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He's always watching me.

I pretend like I don't notice, am oblivious, concentrating, distracted. I don't know why he hangs around me at times like these, when really it's too late to be awake, and I'm in my living room with plastic covering the carpets and furniture, slapping paint onto blank canvases. But he sits there anyways, half asleep as it were, but his drooping eyes are always fixed on me. Even as I'm turned away from him, rummaging through the collection of bottles and tubes in the bin at the foot of the couch, I can feel his eyes on me, making the skin on my back itch uncomfortably.

I go back to my work and try not to think about it, because if I do, I know I'll turn to meet his eyes and he'll look away and pretend to be asleep, and I'll just get angry. I'm tired of fighting. So I add a little more cerulean to the painting.

We're in the strange inbetween phase, with a new series over and the tour imminent, but we don't really have anything to do because all the writing has been done, all the promoting has been seen to. So we sit and wait for the tour to roll around, and it's like a string being drawn more taught between us with each day. Today I'm plucking a B. I imagine next week it'll be a C#. Maybe a D if he keeps staring at me like this.

I hate this feeling of tension between Julian and I, mostly because it makes me aware that things are changing. We don't have the same relationship as when this fantastical project started, the energy's all different. I used to feel like Julian was my other half. We moved in tandem, we complimented the other in the most wonderful way. It was all perfect harmony, like a Bach sonata. Now we feel like Radiohead gone wrong. I scowl and throw a capful of pomegranate at the canvas, pleased with the way it hits with a satisfying 'splat'. Splat, we've gone wrong. I sneak a glance at Julian, who of course immediately closes his eyes, and imagine throwing a capful of pomegranate at his supine form. Splat.

I know it's not realistic to expect things to be the same as they were back then. People change, we all grow older. Maybe I figured whatever happened out there, Julian and I would be protected. Huddled under this suffocating security blanket that is our creative lovechild, nothing from 'out there' would get us. But they did. The media, they got us. The fans got us. The parties got us, and the drinks and the drugs got us too. Dee and Julia and the twins got us. Life caught up, pulled us out from under the blanket and had its way with us. Now here we are, and we can't even look at each other while really, it's the only thing either of us does.

Although, I suppose there is the artistic upside of all this tension. I regard the line of finished paintings along the far wall of the room with a wry smile. But I'd rather have Julian stand to look me in the eye for once when he isn't obligated to on set or during interviews. In those rare moments, my stomach jumps from the shock, like I've been kicked somewhere entirely unpleasant.

And for some reason he still comes over. It's always my place, never his though; I haven't seen Julia or the twins in weeks. Every other night Julian rings me up, usually late, when he knows I'll be home from wherever I've been out getting fucked up, and mumbles, 'Can I come over?' The last few times I've almost said no, just to see what he does. But I say yes, and he replies with 'I'll be there in a few' and hangs up. And I turn up my headphones so I can't hear the door unless he pounds and kicks at it. Just to know at least he's committed to whatever the fuck this is, because he could just as easily go back home to his family.

And when I finally let him in he doesn't ever say anything about how I should maybe turn my music down when I know he's coming over. He smiles wanly at me, but really he's looking past my shoulder into my house, and I turn around and go back to whatever I was doing. And Julian will lie down on the couch. Sometimes he makes tea. Other times he mixes drinks, one for him and one for me, and then drinks mine too when he realizes I haven't touched it and the ice is melting. But most times he doesn't do any of these things, he just collapses onto my sofa and watches me paint.

Maybe he's not even doing that. Sometimes I think he's just watching me alone. Watching me move. And God, if that isn't fucked up. And about five times between the point where he comes over to when I finally put the caps back on my paints and go to bed, I want to yell and scream at him to tell me what's happening to us. I've tried it, actually, but it's always sort of blown up in my face. The first time I tried it I was on speed and that didn't go over so well. He just glared at me coldly as I threw my little fit and then told me he wouldn't speak to me while I was all fucked up. And I got so mad I slapped him. Like a little girl. He just walked away, and I felt like an idiot and cried myself to sleep. Like a little girl.

The second and last time - though it was only days after the first scene - I wasn't on drugs or drunk. Well maybe we'd had a few drinks on set that day, to loosen the tension for shooting the kiss scene for the 'Party' episode, but it wasn't enough to do anything more than make me a little more loose-tongued than usual. Julian had been a laugh on set and I was feeling better about us than I had in weeks. He was actually carrying on conversation and banter with me off-set. But when we sat down later that day to review the dailies, he shut down and stopped talking and smiling. I tried to cajole it out of him but he was having none of it, eventually telling me to 'fuck off' and walking out of the editing room. I decided I'd had enough and followed him out and we'd had a right row that ended up with him walking away again me feeling like an idiot. Again.

Julian has a difficult time dealing with confrontation, especially when it comes to me. It's understandable, I guess, since I get upset and let my temper flare and say stupid things. Julian usually prides himself on having restraint and staying away from drama, and I think he feels his restraint is threatened most of all by me. I wish he'd let it go. I want to see it, I want to see him yell and scream at me, and say stupid things he wishes he could take back, and cry because he's scared we're not going to be able to fix what's broken between us. I dip my fingers into a bowl of turquoise and run my them down the canvas, through the previous colours, muddying them all together.

I know where all this is going. It'll get to about a month before tour. I'll be plucking a fucking Bb and we'll have moved from Radiohead gone wrong to Ligeti's Requiem. And we'll both have been avoiding each other all day and spending four nights a week like this for weeks on end, pretending like nothing's happening, and like we don't notice everything's fucking WRONG, and then I'll catch him watching me and I'll start screaming and I won't be able to stop. And he'll glare at me and go red in the face until he's- pomegranate. And then he'll say something that can never be taken back, that will ruin everything permanently, and he'll walk out again, but this time it will be forever. And we'll have to cancel the tour. Cancel the Boosh. Sorry, ladies and gents, but Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding irrevocably hate each other's fucking guts. Please contact your ticket provider for a refund.

I drag the back of my multicoloured hand across my forehead, aware that Julian's watching me again, probably perplexed at the mess I've made of this canvas. And I can't do it anymore. I can't let it get to that point. I can't let it get to Bb and Ligeti and pomegranate. I wipe my hands across my shabby t-shirt, smearing paint all over it. It looks like I've thrown up in technicolour all down my front. I cap the various tubes and bottles I've been using, tossing them carelessly in the general direction of the bin. Julian's not watching me anymore, he's pretending to be asleep, knowing my attention isn't absorbed by painting anymore which means it's too dangerous to watch.

