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Noel fought his way to consciousness to prise one eye open. His head was a little fuzzy from sleep and a lingering hangover that the mid-afternoon nap hadn’t managed to shake. He froze when he realised there was someone in the bed with him. He had a moment of alarm when it became obvious that it wasn’t Dee, before relaxing again. A slow grin spread across his face when the fact that he was being cuddled by something that resembled a overly large octopus gave away who it actually was. He lay there for a moment as the previous night came back to him. He pressed down on the desire to laugh before wriggling out of the bed.

Julian stirred as he pulled free of his arms. It wasn’t unheard of for him to stay over after they’d been out, or for them to nap together after a writing session, but not usually both in the same day, and both had become less frequent as time wore on. He wondered about that sometimes, but was never really sure what it meant, whether it was a good or a bad thing. But it did mean that he tended to savour the times when it did happen.

“What’s happening?” Julian muttered. His voice was rough from sleep and he sounded a bit put out. He’d never been good at waking up. It took him so long to get to sleep that once he’d done it, he seemed reluctant to give it up.

Noel smiled at him, even though he was buried under the covers and couldn’t see it. “I’m making breakfast,” he announced and then added, “for the second time today.” He walked over to his door and pulled it open dramatically so he could call loudly back into the room, “And put some clothes on before you come out here, you dirty nudist, you’ll scare the others.”

He fizzed with an excited little thrill at announcing to the flat at large that Julian was naked in his bed. It was childish probably. It wasn’t like it actually meant anything; Julian had always refused to sleep with his clothes on, making it seem like Noel was the weird one for wanting something to wear in bed.

He was mildly disappointed to find the flat empty and his joke wasted. But, he consoled himself as he flicked the kettle on, Julian didn’t know that, and the joke was mostly for him anyway. Just a tease to see if he’d try to contradict the idea that they might have done something other than fall asleep in an exhausted, hungover, heap together after trying fairly unsuccessfully to write for most of the day. He never did. It always seemed to be him that broke first in this game of chicken they were engaged in.

He smiled to himself when he realised that Julian wouldn’t be able to get dressed anyway, because Noel had somehow ended up wearing his t-shirt. It wasn’t the first time that he’d slept in the clothes Julian had been wearing the day before. It gave him another one of those little thrills to do it. A hint at something more, a deeper intimacy than normal friends. They both liked to do that, just give little signs that they were more than other friends. Like when they held hands in public or put kisses into the stage show. He wasn’t sure why exactly they wanted to make it seem like something more might be happening. It wasn’t, not really. But he wondered sometimes if maybe they were testing it out. Seeing what other people might do if it were. What they might do. It was a weird thought because neither of them actually wanted to suddenly start bumming. It would have surely happened by now and it never had. Nothing had, save a few kisses and the odd weird night where everything got a bit blurred. But they always went right back to how they’d been before, so it wasn’t like it really meant anything. Other than that their friendship was a bit more. Friendship Plus, that was them.

His phone was ringing, but he ignored it. He needed something to eat and some caffeine before he dealt with anyone. Julian eventually emerged in just his jeans, bare-chested and footed, his hair in complete disarray just as Noel was buttering the toast. His face was creased with sleep and he was scowling like he blamed Noel for the passing of time and the need for him to get up.

“Drink this and have some toast,” he said, handing over a mug.

“You’re a good wife,” Julian said, practically falling into a chair at the table.

Noel felt himself wanting to preen which was stupid. “You’re a charmer,” he said, making his voice breathy, over exaggerating his pleasure in a bid to mask it entirely. “Mumma always said the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

“I don’t think she meant it to be with burnt toast and stewed tea,” Julian said, but he was smiling at him, his brow lifted, and it made Noel want to giggle.

“Fuck you,” he said. “I’m a great cook. Remember that time I made you soup because you were ill?”

“I remember when you and Lee nearly burnt down the flat in Edinburgh making pasta.”

So did Noel and the memory was still equal parts mortifying and hilarious. Just the memory of Julian’s face when he’d come back to find him and Lee on the floor in fits of giggles with the kitchen looking more like a war zone than a place to make food, could brighten even Noel’s darkest moods. As could the memory of being picked off the floor and held for a long moment before Julian ordered a pizza. The hours of cleaning the next day had been worth it just for that.

