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Carry that Weight

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They’d been nearly four hours at this latest to-do, and John and Paul were so done with it, and more than ready to call it a night and head up to their hotel room.

Brian had insisted they attend this dinner, reminding them for the millionth time that, “You’re MBE’s now – members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. You need to show your faces amid the men who move things behind the scenes. You know, the background influencers who hold the real power.”

For once, even Paul McCartney – who usually supported Brian’s social aspirations for them -- was unpersuaded. He had rather loudly resisted attending this gathering of the titled, the post-nominal-laden, and the well-connected, arguing that titles and post-nominals aside, “We’re pretty well connected ourselves, at this point, yeah? Which one of them has as much social influence as we do? Who, more than any one of us? Why do we have to kiss their arses?”

“That’s hardly a display of humility, Paul, or gratitude for your situation,” Brian had chided. “That’s the sort of remark that gets you called arrogant.”

Phonus bolonus,” Paul smiled at him, working a bit of charm into the tight moment, “it’s only the truth I’m tellin’ Bri, and they’ll only call me arrogant if you repeat it. How much gratitude are we supposed to lay out when we've worked and slaved to get where we are?”

At that point John Lennon, sprawled out on a sofa in a tee shirt and jeans and looking entirely too comfortable to willingly get up and figure out where his tuxedo might be, spoke up in agreement. “Aye, Eppy, this is nonsense. We’re a rock-and-roll band, not bleeding Lordships. You talked us into accepting the MBE, and we’ve done that, but now you’re askin’ us to go socialize with some of the very snobs who objected to us gettin’ it, and threatened to send their little medals back if Her Queenie-ness didn’t remove us from her consideration.”

Paul nodded in agreement. “It’s a good point. Not sure why they even want us there. One day they’re saying Mother Superior’s jumped the gun giving us any notice at all so early in our careers, and the next they’re invitin’ us to smoke and drink and eat caviar with ‘em. Likely all they really want is to gawk at us like we’re animals in a zoo.”

“Aye, like that time in D.C., at the Embassy,” John added. “All they really wanted was to look us over, sniff at us like we’d brought fleas into the place and then pinch our arses – or at least Paul’s.”

“That was no pinch, John,” Paul corrected. “Old bloke was tryin’ slip ‘is finger fully up there, right through me trousers!”  

“I loved it when you just sat down on the steps and refused to budge,” John laughed, recalling the moment. “You were fuming and all they could see was how cute you were. Like an annoyed puppy.”

“Aw, fuck ye, son,” Paul flung at him good-naturedly.

“That’s what I say about goin’ to this stand-up funeral, Eppy. With all the spit in my scouser tongue, I say ‘fook it, and fook them’. I ain’t goin’.”

And yet, here they were – or here John and Paul were – Eppy had decided he could dispense with George and Ritchie’s services for the evening. Ultimately, it had been hard to say no to Brian, who had grown more panicked every hour after having promised to deliver the Messers Lennon and McCartney to the gathering. “Alright, Bri, just this once,” Paul had sighed in surrender.

“Three hours, Eppy,” John said in a serious tone. “Three hours, no more, and then we’re done, right?”

And now nearly four hours had gone by, and John – who had endured all the high-toned faw-faw and veiled insults he could take of an evening – found his way to his partner and slipped a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s ankle it, babe, we’ve put in our time and I’m knackered.”

Paul raised his head from a conversation he’d seemed to find engaging and looked around. “Where’s Brian, then? We should let him know…”

“I thought we’d do an Irish goodbye, you know. Just wave at the room and leave?”

Unable to hide a snicker, Paul nevertheless objected. “Can’t leave without tellin’ Brian, mate. D’be cruel, you know. He worries.”

“Well, I saw him by the bar a bit ago,” John answered, sounding impatient.

“Alright, go on up then. I’ll finish my drink here, say goodnight to Eppy and be right behind you, yeah, love? I’ll grab a couple drinks for us while I’m at the bar.”

“Ah, yer a good man!” Giving his mate a thumbs up, John made his way to their room. He was undressing – flinging his tuxedo jacket and shirt at various corners of the room -- even as he flipped on the radio and turned the dial toward something with a beat. Looking forward to drinks and some down-time with the only person whose company he always preferred, he decided to take a shower.

A half hour later, showered and shaved, and toasty warm in one of the hotel’s thick terry robes, he came into the room and found it empty. There was no sign of Paul.

That annoying little butterfly, he thought with more fondness than fury. Probably making sure he shakes every hand and wipes Eppy’s drunken tears before he leaves. And he has the drinks…

John turned off the radio, settled into one of the two double beds in the room and grabbed a paper and pencil, thinking Paul would be amused to see caricatures of the impossibly stereotypical red-faced Englishmen they’d just wasted too much time with.  

Because on one level, he thought with a smile, it’s like we’re still kids in school, and we just want to make fun of the toffs.

An hour later, Paul still hadn’t come up, and John was beginning to get seriously annoyed. He wanted Paul. And his drink. And then playtime.

And Paul wasn’t co-operating.

It had been an hour and a half since he’d left the party. What the hell was going on? Sure, he knew. Paul had probably tried to say goodnight to Eppy, and gotten trapped in another feckin’ argument because their manager wanted them to take on some last minute tour in wintertime, and Paul had told him to shove it, and they were probably still bickering about it, with no consideration for John and all of his well-stated needs.  

Picking up the phone he asked to be connected to the bar and politely introduced himself to the voice on the other end. “Can you give me to Mr. Epstein, please, or Mr. McCartney? I think they’re probably standing near you, and drinking too much scotch.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I never saw Mr. McCartney,” came a very mannerly reply. “Mr. Epstein said goodnight about a quarter-hour ago, however, so you might find him in his room.”

John frowned, biting his lip thoughtfully as he thanked the man and rang off. He dialed Brian’s room, and barely waited for Eppy’s greeting before laying into him. “Where the hell is Paul,” he demanded. “I’ve been waiting nearly two hours, now, for him to come up.”

“Where the hell is Paul,” Epstein asked. “I could ask, ‘where the hell are the both of you?’ You just abandoned the party without acknowledging the hosts, or shaking a single hand, and by the way I wanted to talk to you about –”

Lennon cut him off. “Never mind all that, Eppy, we went to your flippin’ shindig and we made nice-nice with everyone. Send Paul up, now. I don’t even care if he doesn’t have the drinks.”

“I don’t have Paul,” his manager answered in a testy voice. “I haven’t seen him in hours. I assumed he was with you.”

“But…” John grew quiet. He suddenly had a bad feeling, real enough to raise the small hairs on his arms. “He was heading over to the bar, to say goodnight to you, Eppy. He insisted on it, in fact.”

“Well, I never saw him,” Brian’s sounded puzzled. “Perhaps he got waylaid into a conversation.”

“Paul doesn’t get waylaid into conversations; he charms his way out of them.”

Both men were silent. John began to gnaw at his lip. “Feels like somethin’s wrong, Brian, doesn’t it? I don’t like this. Paul doesn’t just disappear.”

“Don’t do that,” Epstein answered. Trying to assuage John’s anxiety, he put on a lively tone of voice as he slipped his just-removed shoes back on to his feet. “I’ll go down and find him. I know he was talking about poetry to some old fellow with a monocle earlier tonight. Perhaps they met up again and he's being too polite to the old gentleman. Having trouble getting away.”

“When you find him tell him to get his ass up here,” John said, his voice flinty. “He’s no business making anyone worry.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing, John,” Brian said, signing off.

Twenty minutes later, a pacing Lennon heard a knock on his door and ran to open it, “Where’ve you bloody been,” he shouted at Paul, only to find himself face-to-face with Eppy, who was doing a poor job of hiding his concern. In fact, he looked terrified.

“John, I can’t find him. He doesn’t seem to be anywhere.”

John felt his hands begin to tingle and sweat as he released the door handle and drew Brian inside. “What do you mean, anywhere,” he asked. “Did you ask the concierge? Did you search that little after-bar?”

“Yes, and yes, I did. I looked in the gent’s rooms, I asked the front desk if they’d seen him, and the concierge. I asked every Lord and Sir still there if they’d seen him. It’s like he’s vanished into thin air.” Brian was ringing his hands. “John, you know we’ve talked before about the risk of kidnapping –- it’s why I always want you boys together.”

“No, but…but…” John was pacing the room, running his hands over the belt ties of his robe, as though to soothe himself. “No. He just…he probably met some bird and just, you know, went up to her room with her. His prick’s like a bleedin’ divinin’ rod, after all. He’s probably just havin’ a good shag.”

Brian gave him a skeptical look. “Do you really think that? Would he do that with you waiting for him? Wouldn’t he at least check in on his way?”

They both knew he would. Whatever else Paul was, he wasn’t thoughtless, and he’d never simply let people worry about him.

John licked his lips. When he spoke, his voice was a mere whisper, as though he couldn’t let the words fully out of his mouth, or they might become real.

“Eppy…you don’t…you don’t really think…kidnapped?” He felt his knees begin to buckle.

Chapter Text

John reached behind him, grateful to feel a chair to sink into before his knees gave out.  He felt himself going into a full-blown panic, head spinning as he contemplated the possibility that Paul -- his Paul! -- might be in real danger. Brian rushed over to him, forcing his head down. “Head between your knees, lad, before you pass out, that’s it. Deep breaths.”

Ohh, God…” Lennon sounded like he was on the verge of vomiting.

“I’ll get you some water…”

“Fuck water, get the police!” John choked out. “God…we have to find him…I need to get dressed and go out. I’ll find him.”

“You need to drink this,” his manager said, putting a glass into his hand. “And we must both calm down. This might be nothing, you know, but if there is something wrong,  you’re no help if you fall apart.”

John’s forceful exhales sounded like a bull in full fury; his hand shook as he drank down the water, barely hearing Brian, his eyes still wide with fear. “No, Eppy,” he said as he handed off the glass with a shivery breath. He shook his head, wrapping his arms around himself and slouching forward in shivers. “I’ve felt it. I’ve felt it for nearly all this past hour. Something’s wrong.”

“You can’t know that, John. You’re not psychic.”

“Maybe not, but I know Paul.”

“I think we should both take a moment and consider.”

“There’s nothing to fuckin’ consider, man, call the bleedin’ cops!” John stood up suddenly, wavering a bit and then gathering his strewn-about clothing as he started to get dressed. “You call them while I go down there and look for him.”

Epstein reached out and grabbed his arm, stopping John in his tracks. “Look, John, I am as worried about him as you --”

“You can’t be --”

“Of course, I am!” He shook Lennon’s arm with some force. “But we can’t just go off half-cocked, and getting the police involved here, not yet. What if we’re wrong? What if Paul really is somewhere with some girl? He wouldn’t like seeing it all over the papers that while he was getting his itch scratched, we had the police looking for him. He'd feel a laughing-stock. And we wouldn’t want to give the press even a hint of a rumor that any sort of kidnapping plot might ever exist, or have existed. They’d never stop asking you all about it.”

John glared at Brian, pulling his arm away and getting his shoes.

“And, too,” Epstein continued, speaking plainly, “we’d look damn foolish calling the cops because a 23 year-old man with a reputation for fucking anything in front of him is running two hours late.” He tugged John’s arm again. “Think, John! By all means, get dressed, just in case we have to go somewhere, but don’t run off alone with some heroic idea in your head of tracking him down. If he shows up and you’re gone, it will just throw him into a panic, and then we’ll be running about like Keystone Kops!” Brian tried a small smile. “Come on, John. Let’s give him a little more time, before we notify the police.”

John pulled his arm out of Brian’s hold – gently this time, and sat on the edge of the bed. It was too much to think of. No, Paul wouldn’t like it if word got out that he’d caused a fuss because he’d decided to get laid. Something like that had happened once, in America…Minnesota, John remembered, with deputies banging on a hotel door while Paul was trying to finish up with a bird. He’d been furious at the interruption, and even more so that it had made it into the press. “Bad enough we hadn’t finished,” he’d complained, “but Jane had my nuts in a sling over it, too, when she read about it.”

No, John thought. Wouldn’t do to get him in trouble with Jane again.

Not that he believed for a minute that Paul was with someone. He really didn’t believe it, simply because it wasn’t in Paul’s nature to change a plan, once settled. If the notion was to get together in their room with a few drinks, and settle in for the night, then he wouldn’t suddenly go off for a quick shag, unless the bird was Bardot, herself.

And even if he had, he’d likely have shown up, by now.

No. Paul should be here. He should be here now. He knew it. No matter what Eppy said.

John finished tying his laces and reached for his jacket while watching Brian light a cigarette with a slightly trembling hand. Recalling his manager’s tossed-off words --  that John should be prepared ‘just in case we have to go somewhere’ -- John suddenly went stock-still. What was "somewhere"? Where did he mean? Where would they possibly have to go? To a hospital? Because Paul was hurt? To a morgue to identify his body? God, no!

The thought rang every alarm bell in Lennon’s memory as he was instantly and vividly transported to the horror of his mother’s death. That’s what it had been like. The cop at the door. The ride…the short ride to hospital that seemed to take forever and yet still brought them, too soon, to that awful place, and that awful moment. “I’m afraid her injuries were too grave…”

Too grave, and then the grave…Julia, his mother, cold and dead, and forever lost to him. Forever.

John’s stomach was roiling as the familiar feelings of fear, dread, and grief struck through him, reverberating in his head and heart, and causing his breath to hold in his throat. No! This can’t happen twice to me…this can’t happen twice in one lifetime, I can’t live through it again. I barely survived losing Julia. I can’t lose Paul, too! Christ, no! No!

He buried his face into his jacket and began to weep. It was all too much – the grief for Julia, the fear for Paul – it all became mingled together into one singular unit of unendurable pain, a pain that felt like it would bring John close to madness. He felt the sting of tears and could not stop them, nor stop the horrifying keen that arose from his depths and sounded so like the wail of a trapped and wounded animal that Brian nearly jumped out of his skin to hear it, and hurried to the wailing young man.

“John…” he started.

“No! No, Eppy, No!” Lennon’s voice was muffled within his jacket, but his anguish was unmistakable. “I can’t. I can’t lose him…”

Sitting down beside him on the bed, Brian began rubbing small circles on John’s back, gentling his voice. “John, pull yourself together. You can’t break down like this. You don’t even know --”

Help me!” John cried, shaking his head and moaning in heart-shattering fear. “Help me! Someone help! I can’t. Please…I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

Brian felt useless as he watched John give every bit of himself over to heartbreak. This wouldn’t do, he knew. This already-fragile man could not be permitted to completely fall apart, or plummet into an abyss of grief. His psyche couldn’t be permitted to imagine itself into genuine, full-borne sorrow before anything was truly known. God forbid, Brian thought, if something really had happened to Paul – if he’d been kidnapped, or worse – John would already be so far gone that the news might drive him over a dangerous edge. He might become psychotic, lost, completely.

“Help me…” It was quieter, now, but the moaning went on and on, with John’s head buried in the deep black fabric as he rocked back and forth, like an inconsolable infant. “Oh, help me…”

Brian took a breath and made a decision.

“Alright," he said quietly, using his firmest, most managerial tone. “I’ll call down to the hotel management and ask for the house detective.”

“No!” John raised his head, his expression unlike anything Brian had ever seen before, as vulnerable and openly terrified as a child unable to shake off a nightmare. “No, Brian, you have to go to them. We can’t wait!”

“John...love...you’re in no shape to go down there, and I can’t leave you here, like this,” Brian explained as softly as he could. “If we are going to wait on calling the police – and I do think we should – we can at least make sure the hotel has looked everywhere, into places we haven’t thought of.”

John’s breath shuddered from him as he wiped his nose on his sleeve, all but breaking Brian’s heart. “Like where?” he asked, sounding hopeful. “What kinds of places?”

“Well, any sort of place. Perhaps the elevators were too slow for him – you know what he’s like – and he took the stairs, and then slipped because he'd been drinking. That's not impossible to imagine, is it? Maybe he’s lying somewhere with a broken ankle. We’ll make sure everyplace has been searched…every stairwell and the roof...”

John's hopefulness could not be sustained. His fear arose again, smothering it, as he once more buried his head and fresh tears came. “No, he’s gone! He’s gone, I know it! Oh, my God, what am I going to do without him?”

With a deep sigh of resignation, and a heart full of fear, Brian moved to the other bed, and picked up the phone.

Chapter Text

It had been ten minutes since the house detective had left the room, promising John and Brian that if Paul McCartney were anywhere on the hotel premises, they would know within the hour. “Be sure, Mr. Epstein, Mr. Lennon, if he is on this property, we shall find him.”

Neither Mr. Epstein, nor Mr. Lennon felt especially reassured, but they appreciated the bottle of scotch he had left with them, “courtesy of the house.” Brian had poured a short neat dose for John, almost as soon as the liquor had appeared, and helped himself to a belt, as well. Now, noting that John was nearly blind with anxiety -- smoking one cigarette after another as he bounced a knee and groaned within himself every few minutes -- the manager poured him another.

He’d never seen John like this. His boys had known anxiety before, particularly when traveling in bad weather, but such moments had nothing in common with the raw energy coming off of Lennon, who was barely keeping himself together. He'd become quickly furious when the hotel’s detective seemed all-too-casual about Paul’s disappearance for John’s liking. “Well, a young man like that, lots of women all around the place. Likely he’s off enjoying a bit of a tup, after all…”

Lennon had pinned the man with a look of utter contempt and turned to Brian. “If this is our best option, Brian -” he had started.

“Now, then, young man,” the detective had interrupted in a voice that would brook no nonsense. “I’m a retired copper, and there’s no one knows all the nooks and crannies of this place better than I. If your friend is lyin’ somewhere with a bump on his noggin or something, we’ll find him. I’m simply considering all possibilities here, and what might be likely. Be told, if there is any indication that something untoward has occurred – as unlikely as it may be, considering the honored company you’d been keeping tonight, we’ll know that, as well.”

John had curled in on himself at that, closing his eyes and pulling his own hair before running a hand through the disheveled mop. “The 'honored company' we were keeping,” John repeated. “All toffs and commanders and whatzit.” His voice quavered as he turned to Epstein. “You were right, Brian, I should never have left him alone. This is my fault. If I hadn’t been so impatient, so selfish. If I had just let him finish his drink, he’d be here, now. We’d be together…”

“Come, John, I think you’re being too rough on yourself,” Brian said, wishing he’d never scolded John about his wanting the boys to always travel together. All his frustrated words had managed to do was contribute to John’s guilt – his ever-present willingness to find a way to hate himself. “You could just as well argue that this is my fault…if I hadn’t urged you to attend the meeting.”

“In fact,” the investigator, who'd been listening closely added sagely, “You could say that if ye’d stayed in Liverpool and gotten jobs on the docks, you’d nor be in this predicament, too.” He had settled himself in a chair opposite John and was looking at him with a shrewd but respectful eye. He could see the truth and depth of feeling behind John’s outburst and held nothing against him, gentling his voice as he leaned forward. “You could say if only you’d never met, you’d be spared all this anguish, eh?  But life is what it is, young man, and here we are. And now, we will deal with whatever is before us, won’t we?”

John had caught the softening of the older man’s tone, and it made him look up. His eyes, wet with tears he could not hold back, connected with the expressive blue eyes before him and saw something there he wasn’t accustomed to seeing in men of his father’s generation. Was it compassion? Empathy? A simple knowing of how the heart worked? Whatever it was, there was no judgement behind it.  John suddenly felt as though he'd been fully understood -- a rare thing in his life, and even rarer from such a source. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He brushed a fast-falling tear away with his full hand, like a child, still holding the man’s gaze, and couldn’t stop the words that came tumbling out of him, all unguarded, in a strained and choking voice.

“Please.” He said. “Please, you have to find him. You have to find him. I don’t know where he is, and he’s…you don’t know…Paul can be so stupid sometimes about…he trusts people. He…he’s always too nice. To everybody.” John gulped with difficulty and he seemed unaware that his tears had begun to fall freely. “And to me,” he sobbed. “To me, too, he’s too nice.” He wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “If you can’t find him… God! Please!” With that call out to heaven, he pulled in on himself again, head down, arms over his stomach, his whole body rocking to and fro. A groan escaped from him that sounded like it had been born within the deepest recess of his soul.

“Please just find him! Or I’m not going to make it. I can’t! He’s…” He looked up again at the older man, his expression woebegone. “He’s everything to me, mister," John confessed. "He’s my whole world…”

Brian went to John’s side quickly, kneeling beside him and putting a pristine handkerchief into his hand. He rubbed small, soothing circles on John’s back and whispered as the young man trembled and gulped and tried to pull himself together. “You’re going to make yourself sick, John, and that won’t help Paul if he’s at all in need.”

“It’s true, that,” the investigator said, clearing his throat a bit too loudly, as though to gloss over John’s sobs and take charge of the scene. He pulled out a small notebook. “If you can answer a few questions, son, I’ll gather a crew and we can begin our search. Now then, can you tell me where you saw Mr. McCartney last, and with whom…”

Slowly, with Brian nearby, and cigarettes, and a bit of liquid courage there to fortify, John Lennon managed to puff out his shivery answers to the man’s questions as best he could, burying his own feelings of guilt and terrible foreboding under what felt – at least for the moment – like the most constructive thing he could do. He couldn’t say much for certain. He hadn’t been wearing his glasses, and the room had been full of strangers. But he remembered that Paul had been talking to a man with slicked-back hair and two chins, and that he’d had a few medals on his lapel.

He’d told what he could. Brian hadn’t been able to add much more. They were accustomed to letting Paul work a room while they went about their respective ways, John usually to a corner where he could avoid as many people he didn’t really want to meet as possible, and Brian hanging by the bar, where casual networking could happen. “Paul’s the one who always leaves the room knowing everyone’s name, and what they do. And their wives and kids names, and all that,” John added with a watery smile. “He’s…he’s just...”

“Paul would have been a brilliant diplomat,” Brain finished the thought, giving John an affectionate look that he hoped would hold him steady.

“Yes…he is one.” John whispered.

“A prince’s touch, I’ve heard tell," the detective said, matching Brian’s careful tone.

“Yes,” John agreed, in a firmer voice. “He’s like that. Noble, somehow. A noble scruff.”

With that, the investigator had arisen and shaken their hands, heading out to begin his search. “If the lad is on the property, you will soon see him.”

And now, they were simply waiting, in a dreadful silence that made each tick of the clock sound like a thundering of their own fear. Brian handed John his drink. John sipped it automatically, staring ahead, his eyes seeing nothing before him, his breath coming out in shivers whenever he sighed.

“Perhaps we should call George and Ritchie, get them over here, for you.” Brian said softly.

John was silent for fully half a full minute before he slowly shook his head. “No…” he said in a low voice. “This is mine. I lost Paul. I'm the one who left him. They shouldn’t have to suffer like this, not knowing.” He looked up at Brian. “Not yet…okay?”

Brian's expression said he disagreed, but nodded, and let it go.

As the clock chimed a quarter-hour tone, the phone blared to life, its loud ring puncturing the tense silence and making both men jump. John grabbed at it. “Paul! Paul, where are you,” he shouted. “Are you alright?”

Brian went quickly to John’s side, pressing his ear near to John’s. Through the receiver he could hear an ugly rasp of a laugh.

“Paul?” John repeated.

The laugh subsided in a leisurely, confident way that made Brian’s skin crawl. “Your little man has a big attitude,” the voice said. “We’ve begun to adjust it for him.”

“What!” Brian hissed. “Who is this, and where is Paul? What have you done with him?”

Again, the laugh, deep and taunting. John’s knuckles were white as he gripped the phone and listened to a voice he’d never heard before. “Tell him, next time we’ll let him stay awake for the party. Unless he behaves. Otherwise, we’re not ‘done’ with him at all, you know.

John pulled the phone away, put it back fully on his own ear. “Where is he,” he bellowed. “Where is he?

“Why, he’s right at your door, Mr. Lennon. Looks like an absolute angel when he’s sleeping, doesn’t he, now?”

The connection clicked and Brian caught the receiver as John dropped it, racing to the door and flinging it open.

A seated Paul McCartney fell backwards into the room, unconscious and bloodied.

Chapter Text

Paul lay half through the doorway, his clothes unusually disheveled, his legs splayed out into the corridor. It was all Brian could do to wrestle John off of his partner and drag both of them into the room, quickly shutting the door behind them and hoping no one had seen.

He thought the hallway had been empty. He hoped so.

John was on the floor, jostling Paul in his arms. “Wake up,” he was pleading as he gently shook him and then clutched him to his chest. “Wake up, Paulie, wake up.” He groaned, kissing Paul’s hair. “Oh, come on, lad…come to me, wake up.”

Brian touched his shoulder, saying his name gently. “John…”

The only answer was a broken sob as John tightened his grip on Paul and began rocking, as though he held a small, sick child. “You’ve got to open your eyes, now, love. Oh, what did they do to you?” He looked up at Brian, tears streaming down his cheeks. “They’ve hurt him, Bri… Look at him. They hurt his face. His pretty face.” Another tremulous groan came from him as he looked down at the man in his arms, shaking him again, as though to awaken him. “Paulie…” he couldn’t continue, his voice breaking on another sob.

“Let’s get him on the bed, John,” Brian said, keeping his voice as mild as he could, despite his own fears. “Let’s get him off the floor and make him comfortable, alright?”

“I can’t…” John shook his head. “I can’t let go…”

“I’ll help you.”

Brian bent down, helping John get to his feet as they both lifted Paul, who was a deadweight, lifeless and unmoving, his swollen lips just parted, one eye closed and purple. Gently, the two men laid him on a bed. Brian immediately went into the bathroom, emerging with a glass of water and a cold compress. “Here, John --”

He stopped in his tracks, almost afraid to intrude on the tableau before him. There was John was fully on the bed, both arms around Paul, whose head was rested upon his shoulder. He was cooing at his partner under his breath, murmuring a few words and then singing snatches of a song Brian had never heard. Tears were coursing down his cheeks as he sang. “What are we gonna do, love,” he sniffled, "where we gonna go, when tonight we gonna go..." With his fingertips, he brushed the fringe off Paul’s forehead and then caressed his swollen cheek. He was touching Paul with such tenderness as Brian had never witnessed from John Lennon in all the time he'd known him.

“‘Oh, little darlin’, I’m packing my shoes’…remember, baby? Remember? Baby, wake up…sing it with me. ‘Well, I’d tell the fellas that I’d follow you…’ and you sing, ‘Oh, Johnny, Johnny, how will I tell my father you love me, Johnny’” John sniffed, raising his shoulder to wipe his face. “And then I sing ‘I love you, Paul…’ Paul…are you with me, baby?”

He raised his face to Brian, a picture of agony. “He’s not waking up. What am I gonna do, Bri? We need to get him to hospital.”

“We might have to,” Brian agreed gently, leaning over and dabbing at Paul’s lips and then at his eye with the cold cloth before laying it on his forehead. “But keep talking to him. Your voice might bring him round.”

“Y’think?” John asked hopefully, suddenly sounding very young.

“Yes, I’ve read that. People can still hear when they’re unconscious. Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m just going to check his limbs to see he’s alright.”

And so John continued to croon at Paul, half singing, half speaking, “‘tellin’ my mother and my sister too, we’re goin’ away…’ remember, babe?” Peppered within it all were John’s increasingly worried demands that Paul open his eyes. “Your pretty eyes, baby, open them. I need to see them. I can’t get through a day without them, love…”

Meanwhile, Brian, more observant than the traumatized John, had noticed the state of Paul’s clothing and was deeply worried. His jacket and tie were missing. His untucked shirt was put-together haphazardly, a few buttons missing. For Paul McCartney, who was always impeccably turned out and neat as wax, this was unthinkable.

But it was the condition of Paul’s wrinkled trousers that had raised an alarm for Brian. His belt was unbuckled and his fly mostly undone, and the pants weren’t sitting properly on the young man. They looked as though they’d been shoved upon him in haste by rough, uncaring hands.

Deliberately wearing as blank an expression as he could for John’s sake, Brian pressed his lips together in a thin, tense line and began to carefully, very gently, touch Paul, pressing on him with a full hand – first one shoulder, one arm, his eyes returning to Paul's face again and again as his hands moved, to see whether his touch caused a frown, even in Paul's unconscious state. He thought he saw a wince as he pressed the left wrist and hoped there was no real injury there.

He repeated his action on the opposite side, as well as he could while reaching around John, who would not budge. Finally, he moved his hand gently up the lad’s legs, pressing his whole hand, point-by-point, from his ankles to his knees, then to his thighs. Pressing at the hips with both hands, he saw Paul frown. He thought he heard a soft moan come from him, a light sound, just barely there, beneath John’s encouragements.

Brian closed his eyes for a moment, and then stepped away, unwilling to give voice yet to his suspicions. His stomach was roiling as he considered what to do.  

“C’mon, Pyramus,” John was urging into Paul’s ear as he nuzzled at his pale cheek. His voice was steadier now. “Arise. Wriggle that cherry nose of yours for Thisbe, yeah? And then open your eyes…”

There was a knock on the door and John started, looking up at Brian, who squeezed his shoulder. “Stay with him and be quiet,” he said. “I’ll get it”

“Mr. Epstein, Mr. Lennon,” a familiar voice called discreetly. “It’s Dawson, the house detective.”

John went silent. Brian turned for the door. Before opening it he looked back, noting how visible the two young men would be from that vantage point, and decided to open the door just a few inches. The investigator was there, his face grim. “I’m sorry to say, sir, there’s no sign of --”

“He’s here,” Brain said softly, careful not to show his anxiety. “Already asleep. Turned up not long after you’d left. I’m sorry, I should have phoned down to have them let you know.”

“Ah, good,” the older man sighed, his expression relaxing. “He’s well, then?”

“Yes. He seems to be alright.”

“A bit in his cups when he returned, as we’d suspected?”

“Yes,” Brian lied, trying on a smile. “He’s going to get quite a scolding as soon as he wakes up in the morning, for scaring us like this. Like that,” he corrected.

Dawson raised his eyebrows, smiling in return, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “Ah, well, he’s earned it, hasn’t he? Still, don’t be too hard on the lad. We’ve all been three-and-twenty, and it’s a very warm age, isn’t it?”

“It is indeed,” Brian agreed.

“And Mr. Lennon, he’s alright? Young man was near beside himself with worry.”

“He’s in the shower, probably rehearsing the riot act he’ll be reading him in the morning.”

“Ha,” the man chuckled. “I can already hear it. Well, I’ll not take up your time any further, then, sir. All is well, and all is well, and that is all we need to know of it. You can be sure of the house’s discretion,” he added with a pointed look.

“I thank you for that. We all thank you for your help. Goodnight, Mr. Dawson.” He closed the door after the detective had wished him the same, and then pressed his head against the doorjamb, releasing a huge sigh. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath.

“He’s gone,” John asked in a quiet voice when Brian again approached the bed.

“He is. I don’t think we’ll have to worry much about gossip. A good man, I think.”

“Aye, I think so too.” He looked up with a worried expression. “Should we call in our own doctor, though? He’s not waking up.”

Brian steeled himself, ready to speak difficult words. “John, let go of him for a minute, will you? We need to talk. In fact,” inspiration suddenly struck, as he thought of a way to put things off a little while longer, “maybe we should call Geo and Ritchie, now, bring them in on this.”

“If you think so,” John said carelessly. Now that Paul was returned to him, he was content to let Brian decide. All of his attention was focused on the young man in his arms.

"I don't think Paul will mind us bringing them over." Brian moved to the phone but stayed his hand as he heard John gasp and raise his voice a bit. “Yes, baby, you’re coming back? You’re opening your eyes for me! Come on, then love. C'mon, Paulie, darling…”

Putting down the receiver, his eyes became fixed on the couple as John encouraged Paul, whose long lashes were flickering, as though he was trying to awaken.

“There, baby,” John cooed. He tossed the compress toward Brian and kissed Paul soundly on his forehead. “Johnny’s here. Is Paulie here, finally?”

Paul turned his head toward John, wincing a little, his lids stopped flickering for a moment. It looked like he might be falling quickly back into slumber, and John reached out to stroke his arm, and then his chest, hoping to help him emerge from his stupor. “‘Asleep, my love,’” he smiled gently. “Come on, sweet thing, don’t tease me, now, you’ve had me so scared…”

Paul inhaled hugely. As he exhaled, his eyes flew open, suddenly, startlingly. He stared blankly at John.

There you are.” Brian heard John choking up again, the words barely carrying on his breath. “Oh, God, finally, Paul! Thank God, Paul, love.” He put both arms around his partner’s waist and hugged him tight. “I thought I’d lose you…”

Paul gasped under John’s tight squeeze, a ragged keen of pain was pulled from him. His body seemed to shiver in discomfort as he blinked and stared once more.

“That hurt you…” John whispered. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t know. Where does it hurt you? Brian,” he called out. “He’s hurt!”

“Yes, I know,” Brian said with a grim expression as he returned from the bathroom with a fresh cloth. “Here, give him a little room, John, and put this on his forehead. Gently!”

“You do it. I don’t want to hurt him again.”

Reluctantly, John let go of Paul, leaning back to give Brian access. Unable to help himself, he took one of Paul’s hands, bending his head to kiss it before enclosing it within both of his own and letting his thumb stroke over Paul’s palm. He watched anxiously as the fresh compress was applied.

Something was wrong. Paul was awake, but still not all “there.” His hazel-brown eyes were nearly black, his pupils dilated and unfocused. He stared at Brian with the same uncomprehending look he’d given to John.  Slowly, as Brian murmured something to him about being more comfortable, Paul’s eyes began to move, from one face to the other, with a questioning expression. His lips moved, but no words came out.

“Water,” John said. Moving behind Paul, he sat him up very slightly, noticing the low moan of pain it brought out of the bassist. He remembered that Brian had brought a glass of water earlier, and now John raised it to the younger man’s lips and encouraged a few sips into him, kissing his temple and then urging him to drink a bit more. “Can’t speak when you’re dry, love.” After a few more small sips, he put the glass aside, but stayed where he was, his arms going back around his mate.

“What…” Paul licked his sore lips. “...'s going on,” he managed.

“You tell us, love,” John said softly. “Who stole you away? What happened?”

“Stole…” Paul tried to speak through a painful throat. He voice was weak and raspy as he looked from John to Brian and then back in confusion. “What…?”

“Baby, someone’s jumped you, or something. Can you tell us what happened?”

Paul gulped and looked around helplessly, his voice fading in and out. “I…I don’t know. I can’t…how did I get here?” Paul relaxed against John’s shoulder with another wince, closing his eyes again. All he could think of at the moment was how strangely exhausted he felt, and how his body seemed to hurt, everywhere. “Sorry…” he offered, his voice barely there. “Mus'... getting sick.”

Brian shot a meaningful look at John – a look that said, both “be quiet” and also, “let me handle this.” It was a familiar look and John trusted it. He went silent, merely continuing to gently comb Paul’s tangled hair with his fingers – being careful not to squeeze him, anywhere. After a few minutes, Paul’s breathing became regular. He’d dropped back into sleep.

“D’ye think it’s okay to let him doze,” John asked Brian quietly. “He might have concussion.”

“I’d let him rest,” Brian said in a very still voice. “I think he needs it. John, we have to talk.”

Lennon squinted now, at his manager, not liking the sound of that. “You said that before. What’s on yer mind, then?” He noted that Brian had begun to pace.

