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On our way back home

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Waking up had always been easy for Paul. He was and had always been a “sun is shining, birds are singing, it’s a beautiful day!” kind of guy, couldn’t help it really. Even if as the years went on, things had been getting a tiny bit… harder. Stiff joints and back. Blurry vision for a couple of minutes. Dry throat seemingly all the time. Frustratingly tiny bladder. Not very funny things – even though he knew he shouldn’t complain for his age. 77 years was starting to be quite some time for a body, no matter how young he felt in his head.

But that morning, things were surprisingly easy. His body felt soft and supple, not even the slightest headache. Good day. With his eyes still closed, he started stretching in his bed, his groggy mind happily noticing that his knees weren’t hurting him at all. Very good day indeed! And a good thing too, because he had a meeting in town and then, off to his well-earned vacation. He turned to see if Nancy had awoken yet, feeling her side with his hand but came up empty. He slowly opened one eye – yup, no one. Oh well, another few minutes of sleep couldn’t hurt…

A weird feeling suddenly made him snap both eyes open. He turned on the light and looked on the other side of the bed, only to slowly realize his vision wasn’t betraying him.

This wasn’t his bed. Nor his bedside table. Nor his wallpaper, unless Nancy had decided during the night that big dark flowers were a thing again. An ugly hotel then? He sat up in his bed and looked around, a frown growing on his face. What day was it again? Was he still on tour…? He could have sworn he wasn’t, though. Increasingly confused, he looked at his bedside table, which didn’t help. A watch, a bottle of water, a retro alarm clock. Those were not his things. And there was another unmade bed right next to the table.

As his mind started to wake up a little more, a cold chill went through him. Tour had been over for a couple of weeks now. And just the night before they had had James over for dinner, they had talked about footie and everything, he was sure of that… Then where the hell was he? As he passed the possibilities in his mind, a thought imposed itself.

He had been kidnapped.

And… put to bed. In some pyjamas. Maybe he had been drugged…? Whatever it was, this was not normal. He had to get out, quick. A noise from the bathroom suddenly made him realize there was some light filtering under the door. As a cold sweat started pearling on his forehead, Paul got up and carefully approached the door, grabbing a chair on the way – just in case. Maybe his kidnapper was bandaging gunshot wounds or something. He had no memory of anything but some drugs could make you forget anything – he knew that first-hand. He raised the chair in his trembling hands, ready to kick the door open and face his abductor. But a new noise erupted behind the door, something heavy falling.

“Fuck!” A low voice cursed. “Fucking hell…!”

Paul froze. He knew that voice.

But that voice was impossible. That voice was dead. It sounded so much like him though… Paul cleared his throat and lowered the chair, sticking his ear to the door.

“George…?” He asked, quivering.

No answer. Well, it was official then, he was hearing voices. Or maybe it was just Dhani?

“Yeah?” The voice suddenly said, echoing loudly through the door. “You called me?”

Paul stepped back so fast he almost fell over himself, his heart beating wildly in his chest. That wasn’t… It couldn’t be…

When he heard more movement behind the door, a genuine fear took hold of him. He dropped the chair and raced to the door, his heart so loud he could feel it in his ears. He closed the door of the room and looked around for something to block it. All he found was a small dresser with an old decorative rotary phone on it that he picked up so quickly the phone went tumbling down. He was briefly surprised how strong he was – the magic of adrenaline, for sure. He blocked the door the best he could and started running down the hallway, his breathing frantic. He needed to get out. Make sure his wife was okay. What if they had kidnapped her too?!

He kept on blindly running in the hallways, not recognizing anything. The walls were a light dull yellow with awful floral pattern and the carpeting seemed to be coming straight from the 1950s. Room after room after room. Banging noises behind him only made him run faster. Relief came over him when he finally saw what had to be a lift. Just a few minutes and he would be outside of this nightmare. Maybe the police were already outside, ready to burst in and arrest the George impersonator. He arrived at the lift and pushed frantically on the old-fashioned button, praying for the lift to arrive faster. His heart was beating so fast now it could definitely be the beginning of a stroke – it was not that unlikely at his age. And who knows what he had been drugged with. Thankfully, a deep grumbling let him know the lift was arriving.

The doors opened and he rushed into it before brutally bumping into another body. The people in the lift stumbled backwards and Paul fell to the side, too frenetic to understand what was going on, and hit his head on the side of the door. A sharp pain made him wince and close his eyes. Two hands caught him to stabilize him.

“What the…! Paul! Are you alright?!” A nasal voice said.

Paul’s eyes snapped open to the face of the man holding him up.

Delicate lips, the lightest trace of stubble, the thin tip of an aquiline nose, dark circles under slightly squinty light brown eyes. A man larger than his body, larger than life.

“Paul?” John repeated, worried.

It’s you, Paul thought in a flash.

Right after, his head turned and everything went dark.

 

When Paul came back to his senses, he could hear voices talking around him but could not quite figure out what they were saying – apart from the fact that they sounded worried, which did not reassure him very much. His eyelids felt heavy and his breathing not quite regular yet. Words started however to slowly connect in his brain.

“…should move him to a bed?”

“Don’t touch him, an ambulance is coming…”

Someone next to him huffed. More steps, then more voices overlapping one another.

“What did you do to him?”

“…Who’s that? Keep them away. No, keep them away…”

“Nothing! He just rushed into me and then bumped his head and fainted.”

“…We have to move him, there’s more and more people now…”

“…They said not to move him…!”

“That’s no wonder, anyone who would see your face would pass out instantly.”

“Okay that’s not helping, George.”

The voices swirled in Paul’s mind, giving him a sudden urge to retch. Even if he hadn’t heard them years – hell, decades -, he would recognize these voices anywhere. He couldn’t believe people could be that sick and go as far as imitating his loved ones. This had to be a nightmare. A horrible nightmare… he frowned and clenched his jaw, hoping somehow this would wake him up and send him back to his life, to his home… More shuffling. A gentle hand brushed his hair.

“Paul? Can you hear me?”

Paul was frowning so hard his eyes were starting to ache. His head was killing him. No longer able to fight the light seeping through his eyelids, he opened them and was immediately assaulted by the horrid yellow wallpaper. There were faces above him, at least four, more or less hunched over him in a blur of skin and hair.

“Are you okay?” Someone asked him.

Paul turned to the man who had spoken and the urge to retch came all over again. That was not possible. Brian could not be here, talking to him, looking young and fucking alive.

“Just let him breathe, you’re going to overwhelm him all doting over him like that,” the slow drawl of the George impersonator said somewhere above him.

Becoming more and more aware, Paul looked at all the faces around him as if in a dream: Brian freaking Epstein was directly on his right, a cautious hand on his arm, and behind him there was… there was Neil? He could see a couple of other people shuffling behind them, whispering to one another, pointing at the end of the hallway. On his left, there was a man he did not recognize, even though he looked kind of familiar, standing next to an impossibly young version of George. And kneeling next to his head, there he was. John. What the...

“Can you sit up?” John asked him, looking at him with worried eyes.

Paul found himself nodding numbly and immediately hands grabbed him to help him sit up against the wall.

“They’re here...” someone said.

And suddenly, everyone stood up. Paul was beyond confused, a dull ache vibrating in the back of his head. So this wasn’t a kidnapping: they couldn’t possibly be imitating everyone he used to know. And what kind of kidnappers called an ambulance? He had to be dead then, didn’t he? Or in the weirdest, realest dream ever…

A paramedic grabbed him firmly and flashed a light in his eyes.

“Do you think you can stand up?” He asked.

Paul didn’t even register the words but found himself nodding again anyway. What else could he do, at that point, really? A thought was playing on a loop in his head. He was dead. That was the only explanation. He had passed away in his sleep and this was some twisted version of paradise. But still, he needed to be reassured that this was real, that he wasn’t crazy. Anything but crazy.

“Am I dead?” He heard himself ask with a trembling voice that he did not recognize.

Someone near him laughed. As two paramedics helped him get up, he heard John’s voice again.

“Would be a pity if the last thing you saw was that ugly wallpaper, wouldn’t it.”

Suddenly, Paul wanted to laugh. This was John, alright. This was… Oh my God…

Next thing he knew, he was fainting again.

 

It was like watching a movie of your own life and not being able to change a thing: the ambulance, the doctors, the nurses, hallways and white rooms, back entrances, stretchers. He had no idea what was going on, if he was actually dreaming, or high, or dead. He was in England – that much was sure, and people still called him Paul, or even “Mr. McCartney”. So he was still “himself”, whatever that meant. Apparently he had a mild concussion, nothing major but since he had passed out twice, they would keep him for the night in case. This was obviously a hospital, so at least it was unlikely anyone would try to poison him. He was relieved, really; with the late hours, no visit was allowed so he had time to think calmly, even if the dizziness he still felt was not really helping.

People kept asking him how he was, but he could genuinely not answer: beyond the pain in his skull, he felt weird, as if his body was not really his own. He didn’t even recognize his own hands when his gaze landed on them. They looked like some kid’s hands, not his own slightly dry and wrinkled ones. Even his voice sounded weird and awfully childish. Whatever his kidnappers had given him must have been really freaking strong.

Feeling tired and confused, he decided to ignore everything for a while. Close his eyes, accept the care he was given, drink what he was given. Doctors had told him it was normal to be confused with a concussion, but he knew this was not it. He was confused way before he bumped his head… Maybe he had dreamt George and John? Maybe they were random people who looked like them? The more he thought about it, the more the nausea came back.

When he would wake up, everything would be back to normal. It had to.

 

He was floating between slumber and consciousness, when a chair scraping the floor woke him up fully. Sounds like Beatrice, Paul thought. His daughter loved to make way more noise than necessary. His head felt much better too. The drugs must have worn off by now. Feeling immensely relieved, Paul turned with a smile and came face to face with… Ringo. 20-something-year-old Ringo, sitting on a chair with a newspaper in his hands, a bowl Beatle-era hair-cut, no glasses, no wrinkles. Just sitting there. Like this was totally normal.

The words came out before he could even process them.

“What are you doing here?” Ringo looked up, both surprised and happy to see him awake.

“Visiting you? How are you? You scared us last night, son.”

Paul sat up, staring at his old – well, not so sure now – friend.

“You look like a baby,” he blurted.

Ringo laughed.

“You’re one to talk!”

But Paul was not listening anymore. He swept his gaze over the room, took in the wallpaper, the metal bed, the parquet floor. It all felt – old. Not just old-fashioned or shabby, just… old. Definitely not the 21st century standards. There was even another fucking rotary phone.

A cold sweat trickled down his spine as a thought was growing in his mind. It made no sense. It made absolutely no fucking sense, and yet…

“What…” he stopped, his voice quivering. “What day is it?”

“Sunday,” he answered with a worried frown. “The 12th of December.”

Paul felt his heart starting to go faster again.

“No, I mean… what year?”

Ringo didn’t answer right away, clearly taken aback.

“1965. Are you sure you’re alright?”

Chapter Text

The buzzing in Paul’s ears swallowed everything else.

This wasn’t happening. This could not be happening.

He barely registered the door opening, letting a doctor enter. He asked him some questions, checked his eyes, the back of his head, told him he was fine – which Paul felt was the furthest from the truth. He left as quickly as he had come and Paul was not more advanced. He could not even bare to look at poor Richie, who thankfully must have understood he wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

It was a bad joke. All of it. His wife was probably waiting for him back home. God, his kids. What could they be thinking? Had he just disappeared for his loved ones who were still in 2019?

At some point two other men entered but Paul was not really seeing anything. They came around the bed, speaking words he could not comprehend. Something about the nurses and about him being alright but still confused – yeah, no fucking shit. Here he was, in 19-bloody-65 with his dead friends in some random hospital. How old was he even…? 23? Yeah, 23. Oh God…

He tried to focus his gaze on the newcomers, his mind desperately trying to get a grasp on this nightmarish reality. There they were, George and Brian, standing at the end of the bed, talking to Ringo and throwing worried glances at him. They looked so… healthy. They were breathing and moving and it all seemed so easy. Paul stared at George’s face and couldn’t help the image that flashed before his eyes: George on his bed old, sick and grey. Dying. The last time he had seen him, they had been talking for hours despite George’s hoarse voice. They had been closer that day than in the previous decades. They had said goodbye the only way they knew how – joking and smiling.

That was 18 years ago. And yet, here George was, not even two metres away from him. Very much alive and so bloody young. Like John earlier – who had to be somewhere in the building, probably. Unless in this version of the past they were not even friends. Who knew!

This was impossible to believe anyway. It was hard to even think the words: He had somehow inadvertently time-travelled. Jumped back 54 years prior. A true science-fiction prowess. Why him? And why not Ringo? He was alive and well last time he had had him on the phone. He had not done anything special the night before. Unless he had and had not just realized it, who knew.

And now, was he supposed to wait until whoever controlled the universe decided to send him back to 2019? Would he bump into the old version of himself? Maybe he should hide, make sure not to create a time paradox or something. He grimaced to himself. No, that didn’t make sense. He wouldn’t have awaken in his hotel bed with George showering next door if he was not back in his old role. He would have awaken in a bin or in his current home or something. That’s what always happened in the movies, anyway.

What was he supposed to do now? Just live everything all over again?

His gaze inadvertently met Brian’s and he realized they were all looking at him, expectant. They looked sort of spooked now. He must have drifted away longer than he thought.

“...What?” he asked, not able to hide the tiredness in his voice.

“How do you think about tonight? Do you think you can manage?” Brian repeated, articulating slowly as if he was lecturing a child.

At this point, it wouldn’t change much if he was one. He was not even sure he cared.

“I’m not sure that’s a very good idea,” Ringo softly chided in. “Even if the amnesia thing wears off, he is still a bit pale.”

“Well he looks better than last night at least. I don’t know. What do you think Paul? You think you’re feeling up to it?” George drawled.

It took a few seconds for Paul to realize he was actually talking to him.

“Up to what?”

“The show tonight. The last concerts of the tour.” Ringo answered, pressing on as if that would revive his memory.

Good luck with that mate, Paul thought bitterly. You’re 54 years late.
He didn’t know what to answer but seeing Brian’s hopeful look was too much for his resolve. He couldn’t deny the man. He was dead, after all.

“Yeah, I’m good”, he sighed.

He caught a smile on George’s face and for the first time since he had woken up, he felt some warmth spread in him. He hadn’t seen that smile in a very, very long time.
A nurse came in with a jovial “Hello”, blushing when she noticed George and Ringo were there as well. She came near Paul and glanced quickly the board taped to his bed.

“How are you feeling? No longer dizzy? No more nausea?”

“No, I’m… fine.”

“That’s good. The doctor said you could leave, you just have to sign the check-out at the desk and you’re free to go.” She reassured him with a smile.

Paul smiled back, even if his muscles felt like stone. The nurse left and Brian followed her, stopping at the door.

“I’ll let you get your things. See you downstairs.”

George mock-saluted him and got closer to the bed while Ringo was getting up, stretching. Paul started to push back the sheet, figuring he might as well go with the flow and get dressed. He was not one to wallow in his pyjamas (or in that case, hospital blouse) anyway. Not anymore.

“Do you need help?” George asked, vaguely pointing to his clothes on the table.

“I can dress myself”, Paul grumbled.

“Where’s John?” Ringo asked George, not caring about Paul’s grumpiness.

Nor did Paul’s dismissal stop him from helping him taking off his blouse, either.

“With Mal, outside. Said he doesn’t like hospitals.”

Paul was trying to work out his jean but stopped still, a fleeting smile on his lips. That was true, John did not like hospitals.

“I remember that” he whispered.

“What?” Ringo asked him, his blue eyes piercing him.

Bluer than nowadays, he thought.

“Nothing. Could you…?”

He pointed at his shirt still on the chair. Ringo complied wordlessly. George was looking outside the window, the sun illuminating his angular face. So bloody young.

When he was finally dressed, all three went on their way out, Ringo staying close behind him as if he was afraid he would pass out any minute.

Which, frankly, was not that far-fetched.

 

They had come out through the back of the hospital, crossing the path of a few doctors smoking in the hallways along the way (Jesus!). Thankfully, the rain had dissuaded any passer-by’s to linger in the area. Paul just avoided everyone’s gazes, talking as little as possible. He was vaguely aware John and Brian had asked him things but he could just not answer, let alone look at them. This was definitely too weird for him. The man he had vaguely recognized from the hotel was there again and he learnt (again) sort of by mistake that he was their chauffeur, Alf. Poor man, he had not survived the test of time in Paul’s memory.

That’s how now he found himself in the car, sandwiched between Mal and John, feeling unbelievably odd and out of place. With Brian in the front row, he was literally surrounded by dead people who had no idea what was coming for them. What a cruel joke. Everyone was talking but Paul could hardly follow anything, too preoccupied by his own thoughts. Fingers faintly brushing his suddenly startled him.

He turned to John, who was squinting at him.

“Are you okay?”

Paul stared at him, feeling like he was looking at an exceptionally detailed picture. It was like sitting with a weird lookalike, or being stuck in a dream and feeling like you can’t wake up. Like he was not supposed to be here and yet, here was the only place he could be logically be right now. He was not okay. But he could not tell John any of that. If he was to relive his younger years, even for a short while, better not live them in a mental hospital.

Next to him, John was still waiting for an answer. Well, ignoring him all the time was not a good solution either.

“You still don’t wear your glasses.” Paul decided on after a while.

“What?” John chuckled. “I can wear them if you want but I’m afraid there’s nothing much to see in this town, Macca.”

Macca. Something heavy but warm settled in his stomach. He had not realized how much he had missed being called that. John calling him that. And just in a couple of years, everything would be ruined… The heated arguments and hurtful words they had exchanged still resonated in his head, even after all these years. They had made their peace and towards the end, they were in quite good terms – thank God – but still, nothing had ever been the same. If John only knew…

He was still staring at John, who gave him a little smile in return. He looked so… carefree. So innocent.

“Are you happy?” he could not help but ask in the tiniest voice ever.

He was not even sure John had heard him. Not sure he wanted to be heard, really. Stupid mouth that couldn’t stay shut.

The more he was thinking about it, the more he was sure of his new decision. He should just stay quiet and keep low, wait for this weird time effect to pass. To be back in his own time and not make any more changes in the timeline. He would be back in 2019 soon, he could feel it. Maybe if he could just go to bed everything would right itself. Or maybe he should bang his head again, even if he did not really fancy that option. If he was truly back in 1965, the tiniest action could change everything. He could not risk it. He was going home at some point, he was sure of that. Why wouldn’t he? So he just had to be careful not to change things more than he already had with his little hospital stunt.

And yet, John turned to him, something indecipherable but undeniably soft in his eyes, keeping his voice on the same level as Paul’s.

“Who, me? Why are you asking that?”

Yeah, why?

“Because it’s important.” He finally answered, hoping this did not sound as vague and cheesy to John as it did to himself.

John’s lips slightly parted, as if that was the last answer he had expected. He looked at Paul’s lips, then at his eyes. Still blind as a bat. Paul was urging him to answer with his eyes.

“….Well. I have every reason to be, don’t I?” John finally settled on with a shrug.

Paul kept staring. Then, deadpan:

“That is not a satisfactory answer.”

John arched a brow then started laughing. Shaking his head, he turned to look at the window, lighting a cig in the process, as if Paul was being ridiculous. Well, he probably was, but still. How could he think his happiness was a joke? Had they been that oblivious to believe the most important things did not matter? He had never been one to believe being young equalled being stupid but right now he was having some serious second thoughts.

 

The next few hours passed in a blur of confusion and awkwardness, the lads throwing him increasingly worried glances then and again in a spectacularly not discreet way. But Paul was staying put on his decision: go with the flow, talk as little as possible, do not make any waves.

The time for the concert arrived way faster than he wished and suddenly they were in the changing room of their venue, the boys all unpacking their white shirts and putting on their slacks. A still shirtless John was currently telling a story that was apparently funny enough to keep Ringo from buttoning his shirt correctly, while George was smiling on his seat, busy with his cuff. They had tried several times to talk to Paul or to cheer him up but his cold behaviour had somewhat put them off, so they had resumed to just check if he was alright once in a while. Even though it was rare, Paul did have moments in the past when he would need to be a bit broody for a while, to just stay alone and cool off a little. They had all needed those moments at some point back when things were crazy, that he remembered, so Paul hoped they wouldn’t take it too bad.

Neil was in the room with them, checking if they had all the necessary instruments ready to go on stage. Quietly sitting in a corner next to him, Paul had finished dressing up and was just waiting, feeling a weight like lead in his stomach that was only getting heavier as the day went. You need to calm down, he thought as he was distractedly watching Neil opening the case of his Hoffner. Well, at least he was happy to see his good old bass. In all the madness of his time-travelling, that hadn’t changed, that was normal. Music was natural, it was reassuring. Like being home. Singing with his young voice again would probably be a bit unsettling at first but after a couple of-

His eyes grew wider when a thought occurred to him. The setlist. He had no idea what they were going to play. What if he didn’t remember the words?! Or how to play the songs? What if he was a mess on stage? The lads had to know the setlist, but they were already thinking he was going insane…

He cleared his throat and turned to Neil. Be natural, he chastised himself.

“Do you, um… do you have the setlist on you by any chance? I just want to be sure about the order. You know, with the concussion and all.”

Crouching over George’s Gibson, Neil halted his movements and looked up to Paul. If he was surprised, he was hiding it.

“Uh, I don’t have it right now but the technicians must have it. I can go and ask if you want?”

He had not finished his sentence that Paul was already nodding frantically.

“Yeah, yeah that’d be grand. Thanks.” Then, feeling he was being a little cold, he added rather awkwardly: “Lad.”

Thankfully, Neil did not question his weirdness; he just smiled and left the room and Paul was once again alone in his corner. He started rubbing his sweaty hands on his thighs in a vain effort to dry them, even though he knew perfectly that having sweat patches on his pants right before going on stage was not a great idea either. How could he sweat that much, though? Had he always sweat that much? He would not have thought he could ever miss being old, but there you go.

He saw George coming closer from the corner of his eye, hoping he was just coming to check on his guitar too. But when his concerned-but-trying-to-stay-cool gaze crossed Paul’s, Paul knew it was only wishful thinking.
He braced himself as George took the gear off the chair next to him so sit on it.

“So. Are you normal again now?” George asked, straight to the point.

Paul tried to smile but judging by the frown on his friend’s face, he had not really reached his goal.

“Oh, I’m good, normal, yeah. Um… good.”

George arched an eyebrow (they were so dark! How can eyebrows like that turn so grey?!).

“You look like shite and talk like you don’t quite remember what English sounds like.”

“That’s not-- what?”

“You need to get yourself together, mate. It’s just two shows, and then we’re off. Three months and you won’t even have to see our ugly faces anymore if you don’t want to.”

“Two shows?! Fuck I forgot!” Paul cursed, unable to stop himself.

George huffed. That made Paul realize what his friend had just said.

“Sorry I – I want to see your faces,” (George raised his second eyebrow) “No, really. That’s not, um. I’m just feeling a little tired, still, you know. A little under the weather. But I’ll be fine.”

Seeing as George did not seem convinced at all, he added with a little dry chuckle:

“You know me. Always ready for a show!”

“If you say so,” George agreed amiably, even if Paul could see he was not buying his bullshit.

As if sent by the gods, Neil chose that moment to come back in the room, paper in hand.

“There you go!” he said while handing the blessed list to Paul.

“Thank y--“

“What is it?” George cut him off, trying to get a glance of the paper as Paul tipped it protectively towards his chest.

“Noth—“

“The setlist,” Neil responded, not realizing what was going on at all. “I’m off backstage then, see you!”

He left before any of them had a chance to say anything. Paul tried his hardest not to look at George’s perplexed face and took a look at the setlist instead. "I Feel Fine", ok, "She’s A Woman", sure, "If I Needed Someone"… If I needed someone? What…? What was… Oh! Yeah, that was one of George, but… God, he could not remember how it went… Hopefully there was not any harmonies (even if he knew perfectly that they had them in almost every fucking song). The others songs should not pose any real problem, at least. So he just had to lip-sync that one George song. Should not be too hard.

What had his life come to.

 

All things considered, the concerts had gone surprisingly fine. He knew the songs, sort of knew the chords - despite a few discreet quacks here and there – and had even remembered a few words in George’s song. They were definitely not his best performances (and probably his worst, to be honest) but at least, no one had thrown anything at him or asked him to leave the stage so that was a win.

Coming back to the hotel was stressful (he could help but have war flashes of his agitated evening) but sleeping was his only desire at the moment. Just go to sleep, forget everything. Wake up in a normal world, hopefully. He had politely declined going to Brian’s room with everyone to celebrate their last night of the tour and was now more than happy to be alone, at least for a couple of hours until George got back. His bed had given him heart eyes when entering their room but he felt so unbelievably sweaty and dirty that shower first was sort of necessary.

Once in the bathroom, he got rid of his clothes as quick as possible and entered the shower without a second glance to the rest of the room. Closing his eyes under the spray, he could almost pretend everything was normal, even if the weight in his stomach was still present and making him nauseous. He needed to be practical and not think about the meaning of anything. For some reason he was here. That was a fact, there was no going around that at that point. But he would just go to bed, sleep it off. And wake up in 2019.

Feeling vaguely calmer, he got out of the shower, hair dripping, put his briefs on and slightly opened the door to let the condensation out. He then went to the sink where two toothbrushes were waiting for him. He had no idea which one was his, but oh well. What George did not know would not hurt him. When he looked up, the toothbrush fell in a soft “pop” on the floor.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he let out unwittingly.

In the mirror, he was staring at his own reflection.

Somehow, he had not seen himself since he had awaken the night before. He knew he was 23 again. He knew it. But nothing could have prepared him for this.
With his towel, he cleared the condensation left on the mirror and stared.

He was so, so bloody young. His hair was dark and incredibly thick, framing his pale face. His skin… God, his skin! Smooth, spotless, no wrinkles despite the crows’ feet by his eyes. Elastic too, he noticed when he started pinching and stretching his deliciously plump cheeks. And his eyes! Had they shrunken with the years?! Right now they looked so big, so deep, so… lively. No wonder he could see so well now. Even his nose seemed tinier and tidier. Neatly placed in the middle and not falling and dragging the rest of his face with it. He leant as close as possible to the mirror, ignoring the items falling in the sink around him, and studied his lips. They were so plump and soft he could not help feeling them with his fingers. He did not even have his scar yet, which was probably the weirdest thing of all. He still felt infinitely odd and yet, a strange but very nice buzzing was spreading in his whole body.

In 2019, he had sometimes trouble looking at himself and seeing what his closed ones still found beautiful. He was alright, really, he knew that, but the mirror in the morning was most of the time a harsh wake up call. Even if he was okay with aging and could definitely see the perks of it, sometimes it was hard to remember he used to be called “the cute Beatle” when he was just looking at the face of an old, tired man in the mirror.

And yet, now, the proof was literally staring at him. He had looked like that.

“I am fucking beautiful” he murmured, frowning at himself.

“Well, I guess it’s always good to be aware of your own assets,” a nasal voice answered him.

Chapter Text

Paul screamed and turned to the door so quickly he almost slipped on the still wet floor, clinging onto the towel rack for dear life.

John was leaning against the wall, watching him with a wide smile and looking infinitely pleased.

“What the… How did you get in?!” Paul hissed in a way too high voice, a hand on his wild heart.

John showed the key in his hand.

“George gave me his key,” he answered way too happily.

“You’re not at the party?”

“John is, actually, I’m just his understudy.”

The joke was so ironically accurate that Paul could only stare at him.

“Nah. It was a bit boring without your whinging, to be honest.” John finally admitted.

Paul could not fight the tremor on his lips, a smile threatening his angry composure. John was smiling smugly, his eyes dropping to Paul’s body.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your little motivational speech though. Important stuff, that is.”

“Shut up. Smartass,” Paul retorted, blushing to his roots and covering himself with his towel.

“Smartass? Are you American now?” John parroted him in a terrible American accent.

Paul threw his towel in John’s face, which thankfully made the latter laugh and drop the subject. Paul needed to be more careful with his language if he wanted to keep low.
It was so easy, bantering with John: just seeing his mischievous eyes made him fall back into it in a second. He had missed this so much, hearing John’s so peculiar voice, being close to him. If he was not thinking too hard, it was almost as if he had never left him. As if John was still alive and they were still best friends. Something twisted in Paul’s stomach.

“I need to, um…” Paul said, pointing vaguely at his room.

John retreated to let room for him to go through the door, reverencing for show.

“Sure, be my guest.”

Paul went straight to what had to be his suitcase, placed neatly at the bottom of his bed. It was unnerving, dressing up under John’s gaze. It used to be natural for them to see each other with more or less clothes, but he had not seen John in more than 39 years, even less been intimate with him. His hands were trembling when he got into a light t-shirt, hoping John would not notice his nervousness.

When he turned around, he saw that he didn’t need to worry, though: his friend was spread out on George’s bed, pulling on a piece of wallpaper that was starting to peel off. Paul sat on his own bed, not really knowing what to do. When the bed creaked under his weight, John turned to look at him.

“So? Will you tell me what’s going on with you?” he suddenly said, his eyes piercing Paul’s.

Paul froze, taken aback.

“Nothing,” he lied, knowing perfectly that John would see right through it.

As expected, John snorted. He rolled on the bed and came to a sitting position mirroring Paul’s, just in front of him.

“You’ve been weird all day. You barely ate anything, didn’t say a word. I haven’t even seen you smoke.”

Of course he would notice, Paul thought bitterly.

“I quit smoking,” he cautiously answered.

He hoped this would divert John from the real problem. At least talking about smoking was the lesser evil.
But John grimaced, as if he didn’t believe him. Which Paul could not blame him for.

“Since when? Why on Earth would you do that?”

“Because it’s bad for your health?” Paul retorted, slightly offended by John’s judging tone.

John snickered disbelievingly, spreading his arms on the bed to grab the sheet in his fists.

“Don’t tell me you’ve become an anti-advertising freak,” he said, sounding a bit irritated as well. “What, you bang your head and suddenly you’re a nun?”

Paul sighed. This was turning bad way too quickly. If he wanted to save his past and maintain his relationship with John as it had been, he needed to cut the conversation short. Even if it would look odd to his friend.

“Why did you come here, then?” he said, trying hard to sound detached.

John stayed silent, mouth shut in a thin line and frowning ever so slightly.

“Did I do something?” he asked so low Paul could barely hear him.

“What? No, of course not! Why would you think that?”

John kept staring at him, his frown growing.

“You know you can talk to me, right? I know I can be a jerk sometimes but—“

“No! No don’t say that, you’re not…” Paul cut him off. He could not let him believe that. After all this time, if there was one thing he could fix, that was it. He took a deep breath, hoping his quivering voice wouldn’t betray him. “You’re not a jerk, you’re a great guy. You’re brilliant, John, and you’re my best friend. No matter what happens, you will always be my best friend, okay? I love you.”

The silence was deafening. Paul stared at John’s confused face, hoping he would understand how much he meant those words. But the embarrassment was clear when John started fussing with the sheets in his hands, avoiding Paul’s gaze. The “younger” man thought he could even spot a light flush on his cheeks.

“Okay okay, no need to cry on me, man,” he chuckled, painfully awkward. He got up suddenly. “I, uh… I’ll let you sleep then. Long day and all that.”

Paul nodded, knowing he had probably come on a little too strong. John was not one to let things become awkward but they had never been touchy-feely, even less in their Beatle years. Paul was not as naïve as to think this would solve all their future problems, but if John remembered even for a little while that Paul truly cared about him, it was still a step in the good direction.
He watched John cross the room to the door and stop with his hand on the doorknob to turn to him a last time.

“And for the record… You’re my best friend too,” he quickly said, before smiling tightly and leaving the room.

Paul stared at the door long after he was gone.

 

Something was hammering in his head. He was not even asleep, he was actually trying to find the right door to leave this never-ending hallway, but that noise kept hammering louder and louder in his head. If only he could find the right…

The alarm clock was ringing relentlessly.

Paul groaned, burying his face in his pillow. Why was it so shrill? What happened to the sweet blues music Nancy loved so much? Another groan somewhere on his left rose and soon after the ringing stopped. Thank God. But as he was slowly coming to his senses, Paul froze. Oh no.

He sat up in a flash, eyes wide open but only seeing pixelated grey spots. He waited for his blood pressure to go up again and slowly, his vision composed itself again. He was still in the dreadful hotel room, his hands were still those of a kid and George was still lying in his own bed next to him.

He stayed still in his bed, the white noise dripping from his brain to invade his whole body. He wasn’t home. He wasn’t back in his own time. He was stuck here. He really was stuck here.
On the other bed, a dishevelled George was sitting up as well, facing the window and slowly putting his socks on. Paul watched his every movement, his head about ready to burst. He had had no tangible reason to believe another night in the same hotel bed would reverse the time-machine-thing effect, but he had worked so hard at persuading himself it was the only thing that could happen that now he was even more distressed and completely lost than when he first learned he was in 1965.
With only his tank top, his briefs and his socks on, George got up to his suitcase and looked at Paul.

“What time is the plane again?” he asked casually.

“I have no bloody idea,” Paul murmured, feeling so numb his lips seemed to work on their own.

George chuckled and quickly dressed, going back and forth between the bathroom and the room to prepare his suitcase. When he noticed Paul still hadn’t moved a limb, his gaze lost in limbo, he came closer to his bed.

“Is it your head again? Does it hurt?” he asked softly.

Paul turned to look at him. His hair was still a mess. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Neither of them was.

“Paul?” George pressed on.

A knock came on the door, followed by Mal’s voice.

“If you want breakfast lads, it’s now or never!”

“Yeah, thanks, we’re coming!” George called out back. He then opened Paul’s suitcase, took a random shirt and threw it at Paul’s face. “Gear up now. The plane might wait for you but I won’t.”

After a second of hesitation, he threw a pair of pants as well. And socks. Then he left the room, smiling to himself.

Alone again, Paul could not quite comprehend how he was supposed to behave now. He could not live everything all over again. There had been good times, sure, incredible times even. But also terrible ones. Loneliness, grief, heartbreak. Boredom, anger, stress. Tensions and anxiety, depression even. He could not just re-live his whole life, he would go insane. How would his memory work? Would it just replace his old memories with new ones? Would he lose everything he’s built so far? His family, his kids? His career, everything? Would that mean that 50 years from now he would be 73 in his body but 123 in his mind? This was so fucking unfair. He would just live in an eternal state of déjà-vu, knowing disastrous things would happen – his wife’s cancer, John’s murder, his father’s and George’s deaths, the Iraq war, the 2004 tsunami, September 11th, the cyclones, the terrorist attacks, his loved ones’ sicknesses and accidents, the Orlando shooting, even the Beatles bloody break-up – and not being able to do anything about it. This was too much on a man’s mind and he was not sure anyone could, or should even, withstand that. And he might never see his family again. Even if he met Linda and Heather, even if he had kids with them again, nothing certified they would be his kids. No one could replace his kids. What they lived and have been through together could never be “replicated”.

He had lost them. He had simply lost them forever.

Suddenly, sheer anger started flowing in his veins. What had he done to deserve that? Why him?! Why couldn’t he grow older with his loved ones and die peacefully like everyone else!? Tearing himself out of his sheets, he accidentally bumped into the nightstand, a sharp pain hitting his toe. Wincing, he lifted the nightstand and threw it against the wall, leaving a clear dent in the not-so-fresh wallpaper. For a second, he worried about degrading the hotel but his concern was instantly replaced by a cold desire to laugh at the irony of the situation. He had been ripped of his life and still he was worried about some hideous wallpaper, as if it even fucking mattered.

“Well fuck you, you fucking wallpaper!” he shouted nonsensically, blinded by his fury. “Fuck you! …Fuck…”

His breathing was getting erratic and his ears kept ringing, making him cover them with his hands as hard as possible. No, he could not have a panic attack. Not now. He didn’t need another thing to go wrong in his joke of a life. He could blurrily hear someone knocking at the door but was incapable of recognizing the voice calling out to him. Noise behind him let him know they had managed to open the door but he could not see anything, it was all blurry, tears having flooded his eyes without warning. His heart was beating in his throat, in his face, everywhere.

A gentle hand came on his arm, trying to make him stop shivering, screaming or crying, he didn’t know. He did not know anything anymore.

“… to breathe. Just take deep breaths, it’s okay. It’s okay, Paul.”

Trying to follow the voice’s instructions, he forced himself to tune everything else out and focus on his breathing. In and out. In and out.

He could now see what was going on around him. There was a hotel employee with a key in his hand next to the door, and Ringo in front of him, studying him with worried eyes.

“Do you feel better?” he asked as gently as ever.

Paul numbly nodded, trying to anchor himself in Ringo’s reassuring gaze. He knew Ringo. He had known him all practically his whole life. Nothing had ever come between them – never for long. He had last seen the old version of him not even a month ago. He could trust him.

“I shouldn’t be here.” He confessed, his voice sounding weird to his own ears.

“What do you mean?”

“I shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong here, Rich.” He insisted.

Ringo only stared at him, his lips slightly parted, clearly at a loss to what to answer to that. The hotel employee had discreetly left the room at some point.

“I don’t belong here,” Paul repeated, fresh tears swelling up in his eyes that he refused to let fall.

Ringo’s grip tightened on his arm.

“Of course you do. Stop staying that. You know that’s not true. If there’s one person who belongs here, it’s you.” He calmly said, trying (and failing) to reassure him.

But Paul kept shaking his head.

“You don’t understand. You can’t… I can’t...”

Ringo looked at him and tightened his lips for a second.

“Okay. Well, I may not understand what’s happening to you these days, but I’m here. When you’re ready to talk about it, whatever that is, I’ll be here. Alright? Now what you need is food, so let’s go get some breakfast before it’s too late, aye? We’re supposed to leave soon.”

He patted Paul’s arm once again then finally let go. Feeling still quite angry but mostly exhausted - despite having just woken up -, Paul dressed himself without thinking about it. He still had no idea what he was supposed to do, but he guessed it could wait at least until his belly was full. Deciding to put his brain on pause for a while, he threw what seemed to be his haphazardly into his suitcase and followed Ringo out of the room.

Chapter Text

The hotel employee had gracefully accepted not to tell his manager or Brian about the little nightstand incident. They had left Cardiff without further problems, flying smoothly back to London.

From then on, Paul was basically going through the motions. Even if seeing his old friends all alive and well was heart-warming, thinking about his own family he had been ripped from was making him bleed internally, the pain so strong and persistent that he could do nothing but to numb everything else not to feel it. Colours and shapes scrolled before his eyes, leaving him imperturbable.

He was dragged into a meeting with Brian, John and George to talk about their “future movie” but the memory of the last time he had lived it was still too vivid in his mind, making the whole thing even more painful. He could not bring himself to actively participate, remembering how last time he had been so passionate about it. It seemed so long ago now. Paul knew the session would be fruitless anyway. John and George had both tried to stay with him when they left the NEMS office, talking about celebrating the end of the tour properly at St James Nightclub. That had left Paul puzzled, feeling like things had not quite happened that way in his past. He had even asked George if they had not been supposed to be in London the night before, and learned that way that they had stayed an extra night in Cardiff because of Paul, to make sure he wouldn’t strain himself after his concussion. Paul was touched, but he had quickly excused himself, pretending a headache to slip away into the street before they had time to stop him and drag him to the club.

Now alone in busy London, two new things became painfully clear to him: he was far more famous and recognizable now than in 2019, and he didn’t have his phone to find his way home on his own (not even mentioning the fact that he was not really sure where home was at that point). One of his grandkids had made sure his phone was as up to date as possible UPS-Google-Whatsapp wise. Just thinking about his grandkids made him want to cry.

Tucking his hands into his coat to fight the biting cold (it was summer for him only two days ago so he would not be surprised if he caught something bad along the way), he lowered his head and tried to follow the walls to avoid people as much as possible. While making his way to the train station, he caught himself several times trying to reach his phone in his pockets, only to be disappointed each time. He might not be a phone addict, but he already awfully missed Internet. How was he supposed to live without it now that he had had a taste?

Hidden behind a truck at a back entrance of the train station, he stopped for a moment on a step to think. December 1965… he had not bought his farm yet. He did not live with the lads anymore though. Where had he lived in-between? A shiver went through him when he remembered something. He had lived at Jane’s parents’ for quite a while, must have been around these times. He could definitely not go there, though: first of all, he did not remember at all where that was, and no way could he force that onto himself. It would be beyond awkward and embarrassing. Where else could he go, then?

His decision was made before the thought was fully formed in his head. He knew where to go.

 

Paul had opted for a taxi rather than the train, finding comfort in the numerous bills laying in his wallet (not finding any credit card had almost given him a stroke before he realized what year it was again). It was one hell of a fare, but as long as he could afford it, it was worth it if it meant avoiding anyone recognizing and approaching him. When the taxi arrived at his destination in the evening, he stood a long time in the street, suitcase in hand and guitar case on the back, staring at the brick façade. He felt like a teenager again, arriving to Forthlin Road from Hamburg or France or whatever, with an empty stomach but a head full of dreams. How times had changed.

Bracing himself, he followed the tiny pathway up to the door. He rang the tiny bell, feeling suddenly very old and tired.

The door opened and revealed a middle-aged man wearing an apron and sporting few hair, a straight posture and bright eyes. Paul immediately choked with emotion.

“Dad,” he murmured.

Jim widened his eyes, surprised, then caught himself, smiled and raised an arm to pat his son on his shoulder.

“Hello, good to see you, son.” He answered, formal just like in his memories. “I didn’t expect you. How are you? Well come in, don’t stay out like that.”

His father ushered him in. As Jim was going to the kitchen, Paul took the place in, too stunned to say anything. Everything was as he remembered it, down to the chipped tile where he used to manage to catch his foot every single time – even if he hadn’t spent that much time in his father’s house. He lingered on the pictures over the buffet: his brother at his football club, Ruth with friends, himself at the choir, his father and Angela on their wedding day. He didn’t even know where some of these pictures had gone.

“Jane called earlier. She was looking for you, she sounded worried,” his father told him from the kitchen.

Paul frowned, momentarily confused. Why would she be worried? Was he supposed to meet with her? He put down his guitar and suitcase and followed the smell of eggs and potatoes. His father was fussing over an omelette, having opened the window to try and get rid of the strong smell he didn’t like having in the kitchen. Paul’s heart was both full of affection and dread. It was like a perfect picture of the past, screaming at Paul and making him feel even more out of place.

“Thanks, Da,” Paul answered randomly, relishing how the word sounded and how good it felt to be able to say it again.

His father turned off the stove and took the omelette to the table.

“Angela is at work but she shouldn’t come home too late, I reckon. Take yourself a plate.”

Paul instinctively obeyed. Here he was, 77 and still obeying to his father. He sat down at the table and started on the omelette. It was probably one of the best things he’d eaten in years. He kept throwing side glances to his father, marvelling at his hair being darker than the last time he had seen him and at seeing him move so much more easily. Knowing he was actually older than him was beyond weird.

“Where’s Ruth?” he asked, realizing his step-sister was 6 years old again (this day was getting weirder and weirder).

“Asleep”, his father answered, not looking up. “Are you planning on staying here?”

“If you don’t mind?”

“No, of course not. Guest room is always ready for you boys.” Paul felt his heart warm again. “How was the tour, then?”

Paul sent him a cautious smile, hoping he wouldn’t see how fake it was.

“Alright. Tiring.”

Thankfully, his father did not probe further and was happy instead to give him “news” of the family. Paul listened, having vague recollections of some facts. It was not a very comfortable conversation for him, the sense of déjà-vu nagging at his mind all the time. You know that, a voice kept whispering in his head. You already know all of that.

When they finished their meal, Paul helped his father clean up the table and went to the mural phone. Calling his ex-girlfriend (damn, ex-fiancée even) was the last thing he wanted to do, but he just could not pretend she did not exist. For her, he was still very much her boyfriend. He picked up the phone and realized blankly that he did not know her number. He grabbed the little pad tucked against the wall, hoping it was some kind of directory. He flipped the first page and fell on “Paul’s Asher”. Well, at least that was clear.
Paul put the pad back behind the phone and leant against the wall. As the phone rang, anxiety bubbled in him. They had not parted in the best conditions, so pretending everything he had lived from 1966 onwards hadn’t happened required certain acting skills he most probably didn’t have.

“Hullo?” A feminine voice answered almost immediately.

That voice could be anyone’s, really, seeing how bad the communication was.

“Jane?” He tried, trying to sound casual.

“Oh Paul! Thank God it’s you! Where are you?! I’ve been so worried!” She answered in a rush.

“I’m alright, don’t worry. I, uh… I’m at my Dad’s.”

The silence following his answer was almost as uncomfortable as Paul himself felt.

“Your Dad’s? I thought you were coming straight to London,” she said, on a suspiciously level tone.

Paul suddenly felt stupid for not having thought of an excuse sooner. Of course everyone would have expected him to go straight for his “girlfriend” and not driving up north for hours.

“I’m sick,” he blurted, figuring this was as good a reason as anything. “I wasn’t feeling well on the plane back and my head is killing so I didn’t want to bother you with that. I forgot to call you at the office, sorry. And I haven’t seen my Dad in a while, so. You know.”

This time, Jane took even longer to answer. He was acting weird, he knew it, but he could not even find it in himself to care.

“OK. Well. I hope you’ll get better, then. You sure must need some rest.” She paused, as if she was trying to figure out if he was lying or not. “You uh… You’ll call me, right? When you’re feeling better?”

“Sure, sure. Of course,” he hurried to answer, feeling suddenly guilty even though she hadn’t meant anything for him in a long time.

He had genuinely cared about her, back then. It was the least he could do.

“OK, good.” She sounded reassured. “Oh, and John called, by the way.”

Paul’s ears perked like a dog’s. John?

“What did he want?”

“He was wondering where you are, like the rest of us,” she answered in a giggle that did not quite hide her discomfort. “You should probably call him back.”

“I will,” Paul assured her, knowing fully well he wouldn’t.

“I’m going to leave you then, you need to rest. And for real, please. Bye, love you.”

“I will, thank you. Um… Bye.”

Unable to respond to her “love you”, he just hung up, hoping it wasn’t too harsh. God, how much he missed his actual wife…

Deciding his day had been emotional enough, he picked his things up from the living-room and went straight to the guest room. He couldn’t wait to sleep and just forget everything. But first, there was something he ached for even more.

He knocked on the bathroom, where his father had just finished brushing his teeth and turned to him with a curious glint in his eyes.

“Dad, can I… Can I hug you?” He asked shyly, really hoping his father wouldn’t brush him off.

His father stopped drying his hands for a second, watching Paul with something akin to worry. He seemed to hesitate until he finally finished drying his hands and put the towel back next to the sink.

“Is everything alright, son?”

Feeling a blush creeping on his neck, Paul just went for it and hugged his father, who after a while started awkwardly patting his back.

“I’m good, Da. I’m good.”

 

Getting out of bed had been hell.

He had technically no reason to get up: No recording, no touring, no obligations. No kids, no grandkids, no wife. No friends – not really anyway, none he could sincerely talk to. Plus, he was taking his breakfast when he realized his throat was so sore he could not even swallow properly. Great. He was sick now. Just what he needed.

So, Paul went straight back to bed to bury himself in the sheets. His father and even his mother and step-sister were coming one after the other to check on him, bring him tea or bounce on his bed, but nothing could cheer him up. He basically felt dead inside, not seeing the point in doing anything. His sluggish mind matched his weakened body. Even looking out the window and seeing the leafless trees shaking because of the wind was painful. It was pointless. He fell asleep facing the wall.

 

The next day, Paul’s head was killing him and he was feeling hot all over, his hair sticking to his neck and forehead. He went to take a cool shower, his limbs so stiff and sore every movement was painful. When he came back to his room, someone had left some soup next to the bed. Paul downed it and crawled back beneath the heavy duvet. Nothing more to do.

 

The second day. Fever, fever, fever. In his dreams, nobody heard him scream.

 

Another day. The fever was starting to go down, the litres of tea Paul was drinking apparently winning the round. Yet, he still didn’t feel like getting up or talking to anyone. Ruth had come at some point to tell him Jane had called again, but he did not want to call her back. There was no point, really.

 

A new day. Paul stared at the window for so long his vision was starting to blur.
It was snowing, outside.

 

Paul was actually in the kitchen, sniffling like mad while he prepared a fresh pot of tea. His step-mother came in, putting on her coat and making sure her hair was not caught by it.

“Phone for you, Paul.” She told him, reaching for her bag on the table. “Could you watch Ruth when she comes back from school?”

“Sure. Thanks,” Paul answered, his voice particularly hoarse. Woah, he hadn’t realized in he hadn’t talked in so long.

Angela smiled and left. Paul slowly made his way to the telephone. He was still feeling like shit, even if his body was in a better shape already. Well, he was just going to bed anyway. Not like he had anything else to do.
He picked up the phone and tucked it against his ear, blowing on his tea to cool it.

“Hullo?” He said distractedly.

“He’s alive!” Someone happily shouted in his ear.

Paul pushed the phone with a grimace but soon a smile was taking its place.

“Hi, John,” he said softly. It was still surrealist to hear his voice. Even more when it sounded so joyous.

“Hi yourself, young lad. How are you? Heard you were dying at your Dad’s?”

Paul’s smile slowly broadened. John had always been ridiculously good at raising his spirits. Seemed like even time travels could not change that.

“Not yet,” he answered. Then, deciding John deserved more than that poor of a response: “You should send the coffin back to the shop.”

“Damn, they won’t refund me,” John replied without a pause.

Paul laughed. The feeling felt strangely foreign.

“You didn’t tell me, though, how are you?” His voice was very gentle.

Some noise, a kid crying and another background voice on John’s side resonated in the phone.

“Could you make more noise please, I’m on the phone,” He heard John say harshly to someone else. “Sorry,” He told Paul, “Cyn is making a show of dressing the kid.”

Paul passed a hand over his eyes, feeling weird and uncomfortable again. God, Cynthia and Julian. Another ugly story he had been happy to leave in the past.

“How are they?” He asked calmly.

“Fine.” Paul could practically hear him shrug. “Crying and complaining, basically.”

“Give them a kiss for me, will you,” Paul said, tapping the tip of his slipper on the wall.

“Yeah yeah. You should come tomorrow, they won’t be here and I’m bored.”

Paul grimaced. He did not want to leave his Dad – well, his bed, actually. Leaving was too much effort. Seeing dead people too. But he knew John; he would hardly take no for an answer.

“I’m in Liverpool.” He lamely tried.

“I’m in London. Your point is?”

Paul sighed.

“Wow, you really seem eager to see me,” John’s voice pierced him through the phone. Beyond the acerbic tone, he sounded actually a bit hurt.

“It’s not that, just… I’m not feeling really good, lately, is all.” And I can’t look at you without picturing you with bloody holes in your chest, he kept to himself.

The silence on the other end of the line was starting to make him anxious.

“John—“

“I’ll be at your Dad’s around 2. Don’t leave me waiting like a fool in the driveway.”

And with that, he hung up.
Well, there was that.

Chapter Text

Saying Paul was nervous was an understatement.

He had not told his father John was coming, not in the evening before nor in the morning, even though he had had the chance several times. He had even been kind of snappy with him, unable to bear the man’s worry and love when he himself had not even been able to go to his funeral. Seeing his father’s frowning face and remember that he only had ten years to live left was just too much. So he had not told him anything.

Somehow, saying the words “John is coming” would make it even more real, and he was not ready for that. He had been about to call him and cancel everything a hundred times, beg him not to come even, but he had always finished by hanging the phone back. He did not know what to say. How to push away the best friend he had never been able to leave in the past. But he had nothing to say to him if he came. No story to tell (or at least none he could tell), no jokes to share. What were they supposed to do together? Write “A Day In The Life” again? Just the idea made him snort. He really was not in the mood for conversation; seeing John was painful enough, he didn’t need to be faced with his own inadequacy again.

So there he was, sitting alone in the kitchen and biting his nails until they bled. He was still in his pyjamas, feeling stupid and angry at himself for not being able to just go back to his room and get dressed. He needed to get dressed quick, it was already 1:50, but he just could not do it. His limbs did not want to move, his anxious mind repeating to him that this was all pointless. He was useless here. He couldn’t see how having John over would help him get over the fact that he did not belong in this year. John would just laugh at him about the pyjamas anyway. Or maybe he wouldn’t say anything?

The ringing bell made him jump. Fuck, already?! He got up so fast his head started spinning, which was not that surprising since he had practically not eaten in two days. It was probably not the best idea, but forcing himself to eat seemed too hard. Hunger would come back, eventually. Maybe.

Hard knocks came on the door, making him hustle to the entrance, pulling on his pyjama sleeves as if they would transform into a shirt by magic. He could see a person’s shape through the fogged glass. Maybe it wasn’t John? Maybe his father and step-mother had forgotten something on their way to Southport?

He grabbed the doorknob with a shaky hand and slightly opened it, throwing a glance behind it. A curious light brown gaze met his almost instantly. Paul deeply breathed and opened the door fully. John was facing him, dark coat and scarf on, bowing his head as if he was scared he would spook him. His hair was slightly longer than usual and he was not wearing glasses, his long nose the most unique feature Paul had ever seen. Paul felt a lump settle comfortably in his throat.

They stared at each other for a while.

“Are you gonna let me in?” John finally asked.

Paul stood aside and John immediately entered the house, already taking off his scarf. Paul watched him go to the living-room, anxiously wrenching his hands. He had no idea what to do with himself, torn between the desire to look normal and the urge to cry.

“You should have told me it was pyjama day, I would have come prepared.” John noted, casting a look at Paul’s outfit.

Paul felt himself blush to his roots, looking embarrassedly at himself. Of course John would mock him. When he looked up, John was standing next to the chimney, fixing him with a strange look on his face.

“Are you still sick?”

Paul stared blankly at him for a second then made a quick grimace that was supposed to convey something along the idea of sick-what-no-who-me-never.

“Do you want tea? I’m going to make some tea,” he blurted suddenly.

He shuffled towards the kitchen, hoping this would leave him some time to compose himself. Unfortunately, loud steps behind him told him John was following suit, as comfortable as if he was in his own home. Paul had almost forgotten how shameless he was.

“You can’t keep avoiding my questions, you know. You look like a ghost and I think I’ve never seen you in your PJs in broad daylight.”

That’s because you haven’t seen me in 1969 yet, Paul thought bitterly as he was putting bags in the teapot.

“I haven’t brought many clothes, and I’m too lazy to do the washing,” he lied surprisingly easily. “I’m fine.”

He turned to John, who dramatically lifted an eyebrow.

“I’m fine,” Paul insisted. “Sugar?”

John nodded, allowing Paul to pretend they both believed him. They stayed silent, waiting as the bags slowly infused the water. It was strangely soothing, hearing John breathing next to him and watching the flowers and ellipses being drawn and immediately destroyed in the liquid. Cups in hands, Paul led them back to the living-room. John sank into a leather armchair while Paul stood clumsily in front of the coffee table, feeling like an overgrown Pinocchio: as if he was not a real human and did not know how bodies worked. John shuffled in his seat and looked at him, frowning.

“You look like a confused duckling. Could you please sit down or do something? You’re making me uncomfortable,” he grumbled.

Paul obeyed and sat on the couch, feeling even more stupid. This was not him. He had never been that awkward, that… inept. What was wrong with him?!

“Did you drive here?” He said, trying for a casual conversation.

“Yes I did Sir, and almost lost my life at it!” John answered, clearly very proud. “There was a massive truck coming out of nowhere when I left the M6, almost pushed me off the road. Would have ended up in a river or something if I hadn’t stopped. Imagine the titles: ‘The fat Beatle could not float after all’.”

“You’re not fat,” Paul retorted straight away.

“You say that because you haven’t eaten Cyn’s roast yet. That thing adds you 5 pounds instantly.”

Paul tried very hard to smile but his heart wasn’t in it. Not noticing his unease, John laughed at his own joke and pulled up the sleeves of his thick dark blue jumper. Under it, he was wearing a polka dot white shirt with short sleeves that Paul remembered fondly. He had been wearing it on the day they had recorded “Rain” – or maybe “Got To Get You Into My Life”? Well, he had definitely worn it for his 24th birthday anyway. And countless other times, including one of the rare days where they had spent time together with him and Julian. Just seeing it lightened his heart. This was maybe not all bad after all.

“I love that shirt,” he murmured, a small smile blossoming on his lips.

John, who was sipping his tea, put the cup back down and suddenly sat up as if ready to leave. Paul watched him with concern. Had he fucked everything up already?! John grabbed the hem of his jumper, more or less swiftly took it off and set it aside in front of Paul’s ever growing confusion. Then he methodically unbuttoned his shirt and realization finally downed on Paul.

“What are you doing?! I was not saying—“ He started in a panic.

“I know,” John cut him off, taking his shirt off and holding it out to Paul.

Paul watched him, dumbstruck. John sighed and threw the shirt at his face before putting his jumper back on. Paul slowly took the shirt and stared at it.

“You will be cold,” came out without him thinking about it.

“Don’t worry, grandpa,” John snorted.

Paul chuckled. Oh, irony.

“Thank you,” he whispered, not bothering to pretend he didn’t want it.

John just smiled and took his cup back. Paul caressed the shirt, amazed at John’s selflessness. He had forgotten about that. There was so much he had forgotten…

“Too bad I left my balaclava at home,” John suddenly added, trying to contain his giggle.

Paul looked at him, clueless. What?
John slowly frowned.

“It’s a joke. What we said the other day? That George needed a balaclava to play?”

Shame, embarrassment and a tinge of anger overwhelmed Paul. Of course. Of course he would miss every inside joke. As if holding a normal conversation wasn’t hard enough. In front of him, John seemed almost worried.

“You seriously don’t remember? It was the night Brian lost his watch and you kept telling him he was late. We tried to make martinis? Come on!” He insisted.

“Well I don’t remember, I don’t remember okay? No need to rub it in,” Paul clapped back, suddenly irritated.

Surprisingly, John didn’t take the bait, even though his clenched jaw told a different story. Paul diverted his eyes and stared at his own hands around his cup of tea. He was still not used to seeing them so young and smooth. What were they doing here, exactly?

“Why are you here?” he asked John, still looking at his hands.

“You said you weren’t feeling well. I thought you would like seeing someone but sorry for imposing my presence if it’s such a drag for you,” John snapped.

“I have nothing to tell you,” Paul said honestly.

He did not have anything to tell him that he actually could say, anyway. Sorry I was an absolute wanker to you. Sorry I didn’t try to talk to you sooner. That I didn’t make more effort to patch things up between us. Sorry you died. I miss you. I have missed you for almost 40 years and I will never stop missing you. Seeing you so young and clueless is more painful than you could ever imagine. Talking to you makes me want to scream. It makes my head turn with happy fireworks and my belly burn with grief. He could not say any of that.

“Are you serious?”

John’s tone was bordering on seething, trying to get a reaction out of Paul. But Paul would not yield. Instead, he just looked at his hands.

“I didn’t ask you to come,” He added, trying to keep a level tone.

He was pressing exactly where it hurts. He knew it was unnecessarily harsh, but he could not keep lying and pretending everything was normal. This was pointless. If he was just going to be a burden for all his old friends, why let the thing drag? He might as well push John on his merry way now before things got uglier.

In a flash, John put the cup back on the table and got up. He started to march towards the entry hall but stopped and walked back to stand in front of Paul, an angry glint in his eyes.

“You know what?” He started, shaking with fury. “You’re a fucking tosser. Ever since your accident you’ve been acting like a knob head, treating us like we’re shit on your shoes. You want to stay alone and drown in your fucking tea? Go ahead, watch if I care!”

With that, he stormed out of the living-room, living a livid Paul behind. This is for the best, he repeated in his head. He’s better off without you. This is for the best.

He heard the front door slam loudly and then, nothing. Only silence.

 

It was only hours later, when Paul was back in his bed and staring at the ceiling, feeling his heart in his throat, that he realized John had driven more than four hours just to see him. And that he had pushed him to leave after not even ten minutes. He had not even given something to eat, did not even thank him for looking after him. John was right; he was an absolute tosser. What was going to happen now? John used to be quick to get angry and quick to forget about it, but Paul remembered he could hold grudges for a good while when he was driven into a corner. Which was sort of what Paul had just done. He had hurt John again, as if hurting him was the only thing he was truly good at. It was not for nothing that their relationship had not stayed as sunny and beautiful over the years. Maybe he was not good for John anymore. Nor for George. And his father. Not only had he lost his wife, kids, grandkids and current friends, but now he was losing his old loved ones as well.

The weight in his stomach spread to his every limb, making him feel like he had been poisoned. Or more accurately, as if himself was the poison. This was not a second chance at life.
It was a curse.

 

It was the middle of the night when Paul finally came to a conclusion. Since he couldn’t face his loved ones without feeling distressed and deeply alien and without hurting them over and over again, that he would not be able to just live everything all over again and that it was obvious by now that he would not go back to his own time period, there was only one solution. He needed to leave. Go somewhere far away, leave everything behind. Start over. A new life as a new Paul. Maybe he should even change his name – he would probably be forced to, anyway.

He pushed the sheets back and got up, waiting a few seconds for his blood pressure to accommodate. His suitcase was still simply waiting in front of the wardrobe. He had barely opened it since he had arrived, looking at his old things and not recognizing half of it making him feel too odd. He had simply taken an old white shirt and some checked loose pants to use as pyjamas in the wardrobe and had not changed since. Thinking he used to be obsessed with cleanliness was almost laughable, now. He opened the suitcase, randomly took some warm clothes and got dressed quickly. He probably looked like a mess but he couldn’t care less. He also found a notebook in there, and a few pencils. Tearing off a page, he started writing a quick note for his father. Weirdly enough, he had always been terrible at writing letters, and even worse at goodbyes. His note was thus quick and direct:

“Dad, I need to take some time for myself. Will keep you updated. Kiss Angela and Ruth for me. Love, Paul.”

He did not even know if he would keep up his word, but he guessed that at least his father wouldn’t search for him if he thought this was just a temporary situation.

He threw the notebook and pencil back in the suitcase and shut it. He cast a look at his guitar case that was pushed against the wall and hesitated. It was heavy. And carrying it around was bound to make him even more recognizable. With a twinge of sorrow, he decided to leave it behind. He took his suitcase, turned off the lights and left the room as quietly as possible.

The note was trembling in his shaky hand.

Chapter Text

Even though the last thing Paul wanted was to see anyone else from his past, he knew he had to give Jane a proper goodbye. She deserved some closure, at least.

Taking the train to London had been pretty much hell; he had had to wait three hours in the Liverpool train station (leaving in the middle of the night had not been his brightest idea) and the number of people who stopped him to say how much they loved the Beatles or ask for an autograph was downright ridiculous, even if he managed to deter most of them by pretending to be asleep against the window. He knew this was a stupid idea and a very unwise and unsafe journey, but it was hard to find enough strength in him to care. He was not even trying to disguise himself, knowing fully well that as long as he was in the UK, his “angel” face would not let him live his fame down.

Thankfully he didn’t need to stay long in London. After his quick visit to the bank (which had been a nightmare to find, his memory having definitely failed him on that) to get cash from his trusted banker he did not recognize at all, he just needed to go to Jane’s parents, tell her they needed to “break up”, take his things and leave south. France maybe, or maybe the Netherlands. Maybe he would go even farther – there had to be somewhere where the Beatles were not that popular, hadn’t there?

Not finding Jane’s house was both frustrating and humiliating. He remembered the neighbourhood alright but had now been lingering about like a lunatic for almost 20 minutes, squinting at each similar entrance in the hopes that one of them had a specific feature he would magically remember. He felt beyond ridiculous.

“Paul?” A feminine voice rose behind him.

Paul startled and turned hurriedly to find himself face to face with a middle-aged woman he vaguely recollected coming out of a taxi. She was wearing a thick black coat, curled red hair and a kind smile.

“I am glad to see you well. Jane was dying of anxiety,” she told him with a hint of reproach.

Jesus. Jane’s mother. Her name was a total blank in his mind. He automatically drew a smile that probably looked painful.

“Lovely to see you too. How are you doing?” He answered, sliding into his full ‘polite charmer’ mode.

She smiled brightly at him and started rattling on about her day at the garden of a friend who apparently was trying to create a new species of roses. Paul quietly followed her to the Ashers’ house, his single suitcase in hand. Once inside, he recognized the place well enough – even if it only triggered mild anxiety in him.

“Jane’s not home yet but she should be here for lunch. She was at a photoshoot and called to say it was running late – you know how these things are.” Her mother added, taking off her coat and hanging it on an expensive-looking coat-hanger. “I’ll let you settle in, you must be tired. We can chat later!”

Paul thanked her and as soon as she had turned to the living-room, he rushed upstairs where his room had been. God, why had he ever accepted to live there? He couldn’t wait to be out of here for good and was glad to have found the little golden key of his room in his wallet.

Once he pushed the familiar wooden door, he was overwhelmed with memories and emotions. These were his things: one of his first guitars standing proudly in a corner, books, notebooks and sheets of paper black with ink in neat piles against the wall, his awards on the shelf above the desk, his old blue jumper tossed on a chair, photographs stuck haphazardly on the wall above the large bed. There was also a lot of things that belonged to Jane, clothes, sculptures, other pictures, but his own presence was undeniable. But mostly, it was the smell. The room smelled like his.

Setting his suitcase down, he took a long while just feeling and rediscovering everything, a fragile smile ghosting his lips the whole time. Some of these objects were still with him in 2019, some had been thrown away over the years, and others had totally and mysteriously vanished from his life. He needed to sort everything, decide what he would bring with him and what he would leave in a storage. The photographs were a no-brainer. He desperately needed them. In all this madness, they were the only tangible proof that some part of his past was not only in his head. He traded some clothes (the suits were definitely staying behind) and picked up a harmonica George had offered him when they were kids and that he had been very sad to lose at some point in the 1980s.

He was folding the clothes he wouldn’t take with him in another bag when noise from the stairs warned him someone was coming. Sure enough, the door opened on none other than Jane herself. She looked so young and bright she didn’t seem real.

Without saying a word, she came to him and hugged him tight. She smelled like roses and mint and that made him weirdly emotional. Paul indulged himself in the hug. He had loved her, after all. She pulled back a second to kiss him on the lips and buried her head in his chest.

“You are a twit. I thought you didn’t want to come home,” she mumbled against his chest, the vulnerability in her voice too much to bear.

She was slightly shaking. Paul felt horrible all over again.
He gently put his hands on her shoulders.

“Jane…” He started hesitantly.

She pulled back instantly, her face going from relieved to guarded under his very eyes.

“You didn’t, did you? You were not sick,” She stated with a voice she was visibly trying to keep neutral.

“No I was, actually, but… that’s not why I went to my father’s place.”

She stepped back, crossing her arms over her chest. Her red hair was framing her delicate features and when she looked down, it partially covered her face.

“Why?” She asked quietly.

“I needed time to think. I was a bit confused—,” he confessed.

“No,” she stopped him, louder. “Why are you leaving me?”

Despite the difficulty of the situation, Paul felt relieved. She was making it easier for both of them and he couldn’t be more grateful. He pondered over what answer was best and figured the least he could do was to be as straightforward with her as she was being with him.

“I don’t love you anymore,” He finally said, as gently as possible (even if he knew perfectly well nothing would lessen the blow).

She nodded frantically, a torn smile appearing on her face. Her eyes were glistening but she was trying so hard to keep the tears from falling that Paul tried to honour her dignity by schooling his features. She didn’t need his pity.

“Since when?” She asked, brokenly.

Paul hesitated, which made her turn her head to the wall, pursing her lips.

“A while.”

Understatement of the century, he thought bitterly. She nodded again, bringing a hand to her mouth. Then, in a swift movement, she came closer again, cupped his face and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back, caressing her hair. When she pulled back, there was something hard in her eyes. She studied his face, brushed his lips with her finger and quickly walked to the door.

“I don’t want to see your things when I’m back,” she said coldly.

With that, she left and slammed the door. He could hear a strangled sob going away.
Paul sighed deeply, closing his eyes hard. It was over. This was a good thing. He nodded to himself and turned to his unfinished packing. Yeah.
A good thing.

 

Leaving the Ashers was hard (Jane’s mother proved to be particularly harsh when her baby was hurt), but the hardest part was discovering storage units did not yet exist in the UK. Paul had no idea what to do with his things. He could not just toss them away. Even if he sort of wanted to draw a cross over his ‘current’ life, he might still need his things at some point. He thus promised to the Ashers he would come back in the afternoon with a truck to get everything, only took his coat and wallet and went on his way. Where he would take his things though, that remained a mystery.

His head was killing him, the lack of sleep slowly creeping up on him. Everything seemed harder in the 1960s: even something as simple as renting a car became a whole expedition. He couldn’t even ask anyone for help. Who? And how to contact them? He was so alone and bewildered he just wandered in the direction of Regent’s Park, not really knowing where else to go. Luckily, the icy wind was so biting (it was nearly Christmas after all) that he passed very few people, hiding his face in his collar. He needed to think efficiently. And to stop missing his bloody cell phone. And his scarf.

Sitting on a rusty bench in front of a large expanse of grass, he huddled in on himself to fight – uselessly – the cold. He wouldn’t be able to stand it for long, but the silence was consecrated bread for his tired mind. As a group of dark birds flew off from a tree close to him, he followed their flight with his eyes. They planned freely, fighting the wind and always winning. He even found himself envying them. Two of them flew out of the park towards the tall white buildings he could spot beyond the trees. Noticing that his toes were starting to freeze off, he swiftly got up and followed the birds. It’s when he passed an old woman looking at him weirdly that he realized he had been whistling the air of “Blackbird” the whole time. Well, it didn’t exist anymore now, did it.

He walked along the edge of the park and followed a side street, careful not to look at anyone who might be a little too curious. He arrived at a dead-end. The birds were there, cooing over a window on the third floor of the last building. A board caught his sight on the first floor. “TO RENT”. His feet stopped walking without him thinking about it. Huh.

 

Being famous was undoubtedly helpful in cases like these.

When the landlord opened the door to a self-conscious Paul, his mouth dramatically hung open. Paul explained he needed an apartment as quickly as possible and the older man scrambled to say this one was free whenever, showing him the few rooms, the strictest furniture coming with it. Apparently he had had some trouble to find tenants, most people preferring the nicest streets with a view on the park rather than this shadowed corner. But he quickly assured Paul the windows on the other side allowed a lot of sunlight to come in. He was living on the apartment above and could vouch for it. Paul did not really care though. The place was discreet, simple, well-placed. Not as expensive as he would have thought, even if in his past he never would have chosen this kind of place on a whim. But things were different now, weren’t they? And it was a perfect choice to store his stuff.

The landlord, who turned out to be a very nice man, was showing him the kitchen when Paul turned to him, his decision made.

“Can I move in today?” He asked, not bothering to lose any more time.

The man comically widened his eyes.

“Uh, well, yes, of course. If you want it, it’s yours,” He answered.

“It’s mine, then,” Paul smiled.

The man delightedly shook his hand, shyly admitting how proud he was to be his new neighbour (and incidentally his landlord). Another thought came to Paul’s mind.

“Could you not tell anyone? About me being here? I’m leaving for a vacation and it would be nice not to see my name in any newspaper, you know. I’d prefer to deal with things like that when I’m back.”

“Of course, of course, no problem! I understand, Mister McCartney.”

Paul proposed to make a first deposit and they agreed to prepare the contract to make it efficient as of the very day. It was not the perfect deal, but it was decent enough that he did not feel like he was making a huge mistake. At least, if and when he was to come back in England, he wouldn’t have to crash at anybody’s house. Happy and relieved, Paul was about to leave when he turned one last time.

“Another question: would you have a car I could borrow, by any chance?”

 

It had been long, tedious and exhausting, but Paul had finally arrived in France, or more precisely in Calais. Avoiding to draw too much attention on him had had him spend already way more time, money and energy than he would have thought. And taking the boat overnight had not much helped with his difficulty to sleep. Saying he was tired was putting it lightly.

He was now standing in the train station with his newly bought (and very hard to find) backpack. He had bought a cap and tucked his hair underneath, trying to hide his mop top as much as possible. He had also adopted the blandest country man look he could find and the stubble he now sported surely helped griming him. The pain killer and breakfast he had taken on the boat had been life savers, but he knew from the bathroom that he looked like hell. At least, he definitely felt like it.

With brand new Francs in his pockets, he was faced with a wide choice of destinations on the display panel. But he still had no clue where to go. Somewhere along the journey he had thought he could start painting again. Find a quiet village where no one knew him, settle for a while and paint his emotions away. He knew that he remained idle for too long he would go insane and that he would probably end up missing speaking English, but he needed a break. At least for a couple weeks. And if he changed his mind, he could still see about it later. That was his plan. But finding a quiet village without Google’s help was trickier than expected. God, how he had become so dependent was a mystery to him.

A woman from the group next to him suddenly gasped. He turned, watching them discreetly. The little girl had just spilled her cup of hot chocolate onto their suitcase and the mother was trying to dry it with a tissue. The little girl was now grimacing, looking at her cup as if it had betrayed her.

“Je me suis brûlé la langue (1),” She whined.

“Je t’avais dit de faire attention,” Her mother chastised her. “Tiens-moi ça. (2)”

The mother gave her the open bag she had kept under her arm until now. The little girl, who was probably around 8 years old, tried to balance her cup and the heavy bag but Paul saw the danger arrive before it happened.

“Attention !” He called out, happy to know at least this word.

He rushed to the little girl and caught the bag right as it was about to spill over. The mother looked up, surprised and on the defensive, but eased when she took in the situation. She had very thin brown hair, dark rings under her eyes and wrinkles around her mouth.

“Merci,” she smiled at Paul.

He smiled back, glad not to see any glint of recognition in her eyes. The little girl was already disinterested, bouncing up around them and blowing on her cup to cool it.

“Elle est toujours un peu excitée quand on prend le train (3),” her mother confessed, not realizing Paul barely understood a word.

“Pardon, je… parle pas très bien… (4)” He confessed clumsily, hoping his flailing arms would make his point clearer.

“Oh, sorry! Euh… why, euh… you ici ? You travel? Vacances (5)?” She bravely asked, compensating her poor English by her kind smile.

Paul hesitated. He was not at all in the mood for conversation, but the woman was making obvious efforts to talk to him.

“Oui, um… Je… cherche, uh un village? Pour resting? Rest? Paint and… tranquille (6)?” He explained, miming more than he was talking.

The woman laughed and arched a brow.

“Vous devriez venir dans notre village, alors. More tranquille, not possible. Cows everywhere. (7)” She joked.

Paul thought he knew enough to understand her point. Her village sounded like the perfect place. Up until now he had followed his instincts. Why stop now? With many mimes and efforts, he asked the woman, who turned out to be named Marguerite, how he could go to her village and if there was a place where he could sleep there. She said he needed to take the same train as her daughter and her and then, if he wanted, her husband would be happy to pick him up as well from the station to their village, which was around 45 minutes farther. They did not have space for him in their home but she apparently knew the owner of a farm next door whose son had recently left the house. They might host him if he helped them out a little.

The conversation had taken way too much time, but Paul was hopeful. Going back to a farm could only do him good. Not allowing himself to worry further, he accepted her proposition and followed Marguerite – and young Françoise – to the train to Arras.

As a he stepped into the train, he felt his heart beating in his ears, his anxiety mixed with some excitement. He was ready to start a new life.

Chapter Text

Paul missed Ringo.

He was almost surprised when he realized it. He was milking the cows, sitting on a stool with his wellies on when it happened. He was wiping sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and remembered Ringo a couple of months ago, in his living-room, laughing for some mysterious reason about the hair falling in his eyes. It was probably one of the last laughing fits he had had, and like all good laughing fits, they had not really known what they were laughing about. He could see clearly Ringo taking of his coloured glasses and hiding behind a napkin. It hit him like a train. He missed Ringo.

He had been living at Émile’s farm for more than three weeks now, sleeping in a tiny and rustic bedroom in the attic, on a bed that was so hard he couldn’t be gladder to be 23 again. The thick stone walls were surprisingly efficient against the cold, but the old door could not prevent him from being frequently awoken by his hosts’ two young girls screaming and running after each other. That was the deal: Émile and his wife Adèle provided him with food and accommodation if he helped them with the cows and the fields. In the tiny village of Léchelle where he was now living, people had no idea who he was. He was just the “Jeune Anglais” who had come here to get away from the city and become a painter, known as James to everyone (Paul found it internally funny how they struggled to pronounce it correctly whereas “Paul” was a French name as well). His days were busy. Up at 5 to milk the cows, clean the stables, feed them, go to the fields, paint a little or go for a walk when Émile didn’t need him, take care of the cows again, go to sleep. Paul welcomed the handy work though, liking how his exhaustion every night prevented him from thinking about his life all night long.

Not that he hadn’t been thinking. He cruelly missed his children and grandchildren, their absence like a needle constantly piercing in his heart, injecting poison that could completely paralyze him if he let himself dwell into it. But he was trying to get going. To remember his babies fondly but still think about his own future. He wasn’t ready to think more ahead than each day starting but still, he was trying. Slowly considering things like having his own home, one item at the time. Like that lovely coffee table he had seen at Marguerite’s house when he had dined with them a few nights before; he was pretty sure that with Émile’s help, he could try and make one of his own. Or dogs. He would love a dog of his own.

Émile and Adèle weren’t exactly the warmest of people. They didn’t talk much, and the fact that they could not understand a word of English made their conversations even rarer. But they were honest people, and genuine. Émile was gruff and sometimes bellicose, but Paul knew he had a good heart by the way he treated his animals and the patience he showed when he was teaching Paul how to carve into wood. Adèle claimed loudly how little she trusted British people, but Paul suspected the reason why they were eating rhubarb pie so frequently was because she knew he loved it. Things were not perfect, but they were okay. And that was basically all Paul was asking for.

Once he was finished with the cows, he wiped his hands and stretched his back. He wondered what Ringo could be doing. He probably was on holiday somewhere warm. He pictured him on a white beach somewhere, enjoying his well-deserved break with a daiquiri and a nap under the palm trees. But in his mental image, he saw his Ringo. The old one, with very short hair and peace signs stuck to his fingers. Some things were just too anchored in his head and heart, he guessed.

He made his way back to the farm, digging his gloved hands in his pockets, the frosted grass creaking underneath his feet. The sky was cloudless but the morning white sun provided little warmth on his reddened cheeks. And he thought England was cold…

He stopped on the threshold of the house, wiped his wellies on the rug and went in. He was instantly glad to notice Adèle had lit the fire, the orange flames luring him like blood for a mosquito. Émile was sitting on the kitchen table, reading the newspaper, and Paul could hear Adèle changing the sheets further into the house. When Émile looked up, alerted by the sound of the heavy door, Paul nodded to him.

“Bonjour ! Les nouvelles sont bonnes ? (1)” Paul asked, more than a little proud of his improving French.

Émile groaned.

“Toujours pareil. Une explosion dans le Rhône. Pauvres gars. (2)” He mumbled in his beard.

Paul did not catch all of that, but he knew better than to ask the balding older man to repeat himself. Humming in response, he shrugged off his coat, took off his gloves and sat in front of Émile. A fuming coffee pot, butter and bread were waiting for him on the table.

Paul was munching through his breakfast, happy to let the coffee warm him up from inside. After a few minutes of companionable silence, Émile folded the newspaper and got up, his wooden chair rasping on the floor.

“Bon, je vais voir Lucien. Tu me rejoins au champ tout à l’heure ? (3)” He told Paul.

Paul nodded, knowing their ritual even if he didn’t know all the words. Once Émile was gone (not before grunting a last time about the badly oiled door), Paul took the newspaper curiously. He had discovered that forcing himself to read the French newspaper frequently helped him getting a better grasp of the language. But when he opened it and started flipping the pages, a small black-and-white picture caught his attention. What…?! Why was…?

The cropped picture showed young George in his black suit, smiling brightly. Paul had seen articles on the Beatles appear on the national newspaper once or twice before, but never on only one of them. His eyes quickly scanned the article, which was very short, and the little he understood froze his blood. After a short presentation of George and the Beatles, there was something about a car accident, his friend having stayed in the hospital for a while. Nothing very serious apparently, but there were scars involved and Paul swore he could recognize the word “rib”. The journalist went on saying this should not endanger the future of the successful band but would certainly slow the singer for a while.

Paul slumped back in his chair, the article like a blow to his face. That was not supposed to happen. George had not been in any accident in 1966, he was sure of that. He had been freaking fine. How could that happen?!

Paul was worried but also beyond confused. Was it because of him? Had his decision to leave England disrupted the great chain of elements? He guessed it must have, in some way, but it had nothing to do with George. If anyone had to be in an accident, it should have been him; he still remember how hard the tarmac had been when he had crashed with his moped. A strong desire to see and to talk to George overwhelmed him, to make sure he was okay, but he had no way of contacting him. He obviously did not remember his phone number, or anyone’s that would be useful for that matter. He was not even sure he would find his house if he went back to London. That was such a long time ago… The best he could do was to find some way to send him fan mail, but how to know where to send it? It would take ages before George even received it – if he did at all. And what would he write? ‘Hi, I really hope you’re okay, I know I’ve disappeared from the face of the Earth but please don’t look for me, love you mate’?

A look at the clock let him know he had to leave now if he wanted to join Émile at the field. He promptly got up and put his coat on, not totally ready to face the biting January cold yet. He was still thinking hard, a deep frown etching itself on his face. He did not know what to do. As he was making his way to the field, another memory popped into his brain. George’s wedding! It had been in January 1966! He was absolutely sure of that, because even though he had been pretty much wasted the whole night, he had been the proud best man.

He felt a pinch in his heart. Since Paul wasn’t around, who had he asked to be his best man this time? Would they even be able to carry on with the wedding if George was hurt from his accident…? Maybe he had asked Richie. Or even John – who knew what else was different in this present. Thinking about his bandmates awoke his guilt. He knew leaving in the night without telling anyone where he was going was a dick move. He could only imagine their worry. Brian was probably pulling at his hair right now… His stomach twisted at the thought. Burying his head in the sand had been nice this far, but his consciousness would not let him get away with it that much longer. Perhaps he should find a way to send them a message. Tell them that he was fine and that he was sorry for leaving them. Maybe they would understand he had to (even if he doubted John ever would). Were they expecting him to come back?

Actually… was he expecting himself to come back?

 

The rest of the day drained away with Paul floating between different sets of mind: one moment he was ready to drop everything and jump on the first plane for London, the next he wanted to forget about everything and start working on his coffee table. And in-between, his anxiety and guilt were growing, gnawing on him.

When the night came, Paul was more relieved than ever, the labour and stress of the day having sucked him dry of every bit of energy. There he was, lying in his stiff bed and staring up into the darkness, still not knowing what to do about George and the band. After having considering all the elements and angles, something was clear, though: whatever decision he made would make him feel guilty. So, guilt was not a valid criteria. That was little progress, but it was a start. Yay!

He turned on his tiny bed, closed his eyes forcefully and buried himself deeper under the duvet. He needed to get up early the next day and couldn’t afford to sleep on his feet when working. He just had to hope he would be wiser from having slept on his situation.

 

He had slept on it.

He was a fucking idiot.

It was watching Émile and Adèle talk during breakfast that made it click in his head. They were discussing the death of the grand-father of someone in the village, and were wondering if they could go to the funeral and come back soon enough to take care of the animals before night. The random conversation did not concern Paul and yet, it made him pause, buttered knife and slice of bread still in his hands. His breathing suddenly became ragged.

People were dying. Actually dying. It was an obvious observation but it had not really reached his mind yet, not in this timeline. This was real life. George had had an accident. People were dying.

George was not dead yet. John neither. His father, Brian, Mal. Linda. Everyone. They were not dead yet. He was so traumatized from having seen them die that he had not even truly realized that simple truth.

They were fucking alive.

Fuck.

The memory of his last encounter with John rushed back to his mind, making him blush with shame. He had spent years whining to everyone about how much he missed John, how much he loved him and how lucky he was to have been the one working with him. And now that he had had the unimaginable chance to see him in flesh and blood again, to talk to him, to touch him, what had he done? Run away.

What a fucking idiot.

How could he let his memory of John become more important than John himself?

He had never been good with grief. It was ironic, in a way, that someone who had lost so many people along the years would be so terrible at handling loss. And yet, he had just never been truly able to face it. His long-proven technique had been to bury it: bury the feelings, bury the pain, forget and move on. That never worked – of course it never worked. But now that he was all alone in the countryside, trying to ‘figure himself out’, some truths just could not be ignored anymore.

He couldn’t face death because he didn’t understand it. His deep need to control everything could not extend to people’s passing and he simply just could not accept it. He had not accepted it for his mother, nor for Brian, nor for John or Linda, or his father. He had sort of accepted George’s death only because he had seen him dwindling away over the years, seen him slowly lose his life strength. He had been prepared. And yet, he still could not comprehend it.

And now, he was faced with death again in the most unnatural way possible. He was seeing people he had forced himself to forget about, people he had put in a jar in his mind that might overwhelm him would even the slightest drop be spilled. He was living with people whom he had seen die, whom he had grieved for. After their passing, he had fantasized about them. Had forgotten things and chose to remember others. He had – just like everyone would – nurtured an image of them in his mind to allow himself to move on without them with the least amount of pain possible. And those images were now being shattered. He knew things about them they didn’t. He knew the biggest mystery of their lives: the time of their death. And he was utterly alone in that knowledge. In addition to 60 years of sharable memories, it was his grief that had been ripped from him.

But they were here. They were alive, breathing, healthy and hopeful. They had real dreams, real skin and bones. They had qualities and flaws he had never noticed, reactions that might not have been the same in his past. They were real people, with a real future that was not made yet. Paul knew one version of their future. But this was real life. Everything could happen. Anything. He had an absolutely unique chance to see them and to get to know them again. To share things they didn’t or couldn’t share in the past. To view their personalities and relationships with a wiser and probably kinder eye. He could actually get them back.

Paul put his knife down, jam dripping on his finger and his toast long forgotten. He had not even noticed Émile and Adèle were already up and clearing the table. Fuck. He could get them back.

He wasn’t going to let that opportunity slip through his fingers. No way.

Chapter Text

Telling Émile and Adèle he was leaving had been harder than he thought. Not that they didn’t understand his reasons (missing his family, officially, which wasn’t far from the truth), or that they tried to make him stay, but when they asked if he intended to come back, he couldn’t answer. He wanted to, at some point. Living in Léchelle had been sort of a blessing for him and he had truly enjoyed his time there. He was going to miss it. But realistically, he knew that if he became a Beatle again, coming back would be quite complicated. He didn’t like saying goodbye. They all agreed he would stay three more days, just enough time to help Émile finish the fence they were fixing.

When he left on the clouded next Sunday, promising the couple and Marguerite he would call them, he quickly discovered going back home was actually more complicated than leaving. Marguerite’s husband had kindly agreed to drive him to Arras but from there he was on his own again, sporting a full beard and full on French farmer clothes. At least he was not easily recognizable. He figured taking the plane would be easier this time, but travelling to Paris was bound to attract more attention than staying in smaller cities. He just had to count on the fact that nobody would expect to see him there, alone and looking as far from a Beatle as possible. Therefore, most people would not see him.

After hours of various trains, he finally found himself at the airport, even though tired and stiff all over, his backpack starting to weigh on his shoulders. Seeing how easy it was to buy a ticket for London for only an hour later, he thought he was lucky in a way to be in the 60s again and not to have as many security controls. Well, as long as the plane wouldn’t go down, that is.

That far, no one had batted an eye at him, except the saleswoman at the counter who double-checked him with frowning then widening eyes when he gave her his ID. He was thus extra charming with her, hoping she would be professional enough not to bring anyone’s attention on his being here. He went to the departure lounge, making sure not to make eye contact with anyone. He was used to keep a low profile in public, but it had been a very long time since he’d taken a plane alone. He was not even sure he ever had, actually. Passing by a newspaper kiosk, he bought a copy of The Times, realizing just now that he had had very little news of his home country ever since he’d left. He easily found a quiet corner to settle in and flipped through the pages, hiding himself behind the paper as would a not very subtle spy.

Sure enough, he fell on a Beatles article – or rather, one on himself. Apparently, his absence had somehow been noticed, the obnoxious title “COME BACK PAUL: THE CUTE BEATLE GOING SOLO?” catching his eyes. He snorted and turned the page, not wanting to read what ridiculous theories the journalist had gone for. If the press had the faintest idea of what had actually happened, he could barely imagine the bombshell it would be.

He had thought about it a lot the last few days. Being from the future was on its own an incredibly lonely position, but knowing no one would ever believe him made it only worse. How could they? He had no proof, besides the fact that it was freaking impossible. Even saying the sentence in his head made him feel insane. He could not tell anyone. Not only they wouldn’t believe him, but they would send him to a mental house. Or worse, ask questions about the future he could not – or should not – answer to. It wasn’t fair to place that burden on anyone else.

But he also could not tame the vital desire to tell someone. Share it with someone and be able to lean on them, even just a little. He was a social person after all: he loved meeting people, getting to know them, diving into deep conversations about everything and anything. He also loved to be on his own and to enjoy more quiet, natural environments, but he was a people’s man. And now that he had just spent almost a month basically alone in the countryside (knowing uttering around 40 French words a day could barely count as socializing), he craved intimacy more than ever. It was a real battle in his head, a dilemma that did nothing to relieve the headache he seemed to be permanently stuck with.

An announcement for his plane made him stuff his newspaper into his banged up backpack and follow the line of people to the gate. He braced himself, deeply breathing his nerves away. Only an hour and a half and he would be home.

 

After a quick sandwich, a much-needed shower and a nap, Paul found himself in his new apartment, disoriented and not really knowing what to do now. He knew he should call Brian, at least to let him know he was still alive (the irony was not lost on him), but he really did not have the strength to face his anger and disappointment at the moment. He wandered in the living-room, where his boxes were still waiting for him, most of them unopened. His gaze caught his guitar cases and his heart swelled. He rushed to one of them, opened it and gazed lovingly at his Gibson. He had missed it a ridiculous amount. Striking the hard chords immediately relaxed him, closing his eyes to enjoy the feeling. He knew in that moment that coming back was the right decision: this was his home. Music. Rhythms and melodies. How could he have ever thought otherwise? He had not only run away from his family, his friends, his job and his past, but also his passion. As if he could just draw a line on it. But playing on his guitar now just proved him how wrong he had been. He could not just forget who he was. Even if the larger part of his life now caused a pain that he believed would never really go away.

