Noel was a crier. Everyone knew that. He didn’t have a filter for his emotions, he seemed to have never needed to grow one. Julian sometimes wondered about that. It couldn’t all be the Northern/Southern thing. But, somewhere along the line Noel hadn’t decided that showing his emotions meant showing weakness. Instead, he’d learned how to go on the attack if people wanted to perceive it as such. Which mostly didn’t happen; Noel’s openness with his emotions just made everyone within a ten mile radius fall madly in love with him.
Julian wasn’t jealous of that fact. It wasn’t jealousy. It just pissed him off sometimes. Because it wasn’t like a) Noel didn’t also hide a lot of himself, it was just people seemed not to notice until it was too late or b) Julian didn’t feel things. He did. Things hurt him just as much as they did Noel. It was just Noel managed to turn them outwards into a slanging match or tears. Julian turned them inwards, added them to his own personal bank of shame. It blocked his throat when he wanted to speak and made him sullen. People didn't seem to find that trait endearing like they did with Noel’s reactions. Julian couldn’t help retreating and becoming cold. He just didn’t know how else to deal with it. Dave called it Julian’s Fortress of Solitude.
Julian called it needing some time to figure out a way not to drown under the pressure and self-doubt. He knew he became more and more irritable at not being to express himself and his fears.
He also knew, logically, that it didn’t matter if they won a stupid award at a stupid festival. It didn’t mean that he was going to fail again. That everything was going to come crashing down around him. But it felt like that. And he didn’t want it to. Working with Noel had been the most fulfilling, exhilarating thing he’d ever done. But the thought lingered. That this was all just in his head. That he wasn’t separating what his dick wanted from what was actually a viable career move.
Shagging your comedy partner was as stupid as it got. But that didn’t seem to stop them from being all over each other the moment they were alone. It also didn’t stop them from screaming at each other like a married couple as Dave scurried around loading props into a van. They didn’t have an ending to the show. A show they were performing in a couple of hours. Just as soon as Julian drove them to the gig because Noel refused to learn or even give directions because he was apparently too fucking important.
Julian was nearing thirty. He didn’t have a career. He was shagging a man that seemed to swing wildly between hating the sight of him and crawling into his lap and kissing him senseless. He was broke and his mother kept trying to subtly suggest he think about a moving back up North. He felt like he was losing his mind.
“You are such an arsehole!” Noel screamed at him, as Dave tried to pretend he couldn't hear them while picking up a bag of costumes from Julian’s feet.
“I just don’t understand why you can’t take this seriously!” Julian shouted back. “I don’t know why we’re even bothering with this. You’re obviously not cut out for it. You clearly don’t give a shit.”
“Fuck you!” Noel screamed. His eyes were wet with tears which made Julian feel guilty. Then annoyed that Noel got to pull that move and get away with whatever he felt like.
“Just get in the fucking van and shut up,” he hissed. “We don’t have time for your bullshit right now.”
Noel looked like he was going to throw a punch. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d lashed out, but he seemed to change his mind and slammed his way to the van instead. The tension was horrendous on the drive to the venue. Nearly as bad as the gig itself. The six old women in the audience stared blankly at them as they tried to find their feet, tried to find anything that was remotely amusing.
By the time they left, Julian felt like he might have aged fifty years. It wasn’t the worst gig he’d ever done. But, he’d hoped that after winning a Perrier he might have left this sort of thing behind. They went back to the flat in silence. Everyone seemed slightly shellshocked and like they were trying to process what had just happened.
Noel followed Julian into his bedroom. They didn’t speak as they removed their clothes. There wasn’t anything to say, but they needed to release the tension between them somehow otherwise it was going to be the end of their double act. The sex was always amazing. Like their chemistry on stage, they fitted together almost perfectly. Too well, really. It left him confused and raw.
They lay together afterwards, Noel’s head pillowed on Julian’s shoulder. They still hadn’t said a word.
They were doomed, Julian realised suddenly. He was going to fuck this up. Just like he fucked up his music career. Just like The Pod. Just like his acting. He didn’t realise it was going to happen until the first tear was rolling down his cheek. He froze, furiously trying to stop another one leaking from his eye but he simply didn’t seem to have the energy. He tried to take a breath but it shuddered through his chest embarrassingly.