He knows I know. I notice it when I'm completely pissed, so I sure as hell notice it when I'm stone cold sober. So that he still bothers to hide it is just frustrating. To us both, I would think. I don't understand this game, I don't know the rules. Suddenly I'm beside him, standing over the couch, looking down at him. He still won't open his eyes. I fold my knees under me, kneeling down. Crossing my arms on the edge of the sofa cushion, I rest my head on them and take a deep breath. It feels like I'm doing something very courageous and brave, just approaching him. I nudge his arm with the top of my head gently but I receive no response.

"I know you're awake."

Still nothing. Which hurts. We used to play this game for fun, he'd ignore me, pretend to be asleep or something, and I'd have to jump through rings to get his attention. It was a game of how far I'd have to go to get him to acknowledge my presence. Sometimes if I just said his name enough he'd give in. I figure that isn't going to work this time. I distractedly run my fingers lightly down his bare arm, noticing the skin goosebump in my wake. His eyelashes flutter minutely. I let out a frustrated sound and get to my feet. Bracing my hand on the back of the sofa, I carefully climb over Julian, straddling his hips.

"Stop pretending."

Part of me doesn't want him to wake up. Part of me is enjoying this uninvolved docility, being allowed to do as I please without wincing away from the look on his face. Julian's awfully touchy, almost as much as I am, but it's always on his terms. He dictates what's comfortable, where the line is. If I cross it, he recoils like a rattlesnake. There never used to be a line. Even watching videos of the earliest stuff we did together, it's entirely apparent that we're extremely touchy with each other, but there's no awkwardness to it, it's all comfortable and even needed. Now it feels like it's only for safety. When Julian feels uncomfortable, he'll seek contact in some way. Maybe it's just a leg touching mine, or an arm. Sometimes he puts his hand on my arm or on the back of my neck. But if I go to touch him, the line is crossed.

When he still doesn't stir, I lie down, aligning my body with his. I could almost imagine things are ok. We're just having a quiet nap after a long day of writing or shooting or doing shows. This used to be ok. I'm not sure why he's letting me do it now, maybe he's just trying to prolong the inevitable confrontation we're going to have when he decides to open his eyes. Maybe he's enjoying this. I don't know.

It's late. Or early. I can hear birds chirping outside, but it's still dark. I want to go to sleep. Julian's heart is beating faster than it would if he really were asleep. Letting myself trace a pattern on his chest, I wait for the moment when he's finally had enough and stops being childish. My head is nestled in the crook of his neck, my face pressed into his collarbone. It's too close. I know it. But I'm pushing him. And suddenly I feel him tense and I know I'm about to get thrown on the floor, I'm tensing too. He pulls his arm free from under my weight, and I'm wince, waiting to be shoved away but instead a hand slides into my hair. And that's a little weird. I can't see if he's opened his eyes; his hand is pushing my head further into the crook of his neck, blinding me.

I've tensed up, I'm sure he can feel it, because suddenly I'm not in control anymore. And isn't that just like him. Control-freak. The thought brings something angry and hot boiling to the surface and suddenly I'm pissed off again. His fingers are threading gently through my hair, something that felt soothing about two seconds ago but now just feels suffocating. I need control somehow. It's a flurry of action, but next thing I know, I'm up, back to straddling his waist, with my weight balanced by my hands gripping his shoulders. His fingers are a vice around my wrists, holding me there. I pitch back, trying to shake him off but his hands just clamp harder, grinding the delicate bones between his fingers. It hurts enough that I dump my weight back onto him, and he lets go to stop us from colliding heads.

We're far too close. It's all wrong. I can feel his breath hot on my chin and his fingers are digging into my ribs so hard there will be bruises by morning. I try to hoist myself up on my arms which are planted uselessly on either side of his head, and I can feel his arms flex to hold my position.

"Noel."

Just my name, but suddenly my mouth is on his, and his tongue is sliding against mine, and he's not gripping my sides anymore. His hands are everywhere all at once; running down my back, in my hair, pulling, pushing, controlling. My brain is in overdrive trying to make sense of things but there's nothing that makes any sense at all about this. He brings a leg up and suddenly he's flipping us over, mirroring our previous positions. I grab Julian by the hair and pull him back down to me, and he complies easily, bringing a hand up to cup the angles of my jaw gently. And this is all new and strange, and unexpectedly it feels vital. It's just Julian. And I stop trying to figure this out, and just feel.

All at once I'm aware of him, hard and pressing into my thigh. I'm not even thinking anymore, none of this is getting processed by my brain. I shift underneath him and realign our hips so we're flush to each other, and push my hips up against his, letting him feel what this is doing to me as well.

Apparently it's the wrong thing to do. Julian surges up and off of me, leaving me dazed and clutching at thin air. He scrambles off the sofa and backs into a nearby armchair, looking thoroughly rattled. Closing my eyes, I sigh, knowing that now the shit's really going to hit the fucking fan. I hear Julian begin a mantra of 'shit, shit, shit, shit' and I sluggishly push my body into a sitting position. Opening my eyes, I'm not surprised to see him lighting one of those fags that he's not supposed to be smoking anymore, but keeps hidden in his back pocket for emergencies. But it hurts enough that this is apparently one of those emergencies that I close my eyes and fall back into the array of pillows at my back. I don't open them until I hear Julian moving around.

He's at the door, pushing his feet viciously into his shoes. "What are you doing?" I snap.

"Going home. Julia- the twins..." And that gets me on my feet.

I grab the coat lying over his arm and fling it behind me. "Don't you dare walk away from me again, Julian."

He regards the coat coldly and abandons it, turning towards the door. "I have to go." I put myself between him and the door and he gives me an exasperated look. "Don't do this, Noel."

"No, don't YOU do this. For fuck's sake how many times are you going to walk away from this? From me?" I'm shouting now, trying to replace the tired and frustrated look on his face with something, anything that at least shows he cares about this just a little bit.

I get my wish. Julian growls and tries to bodily move me out of the way. He's almost twice my size physically, and I can't compete with brute force. So I shove him as hard as I can away from the door. If I can get him angry enough, he'll stay, even if it is only to row with me. He staggers back from the unexpected push and something in his face twists. He's angry now. "Noel, get the fuck out of my way!" He hisses.

"No! We need to work this out! This has gone on long enough!"