He stopped playing after a couple hours, his tired mind growing more and more restless. He needed to see someone. Check on George. Reach out to Brian. Apologize to John, and to his father. Talk to Ringo. But first, he needed a car. He probably already had one, but he had no idea which one or where it actually could be. As hard as he tried to, he did not remember. Maybe he could ask his Dad? Or call Jane’s– no, better not. He could not just go and buy a new car, it was stupid, he thought as he was rinsing his hands in the sink. He reached for a towel and realized he had not unpacked any yet. He cast a glance around him at his brand new apartment.
Oh, right. Well.

 

Paul got out of the brand new inconspicuous Austin Mini and stopped at the heavy gate. He was 85% sure it was the right place. More or less. He rang the doorbell and deeply breathed out to calm his wild heart. The intercom crackled.

“Yes?” A man’s voice answered.

“It’s Paul.” He ushered. Then, after a pause: “Paul McCartney.”

Paul winced at himself. The man didn’t say anything back, but the gate clicked open. Paul walked quickly up to the front door, dreading the reunion. It would be fine. He was allowed to be here. It was fine.
He didn’t have time to knock though that the door was already opening on a laughing Ringo.

“Hey! How many Pauls do you think I know?!”

Paul found himself smiling too, feeling immediately lighter. Ringo was still Ringo, no matter the year.

“Shut up, you idiot.”

Still laughing, Ringo stood aside to let him in. Paul advanced in the hallway, observing the house he had not seen in a long, long while. Everything was just as he remembered.

“What’s with the beard? If you hadn’t announced yourself so assiduously I wouldn’t have recognized you,” Ringo said, leading him to the living-room.

“Well, that was sort of the point,” Paul confessed, forcing himself to actually voice his thoughts.

Ringo raised an eyebrow but did not have time to probe him further when 18-year-old Maureen entered the room, smiling at Paul and carrying a baby – Zak, probably – in her arms. A child carrying another child, basically. Paul froze, befuddled by the scene.

“Hey Paul! It’s nice to see you. What brings you here?” Maureen greeted him.

Paul blinked and gave her a kiss on the cheek, trying not to show how weird it was to see her again – and like many others, alive and so young. He was not sure he could ever get used to it.

“Just going round the neighbourhood, thought I would swing by,” He forced out, turning to the baby, he cooed: “Hello, Zak, little man!”

Ringo patted him on the back and showed him the couch.

“’Twas a good idea. She’s right, it’s nice to see you. Sit, I’m gonna get us tea.”

Paul obeyed while Maureen was putting Zak in his playpen. Paul could not stop staring at him, playing with a toy giraffe. Last time he had seen Zak, he was at least 48 already. This was beyond weird.
Ringo came back with a teapot under his arm, two cups in one hand and a box of biscuits in the other. He stopped in front of Paul and nodded to the teapot.

“Help me out, please.”

Paul took it and versed the tea in the cups Ringo was putting on the coffee table. Which sort of looked like Marguerite’s, Paul noticed.

“Have you seen George?” Paul asked, almost shy about it.

Ringo nodded with a smile but did not say anything.

“How is he?” Paul pressed on.

“Yeah, he’s alright. A bit bruised all over though. Looks like he’s been in quite a brawl, but you know him. Wouldn’t complain if he’d been thrown under a bus,” Ringo said, chuckling at that last remark. “He’s not at the hospital anymore, you can visit him at his place if you want.”

Paul nodded, his throat drying at the prospect of seeing his oldest friend again. He knew he would have to, but it required a dose of courage he did not have at the moment. Maureen entered the room and sighed when she saw the coffee table.

“Why do you never use the trey?”

Ringo turned to her, already opening the box of biscuits, and shrugged.

“Didn’t need it, did I?”

Maureen rolled her eyes.

“Are you staying for dinner, Paul? I’m making bologna.”

Paul hesitated a second, but meeting Ringo’s earnest blue eyes somehow reassured him and confirmed to him that this was okay. It was okay. He had the right to be here.

“Yes, I would love to. Thank you,” He smiled at her.

She nodded and left again. Ringo, who had been silently munching his biscuit and observing Paul the whole time, piped up with a knowing.

“So. Where were you hiding?”

“…France.”

Ringo chuckled disbelievingly.

“France? What were you doing in France by yourself?”

Paul swallowed with difficulty, hoping his friend wouldn’t consider him mad or ask him things he was not comfortable talking about yet.

“I, uh… I needed space. Fresh air. I worked in a farm, it was nice, you know. Gave me time to think and all. Missed England, though.”

Ringo nodded to himself, as if that explanation was completely clear and understandable.
Maybe he didn’t need to worry after all.

 

Despite Paul’s initial anxiety at seeing his old friend, dinner was nice. Ringo, true to every version of himself, was excellent company: joking but never mocking, curious but never prying, kind and light. And Maureen was just as sweet as Paul’s fond memory of her. Paul allowed himself to relax a little and enjoy the moment for what it was, i.e. a nice meal with good friends. Sure, some things and references they said were lost on him and he had trouble hiding his confusion, but overall, this was nice.

They were deep into their second plate of pasta when the conversation naturally came to a halt. Ringo had just told him about his Christmas with Maureen’s family and that left Paul reflecting over the days preceding his departure from England.

“I broke up with Jane,” He confessed suddenly, feeling somehow guilty about it.

“I know.”

Paul frowned and realized only now that Ringo had indeed automatically assumed he had been alone in France. Ringo shrugged.

“Brian phoned everyone to reach you. You never showed up for the Shea recording. He was dead worried. We all were, to be honest,” he explained.

“The Shea recording?”

“Yeah, they needed extra instruments tracks to cover for all the screaming. We did it anyway but everyone was quite pissed off about not having the bass.”

“I thought George Martin was going to cancel everything, to be honest. He looked beyond pissed,” Maureen chided in.

Paul felt a blush spread on his neck. This was supposed to be his job. No wonder they were pissed off.

“I’m sorry about Jane. I didn’t know it wasn’t working between you,” Ringo offered, clearly showing he wasn’t angry at Paul.

Paul couldn’t be more grateful. He gave him a shy smile, focusing on his pasta. There was not much to add about Jane. Thankfully, Ringo understood he didn’t want to talk about it further and focused on his food again. Paul watched him eat for a moment, feeling relieved and blessed to have such a warm and kind friend who was – literally – following him through the decades.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” Paul said quietly.

Ringo looked up and smiled with a comforting gentleness in his eyes.

“It’s okay, I’m not mad at you. I know sometimes it’s all a bit much. I can’t speak for the others, though.”

Paul grimaced.

“John?”

“You bet.”

Paul put his utensils back on the table and massaged his temple with one hand. He had naively hoped John would be over their last encounter.

“Fuck. I saw him right before I left, and I was a right bastard at that.”

“I figured something happened, because he’s been a right bastard too. You couldn’t say a word to him all day. And anyone who would even pronounce your name would end up at the stake.”

Maureen nodded with a bitter chuckle.

“I’m so sorry,” Paul repeated to both of them, genuine.

“It’s not me you should say that to, apparently,” Ringo mused.

Paul groaned and took his head in his hands. He knew he was right. No matter how long he was putting it off, he would have to face John at some point. Even if for some reason, the thought alone utterly terrified him.

Chapter Text

It turned out keeping yourself busy was very hard when you were not in the right year.

Since he had woken up for the first time in his new place, Paul had been pretty much lost and disoriented. He did not know what to do. He couldn’t phone his kids, see his acquaintances (a lot of them were not even born yet), browse the internet, prepare a new album or just carry on with about any daily activity he had in 2019. The only thing he could really do was to play music, which was what he had done late into the night after his visit to Ringo. Now that it was a new day though, the prospect of having nothing planned was a bit distressing. After a rather sad breakfast of rancid oatmeal (he really needed to explore the neighbourhood and find a supermarket before he starved to death), he ended up finally unpacking the rest of his things he had thrown carelessly in boxes when he had left Jane’s place.

What he thought would be a quick activity turned out to take his whole morning. He took time to rediscover the items one by one, the clothes, the books, the souvenirs. Touching them, choosing what to do with them and where to put them had a strangely therapeutic effect on him. He barely had any furniture yet – just a couch, a bed, a single wardrobe, a stove and a fridge – so most things he had to just put somewhere on the floor but it was nice to decide for himself. To be in control of his own environment. This was his apartment; not the apartment of 1965 Paul or 2019 Paul. It was right now Paul’s. His.

When everything was more or less out of the boxes, his growling stomach reminded him that he was supposed to eat, at some point. As he was too lazy and even too anxious yet to go out and face the rest of the world, he just cooked the zucchinis he’d got from Émile, sitting on the old red couch the previous tenant had left. He needed to get a table. And chairs. He definitely should get a piano. Things that could allow him to live properly and to write music comfortably. As he was listing the things in his mind, he realized thinking about arranging his apartment was indeed quite soothing. He needed to take care of his mind, to find purpose not to let his thoughts overwhelm him. He needed new goals. Perhaps he should even start a list? His granddaughters loved that, keeping notebooks and writing lists about pretty much anything on it. They said it helped them keep their thoughts clear and organized. Maybe that was just what he needed. Music and a notebook.

And to call George. Or even better, see him.

He knew postponing it was stupid and could only make him more and more anxious. Knowing George was alright from other people would not appease his mind as much as seeing him with his own two eyes. He had asked Ringo to give him a list of the telephone numbers and addresses of everyone they knew – under the pretence that he had lost them during the moving. So really, he had no excuse. But if seeing Ringo was one thing, seeing any of the ‘dead ones’ as he couldn’t help but to think about them in his head was a whole different kettle of fish.

George had always been special to him. Like a baby brother. Their relationship had been quite strained over the years and maybe this was his chance to fix things between them – or more accurately to salvage them before they got too bad. He had taken him for granted once; he would not do the same mistake this time.

Acting before he could have second thoughts about it, Paul went to the phone and pulled out the list Ringo had given him from the pocket of his coat. The phone rang several times before someone picked up.

“Yes?” Said George’s unmistakable slow voice.

“Hi. It’s me. Paul. I have a new number.”

An awkward beat passed.

“Uh… Okay,” George chuckled. “You’ll have to give it to me then.”

“Or you could just look up your incoming calls, you know.”

“What?”

Paul cursed at himself. January 1966. January 1966. Of course George couldn’t just ‘look up the incoming calls’.

“Nevermind. How are you?” Paul rushed to say.

“I’m alright.” Paul sighed of relief until George added: “Better than last week.”

Paul winced.

“Yeah, I uh… I’m sorry, I should have called sooner. Or come sooner. I wasn’t in the country and… You know. I’m sorry.”

He heard George humming in the phone.

“Don’t be, it’s alright. I didn’t die or anything,” He reassured him – which of course did not reassure Paul at all and just increased his headache. “What about you then? I thought you had headed for the hills for good this time. We missed you at New Year’s.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I should have called you, all of you. I needed some time away but I shouldn’t have left… like that. I’m really sorry,” Paul answered, sliding along the wall, a hand over his suddenly stinging eyes.

“Mate, stop apologizing. Seriously.”

“Yeah right, sorry.”

“Paul.”

“Yes! Yes, okay. I stop. I’ve stopped, see?” Paul chuckled. “Do you… Are you at home today? Could I stop by for a while?”

Some ruffling and white noise on the other side of the phone told him George was probably covering it with his hand. Then his drawl came back full force.

“Sorry, Pattie was leaving. Yeah sure, come around if you want. I was just gonna play a little anyway.”

His sentence resonated in Paul’s mind and an idea slowly formed. Maybe that was the perfect occasion to start ‘mending’ their friendship.

“Speaking of that,” He started, feeling suddenly very self-conscious. “Are you writing these days?”

“Uh… Sort of. Yeah. But it’s nothing really like, finished, or anything.”

Paul starting nervously twining the telephone cord around his finger.

“Would you like… Maybe try and see if we could… Because we never did, did we, you know, so I thought maybe we could… Or just play a little, see where it goes? Not necessarily, you know, like proper writing, but just. Maybe only play what you have… Or me… You know, see if it’s good?”

“What are you talking about?” His friend asked, sounding very confused.

The cord was so tight around his finger that it was almost purple. Paul cleared his throat and dereeled it. He just needed to jump with it.

“Would you like us to write together, sometime?” Paul clarified, his heart beating in his ears. “It doesn’t have to be like with me and John or anything, but we could. You know, try it?”

The growing silence on George’s end did nothing to help his nerves.

“We could, yeah,” George finally answered collectedly. “Why not.”

Paul released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. A start was a start.

 

Just like in childhood memories where everything seems gigantic, George’s house was weirdly way smaller than in the memory he’d kept of it. Or maybe it just seemed huge because he was dreading seeing him again. Actually seeing him. Not just acknowledging his presence.
Once at the door, he knocked three times, feeling very solemn. Almost immediately after, he heard steps coming closer and someone unlocking the door. It’s fine, he repeated to himself one last time, taking a deep breath. It’s just George. The door opened.

It wasn’t George.

“What are you doing here?” Paul blurted out.

John froze, hand still on the doorknob, but schooled his features instantly and leant against the door.

“George, your lovely guest is here!” He called out towards the house, his eyes not leaving Paul’s.

Paul looked down, feeling his face burning. Shit. Why couldn’t he act normal for once? In front of him, John was still studying him from head to toe.

“Sorry I… I didn’t expect to see you, that’s all,” Paul offered quietly.

“Yeah. You never do these days,” John said on a strangely level tone.

Paul was about to answer when other steps announced the arrival of George. The bruises on his cheek had started to fade but were still impressive and Paul struggled not to startle. He had a nasty scar on his chin that was still healing and moved cautiously, as if making sure not to hurt himself.

“Hey Paul, come in. Don’t mind Johnny here, he forgot his manners,” George amiably welcomed him, not noticing – or not caring about – Paul’s staring.

“How is this my fault?” John frowned, letting Paul pass him by to enter the house.

Paul tried to calm his wild heart by breathing slowly but his hands were slightly shaking. This was not what was planned. He was not prepared to see John. What was he even doing here?!
He followed George to the living-room where the TV was on with some black-and-white show. There were two beers on the coffee table and an almost finished bowl of crisps.

“You’ve started early I see,” Paul tried to joke, feeling his voice catch in his throat.

George just chuckled and went to sit slowly on the couch, holding his ribs.

“I was just watching TV but John came up with beers, so. We can’t let them go to waste, can we?”

“It would be a shame indeed. A national dishonour,” John added when entering the room too.

He took one of the beers and went to plump down next to George, completely ignoring Paul who was still standing stupidly in front of them. He finally opted to sit in the green wing chair on the side. They were just his old friends. He knew them well – or at least, he had known them. He could do this.
Next to him, George and John were fighting like children for the remaining crisps.

“Stop eating everything, I haven’t even had any yet,” John groaned, trying to pull the bowl out of George’s fierce grip.

“This is my house, remember? And I’m injured, I need them to get my strength back,” George answered on an overly lecturing tone.

“And I deserve them for very kindly coming to put up with you.”

“Alright, alright,” George relented, chewing the very final crisps. “I’ll get more. Be nice, kids.”

He got up – with difficulty – and left the room with the bowl in his hands. Paul had the urge to force him to sit down and go in his place, but he found himself stuck in his seat. John watched George leave and then turned his eyes to Paul, an unreadable look in them. His hair was softly falling over his eyes but this time he was wearing his thick-rimmed glasses. Paul hadn’t seen him like that in a long, long time. The two of them stayed like that a long time, just staring at one another until it got too much for Paul. Feeling unnerved by John’s unwavering gaze, he shuffled on his seat.

“What?”

“You’re wearing my shirt,” John simply stated.

Out of reflex, Paul reached for his chest and looked down to his polka dot shirt. He was indeed. He had actually been wearing it a lot, but John didn’t need to know that.

“Well, it’s mine now, isn’t it,” He settled on answering.

The tiniest smile graced John’s lips, which he tried to cover almost immediately. Still, it was a sight for sore eyes.

“It is.”

Noises in the hallway made Paul snap out of his reverie.

“Look, John, I’m sorry for what I told you last time. I didn’t mean it. You’re always welcome to my house,” Paul apologized, struggling to maintain John’s intense eye contact.

John didn’t answer and just looked at him some more as if he was dead set on looking disimpassioned. And all the years Paul had spent next to him did not help him at all to know what he was truly feeling. Maybe he’d lost practice, too. At that moment George came back with an overflowing bowl and settled back down on the couch.

“So, Paul,” He started, visibly not aware of the awkwardness between his friends. Paul’s gaze gladly drifted to him. “Did you at least bring me something from France? Like a magnet or—”

“You were in France?!” John suddenly interrupted, with more emotions on his face than he’d had since Paul had arrived (even if Paul could not quite recognize them).

Paul glanced back to him.

“Yeah, in the country. And no, sorry George. If I had known I would have brought you a helmet with baguettes on it.”

George laughed but stopped quickly, a wince covering his features and his hand going straight to his ribs. Paul frowned, sitting straighter in an unconscious attempt to get closer to his friend.

“When are your ribs going to get better?” He asked gently.

“They said a month or two but there’s nothing much we can do,” George shrugged. “Just rest. At least I can still play, would have gone insane otherwise.”

Paul hummed and looked at his own hands. They were not shaking anymore, at least. He heard the couch squeaking when John got up, going to the TV to turn up the sound, effectively ending the conversation. He then went back to his seat, propping his feet on the coffee table while George was settling in deeper into the cushions, both staring at the TV. Paul welcomed the distraction to get a few crisps himself and discreetly observe his friends. They seemed calm: George was laughing softly to the characters on screen, his hand perpetually in the bowl, his bowl cut hugging his bony face. Despite his scars and bruises, he looked good. Healthy and happy. John’s features were significantly less open. His darkened eyes were fixing the TV so steadily Paul doubted he was really seeing it. He was broader than the last time Paul had seen him, that was for sure. His cheeks and lips were fuller and his cheekbones far less prominent too. He’s only 25, Paul reminded himself as John was throwing him a curious glance.
Only 25.

Chapter Text

On the notebook Paul had bought before going to George’s place, he had prepared a list. He had not found a title for it, not even a header, and he figured it was better that way. If anyone found it, they would just think it was a random list of things to do or to think about. Nothing curious about it.
On it, there were not that many things.

1 – Call Dad.
2 – Buy furniture. And a piano.
3 – Find some decorations (and not ugly old things).
4 – Write at least one song a week.

And a little further down, in a slightly wobbly writing.

5 – Do not make the same mistakes again.

 

The lads had started smoking pot after a while, and really Paul should not have been surprised. He had politely declined, trying not to react to their puzzled faces and the laughter that seemed to bubble so much more easily out of them. It was weird in a way, to be out of it, but it made watching them more interesting than watching the actual movie. How they both seemed to melt into the couch, finishing each’s other jokes and not even realizing that they sometimes made no sense at all.

John had left soon after the end of the movie, pretexting Cynthia was waiting for him at home and that he didn’t want to attract her wrath. Paul suspected it was not the only reason, if John’s apparent decision not to talk to him for the remainder of his stay was anything to go by. And the fact he had barely looked at him before leaving. Paul was conflicted by his departure: on one side, he was relieved but on the other, it was nice to see the three of them could still function together. Quite normally, even – even if Paul was more often than not lost when they were talking amongst themselves. It would take time, but he could get to know them again. For once, he had a good feeling about it.

But there was still a long way to go. The friendship he most desperately wanted to mend was undoubtedly George’s. He’d seen the interviews, read everything he could find, even the most hurtful things. He knew how much he had hurt his friend and the impact his indifference – or rather, his disregard – had had on their relationship. It had always been a bit hard to fully comprehend, his own memories not quite matching George’s. Sometimes, he could not see at all what had bothered George in the first place. But he guessed that was the whole point.

Leaving his car with his guitar case in hand, Paul went back to the living-room where George had taken out his guitar and was mindlessly strumming on it. Paul set the case down and went straight on the floor, sitting cross-legged. God, it was so good to be able to do that in a second.

“What’s happened between you and John?” George asked suddenly, without even looking up from his instrument.

“Just a little row last time we saw each other. It’s nothing.”

And it was nothing, really. If anything, it was John who had lost his temper and shouted at him, he thought. George looked at him but didn’t answer right away.

“Well, you did leave the country right after your row, so I guess ‘nothing’ is relative, these days,” He finally voiced.

Feeling ashamed and cornered, Paul opened his mouth to snap at him that it had nothing to do with him, but stopped himself at the last second. He breathed deeply. Do not make the same mistakes again. Even if it meant going against his instincts to fiercely hide and protect everything that had to do with John. That had always been his reflex, after all.

“I don’t really want to talk about it to be honest,” He confessed with difficulty. “I apologized to John, but I don’t know how he feels about it yet. Or me.”

George arched his brows but simply smiled. It looked so genuine Paul felt whiplashed. They were both surprised, here.

“Fair enough,” He said.

Paul tried not to let out a heavy sigh. It puzzled him how frustrating it could be to be honest. As if, somehow, he had wanted to get angry. It probably would have been easier.
In front of him, George had started playing a tune Paul didn’t know. Well actually… it did sound kind of familiar, didn’t it? Very vaguely, but the rhythm was there. After a few more notes, he was sure of it. He knew that tune. But…

“How are you playing this already?” He asked, not fully realizing he was talking out loud, caught in deep puzzlement.

George stopped playing and looked up, clearly very confused.

“What?”

Paul’s eyes snapped up, suddenly back to the present. As long as he didn’t get too specific, it felt safe enough to probe a little.

“That song… Do you have a name for it?” He asked.

“Hum… No, no. It’s not a song, just notes. You know,” George retorted, a bit embarrassed.

Paul nodded, thinking it best not to push further. He opened his guitar case instead, his fingers trembling with excitation already. It felt good, this. Just playing, having George near him, not caring about what was coming next. Trying very hard not to think about how much his kids would have loved to see where he was right now.

“So, do you have something in mind?” He asked casually, dying to have anything to keep his mind busy.

George shrugged but didn’t stop playing.

“Nothing special. Do you?”

Paul almost wanted to laugh. He had not thought of any new song since he had woken up in 1965.

“Not really, no,” He revealed.

George kept on playing another tune, ignoring him. Paul suddenly felt annoyed and stopped himself from puffing out. The lad was not making it any easier, was he? Was he supposed to just watch him play around? He could do that, sure, but not if George didn’t even acknowledge his presence. He tried following George’s aimless melody, getting a faint feel of it. The other seemed happy enough with that, and even turned slightly towards Paul. They fumbled each on their instruments for a while, George murmuring words into his chest, as if he did not dare say them any louder. And if Paul thought about it, it made sense that he would not. But suddenly George stumbled on a chord, tried it again a couple of times with a slight frown between his thick eyebrows, and then shifted to another melody entirely.

Paul stared at him, his fingers hovering over his own guitar.

“Why did you change? I liked that one. It’s good,” He told him.

George shrugged. His body language screamed embarrassment, so Paul tried to take on a softer voice.

“It has a nice rhythm to it.”

“No, it doesn’t,” George said blankly. Then, as if trying to please Paul: “I don’t like it enough.”

Paul watched him and his sure fingers plucking the strings. It suddenly felt as if he had never seen George play before.

“That’s not true,” He let out in a whisper.

“Paul. Leave it,” George stated, his tone unwaveringly firm.

Paul felt embarrassed, but also a bit angry. God, what had he done wrong again?!

“I’m just trying to help,” He said calmly but with slightly gritted teeth.

“Well, don’t.”

Paul didn’t push it, feeling weirdly left out.

He had naively – and quite probably stupidly – thought working with George had to be somewhat similar to working with John. With John, it had always been the definition of easy. Quick, natural, mutual. Thinking back to the 1966 he had already lived, he believed he had been close enough to George to try and find the same kind of sharing. But that was not taking into account how complex of a person George could be. No matter how close to him you thought you were, he was always one step ahead, ready to slip through your fingers with a smile and a crack. Paul really should not be surprised. Maybe he didn’t have him all figured out, after all. And maybe, maybe, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Even if right now, he felt about to boil over.

Deciding this was enough music for now (apparently not even it could save his inadequacy), he put his guitar back down in its case. Feeling suddenly too big, he brought his legs closer to his chest and clapped his arms around them, letting his back rest against the wing chair. George cast a glance at him but did not comment it and focused on tuning his guitar again. The silence between them grew and left Paul feeling uncomfortable.

“So you’ve had a lot of visits then, since your accident,” Paul suddenly said with more force than necessary. “That’s nice.”

“Not that many,” George, making a pensive face. “Brian, Rings. George Martin called. Mal, too.”

Paul hummed, balancing himself a little on the floor.

“John had not come before today either, if that’s what you’re thinking,” George added shrewdly.

Paul frowned slightly but did not respond, feeling weirdly embarrassed. Well, he was not talking about John now, was he.
George looked at him, bit on his lip as if he was hesitating about something, and put down his guitar as well. He clapped his hands together and breathed deeply before looking at Paul.

“I have something to ask you,” He announced.

Paul raised his eyebrows invitingly.

“You know, Pattie and I—“ George started.

“Fuck, yes, the wedding! I’m so sorry,” Paul cut him off, throwing a hand on his head. “God, I thought about it the other day, you know, I hope I haven’t missed it…”

George stared at him with a startled frown. Seeing the growing fear in his eyes, realization came upon Paul that he had seriously blown it.

“What?!” George asked with a quivering voice. “How did you…?”

Fuck. Jesus Fucking Christ. He needed an excuse, quick. Anything to appease George. He could not tell him, he could not ruin everything already.

“Are you getting married?” He blurted out, not smooth at all.

If possible, George’s frown became even deeper.

“Yes, but you seemed to know that already. How?”

“… I read it. Figured it was true, knowing… you know. You two?”

Paul stared at George, hoping very hard that he looked truthful enough. Even if he probably also looked scared as hell. George studied him for a while, visibly at odds with that information. He looked so positively mystified Paul was suddenly sure he would not let this go. This was it. His improbable secret was out already. He had not even lasted two months…

“…Okay. Well. Do you want to be my best man, then?” George suddenly said, very slowly.

Paul just stared at him, confusion and relief flooding through him. If his friend was not going to poke him further, he just had to jump on the occasion. He could not help the huge grin taking up his face.

“Yes! Yes, I… Yes, I would love to!”

Apparently amused by his enthusiasm, George chuckled. But when Paul got up from his spot, he could swore he saw distrust in his eyes.

 

All things considered, fitting into the 1960s again was not exactly as hard as Paul would have thought. He had had to go out and buy some actual t-shirts (God, how many long-sleeved shirts could one man possess) and felt incredibly frustrated when the TV would go off at night, or just when he wanted to watch anything other the only two freaking channels, but other than that, it was not that different from 2019. Sure, people looked different. And talked differently. And had whole other references. And were frighteningly narrow-minded on a lot of subjects. And Paul often had to bite his tongue hard not to snap or say time-inappropriate things whenever he talked to salespeople or to his neighbours.

Well. Actually, it was quite hard.

But the radio at least was great. Less screens too, which was rather good for his vision. And in a curious way, time passed differently. It seemed more peaceful, longer and fuller. Paul felt like he actually had time to do things. He knew it was an illusion; soon enough, he would go back to Beatles obligations and face the Beatlemania full force again. He did not know yet how he felt about that, but one thing was sure: he would not run away from his problems again. He had missed his Beatle days, there was no point lying about that. He had missed the closeness with his bandmates, the artistic emulation, so he figured finding some of that back could be a good experience. Nevertheless, the thought of living the same things again made him extremely weary. And how would things between him and John work if they kept being so awkward with each other? Thinking about it too much was never a good idea. For now, he just needed to focus on trying to write with George again. No need to think further.

He was proud of what he’d done this far. He had called his father and apologized. The discussion had not been very pleasant – his father pointing out to him that he wasn’t running some hotel he could just leave from with barely any warning – but hearing the old man’s voice was so precious to Paul that he did not really care if he was just scolding him. It was better than silence.

He had finally bought some furniture as well. And although it took some strong convincing skills from Paul, George had finally agreed to meet up with him a few days later to try and see if they could come up with a song together. Paul was very nervous about it, feeling an old pressure from his past life lingering on his mind. If he could ‘fix’ anything from his old life, if there was one thing he truly regretted, it was his relationship with George. In truth, there were other things he regretted, cowering in the back of his mind.

But he was definitely not ready to face any of them yet.

Chapter Text

1. England will win the Football world cup (against Germany, I think? Or maybe Portugal).

 

Paul was awoken by the phone ringing. It was destabilizing, not to recognize your own phone. To wake up and to be, for a dozen or so of seconds, completely disoriented about the world. To think, for a moment, that you know precisely when and where you are, where you are supposed to be, only to realize that you are wrong. To open your eyes and let your senses catch up with you, only to find that you are lost. Lost in a new and unsettling environment. And once that realization settles in, once the disappointment is there, there is no going back. Paul was starting to know that feeling very well. He’d been feeling it every morning for exactly two months, now. The night before had been particularly agonizing, having had the marvellous idea to watch the photos of his brother and him when they were babies while drinking some very fine whisky, which only led him to think about his nieces and nephews. And to his own family. And from then on, the alcohol helping, it was no surprise that he’d ended up the night with a shaky hand, empty bottles and a tremendous nausea.

When the phone seemed to have been ringing for hours already, Paul begrudgingly dragged himself out of bed. If drinking had seemed like a good idea the night before, he was sure as hell regretting it now. Nevermind the fact that judging from the bright sun outside, it was way later than the time he usually woke up. He went to the phone, momentarily confused by the chord linking it to the base and pulling on it as if it would just disappear.

“Hello?” He groaned sleepily, still pulling without thinking on the chord to have more space to move.

Which of course made the base fall from the side table. Paul cursed at himself.

“Hi,” Came the single, quiet response.

Paul frowned, slumping into the couch as much as the chord allowed him to.

“Who’s this?”

A silence followed.

“Hello?”

“It’s John,” The voice said, sounding somewhat accusatory.

Paul felt immensely stupid. Even if he would not confess it under torture, he had… in a way, one could say… sort of avoided John, a little bit. He knew his quick excuse at George’s place was not the greatest apology ever, and John had certainly not looked he thought it was enough. But for some reason, he just could not bring himself to go to him. It was stupid, really, but John scared him. Or rather, he was scared of his own behaviour with him. This was brand new territory; more than with anyone else in this version of the present, his relationship with John was totally unbalanced. There were decades of intense, sometimes very painful feelings on his side that did not exist on John’s. And the John from now, from the little he had witnessed this far, was incredibly far both from his memories and from the John he had last known in 1980.

So he had just allowed himself to conclude that, at some point, he would end up having news from John again and he would deal with it then. Foolishly, he had not expected that moment to come so soon, though. And it was surprising, too. In his memory, John had rather been the “once bitten, twice shy” kind of guy. Guess that was another reason to stop relying on his memories altogether.

“Oh!” He let out, trying to sound more happy than scared. “Hi. How… How are you?”

“Alright.”

Paul waited for more. After a few seconds of embarrassed silence, he realized John could literally let this drag forever.

“Good, good,” Paul responded, his voice sounding painfully loud compared to John’s. “Well, uh… What’s up, then?”

“Do you want to write this afternoon? Brian says we should prepare the recordings.”

John’s voice was cold in a way that made his insides twist uneasily.

“I… I can’t. I’m sorry, George’s coming to mine in a few,” Paul answered hesitantly, looking at the clock on his wall.

Something told him he was treading in a very dangerous territory.

“Is he?” John simply said after a small blank.

Bad bad bad bad bad.

“Just, you know. To hang out, play a little,” He answered breathily. If he wanted to stay on good bases, he needed to be honest. He forced himself to add: “And we might try and see if we can maybe find a tune or something, you know. Because we’ve never really done it before, have we.”

John didn’t answer right away.

“Oh,” he finally said with a strangely shy voice.

A cold shiver went down Paul’s spine. He was very much awake now. He remembered enough to know a quiet John was rarely a good sign.

“You know, just to see how it goes,” he added with caution. “It’s not like, a thing, you know. But he’s writing great stuff now so I thought it could be interesting–“

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” John cut him sharply. “You do what you want, mate.”

Paul didn’t like that very much. Alarms started ringing in his head, but he failed to find any good words of reassurance. And somewhere in his head, he knew nothing could really reassure John right now if he felt abandoned. Paul felt overwhelmingly guilty, but John was not a child. Paul was not doing anything wrong – and he had apologized for his stupid behaviour in December. There was no reason to let George down just to please John. Was there?

“But I can come to yours later, or tomorrow? Or even on Wednesday?” He scrambled to propose.

“No. We’re going on vacation with Cyn.”

John’s tone was sharp and unequivocal. Paul swallowed with difficulty, suddenly feeling his eyes sting.

“Okay. And, when are you coming back, then?”

“In ten days.”

“Oh. That’s nice. Where are you—“

“I have to go,” John cut him off abruptly. “Enjoy George.”

And with that he hung up. Paul stayed frozen in place.

 

2. There will be a big flood of mud in Florence towards the end of the year (pretty sure it’s this year).

 

He knew it was stupid but he regretted every single decision he’d made in his life.

Maybe telling the truth had not been the smartest move. But he was not doing anything wrong, was he? It would have been worse if John had found out about George and him later, right? Paul slowly put the phone down on its base, the twisted chord lying sadly across the floor. This was not supposed to be so hard. He was trying to prevent a relationship from falling apart and all he managed to do was precipitate the collapse of another one. It was like an endless succession of disastrous encounters. And the only common denominator was Paul himself.

He got up and started pacing in the apartment, messing up his hair in a nervous manner. No. He couldn’t let John leave for ten days thinking Paul didn’t want to spend time with him. He could not lose him. Not again. It was not debatable in his mind; he could not lose John. But how to get over the weirdness between them if each time they talked Paul only seemed to disappoint him over and over again? There was a barrier between them that he could not seem to be able to shake off. He needed to find something, a way to make John understand that he was just as important to him as George or anyone else. To make him see that Paul still cared. He looked at the clock again and realized George would be arriving any minute now. He needed to shave and get dressed. And to calm down.

He went to his room and grabbed his pants on the bed, which made some of the pictures he had left lying around fall to the ground. One of them caught his eye and he picked it up.

It showed John and him back at Forthlin Road, in their old living-room. On it, we could only see Paul’s profile, in the middle of a sentence and sending a glance to the photographer, certainly Mike. Leaning onto the chimney, John was laughing and pulling at Paul’s arm while looking at him. It was not a great picture; a bit blurry, with the framing all wrong, but Paul had not seen in so long he had completely forgotten its existence. The moment felt familiar, though, and was probably taken in early 1960. He concentrated on their faces and their clothes. On the details that could be noticed in the background. On their arms and John’s theatrical position. A flash crossed Paul’s mind. Actually, no, he did remember that day – they were just coming back from seeing Ben-Hur and they were imitating the moment of the chariot race when Charlton Heston is trying to pull the other competitor’s whip. So that had to have been at the end of 1959. He smiled fondly at the picture, happy to have at least another tiny memory back. John trusted him, back then. More than anyone, probably. And he had been beyond proud to earn that trust.

Staring at the picture, an idea slowly formed in his mind and a smile grew on his face. Maybe… Maybe that was it. He had never had secrets for John and now he was constantly pushing him away. He had to gain his trust back. He needed it. And he knew how to do it. It was absolutely, undoubtedly mad – probably his stupidest decision since he’d arrived here. But he knew in his heart it was the right thing to do.

 

3. The Rolling Stones will release an album called “Aftermath” at some point in the spring with at least the songs called “Lady Jane” (and it is incredible) and “I Am Waiting” on it.

 

His afternoon playing with George had gone rather well. They had not finished anything yet, but they did have a lead for a song that could actually be quite good – and Paul was happy not to recognize it at all. They were not totally comfortable with each other yet, but Paul was glad (and even a bit humbled) to discover the more creative side of his friend. He had known of it in the later years and seeing it now with his own two eyes was an eye-opening experience. He only hoped his enthusiasm and bossiness had not shown too much yet. Better not scare the poor lad off.

But George having left later than planned, Paul needed to hurry if he wanted to do what he wanted. His hands were shaking so much for a moment he thought his blood pressure was dropping again but soon realized he was actually nervous as hell. And frightened as rarely before. He was betting a lot on this idea and there was no insurance in the outcome. But he wanted to do it – he had waited long than enough to do it, and he wanted it to work so bad he had no idea what he would do if it didn’t.

Once he had everything he needed, he put on his coat, took his keys and swept his eyes one last time around the room. He was ready.

 

4. Montgomery Clift will die in July of a heart attack.

 

Here he was again, standing in front of a door, his moist hand clenching the fragile piece of paper in his left pocket. He felt like a schoolboy going round his friends’ houses after school to play with them. Was it unusual? He did not really remember – years tended to blend sometimes and his teenage years did not always seem that far away. Maybe his behaviour was completely out of character. But then again, there was not much he could do about it, now.
The door opened on a blond woman whose gentle smile he had not seen in a long while.

“Hi Cynthia,” He greeted her with a nervous smile of his own.

With surprise clear on her pretty face, Cynthia stood aside immediately, her smile only growing.

“Paul! How are you doing? Do you want to come in?”

“I would like to, ta,” Paul nodded.

He followed her inside and found himself face to face with a tiny boy peering up at him very seriously. A wave of unsuspected emotions came over Paul, who crouched in front of him before he had even realized it.

“Hey Jules,” He said softly, feeling tears stinging his eyes. Then, with a small laugh: “God, you’re so small…”

Cynthia closed the door and came up behind him, holding onto the handrail of the staircase with a fond expression.

“Oh he’s growing up pretty quick, don’t worry.”

Paul did not answer, unable to detach his eyes from the little Lennon. He just wanted to scoop him up in his arms but seeing how shaky he was, it was probably not the best idea.

“Sorry the house is a bit of a mess, I guess John told you but we’re going to the Trinidad tomorrow. I need to finish packing but I’m going to tell John you’re here, yeah?” Cynthia explained, going for the staircase and looking at Paul.

“Sure, no problem. Thank you, again,” Paul smiled to her, his nerves coming back full force again.

With a last nod, Cynthia disappeared upstairs. As Julian was trotting back to the kitchen, Paul simply followed him and watched him slump back down where he had left his tractor toy. Feeling his tension spread out to his legs, Paul sat cross-legged in front of him and did not hear the footsteps approaching.

“What are you doing here? I told you we were leaving.”

Paul turned. John was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, arms crossed and cold expression on his face. This would not be easy. Paul breathed deeply, trying to find something to put his gaze onto before he settled for watching John instead. Which did not help his heart calm down.

“I… I have something to tell you,” Paul said in a cautious voice.

John raised a sceptical eyebrow.

“I’m listening,” He answered, barely humouring him.

Paul sighed and looked at the table.

“Do you want to sit? It’s… uh, you might need to be sitting.”

John huffed impatiently.

“I’m fine where I am, now, spit it out.”

“Okay okay, yeah, sorry,” Paul nodded. “Uh… I’m… I’m not from here.”

“What?” John simply frowned.

Paul took another shaky breath. Clarity. He needed clarity.

“No, I mean… I’m… Okay. Hum. I know you think I’ve been weird for the last two months and, and you’re right, you know. I have. I am. And you saw it, I know it. Like, I don’t smoke or, or… I don’t eat meat. I know you’ve noticed. I… I didn’t mean to push you away all this time, I just… Something happened to me.”

John’s frown deepened and he started uncrossing his arms, his whole defensive demeanour slowly morphing into one of worry.

“What do you mean? What happened to you?”

Pearls of anxiety were starting to pool in his eyes but Paul pushed through it.

“Do you remember when I bumped into you in the lift, back in Cardiff? I… When I went to bed, the night before that day, I… I was 77. I was living with my wife in Scotland, I just had had dinner with my son and. And… it was summer 2019. And I don’t know… I really, really I don’t know what happened but… Something happened, and… Somehow, I woke up here. You know, in 1966. Or, I mean, it was 1965, then, but, whatever. I woke up here… with all of you. And I… That’s when I ran into you and – and got the concussion? I don’t know how, I know it’s fucking impossible but I know what I lived, it’s all here, 54 years in my mind.” Paul pointed a finger at his own head and was not surprised to see it was violently shaking. “And now I’m here. And I shouldn’t be.”

Paul stopped, desperately needing air and some more countenance. He could not quite read the look on John’s face. He was staring at him, all frown and parted lips, with an intensity Paul had never seen before.
Between them, on the floor, Julian was still playing with his tractor, cooing softly at it, but neither of them was paying attention to it. Paul could not help the small burst of nervous laughter that erupted out of him, trying very hard not to let it turn into a sob.

“I… I know you’ll think I’m insane but I’m telling you this because… Because I need you to believe me, John. I need you to. You’re still one of the most important people in my life, I trust you and I always have, and it’s… I know you can’t believe me right now. It’s impossible to believe, really. Even I don’t, not really, sometimes. But I’m not… I’m not insane, I haven’t lost the plot yet. Look.”

He shoved his hand in his pocket and retrieved the piece of paper from it. He unfolded it and stepped forward, taking John’s arm to put the paper in his hand.

“This is, um… I made this list,” Paul started explaining, having trouble keeping his voice perfectly level. “They are things that are going to happen. Or rather, that should happen, normally. They have nothing to do with me, or with any of us, you know, so they have no reason to change in this, uh… timeline? I wanted to put more, you know, but I’m not quite sure about some dates and I didn’t have Google to check and I want… Uh… I would like you to keep this list and, um, and just. Read it. But not now. I mean, you can, but you’ll understand better in a few months.”

John glanced at the list and looked back up again, the clear confusion in his eyes becoming daunting for Paul.

“If in six months or something you read that list and realize nothing is true, then I guess you can put me in a mental house, you know,” Paul added with another sad laugh. “Or we can just forget about all of that and never talk about it again. But… I really hope this will help you believe me because otherwise there’s nothing I can think of that can.”

Paul finished talking, his mouth dry from having talked to long and his head spinning from stress. John kept staring at him, his hand still outstretched with the list in it.
Between them, Julian got up to push his tractor around the table. The creaking wheels of the toy were the only noise in the room.

 

5. Walt Disney will die too, but around Christmas. I think… I think we all lost a bit of our innocence, then.

Chapter Text

The silence was stretching, absorbing the last remnants of Paul’s calmness. It suddenly came to him that by confessing this, he had completely surrendered himself to John. His future was now in John’s hands, his whole life, really. He had just named him judge, jury and executioner of his mental state, and more. It all depended on the next words that would come out of his thin mouth. He felt himself paling even more, sweat rolling unpleasantly along his spine. It was insane. Why had he done that?!

After what felt like whole minutes, John looked down at the list again and read it very carefully. Feeling like his legs would not be able to hold him up any longer, Paul sat down on a chair, taking his head into his hands.

“So…”

Paul snapped his head up to look at John, who was still intensely watching the list.

“You’re saying that… you’re from … the future? That’s… that’s what you’re saying, right?”

Paul waited for John to look at him before nodding slowly. The tension was sick in the air, but at least John wasn’t laughing. Even if a weird look was slowly taking place in his eyes.

“Did you take something?” John suddenly asked.

Without even realizing it, Paul banged his fist against the table, the frustration needing to come out. He wanted to scream. He nearly did.

“No!” He started with force, then lowering his voice to an almost painful whisper: “I’m not on fucking drugs...”

“Are you sure? Maybe… maybe someone gave something to you.”

Paul’s breath got caught in his throat and he felt the sudden urge to cry. He didn’t believe him. Of course he didn’t believe him… What had he been thinking? No one could believe that. How stupid could he be…
John’s gentle hand on his arm pulled him out of his intrusive thoughts.

“No Paul, listen to me. In what you remember, from… from before. Did anyone give something to you? I mean… It has to be because of something, you know?”

Paul blinked at him. Then, relief crashed so hard into him he had to force himself back to reality. He looked into John’s earnest eyes, the concern in them. He took him seriously. He actually took him seriously. Paul had never loved him more in his entire life. He cleared his throat, trying to focus on John’s question.

“Uh… No? No, I… I don’t think so. Everything was just normal,” He tried to remember.

“But… why now? Why is it like… that, now?” John insisted, visibly struggling with that idea.

Paul just shook his head sadly.

“I don’t know.”

John kept staring at him, his hand still on Paul’s arm. In that moment, Paul felt closer to him than he had since he’d arrived – more than in the last years with him, even. A whole silent conversation was taking place between them, just the way it used to when they’re were closer than brothers.

Suddenly, the creaking steps of the stairs announced burst their bubble and announced the arrival of Cynthia. John let go of Paul as if he’d been burned and looked down. Cynthia stopped at the bottom of the stairs, talking softly, then came into the kitchen. She had a crying Julian in her arms. Paul felt hot shame burning at his ears when he realized he had completely forgotten the presence of the child.

“What happened to Julian? Why is he crying?” She asked both of them, a glint of accusation in her eyes.

In their haste to look casual, the two men answered at the same time.

“Uh, he wanted to see you?”

“Does he really need a reason?”

Cynthia’s eyes ping-ponged between them, her grimace proving they sounded even weirder than if they’d stayed silent. This prompted Paul to get up. They couldn’t talk about it in front of Cynthia, and seeing the tired face of Julian, he had already overstayed his welcome.

“I should, uh… I should leave you to your packing. It’s getting late, and all,” He said, for some reason feeling a bit embarrassed.

John turned to him in a gasp, eyes wide. Paul thought he almost looked disappointed.

“It’s not that late,” John said quickly.

“It is, a bit,” Cynthia chided in, blushing. “I’m going to put Jules to bed. See you soon Paul, yeah?”

She approached to kiss him on the cheek. She was clearly trying to get him to leave and Paul was not one to intrude.

“Yeah, sure. Bye Julian, nighty night!” Paul cooed to the child who had stopped crying and was sniffing quietly.

He had always had a soft spot for Julian, from the very beginning. Cynthia smiled and went to the staircase. Paul watched her leave and when he turned to John, he found him already staring at him.

“Thank you,” Paul whispered, finding it suddenly unbearable to look into John’s light brown eyes.

“What for?”

John’s voice was so soft Paul wasn’t even sure he’d heard it right.

“For not laughing at me,” He finally answered with a shrug and a quivering voice.

John frowned.

“Why would I?”

“For so many reasons that I’m not even going to answer that,” Paul chuckled, relieved beyond words.

They looked at each other again. John looked a bit bewildered, his gaze carrying a thousand questions Paul wasn’t quite sure he was ready to answer to yet. He knew John was still trying to wrap his head around his confession, but he was not rejecting it. He was giving him a chance. And that was more than he could have ever hoped for.
Another cry from Julian upstairs brought them both out of their bubble. Paul buttoned up his coat and went for the front door.

“I’m gonna leave, now. We can… we can talk about this more when you get back? If, you know, if you want?” He told John.

John just followed him and nodded numbly. Paul was already opening the door when an arm came once again to stop his. He barely had time to turn that he found himself with a warm and slightly shaky John in his arms, hugging him with so much force he stumbled back against the door. An image immediately popped in his mind of a different John, hugging him a bit embarrassedly what seemed like a lifetime ago. It’s good to touch, that John had told him that day. Paul hugged present John back with just as much force. It was true.

“It is good to touch,” He whispered in John’s neck, his senses almost overwhelmed by the faint scent of ash, citrus and something else that he couldn’t quite name on his friend’s sweater.

John laughed and finally let him go with a clap on his back.

“Soft lad,” He said, a glint in his eyes Paul had not realized he had missed that much until that moment.

This is him. This is my John, Paul fleetingly thought when he looked back at him. He chuckled and opened the door again.

“Don’t go back in my absence,” John suddenly piped up, his cheery voice not quite covering the hint of worry.

There were many ways to understand what he meant. Don’t go back to your past. Don’t go back to France. Don’t leave me. All of them were equally heart-breaking, showing just how close they had actually been to losing each other.
Paul sent him a last small smile before closing the door.

“Don’t worry, Johnny. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Time after that conversation seemed to fly. Paul did not realize how much of a burden was lifted off of his shoulder until he saw George again for the rehearsal of his wedding and George told him he was glad Paul finally looked human again. Things were far from perfect, still – and Paul doubted they ever could be, knowing how close he was to breaking down each time he lingered a little too much on the past – but the knowledge that John had not turned on him was like a safety belt keeping him from falling over. A small beacon amongst the darkness of his mind. He couldn't wait to see John again, to be able to talk about it. To share it with him, really this time. Or even just to talk about anything and not have to be worried to say something wrong or stupid all the time. It was fragile, but it was the beginning of a promise that he was not doomed to be lonely forever. Even if it was still hard not to feel out of place in his day to day life.

He was restless: all this youth pumping through his veins did not match with the current void of his schedule. Music was a good past time, but even that was not as fulfilling as he’d hoped. Something kept him on his guard, especially when he was trying to compose new tunes as he’d promised himself he would do. Not that inspiration was lacking – he had never had that problem, actually – but there was a barrier he could not exactly pass. Melodies swam through his heads, old ones and old ones, and he did not know what to do with that knowledge lost to everyone but him. Playing the songs from 1966 onwards felt wrong, somehow. And yet, he felt unable to create any new songs as long as these ones did not exist in that timeline. They were not only part of him; there were part of the history of music as he had known it, and as it had formed the songwriter he was today. It was a mess, really, and he did not know how to get over it.

When George’s wedding finally arrived, he could not be more grateful. The ceremony was short but lovely, just the way he remembered it. In a way, it was even funny to live it again and to notice things his inebriated state had kept him from noticing the time before. He was even happy to see George’s parents and siblings, even if he had to refrain asking any question that might create another imbroglio. Which meant basically any personal question.

He was fixing himself a cup of tea and thinking about how close he had been to ask George’s sister Louise how her still unborn child was when Brian entered the newly-weds’ kitchen. Paul had carefully avoided him for the whole ceremony, fearing the scolding he would probably get for his French getaway and for having missed the Shea recording. But Brian only offered him a small smile, seeming a little uncomfortable himself. He did not like confrontations – Paul had almost forgotten that.

“It’s good to see you, Paul”, Brian started neutrally.

Paul just nodded in his cup with a tight smile. He did not quite know how to behave with the man. It had been too long to feel as natural as it could do with the other lads.

“I heard you had been abroad. We couldn’t reach you, I thought something had happened to you.”

The sentence sounded as heavy as Paul felt. One of Pattie’s brothers entered to get a new glass, ignoring them but allowing Paul some time to better phrase his answer.

“Yeah… I needed the space. I’m sorry about the recording, I had no idea. I can record it again whenever you want, if you need it,” He said once the kid was gone, trying not to fall back into his over-apologizing self.

“No, we got that covered, it’s fine,” Brian assured with a small wave. “Even if I would really appreciate a head’s up in the future. You know, for the press and all that. Stories go quick.”

Paul nodded again, feeling like a right dick.

“You know, we’ll start recording again in April,” Brian went on. “You… You’ll be there, right?”

Paul looked up and studied Brian’s face: his schooled features, the light tremor of his lip, the worried line between his eyes. It dawned on him that his disappearance had meant more to his manager than he had been conscious of. Paul disappearing literally endangered all of their careers, Brian’s included.

He did not quite know how he felt about going back to being a Beatle again. No matter how much time he had had to think about it until now, it was a subject too painful and too meaningful to really let himself dive into it regularly. There was there an amount of anxiety and old feelings he did not feel ready to face yet. Last time he had, he had ended up spending the night drinking on his couch. Not the most healthy way to cope, and yet, he did not know any better way to deal with it for now. He really needed to be honest with himself and think clearly about it.

In front of him, Brian was still waiting for an answer, his worried wrinkle deepening.

“I… Yeah. Yeah I’ll be there. Of course,” Paul finally let out, hoping his voice did not betray his uncertainty.

“Paul? PAULIE?” George’s loud (and probably already voice suddenly called from the other room.

Paul gave a small smile of excuse to Brian before yelling back.

“Yeah?!”

“Come here you git, the cake’s coming!”

Paul laughed, soon joined by Brian.

“Sounds like duty’s calling,” the older man joked before leaving the room.

In the cup, his tea looked as sombre as his heart.

“Yeah. Duty’s calling,” He repeated lowly to himself.

Chapter Text

When Paul learnt randomly at the wedding that he indeed already had a car and that it was quietly waiting for him in a garage in London, he still had not figured out where to park the one he had just bought. So, having a garage was convenient. Having two cars a little less, so the very next day he had gone to the garage and just sold the old car with an ease that surprised himself. He used to be ridiculously slowly to make big decisions; now ‘big’ material things simply did not matter anymore. Or even any material thing.

He had never really been one to cling to objects and trinkets, but now, he simply did not care about them at all. After all, what was a Grammy Award when you had already lost what was dearest to you? He had collected those items so long ago most of them barely bore any meaning to him anymore anyway. Which is why he now found himself with an apartment void of any decorations, despite finding decorations being written on his list. Looking at his bare apartment, he could see how easy it would be to find it cold and impersonal. And yet, it was the closest he’d felt to being at home since he’d arrived in this timeline. A balance between past and present. The only true proof of his living in the place was all the pictures he’d scattered everywhere, from the fridge to the bathroom. He had hung them all. It was sometimes a painful reminder of what he’d lost, but the most recent ones of the band also reminded him of what could be won again. Since he was everyday fighting the desires to let himself sleep to death or to scream until his voice gave out, the photographs weirdly soothed his soul and reminded him that not everything was pointless.

Since he was basically waiting for the days to pass until he had some obligation to attend to, he had taken it upon himself to repaint the place. The landlord, too happy to have a Beatle under his roof, had eagerly agreed to let him do whatever works he desired – Paul insisting on paying any changes. It was a good deal, really. It gave him a temporary purpose for his time and most of the days pre-wedding had seen him disguised in a hardware store or in his living-room with a brush in his hands.

However, no matter what he did, loneliness was creeping up in his fingers and his veins when he wasn’t paying attention, ready to strike him down in any moment of weakness. Nights were the worst; with nothing to hide himself behind, he was just left raw and exposed for the nightmares to assault him. For the most part, they were not complicated to dissect. He was running around in the fog, trying to stop his family from disappearing under his fingertips until he found himself stuck on a stage, with a mic, with hundreds of people expecting some mysterious answer from him and pressing him from everywhere. They were exhausting, and most often than not, he would wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat and breathing harshly. But like with pretty much everything, he got used to it: pee break, glass of water, shower, and back to bed to scrape a few more minutes of sleep. When he managed to.

He did not know how long he would hold like that. Not like he had a choice anyway, but he desperately needed distractions. Painting kept him busy. Busy kept him sane. He had even shaven his beard a few days prior, trying to symbolically cast his sadness away. Well, George had also sort of threatened not to let him come to the actual wedding when he had seen Paul still had it at the rehearsal dinner, but still.

Thinking of diversions, George’s wedding had been a nice one. Being awoken from his tiny hungover by an irritated George Martin reprimanding him for having gone AWOL as well, in its own kind. At this point, anything was welcome. Anything that helped build him a daily life and not get lost in a whirlwind of feelings and confused memories. He had spent a lot of time catching up on 1966’s news and had even put up a calendar on his wall on which he marked important dates he needed to remember. His memory was already so overwhelmed, he felt like he needed to spare it as much as possible. One of the dates, marked with red, caught his eye every time he passed before it.

January 23rd. John’s return.

He felt stupid, but thinking about John made him impossibly giddy. Seeing the craziness of his situation, he was beyond lucky to have a friend back – and not just any friend; the best one he’d ever had. He was like a 7-year-old waiting for the boring family dinner to end so he could run back to his toys. He couldn’t wait for the dinner to be over. To find some familiarity back, even if it was still weird, unnatural and would probably never be truly satisfying. At least he could talk about his involvement in the band with him, which was a huge weight on his mind ever since he’d started ‘working’ with George. He had the inexplicable yet intimate conviction that John would be able to help him.

He just had to wait a little more.

 

His bell ringing startled him so much he almost drop his yellow-covered brush from the ladder he was on. He had been awoken by yet another nightmare around 4 and since he had not been able to go back to sleep, he’d figured he might as well start his day early. He was wearing old overalls, had paint on his chin and hair and was very much not expecting any visitor. The bell rang again. He looked at his watch, frowning. Especially not at 8:42 in the morning.

He stepped down the ladder, wiped his hands on a dirty cloth and went to the door, spying through the peephole. When he saw who was on the other side, he was both perplexed and amazed and quickly opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” He exclaimed with a confused smile.

“We have to stop saying hi like that, it’s getting boring,” a tan, slightly red-nosed John answered with an eye roll.

Paul stood aside to let him in.

“I thought you were flying in today? And how did you know where I live?”

John bumped his shoulder playfully and walked into the apartment, curiously watching around him.

“Nope, arrived yesterday. And I have my sources,” He said, wriggling his eyebrows. Then pointing at the practically bare room. “Are you trying to hide from the FBI? Will I find the hearts of dead girls in your closet?”

Paul laughed.

“Would a murderer paint his ceiling in yellow?” He retorted, pointing at the ceiling.

“Nobody would suspect you.”

John took off his coat and laid it on the couch, his gaze getting caught on the pictures hung all over the walls. He looked at each of them, not saying a word. Paul just watched him, shifting from one foot to the other. It was weird, seeing John in his new place.

“It helps,” Paul suddenly said, feeling like he had to break the silence somehow.

John turned to him with a slight frown.

“The pictures”, He continued. “They help me remember when things happened. Otherwise some memories get a little, you know. Confusing.”

His friend watched him intently before turning back to the photographs.

“Do you remember everything?” He asked, still looking at them.

Paul nodded, not realizing straight away he couldn’t see him. He cleared his throat, finding it suddenly hard to keep all the emotions he’d been smothering at bay.

“Yeah,” He said quietly. Then, not wanting to let feelings get the best of him yet, he added: “How was Trinidad?”

“Sunny. You know, sea, sex and sand.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s sea, sex and sun.”

“Alright, sea, sex, sand and sun, if you prefer,” John chuckled. “It was nice, though. We went fishing.”

Paul smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. He still did not quite know what to do with himself, how to behave ‘normally’. John tracked his movements and something shifted in his gaze. He went back to the couch and sat on the armrest

“Do you think you’re here to fix your mistakes?”

Paul was about to answer when something made him frown and shut his mouth.

“Why do you automatically assume I’ve made mistakes?” He asked instead.

“Because you haven’t?” John snorted.

Paul looked at his earnest face. Something twisted in his belly.

“I guess I have,” He replied quietly.

John gave him a sad smile, then got up again and went straight to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and the cupboards, checking their content. Sending a glance towards Paul, he nodded at the couch.

“Sit. It’s time for breakfast.”

“I have had mine already,” Paul protested, but still going to sit on the couch.

“Shut up. Second breakfast. Whatever.”

 

It was nice, being taken care of and not having to worry about every little thing you did. John was good company: his eggs were definitely overcooked and the bread too spongy, but his stories about Ringo almost losing his fishing rod to a fish and Cynthia and Maureen drinking by mistake very strong martinis made for a good distraction. If he was honest with himself, it was not even a distraction. He was just enjoying his time, drinking his burning hot tea and observing John’s big gestures and shining eyes. Sleep was burning his eyelids, but the warmth in his chest kept him awake. When John started describing Julian trying to steal his new straw hat in his sleep, a mouthful of eggs and another forkful already waiting to be gobbled, it dawned on Paul that he was talking about any subject that wasn’t related to Paul’s confession. Anxiety came tingling back in his fingers.

“Do you really believe it? About me?” Paul suddenly asked, cutting John off.

John stopped talking and chewed thoughtfully for a while, before turning earnest eyes on him.

“It’s… it’s not really about that. If I think about you traveling back in time – and believe me, I’ve been thinking about it a lot – I… I’m trying to believe it, but there’s some rational part of my brain that won’t let me, you know? I just can’t, no matter how much I want to. It just won’t connect in my head.”

Paul nodded softly. He wasn’t surprised, really, even if it did hurt a little. He knew accepting it was a long process. That’s what the list was there for, after all.

“But I believe you,” John added, studying him carefully.

“What do you mean?” Paul frowned.

John chewed on his lip and leaned over his plate, his eyes fleeting all over Paul’s face. He was clearly struggling to find the right words.

“I know you. I know you’re not the Paul I was with last year, that is obvious, but you’re still Paul. And I know what you’re going through is not normal. All those memories you’re talking about – I can see them in you. I can’t fully comprehend where they’re coming from, but I know they’re real, just as much as you are,” He explained patiently, his voice becoming barely a whisper. “That’s what I believe.”

Paul thought his words over in his head, trying to process them. It was reassuring, but there was still this nagging anxiety pulsing in him.

“I don’t know what to do,” He confessed softly. “I feel like… you know, like I should be doing something. But I don’t know what.”

John poked the remaining eggs in his plate, lost in thoughts.

“It’s been just one month, right?” He asked.

“A little more now. One and a half.”

“Give it time, then. You might remember things that will help you understand better,” John said. He stopped talking, visibly not sure if he should continue or not. Then, in an imperceptibly strained voice: “Or even go back, who knows.”

Paul hummed. Going back. It was an alien notion to him, something blazing and scary that was hidden behind a door in his mind. Ever since the last night in the Cardiff hotel, he had not opened it. Had even sealed it shut. He knew it was there, but he did not dare come too close for fear of losing himself. But John did have a point.

Who knew.

Chapter Text

“My phone, mostly. They’re tiny now, and they don’t have chords you know, so you can bring them anywhere. And with the internet you can find any information you want, it’s like an encyclopaedia on your phone,” Paul explained, straining to cover the whole corner of the ceiling without falling from the ladder. “Like a small computer. I mean, computers are already way smaller than before, so, you know, even smaller than that.”

Below him, John snorted.

“Yeah, sure.”

“It’s true!” Paul huffed, looking down at his friend who was brushing random strikes of colour on the wall.

He was pretty much making a mess of it, but Paul tried not to lose his patience over it. It was just the first coat. It was alright. John was already a mess himself anyway: he had light green paint on his hands – and consequently, on his thighs – he had pushed his sweaty hair backwards and rolled his sleeves as high as possible. He looked sort of ridiculous. And yet, he still somehow managed to look good, the wanker.

“I don’t believe you,” John stated simply, not even looking up.

“Well, it’s your loss, then.”

“What else do you miss?”

Paul took his time to think about it, trying to scrape off the dried paint on his wrist.

“I miss my dishwasher.” He stopped, thinking. “And double glazing. Oh, and the GPS, God. So much.”

“What is that?”

Paul took all his time to take off the extra paint on his brush. He had never thought he would have to explain what the GPS was to someone.

“It’s, uh… It’s the information that the satellites, um… that they send to one another to locate where you are, you know. Like, on the planet. It’s very useful. It helps you find your way when you’re lost.”

“Oh my. Sounds very fancy. And a bit scary, too. I should start calling you my Lord then, shouldn’t I?” John chuckled, crouching to dip his brush into the pot of paint.

Paul smirked.

“Well, actually…”

John stood up in a flash, his brush dripping on the plastic sheeting Paul had been more than right to put on the floor. He stared at Paul for a moment, studying his face. Then:

“Shut up.”

“Yes,” Paul laughed.

“You were knighted.” John asked in the blankest tone possible, straight-faced.

“Yes!”

“By the Queen?”

“Yes, by the Queen, not by my butcher,” Paul giggled despite himself, turning on the ladder so that he could see the growing incredulity on John’s face.

John kept staring at him with a frown, having visibly some difficulty to wrap his head around the concept. There was paint around him – pretty much everywhere but on the wall.

“But what for?”

“Services to music,” Paul answered with the biggest smile.

“You. Services to music,” John deadpanned.

Paul threw some drops of paint on him but could not help the laughter bubbling out of him. John made a show of deeply sighing but Paul could see the corners of his lips fighting a smile.

“What a poor, cursed world.” He declaimed, shaking his head and staring dramatically out of the window. “Wait, was I knighted too?!”

A weight fell on Paul’s stomach. He schooled his features, hoping John wouldn’t notice his discomfort.

“Uh… Yeah. Yeah, of course.”

John whistled and shook his head again, turning back to the wall for Paul’s great relief.

“Christ, Mimi must have lost her mind over that,” The older man went on, unbothered.

The weight only grew. Paul swallowed with difficulty. Maybe talking about the past/future was not the best idea after all. He glanced downward once again and saw John starting to paint circles, not caring at all about the lumps of paint he was forming everywhere. Just as he was observing him, John cast a look at him but quickly diverted his eyes when he noticed Paul staring at him. Paul hoped the faint blush on his cheeks was shame for his childish behaviour. His wall was going to look like a joke!

“Could you stop doing that? Just, please, stick to straight vertical lines,” He chastised him.

“Why?” John asked innocently, schooling his face and simply switching to waves. Freaking waves.

“Stop ruining my wall.”

“It looks better with more shapes and... things.”

Paul closed his eyes, breathing deeply. He had long forgotten how to deal with that side of his friend. He knew he was being a killjoy, but he couldn’t help wanting to do things right. And clearly, John could not care less about that. A chuckle erupted out of him.

“You’re such a little shit,” He said, looking at John again.

John just flashed him a bright smile before starting to draw suns and stars.

 

They were standing in front of the more or less finished wall. Depending on the sun lighting, John’s drawings could still be perceived under the second coat of paint, which annoyed Paul but also made the whole thing more organic, in a way. Paul looked at John next to him, who looked tired and dirty but very proud. Noticing he was the tiniest bit taller than him, Paul felt a smile involuntarily tugging at his lips. He had forgotten that.

“What?” John frowned.

“Nothing,” Paul smiled, turning his head. “I like my wall.”

“You’re welcome.”

After another moment of admiring the wall, John turned and searched for the clock on the kitchen wall.

“I should head out. Promised my one and only I would be back for lunch.”

Paul crouched to close the lids of the paint pots. It was not even one in the afternoon, but his limbs were already so heavy he felt ready to go back to bed. Even if he knew he would probably not sleep anyway. Behind him, John was putting on his coat, not caring about the dried paint still on his arms. He even had a yellow flower on the cheek now, courtesy of Paul. He glanced at the kitchen where the plates from their breakfast were still on the table and turned to Paul.

“Do you want to come with? I’m sure Cyn wouldn’t mind.”

Paul hesitated. He kept having the reflex to wonder what old Paul would have done in his place. It was ridiculous, really, and useless, but he couldn’t help it. He still felt like acting too differently was bad, somehow.

“Come on, it’s just a meal. I’m not asking you to live with us, am I,” John added, sounding suddenly a bit miffed.

“Alright, yeah. Okay,” Paul offered with a small smile.

John clapped his hands together and went to the door.

“Fantastic. We’re taking your car.”

Paul looked once again at his freshly painted wall. He released a nervous breath and went to get his coat and keys. Just a meal. Everything would be alright.

 

Eating at the same table as John, Cynthia and baby Julian was even stranger than he would have thought. Beyond the different time periods thing, it was seeing the little family interact that left him a bit floored. They looked… normal. Happy. The fond looks between them. John incredulously smiling at Julian, as if he couldn’t quite believe he was his own flesh and blood. Paul knew that even back then they had problems, even major ones, but it didn’t look like their family dynamic would end in drama. He wished he could help them, somehow. Relieve the pain for Cynthia and Julian. For John, too. But what could he do, really? Nothing he would say would prevent pain from falling on them. Neither would listen to him anyway and he felt like he had no right to interfere. But still, it was painful to witness their fragile obliviousness. It almost made him feel like a traitor.

“Paul?” Cynthia’s voice brought him out of his reverie.

He turned to her. She looked a bit worried, her hands still busy cutting up the remaining vegetables in Julian’s plate.

“Are you all good? Do you want something else?”

“No I’m good, thanks,” He said, forcing a smile. “Sorry, I’m a little tired.”

“You’re not the one with the jet-lag, though,” John chided in, chewing his potatoes noisily. He threw a glance at Paul. “You have no excuse.”

“You know, we came back early from our trip because of you. He couldn’t wait to see you, wouldn’t shut up about it,” Cynthia told Paul with a chuckle, pointing at John with her chin.

“I’m not surprised,” Paul replied playfully, although the information went straight to his still stressed heart. “He can’t live without me.”

John opened his arms in a defensive gesture, eyes wide and swallowing with difficulty.

“Uh, hello? I’m right here, so I’d appreciate if you two stopped this… talking about me, thing,” He said, looking only at Cynthia.

Despite the slight sternness of his tone, Cynthia laughed and Paul joined her, willing his mind to stop torturing him. If she decided not react to it, he didn’t want to be the one causing a scene. Maybe in this timeline they wouldn’t even divorce, after all – even if he strongly doubted it.

“Can you take one more bite?” Cynthia asked her son, who was crossing his arms and looking at her with an expression that startlingly reminded Paul of his father.

“No. I’m not hungry,” Julian answered.

“He’s eaten almost everything already,” John intervened, looking at them from the corner of his eye.

Cynthia sighed but did not answer to him. Instead, she leant a bit more towards the child.

“Just a bit more, please?”

“Cyn, leave him alone.”

Seeing how Julian decidedly kept his mouth shut, Cynthia put the fork down and turned to Paul.

“Are you going to write, this afternoon, then?” She asked him casually, visibly trying to divert everyone’s attention.

Paul was about to answer when John’s voice cut him off.

“Nah. If Paulie’s tired, no need to wear him even more down.” He stopped and threw an unreadable look to Paul. “Writing can wait, right?”

Paul looked at him for a second, a bit taken aback, then just went with it, figuring John surely had his reasons. Perhaps he just wasn’t in the mood, with the jetlag and everything.

“Uh yeah, writing can wait, you know. We have time, anyway,” He confirmed to Cynthia.

 

True to his word, John did not suggest to write once they finished their lunch. Actually, he was talking about anything but music, which was a bit uncharacteristic of him – unless Paul’s memory was out of it for good. The more Paul observed him, the more he thought something was off about him. He sounded cheerful and relaxed, showing him the pictures they had taken on holiday, but every time he thought Paul was not looking, he seemed shyer, nervous. Avoiding every physical contact. Paul even caught him glancing at him and hurriedly turning his gaze away. He was definitely acting weird, and Paul could not quite pinpoint the reason why. A nagging voice in his mind kept telling him it was linked to his confession. As if he was afraid of Paul’s reactions, judging him and evaluating how much of his old friend he could find back in this current version of Paul. And really, Paul could not blame him for it. He was, as a matter of fact, doing the same.

They had to look peculiar from an outsider’s perspective, Paul thought. Two practically lifelong friends sizing each other up, circling around each other and waiting for the one gesture, the one word that would come and shatter everything they knew about the other. Dancing in this unknown territory they both had to reconstruct. Perhaps Paul was reading too much into things, but the whole visit felt incredibly meaningful to him. Pivotal.

Driving home that same afternoon, he did not really know how he felt. He kept trying to find what had felt somewhat wrong about being at the Lennons, but maybe he was just on the wrong line of thinking. Nothing had been wrong. It was his reading of it that was biased. He was not the same man he had been in 1966, so it was only natural he wouldn’t be living things the same way. Knowing what he knew, he could not look at John and Cynthia and feel as ‘innocent’ as he used to – even if their problems had nothing to do with him. Ignoring his own feeling and knowledge made no sense. He was only bringing upon himself a new layer of responsibility, as if he had to play the role of 1966 Paul and hope that no one would call on his bluff. Even if John knew about him, his guilt still pushed him to act as if nothing had happened but it was stupid, really. He could not deny what he had lived. It was not right.

As for John being so cautious around him, it was no surprise either. What did Paul expect, to have him accept everything without a blink? He had to feel at least a bit odd in Paul’s presence. Paul would feel the same in his situation. Hell, he himself already felt odd. But why would John refuse to play music? It could be for so many reasons that Paul’s mind could not settle on one long enough to be able to reassure himself. The only thing to do now was to give it time. Wait and see. They would end up having to write together at some point – a prospect Paul was dreading more and more. He had hoped talking about it with John would appease his anxiety, but that option seemed a little improbable at the moment seeing how vehement the man was at avoiding that subject. Perhaps he would have more luck next time.

Chapter Text

The next time Paul saw George, they were at his house and things were not going smoothly. They were both in a sour mood. Paul had spent a terrible night of tossing and turning, amounting to not even four hours of sleep, and still felt restless about his writing situation. As for George, he was a bit sulky, quieter than usual and seemingly lost in his thoughts. Paul was trying his best to lift his spirits, but nothing seemed to really work. And he probably wasn’t that great of a distraction either. Maybe he was the very reason of George’s bad mood; he had no idea anymore.

They were taking a break, talking about Bob Dylan over their guitars, when George suddenly grew even quieter, not answering at all to Paul’s questions and looking like being here was the last thing he wanted. Paul fidgeted on his seat, looking at his friend’s face (he could not stop himself from staring at his youth). Memories from the last Beatles recording sessions came back to him and he could only feel the painful resemblance. All the ugly images kept popping in his head, making him feel more and more unwelcome.

“You know, if I’m annoying you, I can just leave,” He said, knowing full well that made him sound whiny but not able to bear this anymore. “I mean, it’s alright, you know. I’ve been here for a long time already.”

George looked up with something akin to hurt in his eyes, and quickly shook his head.

“No, no, sorry. It’s not you, I’m just… I have a lot to think about,” He retorted, so sincere that Paul felt hot shame for having doubted him.

“Like what?” Paul asked in a small voice.

George chewed on his inner cheek, an unusual sign of nervousness, and put his guitar on the floor between them. When he straightened up, he still wouldn’t look at Paul.

“It’s Pattie. She’s pregnant.”

Paul just stared, his mind drawing a blank. What? How?!
George sent him a weird look, not unlike the one he’d sent him when they had talked about his wedding.

“What do you mean ‘how’?”

And apparently now he could not see the difference between thinking and actually speaking.

“I… uh…no, I mean, I know how, but…”

“Did you know it?”

“What? No, no of course not. How could… I…?” Paul rushed to answer, frowning at the suggestion.

Well, he guessed it wasn’t that far-fetched to assume from George’s point of view, but this was different. This was not supposed to happen. The impossibility of the thing even shadowed the actual meaning of it. A thousand questions flooded into his mind. Maybe it had happened, and he had just forgotten it…? No, that made even less sense. Nobody would forget something like that.

“I don’t know. John told me about the French papers spreading rumours about my wedding. Wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow knew about that too,” George explained with a shrug, going back to his melancholy behaviour.

Warmth spread from Paul’s belly to his every limb. How many times could John Lennon actually save his life, he wondered.

“How far along?” He asked instead.

“Little less than two months. Could still go to shit, but she’s good for now.”

A silence stretched between them. George was looking at his guitar, his features so uncharacteristically open Paul was sure he could copy his every feeling in a book. The sadness melting from him slowly reached Paul. Once upon a time, he would have avoided diving into the subject – Liverpudlian boys are not supposed to dwell into things like feelings – but he was too tired to pretend not to care.

“You don’t look very happy,” He noted softly.

George shook his head again, sending a sad smile to the ceiling.

“I don’t know what to feel. I didn’t expect it, you know. Pattie neither. I mean, a kid.”

“Yeah,” Paul nodded, the faces of his own kids coming up unannounced, trying to burn themselves onto his retina.

He refrained from asking anachronist questions such as ‘are you going to keep it?’ and instead tried to focus on his friend’s situation. Why that news could make him look so sad.

“Too ea rly?” He asked simply.

“Yeah,” George nodded, a relieved glint in his eyes – probably from not having to say it himself. Perhaps Paul was not doing everything wrong. “It’s not that I don’t want kids. I’ll kill for them once they’re born. It’s just…I know it’s bad to think like that, makes me selfish and everything but… I don’t know.”

“It’s not selfish to be caught off guard. Or to want a life for yourself first. You’re only… 22,” He started, hoping his friend would not notice his slight hesitation. “You know, kids… it’s a lot.”

“Brian is going to kill me,” George laughed without real humour.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about him, you know. Been there done that,” Paul tried to reassure him with a smile.

“Makes you the last of us for real, doesn’t it. Wedding, child. You’ve got a lot to catch up on.”

The light humour in George’s voice did not quite match the dark laugh that erupted out of Paul.

“I guess I do.”

“Not with Jane, then?” George went up, his gaze piercing through him.

Paul chuckled. God, if he knew!

“Nope.”

George smiled, visibly amused, and picked his guitar up, starting to let his fingers glide on it. Paul took it as his cue for dropping the subject and turned his own guitar back up again.

“I don’t want my kid to grow without a father,” George suddenly said, so low Paul almost missed it.

The meaning behind his words was so complex Paul was sure he would have completely missed it had he been his 23-year-old self. But he wasn’t 23 anymore. He knew better.

Julian. Zak. The endless touring. The exhaustion of it all. George’s weariness towards the end. The disputes and the misunderstandings. It dawned on him, then, watching George’s insecurities and doubts pour out from his fingers to his music. Maybe this was one of the mistakes he actually could fix.

“They won’t,” He answered with force. He waited for George to meet his gaze again, then repeated: “They won’t. You’ll be there for them. We’ll make sure of that.”

Paul truly believed it, and the soft smile George sent him made him think he could believe it too.

 

They had finished a song. They had actually written a song together; even if it was mainly George’s, Paul had significantly helped, had even come up with a line or two. And it didn’t ring any bell in Paul’s memory. It was exhilarating, knowing he could still create things. That they could create things together and that the world hadn’t exploded. God had not fallen upon him to punish him for changing the course of events. It just worked.

Feeling both satisfied, they decided to celebrate it by going outside and try to take their minds off their worries. Of course, it was easier said than done. They could not just go out and wander to some place, they had to plan it beforehand, find someplace where they would not be assailed by groupies and fans. Luckily for them, they greying sky only promised heavy rain and thus might scare off any curious bystanders. But they knew better than to face the outside world unprepared. After sending out ideas back and forth, they decided to go to The Scotch of St. James with Pattie and see if there was any interesting people playing. Paul was happy to rediscover how easy it used to be to go to concerts on the very day they were happening (which was highly unlikely to be possible in 2019).

It was nice, Paul thought, to be able to enjoy the presence of his friend. To laugh with him and to allow the banter. It had been easy to forget how simple things used to be, but it was even easier to fall right back into it. They were having a lovely time, the three of them, despite the occasional fan coming up and invading their little bubble for an autograph or a kiss on the cheek. The band that was playing was not bad, even if a little common maybe, and the music echoed loudly in his chest, making him feel more alive somehow. And however bad George’s mood had been when Paul had arrived that day, it was good to see him now look lighter, almost happier. As if all it took for him to feel better was to talk with someone he trusted. Everything was going fine, really.

Then why did Paul feel so desperately lonely?

He was lost in his thoughts, comfortably settled in the plush couch of the club, a drink in hand and trying to discreetly dry the liquid he had dropped on his sleeveless vest, when George came back from wherever he had gone and plumped down next to him. And Paul might have been already a bit tipsy, but he was sober enough to know the mischievous glint in his friend’s eyes only meant trouble.

“Why are you staying here in your corner? Don’t you want to dance a little?” George asked loudly to cover the music.

Paul eyed him suspiciously.

“Dance? Me?”

George only smiled, his vampire teeth shining in the dim lights, and looked up at Pattie who was coming and sitting down on the other side of Paul. She was drinking a lemonade and looked perfect as a doll.

“Her break is in five minutes,” She told George before sending a smile Paul’s way.

“Wait, who are you talking about?” Paul growled, slowly understanding his bad feeling was correct.

“I saw you watching that little brunette at the entrance. But since you don’t seem to be doing anything, someone should, right?” George explained with a cheeky smile.

Paul did not connect the dots immediately, then remembered the young woman with the dimples who had taken their coats. She was very pretty, sure, and a quick shag would probably take his mind off things for a while (it sure had in his past) but Paul could not feel less willing to flirt with anyone. The thought had not even crossed his mind. And his wife’s face was still burning in his mind, even if he was trying not to feed the fire anymore and had accepted to let it die slowly. There was no point in torturing himself further, really, and at this point he was rather trying to cherish the memories of his time with her and see it as something from the past (ironically).

He was not even feeling guilty about her specifically, not really – he knew he couldn’t see any new relationship as cheating because otherwise he would likely feel awful for the rest of his life – but still, he could not picture himself with just some random person from the 60s. It was too soon, too weird.

As if he was reading his mind, George elbowed him.

“Come on! Just a dance. She won’t eat you, you know. Unless you ask nicely.”

“George!” Pattie laughed reproachfully, to which George only eye rolled.

“I don’t need your help to get girls, thank you very much. And I’m not in the mood, really,” Paul stated in what he hoped was an assertive enough tone.

The sigh that came out of George was so loud and dramatic Paul couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Don’t ever say I never do anything for you,” He finally said once all air was out of his lungs. Then, giving his hand out to his wife. “Love, shall we leave that buzzkill drown alone in his vodka?”

Pattie giggled and took his hand. Both of them stood up.

“I hope you can still enjoy the night, Paul. You deserve it,” Pattie told him gently before following George into the crowd.

You deserve it. You deserve it.
Weird concept, that.

 

With George gone on his honeymoon and John still avoiding talking about writing, Paul found himself forced to (literally) face the music alone. Most February days thus found him in his spare room, surrounded by instruments and playing pretty much any song he could think of, whether it be his own or other people’s from the future. It was sad, not being able to listen to them when he wanted, so he just indulged himself in his own little world of lost music. He knew it wasn’t lost per say – and nothing said these songs wouldn’t exist in the future, but that was the thing. Nothing assured him they would. Especially now that he had proof things were not happening exactly the way they had in his past. Sure there would be plenty of other songs and that was great, but still. He knew some songs were more impactful than others in the history of music.

Starting with their own Beatles songs.

What if Paul started working with John again, on new songs, and just came up with rubbish? After all, Paul was not the same man and his creativity had changed a lot too. They used to be always on the same wavelength musically, and now they weren’t anymore. Nothing proved he could just fit his creative mind right back into the right mind-set. Perhaps the best solution was to just let the others write on their own, try to influence them as little as possible. It would not be very satisfying for him, but surely he could make up for it on his own free time, couldn’t he? Better to be a bit bored and create the same great albums they were known for than let himself run freely and come up with shite music that would undoubtedly bring the end of the band. And who was he to stop the others from following the creative path they were currently on anyway? It was not like he could just tell them ‘no’ whenever they would bring up ideas of songs they’d already done in his past. Well, future. It wouldn’t be fair to them. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed like the best idea. He just needed to stand down a little on the writing part of the band. George was not a problem in itself, seeing as he was more than fine working on his own already. But John…

No, stop stressing, Paul chastised himself when he felt cold sweat starting to pool between his shoulder blades as he was sitting on his piano, playing some David Bowie medley to relax himself. He would explain his decision to John, and it would be fine. Tell him that he needed to step back a little to make sure not to imperil the band. That their future albums were good, like really good, and that Paul did not want to endanger that. And if that made them both itchy with frustration, so be it. It wasn’t like John was dying to write with him these days, anyway.

Reassured to have come to some sort of decision, Paul got up, closed the lid of the piano and went to the kitchen to prepare himself a well-deserved dinner. His stomach was actually growling and the burning on his eyelids seemed stronger than ever. How long had he slept this time? Five hours, maybe? Perhaps he should go to a doctor about it. It couldn’t be healthy to get that little sleep and the nightmares didn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. Surely there was some sleeping pill that could help him – and now that he had his young, strong body again, he was not scared of much. Technically, this body had not even tried LSD yet. How funny was that.

He was waiting for the water to boil, head resting on his crossed arms at the table, when the phone rang. He thought for a moment to just let it go to voicemail seeing how heavy and lazy his body felt, but then remembered he was supposed to be a professional. Available and everything.

With a sigh, he dragged himself to the living-room and finally picked up the phone.

“Yes?”

“Hello, Paul,” Brian’s gentle voice answered. “I hope I’m not bothering you?”

Paul looked at the sad pack of pasta he could see waiting in his dimly-lit kitchen.

“Hum, no. No, not really.”

“Good. Would you be available on the morning of the 19th to come to the office? It won’t be long, just finalizing some details for the tour. I need your final approval for the press conference.”

“Yeah, yeah, I am, sure,” Paul asserted, not bothering to check on his calendar. A bubbling sound suddenly came to his ears. “Oh, sorry, just, wait a sec.”

He put the phone down on the couch, groaning once again against its damn chord and ran back to the kitchen where the water was indeed boiling and ready to flow over. He reduced the heat, dropped the pasta in the water and went back to the phone.

“Sorry, just. The pasta,” He said uselessly, ashamed to notice he was slightly out of breath from his seven feet run.

“It’s alright,” Brian chuckled. “Have you started writing with John? I asked him earlier but he didn’t really, hum, answer.”

Paul sighed, closing his tired eyes in a futile attempt to release the tension. As if needed a new reminder of it.

“We’re working on it,” He settled on, figuring it was vague enough to reassure his manager and not to be a blatant lie.

“Good, good. Well I won’t bother you further then. You can come around 10am, no need to be super early. Really shouldn’t be long.”

Paul nodded to himself.

“Okay, got it.” Then, suddenly remembering who exactly he was talking to: “Thank you, Brian. For… caring, and all that.”

After a couple seconds of silence, a light embarrassed chuckle came through the phone.

“Well, you’re welcome, really. It’s my job, you know.”

A new silence settled between them, not exactly comfortable.

“Good night, then. Bye,” Brian quipped.

“Good night,” Paul answered. “See you.”

Paul stayed a long time standing with the phone in his hand, the soft bubbling of the pasta the only sound in the apartment.

Chapter Text

Days passed. The difference from one day to the next was sometimes so tenuous Paul had trouble telling them apart. He had gone out, a few times – even seen some friends from the past, including calls from Ringo. Gone to movies he had never seen, even if he had stopped doing that quite quickly when he noticed how hard it was to do it inconspicuously. He had seen his brother too, which was in fact the easiest relationship to fall back into seeing as the love between them had not changed that much over the years. He had called his father. Seen a couple of aunts. All in all, he was rather proud of his socializing. It felt forced, most of the time, but it was nice to see people. To talk and be talked to; the latter more often than the former. He had not seen John though, despite a weird late phone call where his visibly very drunk friend kept mistaking him for other people.

However, all his efforts in socializing proved useless when faced to the reality that he was walking to a freaking Beatles meeting. His internal pep talks had prepared him for it – or maybe made him dread it even more – and yet, it was probably one of the most nerve-wracking ‘past thing’ he had to live this far. So many things could go wrong.

He was almost at the Abbey Road Studios, a good half an hour early and letting his feet mechanically lead him there, when he realized he was not going to the right place. Brian had no reason to make them come to the studios. Jesus, what was he doing? Where was he supposed to go exactly?
The office, Brian had said. The office. He knew he knew where it was, the information had to be somewhere in his brain, obviously, but right now he was drawing a blank. He stopped in the middle of the pavement, feeling suddenly very lost. He needed to get going now, otherwise he would be late – and he absolutely hated being late. Technically he could phone someone to know where it was, but that would just be admitting defeat and would make him look stupid and shameful. Moreover, those who could help him were probably on their way too and thus unreachable. Damn, he missed cell phones.

Maybe the office was at Brian’s old record store? He did not remember if they were still using it or not. He racked his brain for a while, more and more ashamed of himself and standing discreetly under a bookstore’s porch way in the hopes no one would come bothering him. Of course, he had no such luck when a young girl and her father came out of the store and nearly bumped into him and instantly recognized him. Thankfully, despite the girl’s clear enthusiasm at meeting him, her father hushed her along so he got away with it with just a quick autograph and a hug. Annoyed with himself, Paul started walking again towards his own home, figuring he would need his car to get to wherever he needed to be anyway.

 

After another 45 minutes of driving around and losing his temper over his own memory, other drivers and red lights, Paul finally ended up at the NEMS offices, hoping it really was the right place. He got in, addressed a polite hello to the few people he passed in the hallways (most of them he did not recognize) and tried to let his instincts take over to find the right path, half-jogging the whole way. He was late, quite so, but did not really want to barge in into any room and make any more a fool of himself. Finally, he arrived near a dark door that awoke something in his mind. That was it. That was Brian’s office. He approached and stopped for a second in front of it, bracing himself.

When he lightly opened the door, it was like stepping into an old picture: the wallpaper, the chairs, the discs on the wall, the dark wooden desk. And scattered around the room, Brian nodding with his arms crossed standing next to the chairs of Ringo and John, the three of them caught in a lively conversation, and George leaning his arms on the desk and reading a document. All wearing short hair, clean-shaven faces and nice sweats and vests. As if no time had passed at all. They were all smoking, hence the literal fog hanging in the air, probably the starkest difference with his 21st century days.

Paul stood for a few seconds behind the half-open door, stuck to the ground and feeling like a proper intruder. But Ringo suddenly looked up at the creaking of the door and sent him a warm smile.

“Hey, there he is,” He welcomed him.

Everyone else stopped what they were doing and looked up at that and Paul felt literally like a deer caught in headlights. John pulled a funny face and George simply raised an eyebrow.

“Hi,” He said weakly.

“Where were you? It’s almost 11,” Brian started with a frown.

“I had problems with my car,” He lied easily, cringing at himself.

Brian huffed and went behind his desk as George was coming back to his seat, choosing to jump right into business.

“Well, let’s get into it quickly now that Paul is finally here.”

Paul winced but fully walked in to take the last available seat next to George. With the four of them aligned in front of the desk, they looked like schoolboys about to be reprimanded for pranking their teacher.

“So, you have the schedule of the tour – here, Paul – there are a few changes, we’ll leave on the 23rd after all, earlier than planned but we come back on the same date. I need you…” He stopped to take out other documents from one of his folders. “To sign these. The album needs to be finished on the 22nd at the latest. And before you say anything, I talked to George and yes, we can go up to 14 tracks. But it depends on you, you know.”

Paul took the schedule and felt his head spin looking at all the dates, practically each in a different country. He loved touring. But there was touring and there was touring.

“Manila. That’s a first,” George murmured to him with his perpetually quirked eyebrow.

Paul started at the memory. If he could somehow resolve that situation… He swallowed uneasily, not sure where of his footing.

“Yeah, um, Manila…” He said in a loud voice, looking at Brian. “Is that… Don’t they have a bit of an, um, oppressive president?”

“Well, we’re not going for its president, you know,” Brian answered with a tight smile and a light chuckle. “It’s just one date, it will be fine.”