“John,” he repeated. He gave John a stern look. “You need to pay attention, now, and control yourself. You were too upset, too distracted before to notice, but now that we have him back…now that he’s come around at least a bit…I want you to take a good look at him.”

John frowned, unsure of Eppy’s meaning, but then directed his gaze toward Paul. His face. He’d noticed his face, of course he had. A split lip, the growing shiner. “We should get some ice for that,” he murmured, nodding toward it.

“Beyond his face. Look, John. Try to focus.” Brian handed him his glasses.

Slipping them on with an annoyed look at his manager, John looked further. For the first time, he took in how oddly disheveled was his partner. He looked like a lad who’d taken part in a brawl, his shirt ready for the rag bin, his trousers stained and wrinkled and half undone.

Half undone.

Tell him, next time we’ll let him stay awake for the party…

No. Christ, no. Paul, no!

While he could feel Paul breathing evenly -- slow and steady in his arms -- John's his own breath and heart-rate began to gallop as the idea began to form, and the panic arose with it. His throat closed up. He could only stare as Brian moved closer, leaning over Paul, and then reaching into the pocket of his shirt, where a ragged piece of paper had earlier caught his eye. Stepping back, the manager hesitated a moment before unfolding the scrap. He looked at the two men before him, so intimately bound together, one frowning in a troubled sleep, the other wearing a face that spoke of a long hard day of anguish and relief, and now showed open, naked fear.  

Wanting everything to get better, but now fearing things were about to get much worse, Brian opened the note and read it, and John saw him stop breathing. He turned his back to the bed, unable to face John, not wanting to see Paul.

“What,” John’s voice was quavering like a child’s as he whispered. “Eppy, what? Please, what now? Please?”

Eppy sank on to the bed across from John and Paul. He handed the note to John and buried his face in his hands.

John, almost wishing he did not have his glasses, looked once more at Paul to be sure he was asleep, and then he read the words.

He was delicious. In every way.

Brian heard John’s gasp and looked up. He raised a finger in warning. “Don’t wake him.” he whispered.

John was nearly hyperventilating. “But…Eppy, no! No!” wrapped his arms more fully around him, careful not to squeeze. “No,” he hissed again, burying his face in Paul’s hair.

Brian looked close to crying. He gulped loudly, several times, and then emptied the glass of water before he was able to get his upper lip to comport to British standards and to get his voice under control.

“This might be bad, John.”

“What do you mean, might be, you endless freak, of course it’s bad.” John’s voice was rising. “There is no way this isn’t bad.”

“Lower your voice,” Brian spat between gritted teeth. “Let’s not wake him up if we can help it. I mean, bad, bad. I mean like… he may be injured. Like we may need to get him to hospital, and something like this -- the "cute Beatle" being raped, perhaps gang-raped --  there’s no way that won’t get leaked to the press.”

“If he needs the hospital, then we take him there, and suffer the press,” John whispered savagely. “This is too important to put under a PR watch. Can’t you ever turn it off? You’re a like a fuckin’ machine!”

“I am not a machine,” Brian’s expression was furious. “It’s my job to think of you and protect you from --”

“You didn’t do a very good job of protectin’ Paulie tonight, though, did you,” John spat, careful to control his voice, but feeling Paul tense up in his arms nevertheless. That checked his rant before he could get started. He modified his tone as he looked upon his mate, his eyes watering for what seemed like the hundredth time that night. His voice was full of regret. “Comes to that, neither did I…I didn't protect him...” He felt wretched, wracked with guilt for Paul's sake, and now for brutalizing Eppy for no good reason. Just because he was scared. And angry, so, so angry. Mostly with himself. 

Brian had been pacing and now he let out a frustrated groan, sounding very much like a man looking for a way out. He was fisting both hands in his own hair as he looked up at the ceiling, and then made the decision.

It had to be done. He turned back to John.

“Look, help me,” he said holding John’s gaze. “I know this is hard. John,” he warned, not letting Lennon speak, “John, just listen to me.”

John swallowed, willing the water back down from his eyes. “Aye, Eppy. Go on…”

“It’s bad,” he repeated. “We need to see how bad. I don’t want to, but we have to know what we’re dealing with, and whether we’re headed to hospital. I need…” he looked away. “We need to check him. I need you to…just hold him, just…keep him asleep or at least feeling safe in your arms. I’m going to…have a look.”

“No.”

“Yes, John.”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Then you have to do it.”

No. I don’t want this. Paul doesn’t want this.”

Brian winced. “This isn’t about what any of us could ever want, right now. John.”

John closed his eyes, resting his head against Paul’s. He began to once more touch Paul's arm and chest with small, soothing strokes of his fingertips. After a minute, eyes still closed, he nuzzled closer to Paul, and nodded his head. .

With great reluctance, and all the delicacy he could muster, Brian began to undo Paul’s shirt, spreading both sides open to expose his chest. Red marks were apparent around the throat, but they didn’t seem deep. On his chest, a few marks and bruises, and what appeared to be bites, or suckling marks, all red and purple. He raised his eyes to John, who was determinedly looking away, keeping only to Paul’s face. Gritting his teeth, his hands went to the sleeping lad’s trousers, fully undoing the half-zipped fly.

There were no drawers. Whoever had dressed Paul hadn’t bothered with them -- hadn't considered his dignity, even that much. But the dark trousers told their tale as Brian slowly shimmied them down from Paul's hips (he regretted the soft groan of pain that came from the sleeping lad, and seemed unavoidable) and then drew them away from his bruised legs.

The trousers were beyond saving. Seams were torn, as though they'd been roughly grabbed at. Inside, there was a terrible amount of staining. The fabric was crusty with dried semen. The metallic tang of copper seemed everywhere -- so pervasive that John identified it as blood immediately, even without looking. Shuddering at what it meant, he let out a soft groan, raising one hand to Paul’s face,  barely cupping his cheek as he kissed him, and then kissed him again.

“Blanket,” John said softly, still not looking -- still refusing to see anything but Paul's face. “Cover him.”

“I will, John,” Brian reassured him. “Just this, though. I'm sorry.” He planted a hand on each of Paul’s thighs and brought them apart, as gently as he could, just a few inches. The young man began to whimper in pain. “No,” he said in a groggy voice thick with sleep. “Stop it. Hurts.”

Brian stopped, not wanting to awaken him.

It was enough. He’d seen enough.

Chapter Text

Having seen more than he'd ever wished to, Brian pulled a blanket from the second bed and carefully settled it over Paul’s naked body. He’d been spooked to hear the young man’s voice emerge from his still drug-weighted depths, the ragged but clear command to stop touching him. The note of pain. It all made Brian feel a little woozy, and he was distressed to see the frown that lingered on Paul's sleeping, bruised face.

I wasn't until the lad was suitably covered that John could finally look at something beyond that face. “How bad,” he asked Brian, who gulped before he could answer, lighting two cigarettes with shaking hands and handing one off to John.

“He’s a mess, John.” Brian spoke in a near-whisper, barely willing to pronounce the words as he ran a hand through is hair. “There’s still fresh blood, but not a lot. I think that’s nearly stopped. But…there’s a stream of dried blood all down his thighs, and…you know, the other.  I thought…I was thinking maybe I should get a cloth and try to clean him up, you know, so he doesn’t wake up and see himself like that.”

John's distress was hard to witness. He’d gone pale as his reddened eyes closed and he took a minute to smoke, and to compose himself.

“I understand why you want to do that,” he said to Brian with uncharacteristic slowness, as though he was consciously controlling his responses. “Part of me thinks we should do that. Part of me…well, part of me respects Paul too much to try to hide anything from him. He’d hate that. But mostly, I just don’t want to see him hurting again because we’ve touched him.”

Brian sighed and threw himself into a chair. For a moment neither of them wanted to say more. John licked his lips thoughtfully. “I don’t want to call the lads, yet. I also don’t think we can just leave in the morning. He might need to rest.”

“I’ll arrange extending your stay. Do you want me to call Cynthia? Tell her you both need an extra night?”

“No, I’ll call her,” John demurred, surprised to realize that in this moment, he wanted to hear Cynthia’s voice, even if it meant enduring a bit of complaint. It would lend a sense of normality to this surreal night. “If you could call Jane, though.”

“I will. Shall I tell her --”

“Christ, no, man! I’m not tellin’ Cyn, either. This is Paul’s to tell Jane.”

“She might be able to help him, though, John. A man goes through something like this, some reassurance from his woman might --”

“I don’t know how reassuring she’d be,” John interrupted again. The truth was, he didn’t now Jane well enough to hazard a guess at how she would receive this news. Would she hurry over and want to take charge of Paul? Over my dead body, he thought. Or might she turn around and reject Paul in disgust, as some women might, or see him as “less” of a man? That would help no one. Having no idea how Jane would respond, bringing her up to date was not an option for John and he said so.

“But she has a right to know…”

“She’s not his wife. She’s not even his fiancé. She has no rights, here, and I don’t know if we can even trust her. You don’t bring an unknown substance into a hot zone,” he spat, “things might blow up.”

Paul groaned, and John realized his volume had been rising. He lowered his voice again but looked at Brian with hard eyes that would brook no further argument. “Paul doesn’t need any of that, right now. What he needs is me. Not Jane, not the lads. Not even you, Brian, truth be told. He needs me.”

Brian stabbed out his cigarette, more than a little annoyed. “You’re a bit harsh, John. That’s a bastard thing to say, especially when I’ve been with you through all of this tonight.”

“Well I am a bastard, so that’s at least consistent.” Not much liking Brian’s expression, and realizing he'd caused it, John flung off his glasses and then sighed, his bravado collapsing as he gave voice to what was really bothering him. “I’m sorry. You're right. I've no business cutting on you. But…Christ, Brian, how the hell am I going to tell Jim McCartney his boy’s been…”

His words fell off as he rubbed his face. “I always told him I’d look out for Paul. It was a promise, you know? A real one. The old man never liked me but I always meant it when said I’d be careful with his son, and I think it’s the only thing he ever believed of me. When we went to Hamburg…when I took him to Paris…God! Paris…” his voice collapsed as his hand went over his mouth, as he wrestled down his feelings. He couldn't let them rise, or he'd invite a wail of fear and sorrow that might never stop.

Brian saw John working so hard, so transparently, to keep from falling apart and his anger was instantly replaced with compassion. The man was eating himself alive with guilt, and Brian suspected that a galloping sense of it would be his default mode for a while – too long for John’s own good.

“This is not your fault, John,” he began, but John just waved his words away, his gesture making it clear that he didn’t want to hear anything. He didn’t want consolation at the moment. He wanted to feel bad, to feel horrified, to feel afraid, and worried, and ashamed and anything else he could feel, rather than let loose his anger. Because right now, John Lennon was afraid of his own fury, and what it might do to everyone he loved, or to himself, if he didn't keep it capped. Certainly, Paul didn’t need to see it. If he did, he’d just try to address it or fix it, when the truth was John was unfixable by any measure – a lost cause, he was, – and Paul would have enough to think about.

He shivered at the notion that at some point Paul would wake up, and John would have to tell him all of…this horror that had befallen him. It was his job, he knew. The job of the one who loved Paul more than anyone on the planet. His Paul. His job. Not Brian’s, not Jane’s. Not anyone else’s.

But God, could he do it, could he get through it without making it harder, instead of easier, on Paul?

Deep into his own thoughts, he’d missed whatever Brian had said to him and shook his head to clear it. “Missed that, sorry…”

“I was offering to call Jim, bring him down here.”

“No, not yet,” John said, instantly. “Perhaps we should let Paul decide on that. How he wants him told.”

“Or even if,” Brian added.

“Aye,” John agreed very quietly. “Same with his brother.”

They fell silent again, John adjusting the blanket around Paul and then falling into a worried gaze as he touched his fingertips to the lad’s bruised lips and shook his head in sadness. Brian cleared his throat as though to get his attention.

“John…if you don’t mind. I have to ask…”

Lennon sighed as though he’d been expecting this, and slowly pulled his attention away from the man in his arms, to the man in the chair. “Ask away, then.”

“It’s just…only I know you two have always been close. But, from what I’ve seen tonight…is it… it’s more than that, isn’t it?”

John met his eyes and slowly nodded his head. Some part of him felt a heavy burden lift from his chest. It felt good to acknowledge the truth to at least one other person, and Brian – living as he did – was likely the safest person to tell, the one who would best understand.  “We’ve learned how to be very good at behaving in company,” he admitted.

“But,” Brian’s voice sounded strained. He shook his head as though biting back the question he really wanted to ask. “How long? Since I’ve known you all?”

John nodded again, understanding that the answer would hurt. “Since always, Brian,” he said. “Since…we were pretty young, really.”

The manager let out a huge sigh as a jumbled mass of feelings presented themselves, and all at the wrong time. He knew it was the wrong time, but he had to ask. “So…When we went to Spain, then, you and I?”

John’s lips had compressed into a thin line, but he bit the word out.  “Yes.” He finally looked up. “You knew what that was about, though. I wasn’t…I had no plans to cheat on him, that wasn’t my intention.”

No, Brian thought. You just meant to use me as much as necessary to end the argument about songwriting credits. Used me to screw over your partner, who you say you love. That was your intention.

He shook his head in disbelief and wanted to say the words out loud -- wanted to make John admit to his craven selfishness and insecurity -- but his own sense of occasion, which was rarely off-point, stopped him. Wrong time, wrong night, wrong place to make him face up to it, not while that poor lad is in his arms, in that condition.”

And anyway, Brian reasoned, his teeth tugging at his bottom lip, if confronted, John wouldn’t deny what he had done. He’d just say ‘you know I’m a bastard’ and since that was true, there was nowhere else to take it. He'd already done it this very night. That’s how John got away with everything, by disarming one’s every accusation, every righteous fit, with the truth that he was indeed a selfish and lazy bastard.

It wasn’t Brian’s problem, really, he considered. It was Paul’s if it was anyone’s.

Still, his disappointment in John felt like an arrow to the heart. For his own sake, yes, but he’d eventually get over it and forgive. He loved John, and would forever take him as he was.

But now the pain felt shared, between him and Paul, who was also John’s helpless pet. The boy’s regard for John seemed unconditional, and Brian had seen him forgive his partner, or finish his fights for him, or talk him out a jam over and over again through the years.

For the first time since he’d known the duo, he thought to himself that perhaps Paul deserved someone better than John.

But he knew Paul would never think so. He was the faithful type, and his belief in his partner was absolute. He knew John in all his faults and weaknesses and accepted him fully. He was like an acolyte, ready to be subsumed in service to John’s bizarre and brilliant priesthood.

“Does Cynthia know?” Brian asked, suddenly.

“No,” John hissed quickly. “No one knows. George and Ringo don’t even know -- or if they do, they’ve never let on. I think Jim might have suspected at one time, but then…” He tugged at his lip. “Frankly I think Jim was pretty happy when little Dot got knocked up because it meant his son wasn’t a queer.”

He looked up at Brian again. “We’re not, you know. Queer. We don’t go out looking for rent boys together, or anything like that. I know Paul’s never even thought about…other men. It’s just…us. A thing between us. I can’t explain it. Just us, together. Like we’re magnetized.”

Brian had gone completely still in his seat aware that John had no idea what he had said about Brian's own life, in subtext, or the crass judgement that lay beneath even that. Wrong time, wrong place, Brian.  He deliberately worked his face into a neutral expression, as he asked, “And you love him, John?” The question came in a very low voice, as he looked down and away.

“Yes,” came the answer, equally low. When he spoke again, it was as though he’d read Brian’s mind. “He’s my whole fuckin’ world, Eppy. I’d lose my mind without him. Couldn’t go on.” He looked down at Paul again and made an impatient sound at himself. “And I don’t know why he keeps putting up with me, I’m such a freakish, moody bastard.”

Well, yes, Brian thought. And yet we love you. In answer to John’s confession, Brian poured two more drinks. He handed one to John, gently touched his glass against it, and drank it down in one go. Then he rose, found the room key and pocketed it.

“I’ll be back in a bit. Will let myself in,” he said, thinking to himself, not for your convenience. So that Paul doesn’t have to be disturbed.

Barely thirty minutes later, he slipped back into the room quietly and could hear John’s voice, hushed as he finished a conversation on the phone. Looking a great deal calmer, John squinted up at him as he replaced the receiver.

“Cynthia?” Brian asked.

“Aye, did you call Jane?”

“I did. She was out but I left a message.”

“What’s that you’ve got with ye, then?”

“My pajamas,” Brian answered, setting the neatly folded bundle on a dresser. “I didn’t now what Paul had packed – rather going on the assumption that, things being as they are… neither of you packed anything more than your toothbrushes for an overnight. I thought he might want pajamas.”

John was moved at his manager’s thoughtfulness. But that was his job, right? To think of everything? Still, the idea hadn’t crossed his own mind, and he thanked Brian with real sincerity. “Of course he will be more comfortable in pajamas, in clean clothes…”

“Did he bring a change of clothes?” Brian managed a small smile in John’s direction. “I mean you both weren’t intending to traipse about in wrinkled tuxedos come the daytime, were you?”

“Paul’d never have it,” John almost managed to smile back. “We have a change of clothes, but yeah, the pajamas…good call. I don’t know how much he’ll want to be naked-” He cut off his words before he could speak them: with me.

With me or with anyone. For the first time it hit John how deeply this attack might affect not just Paul’s sense of himself, but also their physical relationship. “My little nature boy” was one of John’s affectionate names for Paul, for he was a lad so comfortable in his own skin, so at ease with his own nakedness, that he would often walk around the shared common area of the band’s hotel suites completely bare-arsed as he grabbed a drink or a guitar. “Lost any modestly I had in Hamburg, didn’t I,” he’d once answered George when the guitarist had asked him – for the third time -- to please put on a robe before sitting down to work on a song together. “Can’t think when your balls are peekin’ out from under your guitar you know. I keep expectin’ em to break into harmony. Very high pitched harmony.”

And Paul had just thrown his head back and laughed, and then deliberately fluttered his eyelashes at his childhood friend, until Ringo finally brought him a robe, saying “Fuck yer instruments on yer own time, lad.”

John realized that he was smiling at the memory – the first real smile since Paul had gone missing. It was a bittersweet realization as his lips pressed once more into a thin, tense line at a new, unwelcome thought.

Everything is about to change.

Chapter Text

It was nearly four in the morning when John felt Paul begin to move about the bed, each motion accompanied by groans of pain. Brian had left earlier and John had fallen asleep with the light on and his arms still around his partner.

Now, he could hear the lad breathing as he shifted his position, turning to his side with a loud whimper. He seemed to be searching for a way to get comfortable, reaching sleepily across John’s chest, but then pulling back. With another gasp of pain, Paul awoke fully, shaking his head against John’s shoulder and opening his eyes which, John could see, were clearer and more alert than the last time he’d woken.

“Hello, baby,” John said tenderly. “How are you?”

“I’m so thirsty,” Paul murmured, his voice sounded husky. “Everything hurts.”

John rose immediately to fill a glass. As he returned, he could see Paul looking confusedly at the blanket around him, as though he knew something was wrong with the bed setting -- that he wasn’t properly under the covers, at least -- but his cylinders were not all firing, yet. He gave an odd look up at John as he reached for the water, and tried to sit up, wincing once more in pain.

“Whoops, not so fast, you.” John quickly got behind the lad and helped him sit up. “Take your time, love.”

Paul gave his full attention to the glass of water, downing the whole drink in one go, catching his breath as he handed it off and then leaning back, with another wince, against John’s torso. He was frowning for all he was worth.

“Alright, sweet?” John asked.

Paul directed his frown at him. “John. What the fuck?”

“I know, baby, just give me a minute to tell--”

“Why does everything hurt? Couldn’t you even let me turn the sheets down? Was I drunk?” He cursed as he moved his legs and felt a shooting pain travel from his legs all the way to his lower back. “Why do I feel filthy? What the fuck, John,” he repeated, noting this time that his lower lip was numb, and his words were coming out slurry, as though he’d just seen a dentist.

“Calm down, Paul, it’s been a bad night.”

“I’d guess so,” Paul scoffed, “but why? I feel like…I don’t have a word for what I feel.” He raised one hand to his lips, and seemed then to discover the swelling on that side of his face. His fingers moved to the raised flesh around his eye, and he turned to John again.

“Did you do this?”

John shook his head furiously, almost speechless at the question. “Never. I would never, Paul, you should know it…”

John’s eyes were swollen, too, and red. In them Paul saw something like an unholy mixture of pain, and pity, and fear. A reflection of something dark, lacking any part of beauty. He feared he had caused it with his harsh question, which he’d not really meant. He knew better, of course he did. Acknowledging it, he patted his partner’s arm. “I know…I know, sorry. Just…Jesus, John, what happened?”

The blanket had moved lower, and John’s gaze slipped down. He got his first view of the bites on Paul’s chest and around his swollen nipples.

Not ‘love bites’, he thought, these are marks of dominance and ownership. Had they been left there by his own mouth, or even some bird’s, John would have called them sexy, but now they could only be called obscene. They were evidence of something evil that had landed on his Paul, and taken brief possession of his person.

Paul’s eyes followed John’s gaze, and his beautiful brows lowered as he took in the marks. Not just bites but thin, shallow lines, as though he’d been mildly lashed. There was a crackling sheen to parts of him which John now recognized as the barely wiped residue of a man, or men – how many were there? -- shooting their loads.

Yes, it was there, on his face, too, that sheen. And in his beautiful hair. God!

Paul was studying John, now. He noted the grimace as John squeezed his eyes shut, and it made him curious enough to start to lower the blanket further.

John reached out and stayed his hand. “No, love. Don’t.

Paul felt his stomach drop. “What’s gone on, John,” he gulped, closing his own eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong?”

He felt John’s arms go around him as he kissed his temple. “What can you remember, baby? Do you remember anything after you said you’d be right up?”

Paul shook his aching head. “I don’t remember telling you that.”

“What’s the last thing you remember? Can you think back?”

“No, it’s weird. I…it’s like my memory isn’t working. It’s all just a blank.”

That might be for the best, John thought to himself. Still, he had to keep prodding a bit, at least to try to discover who Paul remembered talking to -- who might have slipped him the blasted mickey or Spanish fly or whatever it was.

“Try, babe. Last time I saw you, you were talking to a fat fellow with a few medals on his chest, do you remember?”

Paul frowned deeply, really trying to recall. “No. I remember…I have a fuzzy memory of taking another drink off a waiter who came by with them…and there were…oh, God, I don’t know, three or five men, they were all you know…those puffy, overjolly sorts. Lots of grey hair. I remember grey hair. John,” Paul said, turning to a subject more immediate to him, “I feel disgusting. I feel like I need a bath. Could you…would you mind running it for me?”

Lennon was as grateful as Paul to get away from the topic at hand. “Right away, love, good plan.” He jumped to it, while Paul inhaled swiftly with pain as the mattress was jostled.

As he went about setting the water temperature and wondering whether or not to add something bubbly to the bath – no, he decided, the water alone might sting enough -- John could feel his own nerves shooting about, jumbling his thoughts. He wanted to help Paul any way he could – of course he did.

Of course he did.

But at this moment he also wished he could get away, run from what was before him. He didn’t know if he could handle pushing Paul to remember. One part of himself wondered whether he was man enough to endure hearing whatever Paul might recollect, and remain unchanged.

And then he was disgusted with himself. To be wondering whether he could “take” Paul’s memories when it was Paul who would have to suffer through them, and live through it all.

Of course he would remain unchanged.

He told himself that as his eyes closed and he let his forehead rest against the cool marble tile of the bathroom wall. Right behind his resolute thought, another, unbidden and unwelcome came to the surface.

Paul might be changed, though.

Could that happen? If the memories came, could Paul still be the same person he had loved, the person who completed him? He’d always been the strongest lad John had ever known, pluck to the backbone, afraid of nothing and no none, quite despite his delicate looks.  But now?

It suddenly occurred to him that even though his Macca had been returned to him, there were still many ways John could lose Paul as this horrific reality played itself out.

Buck it up, Lennon,” he whispered to himself. “This isn’t about you, for once, so stop thinking about anything but him…”

Paul needed him, now, he knew -- really needed John in this moment, just as, so long ago, John had needed Paul (and needed every bit of him) back when Julia had died. 

Of course John Lennon would be there for Paul McCartney.

Of course he would.

Right?

Please God, he thought, don’t let me fuck this up.

“John?” he heard Paul call as he was shutting off the tap for the bath. “John?” The call was urgent, even panicked-sounding. He rushed out to find that Paul had lifted the blanket from himself and was staring in horror at what he beheld -- the crusted, blood-stained muck caught in the nearly fur-thick hair of his thighs, and the bruises, always more bruises. Paul was trembling throughout his whole body as he began to put the clues together and understand what had happened to him during that blank time, and what might live within the hole in his memory.

John went to his side taking one knee beside the bed. “I’m here, Paul. C’mon, love, the bath is ready.”

“John…look.”

“No, Bunny, don’t look. Look at me.”

Paul’s eyes were wide opened and staring. He seemed unable to look away from the evidence of his having been… no, he couldn’t allow the word. The mess, that’s what it was…the mess of himself.

His breath staggered. “John?” he said sounding uncharacteristically unsure of himself.

John took Paul’s chin in his fingers and forced the lad to face him.  “Look at me, Paul, just me, only.” Paul finally raised his dark eyes and John saw something in them he’d never seen before: confusion. And uncertainty. And fear.

And beneath all of that, a raw neediness that had never shown itself in Paul except in moments of deep lust, which had paradoxically seemed powerful to John, a complete turn on.

Only in this look, that power was missing. What replaced it was chillingly unfamiliar.

“I’m going to bathe, you Paulie,” John said in his gentlest voice. “Alright? And we can talk, then, yeah?”

Paul simply nodded, and moved painfully, putting his weight mostly on his arms as he tried to get out of bed. Dragging one leg over the edge, he caught a spasm of knifelike pain. His eyes welled up and his voice cracked. He looked ready to cry. “John…I don’t think I can walk,” he said. “My legs and my back --”

“I know, son, I know. Just put your arms around my shoulders. I’ll carry you.”

“No, fuck that,” Paul moaned, his tears spilling over and his face gone red. “I’ll not be carried about. I’ll... I just need your arm.”

“Put your arms around my neck,” John repeated as gently as he could. He wiped Paul’s tears with his thumb and threw a smile full of misery into the mix. “Just swallow your damned Irish Macca-pride and let me help you, alright, baby?”

Nodding in surrender, and hiccupping his way through a sob that made him look and sound like a frightened, lost child, Paul obeyed. He had no choice. Facing up to what he couldn’t control, he slipped his arms around John’s neck and buried his face there, too, with a shuddering sigh.

In the bathroom, John gingerly helped Paul down into the tub, fully supporting his weight as the lad couldn’t quite get his legs under him. Lowering himself fully into the water, too, was a trial for Paul, as his wounds sang in the sting of heat. Once he was fully submerged, though, and able to stretch out in the warmth, he began to relax.

John felt the opposite of relaxed. He could see the water already tinting pink as dried blood began to diffuse through it. He left the room for a moment, returning with the ice bucket before Paul could ask where he had gone.  

“Let me wash your hair, first,” he murmured, filling the bucket from the tap and gently pouring clean water over the lad’s head. Paul closed his eyes as John worked a big dollop of shampoo into a lather, using his fingertips to work it through and release the gunk tangled within. “Feel nice?”

Paul nodded, giving himself over to his partner’s ministrations. “Don’t get it in my eyes, ye clumsy sod,” he warned, forcing a tiny smile to his lips.

“No, I wouldn’t mess up your pretty eyes,” John replied, instantly hating himself for even suggesting it while one of Paul’s eyes was so swollen.

Paul, as he had a thousand times before in their life together, seemed to intuitively grasp John’s thought and helpfully move it somewhere else.

“Remember when you punched me at Julia’s funeral,” Paul said. “And then you kissed the bruise later…it was the first time you ever kissed me, anywhere.”

“I remember…” John found that his eyes were stinging, now. “I wish I hadn’t.” A punch, a bruise, kissed.

“It’s a good memory for me, though,” Paul murmured, “I didn’t mind the hit. You were out of your head with grief. And if you hadn’t slugged me, you might never have kissed me. I didn’t mind the kiss, either. I loved it, you know. In the secret of my heart, I was thrilled.”

“The kiss that launched a thousand shags…”

Paul chuckled at that. “Good memories.” He reached up, stilling John’s hands for a moment as he latched on to one of his wrists. “John…” he whispered.

“What, babe?” John whispered back.

“Something bad has happened, hasn’t it?”

John looked directly into his eyes, deciding in the moment that there was no sense in speaking anything but the truth to Paul about this night. He gulped, whispering again. “Yes, darling. Something bad has happened to you. I think someone…slipped something in one of your drinks.”

“Maybe someone with gray hair…” Paul looked away, down at the pink-hued water around him. He seemed thoughtful as he surveyed his body, and the gathering layer of scum floating to the top of the water. “Do you think…” He looked up at John again, exhaling heavily. “Do you think, John, if I can’t remember, if it all stays blank, then we just get me cleaned up and it’s like it never happened?”

He was delicious. In every way… That's what some bastard had written of his beloved Paul. John made a mental note to destroy that damning evidence.

“Let’s hope for that, shall we?” John answered. And could it be that easy, he wondered.

Paul’s Adam’s apple visibly moved as he swallowed thickly, nodding even as he frowned. “Yeah… yeah. I’ll be okay then.”

“We’re gonna be fine, baby,” John agreed, feeling more like he was making a wish than a promise as he refilled the bucket. “Tilt your head back, now,” he urged, rinsing the copious lather from Paul’s hair. “There, that’s done.” Grabbing a short towel, he briskly rubbed away the heaviest bit of wetness and then brushed the clean hair back with his fingers, away from Paul’s face. For a moment he sat back on his heels, just gazing at his mate.

“What,” Paul asked, looking slightly amused. “What’s that look?”

“Your hair,” John sighed. “How it curls when it’s all damp like that.” He leaned in, planting a firm kiss on Paul’s forehead. As he pulled away, Paul caught him by the shoulders and drew him near again. “Johnny, kiss me on the lips,” he urged. “…Please?”

“It’s swollen, love, don’t want to hurt you.”

“No, I don’t care. Wouldja kiss me, Johnny? Please?”

Lennon leaned in immediately, pressing his lips to Paul’s – gently, so gently, as not to cause even a moment’s pain – and Paul pressed back. Their eyes closed. Paul’s lips parted and John took a delicate swipe at them with his tongue, just daring a little sip of Paul, and then they just lingered there, within the kiss, all unhurried.

It was a chaste thing – sweet -- with no demand behind it from either of them, beyond the simple expression of truth in their love. And John felt it. Felt the warmth emanating from Paul, and the purity and weight of his own feelings welling up from deep within himself. Real love, needing to go nowhere else, be nothing more than what it was in this moment. His body almost shook as he felt that most basic reality stir at the deepest part of his soul. It’s real, so real. We never made this up. Never could have.

They broke from the kiss, chests heaving as they shared a breath, and John pressed his forehead to Paul’s. “I love you, Paul,” he whispered, trying to put everything he felt into his declaration. “I love you. You’re my whole heart. You can't think how worried I was to lose you...”

He leaned back as they gazed at each other, both showing watery eyes.

“Am I ugly, now,” Paul gulped after a moment, one tear falling from his good eye.

John was horrified. “Jesus, Paulie, no! No!” He grasped Paul’s hand in his own and squeezed it tight. “Baby, I was just thinking that you look exactly like you did in Paris…like you’re nineteen years old and you’ve just kissed me like James Cagney, on the bridge, and fucking broken me, forever. Remember?”

He reached in, tracing Paul’s lone tear with a single fingertip. He wrung out a flannel, then, and gently wiped his lover’s face, removing any trace of anything bad, any…residue. Then he kissed both of Paul’s cheeks. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. You always will be. And even if you weren’t, I would love you unto madness, you know. But you are.”

He couldn’t tell if Paul was reassured – the lad had a way of looking blank when he didn’t want to face something -- but John found himself shaken to his core to even hear the question asked -- am I ugly, now. Oh, he felt his heart cracking that Paul could ever ask it, and that a new insecurity must be at its root. “You just lay back, love, close your eyes.”

Paul obeyed, trying not to think about anything but John’s touch on his body, seeking out no memories except old ones, early moments between them, when their love was new. He sighed and relaxed into them. A soapy sponge was running across his chest, now, and down his arms… it felt so nice.

John was grateful to see Paul drift off a bit as he got down to business with the sponge, even though the bathwater was less than clean. He dipped both hands into the water, making a ring of them and then running them up Paul’s thighs to rinse them free of any residual muck. He let his mind wander, thinking about how much he had always loved Macca’s thighs – coltish when they were young, and still so lean and long. He could never resist kissing the soft insides high up, and nibbling there a little whenever his lips happened to be near the area. Paul’s whole body was perfect, in his reckoning, but those thighs – the hairiest things, but as shapely as a bird’s -- could still make him gasp aloud.

Finishing there, John finally addressed what he had wanted most to avoid. With the sponge, he very gently began to clean around Paul’s scrotum and the perineum, below. He hated going anywhere near his pained and wounded anus, delicately dabbing there. Intending only to swab around the penis, John was surprised to realize that Paul was half-erect when he touched him.

He looked up. Macca’s eyes were still shut, as was his expression, but after a beat he’d taken John’s hand, was now guiding it to him, closing John’s fingers around his shaft and then holding his hand in place, right there.

Lennon’s eyes closed as the silence between them grew. He tentatively let his thumb flit around the tip, felt Paul’s hardness grow.

What was this, now, he wondered. Did Paul need more reassurance – "Am I ugly, now," that terrible question – would it be a good thing or a bad thing, if John helped Paul to orgasm right now, in the midst of this filthy bath?

A bad thing, right? His gut revolted at the very idea.

And yet the thought came. Do it. It will be a sign of victory – Paul’s giant ‘fuck you’ to all the jism we’ve just washed off, and the man (men?) who left it. As though to say ‘You didn’t win. I’m still the man I was…’

Not completely certain whether he should, John nevertheless began working Paul, letting his fingertips graze on him, testing a small tug, and then another as a light groan escaped from his partner. Victory, he thought again, as things began to progress and he went for it, taking a firmer grasp, and flicking his wrist.

And at that moment, it all went bad for Paul. He’d been uncertain about taking John’s hand, but at his lover’s familiar touch, his heart had seemed to settle down into a normal rhythm for the first time since he’d awoken, and he’d relaxed into it, feeling grateful that, whatever else was true, his function seemed intact – that he still wanted John, still wanted this. John’s touch, John’s attention, John’s love. This is good. We’ll be alright…

And then suddenly his head was full of images. Snippets of voices. Gruff laughter. Hands tugging at him, ripping at his clothes.

Rough hands on his chest, shoving him down, down. He could feel his head hit the carpeted floor and then someone on top of him.

Dizziness as though he could see, but not clearly, as though he was looking up from underwater, his chest tightening, his vision blurring. Am I drowning? Am I going to die?

* * *

Knees straddling near his face and his chin being held, squeezed hard. An engorged, red and purple cock being shoved into his mouth.

He was shaking his head, no, no, no, trying to pull away.

“Take it all pretty, ‘way down your lovely throat…”

Trying to move his head back…away…away from…that

He couldn’t breathe… gagging on the overwhelming scent of something he knew…a whiff of Bay Rum.