"There's nothing to work out! Things change, Noel! People change! We're not the same, so why are we pretending our relationship is the same? Grow up!" His cheeks are going pink.

Something in me deflates a bit. "What are you saying? You don't want me around anymore?"

Julian glares tersely at me for a moment before sighing and running a hand through his messy locks. "I just.... don't know how to handle you anymore. You're not the same person I started all this with."

I feel ill, like I'm going to throw up. "You've changed too, but why does that mean things end here? Why can't all this change, too?" I gesture to the space between us, and it's never felt larger.

"Because... I can't... I just...." His eyes are darting around, like he's searching for something to save him. His eyes end up on mine. And it's a jolt, like usual because although he was looking at me before, now he's really actually seeing me. And I understand. I get it, and it's so clear and sharp that it's painful to look at him for a moment.

"Julian..." The space between us is thrown behind me as I close in on him. And my arms snake around his neck, pulling him down to me. It's all ok, it's going to be ok. But my voice isn't working. It's like hugging a rock or a tree. He's unmovable. I look up at his face and I can see how hard he's working to restrain himself. From what, I'm not sure; perhaps either pushing me away or embracing me in return. When I raise up on tiptoes to nuzzle against his stubbled jaw he does push me away.

"Stop."

"What—"

"No, Noel. This is wrong. I don't care how much either of us could possibly want this. There are other people involved in this too, and I won't just go make a decision to hurt them like this."

"What are you- who...?"

"What about Dee, Noel? What about Julia! What about my children! I'm a father now!"

"You're saying you want me." I stare up at him, eyes wide.

"No, I'm saying I can't want you so I can't be near you anymore." His eyes have gone cold again and he's staring at the wall above my head.

"God, look at me! I don't understand this! If that's how you really feel why are we doing this every other night? It's four in the fucking morning, Julian! Why are you here?"

"Because I'm a coward," he says sullenly, eyes still anchored on the invisible spot on the wall.

I can feel myself going red with anger now. Maybe even pomegranate. "You fucking well are."

"I can't be with you! I can't be with someone who lives like you do, Noel, I can't even be friends with someone who lives like you! Where did you go earlier tonight, Noel?! What drugs did you take?! What random girl did you fuck behind Dee's back this time?! How can you treat someone you care about like that?" He's staring at the paintings lined up along the baseboards.

"Fuck you."

"I thought so."

"That's fucking rich, Julian. Why aren't you at home with your family? Why are you lying on my couch night after night until dawn instead of sleeping next to your girlfriend, Julian?! You're so fucked up! What am I to you anymore?!" I'm stamping my feet like a child, trying to get him to just look at me.

"Nothing."

And he has to go before I cry again. "Get out." He does look at me now, like he didn't think I had it in me. "GET OUT!"

He gives me a hard look for a long moment and then mutters something under his breath and elbows past me to retrieve the jacket I threw. He deliberately jostles me again as he passes the other way, and I push at his retreating back angrily. He whips round, and I know he's about to hit me, his arm is raised and I desperately grab at it, holding it at bay. He's bearing down on me, using those extra inches to their full extent, and suddenly I'm scared. I don't know this person anymore.

And then his mouth is on mine again but this time I'm struggling to get away, twisting and writhing like an eel. This is wrong. That's all that it feels like. Wrong wrong wrong. I manage to push him off and he just looks down at me blankly, then slowly wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. I hit him. It's only as I'm letting fly that I unclench my fist, so he only staggers back instead of something a little more dramatic.

I grab his jacket from where he dropped it on the back of the sofa and fling it at his face. I can feel the tears coming. If he won't leave, I will. I turn and rush up the stairs to my room, trying to keep some semblance of calm and dignity, but the choking sobs are already coming halfway up the steps. As I flick off the light on the table beside my bed, I hear the front door close. It doesn't slam, it doesn't bang, it just closes. The sky outside my window is glowing pink with dawn's light. The floor length mirror on the back of my door lets me know I'm smeared head to toe in paint. Cerulean, marigold, turquoise and pomegranate. Splat. Is that Ligeti I hear?

 

* * *

I wake up and instinctively begin digging through the pockets of my paint-spattered jeans for my cell. But there's no messages, no missed calls. Chill out, I tell myself. After all that he's not going to be calling the very next morning. But if I have to admit it, there's a rather large part of me that was hoping...

This is the way it is after every fight, though. After sleeping on it, the anger will have seeped away and my fingers will be itching to dial him up and apologise. Half the time there's already a message on my phone. But looking back on last night, I'm not sure if I really want to hear from Julian yet. Maybe part of me doesn't want to ever hear from him again. But really, deep down, I know I just need to cool off.

Problem is, we're scheduled to meet today with the tour manager to finalise some details about tour venues, so I guess cooling off will have to wait until later. I groan and sit up, rubbing at my eyes. The paint that remained dried to my hands from last night flakes off into the lap of the jeans I slept in. The clock on my bedside reads quarter past twelve, which leaves me enough time to shower and dress before heading off to the meeting at the BBC studio. I drag my protesting body out of bed and pad gingerly into the bathroom.

The shower feels refreshing and cleansing, washing away the dirt and grime of last night. I'm not sure how to handle Julian this morning. I really wish we didn't have to see each other just hours after that terrific fight. But maybe it will be good to be forced to face each other before either of us can stew about it for too long. Maybe. I finish washing the conditioner out of my hair and step out of the shower, cringing at the cold air that immediately envelopes my body.

 

* * *

He isn't here.

He's fucking ditched the meeting, the chickenshit. Too goddamn afraid to face me, so he's hiding at home. Mike has commented that perhaps the twins are ill or Julia's sick. Dave reminds him Julia that and the twins are visiting her mother this weekend. Right. Forgot about that. Which means Julian's holed himself up at his house, hiding, alone. I'm angry enough that I know I need to leave before I say something stupid to the rest of the people that have shown up. Julian and I have had problems before, but it's always been a bit of an unspoken agreement that our issues stay between us. Most of the time it works, and I know this is one of those times when it really matters that he and I figure things out before Mike, Dave or Rich find out what's happened.

I give an apologetic look to the boys. "Listen guys, I'm really sorry but I've gotta run." And I scarper before they have the time to ask dangerous questions.

I'm paying the cabbie outside Julian's house before I really realise what I've just done, coming here. But I'm not going to run away now. I knock on the door in the politest way I can manage, but there's no answer. I knock harder; soon I'm literally pounding at it. I'm just about to start throwing myself at the door when it's flung open, revealing Julian looking like hell and full-on pomegranate red.

