well enough.

“So— so I,” he stutters, feeling breathless. Richard looks at him, sadness creeping into his eyes.

“You could’ve died. You almost did,” Richard says, and Paul feels like he is falling backwards, even though he is well and surely on the bed already. The room seems to be turning over, and he presses a hand over his eyes, a small, hopeless sound escaping his throat.

“Fortunately you were on the phone with John, and we could get the ambulance to you quickly enough. But inarguably there were a couple of hours where we… we didn’t know whether you’d make it.” Richard’s voice is soft and careful, and Paul feels the man’s hand press on top of his shoulder. Paul anchors himself to that feeling, to someone being there with him, holding him together. Richard has always managed to do that, even better than John, because Richard is Paul’s anchor. John is like a wave that tries to whisk him away to the open sea, but Richard keeps him in his place, again and again.

Paul wishes John could be that anchor… or that he could be John’s, that he could be the rock that breaks John’s movement, prevent the other man from drifting away.

He guesses that he has fucked up that wish now, too.

“I don’t… I don’t think you would just go and drink without a reason,” Richard says quietly, squeezing Paul’s shoulder tightly, almost as if he in turn is trying to find more strength from Paul, from knowing that he is alive. “So something must have happened —something really bad —something that has nothing to do with John.”

“I—” Paul says, scrambles for words, his voice cutting off in the favour of breathing. “I don’t—”

“It’s okay,” Richard says quickly, harsher than he usually would. He must be more stressed than what it seems like. “You have time. I just wanna prevent it from happening again.”

“John— is he okay, though?” Paul gasps, lifts his hand and looks at Ringo in the eye. His lower lip quivers as he thinks of John, of the way he cried, just out of pure relief. Paul gets it now —understands John’s reaction, but it doesn’t feel any easier. If anything, it hurts even more.

Richard takes too long to answer the question, and then he just sighs, shaking his head slightly, his shoulders heavy, his expression too drained for the young man he still is.

“It’s been a hard few days for all of us,” he mutters, avoiding answering Paul’s question. Paul isn’t interested in anyone else but John, now, but Richard isn’t giving him details.

“George is working now,” Richard then says, and then suddenly clamps his mouth shut, a guilty expression passing over his face fleetingly. Paul frowns, holds Richard’s stare.

“He- um, he’s been around,” Richard then says, blinks, and shifts his gaze away. “But when it was finally apparent that you’d make it, yesterday evening, he had to go back to work.”

Paul stares at him, hard, not understanding the way Richard acts, but then only nods.

Then he thinks about George, and his confusion turns into a small cry of pain, and suddenly sobs are pushing through.

“Oh, God…” he moans, and tears start falling, more sobs escaping his open mouth freely. “George…”

He feels overwhelmed with the feeling of sadness and guilt washing over him. He cries, because George has been there, has been looking at him, not knowing whether Paul is going to open his eyes again. The one thing Paul wasn’t supposed to do — the one thing that kept him here in his darkest moments was the thought of how George’s face would twist in horror if he heard about Paul… going…

But that exact thing has happened, and he has hurt George so bad, and Paul cries because it hurts.

“He’s fine,” Richard is saying, but he doesn’t, can’t understand the amount of grief Paul feels. Something has been destroyed in Paul and George’s friendship —George will never be able to look at Paul again without thinking of the fear he must have felt. He will always carry it in his heart, always look at Paul differently than before, because he almost lost him.

He will look at Paul like Richard looks at John, and Paul cries at the realisation, at the pain he knows will be visible in George’s eyes, because it’s in Richard’s, even now. He tries in vain to stop himself from letting out small wails, and in the end can’t.

Richard doesn’t question, but stands, and pulls Paul into his arms, and Paul cries into his shoulder, his head spinning, and he cries for everything he’s lost.

It was too much already, but he never wanted to lose that carefree glint in George’s eyes.

It will never come back the way it used to be.

*~**~*

 

George takes one look at him, and bursts into tears. He throws himself at Paul, and just hugs him, tighter than ever before, and Paul feels like the man is never letting go. He doesn’t want George to do that, though; he entwines his fingers into George’s shirt, and breathes in the man’s scent, feels tears burn his eyes.

“H-h-how c-could you???” George says through his sobs, broken, and Paul doesn’t know what he should answer, how could he say anything about how he’s feeling. He knows that George left his work the moment he heard that Paul had woken up — there is still no sign of John, and Paul’s stomach is restless. He would at least like to know where John is, because it can’t be more important than being here with Paul.

“I didn’t… I didn’t mean it,” he says, faintly, his words sounding lame even to his own ears. George let’s out an angry, loud noise against his shirt, his arms holding Paul tighter.

“Fuck you, Paul,” he cries. “Fuck you.”