He was blacking out. His jaw was aching and he was choking and wanting to run away.

Trapped… then the fury coming, and the thought: Fuckin’ kill you, as he tried to bring his teeth down, fuckin’ bite it off.

A loud yelp. He was free. He had to get up. Panting. Trying to rise.

A heavy smack – a full-handed slap that nearly took his head off and sent him reeling once more.

“Bit me? Alright you’ll have it rough then, little man…”

* * *

In the bath, Paul suddenly shot up, eyes wide with horror, his scream reverberating throughout the tiled room as he threw John’s hand off. “Help me,” he said, gasping for breath, trying to hold back a heave. “Gonna be sick.”

John managed to get the bucket under him just in time as Paul began to vomit violently, emptying the meager contents of his stomach and then retching again and again.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” John was repeating, over and over. “I’m sorry, I thought you wanted…oh Christ, I’m sorry, Paul.”

It took several minutes for Paul to stop shivering through the heaves -- until he felt able to hand off the bucket to John, wrapping his arms about himself. “Stop,” he choked out. “S’not you, John. Not you. Oh, God…oh God!”

Not knowing what was going on with Paul, or what to do, John grabbed a towel and simply lifted McCartney up into it, dragging him out of the tub and against his chest in an enormous hug, not even worrying about whether anything he did could hurt Paul. He just held on to him, murmuring at him as he held him tight. “It’s alright, baby, it’s alright. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”

“Not you,” Paul’s voice was trembling, high-pitched and broken. “Not you, oh not you, I… I’ve…I saw something…oh, God, Johnny…”

John winced at Paul’s nearly tangible anguish and raised his head to heaven. Christ. No. How bad is this going to be?

Biting back his panic, he sat Paul down on the closed lid of the toilet and began to dry him. Normalcy. Do normal things. His let instinct lead him, grabbing more towels and intently blotting Paul’s body dry while continuing to murmur soothingly at him.

Macca was white as a sheet. He was quivering all over, his head down, teeth chattering, whether from the cool air or some interior chill owed to memory. He was producing sound, but no words, just a low incoherent tone that reminded John of an agonized animal, all confused and bereft of reason. A sound he’d heard on his cousin’s sheep farm, when a ewe in the throes of delivering a lamb could do nothing but live through the pain, suffer through it. The sound of a mere creature weakened, and helpless and fearful.

Paul was suffering; he seemed not to hear a word John was saying. John’s own heart felt torn from him, as though it had been ripped from his chest and tossed from an eightieth floor window, smash! He murmured “be right back” and slipped out, returning seconds later with pajamas. Macca seemed not to even see him, or to have any awareness of what was happening as he was helped into the beautifully made set Brian had provided for him. He winced as John lifted first one leg, then the other into the pants and then groaned aloud again as he raised Paul slightly to settle them on his hips.

The stabbing ache seemed to nudge his awareness a bit, and Paul lifted his dark head, his eyes looking dully around the room and then at John who had guided his arms into the jacket and was kneeling before him, now, doing up the buttons. He blinked a few times before finally frowning at his partner. “These aren’t mine.”

“No,” John said, trying to speak in a natural tone. Normal, be normal. “Brian gave them to you. Thought you’d not want…” to be naked with me... He stopped, took a breath and let it out. “Thought you’d be comfortable in them.”

“Yeah,” Paul agreed, but lifelessly. “They feel nice.”

“Well, you know Brian,” John murmured, being normal, “his stuff is all bespoke and top-notch.”

He felt Paul’s hands settle on his shoulders, the sort of full-palm touch Macca would use whenever he needed to guide John through crowds and airports, or to direct his gaze toward cameras Lennon could barely see.

“Love,” John started. “I’m glad it wasn’t me, you know... that it wasn't me touching you that...upset you. I’d never…do you… have you remembered something? Because you can tell me, Paul, I want to…I want to know what you want me to know.”

What you might need me to know…Christ help us…

Paul shook his head slowly, his dark eyes staring at something only he could see, something distantly beyond John, yet this hands pressed down, squeezing him for a second, as though confirming John was there, and then he was lightly stroking Lennon’s shoulders, just skimming across them and then back, as one might pet a cat or a dog, without thinking.

John just knelt there, letting his mate touch him in that way. He didn’t know if Paul meant to soothe him, but he felt soothed, nevertheless. Paul’s touch had always been naturally gentle, his lovemaking always innately tender, unless John asked for something different.

He didn’t mind feeling this soft touch, just now. It seemed to be consoling Paul, as well, to use his hands this way.

After another minute, John helped Paul get to his feet, asking “What can I do for you, babe, what can I get you? Are you hungry?”

“No,” Paul’s voice was low and still toneless. He was still looking at nothing, still seeming only half with-it – almost childlike as he took John’s hand and permitted himself to be led back into the bedroom, in small steps because walking did hurt. He seemed to snap out of it, though, at the sight of the two beds, one disheveled, the other showing a small stain of blood on its coverlet. The look in his eyes grew hard and sharp as he took it all in with a shudder. “No, I don’t want anything…Unless you can get yesterday back, for me. I’d like a different yesterday. Can you give me that?”

Yesterday.

All my troubles seemed so far away. It was all John could do to keep his composure. He’d been such a bastard to Paul over that damned song, and now he was regretting it, as he was regretting every one of the thousand moments he’d been too selfish, too eager to be scornful – and yes, too eager to be a little bit jealous – to do right this man, this great love of his life, now so nakedly wounded.

He threw the stained cover to the floor and held the sheet, motioning for Paul to get into bed.

Macca was still looking around. “Is that scotch,” he asked, nodding toward the bottle.

“Come on, love, get into bed and I’ll bring you a bit.”

Lennon poured out two fingers, watching as Paul gingerly slipped under the covers. The younger man drank it down in a toss and breathed through the burn while John undressed down to his drawers and then, lacking pajamas and not wishing to make Paul uncomfortable, slipped back into the hotel robe he had put on hours earlier, in expectation of a very different night. He slipped into bed without thinking, and then caught himself.

“Do you…would you rather I use the other bed,” he asked. “Can I…May I sleep with you, baby?”

“Where else would you sleep but with me,” Paul wondered at him.  

At that John smiled. It felt like his first half-genuine smile in years. He lifted Paul’s fingers to his lips, kissing them warmly. “Paulie, I want you to know…baby, you can tell me anything. Everything. We’re in this together, love. Whatever happens, we go through it together.”

In truth, he didn’t believe he could bear to hear a word, not a single word about Paul’s ordeal, but he also felt resolute that he would steel himself to it. For perhaps the first time in your whole wretched life, you’re going to live for someone else, damn you, and not for yourself.

His inner demons were already mocking the sentiment but John meant it. He thought he meant it.

I do mean it,” he said aloud, almost surprising himself. Leaning forward, he brushed Paul’s curls off his face and was pleased to see his partner holding his gaze, taking him seriously.

“I know,” John continued, his voice lowering as he forced the admission from himself. “I know I’ve let you down before, love. Too many times…I know it, you know it too.” He shook his head in regret. “I don’t know how many times. Too many, year after year.  I don’t know how you’ve put up with me…forgiven me, even, but sweetheart…no matter what it is, however ugly, however hard…I will listen to you. You say whatever you want, whatever you must. Just tell me. And I promise, I will hear you and speak only the truth to you in return.”

John searched Paul’s eyes, hoping to find nothing guarded, there. “Do you believe me?”

Paul’s answer came after a beat. It wasn’t exactly what John wanted to hear, but perhaps it was what he needed to hear, and it acknowledged once again that no one on earth understood John Lennon better than Paul McCartney.

“I believe you want to try, Johnny.”

Well there’s some truth for you, Lennon, John thought. Right between the eyes. And well do you deserve it.

Paul, still quite pale, had removed his hand from John’s grip and was stroking his arm, doing that petting thing again. “And that’s enough for me, you know... that you try.”

That’s so Paul. Such a Macca thing to say. John leaned forward, pressing his lips to Paul’s once more, hoping to recapture that sweet moment they’d shared so recently, in that lingering kiss in the tub.

But hope fell, like a bad rocket launch. Paul received John’s lips stiffly, pulling back, as though stung. “I’m tired,” he complained, his eyes darting away.

He sounded tired, John noted.

But he also sounded…different. Was he afraid? “Of course, baby,” he whispered, feeling utterly confused by Paul as the younger man turned away from him, facing the wall and curling into himself, almost into a fetal position.

Now, that wasn’t like Macca, John mused. Sure, the lad had always hugged himself into a ball when he was anxious or thinking deeply about something, but Paul was a stretcher and a bouncer in bed, always wide open because his active body needed to keep moving, even in slumber. The fetal position was much more John’s thing, especially if he was sleeping alone. But here was Paul, cocooned into himself, his back to John, completely closed off.

And oh, it was a misery for John to see this new unknown thing, this barrier he wasn’t sure he knew how to cross. All he wanted in that moment was to get close to Paul, to wrap his arms around him and spoon him, and lull him until he fell to sleep. It would be the right thing.

Instead, he lay there, feeling isolated and lonely on the other side of the bed, uncertain what to do. He began to reach out, thinking to rub Paul’s back, but stopped himself. What if he scared Paul? What if he didn’t want to be touched, now?

Whatever recollection had been brought to the fore in the past hour -- shot into Paul’s memory while John’s hand was on him – it had clearly rocked Paul down to his sinews. Before that, they had kissed and it had been a moment so pure, so alive, so full of hope. A moment that seemed like a pathway to going forward. To being healed, together.  

And after it – after the memory, God what was it? Did he really want to know? He did but he didn’t, not really.

Now, in the course of one damnable instant -- everything was different. What if Paul never wants to be touched again, or to touch me?

On his back beside Paul, John itched to move closer, to feel any sort of connection with his partner’s body.

He dared not. Instead he looked up at the ceiling, remembering Paul reaching up in the bath, touching his hand, asking to be kissed. On the lips. “Please, Johnny, wouldja kiss me?”

It had been the most innocent, most heart-rending thing he’d ever heard from Paul’s lips, the sweetest kiss he could remember them sharing, and it seemed to have pulled something that felt almost holy from John’s depths, something that made him feel like he could be a better man than he ever was.

Something that made him believe in the bottomlessness of their love -- that if all he and Paul could ever share in the future were kisses like that one, so honest and mutually adoring, it would be enough for John.

He was so afraid, now. So very scared that even the chance to share that sort of kiss might have been taken from them.

Turning to look at Paul’s curled-up figure, John stretched out his hand again, permitting his fingertips only to graze the sheet that covered that his love like a shroud. He wondered how quietly he could cry.

John was not the only one wondering. Once again, in that weird symbiosis, that bizarre telepathy that existed between the two men, Paul too was thinking about that kiss, so beautiful, so alive between them, so right. More than anything in the world, he had wanted the kiss John had just offered him, had desired a repeat of that other, intense and immaculate moment.

But the instant John’s lips had touched Paul’s he had felt filthy, as though by allowing the kiss, he would be exposing John to something polluted and toxic. His mind had flown to the horrible memory, to the harsh growl, take it all, now, and in Paul’s imagination his mouth could return nothing pure; it could only spew out rot – debris and filth, and sewage and black, corrupted putrescence.

He was ruined, spoilt. He wasn’t worthy of John, now. Or of that sort of kiss. He was too defiled to permit it.

I’m disgusting, now, Paul thought, his tears falling, silent and sideways, as he stared at the wall. Recalling the foul taste of a stranger in his mouth and the rage he felt as he tried to bite the thing away, he considered it possible, maybe even likely, that it might be all over for him, as a lover, as a partner. He might be too broken to ever kiss anyone, again. Too broken, maybe, to ever be able to look anyone in the eye.

Or to ever stop crying.

And John would always need someone, Paul knew. He wouldn’t be able to last with Paul unable to be what he required -- unable to give John all of himself. He’d learned the lesson so long ago…with John, every bit of Paul was the very least he would accept. And if Paul couldn't give it...

Oh, God…

With a throat so tight he could barely speak, he managed to croak out a whispered “Johnny…”

“Yes, babe,” John answered immediately.  

“I’m sorry…”

What…” It came out in a hiss and John, wiping his face with his sleeve, scooted toward Paul, no longer caring whether he wanted to be touched or not. He pulled at his partner’s shoulder until he was flat on his back and saw a look of pure agony on that singularly beautiful face, now covered in tears.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” John spat out between gritted teeth. “Nothing! You did nothing wrong. My darling, you did nothing wrong.”

“I’m filthy now,” Paul choked out, barely able to breathe the words, and John fell apart, his heart utterly breaking for the man he loved. “Don’t cry, baby, don’t cry,” he begged, kissing Paul's eyes, even as his own tears began to fall freely.

It was all they could do -- cling to each other and cry, each of them weeping over his own private vision of hell, full of the actual horrors of this night but flamed into something even worse by all of their unspoken imaginings, and the fear between them that seemed to say they must part.  

Chapter Text

John awoke slowly, blinking eyelids still heavy with sleep and the weight of too many tears, and the moment felt familiar in a terrible way – like the morning after Julia’s death, when he’d reached out to ground himself in Paul and found only an empty bed. The weirdly paradoxical feeling of being unsafe, utterly trapped within all that emptiness.

The bed was empty. Paul was gone!

John shot up from his pillow, eyes wide open now, calling out his lover’s name.

A billow of smoke answered him from a nearby chair. Paul was up, already fully dressed, Brian’s pajamas neatly folded on the dresser. The lad was simply sitting, one hand gripping his opposing shoulder tightly, the other holding a cigarette. He was staring off into some place only he could see, and gnawing on his bottom lip as though he wished to bite it off. 

Lennon rose gingerly, not wishing to startle, and took a knee beside the chair. “How are you, love?” He touched the sore-looking lips with a finger as though to end the torment. Paul immediately replaced his teeth with the ciggie, inhaling deeply as he shifted his whole body away from John and closed his eyes.

It’s not about you, it’s not about you, John tried to remind himself, even as he raised a fist to his own mouth to stifle the moan he felt arising from the deepest, most wounded place inside his own soul. It feels like rejection but it’s not about you, it’s just last night…

No, it wasn’t about him. Intellectually, John understood that. Another part of him, though, felt devastated to see Paul turn away. That small action invited all of John’s lifelong demons to come out and frolic, tearing at his heart, shredding it to pieces, line by practiced line: He doesn’t want you here, you have nothing to offer him, anymore. He blames you for not being there. It’s all your fault. He doesn’t love you, now…

“Oh, Paul,” his voice cracked. He reached out to that back, so full of tension, and began to stroke gentle circles. “Paul, please. Don’t leave…” he whispered. “Don’t shut me out.”

His partner tamped out the cigarette and folded his other arm around himself as John had seen him do a thousand times when he was preoccupied, or when he needed a particular consolation that he couldn’t get from anywhere else – when he needed a mother’s embrace. His head was ducked down until he seemed a turtle in hiding. His voice, when he finally spoke, was low and gruff. “Not shutting you out. Don’t want to cry anymore. Go away if you’re gonna cry.”

“I’m not…” John gulped through a tight throat. “I’m not crying, love. I just… I just want to help. Do you want breakfast?”

He felt, rather than saw, Paul shake his head.

He doesn’t want you, anymore, came the awful voices in his head. You can’t help him, fool, you can barely help yourself…

As tempting as it was to follow that thought, to let it lead him where it always did -- straight into the empty circuit of self-pity and need that had never once served him well -- John battled the familiar feeling back. For once you’re going to live for Paul, he reminded himself.

“What can I do for you?” He asked in a determined voice. “Can I rub your back? Sweetheart, can you look at me?”

“No…” it was a bare, tortured whisper.

John groaned, leaning his forehead against Paul’s knee for a moment. He was hoping Paul might reach out a hand and touch his head, signal to him in that way that he actually wanted John there with him, even if all he could handle was John’s presence. 

The signal didn’t come. They simply remained like that – Paul turned away, cocooned within himself, John like a supplicant begging attention at his knee – as though they’d both been touched by frost and could not quite move. John allowed himself, for just a moment, to acknowledge that he wanted to run screaming away from the reality that was currently overwhelming both of them, but then he gathered in a big breath, told himself to buck it up, and exhaled as he stood. He laid a hand on Paul’s shoulder.

“I’m going to order breakfast and you’re going to eat.”

Paul raised his eyes enough to give him an agonized look, and then turned away. “Not hungry.”

“You’re having porridge and pancakes,” John answered without considering. Before John could pick up the phone for room service, there was a light tapping at the door, and Eppy’s muffled voice, asking to be let in.

John Lennon was never so happy to open a door. He needed Brian’s support, now. He felt like he needed a million hands of support to do right by Paul McCartney at that moment.

Brian stepped in and before he could ask a question, John was hauling him toward his partner, who was in the process of lighting another cigarette.

Paul looked up at Brian and gasped, “Oh, Christ.” He let his head fall into his hand. Epstein looked at John with a raised eyebrow, and John pushed him forward, whispering. “Be natural. I’m going to shower and get dressed.”

“I need to talk to both of you,” Brian started.

“Please, I need to shower and dress. I need to wash last night off of me.”

“Oh,” Brian lowered his voice and brought his head nearer. “It was that bad?”

John widened his eyes at Eppy in a deliberate way, looking as if he’d seen a ghost. “That bad,” he agreed as he took off for the bathroom. “Order breakfast.”

“It’s already on the way,” came the answer, because when circumstances were dire, Brian always defaulted into an efficiency mode, and this was one of those times.

He approached the young man in the chair with careful steps and as quiet a mien as he could manage. “You wouldn’t have another one of those, would you,” he motioned toward the cigarettes. Paul handed off the pack, his head turned as far away as possible.

“Thanks. Got a light?”

Paul closed his eyes with an impatient sigh, his hand gesturing vaguely toward his lighter, on the table. He was disinclined, at the moment, to be gentlemanly and offer to open it for him.

“How are you, Paul?”

Silence.

“Look, you don’t have to feel like…as though you have to say anything, or tell me anything. You probably don’t remember, but I was here last night, I…” he paused to light up. “I know all of it.”

Paul turned, finally, looking at Brian with a scalding expression on his face. “Do you, now? And how do you know, ‘all of it’, Brian? If you know ‘all of it’ then maybe you care to enlighten me? Because all I remember is … nothing I can ever speak out loud. Not ever.”

The tone was pure McCartney at his most furious, but with a tinge of something new and unfamiliar to Brian, a mocking bitterness laced with fear that had always been more suited to John when he was at his worst.

“I’m sure you have questions,” Brian said. There was a knock at the door. Room service, thank God. He’d never needed a cup of tea so badly. He held the door close, signing for it and then wheeling the cart in himself. No staff would be permitted to see the wreckage of the room, nor the wreckage of McCartney, on his watch.

“I didn’t know what you might like,” he said to Paul as he began lifting trays, “so I ordered…well, everything. Toast, eggs, porridge, bacon, sausages, pancakes, fig cakes, biscuits, coffee and tea…”

At the mention of tea Paul’s head came up. No one in England, Epstein knew, loved his morning cup of tea more than James Paul McCartney. He licked his lips at Brian, who immediately structured an entire narrative around tea as he poured a cup, rattling on about the difference between oolong and Earl Grey, why he preferred Earl Grey in the evening, why the British preferred tea over coffee. “Milk and two sugars, I think, yes?” When Paul nodded ‘yes’ Brian added three sugars, finally handing it off to him and preparing a cup of his own.

They drank in silence for several minutes, both of them sighing as they lowered their cups into clinking china saucers. The scent, the taste, that clink, it all felt so comfortingly familiar.

“Ta for that,” Paul murmured automatically.

“You should eat something, Paul,” Eppy said.

Another shake of the head. “Where’s John?” Paul asked. “Why is he gone so long?”

“He’ll be done showering soon. I want to talk to both of you.”

A shrug. A gulp of tea. A turn of the head, away.

Feeling ill-suited to the moment, Brian spooned some eggs on to a plate, and delicately chose one perfect-looking sausage from a full serving dish. “You know, Paul,” he said as he munched, trying to follow John’s advice and be natural, “what happened last night…it changes nothing in our regard for you. It doesn’t change anything, mean anything, to the man you are.”

Paul lifted his chin, looking angry and appalled, interpreting Brian's reassurances as too overly-insistent -- he doth protest too much -- to be true. "It doesn’t mean anything? Did you just say that to me?”

“You know what I’m saying, Paul, even if I have said it badly,” Eppy corrected, blushing bright red. “Of course it has meaning, but it doesn’t change anything, you’re still a man, you’re still have people who love you -”

“Oh, get out,” Paul murmured, covering his eyes. “Just go, Brian.”

“I’m going nowhere, Paul. I’m sorry that came out wrong. I'm not entirely sure how to say what I want to tell you. But I’m staying and we do need to talk.”

John emerged from the shower, bringing a welcome scent of lemon and rosemary into the room. Paul took a big sniff of it, closing his eyes. He loved John’s cologne. Sometimes he wouldn’t wear his own, so he could enjoy John’s scent on his own clothes, on his hands. For a moment, he permitted himself to find some consolation as the fragrance wafted all around him.

“Well, John,” Eppy said in a hearty voice. “We were just missing you, weren’t we Paul?”

Paul came out of his reverie and shot him another scathing look. “Don’t do that. Don’t talk about me like I’m a patient and you’ve just fed me my gruel.”

“Well, here I am, love.” John took Paul’s teacup and poured him another. “He was looking for you,” Eppy whispered as they bent over the cart. John’s heart lifted to hear it.

“Have seconds, babe,” he said gently. He kissed Paul’s cheek before handing him his refreshed cup of tea, and then got coffee for himself. He let me kiss him, didn’t turn away. A definite improvement, he thought, feeling slightly bouyed as he heard Brian clear his throat to speak.

“I do think we should all eat,” he started, “but either way, I need both of you to give me your attention, now, before Mr. Dawson arrives.”

“Dawson,” John recollected, “the detective bloke?”

“Yes, I’ve asked him to meet with us, here.”

Paul’s dark frown was eloquent of his displeasure at Brian who began to understand that for this day he’d be playing the role of Paul McCartney’s whipping boy. “Who’s this, now?”

“Hotel detective, love,” John said, bringing his chair near to Paul’s, “a good man.”

“No.”

“I’m afraid we really must meet with him,” Epstein added.

“No,” Paul looked up to John for support. “No, John, tell him. Tell him, no one can know--”

“Shh, shush, Paulie,” John took his shoulders, pressing into them lightly. “He’s a good man, really, and if Eppy thinks we should talk to him-”

“I believe we must,” Brian repeated.

“No,” Paul’s eyes were wide and becoming wet. “Please, John, why? I don’t want this.”

“Baby, baby, it’s all right,” John soothed, taking Paul’s face into his hands, smoothing his hair off his face. “Macca, it’s okay, I’ve met him and I trust him. We can both trust him…”

“After what I saw last night,” Brian said in a strained voice, “I believe we need his help. It occurred to me after I left that the men who did this could even now be here, in the hotel.”

John’s eyebrows went up to his hairline as he grabbed Paul's hand. “Still here! Yes, that might be true! Eppy, we might be able to…maybe Dawson can track them down, do you think?”

“No…” Paul objected in a soft voice.

“Possibly, John,” Brian said, “but we mustn’t get our hopes up. We have to decide whether we want a confrontation with these men.”

“No…no men…” Paul repeated, his tone getting smaller as he pulled his hand away. How could they sound so casual about this?

John looked at Paul and thought he understood what he meant. “We don’t want a confrontation with them, right, Paul? Just to find out who they are, and see to them ourselves?”

“Men? Them?” Paul’s voice rose almost to a shout. “What are we talking about? Johnny, you keep talking in plurals...  How many ‘men’? Why do you both think there were ‘men’?” He moved to stand, because at that moment all he wanted was to walk away from the conversation, and found himself immobilized by the stabbing pains in his lower back -- the burn within his anus, every time he moved.

Men. 

Of course. The bruises and bleeding. The utter mess and muck John had bathed him free of.

He couldn't be this badly hurt from one man.

Men. Plural.

John's head was down. Brian's too. Neither would meet Paul's eyes.

"Oh, Christ," he murmured. "Not just one."

You will not crumble, you will not crumble, Paul repeated it to himself as his stomach churned. You will not crumble, but Oh, Christ. Gang-...a gang. A fucking gang of toffs. Who might still be here, just outside the door. They could be here, on this floor. Just down the hall.

A gang...and he'd been raped.

His mind jumped to a memory years ago, lying on his mother's grave and asking her, "Mum, can you see me?" Christ, could she see this?

He couldn't bear the thought of his mother in the ether, able to watch, to see him like that.

John saw him blanch and stagger and rose to help, quietly urging his mate to sit, again. Paul’s head fell against the back of the chair and he covered his eyes, mumbling something to himself that John thought sounded like an old prayer, ut miserere mei, et pecc-something -- a Latin phrase. He took several deep breaths. After a moment, lowering his hands and curling them into fists, Macca trained his dark expression on Brian, and spoke in a low, cold and dangerously controlled-sounding voice. “What did you mean, ‘after what you saw last night’, Brian? What exactly did you see?”

Caught entirely off his guard, Brian placed his teacup noisily on the cart and looked down at his hands, suddenly interested in his cuticles. "Paul," he said, finally looking up into the furious stare of The McCartney, "I'm not sure the details matter."

“You'll answer me, though, Bri. I don’t want to meet this Dawson fella -- someone you’ve invited into my private business, into my personal life,” Paul emphasized, eyes flashing as he leaned back, suddenly looking like a chieftain ready to lay down the law. “But since you’ve done this, now... I think you need to tell me everything. I’ll be damned if I’ll know less than a house detective about my own life.”

He turned to John. “You too,” he added, and watched as John's face betrayed a wince, his demons once more rising within, you're going to fail him, Lennon. You always do. 

“It’s time to tell me everything you know, everything that happened that you know. Everything, Brian,” he commanded.

His faced John, his eyes softening a bit as they read the distress on his partner's face. “Everything, John. I need to know it all.”

Chapter Text

Paul was still processing what little he’d been able to glean from John and Brian when Dawson arrived.

It had been hard going, just getting the two men to talk plainly, but Paul had made it all the more difficult, and time consuming, by constantly interrupting with questions, and they were not pleasant ones.

“What color was the hair of the fella you saw me talking to, John? What do you mean you don’t remember? How can you not remember?”

And:

“You were drawing doodles? You showered and drew doodles for an hour while I was…you didn’t even think to come down and try to find me?”

And:

“Wait, the bartender said he’d not seen me, and you said I’d specifically told you I was going over to Brian, at the bar. That didn’t ring a bell for you?”

John, hearing his partner jump on his every sentence and coldly, logically question his way through, felt like Paul was justified in harassing him. His own words, his own answers and excuses seemed to indict him as being too lazy, too complacent, too self-interested to get dressed and go look for Paul. At one point it occurred to John that had he done so, he might have seen Paul being hauled through a corridor by a bunch of “fellow honorees”  – those men who might yet be in the building – and his hand went involuntarily to his mouth as he swallowed by a rising bile.

He wanted to weep, wanted to give in to an urge to cry ugly and unleash great, honking sobs for all the ways he now believed he had failed Paul, and even more for the way Paul was looking at him as he sat so motionless, those expressive dark eyes flashing in anger one moment, and seeming to shut down the next.

Those eyes, the ones John would do anything to see spark in amusement at him once more. Just once more. I could die. I could cry.

But crying would only make this all about him, and so John Lennon remained beside Paul McCartney, as he had been for all of these years, only this time sitting forward with his head bowed and staring at the floor – because seeing raw pain mixed with disappointment in those beloved eyes was more than he could bear – and quietly admitting again and again, that once more, and in the most awful of ways, he had failed Paul.

He had failed at remembering useful details because he’d never paid attention to what wasn’t about himself.

He had failed at being even remotely curious and concerned, early on, because self-amusement always came first. Those damned doodles. Paul would have wondered where I was earlier. He’d have gone looking for me. He wouldn’t have sat around like a toddler, drawing pictures.

He had failed at simple logic, (I’m sorry, sir, I never saw Mr. McCartney…) because all he could process in that moment was that his own needs were not being met.

Failed at love, because…well, because by the time he’d managed to ring up Eppy, it should have been to express real concern, not to demand he send Paul up to him with the promised drinks so playtime could commence.

Spoiled brat, that’s what you are. You never deserved him. You’re less than useless. And now, look what you’ve done. John’s inner demons were getting louder, beginning to take full possession of his psyche, and he was letting them. Look at what your ‘love’ for Paul has done to him. Everything you love, you destroy. Why are you even here? Why didn’t you kill yourself years ago?

“I think you’re being a bit hard on John, Paul,” Brian had spoken up then, having observed the naked distress on John’s face, and in his body language.

The icy look Paul shot to Brian left the manager reeling. He’d worked with this lad for nearly four years and knew the strength of his intellect, and the surprising steeliness of his resolve, both qualities valuable to a band led by so mercurial a genius as Lennon. But it was the first time he’d seen absolute fury in McCartney, and it literally caused him to take a step back. “We’re a matched set,” John had once told Brian in casual conversation. “We’re both the smartest boys in the room. We’re both able to put it on for the crowds. We’re both witty and charming when we want to be, and we’re both angry as hell most of the time. My anger is just nearer the surface, you know. I run at a constant simmer. Paul’s is deeper, and frankly cold, cold, cold if you get near it. He’s a good lad, all-in-all, but in some ways, if he weren’t so pretty, he’d be terrifying.”

Brian had thought John was simply riffing as usual, but now, having seen the well-hidden fury that lay at the core of James Paul McCartney, he hoped never to glimpse it again.

“No,” John had answered Brian quickly. “He’s right to ask. I was all about myself.” He turned toward Paul, still avoiding his eyes. “I am so sorry I failed you, Macca. I did.”

Paul was still staring at Brian, leaning back in his chair like a boss, his head propped up with two fingertips. His tone, when he finally spoke, was controlled but cool. Chilling, to Brian’s mind.

“I’m only asking questions, Bri. John knows that. Do you have something to add to any of this, yet? Or shall we move on? For instance, I thank you for the use of your pajamas, but what happened to my clothes? Where are they?”

“I have them,” Brian admitted timidly after a beat. “They’re down in my room, in a bag.”

“Why do you have my clothes, Brian,” that cold, cold tone. “Please go get them, I’d like to have them back.”

“He was just trying to--” John began.

“I thought you shouldn’t see them, Paul.” Brian rushed the answer, guessing that John’s defending him would only serve to further enrage The McCartney. “I meant to burn them when I got home.”

“Why should --”

Thankfully, it was at that moment the house detective knocked, and Brian was relieved to think someone less frightening than this hellish version of Macca would be asking questions.

The investigator, a bear of a man with rough, mitt-sized hands, used them to greet Brian and then John, to whom he also shot a warm, reassuring smile. Paul, sitting quietly, was quick to observe that John had risen to greet the older man, seeming both relieved to see him and comfortable in his presence.

He understood why almost immediately. Dawson drew a small ottoman before Paul and sat directly in his line of vision. He didn’t offer his hand, but waited, content to make his own study of the silent young man, until Paul’s eyes finally settled on his own. When he spoke, it was in a low voice that poured out like warm honey and ginger. “Mr. McCartney, my name is John Dawson. I’m a retired police officer and I now function here as house detective. I am quite sure you do not want me here and would prefer not to know my name, or even of my very existence at this moment.”

Paul’s attention was sparked. He was even slightly amused by that forthright acknowledgement -- enough so that he gave the man a slight nod of the head that said, “continue.”

Dawson nodded back. A ‘noble scruff’ indeed, he thought to himself. Self-possessed lad with the watchful manner of an old-time prince, from back in the day, when princes still had some steel in their spines, and knew who they were. And he’s holding himself together by the skin of his teeth.  

Feeling confident that he’d read Paul correctly, the detective leaned in. “Before we speak a syllable or open up any serious discussion, I want you to hear from my own lips that not a word uttered here will ever go beyond that door, that my discretion is absolute. I was a copper for twenty-five years, sir, and it has become a sacred thing with me. If people put their personal sufferings before me, I honor their stories and their trust all the way to my bones.”

Dawson saw Paul’s intent interest in the steadiness of his gaze, and in the way one eyebrow lifted ever so slightly, and his volume became softer, as though he wanted only Paul to hear. “I know what it is to live within the unreasonable restraints of society, son, and the too-ready intrusions upon us that are made into private matters that should be of concern to no one else. I do not speak of the business of others to anyone, not even the police, unless that person specifically asks me to. And for lads like you and Mr. Lennon, here, for whom privacy must be held at a real premium, that goes doubly true.”

Paul slouched further in his chair, considering as he began to nibble at a rough patch on his thumb. John, noting no outright rejection by his partner, took a knee between the two men and dared to lightly move the lad’s hand from his lips, as he’d done a million times before. “Paul, you might not want to hear it from me, I know,” he said, “but for what it’s worth, I do trust him. Please, let’s talk to him.”

It was tense for a moment and then McCartney did two things. He squeezed John’s hand, ever so lightly before letting go, and then extended it to Dawson, sitting up in his chair. “I can see you are a gentleman, Mr. Dawson,” Paul said in a soft voice as he shook the man’s hand. “John and Brian were just beginning to tell me what they can. Let’s all hear everything, then. I know I must.”

“A good decision, sir, thank you,” Dawson approved, rising to his feet. “Mr. Epstein, here, has asked me in to give what assistance or advice I can, but I know only that you were held against your will last night, and that you did not find your way back here only to fall asleep from the drink.” He pulled a small notebook from his suit jacket – noting that McCartney pulled a similar book from his own suit, along with a pen -- and John and Brian proceeded to repeat all they’d said to Paul, little as it was.

“Alright,” Dawson said, reading what he had in summary, “what happened once I left here from meeting you? When I returned you said this young man was sleeping, and that all was well.” He raised an eyebrow in Eppy’s direction. “That was not the truth, then?”

“It was not, no,” Brian admitted. He looked briefly at Paul. “We didn’t know what was going on, you see, Paul. I was trying to control what I could.”

“Thank you, Brian,” Paul muttered. “So, what happened. Did I just show up here?”

“Well, not exactly-”

“It was the phone call first,” John interrupted. “We thought it was you calling.” As John described what had next occurred, the laughter, the jeering words, Dawson listened intently.

“Can you remember, Mr. Lennon, the exact words,” Dawson asked.  

“I don’t-” John suddenly seemed at a loss. “They said something about an attitude, that you’d had an attitude.”

Paul frowned. “An attitude? Me? At that party?”

“What they said,” Brian quoted exactly, feeling ashamed of the spiteful satisfaction – lasting a mere second but it was there -- that he took in saying the words. Paul had been such a bastard this morning. “They said, ‘your little man has a big attitude and we’ve adjusted it for him’. That’s all.”

“No,” John corrected. “It was worse than that. They said ‘we’ like it was a group, and something about ‘letting you stay awake for it next time’…and then they said you were at the door. We opened it and…you were there, against it, out cold. And we brought you in.” He looked at Dawson. “That’s all.”

“That seems like quite a lot. Do you think you would recognize the voice? Did it sound like anyone you’d spoken to at the gathering?”

“No. No!” John said, looking at Paul, who had turned pale. “I wouldn’t have, you know. I was yellin’ and all I wanted to know was where you were, Paul. I’m sorry, I didn’t pay attention to the voice.”