“Yeah I know, just… Might not be really… smooth? Like, the president might want to, you know, be involved,” Paul tried, significantly quieter along his sentence.

But whether Brian had clearly heard his concern or not, he just gave him another reassuring smile, told him he would take care of everything and went on about other details they needed to know. A glance to his left showed him that George was still looking at the schedule, indifferent, Ringo was ping-ponging between Brian and him with a vague interest on his face and John was staring at him with a frown. Understanding he could not do much more without sounding suspicious, Paul decided to bite his tongue and let it go for now.

True to his words, it was only fifteen more minutes until Brian let them go their own way, reminding them they were planned to start recording on April the 6th. The boys thus found themselves free for the rest of the day, and Paul had not even realized they had been talking that it was already agreed they would eat together in the quiet place next to the offices, of which they knew the manager and where they could get through the back entrance.

 

“Say, if the woman of your dreams came to you and told you she doesn’t care about her husband and wants to get off with you just once, you’d say no?” Ringo asked, chuckling his whole way through the sentence.

“Yes!” Paul answered vehemently.

“That’s bullshit,” John commented, a cigarette hanging from his grinning lips while he was cutting the last bits of chicken on his plate.

Paul turned to him, feeling offended for being ganged up against. They were finishing their meals, hidden away in a secluded corner of the restaurant.

“Well, sorry I’ve got standards!”

At that, John’s eyes widened comically, George and Ringo looked at each other, and then Ringo literally burst in laughter, bits of fries flying from his fork to George’s head.

“Oh pardon me, Sir!” George retorted with an obviously faked miffed grimace, wiping the fries off his hair.

“I believe in marriage!” Paul tried to explain, though knowing already that it was a lost cause. “It’s a beautiful thing, I wouldn’t want to be the one ruining it, you know. There’s lot of unmarried people, no point going after the married ones…”

“Stop, mate, just stop,” John told him in a chuckle, a hand on his eyes as if seeing Paul talking was physically painful.

“You’re really not helping yourself,” George snorted while Ringo was still lost to the world.

Paul eye rolled but couldn’t help the grin fighting to break out on his face, so he went back to his fish and chips in an attempt to hide it. The others continued their meals too, letting their laughter die in a companionable silence.

“Did Brian tell you we had ten nominations?” Ringo asked after a while, glancing at Paul then at the others. “I thought it was only eight.”

“What’re the last two?” John asked with a frown, still chewing loudly.

“Best contemporary... breathing,” George chided in.

“Best arrangement, I think,” Ringo said, oblivious. “And soundtrack I guess.”

Paul set down his fork and leant back on his chair as John leant forward next to him, pointing at George on the opposite seat with a mischievous smile.

“Best silence in-between songs.”

“Best use of maracas.”

“Oooh we’ll definitely win that one,” John agreed brightly.

Paul laughed, crossing his arms over his aching belly. He was not used to eating so much anymore.

“Reckon we’ll win several, then?” Ringo went on, smiling too.

“I don’t see why not,” George drawled, stretching his arms above his head. “Err, I ate too much.”

Paul shook his head to himself, amused, but Ringo caught his gesture and gave him a sad frown.

“What, you don’t think we will?”

Paul gasped softly, his gaze meeting John’s inquisitive one. He looked too interested in his answer for it to be innocent. Seeing Ringo was still waiting an answer from him, he weighed carefully the words in his head.

“I mean, we can’t win every time, you know,” He said. “Two is already great. Just shouldn’t hype ourselves too much.”

“Yeah, good point,” Ringo nodded, convinced.

They had never cared much for awards, anyway. As Ringo went back to the menu to pick a dessert, George bowed his head over it as well, suddenly very interested in eating again.

“So please tell, Macca. On a scale of zero to a 100%, how sure are you we won’t win several Grammies? I’d like to know,” John suddenly piped up, giving Paul a piercing but amused gaze.

He was doing it on purpose, the cheeky tosser. Paul made a mental note to get back at him later for that. He smiled tightly at him.

“I don’t know, John, I can’t predict the future, can I?”

John pursed his lips, mouthing ‘spoilsport’ at him. Paul just laughed but could not help the little ball of stress tightening in his stomach. They needed to be careful; he had had to clear his foreseeing words too many times before already, adding fuel to the fire was really the last thing he needed. He had to talk with John about it, make it clear.

 

They said their goodbye at the back entrance of the restaurant, figuring the four of them wandering around in the middle of the day in a busy neighbourhood was not the best idea. They all went their separate ways and Paul was leaving on his side when hurrying footsteps caught up with him, followed by heaving breathing right next to him. He turned and saw John trying to catch his breath.

“Fuck, you walk fast, you fucking giraffe,” He panted.

Paul chuckled.

“You should really work out, you mean,” He retorted playfully.

John did not answer but the offended grimace he sent him was clear enough. They took on a rather busy avenue and needed to walk fast and look down for a short while. As they were turning into a quieter street, John fell in pace with Paul, who for once was simply enjoying the moment and was happy to notice he was not completely paralyzed by stress.

“Anyway, you want to go for a walk or something?” John said after a while, sounding happy.

“We can go to mine otherwise, write a little,” Paul answered.

Not like he was looking forward to it, but he knew it had to be done at some point. But glancing at John, he was surprised to see him clearly uncomfortable.

“What?”

“Um, I’m not… Not really in the mood, maybe some other time, yeah? Fancy a walk right now,” John answered, clearly avoiding his eyes.

Paul stopped walking, which forced his friend to reluctantly stop too.

“Why don’t you want to write with me anymore?” He asked bluntly.

“Oh, because you do?” John snorted, all happiness gone from his voice.

Paul frowned. Had he not heard him?

“Well, obviously, yeah.”

John looked at him for a while, studying his face, then just shook his head and started walking again.

“Whatever.”

Paul watched him go, confused.

“We have to write!” He called out. “April is approaching, come on, don’t be ridiculous!”

He saw John’s shoulders tense for a second but when his friend turned, he had schooled his features in a neutral mask. Paul cursed himself for being so bad at reading him when he did that.

“Okay, we’ll write. Next week-end at my place, okay?” He answered in a blank voice that sent a shiver down Paul’s spine. “I’m busy this week.”

“Look, if it's about me writing with George..." Paul started, feeling embarrassed.

"It has nothing to do with you and fucking George, okay? Not everything's about you, Jesus Christ," John angrily cut him off.

Paul frowned but simply nodded, not wanting to worsen John’s mood since he was being so touchy already. John nodded back at him and lifted his arm in a goodbye wave that looked somehow a bit aggressive. Or maybe it was just because Paul did not want to see him leave.

“Good. All good then, right? Everything’s fucking good. Now, bugger off, if you will.”

And with that he turned around and walked away quickly, leaving a confused and slightly disappointed Paul behind. He let out a deep, tired sigh. This hot and cold thing with John was exhausting. As if the man could not just tell him why he was being so pissy about writing with him. He hated it. He hated to see them not being able to function together.

And he hated feeling so fucking alone every time John left him out.

Chapter Text

The rain was pouring. It was not a light London drizzle but real showers that soak you to the bones. It made it even harder for Paul to gather the courage the get out of the car.

He had been sitting in his car for about twenty minutes now, trying to move his stiff limbs to actually get up and go to John’s door. He didn’t want to, and saying he was nervous was putting it lightly, but if he didn’t get out now he would just be downright late. The fact that he had taken so long to prepare himself did not help even. He was not usually one to fuss but he felt like he was going to some meeting where he needed to impress people, and had put extra effort to look both serious and casual. Anything to feel more confident, really. He just knew John would be hard to deal with that day – and he also knew, even though it left him an unpleasant feeling, that it was probably linked to his writing with George. But since there was no way he would apologize for that, he just needed to ride the tide until John tired of being a child about it. Another nagging voice kept telling him there had to be another reason for John’s reluctance, but he could not quite put his finger on it. But whatever it was, he just needed to face it. Stop being a coward and go to the door. He was a big man, he could handle whatever was waiting for him.

Taking in a big breath, he uselessly pulled on the collar of his coat to protect his face, took his guitar case and opened the door of the car. The few steps to the alleyway were enough to have him completely drenched even though he was running. He rang at the door, now panting, sweaty and all wet. Great.

After a few moments, the door opened on a fluffy and warm-looking John, who just froze, his eyes sizing Paul up.

“Hi,” Paul tried with a little smile. “Lovely weather, don’t you think?”

John just looked at his drenched legs, lips slightly parted, until something seemed to snap in him and he took a step back. The way he avoided Paul’s eyes was not the greatest sign.

“Get in, the fire’s lit up.”

Paul followed him inside, wincing when he saw the water dropping out of him as if he was a dog.

“Don’t worry, ‘s alright,” John told him, as if he’d read his mind. “It’s just water.”

Paul took off his coat and followed him carefully to the living-room. Indeed, a fire was burning in the chimney and immediately warmed Paul’s whole body. A guitar was already waiting on the couch, as if John had been playing right before his arrival.

“Where are Julian and Cyn?”

“Gone for the day.”

John approached the couch and simply sat on it, putting on his square glasses and taking his guitar. Going straight to business was not unusual per say, but it still left Paul feeling uneasy. After a few moments of silence, John seemed to sense his indecision and looked up.

“You can sit, you know,” He told him, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

Paul obeyed, going straight for the seat closest to John. Clearly John was making efforts for things to go smoothly, and he could not be more grateful, especially seeing how nervous he felt already. Feeling his guitar in his hands again was the boost of confidence he certainly needed. The two took a while to quietly tune their instruments, and it just gave Paul the necessary time to adjust to the familiar situation again. Find the right mood, the right mind-set. Allow himself to reverse back to being one part of their duo. Curiously – or maybe not so much, precisely – habits flooded back to him naturally. As if he had always been made to be right here. Sitting in front of John with a guitar in his hands.

“So, how many more songs do you need?” John suddenly asked, not looking at him.

Paul was taken aback for a second, wondering if he had missed some information somehow.

“What do you mean?”

“For the album. How many left?”

“I… We don’t have…?”

“Please, don’t pretend the hundreds you wrote with George are rubbish, I don’t have time for this,” John sighed while adjusting the capo on his guitar.

Paul stopped playing and frowned.

“What? We wrote just one song. Barely one. It’s not… I mean, you and I…”

John sent him a quick glance, too quick for Paul to read anything into it. But judging by the tense line of his jaw, the conversation was heading south way more quickly than Paul was ready for.

“Oh, ‘cause there’s still a ‘you and I’ here? Glad to hear about it,” John asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“What are you talking about? Of course there is. We write songs together. That’s… you know, that’s our thing,” Paul retorted, hearing himself sound a bit more defensive than he would have liked.

“Right,” John snorted, still not looking at him.

“Do you… do you not want to write with me or…?”

At that, John froze. Moments passed, leaving Paul more and more uncomfortable. The already pretty tense atmosphere was turning ice cold so fast he felt like he was falling in a bottomless pit. And seeing the slow and calculated way John was breathing only reinforced the impression.

“You have to be taking the piss right now,” John finally said, visibly trying very hard to stay calm.

Paul’s mouth opened on its own, words battling their way out of it.

“No. No! Why would I—”

“Why?” John immediately cut him off, finally looking up at him. The rage and hurt in his eyes, so violent they could burn down buildings, cut straight to Paul’s heart. “Why?! Are you fucking serious?! I come to cheer you up and you basically ask me to sod off, then you fuck off to France without telling me, and then when you come back – which I learned by fucking coincidence, by the way since you had already told everybody – then you just bat your droopy eyes and go, ‘oh yeah, by the way, I’d rather just write with George from now on, cheers mate’. And now, I’m trying to be the grown-up and let you come to just do the fucking work and you’re telling me, what, ‘oh I don’t understand why you don’t like me, boo-hoo’?! Are you…? Fuck. Honestly, just… just fuck you mate.”

Then he furiously got up, practically dropping his guitar on the floor, and stormed out without a look back. Paul was just left there, mouth agape and mind reeling. What the hell had just happened?! He had not even been here five minutes and things had already escalated at lightning speed. He knew John could get angry quickly but that was just another level altogether. And what was he reproaching him here, exactly?

Forcing himself to snap out of it, he finally got up too and followed the direction John had gone. He wandered for a while, trying hard not to lose his own patience, and finally found his friend on one of his balcony upstairs. It had stopped raining and the clouds were timidly starting to disperse.
John was smoking like a fireman, his hand so shaky it was a miracle he could even hold a cigarette. From behind, his hair looked so soft, and his shaking jumper-covered back seemed so fragile that it made Paul pause a second. Angry John was gesticulative, but firm – not near this shaky. He was not just angry. He was upset. And Paul had never been really good at spotting it, even when it was staring at him in the face. What a fucking idiot.

As his own indignation was melting away from him, Paul finally came closer and got into the balcony as well. John did not turn around, but he could see his shoulders tense again. Paul went to stand next to him, leaning onto the railing in a similar fashion.

“I’m sorry,” He admitted quietly.

John just huffed.

“What for?”

Paul thought about it carefully, knowing he could make things very much worse with just one wrong word. The worst thing he could do was pitying John.

“For being an idiot. I should have called you when I came back from France. I know it’s no excuse, but I was, uh… scared, actually.”

That got his friend’s attention, who turned cautious but still very dark eyes to him.

“Scared of what?” He asked in a quiet voice.

“Of doing everything wrong? Which is what I ended up doing, anyway,” Paul answered with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I felt stupid for being a dick to you and I thought… I don’t know, that you would still be mad at me. I didn’t want to face it.”

“Well, to be fair, I was.”

“I know,” Paul sighed. “That’s why I was scared.”

“So now you’re saying you didn’t want to write with me because you were scared of me?” John huffed out, anger lacing his words again.

Paul shook his head, fighting the weird urge to just take John’s hands in his. He was overwhelmed with the need to make him understand.

“I want to write with you. Writing with you and just, you know… being with you, that’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. But… You know how you said that maybe I was back here to fix my mistakes? Well, if I want to write with George, that’s precisely because I don’t want to make the same mistakes again. I don’t want to take him for granted like I have in the past. But it doesn’t, you know, replace writing with you, or anything. It’s not one or the other. I mean. Nothing could replace what we create together, you know? We’re Lennon-McCartney for fuck’s sake.”

John stayed quiet for a while, slowly studying his face as his anger seemed to lower back down. Then he dropped his head to look at his dying cigarette and Paul saw the tiniest smile was fighting to break out on his face. Feeling emboldened, Paul chuckled.

“What’s that smile about?”

John glanced at him and the tiny smile appeared for real, which brought warmth in Paul’s chest.

“Lennon-McCartney, huh? You finally accept it?” John teased him, taking a last drag of his cigarette.

“Well,” Paul smiled, looking out at the horizon, the shy sun poking him in the eye. “It does have a very, very slight better ring to it.”

He did not dare look at John again, but he could swear he was smiling too.

 

“I don’t understand. Why should we do only mine?” John asked again, confusion all over his face. “What’s the point?”

They were back in the living-room and had been working for a good two hours on an early rendition of one of John’s songs – which sounded vaguely familiar – when Paul admitted he didn’t feel comfortable having any of his songs on the next album and would rather work only on John’s. They were calm and peaceful now, and it was nice to see they could work in a pleasant and trusting environment again. But apparently, explaining why he couldn’t write was much more difficult than he had anticipated. His throat was so dry it was getting painful.

“It’s just, you know… I’m not in the right mood, I think,” He started explaining. “I don’t want to slow you down by bringing up my old… tastes, in it. Literal granny music, you know. If we want the album to be as great as it can be, I shouldn’t just, interfere too much. I can still bring my old songs later, but they don’t really need work, you know.”

“They’re that good, are they?” John retorted in a funny voice, clearly making fun of him.

“Well, yeah,” Paul replied truthfully.

John just laughed but when he crossed Paul’s gaze again, something very soft and understanding spread in his eyes.

“You’re afraid it will be shit if it’s different, don’t you? I mean, if we don’t make the exact album you remember doing.”

“You have to admit it’s a pretty big risk,” Paul admitted.

John shook his head, thinking it over while strumming on his guitar.

“I don’t see it that way,” He finally uttered, his voice nearly as far away as his thoughts. “We’ve made great albums because we loved them. We sweated over them, we worked hard for them. We were really into it. If we just replicate the songs you have in mind, I don’t know. They still won’t be the same, you know? We won’t have worked the same for them.”

“So you’re saying they’re just lost forever,” Paul responded weakly.

“No. I’m just saying it’s not just the words and the notes that make the songs. If they’re in us, they will come out on their own. We can’t force them to just, be. And I don’t think you need to worry about it that much. We make great songs. I don’t see why that would change just because you know more of them than I do.”

Paul took the time to fully comprehend his words and chuckled when he realized how easier the last few weeks would have been had he talked to John from the beginning.

“God, it sounds so simple when you say it. I’m so stupid.”

“Nah, you’re not stupid. I’m just a genius.”

At that Paul just burst in laughter, almost surprised to see his own mood change so rapidly.

The two of them picked their song up and worked in harmony, their exchanges seamless just like they were in Paul’s memories. It was thrilling, to see he hadn’t made it up. That it wasn’t one of those things his mind had glossed along the years to make it more bearable. They really were that good together. Paul was still a bit shy in his own propositions – and he was sure John had noticed it, if his insisting looks were anything to go by – but the situation and his friend made him comfortable enough to try and actively participate.

 

Four hours had gone by and Paul was rather exhausted, but overall satisfied. He felt lighter from having talked with John, the relief like a safety blanket over his troubled mind. They were now drinking tea (and smoking pot for John) in the kitchen and things felt… normal.

“Do you want to come to mine tomorrow then?” Paul asked, happy not to be too worried about the prospect.

“Nah I can’t, sorry, I’ve got a journalist coming over here for an interview. The Evening Standard I think. She’s supposed to come over at 2, I’ll have to wake up and everything. Thanks Brian for ruining my day-off”, he finished with a grumble.

As he was stirring the spoon in his cup, a sudden realization came onto Paul, his stomach dropping to his feet and his fingers stilling. Was it…?

“What did you say her name was?” He asked bluntly.

John looked at him quizzically, still idly reading the nutrition facts of the box of tea bags.

“Who?”

“The interviewer, what’s her name?!” Paul pressed.

“I didn’t say it.”

“Stop it, I’m serious.”

Another look at Paul’s face seemed to convince John not to joke further.

“I don’t know, Maureen Leaf-something,” he added with a shrug.

Paul leaned forward with wide eyes.

“Cleave? Maureen Cleave?”

“Huh, yeah, I guess. Why?”

Paul’s heart was apparently trying to beat out of his chest. This was all wrong; the interview hadn’t taken place this early in the year, had it? Or maybe it had? He could have sworn the whole Jesus scandal was during the summer… It couldn’t be a coincidence though, could it? And he was pretty sure they hadn’t met her beforehand. He still remembered the pain when he had learned John’s murderer quote that very interview. He couldn’t risk it.
He leaned even more over the table, putting a hand on John’s arm.

“John, listen to me. During that interview, do not say anything about religion. Nothing, you hear me?”

John let out a disbelieving chuckle at Paul’s sudden seriousness.

“Why not? Think I’m too stupid to talk about religion?”

Somewhere in his mind, Paul noticed he sounded a little hurt but he just huffed angrily. He did not have time for this.

“I’m not joking, this is very important, okay? I can’t, really I cannot stress this enough. Do not say anything about religion. Even if you are asked about it. Even if she’s harassing you for a comment on your beliefs or Christianity or whatever. Do not say anything. Can you promise me that?”

John’s eyes went quietly over his face, seemingly trying to read him.

“Why?” He asked, guarded.

Paul wanted to cry.

“Promise me.”

Another tense silence settled between them.
But after a while, John slowly nodded.

“Okay. Okay, I promise.”

Paul felt an intense shudder of relief come through his whole body. He closed with eyes only to calm himself down. He needed to stop getting so worked up all the time. When he opened his eyes and expired slowly, he found John still staring at him, looking somewhat worried but not daring to ask anything.

Chapter Text

Paul had undoubtedly never been that nervous on his way to a newspaper stand. Well, he had been the day before when he had already checked the copy of The Evening Standard, but still. He was not only nervous, but downright scared. The salesman probably thought he was crazy, seeing him hastily going over all the titles with shaky hands. When he finally found the right newspaper, he took it, paid for it hurriedly and went around the stand to find a secluded corner of the pavement to sit on, looking like a right lunatic. His eyes swept over the pages, going so fast it would not be that surprising if he just missed what he was looking for but suddenly they stopped on one black and white picture. That was it, that was the article, but for some reason, he could not stop staring at the picture. It was from an awkward angle, and he definitely looked weird in it: half-opened eyes, too long hair, caught in the middle of sentence. But somehow, it was captivating.

Snapping himself out of this strange trance, he attentively read the article, his heart beating so loud he could feel it in his ears. But soon he forced himself to breathe slowly in and out. It was good. He read it again, more quickly – yeah, nothing incriminating. Neutral. He did not spot anything that had a huge polemic potential, unless he was missing something. Or unless… There was a comment about Vietnam that sounded pretty clear about John’s position on it. But that wasn’t too bad, was it? He was far from being the only one finding it outrageous. Surely no one would burn him at the stakes for that. At least no one could use that as an excuse to kill him.

A shiver shook his whole body.

But no, it was fine. No Jesus scandal. John had listened to him. He was safe. Paul needed to repeat it to himself until he could truly believe it.

John was safe.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, Paul closed his eyes and leant his head on the back of the newspaper stand. Horrible thoughts were threatening to invade his brain – such as ‘maybe you prevented one thing only to allow another worse thing to happen’ – but he tried his hardest to shut them out. This was good. He had the right to be happy about it.

 

Since he had arrived back in the past, he had had a lot of new ‘firsts’, some of them coming so long after their first iterations they legit felt like he was living them for the very first time – if that made any sense. First rented apartment (he had only owned houses before, after all), first time at a traditional barber, first two-channelled TV, first time living completely on his own. So many things were new to him he felt like a baby or a fledgling teenager and not at all like a nearly 80-year-old grandfather. Sometimes, he was even scared to realize he momentarily forgot he was old. Who he was. It was daunting, but he tried to rationalize it by concluding it was his brain’s self-defence mechanism. To allow him not to drown under the guilt, the pain and the loss, his brain let him forget he was an intruder. An outsider, a freak. But usually, his consciousness would soon after make him remember who he was and where he came from. It was painful, but somehow it also reassured him to notice that he would not just ‘forget’ everything.

So here he was, living experiences as a misfit, a sort of alien with too much knowledge for his own good. He was like an omniscient narrator, in a way. The privileged witness of his companions’ lives. Of the whole world’s evolution, even – at least as far as his memory went. Some experiences were invigorating and heart-warming, others were frightening. And the rest were mostly very strange.

Celebrating his father’s death by calling him, for one, was a rare combination of the three of them.

“So, are you coming up to Liverpool anytime soon? You aunts have been asking about you. They say they’ve read you were going solo,” His father informed him casually.

Paul was sitting on the floor, phone tucked against his ear and shoulder, idly painting on a large sheet of grainy paper.

“I’m not going solo,” He huffed. “Journalists made that up.”

“I figured, but you know them. They’re still upset to have learned about Jane from the papers.”

Paul sighed, clearing his little brush of any excess of paint.

“I’ll come and visit soon. I’m just a bit busy these days.”

He wasn’t, not by a mile. But going back to Liverpool made him feel a little too claustrophobic for now. But his father would not understand that. Even he could not really understand it.

“I saw your concert on the telly the other night. It was nice,” His father kept going, knowing better than to coerce his son into doing something he did not want to do. “Even if with all the screaming it’s a wonder anyone could hear anything at all, I reckon.”

“Thanks. I missed it, actually.”

“Well, you lived it, so, not like you would learn anything new about it, would it?”

Paul stopped for a second. His father had a point, but it was so long ago for him now, he would have liked to see it anyway. Having totally lost the habit to buy the TV program, he had only learned about the diffusion the next day when his lovely neighbour had told him her husband and she had loved the show. That had made him miss him replay and his old life even more. It was frustrating that now, even as he was given a second go at things, he would still miss some of them.
But again, it wasn’t something his father could understand.

 

He was listening to the radio in his car, idly looking at the trees outside that were slowly gaining some of their green back and tapping his foot in rhythm with the music. A new song came on and Paul immediately recognized the ‘hit’ as the speaker had announced it; The Hollies, ‘I’m Alive’. It was a lively, supposedly happy song, and yet the lyrics cut to him in a strange way. What he would give to feel that alive again…

Someone knocking on his window made him jump and turn around. John was smiling at him, bending to see the inside of the car. He was carrying a guitar case and a brown satchel, and was wearing one of his old newsboy caps.

“Were you talking to yourself?” He could hear him ask behind the window.

Paul rolled it down (with difficulty) and cranked up the sound to let John hear the song. His friend squatted next to the car, leaning his elbows on the door and listened carefully for a while. The sound was cracking a bit and a grimace formed on his face.

“Herman's Hermits?” John asked after a while with a hopeful look.

Paul shook his head, grinning.

“The Hollies. You disappoint me.”

“Shut up. Open the door.”

With a chuckle, Paul obeyed and soon enough, John was putting his guitar on the back seat and taking place next to him. Paul started the car and got on the main road. It was not a very long drive – even if making a detour to pick John up had sort of made him go to the other side of the city – but he let the radio on anyway, lowering it to only have a background music. John seemed to appreciate it: he had rolled his window down, elbow on it, and was observing outside. In a glance, Paul could see his hair floating softly around his face. He looked peaceful. Safe.

“How’s Julian?” He asked, suddenly feeling like he should be saying something.

John sent him a quick peek.

“He’s a genius,” He proclaimed. “Last night he assembled that toy they show on the telly, the one with all the bloody squares on it? Just looking at the fucking thing gave me a headache and he made it in five seconds.”

A lopsided grin appeared on Paul’s face.

"Five seconds, that much?”

“Even less, actually,” John retorted, happy to play along. “He barely looked at it and it was made. That boy is going to build rocket ships, I swear.”

A comforting warmth spread throughout Paul. Even if he still had his eyes on the road, he could still hear the genuine smile in John’s voice, and that did something to him.

“My dad told me the other day that he’s found some of my toy soldiers in an old box of photographs. They were covered in multicolour paint. Guess Mike and I weren’t much of geniuses,” He joked.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” John answered with a light tap on Paul’s arm. “That was all Mike, I’m sure. Jealous of Saint James Paul’s army.”

“Probably, yeah.”

They arrived at a crossroad and stopped at the red light. Paul let his eyes wander around and briefly met an excited gaze through the window. He turned his eyes back to the road. He knew what that look meant.

“Don’t look to your left, some people recognized us,” He told John.

“Where?” John asked – sitting up to look straight to his left. “Arf, they’re ugly.”

Paul huffed, putting the car in first gear when the lights finally turned to green.

“Could you behave? Please?”

“What, you think they're pretty?"

The genuine surprise in his friend’s voice made him huff even more.

“Well, I didn’t actually see them well enough to judge, but still, that’s not the point, is it? It’s pretty… rude. You know?”

“Wow, calm your tits, Pankhurst. I wasn’t telling them, I was telling you. Jesus,” John chuckled. “What did the future do to you?”

It was a pretty innocent remark, and Paul knew he did not mean it, but it still hit too close to home and left him unable to find a good comeback. John didn’t seem to notice anything, though, as a new glance told him he was still looking at him with a smile. A new song arose softly from the radio, some title Paul did not recognize. John hummed along for a sentence or two, turning once again to look outside. Another quick glance in his direction made Paul realize he had a strange pensive expression on his face.

“Are you alright?”

John turned to him with raised eyebrows. Was he surprised or brought back to reality, Paul was not sure.

“Yeah,” He assured him. “I should be asking you, though.” When Paul frowned, he continued: “Yeah, since, you know, it’s your first real Beatles thing since Cardiff. It’s just pictures, but still. Must be weird for you.”

Paul nodded but had to force himself to stop frowning.

“I’m fine. I guess it is, a bit. You know, weird. But I’m alright. Really.”

“You know you’re allowed to be stressed, right?”

“I’m fine, John. Don’t worry.”

He could feel John’s studying gaze on his profile, but thankfully, he did not push it and simply turned to the window again, letting out a soft:

“Okay.”

He was not nervous. He just needed not to think about what it meant too much.

 

When they entered the studio, they were immediately swamped by assistants and various executives running all over the place. It was a busy day in a thriving institution, with several photoshoots happening at once; having one of them with the Beatles only added to the usual madness. They followed one assistant who seemed particularly efficient into a dress room in which Ringo was already being taken care of, sitting in a hairdresser’s chair, his make up half done.

“Hey lads!” He welcomed them warmly. “Happy to see you, I was starting to feel a little lonely in here.”

“Hi Rings,” Paul smiled at him, patting his shoulder and looking at him through the mirror. “Is Brian here?”

“He went to talk to someone.”

“Who?” John asked, propping himself up on the dressing table.

“I don’t know,” Ringo shrugged. “Someone.”

Paul looked around the room, his eyes scanning for any specific detail that would be familiar. They landed on the clothes rack on which several white blouses were hanging. It was an odd choice, he thought for a while. But after a few moments, memories flooded back to him and with them, a vague nausea. The butcher photoshoot. He still remembered the smell of the raw meat, so strong it had permeated his clothes despite the blouse. It had been nauseating back then, so now, it would only be worse. What a pleasant day in perspective.

He walked back toward to chairs and leaned against the dressing table with a heavy sigh, next to John who was observing him while a poor make-up artist was trying to convince him to just sit in a chair.

“What is it?” John asked Paul, ignoring the woman lightly tapping on his arm.

Paul glanced at the woman, and at Ringo just behind who was closing his eyes to avoid getting any hairspray in them.

“I’ll tell you later,” He whispered to him.

John only nodded and finally agreed to sit on the chair. When the artist taking care of Ringo up to then turned to Paul, he followed her without question. Seeing his reflection in the mirror made him feel weird again; at home, he had not even bought one so he barely ever saw himself. It didn’t feel like watching oneself at all, not really. He was slowly getting used to seeing the baby version of his friends, but his own baby face was still a bit too much. Maybe he would never get used to it.

The four of them (George had arrived almost half an hour late but no one really questioned it) were waiting on the shooting set, taking an incalculable amount of photos holding various random and ridiculous objects when two assistants brought the literal crates of raw meat, the smell drifting to Paul’s nose even before the others had noticed everything. And sure thing, another assistant was bringing the white blouses. Paul could not stop himself from groaning at the prospect. He leant towards John.

“That’s what I was sighing about,” He whispered to him.

John looked around as well, still playing with the severed head of a naked doll.

“The blouses?” He asked, a bit confused.

“The meat. They will just cover us with it. I mean, over the blouses.”

John let out a silent whistle.

“Mad scientists, I see. Well, you should pull it off quite well, you look elegant enough. I’ll just look like a clown in these,” John chuckled.

But the very, very slight tightness in his voice caught Paul’s attention. John usually loved dressing up and was never afraid to look silly or downright ridiculous. So why would he be bothered by that specific outfit?

“I think you could literally wear a cow’s skeleton and still be beautiful, so, you know,” Paul told him, hoping this would help reassure him.

“Yeah, right,” John snorted.

Paul looked at him. The tight smile, the elusive eyes, the hands still abusing the poor doll’s head. He did not believe him at all. Probably thought it was a joke. John was insecure, that was a fact, but Paul had never understood how he could not just see how handsome he was. How naturally charming, in every physical transformation he went through. Everybody saw it; how couldn’t he? For reasons beyond his understanding – and at this point, he would not even try to understand them, seeing how now everything that went bad in his friends’ lives felt like his fault somehow – it made Paul really sad. He turned more fully towards him and lowered his voice. He hoped he sounded as serious as he felt.

“John, I mean it,” He told him, lowering his voice without really realizing it. “You are beautiful. Everything about you is beautiful. How can you not see that?”

John stared a bit wide-eyed at him, visibly taken aback, and Paul tried very, very hard not to blush. Okay, maybe that had sounded a tiny bit gayer than it did in his head. One was not supposed to be that intense about their best mate’s beauty. But yet again, he could not help but truly mean those words.

“I mean… You know. That’s what people see in you. Just think you should know that,” He added in a painfully awkward voice. Then, for good measure, he tacked on: “We’ll all look stupid anyway.”

Jesus, he really needed to stop sounding like some old wise shaman. Being from the future could not excuse everything. He didn’t dare look at John again and thankfully it was time for them to put on the blouses and carry on with the crazy butchers experiment. He was then so preoccupied with trying not to throw up that it helped him not think about how weird he had sounded.

What a pleasant day indeed.

 

A few days later, he was peacefully sleeping. Actually, peacefully was not exactly accurate: sure, for once he had not woken up drenched in his own sweat yet, but he was dreaming, he was vaguely aware of that, and somehow he could not wake himself up. He felt trapped and uneasy. There was a house, which did not look like any house he had ever owned but which was still his, and inside a party was raging on. From the outside, he could hear the voices laughing and toasting together. But no matter how many times he turned around the house, he could not find a door to get in. He spotted a high window and tried to get closer, maybe climb up on the visible old bricks, but as soon as he touched them, they all became completely smooth. He shouted to get the guests’ attention but nobody seemed to hear him over the music. He turned around the house again and suddenly it was night, and it was snowing. And he was not wearing shoes. Where were his shoes? He had given them to Mary. Maybe she had them with her, inside the house. If he could just reach that window to ask her…

A loud ringing suddenly startled him awake. He stayed spread in his bed a few seconds, breathing erratic and hair plastered to his forehead. Where was he? What…? He looked around the room and it came back to him. Right. London. 1966. Still not back home.

When the ringing resonated again, he dragged himself out of bed, slid on a t-shirt and padded sleepily towards the living-room. He looked at the phone confusedly for a few seconds until he realized the ringing was not coming from it. Surely enough, the ringing echoed again and it was coming from the door. Paul turned on the lights and looked at the clock. Who the hell would ring his door at 4 in the fucking morning? And be so obnoxious about it, too?

Feeling a bit stressed suddenly (maybe it was a crazy fan who had found out where he lived), he went to the cupboard, took out a frying pan (a knife would be more efficient if he was faced with a crazed person but he just knew he would be unable to use it) and got closer to the door, making sure not to make any noise. He peeped through the hole, pan raised in his left hand. But right after, he found himself lowering his arm. Lights were dim in the hallway, but…

He opened the door on a sheepish John. Dishevelled and much paler than usual, he was holding a duffel bag over his shoulder.

“Hi,” He started, clearly embarrassed. “So, Cyn kicked me out. Can I stay here tonight?”

Chapter Text

He was gobsmacked. Staring at John, the pan still in his hand, his eyes still burning and half opened from sleep. They stood like that, face to face, for who knew how long until John cleared his throat and shifted his weight to his other foot, clearly getting uncomfortable.

“Can I, uh… Can I get in? I can leave early, you know, I just. Don’t really know where else to go right now,” He told Paul, misinterpreting his prolonged silence. “With Richie and the baby, and George and… Pattie…”

The uncertainty in his voice finally brought Paul out of his trance. He started, and finally took a step aside.

“No! Yeah, sorry, get in. You can stay, of course,” He hurried to say.

He shut the door after John and watched him put his duffel bag down against the wall. A thousand questions were speeding in his head, but a glance at the big dark circles under John’s eyes dissuaded him from asking any. What his friend clearly needed right now was to sleep – questions could wait. Even if Paul felt a bit like the world was crumbling down around him. How could things go so wrong…?!

“I’ll get you a blanket,” He forced out anyway.

John dumbly nodded, the gratefulness on his face clear as day. Paul went to his bedroom and opened the cupboard to get a blanket. What was going on? How could Cynthia kick John out?! It made no sense. She was so sweet, so level-headed… and she loved John more than anything, she always had. It was pure madness. And yet…

He took one of the few blankets he actually owned and went back to the living-room, where sure enough John was still standing awkwardly next to his duffel bag. Seeing him look so uneasy caused a twinge in Paul’s heart. He sent him a warm smile and started unfolding the blanket over the couch, moving the extra cushions to the coffee table.

“Are you thirsty? Or hungry? I need to go to the groceries but I have some bread and butter if you want,” He told John, feeling like a mother hen.

“No, no, I’m fine, don’t worry. I’ll go when I wake up, don’t bother,” John ushered to answer.

Paul stopped fluffing out the cushion and turned to him with a frown.

“Don’t be stupid. You can stay here as you long as you want.”

He didn’t look long enough to see John’s reaction but after a few moments, he felt his presence right next to him. Paul stood up and put his hands on his hips, looking at the makeshift bed.

“I’ll leave you to it, then. It being the night and all,” He told John.

He left for the hallway then, his sleepy feet drawing him there even though his mind was still reeling, when a soft and heartfelt voice rose behind him and made him stop.

“Thank you.”

Paul flashed him a smile.

“Good night, John.”

He had almost reached his bedroom when the answer arrived, so quietly.

“Good night, Macca.”

 

He didn’t want to get up. His bed was so soft, and his eyes burned so hard that getting up seemed like the hardest thing in the world. But coffee sounded quite nice too. He was so tired that it was necessary if he wanted to be at least vaguely useful for the day. He threw on an old sweater and some sweatpants (which had been very hard to find, fashion having not quite reached the comfort clothes point yet) and padded out of his room, trying to rub the sleep away from his face. He entered the living-room and froze when he caught side of a hump on the couch. It took him a good five seconds to remember why there was someone sleeping on it.

John was still deeply asleep, head tucked against the back of the couch, half rolled into a ball but with one socked foot hanging loose. It was weird, seeing him here. Even if now his life was basically a succession of weird events.

A quick look into his fridge confirmed that going to the groceries was a necessity, so he quickly got prepared, took his keys and left, making as little noise as possible. It was still pretty early, the best moment of the day in his opinion: few people in the streets, shy light piercing through the clouds, the air brisker and crispier than at any other time. He went to his usual places, making sure to take double the amount of everything he was used to getting, be it vegetables, dairy, eggs, cereals or beans. He even quickly visited the nearby butcher, figuring it would bring John some comfort to eat juicy bacon and a couple of sausages. Maybe it would embarrass John; he would probably make fun of him, of how much of a housewife he’s being, but he didn’t really mind. He didn’t want to crush the kindness in him in fear of some mild embarrassment. Kindness was a good thing, and he had discovered many times in his life that it was too easy to forget it.

He ended up with awfully heavy bags and once again blessed the strength if his ‘new’ body. When he finally got home, struggling to open the door with his full hands, he was surprised to find the living-room empty. He went straight to the kitchen, empty as well, put down the bags and went for a little tour round the house. John’s bag was still here, so at least he hadn’t just left without notice. He ventured in the corridor and sure enough, there was the sound of water running coming from the bathroom. Ear against the door, Paul smiled before going back to the kitchen to store his groceries.

Paul was in the middle of preparing an almost full English breakfast when John finally left the bathroom and padded into the kitchen, dripping hair and rumpled shirt on. He gave Paul a tight smile and approached the empty bags Paul had left on the table. His gaze lingered on the butchery one. He turned to Paul with a frown.

“I thought you didn’t eat meat anymore,” He said, sounding almost accusatory, as if Paul had lied to him before.

Paul glanced at him and shook his head.

“It’s for you.”

Paul turned back to his eggs without waiting for a response. He heard some ruffling behind him indicating John was probably throwing the bags into the bin and then, no noise anymore. When breakfast was finally ready, Paul placed everything onto two plates and set them on the table. John had gone somewhere in the meantime but Paul didn’t have time to call for him that he suddenly appeared at the door, looking shy and embarrassed.

“You don’t have to do...” He gestured vaguely at the table. “All this, you know. I can leave, really.”

“Stop saying that, I told you it’s fine,” Paul huffed. “It’s not like you never stayed over at my place. Or I at yours.”

Emphasizing his words, he sat at the table and gestured at John to do the same. But his friend was still hovering uncertainly, as if there was still something keeping him from accepting his hospitality. Which was ironic, seeing how he was the one who had showed up in the middle of the night.

“John. Sit. Eat,” Paul chastised him, giving him the big eyes.

That finally earned him a smile and John sat in front of him, starting timidly on his breakfast. The two were eating quietly, nothing but the faint sound of traffic and of birds from the near Regent’s Park coming to their ears. Paul threw a few glances at John, trying to be discreet about it. He was curious, so curious. What could have gone so wrong between them? There had to be something big. Something that did not happen in his old timeline – or at least, not to that extent. Cynthia had to be devastated, besides the probable anger. This breakup was coming what, two years early? Even more, if he strictly counted in months. And what about Jude? Could he even understand what was happening? Was John going to move out completely? Would he ever see his son again? Something even worse crossed his mind. Would he really care if he didn’t…?

Not liking where his own thoughts were going, he decided to break the silence and actually talk to the first concerned here. After all, this had to be a big blow for John. Just looking at his tired face said a lot.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Paul asked gently.

John kept chewing for a while, eyes on his plate, before slowly shaking his head.

“We fought. She kicked me out. Nothing much to say.”

“But did something happen? I mean, you fight a lot, but…”

“We sort of talked about the, uh, other girls. You know. And other things. She didn’t like it, so,” John explained with an exhausted voice. Then, with a deep sigh. “Out was I on me merry way.”

“In the middle of the night?” Paul couldn’t help but wonder.

John looked up.

“It was a long fight,” He mysteriously answered.

Paul nodded, not really understanding better but accepting it for an invitation to drop the subject. They went on with their meal in a companionable silence, even if it was a bit depressed on John’s side. Paul was soaking up the grease and tomato juice with what was left of his bread when John suddenly looked up and stared at him with squinty eyes, despite his glasses.

“We didn’t win any Grammies,” He suddenly said.

Paul just looked at him with a slight confused frown. They had had the results more than two weeks prior. Was he really just realizing that now?

“Uh, yeah. I know.”

“I know you know. Because you said we wouldn’t.”

Paul shook his head a little too quickly.

“I never said that. I didn’t say anything,” He protested.

“I’m on to you.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

John sent him a mischievous grin and Paul suddenly felt warmer.

 

After some more convincing from Paul, John finally ‘accepted’ to just stay at his apartment and stop being ‘such a prick about it’. At first John kept telling him it was only temporary, that he would start looking for his own place very soon, but after the first two days he sort of gave up finding excuses and Paul took it as a silent agreement between them that he would stay as long as whenever. They would start recording again soon anyway, and Paul could use the company – and distraction from his troubled mind and sleepless nights. There were drawbacks of course: John was sometimes loud, messy, even with the few things he had brought with him, and having him in the living-room prevented Paul from actually getting up when he woke up in the middle of the night. So now, instead of going for a walk or starting his day early, he actually had to stay in his room and… wait. Or stare at the ceiling for hours. So, not great.

But during the day, it was nice having John around. He was always ready to crack a joke or make fun of Paul’s habits (the number of times he had called Paul a grandpa in those few days was clearly a bad sign, but still, it made Paul equally laugh and wince). He even tried to help Paul sometimes, or at least pretend to which was as good as he was ever going to get. He had a surprisingly full schedule, so Paul did not have to worry about entertaining him. All in all, it was a bit like having a cat around: it eats your food, scratches at your furniture when you turn your back and whines when you don’t pay attention to it, but it leaves you space to live your life and is there when you need company. A great cat, of course. The best. Actually he was a lot better than a cat, obviously, and human, but. Still. He sort of reminded Paul of a great human cat.

 

On the first day of recording, Paul was so terrified he did not dare say a word for fear of throwing up. They had arrived way too early (and John had been quite grumpy about that), giving Paul time to re-familiarize with the Abbey Road studios. It was an eerie feeling. He had been to the studios in later years, but seeing it in its original state was very different. Seeing his own instruments waiting for him in the room, recognizing George’s and John’s guitars, spotting their names tapped on their back room… it was a lot to take in. Thankfully, they would start working on one of John’s songs, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; watching John write it again had been quite surreal but also exciting, sort of like a gift for Paul, who got to be more of a privileged witness than he had been the first time around. He could watch John work literally all day long. He had been careful to bring in the few details he knew he had brought the first time, but apparently he had managed to be inconspicuous enough for John not to notice he already knew the song.

For now though, they were all grouped in the lounge, re-acquainting with one another around a cup of tea or coffee. Probably for the first time in his life, Paul was all for losing time, not really eager to go to recording just yet. He was sitting in a corner with George and Derek Taylor, idly chatting when he caught John leaving the room from the corner of his eye, probably to go to the bathroom. Thinking about him got him to think about his situation again, and about Cynthia. In another time, she would have been here for the first day of recording. Pattie was here – even Maureen had come in to stay hello, even if she had not stayed long since she had to look after Zak. So being here without Cynthia felt weird. Not normal. It was strange to live the same experiences again, but somehow, it was even stranger when details such as this were different.

He had trouble believing it was over for real between them. Last time, it had been clear because Yoko was in the picture. But this, here? Cynthia kicking John out in the middle of the night…? It sounded completely surreal. There had to be more than what John had told him. He knew she wouldn’t have kicked him out so brutally for cheating, or for telling lies – or not telling them sooner. He knew it for a fact since she hadn’t in his past. Then again, maybe these things were different too now. Maybe she was not the same. But still, something bugged him with this.

“She wouldn’t have kicked him out for that,” He whispered, more to himself than anything else.

“Well, she didn’t, so,” George’s voice answered him.

Paul looked up and saw George taking a long drag of his cigarette and glancing at him. Apparently, he had been watching John leave the room too.

“You’re talking about Cynthia, right? ‘Cause she didn’t kick him out. He left her.”

A blank filled Paul’s mind for a few seconds, the information not quite reaching his brain.

“What? But, no, he told me she broke up with him.”

George blew out the smoke and shook his head.

“Nope. He just left. Cyn immediately called Pattie about it, she was pretty upset.”

Paul gasped, feeling like he had been duped for something greater than who-broke-up-with-who. It the great scheme of things, he guessed it did not change much, but he felt whiplashed anyway. As if there was some meaning to it, somewhere, but he could not quite put his finger on it. He did not notice George was still studying him.

“I don’t understand why you give so much credit to what he says,” George finally asserted, shaking his head. “Who cares how it happened, it’s done now. And he’s a master bullshitter, anyway.”

“But he’s my friend,” Paul retorted, almost offended. “Why wouldn’t he just tell me the truth? He knows I won’t judge him.”

“Yeah but John lies when he’s upset. You know that.”

John lies when he’s upset. John lies when he’s upset. The sentence smacked him right in the face.
John lies when he’s upset.
It was true. It was. Paul had just somehow conveniently forgotten that not-so-glorious fact about his friend. God. Be reminded of that earlier would have saved him a lot of trouble.

Chapter Text

They were about to wrap the session when Paul started to feel truly fatigued. He hadn’t done much all day, though: fiddled with his bass a little and recorded his track, humoured George Martin about how many track lines they should use - even if he didn’t actually say anything to him. He did not really participate in any efficient, constructive conversation. He was sure everyone had noticed; Ringo had at least, if his worried glances were anything to go by. But he was exhausted. His arms were so sluggish raising them on the neck of his bass was starting to get painful, and he had trouble keeping his eyes open when they were not actively doing something.

He was so tired his patience was also wearing thin. When he heard George strumming something that sounded awfully close to ‘Taxman’ but not quite yet, the urge to tell him what to change to make it sound just like the actual song was so strong he had to bite his tongue and go for an extended bathroom break (and at that point, he sorely missed smoking). It was so hard to hear the songs not being ready yet, not being quite right and seeing the others fumble around the good chords without actually… finding them. It was a true test for his self-control.

He kept hearing John’s voice in his head telling him to just take things as they came and not to stress too much about it, but there was this burning sensation in his stomach every time he kept himself from just rushing everyone into playing the right thing already. At this rate, he would get an ulcer under a week. Nevertheless, he was happy to hear ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ again. He had missed it. He had missed this, recording with the boys, creating things with them. See them laugh together and string crazy words together when they didn’t have the lyrics just yet. He was struggling to live it rather than just observe it, but he was trying, and at some moments it worked and he almost felt at home.

 

They were going home after that first session, nearing two in the morning, driving on near-empty streets around Regent’s Park. John was unsurprisingly high and kept pulling on his seatbelt, complaining that it wasn’t long enough to ‘let him breathe’. Paul was quiet, exhausted. Wondering if he could get some sleeping pills or anxiolytics without actually going to a doctor. He had thought about going to a doctor before, but the more he thought about it, the less he wanted to do it. He did not exactly fancy telling his life story to justify his need of pills.

“Did you know that one?” John suddenly asked him, keeping his seatbelt at arm length and looking at Paul through hooded eyes.

“That one what?” Paul answered, not bothering to hide his tiredness.

“Song. Today. Did you?”

Paul just nodded, feeling John’s eyes still on him.

“Do you just. Know all of them?”

Paul took the time to look around and turn on his indicator before answering as simply as he could.

“Yes. More or less.”

John only hummed and looked at the dark buildings outside, probably already disinterested. Not like Paul was a very interesting man these days anyway.

The two of them had not actually talked, during the day. After George’s revelation, Paul had sort of avoided him, but tactfully enough that John had not seemed to notice any change. He had blamed it on the need to stay professional, carry on with the work and worry about personal details later.

Now, though, now could be the time to confront John about the whole ‘lying’ situation: his friend was a bit high, sure, but he was most of the time anyway so it wasn’t like it would change much. Paul wanted to know why he had lied to him. It gnawed inside him, to think that John did not trust him enough, or that he did not want him to know the real reason of Cynthia’s and his breakup. Or that he didn’t care if Paul knew the truth or not. Or that he did not value their friendship enough to bother with it. It was crucial for Paul, and not only because he liked knowing everything about everyone. Not only because he liked being in control – it was not like in was in control of anything anymore, anyway. He just craved to understand why.

But still, when he tried to phrase the start of the conversation in his head, words just didn’t come to him. He looked at John again, all innocent and sleepy. He didn’t want to bring forth another dispute, another hard conversation. There was peace between them right now, and if John had lied to him, even if it was hurtful, it had to have been for a reason. Who was Paul to decide John had to tell him the truth? Or that his reasons for lying were not good? He was a grown man. This was his relationship, his marriage. Maybe it was easier for both of them to pretend Cynthia had kicked him out. Maybe it was for the best. It was not that game-changing whether he knew the truth or not.

Paul wanted to laugh at himself. Who was he kidding? Of course it was. Not knowing hurt. Being lied to was excruciating. But the idea of facing the reasons why just hurt more. He was too tired for it. So, yeah. At the end of the day, he was just a coward.

 

They were finishing their breakfast together in the kitchen, about to go get ready for another recording session, when John suddenly dropped it.

“When was the last time you slept through the night?”

Paul stopped mid-chewing his cereals and looked up with a frown.

“Wha’?” He crunchily asked.

John sighed and put his fork back on the table.

“I hear you tossing and turning in your room. And going to the bathroom at random hours. And you look like shit, you know. It’s worse every day,” He elaborated.

“Thanks for that,” Paul snorted.

“You can’t sleep, can you?”

Paul paused to look at his soggy cereals. John had only been at the apartment for a little over a week. He had not thought he would pick up on that that quickly. He did not have any answer ready. Apparently, his lack of answer was an answer in itself, though.

“You can’t go on like that, mate,” John continued, very softly. “You’ve lost weight.”

“Since when do you keep track of my weight? Did you join the Weight Watchers or something?” Paul tried to joke.

“I always keep track of you,” John answered seriously.

What did that even mean?

“I can take care of myself,” He replied, feeling suddenly on the defensive for some reason.

“Do you?”

“I’m taking care of it, yes. Now shut up, please.”

“No need to be a bitch about it. Sorry to worry about you, your highness,” John spat out in retaliation.

Paul sighed and took his head in his hands.

“I’m alright, okay? I’ve had trouble sleeping but it’s going to get better.”

John levelled him with a quirked eyebrow that was so sassy that had he been a tiny bit less drained, Paul would have laughed.

“I promise.”

John pushed his chair and rose to bring his things to the brink, patting Paul on the head in the process.

“Good boy,” He said.

Then he just left the room. Paul heard him rummage through his bag then go to the bathroom. He was whistling The Hollies.
Well. Guess he really needed to get better, now.

 

He’d found a doctor the next morning. Not the best one, obviously, but one that was star struck enough to forget his deontology and to agree to just prescribe him the strongest medication – officially, ‘sleeping pills’ – existing without having to explain why he couldn’t sleep in the first place. The excuse ‘work is stressful’ was all it had taken. It was bad, Paul knew it, and he probably should never go to him again if he ever needed some actual health care. But at least he got what he wanted, so he couldn’t complain. The doctor had said he should not take more than two pills before going to bed as they were quite strong, and he was not kidding. Paul took two on the first night and John had to shake him for apparently near fifteen minutes to wake him up the next morning. Seeing his wide eyes and pale face hovering over him, Paul guessed he had to have scared him pretty bad. But at least, he was sleeping again. It was only temporary anyway. He was young again, his body could endure it and he’d be just fine.

He had a bit of trouble adapting to it, though. He had so lost the habit of sleeping that now he was just sleepy all the time. The next two recording sessions thus went in a blur of voices, sounds and hands. He felt lighter and as a consequence, found it easier to laugh and not to care. He had even accepted a fag from George during a break, which he had then felt very stupid about so he just stared at it, threw it away, and took George’s to crush it under his heel as well. George had not liked that – he had probably never heard him shriek like that either – but he did not care how weird it made him look. Seeing George literally killing himself one cigarette at a time was way too painful anyway. Usually, he was just too self-conscious to actually do anything about it. But thanks to the relaxing/sleeping/who-knew-what-exactly pills, Paul did not care anymore. It was a nice change.

 

On the next day, John had gone to see friends at a museum and Paul was bored. He had finished his latest painting, and was too both sleepy and restless to play some music. So he was just drinking a bear and idly switching between the two channels on TV, his eyelids dropping regularly, feeling like a poor excuse of a man for not doing anything useful of his time. He hated it, feeling useless. And yet, he could not find anything better to do. Who would have known he would spend a Saturday afternoon dozing off on his couch. It was pathetic, really.

Suddenly, he bolted awake. The sun was shining in the apartment, so it was still the early afternoon. He looked around his room, looking for anything entertaining, and his gaze fell upon John’s bag on the armchair, the rolled up blanket waiting on the side and his clothes scattered around. Poor John. His couch was comfortable but he had to miss his own bed. An idea suddenly came to him.

He had just found an activity for the day.

 

One thing Paul had not spent much time doing in his past was reading. It was not that he didn’t like it – he had just never devoted enough time to it. It had seemed like something unattainable, that he would never be able to really do, even in his old age. Seeing a copy of Flowers for Algernon in the Best-Sellers of the week in the nearest bookshop had nonetheless switched something on in his mind and made him pause. The fact that he recognized the title, and that it was apparently a good enough book to have passed the test of time, seemed like a sign. When he came out of the shop with his brand new copy in his hands, he was curiously happy. This time, he would take the time to read books, not just glaze over newspapers. After all, it was not his devastatingly boring social life that would keep him from finding the time to do it. And it wasn’t like he had much to learn from the newspapers nowadays.

So now he was re-discovering the joys of reading and had made himself a little nest on the couch, buried in the blankets and cushions, a fuming tea waiting on the coffee table and a little lamp lit up right next to him. Weirdly enough, he felt more like a grandfather now than when he was babysitting his own grandchildren.

A key in the door let him know John was arriving, but it was still not enough to make him move.

“Hello hello Grandpa,” John saluted him with a smile, dropping his satchel on the nearest chair and taking off his jacket.

“Hi,” Paul answered, his eyes glued to the book.

A short silence.

“Where are my things?” John asked in a quiet voice.

Paul looked up and turned his head to him. There was confusion and something unidentified in John’s eyes.

“In the music room,” Paul answered with a half-shrug, diving straight back into his book.

John did not answer and just went down the corridor. There were a few moments of silence during which Paul just forgot about him until he came running back, barging in front of him and almost tipping over the couch. Paul looked up and caught him staring, short of breath and wide-eyed. Paul did not immediately connect the dots.

“You bought me a bed,” John disbelievingly stated.

Oh. That.

The surprise and awe on John’s face was overwhelming, and almost too much to bear. Paul felt an uncalled for blush spread on his neck. He was not even feeling coy about buying the bed – it had only been a reasonable and logical decision after all – but John’s reaction was not what he had expected. And it was making him all warm. Too warm, seeing how he was already covered in heavy blankets.

“Well, yeah, of course. You can’t sleep on the couch forever, can you,” He replied, going for casualness, hoping John would not notice his embarrassment.

John gaped at him and Paul squirmed on his spot.

“It’s just a bed, John. Not a Rolls Royce.”

“Well it’s still nice, arsehole,” John bit back, more out of reflex than anything. Then he added, softer: “Thank you. Really, I’m… thank you.”

Paul shrugged, feeling weird.

“You’re welcome.”

John smiled at him, then suddenly turned around and went down the corridor again.

“Have you eaten already?” He shouted unnecessarily loud, apparently from the bathroom.

“Yes,” Paul answered, shouting just as loud. “Have you?”

“Yeah, I had a crab-shrimp thingy, it was all spongy and grey.”

Paul giggled at his book.

“Sounds delicious,” He joked.

“Come on man, just come here, I don’t want to shout all night. I need to preserve my lovely voice,” John shouted again, sounding like an actual five-year-old.

Paul sighed, dropping his head backwards on the armrest. Pushing off the blankets was harder than expected and once out in the open a shiver ran down his spine, so he picked one of the blankets up and rolled himself in it before padding out slowly towards the bathroom. When he arrived at destination, he just leaned against the wall and watched John, already with his slacks off but still wearing his dark red jumper, religiously applying toothpaste on his toothbrush. It was an original vision and made him miss their even younger days.

“I think I’m going to go see my Dad next time we have a week-end. You wanna come?” Paul proposed, thinking of it as he was talking.

John looked up from his toothpaste with a grimace and looked at him through the mirror.

“To your Dad’s?”

“To Liverpool, idiot. But yes you can come to my Dad’s too, he would be happy to see you.”

“As if,” John snorted, raising his toothbrush to his mouth.

“Come on, times have changed, you know. Water under the bridge and all that,” Paul smiled, pushing on John's arm and making him miss his mouth.

John groaned but Paul could see the tremors in his lips proving he was amused by it.

“Why does it sound like you’re asking me on a date? I'll let you know you won't win me over with that. It is not very romantic, you know. You should definitely work on your moves,” John piped up, changing the subject.

Parents had never really been John’s thing. He had never really known how to behave around them. Especially with Paul’s dad, even though he had known him for almost ten years now. In that year.
Feeling himself get confused by dates again, Paul just laughed and pushed John fully against the towel rack this time.

“Shut up. Come. It’ll be fun.”

“Yeah, yeah, alright, Princess.”

“Yay!” Paul mocked, raising his hands under his blanket.

John grinned at him, foam all over his mouth, trying to look as disgusting as possible. But weirdly enough, Paul still thought he looked alright.

Chapter Text

For the first time in months, Paul woke up naturally at the end of his sleep cycle. He was so confused by it that for the first few seconds, he just stared at his window, lying on his side, trying to find what bad dream he had very certainly just been dragged out of. But he came up empty.

It was strange to feel… sort of rested. He was still feeling a little drowsy, but all in all he was better and more prepared for the day than he had been in a while. So he got up, got dressed, even opened the window to let in some fresh (very fresh) air. Fresh air was getting rarer in the apartment since John had arrived, the lad smoking quite like a chimney at times. So Paul also left his room door open, hoping to create some purifying breeze, and walked to the kitchen with an almost prancing tilt to his movements. He was so glad to have some energy back that he could not find the patience to actually sit down or prepare anything, so he just put on a kettle and grabbed a banana, looking at the trees outside. He was relieved to notice he was not as scared to face the recording day as he had been the past week. He did not know what they would be doing today, but he knew he would be able to face it.

“Why the fuck did you open your window?”

Paul turned to John, who was still in his (summer) pyjamas and holding himself with both arms, sleepy face and sleepy hair on.

“Just close it,” He answered with a shrug.

John winced at him, sighed and turned back around. Paul stared at the archway after him, unwanted feelings bubbling up once again to the surface.

He’s lying to you.

The sentence kept repeating itself in his mind, often at the most random moments. When they would take their coffee break at the studio and both laugh at one of George’s jokes. When they would enter Paul’s car to go home. When John would fall asleep in front of the TV and start snoring. When he would purposefully take ages to leave the bathroom just to piss Paul off. Everything would be fine, and then, suddenly, Paul would just look at John’s smile and remember that he had chosen to lie to him about a very important part of his life. And every time, hurt would come whacking Paul all over again.

He was trying so hard to be a big man about it. To let John the space he apparently needed and to wait for him to come to him and talk about it. Explain what really happened and why he lied about it in the first place. But days passed, and John did not say anything. Nobody said anything really, even though at this point Paul was certain they all knew what had happened – and he was pretty sure that if George had told him the truth, Ringo knew it too. And yet, it was as if nobody cared. Or at least, nobody cared as much as Paul did. John’s breakup with Cynthia had already been heart-breaking for him the first time around, but now, it was just ten times worse. This time, it wasn’t even for another woman; John had not even met Yoko yet. It all just seemed so meaningless.

Starting to feel his own fingers freezing from standing still for so long, he shook himself out of his thoughts and threw out the peel of his banana. No need to wallow in it once again. John would end up telling him the truth – of course he would. It was just a matter of time.

 

“Paul.”

Paul looked up from the piano to see George Martin staring straight at him. His frowning eyebrows and his elbows bent over the piano meant business.

“Are you alright?” He asked, direct.

Paul gaped a little at him. It was a simple question with an oh-so complicated answer. He threw a quick glance around the room, hoping for a Deus Ex Machina to come and save him, but everyone else was busy talking or tending to their instruments/tech. He never quite knew how he felt, nowadays. And working surely was not as easy as it used to be. And he knew that when by asking that, George was thinking about his songs - or lack thereof. It’s not like his Revolver songs weren’t ready, because, well, they were, and he had explained the ones he was sure of to John, vaguely, but. Still.

“I can tell the difference between you two, son,” George Martin went on, showing the figure of John in the background with his head. Just as Paul thought. “And the two songs we did? And those two others I’ve heard you lads talk about? Not yours. And I can’t help but notice it’s a bit… unusual. To do only John’s songs. Or George’s.”

Paul tried to keep his voice level and casual.

“No, no, I’m fine, mine are coming. It’s just a coincidence, George. Don’t worry.”

The older man stayed silent, visibly trying to read his mind, then gave him a small smile and a nod and went back to the monitor room, stopping to say a word to John on the way.

“So. Which one will it be?” A low voice drawled beside him.

Paul turned to his right. He had not even noticed George was still there, as always stuck with his guitar, a smile on his bony (so fucking young) face. And he didn’t know, was the thing. He had no idea in what order they had recorded them the first time – if that even mattered anymore, which he strongly doubted – and did not know which order was best. He was not even a 100% sure he remembered the album’s exact track list. What if he made them start working on something that was supposed to come out years later? Would it be a total flop if it arrived too soon?

“I’m… I’m not quite sure yet,” Paul hesitated, trying to evade the issue. “What are you in the mood for?”

George pouted at that, thinking it over while pushing an annoying multi-socket with his foot.

“Don’t know. Something soft maybe. My head hurts a little,” He finally let out. “Pattie couldn’t sleep last night, so me neither, if you know what I mean.”

Paul was not sure he did but he nodded understandably anyway. He glanced at his acoustic guitar waiting on the side, then at Ringo, Geoff the sound engineer and John talking animatedly a little further. Then at George’s tranquil face. Something soft.

He got up, went to grab his guitar and settled down on the chair nearest the piano. Something soft. He had not been consciously thinking of any song, but still notes started pouring out of his fingers, as if by magic. The meaning of the song was obsolete, now. Anachronic, even, ever since he had left Jane. But for some reason, it was not about her he was thinking when the words started to flow over the chords, so, so easily. It was a short one, and he still knew it by heart. It was his favourite, after all.

“That’s a good one,” a voice suddenly piped up.

Paul looked up in a flash, his heart beating suddenly faster. John was staring at him, elbows on the piano just like George Martin right before him, who was standing behind him with crossed arms and an appreciative look on his face.

“I like it,” He added with a half-shrug, as if giving a compliment, even more with both Georges nearby, was physically painful.

Paul felt more than he realized a big grin split his face in half. Of course he liked it.

“I know,” He couldn’t help but answer, not caring if that sounded cocky or just plain stupid.

John looked at him with amusement in his eyes, which soon reached the totality of his face.

“Are you thinking of piano on it? It would—” George Martin started, sounding genuinely interested.

“No,” John suddenly cut him off.

They all turned to him, surprised. George even let out a little snicker of amusement. But John only smiled at Paul, not caring in the least how rude he had sounded. Then, with a determination that impressed Paul himself, he elaborated:

“That one’s Paul’s. We don’t touch it.”

And the crazy thing was, they didn’t.

 

“How is Julian taking it then?”

Ringo’s question was innocent, and legitimate, and yet, it had very surely cast a chill over the table. They were at the cafeteria of the studio, enjoying a warm meal after having worked on ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ nearly all day long. Paul froze, and from the corner of his eye he saw George do the same on his right. Even Geoff in front of him seemed to be suddenly chewing much slower.

Without surprise, a glance towards John next to Geoff told Paul the question was not exactly welcome. His back stiffened, lips tightening into a thin line. When he looked at Ringo, sitting at the end of the table next to Paul, there was a clear warning in his eyes.

“It’s a baby. Not like he knows what’s happening, is it?” He answered, cold.

“I don’t know. Maureen says they can feel these things. Emotions and all,” Ringo went on just as sternly, decided to get his answer.

And Paul had to give it to him, it was gutsy to push John when he looked like that.

“Are you going to see him?”

Geoff widened his eyes, ping-ponging between the two. He was probably expecting John to pounce on Ringo. Paul would not be surprised either. But Ringo had a point. He didn’t want a fight – just thinking about John’s breakup brought another wave of hurt in him – but he had a very good point.

“I think you should push your chair back a little, Richie, I see a vein turning purple on his neck,” George joked.

“He’s right,” Paul chided in, John’s eyes sliding immediately to meet his in an icy glare. “Jules may not understand what’s happening, but he’s not stupid. You said it yourself. He must be scared.”

George was now bringing his chicken leg to his mouth with his hands, both elbows on the table and raised eyebrows. He was clearly enjoying it, the fucker. John, on his part, was less amused. But for some reason, after an intense glare competition with Paul, his eyes started to soften and his whole demeanour changed slowly, like a bomb being disarmed one thread at a time.

“If we don’t record on Friday, I’ll go and see him,” He relented before diving back into his plate as if it was nothing.

Paul was beyond confused: talking about his way of parenting was one of the surest ways to get John really pissed off in no time, and once he was heated, there was no convincing him of anything on the matter. Seeing him agreeing like that, so quickly, was nothing short of a miracle, and Paul would have loved to see what was going through his mind to explain it.
After a short silence, George whistled lowly and Ringo chuckled, soon followed by Geoff.

“Shut up,” John spat out, not looking up from his plate.

And at that, Paul couldn’t help but laugh too.

 

When that Friday came, that they were indeed not working and that Paul saw John get ready in the morning to actually go and see his son, he was so stunned he just sat in the couch, speechless, watching him. John had even woken up earlier than him – which was not that unusual anymore with the sleeping pills, but still. Paul kind of wanted to go with him. He loved Julian. And it was stupid, but he loved seeing John with him. Sure, he would lose his temper very quickly and was sometimes a little too harsh and impatient with the child, but when things went well, there was something very soft about him that Paul had only ever seen when he was with Sean. In another life.

But of course Paul would not go, even if he wanted to really, really bad. It was not his place, literally. He had no reason to go. He probably wanted to only because he had nothing planned for the day. And anyway, he was not ready to see Cynthia and her pain. Not as long as John had not told him the truth face to face at least, which had still not happened. A sharp pain rose in his belly again, as he watched John button up his coat, wave him goodbye with a smile and leave.

How he could still smile at him and expect him not to care was beyond him. Did he really think Paul would never learn the truth? Did he think Cynthia was just going to let him tell lies to everyone? Or were the lies only reserved to Paul?

Paul forced himself to breathe deeply and relax the fists he had not noticed were tightening on his thighs. He would just go to a gallery, take a walk in the park, maybe read a little. Or play. Everything was alright. John would tell him, eventually. Of course he would.

Maybe if Paul repeated it enough in his head, it would end up being true.

 

When John finally came back home late that evening, Paul was already in bed but got out of it as soon as he heard the key in the lock. John looked bone-tired and probably didn’t want to have a chat at one in the morning, but Paul did not care. Even if he wouldn’t admit it to anyone – and not really to himself – he had thought about John and Julian all day long, wondering how things were going, if Cynthia was alright. If their situation had not gotten worse. If it had been a good day for him.

When he arrived into the living-room, John turned to him but did not smile. Not so great day, then.

“You’re not sleeping?” John asked, throwing his jacket on the couch and taking off his sweatshirt.

“The neighbours were loud,” Paul lied. “So, how was it?”

I’m giving you an occasion on a silver plate here, he thought, acutely observing John’s every movement. Please, use it. Please.

“Alright,” John let out, almost reluctantly.

Paul bit on his lip. Come on. Come on.

“I’m going to bed, I’m knackered. Night.”

John gave him a tight smile that did not reach his eyes and disappeared into the corridor. Paul stood alone in the living-room, trying to control his boiling emotions. He did not even know how he felt right now. He looked at John’s jacket on the couch and suddenly squatted and brought his fist to his mouth to keep himself from screaming. He shut his eyes as hard as possible, willing the anger, worry and frustration to just go away and let him alone. He didn’t need that.

Fuck, he really didn’t.

 

After another very long and very exhausting week of late recording and bubbling frustration for Paul (he had ‘written’ ‘Paperback Writer’ again, and ‘Got to Get You Into My life’, again, even if John’s help on that one had been more than precious and he was not actually sure the song was exactly how it used to be) the journey to Liverpool was a nice change.

They had decided to take Paul’s car, figuring they were not in a hurry and there would be less chances to be bothered by fans that way. Paul had talked himself into not bringing up anything linked to Cynthia whatsoever and to stop obsessing about it, and he had taken a little half of a relaxing pill before leaving, so he was pretty calm. And this far, it was working alright.

They listened to music, stopped to buy chips and ridiculous key rings at a strange road shop, talked about everything and anything. If John thought Paul was weird when he did not remember who John Profumo was or when he had suddenly started singing Queen after seeing a cyclist on the road, he did not mention it. Nothing seemed to matter, as if the Austin mini was a bubble protecting them from time, from the lies, from the outside world. They were laughing too, a lot. It even felt weird to laugh that much again, and Paul discovered he had missed it so much that now that that Pandora’s Box was open, he was only craving more. It was so nice he almost wished they would never arrive to their destination.

They were however already approaching Liverpool and had let their conversation die down to a comfortable silence when a thought came to Paul.

“Are you going to see Mimi then?”

When no answer came, he finally turned to John, who was looking at him weirdly.

“What?” He asked, suddenly feeling self-conscious.

“Well, it’s gonna be hard to see her here since she doesn’t live here anymore,” John answered, speaking slowly as if he was not quite sure if Paul was having a go at him or not.

Paul frowned, stared at John, then frowned harder. He felt like an idiot but he really didn’t understand what his friend meant.

“She’s in Dorset, now,” John added, looking a bit spooked now. “We talked about it, it was even you who suggested it.”

“I did?” Paul questioned.

“You really don’t remember?”

“Hum… no?”

He could feel John’s stare on him but his neck felt already so hot that he didn’t dare turn his head and cross it. So instead, he kept his eyes on the road, feeling more stupid than ever. He knew it was not his fault that he did not remember – he could not remember where everyone had ever lived, not after so many years – but still, it was a bit humiliating when seeing how John seemed to weirdly care about it.

“But… where are you staying then?” He blurted out, glancing at him again.

Something flickered in John’s eyes but it was gone too fast for Paul to recognize it. John took the time to stretch his legs and remove his arm from where it was leaning on the door before answering.

“Reckon I’ll just find a room somewhere. Maybe I’ll call one of my aunts, see if they mind,” He announced in a carefully blank voice.

Paul nodded. There was an annoying cramp growing in his stomach, which was coming out of nowhere. He suddenly feared that meant he would not actually see John during the weekend, and that idea frightened him. Which made no sense. Of course they would see each other. No, that was even more stupid. They didn’t have to see each other, he was here for his family first. And it was not like he had invited John to his Dad’s place, anyway. They had been clear about that.

“I would have asked my father if he could have you stay too, but I... didn’t, uh…” He trailed on, not really knowing why he felt so bad about it.

“That’s… no, you’re kidding. It’s alright. And I’m not going to invade all your family. I mean, I’m already invading you, so” John replied a little fast.

Another silence fell on them, this time clearly more tense. Even if Paul did not even understand what he was tense about. Everything was alright. They didn’t have to live out of each other’s pockets, John didn’t mind and they would see each other soon enough. He was being ridiculous. It. It was ridiculous. God, he really needed to meet new people.

He turned into the street leading to his father’s house, the grey clouds totally hiding the midday sun. He had driven there out of habit, which was in itself quite a feat. He was so proud of his memory sometimes. He slowed down into a parking spot and turned off the engine. John was looking outside, one hand on his thigh and the other on the door, as if ready to bolt out any second.

“You still coming to eat with us, right?” Paul questioned quietly, fearing the answer.

John turned to him.

“Yeah. Sure.”

His answer came a second too late and just confirmed Paul’s fears: if he hadn’t asked again, John would have just left with the first excuse available. And Paul felt angry with himself for caring so much.

Chapter Text

Lunch was weird.

His brother and his girlfriend, another Angela, were there and Paul was happy to see them since he hadn’t in a while. His father was in a good mood too, and seemed surprisingly glad to see John. Angela and Ruth were just bundles of energy, as usual. The food was great, even if a little fat. But the cramp in his stomach was still nagging at Paul. He could not even look at his friend without feeling… just, weird. He did not even understand why and it was driving him insane.

“Tell me what you want then, it’s easier,” Mike laughed, looking at Ruth next to him. “If dolls are not good enough for you.”

“Oh no, don’t do that,” Angela told him, widening her eyes and shaking her head.

Mike frowned.

“Why—“

“I want a rabbit!” Ruth shrieked, straightening on her chair and clutching Mike’s sleeve as if her life depended on it. “There is one at the store, he’s perfect, he’s brown and has fur in his ears and –“

“Jesus!” Mike breathed out, looking a little frightened, while his girlfriend just started laughing.

“– the cashier said he only cost three pounds with his box and–“

“There we go,” Jim commented, not raising his eyes from his plate.

“You want a rabbit, then?” John butted in, sounding like there was a challenge there he couldn’t pass on.

Ruth turned to him so excitedly her chair worryingly cracked.

“Yes! I’ll call him Peter Bubblegum! He has white spots on his belly and –”

“Please, don’t encourage her,” Angela almost begged.

“But Muuuuuum…!”

John turned to Paul with a mischievous smile, but Paul did not have the strength to laugh with him and he caught the corner of John’s lips fall down slightly. Thankfully, the serious voice of his father swooped in to catch his attention.

“Oh, that makes me think, Paul. Did you get your cat back, after all?”

Paul froze over his plate, his mind short-circuiting. What? His what? Who? He exchanged a glance with John, who seemed to pick up on his confusion and turned to Jim.

“You mean Thisbe? I thought she was still with Jane,” John said, throwing a new worried glance to Paul.

“I still don’t get that name, it’s just so weird,” Mike chuckled, passing the plate of potatoes over to his girlfriend who was silently dying of laughter.

Paul wanted to bang his head against the table. Thisbe. Oh God, Thisbe. He had completely forgotten the lovely ball of fur. Had he thought about her, he would have believed she had died already. Next to him, his father was still cutting his lamb, oblivious to Paul’s state.

“When she called – when was it, already?” He turned to Angela, who made a pensive face. “Anyway, you were still in France. She wanted to know when you were coming to pick him up.”

“Her, Jim! She’s a girl, right Paulie?” Ruth exclaimed, offended in the name of Thisbe.

Paul numbly nodded, a bit dazed, and that only made Mike’s girlfriend laugh harder.

“I’m surprised she kept it,” Angela chided in. “She didn’t seem like the animal lover sort.”

“Can we have a cat?” Ruth jumped on the occasion, excitation colouring her cheeks.

“Oh my God,” Mike’s Angela wheezed out, bringing a napkin to her crying eyes.

“No, we can’t have a cat,” Angela sighed.

“But did… did she say she would keep her, if I didn’t come?” Paul probed his father, worried about his old cat.

“Listen son, I don’t know. It’s your pet, you can sort it out yourself,” His father answered a bit gruffly, which made John bark a small laugh and Paul glare.

At least he was having fun.

 

As should have been expected, Paul did not see John for the rest of the weekend. He tried very hard to focus on his family and to enjoy his time with them, which worked to some extent. They went for a very nice stroll all together, stopped for tea with his aunts, shared news, laughed at Ruth’s antics. Mike told him about his latest job and about a guitar he fancied getting himself. It was lovely, even if the weather was terrible. And yet, he could not help but feel something was off. The fact that he was worried about his cat and needed to go get her back only added fuel to his weird feeling.

When he got to bed that night, he was relieved to have something to knock him off quickly.

They had not exactly expressed they would be coming back to London together, but still, when John phoned him on the next morning from one of his aunt’s to tell him he had booked a train ticket for the evening, Paul felt disappointment seeping into his every limb. It was foolish to feel like that – it was not like he was not seeing John often these days, with them living together and all. They spent nearly all their time together. He could not expect the man to just be there with him whenever he wanted. It was foolish. And yet, here he was, feeling disheartened and sorry for himself like a child to whom candy was denied. The day felt strangely longer after that call, but his family was loud and energetic enough to keep his mind busy. But when Paul found himself alone in his car at the end of the afternoon, silence his only companion, there was nothing left to stop the sadness from swallowing him whole.

Ridiculous.

 

When Paul arrived home that Sunday night, he was exhausted. The traffic had been horrible, he was hungry, sleepy, and his heavy bag was pulling annoyingly on his shoulder. He closed the front door, lit up the hall and his gaze was immediately caught by John’s bag, pushed against the wall. It sent a strange spark of happiness, anguish and guilt straight to his heart. He pushed it away before it had a chance to paralyze him.

“Hello!” He called out, hanging his jacket next to the door.

“Hey,” Came the muffled response from the kitchen.

Paul followed the sound and entered the room. John was sitting at the kitchen table and intently reading some page of a newspaper. He had both elbows on the table, his fists supporting his head, and looked pale but oddly concentrated.

“What are you doing?” Paul chuckled, going straight to the teapot.

“Looking for a house,” John mumbled, his mouth distorted by his fists.

Paul froze, hand on the tap. After a moment of silence, and sensing that not answering would be weird, he forced himself to clear his throat.

“Oh. Right.”

John didn’t answer but after a while he raised his head, swiped his nose with his sleeve and turned tired eyes to Paul.

“How was your weekend?” He asked, his voice so plain and flat it was almost more hurtful than if he hadn’t asked anything.

“Good, good,” Paul offered, his throat painfully dry. “Yours?”

“Alright.”

A silence settled upon them, and Paul was mortified to find he had no idea how to break it. Something was terribly off, and he hated it. But he was feeling so tired and sad that he did not have the strength nor the courage to face any of it – whatever it was – yet.

“I’m heading to bed,” He told John, putting his tea cup in the sink and avoiding John’s eyes. “See you tomorrow.”

He left the room before John could answer.

 

The following week was a bit strange. Paul felt numb and he could not really explain why. The only thing he knew was that for some reason John barely looked at him anymore and that he’d never been so relieved to have something to help him sleep, even if that wasn’t working as well as it had in the beginning. They had not talked about John looking for a new house again, and Paul did not know how he felt about that. Thinking that John would move out eventually caused a pain in him that he did not want to read into. He had never been one to suffer from loneliness, but imagining what his life would be like if John was not there to finish all his bourbon biscuits behind his back was unbearable. He knew it was bound to happen eventually, but it had never been real in his mind up to then. Perhaps he should try to find a girlfriend.

Getting Thisbe back was a bit horrible. Thankfully he had kept the Ashers’ phone number, and fell on Jane’s father when he called. They still had the cat, but he didn’t know if Jane would want to give it back now. Paul spent the whole day thinking she would just refuse and keep it to herself, but when he came home, he was called again and Jane’s father told him he could pick Thisbe up in the morning. It was a very unpleasant visit, with Jane’s mother acting as cold as ice and being at the limit of rudeness with him, but at least he had his cat back. It was strange, to have a dead animal again. John was so happy to play with her when he came home that for a moment, Paul forgot he was going to move out and was still lying to him. For a short moment, it felt like Thisbe was their cat, to them both. And for some reason, that broke Paul's heart.

For once, it was at work that things were the most normal. They recorded all the songs he remembered, and it was lovely to hear them again, to work on them again. He thought it would be boring as hell, but it was not after all, not totally anyway. There even was something reassuring in recording them again, as if things were being set straight, clocked into place. Sure, he still had to bite his tongue a lot of the time, but it was better than he’d thought. The most frustrating element was undoubtedly that he wasn’t really creating them with John. There wasn’t the back and forth exchange he remembered and missed. But it had to do.

 

On their day off, for the 30th of April, Paul and Ringo decided to go out to the sea. With Maureen and Zak in toe, they piled in a car and drove off in the late morning. After a little picnic, Ringo and Paul got up to stretch their legs a little. The weather was a bit cold and windy, but the absence of rain allowed them to walk along the cobbled beach. They were not talking much, Paul enjoying Ringo’s soothing presence to try and calm his own stormy thoughts. Ringo was a constant in his life, the one true presence linking his lifetimes together. Paul loved him dearly, and had been more than happy to jump on the occasion when his friend had proposed him to go out together.

At some point, they stopped to observe an old woman struggling to keep her grandson from running all clothed into the sea and they both softly giggled at the spectacle. It made Paul think of John and Julian. And Sean. And his own children. Would have John been a good grandfather? Would have they hung out together with their grandkids if he’d lived long enough to have any? Then, other thoughts invaded his brain, getting more and more pessimist by the minute. John and he had not really talked for days. He was not even sure why, it was just as if their trip to Liverpool had shattered a very fragile limit between them, and Paul did not know how to fix it. He did not even know what limit it was to begin with.

He got lost in his thoughts for a while, and when he finally turned to Ringo, his friend was watching him with something very tender on his face.

“Are you depressed or are you in love?” He suddenly asked, sounding very serious.

Paul frowned at him, perplexed. Where did that even come from?

“Neither. Why do you…?”

Ringo turned back to the grandmother, now desperately pulling on her grandson’s t-shirt, and shrugged.

“I don’t know. You look so miserable these days. Always off in your own head, like just now. George noticed it too.”

Paul squatted to take a cobble and play with it. Anything to keep his hands busy and avoid thinking about what Ringo was saying implicated. Not knowing how else to flee the conversation, he went for a casual shrug. But seeing Ringo’s sad smile, it had not exactly reached the desired result.

“Have you and John fallen out, then?” He continued, as soft as ever.

Paul shook his head, but needed a few seconds to find his voice back.

“No. No, we’re fine,” He answered, not knowing how true that statement was.

“Whatever John did, he’ll come back around, you know. He’s a soft lad inside,” Ringo joked, laughing quietly.

Paul chose to laugh along, figuring this was a good way to let the subject drop. He had not realized he was being so transparent. He was so used to keeping everything to himself, and he had so often been reproached not to show anything, that it was startling to be called out like that. But then again, Ringo and George probably knew him better than anyone. Maybe even better than himself, nowadays.

 

Paul went to park his car in his garage, which was not far from his apartment, and walked home briskly, avoiding strangers’ eyes. He was feeling pretty good, the Ringo effect without any doubt. Maybe he would play a little, grab a bite then go to bed early. Yeah, it was a lovely plan. He was entering the hall of the building when soft voices in a corner made him stop. He turned to them and froze in place.

It was John and an unknown woman, heads bent against one another. From his place Paul could only see the woman’s dazed and smiling face, but the way John’s arms encased her against the wall left no room for imagination about what they were talking about. It was not uncommon, to see John flirting with people. Especially not when he’d been smoking or drinking, and seeing the slack line of his shoulders, there was no doubt he was a little high. But seeing it then, there, hit Paul way harder than it was supposed to. Maybe it was the situation: the breakup, Paul’s loneliness, not having seen John that way in so many years. Whatever it was, Paul felt irritation fill him and words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them, sounding cold even to his own ears.

“Anyone could see you, you know.”

John and the woman turned to him, and without surprise, John’s eyes were hooded. They locked gaze for a moment, ignoring the apparently drunk girl who started giggling uncomfortably. Then, John let his arms down and turned away from the girl, who just stopped giggling, more and more confused.

“I was going home any road,” He slurred, going up the stairs without a look back.

And that angered Paul even more, seeing the girl standing embarrassedly behind, left to her own devices and looking still very drunk. As if she suddenly lost all interest, as if her being suddenly did not matter anymore. Typical. Paul approached her, gave her a few pounds and told her to call a taxi from the telephone box just outside. The girl numbly nodded but did not say a word when Paul got up the stairs after John. When he got to the third floor, John was leaning against the door, apparently waiting for him. Which made no sense, since he had his own key pair, but Paul did not have the strength to question it and just opened the door.

The two entered the apartment, not saying a word and not even looking at each other. Paul abruptly took off his jacket and scarf and turned to stare at John’s back, who was kicking off his shoes. He was feeling all sorts of feelings he had not the patience nor the will to sort out. He was tired, so tired that his vision was blurry and there was a dull ache in his head.

Then, it came out. He didn’t know where it came from, why at that specific moment. But it came out before he could even think about it.

“I know Cynthia didn’t kick you out.”

Even if he was still back to him, Paul saw John freezing. Then, ever so slowly, he put his jacket on the coat hanger and went to the living-room, not bothering to look at Paul. So Paul just followed him into the living-room, feeling the anger rising back in him. He couldn’t bear it anymore. The silence.

“Why did you lie to me? Why did you come here if it’s just to lie to my fucking face?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m a masochist,” John puzzlingly spat out.

There was no slurring to his words anymore, as if Paul’s tangible anger had sobered him right away. Paul frowned. How did that answer even make any sense?!

What? Just… just stop it with your bullshit for five fucking minutes, okay?! You’re not the patriarch of misery, alright. You need to own your fucking actions! And… just, take responsibility for them, Jesus! Why did you lie? Why did you say she kicked you out?!”

John just stared at him, squared-jaw and hands in tight fists. He looked angry, but Paul was so fuming himself that he barely registered it. And the lack of response was just aggravating.

“Was there even a fight? Or did you just wake up and decided to walk out on your wife and son?” He sighed deeply, disbelieving.

“Of course there was a fight,” John finally uttered, anger filtering clearly through his words.

“About what!?”

“About me going out, and stuff. And… I told her about the other girls.”

“Okay. And?” Paul pressed him, losing his patience.

“And she accepted it,” John blurted, as if the words hurt him for some reason.

There was something so raw, so vulnerable in his tone that Paul froze, feeling like John was holding something back. Something big. Cynthia accepting it was supposed to be positive in the strict situation, they both knew it, and they both knew it absolutely was not. But that was not something they could explain. Not something they could voice.

Paul could not help his mind from wavering towards tenderness for a split second. But soon enough, raw indignation was back.

“So you just left?” He huffed out.

“No, I—“

“Look, you need to explain to me what your fucking logic is because I don’t see it right now,” Paul added, feeling desperate now.

John sighed deeply, rubbing his face with his hands so hard it had to be painful.

“I don’t deserve her, okay?! She’s an angel, she’s… she’s a goddess, she fucking… worships the ground I walk on and I’m… I’m just… She loves this, being fucking stuck in that goddamn mansion with nothing to do all day long, and I don’t… I just don’t fit, and I just keep cocking things up and she still fucking loves me no matter what I do, it’s getting ridiculous, and I’m… I just don’t deserve it,” John let out, getting more and more emotional by the minute.

The silence that followed was only filled by his heavy breathing. Paul felt like he had lost the ability to breathe at some point. Seeing John so convinced that he was not worthy of love was more painful than he could bear.

“Love is not something you have to deserve,” Paul told him gently. “There’s no… deserving it. It just happens.”

“Well, even if that is true, she still should be with someone who truly loves her. Who loves her just as much as she does me, you know. She deserves someone who treats her… good. Who doesn’t cheat on her. And I’m not it.”

“It’s… I mean, I’m not saying cheating is alright, but those girls, they weren’t… you weren’t in love with them, were you? It’s different, isn’t it?”

“You can cheat on someone without it being physical,” John answered, still so fucking cryptic Paul was losing his mind.

“You’re in love with Cynthia. I know you are.”

But John did not answer right away, staring at him so intensely Paul was starting to feel light-headed. There was something in his eyes he could not decipher and yet, he could not have brought himself to look away if he had wanted to.

Then, ever so slowly, John shook his head.

“I don’t think I can be, anymore,” He whispered.

The two of them just stood face to face, letting the silence grow, until John visibly couldn’t bear it anymore.

“She wanted us to forget, to just move on like… like that’s gonna solve anything, you know? But I’m not, I… It was late, she wanted to go to bed and just, talk about it in the morning and I was going to, but… when I saw… I just. Couldn’t. She said if I didn’t want to solve things I should just leave, and I guess – I mean, I know she didn’t really mean it, but I… I couldn’t stay.”

John stopped talking, breathing with difficulty now, and all Paul could do was stare and feel like his soul was shattering into thousands of little sharp pieces.

“Why didn’t you just tell me that? I mean… I’m on your side. I’ve always been on your side,” Paul whispered, finally letting his hurt wash all over him. “Why did you lie to me?”

John kept looking at his feet, slightly shaking and clearly upset. The silence stretched for so long Paul did not actually expect an answer anymore. He just tilted his head back, fighting the emotions threatening to flow over him with a sad smile.

“I didn’t want you to think bad of me,” The answer belatedly came, so quiet Paul nearly missed it.

He took time to understand the sentence, to let the words embrace their full meaning. It was such a sad statement he did not think he had the power to counter it.

“I don’t,” He said, just as quiet. “I just wish you hadn’t lied about it.”