It is funny how Paul’s mind seems to have become something completely else between this moment and what he used to be before. He feels… clear-headed. It’s like he has finally understood something that he didn’t before, but what exactly, he doesn’t know. But he feels… fresh. Normal. Shocked, but… normal.

Maybe this was exactly the kick he needed to get back.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles against George’s shoulder, biting back his own tears. “I’m an arse.”

“You bloody fuckin’ are,” George hisses and pulls back, looks at him with painful anger. Paul bites his lip, avoiding George’s gaze. He can’t look into the man’s eyes, can’t see the hurt in his them, the remains of fear that are still present.

Silence descends, where George wipes his eyes, and Paul stares at the wall, feeling terrible. He guesses that it’s better than feeling indifferent, but… he would still prefer not to feel at the moment.

George swallows, hiccups one time, coughs, and then settles himself better on the edge of the bed, staring down at his hands, quiet and subdued. He takes a few deep breaths, his fingers curling against each other, his body visibly shivering.

“I called Mike,” he says then, and Paul’s stomach drops in a very unpleasant way. He feels anger for a moment, but then realises that it’s stupid — Mike is his brother, so of course he has to be informed about things like, like… like Paul almost dying.

“He’s in Sweden,” George says and turns his head slightly to look at Paul carefully. “Apparently been living there for a few months already. He said he’d sent you an email, since you had told him not to call.”

Paul feels a small surge of guilt, starting from the bottom of his stomach, raising as an ugly feeling into his throat. He blinks several times, wanting strangely to let out some kind of a sound, or curl up into a ball, to hold something tightly —anything to express the emotion slashing inside him.

“He said that he’s getting plane tickets as soon as he can, and, um. Your dad too,” George says, and Paul starts crying.

He doesn’t even know anymore what he feels, and why.

*~**~*

After he’s calmed down, they speak. Paul hesitates a lot, but he sees that George needs it. For the moment, he is ready to do pretty much anything to ease the man’s pain — even talk about things he doesn’t want to.

“I thought you were getting better,” George mumbles, hands clasped together between his knees, not looking at Paul. Paul sighs, feels an urge to shrug.

“I thought so too,” he says quietly. “I can’t remember what happened.”

George looks up at him, and then lets his head drop down with a sigh.

“Ringo said that a memory loss is normal,” he says, and Paul glances at him sharply. There is something in those words that bother him — he just can’t say what exactly it is.

“Did he say anything about me remembering again at some point?” Paul asks, his stomach turning into nervous knots. George sighs and nods.

“It’s not very likely,” he says quietly. “But the real danger is that you… you’d get triggered about the same thing again, and do this again.”

“I’d never,” Paul says quickly, shaking his head fervently. “George, I’d never— I will never do this again—”

“So it was definitely an accident?” George interrupts him, and Paul clamps his mouth shut.

How can he promise not to do it again, if it was an accident in the first place?

Paul thinks it was an accident.

“What happened?” he asks, hesitantly, his thumbs brushing against each other where his hands are laying on top of the bed cover. He feels invalid, and it frustrates him —he isn’t allowed to leave the bed yet, while it is all he wants to do. His skin itches to get up, if only to go and find John.

Paul needs him, now, and he knows that John needs him as well. Why are they keeping him away from the room? He hopes John hasn’t been acting violently, even though he wouldn’t put it past the man either.

George looks at him carefully, starting to gnaw on his lower lip. He fidgets slightly, inhales deeply.

“Um, well. You… you called John,” he starts, his voice so quiet that Paul has to strain his ears to hear. “You’d been drinking. And you passed out during the call —he called Ringo in panic.”

“What did I say?” Paul breathes, something uncomfortable ghosting over his temples. It is like a memory, but he can’t grasp it, and it doesn’t quite touch him. It feels cold, makes a shiver go through his spine, and he tries to push the feeling away without succeeding. It gets stuck into the back of his head, licking his mind like freezing flames, and something red seems to descend over his eyes for a second before that, too, is gone, settling just out of reach.

“You..” George pauses, and his voice tightens, “You said that… he doesn’t have to worry anymore. That’s really the only thing. We don’t know what you meant.”

He turns his eyes on Paul, their usual soft brown colour looking colder than usually, joy and life having left them. George looks tired as well, not as much as Richard had, but there is exhaustion in his features, itched deep.

Slowly, Paul shakes his head.

“I don’t know what I could’ve meant,” he says, and something seems to die in George’s gaze —hope that they would get some answers, that they would learn how to stop Paul from almost killing himself… by accident.

“I’m sorry,” Paul mumbles, because he doesn’t know what else to say. George looks at him quietly, and then sighs.

“It’s okay,” he says, even though his expression says otherwise. “Just concentrate on getting back to shape.”