“Mr. McCartney, can you think of anyone you might have put off, downstairs? Someone who might have found you a bit arrogant, or cheeky?”

Paul squinted up at John. He had been jotting down a note but his pen had stopped as his hands became cold as ice and his focus narrowed. Next time? Attitude?

“Mr. McCartney?”

Little man. The words were spinning in Paul’s head. Alright, you’ll have it rough then, little man… He closed his eyes, resting his forehead in his shaking hand, and swallowed a few times, fighting to keep the tea in his empty stomach. Little man. Next time.

No. Fucking no.

“Mr. McCartney,” Dawson repeated. “Is there something you remember?”

“No,” he answered. “Nothing new. But there can’t be a ‘next time’. What does ‘next time’ mean?”

“Very likely it means nothing, son,” Dawson said quietly. “It’s a way of speech.” Still he shot a grave look in John’s direction.

As the narrative continued, it all got worse and worse for Paul, who could not hold back his own questions or exclamations of disgust. “They left me there, right on the door? Where anyone could have seen me?”

“We had you as soon as he said the words, hon,” John reassured him. “No one could have seen you. If they had, someone would have…” He took a breath. “Someone would have screamed.”

“But they left me at the door!” Paul’s voice was rising. “They left me at the door and they called you. If no one saw me, it means…” He looked up at Dawson, his face now showing open panic. “They must have been nearby, had a room nearby, right? If they could call in such short order?” A look of horror dawned. “What if they were right here? What if…what it if was all happening just a few doors away? Oh, God…”

Dawson returned to his seat before Paul, urging John to pour a finger of scotch, which he handed to the younger man. “Early for this, but have it down. Your deductive reasoning is not at fault, sir. You’re actually thinking like a copper. And what you suggest is not impossible. It might even be likely.”

John began to pace, rubbing roughly at his hair. “Christ, it could have been the next room? What do we do? What do we do? Can we just – let’s just go pounding on the doors, then, we’ll find them! Let go of me, Brian,” he snarled as Eppy grabbed one of his arms. “We can find them, and I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them.”

Dawson was up, one huge hand coming down on John’s shoulder. “Pull yourself together, lad. As good an idea as that sounds, they’re probably already gone.”

John was having none of it. “No, they might still be here!” He raged. “They might be waiting to watch what happens, to see us, leaving, to see Paul… to watch him barely walking on his own.”  

“It’s unlikely,” Dawson soothed, “but son, I promise, when we’re through here, I’ll make a note to check the registry and see who else was nearby and might have checked out in the small hours, but you know, the whole group had a breakfast over an hour ago downstairs, and most of them are already left. If you’d called me sooner, perhaps-”

Christ Almighty,” came a soft moan from behind them. The smell of spilled liquor filled the room as Paul’s untouched scotch tumbled from his hand and landed on the carpet. The young man was holding his head in both hands, rocking slightly in his chair. “I did this. I did this to myself. Oh, Christ, this is my fault, all mine. I brought this on myself. Oh, God…”

Paul raised his head, eyes closed, unable to look at them. “It was me. I remember. I did it. There was this older fella, earlier in the night, just after the supper. He asked why John and I weren’t wearin’ our medals, and I said they looked good enough in the box. An’ he asked whether I didn’t think they were important enough to wear and I said…God, I don’t remember exactly. Something about…how if I did, that might be better than thinking they were too important and never takin’ ‘em off.”

John shook off the hands and rushed to Paul’s side. He had no idea what to say, but he laid a hand at the spot where his neck met the shoulder, the same spot Paul would so often touch when John needed to feel him nearby.

“I did this, John,” Paul repeated, looking up at him. “I’ve been flingin’ bullets at you and Brian all day just because I could and it was me got us into this, all along. My fucking mouth.”

“I’d have said exactly the same thing to him, love. It was just a cheek. He should have laughed.”

“He didn’t laugh.” Paul choked the words out. “He showed me his teeth, like a smile, but not really. Like he was insulted…oh Christ, this is my fault.”

“Mr. McCartney, this is most certainly not your own fault,” Dawson’s words were direct, and his tone firm as he once more sat before Paul, moving the ottoman even closer to get the lad’s attention. “There’s no saying that you did anything more than annoy whoever you were speaking to, but even if you’d given grave insult, it would not justify what has happened to you.”

Paul was attempting to get out of his seat, wincing and trying to lift himself. The need to get away from everything, from his very self, felt so urgent he could barely hear what the detective was saying, let alone understand it. Dawson put his hands on his shoulders, not moving John’s away, and held him steady. “Mr. McCartney, you must look at me, you must hear me.”

Paul’s whole body seemed to collapse in on himself as he went almost limp. “I want to go,” he moaned, closing his eyes once more. “I want to go, now…”

“Where do you want to go, love,” John asked softly, giving a look and a shake of the head to Dawson, who backed off. “We’ll take you home, soon, yeah?” Paul was shaking his head, ‘no’. Realizing ‘home’ was a bad offer – that Jane Asher or her family were likely the last people Paul might want to see -- Lennon tried again. “Or do you want to come to mine, and see Cynthia and Jules?”

“No…no, I don’t want to see anybody, I just want to go. Let’s just go, John. Let’s get out of here…I can’t stay here…” He sounded so lost, his Paul, and John’s heart felt like it was shattering in a million pieces.

“Baby,” his voice cracked as the childlike plea kept coming. I just want to go… “Oh, sweetheart, soon, I promise…I’ll take you anywhere you want to go…anywhere…” He was rubbing small circles over Paul’s lower back, where John knew he ached. “We’re almost done here, aren’t we, Dawson,” he asked the detective out loud, his whole focus on his beloved. “If you think they’re gone, there’s not much you can do for us, anymore then, is there?”

Dawson’s own head was lowered and the burly man was biting his own lip, as though he would prefer to say something other than he needed to. Finally, he raised his eyes, and once more John was struck by strange look of knowing that he saw in him, that empathy he had imagined he’d seen in Dawson the first time they’d met.  

None had noticed but while John and the detective were trying to resettle Paul, Eppy had left the room. He returned now, letting himself in with John’s key, and carrying a crumpled paper bag. He handed it to Dawson. “The only thing left for us to tell you…” he said. “Well…it tells its own tale.”

Dawson frowned at Epstein, not appreciating the interruption, but Paul suddenly became very alert, instantly snapping out of his collapse and leaning forward. “Are those my clothes? I want to see them!”

Brian’s answer was in the thin, tight line of his mouth. "So you've said, Paul. I think you shouldn't."

“I need to see,” Paul repeated.

“Well, then, if you’re sure, Mr. McCartney, let’s take our time and both see what we see,” John Dawson reluctantly agreed.

As soon as he opened the bag, the scent of blood and sex rose from it, and Paul blanched. John kept his hand where it was, and closed his eyes. He could feel his Macca reaching for him, for the very first time since it had all gone bad, and laying his own chill hand upon John’s.

“The contents appear to be a single white shirt, button down,” Dawson’s inventory sounded both official and automatic, the product of decades of this sort of unsettling work wrought ordinary. “One gentleman’s leather belt and a pair of trousers. There is a distinctly metallic smell, possibly of blood.” He looked up at Paul. “Do you still wish to see these, items, Mr. McCartney?”

His hand still on John’s, the young man had closed his eyes against an unwelcome image – hands on his chest, his shirt being ripped from him. Paul nodded. “Yes. But, wait… that’s all there is? No jacket, no tie?” Paul swallowed with difficulty and looked at his partner. “No drawers? John, they have my clothes? My drawers?”

“It’ll be alright, Paul, you don't need them.” John murmured to him. “If you really want to see, then let’s just…let’s get through this…”

Dawson lifted the full contents with one hand, barely able to conceal his disgust as the rank odor became stronger. He was out of practice, he realized, no longer used to handling such foulness. Keeping his tone as coolly professional as he could, he continued his assessment. “The belt is black, fairly new, and in good condition, showing no evidence of…hmm.” He examined the buckle closely and then put it aside. “No identifiable evidence of stresses, blood or tissue. The shirt,” he unfolded it before them, noting that a piece of ragged paper fluttered from it, which he immediately retrieved.

“The shirt is formal, heavily starched, with several buttons missing, as though it has been torn open. There are numerous stains of what appears to be blood.” He glanced up at Paul, who was at that moment biting his lip as though his life depended on it. “Lips are very vascular, son, so they bleed profusely with even minor injury.”

“Yes, I know,” came the murmur, as though from a distance.

“The trousers,” Dawson began.

“Wait, go back,” Paul said. “What was that you picked up? That paper?”

John cursed his partner for having all the observational skills he himself lacked and thought this might be a good time to light two cigarettes, one of which he silently thrust into Paul’s trembling hand. Macca brought it to his lips by pure habit, and inhaled deeply, seeming to calm as he exhaled a huge plume of smoke. “What’s that paper,” he repeated.

“I’m going to guess nothing, good, Mr. McCartney, especially given Mr. Lennon’s behavior, but let’s have a look.” Dawson opened the small paper and held it a bit away from himself in order to read. After a moment, he sighed, saying, “well, sir, it’s your right to read it. And I think I’ve got your number enough to know you’d insist upon it if I tried to stop you. But perhaps your partner can persuade you to let one this go.”

Paul gave him a steady gaze as he reached for it. After a glance at John, who looked grim, he read it for himself.

He was delicious. In every way.

“Fuckers,” he said quietly, staring straight ahead, his jaw tightening. And then, in a much louder, almost sneering tone, “I should have bitten his dick right off.” He handed the note back to Dawson, who tucked it into the shirt pocket.

 “You’ve remembered something, then,” Dawson asked quietly.

“Yes,” Paul bit out. “Nothing that can help with…any of this,” he waved a hand. “But yes, I've remembered a little bit. I’ll not say more.”

“What is not helpful, I would not want to hear, lad," the older man said in a gentled tone. "That’s yours, and yours only to tell or not.”

Macca looked up, surprised at such a tender tone coming from a man of such a background, such a rough career. Where does that come from in a cop? “Do you have a son, Dawson?” he asked.

“No,” Dawson coughed as though he was covering up a heavy feeling. “No sons, nor daughters. Never married. Are you ready to move on?”

Paul nodded, wondering what had been behind the extreme softness of Dawson’s expression. We all carry our own weights, he thought.

Brian decided he couldn’t bear to see the trousers again and plopped himself on the edge of one bed. He felt sickened by the assault on his senses. The coppery tang of the blood brought the previous night home too fully, and Paul’s bitter wish – what it suggested of his ordeal -- was doing him in. Old memories of his own were rising, of past bullies and endured indignities. He too, he realized, was wishing they could just go. Somewhere away from all of this. 

“The trousers,” Dawson continued, after another throat-clearing, “formal, black, fitted, torn at several seams. The fly is…it appears to be jammed, and not fully functional. Nearly the whole of the fabric is stained and/or crusted at the hip and leg portions with…what appears to be dried blood and perhaps semen.” Across from him, he could hear a soft groan and looked up, expecting to see Paul in distress. It was John Lennon’s sound, though, a high pitched, agonized mewl coming from the throat, for he dared not open his mouth. He was staring at the trousers, held aloft, and could not stop trembling. Paul was looking up at him in concern, and stroking his arm -- petting him with long, light strokes, all unconsciously -- as he had the previous night. “John,” Paul said, “do you want to leave? Go down to Brian’s room with him and wait?”

Paul’s solicitousness, so unexpected in the midst of these harrowing material revelations, finally brought the tears he'd been battling back all morning, and John shook his head, angry at his lack of control. He wiped his face with his sleeve. “No. If you can stand this, I can,” he whispered. “It’s the last of it, yeah?”

“It is,” Dawson agreed, hastily rolling up the clothes and replacing them in the bag. He stopped in mid-action, suddenly leaning forward, his voice pitched low and quiet. "These trousers tell me a terrible story, my young lad," he said very softly. "Shouldn't you perhaps see a physician? You might be badly injured, yet."

"I'll not," came the terse response, precisely as he had anticipated. "The bleedin's stopped."

Dawson already felt thoroughly familiar with Paul McCartney, and knew better to argue. He would keep his own council because the boy's decision would prove itself wrong or right soon enough. 

“Wait, though” Paul’s hand stayed the cop's hands as they were rolling the trousers. “What about the pockets? Anything there? A comb, money, keys?”

The detective cursed himself for permitting John to distract him from his inventory, even as part of him felt rather impressed with McCartney for the tenacious, detail-oriented mind that probably drove his mates crazy and also saved them from themselves. Unrolling the slacks, he reached gingerly into the stiffened, filthy trousers. His hand moved about too freely. “The pockets are all empty,” he said, that official voice now very abrupt, knowing instantly what it meant.

Paul sank back into his chair, his face a sudden mask of agony and realization. “They have my keys. My keys. To the Asher’s. To my car. To the studio. My whole life.” His eyes shot open wide. Next time, he remembered John saying as he quoted them. Them.

Next time we’ll let him stay awake for the party…

The loss of his keys, and the threat that posed was enough to finally propel Paul out of his chair. Despite his considerable pain on rising, he rushed as well as he could to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. When John walked in moments later, without knocking, he saw Paul simply leaning over the vanity, head on his hands, peering at his reflection through his fingers. 

"Don't say anything," he warned John. "Not a word, John. I just want to be in here for a while, okay?"

John handed him another cigarette and lighted it, and crouched down beside Macca, just watching, and smoking alongside him. As they puffed in silence, he had a thought that brought a surprising smile to his face, and he nudged Paul, whose eyes had been closed. "Baby," he whispered.

"What?"

"D'you remember when we'd hide in the bathrooms, the four of us? They'd book us these beautiful big suites and we'd just lock ourselves in the bathrooms  and talk and smoke, because it felt like the safest place to be? Because nobody else could ever really understand us, but us?"

"'Alone, together', we called it," Paul nodded as he groaned and shifted his weight. "I said it was an oxymoron, and George said we should run away and form a new band and call it 'The Oxymorons'." The smallest of smiles was playing on his lips.

"Aye, and then Ritchie said,'" John couldn't hold back a chuckle, "he said 'I ain't bein' in a band that makes us sound stupider than we already are!'" 

Paul, his face buried in his arms snorted out a little laugh, his shoulders showing it. The moment passed quickly. Too quickly.

"I miss Richie," he said. "And Geo." He stood upright, arching his back and wincing as he stretched. He'd been still for too long. Looking in the mirror, but at John, he ran both hands through his dark hair and sighed. "I miss us, too. I'm going to miss us."

"There's nothing to miss. We're right here, darling," John said softly, moving closer to Paul, reaching out to him with both hands. His heart sank as Paul backed away, shaking his head. "No, it's no good. I'm spoilt, now. I can't be anything good for you."

"I think that's my decision to make, love, and leave off with that 'spoilt' nonsense, because you are not and could never be. You're everything good for me. Paul, please..."

"John, this nightmare is never going to end. They have my keys. They have... there's gonna be a next time -- they've all but promised it -- and I'm not gonna be able to live through it. I can't."

"All the keys can be changed, the house, the car, the studio, whatever you had on you. An hour's work for a locksmith and it's done."

"My room key, John, this room...think of it," Paul hissed. "One of them could have slipped in even as we were sleepin' this mornin' just...watching us, and goading."

"No one slipped in last night, sweetheart, you're ..."

"Don't tell me I'm being ridiculous, John." Paul headed him off with a furious glare. "You...you don't know...you don't know. And I am never going to tell you."

Paul was pressed against the bathroom door, looking trapped, and John hated to see him that way -- his arms wrapped around himself, looking the prisoner of his own fears he could so easily become. Might already be becoming.

He put his hands up in a sign of acquiescence. "You're right, sweetheart, you're not being ridiculous, and I don't know, Paul. And I don't want you to tell me anything unless you want to, so maybe I'll never know much." He laid a hand on one of Macca's arms and could feel him trembling. "But I can tell you what I do know, right now," he continued, raising Paul's face to his own, wishing Paul would give him his eyes, make eye contact with him. "I know I love you so much it's like you live in my marrow. I know that will never change. And I know that ...you let me kiss your cheek today, and once you squeezed my hand, and both of those things gave me hope. And I know that you know I love you, even if I've failed you so badly, so many times. IT's why you keep forgiving me."

He one of took Paul's hands, and then the other, helping his closed off, terrified lover to open up to him. "And I know you need me, at least a little, because you reached out to me, before, when you were scared. And I know you love me, Paul, because you stroked my arm, when I was sad. These are the things that I know, love. In this whole mad, evil, fucked up world, I know these things for certain." 

Paul was still avoiding John's eyes, not giving John what he so desperately sought. But he permitted John to rest his forehead against his own. "And I know, too, that if you didn't want me here with you right now, you'd have already tossed me out on me arse, because you're still and forever the toughest bastard I've ever met."

He felt the shake of a head, a shrug. Paul was disagreeing. "I don't feel tough," he whispered in a voice full of self-doubt, a new and ugly tone John wished he had not heard. "And of course I need you, Johnny. Of course I do. You're..." his voice trailed off. He had no business offering love words to a man he might never be able to love again. To raise hopes when there was none to see. All he could do was keep his forehead pressed to John's, and breath.

"Paul, let me kiss you," Lennon sighed against his face, "like before, please let me, Paul. Let me show you."

Another shake of the head. A despised image rushing once again to the fore, as it secretly had all day -- a cock being shoved into his mouth, Paul somehow watching himself, as from a distance, gagging as it was pushed straight into his throat. The bite. The smack. Someone holding his head in place. Laughter. Gagging, choking, barely able to breathe as hips plowed roughly against his face. He squeezed John's hands until they were white and bloodless, but was resolute. "No..."

"Macca, my love, just once... I need to show you." 

"You can't. You can't." Paul's voice broke and John knew he was crying, now, his whole body trembling. "Never," came the tormented whisper. "I can't. I...we'll never be able to be like that again."

"Oh, Paul," John's heart was breaking for him. "We will, baby..."

"No..." 

There was nothing John could do but kiss Paul's hair, bring his hands up his partner's tense arms, to his shoulders, and then back down. "Shh, alright, my love. Don't baby, please don't cry. There's no pressure." He kissed Paul's forehead brushing his dark locks aside. "I won't ask to kiss you, unless you want me to. Baby? Paul," he asked in his gentlest voice, "but I have to be near you, love, and I need you to be near me. Can I...can I give you a hug, then? Please?"

At the slight, hesitant nod of invitation, John brought Paul into a full bodied, arms-loaded embrace, closing his eyes in thanksgiving when he felt Paul enfold him in return, felt him rest his head in his neck and hold on to him, as if for dear life. 

They stayed that way for long moments. Each time it seemed natural to pull away they would only grasp one another once more, reluctant to let go The warmth of their respective holds so much surer than the strange new realities before them. They took turns shuddering through deep, breaths, until Paul's tears began to wane, and John himself could feel more composed. Grounded. Because Paul would always be his surest grounding.

It might have been going on for some moments, but they both seemed to hear the faint knocking at the same time, and they finally released each other with huge, gulping sighs. Macca turned on a faucet, splashing cool water on his face as John opened the door. 

"Come, lads," John Dawson ordered, tossing his head toward the corridor. "We're leaving this room." 

Chapter Text

“What, why? Why are we doing this,” Paul was asking, even as he permitted a completely unquestioning John to lead him by the hand across the hall and down two doors, to a new room where Brian was already putting their belongings on the dresser. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Why are we here, now,” the confused Macca continued to asked, looking from Dawson to Eppy and back. His eyes grew wide as he began to survey his surroundings, and his tone rose in panic. “This isn’t…it… this isn’t the room, is it? I can’t stay here.”

“No, lad, be easy, now,” Dawson said, resting a hand on his shoulder. “It simply occurred to me, after realizing that your room key was likely with them, that it might be best to make your whereabouts less obvious, not because I believe you to be in danger at this point, but simply for your own comfort. I called down to the concierge while you and Mr. Lennon were by yourselves and asked him to bring up a key to any room on this floor that had been unoccupied last night.” Dawson smiled at him. “And I had him bring up another bottle while he was at it.”

“Oh…” Paul replied, still looking about, dumbly. “Thank you. Thoughtful of you.”

“I’m calling down for some fresh food,” Brian said. “You still need to eat, Paul. And you, John,” he added as he passed Paul’s notebook back into the lad’s hands, along with his pen. “Some nourishment will be good for all of us, I think.”

“But…but then they’ll know we’re here,” Macca objected.

“I’ll answer the door, sir,” Dawson offered. “You’re very safe right now, Mr. McCartney, be sure, and Mr. Epstein is quite right. You really do need to eat something.”

“You really do, love,” John piped up. “Need to keep up your strength.” Paul, he knew, was one of those (to John) freakish people who never ate when anxious and then collapsed at the worst possible moment.

The younger man suddenly plopped down on the corner of a bed, wincing at the surge of pain his careless movement caused. “Safe,” he sighed. “I’m not even sure what that means, anymore.” Behind him he could hear Brian ordering bangers and mash, his favorite meal, and his stomach recoiled at the thought.

Dawson sat directly across from him on the other bed, leaning forward, hands braced before him, and waited until McCartney had settled down enough to meet his eyes. “What about the other rooms,” Paul wondered at him. “Shouldn’t you be looking at the other rooms, and you know…tryin’ to find evidence, something to tell who…who…” He couldn’t speak the words. "Who hurt me."

Dawson couldn’t help but smile at him with genuine warmth. “This is not the first time this morning that I’ve thought you would have been a fine copper, son.”

“Believe me, I’m usually oblivious,” Paul mumbled, in no mood to accept praise.

“Not true, love,” John said, sitting himself beside his mate, their shoulders just touching. “Remember how we got into a melee up North and you had the presence of mind to retrieve your amp?”

“You hollered at me for that,” Paul objected.

“Well, I didn’t say it was smart of you. Only, you know…that you’ve always been mindful.”

“Obviously, I haven’t been mindful enough.” There was a rueful self-condemnation, and a bitter tone, underneath his words, and the room fell silent at it, until Dawson picked up the thread.

“As to the rooms, housekeeping has already been instructed to look out for any room that seemed unusually disturbed, or that might have clothing or strange room keys left behind, and that if they happen across such a room they’re to leave it untouched until they are told otherwise.”

Paul nodded in approval, as though he were in charge of things.

“Having said that,” Dawson continued, “the time has come for us to talk plainly, now,” he began.

The time as come, the Walrus said to talk of many things…” John interrupted automatically as his Alice-in-Wonderland radar was tripped. He felt all eyes resting on him, not sure how to respond, and ducked his head. “Sorry…it’s been programmed into me, you know. Sorry, Paul.”

Macca shook his head. “Johnny,” he sighed, his tone fitting in somewhere in between exasperation and affection. Still, he took John’s hand and the tension lifted.

All three men turned their attention back to Dawson, who successfully managed to hide the pleasure he was taking in observing the couple before him. They’ll be fine, eventually, he thought to himself with only a rueful twinge at a rising memory. With a lot of time and a lot of patience. And not a little pain, for the rest of their lives…

Clearing his throat, the big man began again. “Where I am able, on some points, I hope to help put your mind at ease, Mr. McCartney. There are some things that you must be mildly concerned about, such as simply being aware of where you are and who is around you, but there are, unfortunately a few things I believe even you, in that fast-running brain of yours, have not yet thought about and which I believe you must be treat with real concern.”

“Let’s have it, then,” John invited.

Dawson shifted with a sigh. “Before I begin, there is something I need to say as clearly as I can, and to all of you, because it is important for all of you to hear and remember.” Once again, he forced eye contact with Paul, who was beginning to accept it more easily. “Understand me, Mr. McCartney. You must not blame yourself for any of this. Now, I know that sounds like weak sauce,” he added, anticipating Paul’s objection before he could make it. “It sounds like some platitude people say, but I assure you this is no platitude. It is the whole and plain truth of it. Young man,' he continued with intensity, "absolutely nothing you did or didn’t do, or could have done or neglected to do, caused any of this to happen. There is nothing you could have done, sir, that could ever justify the reprehensible actions of these men, not the drugging of your drink. Not the imprisoning of you against your will. Certainly not the assault on your person. There is literally nothing for which you can blame yourself as to yesterday, or last night. Do you understand me, sir?”

Throughout his speech, Dawson had watched McCartney begin to curl in on himself, first pulling away his eyes from Dawson’s own, then hunching forward over his own lap, both arms going about his shoulders as though to hold himself together. Having made a closed circuit of himself, Paul was silently shaking his head ‘no’ and seemed almost dissociative, as though he was in the process of removing himself from everyone, any way he could.

Dawson lowered his head, aligning it to Paul’s. “Indeed, son, you must hear me, and believe these words. Every rape victim I have ever known has tried to explain the inexplainable by blaming themselves, by looking for some reason that can make it all make sense to them. They think if they can find it -- find reason within the action -- then they can solve the shattering that has been made of their lives, and put themselves back together again.”

He reached one large hand out to Paul, touching one of his knees very lightly, with just his fingertips, and his face was strained and impassioned as he spoke. “But you must not give in to that instinct, my boy, because rape is not reasonable. It is the very antithesis of reason. There are no excuses, no causes, no blame-worthy justifications for it, because it is an evil act, vile and rooted purely in evil. That such evil exists, that you have been touched by it, particularly in so heinous and cowardly a manner -- because believe me, son, it’s cowards who work in packs like this – is a grievous thing.”

Dawson – the whole gathering -- watched as a single great tear fall from McCartney’s eyes, to the carpeted floor. They could hear it land. And then a second. Paul was absolutely still.

“You are right to weep,” he whispered. “In fact, you must weep, must permit all of what you feel to be expressed, because that is how you will eventually emerge from this unjust horror and begin to carry on with your life.” Dawson watched the lad before him shake his head, so resolutely certain that what the older man was saying must be wrong, and he felt his own years of training break down. This young man before him, so beautifully formed, mannerly, and gifted, was unwittingly breaking his old copper’s heart, reaching into an ache he’d carried for decades. “Yes,” he hissed into Paul’s ear with insistence. “You will survive this, lad. You will carry on. And that is where you will find your victory.”

He drew back, reaching into a pocket for his handkerchief and wiping at his own eyes and nose, noting that Lennon and Epstein both seemed to be quietly falling apart, wiping and sniffling, as well. At the discreet knock at the door he rose, slump-shouldered, like a weary grizzly bear, and went to it.

John took the opportunity to lay his full hand on his partner’s back, rubbing big soothing circles from his shoulder to his hips, letting his fingertips massage lightly where he knew Paul, still curled in on himself and immobile, was hurting. For once in his life, John could think of nothing to say. He simply stared straight ahead, and moved his hand, round and round.

After a moment, having spoken in low tones out in the corridor, Dawson returned with a cart of coffee, tea, a half dozen bottles of Coca Cola and various sandwiches, plus one covered hot dish – the bangers and mash. Brian immediately mixed a scotch and coke for John, and handed it to him with half a sandwich, all of which Lennon put aside. He was starving and he wanted the drink badly, but he wouldn’t eat, couldn’t eat, at the moment. Not with Paul like this.

Dawson, a man who knew who he was and what he needed, quickly consumed the other half of the sandwich and gulped down a fast dose of strong black coffee before resuming his seat across from Paul. He sat observing the lad for a moment and then, shaking his head, he gave in to his own instincts, his own surprising need to console him. Taking Macca’s head between both hands, he lifted it, watching as the younger man squeezed his eyes shut in a grimace and attempted to pull away. With his thumbs, the detective brushed away his tears and for a moment John, watching closely, wondered if Dawson was, weirdly, going to kiss Paul.

He didn’t. But the tenderness with which he was engaging Paul almost felt like he had, to the others. “Weep, you, Mr. McCartney,” he said, “you’ve every right to. But then remember what I have said, do you. Because I have never spoken truer words, son, not even in my prayers.”

Brian Epstein, one arm across his chest, the other pressing his hand to his mouth shot John a helpless look, as though he was only just understanding the hard recovery that was before them all.

John, meanwhile, was distracted by Paul, who was beginning to sit up. The young man raised his hands to Dawson’s and slowly removed them. “Is this the antidote,” he said, sniffling and seeking out his own handkerchief from his jacket pocket. “Some old men touch me bad, so another old man touches me good?” His tone became purposely clipped as he looked at Dawson with a curious expression, one eyebrow raised. “Some old copper trick, is that?”

Dawson nodded his head, appreciating the younger man’s clever manner in redirecting the moment, and the room’s attention, away from himself and – he thought thankfully – away from me, and my own lapse.

“You’ve seen through me, then” he agreed, trying on a gruffer tone. “And now that I’ve said my piece,” What I have wanted to say since you first put blame upon yourself, my poor, wounded boy, he thought, “We’ll move on. The loss of your keys should of course concern you, but this can easily be remedied-”

“It’s just Jane,” Paul interrupted, still sniffling but tugging a cigarette pack from his pocket. “And the Ashers, and all the others. I can’t have them bothered, or, or endangered by these…men. I can’t have the studio personnel put at any kind of risk, and I can’t have Jane…God, what might they do to her, these sorts, if they could get to her? Would they use her to hurt me?”

“You’re very right in your thinking. Perhaps Mr. Epstein could make a few calls right now, alerting the studio and the Asher family to change their locks as soon as possible,” Dawson said.

“How do you explain that,” John worried. “Without havin’ to go into the whole bleedin’ thing?”

“I’ll simply tell everyone that Paul’s managed to lose his keys and that they should have their locks changed immediately.”

“Sure, that’s convincing,” John sneered. “Every one of them will say ‘that’s not like Paul, how did he lose them?’”

“And then I’ll say I don’t know and that they can ask him when they see him, that I’m just the messenger boy, and that this is what he wants them to do,” Brian chided. “Don’t make thing harder than they need to be, John.”

“Well said,” Dawson agreed, “And the sooner done the better, sir, if you will.”

“Yes, at once,” Brian agreed, starting for the door.

“Wait, where you going, Brian?” Paul stopped him. The back and forth between the others had given him time to comport himself and now he felt ready to be assertive once more.

“I thought I’d call from my room, less distracting,” Brian explained.

“Nay, don’t you,” Paul frowned at him. “I thought the whole purpose of comin’ into this room was to keep anyone from knowin’ where we are? You can’t be slippin’ in and out, then.”

Brian’s face turned mutinous. “What, I’m to be trapped in here, too? I don’t think my whereabouts are of interest to anyone-”

“But he's quite right, sir,” Dawson said in a decisive voice that would brook no argument. “You’re known. At least for now, do your calling from here.”

With an annoyed sigh Brian acquiesced, grabbing the phone from a desk and moving to a far corner.

“I saw what you did, there,” John said to Paul with a smile. “You want to be sure you can hear what he says, make sure he doesn’t fall off script, then.”

Paul nodded his head in silent admission. John leaned forward, whispering, “I even love that controlling bastard part of you, you know.”

John,” Paul couldn’t help but shake his head once again, in affectionate resignation. “You actually don’t. Is that your drink, there?”

Lennon hastily handed his untouched scotch and coke to his partner, who gulped half of it down in one go and then looked to Dawson. “What else, then? If the keys are only partly worrisome, what else should we be knowin’ Mr. Dawson?”

“Well, a few things you need to consider. And, let me preface this by saying I still believe you should be examined by a physician--”

“I thank you for the suggestion, but that’s off the table,” Paul cut him off, leaving no room for discussion on that head. Dawson gave a low hmph, disliking the answer, before continuing.

“You should consider traveling with a bit of professional security. As near as I can tell you lads walk about London fairly freely, with just friends nearby to help out if needed.”

“Aye, we’re not MP’s you know,” John said, “or members of the damned royal family. We have a care getting in and out of places, but we’ve never hired help for it.”

“I suggest you do so, now, at least until we have a handle on why Mr. McCartney was targeted, and whether the rest of you or your families might be.”

“Our families,” John paled, immediately thinking of Cynthia and his son, Julian. “Why would anyone bother them? This is England, not the substrata of Chicago, or you know, Sicily. We’ve accrued a bit of goodwill here, I think.”

“Mr. Lennon, not to put too fine a point on it, but your partner has just undergone something I hope none of the rest of you will ever experience, and Mr. McCartney was not off the mark when he asked if these men might go after Miss Asher to bring further hurt to him.”

Your partner… John rightly read the subtext beneath the words as your lover and clammed up. So battered did he feel by the expediency of Dawson’s correction that he raised both of his hands up in surrender. “Peace, peace, Dawson, I…you’re right. I just…” He looked helplessly at Paul. “We’ve only ever needed a bunch of cops wherever we’ve played, while touring, and we’ve gotten by so well on our own, til now...”

Paul patted his hand with surprising understanding. “Everything is going to change, John. It’s alright for you to not like it. I don’t like it, either. I confess,” he said to Dawson, “I am feeling…fearful…afraid, even of leaving this room. What if they’re still here? I can’t bear the thought of walking through that lobby and knowin' that one of them might be watching me, laughin’ at the way I’m hobblin’ about, or even…” He swallowed down the rest of John’s drink, unaware that he was dropping his g’s in a way he hadn’t in years. “That they might be seein’ me and thinkin’ back on…everythin’ ... last night. Might enjoy picturin’ it again – wankin’ off on the memory of it,” he actually shivered in disgust at the thought.

“Even if I can’t remember much, what I do recall is bad enough. Thinking that someone could be out there, relivin’ it and with pleasure every time they see me. I can’t do it, I can’t stand it. It’s like I’ll be feelin’ stripped of my dignity, bein'... that...for the rest of my life.”

Feeling John lace his fingers and squeeze his hands, he turned to his partner. “I’m serious, John. I’m not sure I can ever go back on with the band after this. Can’t bear it, can’t bear the thought of it, with them out there, laughin’, and rememberin’ and knowin’ and maybe even wantin’ to do it to me again, or to one of you lads, because now maybe it’s become a game to them – imagine it! If they decide havin’ bagged one of us improper MBE’s, they come after us all!”

He removed his hand from John's and began tearing at his middle finger, his teeth digging at a cuticle. “I can’t, you know,” he repeated to John. “I can’t have it. Can’t be thinkin’ of it, worryin’ on it, for all our sakes, forever.”

“Paul, you are not possibly thinking of quitting us, you can’t mean that,” John was trying to sound less panicked than he felt. If Paul was saying this out loud, Lennon knew, it meant he must already have been ruminating on it, perhaps all day day.

“I am, though,” Paul admitted softly. “Told you before, I’m no good to you anymore. I’m ruined, John. Have nothin’ to offer you, and nothin’ for the lads. Nothin’ for Jane, even. I might as well go back to Liverpool and…just be nothin’.”

John stood and began to pace, running his hands through his hair, unable to process this new notion of wholly and completely losing Paul. Not just Paul, his dear one, Paul his lover, but Paul his partner, Paul, his muse, Paul, his best mate. Paul, the very heart of the band he couldn’t possibly continue to lead without. He wandered over to where Eppy was still quietly speaking on the phone, and took the corner, his back to the room, his forehead pressed to the wall.

Paul looked at Dawson with a helpless expression. “He doesn’t understand…”

“On the contrary, lad,” came the gentle reply. “I think he has suddenly understood all too much, all too well.”

“I’m not wrong, am I, to feel this way,” the younger man worried. “To think this way?”