John stared at him, his eyes suspiciously shiny, then put his hands on his hips and looked down. Then, after a few moments, he nodded. It was not much but it still unleashed a wave of relief in Paul. For him, for now, it was enough.

Chapter Text

It was their last concert in the UK and Paul was scared shitless.

After his and John’s emotional conversation of the previous night, Paul had forgotten to take his pills and thus had not closed his eyes the whole night. He was not even tired, in a way, nerves keeping him on the verge of frantic. But saying he was feeling good would be an outright lie.

They were only going to play five songs, it would not take long, but the prospect of facing a crowd again was oddly terrifying. It was unusual for him, to be that tense because of a gig; and he had actually lived two Beatles gigs already back in December. But things were different, back then. He had been so out of it that what was going on barely registered. Now, he was very much aware of what was happening and the amplitude of it. There was “I’m Down” on the setlist, and he hadn’t been able to really sing that one for a long time. Not the way he wanted to, anyway. It was stupid, but he couldn’t help but be afraid that at any moment his voice would crack and sound old again. There was no reason for it to happen, but still.

He was waiting backstage, all dressed up with his bass in hands, his boots on and his fringe perfectly combed, trying to keep his breathing regular. In front of him, in a nice raw, George, John and Ringo were patiently waiting as well, chuckling in-between them about the assistants running everywhere around them. For once, they were ready before they had to be on stage. One skinny crew member hurriedly approached them and signalled for the stairs to the stage.

“You can go, it’s ready!” He told them, his wide frantic eyes showing his night was probably being worse than Paul’s.

“Thank you, little man,” John answered, readjusting his guitar strap on his shoulder.

He looked just as tired as Paul felt, and that reassured him somewhat. He was interrupted in his staring by Ringo though, who glanced at him with a smile he struggled to answer to. Then, George started moving and the four of them were set in motion.
Show time.

 

The most striking fact about the gig was how fast it had gone: one minute he was walking to his spot under the blinding lights and deafening screams of 10,000 people, the next he was screaming the last lyrics and bowing, his heart beating wildly in his chest and a grin plastered onto his face. A look to his left made him meet the gazes of his bandmates, all looking overheating but pumped on adrenaline. His voice hadn’t cracked. He was alright.

 

The good thing about the NME show was the after-party reserved to the artists and various guests of the organizers. The food was the type that came in too small versions to really recognize its taste, but alcohol was flowing freely and the music on the speakers was good enough to have most people swinging. It was a nice party and they sure were all enjoying it. Paul was tipsy. OK, maybe a bit more than tipsy. A bit drunk probably. But at least, contrarily to John, he wasn’t pissed – yet. He was still thinking more or less clearly. And pissed or not, there were a few things about John that evening that were… unsettling.

It started when Neill, John and he were talking to some guy from the venue who said the owner of the theatre had invited a young ‘unknown’ American actor to the party to make him discover British music. When the actor turned out to be Robert Redford, Paul couldn’t help but chuckle ostentatiously in his drink.

“You know him?” Neill asked, curious.

“Uh, yeah, I saw a movie with him I think,” Paul answered, hoping it was vague enough to go unquestioned.

“What is he like?” John asked, looking around the room as if the actor would magically pop up in front of him.

“Oh, you’ll recognize him alright. He’s probably the best-looking man you’ve ever seen,” Paul snorted in his drink, looking out in the crowd.

He could feel John’s gaze linger on him, then saw him slowly raising his own glass to his lips.

“I doubt it,” He said right before taking another sip.

Paul turned his head so fast he heard his neck snap.
He could not say what it was, but there was something about his tone that left him feeling… weird. As if it was not just an innocent remark – it couldn’t be, not with John. But his friend was observing the rest of the room too now, looking above all suspicions. Even if his eyes proved he was not in his right state of mind. Off to the side, Neil and the other lad looked like they had not heard anything and were still talking about the exotic guests that were present.

A little later, Paul joined Brian and Ringo who were admiring the artists’ portraits that were hanging along the walls. They were laughing at the tiniest details, wondering if the photographer had intended for that weird couch pattern or that very obvious smudge to show in the pictures. There was one with a very explicit-looking plant that was making Paul and Ringo giggle like schoolboys while Brian tried to remain serious. When John arrived, swaying a little, he stopped very close to Paul.

“What you looking at?” He asked, smiling.

“Look, that plant looks like a penis,” Ringo announced very directly, which made Brian blush and laugh embarrassedly again.

John uselessly put a hand on Paul’s arm to lean closer, and Paul froze when he felt his breath caress his skin just above his turtleneck. Unable to stop himself, Paul turned to stare at him but John just kept looking at the portrait. Then, when John leant back, his fingers seemed to linger on Paul’s sleeve a little longer than necessary.

“That’s original,” John said, painfully casual.

But when his eyes met Paul’s for the briefest of seconds, he could swear they were shining with something more than plain mischief. And then, just as fast as he’d arrived, he was gone again.

So, yeah. John was unsettling. Being drunk was one thing, but had he always been that… weird, when he was drunk? Or was it just that Paul used to be not sober enough to notice it? Maybe his patience for drunk/high people had just dwindled. He was feeling too out of it, too old to enjoy it with them and too young to have any excuse not to.

“You know Paul, the daughter of NME’s chief editor asked me earlier if it was true that you were single,” Brian suddenly said, bursting Paul out of his thoughts and making him choke on his margarita. “I didn’t say anything of course, but since you are, I thought you might want to know.”

Paul didn’t even have to think it over that bells rang a loud ‘NO’ in his head. He wouldn’t even try to find out why the idea was so off-putting at the moment, or why he was feeling so awkward about it.

“That’s nice, but I’m not interested in finding a girlfriend right now,” Paul confessed.

“Excuse him, it’s not his fault. He has standards now,” George chided in with a smirk and an arm over Paul’s shoulders.

“Will you stop with that?” Paul exclaimed, pushing him off for show but straining to keep himself from laughing along.

Brian just laughed with them, being just tipsy enough for his cheeks to be pink. When he spotted a familiar face in the crowd, he winked at the boys and told them he’d see them later. The two friends just stayed in their corner, surveying the happy crowd, until suddenly George put his glass on the table next to them and engulfed Paul in a hug. Paul stiffened, patting him awkwardly on the back. When George let him go, he let out an embarrassed chuckle.

“What was that for?” He asked.

“You looked like you needed a hug,” George shrugged. “But don’t worry, I don’t think anyone’s noticed anything. You’re still as charming as ever.”

Paul looked at him for a while, his small face, his dark intelligent eyes, the new scar on his chin, and wondered how in the world he could have ever overlooked a friend like George. He felt himself smiling warmly.

“We should put our song on the album,” He declared, feeling excited about it all of a sudden.

“Yeah?” George wondered, looking slightly surprised.

“Yeah. It’s a good song. And ‘All Things Must Pass’ too.”

“Which one?” George frowned.

Paul cursed at himself in his head, but didn’t let himself lose time to answer.

“The one you were working on the other day, that you said was just notes. When you finish it, we should record it. It’s really good.”

After a moment of scrutinizing Paul’s face, certainly to see how much of this decision was due to alcohol, George smiled and gave him an ‘alright’ shrug. They stayed together pretty much for the rest of the evening, Pattie joining them and leaving them along the night. Paul thought it weird not to see George ditch him and find someone better or funnier to spend the evening with, but he realized after a while that that was his own behaviour, not George’s; they had always been very different in that regard. It was humbling to finally comprehend that, to take the time to observe his friend and to notice what he was like. He had always gone to the easy conclusion that they were the same kids they were when they met, but older. However, that was terribly reductive. George was not only sharp, clever and funny, but he was also truly complex, genuine and empathic. And Paul was ashamed to have needed so many years to see that.

It was also a relief to have George next to him that night, because he did not feel like talking to the rest of the guests. He felt angry with himself for not being as friendly as he was used to be, but he could not be arsed to actually make efforts. If people wanted to talk to him, they could still come and he would be perfectly charming. He was – he knew he was. It was natural for him, it didn’t represent real efforts. But he was tired, and nearly 60 years and the prospect of 50+ more years of professional PR life were starting to weigh on him a little. Especially when he was turning into the pathetic illustration of a sad drunk.

After a few hours of drinking champagne and conversing with fellow musicians (they were all so young! This was all so wrong!), Paul decided to call it a night and just call a cab to get home. After all, he had a cat to feed, now. He said his goodbyes to George and Pattie, crossed path with Brian who told him Ringo had gone to the toilet and prepared to leave, searching over the crowd in the hopes of spotting a mop of auburn hair. Not able to see him anywhere, he sighed and went for the exit, shaking a few more hands and giving a few more enthusiastic smiles on the way.

“Should I call a cab, sir?” A young valet came to him.

“Yes, please. Thank you,” He nodded.

He was searching for pounds in his pocket when a hand fell on his shoulder and made him turn around. Sure enough, it was John, red cheeks and breathless, who was looking at him with suspiciously blown pupils.

“You’re leaving already?” He asked.

“Yeah, it’s late,” Paul nodded.

They stared silently at each other, and John opened his mouth as though to say something when a cab pulled up right in front of them, startling them both. John then brutally dropped his hand, and Paul had not noticed he hadn’t yet. The valet came back to open the door for him and Paul slipped a few bills to him before turning back to John. Though when he crossed his expectant gaze, he found himself at a loss of words.

“See you at home,” He finally settled on, his own voice sounding weirdly detached to his own ears.

John nodded, biting quite harshly on his lips. Paul sent him a small smile and got in the car.
No matter how much his body ached to, he did not dare to turn around and watch behind him as the car drove away.

 

The next day was unusually packed for Paul, especially since thanks to his pills he woke up around noon. He had a radio thing with Ringo, which he did not really look forward to but at least he did not remember it one bit so that was a win. But he also had plans with Neill to go to a club at night, figuring the best way to cure his new-found social awkwardness was to bathe in people. After all, why not fight fire with fire? It had worked a couple times before. He was about to leave the apartment when he decided to check just quickly if John had at least come home the night before, since he had not heard him nor seen him since he’d woken up. To be sure that the man was alive and well and not puking his guts in a ditch – which was unlikely, but it wouldn’t have been the first time. Walking discreetly down the corridor, he stopped at his door and slightly pushed it open.

It was all dark inside and the curtains were closed. Once his eyes adjusted, he spotted a form on the bed against the wall, all rolled up with apparently the head turned towards the wall. A few seconds of observation showed the form breathing calmly, with only one bare foot hanging out of the bed, which made Paul smile. A soft purring suddenly erupted as well, and another tinier form detached itself from the main one and jumped to come rubbing itself against Paul’s legs.

“Hey, there you were,” He murmured to her while scratching her ears.

Thisbe responded with a soft ‘meow’ and went running down the corridor, the call of the kibbles winning her over. Paul threw a last glance at John and quietly closed the door.
Now he could start his day.

 

In the days that followed, Paul found every excuse possible to get out of the house and see people, so much that he barely spent any time with John. He didn’t know if John had found a house yet, and didn’t really want to. He didn’t want to think about his house being empty safe for Thisbe. He didn’t want to think about waking up and knowing that John wouldn’t be in the other room. He didn’t want to think about why it was so hard to go back to being alone again. Or why John had been acting so weird at the NME party only to be perfectly normal – well, even a bit cold – the days after. He especially didn’t want to think about that last part. So he did what he knew best: pushed it all away and ignored it. It worked – even if sleep was avoiding him again.

 

“What the…? You’re cheating!” Ringo practically screamed with a croaky voice when Paul slapped the cards right under his nose.

“No I’m not,” Paul giggled, leaning in front of him against the wall and struggling to keep his long legs from dangling all over the stairs.

They were playing Egyptian War on the stairs of the studio, looking like children hiding from their teacher and grasping a couple more minutes of recess. Which was basically what they were doing. They were tired and restless after already ten hours of work – not without breaks, of course, but still. The session was interminable.

They were mixing and recording several songs which they did not manage to get just right, Ringo was sick, John was in a sour mood, and Brian was there, thus in the end everyone was irritated that things were going wrong on that very day. As for Paul, he was restless because he remembered that day being hard the first time around and now everything was happening the same way and it seemed just worse. So when George had suggested they found a quiet corner to play cards, he had jumped on the occasion.

“He’s not cheating, you’re just…” George piped in, sitting on the stair above them and his eyes fixated on the cards they pulled one after the other. Then, just when he slapped again: “Too slow.”

“Thank you!” Paul let out with a tiny bow.

The three of them kept putting down their cards until Paul and George slapped in unison, crushing each other’s fingers and sending the cards fly away under the blow, which only made them laugh and wince simultaneously. Paul bent over to pick up the fugitives.

“Damn how are you so fucking quick?!” Ringo wondered aloud, to which George only answered by ruffling his hair.

“What are you doing?” A voice rose, making all three of them look up to the newcomer.

John was looking at them with a visibly blank face, but Paul could detect the quiver in the corner of his lips, proving he was keeping himself either from laughing or from screaming.

“Playing,” George unhelpfully answered. “Wanna join?”

“No. Move your arses, we have work,” John retorted, finally meeting Paul’s eyes with a coldness that struck him in the face.

Screaming, then.

“Who pissed in your tea?” George snorted.

But John only huffed and left without another word. As George was gruffly gathering the cards and Ringo was caught in a coughing fit, Paul fought hard not to let out a deep sigh. He didn’t think John could get any colder with him, and yet…

A few hours later, when everyone had finally gone home or out for a few last pints, Paul went back to the studio and settled down at the piano just to close his eyes and collect himself. It had been such a long and demanding day that his ears were still ringing in the silence. He liked it, the quiet. The smell of instruments, the light creaking of the stairs leading to the room. It was soothing him in a way few places could. He let his fingers run across the keys and started playing the melody of “Let It Be”. Whenever he felt sad or melancholy, he always ended up playing that one. As if his mother was always there, waiting in a corner of his mind, ready to come in and comfort him when he needed it. He started singing it softly at first, then louder. It was almost therapeutic for him, to remember the song, to let it fill his entire being. He remembered the times when they had recorded it, back in 1969, and made a silent wish for things to be different this time around.

The song ended and Paul opened his eyes, realizing just then that he had closed them at some point. A noise behind him on the right made him turn and he locked gaze with Brian, jacket on and visibly ready to go, who looked a bit shaken up. Amazed.

“Where does that come from? It’s beautiful,” He asked softly.

This was all wrong. Nobody was supposed to hear it that early. And yet, seeing the gentle awe on Brian’s face, somehow, it felt… right.

“Nowhere, it’s… just…” He shrugged, his mind blank. “I dreamt of it.”

Brian nodded, looking still very much bewildered.

“Well, you should definitely put it on the album,” He told him.

Paul smiled, touched by his manager’s candour. With a last nod and a smile, Brian went back up the stairs and disappeared through the door. Maybe, just maybe, he was not totally wrong.

 

It was a few days later, on a Friday morning, that John told Paul he was leaving.

They were in the car, driving to the studio under pouring rain for their last day of recording before a whole week off. It had been a rough morning, with the thunder waking both of them way too early and Thisbe vomiting all over the living-room carpet. Paul was already done with the day, and his running nose – probably inherited from Ringo – was only annoying him further. He was turning into Prince Albert Road when John announced it in a weirdly shy voice.

“I found a place. I can move in on Monday.”

Paul’s hand tightened on the wheel on their own volition and a weight fell low in his stomach. He forced his features to relax into an agreeable expression, feeling John’s eyes glancing at him regularly.

“Oh, that’s. That’s fast.”

“Well, there’s no reason for me to linger, is there?” John joked feebly.

Paul felt his blood freeze, wondering how stupid it would be to answer anything.

“I guess not,” He settled on, his throat so dry it hurt.

John did not answer, and Paul did not know what to add to that. There was nothing to add, really.
So silence followed them to the studio.

 

On Saturday morning, Paul was awake at four and was completely unable to fall back asleep. So he fed Thisbe, left a note saying he was out to John, took his car and left for the whole day, driving deep into the country, walking so long his legs and lungs hurt, and coming back only when he was so exhausted he physically could not stand any longer.

On Sunday morning, he lied awake for hours, staring at the ceiling and wondering at what point it would be considered too late for him to get out of his bedroom. He could hear John walking and living around the house, could even hear him talking gently to Thisbe. He was always so gentle with her. When Paul finally got out, John told him he had promised Cynthia he would spend the afternoon with Julian while she was seeing friends, and Paul felt awful to be relieved. Relieved from having to look at his friend and feel so far from him. From feeling like a fucking lunatic unable to handle his emotions.

On Sunday evening, John came back when Paul was preparing bologna, following the recipe Maureen had given him. Not that he was hungry – he barely remembered the feeling – but he figured that if he had something good to eat for the rest of the week, he wouldn’t let himself starve to death. John entered the kitchen and stood against the bare wall, hands behind his back and observing Paul’s movements. Paul did not dare turn around. He was not sure what his face looked like at the moment, but if it reflected his state of mind, it couldn’t be pretty.

“Do you think I’m shit now? As a musician?”

Paul stopped stirring the sauce and turned to John with a frown, wondering what could have possibly triggered that question.

“Why on Earth would I think that?”

“You’ve met a lot of talented people, I reckon. You’ve aged. I wouldn’t blame you if writing silly songs with me sounded boring to you now,” John shrugged, his casualness clearly counterfeited.

“That is without a doubt the furthest thing from the truth you could possibly say,” Paul asserted, turning back to his pot.

“So… I’m not shit?”

Paul turned back around in a flash, sauce flying from his spatula. There were some things he simply could not bear to hear.

“Of course not you’re not shit, you’re brilliant!” He nearly shouted, making John wince at the change in volume. Then, softer: “I told you that already, and I wasn’t lying. You’re a musical genius, Lennon. And I know it even more precisely because I’ve met a lot of ‘talented people’.”

At that John lowered his head, suddenly bashful, and Paul spot some light pink on his cheeks. It was lovely. At the very least, it meant John believed him a little.

“Would you… would you want us to write something really new, then? Something you don’t remember at all…?” John asked suddenly, getting his back off then back against the wall, practically glaring at the tiled floor.

Paul turned off the stove and covered the saucepan. When he turned to John, slowly, he didn’t want to say yes. He was not in the mood, had not been for a while, really. But then he crossed light brown eyes.

“Of course.”

So they sat face to face, one on a chair and one on the couch, both in pyjamas and with fuming cups of tea waiting on the coffee table. Paul felt like he was 15 again, except his mind suddenly reminded him he was now older than his father, his kids didn’t exist and John was dead.

As soon as the invading thoughts flashed before his eyes, Paul closed them and breathed deeply, in and out. In, and out. It had been weeks now, but he couldn’t fall down that hole again. When he opened his eyes again, John was looking at him with a soft frown. He was so soft – how could people have forgotten how soft he was? How tender and caring? Nobody wrote that in the books. Or if they did, they didn’t shout it loud enough for the whole world to hear.

It was then, looking at John’s soft face, that a melody came to him. Words tumbled around in his head, following a rhythm that was growing inside of him and threatening to boil over. A smile broke on his face and slowly, so slowly, he saw it mirrored on John’s.

“You have one, don’t you?” His friend whispered, as if the rest of the world was not worthy of it yet.

Paul nodded, still smiling, and started whistling a tune, accompanying with the few chords that now seemed obvious, natural. And just like that, it clicked, John looked at his mouth, at his fingers, and followed. He took Paul’s seed and covered it with leaves and ground, and love. They lost track of time, their teas grew cold, but their song was taking its first steps, tentative at first, then stronger. They laughed and tried different voices, whispered and disagreed before finding it. And not even an hour and a half later, it was there. A new Lennon-McCartney original.

When they went to bed, that night, Paul and John lingered in the corridor, each at his door, and struggled to say goodbye, giggling like schoolboys who stayed up past their bedtime. They both knew it then, Paul was sure of it. They had just done something great together. They had been great together. So Paul finally closed his door, got under the covers, and fell asleep faster than he’d had in months.

 

On Monday morning, when John knocked on his door, Paul stayed in his bed and pretended to sleep until he heard the front door click shut.
And that was it.

Chapter Text

Paul couldn’t talk about it.

He wrote the Revolver songs, helped writing them, and recorded them to perfection. He could sense John’s frustration sometimes, especially when Paul would sometimes wait for him to add something to one song as if he was ‘supposed’ to – which, to Paul, he was, in a way – but he did not complain once, not even about the fact that they had only truly 'written' one song, so Paul counted it as a win. Paul was being funny, smiling, available, arranging. He was helpful to everyone, kind to Thisbe, called his father regularly. He was the perfect friend, son, brother and colleague to everyone, and was pretty sure nobody knew how wrong his life felt – even more than before, if that was possible. But there was something wrong between John and him, and he couldn’t talk about it.

The good thing was, John apparently didn’t want to talk about it either. They talked – of course, they had to – but they didn’t say anything. Paul couldn’t quite comprehend how his life had come to this: one minute they were closer than ever, the next they were sending fake smiles to each other when there were witnesses in the room. He kept replaying the nearly eight weeks of John living in his apartment in his head, trying to find at what point exactly things had gone so wrong, and the only thing he could come up with was that he himself was the one to blame for being so weirdly anxious and possessive in the first place. John had lied, sure, but they had talked about it. He was acting weird, yeah, well, Paul probably was too. He was moving out? Good for him!

He had no reason to feel weird, was the thing. Nor embarrassed. John was his friend, they were still on good terms, and most importantly, he was alive and well. They just needed to bring back the fun between them and they were alright, really. And the fun would be back in no time; he just had to sit tight and smile.

 

Tour arrived so quickly it felt like a joke. But for once since he had arrived, Paul welcomed it as a good distraction: he loved touring, even if the Beatlemania wasn’t exactly something he’d missed. It would be nice to be a real quatuor again, them against the world, even for a short while. In the studios, there were always other people in the middle. Tour was different – it was just them, and the public. And seeing Ruth so thrilled at the prospect of keeping the cat for a little less than three weeks was a nice plus.

As they arrived to their first hotel in Germany, though, Paul remembered how pairings went when they were on tour. It was always the same, and nobody would question that, a priori. Except he didn’t feel like sharing a room with John as long as he felt so stuck-up around him. So when Mal and Neil started unloading the luggage and they were all getting out of the cars, Paul thought he might as well ask now.

“Can I be with Ringo?” Paul suddenly asked loudly.

Everyone turned to him with surprised faces, but Paul refused to look at any of them. Especially not at John.

“Just, you know, for a change?” He specified.

“You were with me last time already,” George drawled with an arched eyebrow.

“For another change,” Paul glared at him.

Ringo looked a bit confused too, but he nodded anyway.

“Yeah sure, man.”

“Alright then!” Mal said before entering the building, Neil, Brian and George behind him, two security guards surveying them from a short distance. Ringo patted Paul’s back and entered too when another voice rose.

“Are you serious?”

Paul turned to John, who was frowning at him still next to the van, a cigarette threatening to fall from his parted lips. Feeling hurt at the hurt in his eyes, Paul only shrugged in what he hoped looked casual and gave him a smile that he hoped looked carefree.

“It’s just for a few nights. I haven’t shared with Rings in a while,” He explained. “We can share again later if you want.”

But John only stared at him, clearly not convinced and even a bit offended by that poor excuse.

“Come on, man. It’s nothing,” Paul laughed.

And despite his instincts telling him not to, he went inside.

 

The first concert went so well Paul was ecstatic, feeling younger than he’d had in literal decades. He’d had so many doubts about the band and his future in it – he had even, during countless sleepless nights, pictured the band going on without him, replacing him with some other bassist maybe – that he had ended up sort of expecting things to go horribly anyway. And seeing how far from the truth that was only added to the joy of performing and being so young again. Adrenaline was flowing in his veins and he had not been that carefree in a good while.

But of course, it couldn’t last. They were in Essen, relaxing before the show in the common lounge room. Paul was vaguely studying a German newspaper spread on the coffee table, Ringo, Brian and Mal were discussing at the table, George was idly playing guitar on the couch and John was reading in an armchair, sitting upside down with his feet against the wall. As it was quite early, they still had time and were not even dressed for the show yet.

The phone rang and Mal, who was the closest, lazily picked it up before turning to George.

“It’s Pattie.”

“Oh, cheers,” George smiled, putting down his guitar and taking the phone from him. “Hi love!”

Paul turned back to his newspaper, vaguely listening to the lads’ conversation next to him, until he realized George had turned eerily silent. Glancing towards him, he saw his friend bent over the phone, hiding his face from them. Not the kind of conversation he wanted them to hear then – that was fair. Privacy was a luxury on tour. But when George hung up and fierily rushed across the room, Paul and the others looked up.

“What is it?” John asked from his chair, still upside down.

“George?” Brian supplemented, sounding worried.

“I need to go home,” George said in a weird voice before getting out of the room.

There were two seconds of still confusion in the room, and suddenly they all unfroze at the same moment. Paul was one of the fastest, rushing out after his friend with Brian on his tail. George was heading straight to his room, fumbling with the key to open the door. When Paul ran to join him, he noticed his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t do it. Paul stopped him by putting his own hand over his.

“George, what’s going on?” He asked gently, taking the key from his hands to open the door.

George let him do it as Brian was joining them as well. Once the door was opened, Paul glanced at his friend and was shocked by how pale he was.

“It’s Pattie. There’s something wrong with the baby, she… I have to go!” He started with a trembling voice.

The three of them entered the room and George rushed straight to his suitcase, getting his wallet and jacket out. Brian, always level-headed in situations of crisis, stayed in front of the door, as if he was scared George would just run away if he blinked. Which seemed to be pretty much George’s plan.

“George, calm down. Is she at the hospital?”

George was frenetically searching for something else, and Paul was starting to feel dread settling in his own stomach. Not Pattie, not them…

“Yeah, they brought her, she was bleeding, she, uh. They don’t know what happened, yet, she might… she might—“

As he was talking, he hadn’t noticed Brian coming slowly up to him and laying a gentle and soothing hand on his arm.

“George. Listen to me. You talked to her directly, right? So she’s alright for now, they wouldn’t have let her call you otherwise. Right?”

George looked at him with wide scared eyes and panting like he had just run a marathon. Whether it was a mirroring reflex or because he was processing Brian’s words, he was nodding too. Paul was standing next to them, not knowing what to do to help.

“We’ll stay a little longer in London on Monday, I’ll change the flights—“

“What?! That’s in two days!” George protested, frantic again and setting his arm free from Brian’s hold. “I need to go now!”

“Come on, you can’t go now. We have a show in two hours,” Brian answered, still as calm.

“Are you joking? I’m not going to bloody play, she’s my wife!”

“I know, George, I know. Just calm down. You’ll be with her in less than two days. I know it’s not ideal but you just can’t go now, I’m sorry.”

George was now looking all around the room with such a lost expression Paul’s heart shattered at the sight. He came closer to his friend and sat on the bed next to him, trying not to make him feel cornered.

“Is someone with her? At the hospital?” Paul asked gently.

George quickly turned to him and caught Paul’s gaze. He still had his wallet in his hands and Paul nearly startled at the raw fear in his eyes.

“Uh—yeah, yeah her mum’s with her,” He nodded.

“That’s good, that’s good, she’s not alone,” Paul smiled encouragingly.

“Yeah, but…” George said, then turned to Brian again. “I need to go, Brian, I can’t play, I… I’m sorry but I won’t, I need to be with her!”

Brian shook his head, pain, regret and determination clear on his face. He wouldn’t budge, and Paul understood it as much as he knew he couldn’t let it happen. This was George’s life, his wife, his kid – Paul understood his pain so much it was hurtful to watch it all unfold.

“I won’t play either,” He suddenly blurted out, not quite knowing when exactly he had made that decision. “If George won’t, I won’t. I mean it.”

Both men looked at him, shocked. The old Paul never would have done that. Old Paul did, though.

“John and Richie will say the same,” He added with more confidence in his voice – even if he actually had no idea about that, but might as well go all the way. “He needs to go, Brian.”

George sharply turned his head to Brian, hope blossoming on his face. Brian looked at them both with his hands on his hips, thinking hard as he was harshly worrying his lips. Then, after what felt like eternity, he nodded.

“Okay. Okay, I’ll cancel tonight,” He relented with a frown. “But I need you back for tomorrow George, I’m serious—“

He didn’t have the time to finish his sentence that George was rushing to him, planting relieved kisses on both his cheeks.

“Thank you, thank you, I…” He let Brian go and started looking around the room again. “Where’s my-“

Paul extended his jacket to him and George took it gladly.

“Okay, come with me, we need to find Derek,” Brian started again, going for the door.

George went after him and was about to leave the room when he stopped and ran back towards Paul, who was still standing near the bed. George tackled him in the strongest hug he had received in years, his bones nearly cracking. Paul hugged him back just as tight.

“Go to her,” Paul whispered in his friend’s hair.

George leant back to look at him, and the relief and gratitude on his face were so obvious that he didn’t need to say a word. He nodded at Paul with a smile and left, running after Brian.

 

True to his word, Brian cancelled the show and booked a flight for George, Mal going with him just in case. They all spent the night at the hotel, worrying about Pattie and fidgeting in their seats. When George finally called them, around two in the morning, he brought both scary and reassuring news: Pattie had suffered from a mild placental abruption, which was serious, but she had been taken in charge quickly enough to minimize the damage. The baby was fine, even if she would need to stay bed-ridden and under surveillance for the two months left of her pregnancy. Brian, who had taken the call, was white as a sheet for the rest of the evening.

The day after, an hour only before the next show, George came back among them. He was beyond exhausted, having not slept in two days, and Paul felt distressed for him. This was not a life; jumping into a plane, leaving your suffering partner behind, paste on a smile and go on with the show. It made him ache for his older days and for the simpler, quieter life he had managed to find along the years. When he went to bed that night, Ringo snoring softly in the room, he wished George would be able to find something similar in this life too.

 

To celebrate their last show in Tokyo, they all decided to throw a little party in one secluded part of the hotel lobby. It was not much by any means, but they had enough alcohol, food and music to have a good time and relax for a last time all together before their break.

Feeling a bit melancholy and with his head about ready to burst from all the noise, Paul decided to go wander through the hotel halls, olives in hand, and enjoy a bit of quiet. He was sloshed, just enough to feel warm and content and not to dive too deep into all the distressing thoughts lurking at the edge of his mind. Not tonight. He was just about to leave the lobby when he spotted John talking animatedly with two Japanese, a man and a woman, cosily leaning against the wall while the other two drank his words. Especially the woman, who was barely caressing his arm when she laughed in the most cliché way possible. And that made Paul freeze.

Perhaps it was because it reminded him of Yoko and by consequence of some unpleasant memories, but seeing John with that woman sent a sharp, acidic burn to his stomach. As if it was revolting, outrageous somehow. Without really controlling it, Paul found himself heading in their direction with a stiffness in his step that was coming out of nowhere.

“Having fun?” He asked John, sending a cold smile to the woman and simply ignoring the man.

What the hell are you doing? He thought to himself even though it was now too late to back off. He was being a controlling and nosy lunatic, he was conscious of it, but he couldn’t help it. The burn was too strong. When John turned, Paul could see his eyes were hooded – definitely a bit high. And probably drunk too, seeing how warm his smile was after weeks of coolness between them (except for that one precious evening before he moved out that Paul kept close to his heart, a little bubble of happiness).

“Hey Paulie! I was thinking about you,” He told him.

“Yes, we were talking about tonight, you were very good, great performance,” The woman added with a probably friendly smile, but Paul couldn’t care less.

“Nice, cheers,” He blankly answered. Then he turned fully towards John. “Fancy a fag, John, love?”

The pet name was probably a bit out of place, and John did look confused for a second, but thankfully he did not question it and simply nodded, bidding farewell to his companions. He silently followed Paul into the corridor, noticing after a while that they were only moving further into the building.

“Err, Paulie? The exit’s this way,” He let out hesitantly, pointing at another double door.

“I don’t smoke,” Paul replied, not stopping his walk.

“Ooookay…”

The confusion in his voice asked for clarifications, but Paul wasn’t in the mood. They passed a hotel employee pushing a cart full with bottles and Paul nicked one discreetly. He might need it. He continued down the hall until he found what seemed to be another reception room that was empty. He got in, hearing John’s footsteps behind him, and dropped himself into the couch, closing his eyes and clutching the bottle. He felt the couch dipping when John sat next to him.

“You look spent,” John chuckled.

Paul passed a hand over his tired eyes, smiling too.

“I am, actually.”

“What makes you so tired?” John asked good-naturedly, prying the bottle from Paul’s hand to open it.

Paul did not know what he would answer until the words actually came out of his mouth.

“Not talking to you. It’s pretty exhausting.”

John froze in his movements, sending him a cautious glance, before finishing to uncork the bottle and taking a first gulp. He passed the bottle to Paul, and it was only when Paul started drinking too that he answered.

“Usually it’s the opposite. People get tired of talking to me,” He said in a carefully levelled voice.

Paul did not know what he was hoping from this conversation – he had stopped expecting and planning things a long time ago – but he was happy to have been drinking enough not to let his thoughts overwhelm him. Screw worry.

“That’s not true,” Paul simply stated.

He gave John the bottle again, and silence stretched over them. It was not exactly peaceful, but it was comfortable enough that Paul felt like he could actually ask what was on his mind.

“Have you heard from Cynthia? Since you went to see Julian?”

John sighed and sank more deeply into the couch.

“Not really. I mean, I called to talk to Jules, but we didn’t, you know, discuss or anything.”

Paul nodded, understanding what he meant. He thought John had dropped the subject when his voice rose again.

“I think she thinks it’s just a whim.”

“Is it?” Paul asked, unable to stop himself.

John levelled him with an unreadable look before slightly shaking his head.

“No,” He simply replied.

Paul slightly moved his head to see his face a bit better.

“Do you still love her?” He asked, genuinely wondering.

John stayed silent for a while, visibly deep in thought. He took so long to answer Paul had started to think he never would.

“I really care about her,” he finally said. “And I’ve loved her. Some part of me always will. But it’s not true love. There’s something missing, like, some connection. I think it’s all about connection, you know.”

Paul hummed to show he was listening. John seemed to gladly take the encouragement.

“When you’re really close to someone, it creates something rare, something precious. You are part of the other person. You can really see them, think through them. It’s that kind of connection that people are after. Some call it admiration, or some would call it infatuation or friendship or whatever but it’s just love, you know? In its purest form.”

Something ticked in Paul’s mind as the familiar words washed through him. When he looked at John, his friend was already looking at him. And suddenly, it all became clear: He remembered having that conversation more than 50 years ago. He remembered it too well.

He had been thinking about it for years, wondering what he should have understood, how he should have reacted. If it was as meaningful as it had felt or if his memory had just romanticized it.

“I don’t think a love like that obeys to any rules,” John went on, unaware of Paul’s agitation. “It’s not something that humans have created, not like a societal thing. It’s deeper than that, and that’s what some people are afraid of I guess, because they can’t control it. Whatever laws they create, they can never control it. A white lad will fall in love with a black girl.” He paused. “A lad with another lad. You know.”

Whether it was muscle memory or he was really thinking it, Paul couldn’t stop the idea popping in his head that no – he wasn’t supposed to know. Hell, he was not even sure he wanted to. But he was completely frozen in place, his tongue feeling like cement in his mouth. John finally turned his eyes away and Paul felt like he could breathe again but he knew he wouldn’t stop there. God, did he know.

“And I think… I think you can’t really find that connection everywhere. Like it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s not in every relationship,” He continued, looking at his own hands.

Words were pouring out of his mouth as if he couldn’t control them either. As if they’d been waiting to get out for years and now that they were able to, John was powerless against them. His voice had started quivering but he bravely pushed on.

“It’s like… It’s like you and me, you know?”

Time was frozen, Paul was sure of it. He wanted to throw up but he could not detach his eyes from John’s, even if he wasn't looking at him anymore.

“It’s not… it can just click with someone out of the blue, whether you’re supposed to connect with them or not. It can develop in lots of ways and it doesn’t always get physical but when it’s that deep, somewhere it’s… it’s…”

Paul closed his eyes, the déjà-vu making him a little sick. Once again, this conversation was way too deep for his drunk mind. He couldn’t talk about it now, he couldn’t even think straight…

“John…” He feebly started, not really knowing if he wanted him to stop talking or to say more.

That seemed to give John the courage to finish his thought with a fiercer tone, looking up to Paul again, eyes flickering over his whole face.

“It’s just true love, you know? Whether it’s allowed or not. It’s just true, real love. Do you know what I mean?”

Paul finally opened his eyes to find John staring at him with an intensity in his eyes he hadn’t seen in nearly 50 years. Since the first time they had had that conversation, astonishing him even more when he realized just how brilliant and modern and progressive John really was. The first time had been in India, in 1968. A different time, a different place, a different John and Paul, but the words were so similar that it gave the whole moment an eerie atmosphere. Not all of them were the same of course, but enough for it not to be a coincidence.

Paul had reacted the worst way possible, then: he had laughed. Said that no, he didn’t see what he meant, that John had probably just smoked too much – they both had, at the time. John had never ever broached the subject again and things had never been quite the same between them after that. Paul still regretted it. Not that he had understood what he meant and had just lied about it. He had not even tried to understand it. But he had been so… ungraceful. Disregarding. For years afterwards, he had completely forgotten that conversation, and when it had finally come back to the front of his mind decades later, he thought he had just dreamt it. That he just needed to blame it on the pot and it would remain buried again, this time forever. And now here it was, blowing up in his face again.

Except this time, it was clearer, wasn’t it? It was. He might not have been able to voice it, or even think it, but he knew it was.

As time passed and John kept staring at him, Paul knew he needed to be very careful with his answer. Be honest. Just be honest, an inner voice told him. But what did that even mean?! Why were his thoughts and feelings so hard to grasp? Going against his every instinct, he allowed himself to dive into John’s eyes. He could read a hundred emotions in them: seriousness, fear, trust, curiosity, anger, playfulness. But there was also something terrifying for Paul.

Hope.

He cleared his throat. Be honest. Words came to him on their own volition.

“I think… I think I might.”

John kept looking at him for a while, before the hint of a cautious smile slowly appeared on his lips. He opened his mouth to answer when the door suddenly opened next to them and Ringo appeared out of nowhere.

“Oh, there you are! There’s almost no punch left but I saved you lads a last glass. It’s the best ever, honest to God,” he said while coming closer, said glasses in hand. “Who knew the Japanese could master every alcohol.”

He handed them the glasses, and John and Paul stood up to take them, practically by instinct. He was probably way too drunk already, but it was the distraction his hands needed at the moment. The punch left a welcome sweet trace in his throat.

“That is indeed some very good punch,” John said with a hoarse voice, as if he hadn’t talked in years.

“Come over then! Before Neil drinks all that’s left of it.”

Ringo went for the door, John following suit. He stopped at the threshold and turned to Paul, arching an eyebrow. His eyes shined brighter than everything else.

“Coming, Macca dear?”

Paul finished his glass in one go and got up. Fear was pulsing in his veins, but something else too. Something else.

“Yeah. Yeah I’m coming.”

 

A bit later, Paul was lying on his bed, still clothed and staring at the ceiling. He had left the party soon after joining the others in the lobby, claiming he had a headache and needed to lay down. Which wasn’t far from the truth.

He was losing his mind.

It was the only explanation possible. He was so scared of losing his loved ones again that now that he had retrieved his relationship with John, everything felt like a threat to it. Not seeing him, not talking to him, not hearing him joke around and groan and snore and whinge. Not making him smile, or snort, or cry from laughter. Not letting him steal his clothes or complain it’s too cold or too hot all the time. Everything he was not doing was lost, and his mind couldn’t take it. As if his sub-consciousness was trying, in some twisted way, to make up for lost time. To not only find their friendship back, but to make it ten times more intense.

He kept replaying their last conversation in his mind, as if it was stuck on a perpetual loop. John’s hopeful eyes, his smile when Paul had said he understood it. Had he really meant that? Did he really understand what John was hinting at? Was it…? He couldn’t even form the idea in his head. He had spent so much time convincing himself that that conversation had just been a weird drunken exchange that had been exaggerated by his dreams, and now, he was forced to admit that it was not. It couldn’t be. Not with the way John had looked at him.

But John wasn’t…? Was he? Himself wasn’t, at least. That was for sure. Coming back to the past was messing with his head in so many ways he wouldn’t be surprised if his confusion was only the result of it. But then, why was everything so hard between them, for nothing? There definitely was something wrong that they needed to sort out. It was not what John seemed to be suggesting – or was he, really? –, it couldn’t be, but there was something. That much was certain. And they needed to talk about it before it became too… big. Or scary. Whatever it was, Paul was too old for it.

Suddenly pushing himself off of the bed, he got his key back on the table and went for the door. Once in the corridor, he hesitated a second, wondering if he should go back to the lobby or if he should try John and George’s room first. A glance at his watch told him it was already 1:26, so the party was definitely still going, but he figured he might try the room first. It was on the way, after all. When he arrived in front of the door, he stopped for a second, forcing himself to breathe deeply. Why was he so fucking nervous? It was just John. And he was probably still in the lobby anyway. He raised his hand to knock, two sharp times. No answer came and he was about to turn around when noise rose on the other side.

The door opened to reveal John, already wearing his pyjama pants with his shirt half undone, showing bits of pale skin. For some reason, that caught Paul by surprise and he felt suddenly so shy and flustered that he dropped his gaze to his own hands.

“Hey! I was, uh…” he started, looking everywhere but at John. “I was just thinking that we could, um… if you’re not sleepy, like hang for a bit or something and just, talk, you know…”

He finally dared to watch John, who was just waiting silently, lips slightly parted, one hand still on a button of his shirt. The expression on his face was unreadable but Paul could still feel his confusion. Hell, even he was confused. What did he even want to talk about, exactly? He suddenly felt so ridiculous he blushed violently.

“But if you’re going to bed, it’s fine,” He awkwardly added. “I’ll just. Yeah, I’ll just go--“

Paul started to turn around when a hand grabbed his wrist.

“Wait!” John said in a hurried whisper.

He pulled Paul inside the room and soundly closed the door behind him, never letting Paul’s wrist go.
Paul could feel his hand burning him through his shirt. John’s fingers were twitching, a clear sign of nervousness. The surprise of having John nervous gave him the courage to look up, where John was already staring at him and wetting his trembling lips. His gaze was so intense Paul could not look away if he tried.

“I just…” Paul started, not knowing what he was trying to say.

But he didn’t have to think any further, chapped lips on his short-circuiting his brain.

The contact could not have lasted more than two seconds but Paul was completely transfixed. He opened his eyes – he hadn’t even noticed he had closed them – only to see the utterly terrified expression on John’s face, just a foot from his. Which made his heart ache more than he thought it ever could.

Paul instinctively raised his hand to gently caress John’s cheekbone, as if the gesture could erase any bad thoughts in his friend’s mind, but John just kept staring at him, the fear still very much present in his eyes, his lips parted. His chapped but gentle, so gentle lips. It had been so easy. So terrifyingly easy. Maybe… was it? Maybe he could actually do this.

So without thinking any further, Paul leant forwards and kissed John.

John stumbled backwards but Paul’s hands went immediately to his neck to stabilize him, the feeling being way too good to let go of. When John started kissing him back, a warmth enveloped Paul’s whole being, his mind screaming at him 'This is real! This is happening!'. His chin brushed John’s and he could feel his stubble, which definitely felt weird, prickly. And John didn’t exactly smell good: cold ash, a trace of whisky, sweat. And their noses were bumping awkwardly in their haste to touch the other, to smell, to taste. But somehow, somehow, John’s lips melting against his was the best feeling he’d felt in years. Paul had no idea where this was coming from and at the same time, it felt so logic, so natural that he cursed himself for not having seen it coming. It was as if a fucking bomb was exploding out of him, or out of John, and meeting somewhere between them.

He lost track of what was going on for a minute, his body turning to mush when John tilted his head, bit Paul’s lower lip and let an involuntary moan when Paul opened his mouth. They had to have moved backwards at some point because suddenly Paul felt the hard knob of the door against his back and winced audibly. John pulled back immediately, his eyes frenetically searching Paul’s.

“What? What is it?” He asked in a whisper, his voice both softer and more anxious than ever.

Paul moved aside, noticing for the first time that John’s hands were actually holding his face too.
He showed him the doorknob with a little embarrassed smile. When he realized what that meant, John chuckled slightly and leant back a little, refusing now to meet Paul’s eyes.

“Sorry… Got a little carried away,” he said with a self-deprecating grimace.

His insecurity was so clear in his voice that Paul was overwhelmed with the desire to reassure him.

“Me too,” he rushed to answer, not sure if his voice had actually come out loud enough to be heard.

John looked up, still a bit uneasy. His cheeks were flustered, his lips were red, and his eyes were so bright Paul felt literally blinded. Not really knowing what to do, and dreadfully aware of his own awkwardness, he tried to smile but he was not sure he had actually pulled it out. John answered with a tiny frown of his own, proof that the smile probably hadn’t worked that well, and Paul could see his brains working at full speed behind his eyes. John cleared his throat and took a step back, letting his hands fall from Paul’s face. Paul immediately felt cold without them.

“We should, um… I should go to bed.” He said, clearly avoiding Paul’s gaze. “George will arrive soon. Got to wake up early tomorrow and all.”

“Oh. Uh… Yeah, I… I guess you should, yeah. Me too. I’ll just…” Paul stammered, feeling suddenly terribly embarrassed.

No no no no, Paul screamed at himself in his head. Do not let this become weird, do not let this become weird! But his body seemed to have an opinion of his own, his arms crossing by themselves over his chest. He un-crossed them as soon as he realized what he was doing, but John’s eyes had already tracked his movements. He took another step backwards and Paul wanted to actually cry a little at how embarrassing it all was.

“Good night. Then,” John said coolly, not really looking Paul in the eyes.

Taking it as his cue to leave, and not really willing to let whatever this awkwardness was drag any longer than necessary, Paul stiffly nodded and retreated back out of the room.

Once he was out, he stayed a long time frozen in the empty corridor.
The only sound the wild beating of his own heart.

Chapter Text

After staring for God knows how long at John’s door, Paul ended up walking back to his room, letting his feet guide him. He was on automatic, and did not quite comprehend what he was doing until he was suddenly in his pyjamas in his bed and once again staring at the ceiling. That seemed to be all he was good at, staring.

He had kissed John. His watch on the bedside table told him it was now 2:07. He needed to sleep. They had a plane early in the morning to go to the Philippines. He was already horribly anxious about that specific destination, so if he was dead on his feet the whole time, it would only be worse. Perhaps he should try to talk to Brian again, try to make him understand how bad things could get over there. Jesus, they had kissed. But Brian would never believe him. He had no reason to, really. Paul had tried so hard not to think about Manila in order not to panic and was so caught in his head about his other problems that now that the trip was imminent, he was angry with himself for not having done more to avoid it. Manila had been traumatizing, for all of them. Somehow, knowing it would inevitably happen only made it seem like a horrifying event, probably worse in his mind than it actually had been the first time around. He could not live that again – they could not.. And why the fucking hell had he kissed John?!

Panic was slowly growing in him, and his drunken mind kept him from tuning it down.

He rubbed his face with his hands, trying to clear his head from the whirlwind of confused thoughts. He needed sleep, but the pills were of no effect so far. He had probably developed some tolerance, since he had been taken them for a few months already. His body was all heavy and slow but his mind was still reeling. He really needed to sleep.

Getting up as quietly as he could, he went to the bathroom, closed the door and turned on the light. A quick glance to the mirror confirmed that he looked terrible: there were dark circles under his wide eyes, his face was red from having been rubbed so hard and his hair was a mess. He searched into his toilet bag, took the tab of sleeping pills and froze to contemplate it, hesitating. The doctor had said no more than two, but he had a healthy young body, and his past had proved that he could handle a lot. He knew it was serious, that overdosing on that kind of medicine was not rare. The memory of Brian’s death burned his eyes. Was it the same medicine he was taking, then…? He wasn’t sure. If only he could check on his damn phone! He had to be careful, he knew it. But his brain seemed to be on fire, harassed with anxiety, and he couldn’t get a rest. At least, if he slept, he wouldn’t be stuck with his thoughts and he could begin the new day with some energy.

Not thinking about it any further, he broke a pill in half and popped it in his mouth, washing it down with water from the tap. He didn’t want to think. He turned off the lights and padded to his bed, tucking himself under the sheets. After a few minutes of tossing and turning to find the best position, his eyes started feeling too heavy already. No more thinking.

The last thought that crossed his mind before falling asleep was the image John’s terrified face and the soft feeling of his lips.

 

The first two things that came to him when his consciousness awoke slowly was that his eyes were still heavy and his mouth felt pasty. His head felt a bit heavy as well, but not in a totally unpleasant way – more like he had overslept. He fought to open his eyes and was surprised by a bright artificial light attacking them, which caused him to groan.

“Paul?” A voice rose next to him.

Paul turned his head to it with difficulty and squinted at the person. It was Brian, sitting on a chair and looking pale as a ghost. What was he doing here, watching him sleep…?

“Paul, can you hear me?”

He wanted to answer but his mouth was so dry that all that came out was a strangled noise. He swallowed and thankfully Brian understood and poured him a glass from a jug of water placed on the nightstand. Paul watched him do it and suddenly realized something: he wasn’t in his hotel room.

He was in a hospital.

Before he had time to react, Brian gave him the glass and Paul drank it automatically, closing his eyes a second. But when he reopened them, nothing had changed. He was wearing a hospital gown and there was a catheter in his hand when he raised it.

“Wh- why am I here?” He croaked out, hearing himself speak slower than usual.

Brian pursed his lips and fidgeted with the jug before turning serious but still worried eyes to Paul.

“We couldn’t wake you up. They think you overdosed,” He explained calmly.

The words swam in Paul’s head, meaningless. What? He what? But… he hadn’t…? The memories of the night before were a bit hazy. He always just took two pills, why would he overdose? Why would he take more? He felt too sluggish to remember more but curiosity still won.

“How long?”

“It’s almost nine in the afternoon. Richard said when he came back at 2:15 you were already asleep,” Brian answered. Then, understanding Paul was too out of it to connect the dots: “You’ve slept for more than 18 hours.”

Paul gaped at him, feeling more and more awake now. Brian studied his face for a moment, seemingly searching for something. Whether he had found it or not, he sighed deeply and turned his eyes to the jug once again.

“I’m sorry, I know I’m pushing all of you too hard. But I really wish you’d talked about it with me,” He said quietly.

“Brian, no,” Paul rushed to answer, wanting to pat his hand but finding his arm was still too slow to react properly, missing his target on the first try. “I’m not… I’m alright, you know. I guess I took one too many pills but I didn’t mean to, like… you know. It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay Paul, you could have died,” Brian countered with a stern frown.

At that Paul stayed silent, knowing he was right. The weight of it fell on his stomach, making him feel a little sick. And the irony of Brian telling him this was so cruel he sort of felt like crying. His memory was starting to clear up and he could see himself hesitating in front of the tablet. He remembered flashes of people talking to him, some shaking him, and being not able to respond to them. Once again, he seemed to have made the wrong choice. He could have died. What kind of idiot lived healthily to 77 years old (well, 78 now probably, since he had just celebrated his 24th birthday) only to die from an overdose back in his 20s? The very concept was absurd, all of it.

“I’m calling the nurse. And I’ll tell the others you’re alright,” Brian said, getting up from his chair. “Don’t fall back asleep, please.”

“I won’t,” Paul smiled feebly.

Now alone in his room, Paul had no buffer to keep his thoughts from crashing back into him. As the memories of the night before became clearer and clearer, one specific event burned brighter than any of them. Two gentle hands on his face, the warmth of a body against his, his fingers catching on short hair. Hot breath on his lips.

Jesus bloody Christ.

When he closed his eyes, it felt like he was almost back in that hotel room, snogging his best friend. How the hell was he supposed to look him in the eye now? Would John even remember it? He’d been drinking, too. Logic told him that if Paul remembered, John had to too, but… would he regret it? A flash of hurt crossed him at the thought. He didn’t know how he felt about having done… that… but he knew that he didn’t want John to regret it. It had felt quite good, hadn’t it? Probably because Paul hadn’t had any sensual physical contact in months, but still. And they still needed to have that talk, so they needed to face things as they were. People experimented, right? It wasn’t that weird. He’d felt alone, confused, scared to lose John. Drunk, too, which was important. It was not that outlandish that he had reacted that way. It was not like he was actually gay or anything, it was nothing like that. He didn’t want to have sex with John, the very thought was making him shiver in fear. He had not planned it. It had just… happened.

And John had kissed him first, after all. He had an idea of why, their earlier conversation popping in his memory, but. But. He’d never… Well, saying he had never thought John would do something like that was a lie, but he had never concretely thought he would actually do it. Maybe it was just a matter of connection, of not knowing how to express it. They sure had a problem at communicating.

He was still exploring that lead in his head when a doctor and two nurses came in, checking up that everything was alright. They asked him a lot of questions, verifying what he remembered, if he was coherent and alert. When he apparently passed their tests, they explained to him that the level of Barbiturate in his blood was definitely too high, but not enough to have brought him to an actual overdose, even though he’d come very close to it. His body had been profoundly asleep to the point of being barely responsive and he had been dehydrated, but he shouldn’t have any lasting secondary effect. They wanted to keep him for the night though, lectured him about the dangers of self-medication and told him they would prescribe him safer, even if less strong, medication for his sleeping problems. They didn’t insist on the drinking-alcohol-when-on medication part, but he guessed he actually knew more than them about that, and promised himself to stop drinking as long as he would take it.

All in all, Paul was very lucky and he silently thanked whoever was watching over him not to have let him ruin everything with something so reckless.

Even if he hadn’t thought it would be possible, Paul still slept the following night – for a normal amount of hours, this time. In the late morning, after the doctor’s visit, Mal, Derek and the driver came to pick him up at the back entrance of the hospital, which felt like a déjà-vu from his first night in Cardiff. Except this time, he was shrinking over himself from shame. He felt so stupid. The drive to the hotel was long enough to give Paul time to remember they were supposed to have arrived to the Philippines already. His anxiety about it came back, but this time he breathed deeply and tried to break it into several pieces of information to keep calm and not panic again. One step at the time.

When the car arrived at the back of the hotel and they all got out, Paul slowed the pace. He was happy not to be in the hospital anymore, but he was just realizing he was going to have to face John. Last time he’d seen him they had freaking kissed, and right after he’d gone on a nearly twenty-hour drugged sleep fest. He was not exactly eager to discover his reaction about it.

They went straight to their floor, avoiding as many people as possible – news travelled fast and sure enough, journalists were mobbing the hotel employees to have news of Paul. Derek opened the door of their private lounge, and Paul braced himself.

He had not taken two steps that Ringo and George were already around him, speaking at the same time.

“Paul! How are you?”

“Fuck, you have to stop scaring us like that mate.”

One grasped his arm and the other started awkwardly petting his head, as if they needed to touch him to make sure he was alive. Paul didn’t really like being touched by surprise, but seeing the genuine concern and relief in their eyes was heart-warming.

“I know, I’m sorry,” He answered with a smile, happy to notice his voice sounded more normal already. “I’m okay, now.”

Neil, who was sitting in the windowsill with a portable radio in his hands, put the radio down and approached them, patting Paul’s back with a warm smile.

“You have a thing for hospitals, don’t you?” He joked, which draw a chuckle out of Paul.

As Neil was going back to the windowsill and Ringo was stepping away to talk to Brian, sitting on the couch, Paul’s gaze caught two cautious brown eyes watching him silently from across the room, and everything else drowned out around him. John's eyes were bloodshot and his features drawn, tired. Once again, his eyes held a hundred emotions captive, and Paul was entranced.

They just stared at each other for a while, not caring about what else was going on around them, until John moved and swiftly approached Paul. For a moment, Paul was convinced he was going to punch him. But when John finally reached him, he surprisingly took him in the gentlest hug ever. Despite his stupefaction, Paul hugged him tightly back, closing his eyes and breathing him in. For a second, he felt like he was allowed to.

“If you weren’t feeling unwell I would fucking punch you right now,” John whispered fiercely in his neck with a slightly quivering voice.

Paul let out a weak laugh, hugging him even tighter. When they let go of each other, Paul tried to catch his gaze but John avoided it, stepping back and turning to Brian. Paul tried to ignore the hurt that caused him.

“When did you say the plane was, already?” John asked their manager, fishing for a cigarette.

“At four. We have time to get lunch.”

A ball of anxiety sparked through Paul’s body at the words.

“Are we still going to Manila?” He asked, sounding a bit panicked.

“Are you joking? The first gig was supposed to start at four,” Neil chuckled from his spot against the window.

“I had to cancel both of them,” Brian added, the tightness of his features proving this was a sore subject for him. “We didn’t know… Well, your health came first. I’m not blaming you, you know, It’s normal. But there was no choice, so now we’re going straight to India.”

The wave of relief that crashed through Paul was so intense he nearly fainted. Thankfully, George was still standing next to him and must have noticed he wasn’t strong of his feet because he wordlessly guided him to an armchair with a light hand in the small of his back. Paul dropped into it and closed his eyes for a moment, still feeling a bit slow. When he opened them again, he immediately found John’s, who was attentively watching him despite being in a conversation with Mal. Paul couldn’t help but glimpse at his moving lips and something twitched in his belly. He had kissed them. Somehow he couldn’t quite believe it yet, as if it had happened to another him on another planet. Which was sort of what his whole life felt like.

Soon enough he was diverted from his thoughts when they all decided to get room service not to lose any time before leaving for the airport. Everyone was overly kind and careful with Paul, as if they did not fully believed him when he said what happened had been an accident. It was kind of them, but a bit suffocating as well and he was a bit relieved when, at the end of their lunch, everyone started to scatter to prepare their bags. When everyone was gone, Neil approached Paul and started fussing around him.

“I can help you pack if you want,” He said, leaning over Paul who was still sitting in his chair.

“No, no I’m fine, I’d rather do it myself. Thank you,” Paul shook his head with a reassuring smile.

“Sure?”

“Yeah yeah, go, don’t worry.”

Neil smiled, patted his shoulder one last time and left the room. Paul slowly got up, careful not to make himself dizzy, and realized with a start that he was not alone: John was behind him, checking out the dresser in a poorly disguised attempt to look occupied. Not knowing what to do and feeling suddenly extremely self-conscious, Paul swayed his weight from one foot to the other, started scratching the top of the armchair with his finger and cleared his throat loudly. John jumped and turned to him. His whole face was red, and it took Paul some seconds to realize he was blushing. He looked uncomfortable, and Paul hated it.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” Paul offered, pushing through his dry throat.

This apparently grounded John a little and he nodded.

“You really are an idiot,” He answered, sounding so serious it caused Paul to shiver. “You better never pull anything like that again.”

“I won’t,” Paul rushed to promise. Then, not wanting to dive into the why and how, he added: “Let’s just… not talk about it, yeah? I wasn’t thinking straight and I cocked it up. That’s it.”

John didn’t answer to that and they just stood in front of each other, both too embarrassed to look at the other. The memory of the previous – well, no, but, still – night came back to Paul again: nervousness numbed his fingers and he suddenly regretted everything, feeling overwhelmed with the desire to make it up. To whom and about what, he was not quite sure, but he knew what happened had to be a spur of the moment thing and he couldn’t let it get in the way of his friendship with John. He could not allow it to take John from him.

“Are we good? You and I?” He suddenly asked. “Since… you know…?”

He gaped, words dying on his tongue. But John just kept looking at him, his expression more guarded now, clearly set on letting him struggle over it. The bastard.

“You know… right?” Paul added, widening his eyes pointedly. “About what we… you know…”

“Jesus, Paul, just say the fucking word.”

“Ugh, well,” Paul grimaced, wanting to laugh it off but finding it impossible. “I mean—“

“Stop it, you’re being ridiculous!” John cut him off angrily, his voice considerably louder. “It was just a kiss, not a fucking proposal. We were drunk and that’s it. No need to be such a bloody queer about it.”

With that he turned around and left, and Paul felt even more idiotic. But he did not have time to ponder over it that the door opened again and John was walking briskly back to him.

“And yes, of course we are good, you twit,” He let out in a still quite irritated but also sort of fond voice. It was oddly endearing. “Now hurry, we need to pack.”

Paul just nodded and in a blink John had left for good. This was not ideal, but surely not as bad as he had expected. At least John remembered – even if he apparently didn’t want to talk about it in more depth, which Paul understood. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that it wouldn’t happen again anyway. John had said it: they were drunk, and whatever that deep ‘love’-connection thing between them was, it did not have to be physical, after all. John had literally said it. They had just been a little… overwhelmed. Carried away. It was weird as hell and Paul had not quite wrapped his head around it yet, but these things happened sometimes.

Paul took a few seconds to breathe deeply and recollect himself before leaving the room as well.

 

The journey to the airport was calm and controlled, and when their stay in the private boarding room went undisturbed. It was nice, the quiet. Even if he wasn’t sleepy per say, Paul still felt like all his energy had been drained and he needed to recharge his batteries. Everyone seemed to understand as well, and as long as he wasn’t looking to start a conversation, nobody was imposing one on him and for that he was grateful. He was not exactly glad to go to India, the place bearing a few memories he was not fond of, especially the first iteration of John’s and his deep conversation. He had lots of great memories from there too, but at the moment, it was regret that was standing out and it was not pleasant.

Apparently, Brian had arranged a press conference for the next afternoon but they had nearly a whole day of flying in front of them, so Paul was a bit worried about being left alone to stew with his thoughts for so long. Even if he entered the plane last on purpose, hoping he would not have to choose his seat, the only place available was of course the one next to John, and he had no illusions that this was a coincidence. John was fumbling with something in his carry-on and had not noticed his presence yet.

“Hey,” Paul said, feeling awkward again.

John looked up in surprise, took him in quickly, and pulled a small smile.

“Hey.”

Paul sat, knowing he was taking way too much time to settle in for it to look natural. He didn’t like it, feeling so embarrassed, but at least he and John were still talking. So, progress. He shot a quick glance to John again right when his friend was doing the same thing, so they just ended up both smiling awkwardly, looking like a right couple of idiots. Paul just stared straight ahead then, which didn’t provide a very interesting vision. His eyes were fighting to look elsewhere but he wouldn’t let them win. And he could see from the corner of his field of vision that John was doing the same. At least he wasn’t alone to feel weird about it all.

“Sorry I shouted earlier,” John suddenly said, clearly nervous, still not looking at him.

“It’s fine,” Paul reassured him straight away, mirroring him.

“I didn’t mean—“

“I know. And I wasn’t thinking—“

“Of course, yeah.”

They stopped talking, letting the silence settle over them. After a while, Paul took a book out and started reading it, pushing through even though the letters were dancing in front of his eyes without forming actual words, or even less baring any meaning. He could feel John moving next to him, probably looking at the window and trying to find a comfortable position. Maybe he would sleep and Paul would be able to fucking breathe for a while.

“Was it really just an accident?” John’s soft voice whispered after a moment, making Paul look up from his book and finally turn his head. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I would… I. Need to be sure.”

There was something so raw, so genuine in John’s eyes that Paul sort of felt himself choke up. He had really scared them. He nodded, finding it hard to talk all of a sudden. John studied his face, his eyes flickering for the briefest moment to his lips, and nodded as well. He didn’t look that reassured, but at least he was humouring Paul.

“Okay,” He said again, quiet. “Okay, good.”

He turned his head back to the window, snuggling against it, and Paul went back to his book. When the sky outside was starting to turn dark and everyone on board had turned more or less quiet, Paul put his book on the side and pulled out a light blanket over his legs. John was sleeping already, his hair falling over his closed eyelids and his chest rising slowly with his breathing. The way he had tucked his hands under his cheek made him look like a little boy, so fragile and soft. He had always had a soft spot for sleeping John. Paul smiled at the sight, feeling something deep and comforting in his chest. Even if things were a little awkward still, he knew that as soon as they would put the, um, kissing episode behind them, they would be alright. He closed his eyes as well and let John’s calm breathing lull him to sleep.

Chapter Text

India was just as humid as ever, and Paul wanted to take a shower the second his foot was out of the plane. They were all coming out, waving to the crowd of people who had somehow learned about their early arrival to the country. It was not as bad as it could get, but it tended to always slow things down. Coming out last, Paul was standing on the last march of the stairs, looking out over the hundreds of people gathered on the tarmac, and already felt sweat unpleasantly dripping in his neck along his spine. This promised to be a long day.

“It’s so humid my hair is all falling down,” Ringo, who was first in line, said to them when he turned, still waving distractedly from one hand and pulling at his fringe with the other.

“Yeah, because it’s true that usually it’s standing up,” John retorted without a beat, smiling just between George and Paul.

George snorted and Paul fought not to smile too wide. Ringo laughed as well and they all went down the stairs. He had not taken two steps that Brian was siding along with Paul, lowering his head so that nobody could hear what he was saying.

“If they ask about the Manila concerts, the only official statement was that you were unwell and couldn’t perform. You should probably stick to that, no need to give too many details. We can think of a longer statement when we’re back home. Alright?” Brian told me, his kind gaze observing Paul.

“Alright, thanks,” Paul nodded, grateful not to have to dive too deep into the subject.

He did not feel comfortable talking about it – not with his friends, and even less with the rest of the world. Brian left him and the security guards gathered them in a corner as the car was finally arriving to get them out of the airport while Brian and Derek were dealing with customs. Mal opened the trunk and Paul followed George to put down their carry-ons. John was just behind them, and when he bent in front of Paul to put his bag down, he was so close Paul could feel his body heat through their clothes. It felt strange, to be so close to him after… After. When John leant back, his scorching gaze crossed Paul’s and for a second, Paul had the insane certainty that he was going to kiss him. Which was stupid of course, especially as there were literally hundreds of people around them. But the next second the moment was gone and John was stepping away, back towards the car where everyone was already sitting. Paul shook his head to clear his mind. He needed to stop thinking about that night, it was ridiculous.

He hopped in as well and thankfully it was George who was sitting in the middle. Paul did not know if he could ‘touch’ John’s thigh without feeling uncomfortable. It would pass, surely, but the images were still too vivid in his mind.

“News travel fast over here,” George drawled as they were driving in the middle of the crowd to get to the actual airport.

“Apparently there was an article about our arrival just this morning,” Mal filled him in from his seat in front, next to Ringo. “Some of them must have been sticking around just in case.”

“They were probably glued on by the moist,” Paul voiced, rubbing his sticky fingers together.

He could feel more than he saw movement on his right and when he turned his head behind George, John was looking at him with an amused grin. Paul grinned back.

They barely had time to recover from their trip in the VIP lounge that Brian was coming back from the customs and they were all led to the press conference. Paul braced himself and closely followed John, knowing he had to look healthier than he felt if they wanted to avoid any inappropriate comment. Twisting the truth, omitting things: he had not missed it, but he was used to it. Sure enough, a good three dozen of journalists were already packed into the tiny room and cameras flashed as soon as they entered and went to the table set up for them. Paul entered the one before last, between John and George, and plastered on a smile that was a bit more forced than usual. They all sat down and questions started immediately, variations about their upcoming album, the American leg of the tour, their favourite pass times and other random details. Nothing out of the ordinary, especially since they’d had one back in Japan already so Paul had been eased back into it beforehand. A wink from Derek told him they were nearing the end of the panel and he was relieved that no question had been asked about the cancelled shows. But of course his luck turned right when relief was seeping through him.

“Yes, I think it’s fourteen songs, yeah,” Ringo was saying, glancing at John for confirmation, but John only grimaced back. “We might add a couple of bonus tracks.”

“Yeah,” George smiled. “We’re trying to win our producer over by annoying him to death.”

Paul chortled along with the journalists. He loved how George could always find the way to say absurd truths in such a way that no one would believe him. Laughter was dying down when another hand rose from the back of the group of people.

“You had to cancel two shows yesterday in the Philippines,” The journalist stated with an airy voice. “You never cancel shows. Why is that?”

Paul felt his throat tighten and threw a glance at Brian, who was standing up at the other side of the table and only nodded to him, confident. That gave Paul the impulse he needed.

“That one’s on me, I was feeling quite unwell since the night before. I couldn’t perform. But I’m alright now,” He answered with an easy smile. “We’re just really sorry for all the people who were planning to see us, you know.”

“They must have found themselves quite lost,” John added casually. And then, with a freaking snort, he added: “Nothing to do on a Sunday without the Church and without music.”

There was a second of floating perplexity in the assembly, with a couple of journalists frowning at his words. Paul turned to John, feeling his skin itch unpleasantly at the statement. Some lost memory reminded him that Christianity was big in the Philippines, and he was instantly filled with the dreadful certainty that things could go very wrong very fast. He pushed John’s leg with his knee to get his attention and John turned curious eyes to him, but just as he was trying to shake his head as discreetly as possible, another voice rose.

“What do you mean?” Another journalist tacked on, a challenging edge to his tone.

John turned his attention to him and opened his mouth to answer. An icy shiver went through Paul’s spine. No no no no, turned in a loop in his head. This was a nightmare, it could not be happening. A shot of adrenaline kicked in and his brain rushed to find something to stop him without making the situation worse.

“Well, people don’t really go to mass nowadays, do they?” John started slowly, apparently trying to clarify his own thoughts and oblivious to Paul’s warnings. “Christianity is not as big as it was, there’s not as many people who go to Church anymore. That’s pretty much what’s happening everywhere, at least in England it is. In the end, you know… it’s—“

“Yes, um, what he’s… what he’s saying is that faith is a very intimate thing, more than it used to be,” Paul cut him off loudly with what he hoped was a confident voice. “A lot of people don’t go to churches as often as they used to, they brought religion into their homes. It seems to be a bit less of a, you know, communal thing. It’s more personal, in a way. The religion is still as strong, but people’s habits have changed a bit. But like John said… we mostly know about England. ”

That seemed to somewhat satisfy the journalist, whose frown very slowly morphed into a sort of nod of approval, even though some other faces in the crowd looked less convinced. No more questions were asked about the subject, and Paul spent the remainder of the conference ignoring John’s glances. When the last question came around and Brian finally stepped in to tell everyone they needed to leave, Paul couldn’t hold the sigh of relief that escaped him. They all stood up and followed Brian, Derek and the bodyguards out of the room. Finding a way through the crowd was not easy, but they were used to it and not long after they were back in the common lounge. Paul left straight away to the bathroom, his bladder now painfully remind itself to him. He had barely taken three steps into the bathroom that the door opened abruptly behind him, making him turn. John was standing a good three meters in front of him, hands on his hips. He sort of looked like he was about to scold a puppy, and Paul was not sure how he felt about that.

“So what was that?” John started without any preamble. “You’re a Christian expert, now?”

Paul took in his frown and the annoyed but also curious glint in his eyes. Of course he would bring it up.

“You were on slippery ground,” Paul answered simply. “I had to stop you or you might have offended people without wanting to. And why would you even bring mass up? It’s Tuesday, the concerts wouldn’t have been on Sunday anyway.”

John frowned harder but somehow his demeanour softened a little.

“Are you sure? I thought it was Monday today.”

“No, it’s not!” Paul replied forcefully. Then, softer: “Just… be careful, please.”

John just studied his face, pensive.

“Is this about the Evening Standard thing again?” He asked, quieter.

Paul sighed, feeling like an obnoxious tosser for bringing up his ‘future knowledge’ like that. But when he looked back into John’s light eyes, he found that he couldn’t lie anyway – not to him. After a while, he just nodded.

“I just think we better be cautious, yeah?”

“Sure, whatever,” John thankfully conceded, sounding a bit expeditious. “Just, warn me next time, yeah? So I don’t look like a right git in front of all of bloody India.”

“Sorry,” Paul winced, having not really thought about that.

“’S alright.”

A small silence fell upon them, that neither knew how to break. Paul was about to open his mouth to get the conversation going – he didn’t know what to talk about, but he just knew he wanted John to stick around as long as he could – but John chose that moment to clap his hands in a stilted movement. He was wetting his lips and Paul caught the movement, immediately diverting his eyes when he realized what he was doing. John looked embarrassed, and Paul could not help but feel it was his fault.

“Well,” He started, his voice too loud in the empty bathroom. “I’m going to go back to Rings, he wanted to show me something. So… um. Cheers!”

And with that he left Paul alone in the bathroom, not knowing what he was doing here until the pain in his bladder abruptly awoke.

 

He was finally back in England, back with Thisbe and his empty apartment, and Paul felt… restless. Now that he was truly alone for the first time in weeks, he could no longer ignore the elephant in the room.

He could not stop thinking about John.

It was the smallest, more benign things at first. He would prepare his coffee and take out two mugs. Open his window in the morning and chuckle at the thought that John would be pissed off about it. See something funny on TV and think that John would like it. Stop using coriander in his cooking because he knew John hated it. Comb his hair in the morning and think fondly about the rebellious lock next to John’s right ear that he couldn’t tame no matter what he did. Ask Thisbe if she missed John too practically every time he petted her. Walk in the street and randomly wonder what John was doing, ten, twenty times a day. It was ridiculous, really.

Even thinking about his children made him think of John somehow; he wondered how he would have behaved with them, if they would have gotten along well. The most surprising fact about that was that when he was daydreaming scenes where they were meeting, he was not seeing old, 40-year-old John, the most logical version in relation to his old life. He was seeing present John, 25-year-old, with the bright eyes, the full cheeks and the soft smile. It made no sense, to picture them together, and most of the time it ended hurting Paul more than anything else, but he could not help it. John had fitted everywhere in his new life, and his mind seemed to be set on making him fit everywhere in his older life as well. Had he been twelve, he would probably be writing his name all over his notebooks in a vain attempt to exorcise it, like a kid with a crush on his new neighbour – except the neighbour was male and one of his oldest friends. And not a romantic interest, obviously. (Even though, when he was watching romantic scenes in movies, he surprised himself thinking more about the kiss John and he had shared than about his own wife. Which made him feel all kinds of uncomfortable.)

Somehow, every time he thought about John – so, a lot – he ended up thinking about that conversation, and the heated moment that had followed. He still could not understand how the urge to kiss him had surged up from nowhere, all of a sudden, and yet feel so natural. The scene kept replaying in his head, and each time he tried to find the one element that could explain it. Make sense of it. But the only conclusion he could come to was always the same: they had been, at that one moment in time, on a very specific wavelength together, and probably both lonely and a bit touch-deprived. After all, John had left Cynthia and Paul had been alone ever since he’d arrived in the past. Even though thinking about that whole evening did not bring anything new to the table, he could not help it.

It did not help that John was obviously a very good kisser. It was weird, to think about it, but after a few days of dwelling on it he had to at least admit it to himself: he had liked it. Very much. It had not been as disgusting and off-putting as kissing his male best friend was supposed to be. And from a purely objective point of view, he would not mind doing it again. He wouldn’t, of course; it would be stupid, and dangerous. It could shatter their relationship to pieces, endanger the band, endanger John himself by changing his future in a tremendous way. If they kissed again, what would that make them? What would become of their friendship? It would not survive it. They would just tumble down that ‘awkward’ road and crash at the bottom. Kisses could not be strictly innocent – even if kissing John was nice, why would he do it? It was not like they wanted to date or anything. The very thought made him laugh. He was not attracted to John. When he thought about him he was not picturing him naked or anything. That was a terrifying thought. And he was, very obviously, not freaking gay. He could not carelessly play with destiny just because he had discovered by chance that John was an amazing kisser and he missed kissing people.

Anyway, his obsession could not be healthy. Perhaps it was a good thing that John had moved out after all; he had spent so much time with the man that he had sort of forgotten other people existed for a while. Maybe he could go out with old friends, meet new people, pick up girls. He did not really want to, but it could not hurt, could it? It would do him good to see new faces, clear his mind a little. Trust new people. That was undoubtedly the hardest part, but he was making efforts already – after all, he was now closer to George than he had probably ever been. Maybe if he told George about the future thing, he would understand…

But as soon as the thought crossed his mind, Paul pushed it aside. No. Something told him it was better to keep that knowledge well-guarded. He trusted George, of course he did, but with John, he knew his secret was unquestionably protected. He trusted him with his life, literally. He didn’t want to share that with anyone else. What John and he had was different. Maybe that was precisely what John meant when he talked about their connection.

Each night in his bed, Thisbe curled up on his belly or against his legs, John’s face inevitably popped in his mind. He needed to stop acting like an idiot and man up. John was his friend. Seeing him appeased Paul. It always had, in a way, and now the feeling only was stronger. Paul was allowed to see him, to spend time with him, even if his behaviour tended a little towards dependence. They had kissed, so what? It was not that out of place coming from them. They were different, together. And his secret was safe with John.

He was safe.

 

As if destiny had decided to keep messing with his plans, though, he never got to actually see John. They always seemed to miss occasions: they had either plans with other people, or diverse obligations, or things coming up at the last minute. Paul had noticed that it was always John who ended up not being able to meet up for some reason or another. He was not daft, he knew John was avoiding him, or at the very least avoided having to stay alone with him. It hurt, a bit, but Paul felt like he had no right to complain. He had been a right dick to John for weeks, and who was he to demand his attention anyway? The man had a life outside of Paul. The only two times they saw each other in two weeks involved a Beatle award thing and a grouped visit to Pattie, who was alright despite pretty much dying from boredom. And both times, John stuck to Ringo’s or George’s side and turned his eyes away each time Paul would look at him. It was infuriating, but Paul bit his tongue. John was probably just feeling awkward, still. It would pass, eventually.

So when on a rainy Monday afternoon, Paul was disturbed in his reading by someone insistently ringing his doorbell, he did not expect to open the door on John, dishevelled, breathing heavily and looking pale as a ghost. He was drenched from the rain outside and had a newspaper in his hand, square-rimmed glasses on his nose and his shirt buttoned askew. In other words, he was a mess.

“How did you know?” John blurted, his eyes drilling into Paul’s.

“Wh—“

John waved the newspaper under his nose, visibly not having an ounce of patience left.

“Montgomery Clift. He’s dead.”

Paul tried to look at the side article John was pointing at, recognizing the actor’s face in the picture, but John quickly pulled the newspaper back and started reading it with a wavering voice.

“’Actor Montgomery Clift, 45, three times nominated for Academy Awards, died early Saturday of a heart attack in his plush East Side townhouse.’ ” He tucked the newspaper under his armpit and dug around in his pocket to retrieve a rumpled piece of paper that Paul recognized instantly. “And on this, you wrote…” He unfolded it and read again. “Here. ‘Montgomery Cliff will die in July of a heart attack.’ And not just that. The religious thing, too. The Rolling Stones album. George’s wedding. Even the fucking Grammy Awards! How the fuck did you know?”

John was now staring at him, shivering all over, something determined but definitely scared in his eyes. Paul rubbed his mouth, feeling his own hand shiver as well.

“You know how,” he finally said in a quiet voice.

The two men stared at each other in silence. Slowly, something heavy and serious settled on John’s face. Paul knew in that moment that he truly believed him. He finally did.

“It’s true,” he breathed, his lips staying slightly parted.

Unable to leave his eyes, Paul slowly nodded. Seeing the shock in John’s eyes get to a full bloom, he stepped aside to let him enter.

“I think… I think you should come in.”

Chapter Text

The silence was deafening.

Paul was sitting on the very edge of his chair, his slightly shaky elbows on the table. In front of him, John was on another chair, arms crossed and frowning eyes set somewhere on the floor. He was still dripping, the raindrops falling in a regular and slightly unnerving rhythm on the parquet. Ever since he had followed Paul inside, he hadn’t said a single word. Anxiety gnawing at his insides, Paul was just opening his mouth to talk when John spoke in a weirdly hoarse voice. He still wasn’t looking at Paul.

“How old are you?”

It surprised Paul, somehow, that this was the first question that John would want to ask. It took him a couple of seconds to find his voice to answer.

“I’m– I should be 78, now.”

“Jesus fuck,” John let out in a breath, finally locking eyes with Paul.

“I know,” Paul mirthlessly chuckled.

“Do you still feel old?”

“No. No I feel fine, really. Young. I mean, now I got used to it again but in the early days I sort of felt like superman.”

Paul hoped that would make John laugh a little, and help ease the tension, but John just stared at him. He still looked a little spooked and he was observing Paul’s every move as if he expected him to vanish from one second to the next. It was no surprise, really. Paul could not even begin to comprehend what was going on in his friend’s head at the moment.

“You must think I’m an arsehole,” John suddenly said, looking down again.

Well, that was definitely not what Paul was expecting.

“Why?” He frowned.

“I thought you were a psychic,” John explained, not daring to look at Paul. “That you had sort of seen the future, you know, all of it? That that was why you remembered it? I mean, you told me the truth, you did… but I don’t know. I didn’t totally believe it. It’s stupid, but it seemed more realistic to me to have you being a psychic than to have you coming straight from the bloody future.”

Paul lowered his head as well, gripping the spoon hanging innocently on the table and twisting it in his hands. He could see why John would have gone to that conclusion. Things would have been easier had it been the case.

“I see why you would think that,” He settled on answering.

“I’m sorry.”

He sounded so genuine, so heartfelt that Paul felt his own throat choke up a little.

“It’s alright. You did believe me, as much as you could.”

A new silence fell over them and Paul took the time to study John’s face. He looked… overwhelmed, to say the least. He knew John needed time to process the news, but still he was surprised he was not asking him more. That had been the biggest proof that John had doubts, the fact that he rarely ever asked questions about the future. But now that he knew for real, he was still keeping surprisingly quiet. Maybe he did not dare to.

“You can ask me things, you know,” He told him. “There are some I guess I should not tell you about, a lot probably, but… I don’t know. You must wonder about a lot of things.”

“Are you allowed to?” John asked, pulling a perplexed face.

“I don’t know. I don’t know the rules of time-travelling. I’m improvising here.”

That got a small smile out of John, and Paul’s heart swelled at the sight.

“I don’t even know what to ask to be honest,” His friend confessed.

“That’s fair.”

“I feel like I should be asking about shite like politics or world wars but I’m not sure I really care about that,” John joked feebly.

Paul laughed, the sound strange to his own ears.

“Well, there hasn’t been a third world war, you can rest assured.”

“Thank you, I’ll sleep better tonight.”

“You’re welcome.”

John grinned, tiny folds forming on each side of his nose. He looked lovely. His eyes squinted a little behind the glasses, visibly thinking over his next question.

“Are you married?”

Paul’s smile immediately faltered and he had to look away for a second.

“Hum… yeah. Yes. Not that it really, you know. Matters, now.”

John’s eyebrows shot up but in a blink his expression was back to carefully blank again.

“You have kids?”

Paul twitched on his seat.

“Yes. Five. And… and grandchildren.”

John just looked at him with so much intensity and understanding in his eyes Paul just had to look away. This was getting way too much way too fast. Maybe the question thing was not such a good idea after all…

“You must miss them,” John voiced suddenly, ever so gently.

Paul mirthlessly laughed, trying his hardest to bend the spoon in half.

“I think about them all the time.”

He looked up to give John a tight smile before feeling the urge to talk about it. To explain.

“The worst thing is… I keep thinking they don’t really exist, anymore. Since I’m here? You know, even if I, even if I still meet my wife and have children again… they just. They won’t be them, you know? And for my grandchildren it’s even worse, they’re just… They’re completely gone. They have next to no chance to get born again. They only exist in my head now, and I’ll never see them again, and it’s just…” He stopped to take a deep breath, his voice wavering so much he was not sure John could actually understand him. He was not used to not controlling his own voice like that. “They’re gone and I can’t even fucking grieve over them.”

He stopped talking and closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe deeply and not let emotions overwhelm him. He couldn’t let them take over. Not now. Not ever. When he opened his eyes again, John was leaning on his elbows towards him, a concerned frown on his face. His hand hovered over Paul’s arm but when Paul raised himself a bit, he quickly retracted it.

“I’m so sorry, Paul,” He murmured.

Paul let out a deep breath, chuckling his desire to cry away.

“It’s weird to be talking about them,” He confessed.

“You can talk to me about them whenever you want, you know. Or about anything else. Or not, if you prefer. I’m here either way,” John told him.

Paul locked eyes with him, feeling his heart grow three sizes. What had he done to deserve someone as precious as John in his life, honestly?

Surprisingly, John did not ask any more questions, as if he had decided to let the topic drop for the moment. Paul could not say that he minded, even though he felt like a big weight had been lifted off his shoulders. John believed him. He had kept the list, had checked it. And seeing the state of said paper, more than once. He was with Paul on this, and Paul could now truly rely on him whenever he had an issue concerning the future/past. He would believe him no matter what, he just knew it. It was so nice to feel… not alone. Understood.

“Can you stay?” Paul asked, suddenly fearing John would just go back to his house now that his initial curiosity had been satisfied. “I mean, if you have nothing to do, you know. We could… just, watch TV, or something?”

John just looked at him, an unreadable expression on his face. For a chilling minute, Paul thought he was going to refuse, but then he shrugged and gave him a small, embarrassed smile.

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.”

So the two of them got up and padded to the living-room. Paul opened a cabinet and took out a packet of nuts on the way, in case. When he entered the living-room, John was already sitting on the couch, socked feet on it and arms clasped around his bent legs. He didn’t look comfortable one bit and that saddened Paul, but he chose not to question it. He turned the TV on, put the nuts on the table and sat down next to John, careful not to touch him and to leave a reasonable space between them.

There was a music show on, so they started watching it idly. Paul couldn’t quite concentrate on what was going on, his mind going a mile a minute, and figured John had to be pretty much in the same state. He chanced a glance at his friend who, as expected, had his gaze slightly unfocused, proving he was not really watching the show either. Thisbe chose that moment to arrive, mewing softly, and jumped directly next to John. Of course, even his own cat liked John better. She put a paw on John’s arm, who lowered his legs to allow her on his lap. It was so heart-warming, to have John next to him like that again, that for a second it felt like he was still living there. But as soon as the thought went, coldness bit at Paul’s heart.

“It’s weird to have you here again,” Paul chuckled, a bit awkward. Then, sensing this might be taken the wrong way, he added: “I mean, it’s nice. It’s been, um, empty, these days.”

John turned to him with an arched eyebrow but did not answer, rather directing his attention to Thisbe who had started purring loudly.

“See, she missed you,” Paul joked.

At that John chuckled too, scratching the cat’s chin.

“Sorry I’ve been a bit… distant, lately,” John suddenly said, taking Paul completely off-guard.

Paul was about to answer – and refute it, probably, his instincts lately only shouting at him to ease John’s mind at any cost – when John went on, his eyes still on Thisbe rather than on Paul or the TV.

“I don’t mean… I mean, these last few weeks, you know. Not just since Tokyo.”

Paul looked at the cat too, finding it easier than seeing the embarrassment and shyness pouring out of his friend. He was pretty sure his own cheeks had considerably reddened as well.

“I was mad at you,” John added quietly.

“Why?”

The question was soft. But somehow, somehow, John’s answer was even softer.

“I don’t know. I don’t always need a reason.”

Paul did not know how to understand that, or what to answer, so he just didn’t. They let silence come over them again, both turning finally their attention to the TV. After a while, John announced he needed to pee, pushing Thisbe off his lap. There was something so sombre in his demeanour that Paul watched him get up with a frown. As he was leaving the living-room, Paul called him out, suddenly urgent.

“John?”

John stopped in his tracks, a hand on the wall.

“It’s not true, what you said. You don’t get mad for nothing, you know. Don’t let yourself believe that.”

John looked at him with a pensive frown, but did not answer and just continued on his way. Paul settled back on the couch, still deep in thought. But a few seconds later, John was barging back into the living-room, some new colour on his cheeks.

“You know what, you’re right. I was mad for a reason,” John started, pointing an accusatory finger at Paul. “You bought me a fucking bed.”

Paul’s eyes widened and he just gaped at him. How was that even a reason?!

What?!” He shrieked.

“You bought me a bed, instead of just helping me to find another place like any normal… like, friend! And like a daft fucking twat I was so happy, I thought you were, you know, glad to have me. For a while. I knew I was supposed to find my own place at some point, but you made me feel… bloody welcome.”

Paul grimaced, feeling weirdly offended.

“Why the hell did you leave then?”

“I was waiting for you to ask me to stay!” John blurted out.

“How could I fucking ask you that?! You’re not—” Paul caught himself just in time – he didn’t know what he was about to say, but he knew it wasn’t the moment to say it.

They just stared at each other in silence, Paul feeling his neck blushing and willing it not to show too much. If John knew how many times he’d stopped himself from asking him to stay longer, or hell, even forever, he would probably be even madder.

“I thought…” John continued, lowering his gaze. “When I told you I was looking for a house and everything, you just looked like you didn’t give a shit whether I was here or not. Like you’d just been pitying me the whole time.”

“How was I supposed to behave? You were barely talking to me!” Paul defended himself, feeling cornered.

You were barely talking to me!”

John was breathing heavily now, a blush on his cheeks that somewhat reassured Paul. He was just as emotional about this as Paul was, in the end. The realization made him sigh and giggle, which only made John frown harder.

“So what, we’re both idiots?” Paul asked him, laughter taking slowly control of him.

John stood speechless for a second until Paul’s laughter caught him and he started giggling as well.

“Shut up. It’s not funny,” John retorted, his giggles remarkably undermining his words.

“Weren’t you going to piss?” Paul joked, feeling giddier than he’d had in months.

“Shit!”

When John went running back to the corridor, Paul only laughed harder.

 

Paul was on the waiting room of a therapist he had found via Brian and who was reputed for her efficiency and her discretion. He was awfully nervous, his legs jittery and restless. He was feeling better – he was. Ever since John had come to him about Montgomery Clift, things were better between them. Much warmer, even if they still stayed at an arm length all the time from each other, as if they were afraid of what might happen if they so much as brushed arms. It was so reassuring, to know he had not lost him for good. Their friendship had seemed so fragile for a while, as if the lightest gust of would could blow John away from him. But he was there. He was still there.

But when Paul had called his dad, he had been crushed by how worried his dad sounded about the hospital thing. Paul had not told him everything, not wanting to worry him further, but this only made it clearer how serious the situation had been. He could not just ignore it. Especially since he still was not sleeping very well, the new pills the doctors had prescribed him being basically useless. If he slept more than three hours a night he considered himself lucky. So, not so great.

That was why he had decided to find professional help. He had already gone to a therapist once, when Linda had died, and it had helped a lot. He could not talk about his whole situation, of course (saying he was coming from the future would not have the intended outcome) but at least he might be able to sort out a few of his anxieties and figure out why exactly he was unable to sleep and really rest.