“Can—” Paul starts, and cuts himself off. He looks down at his hands, and slowly presses one thumb nail against the other thumb’s skin. The small pain seems to spread through his hand, trickling towards his wrist, and it helps him keep his emotions at bay.

“Can John come in?” he asks, quietly, voice fragile, and he tries not to seem too hopeful when he looks up at George. The man is watching him, and instead of the displeasure Paul has learnt to associate John’s name with when it comes to George, now there is only sadness, and pain, and Paul wonders just what happened to make George look like that.

The silence lasts for what feels like ages, and then George sighs.

“If you’re ready for it.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Paul says, frowning slightly. George hesitates.

“We thought it’d be best to keep him out of here in case… in case it was him that caused all this. He says it wasn’t him, but… even he isn’t sure.”

Paul feels something hot surge through him, and he realises it’s anger. At the same time it is grief — if John has been blaming himself for what happened, for something that couldn’t be his fault… John was making him better! Paul was feeling better than ever since Jane, and they— they thought it was him— they’ve been keeping John away because of that?? When he is the only person Paul really wants to see, needs to have by his side, and—

“There is no way,” he says, and his voice is seething, his eyes aflame, and George looks at him in wonder, “that it would’ve been John. It was not him. So for fuck’s sake, let him in!”

George presses his lips tightly together, his expression wavering, and his eyes become glassy with tears filling them up again.

“Yeah,” he says after a pause, and nods, gets up. “Yeah, I’m letting him in. D’you wanna sit up for that?”

“Yeah,” Paul says, and then, after a pause, adds with a quieter voice, “Been lying about too much.”

George looks like he almost would smile at that, but instead he just comes closer and helps Paul up, into a sitting position. His hold on Paul is tight whenever they touch, and then, as if not being able to keep himself for doing that, he sits next to Paul, looks at him quietly. He seems reluctant to go, and Paul understands, would have nothing against George staying if it wasn’t for John waiting to get in.

“I almost fear,” George starts, his voice quiet, his tone seeming to belittle his feelings, as if they were something stupid and not valid, “that the moment I leave, you just… go.”

Paul looks at him, his chest tearing in two again, and he reaches out a hand to wrap it around George’s stomach, and the man leans into his touch, turns to hug him properly. They hold each other tightly, and Paul feels George shudder against him, take in deep breaths to contain his emotions. Paul doesn’t fare much better —he can’t understand the amount of fear George must have felt, but he knows that he is never going to give the man the same feeling again. Paul is going to get better, no matter what, and he is not giving up.

He knows he thought the same before, but… this time it’s different. This time the determination is real.

“I’m not gonna go,” he says, doesn’t blame George, and doesn’t mind the man crying quietly against Paul’s shoulder.

It takes a while for George to collect himself again, and he pulls away when he’s succeeded, eyes red and tear-lines on his cheeks. He glances at Paul, his gaze miserable, and then sighs.

“Guess I’m gonna have to invite the man of your dreams in. But my God, you do have a bad taste,” he says and claps his hands against his thighs, blinks rapidly a few times. Paul presses his lips tightly together, not wanting to comment on George’s words. But he can’t help it, feels like he needs to say it, so that George understands.

“Geo—” he starts, his breath catching in his throat before he continues, voice shaking, his chest just full of pain, for a reason that it unknown to him —but the thought hurts, because he can’t escape it, can’t turn away anymore, not now.

“I— I love him.”

George looks at him, and stands up. His face is unreadable, until he smiles, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Yeah,” he says. “…Yeah. I’ll go fetch him. I’ll be back later.”

He turns, and walks away, and Paul has a feeling George is gonna disappear the moment he steps out of the door, which is a ridiculous thought really, but… why does it feel like a goodbye?

He knows the reason though, and George does too.

George isn’t the most important person to Paul anymore, and it’s funny that the thought hurts this much.

George closes the door, and John opens it.

*~**~*

 

John steps in, walks across the room and stops to stand next to Paul’s bed. His eyes are bloodshot, hair messy, and there is a frown between his eyebrows that doesn’t seem to be going away. His posture has collapsed, his shoulders hanging low, the dark patches under his eyes telling of sleepless nights.

He looks at Paul, his gaze broken, and Paul, overwhelmed with emotions, starts crying silently, tears running down his cheeks a few at a time.

John looks so tired.

Paul reaches out a hand with shaking fingers, needs to touch John, needs to have the man touching him, but John doesn’t respond to it— instead he turns slightly to sit down on the same chair where he was when Paul woke up. His body is tense, his gaze avoiding Paul’s, hands clasped between his knees. Paul can see his fingers trembling, and he doesn’t understand why John is not taking his hand— Paul is offering it to John, and offering his whole heart, and John should just take Paul’s hand, because Paul needs—

He doesn’t want John to hide anymore, but he isn’t sure whether he can get John out of his shell —whether anyone can, or is it too late for the man. It can’t —it surely can’t, but Paul can’t tell whether almost losing him was the last straw for John.