“I’m quite certain that whatever your feelings are in this moment, they are not wrong – the exception being any feeling you have that any of this is your own doing. But, son, you’re still in the middle of processing a trauma even you do not fully understand." He poured a cup of tea out for Paul, who took it politely but did not sip. "Your worries are natural, and I see you’re already putting together worst-case scenarios, which I suspect you already do as a matter of course. But you must also remember that worst-case scenarios are called that precisely because they are “worst-case”, and as a copper, I can tell you the worst cases are realized much less in reality than in our imaginings. You’re not wrong to think as you do, but perhaps... leave aside some of those thoughts – the ones touching on your livelihood, for instance, for another day.”

“I shouldn’t have said it to him, you mean,” Paul was still gnawing at his finger.

“Actually, it might have been good for him to hear. It’s clear to me, Mr. McCartney, that your partner is committed to you, but he doesn’t strike me as a man who projects much into the future.”

Paul looked up from under his heavy lids, and removed his finger from his mouth. “He’s more than just my partner, you know,” he confessed, as though sharing the deepest secret of his heart.

Dawson met his eyes. “I know, son,” he said, enormously touched to be entrusted with such an admission. “And he loves you, too. You should let yourself lean on him a bit more, perhaps, than you do.”

He decided to let that sink in on McCartney a bit, and headed back to the food cart, selecting another sandwich a full one, and nodding toward the covered dish. “You should eat something hot.”

“Later,” Paul answered, not caring, “when we’re done taking up your time.”

“No worries on that, sir,” Dawson rumbled before raising his voice a bit. “I do hope Mr. Lennon and Mr. Epstein can rejoin us, though, as there is still something quite important to discuss.”

Looking like an inattentive schoolboy who has been called out, John ambled back over to the bed, stopping to grab a sandwich and a napkin on the way. Eppy was finishing up the last of his calls and managed to join them soon after.

“So, they’re going to change the locks, yeah?” Paul asked with some anxiety.

“The studio said it would be done within the hour, no question,” Brian informed him suddenly deciding that he, too, needed a bite and sticking near the cart. “The Ashers were a little more problematic, rather casual about when they’d attend to it. It was a bit of a job convincing them of the urgency of the matter.”

“What did you tell them, then,” Paul had gone very still. “You didn’t-”

“Of course I did not,” Brian said, looking insulted. “As John said last night, that’s yours alone to tell. I simply informed Margaret that you’d lost your keys in a very bad neighborhood and that you were insisting they protect themselves immediately.”

Paul made a face. “Margaret. I’m surprised she didn’t ask you if I lost them while off whoring in a brothel, somewhere.”

John couldn’t hold back a snicker, and even Brian permitted himself a tight-lipped smile before repeating his assurances. “I did tell her I thought your concerns were justified and after a bit of back-and-forth she did finally agree to call a locksmith. Today.”

That brought a relieved sigh from Paul, which seemed a sign to Dawson that he could resume the floor. To that end he stood up, looming immensely before them.

“If I may, sirs, I want to repeat my concerns about our personal security. At least for the foreseeable future, until we have answers, it is the wisest course. And you will have to tell this to your bandmates, that they need to step up their security and be more aware of where they are, and who is around them, than they are used to.”

“We’re going to have to tell them, love,” John whispered.

Paul shook his head ‘no’. “I know,” he answered. “But I don’t want to think about that right now. I can’t. I keep thinking of what Geo’s gonna say, or how Ritchie’s gonna look at me with those eyes, and I can’t.”

“And about us, too, you know, it’s time to tell them.”

“Mr. Lennon, if you please, sir…” Dawson sounded purely weary of trying to get to his main point.

“Sorry,” John drew away from Paul, who was back to biting his finger and looking anxious.

“There is one urgent concern I have that I believe you must face.” He turned to Paul, addressing him directly. “Mr. McCartney, I am very, very sorry to have to be more direct in my language than is perhaps comfortable for you, but it is necessary for me to plain and clear.”

Dawson’s tone and expression were enough to cue John into readiness. He put an arm around Paul’s waist, giving him a light squeeze.

“The thing you must understand…” Dawson looked as though he really did not want to say what he must. “The thing is, whether your assault was planned or spontaneous, it took place during a social gathering, which means there is a very good possibility that there were cameras present--”

“Oh, Christ.”

The cry came from Brian Epstein and it was immediate. Before Paul or John had fully taken in Dawson’s words, Brian’s protective and managerial instincts were engaged. His face reflected pure horror.

“Yes,” Dawson said quietly. “Mr. McCartney, it is very often the case in rapes involving more than one attacker, that photographs will be taken. The greater the number involved in the rape, the greater chance that there will be at least one or two cameras involved. In this case, especially if your attackers were involved in a social engagement such as last night’s, I’m afraid it is most likely there were cameras present and in use during your rape.”

John felt Paul swaying in his arm, his partner rubbing his forehead, furiously, as though to erase the idea from his head. “No,” he heard him whisper.

“I am afraid ‘yes’ is the more likely answer,” Dawson said, observing his Macca sadly – somehow the lad had become his Macca, too. “And the thing is, there are all sorts of ways that material will leak out. Some members may share the photographs outside their group. Some may sell them through the underground pornography markets.”

With those words, the detective noted that Paul looked close to passing out, and that Lennon – whom he’d just advised the lad to lean on more surely – was too shocked, too appalled to realize it. He made his way to them, and touched McCartney’s head. “Come, now, son, head down, between your legs. Take a good deep breath.”

That snapped John out of his stricken state; he too bent toward Paul, crooning softly at him and once again rubbing his back. “Breathe, baby, don’t pass out on me…I’ve got you, love,” he murmured, despite his own head spinning at the notion. Cameras.

Chapter Text

Paul McCartney was vomiting. Right into John Lennon’s hand.

The bile had risen so suddenly, so unexpectedly, from his nearly empty stomach that Paul hadn’t even felt it coming. And now he was heaving uncontrollably, and John, completely flustered and trying not to retch, himself, could not think beyond catching the malodorous mixture of scotch, Coca-Cola and stomach acids before they hit the carpet, which he knew would have upset Paul under normal circumstances.

It didn’t really make sense, and of course the carpeting was getting spattered, anyway, but that’s all John’s brain was capable of thinking at the moment, as though he’d been trained through all of their travels: Paul will be embarrassed if the carpet is ruined!

In seconds, Dawson had put a paper bin in place, and Brian had immediately rushed into the bathroom returning with wet flannels and dry towels.

The sound Paul was making between heaves was low and tortured  -- almost feral-sounding – and the hard tugs to his stomach continued long after there was anything left to bring up.

Cameras.

Yes. Cameras.

As soon as Dawson had said the words, he had known it was true. All day Paul had been remembering flashes of light. Fast, bright. He’d dismissed them as some sort of symptom – of anxiety or trauma, or a crazy spike in blood pressure. But now he knew what he’d been seeing.

Cameras.

There were going to be pictures. Perhaps at this very moment, someone was in a dark room, developing photographs that would display images of himself being…held down…

Smacked.

Bitten.

Face-fucked, head held in place.

Raped. His ass held open, exposed.

Bleeding.

God only knew what else.

Negatives, he thought, and his stomach roiled, again. There would be negatives, able to make a hundred sets of photos. A thousand.

And they would be bought and sold.

The manhandling of his body, commodified like a cheap 45 rpm record.

The utter negation of his humanity, of his God-given dignity, passed off as wanking material or as something sensational and humiliating. Someone’s passing entertainment.

It’s the end of me, he thought, his sense of dread completely overwhelming his senses. All over. It’s done for me, for the band…

His head was spinning. Weirdly, he could hear Bob Dylan’s voice whirling through his brain, but sounding slow and distorted, blurry and under water…

The sky too is folding under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue

Paul dropped the wastebasket, not remotely worried about the carpeting, as the world went black.

*********

Hands, grabbing at him. His legs being wrenched apart. Roughly. Wide apart.

Someone tugging at his cock, twisting at his sac, cruelly.

Stopitstopitstopit.

Look at him, shooting right up, there, hard as a rock. He’s loving it, though, he loves it.

That’s youth for you, Cholly. Springs right up.

Stopitstopitmakeitstopgodmakeitstop

A flash of light. Another. Someone grabbing his chin. Calloused, stinking fingers shaking his face back and forth.

Open your eyes, darling, give us a big smile while Cholly makes your lovely cock happy.

NononostopitIdon’twantthis

Two fingers shoved roughly up inside him, dry. The pain is searing and his eyes fly open, his mouth, too, flies open.

A flash of light.

Laughter

He enjoyed that, didn’t you Paulie? Go for three, Cholly.

Another rough thrust. Burning pain. Paul’s eyes are open wide, and he cries out. Cries out loud, high pitched. Screaming.

Flash.

A smack. Something shoved into his mouth. White, thick.

His drawers. His own drawers. In his mouth.

He’s suffocating. He can see himself, as if from a distance, his eyes rolling about as he seeks out something, anything on which to focus, something to look at that is not this.

He really is a beauty, though, isn’t he? I can see why my daughter likes him.

One finger, tracing down his face. A tongue licking its way up his cheek while a hand twists his nipple painfully.

Teeth, biting.

And just imagine that pretty face full of my cock. Or praps even two dicks, eh?

Yes, two is smarter, since he bites.

More laughter. Loud, braying, sounds.

Hey, not funny, now… little bastard actually hurt me.

He hears zippers, flies being let down, clothes being tossed about.

He’s looking. Looking for anything. Where can he put his eyes…

Bit of a goat-boy isn’t he? Furry as a faun’s, those legs.

Aye, but then that lovely round ass of his…smooth as a babe’s.

We’ll give it a go, no worries on that front

You mean that back. Prefer him kneeling over the bench for my own turn.

More laughter. A chorus of ayes, and yeahs. Filthy laughter.

The doorframe. Focus on the frame of the doorway. Help will have to come from there, right? Through the door? Helpmehelpmehelpmepleasehelpme.

Paul stares at the doorway, tries to keep his attention there, as rough  fingers are digging away inside him, carelessly, and there is laughter as he moans.

Unthinkable pain.

The doorframe. He hears a distant voice, calling from so far away, the sound of mist and light.

The drawers taken from his mouth. A hard cock quickly shoved in its place.

Another flash of light.

Laughter.

Look at the doorframe, Jamie…

My Jamie, sweet and strong…

Jamie…

*********

“Jamie, wake up.” Whispered into his ear.

“Wake up, my Jamie, sweet. Oh, wake up, my love.”

His mother? Her words from so long ago. “Come now, my Jamie…”

No, not Mary. John.

John’s voice, calling him back from that terrible place. “Jamie, my love…

Paul felt like he was being pulled up, wrested up powerfully, lifted instantly out of a whirlpool that was still trying to drag him down, keep him in that deep hole of darkness and mocking laughter.  And the doorway that never brought rescue.  

John’s faced pressed against his, warm, wet. Whispering his name, his secret name – the sweetname that John and John alone knew – insistently in his ear. “Jamie…my sweet.

Paul opened his eyes. Above him loomed Dawson and Brian Epstein, concern showing nakedly on their faces. Beside him lay John. His John. Cheek pressed to his own, one hand lightly cupping his face, beloved auburn hair tickling his forehead. Tudor red in the bright sun, Paul used to tease him.

But it’s all over now, Baby Blue…

He reached up, touching his lover’s hand, and Lennon’s eyes flew open. “Oh, Christ, you scared me. Oh, Paul.” He imposed a full hug on him, not caring whether it might hurt, both arms squeezing tight as his tears flowed freeling. “I didn’t think you’d ever come ‘round, love.”

Brian Epstein found his way to a chair, blotting his forehead with a towel and loosening his tie. He wasn’t sure he could endure much more. Never had he wished for a day to simply end. He loved Paul, of course he did. He would do anything he could for him, anything to help him. But right now what he really wanted was to be home, in his own house, where things were quiet and beautiful, and with no ghastly suffering before his eyes. He could be free of this, free to just…think of something else.

Even Dawson seemed shaken. He settled himself on the foot of the bed, exhaling as though he’d been holding his breath a great while.

“You gave us quite a fright, my lad,” he said in a gruff voice, the voice a father might use after one of his children had scared the heart right out of him, and didn’t want to show it.

“Aye, Paul, so fuckin’ pale you went,” John agreed. “Was afraid you were dyin’. And then you wouldn’t wake up, wouldn’t come around, just wouldn’t…” He left off, snorting and choking back on his words, realizing that he sounded like he was blaming Paul for what he couldn’t control. “Almost called for an ambulance.”

“No…I’m sorry.” Paul tried to sit himself up while Lennon resolutely clung to him. “I’m sorry I scared you. I…it was scary for me, too.”

“You need to eat something, will you please eat?”

“Oh, Christ, don’t nag me, love, my head is dinnlin’ isn’t it?”

John pulled away looking crushed for a moment, and then his face relaxed. He looked at Dawson. “He called me ‘love’.”

“I heard,” the detective nodded. “Get him some food.”

“Yes, get off me, John, I can’t breathe.”

“Alright,” John rose, wiping his eyes, and then his nose with his sleeve. He leaned down, planting a firm kiss on Paul’s forehead. “You called me love, though, I heard it.”

The look his partner gave him strongly suggested John Lennon was insane, but he chose to ignore it. “I heard you,” he repeated as he made his way to the food cart and began cutting up sausages.

“I’m not eating,” Paul said to Dawson, who had drawn closer. With a shaking hand, Macca lit a ciggie.

“That’s unwise, Mr. McCartney. You clearly need food.”

“I’m not…I don’t want to…I don’t want to digest it.”

The penny dropped for the detective, and his expression was a mixture of sympathy and pragmatic firmness. “You can’t go the rest of your life without shitting, son,” he said quietly, so no one else could hear.

“It will…it’s gonna hurt.”

“Aye, it will. Likely be bloody at first, too, and for a while.”

The younger man blanched and puffed hugely on his smoke. “I don’t want it.”

“Of course you don’t. I’m afraid, however,” he said in a louder voice as John returned to the bed, a plate in hand, and spread a napkin – with surprising daintiness – on Paul’s lap, “that we all of us must insist that you eat something. It would be downright unkind of you, sir, to put us through another episode like the one we’ve just endured, because you’re too weak from hunger.”

“Aye, I’ll force-feed you if I have to,” John added, taking Paul’s cigarette into his own mouth and handing him a wet flannel, instead. “Wipe your tongue and teeth off with that, love. Vomit doesn’t truck with bangers and mash.”

Paul gave him that look again, the one that said Lennon was utterly mad, but did as he was told before trying a forkful of tepid mashed potatoes. As soon as he swallowed he realized how famished he actually was. With relative speed he plowed his way through nearly half the dish before suddenly laying down his fork, thinking that – regardless of Dawson’s advice – less in this case would mean less, later on, not more. He washed it down with nearly an entire bottle of Coke taken in one go, and had to admit he felt stronger for it.

“Better?” John asked.

Paul burped lightly, his stomach churning away. “Aye, thanks, John. Thank you,” he repeated, as though wanting to be sure John heard. He rubbed his face and then looked directly at Dawson.

“You are right, Mr. Dawson. There was a camera. There might have been two.”

You plucky lad, Dawson thought, wondering at Macca. Come back from a faint like that and lead off with as ugly a matter as possible. “You’ve remembered something else, then,” he asked gently. “Is that what put you out?”

Paul looked at him with cautious eyes. “We’ll stick to the camera, yeah? I’m only confirming a camera.”

“Christ Almighty,” Brian groaned as he picked up the conversation. “This is going to be awful.”

“It’s going to mean that whatever else you do or do not wish to happen – whether you wish to see these men arrested and brought to trial or not – there is now an urgent issue before us,” Dawson pronounced. “There are photographic negatives that must be somehow retrieved, before they can be developed and redeveloped and then handed about. Assuming we are not already too late.”

The silence that greeted his words was profound. They all understood his meaning, and the possibility that the circulation of such photos might already be impossible to prevent.

“Can’t we bring Scotland Yard in on this,” John asked. “Can’t they…don’t they have some sort of division to look into something like this?”

“It would be impossible to ask the Yard to somehow prevent photos leaking out of an event you don’t wish to tell them about,” Dawson explained. “Something as delicate as this…and as sensational…even if sworn to secrecy, someone might calculate that one big payday to help a leak might be a better option than 20 years and a pension. I do wonder, though…” He turned to Brian, “Mr. Epstein, you must have had contact with the offices at the Palace in preparation for recent events. These lads are MBE’s now and in real trouble. Seeking assistance from that quarter, as quickly as we may, could be our best option.”

“All of those numbers would be in my office,” Brian said. “If you don’t mind me heading out there, then I may have a few useful contacts.”

“Go, Brian,” John urged immediately. “Be slippy about it.”

“That would be very helpful, sir,” Dawson agreed, turning to Paul. “Are you in agreement, son?”

Paul looked toward Epstein hopefully, his dark eyes two large pleas for deliverance. “Bri-Brian…” he stammered. “Anything you could do,” he held out a hand. “I’d be so grateful.”

“We both would be,” John added.

Eppy took Paul’s proffered hand and could feel the desperation in the lad’s hard squeeze. “Thirty minutes,” he said reassuringly, looking about the room. “I’ll call you all when I have made a contact.”

“Thank you,” Macca said, nearly collapsing against John in gratitude. Brian, in a move completely out of character, especially within his relationship to Paul, leaned over and kissed his head. “Paul, I’d do anything,” he started, before his throat began to tighten. With a shake of Dawson’s hand, Eppy quickly – and gratefully - exited the room.

“Dawson,” John spoke up, watching Paul raise his fingers to his mouth and deciding to let him be about it, “do you think there’s a chance? That we could get out of this mess unscathed?”

The detective, leaning against the door he’d just locked, with his hands shoved deep into his pockets, shook himself from his own thoughts. “Impossible to say,” he answered. “But this is our best possible option. We don’t know who is behind this, whether it relates to the gathering last night or not, but … let us hope for the best.”

“And if it all goes bad, well, that’s it, we’re done, then,” John said, turning to Paul with a grimace. “If we’re screwed, Paulie, then fuck it. We’ll disband. Go off to New Zealand and set up a pub with a mic and just play for ourselves, then. We’ll get out of the fecking business and become new men, and we’ll not have to endure it.”

“That’s not a half bad plan,” Paul nodded, but his face was grim. “The pictures would still be out there, though, and maybe bein’ replicated. It would just be like… I couldn’t live thinkin’ the world can see last night forever.”

“No, nor, I love. It’s not to be endured. I’m confused, though,” John turned to Dawson. “If someone was pushin’ pictures like that, foul pictures where it’s clear someone’s been drugged, someone’s you know…eyes closed, asleep an’ all, who’d buy them? I’ve seen my share of porno, you know. Not proud of it, but we’ve all looked. Never come across anything that seemed, you know…like someone’s being abused as they were out cold.”

Paul shivered, looking down at his lap, saying nothing. Dawson noted it, and hmmed thoughtfully before answering John.

“In fact, Mr. Lennon, there is a very good chance that some measure of the pornography you’ve seen – any of us have seen in our lifetimes – are rapes-in-progress, but not obviously so. Not every drug, you know, knocks someone out. Depending on the drug itself, and the dose… Some drugs just put a person into a kind of twilight, where they are still awake, but unable to do much to help themselves. Or perhaps a man is given a dose that might be enough to knock out a woman, but only has a similarly debilitating twilight effect on him. So, they are not especially asleep. Sometimes they’ll be deliberately hurt in order to get a particular facial expression – to make it look as though they are climaxing, as it were, or close, because pain and pleasure do not always look very different.” Dawson’s gaze was indirect and far-focused, as though he was looking at a memory. “Sometimes their eyes may look glazed over, as though they are in the throes of passion, when in fact, they are simply dosed and unable to get out of the situation they are in.”

He let that terrible reality sink in, and Lennon, who had seemed almost cheeky once McCartney had been restored to him and fed, sobered up considerably -- particularly as he recalled all the time he spent in Hamburg, where pornography was sold outright on the Reeperbahn, as common as chewing gum. “Is that true,” he wondered. “Christ. I don’t like hearin’ that. Or thinkin’ I’d been seein’…”

“I assure you, it is quite true. Rape has a hand in pornography, whether it’s part of what you’re looking at, or because it has played a part in some poor woman or lad takin’ it up for profit, because they believe it’s all their good for.”

The somber atmosphere in the room only grew as a deep sense of shame, and sadness engulfed them all. Paul’s silence was so intense it seemed to loom over all of it, as though it was an entire separate entity of unwanted knowledge.

John felt compelled to reach over and massage his partner’s neck a little. Paul couldn’t help himself. He pulled away with a tiny gasp, looking down, biting down on his lip.

“Sorry,” he said.

“No, I’m sorry,” John looked utterly crushed. “It’s alright, Paul.”

“These memories,” Paul suddenly blurted in a fretful voice toward Dawson. “Are they just gonna keep comin’ at me? Layin’ me out like this? I thought when you were blacked out, all the memories were gone?”

“Again, depends on the drug, and the dosage,” the detective answered plainly, thinking it the best way to deal with McCartney who, he had come to realize, wanted his answers with no dressing. “It seems clear to me that your memories are already resurfacing and that will probably continue. They might seem to come at you hard and fast, especially in the next few weeks, and then become less frequent.”

Next time… Paul heard running through his head. Next time, tell him we might let him stay awake…

He wondered what was worse, being gang raped while drugged, or without the drugs, nothing to even take the edge off. He was horrified, suddenly, to realize that he was thinking the word, rape, permitting it to form in his consciousness, as though it was already becoming a normalized reality for him.

But that was reality, after all. He had been raped. He was a man, and he had been raped. By other men…one of whom had a daughter, apparently.

For the rest of his life, whatever he did, good or bad, musical or charitable or whatever, this would be one of the true things someone could say about James Paul McCartney: that he had been dehumanized and hurt and treated like a mere thing, a nothing. That he had been brutally raped, and by more than one man.

His stomach was beginning to ache at the thought. He forced himself to remain very still for a long moment, and then opened his eyes.

“John,” he said in a resolute voice. “Could you leave Mr. Dawson and me alone for a bit?”

Why,” John asked, “where do you want me to go?”

Paul shrugged apologetically. “Back to the loo for a bit? Smoke a bit?”

“But why,” he repeated, a very real hurt on his face. “Why don’t you want me with you?”

Paul’s heart nearly broke to hear the quiver that came with those words – the words at the heart of everything that made John Lennon brilliant and angry and sensitive and tormented, and so endlessly, endlessly needy. He suddenly realized that by asking him to leave, he had struck at John’s core, activated the pain and massive void created within him so long ago.

And he’d done it so thoughtlessly, so selfishly, too. “I’m sorry, John,” Macca said as gently as he could. “I don’t want to hurt you. It’s the last thing I want. I don’t mean to… I don’t want you to go away. I need you near.” He placed a hand on Lennon’s shoulder, pressing in. “I need you to be near me, I do … but I don’t want you to hear, yeah? You understand? Some things I never want you to hear.”

“But…” It wasn’t helping. John’s insecurities were echoing through him, blaring too loudly to permit him to hear or see Paul’s own need, or to understand that his ever-controlling partner was trying to protect John, protect himself, protect their love. “You can tell me anything, Paul, anything. Don’t you know that? Don’t you trust me?”

“It’s not about you, or trust or anything like that, love. John, please? Give me a few minutes alone with Mr. Dawson?”

“I think, Mr. Lennon,” the detective said softly from his wall, “Mr. McCartney is trying very hard to keep from hurting you very deeply.”

“Well, he’s hurting me good’n hard right now, though, isn’t he?”

Chapter Text

“John, Mr. Dawson is right--”

“No, I don’t want to hear it, Paul—”

Paul was rubbing his forehead, the way he did whenever he was under real stress. “I’m only trying—”

They were talking over each other and John was on his feet now, beginning to pace around Dawson and the room while his partner struggled painfully to sit up more fully. “Look, John love, you said yourself you didn’t want to hear anything that I didn’t want to tell you--”

“Well, I’m revising that,” John cut him off with an impatient motion. “I can’t do it, Paul. I can’t be your partner, I can’t be the partner I want to be and go through all of this with you without ever being able to know what it is you’ve actually gone through.”

He finally looked at Paul, who had gone silent. The younger man was sitting up in obvious discomfort, his eyes like two platters serving up all the fear, all the doubt he felt inside about what John could or could not handle, or what telling John everything he wanted to know might cost them both. Namely, their whole relationship -- all that they had been to each other, from the day they had met until this moment.   

Paul didn’t have to say a thing. John saw all of his concerns in the shout of those two expressive dark eyes -- saw the ever-confident Macca looking completely lost and uncertain of himself -- and the flinty edge of his anger fled. He clambered over the bed to kneel beside his love, taking both of Paul’s hands in his. “Baby, I’m not trying to be nosy. I’m not looking for some way to…to somehow punish you by making you tell me everything, or to punish me by having to hear it. And I’m not looking for a way to make this about me, or what I can or can’t live with. I’m just…” He tilted Paul’s head up, forcing eye contact. “I’m just so terrified.” His voice broke on the word.

“If you can never tell me all of it, and you just get into this mode, or this habit or whatever, of shutting me out because you think you’re going to protect me, then this thing will be forever between us, creating distances and barriers, until – between my imagination and your suffering in silence…it’s just going to swallow us whole. I can feel it happening already. There’s you, with this giant thing that will always have a piece of you, forever, and then there’s me…and you know how I am. You know I need all of you or I’m a fucking lunatic. Please, Macca. Don’t send me away, because you don’t trust me to stay.”

“Is that what you think,” Paul asked in a quiet voice. “That I’m only thinking of myself, and worryin’ whether you’ll … whether I can trust you not to walk?”

“Baby,” John’s thumbs began stroking the small hairs on the back of Macca’s hands as he matched his weary tone. “I think you really do think you’re trying to protect me. I do,” he insisted, licking his dry lips. “But I also think the other is part of it, too. The trust thing. And…and,” Lennon tightened his grip on Paul’s hands before they could be pulled away, “and that such doubts can exist in you about this… it’s my fault. My own fault, not yours. But I told you last night, we’re in this together.”

There was a light knock to the door and Dawson quickly answered, slipping into the corridor. After exchanging a few words with someone – another male voice – he stuck his head into the room. “Gentlemen, excuse me. I’ll be back directly,” and he was off. They heard him use his key to lock the door behind him.

“What do you reckon that’s about,” Paul asked.

“We’ll know soon enough,” John answered, grateful that Dawson was gone, if not for the interruption. Shifting over to sit side-by-side, he once again began to massage the sensitive lower part of Paul’s back. “Is this okay?”

Paul’s eyes closed as he arched his back and groaned aloud, nodding. John used the opportunity to bring his head closer, speaking directly into his Macca’s ear. “Christ alive, sweetheart, it was just a little over twelve hours ago I was hysterical thinkin’ I’d never see you again, that I’d lost you and you’d never be found. Ask Brian what I was like. I was out of my mind. And you don’t know the deals I was offering God, the promises I was making if only he’d bring you back to me.”

Paul was listening intently. “Really, John? You prayed?”

“I did. As well as I was able. I was offering unconditional, slavish promises. Anything. Anything to get you home to me. And one of those promises was that whatever happened, I’d never take you for granted again, or let you down when you needed me. I meant it, love. May God punish me over a thousand unending fires if I ever do.” He kissed Paul’s temple. “Do you believe me? Paul?”

He kissed him again. “Babe, do you?”

Paul leaned over, his chest practically touching the bed as he tried to stretch out his back, opening it up to John’s ministrations. He groaned again. “You know what you’re doing to me, John, don’t you?”

“I think I’m rubbing your back and telling you that I love you, any way I can.”

“No,” came the muffled response before Paul sat upright once more.  “Johnny,” he spoke softly. “I know that asking you to go away, to leave while I talked to Dawson… I realized after I did it, how it must have made you feel – like you weren’t important, or I didn’t want you with me. I wish I’d not said it as I did, and I’m sorry, truly.” He rested his head upon John’s shoulder, stilling his hand. “No more, thank you. I’m so sore.”

“I’m so sorry,” John whispered, kissing him once more.

“No,” Paul dismissed his pain, shaking his head. “It’s just… in a way, if I never understood how you’d felt before, I do now. I mean, to have to choose between your father and your mother on a street corner. To watch Julia walk away – force you to chase after her when no five year old should ever be made to choose like that…I’ve always hated that your parents did that to you, Johnny. Such an unforgivable way to treat their adorable boy.” He reached up with one hand, cupping John’s face to bring it close. “My adorable boy, now,” he whispered, “and neither of ‘em ever deserved you.”

“Paul,” John murmured, feeling ashamed of the attention. “Not about me…”

“It is though,” Macca insisted. “Everything about you comes back to that moment. Everything you are, for good or bad, for all of your kindness and all of your selfishness, all of your neediness and all of your rage, it all centers right there, in those few seconds of your life. And I can see the effect of it every day, in all of your dealings…and in even how we are together, sometimes. Your da tellin’ you he’ll take you to New Zealand or leave without you. Your mum not fighting for you; willin’ to let you go away from her. And then makin’ you chase her down, not even…not even grabbin’ you and huggin’ you to herself when you called out to her. Christ. It was a concrete moment -- it molded you. And every … and every bit of your life has been built or destroyed on that crap foundation of…trauma and need and broken trust.”

John’s own eyes were closed now, but he let himself be drawn closer, and sighed when he felt Paul’s lips on his cheek.

“And now, I know…well, at least a little, I know how it felt for you to be told to make a choice that can never be the right one, will always mean you lose.”

Raising his head, John looked at Paul in genuine wonder. “How is that? How could I possibly have made you feel that way?”

Paul’s look was a heartbreaker, carrying an expression of deep empathy but tinged with that underlying shade of fear. “John…love…I feel like I’m right there with you on that street corner, now, close enough to you to hold your hand and be just as stranded in the moment as you are. What decision do I make about this that doesn’t cost me everything? Do I hold all of this to myself, and risk you closing yourself off? Burying yourself in a kind of metaphorical New Zealand, where you’re here physically but you’re also so far away it’s like you’re on the other side of the world from me? Which means I’ve lost you? Or do I…” he swallowed back a hard lump in his throat. “Do I tell you what you want, and then the burden of it is heavier than you expected, and you’d wish I’d never shared it…and then the guilt you’d feel for thinkin’ that – because I know you so well, John Lennon, and I know you’d slay yourself in guilt over finding it too hard to bear.” Paul’s voice broke, and tears arose, despite his best efforts to fight them down. “And it all makes you run off and leaves me runnin’ after you, trying… callin’ after you in the same way you’d called after Julia, and never bein’ able to catch up,” he gasped, the first tear falling. “And so, I’ve lost you, anyway. Either way, I’ve lost you.”

“Oh, my love…” John’s arms went around Paul, bringing his head to his chest, where he cradled it. “Never.” He said fiercely, a low moan escaping him. “Never. Baby, never.”

“Can’t bear the thought, John,” Paul sobbed, nearly inconsolable in his admission. “I’ve been tryin’ practically since I woke up, since… since that moment in the bath when I started rememberin’… it’s all that keeps runnin’ in the background in me head, like a tape loop… ‘how do I tell him? How do I keep it to myself? How do I not lose him…you…Johnny…’”

John bent, pressing his lips to Paul’s head, stroking his hair. “Never,” he repeated. “You can’t lose me, love. Do you hear me?”

Paul’s words were unintelligible, a grief-stricken babble spoken into John’s chest.

“No, you’re stupid if you think that. Baby? Look at me, yeah? Look at Johnny, Paul.” He used his fingers to wipe the tears from Macca’s raised face, even as more came. “Don’t you understand, yet? Listen to me, darling. I cannot live without you. I cannot. If I never knew it before, I discovered it for certain last night.” Holding Paul’s face between his hands, his own vision blurred as he felt hot tears rise. “You and I are not going anywhere, unless we go together. I will never leave you. And if that means we stand on a God-forsaken street corner for the rest of our lives, with only painful options before us, and choices that will cost us everything, then that’s where we stand. Together. You hold my grubby hand, and I’ll hold yours, and we stand it. We’ll be two lost boys, but together, while the rest of the feckin’ world runs itself mad, aye?”

Paul couldn’t manage speech. His eyes still running a trail of tears the best he could manage was a hiccoughing series of sniffles and a shuddering sigh, as he nodded.

“How could I ever have brought you into that hellish place with me, knowin’ all I know?” John mused at him, feeling around Macca’s pocket until he found his handkerchief. “I’m so sorry, my love. You’re very right. We’ve no good choices.” He held the cloth to Paul’s nose. “Blow.”

Macca blew, his head clearing as he took another deep shivering breath. “I think you just wanted some company on that corner,” he managed to quiver.

John wiped his own eyes and then enveloped Paul within his embrace, pressing his partner’s head to his chest. “Please believe me, my love, I’m not looking for a way to say ‘this is too hard,’ so I can run away. And I never meant to strand you at my corner of hell and eternal heartache. But I won’t let go of your hand while we’re there together.”

- - -

When Dawson let himself back into their room, he found Messers Lennon and McCartney sound asleep, Paul sprawled over John’s body, snoring with a robust masculinity all at odds with his soft features. Then he noticed the swollen eyes and noses of both sleeping men, and understood all the mouth breathing. I hope they sorted themselves out a bit, anyway.

With a sigh, he poured himself two fingers of scotch and flung himself exhaustedly into a chair. He gave himself over to a good copper’s frown as he thought about what he’d just seen, and what it could mean.  After nosing about, making his own observations, he’d called the police, just for the sake of procedure, for a possible, maybe, what-if, prosecution, down the road. The room he’d just left was an official crime scene, now, a place where clearly something violent and bloody had happened, what and to whom the police were as yet unsure. And the hotel registry, which he had thought would be the key to identifying the perpetrators, had come a bust.

Strange, that. Something about the fact kept niggling at Dawson as he reviewed his notes. McCartney’s drawers left behind, absolutely foul with blood and bodily fluids and filth, as though they’d delighted in cleaning themselves with it and leaving it behind as a souvenir. Might be useful for identifying blood types, but that would be all.  The tuxedo jacket taken, but the tie left. No shoes. He’d noted it because he couldn’t remember whether the same men who had neglected to properly zip a man’s pants might be careful enough to remember to place shoes on the feet of their out-cold victim. 

And then the condition of the room – so careless. Chairs strewn about, upholstery encrusted with blood in evidence. No keys, so a good thing those calls had been made earlier. No money, no wallet, an expensive-looking carved comb that made Dawson wince when he saw it; he hoped it had played no part in that lad’s difficulty walking. Hoped further that he might yet talk young McCartney into a doctor’s visit.

He closed his eyes and drank deeply, envisioning a lean, pale body, long-legged and delicate, and set upon, horribly misused and cast aside, left on a filthy floor to be discovered by-and-by. Lost in the dreadful image, he jumped when the telephone rang, spilling the rest of his drink as he lunged and grabbed the receiver before it could ring twice and awaken the lads.

“Dawson, here,” he announced in a clipped voice, the habit of nearly three decades.

“Mr. Dawson, it’s Epstein, Brian Epstein, I mean.”

“Yes, sir, I hope I am hearing from you with good news?”

He could hear Epstein swallow and assumed that he too was drinking something strong and golden brown. “I am given to believe that this situation with the photos is going to be given a top priority.” Another swallow. “I hope Paul doesn’t get mad, but I had to tell them what the issues were, what the photos might show. I couldn’t ask them to look out for something I couldn’t describe.” Eppy sounded troubled, uneasy with his task and a bit frazzled.