“Mr. McCartney?”

Paul snapped his head up and his gaze crossed the dark eyes of a woman who had to be in her fifties. She looked stiff and direct, but there was a kind and intelligent glint in her eyes that Paul liked instantly.

“Yes.”

“Follow me, please.”

Paul obeyed and soon found himself in a little room with cream wallpaper, two plush armchairs and shelves overflowing with books along the walls. It smelled a bit like in an old library, a smell Paul had come to associate with his days in school, a lifetime ago. The woman, Dr. Lavenish, sat in one armchair and Paul went to the other one without hesitation. The doctor watched him settle in without a word. There was a notepad and a pen on the small table next to her, but she didn’t make any move to take them.

“So,” She started in a lively tone. “How do you feel?”

Paul raised his eyebrows and sent her a smile.

“Good. Good, good, I’m fine, yeah.”

“Why are you here then?” She retorted with a small smile.

Paul chuckled embarrassedly.

“I… I think too much, I guess,” He confessed, feeling stupid now that he was saying it out loud.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Well, it keeps me from sleeping, so. You know.”

The doctor narrowed her eyes at him, but only crossed her fingers over her lap. Paul shifted in his seat, feeling a bit unnerved by her gaze.

“What do you think about?”

Paul thought carefully about his answer, trying to find the way to talk about his issues without sharing what was off-limit.

“My… um, personal life, has changed a lot in the last months? I’ve lost… you know, some people and other more, abstract, things. You know. Like, truths that have vanished. They were these… unshakable pillars, and by some string of events I had no control over, I lost them,” He somehow explained.

He was happy to have talked about it a bit with John first, words coming more easily to him now that he had already tried to find them once.

“Are you sure they are lost for good?”

“Yes. Yes, there’s no doubt about that,” Paul snorted mirthlessly.

The doctor did not push him further, looking like she was giving Paul the space to elaborate if he wanted too. It was a nice feeling. He was not good at being cornered about his feelings. He was not good at voicing them at all and it was strange to have to do it in front of a stranger again. But in a way, it was also easier.

“The thing is, it’s frustrating because thinking about them won’t bring them back, you know? It feels so… pointless. It just makes me feel… not good. At all. And when I finally fall asleep, from exhaustion you know, I sleep for only a couple of hours, and then I wake up and I just think about them again. It never stops. And, you know, with my job… We were touring last month and I was just so tired I almost overdosed on sleeping pills. It was a bit ridiculous, but I just. Don’t know what to do, really?”

Lavenish observed him for a while and then diverted her gaze, visibly mulling it over.

“What wakes you up? Do you wake up naturally, or do you have nightmares?” She finally asked.

Paul thought it over. He had not remembered his dreams in quite a while, now that she was mentioning it.

“I think I have nightmares, but I don’t remember them these days. I mean, I remember them when I wake up but after I just forget, I guess. I’m just, all sweaty and, you know. Out of breath, shaking, that kind of thing.”

“Your sleep is pretty troubled, then.”

“Yes, that’s for sure,” Paul chuckled.

“Do you think you could try and write what you remember from your dreams, when you wake up? It could be interesting to pinpoint what lingers on your mind, more specifically.”

“I could try, yes,” Paul conceded, not sure how that could help him sleep better but willing to go just along with it. “I could try.”

When Paul went home once the hour was up, he felt somewhat lighter. Things were far from being okay, but it was getting there and he was decided not to let himself drown again. It would take time, for sure, but he knew he could do it. After all, he had John now. They were best mates again. Connected in more ways than one. He could face whatever was coming at him.

 

He had been thinking about it for a while, but he made his decision on a burning hot Saturday morning. Thisbe was sprawled out on the windowsill, trying to find a breeze of air and waving her tail around and lazily watching Paul busying himself around the house. It was unusual to have such a warm day in London, and Paul was not used to be that sweaty inside his own house, but it was nice all the same. A welcomed change. He could hear kids playing and screaming from the opened windows, probably enjoying their summer vacation in the park nearby. It made him want to take long strolls in it and just relax under the sun. That’s when he knew he wanted to do it.

Finding the right information was not easy, and it took most of his morning, but after relentless research, he got what he wanted. He was so excited he barely could stop himself from taking his keys and jumping into his car. He was eating a quick meal, sitting on the windowsill next to Thisbe, when he realized he did not want to do it alone, this time. Maybe…

Putting his plate aside, he went to his rotary phone and composed the number he had copied on a piece of paper stuck to the wall. It rang only twice.

“Hello?” The familiar nasal voice answered.

“Hey. Are you busy today? Do you want to come with me to the country?”

There was shuffling on the other side of the line. It made Paul realize he had never actually been to John’s new house. He also noticed he did not particularly want to.

“Um, no I’m not specifically busy, no,” John answered after a while. “Where do you want to go?”

“High Wycombe?”

Paul twisted the cord in his hands. He was feeling strangely nervous.

“Uh, okay. Not sure where that is, but, sure.”

“Really?” Paul replied, surprised that he would accept so easily.

“Yeah. As long as you’re driving.”

Paul bowed his head, feeling a giddy smile tug at his lips.

“Great. I’ll pick you up in an hour. See you!”

With that he hung up, feeling like a teenager going on an impromptu road trip with their best friend.

 

They had nearly arrived to their destination when John finally asked. They had spent the whole trip listening to music on the radio and calmly chit-chatting, enjoying the breeze from the rolled down windows. It was nice. John had his elbow pointing out of the car and looked peaceful, even if still more guarded than usual. He didn’t have his glasses on so Paul knew he had not the slightest idea where they were, not being able to rely on the road signs. But he still seemed happy to just let Paul drive him around.

“Are you taking me to your time machine, then?” He said, sending a lopsided grin to Paul.

“I wish,” Paul joked.

He saw John slowly turn his head out again from the corner of his eye. The movement made him feel weird.

“No, I’m buying something,” Paul added, not liking the sudden silence.

“A house?”

Paul licked his lips in concentration as he was turning into a smaller, cobbled road.

“Nope,” He finally answered as he was slowing the car down. “We’re here.”

The two got out of the car and walked to the old brick house standing at the end of the path. As they were nearing it, a gigantic dog rushed out from nowhere and came to them, barking happily.

“Jesus, what is that?! A bear?” John blurted out when the dog started trying to put his massive paws on his chest, making him lose his balance.

Paul reached a hand out on his bare arm to stabilize him and John’s head snapped to him with wide eyes. The second he was strong on his feet, Paul let him go. His hand was burning.

“Oh, hello, you’ve made it!” A light voice came to them.

They both turned and sure enough, the landlady was coming to them. Paul was happy to recognize her face. Next to him John was silent, probably a bit confused still at what they were doing there. The lady shook their hands, looking flustered. She probably didn’t expect to meet two Beatles for the price of one.

“Come along then, the puppies are inside,” She told them, leading them to the house.

Paul followed her and John fell into step with him.

“You’re buying a dog, then?” He whispered to Paul as they were entering the cosy place.

“Yup!” Paul replied, not able to contain his giddy smile.

“I thought you didn’t want one as long as you lived in an apartment?” John asked, a similar impish grin on his face.

Paul raised his eyebrows and turned to him, his breath hitching for a second when he saw how close behind John actually was.

“Guess I changed my mind,” He managed to force out, turning his attention back to his own feet and ignoring the blush blossoming on his neck.

They arrived into what appeared to be a spare room turned into a nursery for puppies. Inside a giant basket were playing three balls of fur, yapping excitedly at the sight of the visitors. Paul spotted her immediately. Excitement was burning at his insides and tingling in his fingers.

Ignoring the lady who was telling them about the pedigree and how clean the puppies were already, he kneeled in front of the tiniest one with the dark ear. She stumbled towards him and nudged his hand with her wet nose. Paul almost wanted to cry when he realized she was exactly the same, his heart bursting with flowers and fireworks. Here he was, a grown man, getting teary-eyed over a puppy.

“Hello, my dear,” He murmured to her, fighting to control the emotion in his voice.

A phone rang somewhere in the house.

“Excuse me, it’ll be just a minute,” He vaguely registered the lady saying before hearing her walking out of the room.

Paul petted the puppy and marvelled at her. It was so strange. He had hesitated so long over whether he should just adopt her again or not, remembering how devastated he had been when she had died. But then again, life was so short and so painful already he did not see the point in trying to avoid heartache anymore, and figured he might as well cherish what he could retrieve from his past.

“It’s not just a dog, is it?” John asked softly after a while, bringing Paul out of his bubble.

Paul just turned to him with a shy, blushing smile. The lady came back only to see Paul gently cradling Martha in his arms, totally disregarding the other two puppies who were busy play-fighting with each other. John, who was still standing near the door, turned to her.

“I think he’s made his choice,” He simply told her.

And wasn’t that the truth.

 

Paying the lady and receiving the few necessary information did not take long and soon after the two men were returning to the car, Martha still safely huddled in Paul’s arms. Just like in his memory, the lady shyly asked if she could take a picture of him with the puppy and its mother. John stood pointedly in the back, making it clear that if she didn’t ask, he would not go on the picture too. She did not ask – probably not daring too, which Paul could understand. They shared their goodbyes and entered the car, the lady walking back to her house. Unfortunately, Paul was forced to give the puppy to John if he wanted to be able to drive and the handover was made only more difficult seeing how damn happy Martha was to just put sniff everything she saw. Once nestled on John’s lap, she just started licking his chin and he struggled to keep his face out of her reach, laughing away.

“She’s a beauty but she doesn’t have the best breath,” He laughed, which only made the puppy waggle her tail with more enthusiasm.

Paul laughed along with him, so happy to have his beloved pet back that he felt stupid for having even hesitated in the first place. Just as he was about to turn on the engine, he turned a last time to John, warmth spreading through his body at the sight of his best friend holding his dog.

And then, John looked at him with a smile so bright it could rival the sun, and Paul was overwhelmed with the urge to caress his face and snog him senseless.

Oh God.

He was screwed.

Chapter Text

For Paul, the ride back was… embarrassing, to say the least.

His mind was reeling, and the fact that John was happily playing with the dog next to him only made things worse. He looked so goddamn… gorgeous. He did, there was no way around that. His long, unique nose was hypnotic, his pale neck showed off his smooth skin in a revolting way, and his delicate hands looked infinitely soft. Definitely attractive. When John laughed at Martha, Paul glanced at him again and his eyes just got glued to the sharp angle of his jaw. He suddenly realized he wanted to bite it. Jesus Christ. Since when did he notice blokes’ jaws?! And his lips… why did they suddenly look so appealing? What the fuck was going on? It was like a dam had been broken in his mind and suddenly all sorts of… obscene, crazy thoughts were flooding in. How had he gone so quickly from objectively finding his friend good-looking to wanting to kiss him and just… touch him?

It was surreal. He had never thought about a man like that before and he felt ashamed, dirty. He knew there was nothing wrong with homosexuality, he had had time to integrate that, but still, having these kinds of thoughts himself… it was very different. Drastically. It was so strange to realize his own vision of John had transformed into something else than strict friendship. Friends were not attracted to their friends, were they? Because how else could his name that urge? He had spent weeks reassuring himself about how their kiss in Tokyo had been a one-time confusion thing, and now… Now. He craved to do it again, his fingers tightening on the wheel and his vision blurring at the edges as he struggled not to just stare at John the whole time. As if his whole body had a mind on its own. He was going insane. That was it. His conversation with John about love and everything was messing with his head. He had spent so much time thinking about it and wondering what it all meant that he had just pushed himself into wanting more.

But no, no. He was overreacting. He sort of wanted to kiss John, alright. It did not have to be such a big deal. He could just push it aside and wait for it to subside. It would probably disappear as soon as he would fall in love with a woman again anyway. He did not have to act on it or anything. Would John even let him, if he did? After all, he had not attempted any sort of contact ever since Tokyo, far from it. If he knew what was going on in Paul’s mind, he would probably freak out. And there was no point wondering about it anyway. Nothing could be – would be happening, and that was it.

When he finally turned into his street, Paul’s mind was eased a little. He just had to find some excuse to get John to leave – he should have dropped him off at his house, but that seemed a bit too harsh – and just… not. The two men got out of the car and John kept Martha in his arms. Paul took the tiny bag of kibbles the lady had given him and led the way to his apartment, trying his hardest not to look at his friend. His hands were slightly shaking when he opened the door, which thankfully John did not seem to notice. They both went upstairs in silence, and Paul really hoped John did not feel the tension and stress emanating out of him. His skin was literally buzzing with the enormity of his discovery. Entering his apartment had never been such a relief before. It was familiar. Reassuring. He did not have lewd thoughts about his male friends in here.

“What’s her name?”

Paul turned around sharply. John was right behind him, bending over to put the puppy on the floor. His shirt slid a little over his back, revealing pale skin which Paul’s eyes were immediately drawn to. Oh God. What was happening to him?!

“She, uh… Martha,” He forced himself to answer.

Even his own voice sounded weird to his ears now. But John ignored him and followed Martha to the couch, where she had frozen at the sight of Thisbe, still on the windowsill.

“Martha, meet Thisbe,” John said in a formal voice, grasping Martha’s paw to make her wave at the cat. “Thisbe, Martha.”

Paul felt his lips tugging to smile but fought against it. Was that actually funny or was he just acting like a lunatic again? Still squatting, John turned to him. His eyes were bright and joyful. He had not seemed that content in quite a while, especially with only Paul for company. Paul cleared his suddenly dry throat.

“So, you like her, I reckon?” He asked just to divert his own attention.

“Of course. Not quite sure why you decided to adopt a future furry horse but she’s lovely, ain’t she?”

Paul approached him – at a reasonable distance – and plopped himself down to caress Martha too, who was trying to sniff Thisbe’s tail. The cat remained royally indifferent to her.

“I had a farm in Scotland, she loved it. She used to hide with the sheep at night,” Paul explained, smiling fondly at the memory.

He turned to John who was already watching him with a strange, almost dazed expression.

“I can’t imagine you old,” He confessed after a moment. “I can just picture you with some vague wrinkles on your forehead or something.”

“I had more than vague wrinkles,” Paul chuckled.

“It’s crazy. You’ve lived a whole life,” John murmured, still staring at him.

Paul lowered his gaze, feeling shy all of a sudden. He found his words had died somewhere in his throat.

“It must be weird, living everything all over again,” John continued, still as quiet. His gaze was burning Paul’s neck. “I don’t know how I would react if I were you.”

“You wouldn’t disappear to France like a git, at least,” Paul chuckled drily.

A hand suddenly appeared on his bare arm, sending a shiver down his spine and making his heart beat faster. Even in such a moment his body was betraying him, Jesus!

“Considering the situation, I probably would have done way worse than that,” John told him with a lilt of both reassurance and self-deprecation to his voice.

They both let silence fall upon them. Paul couldn’t lift his eyes off of John’s hand, so light on his wrist. He had beautiful hands. Just as Paul remembered them.

“You know, you have really soft skin for a geriatric.”

“Fuck off!” Paul laughed, finally finding the strength to shake John’s hand off.

John laughed too and stood up, allowing Paul to breathe a little better.

“What do I look like, then?” John suddenly asked.

Paul snapped his head up to him, frowning.

“What?”

“As an old man. Am I more than vaguely wrinkled too?” He chuckled.

An icy vice gripped Paul’s heart and crushed it in an instant.

“Um… The same. You look the same.”

John nodded, visibly satisfied with that answer. More than Paul himself could ever be.

 

When he drove John home later that day, Paul was starting to feel confusion and sadness seep into his every limb. He did not know what to do. He was in such a new and foreign territory that it felt like the whole world around him had changed, too. Trees looked taller, cars were noisier, the sun was brighter. Everything was… more. And Paul was lost.

He decided that in the long week he had before leaving on tour again, he would try to see John as little as possible, if only to give himself some time to adjust to his new-found attraction. God, it was so weird. He was not sure he could ever get over it. So he just went on with his life, going to the odd interview, taking care of his pets, going out with Tara, once (which was an eerie experience he was not sure he was able to repeat again), and even spending a night at the theatre. He did not do much, was a lot less social than he used to be, but it was alright – even if he could not help but think about John all the time. His children and John. Stuck in his head on an eternal loop.

He was forced to see John though when Brian reminded him that they had an interview scheduled for the BBC. The situation was awkward for more reasons than one: the news of John and Cynthia’s break-up being not public yet (Paul did not dare ask more about it at this point), they were having it in their house in Kenwood. Paul did not know how or why Cynthia had agreed for them to still do it there. It was a mystery to him, but since going to Paul’s apartment would be even more complicated, they did not have much choice. It was cruel to realize Cynthia was still stuck in this, having to pretend everything was fine when her husband had left their home several months prior. She was just as lovely as ever, though, and seeing her only broke Paul’s heart. It was so unfair. The worst was that he mostly felt dirty, now, for having this new kind of… thoughts, about the love of her life. What would she think if she knew what was going on in Paul’s head…? Would she be as kind and understanding?

The interview went surprisingly well, though. If the BBC lads noticed the atmosphere was tense between the couple – and with Paul, too – they did not show it. And once they left, Paul was happy to spend some time with Julian in the garden while his parents were talking in the kitchen. Judging from the loud voices erupting from time to time, mostly John’s, it did not sound like a very pleasant conversation and Paul was happy not to be caught in the middle of it. Things were awkward enough already. He was helping Julian draw an elephant when John suddenly arrived from the house, looking pissed off.

“She’s such a fucking—“ He started angrily.

“John!” Paul cut him off loudly.

John startled and turned to him, as if he had not fully realized he was not alone. Paul glared at him, and he saw John’s gaze travel to his son who was watching him, wide-eyed. His demeanour softened. He approached them and sat crossed-legged on the grass next to Julian, putting a surprisingly gentle hand on the child’s back.

“She doesn’t want to divorce. Brian doesn’t want me to divorce. Not yet, at least,” He explained with a much quieter voice. He was looking at Julian, still. “I feel like a puppet. Just here for everyone to play with.”

It was unusual for John to be so open, so candid about his feelings. Paul felt like the wrong word might blow all of it away. Did he feel like Paul was treating him like a puppet too, somewhere…?

“You’re not a puppet. It’s a complicated situation, sure, but… you’ll get through it,” He told him. “And you know that for Brian it’s more complicated than that. He’s just trying to protect you.”

John did not answer, simply watching Julian colour the ears of his elephant, indifferent to what the adults were talking about. John looked so vulnerable, so miserable right then and there, that Paul just wanted to engulf him in his arms and shoo his worries away.

“You need to stop surviving, Paul,” John suddenly told him with such fierceness in his voice Paul was frozen on place. “I’ve seen you, staying home all day long. Not talking to anyone for days. That’s not you. Unless old you has become boring, but I don’t believe that. You’re allowed to live your life, you know. You don’t have to just… repeat everything you remember for the sake of whatever you think the future is supposed to be like. Your past is in the past, you know? It’s the now that’s important. It’s still your life. You deserve to choose how to live it.”

It was so sudden, so out of the blue that Paul could do nothing but to gape at his friend. John did not seem to expect an answer, though, and he just got up again, opening his arms to take Julian with him.

“Come on, little lad. It’s time for a bath, don’t you think? You stink.”

“No, you stink!” Julian giggled, wriggling in his father’s arm not unlike the way Martha had.

“How dare you?!” John gasped.

Paul was smiling so hard at the sight his cheeks were beginning to ache. Father John was his favourite John, no doubt about that. He watched them pad back to the house, wondering how weird it was to wish he could just live with them.

 

After having left Martha and Thisbe to his neighbour/landlord (which was more heart-breaking than he thought it would be), Paul faced the reality of having to go on another Beatles tour. Even without the disaster of Manila or of the Jesus controversy, it had been funny to see that everyone had still agreed to make it the last one. The decision, this time, had been largely influenced by Pattie’s pregnancy and George’s unwavering desire to stay with her and the baby once they would be born. This time, Paul had not argued in favour of touring and had chosen to go on George’s side from the beginning. It had surprised everyone, including Paul himself, but he felt in his bones that this was the right decision. They could always go back to touring later, for real this time. Maybe things would be different if he was not so bull-headed about them. John was not wrong: he needed to decide for himself, not just because he felt compelled to.

Falling right back into their habits, he was paired with John for the rooms. He did not fight it, realizing it would be stupid for several reasons: first, it would look weird and people would ask unwanted questions, second, it would hurt John, and third, he actually wanted to be paired with him. It was probably not the most reasonable decision, but he was not sure he cared. From the very first night though, it dawned on Paul how difficult exactly this was going to be.

Because now that Paul… well, ‘saw’ John’s attractiveness, he saw it everywhere. In the way he talked so perceptively, in his laugh, in the way he scratched his ear when he was reading, in his belly when he stretched his arms, in how thick his thighs looked when he was sitting, in his dainty wrists, in his freaking nape. He felt like such a weirdo for staring at his friend’s nape.

The worst was probably when he was taking his shower. After the first time where Paul found himself blushing to his roots and growing uncomfortably hot when John came out of the bathroom with just a towel around his hips, he decided to avoid the situation as much as possible. Thus when John was going to the bathroom, Paul just went for a stroll through the hotel until enough time had passed to be sure John was clothed again, or even sleeping already. It was ridiculous, but he couldn’t bear the idea of John seeing him turn all bashful and stammering like an idiot. The good thing was, however weird his friend might have been in the past (and Paul was trying hard not to think of it as flirting because that would be just too much for him), he seemed to have completely stopped it and was back to a very normal, platonic and personal-space-respectful behaviour. He seemed a bit… off, at times, and Paul did not quite understand why that was. Paul would talk, or do something, and John would look at him with that new little smile, so soft, before schooling his face into a cold mask of indifference. Perhaps he was still weirded out by their kiss in Tokyo, or he thought Paul was being strange or disgusting, or maybe he too was stuck in a sort of longing state. Longing for what, it was not clear, but Paul sure was. Longing.

So all in all, it was very difficult, but Paul managed to look relatively normal and not like a bloody pervert.

The concerts were a nice distraction from his new-found lust. They were doing stadiums, and it was just as overwhelming as in his memories. The crowd, the lights, the screaming, it was too much and yet Paul liked it. It was unique, being able to relive his peak years, and he was set on letting himself enjoy it, the good and the bad alike. If one thing, it only strengthened his memory by creating new details, new sights, new feelings. He was not re-living it: he was living it fully, and things were going rather well.

Until three shots exploded loudly in the Cleveland stadium when they were in the middle of “Nowhere Man”.

Paul felt his heart stop, panic gripping him so quick he was actually blind for a few seconds. Not John, not again, please not John… When he finally got his vision back, cold sweat was dripping on his neck and he was shaking like a leaf. He could faintly hear the others had kept playing, but he was frozen in place. His eyes searched frantically over the stage until they met almond-shaped ones staring right back at him. He was still so high on fear hormones that he could not feel his own arms and feet, his gaze travelling all over John’s body to make sure there was no blood on him, no gaping hole.

There wasn’t. He was alive. He was alright. Paul's heart was so loud it felt like it was going to burst out of his chest.

“Are you okay?” A loud voice asked in his ear.

Paul startled and turned to George, who was watching him with a worried frown and was, by some miracle, still playing. Paul nodded numbly, unable to force a smile, and tried to tune in to what was going on to catch up with the song. He did not quite know how he was able to push through the rest of the concert, but it seemed like in a blink it was over, and they were all bowing to the carefree crowd and led back inside the stadium’s offices.

“They caught the men, they think they were Filipino. Maybe they were pissed off about the cancelled shows, I don’t know,” Brian explained to them when they were all gathered in the hotel lounge, later. He looked a bit shook. “They were just Cherry bombs, turns out.”

Now that the initial shock had somewhat ebbed away, Paul was furious. It made no sense. How could this have happened, still? After everything he’d done to make sure everything would go alright this time… It was like fate was laughing at him and giving him the middle finder. You think you can make things right? Well, there you go, fucker! It was so unfair he wanted to scream.

“I thought someone had fired at us,” Ringo said with a shiver, standing in the middle of the small room with a bottle of water in one hand and a spliff in the other.

“Me too, did you see, we all checked each other out?” George added, turning wide eyes to the others, i.e. Brian, Neil and Mal. “It was so loud!”

“Did they really throw them on stage or was it just…?” John piped in, looking freaked out too.

“It seems like they did, yeah,” Mal answered.

“That’s insane,” Neil added, gaze lost in the void. “What’s even the point of doing that?”

“If they wanted to scare us, they made their point,” Ringo chuckled mirthlessly.

Everyone agreed with that, and Paul kept quiet, feeling a rage that would not exactly fit the situation in the others’ eyes. But mostly, he realized he was terrorized. Did that mean that nothing he could do could change anything? Were things bound to happen the way they had in his past…? It was frightening, to think that his actions did not matter. That there might be something else deciding for their fate. That no matter how hard he was trying to live things according to his new wisdom and knowledge, things would just go to shit again. They would all slowly grow apart, the band would explode, and he would fall into depression. And John would die.

When he went to bed that night, he could not shake the ghastly image of a bloody John, spread at his feet, dying. And himself, watching in silent horror, unable to do anything to save him.

 

Paul woke up abruptly, sweaty and shaking to his core. The nightmare was already disappearing from his mind, but its impression lasted and made him feel sick and scared. Struggling to regulate his breathing, he let his eyes wander around the room and without surprise, they stopped on his friend. Something told him he had been the protagonist of his nightmare.

John was sleeping peacefully, turned towards the door and back to Paul. His chest was rising slowly, and Paul tried to follow its rhythm to calm the beating of his anxious heart. John was alive. He was fine. He kept repeating it in his mind, like a mantra.

Paul felt the urge to touch him, to feel his heart, to have the absolute certainty that he was alright. Without even realizing it, he got up from his bed and slowly approached the other’s bed. There was a little gap behind John’s bent legs and Paul sat in it, careful not to crush him. He couldn’t stop observing him, scared that if he closed his eyes even for a second, he would somehow disappear. The thought of losing him was unbearable. What was Paul doing? John was there, right in front of him. They were close, so close. Would it really destroy everything to want… more? Was he allowed to? Maybe that was why he had been sent back here. To be with John again, perhaps in more ways than before. Weirdly, the thought did not seem so scary when John was breathing softly next to him.

John shuffled in his sleep and turned on his back, his legs still bent on the side. He rubbed his eye with a heavy hand, sign that he was slowly waking up. Paul should have bolted back to his bed before it was too late, before John saw him. Pretend everything was normal. But he was tired of pretending. Tired of being scared.

As expected, John opened sleepy eyes that slowly focused on Paul. Strangely enough, he did not look surprised to see him there, watching him sleep like a creep. As if there was nothing weird about it all.

“Did I wake you?” Paul whispered gently.

John shook his head, still staring at him. He got a little straighter on the bed and Paul boldly found his hand to squeeze it gently, allowing himself to caress his knuckles, his wrist, the white skin hidden under it. John was just looking at him, and Paul could not quite explain the calm that was taking over both of them. He continued exploring John’s arm with his fingers, slowly, up to his collarbone and over his shirt to his steady but fast-beating heart. He found he could not stop touching him. This was a sign, wasn’t it? He raised his head and crossed John’s gaze again. John was quiet and understandably cautious, waiting to see what Paul would do next. But he was also strangely open, trusting. Did he know? Did he really feel the same pull, somehow? They probably both had an idea of where this was going, and Paul realized with a startling clarity that he wanted it.

He glanced slowly at John’s lips, making sure that John knew what he was going to do and was okay with it. And the tiny, so tiny smile John gave him in return was all the confirmation he needed.

So forcing himself to shut his fears out, Paul leant forward, breathing the same air as John and feeling every hair on his body stand up, electrified. He felt so much like a thirteen year old about to have his first kiss that it was ridiculous. It was both terrifying and a bit amazing. When their lips finally touched, he couldn’t help the relieved sigh that came out of him, and that only prompted John to put a hand on his neck and bring him closer to him. Paul went so willingly that he nearly fell over John, who had not quite anticipated having Paul’s whole weight over him so quick and chuckled when they had to catch themselves before falling backwards.

As soon as they stabilized themselves, John kissed him again, deeper and more urgent. His hands got hold of Paul’s hair and pulled on it, and Paul would have winced if it hadn’t lit up a spark of arousal in his belly. Jesus Christ. God, he really wanted it, didn’t he? This wasn’t some “I’m drunk and horny whoever you are let’s do it” or “I’m lonely and you’re kind please kiss me” or a “you’re the closest thing I have to a lover and my body can pretend you’re a woman” situation. It was just… John. And he wanted him.

Paul welcomed John’s curious tongue in and couldn’t hold a moan, which apparently only drove John crazier. Throwing caution to the wind, Paul let his instincts take over and threw a leg over John’s own pyjama-clad legs, practically dropping into his lap, and he was both shocked and sort of flattered to notice that his friend was actually hard. There was no faking it, was there? Paul was far from feeling confident enough to do anything about it, but it was thrilling, to have the proof that John wanted him too. John’s hand moved to his cheek again and he tilted his head so softly that Paul was touched by how endearing he was. But that short moment of sweetness was soon replaced by a sudden hunger on both sides, as if they couldn’t get enough – which for Paul, astonishingly, was the case. He felt like a kid again. All his experience with women had never prepared him for this because this was… unknown. The big leap. He had never dreamt of it, had never masturbated to it or anything. If he’d known what it felt like, maybe he would have.

After a good moment of snogging, John leant back, struggling to find his breath back. His cheeks were red and his eyes glossy. He looked amazing. Paul was probably in the same state, staring at John’s face and reeling from his discovery. He literally couldn’t believe it.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” He breathed out quietly, not able to tear his eyes from John’s mouth.

Christ, his mouth. How even…?! When he finally looked up to John’s eyes, there was such exaltation in his eyes that he couldn’t help but mirror his bashful smile. Both of them started chuckling embarrassedly.

“We need to sleep,” Paul whispered, still chuckling.

“Yeah,” John confirmed, lips parted and his eyes fluttering between Paul’s lips and his eyes.

So, just because he could – he could, right? – Paul leant forward again and caught John’s lower lip between his teeth, kissing him again with all the sensuality he could muster. Then, before he could do anything stupid, he got up in a flash and went back to his bed, snuggling under the covers. When he turned to look at John, the other was still staring at him, a glint of both amusement and mostly frustration in his eyes.

“You bastard,” He murmured with a disbelieving grimace.

Paul let out a short laugh, enjoying this way more than he should.

“Good night,” He retorted, turning his back to John and feeling his heart exploding in his ears.

Well.

Looked like he really did not care anymore.

Chapter Text

So. He had done that.

As he lied wide awake on his bed but still pretending to be asleep, he could hear John groaning at the shrill sound of the alarm clock. Paul hadn’t needed it. He had been awake and questioning his whole life for hours already. Now that he was calm and rested, he could see the situation with more clarity than the night before. Not that it made it less confusing, nor surreal. But the enormity of it was clearer. He also knew now that trying to understand why was pointless; if attraction could be logically explained, they would have known by now. So he did not know how, or why, or why now, and would probably never know. For now, he had to accept that. The only thing he was sure of was that if the occasion presented itself, he would do it again. And even though he hated knowing it, he knew he would be happy to. And that scared him shitless.

The funny thing was that now that he had sort of accepted it, the fact that John was a fucking man seemed bigger, scarier and more shameful. He felt like his whole self had been ripped inside out, and he felt even more ashamed for feeling like that. Not only was he a poor excuse of a queer, but he was homophobic about it too. Now that confusion was mostly out of the way, self-disgust and shock at his own desires took much more space. He tried to reason with himself, to accept them for something acceptable, but the nausea in his belly was only getting stronger the more he thought about it.

When he finally heard John closing the door of the bathroom, Paul got up and went to his suitcase to dress. How was he supposed to behave now? Were they still friends, or was that certainty gone too? He hoped they were, but he also felt like this whole thing was an insult to their friendship, to all the years of trust between them. It was stupid, he knew that. He hadn’t forced John to do anything, and judging by his friend’s reactions the night before, he had been on board with it. But still. What if it was just a whim, a short fruitless fling? Would their friendship survive it? Thinking about their new promiscuity made him question his whole relationship with John, in his past too. That would have never happened to past 1966 Paul. There was not a single doubt about that. Even if they had masturbated together a couple of times, it would have never gone as far as kissing and… and, just, the actual rubbing-thing. What would past older John think of it? Had old John wanted it at some point in their relationship, or was it something that had appeared since Paul had travelled back in time?

In a way, he hoped it was something new for John too, because he couldn’t help but think that if old John had wanted it too, somehow, his whole friendship with him had been sort of a lie. No, that was not even true, if he was being honest with himself. What was scary about thinking old John could have wanted it was that maybe Paul had hurt him more than he knew. Maybe Paul had ruined something… else, between them. Maybe… maybe his relationship with old John up to his death could have been different, and he had been too blind (or even too stupid) to see it. After all, that first conversation about love and connections in India had been sort of clear in its own way, and Paul had just not seen it. Or chose not to see it. He didn’t even know anymore.

The situation was unbearable to imagine. It was heart-breaking either way, because if John had indeed wanted him at some point, and Paul had just not known about it, it meant John had been alone in it. Probably angry, confused. Disgusted with himself, if Paul guessed right. Not about the fact that Paul was a man, because Paul knew that John was much smarter and more open about it than he was, but because he was Paul, and the two of them always had been different. Special. And wanting someone who would never want you back would drive anyone insane. Would make anyone feel like a masochist. Like an idiot.

But if he had wanted Paul and if Paul had learnt about it, if he had really understood it, it would not have gone the way it was going now anyway. Nothing would have happened between them because Paul had been married the whole time with the love of his life. Paul had been so in love with Linda he just knew nothing would have made him want someone else. He was not sure how he would have reacted but something told him it would not have gone well. It would have only led to resentment, awkwardness, incredulity. Anger, too, perhaps. Was that why John had been so cold to Linda, in the beginning…? Or did it have nothing to do with it? Not knowing drove him crazy.

He was lost, disoriented but also angry. Angry for being so stupid and clueless. It was even more frustrating to realize that he would never know the truth, because even if he somehow went back to 2019 (and he had absolutely no hope about that), John would still be dead and the answers buried with him. So maybe his whole relationship with John had not been what he thought it was, not to John anyway, and he would never know it for sure.

Shaking his worries away, he quickly dressed and in less than a minute he was ready. Since he was not ready yet to face John – and mostly, had not decided yet what behaviour to take – he decided to leave the room before his friend came out of the bathroom and went quickly to the dining room of the hotel for breakfast. Perhaps there was no point thinking about their past selves. What mattered was the present, wasn’t it? And in the present, he wanted John and John seemed to want him back. It was shocking, surreal, and risky. It made no sense. But it was true nevertheless, and he just had to deal with it.

 

Paul was eating his toast in silence, waiting for his burning tea to cool off and listening to George and Mal’s very deep conversation about the American concept of biscuits in front of him (“Why the hell is it all spongy?”). They were in a secluded corner of the hotel’s dining room, and he could see Brian and Ringo laughing together next to the coffee machine a little further. Unsurprisingly, Brian seemed to have finished eating already and was all ready to start the day. Paul could not help but throw regular glances at the doors, expecting John to arrive any minute. It was only 9am, but Paul was already tired, his nausea not quite gone yet, and was just waiting for the adrenaline of the representation to kick in, even if it would not arrive until much later in the day. Still, one could hope.

When someone put a tray next to him he looked up with sleepy eyes and Ringo gave him a smile in return. The tiny interaction diverted his attention and suddenly John was here too, sitting next to Ringo. Paul turned his head to him and when their eyes locked, neither moved. It felt to Paul like time had stopped: it could have been two seconds or two hours until John smiled tightly and diverted his eyes to Mal.

“Ah, there you are lads,” Mal said, reading a newspaper he had folded next to his cup of tea. “They’re talking about the album.”

“So, did they like it?” Ringo asked, buttering his toast.

Mal didn’t answer right away, his eyes scanning the article. Paul enjoyed the pause to observe George pulling a face as he was nibbling on an American biscuit.

“Oh it’s good, don’t worry,” Mal chuckled. Then, reading out loud: “’Revolver is a revolutionary record, just as important to the expansion of pop as was Rubber Soul’… They love ‘Eleanor Rigby’…” At that, Ringo nudged Paul with a smile. “They really dig the first side. Blabla… ‘The album succeeds in the feat of presenting a great variety of sounds and orientations, and yet without having a single track jarring from the rest. In conclusion, it is a musical creation of exceptional excellence that will no doubt stay in the records as a stepping stone in pop music’…”

“Damn right it will,” John piped in.

Paul did not dare look at him despite his strong urge to, and rather kept his eyes focused on Mal.

“They say ‘All Things Must Pass’ is ‘magisterial’ too, blimey…”

“Let me see,” George asks.

He was frowning, but Paul could spot a light blush on his cheeks anyway. The sight warmed his soul a little. It was incredibly reassuring to hear that critics still loved the album despite the few changes from the one in his past. They were minor, all in all, but there were still new songs on it: ‘All Things Must Pass’, Paul and George’s and John and Paul’s recent one, which had ended up replacing two of Paul’s old ones and one of John’s, if his memory was correct. He had been quite nervous about it, so it was marvellous to see it had been worth it, if only for the obvious pride on George’s face as he was reading the article. Paul felt a new wave of giddy excitement go through him. This was good, very good. He still had it. I can still be a Beatle, he thought as he sipped his tea slowly not to get burnt.

“When do we need to leave?” John asked Mal.

Mal checked his watch. When Ringo leant forward to read the article (despite it being upside down for him), Paul could not stop his eyes from travelling to John. He was bringing a huge bite of pancake to his mouth and looking at Mal.

“A little less than an hour. Neil’s already getting the instruments, I need to join him,” Mal answered, getting up as he spoke. “Have you packed yet?”

“Not yet, I need to go back up,” John answered with difficulty, his mouth clearly too full.

It should have been disgusting, and Paul vaguely thought than in another lifetime he would have found it such, but right then he only found it endearing. God, how could he fancy him even with jam on his chin?! John turned his head and caught him staring, and if anything, the mischievous spark that appeared in his eyes as he was chewing was not a good sign. Paul looked away abruptly, feeling his neck get hot.

“Alright, let’s go then,” Ringo said as he was gathering his waste on his plate and getting up.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” Paul replied, though his tea was still fuming and he hated to let it go to waste.

George hummed in approval and turned on his chair to get up as well, his eyes still glued to the article. Mal had already left, so there was only the four of them. On a whim, Paul drank the last of his tea, ignoring how it was still burning his throat. He winced when he set it the cup down though, and a chuckle told him John was finding it very amusing. Ringo and George were already heading to the doors.

“Shut up,” He told John, frowning not to let himself smile and realizing it was the first words he had addressed to his friend since their heated make-out session.

“I didn’t say anything,” John countered way too happily.

Paul just glared at him, to which John answered with a shit-eating grin. Paul saw that John hadn’t finished the pancake on his plate, but when he got up and placed his chair back neatly under the table, he heard his friend’s chair scraping the floor loudly too. So they were going to leave the room… together? And pass in front of the other patrons of the hotel? What if they saw? What if they understood? He suddenly found it hard to swallow, feeling exaggeratingly nervous. It was stupid. Of course no one would understand just by looking at them walk together. But what if they looked suspicious? If John could pick up his embarrassment, could someone else do too, and then deduce something wasn’t right between them? He started walking mechanically to the door, ignoring how close John was behind him. He was not that close, but. Still. To Paul, he felt like he was breathing down his neck. He wasn’t, of course, but…

When Paul finally reached the lift, John still on his trail, and noticed the hallway was otherwise empty, another fact exploded to his face: they were going to be alone in the lift. John stopped next to him, still not saying a word. Paul ignored him and pushed repeatedly on the call button. He crossed his arms not to let his fidgeting fingers betray him. The lift arrived with a ‘ting’ and they both entered. Without surprise, it was empty. Paul watched the doors close slowly, so slowly, feeling like he was getting trapped in hell with the forbidden fruit, who was casually leaning against the back of the cubicle. Standing in the other corner of the lift, Paul stared stubbornly at the numbers above the doors.

“You’re not even going to look at me, then?”

Paul startled slightly and hesitated for a second, his nervousness reaching new heights. These things were way harder when they were not in the dark of their room. But, deciding he would not let it become awkward or worse, he turned to John. John was observing him, blank-faced but still with a glint of mischief in his eyes. Not mad at him, then.

“No, I’m… I’m looking at you. Look,” He answered unhelpfully.

They kept looking at each other, as if each was daring the other to look away last. And Paul was fine with just looking at him, really. A grin appeared on John’s lovely face.

“I see that,” He said.

Paul waited but he did not say anything more. The lift arrived at their floor with a new ‘ting’ and Paul turned to the door, relieved. Just before the doors opened though, he felt a light kiss on his nape that sent a shiver through his whole body.

“I’m looking at you too,” John whispered in his neck before swiftly leaving the lift.

It was only when the doors closed again that Paul realized he was supposed to move at some point.

 

The day went on without further ‘incident’. Paul and John packed their things in silence, and if John still told the usual odd joke, he made no move on Paul, nor made any suggestive comment about anything. It was almost as if Paul had dreamed that kiss in the lift, but the way the skin of his nape was burning for what felt like hours afterwards proved he hadn’t. On the plane he was sitting next to George and Paul was happy to chat with him, noticing his own spirits had considerably lightened compared to the previous days, or even the previous months. He could almost turn off his swirling brain and just enjoy the moment. It was nice to be able to get excited by things again.

The concert of that night was a big one: Washington, more than 30,000 people and all of them screaming their heads off. They were all a bit nervous on stage at the beginning of the gig, the cherry bombs still very much present in their minds, but after a while, they all fell right back into the buzz of it. Paul shared the mic with John on several songs, and each time it only got harder not to stare at John for the whole duration of the song. Seeing John like that, all sweaty hair and sweaty face, smiling hard and shaking with the music, did something to his belly. They locked gaze at multiple times, sharing delighted looks and laughing together at the mic that kept falling down, and Paul prayed nobody could see his half-boner. That was a new worry he could have lived without, but being close to John and seeing him this happy was definitely worth it.

 

They were all running in the corridors of the stadium, still elated and buzzing from the show. The four of them were laughing over silly things and pushing one another, and it was the first time that Paul completely felt like he was 24 again. He was not the odd fourth piece, the witness behind a glass observing his friends and bandmates go on with their lives as if everything was right in the world. He was truly with them.

As they were entering the dressing room, Paul excused himself to go to the bathroom, feeling the itch to clean his hands properly after having manipulated the mic for the whole concert. When he entered the bathroom – which was thankfully empty and quiet, a nice change after the thirty minutes of screaming – Paul went to the sink, opening the water and cupping some water in his hands to splash his too hot face. He was both tired and still excited, not ready to go back to the noise of the dressing room just yet.

A click behind him burst his bubble of thoughts.

When Paul turned around, John was right there, sweaty and breathing hard from having apparently run. He slowly closed the door shut behind his back. The intensity of his stare sent a shiver down Paul’s spine; though of anxiety or anticipation, he was not sure. But he did not have long to ponder over it as in a few strides John came over, slid a hand on his neck and kissed him with force. Paul gasped, more than astonished, but his body immediately reacted and he found himself hungrily kissing back, as if it had only been waiting for it. Maybe he had.

He was vaguely aware of John slipping his other hand on his waist to bring him impossibly closer to him, and was ashamed to realize he had no control left whatsoever when a loud moan came out of him. Which made John startle and ever so slightly pull back for a second to stare at him with something that startlingly resembled awe, his hand coming to caress Paul’s lips and cheekbone.

“God. You have no idea,” He cryptically whispered while shaking his head.

Paul did not know what he meant but mirrored the gesture anyway, his gaze unable to leave John’s shiny lips. He fleetingly wondered what the probabilities of someone walking in on them were, but seeing the fire suddenly burning in his lower belly, he mostly realized that he did not care. Grasping John’s shirt with full hands, he tilted his head to kiss him again and wanted to yell his approval when the other man kissed him back instantly. John pushed him even more against the sink, so close Paul could feel every muscle of his thighs clenching. Paul felt like he was boiling, his breath coming in short puffs when John started nipping at his chin, his neck, his collarbones. Paul vaguely registered that John’s hands were travelling lower and lower over his body but he did not find the force in him to be shocked enough to stop him. Well, he was shocked for sure, but he did not actually want to stop him. He was also not surprised at all to notice he was getting fully hard – just like John was, pressing against his lower body. One of John’s hand reached to cup Paul’s bottom and the other was clasped in a bruising grasp on Paul’s hip. The heat emanating between both of them was unbelievable. Paul’s skin was burning everywhere their bodies were touching even though they were still wearing their fucking clothes. Paul grasped John’s back even harder, his lips almost hurting by now but he didn’t care. He didn’t want to let go of this.

The noise of steps down the hallway decided for them, though. John stepped back brutally, glancing to the door and rushing to open a tap and put his hands under it with a blank face. It had all happened so fast that Paul was left watching him, dumbfounded, until John realized he had not moved from his spot.

“Fuck Paul, move! You want to go to jail or what?!” He urgently whispered at him, his eyes widened in fear.

Paul finally snapped and rushed into a cabin, closing the latch right when the door of the bathroom opened. The man saluted John and Paul could see his heavy feet walking to the urinals. A few seconds later, the tap was turned off and John was apparently leaving the bathroom. Thankfully, the man was quick at doing his business: soon enough he was out of the bathroom as well, and Paul finally let out the breath he’d been holding.

It was a shock, was the thing. He knew homosexuality was still illegal, but somehow it hadn’t truly dawned on him that it was real. That he could be arrested and sent to prison for it – both of them. This was the real world he was living in, not some vague portrait of the past. He was literally breaking the law and thus endangering John’s life. And his own, accessorily. If anyone learned about this, they would be mocked, threatened, ostracized. Not by everyone, hopefully, but a vast majority still. And by the authorities. In this day and time, it would truly destroy their careers.

But as the extent of the situation dawned on him, bringing in a new layer of fear and stress, there was a new sentiment emerging in him as well. Paul was coming from a time where homosexuality was finally seen as normal, as alright. At least by most people. That knowledge had safely grown in him with time and he knew he was allowed to feel it, and to act on it. But John didn’t. As far as John knew, homosexuality was illegal and there was no insurance that views on queers would ever change. And yet, he was still taking this huge risk with Paul. Paul knew John was brave, but his admiration for the man suddenly blossomed to new heights.

He was so fucking brave he sort of wanted to give him the whole world.

Chapter Text

Paul was standing in front of the door of the dressing room and he could not bring himself to move. His heart was beating in his ears and his hands were sweaty. Thoughts were still swirling in his head, creating a massive headache of John, prison, his family, concerts, kisses, threats, touches. It had to have been ten minutes at most since he’d left the other guys to go to the bathroom, but it felt like it had been hours. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and finally opened the door.

The problem with stadiums was that since they were not used to having musicians – a.k.a. smaller groups of people than sports teams – they always gave them the tiniest dressing rooms they could find. And with Paul’s trouble to think about something other than John and how they were freaking breaking the law, finding himself nose to nose with a nearly shirtless version him the second he entered the room did not help. At all. They froze at each other for a second until Brian’s voice made them both startle by its unusual loudness.

“Come on lads, hurry, please!” He claimed, rubbing his forehead with two fingers, looking like he was at the end of his rope. “No Paul, don’t sit down, please, I’m trying to get them to get up.”

A quick look around the room told Paul Brian’s weariness was justified: for some reason, there were snacks and cigarettes everywhere, the smell of pot was nearly suffocating, Neil was trying to pick up each item of clothing that had somehow been discarded on every piece of furniture, someone had put chairs upside down in the middle of the room, Ringo was walking around bare feet with a cig in his hand and George was calmly eating a banana and still had his guitar on his lap despite Mal’s attempts to take it off him. And John, in the middle of it all, was simply finishing to unbutton his shirt, undisturbed.

So Paul just obeyed and spun dramatically on his heels to stand nicely next to the door. John chuckled at him and he tried very hard not to blush over it. And to look everywhere but at the visible skin of John’s more and more bare torso.

“George, just give the guitar to Mal. We’re late.”

“We’re always late anyway,” George drawled out with heavy-lidded eyes.

“Did you attach it to your vest?!” Mal asked George incredulously when he couldn’t get the guitar strap off over his head, to which the younger lad only answered with a vaguely uninterested look.

“I can’t find my shoe?” Ringo asked, zigzagging between everyone, his eyes glued to the floor. “Neil, have you seen my right shoe?”

“Uh…”

Neil, always helpful, started looking around too but his arms were so full of clothes he kept losing ties in the process. Paul felt John’s gaze on him but he avoided it, feeling way too awkward with everyone else around them (and he was pretty sure his erection was ready to come back full force any second)

“Seriously, what’s happening right now? The bus is waiting, we should be on it already…” Brian added, shaking his head. “John, what are you doing? Why are you undressing?”

“I was hot,” John shrugged, the face of innocence (even though Paul knew he was everything but).

“Put your shirt back on, please.”

“But…”

“Found it!” Neil exclaimed happily with the infamous shoe in hand.

Ringo and George looked up and started cheering, which made Paul laugh. For an instant, he was practically certain John’s eyes were on him. Ringo took the shoe and joyfully started tying his shoelaces.

“You can change in the bus,” Brian told John, looking like he was barely holding a sigh in. Then, looking at everyone else. “Come on, I’m serious! Let’s go!”

Brian opened the door and put a hand on Paul’s shoulder to guide him through it, just as Mal finally convinced George to just take his vest off too since for some reason the guitar strap was stuck to it.

“Alright, I’m coming, I’m coming,” George mumbled with a grin, raising his hands in defence and still holding his half-eaten banana.

Brian let go of Paul’s shoulder but Paul just stayed in the arch of the door, too amused by the situation to lose a second of it. When Ringo joined him at the door, Paul looked at his friend’s feet and felt the weird urge to take out his camera and take a picture of it, of the whole room, of his friends, of their spirits right at that moment. But he didn’t. Instead, he simply looked up to Ringo.

“Rich. Your left foot,” He chuckled.

Ringo looked down and noticed his left foot was still bare. George arrived next to them and looked down too, a laugh bubbling out of him.

“Shit,” Ringo simply said, without moving. “Oh, well.”

“If Rich can walk around with one shoe, why can’t I go shirtless?”

“John, for the love of God…!”

Yeah. Paul really had missed them.

 

Paul was alone and dozing off in the back of the bus, nestled between two cushions with a blanket on top in such a way that he was practically hidden from view, only his feet and the top of his head visible. The exhaustion from the day had finally taken the best of him, especially seeing how early he had woken that morning, and he felt a bit shivery despite the heat of the American summer. He was so scared at the idea that someone could somehow know just by looking at him that all day long – and even more since the bathroom incident – he had spent a lot of energy minding his every movement and being careful to look as normal as possible. In a way, it was almost like he was living his first weeks in the past all over again: second-guessing everything he was doing, feeling like he was not acting the way he was supposed to, being distant in fear of saying the wrong thing. He was probably being a little too distant, but it was hard to behave normally when all his bearings were blurred like that. Although apparently, he was paranoid for nothing since nobody had said anything yet. And John had not attempted anything since the bathroom incident either. Being almost caught in action had probably scared him just as much as it had Paul, in the end.

So now Paul was happy to just tune out the rest of the world – i.e. John and the lads – and just use the travel time to rest and gather himself. It was also nice not to have his lower region on alert anymore. It had been so long since he had been aroused like that for such an extended period of time (albeit not at an equal intensity the whole time) that he felt psychologically tired. He had forgotten how it was to have a young, and very… competent body like that. He buried his head deeper into one of the cushion, enjoying its much-appreciated softness (one thing he had noticed was that fabrics were much softer and plusher in the future, so finding a cushion that matched his new standards was a feat in itself).

The bench seat he was huddled on dipped under someone else’s weight but Paul did not react, feeling sleep tugging at his mind already. The person stayed silent too, and Paul vaguely thought that if it had been John, he would have probably cracked a joke about how Paul was such a grandpa or something. Paul was nearly asleep when a quiet voice rose next to him.

“I wish we’d arrived at the hotel already.”

Paul popped his head out of the cushions and turned sleepy eyes to the owner of the voice. John was sitting with his arms encircling his bent legs, a cigarette hanging from his delicate fingers. He was not looking at Paul, his gaze lost in the void, looking a bit tired, and one of his legs was bouncing nervously. They were alone since the others were still gathered at the front of the bus, their chatter a lulling melody in the background. It took Paul a couple of seconds to process his words.

“We’re half-way there, I think,” He answered slowly. “I can’t wait for my bed either.”

John turned to him and Paul forced himself to hold his gaze despite his embarrassment, trying not to stare at him with heart-eyes like some bloody schoolgirl with a crush. There was an emotion in John’s eyes that he could not quite decipher. Was he starting to regret…? Was he about to tell Paul they should just forget everything and go on like nothing ever happened? Paul swallowed at the thought, realizing he did not know if he would be able to do that.

When someone shouted a bit further in the bus, John turned to the sound and Paul enjoyed the occasion to observe his neat profile. Once again in a very short span of days, he was amazed not to have really seen sooner how beautiful and lovely he was.

“I’m not sleepy, though,” John suddenly said in a considerably lower voice, still not looking at Paul.

Paul felt like his face was simultaneously paling and deeply blushing. It was not like him to react like a prude, but it seemed like John just kept shattering every certainty he had about himself, one at a time. Paul glanced nervously at the others, even though they were way too far to hear anything, and swallowed audibly, his throat having become suddenly very dry. John’s muscles were tight, his jaw was squared, his fingers were quivering. The skin of his neck was pulsating, looking obscenely smooth. There was a tension emanating from him that was so palpable Paul could almost see it. And as a consequence, Paul felt like he was about to vibrate out of his skin.

“I mean, unless you’d rather sleep,” John continued when Paul didn’t answer, sounding slightly less confident now and taking a drag of his cigarette.

Paul’s mind was exploding, but he was also weirdly calm. He knew. So he stared at John until his friend finally looked back.

“No,” He simply said. Then, with a bit more force. “I’m not that sleepy either.”

John’s gaze was so deep and penetrating Paul felt naked under his scrutiny but he remained as confident-looking as possible. Then, John raised lightly one eyebrow and Paul could barely detect the ghost of a smile on his lips. John took another drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke out slowly.

“Alright, then.”

And with that, he got up and left. Paul could only stare at the now empty space, feeling too tight in his pants.

 

About two hours later, the bus finally arrived at the hotel and Paul was throbbing with anticipation. He had had so much time on the bus to think about what was to come – even though he only had a very vague idea of it – that he was pretty much a mess: sheer terror in his mind, deep disgust in his stomach and aching desire in the rest of his body. They were going to do… something. They had freaking planned it, basically. It was real, and imminent. Yet he was so fucking nervous he was not sure he would actually be able to do anything else than ignore everyone and bury himself straight into his bed.

They all got out of the bus, stretching their sore limbs, chatting quietly now that the buzz from the show had completely vanished. It was late, and thankfully only a couple of fans were loitering in the hopes of seeing them so they were easy to avoid as they were waiting for Brian and Mal to get their room keys. The journey to their rooms seemed interminable to Paul, who glanced at John once in a while only to be more and more surprised by how eerily calm and normal he seemed about it all. In comparison, Paul felt like a wreck.

Brian and Mal, who were leading their little procession, stopped and turned to distribute the keys to their chambers. Everyone was carrying their own luggage with their vest on their arms, the heat of August leaving them all sweaty, slow and tired.

“So, we have the numbers 203 and 205 for you,” Brian read on the keys as he was giving them out to Ringo and Paul. “And 208 and 209 for us.”

“Good night lads!” Neil claimed with a wave, following Mal who was already going to their shared room.

“Nighty night,” George yawned as an answer, whereas Ringo was already walking backwards down the corridor and waving to the rest of them.

Paul did not answer, his voice stuck somewhere in his throat. George, John and he walked down the corridor behind Ringo and when they arrived in front of the 205 Paul stopped, feeling John stop too.

“Sweet dreams Georgie boy,” John said in a funny voice, pinching George’s cheek.

“Fuck off,” George laughed as he pushed his hand off.

Paul chuckled and opened the door with slightly shaky hands, watching his bandmate disappear into the 203 room behind Ringo. He entered his as well, ignoring the heat from John’s body right behind him, and went straight to the furthest bed to put his suitcase down next to it. The room was classical for a rather luxurious hotel: two twin beds, light orange wallpaper, a typical 1960s décor, ostentatious psychedelic paintings on the walls, a plant in a corner, a fancy TV in another. Paul was still as surprised to see that style again. It looked like it belonged in a museum.

A heavy noise behind him made Paul turn in a flash towards John, so fast he nearly lost his balance. John had set his suitcase down and was now fiddling with the long leaves of the plant, observing them intently as if they were particularly interesting – or as if he was trying to cave holes into them by the sheer intensity of his gaze. God, he was so obviously nervous. He looked pretty much as distressed as Paul felt. Why were they doing this to themselves? This was all so painful, so embarrassing. Sex was not supposed to be that painful, was it? And what if someone heard them, called the cops on them?Could Paul maybe just, stop all of it…? Call the whole... thing, off?

Paul approached him slowly, trying not to spook him. He then cleared his throat and raked a hand through his hair, feeling John’s gaze snap to him.

“So,” He started, his voice hoarser than expected from not having spoken for so long. “Maybe we could just—“

But he didn’t have time to finish that John was on him, kissing him hard. Paul was so caught off-guard that he nearly fell backwards, but John’s strong hands were gripping his shoulder and neck and maintaining him right there against him. It took another few seconds for Paul’s mind to come down from its shock and for his body to react, but when they did all his worries flew far away and he found himself kissing back just as hastily.

John’s stubble scratched his skin and despite how odd the feeling was, it was also burning him in the best way possible. He had a large jaw and sideburns that made him all man. His fingers were soft on Paul’s neck, and Paul could feel his roughened pads, the result of years of playing the guitar. His hair was sticking to his temples and to his neck, and when Paul caressed his forehead to push it aside, he could feel the protruding mole between his eyes. He smelt like cigarette and leather, and his sweat smelt like home, like they were back in Hamburg playing in a dingy bar and swapping prellies and dreaming of seeing their names written over buildings. It was all so achingly familiar that Paul was overwhelmed. It was John. His dead best friend, more alive than ever under his very hands. And in that moment, he had never wanted anything more.

John tilted his head and licked Paul’s bottom lip, and the fire in Paul’s belly roared. He opened his mouth and the kiss grew deeper, his trembling hands roaming over John’s arms and chest, unable to rest on one place at a time and pulling John closer to him, always closer. There was so much he wanted to discover, so much he wanted to touch that he felt like he was going insane, like he might die if he stopped touching him if only for a second. As if he could hear Paul thinking, John’s hands travelled to the front of his shirt, fumbling with the buttons. A flash of fear crossed Paul’s mind at the thought of finding himself shirtless in front of him, but as soon as John had popped the buttons open and was slipping his surprisingly cool hand over his chest, the fear was crushed under his growing desire. Paul pulled back in a gasp and rushed to open the buttons of John’s shirt, biting on his lip when he couldn’t do it as fast as he wished.

A whine from John surprised him and when he looked up, he froze: John looked wrecked.

His pupils were so blown his eyes were almost black, his hair was sticking up everywhere (courteousy of Paul), his lips were red and swollen, and his cheeks were flushed. He was breathing hard and staring at Paul with a hunger that was almost intimidating. It was mad to realize that he was like that because of Paul, and even madder to realize that Paul himself was in pretty much the same state – at least if the heat from his cheeks was anything to go by.

Still staring at John, Paul dedicatedly detached the last button of his white shirt and pushed it off his shoulders. He had seen his chest hundreds of times, maybe even thousands. And yet, now, it felt like he was seeing it for the very first time, heaving with John’s hard breathing. Forbidding himself to linger on how weird it was to crave a chest that was unequivocally flat, Paul approached quivering fingers and started slowly tracing the faint lines of his muscles, his nipples, his collarbones, his tummy. John gasped and shivered under the touch, but did not move, letting Paul discover his body at his own pace. Until apparently he could not wait any longer and his lips caught Paul’s in another searing kiss.

From then on, they were back to squeezing and groping each other in a hurry, and John guided them towards his bed, pushing Paul on it – and yet, still breaking his fall with a gentle hand behind Paul’s back, as if he was worried Paul would somehow get hurt. When the material of his shirt bunched up annoyingly behind his back, Paul raised himself a little and wriggled out of the shirt with John’s help. John went immediately back to his lips and Paul bit him lightly, delirious with want and satisfaction when it made John moan.

As Paul was gently cradling John’s face in his hands and kissing him deeper and deeper, John started unbuttoning Paul’s pants. Totally lost in the desire that was pulsing throughout his whole body – he was practically vibrating with it – Paul raised his hips to help him and in a flash he was only in his underwear, his erection straining against the cotton. He could not even remember the last time he had been this hard. John’s hand roamed over his hairy legs, leaving burns everywhere he was touching him. Sadly parting one of his hands from John’s jaw (and John freaking whined at the loss too), Paul tried to get rid of John’s pants as well but with his eyes shut tight with pleasure and his shaky hand, he couldn’t find the button.

“Yours too,” He finally panted in John’s mouth, tapping at his hips unhelpfully.

John chuckled and took off his own pants, discarding them before diving back onto Paul and lying on top of him. As he was flattening himself over Paul, an alarm was going off in Paul’s head but before he had time to react, John’s rock-hard erection was just against his, the fabric separating them thin enough to leave nothing to the imagination. And then, Paul’s brain just shut down. He was feeling so much that he realized with shame that he would not last much longer, if at all. Trying to hold onto the pleasure, he surged up to kiss John once again, and he found without much surprise that he was already addicted to the feeling. John really was an incredible kisser, it was quite unbelievable. How was that even possible?! When one of his hands travelled to John’s deliciously plump bottom to clench it – the other gripping the hair on John’s nape, John started grinding on him and… Jesus fucking Christ. Was that death? Or was he being born again, somehow?

And then, then, just as he thought he could not endure more before exploding figuratively and literally, John did the unthinkable: he plunged his hand into Paul’s underwear and grabbed him in the most intimate way possible. Paul gasped in his mouth, tightening both hands so intensely it probably hurt John a little, but John only grimaced and started grinding harder against Paul, his hand working wonders in the other's underpants. At that point, they were both just panting harshly, John tucking his head in Paul’s neck, and Paul could feel his wet breath on his skin and it made him want to kiss him and caress him but he could just bring his lips to the skin of his shoulder, and he couldn’t unclench his fingers nor move because this was way too fucking good and—

And just like that his whole body tensed under John; his vision went blurry, and the air was knocked out of him. He could feel John’s hand loosening his hold but he was still chasing his own release and in a sudden urge of confidence (or affection, he was not quite sure), Paul swiftly reached into John’s underpants and grabbed him too, ignoring how odd it was, and brought him to the edge. John shuddered against him, tense all over, and after a few seconds of panting, fell limply over Paul.

As he was slowly coming back to his senses, Paul realized how drenched in sweat they both were. When he licked his own lips, they tasted salty. The cover of the bed was a mess, they were both disgusting and sticky, Paul could no longer feel his feet nor his hands, he was parched and dizzy, John was too heavy and too hot on him and his breath was tickling Paul’s neck: in one word, it was amazing.

John finally raised himself to plop down next to Paul, their sides flushed together on the too narrow bed, and they just stayed like that, breathing hard and staring at the ceiling. After a while, Paul realized he probably should say something, make sure John was alright, that they were still alright. Ask what all of that was, what it meant, if it meant anything at all.

But instead, the only words that came out of his mouth were:

“Well. That was nice.”

Chapter Text

They didn’t talk about it.

During the day, they were exactly the same as usual: making fun of each other, laughing with the lads, playing cards, singing on stage, talking to fans. Flying from one city to the next, trying not to fall asleep at the most inappropriate moments. Days passed, the four of them were just as tight as ever, and there was no specific difference between John and Paul. In daylight, they were just the great friends they had always been, without any ambiguity.

But at night, as soon as they closed the door to their shared room, things changed. Paul could not quite explain it. It was as if since their weird conversation in the bus, they had got to a tacit agreement not to talk about it and to keep… this, to their room. Once in that closed bubble, they would collapse against each other, their hands rushing to take off their clothes, their lips never feeling satiated. They didn’t go very far, all things considered (Paul had barely even seen John’s dick in the dark of the room) but seeing as it was a man Paul was doing this with, it was already a lot more than his brain – and groin – could actually process. It was like touching John became vital, kissing him as necessary as drinking water, getting off with him the only possible way to fall asleep later at night. And the more time passed, the more Paul was getting addicted to the other man.

It made no sense, and Paul would not think about it once they had finished and he’d be back in his own bed, because he could not explain it, and there was no point in trying to anyway. They didn’t talk during it, or after it, or ever at all. There was no cuddling, no kiss in the morning, not secret rendezvous in the day nor anything romantic like that. Not that Paul was opposed to it in itself – he was, after all, a romantic at heart – but it just did not happen. They were not like that, and John seemed perfectly okay with it. And he certainly was not brave enough to discuss it with him, or to try something a bit more… intimate, out of the blue. And he was fine with it, really. It was uncomplicated. He never thought he would have anything like that in his life, but they were pretty much the definition of friends with benefits.

In a sense, it was easier for him to process the situation that way because then he could dissect it and compartmentalize it. Take one problem at a time and fully separate his normal day life from his abnormal night life (and he knew, he knew it wasn’t abnormal per se, but he couldn’t help but see it that way. It still was his freaking male best friend). They were finally back to being best friends, and they just happened to use that extra… whatever it was that had erupted between, into hook-up sessions. Since they were young and full of, um, energy, and now that Paul had realized how deprived of sexual release his body actually was, having someone he knew to let go of it with was way more practical than having to meet random girls anywhere. They just needed to keep it absolutely secret and impossible to detect if they didn’t want to end up in jail or beaten up. It was still dangerous and Paul would often get anxious about it at the most random times, sometimes so much he could barely look at John in the eyes. This new situation also meant he had to somewhat rediscover what sex could mean. This was big for Paul – huge, even. He had never been with a man, and that man being freaking John only made it more nerve-wracking. So the only way his mind managed to cope with it was by ignoring everything, by trying not to think about its meaning or its consequences. By giving in to his desires and categorically shutting out his concerns and fears.

It was a brittle solution, but for now, it had to work.

 

They were all in the dressing room, relaxing before it was time for their concert in Memphis. Paul was in a corner, back against the wall and getting his notebook to write down a few lyrics that had been travelling in his head since lunch. They were not particularly upbeat and even a bit sombre, but it could still turn out into a nice tune. He travelled the pages to find some empty ones and when his eyes spotted particularly messy writing, he ticked and went back to the page in question. At first look, he did not recognize the small, distorted paragraphs, but when he started reading them, he realized they were dreams. Dreams he had copied right when he had awaken then completely forgot about. He barely even remembered he had kept trace of so many of them – they even took three pages. The first one was dated July 26th and the last one August 18th, just the day before. As he read them, confusion and uneasiness permeated him.

There was a big house in the snow and it was night but I could see everything. there was mary talking behind the door and she was trying to open it but I could just hear the wood rattling and there was no doorknob on my side, and my feet were frozen and I tried to run against the door to break it but I was becoming wood too I think. Mary kept saying I wasn’t trying hard enough

In the forest, the kids were running and I could hear their screams everywhere but I couldn’t see them, and there was rain – or snow I’m not sure – and john arrived and took my hand and said I needed to come back home before I got lost too but when I tried to follow him he was not there anymore and I could still hear the children screaming

Mum was talking to linda and the kids, and every time I tried to talk too they shushed me it was weird

I was in front of a house but it looked like a stadium, and I know my family lived in it but I couldn’t see them, and there was a gate with Brian as the guard but when I got closer it wasn’t him anymore, it was another man but I know it was still him? Then I don’t remember but suddenly I was in the field and people in the stands were screaming at me, they said they didn’t want a liar inside. I think they were all from the future

John was dead

I was trying to get into the house, I think I dreamt about it before. the kids were inside, and john was at the door but I couldn’t touch him and I was crying, and stella was telling me from the tree that I had forgotten all of them so I was not allowed in the house anymore. And when I asked john why he was not with me outside (I don’t know but it was the only thing that I was finding weird in the dream) he said that he couldn’t be with me if I didn’t understand it. I think I knew what he was talking about but I don’t remember

I was in my bedroom in forthlin road but it didn’t look the same anymore and there was ringo and George playing when I was trying to sleep. It was annoying

There was rain and it was all red, I was walking in some field and there were puddles and james was walking ahead of me and he kept falling into the puddles and after it was blood and I was crying because I knew it was john’s and james was drowning in it

Paul closed abruptly the notebook, not able to read one more word. He realized with a start that he was shivering. He barely remembered half of these dreams and yet he could still feel the anguish and horror they had filled him with at the time.

“Hey, you okay mate?”

Startled at the voice, Paul looked up to Ringo, who was standing in front of him and eating a peach.

“Yeah, sure, alright,” Paul nodded with a smile.

“You want a peach? The lady from the venue brought some, they’re really good.”

“Not hungry, but thanks!”

When Ringo went back to the others who were talking together a bit further away, Paul glanced at his closed notebook, wondering how much meaning and credit he could attribute to these dreams. He was used to having meaningful dreams, clear ones where he would just see the people he loved and connect emotions to them. But these felt different, a lot darker, more confuse, more tempestuous. Reading them, remembering them was not pleasant. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that they had a purpose, that they did not keep happening by simple chance. There was a clear pattern linking them, and if Paul could only manage to understand it, he was convinced his life might get a little bit easier.

 

“I’m bored,” John deadpanned, sprawled out like a starfish on the bed, head hanging from it.

The four of them were in an old house they had all rented in Los Angeles to enjoy their two days off. They had just been performing for nearly ten days in a row, except for the odd press conference day and another day off they had already spent in LA too but which had been more of a social grouping with other artists than anything. The house they were staying in was surprisingly ancient but quite charming, definitely not the one Paul remembered from his first 1966 summer. It still had belongings from the owners in it so it made for fun discoveries once in a while, like the surprising kilos of potatoes stocked in the pantry or the thousands of various napkins available in the closets. It was a nice place, though, and they were all happy to enjoy the quiet, the sun, the pool and having each a separate bedroom, Neil and Mal having rented another place closer to the sea. Brian was staying with the two roadies, but since he had business to attend to they barely saw him anyway.

The concerts had been demanding and deafening, but Paul still had enjoyed every single one of them. It was as if he was living on stolen time and everything seemed bigger, brighter, more intense. Every person he saw, be them in the crews or in the crowds, looked incredibly young to him, innocent and carefree. When he watched his bandmates prepare for the gigs or even perform, it was like being the witness of a documentary and yet, he felt connected to them. He understood what they were going through because he lived it too. He felt it. And that was something that had not happened to him in a very long time. Even the new evolution of his relationship with John sort of anchored him more into the present.

The first night, they had all been so knackered that they had just each collapsed on their respective beds, which had been a bit weird for Paul who had unbelievingly got used to sleep with John every night (even if the thought was still too weird to clearly formulate in his mind). It was also a relief, though, to see that John was dead on his feet too and that they both agreed without actually talking not to do anything in that house, at least not the first night. Actually, for Paul, doing anything with John during the whole stay in the house was an absolute no-no. Especially now that their rooms were so close, with walls so thin. It was unquestionably out of the question to take the slightest risk to have the other guess, understand or discover anything was going on. He just hoped his friend was on the same wavelength and that they wouldn’t need to… talk, about it.

As of now, it was the middle of the afternoon and the four lads did not quite know what to do after having slept in and fooled around in the pool all morning. George was sitting on the bed with John, back against the wall, and was trying to read a magazine, his efforts ruined by John himself who kept trying to put his feet on his lap. Paul was crossed-legged on the windowsill, idly playing on his guitar and thinking over and over about his dreams in the faint hope of understanding their meaning. They felt so real…

“We could go out in disguise,” Ringo proposed from the wardrobe where he was rummaging through the clothes that were left behind by the owners and/or the previous tenants.

“Ooooh yes! Let’s do that,” John blurted out, jumping up from the bed and nearly falling face first in the process if not for George reaching out to catch his arm.

Paul chuckled fondly, staying on the windowsill. Ringo and John gathered around the wardrobe and soon George joined them, the three of them checking out what could be used. One half of the wardrobe had hangers and the other had drawers. From Paul’s spot, he could only see their backs, their arms pushing one another and the clothes they were throwing over the bed along the way.

"You can't just mess up all their clothes," Paul chastised from his spot, trying not to sound like a spoilsport (but feeling very much like one).

"Don't worry, we'll put them back after," Ringo answered, turning to him with a smile.

“What is that?” George wondered aloud.

John leant forwards and stood back up with a grimace.

“Blimey, it smells like death," He said, and Paul was mildly annoyed not to see what they were talking about.

"Urgh, it's sticky, just drop it!” Ringo said, sounding vaguely alarmed.

“Look, I could be a marine captain with that.”

Paul still couldn’t see anything but Ringo laughed and George’s shoulders were shaking too.

“Try that one, Johnny, it goes well with your eyes.”

“Shut it, you fag,” John chuckled. “Is there a hat?”

“I don’t see any.”

They bent even closer as Paul could hear they were opening the various drawers.

“Can you hold this, I want to—Wait, what is…?” Ringo started.

The three of them went silent for a second, then all screamed and startled, brutally recoiling from the wardrobe like kids in a haunted house.

“What the fuck?!” George let out in a shrill voice.

They all had their arms stretched out to the other – whether not to fall or to reassure one another was not very clear – and John even bumped harshly his head into the top of the wardrobe.

“Ow!” John winced, a hand shooting up to his skull.

“Get it off! Get it off!” Ringo cried out.

Still one hand on his head, John brutally pushed the drawer closed, nearly trapping George’s fingers in it. His curiosity definitely piqued, Paul put the guitar down and approached them slowly.

“What was it?” He asked, half expecting them not to answer.

“There’s a massive fucking spider in that one,” George huffed out, turning wild eyes to Paul and pointing at the top drawer.

Paul looked at him, eyebrows raised in surprise, then only laughed. He came closer, fitting in between Ringo and John and pulled on the drawer, which brought an immediate reaction from his bandmates.

“No no no!” The three of them shouted at the same time.

“What are you doing?!” Ringo shrieked.

“I don’t fear spiders,” Paul told him, playfully narrowing his eyes.

“You haven’t see that one, it was fucking gigantic,” John told him very seriously.

Paul ignored them and abruptly opened the drawer, which turned out to be almost empty except for a few papers. The infamous spider enjoyed the occasion to peek out and run out of the drawer to go over and behind the wardrobe. The four men jumped a bit at the sight. John’s arm went over Paul’s stomach, as if he was trying to shield him from the beast, which ridiculously warmed Paul’s whole being. If the gesture was a tad less platonic than usual, he reassured himself by thinking he was surely the only one to notice.

“Nasty thing,” George huffed out with a shiver, taking a step back.

Paul started pushing the drawer back, struggling with the old wood. But what none of them had expected was for dozens – or even more – of baby spiders to suddenly rush out of the drawer and run all over the wardrobe, not even vaguely following the trail of their mother.

The screams and curses they all let out were probably loud enough to wake the dead. From then on, it all happened in a few seconds. Ringo jumped so far back he fell backwards and involuntarily tripped George in the process, who tried to stop his fall by clinging onto one of the coats, which, of course, simply fell from the hanger and did not stop anything. On the contrary, it only brought down several coats and dresses along the way. Paul unsteadily tried to push the drawer close and had the reflex to reach out to grab John’s shirt. And as for John, he securely embraced Paul from behind to drag him away from the wardrobe. Which actually worked until, of course, they stumbled upon one of the coats that was now on the floor and ended up falling on the other two.

For a few dazed seconds, they all stayed sprawled out on the floor, Ringo on his back, George entangled in the clothes and John still sort of hugging Paul from behind (which had quite nicely broken his fall) until Ringo broke the spell.

“Fuck, they’re everywhere!” Ringo suddenly screeched, getting up in a flash.

The others scrambled to get up as well, even if as they got up John did not quite let go of Paul, his hand still firm on Paul’s waist. When George realized he couldn’t get the coats and dresses off of himself, he started giggling uncontrollably, probably still high on the scare given by the spiders - and just high, period. Seeing him struggle like that made Paul laugh so much his ribs were aching but still he tried to help him get rid of the cursed clothing with John’s help. Ringo was keeping the door open, one hand on the doorknob and hopping around as if the spiders could be trying to climb his legs any moment.

“Come on, hurry up!” He pressed them.

“I can’t… Fuck, I can’t…” George kept laughing, which contrasted with his frenetic movements.

“Take my hand!” Paul told him, finally standing himself and trying to heave George on his feet.

George hovered on his feet, which were burdened by a heavy fur coat.

“Just push it aside,” John chuckled as well, throwing worried glances to the wardrobe, still threateningly close, and still clutching an old flowery dress in his free hand. “AAAH FUCKING SHIT! They’re on the dress, they’re on the dress, fuck…!”

In a flash, he recoiled, threw the dress away, took Paul’s hand and pulled him to the door, George jumping over the pile of clothes next to them. The three of them ran to the door, which Ringo closed as soon as they were out of the room before they all went running through the huge house, stopping only when they safely reached the garden. As Paul stopped and bent to find his breath back, he realized he was still holding John’s hand and suddenly dropped it as if he’d been burnt. He looked at the other lads and was glad to see they were all struggling to find their breath, and thus didn’t seem to have noticed anything. Only John sent him a quick unreadable glance, grimacing as he was panting.

The memory of his dreams came back to Paul so brutally he felt at once nauseous, his ears tingling. For a moment, he was not quite sure where he was, when he was. Then, as quick as it had come, the sensation was gone and Paul was still in the garden, standing up. George and Ringo were walking to the terrace and John was staring at him with a worried look. It took a moment for Paul to realize his hand was on Paul’s wrist.

“Are you alright?” He asked, very softly.

But Paul was not, and John’s hand was too much. He brushed it away and nodded, answering without looking at him.

“Yeah, fine. I’m going to take a piss.”

Then he went for the house, leaving John behind without a second glance. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t face John’s reckless gentleness. He needed space. Just some time to figure out what the hell was wrong with him. And why he couldn’t shake the damn dreams from his mind.

 

The problem, Paul found out at dinner when Brian, Mal and Neil had joined them, was they were all so scared to fall upon the spiders again that no one dared try to kill them – or at least get them out. Paul was almost willing to do it, but George had vehemently convinced him not to, arguing that seeing how big the mother was she was probably venomous. Paul doubted the veracity of that, but he was too tired and still too nauseous to fight about it and decided to just let it go. The other problem was that it was John’s room that was now condemned for eternity (except when Neil made a timed run in it to retrieve John’s bag, under everybody's cheering). And of course, nobody wanted to have someone else in their bedroom. It was almost comical, how convenient – or very much not, depending on the perspective – the whole thing was. As if the gods had somehow decided Paul was having it too easy and wanted to spice things up a little.

So, after an excruciating conversation where everyone was just demonstrating how selfish and cold-hearted Paul was for leaving John to die in the streets, even though he could just as easily sleep with George or Ringo – or hell, even on the freaking couch – Paul finally gave up and accepted to ‘host’ the man. He knew it was stupid, and that they all meant it as a joke (and even he himself found it funny), but he couldn’t help but to fight not to blush at the thought that they all wanted John to be in the same room with him. As if they just knew it would embarrass him, and thank God they had no idea just how spot on they were. During the whole argument though, John had been uncharacteristically quiet, just pointedly chuckling here and there to pretend he was still participating. And whatever his reason was, Paul could only sympathize with him. It was terrifying: ever since their… activities, had started, they had not ever been in the same bed to just sleep. They always went back to their own beds the minute they had finished. So now, even though he had done it an incalculable number of times before, sharing a bed with John again sounded foreign, impossible, an ordeal even.

So Paul did what he was doing most of the time these days: he buried his head in the sand, ignored John the whole evening, went to take a shower, put on his pyjamas, took his time brushing his teeth and just went to bed. He did not fall asleep, of course, the dark empty room making it only easier for his mind to dive back into the images of his nightmares. John was in a lot of them. But what was weird was that he couldn’t quite tell if it was present John or old John. The more he thought about it, the more he felt like it was a mix of both, the essence of John himself. All his memories of the man fused in one person, holding knowledge of the future present John could not have and recollections old John had never lived. It confused Paul.

The door creaked and Paul froze, eyes open but still laying on his side with the sheet up to his shin despite the heat. John perhaps assumed he was asleep and just went on with his life; Paul could hear him rummaging in his bag for a moment, then leave the room for the bathroom. When he came back, the smell of his coconut shampoo invaded the room and Paul closed his eyes to enjoy it better, his heart fluttering. He loved that smell. Had he changed his shampoo, or had Paul just never noticed before how good it smelt?

For a few minutes Paul lost track of what John was doing, the man being bloody too silent about it, until the mattress dipped and the sheet moved. Paul realized when he started feeling dizzy that he had been holding his breath for a while.

John stopped moving in the bed, and silence fell over the room. Paul did not turn around and slowly let his body grow heavy again. Minutes elapsed, longer and longer, and still sleep did not find Paul even though he was feeling drained. He knew John was not sleeping either, and he had no illusion that John knew that he was not sleeping, but he was still holding on to the hope when his friend’s quiet voice rose.

“I know you’re not asleep.”

Well.

Paul froze again before letting out a sigh, finally turning onto his back. He saw from his periphery that John was lying on his back as well, staring at the ceiling. Not able to stop himself any longer, Paul turned his head fully to observe his friend. He looked tired, sad even. Definitely not the agitated and enthusiastic man he had been since they had arrived in LA.

“Are you okay?” Paul asked softly in a raw voice, somehow feeling like he was not allowed to ask that.

“Can’t sleep,” John shrugged.

He opened his mouth, hesitated, then closed it again. He glanced quickly at Paul, who was calmly looking at him, and readjusted his head on his pillow.

“Every time I close my eyes I just see the fucking spiders running everywhere,” He confessed.

Paul blinked and just burst out laughing, not caring if it woke up the others. And he cared even less when John looked at him and started chuckling too, his eyes bright again.

“Christ, there were hundreds of them,” Paul let out, rubbing his crying eye.

“How long do you think they had been in there?” John wondered with an incredulous smile.

“I don’t know. Way too long probably!”

“Jesus. We should sue Brian for this.”

Paul laughed again and turned to face John, slipping a hand under his pillow and the other under his cheek. He relished fleetly the fact that this felt normal, warm. They were alright.

“We killed somebody’s spiders once with George,” He told John, lowering his voice for the sake of the lads’ sleep in the other rooms.

John turned to him too, grinning.

“Really?” He inquired, whispering too.

“Yeah. Jimmy and Jemima. That was the spiders’ names, not the owners', you know. We were hitchhiking and staying at their place but we had no idea they were their pets.”

“Well, who owns a fucking spider?” John chuckled.

“Country people, apparently,” Paul giggled, stifling a yawn in the process.

They both let their laughter ebb away, peacefully looking at each other, barely a feet separating them. Weirdly enough, it was the most intimate Paul had ever felt with John.

“It’s crazy that you still remember that, though,” John suddenly noticed. “Wasn’t it like sixty years ago for you?”

“Even more,” Paul smiled. Then, with a shrug. “I don’t know, it’s a precious memory. I cherished it.”

John looked all over his face and just gave him a tender smile. This time, Paul could not fight the yawn that overcame him.

“You need to sleep,” John noted.

“Yeah, I guess,” Paul relented, his eyes feeling heavy already.

He was in the middle of rubbing his eye with a finger again when he suddenly felt soft lips on his cheek. When he opened his eyes, they were gone.

“Good night, Paul,” John told him with a smile before turning his back on him and settling deeper into the sheet.

Paul was left staring at his back, feeling all kinds of squirmy things in his belly.

“Night, John,” He murmured to the darkness.

Chapter Text

Paul woke up with a jolt, his jerking legs entangled in the sheet that stuck to his sweaty skin. It took him a few seconds for his wide eyes to register where he was: in a dark bedroom, feeble moonlight filtering through the half-opened windows. He swallowed with difficulty and realized his arm and hip were touching another body. He stared at the sleeping form that was mostly snuggled in the dark, his sluggish brain struggling to connect the dots. A single sliver of light was crossing the bare elbow of the person, and Paul’s whole body relaxed and mellowed in an instant. It was only John.

Feeling a bit nauseous, he pushed the sheet away and let his feet tangle in the air, breathing hard to make the desire to throw up go away. His arms were still shaking and could barely support his weight, so he bent over his legs, letting his burning lips linger on his ice-cold knee. He knew it was not the best position to fight nausea, but he was exhausted and aching all over for having been so tense in his sleep. He did not remember his dream except for the sound of someone screaming – maybe himself.

There was some ruffling behind him and John’s tiny, croaky voice rose in the silence.

“Paul…?”

Paul did not answer, not even sure he would be able to speak if he wanted to. More ruffling and he could feel heat next to him and a warm hand on his back.

“What’s going on?” John asked, sounding worried.

Paul just shook his head.

John did not push, and a second later he was getting up and Paul heard him leave the room. Paul lost a bit track of time after that, only noticing with relief that his urge to throw up was slowly ebbing away. He straightened his back a little, his arms still tightly woven over his belly. And then John was kneeling in front of him and wordlessly handing him a glass of water. Paul took it and gulped down the cool water. It was doing wonders to his dry throat and the heat lingering in his face. John took the empty glass from his hand and put it on the bedside table. Paul managed to send him a small grateful smile. John looked paler than usual, a worried frown still on his face.

Paul let out a long breath, stretched his stomach and slowly lied back down. He saw in his periphery John get up as well and go back to his side of the bed. They laid side by side, both on their backs. They could hear crickets outside, and the faint noise of traffic in the distance. Paul was pushing back his sweaty hair when a thought suddenly burst in his mind. He turned to John, suddenly in a panic.

“Your head, how is it?” He asked in a haste.

He raked a gentle but firm hand over John’s head, looking for any bumps. John just looked at him, his frown deepening and his lips parting in confusion. But he still let Paul’s hand scrap at his skull.

“You bumped it. The wardrobe,” Paul clarified, his thoughts still a bit jumbled.

A strong emotion passed over John’s face, but Paul could not decipher it. Maybe he could have had, had he been more awake.

“I’m… I’m okay,” His friend answered, sounding so tiny and vulnerable Paul wanted to cradle him in his arms.

He didn’t, of course. Instead, he turned his head again and closed his eyes, sighing heavily. He was tipping over the verge of sleep when he heard John’s small voice a final time.

“Thank you.”

 

When Paul woke up next, his body was aching from some residual tension, but he felt somewhat rested. It was late, much later than he was used to. He stayed a long time in bed, observing with sleepy eyes the sunlit trees behind the still half-opened window. He was alone, had noticed it the second he’d come to his senses.

Dragging himself out of bed was hard, but he finally did it after what felt like hours of watching the visible bits of the trees. The house was silent, which was odd compared to the previous morning. His bandmates were usually not known for their discretion. He got dressed with heavy limbs, his legs and arms looking even whiter in his shorts and t-shirt, left the room and went downstairs. The smell of food reached his nose, but not breakfast food – something fresher, like a salad. When he arrived in the cosy kitchen, he noticed plates and the leftovers of a meal on the table. And in the middle of it, a salad indeed. Had long had he been asleep…?

“Sorry, you missed lunch. I didn’t dare wake you.”

Paul turned to the doorway leading to the terrace. John was there, wearing swim briefs and a brown loose t-shirt, a newspaper in hand and his square glasses on his nose. The meaning of his sentence was left unsaid, but Paul heard it nevertheless. You looked tired. You needed sleep. I know how bad last night was.

“’S alright,” Paul answered mechanically. “Thanks.”

And really, he guessed he did need that extra sleep. John looked at the table, visibly a bit embarrassed, then back at him.

“How are you?”

“Better,” Paul smiled.

He approached the table, leant his arms on the back of a chair and looked at the empty plates. There were five of them.

“Where are the others?” He asked.

He was feeling weird at the idea that there might be only the two of them in the house. Alone.

“At the museum. Or the beach. They were not decided yet when they left.”

Paul’s stomach flipped.

“Why didn’t you go with them?”

“Didn’t feel like it,” John shrugged, a tad too casual.

Paul nodded and went to get himself a plate from the cupboard. He was ravenous. He served himself from the bowl still on the table and sat down, diving into it with gusto. John was still hovering in the doorway, clearly undecided, before going out again, back to the terrace. Paul ignored the pang of disappointment in his chest.

As he was eating, he tried to remember what he had dreamt about, but nothing came to him. It was frustrating, even though if he had to guess, he had probably dreamt about some isolated house, snow, his kids shutting him out or John dying. A shiver ran through him. In a way, he was almost relieved not to remember it. Seeing how upset he had been after it, it had to have been not pretty at all. His head was still aching from it, even if it was better than during the night.

Once he was done with his lunch, he cleared the table – including what the others had left – and did the dishes, enjoying the calm moment to clear his head and let the sun filtering in warm his body. He figured John had stayed behind to spend some precious time alone, since he was still outside, so he went back upstairs. Maybe he could read, or play for a while. That would be nice. He rummaged through his suitcase, finally found the book he had brought and settled back on his bed. Reading outside would have been even better, but he didn’t want to force his presence upon John. He was clearly not wanted – otherwise John would have stayed with him, right? He would have asked Paul to come with him or something. They were spending a lot of time together already. The man was probably sick and tired of Paul, and he could totally get it. Paul appreciated being alone, too. He was totally okay with that.

He was reaching the half of his book when he heard someone calling him from outside – well, John, surely, but his voice was so loud it sounded a bit odd. Paul hesitated; he wanted to go see what he wanted at the window but he also did not want to move. He was too comfortable. After a while though, his dilemma was solved when the door was pushed open and John appeared. Paul looked up, and his breath was knocked out of him.

John was only in his swim briefs, skin glistening wet and hair dripping on his face. It looked like he had not dried himself at all and was coming straight from the pool. There was even a small puddle around his feet. It was such a John thing to do Paul almost wanted to laugh. He should have looked ridiculous – and in a way, he did – but Paul was mesmerized, his eyes raking over his body like he was some model walking on a stage. Which was nonsensical, because it was just a regular male body, looking close to his own, with flaws and hair in places where Paul was not used to see any. Or rather, to see any and to find it bloody attractive. A deep blush burned on his neck the second he realized what he was doing and he diverted his gaze to his book, even though he was not able to read anything. His heart was pounding, he felt warm all over and he was mortified with shame.