Is the man already gone?

“John,” he says softly, and John’s lower lip starts trembling, his gaze otherwise blank. He won’t look up, and Paul is part glad about that —his crying doesn’t seem to be ending, and he doesn’t know why exactly the tears don’t stop, why they keep running down his cheeks stubbornly. Maybe it is relief of finally seeing John —maybe it is just his frightening need towards the man that he cannot control, that is now manifesting in the form of unstoppable tears until John is his, completely, irreversibly.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Paul says, his voice shaking now, sobs threatening to leave his throat. John’s face could be made out of wax, and for a moment Paul wants to punch him— here he is, once again breaking down in front of John, needing John, and all John does is stare at his hands, expressionless, as if Paul didn’t matter at all. He wants emotion — wants to see inside.

“It was an accident,” he says firmly, wanting to drill that thought into John’s brain so deeply that it never leaves. “I didn’t—”

“So you remember what happened?”

Paul quiets down at John’s sudden question, his mouth snapping shut. John never looks up at him, and if Paul hadn’t heard the man’s voice he wouldn’t have been able to tell if he had spoken or not —it looked like John’s lips never moved, through the blur that the tears have created into his eyes.

He pauses, breathes in, and shakes his head slowly.

“But I know it wasn’t you,” he says, voice so full of trust and longing that John looks up, meets his gaze briefly before his eyes fall back down. Paul is starting to shake now— his hand is still reaching out towards John, just waiting to be touched, to be claimed by the man who owns it, owns all of Paul by now.

Paul wants to own John, too. But he isn’t sure whether he’ll ever get there.

“You called me,” John says then, and Paul sucks in a small breath. John’s voice sounds ashen, broken into a million pieces, but emotionless at the same time, as if everything in him was dead. Paul’s spine goes cold at that sound — he has never heard anything similar to it.

“I ran to your flat. And you were- you were unconscious, and didn’t respond to anything I did… or said,” John continues, his tone getting smaller and smaller as moments pass, Paul’s hand frozen between them, and Paul is frozen. “Didn’t know if you’d make it. I thought- thought you wouldn’t—” John’s voice changes for the first time, a small crack tearing it apart. “And I- I keep wonderin’ what I did wrong this time, why I can’t get it right—”

His fingers jerk, his head lowering, his shoulders quivering. Paul’s chest is being torn open, even though he doesn’t understand what John means by saying “this time”— but he can feel the pain that John is feeling, can see how physical it is, how John is hurting, and Paul has done nothing to help him— has only made things worse.

“John—” he starts, the sound choking and disappearing in his throat, but John doesn’t look up, only rests where he is, beaten and broken, his body trembling with concealed pain. The silence lasts for a long time, John’s breathing getting harsh, Paul shaking with the want to touch the man.

And then everything seems to pour out of John, the gates opening with words flooding out, and Paul can’t escape the wave that comes, and he feels like he is drowning— because John is finally, finally letting him in, and Paul understands those few previous times meant nothing compared to this, because John is giving him everything.

And Paul sees finally how broken the man is, and he understands.

“I… had a boyfriend. He fell in love,” John says, never looking up, voice empty. Paul feels a flare of jealousy, can’t believe he hasn’t heard about this before, but he kills the feeling by concentrating on John’s words. “It was a German girl who was already engaged to someone— no chances at all. She left, and he stayed with me. He would’ve followed her— but didn’t wanna do it to me. Didn’t want- didn’t want to leave me, out of compassion, out of love—” the man’s tone becomes angry, fingers clutching at each other in a white grip. Paul’s mind is hitting his forehead, empty and useless, the words turning all around in his head, and even though he hears them, understands them, it is difficult to comprehend what exactly John is telling.

It has all been in there for all this time, but only now John stops hiding.

“But he went- he was gone. I- I didn’t matter anymore, and he started taking more drugs,” John’s voice becomes strangled, and there is dread in Paul’s stomach, his hand slowly starting to descend towards the bed before he stubbornly forces it up again, desperately still tries to get contact with John, without giving up. He is never giving up anymore— he swears it. And now it feels like John needs him more than anything, anyone, more than ever, but Paul realises with a lurch that all this happened a year ago— and John has carried these thoughts within him, never forgetting, has suffered all this time, and it is painfully clear now.

“I came home one day,” John says, and his voice falls into a whisper, and Paul is terrified, his heart beating up in his throat. “And he- he was just lying on the floor, and— he was dead.”

Paul sobs, and John’s face twists with pain, tears falling free. He is shaking from head to toe, hands desperately trying to keep each other still. Paul almost leans towards him to grab him and drag the man on the bed, but he can’t do that yet —his body still feels weak, and his mind is too blurry to act on his thoughts.

