Julian’s day started well, if there was a better way to wake up than Noel enthusiastically taking him into his mouth and giving him a world class blow job, Julian hadn’t found it yet. He groaned as he woke, hands reaching out to tangle in Noel’s hair automatically. It was still a surprise to find the strands shorter, but he loved running his hands through them and there was still plenty to grip. Noel continued to seem almost embarrassed by his new haircut when Julian commented on it or played with his hair, which he found a bit confusing. He thought Noel was as gorgeous as ever, but there was some strange calculus that went on in Noel’s head when it came to the way he looked that Julian couldn’t always follow. He didn’t try, instead offering affirmations of how attractive he found him whenever he could. That seemed to be enough most of the time.
Noel moaned around him as Julian tugged his hair and he couldn’t stop the slightly hitch upwards of his hips in response. He loved how responsive Noel always was during sex. It had been almost a year but that hadn’t seemed to dampen either of their appetites for each other. The wet heat surrounding him, combined with the tight suction, was still as incredible as it had been the first time. Julian kept his eyes closed, wanting to trap in how good it felt.
It was the best morning he could remember in ages. Topped only by Noel pulling off mid-way through to climb back up his body and kiss him.
“Happy birthday,” he muttered, when he pulled back and grinned down, his hair falling prettily about his flushed face.
Julian blinked up at him, feeling a bit dazed. It took him longer to get there these days - the delights of middle-age he supposed - but Noel never seemed to mind the extra foreplay. If anything he seemed to revel in it, in working Julian up to things slowly, getting him so turned on he wanted to scream. He smiled up at Noel, wanting to speak, but then the other man was moving, lifting himself up before sinking down onto Julian’s cock slowly.
He let out a strangled moan as Noel sank down easily; he was hot and wet, like he’d prepared himself to be able to do just that.
“Fuck,” he managed. His breath had started coming in short gasps at the thought of Noel working himself open and ready for him.
Noel grinned down at him, laughing silently, clearly pleased with the reaction he was getting. “Happy birthday,” he repeated.
Julian pressed his mouth into a thin line in response. “You remembered,” he sighed.
“That my boyfriend is turning fifty?” Noel asked, leaning down to kiss him again. He knew Julian didn’t really like it when he called him that, but they couldn’t agree on a suitable alternative and Noel wouldn’t stop using the title until they did.
“We weren’t going to mention it,” he admonished, choosing to address the more pressing concern. But, it was hard to sound annoyed or even like he was really part of the conversation, when Noel was starting to move on top of him, just little movements that were designed to tease. It was working, and Julian’s hands fluttered for a moment before coming to rest on Noel’s waist, wanting to guide him, but not willing to force the issue and really make him start to move.
“You weren’t you mean,” Noel said, shifting his hips again and making Julian gasp.
“Well, it’s my one birthday wish,” he managed to stutter out, his breath starting to hitch. They liked to play this game sometimes, trying to carry on a normal conversation, daring the other one to be the one that broke.
“Oh,” Noel said, his own breath catching. “Well, in that case I can stop and we can do something else.”
Julian chuckled and it came out a bit breathless. “As if you’ve got the willpower for that.”
Noel laughed, a sound of surprised mirth. Those laughs were Julian’s favourite, they made him feel as though he’d won some special prize when he got one, even after all these years. “I hate how well you know me.”
He was starting to speed up, unable to keep up with the agonisingly slow pace he’d started. He was always a bit too impatient to keep it going for long, for which Julian was greatful, otherwise he’d have lost his mind within weeks of them getting together.
“I… God, Noel,” he ground out. “No you don’t.”
They didn’t try to speak after that, which was probably for the best, because Julian lost the ability of speech shortly after, only able to hold on and then somehow reach out to stoke Noel to completion when they got close.
They lay panting for a few minutes afterwards before Julian chuckled. “Happy birthday to me,” he said, not having even the energy to turn his head to look at Noel.
Noel laughed, a happy and slightly smug sound. “You’re welcome, you old fogey.”
“Oi!” Julian snapped, finally gathering himself enough to roll his head to face Noel. “Less of that, or I shall come at you, sir.” He paused. “Just as soon as I catch my breath. Just you wait.”
Noel laughed softly before wriggling over to kiss him soundly. “Alright,” he breathed, when he pulled back. He grinned beautifully down at him before rolling out of bed and padding toward the shower. “I’m heading to the studio. Have fun with the boys, I’ll see you for dinner.”