“No, sir, it would make little sense to appeal to the palace for assistance and then not explain why it was needed. I’m sure he will agree with that.”

Epstein gave a name, which Dawson recognized as having distinct connections to MI5. “He called it a grave matter, said the Beatles were too important to the United Kingdom ‘in multiple ways’ to permit such photos ever being disbursed. He said things would be put in motion immediately. How does that sound to you?”

“Very promising,” Dawson said. “Provided we haven’t already missed that most important window…”

“Meaning, provided they haven’t already been developed,” Brian said in a low, discouraged tone.

“Yes, the first window is the most urgent one. But getting the photos out is a second window of opportunity if they are working with known entities. With the proper help we cannot yet breathe easy, as it were, but we can at least breathe rather than holding our collective breaths.”

“How are the boys,” Brian asked. “Are they holding steady?”

“Hmmm,” Dawson mused as he looked them over, noting that John was already stirring. “They look like they’ve both been having a bit of a weep-and-sleep. But they also look a bit cozier together, if that helps.”

“It does. They need each other madly.”

Dawson permitted himself a small smile at that, and murmured a non-committal of a reply. Epstein, he thought, needed them a bit madly, as well.

“Should I return,” the manager asked, sounding for all the world as though he hoped the answer would be ‘no.’

“Perhaps come by this evening, if you would, for a bit of dinner with them,” Dawson suggested. “There are some developments worth discussing.”

“Oh? Good ones, or bad developments?”

“Sir, in this case, it is still impossible to say anything much that is good.”

Dawson could hear liquid being poured. “I guess I’ll make this my last drink for now, then,” Eppy sighed, signing off.

- - -

“I need to move,” Paul was complaining. “I feel like I need to move my body and walk off all of this pain and stiffness.” He was pacing back and forth, back and forth, between one large window and the door to the room, and John was watching him and marveling at how, even at this terrible time, Paul’s inherent restlessness still drove him, even if he was taking smaller steps than usual. When he dies, he thought they’ll have to give him an extra day’s waking, just so he can shake his legs out a bit before they close the casket.

Then he shuddered at the very idea of Paul’s death, coming so hard on such a terrifying night. He was glad he’d not spoken the thought aloud.

Macca made his way toward Dawson, small step by small step and then stood before the man, arching his back. “The scotch is fine, you know, but not really what I need just now.”

“I can call down and have a whole bar sent up instanter, if you like.”

“Nah, no booze,” he sounded cranky. “S’not what I need. John,” he piped up, “I know we only decided to stay at the last minute but did you by any chance pack your stash, then?”

John rolled his eyes. “After the tongue-lashing you gave me last time I forgot, I just leave it in the overnight, now, don’t I?”

“Well, that just means it’s old and dried out,” Paul frowned. “What good is it?”

Dawson folded his arms before him, wondering if the two young men were planning to light up in his presence. He hated the smell of kif – they’d called it kif in his own youth, and chewed it, rather than smoked – and would object loudly, if they tried. Especially with police still down the hall.

John was rummaging in his bag. “I’ve got the richer stuff in a plastic bag, but it might be too much for you right now-”

“Nay,” Paul reached around him, bringing out a rectangular box with a satisfied hum. “This is what I want, thank you, love.”  Turning to Dawson, he opened it with a flourish. “Care for some chocolate, Mr. Dawson?”

John Dawson raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Chocolates?”

Gives ya heart,” Paul garbled over a dark mouthful of something chewy. He shoved the box under Dawson’s nose until the detective decided that accepting a piece would be the better part of valor.

“Take two, they’re small,” Macca said.

He took two.

John selected a piece and then touched it to yet another piece in Paul’s hand, as though clinking glasses. “To Mimi?”

“Mimi, as ever.”

“When my mum died,” John explained, “Macca, here, became a great pest to my Auntie, Mimi.”

“A great friend,” Paul corrected.

“Eventually, but first you invaded her household and bossed her around for days, you did.”

McCartney shrugged. “It was good for her.” He looked at Dawson, who was tackling a caramel toffee that seemed to be growing in his mouth the more he chewed. “We had whiskey and words in the wee small hours one mornin’, and she brought out her secret stash of chocolate and made me eat it.”

Made you,” Lennon mocked.

“Force fed me,” Paul agreed. “She said chocolate gives you heart, so you have courage to go on.”

Dawson swallowed. “A wise woman.”

“Solid and beastly, more than wise,” John demurred.

“But her own manner of kind,” Paul finished.

“Oh, aye, that.” John picked out another piece while watching Macca lick his own fingertips clean.

“And Mary would have a fit with you and all five fingers in your mouth.”

“Mary?” asked Dawson.

“Me mum…” Paul put down the box and recommenced his pacing.

Thinking the lads suitably decompressed after their emotion-fed nap, Dawson thought it time to get down to business. “Mr. Epstein will be by later, to share supper with you,” he began. “He made contact with appropriate persons at the palace, and I have hopes we may yet get lucky...”

He spent a few minutes bringing them up to date, answering the few questions they had. Paul went quiet, content to pace and pop a chocolate each time he passed by the box, and let John take it all in. He couldn’t handle feeling any more anxious than he already was. He did stop pacing, however, when Dawson asked him about his shoes.

“M’shoes?” He looked down, realizing he’d been padding about in his socks. “I’ve me shoon,” he said, lapsing into his old scouser. “Took ‘em off so’s not to sully the bed, aye?”

He groaned in he reached at his bedside, holding up a comfortable looking black brogue.

“Are those the shoes you wore last night,” Dawson asked.

Paul frowned at the man as though he were mad. “With formal wear? Nay, I wore my dress slippers.”

“And if you could describe them for me?”

“Just, you know, a black slipper loafer, Italian leather, bit of braiding at the top.” He paused a beat, looking about at his few belongings. “They have my shoes, then?”

“Presumably.” The detective turned to John. “Mr. Lennon, you didn’t happen to notice whether Mr. McCartney was wearing shoes when you discovered him last night?”

Paul began pacing once again.

John instantly remembered the image of Paul, unconscious on the bed, Brian sliding his trousers down from his hips. “I…no…there were no shoes.”

“I see.” Dawson flipped a page down from his notebook and watched Macca from the corner of his eye as he cleared his throat. “I believe we have identified the room to which Mr. McCartney was taken. May I ask,” he interrupted himself as though taken by a sudden thought. “Is that why you are on this floor of very ordinary rooms rather than in the penthouse or using one of the deluxe rooms? Because you checked in at the last minute?”

“Didn’t even know we were comin’ until an hour or so before,” John said, rubbing at his head. “Only came to prevent Eppy havin’ a stroke and only decided then that we’d stay over. We’re not fussy, you know. A room’s a room. It’s all we bothered askin’ for.”

Dawson made that humming noise that was beginning to sound to John like the whir of a mechanical bank. You put a penny in, it’s grabbed and stored deeply within, with a gear-grinding noise. Give this big fella a morsel of something and its deposited firm, he thought.

At that moment, the ‘big fella’ was pondering whether a better grade of room might have been McCartney’s salvation, and McCartney was pondering something else.

“So, who was it registered to, the room,” he asked Dawson. “If you’ve found the room, you know who did this, don’t you?”

“Not, exactly.” Dawson answered with a regretful tone.

“Was my stuff there, my keys?”

“And, no. Mr. McCartney, before we discuss the room further, can you take a look at this list of names, and tell me if any of them are familiar to you, or if you may have heard one of the names used, last night?”

Paul accepted the list – a printed list of all of the guests in attendance at the previous night’s dinner -- and with a shaking hand perused it carefully. “I don’t think so. There’s a… there’s a couple ‘Charleses’, here, though. I heard someone saying ‘Cholly’…maybe…” He shrugged, letting the paper slip from his hand as his eyes glazed over with memory. “I think he had a daughter. Someone had a daughter.”

After a moment, he began pacing another circuit around the room and heard, “After making my observations, I decided to call in the police.”

“No,” Paul turned quickly, wincing at his own suddenness. “We said no police.”

“Peace, son, they only know what I’ve told them, but if you ever change your mind and decide to prosecute, things will be in place to permit that. Right now, they have a crime scene with no definitive crime and an unknown victim. But at least things will be processed.”

John walked over and put an arm around Paul’s waist, joining his pace. “It’s a good notion, love. Let it lie.”

“So, whose room is it, then,” Macca spat out, needing to feel like something was going his way.

“In fact, it was no one’s room. One of three unoccupied rooms on this floor, and located at the end of the hall, near the stairway. The room was found in disarray by two women who were checked in this afternoon, a young lady and her grandmother. Quite a shock for them, and an embarrassment for the house.”

“Can I see it?” Paul asked.

“No, you cannot,” came the firm answer by both Lennon and Dawson, in tandem.

“That’s a mad idea, Paul, and I won’t let you do it.”

“Also a very bad idea, if you wish to maintain your privacy, son,” added the detective. “Coppers currently all over the room and all about the hotel.”

Paul felt around for his cigarettes, finally taking a pack off of John. “Did you see it?”

“I did. An unhappy scene although not the worst in my experience. Your tie was on the floor, but your tuxedo jacket was nowhere to be found. No keys, no money. No wallet.”

“No, I hadn’t brought my wallet.”

“Can you…if you were carrying a comb, son, can you describe it?”

“Aye, it’s a horn, one. Hand carved, with a short little decorative handle, like. An elephant. Jane bought it for me on holiday in Tunisia last winter. Can I get it back?”

Dawson unpursed his lips. “Evidence, I’m afraid. And the thing is damaged, anyway. Not sure you’d be wanting it.”

“How does a comb carved out of horn get damaged,” John wondered.

“Handle broken off.” The detective was suddenly terse.

*********

Inside me,” Paul whispered immediately, turning to face John, reaching for him as he felt the room tilt. “It broke off inside me…”

“Christ, Paul,” Lennon grabbed his partner against him as he felt Paul’s knees go week and hauled him to a chair. “I’ve got you, love. I’m here.”

Dawson opened a bottle of Coke and urged it onto Paul. “Drink it down, my lad. Stay with us.” Paul gulped it down gratefully. “Is this a memory, son, or a good guess?”

“Memory,” the younger man gasped, arms crossed across his stomach as he bent in half. “I remember. Broke inside me. Hurt so much. So much… Sharp…bloody.”

*********

John was kneeling beside him, putting a basin in place. He reached up, pressing Paul’s shoulder. “I’ve got you, darling,” he repeated as Paul gasped, taking in huge bites of air over and over, until he could gain control over his stomach. “I’m here…”

And now Dawson was kneeling before him, cupping his chin and looking directly into his face. “Mr. McCartney,” he whispered, and with such remarkable understanding. “My dear young man…I believe it is time for you to speak all that you remember.”

Chapter Text

Dawson was gone. He and Brian had left shortly after supper, promising to meet up again in the morning.

John was sleeping what Paul’s mother used to call “the sleep of angels” and his father would call “the sleep of the dead.” A full twenty-four hours of anxiety and fear and fuss had really taken it out of him and, after badgering Paul for several hours as to what, if anything, he might need from John (“Can I run you a bath? Would you like a massage? Shall I read to you?”), he was now dead to the world.

In truth, Paul had wanted nothing from John. What he needed was a bit of alone time – some silence, even – so that he might collect his own thoughts and get his bearings a little. To just consider all that had happened to him over the past day, and what it might mean for all of his coming tomorrows. But John had been insistent. He really needed to feel like he was doing something for Paul, and so Macca had finally agreed to being read to from the selection of books Brian had kindly brought along with him – mostly because Paul thought it would be the task most agreeable and enjoyable to his poor, frazzled mate.

And so, John had begun to read aloud from Great Expectations, lasting about two full pages before declaring Dickens more than he could handle at the moment. “I’d much rather just lay here with you, love, and just hold you and talk about stupid things until we both fall asleep. Can we do that?”

“What kind of stupid things,” Paul had wondered.

“Well, the fact that we’re in bleedin’ identical pajamas, as though we were in a nursery, for starts.”

“They look good on you, though.”

“They’re the same as yours only blue!”

Paul smiled at his partner. “Brian always did like his Beatles to be dressed alike. And it was thoughtful of him.”

“Aye, it was, but I still feel like we should be called Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”

“You would…” Paul had moved his head until it was directly over John’s heart, settling in with a small moan of pain, which John actively tried to ignore, because his partner seemed to mind it when every wince went noticed. Lennon contented himself with stroking Paul’s hair.

“I’m so grateful that we can do this,” he murmured.

“What’s that, John?”

“Just…lay like this. Cuddle a little. I was so afraid it would be a long, long time before we could even have this, let along anything more…”

“Aye,” Paul whispered, pressing his lips softly to the fabric on John’s chest, feeling like the pajamas made it ‘safe’. “Just feels natural, yeah?”

“Imagine trying to be together, but not even touching,” John mused. “How could I ever…” He paused, trying to choose his words carefully. “You remember when you asked me to kiss you, in the bath? Before…well…”

“Before I remembered.”

“Yeah. Do you know, love, in that moment, I’d thought to myself that if all we could ever have between us where kisses like that one, it would be enough for me.”

He could feel Macca’s small nod.

“Well…” Lennon hesitated. “I need to tell you I was wrong.”

Paul lifted his head, his eyes showing an eloquent and obvious question.

“If this is all we ever have,” John was cupping his face, and so gently, “just being together like this, it will be enough for me.”

Paul tilted his head, as though gently correcting a small child. “You can’t be sure of that, though.”

“Oh, I think I can,” John sighed, telling himself if there was ever time for straight talk, this was it. “Maybe it’s different for you. I hope it’s not, but Paul… for me, it’s always been you. Nothing’s ever felt as right with anyone else as it has with you.” He saw Paul’s frown and rushed to explain. “And I don’t mean just the sex, I mean all of it. The just being with you, the…the sleeping with you, the touching, the writing, the playing, even the layin’ around bored together… every minute with you feels right. Just…” For once in his life, John Lennon had no words for what it was trying to say. “Just the all of it. With you, it’s all exactly right.”

Paul gave a toothless little grin, nuzzling John’s chest with his nose.

“There, now, you see?” John teased, “that was weird, you rubbin’ your nose on me. But it was…just right. Wouldn’t be so right with anyone else.”

“It’s the same for me, you know,” Paul agreed with an almost shy look on his face. “You’ve suited me from the day we met.”

“I’ve suited you.” John said, as though dumbfounded. “I’ve suited you? Interesting way to put it.” He raised his fist as if it held a microphone. “Paul McCartney, young songwriter extraordinaire, tell us your deepest feelings about your relationship with that Lennon fellow!” He batted his eyelashes, affecting a megawatt Macca smile. “Well, what can I say, ‘I’m suited!’”

Paul gurgled at him, his eyes lighting up as he played along. “John Lennon, tell us how you really feel about that soft McCartney lad!” He lowered his voice, adding a nasally scouser twang. “Well, I mean, he’s just all of it, innit ‘e, then? Just right, he is,” he added, rolling his r’s with a flourish.

John threw his head back, laughing appreciatively at Macca’s accurate mimicry and urging his partner to raise his body enough to be embraced, a slow process that Paul manfully put himself through, for John’s sake. “And you are just right, lad” John laid the accent on thick. “All of you…suits me to my toes.”

“I’ll confess something to you, if you don’t get a big head,” Paul said, settling in.

John’s eyes were lit with affection. “What, then, love?”

“If things were different…if the world were different?”

“Aye?”

Paul bit down on his lip, suddenly looking to John as though he was fifteen years-old again. “If the world were different, I’d never have looked further than you, John Lennon. I’d never have needed to.”

Lennon melted a little as he gazed at his partner. “Aw, babe…” An eyebrow went up. “But…no birds? A renowned titty lover like you? Find it hard to believe, son.”

“I do love a nice set, it’s true,” Paul considered. “But then, I think on it, though… when we were younger, just kids… I used to daydream that we could date, you know… like a regular couple. Snog away in the park, or just … go to a movie and hold hands.” He blinked at John, enticing him all unconsciously. “If the world were different, I’d have just been yours, from the start. Because what you said was a real thing for me, too. Nothin’s ever been as right for me as bein’ with you, John.”

John smiled, brushing the fringe from Paul’s eyes. “You know, I was thinking, earlier today, when you were still napping and Dawson was yappin’ on the phone…I was remembering when we were kids, and how naturally it all started with us. How innocent we were.”

“You’ve not been innocent since you were ten, or younger,” Paul objected.

“No, I just mean, you and me. I recall it so clearly. You were about sixteen and, God… the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid my eyes on.” John still seemed awestruck by what he was seeing beyond time. “And you were all in my head, all the time. Would fall asleep thinkin’ about you, wake up thinkin’ about you. But I could never figure out… how do I make a move on Macca?”

“As crass as that,” Paul asked, raising his eyebrows. “Sounds more scheming than innocent.”

“It might, if I ever actually hatched a plan to seduce you. Didn’t have a clue, though, and couldn’t bear the idea of you rejecting me. And so, yes, in that sense, I call it innocent. You were, at least, innocent of any design.”

“Praps less than you think, though. I knew you fancied me.”

“How did you know that, you braggart, you.” John pretended to huff.

“You were always looking at my lips, yeah? Like you wanted to kiss me.”

“I did want to kiss you.”

“Aye, but you were fecking late to the show, weren’t ya? Took me givin’ up waiting and just rompin’ on you up in my bedroom for you to finally bring on yer game.”

“Is that what you call it? Romping on me? Truth is you treated my lap like it was your personal playground.”

“Wasn’t it, though?" Paul frowned. "Don't recall you offering much resistance. And I had to stake my claim, after all."

“And you did, Bunny. Got to be a very bad habit. ‘Is it three o’ clock? Time to straddle John, then! ‘Has the mail been delivered? Let's get up in John's lap, then!’”

John gazed at Macca for a long moment, allowing his memory to hold Paul in place – to see him once more so young, and so sweetly randy. His impossible, beautiful boy. He realized the memories were beginning to create a genuine stir in his loins, though, which would not be at all helpful this night, and maybe not for a long time.

“Change the subject,” he ordered quietly, holding his smile as he traced Paul’s lips with one fingertip.

“Alright,” Paul agreed, gently moving John’s hand away from his lips. “What if I make you a promise?”

“Promise me what, love?”

“That… when things get better.” Paul swallowed as though his throat hurt. “Because they have to get better, don’t they?”

John nodded, “They will…”

“When I can be ‘all of it’ for you, again, I’m gonna take you back to Paris, and stand you on that bridge, and kiss you like we did… but until you’re blue in the face.”

The frown on Lennon’s face was serious as he leaned in. “It's a lovely thought, but... we'll need no grand gestures, alright? Baby, didn’t you understand me? You are already, ‘all of it’ for me. Right now, this minute.” He tilted Paul’s head toward his. “I love you, Paul. With everything I have in me, I love you. I am more content with you -- just bein’ here with you like this, and talkin’ nonsense -- than I am anywhere else in the world. And If this is where we are, forever, then this is enough, because you are enough… baby? Look at me.”

He waiting for Paul, who had gone shy again, to return his gaze. “You are all of it --  all of my happiness, my Jamie, and if I’m wrong for feelin’ that way, then God help me, because no one else can. And I can’t help myself.” He pressed his forehead to Paul’s, closing his eyes. “Do you hear me, my Jamie? Can you finally understand? Because it’s taken me ‘til now to understand it myself. I’ve always wanted all of you, demanded it, even. And lying here with you now, I realize that any little bit of Paul, is my Paul entire.”

He could feel his partner’s warm breath against his face as he sighed with real feeling. “I want to believe it, Johnny, I really do.”

John reached up one hand to the back of Paul’s head, gently holding him there, lest he try to move away. “My Jamie… I bless the day I found you. I do!”

He began to croon. A favorite song emerged from his depths, and Lennon sang it straight into his Macca’s mouth, imagining the words enclosing and finally resting within the lad’s hurting heart. “‘I bless the day I found you; I want to stay around you, and so I beg you, let it be me…’”

Paul’s eyes were closed, and John nuzzled him as he continued to sing.

“‘Don't take this Heaven from one
If you must cling to someone
Now and forever
Let it be me…’”

Paul was peeping, making odd little bird sounds as he listened and tried to hold himself together, and John’s heart felt gigantic in his chest as he managed the refrain.

“‘Each time we meet, love
I find complete love
Without your sweet love
What would life be?’”

“Can you sing the rest with me love,” he swallowed, wondering if he could finish as his eyes grew wet. Paul shook his head, his hand going to his tight throat.

“‘So never leave me lonely…’” Lennon slowed down, giving him time.
“‘Tell me you… love me only..’”

Words still beyond him, Paul was managing a hum, a harmony, naturally…

“‘And that you'll always
Let it be me…’”

The song finished, unable to do more, the couple simply clung to each other, cheeks pressing together, for some minutes, until Paul could finally squeeze the words out. “I do love you, Johnny.” His arms trembled a little as they went around Lennon’s neck. “With my whole heart, I love you. I always have.”

John held the embrace, blinking back a flood of tears that were threatening.

“I love you, baby. My sweet Jamie. I always will.”

After a beat, he felt Paul’s breath stagger, as though he’d snickered or was sobbing.

“Paul?” He whispered.

“Hmm?” 

“Are you crying?”

Paul sniffed. “No.”

“Are you laughing?”

A shake of the head.

“Are you alright?”

He felt a nod, heard a gulp. “I was just remembering something.”

Oh, God, not more… “What’s that, love?” John managed.

“D’ya remember when I passed out? When I got sick and passed out?”

“Aye?” John was not liking where this was going.

“You were callin’ me. You were calling out for me, and saying ‘Jamie, Jamie…’ and it was like I was being pulled through the water, into the air.”

“It felt like it, too, babe.”

“It’s just…” Paul breathed. “Thought you were my mum, at first. You sounded like her.

John squeezed his eyes closed, grinning, his arms pressing Paul into a harder embrace than was sensible. After a minute, he whispered. “Paul, my love?”

“Aye.”

Remember those words -- those five words -- if ever I get too amorous and start trying to do something you don’t want, because they’re better than saltpeter. Better than a cold shower and saltpeter.”

Paul tried to pull away, but was trapped in John’s bear hug. “What five words?”

“‘Thought you were my mum…’ You little rat bastard.”

Paul had laughed, then, really laughed, in a way he thought would be beyond him for the rest of his life.

It was a good sign, and he hugged it hopefulness to himself as he watched an exhausted John drift off to sleep, still cuddling him.

But Paul hadn’t been able to sleep, hadn’t wanted to, really. He needed to think about what needed to happen next in his life, because he was beginning to feel stranded.

When Brian had come with the pajamas and books, he’d brought other things, too – practical things, including a few changes of clothing for both Paul and John. “It’s a good thing we’re all so similarly built,” he had chattered, doling out several pair of his underclothes and tee shirts, some sweat pants and sweatshirts he’d clearly bought and never worn, and loose-fitting sweaters.

Paul had been appreciative, because he had no idea when he would be ready to go home, or even what “home” meant anymore. He wanted to leave the hotel. The very idea of remaining – in a building in which he’d been assaulted, and in a room only doors down from where the actual rape (his rape; he had been raped, the jeering, insistent reminder came again) had happened-- was often overwhelming. This was the place where, for all practical purposes, his life may as well be considered ‘ended’ (though he tried to chase away that thought, it would keep rising).

No, he shouldn’t stay. He really wanted to leave.

But John Dawson was here in this place – he’d given them his room number as he’d left for the evening – and both he and John had come to deeply trust the man and to depend upon the strange tenderness that lay beneath his bearish exterior. His strength, coupled with his way of encountering awful realities with a thoughtful hum and clear eyes, made them feel stronger, too.

And besides, where would he go? The Asher house on Wimpole Street was fine for between tours, and for the little time he spent there when not in the studio or out with the lads, but it had never truly been “home,” despite the presence of Jane and her brother Peter, who was a friend. And the thought of returning there and having to explain anything to any of them – most especially to Jane – or deal with their questions, their curiosities, even their sympathies…no, he couldn’t do it. The house had never been his home. That family had never been his family.

In Paul’s mind only Forthlin Road, the humble council house in Liverpool -- the place he’d lived the fullest and best part of his life before moving to London – was “home.”

But it wasn’t his, anymore. He’d moved his father to a grand house in Wirral, but that was Jim’s home, with his new family. And he had no wish to bring his current circumstances, his walking grief and new vulnerability, into his stepmother’s presence.

It was a startling thing to realize that, despite recently purchasing a fine old house on Cavendish, Paul McCartney was actually a homeless man. That house was under renovation and closed to him, too. When he’d expressed the thought to John, his partner had immediately said, “so you come live at mine.”

But no, the idea of bringing all of this into a house with Cynthia and that sweet child, no. He couldn’t.

Brian had graciously offered to move out of his own house for Paul’s sake, (“I can stay at my club for weeks, if need be,”) but again, no. The idea of displacing Brian from his own warmly beautiful home, when Brian so needed beauty around him – it was a repugnant thought to Paul.

He would settle it, somehow. Tomorrow Brian was coming back, and bringing George and Ritchie with him, for they’d been calling, asking for John and Paul, and the manager was out of excuses.

Paul was dreading the meeting, dreading sharing all of this with his bandmates, but it was necessary, he knew. It was their band to lose, too.

Afterwards, though, perhaps he’d ask Brian to find him a cottage to let for a while, six months or a year. A place where he could be alone. A place with no memories, so he could process all the new ones, as they came, each one laying him out, going nine rounds with his emotions and assaulting him all over again.

*********

The comb. The memory had flashed upon him like lightning the moment Dawson mentioned it, and then broadened over the next hours. Paul recalled lying bent across something, a table or bench, unable to move. Dawson had described the “twilight” sense of being drugged so well. He truly had felt like he was stranded in some distant field, in a gloaming, half dark, half light -- unable to fully waken or even to raise himself on his arms, and yet somewhat aware of what was happening.

Someone had pulled out of him some minutes earlier after going at him dry, making him feel ripped in two, and he could feel a stranger’s spunk, growing cool as it dripped from him. Men laughing, talking almost casually as they riffed through his clothes, and then a remark. “Not exactly a working man’s comb, is it?” The leering voice, “An elephant? You know what an elephant sounds like, then, don’t you?” And the thing had been shoved roughly inside him.

And he had screamed. A high pitched, long sound until something was shoved into his mouth. How could no one have heard him? Crying out as they laughed, his eyes wide open, but seeing nothing as the pain tore through him and a hand roughly shoved the handle deeper, and then turned it – up and down, left and right -- moving it all around him as though the comb was a stirrer, and himself a pot of porridge.

And then the snap as the thing broke within him. The cursing and laughter as two rough fingers reached inside him to withdraw the piece that remained. “Well, that had to hurt,” someone had said.

And then, only minutes later, someone else inside him, pulling at his hair until his neck was straining, someone else before him, stroking himself, and behind him only mindless rutting and thrusting, balls deep and rutting like an animal, until the grunting release.

*********

He remembered the pain, and being helpless to stop it. He remembered every thrust, and the feeling of his own warm blood flowing from him, traveling along with the combined filth of these strangers, these… monsters, he thought. Somebody’s son, somebody’s husband, somebody’s…father.

But monsters at heart.

Dawson had asked for as much as Paul could tell him, but he’d not shared all of that, those details, most especially not before John. What would be the point? Why further hurt John? Why make himself harder for John to love? Because for all of John's heartful declarations, Paul was sure he was too polluted, too debased and soiled, to be truly lovable anymore. He would never tell John everything, then.

“I remember three men…” He hoped it had been only three.

And everything still hurt. Wiping silent tears from his face, he turned, wanting to lean into John’s arms, but the stabbing pains brought a low moan, and he stilled himself, fearing to awaken his partner. He settled for laying one arm over his.

The lights were on. He wasn’t up to moving as much as he would need to, to turn them off. And besides, he knew, John liked to sleep with the lights on. It kept him from being afraid of ghosts, he’d once told Paul. And the monsters.

Maybe, from now on, Paul thought, he would sleep with the lights on, too.

Even with the lights on, though, a new monster managed to slip into their room, right under the door as they slept.

Chapter Text

It was the endless stabbing pain that awoke Paul so early. Why wasn’t he feeling better? How long would it take for his body to feel like his own again, without every movement bringing him the sharp reminder that, for a brief time, he had had no control over his limbs, his mind or mouth or … anything.

A brief time that might become a lifetime.

It was still dark out, not quite the twilight of morning, and he lay very still, allowing the flood of those memories already risen to wash over him, one flashback after another.

“You’re dead now,” he thought. No matter whatever good things happened in his life, there was a very real part of him that felt like it would never live again, and not just the sexual part – which was a giant chunk of how he understood himself and the world – but something else. Do I even have a spirit, anymore?

The thought jolted him. He must still have a spirit right? And yet he felt bereft of one, as though he was now a mere shell, emptied of whatever had animated him for 23 years.

It made no sense. How can an attack on the body steal the spirit? His mother had told him the spirit lives forever, that “even in death we are in life, my Jamie,” because the spirit was supernatural, a thing connected to God, even if God seemed far away. The spirit could not die she had told him.

And yet… it seemed to be the case. It felt true, that somehow, some way, something in his spirit had been murdered. And what was left, well… what was left?

Pain.

Pain was left. It was the primary thing he felt, overwhelming all other feelings, all thoughts, all instincts. His body ached in ways he never knew it could, not just his spine, his lower back, his poor ripped arse. Even his legs, his thighs hurt. His arms, his neck. If he tried to clear his head of unwelcome images – that other kind of pain, full of images he did not want but couldn’t seem to suppress -- he couldn’t do it, because of the pain that had taken command of his shell of a body.

Each time he tried to get away from the pain in his mind – by thinking back to happier days, or trying to imagine something beautiful – the agonies alive in his body would rip through him and bring him right back to where he was.

To a bed in a hotel room just doors down from where a living nightmare had become his all-consuming reality.

Consumed. They had consumed him. Passed him around and consumed him, left only the bones, the hull of a man, behind. That’s all there was, now. 

And John. John was there, at least. His John, snoring very lightly as he slept at a depth he’d more than earned over the last days.

John.

Paul turned his head to study his mate, his heart flooding with all sorts of competing feelings. The love – the unexplainable, inexhaustible love he’d felt for John Winston Lennon practically from the day he’d met. It was there, and real and warm. He would never not love his Johnny.

But then the fear. Fear that no matter how much love was between them, this thing might always intrude, until the shape and form of their relationship, of their love, must change, and then there would be loss. There would be such loss.  

Because real love can only mean real loss when it is injured, or altered. Or destroyed.

Come on, lad, pull yourself together, Paul told himself, trying to rally himself in the same way he’d often rally the band when they were weary and disillusioned and just not feeling it. These are bad days. There will be better days, you must believe it.

But would there be? He recalled talking to himself in a similar way after his mother had died, and decided that yes, there would be better days, just as they had come – so unimaginably – after losing her. Better days, but always accompanied by the slight scent of sadness that wafted around even on the best days, because the loss would always be there, wouldn’t it? The knowing of what was lost.

People say you get over things, but maybe you never do, he thought. Maybe you just go through them and get past them, like managing to escape from a bombing by running into a tube station. But even afterwards, something lingers. A city is rebuilt, even a city like London, but there are always reminders of loss in what remains. He recalled visiting Dublin and seeing the memorial to Daniel O’ Connell, “the liberator.” The city was now a peaceful and bustling place, but O’Connell’s statue still showed the bullet holes from the Irish Rebellion of 1916.

Nothing that survives a violent occurrence, a war, an assault, remains unscarred.

Paul’s question to himself was, how deep and thick would these scars be on him, and how much power, in the twin destructive forms of fear and shame, would he give to them over the course of the rest of his life? Would he have the stuff, the plain balls to just push on, no matter how ugly those scars were, no matter how unappealing they made him to anyone else – to John, to Jane.

To John.

He winced as he leaned over, placing a kiss very lightly on John’s hair, not wishing to awaken him because -- as much as he appreciated John’s fussing, and needed his help – he hated it. Hated needing it. Hated feeling like he could control so little. He had always preferred parenting others to being parented.

Easing himself out of bed – more than once having to gasp through a wicked spasm that ran from his thighs, through his anus and far up his spine to do so – Paul finally got mobile. He looked through the pile of clean clothes Brian had so thoughtfully left for them and picked out drawers and a tee shirt, sweat pants and a sweater. Not his first choice in apparel but really, it didn’t matter if all he was going to do was sit in this room and force himself to tell George and Ritchie everything.

Everything.

Not the details – he didn’t think the boys would want them and he couldn’t bear to even think about sharing them – but the facts, hard enough to speak aloud.

I’ve been raped. By men, not one man.

He could almost imagine the looks on their faces. George’s fury, Ritchie’s sadness – it would all show immediately because neither of them had strong internal filters. George would want to murder someone. Richie would want to hold Paul in one of his all-engulfing hugs. They’d both sit and listen it all out, because that was something the two of them did amazingly well.

I hurt like a bastard and all I want to do is cry.

I’ve been bleeding on and off ever since.

No, he’d leave that last out.

Oh, and by the way, John and I have been lovers since I was sixteen and romped all over him in my father’s house.

And yes, we’ve been getting our jollies all around you lot for all long as you’ve known us.

And we are in love. And we always have been.

And we always will be.

Well, maybe he’d leave off the last, too. Why tempt fate?

Still only able to walk with the smallest of steps, and finding himself a bit hunched over from the pain this morning – the bed must be bad – he made his way to the bathroom, grateful that all he needed to do was have a pee, because he was not ready to deal with anything to do with his ass at the moment. That was a dread for another hour.

He turned on the shower and watched his reflection in the mirror as he peeled off Brian’s pajamas – his pajamas, now, he reckoned. Brian surely wouldn’t want them back.

It was the first real look he’d have of himself. His chest. Why would anyone bite me?

He understood the appeal of biting during playful sex, consensual, romantic sex – he’d done it enough himself, after all, as anyone he’d ever been with could readily attest. But why would anyone bite him, mark him on his chest, and his nipples during…

To stain me. To remind me that I was owned by them.

Owned.

Not really, no. But yes. He'd been owned. Hadn't even been able to mount a respectable defense.

Maybe I won’t shave, he thought eyeing his safety razor as he rubbed his two-day growth, which was already formidable. Maybe I don’t want to get too close to a razor just now…

He slid the pajamas and drawers down his legs, trying not to bend much, and stepped out of them. Some bruises on the insides of his thighs. And yes, some blood on the drawers. More than a little, but dried, now, so it had stopped again. That’s good. Means I’m getting better, yeah? A groan as he stooped to gather the clothes, folding everything neatly, hiding the bloody whites beneath the jacket and pants.

The room was filling with steam and he was looking forward to hot water on his muscles, especially his back, easing up on some of his pain. One more step up, into the shower, then, he encouraged himself.

With shaking hands he began to wash as best he could, even using the bar of soap for his hair because finding the shampoo would mean twisting and turning – it would make him "twist and shout", came the rueful thought -- and right now economy of movement felt like it would be the order of the day.

The warm water did feel good, although what traveled down between his backside and reached his raw wound stung more than he’d expected.

Exhausting. Pain was so exhausting.

Shutting off the water, he had to stand for a moment, needing to cling to the wall to gather enough strength to simply step out of the tub. Such a big step again, and he was actually afraid of it. He didn’t want the breathtaking pain. Didn’t want to fall because of it.