“Do you—” he starts, and John looks up, their eyes meeting, and Paul flinches at the rawness of John’s face, at the broken expression he can see through his own tears. “Do you think h-he- he did it on purpose?”

Silence falls, but John doesn’t look away. He looks at Paul, and there is fear in his eyes, tears slowly trickling down his cheeks. As far as Paul knows, John has never spoken about this to anyone. That is what Richard said, and… it must be the same as it was for Paul when he admitted that he was depressed. Saying it out loud makes it real, and John— John is probably holding onto the last bit of hope he has left that it wasn’t on purpose.

Paul doesn’t dare to think that John has had to go through the same scene twice, now.

“I- I can’t be sure,” John breathes, a frightening, hurtful uncertainty in his expression, and the man lowers his gaze back to his hands abruptly. “But- I- t-think he might’ve—”

And he bursts into sobs, the sound tearing through the air like a gun has gone off. At the same time it tears through Paul’s flesh like a bullet, and Paul shakes at the intensity of the feelings that he can hear in John’s crying. At the same time his own feelings are breaking him inside, because for John to have lived with these thoughts for a year — probably blaming himself as well, for letting it go so far, for not seeing the signs… For not being there earlier, or for not letting Stuart go to his new love.

John sobs, and then suddenly grasps for Paul’s hand, bringing it closer to his chest, his body jerking with sobs. And he looks at Paul, his expression twisted into a painful grimace, and he seems to physically force his next words out.

“And I t-thought- I thought you’d t-too,” he says, and Paul shakes his head, hiccups with the tears gathering in his throat, his fingers squeezing John’s hand like it is the only lifeline he has left before he drowns. He has nothing he can say —there are no words left for him to say, after everything he’s heard.

So many things make sense, now. John makes sense. Paul has finally cracked that final part of the puzzle, and he can see the man in front of him clearly. There are no secrets left in John — the man is weeping, clutching at Paul’s fingers with both of his hands, doubling over with the sobs. He is stripped bare of curtains, the walls having crumbled down.

Paul thinks he is beautiful. And he understands. So many things.

But there are questions, things that are burning in his chest, and he doesn’t know how to get them out. He doesn’t know what he can say, with John crying like that —except…

“I wouldn’t leave you,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. John lets out a desperate, small noise, his hold of Paul’s hand tightening. “I’m never gonna leave you, John.”

He knows what those words mean —he is tied now. There is no escape from the other man, no matter how bad he might make Paul feel. But it- it isn’t his fault. No, because John has gone through all that, seen a man he loved lie on the ground, lifeless— twice, now, and doesn’t that make Paul feel guilty.

He wonders whether it is the same for John as it is for George — can John ever look at him again without seeing a reflection of Paul’s unconscious form behind his eyelids, feeling the same pain over and over again?

“I- I couldn’t- c-couldn’t s-save him,” John cries, each new sob hitting Paul’s body like another bullet. “Can’t- can’t lose you too.”

“I’m- I’m not going,” Paul says, helplessly, unable to tear his eyes away from John. And he can’t think, his head spinning, and the only thing in his world is John, and the man’s pain, and he needs to make it go away.

He needs it so bad that he does the irreversible, doesn’t think, and the words push out of his mouth without him being able to comprehend that he is saying them, and he opens his chest, ready for John to crush him any moment.

“I love you,” he says, and sucks in a breath right afterwards, and John does the same, his head shooting up, body tensing.

They stare at each other, and the silence is killing Paul, and he can- he can see the emotions in John’s eyes, raging so pure and open, and there is fear— there is so much fear. The man is terrified, and pain withers in Paul’s chest as the tight hold of John’s hands starts loosening.

John looks away, his widened eyes falling on the ground, his face pale. It looks like he is in a shock, unable to really process what Paul said, and the tears have disappeared — Paul killed them, and he hopes he hasn’t wiped away all of John’s feelings at the same time.

Then, the man’s voice comes out, small and shaky, and so afraid that Paul’s heart breaks just hearing it.

“You… you shouldn’t.”

Paul frowns, but John isn’t finished —he’s doing what Paul feared, Paul realises with a lurch in his stomach. He is not letting Paul love him, but… Paul understands. John is… John is afraid of losing him. He can’t say it back, can’t admit to himself that he… he might feel the same, because then losing Paul would hurt even more.

Every time that John has pulled away — has it always been about John being scared to love Paul?

“Don’t,” Paul says silently, feeling new tears gather in the corners of his eyes, blurring his sight once again. “John.”

John looks at him, and his expression is broken before he shakes his head, lowers his eyes again. His hold is getting limp, and Paul is frightened.

 “It… it’d be better if I stayed away from you.” John mumbles.