Julian smiled at the ceiling for a few moments before closing his eyes again.
Noel appeared later, hair still damp from the shower to drop another kiss on his forehead. “You’ll be late if you don’t hurry up,” he whispered, before kissing him on the lips. “Say hi from me and have a good birthday day.”
Julian had suggested that Noel join him for the day, but he’d declined, saying he had work that needed finishing. They weren’t ‘official’ when it came to being around the boys yet, which might be part of the real reason. But really Julian just suspected that Noel wanted to make sure he got some time alone with the boys. The thought made his chest tight with emotion. Noel always seemed to somehow know what he needed without having to ask. Sometimes it filled him with joy and other times it made him terrified that he was letting him down with his inability to return the favour.
He sighed and forced himself out of bed. Now wasn’t the time to dwell on those sorts of thoughts. It would only lead to a downward spiral of self-doubt, something he’d been fighting for the last few weeks as it was.
Fifty seemed impossibly old. It wasn’t like he thought he was about to drop dead or anything, but it did seem like there was now an invisible clock hanging over his head, slowly ticking down the time he had left. He hated the idea of how little time he and Noel might have. How few times they might wake up together or how many shows they might make. The most he had to comfort himself with was that at least he’d die first - Noel never seemed amused by that particular joke. But now it seemed worse than ever, every new line on his face was a reminder of all the time they’d wasted before giving it a go. He felt sad and almost anxious when he thought about it.
It wasn’t like he had a catalog of great achievements to cheer him up when he looked back, either. Sometimes it felt impossible to believe how little he’d actually achieved, while still somehow being exhausted the entire time. Everything good he had - the boys, Noel, even the Boosh - didn’t seem a result of him so much as the people he’d managed to con into loving him.
He hadn’t voiced any of that. Noel was a bit tetchy about the passing of time himself; he found getting older hard in a different way to Julian. It was all bound up in Noel’s head with his self-worth and the way he looked to everyone else. It was complicated and Julian tried to understand, although it was mostly alien to him. He could at least identify with not feeling entirely satisfied with how your body looked. But it all meant that he tried to keep his internal panic to himself.
He sighed heavily and tried not to think about it. Being moody on his own birthday seemed a bit too obvious for someone known to overthink everything.
The rest of the day was peaceful and domestic - just how he liked it. They went to a flea market and Julian picked out some things he thought Noel might like and let the boys pick out the most hideous thing they could find to take home to Julia. He laughed for five minutes at the nodding dog lamp they managed to dig out from somewhere. Best fifty quid he’d spent in ages.
He dropped them off at home and headed back to Noel’s flat around seven o’clock. Noel had promised to take him out, and he suspected that he’d expect Julian showered and changed by the allotted time. Noel was ready by the time Julian got back, which was something of a surprise.
“Not joining me in the shower then?” he asked with a raise of his eyebrows.
Noel rolled his eyes. “No, you dirty old man,” he said, swatting at Julian’s arm playfully. “We’re going to be late if you don’t hurry up.”
“Yeah yeah,” he said, pretending to be put out. “I’m hurrying.”
He showered and pulled on some clothes that wouldn’t make Noel tut at him too loudly. Noel hadn’t said where they were going but promised it wasn’t fancy, so he just went with some jeans and shirt and jacket. Noel was fairly dressed up, but that didn’t give him much to go on in terms of potential destinations.
They set off on foot, which still gave him no clues. He eyed Noel suspiciously out of the corner of his eye as they walked.
“You haven’t organised a surprise party have you?“ he asked, trying to sound casual.
“Course not,” Noel said firmly. “You’d hate that.”
“This is just a quiet meal for us?” he tried again.
Noel nodded his head, reaching out and squeezing Julian’s hand firmly for a moment. “Absolutely,” he said. “Promise.”
Of course that meant the moment they opened the doors to the restaurant he was met with a wall of sound. It was probably variations of “Surprise!” and “Happy birthday!” but it registered as just a general roar. Noel melted into the crowd as Julian received hugs and kisses from friends and family. It was a good mix of people. Really just their best friends and closest family, and Julian couldn’t help smiling. Grinning really. It was hard to be moody in the face of such an onslaught of open affection.
His mum was waiting near the back and pulled him into a tight hug as he reached her. “Happy birthday, darling,” she crooned as she pulled him in. Julian closed his eyes and held her tightly, trying not to think of his father and thus ruin the moment. “Have you seen what he’s done inside?” she asked, her eyes shining with something he couldn’t decipher, when she pulled back.