They sat down together at the table. Noel didn’t bother trying to engage Julian in more conversation; there was no point until he’d had another cup of tea. Instead he took the time to drink in the moment. He felt impossibly happy, sitting in his kitchen watching Julian munch on the toast he’d made him. He looked up and grinned at Noel before taking a drink of tea, like he could sense the moment was important too.

It finally felt like everything was going right. They had a TV show. The pilot was nearly written, a sort of greatest hits from the stage show. Richard had just agreed to play Bainbridge and Rich was coming over. It was perfect. Even Julian couldn’t seem to find reasons to complain. It made Noel’s chest feel full of affection and something a bit like anticipation. Although he’d hated having to go to a dinner party on a Thursday with the most boring people imaginable, a part of him had still felt a bit special. They were at a swanky party because they were about to make their own TV show.

The evening had turned out to be okay, really; they were together and had managed to have a bit of a laugh, even though the people around them had seemed a bit bemused. Then they’d come back to Noel’s and drunk cheap wine and giggled together until they’d fallen asleep in Noel’s bed, Julian curled around him like an over-enthusiastic limpet.

The phone was ringing again. That was the third time since they got back up. Julian looked at him. “You going to get that?” he asked, as he stood to take their plates and mugs to the sink.

“You’re the best husband,” Noel said, going up on tiptoes to drop a kiss on Julian’s cheek as he passed him.

The other man smiled and started doing some sort of strange dance with the plates as he filled the sink. Noel was still laughing when he picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Noel?” The voice on the other end was unexpectedly sharp and it made him frown.

“That’s me,” he said, his eyes drifting over to where Julian was now doing the washing up that had been left the night before. He smiled and leant against the wall to watch him and the way the muscles in his back moved as he worked.

“Where have you been? I’ve been calling all day.” It was Chiggy, he realised. Their manager didn’t tend to call them all that often, certainly not on a Friday afternoon. Noel was thrown for a moment but it didn’t matter because she was talking before he had a chance to reply. “What the fuck happened last night?”

There was a very strange moment where Noel thought she was asking about Julian staying over and his stomach clenched in terror. But that was ridiculous; she was probably asking about the dinner party with BBC Three.

“Afternoon Chiggy,” he said slowly and deliberately, not particularly liking her tone, “what can I do for you on this fine Friday?” Something in his tone must have shown his irritation because Julian turned to look at him.

“I said,” Chiggy said, her voice unusually clipped, “what happened at the party?”

“What do you mean?” Noel asked, trying to think back over it. “We were a fucking delight last night. Julian even spoke to people.”

Julian walked over to join him, his face creased in confusion. “I stayed to the end!” he added, even though Chiggy probably couldn’t hear him.

“Yeah,” Noel agreed. “He even stayed to the end and didn’t complain that much and I was like a one man charm army.”

“So, you didn’t take mushrooms and then tell everyone about it?” Chiggy’s voice was getting higher and higher pitched as the conversation went on.

“Oh,” Noel said, sagging for a moment before letting out a little laugh. “Yeah, I mean… No, obviously not. But, we were joking about it on the way and I made a joke to someone but-”

“They’re pulling the pilot, Noel,” she cut in, her voice firm and, now he was looking for it, worried.

Noel had never been able to feel the colour drain from his face before, but his whole body went cold all at once. Then he flushed with hot terror. “What?” he asked, his voice small.

Julian clearly realised something was wrong because he stopped from where he’d been pulling silly faces and frowned at him.

“I got a call this morning from David at BBC Three, and they’re not sure they want to continue,” she said, her voice softer now it was clear she’d got through to him. “They were taking a massive risk on this, and they don’t want to give it to people they can’t trust to deliver.”

“But, it was just a joke!” Noel said desperately. “We weren’t really on mushrooms, they can’t cancel the show!”

Julian’s eyes widened comically but Noel didn’t even really see him. He was too busy watching everything they’d been working for over the last five years disappearing in a puff of smoke.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “I told him that it didn’t sound like you, but he was really freaked out.”

He felt sick. “I’ll call you back,” he said eventually.

“Noel,” she started, but he cut her off.

“I’ll call you back,” he said again and hung up.