"Go home," he says — it's barely more than a growl — before slamming the door on me.

"Open the fucking door, Julian!" Now I really am just bodychecking the door, throwing my shoulder against it so hard it'll bruise later.

It's probably more to keep the door intact than to appease me that he opens it half a minute later.

"I'm not having anything to do with you. Go home." He tries to close it again, but I shove my foot between the door and the jamb, wincing as Julian crushes my foot between the two.

"Listen! You can be angry at me or whatever! But skipping out on a meeting like that gets everyone involved!" I'm trying to be reasonable, rational. I feel like something's vaguely backwards here, and I'm certain Julian's said these exact words to me before.

Reasonable and rational don't seem to be speaking to Julian's mood right now because he just says, "fuck off, Noel," and tries to close it again.

It feels like my foot is broken the second time he hauls the door closed. "Fucking hell, Julian! Just let me inside, I don't want to have this fight out the sidewalk!"

"Then go," he hisses. But at least he doesn't try slamming the door closed again.

"Julian—"

"Look, I don't know what you want. I think everything got said last night."

"Like you meant that! I know you didn't!"

"Noel, go home!"

"Fuck off! Tell me you meant it then!"

"Go. Home." His voice has dropped into a barely audible rumble, that voice that tells you that if you don't shut up immediately there's going to be trouble. But I'm too angry to listen to it.

"Fuck you! Fuck you!!" I'm sure the neighbours can hear me. "Who the fuck do you think you are? Stop treating me like a child!"

He doesn't even have anything to say in response. Breathe. Breathe. "I hate you." My voice comes out clear and normal, and although I feel like it should be an accomplishment, somehow all I feel is that I may be going to be sick again. Breathe. "I wish I'd never met you." Julian's face has lost all the anger. It's lost all expression. I can't even tell by his eyes, which I've always been able to do. It's just blank. Closed. I can't bring myself to care. "Don't ever contact me again."

And it doesn't feel a fraction as good to throw the door shut on him as I thought it would.

 

* * *

Two weeks later, my phone rings. I'm curled up in bed. It's the middle of the night, but I haven't been sleeping. I haven't been thinking or even crying. I am just there, curled in on myself in the middle of my bed, doing nothing. Numb.

I don't move to answer it. Mike has been calling my phone constantly in the past week. I stopped picking up three days ago. Dave has called five times. My parents called last night. My cell is sitting in the same place on my bedside table as it was the last time I left my bed. Two nights ago I got out of bed, put on a pair of jeans and a random top, pulled on some boots and grabbed a jacket and went to the closest club I could think of. Got really fucked up. Massively. I was accepting everything everyone was handing to me without question. I somehow managed to get back to my place that night and spent the next few hours draped over the toilet feeling sorry for myself. Dee wasn't even around for me to call, she was on her third week of a Robots tour. Really fucked up. Massively.

When I finally stopped emptying my stomach every twenty minutes I crawled onto my bed and here I am two days later. I don't remember even getting up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, but I know I must have — or else I wouldn't be conscious to hear my phone ring, deafening in the flat silence of my bedroom at half past three. It goes silent after six rings. I count in my head, waiting for it to ring again. Twenty seconds. This time I almost reach for it, but it goes silent after four. I count again. After two minutes I figure whoever it is (I know who it is) has given up.

I'm still not sleeping when it rings at 4am, but neither do I make a move for it again. It rings the full six times but before the sixth is complete, I hear the door open downstairs. At first I imagine it's Dee, but she's in Amsterdam and there's only one other person with a key to my place. I contemplate jumping out of bed and locking my door, or locking myself in the bathroom. Instead I curl myself tighter into the fetal position, staring at the wall opposite me. My room is freezing but I don't have the energy to get under the layers of blankets beneath me. I can hear the footsteps hesitate at the bottom of the stairs before quietly making their way up them as if I'm going to jump out and yell 'boo' at any moment. It's 4 am, you twat, I think vaguely.

I can tell he's in the doorway from the feeling of his eyes on my back, it's pretty familiar at this point. He stands there for about five minutes, just looking at me. I'm not pretending to be asleep, and he must be aware that I'm not or else he'd have moved. When he does move, he's walking so that the balls of his feet hit the floor first instead of his heels, keeping the noise of his footfalls to a minimum. He comes into view at the foot of the bed in my periphery. I don't close my eyes, but I don't look at him either. It feels like my eyes are stuck, paralysed. Even if I wanted to move them I couldn't. Or the effort would be monumental at least. I have no energy. I haven't eaten or slept for two and a half days.

He's standing almost directly in front of me, but stops short of intercepting my spot on the wall, like my stare might burn him if he were to pass under it. He's looking at the way the scant light in the room is reflecting off the glassy surface of my eyes, confirming that I am indeed awake. I think this makes him far more uncomfortable than if I had just closed them when I first heard him. He looks down at me, curled up in just a pair of pants and a vest, and waits for me to acknowledge that he's standing right in front of me. When I don't, he sighs and unlocks his knees, letting his weight slide to the floor slowly. He crosses his legs, folds his hands neatly in his lap and stretches his neck, gazing up at the generic stucco of the generic white ceiling. I can imagine he's trying to think of what to do now that plan 'A' has failed. What's plan 'B'?

He looks back at me, and at least he's actually looking at me. I mean really looking at me. Not just looking at my face, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, but actually looking at me. Which makes my eyes a touch more reflective. And he's moving, as if I've had a real physical reaction to this, like my lip has started trembling, or I've tried to blink the tears away. He's at the bedside, legs folded under him which must be uncomfortable because that's hardwood he's sitting on. I let myself blink a few times.

I'm trying to decide if I really believe this is real, not just some drugged up fantasy like all the others, when he slips his fingers into the palm of my hand, the hand lying furthest from my body. I get the stomach jolt that I usually associate with him making eye contact nowadays, and it's because this touch is about me, not him. I decide this is reality. But it's all wonky. Surreality. Because you don't usually go from 'I hate you' to... to this. To 'never leave me' or 'I love you, I love you.'

I don't mean for my fingers to tighten around his, but it's almost a reflex, like when the doctor hits you just below the knee and your leg goes jerking up. His thumb is rubbing circles on the back of my hand and I'm aware I'm not staring at the wall anymore. He's set himself right in front of me. One arm is resting on the edge of the bed and his chin sits on an angle at his wrist. And he hasn't stopped looking at me. Now I am blinking too much, and in a few seconds, if I'm not careful, my lower lip will start to wobble precariously.