Paul stares, and stares, and takes in John’s white face, his downcast eyes, the hunch in his shoulders, the pain in his posture, and he turns his hand in John’s hold. John’s fingers drop away, and Paul’s hand is free, and Paul is free, has no obligations to John.

He could walk away, and never come back, he could live his life without the uncertainty that John brings. He could be free.

His hand twitches away from John’s hand, and John lifts his eyes, alarmed, looks at Paul with a fearful expression. Paul holds his hand in the air, staring at John without words, and then—

He grabs John’s hand. He wraps his own fingers tightly around the man’s, drilling his gaze into his eyes. John’s breath comes out in one big exhale, and Paul can almost feel the relief that momentarily radiates from the man.

Paul is not going away. He isn’t giving up, not anymore. It is simple defiance —Paul is not letting John destroy this, destroy himself, and them. John deserves better, and so does Paul, and Paul is going to give that to them. He knows that John might never say the words Paul needs to hear —he might never be the man Paul needs him to be, but Paul is ready to try. His mind is clear, and the darkness that has been lurking around his head for months is gone, and he is not giving up on John.

“Don’t even think about that,” Paul says, and his tone is confident, even though more tears keep falling. John stares at him, glances down at their joined hands, and looks like he is on the verge of crying again. “I wouldn’t be able to live.”

Paul knows it. He doesn’t want to lose John, every ounce in his body screams for him to keep a hold of the man. He would never be able to leave John behind, not in the way he has finally left… Jane.

His breath stops for a second, and strange, black dread falls into the pit of his stomach. He is left confused, feelings churning in his chest. Why does Jane’s name cause such a storm inside of him? He thought- he thought he’d be over that feeling, and he hasn’t had it in a while— not since she… she wasn’t in his fridge anymore.

John frowns, looks at him carefully, his gaze slightly alarmed. And for some reason, Paul knows immediately why —John notices that something is wrong. And he… he always has, hasn’t he? Since the beginning, he’s been watching Paul, has noticed when things aren’t how they’re supposed to be, because he is the same, and even when the thought should make Paul spiral down, like it did, once… it doesn’t. He only feels relief, and his heartbeat that had accelerated at the thought of Jane starts slowing down. John is meant for him, Paul is terribly sure about it; and he is meant for John, and he wishes that they would’ve met each other before this. Maybe, if they had known each other before everything went to hell, they would’ve made it together.

Paul is not going to let John go, no matter what the man says. He needs to have a future, and he needs to have it with John.

“I only hurt those that I… care ‘bout,” John says, quietly, Paul straining his ears to hear every word. “I can’t- I can’t- control- the- depression,” he chokes, pushes the words out forcefully, drops his head so that it hangs low between his shoulders, and Paul knows how difficult it must be for him to say that, to admit it to Paul. “I… I was getting better. But I’ve never… never got back,” he glances at Paul painfully, his fingers holding Paul’s tightly, now seeking support from them. “Never properly. So how could I do it now? I need to- I need to be better than her. I need to give you more, and at the moment, I can’t.”

“We’ll get better together,” Paul murmurs. “We’re not alone anymore, right? Right, John?” His tone takes a desperate note, and he needs John to admit it, and moreover, to accept it.

John sits silently for a while, and then he sighs, his shoulders hunching, and he nods.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess.”

Silence falls, and their hands hold each other tightly. Paul’s insides are churning —not saying anything gives him space to think, and his thoughts have immediately turned to Jane. He doesn’t know why his stomach lurches every time he thinks about her, because— wasn’t he doing fine? Or did almost dying change something in his head, opened a dam, and now feelings that are usually hidden behind a carefully constructed wall are flowing out without a stop?

Red hair flows around her face, falling on her shoulders, like rain pouring down from the sky with the sun still shining, beautiful, ageless, warm, and free, and Jane’s laughter is in his ears, her eyes filled with hate and disgust, her hand already belonging to another

His face doesn’t give away any emotions. John is not looking at him, and the only sign of Paul’s thoughts is the graphic in the heart monitor getting wilder. Richard turned off the sound because Paul asked for it, the beeping getting on his nerves. Now the only thing that remains is the monitor’s screen, and John doesn’t seem to notice it, but the graphic itches Paul’s brain, forcing it’s way into his eyes, a reminder of what he did… And why he did it.

He closes his eyes, and breathes deeply through his nose, his chest rising up and down as his mind is falling apart. He squeezes John’s hand slightly, and suddenly it feels like it is the only thing tying Paul to reality — because he remembers.

He feels hate. Unbelievable hatred fills him from the inside, the kind he has never felt before — he has hated Jane, but not really, never like this. This hate goes so deep it becomes rage, and Paul feels like he is being swallowed by flames. It hurts, and Jane could as well be standing next to the bed, stabbing him right into his chest repeatedly, for the feeling is the same.