He stared blankly ahead. “Noel?” Julian said, his voice was calm, but his whole frame was radiating tension. “What’s happening?”

He wondered for a moment about not telling him, just, turning and fleeing into his room until he had a plan. “They’re pulling the pilot,” he said instead. But it felt distant, like someone else was speaking.

“What?” Julian looked so shocked, his face pale and so eyes big that Noel wondered if he ought to sit down. “What… did I-?” He looked like an overgrown kid, his feet all bare and face a mask of fear, that Noel felt, if possible, even worse.

“It was the mushroom joke,” he said slowly.

“Fuck,” Julian spat suddenly. “Fuck it!” He balled his hands into fists, looking furious and scared both at once. “They’re fucking cancelling it? Just like that?”

It was his fault, he realised with a clench of his stomach. He’d made the joke, showing off, partly for Julian but also to the execs, wanting to show they were the crazy wildmen of comedy. Like he was some sort of rock star at a party in the 60s and not at a house in Islington with grey men in grey suits. He was a fucking idiot and he’d ruined everything. There was no way that Julian was going to stick around if he’d just messed up their entire careers. He was going to go straight back to acting, or he’d find another comedy partner that knew how to behave at dinner parties. They’d worked so hard for this. It was the whole reason that Julian wanted to work with him to begin with, to make a TV show, and now, when they’d finally done it, Noel had fucked it up because he couldn’t just keep his mouth shut. Couldn’t resist the urge to look fucking edgy.

Julian’s hands were on his shoulders, and Noel startled, looking up at him. “Noel,” he said, his eyes serious, “it was my joke. I was the one that thought it would be funny. Maybe I should-”

Noel shook his head. “I was the one that said it,” he cut in. Julian was just trying to calm him down, taking the blame because everything that happened always ended up being his fault if given long enough. But it wasn’t. Not this time. Noel had well and truly fucked them. “I made the joke.”

“I didn’t stop you,” Julian said. “I was the one that told him we got them from you mum’s fucking cleaner.”

Noel’s mouth almost twitched at the memory. That had been pretty funny.

“Fuck it,” Julian said again, dropping his hands from Noel’s shoulders and pacing away. “I don’t fucking believe this.” He stopped, staring ahead, as though trying to come to terms with what had just happened. He rubbed his hands over his face and up into his hair, making in stand on end.

“I can fix it!” Noel burst out. He had no clue how, but the look on Julian’s face was too much. There was no way he was going to be the cause of that. “I’ll…” he started, swallowing. “I’ll just call them and explain, they can’t-”

“You’ll just call them?” Julian snapped back. “And say what exactly?”

“I don’t know!” Noel said, he could feel his cheeks heating and heart pounding. “But they can’t just- I’ll talk to them, Julian, I can fix it.”

Julian stared at him and threw up his arms. “Fine, whatever,” he said.

“Okay, I’m getting dressed,” Noel said, turning and walking towards the bedroom.

“What?” Julian snapped. “I thought you were calling them.”

“I am,” Noel said, his voice high pitched, spinning back around angrily. “But, just give me a second, okay? I need to be dressed first. I can’t call him in my knickers and your old fucking t-shirt, okay?”

Julian actually looked a bit embarrassed at that which was weird, but he took the fact he wasn’t disagreeing and walked quickly to his bedroom. Once inside he took a moment to breathe deeply and let it out slowly. His hands were shaking. He looked at the bed, still unmade from where they’d been asleep, wrapped together, only an hour ago. His eyes filled with tears and he screwed them shut. He was being ridiculous; he was just hungover and overreacting. There was no point in crying. He just needed to fix it.

He pulled on some new underwear and jeans. He was about to pull off Julian’s t-shirt but paused. It was comforting and still smelt a bit like him, and he didn’t want to take it off. Instead he looked in the mirror and tried to fix his hair a bit. It was just a phone call, but it made him feel better to look a little more presentable.

They were meant to be going out in a few hours but the thought of it made him feel a little queasy. He needed to go back out and deal with the situation. But he took a few moments first to try and breathe. He hadn’t actually had a panic attack for a few years, not since just before an Autoboosh show in a tiny bathroom backstage. Julian had found him then and calmed him down. The memory was oddly settling and he took another deep breath before heading back into the living room.