“You didn’t hear me? You should come to the pool, the water is perfect,” John told him casually, visibly unaware of what he was doing to Paul right now.

He looked at Paul, expecting an answer, and Paul had to re-wire his brain to force words out.

“I… don’t.”

The sentence made no sense, and the puzzled look on John’s face only confirmed that fact. But his friend’s eyes lowered to the book in his hands and he squinted at it – as if without his glasses he had the slightest chance to read anything from that distance.

The Time Machine,” Paul snorted, uselessly showing him the cover.

John nodded with an impressed face.

“You’re keeping with the theme, huh,” He noted with a tiny chuckle.

“Yeah,” Paul agreed with a tiny smile.

He had nothing more to add and they just stayed like that, staring at one another, neither quite knowing what to say from there. John was fumbling absently with the strings of his swim briefs. He looked like he wanted to say something but was not quite sure what yet. Paul just gawked at him, really, because there was nothing else to do at this point. He had become a teenaged girl too, apparently, because he felt things just by looking at him. The man was gorgeous, sure, but he was not that gorgeous, objectively speaking. Well, yes, he was, but. He was still same old John. Paul had seen his body grow, get thinner or thicker, get older, more wrinkled, more used. He was used to John’s body, to his face. He knew how it felt under his hands now, and that was a new knowledge that definitely added some layer to watching it, but he was still the same man Paul had known for years. And yet, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, at that very specific moment, Paul wanted to kiss him. He wanted to kiss him really, really bad.

And all of a sudden, a very dangerous thought crossed his mind: he could just… do it. He could. There was an 85% chance John would not reject him, even if it was daytime and the others could come back at any moment. Even if it wasn’t in their silent deal. Would just kissing him during the day be really that worse from having sex with him during the night? The stubborn, scared and old-fashioned part of him saw the difference, and it was huge and ugly. The more lucid part of him knew it was stupid anyway, because if anything, having sex with someone was definitely more suspicious and had more consequences than just kissing them. And yet. He felt like if he kissed John right now, like that, out of the blue, completely sober, and without anything prompting it other than just John watching him quietly – all wet – it said something about himself that he had not fully integrated yet. But he still wanted it.

His whole reflexion had barely taken a few seconds, and deciding to shut down his brain for a moment, Paul put the book down on the bedside table and got up. He slowly approached the door, and John stepped out of the doorway to fully enter the room, probably thinking that Paul wanted to go out. But Paul just grabbed the doorknob and closed the door. Then he turned to John, who was looking at him with some uncertainty in his eyes – almost unease. Paul hated it, and that was the last straw.

He gently cupped John’s jaw with his hand, tilted his head and kissed him. It was nothing much, his lips barely caressing the other man’s, but Paul felt his whole body shiver at the contact. There was something about John’s breath that made him want more, made him want to embrace him, protect him, kiss him forever. To have all of him. It was intoxicating and thoroughly irrational, and Paul felt defenceless against it. He could not comprehend it. So he kissed him again, still close-lipped but firmer, before letting out a sigh that was coming out of nowhere. Just that single contact had turned Paul’s whole body and soul inside out. In a reflex, he leant his forehead against John’s, having to bow down the tiniest bit to do it.

“Sorry,” He breathed out, shaky and keeping his eyes tightly closed.

He did not have the courage to look at John at that moment, but the other only shook his head, the movement reverberating on Paul’s too.

“No,” He responded before claiming Paul’s lips again.

It was soft, but there was more intent behind it already, more heat. Paul could sense his desire and he did not even need to think about it. It was yes. He had accepted that, at least; if John wanted more, if he wanted Paul, it was always yes. Paul was always right along with him on whatever this was. They kissed for a while, quite languidly, and Paul gripped John by the waist to bring him closer to him. He was all slippery because of how wet he was, and it made Paul grin against the other’s lips. It was weird. John grinned too, and even if they were not talking, Paul just knew they were amused by the same thing. John started peppering his jaw and his neck with kisses, and really, it was illogical that it felt so incredible. Paul let him slip his hands under his t-shirt and they were cold from the pool but if Paul shivered from head to toe, it was not because of it. When he saw Paul was okay with it, John tugged on his t-shirt and Paul raised his arms to allow him to take it off.

Now both shirtless, they started kissing again and Paul was starting to feel a bit dizzy with want. He wanted to get off with him but the way John was so reverently caressing his chest, his arms, his waist, made him feel a surge of confidence. Suddenly, he realized he was curious. He wanted to discover more about John’s body. It was coming out of nowhere, and the idea still had something off-putting and sickening to it, but still, some part of him was interested in knowing how it felt. How it could make John feel, also, which was just as much important to him. He had never, ever felt curious about that before, and shame and disgust were burning low in his belly, but with John against him, against his lips, he felt like he was allowed to be. Allowed to want, to try more. He was safe, here.

So he pulled back and cleared his throat. This was something that required a minimum of consultation first.

“Can I… Just, sit on the bed. Please?” He said, trying hard to sound more confident about it than he actually felt.

John looked at him, confused, and then Paul could tell the exact moment he put two and two together. His eyebrows shot up, his lips parted and a flame of arousal sparked in his eyes. But he still tried to tame it and his face morphed into an expression of worry and uncertainty.

“Really?” He asked, quiet.

And he looked so careful, so genuine about it, that Paul only wanted him more. So he nodded fervently, knowing he would lose all his nerve if they talked about it for too long. John searched his eyes again and nodded too. So Paul kissed urgently him again, deeper, and pushed him towards the bed, his hands still firm on John’s waist. Once John was sitting, Paul naturally kneeled in front of him, not wanting to let go of his soft demanding lips, and John naturally opened his legs to let him fit in-between them. It was awkward, and weird, and Paul was so flushed his face was burning. But as his trembling, impatient hands caressed John’s belly and his bare thighs, there was so much want in his veins he could barely think straight anymore and he just pushed himself closer, always closer to John, to feel him as much as he could. John’s skin, his body hair, his breath, his touch, everything sent sparks of arousal in his lower belly and he was paralyzed with the need to have more, touch more, taste more. So when he left John’s mouth to trail kisses over his chin, his neck, his torso, always lower, lower, he was terrified but also more decided than ever. He couldn’t think about it. If he did, he would just run away screaming and kicking everything and he would never forgive himself for not having even tried.

When he finally pushed down and took off John’s swim briefs, there was no running away anymore because his brain just short-circuited. John was hard, very much so. Paul started shivering again. Was he really doing this? How had he even ended up in this situation? What, how…?! But, as if he had sensed Paul’s fear invading his brain, John cupped his face and kissed him again on the lips, softly, adoringly. His thumbs were caressing Paul’s cheeks and the gesture was so tender and reassuring Paul sighed in his mouth.

“Don’t do it,” John whispered. “Come here.”

He was tugging Paul to have him sit with him on the bed but Paul was not having it. He was desperately hard, John too, and if he knew something about himself, it was that he was not one to run away in front of the unknown. No matter how terrifying it was. So he kissed John one last time, braced himself, and just did it.

 

They were both lying on their backs on the bed, naked. Paul was staring at the ceiling and could not stop licking his own lips. He was hot (also because of the weather), sweaty and totally spent. He did not even quite know where he was, when he was. Time had stopped and didn’t mean anything anymore, as if they were in a bubble, just out of the world. He only knew John’s fingers were idly drawing circles on his hand, and the feeling was very nice, and John’s breathing next to him was calm and relaxed. Everything else was irrelevant.

“Next time it’s my turn,” John said after a while.

His voice was both lazy and joyful, and Paul had never really heard it sound like that. It was also the first time they talked about it after doing it, so it made him feel weird again. This felt like a whole new situation.

“You don’t have to, you know, I didn’t—” Paul started, voice a bit hoarse.

“I know. I want to,” John cut him off, squeezing Paul’s hand for a second and then letting go of it altogether. “You’re not the only one entitled to do blowjobs, you know.”

Paul blushed violently. It was one thing to do the thing and another to hear the word out loud. And to plan on doing it again, like this was totally normal, something that just happened once in a while between mates. Moreover, judging from John’s smirk, he was enjoying how embarrassed that made Paul, the tosser. He raised his arms above his head and stretched, and Paul realized suddenly they had never stayed in bed together after either, in the past two weeks. It was weird, but also… not so much. Or rather, it was weird how not weird it was. Like staying in bed naked after sex was them just as much as playing together on a stage was. He turned his head to John and immediately found his almond eyes. He looked so peaceful. So safe. When he smiled at Paul, the latter found himself smiling back by instinct.

Of course, the quiet moment couldn’t last.

There was a sudden noise downstairs, the unmistakable sound of someone opening a door. Paul and John both froze, looking at each other with wide eyes. There were people entering the house and shuffling around in the kitchen, at least two judging from the noise, and they were naked. They couldn’t have looked more suspicious if they’d tried.

“Lads?” A loud voice rose.

George.

“He won’t come up,” Paul assured John in a whisper.

A second later, they could hear stairs creaking. George was coming up.

Panic suddenly took hold of both of them and they flew off the bed, trying to stay as stealthy as possible. Paul’s brain was on high alert and screaming at him ‘What have you done you filthy moron he’s going to see you and think you’re gay and hate you and it will all be over and—‘ but he tried to shut it down. Hide. They needed to hide. But there was no wardrobe in this room, only a dresser, a dressing table and an armchair. He fished his underpants from off the floor and slipped them on swiftly. On the other side of the bed, John was looking for his swim briefs and cursing lowly when he couldn’t find them. Paul spotted them first and threw them to him. George’s steps were coming dangerously closer. He seemed to be checking in every room. Paul’s terrified eyes crossed John’s, who looked like a terrorized rabbit, and both looked at the bed.

He couldn’t tell which one of them had the idea first but suddenly they were both throwing themselves on the ground to slip under the bed, figuring the sheet was hanging low enough to hide them from view. At the last second, Paul thought to catch his t-shirt and shorts and wriggled under the bed, on his stomach. John was lying next to him on his back, still stark naked, and he was so close to the edge of the bed Paul got scared and threw an arm over his waist to bring him flush to his side, to make sure he was not visible at all from the outside. They waited a couple of seconds, breathing shakily, until the door of the room opened and they both stopped breathing altogether. Through the slim space between the hanging sheet and the floor, Paul recognized George’s sandals standing in the doorway.

“They’re upstairs?” Ringo’s voice echoed from the kitchen.

“No!” George answered, and his voice was so loud Paul winced.

The feet turned around and soon the stairs were creaking again. They waited for a while, on alert for every single sound that was coming from downstairs, but it sounded like their bandmates had gone outside again, probably on the terrace. Paul let out a shaky breath, and realized John was shivering against him. It had been really close. He turned to look at his friend and John looked back at him, eyes wide and pupils blown in the dark of the under-bed. All at once, the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on Paul and he started chuckling quietly, relief cursing through him. Soon enough John joined him and let his head fall back on the floor. Paul put his forehead on John’s shoulder. God. He couldn’t quite believe he had put himself in a situation where he had to hide under a bed like a naughty little boy who didn’t want to be punished. He was 78, for Christ’s sake.

“We have to sneak out, pretend we were out on a walk or something,” John murmured, right in his ear, still chuckling a bit.

Having his breath on his skin did things to Paul, but he ignored it adamantly and just tilted his head up to meet John’s amused gaze.

“Where? The stairs are too old, they’ll hear us.”

John thought it over. His hand had come to rest carefully on Paul’s arm, still over his chest.

“There’s a shed right under the window of my bedroom. We could climb down from there. If you’re up to facing the spiders, that is.”

Paul shuddered at the thought. He didn’t really care about the spiders, but climbing out a window, really? He was way too old for this.

“Come on, Grandpa, it’s not like we have much of a choice,” John poked him with his shoulder, still whispering.

Paul groaned in agreement and he was about to slip out from under the bed when John grabbed his chin and pecked him on the lips in a surprisingly tender gesture. A second later, he was slipping out and Paul was left staring at the void, his heart beating wildly in his chest.

He got out as well, eventually, and John wasn’t looking at him so they both put on their clothes in silence, John fishing out a new shirt and some shorts from his suitcase. As he was tying his short, Paul thought back to their whole exchange, under the bed. It was odd, how tender the other was being with him. It was so unlike what Paul was used to from him that he struggled to wrap his head around it. He wouldn’t have thought John was such a thoughtful lover.

Once ready, John went to the door George had left opened, and peeked into the corridor. Looking like a right burglar, he signalled Paul to follow him and went out, straight to his bedroom. Paul followed him, walking on his tip-toes. He felt ridiculous, but also a bit excited, like a real five-year-old again. It was crazy just how young being around John made him feel sometimes. They rushed into the spiders’ room and closed the door soundly behind them. There were still clothes scattered everywhere and they carefully avoided them as they went to the window. John opened it discreetly and peeked out of it. He turned to Paul with a serious look.

“We can slide down on it. Go first,” He told him, still whispering.

“Why me? You go first,” Paul huffed quietly.

“I’m on the lookout,” John childishly retorted.

It was a stupid argument, but Paul recognized the lost cause for what it was and just rolled his eyes, approaching the window too. A part of the shed was indeed right under the window so Paul climbed astride it, one leg dangling in the void, before letting himself slip on it, his arms supporting his whole weight for a few seconds. His feet stumbled on the metallic roof of the shed and Paul winced at the sound, hoping it did not reach the other side of the house where the terrace was. He secured his feet on it and finally let go of the edge of the window. He looked up to see John’s head popping out of the window, observing him curiously.

“All good?” He asked him, and Paul nodded before getting down from the shed too.

A few seconds later, John was joining him on the ground and rubbing his hands together to get rid of the dirt of the window’s edge. Wordlessly, they wandered off towards the road, which was thankfully not visible from the terrace. They just had to look like they were back from a walk, and the house was isolated enough in the nature for it to be believable. Paul did not really like it, lying to their friends about what they’d been doing, but there was no way he would admit the truth to them, or let them guess it. God, Paul could barely admit it to himself.

When Paul approached the house with John on his trail, both trying to look innocent and careless, George was lying on a lounger on the terrace, tranquilly smoking pot. It was so not surprising it still managed to surprise Paul. He joined him to sit on one of the chairs and George just smiled at him.

“Where were you?” George asked, so calm, so clueless.

“Went for a walk,” Paul lied easily, just as John was passing them with a wave and going straight into the house. Paul struggled not to watch him leave. “Where’s Richie?”

“Peeing.”

Paul nodded and looked out to the garden, and to the clear water of the pool. He tried to force his breathing to come back to a normal rhythm. George didn’t suspect anything. It was alright. The sun was warming his skin and blinding him a little, and the light breeze kept him from feeling too hot. They stayed silent together for a while, enjoying the quiet moment. They did not have enough of those.

“Would you like to be the baby’s godfather?” George suddenly asked out of the blue, between two puffs.

Paul felt his insides being pulled upside down and turned wild eyes to George. He couldn’t believe his ears.

“Me? Godfather…?”

George squinted at him and gave him a half-shrug.

“Yeah. You know, raise them if I die and the whole shebang.”

Paul just stared at him, gaping like a fish. He was reacting like an idiot but happiness and gratitude were swimming in his chest.

“I’m kidding, cheer up,” George chuckled, punching lightly his arm. “You’ll just have to buy them expensive presents and babysit once in a while. You’re in?”

“Yes,” Paul finally got out. “Yes, yes, totally, that’s… yeah, that’s gear. Thanks for, you know, asking me.”

“Well, who else, you know?” George retorted, but Paul could tell by the glint of his dark eyes that he was just as pleased and affectionate as Paul was on this. “Can’t be Richie ‘cause he would only feed them fruit and can’t be John ‘cause, well. Might kill them by inadvertence.”

At that Paul let out a short laugh, smiling fondly at the image of John struggling with George’s baby. After another few moments, George wordlessly handed out his spliff to him. He was still looking out at the garden, as if it was nothing. And once upon a time, it had been. Paul hesitated. He remembered how good pot used to make him feel, how relaxed, and he sure could use some relaxation now. Would he be betraying his daughter if he took just one drag? Somewhere, he knew she wouldn’t mind. Knowing the circumstances he was in, she would probably turn a blind eye to it. He wanted to do it. It was bad for his health, a bit, but he knew for a fact that his body had endured much worse in the past. He kept staring at the offending object, and George was starting to withdraw his arm when Paul made his mind.

“Oh you know what, fuck it.”

He took it, took a drag out of it, and handed it back to George in a flash. George chuckled incredulously.

“You’re so daft sometimes,” He told him fondly.

Paul blew out the smoke and looked at him with a smile. If only he knew how right he was.

Chapter Text

“So, we’re still good with it then? San Francisco, and then no more?” Ringo asked, cigarette in hand and looking at his bandmates around the table.

Night had fallen already, and they were enjoying the cool breeze and the crickets on the terrace for their last evening off. The remnants of their meal were still on the table, and they were all spread out on chairs around it. Ringo, with his free hand, was toying with the salt shaker, George had his arms crossed on the table and his head on them, John was leaning on his chair with his feet propped up against Ringo’s chair and was biting his nails, and Paul had somehow bent his legs on his own chair, arms circled around them. It was nice to be supple enough to do that again.

“Well I haven’t changed my mind,” George assured from his spot.

“Yeah, I’m not going through something like the bombing thing again,” John snorted.

Paul worried his lip between his teeth. He didn’t like that conversation, and was afraid that if he spoke up he would only make it worse. But he had to try.

“It’s, um… we don’t have to say it’s over forever, do we?” He started, cautious. “I mean, we could want to come back to it later, you know. Like to try small venues again, or something. In a few years, maybe. I mean, I’m not saying we will have to do it, just. We are not saying no forever, right? Are we?”

The others stayed silent for a while, each processing his words. John was looking at him with a little pensive frown.

“Depends on the crowds, though. If people calm down, I don’t know. Why not, later,” Ringo agreed amiably.

“I don’t want to fear for my life every time I get on stage, though,” George mumbled.

Paul tapped his fingers on his knee. This was not going in the direction he’d hoped, but at least they were not completely shutting him out.

“Yeah, but, you know. They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedoms,” He chuckled in a low voice, trying to lighten the situation.

Ringo and John looked at him with puzzled faces. Paul wanted to face palm – now was not the time to quote freaking Braveheart. Nor ever, actually.

“What?” John asked.

“Yeah well, I’d rather they didn’t take either, personally,” George answered as he poured himself a glass of wine.

Paul shook his head, unfolding his legs to let his feet fall to the ground.

“Nevermind, it was just… a bad joke.”

“Look, we’re not saying no, alright? I mean, I’m not, at least. Just, we’ll see later, yeah? For now, not losing our minds over concerts will be good for all of us,” John continued, looking at Paul with earnest eyes. “Will give us more time to work on albums, or to do our own things, you know.”

“Yeah. We just need to tell Brian, now,” Ringo added, widening his eyes at the prospect.

“Yep. It’s going to be one blast of a conversation,” George added with a dry chuckle.

“To the last concerts, then?” John said, raising his glass to the others.

Ringo and George followed his lead, and Paul did too, albeit a bit reluctantly.

“To the last concerts,” George repeated. “A new step for the Beatles.”

“And to George’s future fatherhood!” Ringo added with a laugh.

“Sod off!”

George pushed Ringo’s arm, making him miss his mouth with his drink. Paul laughed along and his gaze met John’s. His friend’s eyes were bright.

“To a new step,” He echoed quietly before downing his drink.

 

Brian had not taken the news as bad as he had in Paul’s memories. Maybe Paul had remembered it wrong; or maybe it was that this time, himself was not taking it as bad and thus was seeing the whole situation differently too. They had left clues beforehand, scattered across their three weeks of touring, and they seemed to have started blossoming in their manager’s mind. Anyway, Brian had just nodded along to their words, processing the news with calm. He was not happy about it – they knew him well enough to see that – but he understood where they were coming from. And that was the best they could ask for, really.

However, going back to the last days of touring was not as easy as Paul had expected it to be. He was nervous, melancholy, and frustrated, and as they were flying to San Francisco for their last ever concert in front of an audience, he was slowly understanding that there were several reasons for that.

Whatever the boys had said to reassure him, Paul knew it was going to be their last concert. Up to now, he had believed things would change this time around, if he didn’t overlook George, if he tried to be a bit less bossy, if he bit his tongue once in a while. He had agreed with George that a pause in touring would be good, and he had meant it, because he believed things would be different. He really thought he could make a difference this time around. But since the cherry bombs incident, uncertainty had slowly crawled into his mind and he was not so sure of anything anymore. It was as if fate had decided events had to happen a certain way, and whatever Paul did to avoid it, nothing could escape it. He was nothing but a pawn on a chessboard bigger than he could conceive. So now that the last concert was coming, he was not only bittersweet, but downright miserable about it because he could not stop thinking about what would come next: the fights, the misunderstandings, the money, and the legal issues. The break-up. It felt more inevitable than ever, and Paul felt defenceless against it. He would still try his best to prevent it, of course, but now he was far from convinced it could actually make any difference in the grand scheme of things.

Plus, he still could not make sense of his dreams. They were all grim and scary, and he would be talking about them with the therapist when he would get back to London, but it was not a very reassuring prospect because he knew he couldn’t tell her everything anyway. She didn’t know he was from the future, and he would never tell her. So even if she might be able to give him clues to understand them, he still was alone in figuring them out – if they even had any meaning at all. Maybe it was all pointless. Maybe they were just nightmares, headless. Just scary thoughts flowing through his mind. He had a feeling it was not the case, but it would not be the first time he was proved wrong. The only thing he managed to make sense of was that his mind was trying to tell him he was doing something wrong. In his dreams, his kids and John told him he was lying, that he was not trying hard enough and that he might get lost if he didn’t understand something. But what? What didn’t he understand? And where could he get lost? Unless… unless he could lose himself. His future self, maybe? Maybe his brain, through his kids, was afraid to forget his future-past. But then, why would John be telling him this too? He could not forget him. He was right there with him. It didn’t make any sense, and every time Paul thought about it, worry gave him headaches.

And as for his situation with John, it was the most worrisome of all.

They had barely done anything since the George incident (God knows they had both been pretty scared off by that) and Paul would lie if he said he was completely okay with that. Not that he was specifically physically frustrated, but he did not quite know what to make of his relationship with him. Their conversations were starting to feel a bit awkward or even superficial at times and Paul was terrified this meant this whole sex business was finally taking its toll on their friendship. It had finally gone from something blissfully uncomplicated to something painfully delicate, with an elephant in the room he himself had trouble identifying.

And the worst was he didn’t like how unsure and flustered he was about it all. He was not like that, usually; he was a confident man and a bold lover. He was not one to second-guess himself about every single gesture or to be blushing at every occasion like a little girl. And yet, with John, he was sometimes nothing more than a blubbering mess, and it pissed him off. He hated it, not being in control of the situation, of his own reactions. He liked surprising others, but he didn’t like surprising himself, especially on that point. He didn’t like feeling confused, and unsure, and controlled by his emotions. It was not him. Sure, John and he were having great times together, but was it worth it if it made him lose everything he knew about himself in the process?

He picked up a magazine to try and read it but he couldn’t shut his own thoughts off. In front of him, Ringo was reading a book and wearing earbuds to keep the noise out. Paul looked at him, so calm and relaxed, and tapped on his foot with his own, feeling the urge to talk to him.

“Hey,” He said uselessly once Ringo looked at him.

His friend took off his earbuds and smiled.

“Hey. What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Paul quickly answered. It was his default response, but he felt stupid saying it now. “Do you have plans for later? You know, when we come back to London…?”

Ringo paused to think it over.

“Not really, actually. I guess I’ll spend time with Mo and the kid. See my folks a bit. You?”

“I don’t know,” Paul admitted, and it frightened him to realize how true that was. “I will probably write. Maybe travel. I don't know." He paused, trying to picture what his days would look like, back to his Londonian life. "I bought a dog.”

“Oh yes, John told me. He said it was a marvellous one.”

Paul felt a smile tugging at his lips. He imagined John describing Martha to Ringo.

“He said that, did he? I should be careful, then. Might try to nick her from me.”

“Don’t worry, he won’t even have time to do it, what with his film and everything,” Ringo chuckled.

Paul’s smile faltered on his face and he fought to keep it on. He had completely forgotten about John’s film, and his friend had not mentioned it once. He had sort of imagined this time John wouldn’t do it, but apparently he had been wrong. John would go play the actor and Paul would not see him for several weeks. His stomach churned at the thought.

“Yeah. I guess he won’t.”

 

As they were singing their last song of their last concert, Paul couldn’t stop looking all around him, trying to commit every single detail to memory just like he had the night before. It was all so similar to his first 1966 year: their costumes, the crowd, their places on stage, even the camera John and he had attached to Ringo’s drums. And yet, it was a new experience as well. This time, he was not as naïve as he had been and he knew just how much he needed to enjoy the moment. So he tried to, as much as he could.

Looking across to John that night was harder than ever before. His friend – or should he call him his lover too, now? – was glowing, and Paul wished he could freeze the moment and make it last forever, because this was perfect. Being young again, floating in the music, surrounded by his bandmates, close to John. But the song came to an end, and as quick as a flash they were all bowing to the audience and leaving the stage.

Paul was pushed around, rushing along the others to the car that would drive them to their hotel. The lads were all talking loud, happy and excited. They were all sweaty, exhausted, and more alive than ever. They were glad to have finished the concert, and Paul knew they meant it. He wished it didn’t sting as much as it had the first time around. When they arrived to the hotel, everyone agreed to celebrate their last night, and Paul joined in. He was laughing as loud as the others, joking around as much as anyone, getting himself drunk even quicker. He was not celebrating, though. He was trying to forget. Forget he could not change the course of things, forget they were giving up on touring. Forget he would barely see John in the next two months.

When John and he finally reached their room, stumbling through the empty corridor and giggling like schoolboys, Paul was wasted enough not to feel sad anymore, even if his worries were still lurking in the corner of his mind. But all that mattered at the moment were John’s burning hands on his waist as he was opening the door, his delightful laugh in his ear and the bed waiting for them on the other side.

They entered and Paul closed the door behind his back, looking at John as he was tugging off his tie and taking off his shoes. This was their last night together. The thought sobered him at once, hitting him so hard he felt dizzy from it. They wouldn’t be able to do this once back in London. They didn’t live together, didn’t have anything planned together. They had not talked about what came next, not even once. They were heading nowhere. What were they even? Fuckbuddies? It worked well on tour because tour was different; tour was like summer camp, where regular rules did not apply. But back in daily life, rules would come back stronger. They were two men, and they were famous. They couldn’t just phone each other and meet up whenever they wanted to shag. They could see each other – of course, they had done it for years. But that was different, wasn’t it? John would be off to shoot his film and see his son and shag women, and Paul would just come back to his pets and his rented apartment.

If things happened the way they had in the past, and if they didn’t fight or anything, they would see each other, let’s say, five or six times maximum before having to come back to the studio. And logistically speaking, they wouldn’t be able to do anything for at least half of those times. So what was Paul supposed to do now? Just forget about everything? Find someone else to shag until he forgot John’s smell, what his skin felt like, how good it felt to have his hands on him?

Would he even be able to forget it? They had only started doing things a couple of weeks before, but Paul was lucid enough to know he was already quite obsessed with the other man. Maybe stopping all of it altogether was not such a bad solution, after all. Maybe if they stopped it now, their friendship would still come out unscathed. And he would stop embarrassing himself by behaving like a stupid teenage girl. Or boy. Whatever. He would just have to get over John. Go on with his life without having sex with his male best friend should not be that difficult, after all. And yet, the very thought of it was like acid in his veins, turning his whole body to poison.

He was still lost in his thoughts when John approached him with a smile and pinned him against the door with his hands on each side of Paul’s head, his pelvis brushing against his. Feeling his heat so close to him immediately sent a rush of arousal to Paul’s head and lower belly. Well. One last time couldn’t hurt, could it?

“Good evening,” John told him, his voice a tad lower than usual, giggling a little.

God. He was actually using his crooner voice on Paul. As if Paul had not seen him use it countless times on a hundred different girls. And yet, why was Paul’s body so freaking reactive to it?! He found himself giggling too, and moved a little so that his leg brushed John’s inner thigh, and the single contact sent shivers down his spine.

“Hello,” He answered, a little hoarse.

John’s grin widened.

“Nice gig tonight, uh?”

“Nice indeed. Very nice,” Paul agreed.

He was starting to feel stupid with desire and just wanted to smack the grin off of John’s face. He didn’t want to talk. Didn’t want to think about later. He just wanted John’s mouth, and his hands, and his body, and to forget everything.

“So hear this out. Maybe we can get a bot—”

But Paul couldn’t wait a second longer and captured John’s lips with his, giving all of himself in the kiss. John was visibly taken aback but Paul didn’t let it deter him and brought his hands to his jaws, biting and licking his lips, kissing his cheeks, sighing in his mouth. After a while, John finally, finally responded and his hands went up to pull on the short hair on Paul’s nape, which at this point he probably knew Paul loved. Paul pushed him to his own bed, which was the closest to the door this time and lost no time straddling him. He hurried to take his own shirt off, bending to take John’s off too, and his friend chuckled awkwardly. He was probably being too needy, but he didn’t really care anymore. This was their last night. He wanted to enjoy it to the last second.

So he reached directly into John’s pants, not really caring how ungracious or hurried the whole thing was. He didn’t want to think. He just wanted to feel John against him. John’s breath caught in his throat, and when Paul moved over him, his eyes shut tight in pleasure. Paul quickly got his hand out to pull on the other’s pants when John stopped him with soft fingers on his wrist.

“Wait, wait,” John panted against his mouth.

But Paul didn’t want to wait. John’s skin was too soft, too warm… He kissed him again, hard, feeling like if he didn’t he might start crying. He couldn’t stop now, because stopping meant some things had to be acknowledged, and he didn’t want that. He just wanted to feel close to John, if only for one last time. John pulled back again, trying to avoid Paul’s eager lips with an awkward chuckle.

“Is that what you want?” John huffed, breathing hard.

“What? Shut up,” Paul answered with an awkward chuckle, a bit taken aback by the question.

He tried to nip at John’s collarbone but John pushed him with a firm hand. When Paul looked up to meet his gaze, John’s frowning, earnest eyes were searching something on his face.

“What?” Paul repeated, frowning too.

“Is that really what you want? This?” John asked again, showing their bodies, looking weirdly serious.

“Um, I mean… yeah? Yeah. Sure.”

Paul thought this was the answer the other expected but John frowned even harder. His hand on Paul’s chest felt cold, like a metal barrier between them.

“Why don’t you just fucking say it, then?” John asked, his eyes so dark and stern Paul was starting to feel truly annoyed. His voice sounded weird. Almost quieter, now.

“What do you mean? Why do you want me to say it?” Paul chuckled humourlessly.

“I don’t know, maybe so I know you want this to be over with as quickly as possible?” John retorted, harsh.

Paul levelled him with an unimpressed look. He could not quite believe John was serious about that, and frustration was starting to boil inside him, mixing unpleasantly with the slow death of his arousal. This was getting annoying. And John, of course, just kept glaring at him.

“Are you fucking serious? That doesn’t even make sense,” Paul told him, trying to be reasonable. “Come on, mate! Don’t pretend you don’t want it quickly too—Have you even seen the state you’re in?!”

He chuckled and widened his eyes at John’s own crotch but his friend only closed his eyes tightly, shaking his head.

“Don’t call me that.”

But Paul didn’t even hear him anymore, his annoyance only leading him to anger.

“Oh come on now!” He snapped sharply. “No one is forcing anyone here. Stop playing the victim, seriously. You’re being ridiculous.”

He knew he probably sounded arrogant, even a bit condescending, but this whole argument was pointless. As if John had not seen how ridiculous and sappy Paul was being around him all the time. Seriously. If Paul had been a better man, he would have tried to understand why it bugged John so much, but he wasn’t and now he was only frustrated and angry.

“Yeah. ‘Cause that’s your fucking role,” John retorted, ice-cold.

“What is this, a trial? What’s up with you?!”

John pushed Paul’s chest on the bed and got up, rubbing his hands on his face. He was shaking his head, as if he was talking to himself. Paul straightened himself, still sitting on the bed, but stayed silent. He did not want to just let out everything he was feeling at once. He had to keep his calm. Especially when John was behaving like a knobhead. After a while, John let out a long sigh and turned frowning dark eyes to Paul.

“Nothing. Alright? Nothing is up with me,” He said, each word sounding like it hurt him. “Now can I suck your dick, please?”

Paul choked on his breath, wide-eyed.

“I’m—No! No you can’t, not like th—”

“I thought that’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Since I’m just a slag?” John cut him off sharply.

“What the fuck are you—” Paul stopped himself and breathed deeply. He started again, talking slowly not to lose his temper again: “Look, I don’t know how to handle this friends-with-benefits thing, okay? You are, very obviously, not a fucking slag. I’m trying my best here, sorry I’m not as great at it as you are. These things don’t come naturally to everyone, alright?”

John crossed his arms but still glared at him.

“Don’t patronize me. I might be younger now, but I’m not a fucking child. And stop inventing stupid expressions!”

“I didn’t fucking invent it!” Paul retorted, throwing his arms to the air. “I just don’t understand what you want me to say!”

Silence fell upon them, and his own breathing sounded very loud to Paul’s ears. He couldn’t hear John’s at all, and the second he noticed it, he felt like it was wrong. Something was missing. John shook his head and went to his bed, opening it.

“I don’t want you to say anything. Just forget it. Goodnight,” He told Paul before angrily slipping into his bed.

“John. John, come on.”

Paul waited for a few seconds, looking at John’s stubborn back, but his friend royally ignored him.

“Fuck,” Paul cursed to himself.

Feeling beyond frustrated, he finally got into his own bed. His erection was fully gone by now, without any surprise. What the hell was John’s problem?! Paul was fuming. Their last fucking night, and that was how John had decided to spend it. Nit-picking over the elaborateness of Paul’s answers. It was so freaking stupid.

As sleep was finally coming over him, hours later, it dawned on Paul that since that was his last night with John in a good while and that somehow, he had managed to muck it up, he would maybe not even see his friend for quite some time, now. With a last flash of consciousness, he turned his body to face John, who was still back to him. And for the first time since he’d arrived, he wished he was able to turn back time again.

Chapter Text

The next day, when Paul woke up and faced John’s glacial attitude, he was not surprised. It hurt, an awful lot, but he tried to push it away because they were friends and friends had rows, it happened. John would do what he always did: mull about it in his corner, be snappy and biting for a while, and then go back to normal from one moment to the next. He never stayed mad at Paul for long. Well, that was not totally true; he had stayed mad for a long time when the band had broken up, but they had ended talking again. Eventually.

So Paul bit his tongue and took it in. He packed his suitcase, went to breakfast, chatted with the lads, smiled and joked. He didn’t try to talk to John – he didn’t want another fight, didn’t want to face the mean side of his friend. He knew what could come from John when he was wounded, even if Paul had not done anything wrong enough to wound him. Or at least, whenever he thought back to the previous night, he could not find what he had done wrong. He had not done anything that they hadn’t done every night for the past nearly three weeks. John was being a drama queen for no reason. Right?

The flight back to London was thus a bit tense, and despite his best efforts, the lads ended up noticing something was wrong. He was sitting next to Mal and they were talking about his new-born daughter when George arrived and plopped down in front of them.

“Did something happen with John?” He asked, point-blank.

Alarms started ringing in Paul’s head but he stayed calm and kept an (hopefully) neutral expression.

“Um… No. Why?”

George looked a bit surprised.

“Haven’t you noticed? He’s in a mood, has been all morning. Biting at everyone. A real bastard.”

When Mal turned to look further down the aisle, Paul followed his gaze. John was cuddled on his seat, looking through the window with a stony face. Ringo was sitting not far from him but the fact that he wasn’t in the vacant seat directly next to John was a clear proof of how vile John’s mood was. That was one of the greatest differences between them: Paul covered his anger, concealed it. Nurtured it even, sometimes. John didn’t care how visible his anger was. He felt emotions the way he did everything; raw, extreme, even if it led him to explosion. Paul, on the other hand, was more apt to implode slowly and quietly, until he could not control them any longer and he snapped.

“Maybe he’s sad to go back to London. What with the weird situation with Cyn,” Mal proposed after a moment of observation.

George pulled a pensive face and turned back to Paul.

“Are you sure nothing happened? He didn’t go out to find a bird or something?”

Paul wanted to squirm on his seat but fought hard not to.

“No, no… at least not that I’m aware of,” He lied with ease.

Well, who was the bastard, now?

“Maybe he’s on his periods, then,” George joked, and Paul grimaced internally.

One more dated joke his older mind cringed at.

“Pattie must be happy to have you coming back,” Paul noted, trying to change the subject.

“I think she’s slowly dying of boredom, lying all day round. Her mum’s with her, but I’m pretty sure it’s part of the problem too. She told me she had to pretend to be asleep to get rid of her sometimes.”

Paul chuckled, imagining the poor woman being fussed at by her mother without being able to do anything about it.

“Don’t worry, soon she won’t be bored at all,” Paul assured him, smiling more at himself than at George. “She’ll look back to those days in bed as Heaven on Earth. Children are amazing, but they sure redefine was sleep means.”

“Listen to Mr. Bachelor, talking about children like an old priest,” Mal joked. “What do you know about not sleeping?”

George laughed loudly and Paul smiled to hide his hurt. It was normal, he knew it, but it still stung when the existence, or rather non-existence of his children was brought up. He glanced to the back of the plane, his gaze searching, and found John’s almond eyes were already on him. There was no clear expression in them, but it still appeased Paul more than he could explain.

 

Seeing how miserable he had been about his last night of touring, it was almost comical how relieved he was when the plane finally landed in London. He could not take John’s sulking any longer, even if the man had not said a word to him all day. They weaved their way with difficulty through the crowds of thousands of screaming fans and finally reached the safe inside of the airport. When they retrieved their luggage and all gathered a last time, each leaving on different taxis, he tried to meet his friend’s gaze but it looked like John was trying his best to pretend Paul simply did not exist. Even Ringo sent confused glances to Paul when they nearly bumped into one another when passing a gate and John stepped away as if Paul was a leper. And Paul was getting a bit mad, at that point. OK, John was mad for some reason, but was it necessary to show it to everyone and to make everyone suspicious? He knew no one would guess what was really going on, but still. Some caution wouldn’t hurt.

They were all saying their goodbyes in one of the back entrances, patting one another, and John was still ignoring him. And at this point, Paul did not even want to say goodbye to him either. He was being a child, well, so could Paul.

“Well, boys, have a good rest. We’ll see one another soon, yeah?” Brian announced, looking a bit emotional as he was patting Ringo’s back and looking at the rest of them.

“You’ll come eat at mine? Before John leaves for his film?” Ringo proposed.

“I’m in,” Neil smiled, his bag slanged across his back.

“Depends on Pattie, but yeah, why not,” George agreed.

“I’ll be there,” Paul added.

It took everything in him not to look at John to see his reaction.

“When do you leave already?” Brian asked.

“The fifth,” John answered flatly.

Surprisingly, he did not sound mad. Simply… detached. Out of it. Even a little sad, almost. Paul was very tempted to look at him to understand his tone better but soon enough he was gathered in a bear hug by George.

“Well, let’s do it on the third, then?”

Everyone agreed and after that, things went fast: a chorus of goodbyes and see yous, pats on the backs, some more hugs, hair and arms everywhere and then, nothing. Paul left for his own taxi without a look back and repeated to himself the whole drive home that this was for the best. Some time away from John would only do him good. He just had to ignore how déjà-vu the thought sounded.

 

It was not really doing him good.

He barely slept, twisting and turning all night long. The dreams were worse than ever, and his mind on was a loop. He tried his hardest not to think about John and what he had finally analysed to be disappointment in his eyes on their last night. John was mad at him, said Paul made him feel like a slag, and yet Paul simply could not understand what he had done wrong. It was driving him insane. It was John who had jumped on him in the bathroom. Who had ‘arranged’ their first hook-up session in the bus. Who had showed up looking like a wet dream on Paul’s bedroom step – and he knew what he was doing then, Paul was sure of it. All of that while looking perfectly casual and normal during the days. It was John. Paul had just followed the flow.

 

He was currently having a quiet morning, doing laundry and folding the clothing he had left to dry before leaving on tour – suffice to say, they were properly dry now. Martha was napping on the couch next to him, and kicking in her sleep. She really was a cute dog, and the greatest thing was that she seemed to have some new quirks she did not have the first time around. She was the same dog, and he got attached to her quicker than he ever had any other pet, but she was not exactly the same either. It was fascinating, really.

It was strange, to be alone in the silence again. Not having people in his face taking pictures of them all day long was nice, but he was so used to having his bandmates, and Neil and Mal and Brian around him all the time that now he found himself talking to Martha and Thisbe just to hear someone talking. And to stop his thoughts from spiralling. Thoughts about who he was, what his life was becoming.

What he wanted.

He folded a few t-shirts, putting them in a neat pile on the coffee table, and went to retrieve a sheet he had spread over the living-room table.

The biggest problem, Paul had come to understand, was that he did not even know what he wanted. What he craved most was normalcy; for things to be easy, natural again. He wanted not to worry about what he was supposed to do or not. Not to think that he was betraying his family every second he spent not thinking about them, even though they were few. He wanted not to have headaches all the times. Not to worry about John, and about their friendship. About the band, and what would become of it if Paul mucked everything up again. What would happen, almost inevitably now. He wanted things to get back to the way they used to be.

And who was he kidding, really? That little interlude with John was pointless. It didn’t lead anywhere, it wasn’t… it wasn’t something. He fancied him and that was all it was, really, because otherwise he was still just his old pal. Nothing had changed between them, really. He wasn’t gay for him – he sure felt attraction for him and that made him not straight, that much he couldn’t deny, but he didn’t want to date or… or marry him, or start a family with him. A family with John?! No. No. It was stupid. They were not like that. When he thought about a significant other, he saw Nancy. He saw Linda and the beautiful years they had together. Maybe he could meet her again. Maybe they could… Maybe. Seeing Linda again was a very tangible reality and it meant so much. It meant… to start again. Try again. Have more time, more occasions. A new shot for a family life, even if thinking of the loss of his children sent a stab of pain in his chest and he quickly had to dismiss the idea. What was going on with John, it was different. It was sex. Deep friendship and sex. And it was different, wasn’t it? It had to be. Even if… in a way, what he had with his wives, it was deep friendship and sex too… A connection, like John said. Maybe…

He stopped his movements, sheet still up in his hands. What was he doing? Was he actually considering dating John?

John was his friend. His friend. They would never do couple things, like… like holding hands. Going on vacation together. Moving in together. Planning things. Share bills. They would never even be allowed to share bills, anyway. They would not be allowed to do anything because John was a fucking man and the whole thing was ridiculous. What kind of life would it be? Hiding all the time, from everyone? Go on secret dates, and then what? Even the concept of a date with John was abstract. He could not even picture it. When he thought of John, he thought of hours sitting eye to eye and playing the guitar, not a romantic candlelit dinner. He thought of laughter. He also thought of all the bad blood between them, but soon pushed that away. It was a part of him, always would be, but it would not be fair to judge present John on things that had never happened to him. John was his friend. Sleeping with him was nice, very nice, and kissing him was amazing too, but in the great ladder of things, it was not what mattered most.

What mattered was to have John alive, safe, and happy. ‘Being’ with Paul meant putting him in an unsafe position. They could be ridiculed and killed for what they were doing, and if they did… more, it would only be worse. And clearly, ‘being’ with Paul did not make John happy either.

Paul finally folded his sheet and put it back in his closet. He had made his decision. Whatever had been going on with John – it was over. It could not go on. He needed to keep John safe – that was the most important of all. So, even if John stopped pouting and came back, Paul would not fall for it again. It was for John’s own good, and for the band’s. Even Paul’s, eventually. The two of them fooling around was wrong, and dangerous, and it could not be them. It could not.

 

On the third night back home, Paul was restless. He felt desperately lonely. He thought about calling some friends, going to an art exhibition or something, but he was not in the mood of seeing anyone, which did not make sense, but. He walked Martha, drove to the country even, but there was still some electricity buzzing in his veins. Maybe what he needed was to get laid, for real. A normal shag. Find a girl to start thinking about silky long hair, soft hairless skin, breasts, and stop thinking about his friend’s regular body, because it was abnormal and annoying and it made him uneasy. It was not like he was going to sleep with him again any time soon, anyway. He needed to go back to normal. He hoped he would not make him think about his wife – the thought was still painful –, but it was a risk he was willing to take. He felt horrible for wanting a one-night stand after so many years of steady relationships, but he didn’t have any better solution for the moment. At least, this time, he knew a bit better than he did in his first youth.

He was out in a relatively popular part of the city, wearing a fake moustache, glasses and with his hair slicked back. He did not really look like a catch, but he hoped it would do. The bar he had found was nice, not too loud but crowded just enough for him to go unnoticed. There was a brunette laughing with a friend a little further down the counter, and she was pretty. She had glanced at him a couple of times, but Paul was almost sure she had not recognized him. Which made her twice as attractive. As soon as her friend was gone, probably to the loo, Paul approached and sat a bit closer. Not too close – he didn’t want to frighten her, but enough to talk to each other. He noticed she was wearing a necklace with an emerald pendant, looking very much like one he had offered Linda, decades ago. Something twitched in his chest at the sight.

“You have a lovely necklace,” He told her sincerely.

She beamed at him and looked at her jewel.

“Thank you. It’s a gift from my sister,” She answered, and Paul could tell it was precious for her. “I’m Barbara.”

“James,” He replied.

She looked up to him and searched his face with a smile. When Paul met her eyes, he was confirmed that she did not know who he was and he smiled back. It was rare, extremely rare even to meet people unaware of his face, be it in disguise. It was almost the tiniest bit offensive.

They chatted for a while, and Barbara was really funny. It was nice, to talk to someone who had no idea who he was, who did not expect anything from him. She was 25, worked in a pharmaceutical lab and had a lot of little sisters who were always up to no good. Paul talked a bit about himself too, keeping any incriminating details to himself; he ended up telling her about his children, pretended they were still young to avoid any questions. Confessed he wouldn’t be able to see them for a while and that he missed them a lot. When she asked about the mother, he simply said she was deceased and Barbara was very compassionate about it. It was nice. He was really having a nice evening. And she was really attractive: almond-shaped eyes, tiny ears, creases all over her cheeks when she smiled. It was easy to picture himself with her. When they left the bar together to go for a walk (the bar was getting quite loud and stuffy), her hand came to brush against his and it was all very clear, really. They were turning into a quieter street when she put her hand on his chest and leant up to kiss him.

He found himself kissing back for a second before pulling away. It wasn’t… It didn’t feel…

“What’s wrong?” She asked with a tiny, insecure smile.

And she was lovely really. Funny, sweet and everything. But. But… Paul squared his jaw, an internal battle destroying everything in his mind. No. He just had to kiss her again. He needed to do it. He needed to do it. He looked into her eyes. They were light brown.

“I’m sorry. I can’t,” He finally let out.

Her face fell a little, but she pulled herself together quickly and gave him a new tight smile.

“Sorry. I thought…”

“I’m… You’re lovely, truly. But I just got out of a long relationship, and—”

“It’s fine,” She cut him off, not mean. “I’m… I’m going to head home, now, I think.”

Paul licked his lips and nodded. It was quite late already, and London’s streets were not known for being specifically safe for a woman on her own.

“Can I walk you home…?” He asked, a worried frown on his face.

“Oh you’re sweet, really, but I live just two streets down. Don’t worry,” She assured him.

“Alright, alright. Well, get home safe then. It was a pleasure meeting you, really,” He told her.

She smiled, and her face was less tense already.

“You too, James. I hope you’ll see your children soon.”

When she left him alone and the noise of her heels disappeared down the street, he felt even lonelier than before.

 

Paul was on his way to Ringo’s house, and he was not motivated at all. He had spent the whole day dreading it, and had almost gone down once or twice to buy a bottle of whisky just to relax a little. He did not want to see John. He had managed to spend the day practically without thinking of him, his ‘John rehab’ was working. He knew after that night they wouldn’t see each other for a good while anyway, but still. He did not want to because it would only be awkward, and he did not want to see John if the other one was still in a bad mood. But mostly, he did not want to because he was scared about his own reactions when he would see him.

He was not stupid. He knew he missed his friend; a lot. But he did not think seeing him was a good thing, right now. And the whole Barbara episode was not reassuring in the slightest. He hadn’t been able to even kiss her. Was something wrong with him? Had coming back in time change something in his DNA, in his whole constitution?

When he arrived to Ringo’s porch, there were already many voices raising from the house. It was not surprising; he had stalled his departure for so long that he was now quite late. Ringo welcomed him warmly, as usual, and led him to the living-room where the others were either standing or spread out over the couches. Neil, Mal and his wife, Maureen, Freda, Derek and even Cynthia were all talking animatedly, with little Zak laughing on his mother’s lap and Julian sitting next to his. Paul offered them a general wave but his eyes kept searching the room. Just when he turned to Ringo to ask the burning question on his mind, arms circled him from behind.

“Hey McCartney. We almost thought you wouldn’t come,” George said happily from behind him.

Paul turned. George was all smiles, a cigarette in hand. Still as shockingly young.

“Yes I’m here, the party can start now,” Paul replied with an easy smile.

“You almost missed him, you know,” Ringo added, pointing his chin to George.

“What? You’re leaving?” Paul frowned.

George shrugged.

“Not just yet, but I don’t want to leave Pattie alone all night. She’s having a hard time as it is already,” He explained.

“Oh, alright, yeah.”

“Want a drink?” Ringo proposed, leading them into the kitchen.

“I won’t say no,” Paul sighed.

He hesitated a second, then couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“John’s not here?”

“Talking with Brian outside,” George answered, coughing slightly.

Paul wanted to cry a bit at the sight of it.

“Please stop smoking,” He pleaded.

But of course, George only laughed it off. Ringo gave Paul his drink, and the three of them went back to the living-room. Paul chatted a bit with Mal and his wife, trying to be in the moment as much as he could. They were his friends. They deserved his attention too. He couldn’t quite bring himself to talk to Cynthia, feeling guilty towards her. She was such a kind and loving person that he felt like the worst cockroach next to her. He kept throwing glances outside, only able to see Brian talking and smiling from where he was. He was laughing at Zak trying to grab his mother’s drink when he saw Brian entering the room and diving deeper into the house, probably going to the bathroom. A new glance outside told him no one else had gone out, yet, and that Brian had even pulled the glass doors closed behind him. Unable to stop himself or even to think twice about it, he put his drink down to go out. The second he was out, he was reminded of the chilly breeze that had already fallen upon the city and regretted having left his jacket inside. As he was closing the glass doors behind him too, he met Cynthia’s gaze from across the room. The usual gentleness of her eyes was gone, and she had an oddly blank expression on her face, but Paul chose to ignore it and just treaded a bit further over the terrace.

John was sitting on the floor, back against the wall and taking a drag of his cigarette. His quite long hair now was falling a bit on his eyes, and his dainty wrist was elegantly resting on his bent knee. He was wearing a blue jumper and dark pants, and there were dark circles faintly visible on his face thanks to the light from the terrace lamps. His gaze was fixed somewhere on the horizon, as if he was deep in thought. He looked gorgeous.

Paul approached hesitatingly, feeling like an intruder.

“Hey,” He said quietly.

John threw him a vague glance before looking at the ashes falling from his cigarette.

“Hey,” He answered after a while.

Paul accepted it for an invitation (or at least, not a rejection) and slid down against the wall too, a safe distance from John but close enough to hear each other whisper if necessary. Silence stretched between them, and Paul had understood from the start that John would not say anything, so he went ahead with the first topic that came to his mind.

“I saw Cynthia is here,” He started. “It’s nice that she came.”

John squared his jaw for a second, not moving his eyes.

“I’m moving back in with her.”

Paul gaped and then scurried to school his expression, looking at his own shoes. He had not seen that coming. His brain started turning a mile a minute. Did that mean…? Had he just decided to give it a new shot? After everything he’d told Paul?

“We’re not back together,” John cut through his thoughts, sounding harsh.

Paul turned his head and met John’s hard eyes.

“I’m just following Brian’s advice. She’s alright with it, so,” He shrugged off. “Will be good to be with Julian anyway.”

“He’ll be happy, that’s for sure,” Paul nodded.

He stopped talking, and was immediately upset by the tense air surrounding them. They had never been… distant, like that. As if a wall of glass was separating them. Paul hated it. And yet he did not know what to say. What could he say that wouldn’t feel futile, pointless? The glass doors opened, and Ringo popped his head out.

“Lads, we brought pastries if you want,” He told them.

“I’m coming,” John said, squishing his cigarette in the ashtray on the floor and getting up in a flash.

Paul watched him go inside, apathetic. He hated it. Hated it hated it hated it.

“Paul? You’re not coming?”

He turned to Ringo who, bless him, was still looking at him expectantly. Paul wanted to tell him that no, he did not want to come inside and watch everyone be happy and joyful and have John mad at him, still, always.

“Yeah. Just a sec.”

 

All things considered, the evening was going rather well. George had left early, as planned, and the kids had been put to bed soon after. The pastries were good, everyone was in a good mood and the alcohol helped a lot. John was pointedly ignoring Paul in favour of drinking and laughing with Mal and Ringo, and Paul returned the favour. He had other friends to talk to, especially Freda whom he really appreciated and whom he had not seen in a long time. She was calm and soft-spoken, and it eased his mind a little to talk about recent movies with her.

It was already quite late and Paul was still talking to Freda with Neil dozing a bit off next to them when John arrived and plopped down on the little chair for the feet in front of them. Just a look at his sweaty face told Paul he was drunk, very much so. A sinking, bad feeling stung in his stomach.

“So tell us, Paul, then. Did you have time to meet new birds?” John started, turning half-lidded but dark eyes to Paul.

The smile on his face almost looked threatening, and Freda sent him an amused glance. Thankfully, she took it as a joke.

“Why, do you have some advice for me?” Paul replied with a tight smile, hoping he would back off quickly if he pretended this was just banter.

John’s eyes darkened even more, if that was possible. He was still smiling, but Paul knew that he was not amused in the slightest. Good. Paul neither.

“You look like you’re desperate to find someone to shag, is all,” John continued.

Paul seethed. Freda was quiet, and he could feel her growing unease. Even Neil was fully awake now, and the others’ conversations around them had quieted down a little.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Paul retorted, trying to sound calmer than he felt.

“Mine? Pff, no,” John snorted. Then, with a bigger smile and a pat on Freda’s forearm, he went on: “But it might be Freda’s now, right? She’s good enough, ain’t she?”

“Did I do something…?” Freda chuckled embarrassedly, looking between the two of them.

“No,” Paul answered firmly, throwing daggers to John. “You didn’t do anything. John is being a dick. Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom.”

With that he got up, not trusting himself not to punch John right then and there if he stayed a second longer. Unfortunately, he was reaching the bathroom when a hand forced him to stop and turn around.

“So that’s your thing now, uh? Try your luck with your inner circle? I gotta give it to you, it’s easier to go for the old friends than making efforts to connect with young people again,” John spat out. “You were really not joking about having friends with advantages.”

He looked furious too, as if he had any right to be. His hand was tight around Paul’s wrist, and Paul shook him off harshly.

“It’s friends with benefits and shut the fuck up, you arsehole. You have no right to say things like that to Freda,” Paul whispered angrily. “She is nothing but lovely.”

John laughed drily, rolling his eyes.

“Such a knight in armour. You’re really wonderful, aren’t you? The perfect gentleman. Such a nice man.”

The words hit Paul with force and he nearly staggered back. The memory of similar words in another lifetime rang cruelly in his head. He searched John’s gaze and thought he could see the hurt behind his anger. But it didn’t excuse everything.

“Leave me alone. You’re drunk,” He told him coldly.

“How does that change anything?” John snickered.

“It doesn’t. It just makes you an even bigger bastard than you already are. Now fuck off, I need to pee.”

He pushed him to finally enter the bathroom, locking it behind him. After a while, he heard John’s steps disappearing down the corridor. He was boiling. He couldn’t believe it. He knew John was angry at him, but this was beyond what was acceptable. He was rude, and unfair, and a right bastard. Who did he think he was, putting Paul on the spot and insulting Freda to her face?! This was unbelievable. Just gratuitous rudeness. He had no right.

It took him a long time to calm down enough to go back to the living-room, and when he did, he was not surprised to learn John had left the party.

 

The next morning found Paul sitting at his kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea between his hands and a thousand questions on his mind. It was barely 5am, but he could not sleep anyway. He was perplexed. The whole fight with John kept replaying in his head, and now that he was a bit rested and calmer, he could see that the other had been plain jealous. But he also knew that it didn’t excuse his behaviour. Talking to Freda like that was way off limits. Plus, he had no say in what Paul was doing in his private life. They had never made each other any promises, and if Paul wanted to see someone else, he was allowed to. It did not justify John putting up a show like that. And the others, what would they be thinking now? They had heard John’s words, there was no way they hadn’t. His accusations were vague enough to be interpreted in a lot of ways, probably, but it only made Paul angrier and more scared.

But John’s jealousy meant more than that. Because it probably meant he didn’t want Paul to sleep with other people, be it justified or not. And that… that was not a friend thing, was it? When he tried to see facts for what they were, the conclusion screamed at his face: John did not want someone that wasn’t him to be with Paul. He wanted to be with Paul. It seemed simple. And yet, when their whole situation, the complexity of their relationship and their decades of friendship came back to him, nothing seemed simple anymore. Judging from the evening before, they were not friends. They both acted like bitter ex-boyfriends. How could they move on from this? How had they come to this? How… just how? If only he could see clear…

He looked at a pen lying around on the table and an idea slowly formed in his mind.

He took the pen, went to his bedroom and retrieved his notebook from his bedside table. He only wrote his dreams down on it these days, and it felt strange to touch it again, to flick through it. He went to an empty page and sat on his bed. Clarity. He needed to clarify things in his head. Put them down as simply as possible to try and disentangle them. His relationship with John. What could matter here that he hadn’t been over a hundred times already in his head? He wasn’t even sure he wanted to disentangle—

Want.

It always came down to the same problem. He did not know what he wanted. He needed to discern it, understand it. So that’s what he wrote down.

WHAT I WANT concerning John

He stared at the blank page for a while and couldn’t help but let out a self-deprecating chuckle. He really was turning into a teenager again, lost in the middle of their bubbling feelings. He let his back fall against the bed and closed his eyes. John. John. What did he want with him? Images came to him and he opened his eyes to write them down, ignoring how stupid he felt about it. He just let the words come freely to him, not judging them, not even thinking about them. It took him some time, some things harder to realize then others, but when he finally rose back up and read his list in its totality, it was like a punch in the gut.

WHAT I WANT concerning John
Keep him safe
Make music
Talk about anything
Make him laugh
Play create with him
Listen to him whine about everything

His smile?

When his eyes crinkle when he’s laughing

Listen to the radio in the morning
See movies (even if we don’t understand them)
It’s even better if we don’t understand them
Play with Thisbe watch him play with Thisbe
Show him how to really cook eggs
Prove to him that tomatoes really are fruit

His hands
His smell
Sleep next to him yes sleep next to him
Watch him sleep? Unless it’s too creepy
Kiss him
Make him understand how beautiful of a person he is

Talk
Even have fights as long as he talks to me

Watch him grow old this time
See places
Hear him talk about faith and the world and love
Take him to see Émile and Adèle

Walk in the park with Martha, and Julian too
Kiss him kiss him kiss him
Sex (maybe not all of it) we'll see
Just see him and do nothing

Spend time
Him

Him

He stared at the words for hours, maybe. That’s what it felt like at least. He kept reading them over and over, but each time they only rang truer.

God.

He wanted it all, didn’t he? He did.

He really did.

 

Paul was staring at his telephone, nervously tapping his fingers on the armrest of the couch and chewing off his lower lip. He wanted to call John. Tell him something, but what? What could he say? ‘Hey, I know you hate me right now but I sort of want to date you?’ Jesus. That was insane. Insane. He could not even believe he wanted it, and yet, now that the thought had come into his mind, he couldn’t shake it off. He wanted to date his fucking best friend, risen from the dead, lovelier than ever, the bastard of all bastards.

Suddenly the phone rang, and Paul startled so much he bit hard on his lip and felt copper on his tongue. His heart was beating like crazy. He took a couple of seconds to breathe and picked up the phone. What would even be the coincidences anyway that—

“Hi.”

Paul’s stomach churned at the voice. How could one tiny word make him feel so elated and so terrible at the same time?

“Hi,” He answered.

“It’s John.”

There was an edge of defiance in his voice, and Paul felt suddenly very small.

“I know,” He said softly.

“We need to talk.”

And really, it was a logical statement, and it summarized pretty well what Paul himself wanted to tell him, but it still surprised and scared him. As if he was treading on an alien and very dangerous territory. In a way, he guessed he was. He swallowed past the lump in his throat.

“Okay.”

“Do you know Parliament hill?”

“Heard of it, I think,” Paul replied.

“Can you be there in an hour, at 8? There’s never anyone that early. There’s a small car park at the bottom, ‘s just gravel.”

“Okay.”

“Okay,” John repeated, flat. “See you there.”

And with that he hung up, and Paul stayed with the phone in his hand for a long time, wondering how the hell he had been able to live that many years without hearing John’s voice.

 

As soon as he parked his car in the gravel as he was told, Paul spotted John leaning against his own car up ahead and squinting at him from the distance. He was not wearing his glasses, had a brown suede jacket on and his hair was flying in his face. He just looked soft and freaking stunning and if Paul had any doubts left, they all vanished to nothingness. It was him. That was the one, right there.

He got out of the car and immediately got kicked in the face by the wind, which made him shiver in a few seconds. He should have brought a thicker jacket. He approached John slowly, nerves and apprehension growing in him, numbing his arms and legs. The minute he met John’s squinty eyes, he could not let go of them. This was utterly insane.

He stopped a few feet in front of John and realized his mouth refused to work. He wanted to say hello, something, but words wouldn’t come out, and John was just looking at him and not saying anything either and it should have been uncomfortable, but… somehow, even this was better than not seeing John at all.

“You look cold,” John finally said, sounding as neutral as his statement.

Paul swallowed and cleared his throat.

“I am,” He croaked out.

John studied him a bit longer (and what was he looking for? After all this time studying Paul’s expressions, had he discovered a truth Paul was still ignorant of…?) and pointed his chin towards a vague pebble path leading up the hill.

“Let’s walk, eh?”

Paul nodded and followed his lead. It was a nice place: there was not a soul in sight, not even animals. Just grass, bushes, trees, and the city still half-asleep below them.

“Are you not gonna say anything?” John accused him after a moment of aimless walking.

“You’re the one who said we needed to talk,” Paul answered defensively, diving his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

“So you have nothing to say?”

Paul chanced a look at John, only to see he was not even looking at him but observing the field next to them as if it was very interesting. He didn’t know how to talk about it. That monstrous, nameless, ever-growing thing between them.

“I don’t know. Do you?” He finally answered unhelpfully.

Jesus, you fucking idiot, he cursed at himself. They kept walking and soon after John spoke again.

“I was a bit out of it last night. I shouldn’t have come at you and Freda like that. I was a dick.”

“Yes.”

It was probably harsh, and he saw John wince from the corner of his eye, but Paul was tired of beating round the bush.

“I thought you were flirting with me,” John suddenly said.

Paul frowned. How in the hell had he—

“I mean, not last night,” John rushed to correct.

“When, then?” Paul asked, now even more confused.

“You told me I was beautiful, Paul,” John frowned too, crossing his arms protectively over his chest, still walking swiftly. “Back in March. You sounded real emotional about it, too.”

“I know, but that’s not… It was not like that.”

John looked down at his feet, careful not to step into any puddle. Paul could swear he was walking even further from him then before. He did not expect him to talk again until John’s incredibly quiet voice rose.

“So this… This is just like, a giant misunderstanding, is it? You were just horny and I was, like, kind of there?”

“No!” Paul quickly stopped him, a hand coming on John’s arm.

John looked at him and Paul dropped his hand as if he’d been burnt. Both were standing face to face in the middle of the path. A bird was cackling loudly in a tree nearby.

“I don’t… I mean, no. No, that’s not what happened. I was just… I didn’t understand all of it. You know?” Paul explained, pushing a rock with his foot. Unable to meet John’s gaze. “But once I did… I wanted it,” He paused. Then, literally forcing the words out: “You. And I still do. It’s not a misunderstanding. At all.”

John observed him in silence for a while. His expression was carefully guarded.

“I want you too,” He finally admitted quietly, staring straight at him, and Paul’s heart nearly jumped out of his chest.

The blood pulsing in his head and numbing his fingers was so loud he almost missed John’s next words.

“But you’re so… you keep blowing hot and cold, it’s hard to follow you sometimes,” He told Paul after a while, with yet not a hint of malice in his voice.

“I don’t mean to,” Paul simply said, understanding there had to be some truth to that.

They stayed in silence for a while, and Paul was not only reeling from hearing John’s admission, but he was also struck by how hard it was to actually talk about it. It felt so foreign for them to be talking about wanting each other. He almost wanted to laugh.

“So, what you said earlier… It means you don’t think I’m beautiful?”

Paul’s head went up so fast he heard his neck crack.

“No, of course I do. You are,” He answered hastily. “That’s not—“

But he stopped himself abruptly when he noticed the tiny, tiny grin John was trying to suppress. Fuck. He’d fallen right into it. He felt a laugh bubbling inside of him but fought hard to school his features. Even if judging by John’s sparkling eyes, he was doing a very poor job of it.

“Oh sod off,” Paul finally let out in a chuckle.

John laughed with him, the sound soothing to Paul’s ears. Feeling the tiniest bit lighter, Paul took the chance to come one step closer to John – even if they were standing still a good two feet apart. But when John’s lips fell slightly open and his eyes became slightly warmer, he knew it was the right decision.

“So,” Paul started again in a soft voice, the rocks beneath his feet even more fascinating than before. “What do we do now?”

“I don’t know,” John confessed just as quietly.

Paul nodded. It was not surprising that they were both completely lost, he figured. Seeing their situation. When he turned to John again, his friend was still observing him. There was something in his expression he couldn’t quite decipher. He seemed to be hesitating, then finally made his choice.

“I guess we can just let things evolve on their own. You know. I mean… we both know it, yeah?” He said. “So, we don’t have to… If you…”

He breathed deeply, looking far beyond the field, forcing his arms to detach themselves from where they were tightly crossed over his chest – even if he tucked his hands in his back pockets right away.

“We don’t have to think about it too much, yeah? We can just, you know… take it slow? Be honest with each other?”

Paul nodded again, quite on board with that idea.

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good start.”

John gave him a small smile and they kept walking in silence for a while. The place was empty, grass, trees, rocks and the city on the horizon ahead the only presence besides them. The wind was like ice hitting on Paul’s face and his hands were frozen in his pockets, and yet he felt warmer than he had in days.

“Paul?”

“Mmh?”

Paul turned his head to the other man, surprised when no answer was coming. John was walking with his gaze fixed on his feet. Until he suddenly stopped and looked at Paul, looking a bit frightened.

“I sort of want to kiss you.”

Paul stopped too and could hardly fight the bashful smile breaking on his face. It was strange, to hear him ask that. He glanced around to make sure they were absolutely alone and turned his eyes back to John. He was waiting for Paul’s answer, visibly very nervous. Paul simply nodded.

So John approached him and reached one hand out to lightly grab his jacket. And, slowly, he tipped his head up the tiniest bit to touch Paul’s frozen mouth. John’s lips were chapped and grated unpleasantly against Paul’s but he didn’t care. He snaked an arm around John’s waist to bring him closer to him and they just stayed like that for a while, just breathing against each other. Enjoying the simple fact to be able to kiss outdoors, with the cold biting their skin and the white sun knocking on their closed eyelids. When they finally pulled back, they stared at each other in silence, amused grins growing on their faces. They were both trying to tame them - unsuccessfully.

“Sorry. It’s just so weird,” John finally chuckled, shaking his head and moving away from Paul.

“I know, right?” Paul answered, chuckling as well.

He watched John’s small smile, his eyes, his whole face. There was no doubt.

It was him.

Chapter Text

As he was locking his car in his garage, Paul’s mind was majorly filled with bubbles, a layer of fear, and more bubbles. He was beyond nervous, but his legs seemed to be working on their own as they led him to the entrance of his building. He went up and got in, a bit disappointed to have arrived first. But he had barely taken his jacket off that someone rang at the door. He let out a deep breath and went to open it. On the other side, John was grinning at him, but he looked like he was mostly putting on a brave face for the show.

“Hello, Sir McCartney,” He said with a pompous voice.

“Well, hello there, Mr. Lennon.”

“You look dashing tonight.”

“It’s not even 11am. But you look alright yourself.”

“Jesus, you won’t choke on compliments,” John chuckled, shouldering his way into the flat.

Paul laughed, closing the door after him. He followed John to the living-room and it was strange to see him back here, after everything. To know that he would not dash off suddenly. That they were alright.

“I can’t stay too late, I want to spend the afternoon with Julian,” John told him as he was shouldering off his jacket, looking at the pictures on the walls as if he didn’t know all of them already.

“Sure, of course.”

Paul dived his hands into his pockets, feeling a bit shy. He did not quite know how to behave. They had just agreed to come back to Paul’s place to escape the cold but they hadn’t said what they would be doing there exactly. Once his inspection was finished, John finally turned to him. His cheeks were blatantly red. Well, he was not the only one embarrassed, apparently.

“Every time you tell me something important it’s right before I’m leaving,” John started again. “Remember, when you gave me the list?”

“I was so scared. I thought you’d send me straight to a mental house,” Paul chuckled, still standing at the entrance of the room.

“I didn’t.”

“I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.”

John smiled and looked around, rocking on his feet.

“You can sit, you know. I‘ll get us tea,” Paul finally proposed, feeling himself blush too.

John obeyed, and Paul rushed to the kitchen, getting the teapot ready and their two usual cups out. He waited for a few seconds, leaning his hip against the counter and tapping his fingers against it, when he decided he didn’t want to lose any time not seeing John before he left. So he took the empty cups and brought them to the living-room. John was sitting at the very edge of the couch.

“When will you be in Paris, again?” He asked as he was putting the cups on the coffee table.

He raised his head to see John looking at him with a frown, a little spooked.

“Been there, done that,” Paul explained. “In my past, we met when you went to Paris during your break.”

“I have to admit it’s a bit impressive. You’re like a cat, you have nine lives and just travel from one to the next.”

“I know. I should buy a DeLorean,” Paul joked, revelling in the smile blossoming on John’s face.

“What is that?” John chuckled.

“A car. It doesn’t exist yet. It’s from a movie about a kid going into the past.”

John’s smile grew bigger, he was clearly amused.

“Okay, stop showing off now,” He told Paul with fake reprimand.

But his smile was taking his whole face now, and Paul couldn’t take it anymore, so he strode forward and cupped his jaw to kiss him, tilting John’s head up to do it. And he didn’t know if it was the smell of his coconut shampoo, the rough feeling of his light stubble or the fact that John kissed back instantly, but Paul wanted to take a mental picture of that moment and file it under the ‘most precious memories’ category. After a few moments, he let go of John’s face and stood straighter, not knowing what to do with his arms. John looked a bit dazed.

“Sorry,” Paul chuckled, embarrassed. “Don’t know where that came from.”

John cleared his throat, shaking himself out of his daze.

“You don’t have to apologize for that, you know,” He told him. “You, um, you’re allowed to do it. I’m… fine, with it.”

Paul nodded but fled to the kitchen to avoid having to look into his friend’s eyes. His lover. His… person. Whatever. He took out the box of tea and dropped some of it into a ball, which he lowered into the teapot.

“So, Paris? When?” He called out, remembering there was a question at the beginning.

“Uh, I’m not sure. Around the 16 I think. I’ll call you when I know for sure.”

When the tea was finally ready, Paul took the teapot and brought it to the living-room. John still was in the same spot, looking just as cute as before. Paul felt like an idiot just for thinking that. He sat down next to him and poured them tea.

“What about Brian and Neil, though?” He asked John, focusing on the steaming cups.

He chanced a glance at John, who just looked confused.

“I mean, they can be there,” Paul continued, losing all his confidence. “I don’t mind, you know, if you—”

“Oh, yes! That’s true,” John cut him off, his eyes widening in realization. Then: “Oh well, I can find a way to get rid of Neil, I guess. You take care of Brian. It’s my gift to you.”

John took his cup and started blowing on it, ignoring how Paul was doubting everything again – and Paul couldn’t be more grateful. So he only nodded and started drinking his tea too, humming quietly into it.

“So, that means you’ll meet me up in Paris, then?”

Paul took the time to drink a large gulp of tea to think about his answer. It felt weirdly more intimate to plan their meetings, now. The sun was now flowing into the room, reflecting nicely on the teapot.

“Yeah. If you want to, that is,” He finally answered, his voice a little rougher than usual.

No answer came, and Paul felt something churning in his stomach. Was it too much? Was he being too pushy? Too straightforward…? He turned his head to John, who was visibly trying not to smile at his cup. He had a weird expression on his face.

“What?” Paul pressed on.

“Nothing,” John rushed to answer. “Just… I didn’t think you’d actually want to see me. Like, on purpose.”

Paul just looked at him, not sure how to react to that. But he didn’t have time to dissect John’s sentence that the other was rising up again, cup still in his hands, and was going to the record player sitting in a corner of the room. Paul watched him pick up an album – theirs, and turning it to read its back. There was something very careful and tranquil in the way he handled the object.

“I haven’t listened to it, yet” John confessed, sending a quick glance to Paul.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Felt weird to listen to it alone.”

Paul put his cup down and joined him in a few strides. His arm brushing against John’s – and even if it caused him to shiver lightly, he did not take it off –, he took the album from his hands and pulled out the vinyl to put it carefully on the record player. He placed the needle on it and a few moments later, the first notes of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ rose in the quiet room. The two men fell silent, simply standing next to each other and listening to the song.

“In my past, it wasn’t the first track,” Paul confessed quietly when the song was already coming to an end.

John just looked at him, studying his face once again, and looked down at the record turning below them.

“It’s a good one,” He simply answered.

And whether it was because he was not used to compliments from John or just because of everything going on between them, Paul felt a bit emotional and avoided looking at his friend-lover. It felt natural, peaceful, to listen to music together. Their music. John’s presence had that appeasing quality that helped Paul shutting his bad thoughts off, at least for a while. When ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ started and John’s voice filled the room, he looked at the other man, who was now leaning against the table with a calm expression on his face, and felt the urge to get closer to him again. So before his brain had any chance to block and sabotage him, he went to John and engulfed him in a delicate hug. He was warm, and soft, and he smelled good, and Paul didn’t want to let go of him. John gasped in surprise, but soon enough he got up to make it easier and his arms came to slowly rest around Paul. He even rested his chin on Paul’s shoulder in a cautious gesture, their hair and ears brushing one another, as if he was not sure what was acceptable or not – and Paul guessed it was a reasonable fear. The song resonated between them, John’s singing voice soothing Paul’s nerves. He buried his head deep in John’s neck, smelling the sweet smell of his skin more than ever. What kind of psychopath loved smelling people’s skins?

“Are you trying to smother me?” John teased him, sounding a little defiant.

“Is it working?” Paul retorted without a pause.

When John only chuckled and hugged him tighter, Paul grinned to himself.

 

They didn’t do much more, the whole time John stayed: they sat together on the couch, their knees pleasantly bumping against each other, just listening and commenting the songs, the arrangements, the tea, the weather, the meaning of the word ‘pot’, the new foreign secretary, the evolution of international politics in Ireland, how complicated politics were getting in the future, the new disease one of John’s aunt was convinced to have. In less than two hours, they probably talked more than they had the two months prior, and yet, when John announced he should be leaving, Paul only craved for more. He followed him into the hallway, hands in his pockets and feeling like a coy teenager again. John put on his suede jacket, grabbed the doorknob of the front door and turned to Paul. He looked a tad embarrassed himself; as if he didn’t quite know how to say goodbye.

“So. See you in Paris then, eh?” He said with a little bit forced enthusiasm.

“Yep. I’ll be there.”

His unsure eyes were fleeting over Paul’s face, and in a quick motion he approached Paul and kissed his cheek. As he was going back to the door, Paul stopped himself from grinning like an idiot.

“What are you, 12?” He teased him.

“Shut up. Yes. Take care,” John answered.

Then he opened the door and in seconds, he was gone.

 

“And do you sleep better?”

The therapist’s eyes were firm and earnest, and Paul wanted to squirm on his seat. He thought it over. It was still early morning, and he felt less like a zombie than he had regularly the past few months. But he knew he couldn’t honestly say he was sleeping well yet, especially with the less strong medication he was now taking. The last two days, a.k.a. since John had left for Germany, he also had been too restless to sleep properly, his thoughts running a mile a minute. His thoughts were mostly pleasant – John, John, John, and John too, still disbelievingly reeling from the newness and incredibleness of it all – but he was also scared, and nervous, and worried. So, not a great recipe for a good night of sleep.

He tapped his fingers on the armrest and noticed one bit of a nail was scratching against the material.

“Um… slightly. Not great, though,” He finally answered, his eyes zoning in on the offensive nail.

“Have you kept track of your dreams like we discussed?”

“I have, yeah,” Paul said, glancing at her with a nod, then turning his attention back to his nail, trying to take the extra bit off with his fingers. “They’re not very… uh, let’s say they’re close to the horror film category.”

Lavenish narrowed her eyes and tilted her head.

“What do you mean?”

Paul chuckled, forcing his eyes to stay on his therapist for a while.

“Well, blood, dead people. Me being stuck outside in the snow, being shut out by everyone. They’re not exactly pleasant reveries.”

The therapist did not answer, just widened her eyes. Paul decided to use the heavy-handed manner and bit on his nail. He started talking without really realizing it.

“The people I’ve lost keep telling me I’m lying. That I’m forgetting something. I thought it was because I might forget them, but I sort of have the opposite problem… not that it’s a problem, I don’t want to forget them, but, you know. I’m not lying to them.”

He fell quiet, and he could hear the clock from the waiting room ticking through the wall. It was a rather cosy office, but the building was clearly old.

“Are you lying to someone else?” The therapist finally asked.

Paul wanted to laugh for a second. Everyone, was the first answer that popped in his head. Well, except maybe John. But he couldn’t tell her that – he couldn’t tell her he was lying about the supernatural aberration that was his life. So he went for the less invasive answer he could think of: a shrug.

Lavenish only raised a sassy eyebrow, clearly not impressed with his lack of investment in the question. Paul felt a bit called out under her gaze, and winced when he realized his finger had started bleeding a little. He looked up to the therapist.

“We can’t be saying to truth to everyone all the time,” He chuckled diplomatically.

“That’s true,” She conceded. “But some lies are more harmful than others. Some threaten to change who we are. Some change our relationships to people. Some are lies we say to ourselves, and those are the toughest of them all to deal with.”

Paul’s face fell unbeknownst to him.

“I’m not lying to myself,” He retorted, feeling a bit on the defensive and not really knowing why.

“I didn’t say you were.”

Paul frowned.

“You think I’m lying to myself?”

Lavenish thought it over for a moment.

“I think dreams of people being stuck are dreams of people striving to break free. I might not be teaching you anything here, but some lies keep people stuck. And your mind seems to think you are. Stuck.”

“Yes. Because I am,” Paul replied, irritated.

The therapist smiled, and her whole face changed – she didn’t seem like the type to smile very often.

“You know, dreams are not an exact science. Sometimes they are very telling and sometimes they are nothing more than… transient thoughts. But whatever they are, they are not always to be taken literally. Our minds are complex, and fast, especially when we are asleep. They weave images from our deeper emotions.”

Paul let the words dawn on him, trying to get what she was trying to tell him. Lavenish gave him one last smile before uncrossing her legs.

“I don’t know why your mind thinks you are stuck,” She continued. “But I’m not sure it’s because of the reason you’re so convinced of either.”

 

After his appointment, Paul was left bewildered for days. He thought therapy would help him get a clearer and healthier view on his situation, but at the moment he only felt more lost. As he was walking Martha at the park – very early, when no one was bound to recognize and approach him – he kept thinking about Dr. Lavenish’s words. Was he lying to himself? Ever since the idea had sneaked its way into his head, he couldn’t shake it off. It rang… meaningful. He couldn’t see what he was lying to himself about, but it did make sense. He wasn’t lying to his family, he wasn’t lying to John. And if he didn’t dream he was stuck because he was stuck in the past, then why would he even—

He was about to send a stick for Martha to fetch when he froze.

He hadn’t… He hadn’t thought about it. Why. Since his incipient days back in the past, he hadn’t thought much about why he was stuck in there. John had, he realized suddenly. The first time Paul had told him, he kept asking why he had arrived back in time, especially why then. Maybe… could there be a reason to it? Some meaning behind his time-travelling? Was he truly here for a reason? Or even more – because of some reason?

He felt something scratching his legs and looked down to see puppy-Martha whining at him, trying to reach the stick that was still in his hand, frozen in the air. He finally threw the stick and the dog darted after it. He watched the ball of fur disappearing away, feeling like a rug had been pulled out from underneath his feet. Mostly, he felt stupid. He was so busy feeling sorry for himself for being ripped away from his family that he hadn’t even tried to understand why. The ‘how’ part was clearly out of his league, and he had no illusions about it, but maybe John was onto something. Maybe the date of his departure – and of his arrival, meant something. After all, he had ‘left’ 2019 on August 14th, and he had arrived in 1965 on December 11th. Why that four-month difference? Why had he arrived at that specific moment? And why had he not ‘left’ in December too?

Martha arrived back running like crazy, throwing the stick on his feet and wagging her tail so fiercely her whole body was shaking with it. He kneeled and petted her, letting her soft fur and wet nose ground him into the present. He didn’t know… he didn’t know. Why, why now, why then. At best, he could only make guesses. The realization that it could all mean something was heavy on his mind and he felt the need to breathe out slowly. Take one thing at a time. He was having a hard time accepting his desire for John already, he wasn’t exactly in the state to dive into another time-breaking, soul-searching quest in addition to it. No matter how hard he thought about it, he didn’t remember any specific detail that would explain everything. Maybe he needed to train his memory. Try to reconstruct it. He sighed and whistled to Martha, signalling her to follow him (which she didn’t exactly do, being too young and not trained yet, but she was still close enough for him to attach her leash).

He had work to do.

 

Waiting for the day he would go to Paris was a slow torture. He tried his best to keep his mind and body busy. He went to Liverpool to see his dad and his brother for a few days, went to visit George and Pattie a few times, spent time with a couple of friends – including Freda who had thankfully made no mention of the weird conversation with John – and worked on several original songs. He had work to do even, with the movie score project he was engaged on with George Martin. He had loved doing it the first time, and since there was not the same kind of pressure than for the Beatles albums, he felt freer to try new things, take a different approach this time around. He was however having a hard time concentrating. September was one of the hardest months, with the birthdays of two of his children one after the other and no one to share it with. The 12th and the 13th thus saw him drive to the country to walk all day long with Martha and want to call John and change his mind all evening to finally drink himself to sleep. It was painful, and hard, but the days eventually passed, and he survived them.

Now that he was slowly coming to the conclusion that he was maybe back there for a reason, not understanding it felt like an insult to his family and everyone he had lost in the process. The dreams still woke him up at the wee hours of the morning and more than once he wished John was next door again, if only just to hear him breathe. John’s breathing was always oddly comforting. He was not shocked to discover that he missed him. He missed him a lot. So bad at times that one night he found himself listening to ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ on repeat if only just to hear his voice and remember fondly their hug from a few days before. In other words, he was pathetic.

He had ended up telling Brian he wasn’t going to France after all, and he’d felt terrible to lie until John called him and said he’d told Neil – and Brian too, apparently – that he was going to meet up with a bird there and needed him to scram. Paul felt weird to be the secret bird in this situation, and felt bad for Neil, but it was also strangely flattering (and nerve-racking) to know that John was willing to lie to his friends just to see Paul one-on-one. At first, it seemed like lying about it only made their reunion more suspicious if anyone was to find out, but it actually was the only way they’d found on such short notice to make sure they had some time alone during the short two days. Or even just some time at all without having to worry whether they were being obvious or not. It would be their secret week-end, and Paul tried not to think about how meaningful it sounded. Especially with it being in Paris. The last time they had been there alone was practically a lifetime away, and yet Paul still remembered all of it. It had been terribly meaningful back then too – even though not for the same reasons.

Obviously.

The day finally came, though, and Paul was buzzing with excitement. He’d been up at the break of dawn, and lied awake in bed for hours, staring at the window and wondering what would happen during those two days. This time, he really had no idea what to expect. How John would behave – how he would behave. They were not even totally clear on what they were, exactly; sure, they wanted each other, but the notion remained pretty vague, and Paul realized now that it did not help his anxiety about the whole thing. He thought taking things slow was a good idea when John had suggested it, but now he wasn’t so sure anymore. Did John want want him the whole way, couple and everything, or was it just a way to say he wanted to keep the sex part and remain close friends…? At that point, he could only hope their week-end would bring him the answer.

He’d asked his neighbour, who would keep an eye on his pets, not to mention he was leaving (pretending he was aiming for a few days of calm for once) and he knew he could trust him, the man having never failed him. He packed his bag, took his breakfast, said goodbye to Martha and Thisbe, and yet he was still so early he had to sit at the kitchen table and read the newspaper – again – to lose time. When he expectedly grew tired of it, he took one last tour of the apartment to check he hadn’t missed anything. He was only leaving for two days, but it felt like he was going on a thrilling, three-month long adventure. When he went to the bathroom, he noticed some drops of water had left marks on the mirror and he took a towel to rub them off. Unable to avoid it, he ended up staring at his own face. He had cut his hair a little the day before in the hope of being less recognizable, and seeing himself like this reminded him of the late 90s. It was still eerie, to see his own reflection, and most of the time he avoided looking at himself altogether. He poured some gomina on his fingers and prepared his hair, checked his skin for any imperfections he could hide. On a last whim, he decided to trade his white shirt for the polka dots one John had given him, hoping it would give him courage to face the day. It was undoubtedly too much, too cheesy, but John would probably not see it anyway since he was wearing a jumper over it. He finished preparing himself, feeling both excited and idiotic. He looked… young. So damn young.

He checked the time on his watch again and it was finally late enough for him not to be ridiculously early. He put on his jacket, took his things, his suitcase. Showtime.

 

With his hair slicked to the side, a newsboy’s cap and fake glasses on, Paul felt like a very bad private investigator on a mission. A couple of people had recognized him in London, and he could only hope no one in the plane had, but otherwise he had arrived in France relatively easily. They had arranged to meet in the tiniest street they had heard of in Ivry-sur-Seine, the furthest point the Parisian metro reached. Paul hoped they would have less chances to be recognized there, especially by any tourists. He was really paranoid about it; meeting John was stressful enough, he didn’t want to have to deal with the aftermath of any rumours in addition to it. Hopefully John’s appearance would be discreet enough as well.

When he reached the aforementioned street, Paul stopped against the wall, hidden behind a dumpster, and was happy to notice that except for the odd lady with her shopping wheeled bag, it was completely empty. He was still uneasy and a bit jumpy, though. At some point a man came out of the front door next to him and Paul startled, but he simply ignored him, going straight down the street in the opposite direction. Paul observed the rare cars as they passed by, and enjoyed the cool weather – he even was a little too hot with his scarf but he did not care take it off. There was a small, cosy café at the corner that seemed quiet as well, they could probably settle there for a while. He wouldn’t mind a strong coffee right now. He watched the waiter come out of it to erase something on the menu board and squinted hard to see what he was writing. Menu du jour… Bouf… No, boeuf… bourgui…gnon…

He felt movement next to him but did not assimilate the person was staying there until their voice rose.

“What are you looking at?”

Paul turned his head fast as lightning. Sure enough, John was leaning on his side against the wall, front to Paul, and was curiously looking in the direction of the café as well, his eyes searching the subject of Paul’s gaze. He was wearing a buttoned up dark jacket, a thin white scarf and blue jeans. He didn’t have any bags. His hair was shorter than he had ever seen it on him (well, he knew he had had it shorter than that at some point in his old life but he hadn’t actually seen him then. And he was 97% sure he hadn’t cut them that short back in his first 1966), and he was wearing his round glasses, which sent a bolt of something sharp and wiggling in Paul’s stomach. It was utterly strange to see him wear these again… or rather see him again with them on. It was like old John was getting closer to present John, they were mixing together a little bit more. Paul took all of him in and warmth invaded his whole being, feeling at once much calmer. He fought not to smile too wide.

“I was trying to read the board over there,” He answered simply, pointing at the café.

John followed his finger and squinted through his glasses.

“Mmh. It says ‘we have food, come over’,” He said after a while, sounding very serious.

“No, it says ‘we have food and drinks, come over’,” Paul played along.

“Oh, yes you’re right. There’s even ‘we have hot chocolate too’ in the corner, I hadn’t noticed.”

Paul chuckled, unable to tame his smile any longer. How could this be so easy after the months of silence and awkwardness between them?

“Wanna go in?” He asked John, signalling the café with his head.

“Let’s go,” The other agreed.

Paul retrieved his suitcase and they both crossed the road, barely needing to look before doing so. They entered the café, and were pleased not to see any spark of recognition in the waiter’s eyes. Paul enjoyed the occasion to speak the few words of French he had gathered during his stay in Léchelle, and the waiter showed them a tiny table in the corner, with a view over the street. They had just taken their jackets off that the waiter was already coming to them with an expectant face.

“Vous savez ce que vous voulez ? (1)”

Paul glanced at John, who looked a bit lost, and took charge of it.

“Oui, deux chocolats chauds s’il-vous-plaît (2),” He answered with more confidence in his voice than he actually felt, adding a charming smile on it.

The waiter nodded and left them. More than a little proud of himself, Paul turned to see John’s raised, mocking eyebrows.

“Vanity is an ugly trait, you know,” He told him mercilessly.

Paul laughed, looking outside to show he was over this childish accusation.

“Sorry for just being my best self,” He answered, grinning smugly.