He saw her.

He stares at John’s fingers that are entwined with his, and then the hate flares into another dimension, a thought pushing against his eyes with pulsing heat, his heart feeling like it is about to burst from all the feelings he has.

Jane almost destroyed him and John. She almost did it, with one look, one arch of an eyebrow, one sneer, and Paul could have died just now, and it would’ve been her fault. And John would’ve been left alone with this pain, and Paul has no doubts about it…

John would have probably died after some time, too, making sure his fourth attempt did not fail. Jane almost destroyed both of them, and the future they could have together, and Paul feels hate, instead of longing, and pain. Those two emotions have been associated with Jane’s name before, but now the pain he feels is for John, and the longing is for their future, and Jane’s name only brings him on the brink of strangling her.

Paul isn’t sure whether it is positive development, and he has to talk about it with Richard. He doesn’t want to think about Jane now — this moment is for him and John, and Jane better keep out of it. He pushes the though, the memory of her away, concentrates on the man in front of him, the man he loves, and he is not letting Jane come back any time soon… He’ll do that in a safe environment, where he can talk with Richard about it, where he can make sure that nothing else than crying happens.

Paul is going to do his damnest to keep Jane out of his head, because he can’t risk losing himself again like that, or John. He can’t lose John, and John can’t lose him, like he lost…

Like he lost his…

“What… what was his name?” Paul mumbles, looks up at John, tugs at the man’s hand. John looks at him sharply, his shoulders tensing, and there is pain in his eyes, but… it feels fainter, now. Paul wonders whether he is able to cure John only with his love —only by being there. Could John do the same for him? Maybe John can make Paul’s hate for Jane turn into something else… maybe it could become proudness of having found someone who… who cares for him for who he is, because that is all John has done. He has accepted Paul’s depression, and tried to help him, ever since the beginning.

In a way, John is like a drug… or then Jane was the drug, and John is… whatever is needed to get out of that addiction.

John takes a long time to answer, so long that Paul thinks he’s never going to, but then John turns his head away to avoid Paul’s gaze again, and his voice comes out as a small exhale, the name falling from his lips like something forgotten, like something that hasn’t been said, or even thought, in a long time.

“Stuart. His… he was Stu.”

Paul doesn’t say anything, but squeezes John’s fingers tighter, and John’s shoulders relax— and he lets out a laugh.

Paul stares as John laughs, and then the laughter turns into sobs, and John is crying again, softly, looking like all he wants is the tears to go away.

Paul is reminded of the time John cried during that one time they had sex —and he knows the reason now.

Paul remembers how it seemed that John had previous experience, but that it had been a long time since he had been the one on the receiving end. He thinks about that, and thinks about John and Stuart, and wonders what John really thought when he let Paul take him on the anniversary of Stuart’s death.

A part of him thinks he knows the answer, though.

John starts wiping his tears, and lets out another strangled laugh. Then he shakes his head, sniffs loudly.

“I… I feel so relieved that you know,” he says, voice breaking, and Paul almost points out that John could have felt this relief earlier, if he had just trusted Paul. He doesn’t, though, because it isn’t the right time, and he understands… he wonders whether John would have ever told him, had he not realised he might lose Paul any moment.

“I’m glad that I know,” Paul says, and John looks at him, his gaze broken… but there is something in it that makes the man look stable. It is a funny look, a rare one for John, and Paul drinks in the sight, unable to tear his eyes away from the man sitting next to the bed.

Speaking about things Paul knows… There is one thing that once mystified him, something he thought about during evenings and quiet moments of the day.

“How did you stop living?”

The answer to Paul’s question is so clear as a day, now, and Paul feels stupid for not having realised it before. Of course… of course John would stop taking drugs after Stuart—

Paul feels some sort of a relief rush through him in a wave, as well. He understands John, and his actions, and his words. He feels like he is seeing the man for the first time again, manages to lose himself into the warm brown of his eyes, into the feel of John’s hand against his own. John stares at him, and the silence stretches before another thought swims into Paul’s consciousness, a question he used to wonder, and that was never answered…

“How did you know my name?” he asks, and John looks confused, the tears having dried out.

“What d’ye mean?”

“When…” Paul lets out a small sigh, and John’s thumb starts stroking his hand, making Paul’s otherwise calm heart jump. His heart graphic in the monitor shows it as well, and John’s eyes are drawn to the movement, before, incredibly, he smiles a little. Paul frowns.

“When you put my name into your phone.”

“Aah,” John’s eyes widen slightly with the memory. “Oh, um, that.”

He pauses, seems to be looking for words, and then exhales deeply.

“I heard- that time when you got a panic attack on the street, I heard it on the phone. George was shouting your name when the phone fell.”