Perhaps call John, tell him you need help.

No. Pull it together, lad. You can do this.

But he didn’t really know if he could.

Feeling a bit like a trapped rabbit, Paul simply stood there, eyes pressed closed, as he trembled.

John had heard the shower turn on – the squeak of the handle got through to him – and now he was slowly coming out from under a deep and restful sleep. He felt better. Today was going to be another hard day, he knew, but he’d be fit for it, and therefore useful. And Paul was showering by himself. That was a good sign, right? Good for him.

He sat up slowly, instantly caught up in the coughing that was part of his morning ritual. He smoked too much. They both did, and yet somehow Macca didn’t spend every morning hacking up a lung, at least not yet. We should cut back, the both of us, he thought. Maybe we can try that together, make it a little project we could share. Something that has nothing to do with the last few days, and could pull us together, bond us, like.

John was pleased with that thought and rather excited that he had come up with a sort of joint-project for them to focus on. Because we’re partners, aren’t we? We’ll do it together.

Feeling much lighter than he had, he put on his glasses and opened the draperies, then crossed the room, turning out all the lamps he always left on in the night. Near the door, his bare foot nicked something and he reached down, frowning. Why would the hotel be slipping them the bill so far in advance?

One, two, three…there you go, Paulie, leg up, foot out, fucking bastard goddamn that hurts. Careful. Hold on. Step down. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Christ and Mary it hurts. Get dry, get dry…you can do this.

He was doing it.

Slow as fuckin’ treacle, McCartney, but you’re your own man, ain’t ya? Towel on the head. Towel around the waist, now. Come on, boyo, just bend a little. Bend. Fucking bend.

It felt too heavy to be a bill. Perhaps something from Brian or Dawson, dropped off while they were sleeping. Sitting on the edge of the bed, bleary and wishing he had coffee, John used a finger to break the seal, still wondering why a hotel bill would arrive sealed in a manila envelope of all things.

Well, shit. Well, fuck. Fuck this shit. Paul actually felt a little amused at the endlessly foul language running through his head. Shit, fuck, fuckthisshit. Aye, and who said you weren’t a lyricist, then? He leaned full-armed on the counter and actually chuckled to himself at his pathetic half-dressed situation – tee shirt on, towel dropped from his waist, and drawers in his hand, his body absolutely refusing to conform itself to the bending and stepping needed to put the damn things on, and his mind a nonstop festival of vulgarity that brought some sense of release.

Fuck this independence shit, lad. Call John to fucking help you.

But no. He shouldn’t see. He shouldn’t see me like this.

John was hunched in place, staring at what was in his hands.

There was a whole sheaf, at least five photos, but he wouldn’t look, couldn’t look beyond the first. He couldn’t breathe. Never wanted to see this. Ought never to have seen this!

Christ, Paul!

He could feel his nerves jumping, his whole body trembling, as though an electric current were running through him at high voltage – he was actually breaking into a sweat, could feel his skin begin to cool as his hands became swampy. He wanted to shove it all, the vile, horrible pictures, back into the envelope, stupid idiot why didn’t you stop and think? But his hands were shaking too violently, and his gorge was rising and was he going to pass out? Oh Christ, Lennon, don’t pass out. Hide this shit, though. Hide this. Fuckers. Shit. Fuckers. These fuckers. Oh, Paul. Oh, my Paulie. Oh, God, my Paul!

He felt sick down to his sinews. Were he not biting his fist, he knew, he would be screaming enough to shake the very walls and windows. Just screaming.

Finally, he’d had what he thought was a bright idea. Paul had lowered the toilet lid and spread a folded towel over it, thinking to cushion himself a bit. He sat as gently as his could given his exhausted, unsteady legs, but still the pain came shooting forth, like white lightning flashing through his brain and momentarily blurring his vision. Fuckinfuck, my ass is sore! Goddamn Fuck! It took a minute of stillness and then some deep preparatory breaths before he could put himself through the agony of completing his wardrobe, but – like a bandage lad, all at once, do it all at once and be done with it, the anticipation is worse than the actual pain – he shoved his legs into his drawers and then into the pants without stopping to acknowledge his distress, or even to breathe.

He was full of shit. The pain was every bit as bad as the anticipation.

Okay, you’re screaming a little, stop screaming, take it down a decibel. Just a little yelling, that’s fine, yelling. Oh, Christ. Oh, Christ. But you’re done. You’re done now, you’re okay. You’re moaning, but that’s okay. Stand up, off your bleedin’ ass. You’re still moaning a little. Breathe. Stop shaking, ya big baby. Just stop.

It was easier to tell his body to stop shaking than to make it happen. But Paul had managed by himself, and he felt immensely proud of it. He might be shuddering and sweating enough to need another shower, and he might be leaning his forehead on the marble wall as he breathed through the pain that still resonated through him through him like a sounding gong giving off its final reverberations, but he had done it. He had showered and dressed himself, and he couldn’t wait to show his little victory to John – offer some evidence to his lover that he was getting back on his feet, at least a little. As soon as he stopped moaning and sobbing.

But he wasn’t sobbing. His own moans were ebbing away, and he wasn’t sobbing, hadn’t cried at all, in fact.  

John.

Oh, what now, Johnny?

He was almost afraid to open the bathroom door. He could hear it clearly now, the all-too-familiar sound of John suffering some kind of anguish. The whisper-like moans, as though he had trained himself to never let them be heard. The sobs that would break through, like marauding invaders, nevertheless.

“Johnny,” Paul said softly, peering around the door. “Johnny? Are you alright?”

He gingerly made his way over to the bed, where his mate was lying face down, crying into a pillow – as though he hadn’t wanted to be heard – his hands clutched beneath him. Paul put a hand on his shoulder. “Babe? What is it? What’s happened?”

John didn’t answer, couldn’t seem to acknowledge him, as he continued to shudder on the bed. “Hon? Can you turn over? Can you let me see you?”

He thought he heard a “no.”

“Johnny, come on. We’re already through the worst of it, yeah?" He put on his best rallying voice. "Turn yourself over, love. You can look at me dressed in these clothes and have a laugh.”

With a noise that sounded like a hard and resistant surrender, John managed to turn on to his side. He looked up at Paul with agonized eyes, his face wet with tears, an envelope clutched between two fists.

“What’s that, then,” Paul asked, trying to take it from him. John pulled it back.

What is it?” He whispered intently, suspecting that he knew the answer.

Chapter Text

John had snatched the envelope back, and was holding it to his chest, arms crossed before him.

“John, don’t be stupid, let me have it.”

“No.”

“It’s…” Paul swallowed, his whole body beginning to vibrate as he leaned over the bed. “It’s the pictures…it is, right?”

All John could do was stare at him, his eyes huge as he met Paul’s own, his expression a potent cocktail of exquisite pain mixed with deep worry.

“I need to see them. Please. If you’ve seen them, love, then I think I should.”

Words still beyond him, John held Paul’s gaze, and slowly shook his head ‘no’.

Paul’s hand went to his stomach, as a bout of dizziness struck him. Steady, he told himself. If John wasn’t going to be reasonable or strong, then he would have to be for both of them. Twice as reasonable, twice as strong. Straightening up as well as he could manage, and trying not to betray his persistent difficulty in walking, he crossed the room and picked up the phone, dialing the number beside it.

John followed him with his eyes and couldn’t help noticing the stiff gait --the way Paul was trembling. He seemed so shaky on his legs that John got up and followed him.

“Mr. Dawson, it’s Paul – Paul McCartney, I mean,” he heard his partner say. “I’m sorry, I know it’s early but we need you. Please come.” A pause. “Can’t discuss it over the phone. Please just come.” He hung up abruptly – so unlike him not to say “thank you” – and John caught him around the waist as he seemed to lose his legs.

“Alright, Paulie, I’ve got you,” he murmured reassuringly. “Here, come sit down,” he led the shaking man to a chair and tried to seat him, but Paul was having difficulty lowering himself. It took several tries before he could sit, and when he finally managed it, the lad let out a tight, closed mouth grunt of pain.

“What’s wrong with you,” John asked in concern. “You’re very pale, love. You seem so weak.” He poured out a glass of water, which Paul gratefully accepted with a trembling hand.

“Might have overdone it this morning,” he admitted as he drank. “But look. Showered and dressed, I am.” He couldn’t quite manage the smile he’d planned on showing John with his big reveal.

“You should have let me help you. Look at the state you’re in.” John knelt before him, peering worriedly into Paul’s face. “Baby, you look like hell. What can I do for you? Perhaps we should have the doctor --”

“No, I’m fine,” Paul insisted. “Just tired, yeah? Maybe should have asked for your help, after all.” He handed the glass off to John and leaned forward with a grimace, looking into John’s face as though trying to convince him. “I just wanted to surprise you, Johnny. Show you I’m getting better.”

John looked only doubtful. “Is that what you’re doing? Trying to convince me you’re fine? A blind man could see you’re not, Paul.” He took Paul’s hand, lacing their fingers. “You don’t have to pretend with me, you know. I’d rather you be honest.”

Paul pressed his forehead to John’s and grabbed tightly at his wrist. “Johnny, I need to see those pictures. If you’ve seen them, then I need to. I need to see what you’ve seen.”

John hesitated. He knew his partner. He knew that if he resisted, Macca would simply be relentless, continuing to make the same demand, over and over, or he would shut down – and shut John out – until he got what he wanted. Obstinate bastard, from the very first day…

But he couldn’t help noticing Paul’s choice of words. He wasn’t saying he wanted to see the images, only that he needed to. A real need is hard to say no to, John considered, and in truth he understood what lay behind it. He knew that Paul’s imaginings of what John might have seen and withheld from him would be always be worse than the real thing, and would leave the lad feeling anxious, insecure and forever wondering.

He understood it, yeah, but John thought of a way to limit the damage. “There are five or six photos, love.” Lennon whispered. “I only saw the first. It was bad enough.”

Paul knew exactly what his partner was doing. He meant to see all the photos, to get a sense of what exactly might already be leaking out into the world. But he appreciated that John was trying to shield him. For now, he’d give his mate a break – accept a compromise that let him feel like he was successfully protecting his Macca.

“Let me see the first one, then” Paul sighed. “Anything you’ve seen, I should see. You said we were in this together.”

John huffed out a frustrated breath, deeply regretting his promise, but nodded. Retrieving the envelope, he reached in without looking, sliding out the first image among the sheaf and handing it over.

There was Beatle Paul McCartney – the cute one – in profile from his left, a rigid, thick-veined cock buried to the hilt in his mouth and a hand grasped tightly in his hair.

Beatle Paul McCartney being used but that wasn’t obvious. Nothing in the image would suggest to an unwitting viewer that the lad wasn’t a willing participant -- sensual and even aroused if the half-closed eyes were an indicator – in a homosexual act both illegal and largely thought repulsive to society.

From this angle, his face was unmarked and beautiful, his famously long, almost feminine, eyelashes emphasized by the angle. Perhaps he had not yet been slapped and bruised. Paul didn’t know. In his memory, the scene before his eyes was a blank moment. There was a hint of a collar, so his shirt had not yet been ripped from him, but that was all he could glean from it.

Paul had set his face into a neutral expression – he had decided before looking that he would try to be dispassionate, view the thing as though it were any piece of porn, having nothing to do with him -- but now, as the photo slipped out of his hand, his bland mask began to scare John. He had expected Paul to look horrified, or frightened, or furious. He had certainly expected an outburst of some sort.

But Macca looked only dazed and withdrawn. He was staring blankly at the floor, as though his mind had fled, leaving only a catatonic shell. His pupils were blown, making his eyes appear almost black.

John laid a hand on the lad’s head, meaning to stroke his hair, and that seemed to pull Paul back into the present. He shook off John’s hand. “I want to see the rest.”

Lennon instantly regretted thinking he could ever control McCartney on this – on anything really important. He scooped up the photo, slipping it in with the rest and holding it behind his back. He decided to be as peremptory as his mate. “Well, you won’t. Not if I have anything to say about it.”

“John—”

“I’m not arguing with you,” he said, stepping toward the door, where a faint knocking had begun. “We’ll let Dawson decide, then, yeah?”

It was Dawson, unexpectedly wheeling in a breakfast cart as he entered and quickly closed the door behind him. Instantly John slapped the envelope into the older man’s hand, glad to be rid of it, and took charge of the cart with gratitude.

Rather than immediately opening the envelope, Dawson surveyed the room. Only after noting the grim looks on both men’s faces -- McCartney’s pallor all the more emphasized by Lennon’s anxious flush – did he give his attention over to the packet in his hands. Neither lad looked at him. John busied himself with preparing tea; Paul simply sat, head down, looking at his lap.  They could hear the detective pacing about, could hear pages being slid and turned as they were silently perused without comment – without so much as a sigh or a gasp betraying his thoughts to them.

Paul felt John lean in toward him, hand on his shoulder as he brought a cup of tea. “Have this, love. It’ll settle you.”

His partner shook his head, refusing to raise his head, forcing John to hunch down before him. “Take it, Paul, come on. Can’t have you passing out again.”

Once again, a headshake. But with the refusal the look Paul gave him broke John’s heart. Those eyes, those beautiful, expressive Macca eyes, were communicating nothing but deep and utter shame. The look hit John like a sledgehammer, because it was one he knew only too well – had seen it on himself too many times, and understood the self-loathing that lay beneath it. It was a look that said, I don’t deserve tea, especially not from your hand.

He put the cup on the floor and took both of Paul’s hands into his own. Warm, dry hands, nearly limp, as though the fight had gone completely out of him. “Baby, listen to me,” John spoke slowly, so as to emphasize each word. “You have been greatly sinned against. You’ve done nothing wrong. You have nothing to feel ashamed about.”

Paul couldn’t meet his eyes. With a toss of his head, he indicated Dawson. “He’s lookin’ at all of ‘em,” he whispered. “He’s seein’ everything.”

“You know you can trust him, love” John whispered back, “He’s a good man, he is.”

“All the more reason I can’t stand it. Johnny…” Paul’s head fell again and John felt his shoulders slouch down in defeat. “Johnny,” came the agonized whisper. “I just wanna die.”

The words chilled Lennon to his bones, and a thousand speeches ran through his head, all of them learned-as-delivered by Paul himself, on those nights when John had lapsed into self-hate and recrimination over yet another failing, and his ever-optimistic partner would buck him up with words of encouragement – telling John he was an ass to hate himself when everyone else loved him, that his talent-was trustworthy, that things would all work out.

The words had worked on John because he was a praise junkie who wanted, needed to hear them, especially from his Macca, who always sounded so confident as he said them. He doubted they’d work on Paul, partly because authors so frequently disbelieved their own stuff, and partly because platitudes would not be helpful in this moment, but mostly because John didn’t think he could deliver them with the same sense of profound believability. If he merely sounded panicked, none of it would get through to his lover. Maybe he needs to reach a rock bottom, his instincts told him. And maybe this is it. Let him feel it…

And so, he let Paul’s terrifying words stand, undenied and unrebutted. His own feelings were a tumult of helpless and fast-rising fear, but he breathed slowly and simply pulled the broken, uncharacteristically defeated Macca into his arms – let him bury his face into his neck and disappear for a while.

Dawson, meanwhile, had gone to the phone, and John could hear him speaking very quietly to Brian Epstein. He didn’t hear it all, but he clearly was instructing Eppy to get on the horn to whomever he’d spoken to the day before.

Finally, the ex-copper cleared his throat, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “There is breakfast here,” he said in a deliberately casual voice. “I’m not sure what, exactly, as I stole this off a roomservice boy, and forced him to go get a whole new set up. I just saw coffee and tea and assumed we’d need it.” He poked around amid the plates. “There’s toast and things. I won’t bother trying to convince you to eat, because I know you won’t, Mr. McCartney. Although you really should eat, the both of you.”

He studied the two men, as still as statues before him at the moment, and decided to simply let them be for a bit while he fortified himself with caffeine and then used the bathroom. He emerged carrying a folded towel, and ready to disturb the lads from their quiet consolations. He squatted down on his hamstrings to match their level.

“Gentlemen, this is obviously terrible, but also encouraging. I do think we should talk about a few things. May I ask how the photos were delivered to you? Did you open the door to anyone?”

After John explained (“I wasn’t thinking or I’d not have opened it…”), Dawson nodded his head, seeming not at all panicked. “Alright, so, they know you are here, of course. How they know it I hope to discover shortly. Nevertheless, I’m glad I intercepted someone’s breakfast for you, and we’ll forego any room service while you’re here.”

John lifted his head in stunned comprehension. “You think they’d try to kill us? Poison?”

“No, not really,” Dawson answered gently. “Not poison, anyway – with a ransom demand like that one, you don’t then kill your subject, or there’s no payoff. But… if they’ve used a drug once, they might use it again.” He held up a restraining finger before John could speak. “I don’t think it at all likely, but we’ll use an abundance of caution, you see.”

Lennon was quiet but nodded appreciatively. From the area around his neck, though, came Macca’s voice. “’Ransom’, did you say?” He pulled himself from John’s arms, wincing as he settled back into the chair. Still unable to meet anyone’s eyes, he nevertheless sounded stronger as he asked. “What ransom?”

There he is, John thought with a relieved sigh. Still some fight left in him. Not dead, sirrah, but wounded.

“Did you not see the note, then? In the envelope with the photos?”

John explained how the morning had played out, adding, “Not being willing to look at the rest, we never saw a note.”

What Dawson then showed him was a piece of paper held between the edges of a handkerchief. “Just look, don’t touch it, please. Evidence.”

John brought his head near, squinting. “Five million pounds buys the negatives. We will be in touch,” he read aloud.

“Hmm,” Dawson agreed, seeming slightly amused. “Similar handwriting to the first note, too. Apparently, they merely want to make a withdrawal from the national economy, not destroy it wholly.” Seeing the quizzical expression on Lennon’s face, he explained, “Someone involved in this is smart enough to know that these pictures, were they to be released, would not only destroy Mr. McCartney but your whole band, which would have a substantial and quite negative impact upon the entire British economy”

“Aye, Britain is being rebuilt on our backs and we’re still not rich. The whole reason we were given the bloody MBE to begin with,” John huffed. “All the money we bring in.” He looked up sharply. “That sort of confirms, though, that those toffs from the other night are behind this, doesn’t it?”

“Not really,” Dawson shrugged. “One needn’t be a toff to understand the Beatles’ impact on that head. But the ransom demand is actually smart and on-point.”

“So, they’re rapists, but they’re smart rapists who can reason,” Paul sneered in a hoarse voice. “They’re reasonable rapists. They’ll rape a man, but have a care for the land and the till, is that what you’re sayin’, Mr. Dawson?”

“There is no such thing, sir, as a reasonable rapist,” Dawson corrected with a firm voice a sharp eye turned toward him. “There are only evil, sick rapists and evil, sick rapists who also manage to be cunning. These men, whoever they are, possess cunning. But don’t credit that too highly, Mr. McCartney. Calculation is a soul-less thing. Even machines can do it.”

As he spoke, he studied Macca’s pasty complexion, noted the darkening shadows under his eyes, and deftly changed the subject. “Mr. Lennon,” he turned toward John. “Mr. Epstein and your bandmates will be here soon enough. Perhaps you should—”

“Aye,” John cut him off, nodding toward Paul. “Now you’re here with him, I’m going to see to that.” He patted Paul’s shoulder, this time placing the teacup on the arm of his chair. “Alright, Macca? I’ll shit, shower and shave and all?”

His partner winced -- whether at the strength of the pat or the vulgarity of the patter was unclear – and wordlessly waved him off, keeping his eyes on Dawson, who was placing a chair so near his own that when he sat their knees were practically toughing.

“How are you feeling, then, Mr. McCartney?”

“I wish you’d call me Paul,” the younger man frowned. “Now you’ve seen those pictures, I guess we’re past formalities.”

“On the contrary, now I’ve seen those pictures, I am even more inclined to give you full respect on all counts.”

“You needn’t throw a pearl before this swine,” Paul answered in a sullen voice. “But, look, I want to see them, the rest of the pictures.”

“I think that would be unwise, given your condition.”

“My condition,” Paul made an impatient sound, dismissing the detective’s concern. “I just overtaxed myself, my condition is fine. Show them to me now, while John’s away,” he insisted. His expression when sour. “You see, I’m cunning, too.”

“I beg to differ, son. You are neither swine, nor cunning. As to the pictures I am quite sure you need not see them.”

“They might help me remember something important.”

“That’s less likely than you may think, sir.”

“Look, Dawson,” -- it was the first time Paul had not used ‘mister’ -- it’s my life, my image, if these snaps concern anyone—”

“It’s my considered professional opinion, sir--”

“Aw, then, fuck yer considered—” Paul stopped himself, grimacing as he adjusted his position, and betrayed himself with a soft but unstoppable groan of pain.

“Sorry,” he offered, scratching at his head and wondering at his ready rudeness. “Didn’t mean that.” He reached out, accepting a cigarette Dawson had lighted for him, and wolfing down smoke. “Alright,” he breathed. “I’ll tell you what. Show me one – the one you think is the worst of it. If I see the worst, at least it puts a limit on what I can imagine. And then I’ll let you ‘considered opinion’ me to death. How’s that for a compromise?”

Dawson pondered the offer in light of what he already knew about Paul McCartney. He had been quite enjoying their little row -- found it heartening that despite being obviously unwell, the lad was pushing back and showing the inherent stubbornness the detective had already perceived in him. Still some strength at his core, then, and he wants me to see it.

“Alright,” Dawson decided. “But I will hold you to it. I’ll show you what I think is the worst image, and then you must hear what I have to say.”

The lad was smoking furiously, his whole body tensed as he nodded and reached out a hand.

“To my eye, the subject in most of these photos looks like he is under some duress,” Dawson explained. “Only the photo you have already seen and now this will seem less obvious, which makes them the most damning.”

If Paul had had no memory of the first image, the one in now in his hand was a moment he recalled clearly, and it was repellent.

*********

Open your eyes, darling, give us a big smile while Cholly makes your lovely cock happy.

  NononostopitIdon’twantthis

  Two fingers shoved roughly up inside him, dry. The pain is searing and his eyes fly open, his mouth, too, flies open.

  A flash of light.

  Laughter

  He enjoyed that, didn’t you Paulie? 

 

*********

 Paul stared at it with a face like a blank mask, the only evidence of his distress seen in how quickly and ferociously he began to gnaw on the tip of his thumb, and in the exquisite tension along his jaw line. He blinked several times as he looked. “I thought,” he spoke finally, eyes still glued to the image before him. “I thought if I saw the pictures I would remember more. Maybe something important…”

Brave lad, Dawson thought. The valor of my noble boy. “This photo jars nothing in your memory, then,” he asked.

“Well,” Paul continued to stare, forcing himself to look for much longer than he liked. “No, not really. I can see there’s no blood…so…it’s early in the—in the process. And you said – I think it was you mentioned it, but maybe I’m misremembering…something about how pleasure and pain can look the same…”

With a shake of his head, finally looking away, he handed the photo back to the detective. “I felt nothing but pain in that moment. And…fuckin’ fear. I didn’t know what was going on, who they were, why any of it was happening. Didn’t know if they were gonna kill me.” He bit his lip, lowering his gaze to his lap again as his voice faded. “The picture doesn’t show… my fear. I was just so…so…afraid. So fuckin’ scared.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Maybe if I’d not been so afraid, I could have fought ‘em, gotten away.”

“Mr. McCartney, fear played no part in how stranded you were. Given what I was told about your condition afterwards, I surmise that you’d been quite heavily drugged.” Dawson’s tone was firm, but gentle. “I’m perfectly sure that – however much you may have understood in these moments you remember, or however much you wanted to get away, you had very little actual control over your body, or even your thoughts.” He gestured toward the teacup, still resting on the arm of the chair. “You ought to drink that, you know.”

Paul shrugged off the good advice, his dark eyes roaming about the room, not focusing or resting on anything, as he tore at a cuticle until his thumb was bloody.

With Lennon not available to do it, Dawson presumed to take Paul’s hand and gently pull it from his mouth. With a helpless look, the boy immediately went for his other hand, this time going for his pinky finger.

“My lad, listen to me. And look at me, if you will.” Paul’s eyes settled in the general area of the older man’s face. “Courage does not mean an absence of fear. It means one is fully afraid and yet goes forward -- dealing with whatever circumstances befall one. Many men could not have faced the fact of photographs, much less insisted on seeing them.”

Paul seemed to be soothing his finger after a hard bite, but his eyes were intent on Dawson. He was clearly listening.

“You have remained observant when many would have – quite understandably – preferred to disconnect. You have shown a willingness to assist in piecing together what has happened that is rare in rape victims. I am often impressed in your instincts and how you reason.”

The detective reached for Paul’s untouched tea, claiming it as his own with a large slurp. “In short, son, I see nothing of the coward in you. Quite the opposite. Although,” his eyes teased a little. “I don’t blame you for being afraid of the tea when it’s gone cold.”

Macca remained silent, wondering where Dawson was going with this speech, and watching him finish the tea with a clatter of cup and saucer.

“It is precisely because I know you are no coward, that I will now speak to you plainly.” With a small smile of victory, he shook a finger Paul’s way. “And you, my boy, will have to listen to me, because that was the deal, yeah?”

 “Excuse me for sayin’ it, but seems like you’ve been talkin’ a long time already,” came the response.

Dawson laughed out loud. “Ah, you Northmen. You none of you can take a good word well. What you can’t answer with bluster, you smother with brattiness.”

Paul allowed himself a small upturn of his lips. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had called him a brat. “Alright well, let’s hear the rest of it, then. Your ‘considered opinion’?”

With that invitation, Dawson grew serious. Picking up the towel he had discretely placed on the floor, he unfolded it before McCartney, exposing a now-dried bloodstain.

Paul saw it and sighed, suddenly feeling very exhausted. John’s moans that morning had distracted him. He’d not noticed the staining or he’d never have left the towel in place.

“You’re still bleeding,” Dawson said simply.

Paul glared, but there was no bite to it. “On and off. It’s better. And that’s from last night, you know. I’m better.”

“Hmmm,” Dawson’s low hum was becoming familiar enough to read, and he knew the cop wasn’t buying it. “You’ll never be cunning, Mr. McCartney, until you become more adept at lying. But I doubt that’s in your nature. In the meantime, I must say it. In my considered professional opinion… and in my personal opinion as well…you must be seen to. You must have a doctor.”

Paul’s rebuttal was silence. A tired shake of the head.

“It’s understandable to be afraid—”

“Ain’t afraid,” he spat out. “I’m just alright. Gettin’ better.”

“You’re clearly not.” Dawson’s lips were a flat line of frustration. “Look…Paul…I have seen firsthand what can happen with wounds like yours. There can be infection--”

“Ain’t infected,” Paul argued, “just a slow healer. Look, do you realize what it would be for me to go to some doctor and…and have to explain it all? The risk of it comin’ out and bein’ known?”

“Do you know,” the investigator tried to reassure him, “priests have heard everything in the confessional, and doctors have seen everything in their operating theaters, and anything the two of them know about, we cops have cleaned up first hand. There is really nothing new under the sun, lad. No doctor is going to faint to see your wounds—”

“Yeah, that sounds great, until you add ‘Beatle Paul McCartney’ into the confessional or the hospital or the crime scene. Then everything becomes new under the sun.” Paul was uncharacteristically bitter-sounding. “I’m already hearin’ it in my head – for I know someone will say it -- ‘sure, the rumors about you and Lennon, well if you’re already takin’ it up the arse, whatever happened here shouldn’t be so earthshaking, should it? Not like if it happened to a normal bloke.’ I can just…” He buried his face in his hands. “Christ, for all I know that's just what George or Richie will say when we tell them everything. Not Ritchie," he amended, sounding strangled as he whispered, "Georgie...

At hearing his muffled groan, Dawson sat back, feeling as though he’d be slapped in the face with the full weight of anxiety McCartney was carrying as he anticipated telling everything to his bandmates, and possibly to doctors who were also complete strangers to him. Well, you’re full of good advice until you come up against something you know nothing about, the copper scolded himself. Still, his concerns were too real, and too serious, to be let go of. With a sigh, he ducked his head down and tried to catch Paul’s eye.

“Look, you,” he said gently. “If I may…why don’t you and Mr. Lennon put off telling your mates about your relationship. Save that for a better day. I think you should let Mr. Epstein and me tell them what they need to know about the assault on your person—”

“I’m not going to hide from them,” Paul looked up with that defiant tone.

“Of course not,” Dawson soothed. “You’ll be right there with us, and can add whatever you like. But you needn’t put yourself through the telling of it. I promise you, son, I have enough experience to not drag it out.”

Macca had to admit, the idea of not having to speak all of it aloud, except as he really needed to, sounded good. So did the notion of putting off the whole “by the way, we’re lovers” thing. As he considered Dawson’s advice, Paul could feel an enormous weight lift from his chest -- felt like he could breathe for the first time all morning, or perhaps longer. Perhaps for two days.

Hands between his knees, he nodded at the old copper. “That actually sounds…wise. Sorry,” he worried, “not bein’ condescendin’. Just…it’s good advice, and all. I think I might appreciate you doin’ that.”

“I will be glad to take that weight from your shoulders, my young lad, and I’ll ask only the smallest price of you for it.”

Macca closed his eyes. “Let me guess…”

Dawson raised a hand to his forehead, holding it there for a moment. “You must promise me. Promise me… that if you take on the slightest hint of fever—”

Paul felt the older man’s comforting, almost fatherly touch and nearly cried to realize how badly he’d needed it. He finished the sentence, “I will have a doctor,” he sighed in surrender.

“Make a promise to me, Paul McCartney. Say the words.”

His brown eyes opened to meet the gaslight blue ones before him. He was stunned at how wet they seemed, and at the pleading look that came from behind them. Finding himself quite moved by the detective’s soft and sincere expression, he offered a hand to Dawson, who grasped it both of his own, and then did as he was asked.

“If I get a fever, I’ll have a doctor,” he agreed with a low voice and a searching air of his own. “I promise, John Dawson.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

John had been doing real damage to the breakfast cart, partaking a healthy meal of eggs, sausage and toast -- with more jam than he knew was good for him -- and washing it all down with copious amounts of tea. Paul, meanwhile was still refusing to eat, fortifying himself with nothing but one cigarette after another.

Thus, both men dealt with their anxieties in characteristic fashion, and there was something reassuring in that. As much as John wished Paul would eat, he knew it simply wasn’t in the lad to do so when he was edgy, whereas John often had to consciously pull himself away from the trough when he was too wound up.

Still, tension radiated off both men as they nervously anticipated the arrival of their bandmates, whose reactions to everything they were about to hear could not be predicted. Openly, Lennon and McCartney had encouraged each other to hope for the best, but privately – in ways they dared not articulate -- both men had their doubts. Liverpool lads, no matter how well-traveled, were still Liverpool lads, and George, especially, could either go off like a firecracker over Paul, or go silent and full of fury-fed doubt.

Having originally liked the idea of finally confessing himself and Paul as being long-time lovers, John had been surprised at his own ready acceptance when Dawson suggested that they leave that information, for another day. Maybe it was too much to throw at the band all at once. Although it would be hard, he knew, to just throw himself back into the closet while Paul so clearly needed not just John’s friendship but his arms, too.

He was watching Paul smoke and pondering all of that, wishing to himself that the world were different -- thinking he would desire nothing better than to be able to tend to Paul openly, as the one who was most entitled to do so -- when a faint knock came to the door. He saw Paul grip the arm of his chair, knuckles white.  

Dawson opened it with caution and then gathered the photo packet, stepping outside with it.

Seizing an opportunity while they were alone, John crossed over to Paul, kneeling before him. “Look at me, love,” he said, taking Paul’s face firmly in his hands. Paul, still entertaining a shame cycle, raised his eyes. “Before they get here, I just want one more chance to do this freely,” he said. With that, he leaned in, planting a sound kiss on Paul’s forehead, then another on his cheek. Finally, after hesitating for the faintest instant, he placed his lips -- briefly and chastely, but fully -- upon Paul’s before pulling back to look at his partner squarely.

“I love you, Paul. You know that don’t you?”

Paul sighed, holding his gaze, his expression full of a gratitude he dared not speak. He took John’s hand from his cheek and brought it to his lips, kissing Lennon’s palm in a silent acknowledgement that was deeply eloquent in its intimacy. “Please, don’t leave me,” he whispered.

John winced to hear it. Those words had, for so long been the unsung lyrics of his own whole life. “Don’t leave me; please stay.” They were words he’d said to Paul so often over the course of their relationship, from their teenaged years to just a few weeks earlier, when they’d had a tough row during a rainy drive. John knew the utter fear and helplessness that lay behind those words whenever he spoke them. To hear such a plea coming from Paul’s lips felt like an unspeakable travesty, of the world tilting all wrong and making no sense. He carded his fingers through his lover’s messy, uncombed hair, and let the back of his fingertips soothe him as he skimmed that beautiful Macca jawline. “I would never leave you, darling. If you know nothing else in your life, you can lay your fortunes down on that line.” He forced a tense smile at Paul. “I may make you wish I’d go away, sometimes, but I will never leave you. Who else would have me?”

Paul leaned into his caress for a moment, closing his eyes, and simply letting himself be loved.

They were still like that when Dawson walked back in, clearing his throat with some exaggeration.

“Alright, cop,” John announced as he pulled away and stood up, keeping his hold on Paul’s hand. “You caught us. We were bein’ all queer and stuff. Haul us into chokey if you must, but we ain’t comin’ quietly.”

“You’re talkin’ to the wrong copper,” Dawson chuckled softly. “I’m not afraid of either of you being in love. That, by the way,” he pointed to the door, “was a gentleman visiting here in service to the crown. They are now in possession of the pictures and the note. We may take it as a very good sign that they have responded in less than an hour to Mr. Epstein’s call. I suspect Herself is not amused to have one of her newly honored boys abused in such fashion.”

“Oh, Christ,” Paul murmured, “d’ye think she even knows?”

“Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl,” John smirked at him. “I expect you can trust her, love. She doesn’t have a lot to say.”

“Aye, and she’s not a girl who misses much,” Dawson agreed.

Paul shook his head. “You two are having entirely too much fun right now. And I think I need a nap. John, help?”

The lad looked drained. It was significant, the detective thought, that McCartney could contemplate sleep when he was so clearly anxious for his bandmate’s arrival. Significant, too, that he hadn’t even attempted to rise on his own steam, but sought out John’s full-bodied assistance, instead. He couldn’t decide whether all that significance meant something good – like a willingness to finally see to himself, and permit his lover to be of help – or something bad, like a foretaste of a physical breakdown.

Sometimes Dawson wished he was a better man of prayer than he had ever tried to be.

It was another forty-five minutes before Brian Epstein finally tapped at the door and made his way inside with George and Ritchie in tow, all of them bearing gifts: sandwiches, soda, cups of hot coffee, cakes and sweets. “George’s idea,” Brian explained as he introduced the lads to the house detective. “He insisted.”

“Well you’ve been so bleedin’ secretive! I didn’t know if we were going to be encamped a few days here with these other two, like a quarantine,” George grumbled. “And my mum always taught me to keep food about.”

“Aye, blame your mum, you glutton,” Ritchie nudged him, placing a cakebox on a table. “I notice you only worried about food, not clothes.”