Noel pushed himself up onto his arm. Julian wanted to curl into himself and hide his face. But it was too late for that. Noel’s eyes were huge and almost terrified looking. “Are you…” he started. “Are you crying?”
“Fuck off,” Julian huffed, the embarrassment making his eyes sting again. He felt so raw that he was worried for a moment that he was actually going to start sobbing.
“Oh Ju ,” Noel said, reaching out to cup his face with one hand. “It’s okay. It was just a warm up.”
“I know that,” Julian said. His voice sounded all wobbly and weak. It was so embarrassing that it nearly made him start crying again. God he was pathetic.
Noel swung a naked leg over him and curled himself over so he was lying over him, cuddling him tightly, head tucked into Julian's chest. “We’ll fix the show,” he whispered. “Don’t cry, I can fix it. I’ll just…” Noel seemed to run out of words for a moment. Julian sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “I’ll sell my soul to the God of comedy and we’ll figure out the best show ever. We’ll get a TV show and we’ll tour the world playing stadiums. Everyone will see how good you are and you’ll get film roles and be a proper actor as well as a famous comedian.”
Julian let out a slow breath. With Noel so close it didn’t actually sound stupid. It sounded possible. He wondered if there was a way to bottle this feeling so he could bring it out when he felt so terrified and crushed by the pressure that he couldn’t breathe. “Yeah?” he managed.
“Yes,” Noel said, squeezing his arms around Julian tightly. “I promise. I’m sorry I shouted at you. I didn't mean it, I was just scared you were gonna leave me because I couldn’t come up with anything.”
There was a lot he could say. Even more that he should. “I’m not going anywhere,” he managed. “Not if you’re about to sell your soul.”
Noel laughed. “You were good today,” he said after a moment.
Julian felt himself tense at the compliment. He hated it when people tried to make him feel better about fucking up. “I stepped on every joke and fell over.”
Noel giggled. “That was quite funny, though,” he said. “I thought you were going to punch that table for tripping you.”
“I was tempted,” he said, his mouth wanting to twitch.
Noel moved so he could look up at him. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I know you think I don’t care about things because I muck around sometimes. But I do. This is the best thing I’ve ever done, I don’t want it to end.”
He could only nod, still feeling like he might cry if he tried to speak.
“Please don’t be sad,” Noel said, his eyes big and worried-looking. “It’s like it’s raining indoors when you look like that.”
It shouldn’t make sense and it certainly shouldn't make him feel warm and pleased to see Noel’s ridiculously huge eyes seem so concerned. But it did. He felt himself wanting to smile. “That bit where you forgot your line and stormed off stage early was pretty funny,” he said after a moment.
Noel blushed and ducked his head. “Don’t,” he muttered into Julian’s chest. “I thought you were going to just call the whole thing off then and there.”
Julian couldn’t help the little chuckle. “It was probably the best bit of the show.”
“Oh God,” Noel laughed. “I considered just carrying on running right out of the venue and all the way home.”
“That would have been dramatic,” he said.
“We’ll fix it, Julian,” Noel said again. “I promise.”
“I know,” Julian said softly, running a gentle hand over Noel’s hair. He felt himself relaxing. It was always like that between them. When they were alone it felt like nothing was impossible. Julian felt strong and funny and worthwhile. It was when they were in the real world that things started to fall apart. Maybe they could just stay in his room for the rest of their lives.
“Shall I make us scrambled eggs on toast?” Noel said after a long silence where they listened to the rain hurl itself against the window. “You always feel better after you’ve eaten. Then we can wake Dave up and work on the show some more. I think I have some ideas.”
Julian smiled and wrapped his arms around the other man tightly. “Yeah,” he said. “Just… Can we just stay here a bit longer?”
Noel grinned up at him, his eyes delighted and cheeks rosey. “Course,” he said easily. “We can stay here for as long as you like. I’d never leave if we could.”
The words made Julian’s throat tight again. He blinked and guided Noel’s head back down onto his chest so he couldn’t see his eyes shine. He felt overwhelmed. This time with something so big and scary that he didn’t want to give it a name. He felt fond and hopeful and… happy. He wasn’t used to the feeling and it made him worried. He pushed it away and closed his eyes. Noel was warm and comforting in his arms. That would be enough. He would make it enough.