Julian jumped to his feet from where he’d been sitting on the sofa, his head in his hands. “Look,” he said, walking towards Noel, his face serious. “I was thinking and it’s going to be fine.”

Noel just nodded.

“They can’t just cancel it,” he said, “not just like that. We’ve written the fucking thing. It’ll be fine.”

Weirdly, Julian’s insistence that it would be okay just made him feel worse. He shook his head. “Alright there, Intense McGee,” he said, “calm your tits. Let me get his number and give him a call.”

Julian huffed out a little shaky laugh. “Yeah, alright,” he nodded and stepped back from him, his hands going to swing down by his sides. He looked calm outwardly, but Noel could see how nervous he was. His face was pinched and there was a little frown just between his eyes. He looked sort of ridiculous, still half naked, but Noel still had on his t-shirt and there was no way his clothes would fit Julian so he would have to stay that way until it was all sorted.

He called Chiggy back and convinced her to give him the guy’s number. She seemed calmer this phone call, perhaps because it was clear that they were taking it seriously.  “I’ll call you back when I’ve spoken to him,” he said, staring down at the number he’d scribbled on his note book. It looked strangely intimidating; perhaps he shouldn’t have written it in black felt tip.

“Okay,” she said gently. “Good luck, love.”

“Thanks,” he muttered and hung up. He stared down at the number for a long moment, tapping his fingers on the kitchen table and biting his lip. Then he slowly picked up the phone.

Julian stopped where he’d been pacing about the room and came and sat next to him. He looked pale and small, but his face was carefully neutral. Noel’s hands were still shaking as he dialed the number. It was probably just the shock, but it made him feel silly. He suspected that Julian noticed, because he reached out and took Noel’s spare hand in his own as the phone began to ring.

Dread pooled in his stomach. He couldn’t work out if he wanted this guy, David, to answer or not.

“David Ames.” The voice was firm, like he always expected the person to be calling for him.

“Oh, er, David?” Noel started, then felt like a tit. “It’s Noel Fielding. We, ah, we met last night.”

“Oh, hello,” David said, his tone similar to how it might sound if Noel were trying to sell him double glazing.

“Listen,” Noel said, trying to sound upbeat. “I think there might have been a bit of crossed wires when we spoke last night. Me and Julian were just joking, we don’t…” he snagged for a moment on the lie but pushed through anyway, “we don’t do drugs. That’s not us at all. That’s why we thought it was funny. I realise that you don’t really know us, so it was probably a bad first impression. But, I wanted to assure you that we really weren’t on anything when we spoke.” It was probably the most ridiculous thing he’d ever had to say to someone. Part of him wanted to laugh but the part that wanted to throw up on the kitchen floor was stronger so he just bit his lip and waited.

“I see,” the other man said slowly. There was a long pause. “The thing you have you understand, Mr Fielding, is that we’re taking a big risk with you and your, ah, show.”

Rage bubbled up in his chest at the tone, at the way he said ‘show’ like it was something silly and beneath him. He swallowed it down. “I know that,” he said, trying to show that he meant it. “We’re really grateful to you all. This is something we’ve been working towards all our lives. Please don’t let a silly joke ruin it.”

“My bosses were there,” David continued, as though he may not have heard Noel at all. “You have to understand how that looks.”

“I do,” Noel cut in. “We’re just not used to that sort of event; we didn’t mean anything by it. I’m so sorry, please don’t think…” He ran out of words suddenly, and to his horror it felt like he might cry. He took a deep breath, even as he realised that a) he was probably being utterly pathetic, and b) it might well help his cause to sound snivelly and contrite. “Please don’t think we don’t take the trust you’ve put in us seriously. We’ve been working so hard on the script; we’re really proud of it. If you give us another chance, I think you’ll see that.”

As tactics went, talking continuously until someone agreed with you, was a Noel classic. That and flirting a bit, but he sensed that might not go over all that well isin this case. There was a long silence after he was finished.

“Well,” David said and Noel held his breath, “I can see that perhaps there was a bit of a misunderstanding. But, I do hope you understand, Mr Fielding, that there are times and places for your, ah, off-brand humour.”