He shook his head, butterflies filling his stomach. He almost didn’t want to know.
“Go look,” she said. “It’s…” She shook her head and smiled at him, looking fond in a way she seemed to reserve solely for Noel. His mum had always loved Noel. She’d been more excited than almost anyone when he’d told her they were together, insisting they came to stay for a week - and entire week - so she could spend some time with them. Noel has loved it, of course, basking in her attention and excitement the whole time.
Julian managed to fight his way through the throng of people into the little room Noel had hired for them to eat in. He stopped walking abruptly. Noel was standing in the middle of the room, alone, staring at the walls. He turned to smile at him when Julian entered.
“But I hate surprise parties,” he said, but given that he was smiling, the effect was probably ruined.
“You hate the thought of them or of people going to a big fuss for you. But you don’t hate everyone you love being in the same place and paying you attention.” Noel was smiling indulgently at him, affection clear even across the room.
Julian clasped his hands on his chest. “You got me,” he said, grinning more freely. “What’s all this then?” he asked, nodding at the walls.
“It’s an exhibition of you,” Noel said. “Some of your finest achievements.”
Julian looked around feeling a bit overwhelmed. There were clipping about his early solo shows. Pictures of his bands. He could see over the other side of the room a framed Richard Thorncroft vinyl. And the Boosh, of course. Pictures of him and Noel looking terrifyingly young as well as a very early mock up for a movie poster Dave had done.
“This is a school report,” he said, pointing at a framed slip of slightly yellowing paper next to him. He didn’t know what else to say. It was too much.
“That’s a school report,” Noel confirmed, trying to sound solem as he nodded his head.
“It says I’m unfocused and bad at grammar,” he pointed out.
“It says you’ve got a brilliant imagination and talent for writing,” Noel said, sounding outraged. He crossed his arms. “It’s a good report, Julian, you should see some of mine.”
“I suppose it’s possible it says both of those things,” he said, narrowing his eyes to show he was mostly messing about.
“I suppose it is,” Noel agreed, back to grinning impishly at him.
“Thank you,” he managed. “This is…”
“Your worst nightmare,” Noel finished walking across the room and allowing Julian to pull him close.
“Too good for me,” he whispered. “Just like you.”
“Nah,” he said. “I just wanted… You’ve achieved so much, Ju, we’re all so proud of you.”
It was getting likely one of them was going to cry so Julian kissed him instead of answering.
“Can we come in yet or what?” Someone yelled pulling open the door. “Oh God!” It was Rich, Julian realised. “They’re kissing!!”
They pulled back so Noel could shout something rude and obnoxious at Rich that Julian ignored. People filed into the room, chatting happily and snagging seats at the tables set up in the centre.
Julian was left still feeling overwhelmed as he tried to take it all in. The thought of Noel doing all of this made me feel almost small and silly; no one could deserve something like this from someone as special as Noel. Least of all him. He was trying to find the words to express that but Noel was speaking again before he could.
“There’s one last thing,” Noel said, squeezing Julian around the waist to get his attention, “it’s sort of your present. Only, not really.”
Julian frowned at him. “That some sort of riddle? When’s a present not really a present?”
“Yes,” Noel said, “that’s it. It’s a riddle-gift.”
“Riddle-gift,” Julian repeated, liking the sound of the words. He put on a silly voice and grinned when it made Noel laugh.
“Riddle-gift,” Noel said again, trying out a new voice of his own. “I mean, I also got you some new clothes that don’t make me want to gauge my eyes out. But… I wanted to give you something else.”
Julian laughed as he let Noel pull him along by the hand towards the other side of the room. He saw it after just a couple of steps. It was a portrait. Of him, of course, he’d sort of suspected that Noel was working on one but hadn’t wanted to ask and ruin the surprise. It had been a running joke between them for years; whenever Noel said he was painting Julian would always ask if he was painting him. Noel would always roll his eyes and tell him that he had far better things to paint than Julian’s ugly mug, especially when he already had to stare at it 24/7 anyway. But over the last couple of months, he’d seemed a bit sheepish when answering. It made Julian feel almost impossibly fond of him.