Paul remembers that time. It was the first time he kissed John — the memory makes him feel warm, and fuzzy, which is slightly odd considering what the memory includes. But it was the first time they kissed, and Paul remembers that kiss, and would not let go of that moment at any cost.

He nods, and at the same time he realises that John and George have met each other, now. He hopes George hasn’t said anything hurtful or thoughtless in the haze of the pain and fear clutching him in its hold.

“Has… Has George been alright? With you?” he asks quietly, watching John’s expression carefully. “He didn’t give you a hard time?”

John looks at him, and something passes over his face, and Paul doesn’t know what it is — subdued, forgotten anger that seems like it was about to disappear, if Paul hadn’t reminded him of it.

“What?” he asks, his hold of John’s fingers tightening. “What is it?”

John sighs, lowers his head slightly, his lips pressing tightly together.

“George and Ringo have been plotting behind our backs,” he says, and now Paul can place the tone of his voice. It is resignation — John has given up with whatever it is that has been going on.

Paul, himself, isn’t sure he understands. Then Richard’s odd, guilty face flashes in front of his eyes, and George’s voice, saying Richard’s name… his nickname, that Paul doesn’t use, doesn’t feel like he wants to let Richard that deep into his heart that he could start calling the man by his lovable nickname. George couldn’t have heard it from him.

“They know each other?” he asks, gaping at John. For some reason he doesn’t feel anything else but quiet bewilderedness at the thought.

John nods, and to Paul’s surprise, he rolls his eyes.

“The bastards. Have been meetin’ all in secret, changing tearful stories of how fucked up we two are. They were doin’ that when… when you…” his voice fades away, and he swallows with some difficulty. Paul hopes John can some day in the future say it without hurting so much — when Paul almost died.

He doubts it. But maybe they can learn how to cope with it — as long as Paul doesn’t do it again.

“God help us then, if those two are plotting a battle plan,” he says faintly, and John barks out a small, short laugh that disappears even before the sound has got air under its wings. Paul wishes he could hear John laugh for real, at least once. He doesn’t think he has… because all the laughter they have shared between them has come from heartache, and mutual pain, not real mirth.

“I don’t think God could help us,” John says. “The wanker’s been unhelpful enough ‘til now.”

Paul smiles, but it isn’t a real smile, and that bothers him. And then, right at that moment, more than anything, he wants to be able to smile. He wants to go to George and Pattie’s wedding, with John by his side, and Richard there as well, and he wants to be able to smile when he looks at his best mate get married. And he wants to look at John with the same kind of adoration he’s seen in George’s eyes, when the lad looks at Pattie.

And he wants to be unable to suppress a smile when he looks at John.

“John,” he says, and John’s eyes flick to him, and Paul sees emotion there, one he knows, and he takes a deep breath.

“We gotta get better,” he says, and watches.

John doesn’t say anything, something flickering in his eyes, and after a moment he only shakes his head.

“I don’t think I can,” he says faintly. “I’ve tried, Paul.”

“We can’t go on like this.”

John is hesitant. Paul sees fear, and his heart breaks at it, but his head feels clearer than ever. He knows what they have to do, even though he doesn’t know how to do it… But for that they have Richard. Paul knows they can do it. He has to get over Jane — properly, and for that he needs John. He can’t risk that something like this happens again… to either of them. John deserves better.

And Paul deserves better, as well.

John looks like he is starting to be in physical pain, anxiety shining through the wall he has built in front of his feelings. Paul wants to tear that wall down, and he will do it, even if it takes him months, or years.

“I know,” John says, and looks like he is getting slightly ill. He is holding Paul’s hand tightly, fighting whatever it is that is going on inside him. Paul doesn’t know whether the depression has come back with full force, whether John is just acting in front of him right now, and really doesn’t have an ounce of life left in him.

No.

Paul would not accept that.

“We gotta do something,” he says, urgently.

“What can we do?” John asks, helpless, voice suddenly heated with desperation, and, dare Paul say it… hope.

John’s eyes meet Paul’s, and they are drowning into each other’s gazes, and Paul sees that one, certain emotion again, and he knows John can see it from his eyes, too.

He knows that one day, John will be able to say it out loud.

“We gotta start smiling,” Paul says quietly. John looks hesitant, small and afraid. He holds Paul’s hand in a way that tells that he is never letting go again, but at the same time he is still hiding behind the wall.

Paul wants him to be what he really is.

“We can make it, together,” he says, squeezes John’s hand tighter, their eye contact never wavering, their hearts committing to each other, so that they will never be alone again, so that there will be a day when they wake up, and look at each other, and smile. “We’ll get better. This… this is not us.”

John looks at him, and a small smile breaks through the pain in his expression.

Paul knows they’ll be alright.

THE END