“I do,” Noel cut in. “It was a lapse in judgment, it won’t happen again.” He paused before forcing himself to continue. “We are really very sorry, it really won’t happen again.”

“Fine,” David said, like he was giving way under great duress. Perhaps he was, but Noel would take it.

“Thank you,” he said, letting out a breath. “We really, really appreciate it. We’ll, just, we’ll just carry on to the agreed schedule, yeah?”

“Very well,” he said, his voice slightly less clipped than when they’d started the call.

Noel could tell the conversation was over and knew better than to test his luck. “Great, okay, thank you,” he said in a rush. “Have a good evening and weekend.”

“You too, good evening.”

The line went dead and Noel let out a long breath, closing his eyes and sagging back into his chair. “Fucking hell,” he said slowly. “I feel a bit dirty.”

“Wow,” Julian said. “That was some of the finest arse kissing I have ever heard.”

Noel turned to him, his mouth already wanting to smile. It was clear that Julian had heard both sides of the conversation from the way the tension had drained out of his shoulders.  “I’m taking twenty showers. I can’t believe I just had to do that.”

“Come here,” Julian said, pulling Noel off his chair into his lap. He went easily, tucking his arms around Julian’s neck. “Tell me where the bad man touched you.”

“I can’t believe that just happened,” Noel said. “I thought I was going to have to offer to blow him for a minute there.”

Julian laughed, Noel could feel it rumble through his chest. “Maybe that’s what he was after. Maybe that’s how they get you; promise you a show and then take it away so you’re desperate enough to do anything.”

“I ain’t letting him bum me,” Noel said, with a grin. “That’s gonna have to be your job. You’re the one that’s into that; I can maybe strecth to a hand job if we absolutely have to.”

“I’m not a prostitute,” Julian said, mock prim. “Well, just the once, but I was down on my luck and he was actually very gentle with me.”

Noel laughed, and then had an odd moment where he wondered if Julian was telling the truth and then laughed again. Julian joined him. He felt almost hysterical now it was all over; giddy with relief. They laughed together, Julian’s arms tightening around him, until his eyes were watering and his breath was hitching. Every time he thought he was going to be able to stop, Julian would look at him again and they’d be off on another wave of giggles.

“I need another nap,” Noel said, climbing off Julian when they’d calmed down. “I think I just aged about twenty years.”

Julian nodded, getting to his feet. He could tell just by looking at him that he was about to offer to leave. “Come on,” he said, grabbing his arm and tugging him to the bedroom. “You’re going to freak out in a few hours that they’re going to change their minds again and just have to come back if you go home.”

“Hey!” Julian said, “you don’t know me! I’m the picture of calm and level headedness.”

But he didn’t resist as Noel took him back into the bedroom. He pulled off his jeans, and Noel followed suit. He crawled back under the duvet, feeling like it had been years since he left, not a couple of hours. Julian tugged him into his arms again, so Noel’s head was on his shoulder. They were silent for a moment.

“I really thought we were fucked there,” Julian said. “I’m sorry.”

Noel lifted his head so he could look at him. “Don’t be a tit,” he said. “I’m the one that made the joke.”

“I should have known,” Julian said, shaking his head. “I’ve been at those things before. I was just… I got carried away, being there with you. I got lost, I should have been thinking about the job, not making you laugh.”

Noel frowned, utterly confused as to why Julian was having a freak out now. “It’s fine,” he said, “it’s sorted. I made a tit of myself and I sorted it. It’s not your fault. We’re fine.”

Julian looked so upset that Noel pushed himself up onto his arm so he could catch his eye. “What’s happening?” he asked, using the tips of his fingers to smooth the frown between Julian’s eyes.

“I don’t know,” Julian said, smiling at Noel suddenly. “I’m just…”

“Getting tangled up?” Noel asked. He knew Julian overthought things, over the years he’d got good at following the possible dark turns Julian might take, but he still took some totally nuts twists that Noel couldn’t wrap his head around even after Julian explained it.

Julian let out a slow breath, his face relaxing into a smile. “Yeah,” he said. “I thought it was all over for a bit there.”

“What?” Noel squawked, wanting to lightening the mood. “What about, ‘I’ve been thinking about this and it’ll be fine’? What was that?”