He stopped in front of the picture and stared. Noel didn’t do a lot of portraits like this very often; it was aiming for realism, but with his characteristic flair for colour. It was beautiful; the colours he’d used were warm and rich and Julian actually sort of looked attractive. It was clearly him as Noel saw him now, face lined and hair grey, but there was such obvious affection in the rendering of it that he couldn’t help but grin.
“You painted me,” he said, unable to keep the ridiculous smile off his face.
Noel let out a little huff of breath. “Yeah,” he said gently.
“It’s lovely,” Julian said, pulling Noel close. “The best riddle-gift I’ve ever been given.”
“You like it?” he asked as he folded into him, hiding his face in Julian’s chest.
“Of course,” he said. “It’s about time you painted me. I was feeling left out.” It was easier making jokes, it always had been.
“You want to know a secret?” Noel whispered after a moment.
“Yeah,” Julian said, kissing the top of his head, and looking back at the picture. “Go on then.”
“They’re all you,” he said softly, breathing the words into Julian’s chest.
“What do you mean?” He frowned, trying to figure out this new part of the riddle.
“Under this picture,” Noel said quietly, “are loads more of you. I’ve been…” He paused and blinked up at Julian as though somehow embarrassed. It must have been the first time in years he’d seen that expression; it was like something from years ago. Decades maybe. “I’ve been trying to paint you… how I feel about you, for years,” Noel continued, his eyes wide. “I’ve never been able to - this is just one canvas that I’ve been painting and then covering when it wasn’t right. But I dunno.” He shrugged. “It’s still not right, but I figured it was time I showed you one.”
“Really?” he asked. He’d seen pictures of himself that Noel had drawn or painted plenty of times, mostly things for the show, he supposed, now he thought about it. He’d never imagined that Noel might have been painting more that he’d never seen. “There’s other mes under there?”
Noel smiled fondly at him. “Yeah,” he said. “I’d paint you, when you pissed me off or I was confused about what was happening between us or… you know, when I was sad.”
“So…” Julian started. “All the time?”
Noel laughed. “Yeah, pretty much. It helped, but they never quite…” he shrugged again. “I didn’t always want to keep them and I liked the idea that you were still there. All them yous, still under there, like a scrapbook or something. But, this one,” he gestured and looked away. “This one I thought I might get to keep.”
Julian didn’t know what to say. It was the most stupidly romantic thing anyone had ever said or done in his presence. How could he possibly respond? He saved himself from having to speak by pulling Noel back into a fierce hug. “Thank you,” he said, looking back at the painting and smiling.
He squinted at it again, noticing for the first time that there was a scrap of paper under the picture, like there was under all the other exhibits around the room. Julian leant in, trying to make out Noel’s scrawl. “This is Julian.” It read. “He’s fifty today and I’ve loved him since he was a just a young slip of a lad, just a skinny beanpole. He makes me laugh and plays the guitar better than anyone in the world”
Julian was absolutely not crying in the middle of his own birthday party because his boyfriend had painted a picture of him and written a sappy dedication. He’d never live it down. So he chose to believe that he’d just suddenly developed an allergy to Noel’s hair products. It was the only explanation that made sense.
It wasn’t that he didn’t think Noel was committed to this thing between them. He knew deep down that he must be, but it was hard to keep sight of that sometimes. All the years they’d spent pretending they didn’t really care, that there was nothing more between them, still weighed on him sometimes. Noel found expressing certain things, the most important things, hard. It left Julian feeling vulnerable and anxious, even when he knew he was probably being stupid. There remained a lot left unsaid, even now, he could feel himself scrambling around to rearrange the evening, finding hundreds of reasons why Noel might do this, might think he had to, that were nothing to do with meaning their relationship was going to last beyond actually making the Boosh film. He swallowed and told himself it didn’t matter. He had him tonight and Noel had done this. That was surely all that mattered. He could live off the memories if he had to.
He took a (only slightly) shuddering breath. “Thank you,” he whispered again, tightening his arms around Noel.
“I mean what I wrote under the picture,” Noel whispered.
“Of course you do,” he said, taking a step back so he could grin down at him. “That’s because you’re a simpleton. But I’ll take it anyway.”
Noel laughed and looked up at him. “Happy birthday, Ju,” he said, smiling happily. “Now, let’s go get drunk with everyone while I get them to tell me the most embarrassing story about you they can remember.”
And he did. Of course he did. Julian spent the entire night blushing in mortification and so ridiculously happy it felt like he was going to fly apart at the seams. It was the best birthday he could remember having.