It's a funny predawn light coming from my window that lets me see his face properly. And vice versa I'm sure. He looks.... open. And he doesn't move when the first tear rolls across the bridge of my nose and into the messy nest of hair cushioning my head. He just lets it happen, so I don't close my eyes against the funny feeling of shame that is crying in front of a friend. I let my eyes wander, taking in his hair that's getting too long, perpetually mussed and in disarray, his mouth that is relaxed and gentle. His forehead is uncreased and calm, and he's not anywhere near pomegranate. And when I come back to his eyes they're still on mine. The tears are still silently rolling across my face and suddenly I'm very tired and it's a struggle to keep them open.

Within a minute, I'm fighting the fluttering need to shut my eyelids, and I know he sees this and I let the corner of my mouth curl just a little, and his returned smile feels like sunlight after weeks of cold damp London rain. It's almost painful to see it after so long, and my tiny smile wobbles uncertainly, the tears coming fresh again. His smile is hidden away and the hand resting in mine slowly extricates itself, like coming unglued. And it's so gentle when he wipes a tear from my cheek that I have to close my eyes against it finally, or else I'll really start sobbing.

"Julian..." It's scratchy, my voice sounds rough from disuse, and it comes out without conscious thought or any mental decisions.

My eyes are still closed, but I hear him get up, and then the bed dips as he settles his weight next to me. When I open them he's looking at me still, head cushioned on a sad looking pillow from the head of the bed. His face is still calm and serene, not the concerned anxious look I'd be getting from anyone else. This gesture is somehow incredibly important and vital at the moment and I'm sliding forward, uncurling slightly so I can line my body up along his. He's too tall; my face ends up pressed against the soft cotton of the white t-shirt covering his chest. It's cold, I remember as his arms come up around me. Not pulling or pressing me to him, just around me, resting almost.

I can feel the tears stemming and I take one of those silly shuddering deep breaths that always come after a good cry. I rub my face affectionately across his t-shirt, leaving blotchy wet tear tracks in my wake. I can feel the muscles of Julian's cheeks tighten in a smile against the top of my head, and there's something profound in all of this — an acceptance of things changing and still finding that things are alright. There are about a million things that need to be said between us, but not today. Not at half past four in the morning with the earliest summer light barely filtering through the slats of the blinds.

We lie there for what feels like hours but is probably only minutes. Julian's fingers draw lazy designs across my lower back, circling and swooping, and I wonder what it is he's drawing, or if he's even thinking about what he's doing at all. I'm just enjoying the solidness of him next to me. I feel lucid in a way that I haven't for several days now, maybe even several weeks. Just feeling the rise and fall of his breathing feels new and... right.

Eventually I feel Julian tense up and I move away minutely to let him up. But instead of moving away, he just props himself up on an elbow and looks down at me, studying me. It's not uncomfortable, letting him watch me now, because he's not trying to hide it. I have a self-conscious moment of cringing at the state I'm in, I must look like an absolute mess. But if I do, it doesn't show on his face. I smile up at him. Not the usual grin that's reserved for him, but I mean it just as much.

And now he does look upset all of a sudden. "Noel... I'm s—"

"Don't. Please don't..." I can't right now.

He looks like he's about to say something in response, and I really can't handle this right now, so instead I reach up and press my mouth to his. I pull back after only a moment, and the look on his face isn't telling me anything. I duck my head in embarrassment and mentally kick myself. I almost expect him to get up and leave. Instead I find myself pressed into the mattress on my back, Julian suspended over me, just barely. We're back in this strange position and I can feel the energy coursing between us, making me aware of everywhere we're not touching.

His breathing is accelerated; I can hear it like he's breathing right into my ear, the only sound in the complete silence. He probably hears the same thing from me. Our lips are almost touching, and we're still just looking at each other. But he's so close I feel like I'm going cross-eyed so I shut them tightly, fingers closed on his shoulders, and I draw him down to meet me.

This time it only feels right. It feels like waking up on a Saturday afternoon with the sun beaming in the window. Like a curling up with a mug of cider in front of the fire on Christmas Eve. Like the perfect coolness of the ocean on the hottest day of summer. But mostly, it feels like coming home.

It's almost overwhelming how intense the feeling is, and I duck into the warm curve of Julian's neck, hiding for a moment. It only takes a moment to recover, then I playfully kiss the little bit of skin just below his earlobe, making his breath go short and his body give a tiny tremor. When I purposefully do it again, Julian chuckles softly, and I can feel it rumble through my body deliciously, like the feeling of heavy bass rolling right through your chest at a live concert. I moan at the feeling and Julian stills. I realise he's holding his breath. Pulling back ever so slightly, I see his eyes are pressed shut. If this is really going to finally happen, I need it to be a bit light. I need to it still have a little playfulness to it or else this intensity is going to take me down.

I give a coy little smile and gently nudge the tip of Julian's nose with mine, a juvenile gesture, but he opens his eyes with a warm grin. He looks at me for a moment, and I let myself speak from my eyes and he exhales audibly. "If only you knew just what you do to me..." His voice is low and rough and sends shivers down my spine.

His mouth is on mine again before I can respond, and all the exploratory gentleness of the last kiss is replaced by hunger and need and he might as well be screaming in my ear how much he wants me. And God, if I could respond, I'd tell him the feeling is mutual. Being currently preoccupied, I focus on the sensation of Julian's tongue playing with mine. It sweeps into my mouth, completely dominant, and I'm fine with that. Let him have his control. Something about Julian being forceful and rough is just about the sexiest thing I can imagine at the moment.

My hands are still clutching at his broad shoulders desperately, just trying to hold on and not get completely swept away by all this. I try to relax them, let myself go, so I slide one hand into his hair. It's really incredibly soft, almost like a baby's but not as fine. I card my fingers through the wavy length of it, twirling it around my fingers before diving back in. The other hand I concentrate on, sliding it down his sides to the hem of his tee. I want the shirt off immediately, and I set to bunching the fabric up, working it up his torso. He gets the picture quickly, and sits up and peels it over his head, tossing it behind him somewhere. It lands almost comically on a floor lamp beside the door.