“I was being brave,” Julian said, his eyes starting to crinkle with amusement. “I thought you were gonna throw up all your burnt toast; I was just helping.”

“I thought I was going to have a panic attack when I came in here to get dressed,” he said. “Like a big baby. Just sit on my bed and cry until my mum came and sorted it all out.”

Julian ran a hand over the top of his head, stroking his hair. “Yeah?” he asked. “You did good, though, little man. Even if you did have to whore yourself out a bit. It suits you. Possible second career next time I fuck this all up for us.”

“I fuck it up, you mean,” he said. “Stop being such a bloody drama queen. I’m the one that’s upset here.”

“Oh, I am sorry,” he said, and dropped a kiss on Noel’s forehead. “You’re right. How can I make you feel better?”

Noel tried not to preen too obviously at the attention, but he could feel he was smiling at bit ridiculously. “I don’t know, quick hand job?”

Julian laughed, a surprised sound of genuine amusement. “A quick hand job?” he asked. “Who do you think I am? I’m a master; I take my time, really tease it out. Julian Barratt doesn’t give quick and dirty hand jobs. They are all masterpieces, every last one.”

“Whatever,” Noel said, starting to squirm a bit. It was his fault for making the joke, but they were basically naked and pressed together and there was going to be no way to hide that he was getting a bit turned on. It was all the adrenaline. He’d always been like that after a show; too much energy that needed to be channeled somewhere. Sex had always been a good way to distract himself, let off some steam, but it was weird with Julian there, looking at him, all amused and flushed with relief. Noel felt so good, so happy that he’d managed to sort it all out that he didn’t want to break the moment. “I bet you’re terrible at them. All brutish and Northern; no finesse at all.”

Julian kissed him. It was a sudden movement, his head coming up from the pillow and pressing his lips to Noel’s before the other man could react. He eased off the pressure after a moment, turning it into something sweeter, his hands coming to cup Noel’s face gently. It honestly didn’t occur to Noel to pull back or stop him. It never had when Julian kissed him; it always seemed like such a natural progression that he didn’t want to. Julian slipped his tongue into Noel’s mouth and he let out a slightly embarrassing sigh, melting against Julian, taking the offered comfort.

“No finesse, eh?” Julian asked, pulling back and grinning wolfishly.

“Oh, fuck you!” Noel shouted, outraged. “Now what am I meant to do?” He pushed himself against Julian, feeling shameless and turned on and frustrated, even through the amusement.

“Fuck me?” Julian asked, his eyebrows raising, like a challenge as well a repetition of Noel’s own words.

It made Noel laugh again and duck his head nervously. “You wish,” he said.

“Yeah,” Julian said, his smile dimming. “Come on, we napping or are you planning on just humping my leg like an excited puppy for the rest of the evening?”

Noel rolled his eyes. “You are such a fucking weirdo,” he said, but he shifted away so he could go back to lying on Julian’s chest.

Julian’s arms tightened around him. “Yeah, and you’re a little freak. But we’re going to make a TV show together. So, maybe it’s the universe that’s fucked up and not us.”

“Yeah,” Noel said, closing his eyes and willing himself to calm down. “That sounds more like it.”

There was a gentle kiss on the top of his head. “Well done for earlier,” Julian said, seriously.

“Thanks, Ju,” he said, softly, feeling the last vestiges of anxiety start to ebb away. “You’re doing it next time, though.”

Julian chuckled. “Yeah, that’s a good idea; really playing to my strengths as a people person.”

“I’m not giving you a compliment,” Noel said. “Not after what you just pulled.”

“Fair enough,” Julian said. “Get some sleep. We’re meant to be out in a few hours.”

“Yeah,” Noel said, already knowing they’d probably both sleep right the way through the night. “Going to be a good one.”

And it would be. It always was when they were together. Noel was still for about thirty seconds.

“I reckon we should write something where Howard has to become a prostitute,” he said, already grinning. “Imagine that. Vince just whoring him about because they need the money. Rich could play your punter.”

He felt Julian shake with laughter. “Oh yeah?” he asked. “The Boosh meets Midnight Cowboy?”

Noel cackled into Julian’s chest. Sleep could probably wait a little longer; this was too good not to riff on.

- The end -