When he turned his head back to John, he was already looking at him with a weirdly intense glow in his eyes.

“Why are you so bloody cute,” He angrily-for-show muttered to himself, barely loud enough for Paul to hear.

Paul could not fight the blush blossoming on his cheeks. Jesus, control yourself. Thankfully the waiter arrived with their hot chocolates and diverted their attention.

“So, how’s filming?” He started once the waiter was gone, focusing on his cup and hoping his blush would be fading away quickly.

“Boring, but the lads are nice, I guess,” John shrugged.

“Wow, I can literally feel the motivation pour out of you.”

John laughed, a quick, joyful sound that went straight to Paul’s heart. He launched into an account of his first days in Germany, how he was just waiting bored out of his mind most of the time, how Neil had got lost in Celle one night, how the other actors kept expecting him to sing all the time. He sounded like he was not having a great time over there, and Paul thought he remembered he hadn’t enjoyed it terribly the first time around either. He wouldn’t tell John that though – he didn’t want to depress him even more.

When they finished their chocolates, they left the café in a rather cheerful mood. Except for John’s little comment, they were not behaving any differently, and Paul was relieved. It was comfortable, simple, friendly, and yet, he could see in the barely concealed glances John sent him every once in a while that it was clear. He wasn’t hiding – well, they were still in public so they were not doing anything that might compromise them, but still. They were not pretending, here, and it was an indescribably comforting feeling.

They went down the little street lining a church, their conversation slowly coming to an end. They were walking side by side, a respectable distance between them, and Paul was surprised to realize he wanted to hold his hand. It was impossible, and pointless, and probably too cheesy, but he did. He still couldn’t believe how committed to it he felt, now. He felt so into it that it was almost laughable to remember that just two weeks ago he was convinced he could just ignore what he was feeling and just stay good buddy-pals. He looked at John discreetly, observed his profile, the peace that emanated out of him. Funny how things could change so quick.

They both turned their heads when voices rose from the entrance of the cemetery right next to them. Down the aisle leading deeper into the cemetery, a middle-aged couple was walking. The woman had her arm through the man’s, and she was leaning against him in a chaste yet loving gesture.

“They look happy.”

Paul stopped walking to slightly gape at John with a frown. His friend looked innocent, his eyes still lingering on the couple, but Paul knew better. This wasn’t just some off-handed comment. He knew him too well. He felt anger and shame rise in him at lightning-speed.

“Oh no. No no no no. I see what you’re doing here. Don’t you dare put this on me. You never said you wanted more. You never said anything,” He answered, turning to John and pointing a finger at his chest.

The look of pure astonishment on John’s face quickly gave way to indignation.

“I was flirting with you all the time!” He protested, frowning.

“No you weren’t! That’s not true!” Paul countered.

The words started pouring out of him without him being able to do anything to stop them. They were overwhelming, dying to come out and burning everything in their path. Paul knew somewhere in his mind that they probably were long-due.

“You might have when you were drunk, but you’re always a bit touchy-feely when you’re drunk,” He continued, staring straight into John’s frowning eyes. “And otherwise you were just being yourself, there was nothing different. You looked like it was just another… you know, like some regular business. Just another hobby at night. I’ve seen you wooing girls, don’t you think I would have seen it if you’d done the same on me?!”

“You’re not a girl, Paul!” John countered, louder.

“Ah yes, thank you, I hadn’t noticed!” Paul bit back, dry sarcasm dripping from his every pore.

John looked around them, took Paul’s elbow and led them in an also empty street a little further along the cemetery, so small only pedestrians could get in it.

“I didn’t know how to behave with you,” John continued, lower. “One moment you were ignoring me and the next you were jumping on me to suck my dick.”

Paul grimaced, offended. Was he calling him a slag or…?

“Oh come on, it happened once!” He defended himself. “And I wasn’t ignoring y—”

“Yes you were! You didn’t want to deal with me, so you were fucking ignoring me! Why are you still pretending I don’t know you by heart?!”

“I. Wasn’t. Ignoring. You,” Paul continued on his thought, glaring at John.

But John only glared harder and Paul reflected on his own words and swallowed, annoyed.

“Okay, maybe I did, a couple of times,” He finally relented, to which John raised an eyebrow. “But I was right here the whole time. After we—” He leant closer to John and lowered his voice, checking there was still no one around them. “—kissed in Tokyo, I asked you to stay with me, I invited you to come pick up Martha with me. I wanted you… I wanted you to be close, and you just acted like nothing had happened. You said we kissed because we were drunk.”

“Yes, well, maybe that’s because you had just fucking overdosed because of me.”

That knocked the breath out of Paul, who got dizzy for a second in front of the raw hurt and fear in John’s eyes.

“No… It wasn’t… it wasn’t because of you. I told you that,” He answered, quiet.

John snorted, the sound so unhappy Paul nearly winced.

“And I was supposed to believe that? I kissed you and a few hours later you knocked yourself out with pills. It’s not hard to do the maths.”

Paul’s hand reached for John’s arm in an instinctual desire to reassure him. To make him understand. To make him believe him.

“I was tired, and scared, and I just wanted to sleep. But I never… I didn’t regret kissing you, nor did I want to kill myself because of it. Not then, and not after. It had nothing to do with you. I promise.”

The two of them grew silent. John didn’t push off Paul’s hand, but Paul knew he didn’t quite believe him – not yet. It was painful, to know John wrongly held the blame for something so heavy.

“I was trying… It’s like I couldn’t make you see. No matter what I did, what I said, you never saw,” John started again, quieter but with still a sharp edge to his voice, showing just how much frustration he’d accumulated over the weeks. Or probably even months. “As if you just didn’t care at all.”

“I cared,” Paul admitted quietly.

And in that moment, he realized just how true that statement was. A memory came back to him, bringing along a sadness and disappointment he had not identified up until now.

“Remember when we went to Liverpool? I thought we would spend the weekend together. But you just… you came back by train. It was stupid, but when you called me that morning, I felt further from you than ever.”

He turned to John and was surprised to see his eyes were dark and frowning again.

“Don’t get me started on Liverpool, I swear. Don’t you fucking get me started on fucking Liverpool.”

“What?! What did I do again?” Paul sighed, raising his arms in the air.

“You invited me along and then realized, when we fucking arrived there, that I had nowhere to sleep. Remember, that?”

Paul fumed, restraining himself from just grabbing John and shaking him until he understood just how unfair this was on him.

“I had forgotten about Mimi!” He cried out. “It was 50 years ago for me for fuck’s sake! You can’t blame me for that!”

“Well it still hurt me, didn’t it?!”

“Maybe, but driving back to London alone hurt me too!”

“Oh please…!” John snorted, turning his head and shaking it.

“Why didn’t you ask me if you could sleep at my Dad’s, then? You just assumed I was bringing you to my family like… like what, my boyfriend?”

“Don’t be fucking stupid. That was months ago. You know I never assumed that. I just wanted… I was so fucking alone, and I needed you to just… be here. I just wanted you to be here.”

John dropped his head to search something in his pockets, and Paul knew he was embarrassed about his confession, but he put down his suitcase and tugged on his arm anyway, forcing the other man to face him.

“You can’t just blame everything on me, that’s just not fair. I know I can be dense sometimes but you were never clear about what you wanted. I couldn’t just guess. I mean, I guess I could, but you know how dangerous it can be to just take a guess on these things! I mean, I’m used to the 2010s now and this is the 60s, you know? Things are a lot different, believe me. I was already trying to understand what was going on with me, I couldn’t just magically understand what was going on with you too! You never actually said anything that could—”

“I can’t believe you,” John cut him off and shaking his head in disbelief. “That is so fucking rich coming from you, of all people. Mr. ‘I say the worst things at the worst fucking times’!”

“Fuck you! I don’t!”

“And what about the first time we had sex then, huh? Remember what you said after?” John cut him off in barely a whisper, fire in his eyes, staring straight through Paul’s soul. Then he went on, badly imitating Paul’s voice: “‘That was nice’! You fucking wanker. You sounded like you were talking about the fucking weather. And then you just went back to your bed like you just didn’t give a shit!”

Paul felt blood rush to his neck, feeling offended for a reason beyond his grasp. He felt anger growing back in him, incontrollable.

“I didn’t know what to say, you idiot!” He retorted, his voice getting louder too. “You had come to me in the bus like you were so casual about it all, like I was just some bloody booty call!”

“I wasn’t fucking casual! I was scared, you arsehole!”

“Well how was I supposed to know that?! Was I supposed to just understand that you wanted to be in a romantic relationship with me?!”

“Yes! It wasn’t that fucking hard!” John nearly shouted, looking rightly pissed off now.

“Alright, well I want to be in a fucking romantic relationship with you too!” Paul nearly shouted too. “Jesus!”

They both stared in silence at each other, breathing hard. Paul had clenched his fists so hard his fingers were going numb, and he could hear his heart beating in his ears. In a flash of self-consciousness, he checked around again for any lingering bystanders, but by some miracle the street was still empty. As the seconds passed, his anger was slowly ebbing away and the weight of their words was starting to dawn on him. And seeing John’s face morphing slowly into something between doubt and astonishment told him he wasn’t the only one in that case.

“So… that means…” John finally started, his voice quiet and unsure. He cleared his throat, the embarrassed sound painful to Paul’s ears. “Are we really together for real, then? Like an actual, real couple?”

Paul swallowed, still frowning deeply and feeling very weird, a hundred emotions cursing through him at once.

“Yes,” He answered in a strangled voice. There was still the aftermath of anger cursing through him and he felt almost like he was floating out of his body for a while. “We can, indeed… be. We are. I mean, if you’re okay with it, you know.”

John stared at him with a worried frown. He looked scared, as if he did not quite believe what was happening. But then again, Paul couldn’t quite believe it either. Then, ever so slowly, John nodded.

“Okay. We’re together, then,” He simply said.

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

Paul kept nodding, not quite sure how he was feeling yet. The butterflies were the slightest bit overpowered by the anger from earlier and some lingering anxiety.

“You’re still married, though,” He suddenly blurted, his anxiety taking control of his mouth.

John just stared at him for a good ten seconds, then turned to the wall and dramatically dropped his head against it.

“You can’t be fucking serious,” He whispered tiredly.

“You are!” Paul exclaimed with a frown.

John raised his head to look at Paul with incredulity.

“We’re separated. You know that.”

“You are still officially man and wife. You live together again. She still loves you.”

John shook his head, pursing his lips.

“That’s not my fault,” He affirmed.

Paul just stared at him, blank-faced.

“No, I mean it! I broke up with her. It’s not my fault she doesn’t want a divorce. I don’t want to be with her anymore, she knows it. She can’t blame me for going to other people.”

Paul chewed on his lip. John’s marriage was an excuse, they both knew it. But his consciousness was still nagging at him. He let out a deep sigh, figuring he just needed to brace himself and be honest about it.

“I don’t want her to hate me.”

“She is not going to hate you,” John sighed slowly. “I don’t even think she’s capable of hating anyone, to be honest. And it’s not like I’m going to run and tell her we are shagging, come on.”

Seeing Paul was still grimacing, John reached into his pocket to get his packet of cigarettes out. He took the time to take one, light it, inhale deeply and blow out the smoke before talking again.

“Okay, tell me this, then,” He said. “In your past – our future, whatever – are Cynthia and I still together?”

Paul glared at him, taking immediately a defensive position.

“You can’t ask me that. That’s not fair,” He accused John with a frown.

“Not fair on who? Cynthia? Me?... God?”

Paul didn’t answer and approached the wall to lean against it, simply looking out to the house in front of them and trying to calm his own breathing. Through a window at the first floor, he could see the top of somebody’s head going from one room to another. It was weird to see the world outside of them just kept going, indifferent to the huge turn their relationship was taking. He felt John approaching the wall as well, and a gentle hand caressed his wrist.

“Paul, stop,” John’s voice rose again, softer. “You’re thinking too much.”

He turned to him, and was taken aback by how kind and earnest John’s eyes were. For a second, he felt safer than he had in years.

“I’m scared,” He admitted quietly.

John squeezed his wrist and gave him a sad smile, the epitome of softness and rawness.

“I know. Me too.”

Chapter Text

John’s words resonated between them, seeping into their skin, nesting into their hearts. He was not alone.

Paul rubbed his nose and stood up which cause John to let his hand drop from his wrist. Paul enjoyed the occasion to stretch. He felt curiously more in touch with his whole body, from his belly to the tip of his fingers. As if something had cleansed him, set him back to scratch. He felt almost… lighter. Freer. He was restless, full of an energy he did not know how to name. This was a lot to process, to take in, and he was aware that he would probably not realize what was actually happening until much later. But his body seemed to be more connected to his brain, somehow. He glanced at John, whose gaze was lost on the ground.

“Fancy a walk?” He asked him.

John looked up, coming slowly back there, to the present moment, but not quite with Paul yet. He looked around them and nodded. Paul grabbed his suitcase and they set off.

They walked side by side for a very long time, close to an hour, silent; both lost in their thoughts. It was comfortable, though, and for once Paul did not feel the need to fill it. He probably had not been that carefree around John since his 1968. As they were inching closer to Paris and to the Seine, there was more and more people around them, but nobody seemed to mind them. Their elbows and fingers brushed a few times, but any contact in public was absolutely out of the question. Paul was conflicted about it: on one side, he wanted to enjoy the city, rediscover it with John by his side, relish just being there, but on the other side, he craved to be alone with John somewhere private. And, if he was being fully honest about it, in a bed.

They ended up following the bank of the Seine and Paul was at once overwhelmed with memories. It was odd, to see how much the city had changed; just like for London, it still had the same spirit, and yet nothing seemed to be the same. Not really. But Paris was an even eerier experience because he had lived it as a vacation, several times. He had never lived in it, and unlike London, he had preserved a very fixed, immutable memory of it. He had clear images of specific moments in his mind. So being back in it right then, in 1966, truly felt like walking in a postcard. When they arrived to the first bouquinists, Paul felt drawn to it and revelled in how typical it felt – even though he knew they were still present in 2019. John followed him without question, and soon enough both of them were leaning against the wall and observing the impassive river.

Arms crossed on the wall, Paul was watching a péniche in front of them when he felt John’s gaze drifting to him. He ignored it for a while, and then it seemed to drag for so long he just had to turn to his… John. And without surprise, the other man was unabashedly staring at him with a funny glint in his eyes.

“What are you doing?” Paul asked with an amused smile.

“Shhh. I’m enjoying it,” John simply answered.

“Enjoying what? Ogling me?”

John clearly fought back his smile.

“Without looking like a pervert, yes.”

Paul licked his lips and fake-bit on his own tongue.

“Well sorry to burst your bubble but you still quite look like a pervert,” He replied.

John squinted at him, his short fringe flying backwards because of the wind.

“Come on, let’s go.”

“Why? We just arrived,” Paul protested, gesturing to the Seine in front of them.

“Well if we don’t go to the hotel now you’re gonna have to buy me some new balls because mine are so blue they’re going to fall off any minute,” John answered lowly with a frozen smile.

Interested, tingling warmth immediately invaded Paul’s lower belly and he was more than glad to learn that he was not the only one to have bawdy things in mind. Although having John admitting it so openly was a teasing opportunity that he did not want to pass. So he just turned and put his elbow on the wall, looking at John with raised eyebrows.

“What a charmer you are. So classy, so poetic,” He finally retorted, sarcasm dripping from him.

John rolled his eyes so hard he probably saw stars but Paul could tell he was not miffed at all.

“It’s been a long three weeks, okay?”

“So graceful,” Paul kept going, shaking his head and fighting not to smile. “I feel truly blessed.”

“Sod off. You want to go or not?”

Paul eyed the Seine and the bystanders on the banks who were blissfully ignoring them.

“I sort of want to enjoy the city, though,” He admitted – and he couldn’t help but wanting to scream at himself for still being so old in his mind sometimes.

“We can come back out later,” John proposed. “Come on, we don’t have to do anything, but I…”

He trailed off and Paul stared at him, dying to know the end of his sentence but feeling like he didn’t deserve to push for it. John sent a quick glance behind them, making sure no one was close enough to actually hear them talking.

“…I want to see you,” He finished with a quiet voice, all trace of humour gone from it.

The words were vague and could signify a hundred things, and yet Paul knew exactly what he meant. A new wave of affection came over him.

“Okay. Where to, then?”

John gave him a small smile and pushed himself off the wall to start walking towards the nearest bridge, not far from where they were. Paul grabbed his suitcase and followed him.

“I booked a room in the Marais, we can walk there.”

“You have it all planned, haven’t you,” Paul replied, his neck feeling a bit hot all of a sudden.

John glanced at him. His cheeks looked a bit red too, and the sight pleased Paul more than he could explain.

“What can I say, I’m a bold man,” He answered with a not-so-strong smile. “I asked for the cheapest double room, as Mr. Salmon. I figured… you don’t mind, right?”

There was such vulnerability and uncertainty in his eyes and in the corner of his mouth that Paul wished he could just kiss him and hug him right there and then.

“Of course not,” He answered. Then, lightly bumping his shoulder into John’s: “I would have minded if you hadn’t.”

John smiled again, and Paul had never been surer of himself. They kept on walking swiftly, facing the strong wind hitting them on the bridge. They didn’t talk much, except for pointing out funny shops or nice buildings around them. Excitement was building up in him, and when he caught John squaring his jaw and chewing on his inner cheek, he deduced he wasn’t the only one. They finally arrived at the small and very discreet hotel John had picked, just a door squished between a pharmacy and a shoes store.

Paul followed John in but in a rush of paranoia he decided to linger in the hallway, hidden behind a pillar and out of the receptionist’s sight, and wait for John to retrieve the key on his own. Better be safe than sorry. He picked up a magazine and turned the pages without even looking at them, hearing John’s faint voice at the reception. He was surprised to find pictures of a young Brigitte Bardot in the magazine and chuckled when that brought back a flood of memories. He could see teenager George, John and himself, even Pete, dreaming of meeting their own version of a Bardot someday. He had even pushed his own girlfriend to look as much as her as possible, at some point.

All of that felt so long ago, now, it almost felt like it had happened in a dream. Back in that time, never once would he have thought he would end up dating his own friend instead…

“Hey. You ready?” Said friend asked him, leaning against the pillar.

Paul shut the magazine, put it back on the rack and followed John towards the staircase. As they were going up to the third floor, nervousness and anticipation suddenly took hold of him, and he felt awfully self-conscious. It was real now, there was no going backwards. Not that he wanted to go backwards; but it was strange nevertheless to really realize their new situation. After around 63 years of knowing John, it was more than odd to have that specific relationship, one of the most important in his life, change like that. To watch it turn into something that much more intimate. That much more at all.

John stopped in front of the last door of the third floor and struggled with the old key. Another hotel room, far less classy and yet Paul sort of wanted to commit every detail to memory. The brown carpeted floor, the drawings of flowers framed on the walls, the sounds of the street coming from the window at the end of the corridor. John finally managed to open the door and they both entered the room. The first thing Paul noticed was that there was only one double bed, with John’s suitcase laying on it. His first instinct was to comment on it, but then he thought better of it. Better not make the situation even more embarrassing. The sight provoked a new pike of nerves in him though, so he just went to the other side of the room, put his suitcase down on a vacant chair and got closer to the window to just look outside, over the busy street. Seeing countless people minding their own business, completely foreign to Paul’s own life, had a weird calming effect on him. It was alright. His decisions had not changed everything, had not disturbed the future of everyone else, or brought over some apocalypse. The world just kept going.

John approached him and stopped next to him, pushing the curtain to look into the street as well.

“There’s so many people everywhere,” Paul commented.

John just hummed. Paul took notice of how hot the room was – probably general heating, too high for that lukewarm weather – and stepped back to take off his scarf and his fake glasses, fold them on his suitcase and take off his jumper, feeling John’s gaze burning him the whole time. He folded the jumper and put it away as well, and when he came back to the window, he caught a little smile on the other man’s face.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” John noted fondly, his hand reaching out to toy timidly with the shirt over Paul’s belly.

“You’re wearing your glasses,” Paul answered instantly, the comment dying to come out to the air.

“What?” John chuckled, his hand stilling.

Paul playfully tapped on the branch of his glasses. He realized with a start that he had never actually touched them before.

“These glasses. I know them.”

“Do you like them?”

Paul watched them closely, how different they made him look. Young and wise. Out of the world.

“They’re very… you,” He responded. Then, feeling bold, he added: “I like you either way.”

John observed him, impassive, then slowly leant in and kissed him. Nothing much, a simple pressure of lips, before he pulled away and just put his mouth against Paul’s cheek and… stayed there. He didn’t not kiss, did not move. He just stayed against Paul’s cheek with his eyes closed, slowly breathing in, and Paul did not dare to move a muscle. Weirdly enough, it was without a doubt the most intimate gesture they had ever shared.

After a while, Paul finally dared to grab John’s jumper over his hip, tightening his fingers on the fabric. Hardly there, grounding him. John pulled back and their gazes met. His eyes were serious, deep, and Paul could barely hear the noise from the street over the buzzing in his ears. John glanced at his lips, then back in his eyes. He was there.

And then, suddenly, it was fire everywhere: on Paul’s lips, on the skin of his arms, of his neck, his jaw. The urge to touch and taste was palpable for both of them, and Paul responded to John’s kiss as if he was bringing him the answer to the universe. John pushed him back towards the bed, never letting go of his face and of his waist, his hands seeming to be in a hundred places at once. It was almost overwhelming, and Paul’s senses were burning, his skin so sensitive even his clothes felt like an aggression to it. He pushed John’s jumper and t-shirt up over his torso and John raised his arms to help him take them completely off before diving onto Paul’s shirt to unbutton it quickly. He threw the shirt away and pushed Paul on the bed to take care of his own pants and Paul’s. Paul let him do and tried to modulate his own erratic breathing. He was not really used to be in that position, since he was usually very assertive and enterprising in his sexual relations, but he found that he was happy just to watch John, his shining lips and the tender line of his nose, his muscles flexing, his collarbones sticking out on the pale flesh. It was a funny feeling, to discover a body and to already know it by heart. He and John had grown up together, and Paul had seen him naked countless times. And yet. To see him so clearly like that, in that state, was miles from what he knew.

Once they were both naked, John froze and hovered over him, his arms encasing Paul’s head and his hair falling over his forehead. His eyes roamed all over Paul’s face and body. It was humbling and even destabilizing to be so vulnerable under his gaze, completely bare in the daylight, and yet Paul felt safe. He knew John would never judge his body. Would never judge him. Old John might have at some points in his life, but right then and there, his John was the safest place on Earth.

“Look at you,” He murmured reverently.

“I can’t, eyes don’t work like that,” Paul breathed out.

At that John froze for a couple of seconds, and then the second his eyes lit up with realization he burst out laughing, falling almost completely on Paul who just laughed along. Paul enjoyed the occasion to hug him tightly, burying his nose in the short hair behind his ear. He caressed John’s back slowly, purposefully, revelling in how he could feel his lover’s hair stand up from the contact. Still laughing, John raised his head and crashed his smiling lips to Paul’s. Paul was feeling so warm all over he felt like he could just burst. He wanted to get closer, always closer, and when John started moving on him he welcomed it happily. Paul was starting to lose all connection to reality, John’s hand doing wonders, when said man abruptly stopped kissing him and dropped a soft peck on his pectoral. Paul tightened his grip on the other's waist and opened his eyes to meet his totally blown, black pupils. He looked slightly scared.

“Do you… uh… would you like to do me?” John asked, breathless.

Paul frowned, his lips still tingling and his heart beating loudly in his ears.

“What?” He replied, feeling stupid but not quite sure what exactly John was getting at.

John stood up a little on one elbow and pushed away the damp hair sticking on Paul’s forehead. Paul noticed suddenly that beyond the clear heat on his face, he was blushing.

“Like, you know. Get in the old-fashioned way.”

Paul gasped and just stared at him, at a loss for words. His lower belly seemed very interested in that idea.

“I’m asking you to fuck me, Paul,” John blurted out, a bit annoyed.

“Yes, yes, I got it, sorry,” Paul rushed to answer. “I… are you sure?”

John dropped his head to kiss him briefly.

“Yeah,” He confirmed. Then, with a slightly wavering yet firm voice, he added: “You must think that makes me full-on queer, huh?”

Paul raised a hand to caress John’s cheekbone, his lips, his chin. He delicately took off his round glasses, set them aside and shook his head without even realizing it.

“I’m not judging you. Never,” He whispered, staring straight into his lover’s eyes. “I’m with you.”

That only pushed John to kiss him deeper, straddling him. Paul couldn’t stop touching him, and if someone had told him he would someday be that aroused from another man’s touch he would have laughed a lung out. After a while John raised his head – and Paul couldn’t help but follow to chase his lips – and quickly pushed himself up from the bed.

“Stay here,” He told Paul, his voice so husky it sent tingles in Paul’s belly. “Just a sec.”

On his way he took his glasses and put them on the bedside table, then grabbed his suitcase and dragged it off from the bed, still stark naked. Paul let his head fall back on the bed, having difficulty to swallow past the desire in his throat. From where he was, he could only hear John rummaging through his suitcase, and then his quick steps until he arrived bouncing in Paul’s vision, upside down and with a large mischievous smile.

“Tada!” He said, proudly brandishing a pot right under Paul’s nose.

Paul blinked at it, the thing almost bumping into his nose. He took it by reflex and struggled to read the label on it: Vaseline. A weird feeling spread in his stomach and he brutally realized how real this was all getting. Was he really ready for that…?

“Wow,” He let out, unhelpfully.

John jumped next to him and started kissing his belly up to his chin, which immediately relaxed Paul. When he opened his eyes and saw light brown staring into his soul, he understood John was scared too, probably even more than he was, and was only trying to build up his courage.

“Do you have condoms?” Paul asked between two gentle kisses to show John he was right there with him.

His lover-friend-boyfriend frowned then snickered.

“What, you’re afraid I’m gonna get pregnant?”

“No, but we could catch diseases,” Paul replied, the tiniest bit vexed.

“Like what?” The other man chuckled.

Paul pulled up his elbows to lean on them. He couldn’t help but be offended by John’s disregard.

“Uh, I don’t know, maybe AIDS?”

But John only frowned harder and the reason why suddenly hit Paul with violence. Of fucking course John doesn’t know about AIDS. What a fucking idiot you are.

“Sorry, I… Sorry, I forgot, I’m. It’s a sexually transmitted disease but I think it doesn’t even exist yet, I’m sorry.”

He sat even straighter and caressed and kissed John’s face, hoping to erase the frown still on his face. He could feel the other man’s muscles relax under his fingers.

“You’ll tell me more about it later?” John asked, but his voice was already getting lost in a haze of pleasure.

“Yes, promise,” Paul confirmed before diving onto his lips, licking and biting them to cast the troubled thoughts on John’s mind far, far away.

“I have some though, you can take one,” John suddenly breathed out between two kisses.

“One what?”

“Condom, in my bag.”

Paul literally jumped on the occasion, scrambling to find the item under John’s chuckles. When he did find it, he hurried back to the bed and pinned a laughing John on it, losing no time in licking and kissing every single centimetre of skin he could find and thoroughly loving it. It was both passionate and clumsy, and Paul had rarely laughed so much during sex – be it from nerves of genuine amusement, he was not sure. Either way, it made things a thousand times easier: when they awkwardly tried to find the best angle, when Paul nearly forgot one crucial step, and even when John hissed from the pain which, for a moment, was stronger than the pleasure. Paul hated seeing him wince like that, so he kissed him only deeper and deeper until John’s grunts turned to moans and Paul could finally go on.

All things considered, it was not all that different from doing it with a woman. Sure, the feeling was not exactly the same, and there was John’s own member to deal with, and John’s smell was stronger, muskier, filling his every fibre. His skin was rougher too, on his elbows, on his jaw, on his legs. And his kisses a tad bit more aggressive than what he was used to. But other than that, it was the same affectionate touches, the same intent. The same fire blazing everything on its path and enveloping them in a cocoon from where the rest of the world seemed meaningless, ridiculous. And most of all, it was just as amazing.

When they were done, Paul was so spent he just lied on the bed, his upper body backed against a pillow, and pushing his wet hair away from his face. John was still against him and breathing hard, their legs entangled. Acting on instinct, Paul reached his left hand out and took John’s, lacing their fingers together. John stood a bit straighter to arrange his pillow with his free hand, and when he visibly couldn’t fix it the way he wanted, he just gave up, raised their joined hands to swivel under it and laid his head on Paul’s belly, using him as a human pillow – without ever letting Paul’s hand go. Paul let out a soft chuckle and brought his other hand in his lover’s hair to pet him gently.

They stayed like that for a while, calmly letting their breathing go back to normal, both sweaty and sticky but not really minding it yet. John had his free hand on his stomach and had bent his legs to plant his feet on the bed, swaying them slowly.

“Are you okay?” Paul asked after a while, a bit worried when he thought back to John’s initial winces.

John snorted playfully.

“Yeah. Not sure about tomorrow but for now I’m alright. Just, never forget the fingers, please.”

“Never, I swear,” Paul laughed.

Silence fell upon them again, and the outside noises slowly came back on Paul’s radar. The voices of the people in the street, the cars, two dogs barking. He had no idea what time it was, having taken off his watch at some point during their activities, but he noticed he did not really care. He brushed his thumb over John’s. Nothing could touch them right now, not even time.

“Hey, in the future… did we, um. Did this happen?” John asked suddenly, sounding painfully awkward.

Paul shuffled, embarrassed, but kept his hand in John’s hair. He knew what John was asking about, but he preferred to be sure anyway.

“Um… did what happen?”

“You know. This. Us,” John answered, gesturing vaguely at the two of them.

“No, we… No, never.”

The surprise on John’s profile surprised Paul even more.

“Really?!”

Paul frowned at him, angling his face so that they could fully lock their gazes.

“What do you mean, ‘really’? Were you that convinced that it did? Happen?” He asked, his voice rising significantly higher.

John shrugged but his pouting face screamed otherwise.

“What made you think that?” Paul pushed on.

John thought it over for a while.

“I don’t know. I mean, it did take you time to understand that I wanted to date the shite out of you,” He started, pushing Paul’s arm – which only prompted Paul to push him back, “but I thought something had happened in your past, between us. At least sexually, you know. For a while I even thought I was… you know, not advanced enough for you, on that level. And you were so different with me the first weeks, when you arrived. You kept staring at me all the time.”

“Well, of course I was! Can you imagine how weird it is for me to see you so… so bloody young?”

And alive, his brain didn’t miss to complete. John nodded, looking at him with a thoughtful expression.

“So you weren’t thinking of my bum?”

Paul let out a loud laugh, shaking John too in the process.

“Sorry to disappoint, but I started thinking of your bum pretty recently,” He paused. “Doesn’t mean I don’t think about it a lot, though.”

John simply answered with a bashful smile, but there was something in his eyes Paul could not quite read. He realized with a start that he actually could just… ask about it. He was allowed to.

“What?” He asked him, hearing himself a bit too clearly in the quiet room.

John shook his head with a self-deprecating smile.

“Nothing. It’s stupid.”

Paul caressed his hair, threading his fingers through his short still damp fringe.

“John. What?”

John looked at his own fingers for a while, toying with his nails.

“It’s just… I can’t help but wonder what it was like for me, in your past. How… if things were different, or not. If I was a different person,” He paused, frowning. “Were we still friends at least, in your old days?”

A weight fell into Paul’s stomach, so acidic it sent the urge to vomit in his mouth. Vivid images of a bloodied John from his dreams and of the morning of the call from his memories flooded in his mind. His fingers froze without him noticing it, and John turned his head once again to look at him. He looked worried.

“Paul?”

Alarms were blaring in Paul’s mind. You can’t tell him. He can’t ever know. But he found he couldn’t lie to him – not that blatantly.

“It hasn’t always been easy,” He settled on answering with difficulty, the words bitter and heavy on his tongue.

“What do you—”

“I’d rather not talk about it, to be honest,” Paul cut him off, feeling awful for doing so but knowing perfectly he was incapable of talking about it. “I’m sorry, I know it must be frustrating for you, but… I can’t.”

John rose and turned to him, his frown still comfortably set on his face.

“You can’t or you don’t want to?” He asked.

His voice was neutral and his eyes searching, and Paul couldn’t quite tell if he blamed him for it or not.

“Both,” He replied truthfully. “I’m sorry.”

John stared at him a little longer, serious. Then, finally, he gave him a little nod. He did not look satisfied with it, but at least he was leaving Paul the space he was asking for, and that reassured him. Paul pulled on their joined hands and John let himself be tugged. Paul kissed him, chastely, lingering to enjoy the taste of his lips as long as possible. John released his hand to re-arrange himself on the bed and Paul felt immediately cold, rejected, but the second he was nicely cross-legged John found his hand and laced their fingers again. Butterflies were threatening to trash the walls of Paul’s stomach. John looked at their hands, visibly lost in thoughts. Paul was about to ask him what he was thinking about when he suddenly spoke.

“What are your kids’ names?”

Paul froze, ice invading his veins, and John seemed to sense it as he looked up and rushed to add:

“I mean, you don’t have to tell me if, you know. But I just… I’d like to know.”

“Why?” Paul asked cautiously, his voice coming out weak.

John looked taken aback for a second, as if the reason why was obvious to him. Then, he simply shrugged.

“Because, they’re a part of you. And I want to know you.”

The words crashed into Paul like a freight train. He looked into John’s genuine eyes and suddenly, a sob came out of him. He brought a hand to his eyes but the damage was already done and his whole body started shaking. He didn’t know what that typhoon of misery was, or where it was coming from, but he found himself utterly defenceless against it. It collided against his mind and made it collapse upon itself. As if his whole miserable self had seen a breach in his armour and had rushed to slip through it, back to the light, ugly and desperate. John leant closer to him, concern written all over his face.

“Love? What is it?” He asked in the gentlest voice possible.

That only made Paul cry harder and when John engulfed him in a hug, he clung to him as would a little child afraid of the monster under the bed.

“Paulie, love, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry… Just, forget I said anything, okay?”

When John’s words finally entered his brain, Paul leant back, still clutching John’s arms, and shook his head. His whole body was shaking violently.

“No, I… I want to… I want to tell you. I do. I’m just… Sorry, I don’t know what’s happening,” He confessed, tears making his voice quaver so hard it was a miracle John could understand him at all.

One of John’s hands came to rest on his cheek, caressing him in a soothing gesture and wiping his tears away. Then he sat up against the cushion, right next to Paul and brought him close to his chest again, tucking his head over Paul’s.

“Don’t apologize,” He simply said. “It’s okay.”

And really, even if it wasn’t, Paul was not sure he could do anything about it. Wrecking sobs kept coming out of him, relentless. He was not even sure what he was crying about: he could only see the faces of his children, their images in his dreams, and John’s softness like a tissue he was trying to wrap himself in. The whole time he cried, John held him.

When tears finally seemed to run out, Paul had stopped shaking, and John was still right there, a warm, solid presence against him. Paul turned his head to snuggle even closer into his neck, and dived deep into himself to find the strength to speak.

“Their names are Mary, Stella, James, Beatrice and Heather. And they’re… were… they are incredible.”

John kissed the top of his head.

“Don’t you want to tell me something I don’t already know?” He asked.

And he sounded so sincere it was a miracle Paul did not start crying all over again.

Chapter Text

It took a long time for Paul to come down from his wave of sorrow. He talked for what felt like hours, about every single detail concerning his children that would come to his mind. All of them felt crucial: from when they were born, what they looked like, or their relationships between one another to the favourite band of James and how Stella would always come up with the sassiest remarks from her youngest age. And inevitably, talking about his children led him to babble on and on about his grandchildren, which was even harder, somehow. In a way, it was the first time that he allowed himself to miss them fully. And to acknowledge the fact that even if he was separated from them, they had still existed. Still did, hopefully. Talking about them felt a little like having them with him, and the sensation brought both relief and grief to him. As if doing it was heartbreakingly painful, but also deeply necessary.

John listened to it all, asking interested questions and holding Paul a little tighter when his voice betrayed him. He was being so understanding and kind about it that Paul almost felt ashamed for having ever doubted him. Telling all of this, to John of all people, had a cathartic effect on him he had not expected. Many times in his old days he had wished John could have grown older too and be able to meet his children, his grandchildren. It had been a certainty once, that John would always be a part of his life and of his family. So to have suddenly that possibility back in his current life raised in him an emotion he was not quite sure he could name. The people he missed the more now meeting one of the persons he had missed the more before. Just hearing John pronounce Beatrice’s name left him feeling all kinds of weird.

As the sun was slowly going down behind the windows, Paul’s voice grew hoarse and his throat sore. Feeling dried out and exhausted, he barely registered John getting up to get their clothes and just grabbed what he was handed. Things were a bit of a blur for a while, and copying John’s movements seemed easier than to think about what he was doing precisely. So when they ended up both showered, dressed up and walking down the stairs of the hotel, he realized neither of them had said a word about going back out. They just… did it.

Once outside, Paul breathed deeply and was almost happy to feel the now chilly air fill his lungs. They started working, wordlessly, happy to just melt away into the crowd. Paul was not sure it was the safest decision to have come out without any disguise, now that he thought of it, but he couldn’t find in him the strength to care. Hopefully their haircuts and John’s glasses would be enough to throw people off. They browsed the streets of the Marais, curious to discover the little shops and to smell the various scents coming from the restaurants slowly waking up. It was nice, but Paul was nervous and hyper-conscious of his and John’s every movements. They were walking with a fair distance between them, but there was a nagging fear in his mind, a cold moistness in his neck that kept telling him people knew. They could look at him and just know what he had done. What he was. How depraved he had become. That waitress was looking at him weirdly. She knew, she had to—

“I should go back to London with you,” John suddenly said, bringing Paul out of his own head.

Paul turned to him and frowned, not quite following.

“You have the film to make,” He answered.

“I don’t care. I’ll quit.”

Paul observed his face and caught the little worried glance John tried to peek discreetly. Paul snorted when he understood what this was about.

“Don’t quit. You don’t have to watch over me. I’m not some fragile thing, you know.”

“Well, sorry, but you did sort of freak out. It was a bit spooky,” John retorted. “I think it’s the first time I really feel you’re not really the same Paul I was used to. Before. I mean, I’d never seen you cry like that.”

The blow was harder than expected but Paul took it in as blank-faced as possible.

“Thanks for that.”

“No, but, I don’t mean it’s wrong. At all,” John went on, softer. “Just, you know, surprising. But I’m still glad you told me and everything, really. I’m real happy to know about your brats. It’s like I know them a little too, now.” He paused, getting closer to a small book shop. “And I don’t care about the movie, anyway. I’m sure it’s gonna be a drag.”

Paul chuckled at that and looked at John, who had just stopped to observe the shop window. The tip of his nose was slightly red because of the cold. He figured telling him one thing about the future wouldn’t hurt.

“If it’s going to be the same I’ve seen, I’m afraid you’re right. It won’t be great,” He confessed, a bit amused.

John turned to him with a frown.

“Really?! Fuck, what an idiot. I shouldn’t have said yes. I’d rather just go back home with you.”

Paul’s stomach did somersaults at that but he pushed the giddiness away and simply dug his fists into the pockets of his jacket. He noticed a woman coming closer to them from the corner of his eye and had barely enough time to nudge John that she was staring at said man with an awed expression.

“Bonjour, euh, excuse-me, you are John Lennon?” She asked John clumsily, her accent so thick Paul was immediately scared John would make fun of her.

But John simple stared at her, blank-faced, and shook his head.

“Nein. You’re wrong. Ich just look like him,” He told her.

The woman looked confused for a second, then when she glanced very briefly at Paul (who made sure to hide the bottom of his face in the collar of his jacket) John spoke louder, snappier.

“Ich is busy, bitte.”

The woman snapped her head to John again and blushed violently.

“Oh. Oh, pardon,” She stammered before leaving them hurriedly.

Once they were alone again, Paul pulled his chin out of his jacket and smiled at John.

“You’re ruthless.”

John had the audacity to laugh.

“What, you’d rather I’d let her recognize you too?”

Paul shook his head and started walking again, glad when John followed him suit. It was weird how… not weird, it was. Walking around with John, visiting places. Just being, together. Paul had expected to feel strange, wrong, disgusted even, but it was like these emotions were impossible when he was around the other man. Just one look at John could appease him because he knew, more than ever, that they were there for each other. When he looked over to him, he saw the exact same person he had seen bragging at that village fête when he was 15, vibrating with joy in his father’s living-room in 1961, brutally honest in India in 1968, and awkwardly warm and yet distant in New York in 1976. As if all the versions of John in his life had only ever led to this one, right here. After all, he still was the best friend he’d ever had. The only difference now was that when he looked at him, he was overwhelmed with the desire to make him smile. To kiss him too, of course, and touch him, and hold him, and be close to him. But mostly, just to make him smile.

They went farther and farther, getting lost in the pulsating city and its people enjoying the freedom of a Friday night. They had to shoulder their way sometimes but were still careful and guarded enough to go inconspicuous. So far, it worked, but when he crossed the scrutinizing looks of a couple of what appeared to be students, Paul discreetly manoeuvred John into a quieter alley.

“Are you hungry?” He asked his friend, still glancing behind him to make sure the students hadn’t followed them.

“Was gonna ask you the same thing, actually.”

They agreed to go to the smallest, less crowded and less visible restaurant they could find. There was a tiny Italian place that looked empty, and when they went in they were happy to discover the owner was an old man who didn’t react at all when seeing them come in. They settled at a table, ordered and started eating in a peaceful atmosphere. Paul could feel John was just as comfortable as he was, and it was heart-warming to see nothing had changed between them. At least, shagging had not changed who they were, and Paul was almost surprised to realize how relieved he was about that. When their headless – and yet, for some reason, giddy – conversation about the different types of pasta died down, Paul quietly watched the other man struggle to cut his chicken, looking very serious. Suddenly, he remembered how scared and serious he had looked when he’d wondered if they were still friends in the future. Paul had not answered to him. Maybe now John thought they had been some sort of enemies in his past/future. Maybe he thought Paul, or at least some version of himself, had hated him. And that thought left a terribly bitter taste in his mouth.

“You know, you asked if we were still friends in my past?” He started with force, out of the blue and feeling awkward just for voicing it. “We were. You’ve always been my friend, my whole life.”

John looked at him briefly, still quite focused on his chicken.

“Why was it not easy, then?” He replied, neutral.

“John…”

“It’s because of the band, isn’t it? And don’t you dare lie to me,” John continued, finally setting his utensils down, frowning.

“Let it go, please,” Paul sighed, avoiding John’s insistent look. “It’s complicated, but we were friends, we were fine. We are fine.”

“When did the band break up, then? You can at least tell me that,” John started again. “I mean, I’m not stupid, I know the Beatles don’t exist anymore in your future. I’ve seen how scared you were on stage, and in the studio and everything. Like you had no idea how it worked. And really, I don’t see how I would be able to put up with you and your granny songs for decades.”

Paul just looked at him pointedly.

“Come on,” John pushed on, nudging him over the table. “It’s not like telling me will make it happen sooner or something. Sorry to disappoint you but you’re not a prophet.”

“Well, how would you know that?”

John just snorted, looking away. But doubts and fears suddenly submerged Paul again, and they threatened to consume him if he didn’t share some of them. He searched John’s gaze again.

“No I’m serious, how do you know what I say or don’t say doesn’t change the course of things? You want me to tell you your future, but how do you know things won’t happen the same just because we talk about them? Because then they would exist in your mind as well as in mine?”

“That’s… that’s just stupid. You don’t control the future. Just saying something won’t—”

“Great. Thanks,” Paul cut him off, feeling suddenly very offended – and mostly ashamed – to be overlooked so quickly. “Your support is fantastic right now, I’m happy to have talked with you.”

“Oh come on…!”

“No! No. I don’t want things to turn to shit, alright. I don’t want to jeopardize everything just by saying the wrong thing and jinxing it. I don’t know how all of this works, I really don’t, okay? I want to fix the bad things, and I’m trying to, but I don’t want to take any risk that might just, you know… hasten all those… bad things.”

John just looked at him seriously for a while.

“How do you know not saying it isn’t just what might hasten it, though?” He asked calmly.

They just stared at each other for a while, a whole other conversation flowing between them through their eyes. There was something hard, and yet incredibly reassuring in John’s. Trust me, they seemed to tell Paul. Trust me. I swear you can do it. He couldn’t tell John he had died young in his past – that would be too much and too upsetting for anyone. But maybe… maybe he could talk about the disaster of 1969-1970? Not being able to talk about it with the version of John who had actually lived it was one of the most frustrating things in his life. How he wished he could have just talked to old John, lay it out all, discuss what had went wrong between them… He would never be able to do that. He knew it, and he wasn’t masochist enough to long for it. But maybe talking about it with present John could still help him exorcise it. After all, it was the same person. Wasn’t it? Maybe if Paul shared how they had failed at communicating the first time, it wouldn’t happen the same this time around.

Paul sighed deeply, absently twirling his spaghetti in his fork.

“It didn’t end well, in my past. The band,” He started, hesitant, with the weird feeling that he was breaking a law of time just by saying these words. “We all grew mad and annoyed at each other, and then there were lawyers involved because of money issues and it all went to crap. I quit in April 1970 but you had already told us months before that you wanted a divorce from us. We never played the four of us again.”

He didn’t dare look up to John, but he could feel his gaze burning his face.

“You and I didn’t talk for several years afterwards,” He continued, his own voice sounding strangely detached to him. “It was… I hated it. With time I realized that we had all fucked up, but back then it felt like it was all my fault.” He paused, and then, with a chuckle: “Most people agreed it was, anyway.”

He let the silence slowly settle over them both, not quite as comfortable as it had been earlier.

“It won’t happen this time,” John offered simply, after a while.

Paul looked up. John was slightly frowning at him.

“You don’t know that,” Paul snorted. “I mean, I get that it can’t happen exactly the same because things are already different and I’m different, but still. It could all go wrong again. George could still end up frustrated, and Ringo could grow tired of us, and you could start hating me again–”

“I’ve never hated you,” John cut him off with emotion.

“No, I know you right now don’t, but—”

In a surprisingly confident gesture, John reached for his hand laying on the table and gripped it. Paul couldn’t help a nervous glance around the room to make sure the rare few other patrons that had arrived were not watching them.

“You’re not hearing me,” John went on. “I have never hated you. Not in my past and not in my future either. I know it – I know myself, don’t I? You might be a right tosser sometimes, but there is absolutely nothing you could do that could ever make me hate you.”

He let go of Paul quickly, as if he was suddenly embarrassed about his own emotion. Paul could only stare at him, old John’s acidic words still washing over his mind. It was hard to believe it, but he really, really wanted to. His throat was all closed up. Why was he being such an emotional mess these days?

“I know I am mean. Sometimes. I’m stupid like that. But to be fair you can be a lot too,” John continued, going for his chicken again.

“Yeah,” Paul chuckled.

“So let’s make a deal, aye? When things are getting close to the kind of bad you’ve seen in your past, you’ll tell me, okay? And we’ll try to avoid it. And if we feel we’re getting sick of one another, or sick of the band, we try to… I don’t know. Fix it.”

He looked so convinced, so sure of himself, that Paul could not stop a little laugh to bubble out of his lips. It sounded so simple and yet still so unreachable. John lowered his head and looked at him over his glasses, and in a new weird flash, Paul could swear he was with 1970s John again.

“So? Deal?” John asked again.

Paul smiled, and his head started nodding without him even noticing it.

“Yeah. Deal.”

 

When they arrived back in their hotel room later that night, Paul was nervous. He did not quite know how to behave yet, what was okay to do and what was just out of line. He could not behave with John the way he had with all his girlfriends in the past, assuredly. But he still wanted to… be romantic, a bit? He did not know to what extent, really, but at least he knew he definitely wanted to be tenderer than he had been in the previous weeks. And not just when they were having sex. But it would be weird to be touchy-feely with John, wouldn’t it? They were used to banter and easy touches, sure, but. Still. Even if they were alone, he had no idea how his friend – boyfriend, Christ, the word was so alien – would react if he just went and took his hand, or kissed his cheek for no reason or whatever. Because they were friends, before everything. They could not just drastically change their whole behaviour in one clap of fingers.

It was very late already, and Paul had caught John yawning several times already on their way back. He announced he needed another shower, and John only hummed in answer, already busy taking off his clothes. Paul probably took longer than necessary in the shower, and was forced to turn off the current when the water was starting to feel lukewarm. His skin was loose and mushy from having stayed so long under the hot water, and in the mirror, his face looked redder than a poppy. However, knowing he could not put it off any longer, he got into his pyjamas, steeled himself and got out of the bathroom.

The room was in the dark, apart from a tiny bedside lamp that was throwing light on the peaceful form of John. He was buried into the covers and only his tiny face and messy hair peeked out. Paul stopped in his movements, struck by how normal this all felt. It was just John, sleeping. With a single light on, as usual.

Walking on his tip toes, he got closer to the bed and opened the blanket on the free side. He got in, and the creaking bed made him wince. He glanced to John, but thankfully he seemed to be deeply gone already. Paul laid back, leaving his arms on his chest over the blanket, not sure what to do with them. Sleep was pulling on his eyelids too, so he turned on his side, back to John, and allowed his mind and body to surrender to it.

A few minutes later, as he was on the verge of sleep, he felt an arm slide on his waist, a warm body snuggle against his back and soft puffs of air tickle his nape. He fell asleep with a bashful smile on his lips.

 

When he woke up, Paul was surprised to feel rested – he could not even remember having had a nightmare. He stirred, lying on his back and stretching his limbs, and it dawned on him that his legs were entangled in other clothed legs. He turned his head to his right and found himself face to face with a still asleep John, whose hand was loosely clasped on Paul’s bicep. It made him smile to see him so innocent, so small almost. The blanket was coming over his face, and Paul grabbed it to push it away. The gesture roused John, who scrunched his nose like a baby and buried it deeper into the pillow, to which Paul could only giggle. John opened a drowsy eye and turned a little again to stare at Paul.

“Hey,” He whispered, his voice the very definition of rough.

“Hey,” Paul repeated with a smile.

And then, just because he could, he leant forwards and kissed him. It was just a second, but when he pulled back, John’s eyes were more awake and he was visibly trying not to laugh.

“Sorry,” Paul blurted out.

“Don’t apologize!” John replied, amused.

“Yeah, I know, sorry. Force of habit,” Paul added with an embarrassed chuckle.

That only made John rise on his elbows and laugh clearer. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and it made Paul even more oddly embarrassed.

“Why, did you always apologize to Jane when you kissed her?”

“You’re not Jane, though.”

There was a moment of awkwardness between them, and Paul pushed his pillow to sit up, unable to face it. He did not have time to get lost in the shame though that John was already sitting up too and scooting closer. He softly slid a hand on Paul’s cheek and forced him to face him.

“Hey,” He repeated with a tiny, shy smile when their eyes finally met.

Then he kissed Paul, breathed deeply and lingered there, their closed mouths mushed together. His thumb was barely caressing Paul’s cheekbone, and Paul’s shame was already long forgotten. Feeling bold – and his senses awakening too – Paul opened his mouth and licked his lower lip, glad when the message was well received and John deepened the kiss. They both had stale breath, and John’s chin and jaw were bristlier than ever, but he knew in that instant that it was his new favourite way of waking up.

Feeling himself getting worked up already, Paul put a calming hand on John’s chest and slowly pulled away. He wanted nothing more than to jump on John right now, but he needed to be reasonable. They only had a little more than a day left, and he wanted to make the most of it. After all, they would probably not be alone in Paris together again for a good while.

“We should get dressed, go out. Walk around, visit, you know. That kind of thing,” He told John, humming with his eyes closed when John moved his hand to caress the contour of his lips with the tip of his fingers.

“In that weather?” John asked.

Paul opened his eyes, frowning. John pointed his chin at the window and Paul turned around to follow his gaze. The sky was a dark shade of grey and it was literally pouring. Now that he actually listened, he could hear indeed the rain pounding on the glass and streaming down the gutters. Paul’s first instinctual reaction was to be disappointed.

“Not ideal, indeed,” He agreed.

“What should we do, then?”

Paul mulled it over, head resting against the headboard, before turning lazy eyes to John. Could he just…?

“Food and sex?” He proposed, his throat drying up in fear of John’s answer.

John simply searched his face, his eyes clearly glancing to Paul’s lips.

“All day?” He answered.

“All day,” Paul confirmed.

John just stared at him for a moment longer, seemingly frozen. Then, something like awe settled on his face, and Paul could see him fighting to keep it straight.

“Damn. You sure know how to talk to a man,” His friend finally let out, his voice already huskier.

Paul grinned at him and John grinned back, amusement and excitement clear as day in his shining eyes. They met in the middle to kiss sloppily, all teeth and laughter, and when John’s hand slipped under his pyjama shirt, Paul was not so disappointed that it rained anymore.

 

They religiously followed through with their plan for the whole day, and the rest of their week-end went so frustratingly fast it felt like it was over in a blink. They went out again early on the Sunday morning, disguised this time, and indulged themselves with a tour of péniche. But after a last early Parisian lunch in a brasserie, they were forced to face reality: John had to leave for Spain and Paul fly back to London. They had to go back to their responsibilities, to their everyday lives. They went back to the hotel, and the whole walk back Paul’s fingers were buzzing with the desire to just reach for John’s. He knew he couldn’t if they wanted to come home unharmed – even though Paris seemed a little bit looser on queers – but he still had to stop himself several times.

Once in their room, they both packed their things silently, and the atmosphere that had settled over them was heavy with the dread of the separation. This week-end had been a bubble, a parenthesis in their lives; they knew it wouldn’t last, couldn’t really, but coming to terms with it now that they were supposed to say goodbye was harder than expected. John was supposed to meet Neil at the airport at 3pm, so they couldn’t drag any longer. When they were ready and there was nothing else to do but to leave, they both just stared at each other in silence. They would not be able to say properly goodbye once outside, but Paul found he was unable to do anything. He was embarrassed by his own sadness: he had always hated to part from his significant others, but here he felt ashamed because it was just John. He had parted from him a thousand times before, it was stupid to be sad because of it now. And they didn’t have a choice anyway. So he kept staring at John, not knowing what to say. After a couple of minutes, it appeared clear that John did not either, so Paul sent him a tight smile, grabbed his suitcase and went for the door.

As he was about to turn the doorknob, John stopped him with a hand on his arm. Paul turned raised eyebrows to him but John just shook his head and closed the distance between them to lay a firm kiss on his lips. There was no further intent behind it, but its heat burned Paul’s skin and for a moment he just wanted to sink in it, melt and fuse with John’s rough but warm skin. He dropped his suitcase and snaked his arms around the other man’s waist to hug him tightly, unable to stop kissing him. To smell him, a mix of coconut and manliness, to taste the mint from the toothpaste lingering on his tongue, to feel the short puffs of air from his nose. He was literally addicted to it.

“Paul,” John murmured against Paul’s lips after a while.

But Paul only kissed him harder, refusing to hear what he was bound to say. He gently bit on John’s lower lip and angled his face to kiss him deeper, their noses softly bumping against one another.

“Paul, we need to go,” John continued in a breath, still whispering. “…Now.”

Paul reluctantly pulled back, feeling himself pout despite his will not to. John looked at him, and let out a sad sigh. He raised a hand to tap on Paul’s lips, and then slid it tenderly across Paul’s short fringe. Paul was still a bit amazed by how simple it all seemed to the other man. Affection.

“Come with me to Spain,” John suddenly blurted, and Paul could feel an anguish in his voice that pained him.

He frowned, squeezing John’s waist.

“You know I can’t do that,” He sadly whispered.

“Why not? Neil’s coming.”

“Neil is your assistant.”

John’s face turned more sombre, and it took all of Paul’s strength not to snog him into oblivion again right there and then.

“Okay, come later, then,” John went on with more force. “Ringo said he’d try to come in October. Come with him. Or earlier, if you can.”

Paul searched his eyes, saw the hope and the genuine desire in them. John was being so open and trusting with him that it was a bit stunning to be receptive of it.

“Okay,” He finally relented. “I’ll see with him.”

John grinned smugly at him and pecked him briefly on the mouth. Then he abruptly freed himself from Paul’s embrace and went to get his own suitcase. He came back to the door and flashed Paul a smile when he noticed he was still frozen in place.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Chop chop, son. Some of us have work to do,” He said, sounding like his regular prankster self.

Paul shook his head at him, a disbelieving grin on his lips.

“You’re such a twat.”

John just laughed and left the room.

 

Once back in London, Paul was a bit perplexed about what he was supposed to do with his days.

Thankfully, he had the musical with George Martin to focus on, and that took up a lot of his time. Martha was beyond happy to have him back, and he spent hours and hours just walking her and training her, which procured him a joy he could not find anywhere else. He had started missing John as soon as he’d been in the plane back to England, but his emotions were getting confused again and falling back into a routine just exacerbated how separate his week-end in Paris had been from his normal day-to-day life.

As time passed, realization of what he had done slowly sunk in him and he felt helpless against the shame it brought in him. Now that he wasn’t with John, that he couldn’t calm himself just by looking at him, touching him or seeing him smile, everything that was happening between them seemed much weirder and almost uglier. He felt ashamed for having fucked John, more for having loved it, even more for knowing he would willingly keep doing it, and a hundred times more for feeling ashamed of it to begin with. It was strange, how intensely he could crave something one moment only to be nearly disgusted by it the next. He kept telling himself that it was okay, he was allowed to fancy men and to date John, but the nausea was back again, nesting in the back of his stomach, and this time it was even harder to silence it. It would pass eventually, he knew it and he tried his best to talk himself into accepting it faster, but it was still tough to live with it at the moment. The hardest fact to accept was that he had spent his whole life convinced of who he was, and now he wasn’t that man anymore. He was not straight anymore. He was obviously queer, probably bisexual even, and it was real. He was acting on it. There was no shying away from it, it wasn’t possible to just dive his head in the sand like he had before. He was dating a man. He had a fucking boyfriend that no one could ever know about.

And that was a lot to process.

Furthermore, now he was brutally aware of how much his mind was not used to be changed anymore. His brain was back to being young enough for his neurons to allow new connections to be created, but his sub-consciousness? Nope. Still stuck to being old, apparently. And his old sub-consciousness had spent the first freaking seventy years of his life completely and unequivocally rejecting the idea of being the slightest bit queer. He needed time to digest it, comprehend it. Accept it as something real, and allowed. Well, not by law yet, but it would come soon, he had the privilege to know that. One day, they would even be able to tell people and just… live, normally. If of course they stayed together that long, which at the moment felt more like a fantasy than anything.

It all felt like a fantasy, was the thing. A dream-like episode. Now that he was back in London, talking to work-related people, to his family and friends, his relationship with John looked blurry. It was hard to think of his relatives and acquaintances and then think of him as his boyfriend at the same time. As if both concepts belonged in different worlds and could not possibly be fused into one. The fact that they were forced to keep it a secret only added to the confusion. What kind of future did they have? Would they just live the same and sneak in a snog here and there? They could not follow the steps heterosexual couples were entitled to. They could not just have dates, move in together, or spend time with each other’s families. They had to set rules, stick to them, be careful. It sounded so grim and exhausting Paul’s head was already hurting just thinking about it. He wanted to stay with John – that much he was sure of – and spend as much time as possible with him, but he had no idea how he would be able to fit their new relationship into his life. And even worse: how to do it without raising anyone’s suspicions.

The reassuring thing though was that for once, he couldn’t wait to talk about it with John.

 

September was on the verge of fading away when Paul decided to pay Brian a visit. He was trying to keep himself busy, to leave the flat every day and to see people not to dwell on his new disturbing self. Well, it was not the only reason, of course; he also missed John like crazy. He wanted to tell him about his day, to know about his, to talk about music, the world, anything. He wanted to see him, bad, and he was already feeling the withdrawing of sex. Like an addict, really. It was insane, to see how his vision of the man had changed. It had before his week-end in Paris already, but it never ceased to amaze him. However he did not really dare call him, even though he had his number, because he was always scared to be too much, too present, too invasive. He was scared people would somehow learn about it and ask questions. It was stupid – he knew it was. But he was a bit paranoid about it. So, he needed distractions. And since he still felt bad for having ditched Brian in Paris, he figured it would be nice to have a quiet occasion to just chat with the man. After all, he had missed him too.

Paul had had the presence of mind to call first, knowing how busy Brian could be, and luckily, Brian was not working – a nice change from the man who did not count the hours. He seemed very happy to see Paul, and they settled in his living-room with fuming teas in their hands for a good part of the afternoon, talking about work at first but then slowly edging towards lighter and more personal subjects. Brian mentioned his niece and Paul was more than happy to push him into telling him more about her. Seeing the joy in his manager’s eyes then gave him some satisfaction by proxy. Perhaps he was not able to mention his own children to anyone but John, but damn if he wouldn’t allow himself to think about them every chance he could.

“I went to see my father the other day, and my step-sister has discovered a new passion for lizards. My dad’s going insane,” Paul said after a while, smiling when he thought of the handmade palace Ruth had made for the reptilians.

“She’s a lovely little girl,” Brian smiled. He paused, then: “I’m going to spend a few days with my parents too, I think. It’s been a while. I have so much time on my hands now that you’re not touring anymore,” Brian hollowly chuckled, taking a gulp of his tea as if he didn’t really expect Paul to follow up on that information.

Paul frowned, the words sitting uncomfortably in his stomach. He felt like a thought was on the verge of his mind, but not close enough for him to grasp it.

“They’ll be happy to see you,” Paul chided in.

“Yes, probably. My father will undoubtedly find some use for me in his garden.”

There was something so undeniably sad in that statement that Paul froze. The thought he was looking for then crashed right back into him and he suddenly remembered articles and books he had read about Brian, in later years. Talking about the end of their touring, Brian’s depression. His sudden feeling that the boys did not need him anymore. It was false, of course it was, but now that he was faced with Brian’s melancholy, it struck him how much it could be easy to believe.

“I hope you won’t forget us though,” Paul suddenly blurted out, cringing at how eager he sounded.

Brian frowned, visibly perplexed.

“You know, just because we’re not touring anymore doesn’t mean we don’t need you to look after us. At least I still need you,” Paul went on.

But the frown did not leave Brian’s face, and Paul was scared he was being too dramatic about it. It was not as if Brian would magically stop worrying just because Paul told him he needed him.

“Did something happen to you?” Brian asked, bursting through Paul’s thoughts.

Paul froze. He didn’t know what he was referring to but whatever it was, it could not be good.

“What do you mean?” He asked cautiously.

Brian squinted slightly at him, and Paul noticed how his fingers curled a little tighter around his cup.

“You seem different,” Brian explained. “I’ve noticed it some time ago already, a few months even. You seem more... thoughtful. Calmer. Wiser, in a way – not that you were not. It is a bit strange really, and I cannot quite put my finger on what it is, but you seem changed.”

Paul felt his blood slowly turn to ice. He forced himself to smile, praying for his face not to betray him.

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s my new diet,” He joked.

Brian responded with a small grin but his eyes were still serious. Searching.

“You would tell me if something important was happening to you, right?” He asked.

Paul’s smile was stuck on his face, his mind reeling. What was that about? Did he somehow know he was not the same Paul…? He could not. He had no possible way of knowing.

“Of course,” He settled on answering, the muscles of his face straining to look relaxed.

Brian did not push further, but Paul was not reassured in the slightest. He thought he had been careful about his behaviour, but he could not control the details Brian was pointing out. And if Brian found him strange because of them, well, there was not much Paul could do about it. Apart from stressing, of course.

 

As promised, Paul phoned Ringo to know when he was planning to go to Spain. He had stressed about it beforehand, fearing it would sound weird and suspicious for him to want to tag along, just like that, but Ringo’s enthusiastic answer erased all his doubts in a second. They agreed to go together to the airport on October 3rd, thanks to Paul’s insistence that leaving on a Monday was better (the argument made absolutely no sense but thankfully Ringo did not question it). And despite that, it took all of Paul’s willpower not to ask if they could go even sooner. They would arrive in the middle of the day and wouldn’t be able to see John until late that afternoon (Ringo had called him to tell him of their plans), but they would be able to go to the house he was staying in with another actor and his wife. Apparently, John had justified not coming to Spain with Cynthia by saying Julian was only just starting pre-school and was a bit anxious about it – which was not false altogether –, so separating him from both his parents at the same time was too harsh. Paul was practically sure Cynthia would have come if John had asked her, and the thought filled him with sadness and shame.

Maureen would be there too, and Paul was both glad to see her and anxious when he realized it would be a couple’s vacation for them, whereas he would just look like a single idiot who did not know what to do with his time. He was probably thinking too much about it and no one would care about it that much, but he was still paranoid. He felt like he was constantly torn between the vital desire to see John, to just freaking appreciate him in peace and say fuck off to everything else, and the primal need to be as discreet as possible in fear of anyone finding out. It was a bit worrying: they’d been together for not even three weeks and Paul was already losing his mind with anxiety.

Fucking finally, the day of the departure arrived though, and Paul showed up early at the Starkey’s residence with his suitcase and a thrilled Martha by his side – he had not had the heart to leave her behind, this time. Sure, the plane would probably be a bit tough for her, but she would surely love the Spanish country. Plus, she would be a great excuse to just get out and go for extended walks.

The four of them – including Martha – drove to the airport unhindered, and as they were waiting for the plane, Paul was literally vibrating with excitement and anticipation. When Maureen asked him if everything was alright, he simply said he was a bit stressed about Martha, and she seemed to accept that reason. Maureen herself did look a bit out of it, but Paul was too absorbed by his eagerness to arrive at their destination to really pay real mind to it. According to him, everything was unbearably slow: the waiting room, the boarding, the damn flight. It seemed like it took forever, even though it was a pretty short flight. He felt like a kid on Christmas morning, waiting for everybody to wake up so he could finally open his freaking presents. They eventually arrived in Carboneras, and were driven to the house where John stayed by a member of the filming crew, accompanied by Neil. It was nice, seeing Neil again. Paul had known him since he was a schoolboy, and they had a bit lost touch in their later years before his death, so it was strange to get to hang out with him again. To discover him all over again.

The house was not ideal, and there were apparently mice in the attic running around at night, but Paul could not care less. There was a garden Martha already loved, and as long as John would be there he was fine with it. He settled in the smallest bedroom, and then they all met the wife of Michael Crawford, John’s fellow actor. Maureen and she soon hit it off, and they decided at once to go out to buy something nice for supper that very night, with Neil as a chauffeur/guide. It saddened Paul a bit to realize that for them it was normal that as women, they were automatically designated to prepare meals. But they left so fast he had not really time to realize what was going on, and soon enough he found himself alone with Ringo in the big house.

Paul went to the garden to play fetch with Martha for a while – it was a good way to run around too and divert his pent-up energy. The weather was a bit milder than in England, and apart from a light wind, they could stay in thin jumpers without having their teeth chattering.

“Man, I’m knackered,” Ringo told him as he was joining Paul in the garden.

“Flying is the worst,” Paul replied, even though he had nothing specific against planes.

“Yeah…” Ringo answered, his voice sounding a bit off.

That got Paul to turn around and face his friend with a little frown.

“You alright?” He asked him.

Ringo sent him a tight smile.

“Yeah, good. Just, we had a bit of a row with Mo last night. It was a bit ugly.”

Martha came running back forcefully into Paul’s legs but he ignored her, his attention focused on Ringo.

“What happened?”

“Oh it was stupid, just a fight about the kid and then it got out of hands. You know how it is,” He explained. Then, after a pause: “I guess I should apologize but, you know.”

Paul swallowed, reflecting on what the best course of action was in these situations.

“Do it before it gets too late, then,” He finally answered.

Ringo laughed humourlessly.

“Yeah. I should, yeah.”

He scooted to pat Martha on the head, and then retreated back to the house.

“I’m going to take a nap,” He told Paul with a wave. “Wake me up when the girls come back.”

“Sure!”

He watched his friend disappear inside, and turned to the happy puppy with her tongue hanging out. He played with her a while longer, his thoughts for once not solely focused on his children and on John, but on Ringo too. He did not know much about his marriage with Mo - Ringo had always been a quite private man. He just knew that it had not ended because they did not love each other anymore, which to him was even sadder than a traditional divorce.

An hour or so later, Paul was still in the garden when he was startled by a loud noise coming from the house, following by a loud shriek. Martha yelped and he froze, instantly terrified, before rushing to the house. His heart was beating wildly in his ears, and he thought to stop in the kitchen to grab a cleaver before going up the stairs. Had someone come into the house without him noticing?! Had they attacked Ringo?! Oh God, please let him be safe, please…

He tip-toed into the first floor’s corridor, his heart and his own breathing sounding horribly loud in his head. The cleave clasped tight in both his hands, he was steeling himself for whatever was waiting for him. A thousand gruesome scenarios were already playing in his head, and none of them had a happy ending. Terror was gripping his guts and crushing them to dust.

He was not even sure which bedroom was Ringo’s but he did not need to wonder for long: as he was passing before one open door, he was suddenly brutally tackled against the wall. The cleaver went flying in the air and Paul’s breath was knocked out of him. The person was pushing him against the wall and trying to choke him – or maybe push him towards the stairs, it was not very clear. Paul gripped his assailant’s arms, trying to get them off of him, and it took him a good few seconds to recognize the person.

“Ringo?! What the fuck?!” He wheezed out in shock.

Ringo immediately stopped pushing him and pulled back to look at Paul’s face. He froze, staring at Paul’s whole body with wide eyes. Paul could only frown and gape at him, without a clue of what the fuck was going on.

“Paul?” Ringo asked in a quiet, disbelieving voice.

Paul loosened his grip on Ringo’s arms and suddenly noticed his friend had started shaking like a leaf. When their gazes met, Paul’s eyes widened in shock. He recognized that look of utter terror and confusion.

He’d lived it himself ten months prior.

Chapter Text

They stared at each other.

The silence was so thick they could hear the wind in the trees outside, despite the closed windows. They stared at each other for agonizing seconds and Paul was afraid to move, or to even breathe. A thousand questions were swarming in his mind, but the prominent one was: What the fuck?!

Ringo looked confused, lost, disoriented. All those feelings, he’d felt them too when he first arrived back in the past. Could Ringo be from the future too? His future? Or maybe, not as far in the future as Paul? Or maybe from another timeline altogether? Could he be not alone after all…? The thought was dizzying.

He could still feel Ringo shaking under his fingers but he did not dare let him go fully. He did not dare do anything, at this point. When the first moment of shock passed, Ringo looked at Paul’s hands on his arms and shook him off, frantic.

“Let go of me! What’s going on?!” Ringo asked, his tone pressing and verging on hysterical. His voice rose as he was talking, faster and faster. “Where… Wh— What did you do to me?! Who the fuck are you?! Why am I here?!”

He nearly shouted these last words and Paul raised his arms in defence, his own heart beating wildly in his chest.

“Calm down, I don’t—”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! WHAT’S HAPPENING?!” Ringo yelled, frenetic, backing into the wall.

“WOULD YOU STOP YELLING AT ME?!” Paul yelled back.

That seemed to sober Ringo a bit and he shut his mouth tightly, his lips clearly quivering. He was obviously panicking, and Paul was entering a panic too just by looking at him. He had no idea what was going on either, but it made him incredibly anxious to see the terror and anguish in his friend’s eyes.

“Is… is it really you?” Ringo finally asked, his voice still quite loud but trembling.

Paul hesitated. Ringo looked like he was shaking more and more by the minute. Maybe he was having an actual seizure. Should he like, call an ambulance or something…?! Was he reading all of this wrong?

“It is but… I don’t know? I mean yes, I’m me, but I don’t know if I am the ‘me’ you think I am,” He answered slowly, not looking away from his friend’s blue eyes.

Ringo frowned at him. He looked beyond perplexed.

“…What?”

Oh God. Paul was reading it wrong, wasn’t he? And now he was just being the stupidest git in the world. He was just so desperate and alone in his situation that he was now projecting what he wanted to see onto his friend. In front of him, Ringo was still staring at him, his eyes the size of saucers, shining with fear. Paul sighed, letting his arms drop at his sides.

“Look it’s me, okay? Paul. Paul McCartney. But are you alright? Are you hurt…?”

He stood up from his slouched position against the wall and took one step closer to him but Ringo winced and recoiled slightly. It caught Paul off guard and he froze, feeling a bit offended.

“Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you!”

Ringo mirrored his frown and, looking still very much freaked out, searched the corridor with his gaze and pointed at the cleave that was lying threateningly on the floor, further away.

“Why did you bring that bloody thing then?” Ringo bit back.

Paul looked at the instrument and froze. That was indeed a bit incriminating.

“Okay, I get why that looks suspicious, but for my defence I thought you were getting murdered,” He explained. Then, with a frown: “You scared me, bloody screaming like that!”

“You’re lying,” Ringo squinted at him. “Who the hell are you? What is this?! Am I dreaming?”

He paused, looked around him and noticed his own hands, his clothes. He looked up, alarmed, and pointed an accusatory finger to Paul, his voice rising again.

“…Did you drug me?! Tell me!”

“Jesus, I didn’t do anything to you, you git! Just calm down for fuck’s sake!”

Ringo did not answer, still staring at Paul so hard Paul felt like his gaze could pierce through him like a laser and make his skull melt away. Paul stared just as straightforwardly, breathing hard and feeling upset too, now. After a while, he saw something shift in Ringo’s eyes and his features softened a bit.

“It is really you,” He said quietly, flabbergasted.

Paul thought fleetingly that he looked a bit paler than a moment ago, and the next second Ringo was swaying on his feet, as if all his nerves were snapping at once. Paul reached a hand out but Ringo did too and leant on the wall. He was white as a sheet. If Paul was right, he was probably completely overwhelmed. A thought flashed through his mind: the girls and Neil would be back soon, any moment now. If they saw Ringo in that state, uncomfortable questions would follow. And if he was right, seeing them would throw Ringo in for another loop. He made a decision in a split second and took Ringo’s wrist.

“Come with me.”

Ringo sent him a wild look, but Paul shook his head, feeling grave all of a sudden.

“Come on. Trust me, you’re not going to like being here in a few minutes.”

But Ringo just kept staring at him. He did not seem convinced, but he was probably too in shock to really realize what was happening anyway, so Paul chose not to lose any more time and just dragged him down the stairs. Ringo went along, a bit unstable on his feet, clearly out of it. Once in the hallway, Paul quickly checked through the window to see if the car of the others was back yet, and when he saw it wasn’t he pulled Ringo outside, towards the road.

They were in a pretty secluded residence and he didn’t know the area at all, but he went towards the end of the road, seeing a cluster of trees there that promised the beginning of some sort of woods. They both entered it, and Paul realized when he heard Ringo bump into a branch that he was walking particularly fast, driven by his own anxiety-filled excitement. He slowed down a bit and let go of Ringo’s wrist. They were now in a sort of pine forest, completely alone. He stopped, abruptly, and turned to his friend.

Ringo went to sit limply on a log, head in his hands and rubbing it harshly. He did not say anything, but Paul could see how he was shaking still. It took him a while to realize his friend was actually whispering to himself.

“This is a nightmare… it can’t… wake up, just wake up you idiot…”

Paul approached him slowly. He didn’t want to spook him, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He needed to know, despite the risk of looking like a right lunatic. He calculated in his head how much time had passed since he had arrived.

He cleared his throat and for the briefest second, he realized he didn’t even know if he wanted to be right or not.

“Look, I… I have a question for you,” He started nevertheless – and Ringo’s head snapped up instantly. “It might sound really, really weird, but—” He cut himself, his voice quivering. “Are you… Are you from 2020…?”

After a few seconds of stupor, something clicked in Ringo’s eyes and let in a wave of emotions. Among fear, surprise and wonder, one stood out and drowned all the others: relief. Ringo stood up in a flash and opened his mouth, but nothing came out for a moment. Paul waited patiently, feeling his friend’s relief flooding into his own veins.

“You… Are you…?” Ringo sputtered.

Paul rushed closer to him and took his shaking hands into his. Ringo immediately grasped him back, holding on for dear life. It was unbelievable. The whole thing was completely unbelievable.

“Yes!” Paul let out with difficulty, emotions threatening to take him over. “Yes, yes, me too!”

“You were old too? You just woke up here too, out of nowhere?!”

“Yes! Yes I did!” Paul nodded frantically.

“Oh my God…!” Ringo breathed out.

He took in Paul’s features, his hair, his body. Paul was still holding onto him, and it felt like if either of them let go, they would vanish into nothingness, scatter into a million pieces of bones and flesh and fall into a void where time meant nothing anymore. The only thing keeping them in the present, together, was the contact of skin on skin, the sound of their breathing, the vibrations of their voices.

“But why are you so fucking young?!” Ringo asked with so much disbelief and alarm in his voice that it had risen a couple of tones higher.

“Because I’m 24. Again!” Paul answered, just as frantic.

Ringo frowned hard, his whole face a grimace.

“Twenty-f—?! …But how—? I don’t understand… When are we—?!”

Paul sighed, knowing this was the last blow. The defining moment. He squeezed Ringo’s hands, and breathed deeply before answering:

“We’re in 1966.”

Ringo just stared at him for a couple of seconds, then let go of Paul and brought his hands to his face to walk a few steps away, his back to Paul. Paul let him take time to process the words, breathe them in – even though there seemed to be never enough time to understand all of this. He knew how overwhelmed he had to be. After a while though, Ringo turned around and resumed his staring, incredulity in his every pore. His face had lost every last bit of colour.

“But… how?” He asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” Paul shook his head, sadly. “But it’s real. You’re really here. We’re really here. And so is everyone else.”

Ringo’s eyes widened comically.

“Them too?!”

“No, no, I mean. They’re normal. It’s just us two, we are… back, you know. Back to our past. Sort of.”

Ringo looked down at his feet, frowning hard, and Paul could practically see his brain turning at full speed inside his head. He recalled what he was thinking when himself arrived, the questions that kept twirling in his mind. At least maybe he could help Ringo process it, make it smoother for him. Easier. His stomach churned, acid drizzling through his trachea. To make it easier, they had to breach the hardest topics.

“They’re alive, Richie,” He said quietly, observing his friend with caution.

Ringo’s eyes frowned then widened, and Paul saw the exact moment he understood.

“All of them…?” He asked in a breathless whisper.

Paul nodded, emotion settling right up in his own throat. Ringo looked down, pale as a ghost and totally overwhelmed. Paul’s own heart was beating so wildly he felt like had just finished a marathon. He wished he could just see what was going on in his friend’s mind, but he also knew this was a very personal realization to make. Something so profoundly intimate that it could – and should – not be shared.

After a very long while, Ringo started speaking again, quietly.

“I’m not from 2020.”

“What?”

“You asked me if I was from 2020. I’m not. I’m… I was in 2019 just a few hours ago,” His friend struggled to explain, his voice suddenly much more tired and low.

Paul frowned. It wouldn’t be surprising in itself if time worked differently for them, but the fact that so many months could have only translated in five at the most in the future made him feel very weird. Perhaps time went faster in the past than it did in the future. Or perhaps… Perhaps he had been wrong from the beginning. Perhaps he was actually dead, and was just reliving his past as part of his afterlife. Perhaps none of it meant anything and this was just his dead consciousness floating through what could have been. He pushed past the dryness of his throat, trying to find his voice back. He needed to have answers, however painful they could be.

“Can I ask… um, how am I? In the future? Am I dead?”

Ringo frowned too, shaking his head slowly.

“No. You’re fine. At least you were last time I talked to you, a few weeks ago.”

The two of them fell in a new silence, confusion swirling in both their heads.

“When are we, precisely?” Ringo asked after a while.

“October 3rd.”

Paul expected surprise, but not the fleeting anger on his friend’s face.

“What, October?! I was in still in August! How did I just lose two damn months?!” Ringo let out, as if time had personally offended him. “Did I just fall into a coma or something…?”

But Paul was not listening anymore. Something was definitely not right with those dates. What if…?

“What day of August?”

“Uh, it was the 14th. Why?”

A shiver went through Paul’s whole body.

“Me too,” He said slowly as realization came upon him. “I went to bed on the 14th of August 2019, woke up here on the evening of December 11th, 1965. But why would you arrive only now?”

At this point he was more talking to himself than to Ringo, but he still didn’t miss how his friend’s face was falling even more, if that was possible.

“So you’ve been here for ten months…?” He probed, sounding small.

His sadness was pouring out of him, contaminating every space and particle around him. Paul just nodded. Hearing that statement was more heart-breaking and unsettling than he would have ever thought. He found he could not hold Ringo’s so familiar gaze and looked away, almost ashamed. He had not realized until now how much you could recognize someone’s experiences solely in their eyes.

“Are you sure there isn’t anyone else?”

“Not that I know of,” He admitted, shaking his head.

He hesitated, glanced briefly at Ringo.

“But I’ve told John.”

He looked up for real and found Ringo gaping at him.

“You told John…? As in, John Lennon?” He whispered, as if someone might arrive and overhear them. “You told John Lennon?”

“Yeah well I was going insane,” Paul defended himself, whispering too by reflex. “What was I supposed to do, just blow my head off?!”

He breathed out slowly and forced himself to calm down.

“I couldn’t just… I needed someone,” He confessed, at last.

A moment passed, but Paul was embarrassed. It felt like admitting a weakness, an unforgivable mistake almost, even though he knew anyone in his situation would have needed support. Someone to rely on. Someone to confirm he actually existed, all of himself. He glanced at the pines around them. Immobile, unfazed, indifferent to the turmoil they were living. When Ringo’s voice broke out the silence again, it was calmer.

“Did he believe you?”

“Not at first. But I told him about random things that would happen, and… yeah.”

Silence settled over them, heavy,

“I’m sorry. I guess… that must have been very lonely for you,” Ringo offered after a while.

His eyes were shining, and it took a moment for Paul to notice the moistness in his own eyes.

“I thought I was dead, you know. At the beginning. Then for a while I thought I had just gone completely insane,” He confessed in a chuckle.

“Maybe we are. Dead, I mean,” The other man bounced back.

“And we would have died at the exact same moment?” Paul snorted.

Ringo shrugged.

“Stranger things have happened.”

Both men fell silent, confused reflections clouding their minds. Paul was reeling; having old Ringo here with him was the proof that he wasn’t insane. He truly was from the future, everything he remembered had happened. It was all real: if he had ever doubted it, now the proof was indisputable. A new thought then crossed his mind.

Things had already changed a lot, in his present. The future he had lived in his past – and his mind was hurting just thinking these words – did not match his present anymore. So if he was changing things, and that Ringo was coming from the same future, his memories should match the new present Paul was creating, right? He should not have lived Manila. He should remember Paul and Jane had split up in late 1965, and not in 1968 like in Paul’s first past. Perhaps it was more complicated than that, considering the fact that Paul’s memories had not changed to match the present he was creating either. But maybe… maybe Ringo was from a different future than the one Paul himself was coming from. Maybe, future Ringo’s past matched Paul’s present. And there was an easy way to find out if that was the case.

“Do you remember George’s baby?” Paul suddenly asked Ringo.

His friend looked up, somehow looking even more confused.

“You mean Dhani? I know I may be getting senile but—”

“No, no, the one with Pattie?”

Ringo looked at him for a while, sombre.

“They never had kids together. I don’t understand. Are you having me on…?”

Paul looked at him for a while, and then relief crashed into him like a train. He started chuckling uncontrollably, raking his hands in his hair.

“Oh my God…!” He wheezed out.

“Why are you laughing? What’s funny?” Ringo frowned again.

“I’m not changing anything! I’m not changing a fucking thing! They still exist! Oh my God…”

He turned to walk in circles, feeling restless all of a sudden.

“Who?” Ringo pressed on.

“My kids!” Paul beamed. “My kids still exist!”

Ringo’s expression was so confused that it finally dawned on Paul that it had taken him months to understand his situation and to draw certain conclusions. Months.

“I thought me being here was changing the future,” He started explaining, frantic. “Things are so different already, and… God… I thought my kids had stopped existing. I thought I had created some time paradox or something! But if you have the same memories I have, it means our past – our future, from now on – hasn’t changed! They’re still living, somewhere, in some other life!”

Ringo looked down, visibly lost in thoughts. Paul was hyperventilating. This was… this was a lot. It was so strange to think that just an hour ago he was talking to Ringo, and now he was with another version of him who would have no memory whatsoever of their conversation. As if he was a whole new person, coming straight from his old life. Someone who knew about the break-up, about John’s death, about Linda. Someone who had seen George dwindle away. Who remembered 9/11, Thatcher, the London Olympics. Someone who had lived all these things that now only existed in Paul’s mind. Having him here did not confirm a 100% that the future had not changed – considering Ringo had left it at the same time as Paul, somehow – but it was positive. A good sign. Somewhere, in some other timeline, there was a huge chance that his children and grandchildren were still alive.

The downside of it all was hard, nevertheless. Because if the future kept happening in some timeline, it meant George, John and Linda were still dead there. The thought sobered him at once. He had not realized that. It was not really a shock, since it was hardly news, and he had long accepted the fact that he might not be able to really save them, but still. Their sad – and gruesome, for John – destiny was still on, somewhere. And his wife… she was all alone, in the future they had left. Maybe grieving for him, if he had just vanished from one moment to—

“Does that mean the young versions of ourselves are stuck in the future?”

Paul froze. He turned slowly to Ringo.

“…What?”

Ringo searched his eyes, thinking hard too.

“Well, if you and I are here and the pres—past, um, 2019, still goes on, that means we are still present there, doesn’t it? I mean, some… forms of ourselves? And if our selves from here are not here anymore, well… they have to be somewhere, don’t they? Like, maybe we just swapped?” He expanded, visibly struggling to voice his thoughts clearly.

Paul stared at him for a long time. He had… not thought about that. During the ten months he had spent back in the past, he had not once thought about where past Paul had gone. Until now he didn’t think there were several timelines, several futures, so he thought he had just sort of rewinded his own life. As if there was only solution possible. As if the simple fact that he had travelled back in fucking time was not the proof that time was messy and complicated and there just had to be more possibilities. In that instant, he felt the stupidest he ever had in his entire life.

Was Ringo right? Was there a poor clueless 1965 Paul stuck in the future? In the body of an old man, with almost everyone he loved long gone, with no band, no voice anymore, surrounded by futuristic technology and with an endless string of kids…?! A cold, nasty shiver rolled through him at the thought. If he had to choose, his own position was undoubtedly better than his.

He forced his vision to re-focus and he caught Ringo’s worried and still freaked out gaze.

“I, uh… I hadn’t thought about that,” He confessed softly.

Ringo sighed, sitting back down on his log. Paul watched him closely: he had his 26-year-old body, and somehow, in his posture, in his expression, even in the way he was sighing, Paul could recognize his old friend from 2019. The one who had lived a whole life. He could see it clearly – probably even more since he had spent the whole day with him. He wondered what it must have been like for everyone else when himself had arrived. If they had thought he was weird, totally changed. An alien. Maybe that explained why everyone kept looking at him as if he would explode any minute, at the beginning. Why John would always be staring at him with a weird expression.

“And where are we, here?” Ringo asked again, his voice so weary it hurt Paul’s soul.

“Carborenas, in Spain. For John’s war movie, you know.”

“Oh… OK. Damn,” He rubbed his face, then sighed again. “Sorry. I didn’t remember you were there. Back then.”

“I wasn’t. I just came this time.”

Ringo frowned again, the gesture close to be permanently engraved on his forehead.

“Are things a lot different?”

Paul looked down and shrugged, prodding some twigs with his foot. His neck felt hot but hopefully he looked casual enough.

“Not that much. Pattie’s pregnant, that’s the biggest thing. And, um, I don’t know… We didn’t go to Manila, so that’s nice. I was glad not to get through that again.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Ringo chuckled, though the sound was not happy at all. “You’re doing it all again then? A Beatle and everything?”

The question was loaded – Paul knew these questions had arisen quite early in his mind too, when he’d arrived. Maybe Ringo wouldn’t want to get into all of that again. After all, he was not as addicted to music and work as Paul was. And now, just copying everything from their past seemed even more futile. Not natural. The future of the band was more endangered than ever, with two of his musicians coming from the bloody future.

“Yeah,” He still answered, realizing he did need to speak out at some point. “I didn’t know what else to do. And… it’s nice, you know. To get to do the nice things again.”

Ringo silently observed him for a while.

“The bad ones too,” He finally replied on a careful tone.

“The bad ones too,” Paul simply confirmed.

Silence came over them again. The sky was getting darker already around them. Paul glanced at his watch and noticed it was getting quite late indeed. He shook himself in a vain attempt to evacuate the tension all over his body.

“If you feel ready… We should go back home. Maureen and the others are probably back by now.”

“Maureen is…?” Ringo murmured, dumbfounded. “Oh my God, I’m not… I can’t… I’m not ready for this… How did you do this?!”

Paul chuckled sadly.

“I don’t know. I ran away. And then, just… I don’t know. You get used to it, eventually.” He paused, then: “But now we should go home, you know. Really.”

Ringo nodded, visibly bracing himself. He got up and just as Paul was about to leave, he grasped his sleeve.

“You… You’ll help me, right? You’ll tell me things, when I don’t remember?” He asked in a small voice.

Paul smiled warmly to him. In a way, it was reassuring to see he was not the only one scared out of his mind by this situation. He was not alone anymore.

“Of course. Of course I will. We’re in this together, right?”

Ringo nodded again, and seemed a tiny bit reassured. Or at least, stronger on his feet. Paul nodded to him again and finally led the way out of the forest. His heart was heavy in his chest.

 

Watching Ringo ‘reunite’ with Maureen had Paul near tears: the struck look on his face, his shaking (Paul could tell he was trying his hardest to tame it) when he embraced her, the barely concealed awe in his voice. He looked beyond overwhelmed and only let go of Maureen reluctantly when Maureen herself was almost getting uneasy. The others were laughing it off of course, Maureen included, and Paul justified it by saying he’d gone a bit too strong on weed. A poor excuse, but it would do. It had to. His first meeting with Neil was something too. Ringo had frozen a good while when he’d seen him – until Paul had slapped on his back, trying to bring him back down to Earth. It was all so moving Paul himself felt a little like he was coming back all over again, too. He had been here for so long that he sort of forgot it, sometimes. His lives were a bit merged in his mind, and the junction was made easier with the presence of John, his anchor. But for Ringo it was all very new and very real, and it hit again how extraordinary all of this was. Even more, now.