Julian grabs my attention back, fingers teasing at the bottom of my vest, inching it higher, exposing the line of hair that disappears into my shorts, then my bellybutton and he's moving teasingly slow and I can't take it. I slide out from beneath him and grin wickedly as I shove him onto his back and straddle his hips. I'm fully aware that the last time we were in this position things didn't turn out so well, but if he is as well, he doesn't let it show. This time the grin he gives me doesn't have a hint of gentle tenderness, it's sharp-edged and wicked as my own.

I make a show of peeling off my vest, rolling my hips down on his as I arch my back to get it over my head and off my arms. Noting the look on his face when I meet his eyes, shaking my hair out, he certainly appreciates the view. Everything feels comfortable and easy now. I lean down and press a line of kisses to the stubbled curve of his jaw and then slip down to his ear again, enjoying exploiting this sensitive spot now that I've found it. Julian squirms under me, holding his breath again, but unconsciously. I laugh softly against the shell of his ear, knowing it drives him crazy, before working my way down his neck.

I nip playfully at his neck then lave the angry red spots made by my teeth gently with my tongue. He hisses every time I let my teeth graze the skin above his collarbone. I'm only barely aware of him slipping a hand into my messy hair and massaging my scalp soothingly. But I'm suddenly aware of it when he begins to apply gentle pressure, urging me downwards. I give his neck one last tiny bite as punishment for being pushy and then comply, sliding down his body slowly.

Julian groans at my pace. "God, you are such a tease."

"You love it." It doesn't quite come out clearly due to my tongue twisting about his nipple, but I'm sure he gets it.

He merely hums in agreement, stretching his neck back into the pillows and pressing into my ministrations. His hips are insistently pushing up against where I'm firmly seated, trapping him. I can feel him hard and straining against the restrictive material of his trousers. My own erection is close to comical, what with the way it's tenting out my pants so obviously. Julian notices my momentary distraction and props himself up on his elbows, giving him access to my naked torso. He cranes his neck up and brushes his lips across mine.

"Let me..." And I know what he's asking without needing him to finish the request.

I grin down at him and roll off, making myself comfortable against the array of pillows at the head of the bed. I motion cockily down the length of my body. "By all means, Julian. I'm yours."

Julian swats my leg affectionately and fuck, this is perfect. I love that we're able to just be us for this, not too afraid to break the mood by saying something wrong. I realise that I've zoned out when I suddenly find him toying with my waistband, stroking his fingers over my angular hipbones and running teasingly through the line of hair below my navel. I lift my hips up as encouragement, urging him to remove this last article of clothing. I'm so hard at this point that I feel like I'm going to die if he doesn't just touch me already. But I should know that he wouldn't let me off easy, so to speak.

"Come on, come on."

"What do you say?"

"Juliaaaan." I throw my head back in frustration, then peer down at him in mock worry "You're not actually going to make me beg, are you?" I don't think I manage to keep the smirk completely off my face.

"I think I might. Now, what do you say?" His fingers keep slipping ever so slightly under the waistband, only to withdraw a moment later.

I sigh in dramatic resignation. "Please... please, take them off, Julian."

He smirks in triumph and clutches at the sides of the band, pushing his fingers along my bare skin. Pulling them off with deliberate slowness, I watch as his eyes seem to darken a few shades with every few inches of pale skin exposed. He's teasing us both by moving so lethargically, I can tell by the hungry look that's taken over his features.

I writhe about a little, pushing my hips off the bed in an attempt to help get the offending item off. "Please..." I moan, deliberately wanton.

It does the trick. Julian swiftly pulls them the rest of the way down and chucks them off to the side of the bed. He's propped on his knees on either side of my legs, just looking at me. His eyes are running all over my body and it's like tips of fingers tracing over me. I arch my back needily, closing my eyes and groaning. Nobody's ever looked at me like that in my entire life, and I've had ample opportunity for it.

Julian leans down and sweetly kisses my eyelids. His breath puffs hotly against my skin. "You have no idea how long I've wanted this."

I smile but don't open my eyes. "I might have some idea." I nip gently at his lower lip just inches above mine. I can almost feel his grin, as if it changes the air between us.

Unable to see his movements, it's a pleasant shock when I feel Julian's slicked lips press a line of kisses up the underside of my erection. Each touch makes the muscles in my navel clench reflexively. I can't help the moan that bubbles up from my throat as his mouth closes wetly around the head of my cock, applying gentle but insistent suction. He works his lips down, inch by inch. The lower he gets the more intense the suction gets, and my head is swimming pleasantly. I look up at the ceiling, neck stretched back and my vision is fuzzy and drifting in and out of focus.

I dare a glance down at Julian's bent form between my legs, dusky eyelashes brushing his cheeks and eyebrows vaguely knit in concentration. Somewhat ironically, he seems to sense my eyes on him and his eyes flick up sharply to mine. He chooses that moment to swallow and it's like an electric current through my body, my back snapping into an arch, head thrown back, hands diving into his hair.

I know the fistfuls I'm grabbing are just on the side of being slightly painful for him, but I need to touch him in some way. I untangle one hand and grope blindly for one of his hands. The fingers that thread easily through mine are steady and gentle. I clutch at his hand for dear life as his mouth works up and down my erection maddeningly.

When I can finally speak again I have to laugh at my own reaction. He peers up at me curiously, not slowing in his actions. "Where the fuck did you learn to do that?" My voice is breathy and low, and Julian pulls off my cock, grinning wolfishly.

He slides up my body, fingers dancing playfully up my sides. He places a wet kiss just below my jaw and murmurs, "Wouldn't you like to know," before kissing me.

Again, this kiss is different from the others. It's not forceful and rough, but neither is it tender and sweet. Somewhere in between all these things, it's somehow soothing and controlling at the same time. The pressure of it is steady and he bears down on me but instead of feeling claustrophobic, I only feel my arousal climbing up a notch. Julian's tongue swirls around mine in a controlled motion, slow and deliberate. I wrap my arms possessively around his neck, pressing our bodies flush. The almost rough material of his trousers creates a delicious friction against my straining arousal, and I press my hips into his insistently. I can feel his hardness, lined up flush to mine, and the fabric is so tight across it that it must be almost painful.

I slip my arms under his and around his back, fingers massaging down the perfect staircase of his spine. Reaching the hem of his slacks, I slide my fingers slowly under the fabric, and then under his shorts as well, pressing into the warm soft skin underneath. With my hands half down his pants, I pull Julian hard against me, and he breaks our kiss with a sharp intake of breath, and he exhales on my name.

I slide my fingers teasingly around the hem to the front, still stroking the skin beneath gently. Julian lifts his hips up obligingly, eyes not leaving my face. I fumble blindly at the buttons and zip on the trousers until they suddenly seem to pop free on their own accord. I immediately shove the fabric as far down on his hips as I can, hands exploring the newly exposed areas avidly. Julian sits up enough to rid himself of the offending items of clothing and before I can even focus on him he's covering me again, blanketing my own slighter frame. I skim my fingers lightly back and forth across his broad shoulders. They're dusted ever so slightly with tiny freckles that I know get more numerous in the summer months. I place a chaste kiss on a particularly noticeable cluster affectionately. Julian makes a small noise, quiet enough that if it wasn't so absolutely silent in my bedroom, I would miss it.

I lay my head back down and look up at him, and the look on his face is so agonizingly open I suddenly feel dizzy. He noiselessly brings up a hand and gently traces a blunt fingertip along the sharp curve of my jaw, sweeping ear to ear. His hand dips briefly into the mass of black hair fanned around my face, fingers sifting through it like sand, then his fingers are back on my face running along my cheekbones, down the strange angles of my nose, across my lips. His fingers are so light it's almost ticklish, but the reverence in his touch keeps me steady.

Julian's big hands cup my face lightly, and the tenderness in the kiss he presses to my mouth leaves me even more breathless than the most passionate, scrambling one. When he draws away it's only just barely. His lips are still slightly brushing mine as we both breathe heavily. Julian chooses that moment to bring my attention back to my neglected erection by slowly rolling his hips against mine languorously. I groan softly and lean in to nip his earlobe again.

"Julian" my voice sounds like I've been screaming my lungs out at a gig all night, hoarse and rough. "Fuck me."

I can feel Julian's adam's apple bob as he swallows hard and then the weight and heat of his body is off mine. "Lube," he says, voice barely more than a growl and it sends a thrill through my body, making me shudder slightly. "Top drawer," I answer, nodding towards the bedside table.

He stretches out above me, reaching for the bedside and I playfully crane up to bite a nipple gently. His body tenses in a near comic sort of way and when his face comes back into view he raises an eyebrow at me sardonically. "Behave."

I smirk lazily up at him as he settles himself between my spread legs. "I'll try."

In response he shoves my knees up almost roughly so they are bent, leaving me fully exposed. I feel vulnerable and nervous for a moment but Julian, seeming to sense this, flashes me an encouraging smile as his fingers dexterously uncap the tiny bottle of lubricant. I force myself to relax. I've only done this maybe twice, three times before, and the last time was years ago. But this is Julian. He won't hurt me. I close my eyes in anticipation.

I'm not expecting the feeling of his mouth on my cock yet again, and I moan my appreciation, hips flexing into the attention. I'm so distracted by the wet heat of Julian's mouth that I barely register the gentle probing finger at my entrance. He circles it slowly, massaging the muscles into relaxation. But I squirm with impatience. "Come on, Julian." He obliges and pushes the finger in steadily but slowly. His other hand resumes the attention to my arousal as he asks "Ok?" I nod wordlessly, eyes fixed above me, just concentrating on feeling as he sets up a slow rhythm in and out.

I feel him add a second finger, letting them go deeper. He pushes them in and crooks his fingers knowingly and between that and his fingers still squeezing gently up and down on my cock I can't stop the near shout that comes out of me. "Jesus Christ Julian... who have you been fucking?"

His only answer is another crook of his fingers and a swipe of the pad of his thumb over the head of my erection followed by a dark chuckle at my reaction.

When I feel him go to add a third finger, I haltingly push my foot up against his shoulder. He looks up at me quizzically and I can only manage a few scant words before throwing my head back. "In me. Now."

He's smiling again, I can hear it in his voice when he quips, "Bossy," and kisses the skin just above my navel affectionately. But he obliges me, withdrawing his fingers gently. His other hand releases its grip on my erection and he busies himself with spreading extra lubricant over his own, untouched until now. Satisfied that he's sufficiently slicked up, Julian leans forward, slips a hand under my lower back and uses the other to guide the head of his arousal against my entrance. He reassuringly presses a kiss to the corner of my mouth. "Ready?" I can only nod vaguely but even that's cut short at the feeling of him pushing forward and into me. I press my eyes shut but he instantly takes my hand and squeezes it.

"Look at me."

I obey.

He moves slowly but relentlessly, eyes not once leaving mine, not stopping until his hipbones are pressing into the insides of my thighs. He remains sheathed inside of me as he removes his hand from mine and slips it behind my head, pulling me up and covering my mouth with his. I'm too far gone to be anything but grateful for his control and dominating role. All I have to do is what he wants me to, I'm his to command, and the idea of it is surprisingly arousing. I moan into his mouth and arch my back, pushing up against him.

He takes this as a cue and lets my head fall back against the pillows, straightening up. Using the hand still supporting my lower back, Julian lifts me and pulls a pillow under me to get me at the right height. I let my legs splay wider, allowing him room as he pulls out and then pushes back in, agonisingly slow. He sets up a sloth-like tempo, easing in and out of my body. I clutch at the sheets and pillows surrounding my head in frustration, trying to rock down against him, make him move faster or harder or anything. When this fails I run my right hand down my body and slide it through the trail of hair leading from my navel downwards. The moment I touch my cock, Julian gives a low growl and suddenly his hand is around my wrist like a cuff, holding it still.

We lock eyes momentarily before he smirks and drags my arm over my head, trapping it there. His other hand finds my left arm and forces it up as well. As soon as he gets both my arms pinned immobile, his next thrust picks up midway through and he slams into my body with a sharp smack of skin on skin.

"Julian!" His name spills from my lips and his eyes seem to darken from their usual mossy brown colour into a deeper, richer colour. He pulls out just as slowly as before and ducks his head into the crook of my neck, breath ghosting over my ear.

"Say it again." It's only a whisper, right into my ear. He thrusts in forcefully again and I can't help it.

"Julian, oh god... Ju..."

Finally he gives in and picks up the pace, moving smoothly in and out of me. Every several thrusts he puts that extra weight behind it and I'm helpless to control to stream of sounds coming out of me. Julian eventually flashes me a crooked smile after several minutes of this.

"I always knew you'd be loud in bed."

"I can't– Jesus... fuck!"