After a while, Maureen and Gabrielle, Michael Crawford’s wife, went off to the kitchen – refusing for some reason Paul’s help – and the three men were left on their own in the living-room. It was a good thing Neil was a chatterbox because Ringo seemed incapable of participating to the conversation, too busy gawking at their friend. Paul stayed sitting next to him on the couch the whole time, discreetly glancing at him once in a while, ready to help of comfort him if needed.

Ringo’s arrival took so much space in his mind that when the lights of a car appeared outside and a motor died down, Paul was confused for a moment as to who it was. In his back, a door creaked opened and a nasal voice floated to his ears. The instant he heard it, his heart swelled and realisation smacked him in the face. He forced himself not to get up excitedly, trying not to look too obvious, and suddenly John and Michael were entering the room.

“Hello everyone!” Michael started with a booming voice, going straight to Ringo and Paul to shake their hands. “I’m Michael, nice to meet you. Wow, we nearly have all of you, don’t we!”

“Hello, fellow human beings,” John added, setting his jacket down on a chair and avoiding everyone’s eyes.

Paul saw an overwhelmed Ringo shaking Michael’s hand from the corner of his eye, but he had trouble looking anywhere other than at John. Short-haired, glasses in the shirt pocket, smiling, bloody gorgeous John. Paul shook Michael’s hand distractedly and turned to Ringo, who was unsurprisingly staring wide-eyed at John. The look on his face was so emotional it was hard to describe: a mixture of elation, awe, sadness and pain. Paul was not surprised to detect a glimmer in his eyes, and swooped in to divert the others’ attention from it.

“Excuse Rings, he’s a bit out of it tonight, but he's alright,” He said, glancing at John – he couldn’t wait to get him aside to tell him.

John smiled at that, and Paul realized with a sharp ping in his chest that he had not looked directly at Paul yet. As Michael was going to the kitchen to greet the others, Paul prayed for Neil to follow him. He waited a few seconds, and when he understood the other man was not planning on leaving anytime soon, he searched for something to say.

“I think Mo has called you, Neil,” He suddenly blurted.

He wanted to smack himself the second he’d said it, but kept a straight face, pointing at the kitchen.

“Has she? Oh, didn’t hear it. Sorry lads,” Neil said before leaving for said kitchen.

He disappeared from the room and Paul turned to see John’s confused frown.

“She hasn’t cal—” He started.

“Ringo’s just arrived from the future too,” Paul cut him off in a whisper.

He felt more than he saw Ringo blindly nodding beside him, a hand over his mouth, but he couldn’t help but focus on John’s (beautiful) face. John just gaped, completely stunned, and turned blinking eyes between Ringo and Paul.

“You… What? H—what?”

“Jesus. John… Can I hug you?” Ringo let out with a strangled voice.

John nodded, still a bit confused, and Ringo basically threw himself in his arms, hugging him so hard Paul could almost hear his bones crack. Paul met John’s eyes, and the confusion in them was begging for some clarification.

“He’s from 2019,” Paul continued lowly, choosing to ignore how Ringo had transformed into a human octopus. “He went for a nap and woke up screaming like a lunatic. He almost pushed me off the stairs.”

“You should not have brought a freaking cleave, then,” Ringo mumbled from his spot on John’s shoulder.

John threw Paul an amused glance, even if confusion was still the main emotion on his face.

“Yeah, well, whatever. You’re here with us now,” Paul retorted. “I don’t even understand how that’s possible… I can’t even, the odds—”

“It’s a bloody invasion, then, is it,” John said with a strange voice when Ringo finally let go of him, still clasping his arms and looking at him as if he was looking at the Mona Lisa. “Alright, I know I’m young and dashing but stop gawking at me, you moron.”

Ringo chuckled briefly, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. Noise rose from the kitchen and soon enough the others were coming and bringing in various plates of food, all talking animatedly and oblivious to the turmoil of the three bandmates. They all settled around the table in a loud chatter, and Paul followed the flow, keeping a close eye on Ringo who looked lost and hurt again. He was hiding it well, though, or at least Paul thought he was considering the situation. He ended up sitting next to John and in front of Maureen. With Neil on Maureen’s right and Paul on Neil’s right, Paul was not in front of John and was almost a bit disappointed to not have had the time to have more contact with him – if he could even consider that the short sentences they had shared counted as any contact at all.

Dinner went on, and it was loud and weird. Everyone seemed to be in a rather good mood, and Paul participated actively in the conversation to help hide the fact that Ringo and John were suspiciously quiet. Plus, in Ringo’s case, completely lost and disoriented. Paul couldn’t wait for the evening to draw to an end, and when Maureen confessed she was dreaming of her bed, he jumped on the occasion, yawning loudly and pretending to be exhausted too. Everyone sort of agreed they should call it a night, and thankfully, after having cleared the table, they all scattered to their own rooms and occupations. Ringo said he wanted to go out for a walk on his own (and he sent a pointed look at Paul at that), to get some fresh air, and Paul watched him go with a bit of worry in his chest, feeling like a mother bird letting her chick fly off of the nest for the first time. When he realized that John had enjoyed the occasion to disappear off somewhere, he offered to help to do the dishes, feeling bad for not having done anything that far and needing to keep himself busy. He was anxious; scared for his friend, scared for their future. Just as he was slowly coming to terms with his situation, the rules of the game had changed all over again and he felt like he was back to square one.

Once everything was cleared, cleaned and stocked, Paul went up the stairs, wondering where Ringo could be at the moment. He hoped he had gone too far. Or that he wasn’t going to do anything stupid. God knew it had crossed Paul’s mind, even for the briefest moment. He got into one of the tiny bathrooms and brushed his teeth mechanically, lost in his thoughts. It was crazy to think that just a few hours before he’d been so excited (and a bit stressed) to see John again, and now his life was turned upside down once again. Ringo’s arrival meant so much. Maybe there was some deeper meaning here. Maybe they could talk about it, investigate, find it together. There were so many new possibilities now that his head was spinning with it.

The door creaked in his back and he turned his head to see John coming in. A smile instinctively blossomed on Paul’s face, but his friend-lover-boyfriend barely responded and stayed stoic. Paul turned around to spit in the sink, the beating of his heart fastening by the second. This was not good. Why was he not smiling? Was he mad at Paul? Had he done something wrong, something that had upset him? Was it because of Ringo…? Forcing himself to breathe deeply, he rinsed his mouth, dried himself with a towel and turned back around to lean against the sink, arms extended on each side.

John was standing against the white-tiled wall of the bathroom, arms crossed over his chest and his face unreadable. His silence and lack of expression were killing Paul.

“Hey,” Paul said after a while, lamely.

“Hey,” John echoed.

They just stayed like that, not saying anything and just looking at each other. The only thing Paul could discern in his lover’s eyes was that he was tired.

“So. Future Ringo is here,” He simply said, searching Paul’s eyes.

And Paul knew right away that even though he was trying to sound nonchalant, he was clearly upset.

“Yeah,” He affirmed. “As if it could get craz—”

“You didn’t call,” John blurted out.

“Neither did you,” Paul retorted right away.

John pursed his lips, and finally let a tiny smile slip out. He took an agonizingly slow step closer, then another, still with his arms crossed, and suddenly his hips were brushing Paul’s. Paul strained not to move into him at all and just kept looking as expressionless as he could at John. He could faintly hear the others moving around the house, in the other rooms, and the thought that they were right out there sent a shrill down his spine.

“Did you miss me?” John whispered, a teasing lilt to his voice.

In another context, another life, Paul would have punched him in the arm, called him a wanker and laughed it off with him. Now, he just wanted to jump on him and kiss him until he could not speak anymore. Paul decided to play stupid too. He pulled a pensive face and pretended to think it over.

“Mmh, no. Was pretty busy,” He lied.

The smile on John’s face stretched, turning into a mischievous grin, and he glanced at Paul’s lips. He moved ever so slightly, and the friction nearly made Paul hiss.

“Oh, well, I won’t keep you any longer then,” John lightly said.

He stepped back and turned to the door, but he had not reached it that Paul caught his arm and turned him around, slipping his hands on his neck. When his lips touched John’s, he could not stop himself from sighing, feeling like he was finally able to breathe again. Thankfully John quickly dropped the act too and kissed him back right away, groaning when Paul pushed him against the wall to bring their hips flush together once again. His hands found Paul’s small back, one of them lowering to squeeze him and really, Paul was only human. He moaned into John’s mouth and pulled on the short hair of his nape, flattening himself against John’s body. His arousal peaked again when John pushed one of his knees in-between his legs, and they both deepened the kiss, already burning all over. Somewhere in his mind, Paul knew this was careless and stupid, because they had not locked the door and anyone could walk in here and catch them. And really, if they did not stop making that much noise, they could hear them too if they listened carefully. But having John against him was so freaking good, and not being able to do anything about his straining trousers was so damn frustrating that it was hard to see clear.

Finally, it was John who came up to the surface first. His hands had come up to hold Paul’s face, and he pulled away to kiss his cheeks, his nose, his chin, the small space above his lips. Paul let him do it, eyes closed and sighing with contentment. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at John with a sleepy smile, just so happy to be back with him that he could feel butterflies hammering the walls of his belly. John looked at him for a while, struggling to find his breath back, and suddenly started frowning a little. Paul’s smile faded. Dread immediately chased the butterflies away, but just as he was about to ask what was going on, John beat him to it.

“Go look after Ringo,” He said, sounding weirdly emotionless. “He needs you.”

And then, before Paul had time to come up with an answer, he was opening the door and leaving the bathroom.

Chapter Text

Feeling dumbfounded, Paul left the bathroom after whole minutes of nothingness and white noise. His head was swirling with contradictory thoughts. John’s behaviour was strange. Paul did not quite know what reaction he was expecting, but definitely not that cold and distant one. He had looked really upset – the three of them were, legitimately, but they were together, weren’t there? They were supposed to rely on each other, talk to each other. Not drop weirdly detached advice and then flee. But maybe Paul was overreacting, reading what wasn’t there. Maybe it was just the shock and John would be back on tracks the next day. After all, Paul himself was still quite under shock. He couldn’t believe his Ringo was here, back with him. Maybe their being back there was linked to the Beatles – probably, even. What would be the odds, otherwise? Considering that this was all actually happening in the first place, and that Paul was just not somewhere in a coma and being delirious about it all? The possibility seemed more and more plausible to Paul the more he thought about it. Some sort of weird comatose dream. A definitely cruel and unfair one.

Now in the corridor, he found he did not know what to do. He wanted to go find John again and sleep next to him, but of course that was impossible. Especially since the man’s room was right next to Michael’s. He passed before Ringo’s room and peeked through the ajar door; Maureen was alone, reading on the bed. Paul backed away quickly, not wanting to be seen and look like a pervert. Ringo was probably not back yet, then. He decided to go to the terrace and wait for him to come home. He found Martha sleeping in front of the fireplace and called her, the puppy raising her head and joining him happily. Paul caught his jacket on the way out and they both went to the terrace. Paul sat on the tiled floor, his feet on the soft grass. Martha sat in front of him and nuzzled her snout into Paul’s hand, asking to be stroked, to which Paul obliged gladly. He felt weary, disoriented once again. He just wished he could understand what was happening. And that John had stayed with him tonight. Some support wouldn’t have hurt.

Time passed, and it was past 11pm when Paul finally could hear someone walking in the pebbles leading to the house. Ringo appeared in the lights of the driveway, his face so long and tired Paul almost wanted to just call it a night and postpone talking to an undetermined time. Ringo came to stop in front of him and squatted to pet Martha, who was now lying at Paul’s feet.

“He looks like Martha,” He told Paul, looking at the quiet puppy.

“It is Martha. Couldn’t help myself,” Paul answered, feeling extremely tired himself – and Ringo did not even look surprised. “How are you?”

Ringo shrugged, looking at the windows of the first floor.

“I'm alright,” He said with a tight smile that did not reach his eyes.

He hesitated, stood up and then came to sit next to Paul. Paul silently watched the garden in front of them that was enlightened by a couple of light projectors. He could feel Martha breathe sleepily against his feet. Toads were croaking somewhere in the distance and it was already completely dark. He sort of felt like the weight of the whole world was falling on both their shoulders.

“I threw up,” Ringo admitted after a while, his voice sounding fragile in the silence. “In somebody’s bin, further down the road.”

Paul glanced at him, finding that he didn’t need any more context to understand.

“Yeah,” He simply breathed out.

Ringo pulled on a broken bit of nail, observing his hands in the process.

“I saw my face earlier, when I went to the bathroom. It’s just… I can’t believe I’ve ever looked that young,” He brought up.

Paul’s eyebrows rose, his gaze lost in the void, and he chuckled briefly.

“Wait ‘til you see George.”

He heard Ringo take a sharp intake of breath.

“God…” He let out quietly. “This is so… wrong. So not natural. Do you know I realized that Zak is still a wee baby?”

He stopped talking for a second, his voice on the verge of cracking.

“Seeing Maureen… John… all of this, it shouldn’t be happening,” He added after a while.

For the second time since he’d arrived, Paul wished he hadn’t quit smoking.

“Yeah,” He repeated unhelpfully, not knowing what else to answer to that.

“John looks good. Like… himself,” Ringo said absently, sounding surprised about it – and really, Paul could only relate to the feeling.

He recalled his two bandmate’s reunion earlier, and the surprise struck on John’s face. He could only hope he had not found weird how emotional Ringo had been about it. After all, as far as he knew, future Ringo was more or less still in contact with future John. So it would be weird for Ringo to see him young – but not that moving. What if John was suspicious now? What if that was why he had been so odd in the bathroom…? Knowing Ringo, a slip-up could come so easily and ruin everything…

“I didn’t tell him,” He blurted suddenly, his anxiety flaring up. “John. About, you know. His—… I told him the band had broken up because he kept asking about it, but I couldn’t—”

He cut himself off and looked down, teeth worrying his lip and finding the words even harder to say now than before.

“I can’t lose him again,” He added.

When he looked up, Ringo was looking sadly at him, his shoulders slumped.

“Yeah. I figured you hadn’t told him,” He told him quietly. “Not exactly the kind of subject you bring up at breakfast. I never thought… Well, it’s stupid, of course I never did, but I never thought I would ever have to face that kind of situation. I don’t know what to do.”

“Welcome to my world,” Paul chuckled sadly.

“Why us?” Ringo probed, bursting his bubble of thoughts. “I don’t get it. Do you think it’s because of the band?”

Paul turned to him and faced his large puppy eyes, looking desperate for some answer. Some sense into it all.

“I don’t know,” Paul chuckled without humour. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t. I don’t have answers, it’s... I’ve been asking myself that every day for months. And I just feel like, you know, I’m supposed to fix things, change the mistakes I regret, but. I can’t control what I regret the most, you know? I can’t control people’s lives. I can’t control what they’re thinking. I’m trying to… do better, be better. But now I don’t even think it changes anything. Sometimes I just feel like… there doesn’t seem to be a reason at all, you know?”

Ringo nodded, looking away too. Paul felt his throat closing up and had to push the words out.

“I’ve long abandoned the idea of going home,” He confessed quietly scratching Martha’s fur distractedly.

His friend didn’t answer, and they stayed silent a while longer.

“I wish Barbara was here. She would shake us up right away. Find something to do,” Ringo let out in a tiny sad chuckle. “I miss her already.”

Paul’s heart sank at the thought of his own wife.

“I miss Nancy too,” He said, truthfully.

Whether she was all alone or with young Paul, the result was the same. She had lost her husband; if old Paul was still young Paul, the opposite was not as true, was it? The memories, the experience he had acquired. Those could not be faked. He could make an effort and remember things from his past, his past actions were ingrained in him somewhere, but young Paul literally had no idea what was to come. In that instant, he found that he truly did miss his wife. He missed her kindness, her fierceness, her face. The tender moments they had shared, the laughter. Even though he had John in his life now – and just thinking about it still made him feel weird –, there still was a hole in his heart, a wound left open and tearing him apart every time he thought about it too much. They had been separated so brutally that it was hard to grieve their relationship, once again.

The sound of window shutters being closed startled them both from their reverie. Paul glanced at his watch.

“We should head to bed, it’s getting real late. Way past our bedtime,” Paul joked.

Ringo chuckled and sobered immediately.

“Oh my. I have to sleep with Mo and everything, don’t I?”

“Well, nothing forces you to sleep with her—”

“Shut up, idiot,” Ringo retorted, lightly pushing Paul’s arm. “You know what I mean.”

Paul smiled and they both got up – easily, thanks to their young and flexible bodies.

“Okay, that is definitely nice,” Ringo said, pointing at the floor and his legs.

“Man, I’ve been running all the time since I arrived, can’t help it. It’s just so easy, you know? I barely get tired?!”

Ringo laughed and they both entered the house, Martha zigzagging between their legs.

 

That night, Paul laid for hours on his bed, looking at the ceiling and wondering what was going to happen from then on. Ringo was right: since now there were two of them, the probabilities of actually finding a way back home were higher. More tangible. Home… It was such a strange notion. He was not even sure what it meant anymore. He had spent so much time trying to fit back into his old life that he didn’t even know if he would be able to fit back into his future one. Back to being an old man. Back to his family, but also back to a world where there no longer was his father. George. Mal, Brian. Linda.

John.

Once again, he wished he could just go in John’s bedroom, feel his heartbeat under his fingers. He didn’t even know at what time he was supposed to leave the next day. When they would see each other. If they would actually spend time together or if they’d just vaguely talk at night during meals, or be lost in big groups of people all the time. It was so frustrating, to have to hide. Paul was not used to it, and he was not sure he ever would be.

He turned on his side and sighed deeply. No point in ruminating about it, anyway. He would just have to wait and see.

 

The next morning, when Paul woke up, John, Michael and his wife had already left for the day. Their nanny and their baby girl were staying at the house, and Paul felt bad for having barely noticed they were there in the first place with how distracted by Ringo and John he had been. It was disheartening, to know that he had come to see him, and in the end he might not see him at all. It was the first he had asked Neil when he’d arrived in the kitchen in the morning; it probably made him look like an idiot, or too eager, or even suspicious, but he couldn’t help it. Neil was reading a magazine, the leftovers of his breakfast pushed aside. Ringo was there too, staring through his cup of tea, looking a million miles away. Paul went to sit next to him, pouring hot water in his one of the empty cups lying on the table.

“You alright?” He asked his friend. When there was no answer, he added: “Ring?”

Ringo startled and turned to him, his eyes slowly re-focusing on the present and on Paul. He had deep dark circles under them.

“Oh, hi.”

“Did you sleep at all?” Paul asked quietly, frowning.

Ringo sent a glance to Maureen who was at the sink and shook his head. He didn’t add anything, but he didn’t need to; Paul understood all too well. Maureen came to sit with them, and Paul talked to her, trying to fill the obvious blanks left by Ringo, who stayed completely silent. Paul did not lose the worried glances his wife was sending him, but there wasn’t much he could do beside try to talk to her and keep her busy enough so that she would leave to Ringo the space he needed.

Once their breakfast was over, they all agreed to go visit the nearest village. According to Neil, they had a local market on Tuesdays, and it would be a good way to approach the culture of the area. Plus, Maureen said it would be a good occasion to find a birthday gift for John – even though Paul already had something. The four of them piled up in the car Neil had rented, and took all their time to visit the village, enjoying the quite warm weather despite it being October already. They objectively had a lovely day, but Paul spent the whole time glancing at Ringo to make sure he was alright, and it was clear that Maureen and Neil had caught on his weird behaviour as well. As he was coming back from a public bathroom, Paul even heard Maureen and Ringo whispering together, and clearly Maureen was not satisfied with the answers she was getting. Paul could barely imagine how complicated it was for his friend. When he’d come back, he had had to break up with Jane, but it was an easy decision – he knew they hadn’t lasted much longer anyway. But for Ringo, it was not as simple: they had a child, they had stayed together until the mid-1970s. They had deeply loved and cared for each other. And Ringo had literally seen her die. He could not simply break things off with her. Paul was not even sure he actually wanted to. Maybe they would discuss it, at some point.

Paul looked up once again and observed his friend, a few meters away. They were currently browsing the open market, more specifically boxes of paintings and photographs. Each in their corner, silent. Paul approached Ringo, who sent him a small smile. They stood side by side for a while, looking at the piles of photographs of random cities.

“How are you holding up?” Paul asked, keeping his gaze on the photographs.

He felt more than he saw Ringo shrug, his fingers still checking the different pictures.

“Not great. I feel like I’m in a nightmare. I’m just waiting to wake up at any moment,” He said, his voice a bit rough.

Paul wanted to swallow and found that it was hard to do, all of a sudden.

“It’ll pass,” He said eventually.

“I don’t want it to pass,” Ringo retorted, sounding a bit upset but trying to control it. “I want to understand.”

He let go of the pictures and let his arms drop from the box. With a sigh, he turned to face Paul.

“Do you think we can go back…?”

Paul mulled it over.

“I don’t know,” He finally answered. “I didn’t think that hard about it because, well, I was alone, you know? Felt like a random… thing, a blow of fate. But now that you’re here too… I don’t know. Maybe there’s a pattern we can find. Maybe other people lived it too. I don’t know.”

“I’m sure there is something we can do about it. There has to be.”

Paul frowned, a thought popping into his head.

“What were you doing the other night? What’s the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

Ringo thought it over, rubbing his lower lip.

“Nothing special. I was home, with Barbara. We were just eating, we talked.”

He paused, his breathing not so regular. Paul sighed. He himself did not remember having done anything special during his last day in 2019. Maybe this was a false lead altogether.

“I know I’ve only just arrived, and it’s not fair to say that to you, but… I need to understand what happened, Paul. I can’t stop thinking about it,” Ringo admitted softly.

When Paul looked back at his friend, at the sadness emanating from him, he knew he had to try. Even if the attempt was nearly bound to fail.

“We’ll find out. No matter what it takes, we’ll find out what happened. Okay?” Paul told him.

Ringo searched his face and after a moment, nodded numbly. Paul sent him a small smile, and went back to his box of photographs. They were beautiful, black and white, some a lot older than others. Probably from the travels of the vendor. The man had been in several European cities: Venice, Ravenna, Nice, Portalegre, Bergen, Paris, smaller towns… One of the pictures caught Paul’s attention and he picked it up to take a closer look. Was that…? He looked at the bottom and saw the name of the place written in delicate letters. Warmth spread through him when he recognized the name and a smile blossomed on his face. He turned to the vendor and asked how much it was. Thankfully, the question was transparent enough for the vendor to understand what he meant.

“Who is it for?” Ringo asked next to him, looking at the picture above his shoulder.

Paul smiled at him, paying the vendor who wrapped a sheet of paper around it to protect it. He quickly tried to gauge how much information was too much information, then figured future Ringo would have no idea what it was referring to anyway.

“John,” He said simply, slipping the photograph into his pocket.

“I thought you already had a gift for him.”

“Well I can give him two, can’t I? I’m allowed. He’s my friend, it’s normal,” Paul said, hoping he didn’t sound as much on the defensive as he felt.

“Okay, okay. I didn’t say it wasn’t,” Ringo slowly answered, looking a little confused.

They both left the stalls, and Paul really hoped the sensation of heat in his neck was solely in his mind.

 

Days passed, and Paul’s frustration was growing hour after hour. As feared, he barely ever saw John – and when he did, they were never alone. Even at night, when everyone was going to bed, someone was always randomly talking to him and made it impossible for Paul to sneak in with him. Each time there was an opening, it was either too short, too risky or too complicated. It almost seemed as if John himself was avoiding him, as if he was provoking all these things that came in their way, but Paul was trying not to let that idea get to him. Paranoia would not get him anywhere. They talked when there was everyone around, and it was already great to hear about his days on set, but it was not the same. Paul wanted to know how he really was. He wanted to know everything he could possibly know. He wanted to tell him how much he had missed him, no matter how cheesy it was. He was even dreaming of just holding his hand at this point. The most intimate they had been able to get was when they were sitting together on the back seat of the car, thigh to thigh, and John left his fingers linger against Paul’s for a while. Not exactly fulfilling.

It was a fun vacation, though. They moved to others houses a couple of times, and there always seemed to be something wrong with them, but the landscapes were nice and the local people did not bother them. They even got to go on set a few times, and it was interesting to witness it without the stress of having to actually do anything. He and Ringo spent most of their time together, and Paul filled him in with everything that had happened since he’d arrived, including things Ringo had forgotten with time. Paul found that talking to him was soothing his troubled mind in ways he didn’t know it needed soothing. It made him feel like his past experiences were validated. Certified real.

The day before John’s birthday, they were finishing their dinner in the dining room and it turned out that for once, Paul, John and Ringo were left alone at the table. Ringo’s face was more tired than ever, and John was observing him quietly, smoking a cigarette with a pensive look.

“I’ve found a nice spot near the set today. Lots of funny trees. Quite beautiful. You’d like it,” He suddenly said, looking at Paul.

And how sad was it that Paul was happy to be the sole recipient of his attention, even for a short moment?

“Have you?” He replied, trying to sound more casual than he felt.

“Yeah. I’ll take you there sometime.”

Paul’s heart jumped in his chest and he instantly felt ridiculous for it.

“Mmh,” He settled on replying.

A few seconds of silence passed, each of them staring into a different void.

“So are you vaguely wrinkled too, in the future?” John suddenly asked Ringo, an odd air of defiance on his face.

“I’m wrinkled all over, you mean,” Ringo smiled amiably.

Paul snorted.

“Are you kidding, you look like you’re barely 50,” He piped in. Then, to John: “He sounds the same, too. A bloody vampire, never changes.”

“Not my fault you turned into a wilted apple.”

Paul gaped at him. He saw John let out a tiny smile from the corner of his eye and it warmed his heart a little.

“Okay, that is just rude,” He told Ringo. “Younger you was nicer.”

“That’s not true. I’m nice enough to put up with you even when you want to eat Taiwanese all the time.”

Paul laughed at the memory from their last summer together, in 2019. Only a few weeks before their time-travel, actually.

“Oh please, that happened only twice! And as if your choices were better.”

Ringo opened his mouth to answer when John suddenly spoke up.

“How funny is that, to have several selves, huh? A young one, an old one. Maybe George will arrive from the future too, next. Wouldn’t that be a sight,” He said. He tapped his cigarette in the ashtray, then added, sounding far too nonchalant about it: “Or me. Who knows.”

Paul could feel Ringo trying to meet his gaze, but he just stared at John. But the other man was clearly avoiding him, observing his dying cigarette instead. A frown grew on Paul’s face. Something felt off. Why would John bring that up, out of the blue like that…?

“Who knows, indeed. You should stop smoking, though,” Ringo said in a kindly neutral voice, diverting all of their attentions from the touchy subject.

John looked up and pulled a face at him.

“Seriously? You too?” He pointed his chin at Paul. “I already have Mother Teresa on my back all day long, don’t need a second one.”

Paul glared at him but Ringo went on, undeterred.

“I mean it, John, you know.” Then, quieter: “Those things can kill you.”

Paul looked down, feeling the familiar lump back in his throat already. He could never catch a break, could he?

John just looked at Ringo, not saying anything, only to butt his cigarette out in a deliberate movement. Once it was done, he raised his eyebrows at Ringo, seeming to say “are you happy now?”, and Paul was uncomfortable. He didn’t like the direction this conversation was going in. Something was off with John, and knowing that he would probably not find the time nor the occasion to talk about it with him annoyed him.

“Well, lads. I’m knackered. See you tomorrow, aye?” John said.

Paul watched him abruptly push off his chair and get up, leaving the room in a flash. He looked strange, and Paul could not let that go. He got up too.

“Me too. Night, Richie,” He said.

He did not wait for Ringo’s response and just left the room too, hearing John’s footsteps going up the stairs. He hoped for a second he would go to the bathroom – where it was easier to follow him – but was disappointed when he saw him enter his bedroom. Paul pursed his lips, but his mind was already made up. He needed to talk to him.

He went directly to John’s room and opened the door without knocking, closing it quickly behind him. Inside, John startled and turned around. He had already unbuttoned the half of his shirt.

“Shit, you scared me,” He told Paul with some accusation in his voice.

“Why did you say that thing about George or you coming back here too?” Paul asked, ignoring him.

John briefly looked at him, and then went back to focus on his buttons. Definitely off.

“It’s a legitimate possibility, isn’t it? You. Ringo. Why not George and me?” He answered on a level voice which Paul was seeing right through. “It would be a happily ever after reunion, wouldn’t it.”

“Cut the bullshit,” Paul said unceremoniously.

John rolled his eyes and sighed, the sound so profound and sad it rattled Paul. He angrily took off his shirt and sent it on a nearby chair, sitting down to take his trousers off to.

“Do you miss the other me, the younger one? Is that what this is about?” Paul probed.

“Well, I could ask you the same, couldn’t I?” John retorted snappily.

And then, it all became clear John got up and went to his bed, opening it with sudden movements. Before he even started talking again, Paul knew he wouldn’t like what he was going to say.

“If old me comes back, we won’t be anything. You know that, right? I’ll just be your old grumpy friend. You won’t be getting it anymore.”

“Sod off. That would not be my first concern. Seriously, who do you think I am?” Paul retorted, frowning at him and still standing on his spot in front of the door.

John settled in his bed, tapping on the pillow more than necessary, and sent a carefully blank look in Paul’s direction..

“I don’t know, Paul. I don’t know who you are. That’s the thing, innit?”

Paul just gaped at him, feeling like he had just been slapped. John sighed.

“Look, I’m tired, okay? I just want to sleep. So please, leave before anyone gets suspicious.”

“But you know me,” Paul retorted, his own voice sounding feeble to his ears.

John’s eyes darkened, staring straight at him. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, but somehow Paul suddenly felt naked and cold.

“Paul. Leave. Please.”

Paul maintained his gaze, but he knew there was no point. There was no talking to John when John didn’t want to talk – he had learnt that the hard way over the years. Feeling irritated and burning with shame, Paul turned around and left the room swiftly, restraining himself from just slamming the door. He wished he’d never entered it in the first place.

 

Unsurprisingly, Paul barely slept that night. He kept thinking about what John had told him, and what he could have – should have – said to reassure him. To make him understand that he did know him. He knew him better than anyone. Perhaps he even always had. He knew John had trouble accepting people genuinely cared about him, that they wouldn’t just leave him. But he didn’t know how to fight that fear, that anxiety. Especially if John was being that aggressive about it. Because Paul had a temper too, and he knew that if he tackled the subject head on with John, nasty things could come out on both sides. It was a necessary discussion, but he needed to find the right way to do it. And he had no idea what it was.

When he woke up, it was sweaty and breathing hard. Back to his old habits. In his dream, his grandchildren were watching him being locked in a fish tank and trying to scream at them to let him out. Just thinking about it made him shiver from head to toe.

His head was killing him, and his eyes were burning. He was already in a bad mood and wanted only one thing: to go back to bed as soon as possible. He got dressed messily and went downstairs, rubbing his eyes in a desperate attempt to make them burn less. When he entered the kitchen, he looked up and immediately met John’s penetrative gaze. He froze and they stared at each other for a few seconds. Paul was a bit taken aback. He had not decided what to say yet, so he said… nothing. John’s eyes were hard, unblinking. Paul felt annoyed at once; if that was how he was going to take it, it would not be pretty. The day promised to be long. The Crawford’s nanny and Gabrielle were busy preparing breakfast, oblivious to the newcomer. The moment stretched, until Neil announced his arrival with a hand on Paul’s shoulder and a loud:

“Hey, lads! Happy birthday, Johnny boy!”

Paul’s head snapped to him, getting whiplashed from it. He turned back to John and saw his friend-boyfriend let out an uncharacteristically shy smile. Paul then noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the tightness of his jaw. He wasn’t the only one to have had a bad night.

“Thanks. But it’s Mister John to you,” John answered wittily, his voice sounding a bit strained to Paul.

Neil snorted and fully entered the kitchen. Gabrielle and the nanny turned at the noise and greeted both of them. Paul stood frozen on his spot, shame like ice in his fingers and his toes, paralyzing him. He had literally forgot his birthday. Sure, he had just woken up, but still. Hearing other footsteps resonate behind him in the hallway finally prompted him to move and he went to take a cup and sit at the table. He panicked for a second when he had to choose where to sit, only to follow Neil’s movement and sit next to him, not quite opposite to John.

The other inhabitants of the house slowly trickled in one by one, each of them wishing a happy birthday to John and emphasizing a little more Paul’s oversight. Even Ringo remembered it – despite the confusion of time and months and everything. Paul was angry at himself, and ashamed. It was stupid, he knew it, but now that he hadn’t wished it right from the start, he didn’t dare wish it at all. As if his window was closed, and now it was too late. John would probably just snap at him, anyway. He caught John’s gaze on him a couple times, and the expression in them was hard to read. Not that Paul specifically wanted to read the accusation or the disappointment in them anyway.

Their day on set was to be a rather short one, and everyone agreed they could meet at a restaurant in the early evening to properly celebrate. John didn’t look that enthused by the idea, Paul could detect it, but he still went along with it. Michael and he left for work, and Paul still hadn’t said a word to him. He wondered if that made John angrier or relieved. The day passed, agonizingly slow: Maureen, Ringo, Neil and Paul went to the beach of Almeria, and even though the water was too cold for a swim, it was nice to relax in the sand and let the lulling rhythm of the sea waves appease his mind. He was nervous, restless. He hated this situation: he didn’t care that this was a holiday, and about how great it was to be in Spain. He wanted to see John, to get to the bottom of what was annoying him exactly. John said he didn’t know him, but somehow Paul could feel that it was just to say something. It didn’t feel like that was the thing that was upsetting him. There was something else, and Paul could not quite pinpoint what. Was he just scared future him would arrive and take his place, too? Paul knew it was highly unlikely, but it was true that John had no way of knowing that. He had to admit, the thought had the potential to be pretty scary – to John, that is. To Paul too, of course, but. More to John.

When he thought back to their conversation of the night before, he could only find it more and more confusing. John’s accusations were unsettling, as if himself was not quite sure what he was scared about exactly. Because he was scared – that, Paul was sure of. He knew him well enough to see that. And yet Paul was too stupid to reassure him properly. Or to even just wish him a happy birthday.

What an idiot.

 

They were arriving on foot at the restaurant and Paul was buzzing with nerves. He had left Martha back at the house with the nanny, and the sad whining of the dog still resonated in his ears. He was holding the record he’d bought for John a few days ago, and, safely tucked away in a pocket of his jacket, there was the photograph he’d found at the market. Even though he was not sure it was even relevant to give it to John, now. He also had other things in his jacket, a stupidly hopeful precaution probably. It was quite early and according to the Spanish fashion to eat late, there was no one near the restaurant. Just their group, Gabrielle included, standing near the entrance and inconspicuous enough to go unnoticed by the rare passer-by’s. Paul was talking with Maureen about their parents and how they were slowly aging when a car arrived from a distance, and he fell silent. Sure enough, when the car stopped, John and Michael got out of it and Paul’s heart started fluttering. He was still not used to that.

The two men approached them and Paul stayed in the back, feeling awkward and hating it. John’s eyes met his for a brief moment, and Paul was transfixed, but soon enough his friend’s attention was called somewhere else. Everyone seemed joyful – even Ringo, whose smile was a sight for sore eyes. They all entered the restaurant, Paul trailing behind and hoping nobody would point out how rude and quiet he was being. They had made a reservation and were led to a big table in the back, where nobody would come and disrupt them. Since he had come in last, Paul was lucky not to have to choose his seat and ended up at the end of the table, next to Neil, with Gabrielle in front of him and John on the opposite end of the table, diagonally from him.

Dinner went alright, all things considered. The tapas were delicious, and conversation flowed easily between the seven of them. Paul was far enough from John that it did not look weird that they were not talking. He hated it, of course, but John was not even trying to look at him so he was annoyed by it too, after a while. When dessert arrived, Mo announced loudly that it was time for the presents, and Paul groaned internally. He hoped John wouldn’t act like an arse when Paul would give him his present. Everyone passed around their little packages, and John’s cheeks were red – whether it was from the embarrassment or the sangria was not clear. When it came to Paul’s turn to give his, the package passed from hand to hand until it landed in John’s. He sent a cautious look to Paul and started ripping off the paper to reveal the newest album of the Beach Boys, ‘Pet Sounds’. He knew for a fact John didn’t have it yet, since they had only listened to it together at Paul’s flat. And he knew he loved it. They had even talked about it again a few weeks prior.

John stared at the record for a while, then looked up to Paul, wearing a not very clear expression. Paul, feeling embarrassed again, rushed to justify it.

“You said ‘God Only Knows’ was their best one, yet. So I thought… yeah,” He said, awkward.

Something flashed in John’s eyes, and he sent a small, shy smile to Paul. Paul felt tingles rushing through him at the sight.

“Thanks, Paul,” John said quietly.

Paul smiled back, and that was it. Gabrielle announced it was Michael’s and her turn, and John’s attention was diverted once again. The rest of the night went on, and Paul felt the tiniest bit better. At least, John was not completely mad at him. It was not much but it was better than nothing. Paul was still feeling a bit tired and nauseous, and he stopped at one glass of sangria, feeling like drinking more would only exacerbate his headache. The others did not seem bothered at all, though, and alcohol flowed freely, John’s cheeks getting redder and redder as the hours passed. It was nearing one in the morning when they finally decided to call it a night and called a taxi to get safely home. Paul, who was very much sober, proposed to drive the car back. When the cab arrived, they were all saying goodbye outside when John jumped on the occasion to announce he’d be coming home with him. He was drunk, and not in a particularly bad mood, but Paul knew how quick this could change so he was not exactly serene about it.

“I’ll show you the trees I told you about, yeah?” John said, coming to stand next to Paul.

“Yeah, sure,” Paul agreed easily.

And really, he was hoping he would not regret it.

“Well, see you home later then, lads. Be careful, okay?” Michael told them as the others were entering the cab.

“Paul, keep a good eye on him,” Ringo added quickly, looking a bit worried.

“We’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Paul answered with a reassuring smile.

The cab left, and suddenly, Paul and John were alone in the deserted street. It was strange, to be surrounded by silence after such a lively night. John was twisting his feet to look at his shoes from all angles, and Paul smiled at the sight. God. 26.

“You ready, then?” He asked.

John looked up and nodded, his eyes a bit hooded. He silently followed Paul to the car parked nearby. They entered, fastened their seatbelts and started driving. John was only directing Paul where to turn once in a while and Paul did not dare talk either. They drove for a good while, the night enveloping them in a blanket of silence and peace that soother Paul’s tired body a little, but did nothing to calm his nerves. They finally reached the middle of nowhere, on a small hill, with nothing but sand, rocks and funny trees around them, and Paul hid his surprise when John told him they had arrived. The full moon was casting a lovely glow on the landscape and it looked sort of pretty, but it was nothing extraordinary at all. A bit dull. There was no one in sight, not a car, not a soul. A bit further, they could see the trailers and trucks for the movie. Paul cut off the engine, turned on the ceiling light and stared at the view, feeling a little disappointed.

“That’s… that’s it?” He asked after a while, turning inquisitive eyes to John.

John, whose head was resting against his seat, sat up and turned to him. Strangely enough, his eyes didn’t seem so hooded anymore and his face not so flushed. Paul suspected he had acted drunker than he actually was earlier in the evening.

“Yeah,” He simply said.

“Oh. Okay. It’s… lovely.”

John sighed, surprising him.

“It was just an excuse, you know,” He let out, sounding a tiny bit irritated.

The words finally hit Paul, and he felt his neck warm up.

“Oh.”

Silence stretched between them, and Paul didn’t like how awkward it felt. He thought they had passed that point between them and seeing how wrong he had been about that was an uncomfortable realization. He unfastened the seatbelt to feel a little more at ease, and hearing the paper creaking in his pocket reminded him of his second gift.

“Oh, wait a sec,” He told John, diving his hand into his jacket.

He retrieved the small paper package and handed it to John, who frowned slightly at it.

“Happy birthday,” Paul finally said, a bit lamely.

John took the paper and sent him a quick glance. His cheeks were a little red again.

“I thought you’d never wish it to me.”

“I wasn’t sure you wanted me to.”

John just looked at him and turned back to the paper, ripping it far more delicately than he had at dinner. The photograph appeared in the light. An apparently regular street, a few people walking by, the shape of a church in the background. And under it, standing out in black letters: ‘Ivry-sur-Seine’. And next to it, added by Paul with a pencil 'October 1966.' John stared at it for a long time, so long that Paul thought he did not understand the reference and was just wondering why the fuck Paul was giving him a random picture of a street. He cleared his throat.

“It’s, um, it’s where—” He started awkwardly.

“I know,” John cut him off, finally looking up at him.

Despite the bad lighting, Paul could see his eyes were shining.

“I know it’s stupid, but…” He started, shrugging.

John shook his head and turned his eyes back to the picture, softly caressing it with his finger.

“No. No, it’s not. I… Thank you.”

Paul smiled tightly, embarrassment making him feel sweaty and stupid. Then, in a sudden flash of boldness, he leant over and kissed John’s cheek, leaning back in his seat straight away. An amused smile broke on John’s face, and when he turned to look at Paul, his eyes were happy.

“What are you, 12?” He asked, a mocking lilt to his lopsided grin.

Paul grinned back and leant again to kiss him properly this time, bumping into his glasses and feeling John’s breath hitch the second before their lips met. Paul slipped a hand on his cheek, loving how both soft and bristly his skin was. John tilted his head and the kiss deepened, Paul having to force himself to breathe through his nose to not get too lost in it and just ‘forget’ to breathe. After a while, Paul pulled away and put his forehead against John’s, loving how his breath was coming out in short puffs against his mouth. He liked him. He really liked him.

“Sorry I was a git today,” He whispered.

“Today?” John repeated, teasing.

Paul punched him lightly on the arm and John laughed. Suddenly, they were back to normal, and the butterflies in Paul’s belly were flying around like crazy. John put his hand on Paul’s thigh and it burned him through the fabric. Still smiling, Paul leant again, this time daring to step over the gear stick to plop down into John’s lap, who caught him by the hips. He delicately took off John’s glasses, folded them and put them in the glove box. They started kissing again, and this time it got heated pretty quickly. Paul wanted it, and he could feel John did too. They awkwardly took off their jumpers, tacitly choosing to keep their shirts not to make it even more complicated (a car was not the best place to do it, assuredly), their hands slipping under them to cover each centimetre of skin, leaving burning traces everywhere. They were both trying to unbutton their trousers and Paul stopped to look at John’s face, having to lower his head a little not to bump into the ceiling.

“I, uh… We can switch. If you want,” He breathed out, searching John’s eyes and glancing at his oh-so-tempting lips.

John was breathing hard too, his eyes fluttering to Paul’s lips. He frowned briefly and swallowed audibly, looking up into Paul’s eyes again.

“Yeah…?” He made sure.

Paul hesitated for a second, but then found himself nodding frenetically. If he hesitated, he would never do it. And right now, he really, really wanted to. At least to see if it was as good as John himself had told him it was. John surged up to meet his lips once again, his hands gripping Paul’s neck and Paul moaned loudly, all caution flying out the window.

“I don’t have anything,” He panted into Paul’s mouth.

“I do,” Paul replied.

That earned him a shit-eating grin from his boyfriend.

“I see you plan things ahead, McCartney. Good to know,” He teased him, though he did not stop kissing him.

Paul chuckled.

“Shut up.”

A smiling John met him in the middle and things got heavy again. It was complicated, and particularly impractical. It took so much time for Paul to take his trousers and underwear off, bumping into everything and nearly blinding John in the process, that they ended up laughing uncontrollably between two sessions of snogging. It was probably the best sex they’d ever had, though. John was tender, so loving that Paul didn’t feel ashamed for a second. He was afraid of course – and damn, did it fucking hurt – but he was not alone, John was right there with him, and he smelled good and he tasted better and they were alright. When Paul finally was fully blanketed by John’s body, he winced hard and John covered his face in kisses, and really, Paul could swear he was whispering to Paul that he was beautiful (even though it was too low for him to be sure of it). Pain soon led to pleasure though, and from then on Paul didn’t care about anything anymore. His head fell on John’s shoulder and he hugged him tight. Nothing but John mattered, his lips on Paul’s shoulder, his rocking hips, his hands caressing Paul’s body under his shirt. Paul lifted his head up to kiss John again and it was sloppy because they were both panting and too eager, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t last long, of course it didn’t, but when it was over Paul hurriedly got rid of the condom, burying it in a tissue, and stayed for a while on John’s lap, their arms safely circling each other. Paul tucked his chin in the hollow of his neck and breathed him deeply, feeling happy and satiated. When he opened his eyes to caress John’s hair, a light in the distance caught his eyes and he squinted through the window. Was that…?

A shiver ran through him and he shook John’s shoulder.

“Fuck, the police,” He huffed out, scrambling to get off John’s lap.

“Fuck the police?” John repeated, his voice still drowsy, looking lost and dishevelled.

“There’s a police car coming up,” Paul explained quickly, a bit frantic. “Pull up your pants, quick.”

John’s eyes widened comically. He glanced through the window and hurried to obey, his hands shaking a little. It was easier for him than for Paul though, who understood rapidly that he wouldn’t have time to dress up properly. He slid his legs directly into his trousers and pulled them as high as he could, and when he realized he couldn’t manage to buckle his belt, he grasped his jacket on the back seat and covered his lap with it. John slipped on his jumper – hiding the mess on his shirt – and was finger-combing his hair. He opened the glove box to retrieve his glasses. They could already hear the car slowing down in the alley leading to their spot. John sent a quick glance to Paul and reached out to tug a rebellious lock of hair back into place.

They both had a few seconds to regulate their breathing and soon after a policeman was coming up to John’s window, tapping on it. John pulled it down and smiled at the officer who pointed a flashlight in his face.

“Hola, sir,” He exclaimed joyfully, and Paul tried his hardest not to wince.

“Buenas tardes, señores,” The officer said, and the vague suspicion on his features did nothing to appease Paul. “Ingles?”

“Si. He is an actor,” Paul piped in with a smile. And then he added, pointing at the filming set a bit further, plunged into darkness: “He’s acting there.”

The man followed his finger, and he looked confused for a second. He looked back at John and Paul, squinting at them. Paul could tell the exact second he recognized them and had never been that thankful to be famous.

“Oooh, you Beatles, si? I know you,” The officer said happily, a smile breaking on his face.

“Yes, we are the Beatles,” John nodded with a tight smile. “You want an autograph?”

He mimed writing something and the officer shrugged and nodded with a smile, searching into his jacket for a piece of paper and a pen. John sent a quick glance to Paul, and he knew they were both thinking the same thing. Paul moved slightly on his seat and had to refrain a wince when he realized how sore he already was. Great. If the officer asked them to leave the car, it would be obvious for sure.

John signed the paper the officer gave him, and handed it to Paul to sign it too.

“You here for no paparazzi?” The officer asked John.

“Yes, that’s right,” John nodded. “Paparazzi are too tiring. It’s nice to catch a break.”

The officer nodded with a convinced expression, and Paul handed the paper back to him with a big smile. The man took it gladly and put it back in his jacket.

“Voy a dejar ustedes, entonces,” He said with a last satisfied smile. “Take care. Good night!”

“Good night, officer!” They both answered in unison, watching him go back to his car and, finally, drive away.

Once they were sure the car was gone, they both slumped back in their seats with deeps sighs and Paul realized exactly just how tense he had been the whole time. Paul threw the jacket in the backseat again and buckled his belt properly this time, his underwear still lying somewhere at his feet. Oh, well. He turned to John, who had propped an elbow on the window, his mouth in his hand and his eyes lost in the void.

“You okay?” Paul asked softly.

John breathed deeply and nodded, only looking fleetingly at Paul.

“Yeah. Sure. We should go home, though,” He answered with a tired voice.

Paul nodded and started the car. They drove in silence towards the house, both lost in their thoughts. They had come very close to a catastrophe. Paul shivered when he thought about what would have happened to them if the officer had understood what they had been doing. One thing was sure, their careers (and maybe even their lives) would have been truly over, shattered to pieces. It was dizzying, to realize how much bad could fall on them were they to be discovered.

They finally arrived in their street and Paul stopped the car a bit before the house, in front of a dumpster. He wanted to postpone the moment he would have to leave John for as late as possible. He looked at him, observing his soft face, his tired eyes, the lean muscles he could make out through his clothes.

“Did you enjoy your birthday, then?” He asked, a bit pointlessly.

He didn’t know right away why he was asking that, only to realize after a second that he just wanted to hear John’s voice. John kept his gaze lost somewhere ahead, and lowered his hand from his chapped lips.

“’Was alright, I guess,” He answered, looking nonplussed.

“Ringo got you a nice belt, I saw,” Paul went on, feeling his nerves getting more frayed by the second. “I don’t know when he did, though.”

The meaning of it went unsaid, but Paul knew John had got it. They both fell silent again, looking out at the sleeping street, only lit up by a few lampposts.

“I don’t want to disappear,” John suddenly blurted out, sounding worked up about it. “I don’t want future me to show up.”

Paul turned to him, sadness taking hold of him once again, and his hand came up to caress John’s cheek on its own volition.

“You won’t disappear, John.”

But John only snorted and pushed Paul’s hand off.

“Yeah you say that because even if I do, it doesn’t change much for you now, does it?”

The words stung Paul and he frowned, feeling offended – and knowing it was meant to be offending.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll be happy to find old me back. And you’re not alone anymore anyway. You have Ringo.”

The words smacked Paul in the face and he froze under their weight. You don’t need me was what his eyes were screaming at Paul. Which brought more pain than Paul could tolerate. Was that what all of this was about? John being afraid Paul wouldn’t need him anymore? The thought was so false and ridiculous it was nearly laughable.

“Listen to me, you wanker. You’re not… I’m not with you because I’m fucking lonely, okay?! Ringo is not you. No one is you. And the… things, we do, you and I, I would definitely not do them with him.”

“But you would do them with George, wouldn’t you? He’s a good-looking lad.”

“What the fuck John?!”

John shook his head to himself and turned it to the window, and right before he did, Paul could swear his eyes were glistening.

“I know you’re sad I’m not the future me,” John said, his voice quieter. “I know you miss him.”

Paul shook his head frenetically. The situation was getting out of control and he didn’t know how to stop it from spiralling further. The worst thing was, if he was being fully honest with himself… John was not completely wrong. In some twisted way, he did miss old John. He had spent so much of his life missing him, it was ingrained in him. Their relationship had been difficult, complicated, but it had been John. He would probably always miss him, even when he was right in front of him.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” He let out quietly, too.

“Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t miss him,” John demanded.

He was glaring at Paul again, and for the umpteenth time that week, Paul felt very small under his gaze.

“I’ve missed you more than you could ever imagine,” He confessed, his throat so constricted speaking was painful. “You, John. All of you.”

“Why did you lose me, then?”

Paul’s blood froze in his veins and a weight fell into his stomach, waking up his old nausea.

“…What?”

“I heard you and Ringo talk the other night. You were just under my window, you idiot. I know you miss your fucking wife, and I know you were both shocked to see me again. I’ve seen Ringo’s face when he saw me! He was not surprised, he was amazed. Like almost crying. I’m not stupid. And I know you lost me at some point, whatever that fucking means. So, please, if you have one ounce of decency in you, please stop fucking lying to me and tell me what I did.”

“I’m not—” Paul started feebly, getting more and more choked up. “It’s not like that. You didn’t do anything.”

How could he make him understand…?

“Oh yeah? But how can I believe you, though? You are lying. You said we were still friends when we were old, but it’s not true. I know future me fucked up somewhere. I know it. I can see it on your fucking face. You’re always checking on me as if… as if I was a fucking time bomb.”

Paul shook his head frantically, not trusting his voice anymore. John was shaking in anger and fear, lost to irrationality altogether.

“Why are you even with me? What, do you just miss fucking that much? Having a warm body, some git ready to listen to you and tell you you’re great, to love you no matter what? Do you just pity me?”

“Don’t say that,” Paul replied fiercely, angry tears burning his eyes but refusing to spill out.

But John ignored him, launched on his self-destructive path.

“What were Ringo and you talking about? What haven’t you told me? Is it me? Did I break up the band, and you never forgave me?” He pushed on, sounding angry and particularly upset.

“Just stop! Stop saying that, it wasn’t your fault!” Paul lashed out.

“Then why?!”John pressed him, his tone considerably louder and more enraged. “What happened to me? Why did you lose me?”

Beyond the anger and the frustration that were obvious on his boyfriend’s face, Paul understood he was scared.

“John, stop it. I can’t talk about it wi—” He stopped himself short but when he saw the hurt flash in John’s eyes, he knew it was too late. Nothing he could add would take it back.

John recoiled as if Paul had slapped him.

“With me. You can’t talk about it with me,” He completed in a blank voice.

“That’s not what I meant,” Paul immediately amended.

“Yes it is.”

John glared at him and shook his head again, looking down at his own lap. This time, Paul saw him wipe away an angry tear. If he was feeling broken before, it was nothing compared to seeing John cry because of him. He was hurting him. He had sworn himself he would keep John safe, and now he was purely and simply hurting him. And John was right: he was lying to him. No matter how much he tried to convince himself it was for the best, he was. And John was suffering from it. They had reached some peace between them in Paris, but now that Ringo was back, it seemed to have awoken a wound in John that Paul had not even suspected. And if he kept lying to him and dodging his questions, the wound only get deeper and deeper and then it would be too late. He would lose him, and there would be nothing left for Paul to do to fix it.

“Fuck it,” John murmured suddenly.

The time Paul had spent realizing what was going on had been enough for John’s patience to wear out and in an angry movement, he turned to the door, ready to get out of the car. If he leaves the car, it’s all over, Paul thought in a flash.

“You died,” He blurted out, the terrified words tumbling out of him.

John froze. Then he turned around, slowly, his hand still on the doorknob. His face was falling under Paul’s very eyes.

“…What?” He asked in a small voice.

And just at seeing the pain on his face, Paul wanted to die right there and then.

“You died,” He repeated with a trembling voice. “That’s why I lost you. It never was your fault.”

John stared at him, wide-eyed. In that instant, he looked like a scared little kid and Paul had rarely been that frightened in his life.

“How?” John asked quietly, sounding weird.

Paul shook his head, wishing he never had to bring so much pain onto the one person he wanted to protect the most.

“How?!” John asked again, louder and surprisingly unwavering.

Paul had to force the answer out. He couldn’t back out, now. He braced himself, the words literally burning his throat.

“You were shot. Some crazy guy, they caught him right after. You… You were 40.”

John just kept staring at him, all colours drained from his face. His eyes were shining and unblinking, seemingly frozen. He was not moving – he did not even seem to be breathing. Paul wanted nothing more than to engulf him in a hug, but he felt like the slightest movement might scare the boy away.

As if John had heard him think, he suddenly recoiled, shaking his head. Whether to himself or to Paul, it wasn’t clear.

“John…” Paul started, moving to stop him.

John sharply looked up and sent him a last shocked look before brutally opening the door and darting off down the street and away from their house.

“John!” Paul cried out after him, uselessly.

He just watched him go, feeling completely empty.

Chapter Text

The first seconds after John’s abrupt departure were made of white noise paralyzing Paul’s whole being. His vision got blurry, his fingers went ice cold and his head started spinning a little. It all felt unreal. John’s name was dying on his tongue and his heart felt so clenched it was a miracle it was still beating at all. What had he done? What had he done…?

In a sudden rush of adrenaline, he looked up at the street to see where John was, but he was long gone, of course. A thousand dreadful scenarios invaded Paul’s mind, each new possibility worse than the previous one. John was upset, overwhelmed. Probably confused, angry, terrified. He was not the best at controlling his actions when he was in a clear state of mind, so who knew what he could do now?! For all Paul knew, he might jump off a bridge. He was supposed to keep John safe, to protect him, and he had done the exact opposite. He had brought upon him a pain beyond imagination, because even though the future might be different this time around, there was no guarantee they would be able to prevent that specific, horrific event from happening. And even if they did, John now knew that in some version of his life, he had been murdered. The most violent way to go, and at a young age to make it worse. It was real, done and buried. And now John was alone with that crushing knowledge, and Paul had no idea where he had gone.

The bloodied images from his nightmares kept popping up to him, the nausea growing with each passing second. The tapas and the single poor glass of sangria were starting to remind themselves to him too. Suddenly it was too much and he felt himself heaving: he opened the car door precipitately, just in time to throw up on the road. Head hanging and arm still on the door, he was surprised to feel a surprisingly fresh breeze blow onto his face and in his hair, making him shiver a little. John was just wearing a thin jumper…

He wiped his mouth, turned to grab John’s jacket and got out of the car. He slipped his own jacket on, keeping John’s tucked under his arm. The dread in his stomach was still as strong. He needed to find him. Perhaps he should ask for help, to be more efficient… He thought of going back to the house and wake Ringo up, but he didn’t want to risk waking up Maureen too, or even all the others. Explaining why John had suddenly run off in the first place would be far too stressful and complicated. No, he needed to find him alone. And quickly.

Closing the car, he started running in the direction he had seen John go off to, ignoring how sore his bottom and legs still felt. It was a quiet neighbourhood, only sparse big houses with driveways and pools and gardens. Since it was the middle of the night, the only lights were coming from the few lampposts scattered along the street. Where could have he gone? As far as Paul was aware, he didn’t know much of that area. There was not a specific place he could have gone to – at least none that would be available on foot. Even more knowing how terrible John’s sense of direction was, and how upset he was. In the houses, nearly all lights were extinguished except for the odd bathroom window. Paul roamed the length and breadth of the neighbourhood, his heart doing somersaults each time he would encounter some lost soul walking home – who never was John. He searched for so long and on such a fast pace that his legs were getting tired, the sweat on his back was getting unpleasantly cold and he could feel his hair sticking to his forehead. From how hot his face felt, he was probably all red and blotchy by now. After long minutes of aimless search, he realized he no longer knew where he was – a long way from their house and their car, a long way from John too probably. Paul stopped walking when he noticed he had entered a dead-end, ready to turn back around. He was breathing hard and almost wanted to just plop down on the concrete and cry. He needed to breathe deeply, will the panic to go away. Nothing good could come out of it. He closed his eyes a moment and started walking again.

He was aimlessly roaming in some street when he came face to face with an old kids’ playground, the installations looking sad and desolate in the emptiness of the night. It was poorly lit, the light from the nearest lamppost barely reaching the end of it. Letting his feet guide him, Paul entered it and went to sit on a merry-go-round, dropping John’s jacket next to him and taking his head into his hands. He couldn’t believe how stupid he’d been. When he reviewed their whole conversation in his mind, it just appeared strikingly clear how insecure and scared his boyfriend had been. ‘I don’t want to disappear’, he’d said. The more the words echoed in Paul’s mind, the more he wanted to slap himself. John had lost young Paul, whether either of them wanted to admit it or not. That version of him had simply vanished. And, furthermore, if young Paul had stayed around, they never would have gotten together. Of course John would be scared to disappear! The thought would be terrifying for anyone. Even more since old John coming back would mean they would lose everything they had built together the last few weeks. And after the months Paul had spent whining about how sad he was to have lost his old life, of course he would be scared Paul would leave him aside now that he had old Ringo back! Paul knew how insecure John could get. He knew it, and yet he’d just let things pile onto one another until it all blew up. John had said it himself: he was not stupid, far from it. Of course he would understand there was something fishy behind Paul’s half-arsed answers about their future. And Ringo’s arrival had been the match to light everything on fire…

His arrival was a shock to Paul, but in a way, it was positive. It meant he was not alone, and that he might find some sense behind all this. But for John… Now that Paul tried to see it from his perspective, he realized fully how ignorant, insensitive and oblivious he had been the last few days. For John, Ringo’s arrival was not a good thing. It meant future John could arrive too and take his place. It meant the band could be dead. It meant Paul’s wife could come back too – who knew! It meant Paul could go back to his future from one minute to the next. It also meant Paul could choose to fight to get his old life back rather than to keep his current one. And even if Paul himself did not know yet how he felt about any of those things, he knew he wanted John to be there with him. He should have reassured him, talk to him separately. Include him more, somehow. Make him understand that even though Ringo was back, it didn’t change anything between them. He should have… But instead, like the true idiot he was nowadays, he had gotten offended over nothing and had sulked in his corner like a child, waiting for John to come back to him first.

He breathed deeply, forcing himself to gather his thoughts and not to let himself drown in guilt and self-hatred that would get him nowhere. He looked at his watch; it was already 3:24am. He had lost John for more than two hours now. The man could be anywhere.

He could already be dead in a ditch.

The horrifying thought crossed Paul’s mind and settled nicely in his consciousness, absorbing every last slice of calm and hope. His eyes were burning and his head was so heavy even his hands struggled to hold it. If only he could erase what he’d done, take it all—

“Hey.”

Paul’s head snapped up in a flash. He stayed stunned for a couple of seconds, waiting to make sure his vision wasn’t betraying him. But no. No it wasn’t.

John was right there, standing in front of him in that empty playground. He was looking at the ground, his crossed arms revealing trembling hands that he kept in tight fists. His face was white as a sheet, and there were red patches under his bloodshot eyes, proving he had been angrily rubbing tears away. Relief blossomed in Paul’s heart and spread through every vein, warming his members one at the time. He was so relieved he wanted to cry, and was not surprised to feel his eyes get heavier. He wanted to stand up and give him a hug, touch him, but he found he couldn’t move.

“You’ve found me,” He let out in a choked up voice, unable to say more.

John looked up, the light of the nearest lamppost falling right on his face, and there was so much emotion in his eyes Paul felt like he could drown in them. He looked scared, distraught, close to tears. There were faint traces of anger in the crinkles by the corner of his eyes, but they had been swept away and replaced with a bone-deep exhaustion. He looked miserable, but he was alive. Paul had never found him more beautiful.

Silently, Paul took the jacket lying next to him and handed it to him. John silently took it and just put it on his shoulders, not bothering with the sleeves. Then, he shivered and slowly came closer, sitting next to Paul on the merry-go-round and then lying on his back. After a moment, still reeling from his love’s return, Paul laid his back and head down too. They were each on one side of the handrail, their heads close together but not touching. Paul was barely lying down that John swiftly reached out to take his hand in his, lace their fingers together and bring Paul’s hand over his chest. He covered it with his other hand too, as if Paul’s might fly away if he let it touch the sky. His fingers were cold and trembling, and Paul could feel his heartbeat through his jumper. He wondered for a second where the hell he had been for two hours and how he had even found Paul, but then he realized he didn’t care. All that mattered was that he was right there with him. His heart grew three sizes. He’s here, his mind repeated to him. He came back to you. He’s fine.

They stayed like that for a long moment, eyes lost in the starlit sky above them, the noise of a few lost crickets and vague cars in the distance being swallowed by the silence of the playground and the warmth of their reunion.

“I’m sorry,” Paul whispered after a while, the words sounding futile to his own ears.

John didn’t answer but squeezed Paul’s hand in his.

Another few minutes passed, and Paul’s heart slowly went back to a more regular rhythm. He was so relieved and so damn happy to feel John’s heat next to him, to hear his breathing, that he would have been content to just stay all night right there, on that merry-go-round, with his hand in John’s.

“Why didn’t you tell me…?” John said, finally breaking the silence.

His voice was small, hoarse and full of hurt, and Paul breathed deeply. He tried to pinpoint the exact reason why and it was harder than expected. He had gone through so many feelings and emotions that night that his mind was a mess and thinking was painful. The truth was tough, but he was so tired he couldn’t have lied if he’d wanted to.

“It was… too hard.”

“You’re not the one who died, though,” John replied, with barely any heat in his voice.

“No. I’m the one who had to live with it,” Paul clapped back, turning his head to face John.

John turned his head to him too, and they just stared at each other for a while. After a few moments, slowly, very slowly, Paul saw John’s features soften. His defensive and tense position turned into one of fear, of worry. Of understanding. His eyes got shiny again, and he turned his face back to the sky.

“Tell me how it happened,” He asked with a small voice.

Paul frowned, his chest constricting again.

“John—”

“Please,” John cut him off, squeezing his hand again and keeping it safely above his wild heart. “I need to know.”

So, even though he had no idea whether it was a good idea or not, Paul breathed deeply to brace himself. He kept his eyes stuck to the sky, feeling incapable of looking at John, and told him everything.

What do you want to know?

I was… I was shot, you said? Yeah. Several times. You, uh… you were pronounced dead when you arrived at the hospital. They- they said they couldn’t have saved you. Even if they had helped right away. … When? An evening of December. In 1980. You were just… coming home. Where? In the entrance of your apartment building, in New York. I lived in New York? Yeah, with your wife. She was there, during… you know. And who was it? A man, who was obsessed with you. Apparently he was pissed off that you had so much money and yet talked about, you know, peace and equality. A real psychopath. He stayed there, after. The police officers just… they didn’t have to look for him, he was just there. He said… You had said we were more popular than Jesus, and he hadn’t liked that. It was all just so… so stupid and… meaningless… I said that…? You had. But you didn’t, this time. … Is that what the Evening Standard thing was about? Yeah. Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t want to scare you. I didn’t… I thought it would precipitate it. Or that it would be, just, too unfair for you. I don’t know. I was mostly scared.

How did you learn?

What?

How did you learn, for me…?

I… I received a phone call. It was early morning, in Scotland. I don’t… I don’t even remember who it was. I’m not even sure what they said.

But it was the worst thing I’ve ever heard.

 

When Paul finally stopped talking, his voice was hoarse and wavering. He was thirsty, exhausted, and so miserable it felt like he was back to the morning of that fateful phone call. Feeling close to crying, he turned his head to John and saw tears rolling silently down his cheek. His mouth was pursed, and his jaw squared. Paul didn’t say anything about it, though; he deserved some privacy. Some space to fully integrate the horror and intimacy of what Paul had just told him.

“Fourteen years left…” John said after a while, his small voice sounding fragile in the eerie silence of the park.

Paul breathed out slowly, trying to hold himself together.

“No,” He countered, surprised to hear his own voice sounding so firm, so assured. “Don’t say that. Don’t even think that. It won’t happen this time. There’s no reason for it to happen. You’ll live, and grow old, and be the same annoying git you are until you’re all grey and wrinkled and stiff all over. You have decades and decades ahead of you.”

He observed the side of John’s face he could see from his position, wishing he could just erase the pain that was so clear on his lovely features.

“I’m sorry I was so horrible to you,” John suddenly replied, his voice still quivering but bravely pushing through. “I thought…” He swallowed with difficulty. “I had no idea. I knew you were lying to me and I couldn’t, just, understand why. I thought you didn’t trust me. That you just wished I was the old me you knew.”

He let out a shaky breath, and then chuckled self-deprecatingly.

“I feel like you’re only replacing him with me, and I don’t— God, I’m so stupid…”

Paul abruptly turned on his side, scooting as close to John as he could and bringing his free hand to wipe his tears away and caress his hair.

“No!” He replied hastily, hoping John could hear the sincerity in his words, fully integrate it. “No, no that’s not true. I want to be with you, John. Right now you. Seeing you die in my past, it… it’s… It was the worst thing I… I never got over it. When I arrived back here, and I saw you–” He stopped, letting out a chuckle. “– I can’t even begin to describe how I felt. It was everything. And it did feel like a new chance. Like… like I could finally save you. But I’m not with you because of that. I never thought I would end up with you, it just… I don’t know. It just happened. And yes you haven’t lived the same things my memory of you has, but you’re the same person. It’s you. Just… you. I wouldn’t trade you for anyone.”

John moved his head to stare into Paul’s eyes. He looked astonished, fragile. Like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing – and it dawned on Paul that he probably didn’t. He swore to himself in that instant that he would do anything to make him believe it. He put his forehead against his and felt just how much John’s whole body was trembling.

“I don’t want to die,” John confessed quietly.

He sounded so small, so young and scared, that Paul sit back up immediately. He saw the confusion in John’s eyes but the next second Paul was pulling on his arm to force him to sit up too. Once John followed the request, Paul ignored the handrail and embraced him as close as he could, burying his nose in his neck and clenching his fingers on his thin jumper. Slowly, he felt John’s arms come up to hug him back. Paul never wanted to let go of him.

“You won’t. I won’t let anything happen to you, you hear me? Nothing,” He whispered fiercely against John’s shivering skin.

John hugged him tighter and they stayed like that for a while, losing track of time. After a moment, Paul started to feel his arms and legs go numb though, and the handrail was getting harder and colder against his ribs. He planted a small kiss on John’s neck and pulled back, still holding onto John’s arms.

“We should head back. It’s really late, and you’re cold as ice,” Paul said, rubbing his hands on his boyfriend’s arms to prove his point.

John tiredly nodded and with a last smile, Paul let him go to get up from the merry-go-round.

“Wait,” John suddenly said, his hand coming to grab Paul’s arm.

Paul stopped and turned around. John was looking at him with wide eyes. There was fear in them but also another strong emotion that Paul could not quite read – mostly because his face was partly shadowed by Paul himself.

“I lo—” John started again.

A dog barked loudly in the distance and John cut himself off abruptly, as if he’d suddenly stopped breathing. They both turned to the noise, on instinct, but a loud ‘¡cállate!’ erupted too a few seconds later and the dog quieted down. Then Paul turned back around and bowed his head a little towards John, encouraging him to finish his sentence.

“You’ll what?” He asked softly.

John’s face turned slowly back to Paul’s direction and his eyebrows furrowed in the tiniest, briefest frown. He looked down, then back up at Paul. He looked… oddly serene. Almost resilient.

“Nothing. I can’t wait to be in my bed,” He said with a smile that was not totally reaching his eyes.

Paul smiled back, choosing not to push him. He looked stressed and tired enough already.

“Me too. Come on, let’s go. It’s almost morning already.”

John nodded, and they both got up, slowly leaving the playground. There was not a single soul in sight, and the lights of the streets were terrible. Feeling his arm itch, Paul took John’s hand and laced their fingers together. He felt John let out a deep breath and step closer to him, their shoulders nearly brushing as they walked.

And even though it was risky, and dangerous, and probably even stupid, they held hands the whole way home.

 

After another fourty-five minutes of wandering around, half lost, they finally found the house. They entered it as discreetly as they could, and the hardest part was to calm Martha enough not to have her waking everyone up with her happy whining. They slowly went upstairs, walking on their tiptoes and hoping they wouldn’t bump into a sleepyhead going to the loo. They could barely see anything, but thankfully the near full moon was throwing some blessed light into the house through the few windows with opened shutters. Once in the corridor of the first floor, Paul planted a quiet kiss on the corner of John’s mouth and was about to walk further to his own room when John refused to let go of his hand, standing firm on his feet. Paul turned around, raising a questioning eyebrow, and vaguely discerned John pointing his head at his own room. Paul hesitated: he wanted nothing more than to fall asleep with John in his arms, but if anyone woke up before they did and noticed it, it would be a tough situation to explain. However, one squeeze from John’s hand was enough to decide him and they both entered John’s bedroom quietly, Martha on their tail.

Once the door was securely closed, John let go of Paul’s hand and went to turn on the little lamp on his bedside table. His room was bigger than Paul’s, and he had scattered clothes pretty much everywhere, true to himself. Paul started unbuttoning his jacket and approached the bed slowly, going to the other side.

“You want some pants?” John whispered to him from his opened suitcase lying on the ground.

“Yes please,” Paul whispered back.

Paul stripped down and folded his clothes to put them neatly on the other bedside table, on which there was a quite modern alarm clock. John handed some loose pants and a random t-shirt to him and as Paul was putting them on, John took off his glasses, stripped down and put on his own two-piece pyjama. They both opened the blanket and slid under it. Martha jumped on the bed, not caring whether she was allowed to or not, and her heat was a nice comfort on Paul’s feet.

“Give me the alarm,” John said, pointing to said object.

Paul obeyed, feeling too drained to question it. He watched John fumble with the alarm clock and then slip it under his pillow. He looked up to meet Paul’s confused gaze.

“So that you can leave the room before the others wake up,” John explained, still in a murmur.

Paul’s mouth formed a silent ‘oh’ and he followed John’s lead, settling cosily into the bed. Face to face, they looked at each other for a moment, a bit confused on how to do it, and then, yielding to what he had longed to do all week, Paul opened his arm and beckoned John over. With a tiny smile and a relieved sigh, John scooted closer and buried himself into Paul’s chest; his cheek against Paul's ribcage, his arm clinging to Paul’s back and their legs entangled together. Paul softly put his mouth on the fine line between John’s forehead and his hair, and breathed out slowly, feeling already the pull of sleep tug at his eyelids.

Right before he fell asleep, a last thought crossed his mind. The only one that really mattered.

He’s safe.

 

Waking up the next day was as hard as expected. After a mere three hours in John’s bedroom, Paul had had to sneak out and go back into his own, Martha following him, only to notice that he was unable to fall back asleep now that he didn’t have John’s warmth against him. He heard everyone in the house slowly come up to their senses and start their day, and wished he could just stay in bed all day and wait for John to come back home to him.

Eventually, he did leave the comfort of his bed to join the others for breakfast. John was not in the kitchen, probably still in the shower, but Ringo, Maureen, and Neil were sitting at the table and munching on some pastries. Paul could hear the others' voices talking in the living-room.

“Hello Paul,” Maureen welcomed him with a smile when he went to sit next to her.

“Rough night, uh?” Neil added.

Just as he was advancing his chair closer to the table, Paul froze and sent him a cautious look.

“John said you went to another bar and got lost on the way back,” Ringo filled him in.

Paul turned to him and there was a strange glint in his eyes. As if he specifically wanted Paul to know that. But Paul was too tired to try and understand what it meant, so he just went along and nodded, pouring himself some welcomed coffee.

“Yeah. This city is a tricky one. I don’t think I’ll be of much use today,” He simply said.

Neil snorted at that and they heard cracking in the stairs, announcing someone’s arrival. Sure enough, a few seconds later, John entered the kitchen, still drying his hair with a towel.

“Good morning, comrades,” He saluted them happily.

He sounded normal, and it was incredible that Paul knew him enough to be able to tell he was forcing his tone a tad too much for it to be sincere. He went around the table and when his gaze met Paul’s, he sent him the tiniest, shyest smile possible. It warmed Paul’s whole body.

John sat in front of Paul, and breakfast went relatively quietly. Paul tried his hardest not to just stare at John the whole time, and he thought he was doing a rather good job at that. Time came for the workers to go on set though, and it pained Paul as much as if they were to be separated for a desperately long time – which was obviously ridiculous.

As they were gathered in the hallway – with Paul leaning against the kitchen door, passive observer – Maureen went to hug John and Michael, Martha happily running into everyone’s legs. Realization of what was happening slowly dawned on Paul, soon confirmed by their following exchange.

“When’s your plane?” Michael asked politely.

“11am,” She answered. (Paul quickly glanced at his watch; it was already more than 8:30). “We’ll be leaving soon. I had the nanny on the phone yesterday, Zak has a bit of a cold so I can’t wait.”

“I bet. I’m glad we were able to bring our little one with us. It’s a drag to leave them when they’re so young!” He then turned to Ringo, who looked a little spooked – maybe he didn’t know either he was about to fly back to England –, and patted him on the back. “It was nice to meet you, Richard. Thanks again for the card games.”

“You’re very welcome,” Ringo nevertheless answered amiably.

“Are you going home today too?” Gabrielle asked Paul.

Paul’s eyebrows rose, and he instinctively looked at John, who was standing next to the door and just looked back at him silently. Paul turned back to Gabrielle and pouted, diving his hands into his pockets.

“Oh, well, my baby’s right here with me, so,” He answered, pointing his chin at Martha who was vigorously wagging her tail into John’s legs, and earning a few laughs in the process. “I’ve haven’t bought a plane ticket back yet. We’ll see.”

He quickly glanced at John’s face, who stayed impassive. Gabrielle smiled at him and turned to pet Martha.

“You’re a lovely girl, aren’t you?” She cooed at her, and Paul couldn’t stop the ridiculous pride filling him at that.

“Well, not to sound like a spoilsport but we have a majestic movie to film,” John intervened, already opening the door.

“You’re right. See you tonight darling,” Michael agreed, squeezing Gabrielle’s hand in his before leaning in for a kiss on her cheek, and Paul’s chest twisted with envy at how openly affectionate they were allowed to be.

Michael then went to join John at the opened door, and John turned to Paul.

“See you tonight, my love!” He told him dramatically.

Everyone laughed, but Paul’s smile stuck to his face for longer than the others.

 

Paul decided to follow Ringo and Maureen to the airport, and Ringo was still preparing his suitcase – and probably struggling to even find what was his. Paul was sitting in the living-room with Maureen, nursing a tea between his hands if only just to keep himself busy. Maureen looked tired, a bit relieved to be going home. She was so young still, and so unaware of what was happening to her husband, that Paul felt sad for her.

“Are you okay, Mo?” He asked her gently when their conversation died down. “You look a bit out of it.”

She smiled at him and shook her head.

“It’s nothing. Just wondering what life at home will look like in the next few days,” She said.

Paul’s heart skipped a bit. It wasn’t surprising that she had noticed Ringo’s strange behaviour, but he could only hope she was not too suspicious either. If she was though, it was better to know it for sure.

“What do you mean? Things aren’t good with Ring…?” He probed.

She shook her head again, and it came to Paul that she maybe didn’t feel like she was supposed to talk about it.

“No, it’s not… I mean, we did have a fight before coming here. Maybe he told you. But I don’t know, sorry it’s not—” She cut herself off.

“He told me yeah, the night before we left?”

She looked up at him then, and the look she sent him was so thoughtful it brought more questions than answers.

“Yes. Well, it was mostly the morning after, but. Nothing to worry about, though.” She then got up, and added: “I’ll go see if he needs help to finish packing.”

She smiled at him and left the room, but something in her tone and her expression didn’t sit well with Paul. It sounded like it was precisely something to worry about. And if they had had a bad fight on the morning they took the plane, it meant Ringo didn’t sleep on it. Or rather, that the nap he had taken that very afternoon, his last one as young Ringo, was ‘directly’ following their fight. Could it mean something, somehow…? After all, before going for his nap, Ringo had looked pretty worried about it. Asking Ringo now would be sort of pointless, but maybe it was a lead, something to dig further? He thought back to the day he arrived himself, but it seemed pretty insignificant. Maybe something had happened, before he’d woken up in that hotel room, but he didn’t have the slightest recollection of it. He made a mental note to himself to try and find out more about the Saturday of his arrival. If there was some meaning behind it all, he owed to himself to discover it.

He was brought out of his thoughts by Ringo himself, who dropped his suitcase at the entrance of the living-room and came to sit next to Paul with a deep sigh. He lifted his hand to show to Paul the pair of gigantic yellow sunglasses he was holding.

“I found this in my suitcase. The days just keep getting stranger,” He told him.

Paul chuckled.

“It’s the bee look. It suits you.”

“I do like bees,” Ringo agreed.

He put them away in his pocket and turned his head to Paul again.

“So. What really happened last night?” He asked, lowering his voice a little even though they were alone. “John looked like a mess when I bumped into him in the corridor this morning.”

Paul sighed, letting his head drop against the back of the couch.

“I told him.”

“Told him what?”

Paul winced, questioning his decision all over again.

“About his death.”

Ringo didn’t answer right away, and after a few seconds of silence, Paul raised his head to see him gaping at him.

“On his birthday?!” Ringo asked with a disbelieving voice.

“I didn’t mean to,” Paul rushed to defend himself. “He’s smart. He knew something was wrong.”

Ringo looked down at that, thinking it over.

“How did he react?”

“How do you think,” Paul snorted. “He was shocked. Ran away. He came back two hours later, though. We talked a bit, and… yeah.”

Ringo didn’t answer, and Paul was filled with guilt once again.

“You think I shouldn’t have…?”

“Well, normally, I don’t think anyone should ever know about things like that. But then again, we are not in a normal situation,” His friend answered slowly. “It won’t happen, this time, though. It’s not like… like a disease, or something. We can prevent it, right? We have to.”

Paul nodded, getting lost in thoughts again.

“Yes. Yes, we do.”

 

Saying goodbye to Ringo at the airport was emotional for Paul. They hugged for a good while, something they rarely did in their younger days, and which Neil brought up in a chuckle. Ringo was less pale than he had been in the first days, but he still looked a bit worse for wear. Paul promised to visit him when he would come back to England, and as he was waving at them at the gate, he realized he still didn’t know when he would go back. He had to, at some point – even though he wished he could just stay with John until the end of the filming. Neil pointed out that since they were at the airport, he might as well buy his ticket, and Paul reluctantly agreed. Feeling pressured and expected to go home as early as possible (even though he knew Neil would never judge him), he settled for a flight back on the next morning, which would leave him a little more time with John. Not nearly enough, but still.

 

The rest of the day went on lazily. Paul and Neil were both too worn out from their night out to actually do anything so they spent their day by the pool lying on sunbeds, soaking up the last rays of the warm Spanish sun, watching Martha run after squirrels and talking about the most random things. Paul tried to disconnect his brain for a while and even felt his eyes grow heavier at some point during the afternoon, the strain of the night finally catching up to him. A short nap surely wouldn’t hurt anyone.

He was in a dressing room, alone. He was trying to play on his guitar but there was adhesive tape all over it and the more he tried to tear it off, the more there was. He realized after a while that someone was talking to him, but at first he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, just that their tone sounded strange – disappointed, sad almost. He tried to look up to see who it was but they kept moving around the room and—

Something infinitely soft was in his hair, delicately brushing it. Paul slowly came back to his senses and realized he was not sleeping anymore and there was someone’s hand in his hair. He blinked back to life and noticed quickly that the sun had started going down already. Someone had put a thin blanket on him and Martha was sitting in front of him, wagging her tail like a champion, tongue out. He turned his head and faced John, who was squatting next to him. When their eyes met, John gave him a small smile. He looked tired and still a bit pale, and he wasn’t wearing his round glasses – which could explain why his face was so close to Paul’s.

“Hey,” He murmured to Paul.

He leant in to kiss him but Paul pulled back in alarm just before their lips touched. He sharply turned to the opened glass doors of the house, just behind them. His heart had gone from normal to panic in a second.

“No one’s here,” John chuckled. “They went out to eat at the beach. We didn’t want to wake you up, and I was too tired to go out.”

Paul observed him with wide eyes, still a bit spooked. John’s hand caressed his hair once again.

“It’s okay,” He said, soft, so soft. “We’re alone. Well, except for your baby, of course.”

He pointed his chin at the other side of the sunbed and Paul laughed when he followed his gaze. Martha was trying to catch her own tail. Paul turned his head back to John and let it fall against the sunbed.

“I’m leaving tomorrow morning,” He confessed quietly, searching John’s gaze.

But John merely sighed, glancing at the tranquil water of the pool next to them.

“I know. Neil told me.”

Paul observed him for a moment longer, taking in everything he could about his face. He expected to find disappointment or even displeasure on it, but there was only sadness. So Paul moved his bottom to the side of the sunbed and patted the space he had just freed next to him.

“Come here,” He said,

John stood up and lifted his leg to put it on the sunbed but Martha suddenly jumped in-between them, licking Paul’s face and John’s arm in the process.

“Martha, no!” Paul laughed.

“Move away, it’s my turn!” John laughed too, trying to push the already quite big dog out of the sunbed.

They finally managed to push her off – petting her too, poor thing, she had just obeyed – and John quickly assessed the space left on the sunbed.

“I should go under, I’m heavier,” He told Paul.

“Why there’s no need, there’s space right here.”

Paul showed him the space he had freed again but John just tried to push him off the sunbed instead.

“Move over. I’m not a girl, I’m not sitting on your knees.”

“Sod off! Stop it, just come in,” Paul retorted, laughter hiding in his voice.

With a deep sigh, John finally gave up and climbed on the sunbed. It was a very tight fit, and a good part of John’s body actually was on Paul, but it worked – despite John grunting that it was too tight. Paul adjusted the blanket over them both, slid an arm around John’s chest (and his heart swelled when John wasted no time linking their fingers together) and snuggly put his chin on his shoulder. John’s hair was partially falling on his face, and he smelt like sweat, dust and, faintly, the same old coconut shampoo. Paul buried his nose into his hair and closed his eyes.

“Are you smelling me?” John suddenly asked, and Paul felt the reverberations of his voice in his sternum, under his hand.

“You need a shower,” Paul replied, keeping his eyes closed.

John chuckled; it rattled on his ribs and sent tickles up Paul’s arm.

“Stop smelling me then, you git.”

But Paul only buried his nose deeper.

“No.”

John chuckled again and slowly relaxed his body against Paul's. They stayed like that for a while, breathing calmly, with Martha playing with anything she could find at their feet. Paul realized suddenly that John’s hand was doing very specific gestures now. As if… He glanced at his arm. Yes. He was combing the hair of Paul’s arms with his fingers. When he finally noticed Paul’s gaze on him, John looked up, all innocent.

“How come you have such hairy forearms? I’ve always wondered.”

Paul just stared at him with a frown, then turned more fully to him and squinted at him, a bit incredulous.

“Do you actually expect me to have an answer to that?”

John shrugged, an amused smile floating on his lips.

“You should have one. Don’t you have answers to everything, now?” He answered, his tone hovering between sarcasm and curiosity.

“Sod off.”

Paul looked down at said forearms. He had been a bit self-conscious about them, a lifetime ago.

“I look like Chewbacca,” He added absently.

“Who?”

Paul flashed him a cheeky grin, relieving in the confusion on his friend’s face. Or at least, what he could see of it.

“You’ll get that one in ten years,” He just said.

John squinted at him.

“Spoilsport.”

Paul giggled - downright giggled. Another moment passed.

“I can’t stop thinking about it,” John confessed, quiet.

“You would,” Paul hummed in agreement, knowing instantly what John was talking about.

“I think… I think I won’t ask you questions about the future, anymore. I mean, my future.”

Paul started caressing John’s thumb with his.

“You haven’t asked that many,” He pointed out.

“Yeah, I know, but… it makes me feel weird. I always believed there was some sort of destiny for me. Like, I was going to be famous and successful and I just knew it, you know? That’s what drove me this far. It made me believe in what we’re doing. But this whole future thing…” He sighed, and Paul left him all the time he needed to gather his thoughts. “It was funny, at first, because even though I know you’re old now, you look just like yourself so I don’t have to be consciously aware of it all the time. Sometimes I do think about it and it’s… odd, you know, but I can get over it because you’re still you. You just know a lot of things, and you talk nonsense about tiny computers—”

“Come on, you know they’re called tablets,” Paul chuckled lightly.

“Tablets, folders, whatever,” John smiled. “The point is, it’s as if we were talking about a movie that’s coming out next year, you know? We know it’ll happen, and it’ll just happen when it happens. I don’t care if this time those things will happen for sure in 40 years. It’s the same.”

He stopped, and Paul felt him take a big breath of air.

“But… This…” He started again.

Even though it was nearly impossible, Paul tried to scoot even closer to him. He could feel his heartbeat through his whole body, as if they had melted into one.

“This is… different. I feel it, here.” He said, moving Paul’s hand over his heart. “It’s real. It may or may not happen for me, but I know somewhere deep in me that it’s real. And I’m glad you told me, because having you lying to me was horrible and I don’t want to live that again, but. I don’t think I could handle another truth like that. I feel like it might just break me.”

Paul’s throat suddenly felt all closed off, and he had to swallow hard to be able to talk.

“I’m sorry,” He whispered.

John turned his body to face him a little more. He was frowning and shaking his head.

“Don’t be,” He told him, his hand coming up to gently caress his cheek. “I mean it. I’m happy you told me. I would have made your life hell if you hadn’t, honestly. And all day today, I just… I kept thinking about you, and Julian. How much I, um… I care, about both of you. So, this whole ‘you were shot dead’ thing reminds me what’s important. What really matters. And that’s a good thing, innit?”

He sighed deeply again, and let his hand fall from Paul’s face, his gaze lost over their joined hands. Paul couldn’t stop staring at him.

“I guess you’ve figured that much by now, but you mean a lot to me, Paul.”

Paul froze for a second, the butterflies in his stomach waking up and twirling around again.

“You do too,” He finally replied gently. “To me, I mean.”

John smiled at him, and it was Paul’s favourite: the shy, almost disbelieving one. But soon it turned into a self-deprecating grimace.

“God, I really sound like a bird, don’t I?” He said, his voice sarcastic again.

“Shut up,” Paul replied before kissing him.

John kissed him back with a hand on his jaw, and Paul mentally thanked the owners of the house to have walled their garden.

 

They didn’t dare sleep in the same room again that night, but they did enjoy their freedom over there before the others came back. Paul was still not used to the hiding, to the secrecy, but he tried his best not to let it bring him down and to cherish even more the private moments they shared. John wouldn’t come back for nearly another month, and Paul didn’t want to lose their time together stressing about it – which was, of course, easier said than done. He barely slept at all that night too, and exhaustion was starting to pull on his muscles, tearing at his back. His plane was quite early, and he had to leave even before John and Michael. When the morning arrived, they planned when they passed each other in the corridor to meet quickly in the bathroom to say properly goodbye, and Paul felt just like a kid about to be sent away to the worst summer camp possible. They only had a few minutes because the others needed to get ready too and Neil was already stressing about the plane, so after a short hug and a quick kiss they had to leave the bathroom and pretend they were joyful and ready, when all Paul really wanted to do was pout and cling to John.

Suitcase in hand and Martha at the end of her leash, Paul walked towards the car, following Neil. When he turned around, the others were gathered at the open front door, waving at him, but all he could see were almond-shaped eyes silently watching him leave again.

 

Paul had been home for barely two days when he received a phone call in the middle of the night.

He had been sleeping for most of the time, happy to just see Thisbe again and to re-adapt to his London life. He was miserable, and worried about John. He was worried about Ringo too, and now that he was back to his instruments, he was starting to get worried about the band and their future as well. Everything was blurry now, just when he had gotten used to expecting almost everything. Worry made him restless, and restlessness kept him from sleeping well, which did nothing to help his initial sleeping issues.

So when the phone rang that night, he immediately woke up and stayed for a few seconds lying on his bed, confused. When reality finally got to him though, he ran to the living-room, slipping on his socks and barely avoiding the wall, and picked the phone up. He was met on the other end by George’s quivering voice.

“Paul?”

“Yeah, hi! Is everything alright?” Paul rushed to ask, rubbing his sleepy eyes.

“Yeah, um,” George said, sounding weird. And then, after a long awkward pause, he added: “Do you want to meet your goddaughter?”