He seems determined to render me completely incoherent so I give up. There's no reason to be anything but what I am around this man. I don't attempt to stifle the low moan that wants to come out of me as Julian palms the head of my ignored cock roughly. He finally lets go of my wrists above my head and uses his free hand to hoist one of my legs up to rest the ankle on his shoulder and then lifts the other, bending it at the knee and pressing my thigh down onto my chest, giving him more leverage. I can see the sweat beading on his forehead as he continues to pump into my body fiercely. I push myself onto one elbow hastily, my body folding like a contortionist, and reach up to wipe away the sweat threatening to drip into his eyes.

His movements slow minutely, then he drops my legs and pulls out. He pulls me to my knees and wraps his arms around my back fiercely, hugging me to him. Our mouths collide harshly, and I know my lips are going to end up puffy and swollen from this abuse. My arms around his shoulders, hands diving roughly into his hair, pulling him even closer, though I doubt it's possible.

Julian finally pulls back, grabbing me by the hair to keep me from following. We're breathing like we've run ten blocks, bodies impossibly entwined. He takes a moment to breathe and then extricates himself from my limbs and says, "Get on your hands and knees."

The command sends a thrill of arousal spiraling right into my groin, making my cock twitch with anticipation. I give him a cheeky grin over my shoulder as I turn to the head of the bed and settle down, spreading my legs and arching my back invitingly. Julian hums his appreciation, running a hand possessively from my shoulder blades right down to my arse crack. He teasingly gives me a little squeeze before spreading my cheeks and positioning himself carefully behind me. I have nothing but the headboard and my trembling fingers to look at. My sole focus is concentrating on the feeling of Julian covering my back with the warmth of his chest as he eases back into me.

He doesn't really have any reason to go so slow, he slides in easily this time. At least he doesn't bother with the snail's pace, setting right into a smooth rocking that makes me have to brace my hand in front of me. Julian's stubble is vaguely scratchy as he peppers little kisses across my shoulders and shoulder blades. The only sound now is our breathing and the rather obscene slap of our bodies connecting. I'm panting too hard to be able to get out much more then a muttered curse or short groan every once in a while. Julian is mostly silent, only ever letting out a breathy grunt when I manage to time my movements to his so we meet even more deeply.

I can feel myself getting close and I bring up one arm to rest on the headboard, cushioning my head, and then sneak the other hand down to my groin, half hoping Julian will notice and punish me for it. He notices. One hand that's been clutching bruisingly at the ladder of my ribcage flies to my groin, swatting my hand away. Instead, though, he wraps his hand around me, smearing precum over the shaft. He pumps me in time with his thrusts and the other hand comes round to my chest to pinch my nipple sharply, then rub at it soothingly.

All the muscles in my lower torso seem to be knotting up in anticipation of release. I can feel Julian's breath skimming over my ear in hot bursts. I twist my neck, tilting my head so I can reach his mouth, and he cranes forward, seeking my mouth as well. I almost lose my balance when suddenly his arms steel around me and he pulls me back with him as he straightens up.

This angle isn't quite as deep, he's not hitting my prostate anymore in this position, so I shift my hips around, try to find that spot again. I reach a hand back behind his head, helping pull us together, and even if this isn't as deep, it feels closer, more intimate, and that's just as good. I can tell Julian's close as well. His hips are snapping up roughly, pushing his cock as deep as he can. It's still not quite right though, and I shift my hips again, rotating my pelvis back so my back is arched dramatically. Suddenly it's right. It's completely perfect.

Our faces are pressed together, lips brushing each other but too short of breath to really kiss. My one hand threads through his hair desperately as he continues to worry my nipples, one and then the other. My other hand clenches his corresponding forearm in a visce, though I try not to impede his steady up and down rhythm on my arousal. His cock is hitting me just right with every push and I know I only need a few more good thrusts to send me over the edge.

I try to warn him. "Julian," I pant. "...'m gonna... I.. ah"

Julian gently shushes me and I can feel the muscles of his thighs clench behind me and he slams up into me, perfect and exactly what I need.

All the energy in my body seems to rush to my groin, roiling there in one moment where all my muscles tense in anticipation and then I'm coming, all over Julian's hand and my own chest. I know I'm chanting Julian's name like a mantra.

I can feel him tensing as well, his last few thrusts becoming erratic and rough. His hands fly to my sides, controlling my body, pushing me down on his cock and I let my weight bear down on him. Suddenly he stills inside me, buried to the hilt, incredibly tense.

He murmurs my name, grinding out tightly and then he relaxes, arms slackening around me. He gives another couple of half-hearted thrusts, milking his own cock and then stills completely. His chest is heaving against my back, our skin sliding together slickly from sweat and come. I wince as feel him pull out of me gingerly, then I collapse face-first into the pillows and blankets, exhausted. Julian busies himself momentarily by grabbing his shirt from the floor and wiping himself clean of what he can before tugging the sheets out from under my dead weight.

He settles himself down carefully beside me, close, but not touching me anywhere. The hair surrounding my face is damp with sweat and curling slightly, making it even more of a mess. I can barely see him through the mass of it in my eyes. He cautiously pushes it out of my eyes and we lie there for a few minutes, just coming down, watching each other.

I can tell he's nervous. Now that passion isn't driving us he's a bit scared. But to be honest, I am too. I feel like we're both waiting for the other one to talk, but neither of us knows where to begin. My body is telling me it's exhausted and my eyelids feel heavy, but I know I can't fall asleep yet. Not with Julian lying there so meek, so unsure. It's almost funny that we could go from orgasmic bliss to this within minutes.

I'm not scared like I was before. I know now that this will be ok. I know he's not going to walk away this time, and we're not going to scream and yell and say awful things to each other. If only the slightly sick feeling in my stomach understood this. I'm startled when Julian opens his mouth and speaks."

"I... I lied. You're not – you're not nothing to me. You..." He's steeling himself to say this, I can see it, he's always found expressing his feelings towards me far too difficult. But he pulls through. "You're everything to me. I can't live without you."

I close my eyes, savouring the words. I know what he's saying.

His hand is lying in the space between our bodies, palm up, fingers relaxed and curled in. I slip my hand, steady as I can, into his, and look at our fingers entwined for a moment. I can only manage a whisper when I look up and meet his eyes.

"I love you, too."

The light streaming in through the blinds is tinged with pink and the beginnings of sunshine now. This isn't Ligeti. It isn't Radiohead gone wrong. It's not even that perfect Bach sonata. This is like the beginning. It's not perfect, but it's vital.