Both of them shut up as they caught sight of Paul, soundly asleep under covers -- his face unshaven and sporting days-old bruises going from green to yellow -- and John, who had been lightly dozing beside his partner, and who quickly jumped up to greet them in a manner both sleep-addled and overly effusive. He hugged George and then Ritchie, and couldn’t help exclaiming over the sweets, which he immediately opened and shoved into his mouth.

“Gentlemen, in other circumstances I would say I am very glad to meet you, but today, I’m afraid none of us will be glad for this get-together.” The detective urged the men to have seat and then introduced himself, detailing his background. Finishing his review, which seemed only to confuse the new arrivals, he looked at John.

“Mr. McCartney will want to be awake, now,” he told him.

“Nay, let him sleep, Dawson. He’s knackered.”

Dawson shot him a look. “I promised him he’d be able to speak if he wished to. So, if you please, sir.”

It was only the truth he’d spoken, but the older man also wanted to observe Paul’s condition and get a sense of how he was. John made a face but obeyed, heading over to Macca and gently shaking him.

“Babe,” they heard him say gently, “Paul, wake up. The lads are here.”

It took another shake before Paul made an indeterminate noise and blinked awake, rubbing his face. “Can I have water,” he choked out.

“Of course, love.” His partner went to fetch it while Paul stared dully across the room at his mates. They returned his gaze with quizzical expressions and then looked at each other with high eyebrows and mutual shrugs.

“Hey, Paul,” Ritchie offered tentatively, “You alright?”

“S’wrong with your eye,” George chimed in with a deep frown.

Before he could answer John had returned, and Paul busied himself with emptying the entire tumbler before catching his breath. “Just too many covers.” He raised an arm to John, who wordlessly helped him rise, supporting his weight as Paul – with very obvious difficulty – took a few steps toward the group and then shook his head, finally managing to settle himself on the edge of the bed with a grimace he could not restrain.

George and Ringo shared another frown between them.

“I’ll just sit here,” Paul decided, his voice still sounding rough and breathy. “Thank you for comin’ lads. Brian, thank you, for everything.” He nodded in their directions, remaining purposely distanced from them. “Mr. Dawson, you can…go on, then.”

Dawson had watched the younger man with narrowed eyes, only looking away once John took a seat on the bed beside him, offering Paul a piece of chocolate, which was refused. With a sigh and a bare shake of his head, he turned to the others.

“I have been asked to fill you in on events of the last two days during which, we understand, you’ve been looking for Messers McCartney and Lennon.”

“Aye, we’ve been wondering if we’d missed a good party, after all, and they had a roomful of birds they weren’t sharing,” George offered. “But…that wouldn’t be the case, then?”

“It would not,” Dawson acknowledged. Taking out his notebook, the big man began to pace back and forth before them as he proceeded to tell the two men everything Paul wanted them to know, laying it all out succinctly, and holding back what was not essential for them to hear about. "Don't tell 'em about the comb handle," Paul had pled. "Please, I couldn't..." And Dawson had, of course, agreed, saying only to George and Ringo, "I will spare you the details of the specific savagery dealt to Mr. McCartney, except to say that he was assaulted in brutal and quite cruel fashion by men with no humanity in them."

Paul kept his head down throughout the entire recitation, not raising it at the gasps of horror his mates had been unable to hold back, not looking up at Ritchie’s soft moan, “Paulie, no, oh no, son,” but only silently reaching for John’s hand. He sighed hugely to hear George let out a blasphemous curse and throw something, wondering if his childhood pal – always something of a rounder -- was blaming him for not fighting back enough, and had to gulp back an urge to cry.

Eventually, he released John from his grip and brought his arms around his shoulders in a hard self-embrace that all of his bandmates recognized. It meant that he was exhausted, anxious and feeling overwhelmed. They sent looks his way throughout Dawson’s telling. Looks of sympathy, of support, of pain and of love.

But Macca never saw them, never raised his head, never sought out their reactions, or tried to meet their eyes, while John sat like an attentive owl beside him, not moving except to stroke the lad’s back in continuous little circles.

At the mention of photographs, Paul began to visibly tremble. Ringo let out a mirthless, hard bark of a laugh. “And I didn’t think it could get worse. Paulie,” he offered his silent, sphinxlike friend, “lad, I’m so sorry this happened.” Wanting to walk over to his friend, but getting no sense that he’d be welcomed, he instead hid is face, propping his head up with his elbows on his knees, and staring helplessly at the carpeting. “Fuckers,” he muttered.

George, “the quiet one” remained quiet, his eyes as hard and clear as diamonds and fixed on John and Paul with an unreadable expression.

Dawson asked Paul if there was anything he would like to say, but Macca, still balled up and shuddering, merely shook his head ‘no’.

“Mr. Lennon, is there anything you would like to add,” Dawson asked, turning toward John.

After a glance at Paul, so silent and closed in on himself, Lennon cleared his throat and spoke. “As far as I’m concerned, this changes nothing,” he said, too loudly, and sounding much too defenseive. “If it changes anything for the two of you, you can find another band to work with.”

Both George and Ringo leapt up at his words, taking fast offense. George nearly charged his bandmate. “That’s the first thing you have to say to us,” he hollered. “You keep us in the dark for two days and then talk to us like that? Fuck you, John, and where the hell were you while Paulie was bein’…bein’… like that! How could you let his happen? And then to talk to us like that,” he finished furiously, seeming to choke on his own anger.

Ringo, his blue eyes showing a plain fury, finished the thought, “If we’d want to leave the group it wouldn’t be for anything that’s happened to Macca, son, but for you not lookin’ after him. And for treating us like we’re the hired help and don’t have a stake in lovin’ him. When he didn’t show up why weren’t you lookin’ for him?”

“He has a name,” was John’s weakling response. Feeling completely at a loss, he permitted his defenses to find purchase in expressing a passive indignity for Paul’s sake, “don’t talk about him like he’s not right here.”

He knew he’d just made a balls of it all. He’d never meant to start off by making some kind of loyalty demand of the band. He’d just felt put on the spot by Dawson who, had only been courteous. Didn’t really have to say anything, he thought. Should have kept my mouth shut, like Paulie.

The truth was, George and Ritchie’s accusations had hit him square in the chest, where his own doubts and self-recriminations had been echoing the same questions, on and off, since Macca had first disappeared. Hearing the words of blame, the charges of inattention and selfishness brought by his own mates, was blistering to John. He felt something crumble inside himself. An old familiar taunt rose within him as though it had only been waiting behind a curtain for its cue. He has a name? Did you say that? You should leave. You have nothing to offer, here. You left Paul helpless.

“Shut up,” John said loudly, to no one.

“This is not helpful,” Dawson began, causing George to turn on him, ready to fight, demanding to know why a hotel detective, and not the police, was “running this half-assed shitshow.”

“Christ, stop. Stop it.” Paul’s voice rose from his self-cocooned depths. “Lads, please.” He opened his eyes, seeming to wipe a tear from his cheek before depositing a hand on John’s thigh and doing that strange petting motion he’d first used the night of the attack, staring at nothing while running his hand lightly, again and again, over his partner’s muscle, as though he were petting a cat.  “This is not John’s fault,” he choked out. “It’s not Eppy’s fault or Mr. Dawson’s.” He finally trained his gaze on the rest of the men in the room. “If anyone is to blame, I am. But…I’m not sure that’s true, either, isn’t that so, Mr. Dawson?”

“Indeed, my lad,” the big man said, studying Paul’s movements with curiosity. “The blame rests fully on the depraved men who did this, and nowhere else.”

Ringo came to stand before Paul, trying to catch his gaze. “Paul,” he started. “This affects the whole band, I mean, practically speaking it does.”

Paul had dipped his head again, so Ringo was talking to the lad’s double cowlick, so familiar to him from the perch of his drumkit that he’d come to think of them as Paul’s “eyes on the back of his head, you know?” Eyes that, he would joke, explained how McCartney always seemed to know everything that was happening around them during those frenzied thirty-minute sets they performed nightly, and sometimes twice in a day.

Now, his eyes filled with an eloquent sadness, he reached out a hand, as though to touch the younger man’s shoulder, before pulling back with uncertainty. “But band aside, this is awful for you, in a way it can never be for the rest of us. But you’re not alone, alright? Don’t think we’re goin’ anywhere.” He squatted down on his haunches to look up at Paul’s face. “All we want to know is what we can do for you. Name what you need, love, and we’ll have it for you. Maybe we can all go away together for a while, eh? What do you think?”

Paul placed his other hand on Ringo’s shoulder, stroking him there. “To go away,” he echoed, saying no more, but only moving his warm hands over both of his friends in soft, skimming strokes. The drummer looked at John, his eyes huge with the question, is he okay?

John, deeply biting his lip, his eyes still wet from the ache of his two mate’s accusation, could only shrug.

George, meanwhile, had been pacing the room, mumbling quietly to Brian, and – for reasons best known to himself – shooting daggers toward Dawson with his eyes, as though the older man was somehow at fault. “Who else knows,” he asked. “What about Jane? What about his old man?”

“No one else knows,” Eppy answered. “We haven’t even discussed that with Paul yet. I’m not sure how he wants to tell them, or even if he wants to.”

“Da,” Paul said, suddenly turning to look at John. “I want to see my dad,” he said softly. “I need to. I don’t know what to do about Jane, but I need to see da.”

“Well, then we’ll take you to him,” Ringo said immediately, before John could so much as clear his throat. “We’ll all go up North with you, eh? Take a roadtrip together, like old times. Be there for you when you see him.”

It was so like Ritchie to offer such full-on and selfless support, but John instantly knocked him down a peg, as though annoyed – or jealous -- that he’d not said it first. “Not sure he could endure a long drive just now,” he told Ringo with a huff. “Poor lad can barely sit.”

“Now whose talking about him as though he’s not there,” George started, pausing in his paces in order to kick at a wall, leaving a mark. “We get him some cushions and drive him up to Wirral, that’s all.”

“He’d have no privacy, there,” John raised his voice at him, “Angela’s always hangin’ in the background and snoopin’ around, isn’t she?”

“John may have a point,” Brian said, daring George’s disapproval, which came immediately.

“Aye, well you’d say that, wouldn’t you, if John said it first.”

Dawson watched as the room descended into a kind of scouser anarchy, with three Beatles getting into each other’s faces and arguing…well, he thought, arguing quite stupidly, which is what people do when they are deeply upset – they lash out at each other, because they feel helpless. He decided to read room dynamic as confused, displaced expression of anger and esteem on behalf of their injured member, rather than mere disfunction. He casually wondered who would throw the first punch.

With all eyes off  him, Paul rose unsteadily from the bed and began to make his crouched, unsteady way to the bathroom, only attracting attention when the door clicked closed after him, and the lock turned.

John left off his argument and was there instantly. “Paul? Baby, you alright?”

Baby, George frowned furiously. “Baby?” He’s treating him like an infant, now? Lennon had said it, he thought after a minute, the way I’d say it to Patti. He shook his dark hair at the thought. Paul must really be hurting, and John’s being John.

“I’m fine,” Paul answered, sounding stronger than he’d looked. “Just give me a minute, aye?”

One minute,” John insisted in a firm voice, leaning his head against the door.

“Can’t you even leave the lad alone while he’s in the loo?”

Lennon gave George a dangerous looking glare. “Watch out, Geo.”

George gave him one right back. “Ye follow him like a shadow, you know. No wonder the lad’s got no peace. You’d crawl up his ass if you could--”

“That’s it,” John exploded, drawing a fist on his mate and grazing his chin.

“Oh, come ‘head ye fud,” George urged, motioning in with his hands. “You’ve needed a beating since at least his twenty-first birthday, yeah.” He shot forward, going for Lennon’s head with his own before Dawson, who had four inches and a couple of stone on any of them, came in between. “That’s enough of that, lads. You’ll accomplish nothing by fighting among yourselves.”

Ritchie was dragging George away. “Come on, Geo, he’s right. It’s no good, havin' at each other like this.”

Brian took one of George’s arms as well, and led him to the other side of the room, speaking quietly. “Instead of all this roughhousing, I wonder if you two might want to go bring the old man down here,” he began, hoping to distract them.

“Paul?” John was calling through the door, his back to the three of them. “Minute’s up. Time to come out.”

He heard a sound like a gasp. “Yeah. Half a mo’, then. Almost finished.” Another gasp. “I told you I didn’t want to eat anything…” Paul’s voice trailed off weakly.

John raised his eyebrows in understanding. “Oh…” he said. “I’m sorry, love. I’ll be just here, then. If you need anything.” He cast an embarrassed glance at Dawson. “How was I to know,” he shrugged helplessly.

“I’m sure this is painful and unpleasant for him,” the detective nodded. “You’re right to stay near.”

Lennon leaned back against the bathroom door, his body arched, looking for all the world like a teenager pining away. “Paul?” he asked in a quiet voice. “Talk to me, baby.” He rolled his head side to side, looking up at the ceiling. “Remember that time when we were kids, up at the Gambier Terrace? There was just the one bathroom and Cyn was pissin’ off the rest of the house because she was plugged up and stuck in the loo for over an hour?”

He took Paul’s soft moan as an affirmative. “You remember how you sat outside the door, telling her jokes and singing to her?”

John turned to the rest of the room, a small smile playing at his lips as he shared the memory. “People were pounding on the door and Cyn was embarrassed. She was having one of those times where you can’t push it out but you can’t keep it in, either, and with people yelling for her to finish, she couldn’t get the job done, you know. She was panicking. Paulie thought if he distracted her, got her mind off herself, it would help, so he…” He couldn’t help a chuckle as he met Dawson’s eyes. “He kept everyone else away and then did all of his weird voices at her, and that Jerry Lewis thing, you know, ‘hey, laaaydeee, nice lady, can you push your caca out, nice lady?’”

Even George stopped fuming enough to smile at the scene as John described it. That was the Paul he knew and loved-- helpful, funny, willing to be stupid because he was so smart.

“He played my guitar and did the cheesiest Spanish accent you’ve ever heard,” he told the detective, who was leaning against the wall, enjoying the story. “And then he sang Besame Mucho, with this really queer voice and the whole ‘cha-cha boom’ bit and finally she was laughing so hard she was able to get herself all sorted out.”

By now the three Beatles were chuckling together, their recent furors cut down to size by the gift of memory. “We should sing it, now, maybe,” Ringo said.

“Paulie,” John called through the door, liking that idea. “We’re gonna sing for you,” he announced. “Okay, nice laddie?”

“Christ, John…” he heard Paul’s strangled response.

John smiled and began to croon in an campy, oily voice. “Besame, besame mucho…each time I bring you a kiss, I hear music divine.

He looked over at Geo. “C’mon, the lad’s sufferin’ through a shit, give a hand, then. So, besame, besame mucho…

George, shaking his head in disbelief at their situation, nevertheless moved closer with Ringo, and brought a harmony. “I love you forever, so say that you’ll always be mine.”

All three of them shoved out their hips by sheer habit singing, “Cha-cha BOOM!”

The lads grew bolder in the second verse, singing through the door in solidarity with what they imagined Macca to be going through, “each little dream would take wings and my life would be through…”

At the sound of a flush, they gave out a playful huzzah, shouting another spontaneous “Cha-cha-BOOM!” and for the first time John began to think that, minor tussle aside, the boys would be alright.

Then they heard a groan, as though Paul was leaning on the other side of the door.

“Macca?” John asked. “You comin’ out? Alright, love?”

“No,” Paul answered through a moan.

The mood instantly collapsed. “I’m comin’ in then.” He rattled the door handle. “Why’d you lock the feckin’ door, babe?”

“Knock it down, then” George said, losing his grin. “He sounds like he’s dyin’.”

“No, he’s right there, behind it," Ringo warned. "You don’t knock it down when he’s on it, or you'll take him out.”

“Gentlemen,” Dawson moved John gently out of the way. “Mr. McCartney,” he called, his voice firm but his face full of concern. “Paul… it’s Dawson.”

“Yeah,” came a groan.

“Are you able to unlock the door and turn the handle?”

A stretch of silence came, and then, “I don’t know.”

“Knock it down,” George repeated.

Dawson gave him a quelling look as he brought out a skeleton key and inserted it. “House detective,” he reminded the group before addressing Paul again. “Stand away from the door, son. I’m going to open it.”

Bleedin” McCartney’s voice was barely audible. Dawson opened the door, quickly grabbing around as he stepped in. Two seconds later he emerged with Paul in his arms, barely on his feet and ghastly white. The circles under his eyes, against that pallor, made him look deathly ill.

“He’s hemorrhaging,” Dawson said between gritted teeth, “and he’s hot as hell. Fever. Infection. Call an ambulance.”

“I’ve my car,” Brian offered. “It might be better not to –”

“Mr. Epstein, he could die. Call down to the front desk this instant and tell them we need an ambulance. Tell them someone’s hit their head in the bathroom and has gone bloody and needs immediate transport. We can’t bloody well walk him out of here like this,” he muttered under his breath.

Dawson surrendered Paul’s limp body to John and George, who quickly laid him on the bed. “Paul? Paul,” Lennon was choking out the name, roughly rubbing one of his lover’s wrists, trying to bring some warmth to hands that mere minutes earlier had felt almost hot as they’d stroked him and Ritchie. “Oh, baby, no. Why didn’t you…tell me…Baby, come on, sweet, don’t do this to me…”

“Give a blanket,” Ritchie urged, “He could go into shock.”

George grabbed one and covered Paul, barely noticing how John hovered over him, or the love words he was murmuring into his partner’s ear.

Returning from the bathroom, Dawson slopped a dark handful of blood on to Macca’s head as the lads about him gasped. “There is a head injury,” he repeated in an insistent but steady voice to Brian, even as the manager was speaking on the phone. “There is a serious head injury and blood everywhere. This is beyond urgent.”

When the detective moved back to the sink to wash his hands, Ritchie dared to peek in behind him and then blanched, stepping back, grabbing the door frame to keep from reeling.

There really was blood.

And it was everywhere.

Chapter Text

Every time he thought of it, the memory seemed to pour out as slowly as molasses for John Lennon, as though the minutes dragged into hours and every word, every thought, every action had been pulled through a vat of something so thick, viscous and airless that a rescue seemed unlikely, as though survivability would not be possible.

He couldn’t shake the image. Paul on the bed, eyes half closed, staring at the hotel room’s ceiling, completely unresponsive. He said nothing, saw nothing, never turning his head while all about him his mates were exclaiming, shouting, rubbing, covering.

He’d just lain there, white and bleeding, sweaty and cold and hot, and growing paler by the minute.

John had been certain he was going to lose his soulmate in that moment -- certain he, too, was about to die -- that his own heart would simply shatter in its chest if Paul died in front of him. Lennon and McCartney dead. Bury us together and walk away. Let us rest in peace, and amen.

As drawn out as it all seemed, he knew the ambulance had to have been very fast, very timely, because Paul was still alive. So colorless, his breath so shallow, but he was there -- even if his hand lay in John’s motionless, unresponsive to the constant rubbing and squeezing it was being subjected to. And they were just blocks away from the hospital. Please God, let that mean Paul will live.

There were going to be headlines, he knew it.

Brian had done his best. When calling down for help their manager had enough presence of mind to ask that the ambulance be directed around back of the hotel, near the service elevators that had always precipitated a fast and unseen Beatles exit.

But it didn’t matter. There was nothing like an ambulance for drawing attention exactly where you don’t want it; those “newspaper taxis” as John always called them, meant curious eyes, sharp noses, people ready to take a snap and tell a newspaper what they’ve’ seen, and John had no doubt that someone, somewhere had gotten off a few shots of Paul McCartney, unconscious, blood saturating a head bandage, being loaded up and hurried to hospital. A shot of a weeping Lennon, climbing in after him – he’d not been able to stop his tears at the sight of Paul like that – pushed about, having no control over his circumstances.  He would hate this so much if he could see it, had been his mad thought.  

He looked over to Dawson who was writing notes in his pad while snatching glimpses of Macca or eavesdropping on the emergency personnel’s dialogues, which were incomprehensible to John. “What do you think?” he asked him.

Dawson sighed as he underlined something he’d just written. “Before this crew came, Mr. Lennon, I’d managed to call down to the concierge and tell them no one was to go into that room.” He gave Lennon a sharp look. “I don’t want to see any photographs being floated about in the tabloids, of that bloody floor. I don’t want to learn someone on staff has taken a few souvenirs from what was left behind, there. I’m just reminding myself to follow up on that.”

“Fuck that, I meant about Paul,” John said, wiping eyes that were pleading hard with the detective to give him the right answer. “Do you think he’ll be alright?”

Dawson’s efficient voice went low as he avoided that look. “Let us hope so. He’s lost a deal of blood, and if he falls into shock…”

There was no point in finishing the sentence. Instead, he laid a beefy hand on John’s shoulder as he felt them swerving into hospital grounds. “There is a long road ahead of us, son. But now, be ready. Chances are good that someone who saw something as we left the hotel has called someone else, and this is the nearest hospital…so stands to reason there might be a reporter or fans, there. Just keep your eyes on Paul; keep holding his hand. Whatever part of him is still with us will know you’re there.”

The detective had been correct. Bad news travels fast, and as they were rushed into the emergency area, John could hear fans screaming for Paul, a reporter’s voice calling out a question, but that all went away in mere seconds as the doors closed behind them.

Brian had arrived quickly after, bringing George and Ritchie. Dawson – whose career-cop presence meant no one actually questioned who he was, had loudly and commandingly reminded the medical staff present that any leaks would be easily traced to them. He asked for and was instantly shown to a phone, where he busied himself making one call after another.

Not for the first time over these wretched days had John given thanks for the presence of John Dawson, flung so haphazardly into their lives.

At that moment, though, all he wanted was to hear from the doctors – to know that Paul would live. He stood against the wall, in a room the band had been pushed into on Brian’s request – a records room, by the looks of it. George, unable to stand any longer, had slid to the floor, where he was quietly sobbing. Ringo was at his side, speaking softly to him, one arm around his shoulders.

Lord, Lennon prayed helplessly in his isolation, I don’t know if you’re there or what to say. Save him. God, save him. Brian offered him a cigarette, and they smoked in silence, both with shaking hands.

Nearly a half hour passed before a doctor joined them, followed instantly by Dawson. The Beatles fell on the small, neat-looking man in the spotless white jacket, surrounding him and barking out questions before he could say a word. He held up his hands.

“Gentlemen, please,” he insisted. “I know you are worried and that you want answers, but right now I can only tell you that your friend is in very grave condition, and we are going to do all we can.”

“Will he be alright,” George’s voice cracked. “Can you tell us that?”

The doctor, a middle-aged man wearing glasses and a deep frown, sighed as though he was forcing patience on himself. “That young man has been terribly brutalized, and he is now very ill, do you understand? He would be in much better shape had we seen him immediately after he was assaulted.”

“We tried,” John offered, his voice trailing off. “He wouldn’t…”

“It’s true,” Dawson stepped in. “I urged him several times to have a doctor, but he refused to hear it.”

“Well, excuse me, whoever you are, but a man your size should have dragged him to it.” The doctor was pulling no punches. “I’m sorry to be blunt, but you have no idea what we’re facing in these circumstances.”

“I assure you, I do, sir,” the copper bristled and John, ever observant, noted the fists appearing at the larger man’s side, “but carrying Mr. McCartney out of a hotel while he resisted was not a feasible option.”

“Well then you should have done better by him, otherwise,” came the tightly voiced scolding, “and brought a doctor in to him, even if he resisted. Infection has set in and there is an abscess within the rectal wall that, should it burst, could turn him septic and kill him within hours.  It will need to be addressed surgically, along with other fissures and wounds.”

His face softened a little as he looked at the stunned faces before him and realized how raw his words had been. “Men, I must be plain with you…I cannot promise any sort of good outcome at this moment. But we will do everything within our power.”

“So, you’re going to operate on him, now?” Ritchie piped up as both George and John went pale, the younger becoming unsteady on his feet.

“I wish we could.” The doctor had noticed George and shook his head. “Look, my office is just a few doors down. Come with me, and we can speak more comfortably, there.”

They followed him down the hall and John helped George into a seat, shoving his head between his legs while the doctor sat behind his desk.

“Mr. Starr, is it?” Ringo nodded. “I am Doctor Richmond, by the way. Sir, you must realize that operating on anyone while there is infection is dangerous. In this young man’s case, given the loss of blood and his weakened condition, immediate surgery would be reckless in the extreme. As serious as his bleeding is, we have ways to address that. But it is imperative that we get control of the infection. To that end, we have already begun infusing him with a dose of penicillin that is so high it is akin to dropping a bomb onto a progressing enemy. Whether it can stop a further advance, and set things into retreat…” It was anyone’s guess, read the unspoken subtext.

The doctor poured out a glass of water and motioned that it be given to George, who was clearly still struggling to pull himself together. “I’ve also ordered an herbal balm to be applied topically every few hours. That should complement the antibiotic and increase healing where he is abscessed. It should soothe the area of injury as well.”

“Herbs,” John’s head went up. “Like garlic?” He was remembering some years back, when Paul had been beaten and bloodied in Liverpool and his Auntie Jin had smeared an aromatic home remedy of herbs all over him. “Celtic witchery,” Paul had called it, though it had seemed to help. “Wouldn’t that be very strong stuff when he’s so weak? Won’t garlic bust the abscess?”

The doctor seemed impressed at Lennon’s remark. Oh, yes, his tone seemed to say, that’s the ‘smart one’. “You are quite right about the abscess, but there are several different herbal compounds we use, some milder than others.”

“But when will you do the surgery,” George finally raised his head, fear showing plainly in his voice, and sounding a lot like impatience. “He’ll not get better without it, right?”

“When we have managed to stabilize him and have taken some control over the infection,” the doctor replied, showing a tinge of impatience, himself. “Depending on how Mr. McCartney responds to the infusion, that could be anywhere from twelve hours to two days.”

“But, he could bleed to death by then!” Ringo objected.

“I’m afraid it is the best we can do. We have managed to staunch the bleeding a bit, although – again – with the abscess that’s a tricky business. If we are too aggressive in our efforts we risk the pus sac breaking and the bacteria entering his blood stream.”

“That would be serious, yes?” Eppy’s frown suggested he already knew the answer, but he asked anyway.

Taking a huge breath, the doctor looked directly at him. “In his present condition, sir, I am afraid it would likely finish him.”

He gave them a moment to process that grim acknowledgement, and then, “It would probably be good to call his family, at this time.”

Brian, his head down, his eyes focused on nothing, nodded. “I’ll telephone Jim and arrange for him to be met at the airport.”

“Also…” the doctor stood up and seemed to become fidgety, playing with a pen in his pocket, and then adjusting his glasses. “I don’t know if your friend is religious.”

“He’s not--” John began.

“He’s Catholic --” George said at the same time. “I mean…not much of one, but, you know…” From under his brows, he gave John an almost pleading look. “My mum would never forgive us if we didn’t call a priest, John. Get him the Last Rites and all, yeah?”

At the notion of his Paul actually needing Last Rites, John seemed to collapse. He fell against a wall, reluctantly nodding at the doctor to go ahead, as his face drained of color.

“There is a parish nearby” he heard as though from a distance. “I’ll have the nurses call.”

Paulie, oh God…” Ringo moaned, wiping his nose and then covering his eyes. George and John watched him try to hide his tears, while their own came to the surface. Brian, too, had his hands over his face.

Dawson, leaning into a corner, was surprisingly silent, ghostly pale. In truth, he looked destroyed – staring off with an expression both distant and aching, his eyes full of sadness.

“Speaking of stability,” the doctor said, taking control before emotions buried any sense of hope, “Mr. McCartney is already receiving his first unit of blood, and we will have to continue transfusions for some time and even beyond any surgery, should we reach that point. If you gentlemen would like to donate...”

“We’re the same blood type, aye,” John immediately began to roll up his sleeve. “We’re both AB plus. He can have it all.”

The older man managed a smile. “I’m afraid we can only take a bit under a pint, but yes, we’ll tap you – we’ll take a unit off each of you, actually, since he is what we call a ‘universal recipient’.

It was no sooner said than done – the band and Eppy, and even Dawson, had taken turns having their blood drawn and now – as they waited for any word on Paul, or any chance to see him – they were munching on biscuits and juice. All of them seemed to be shimmering with anxiety, but feeling that they’d at least done something to contribute to their friend’s well-being.

“You’d be interested to know,” Richmond told them later, his voice betraying just a trace of amusement, “nearly a dozen sisters have offered to donate a unit of blood once they’ve finished their shifts. I’ve never seen that happen before. Seems everyone wants to help.”

“Everyone wants to say they’ve got their blood running inside Paul McCartney’s veins and through his heart,” Ringo sneered. “But when can we see him?”

That was the question they kept asking, and no one would give an answer.

The band had been moved once more, into a currently unoccupied patient’s room, which at least shielded them from prying eyes. They took turns pacing or sitting on one of the two empty beds.

“Someone should call Jane,” Brian suggested.

No one volunteered.

“If I call anyone, I’m calling my mum,” George said. “She’ll light a candle for him, at least. Say some prayers. In fact…” George left the room, off in search of a phone.

“The earliest flight I could find for Jim will bring him into London this evening,” Brian said to no one in particular. “I wonder if I should pick him up, myself, explain it all to him on the way here…”

“That’s a wise idea,” Dawson had agreed. “Better than sending a car for him and having the old man worrying and full of questions. I could pick him up, if you like.”

John listened to the two older men as they talked logistics and found himself shuddering at the thought of facing Jim McCartney. “How am I going to tell him his boy’s been…”

It had been one of the first things he’d thought of, one of the first clear thoughts he’d expressed to Eppy on that horrible night Paul was left, like discarded rubbish, at their door. Old Jim had never liked Lennon. How many milliseconds will it take him to blame this all on me, he thought. And I deserve it. I am to blame.

“When when can we see him?”

He interrupted Brian in his discussion, wanting to take his mind off Jim’s arrival. “Can you ask if we can see him? He probably needs us!” Or he might die all alone. Oh, Christ…

“Let me ask,” Dawson offered, stepping out.

A few minutes later, the Head Matron -- a bulky woman with a decided chin and bright, snapping eyes that would brook no nonsense -- knocked at their door and motioned with her head for the group to follow. “I shouldn’t be doing this, and you can’t stay above a minute,” she said in a hushed tone. “But I know you must be anxious, and if you all say hello to him, just very quickly, it might do him a bit of good, poor lad.”

Whatever part of him is still with us will know you’re there. John could hear Dawson saying it just hours earlier.

He felt George grab at his hand as they walked, and didn’t object. John understood; he was afraid, too. They wanted to see Paul, of course they did. But not like this. The anticipation of seeing him in bad shape…no one really wanted it.

“Do not touch him,” the matron warned as she pushed a curtain open enough to allow them to gather around the bed.

There was Paul, his face so white against his black fringe that his countenance almost seemed bright. Eyes closed, lips slightly parted, looking like an angel that had been sent to the shop for repair and turned into a beautiful machine, kept alive via tubing and electronics. None of the lads were cognizant of the catheter beneath the blanket, but they took in this passive presentation of Macca – always the liveliest and most restless of them all – and seemed to shiver together from the same chill. Both arms were immobilized, the left being fed blood, and the right taking in antibiotics that – please God – might save his life.

“Paulie…” George let it escape in a whisper as he stared at his oldest friend. He sounded almost childlike as he turned to the nurse, his eyes nearly round with worry. “Is he going to die?”

“Not if we can help it,” she sounded almost motherly, “but he is very ill, son.”

At that moment a priest entered, removing his cap, and looked around. “Are they all here to assist?” he asked her in a surprised tone.

“They’re just leaving--” she began.

“I’d like to stay” interrupted George. “I’m Catholic. I can help with the prayers.”

“Me too, I’m Catholic,” John lied. “I can help too.” He looked at the matron, who was giving him a dubious look. “Please? We’ll stay out the way, and won’t touch him, but please? Let us stay?”

His face was so woebegone, she couldn’t say no. An experienced caregiver, she had privately judged that Paul McCartney – absenting a miracle – was very likely going to succumb to his infection and was wondering how her daughters were going to take the news. If he wasn’t going to make it, she reasoned, he might as well have his mates around him.

That was how George Harrison, a former altar boy who surprised himself at how readily he was able to make responses to prayers long abandoned, and John Lennon, a wholly disinterested product of the Church of England, assisted at a solemn rite they barely understood but managed to find, within its ritual and quiet certitude, some surprising measures of comfort.

“I’m Father Sean Flynn,” the priest, who looked not much older than Paul, introduced himself. That done, he nonchalantly kissed a thin purple stole and placed it around his neck – the sign that absolution for all sins would be bestowed in utter secrecy within this sacrament – and got down to business. John was struck by how casual the priest seemed about what he was about to do. As though it were an everyday thing to bring a sacrament to a dying Beatle; as though it were an everyday thing to see a young life dangling so precariously upon a precipice.

Pretending not to know – or maybe he really didn’t know, John considered – the cleric asked “What is this young man’s name?”

“Paul…” George had to clear his throat to get it out.

James Paul,” John corrected, suddenly finding his own voice sounding papery thin. He had always loved saying Paul's full name.

“James Paul McCartney,” he repeated more firmly. If he’s getting Last Rites, better get it all proper, so God knows who’s coming, he thought irreverently. He gave a minute hiss, then, despising himself as he realized he’d permitted the notion of Paul’s death to come into his head as something possible and imminent. Fucking loser, you are, he cursed at himself and the ever-present taunter in his brain agreed. You never deserved any part of Paul.

“Then, let us now pray the Lord for the healing of James Paul McCartney, or – if it be God’s will to take the lad unto himself – for abundant mercy to rain down upon him, removing from him all stain of sin, that he might enjoy the beatific vision.” Turning and giving his full attention to the gravely ill young man before him, he intoned, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost…” George followed suit, with Lennon managing, as well.

John watched, fascinated, as the priest, dipping his thumb in a small container of blessed oil, used it to trace a cross on Paul’s forehead, and one on each of his palms, all while uttering prayers for “Your servant, James Paul. We anoint him with oil to speed your healing help...” He had gestured to John, who realized the priest wanted access to Paul’s feet. Lifting the sheet, he stood near and watched as both soles were similarly blessed before additional prayers went forth, with a sprinkling of Holy Water.

While George impressively responded to all of the prayers, John was silent, his full attention fixed on the pallid face of his Macca. He was remembering all those nights when, unable to sleep, he would find a different sort of rest by simply watching Paul in slumber, those light-filled eyes closed, lips slightly parted – although he never did snore, John realized. Angelic in repose, he had always thought. Paul was at all times beautiful, but while asleep he looked so youthful, his perfect features so sweetly innocent, that he seemed already to be only half a distance away from heaven.

Not that Paul was innocent, obviously. Still, as the priest made yet another gesture of blessing over Macca’s sleeping figure, John discovered that his deep contemplation of his lover’s face had brought him to the most relaxed place he had been in two days, perhaps in weeks, really.  

“Would you,” Father Flynn whispered to John, “kindly open his mouth just a little, for the viaticum?”

“The wha--” John stuttered, shaken from his reverie.

Viaticum.” The priest repeated. “Call it food for the journey,” he explained.

“Oh!” Understanding dawned, and John went to Paul’s lips, delicately using two fingertips to part them a bit further. Flynn thanked him and then murmured additional prayers while using his own fingers to administer the merest drop of the Communion wine, and then the tiniest of crumbs of the Eucharistic Host, onto Paul’s tongue.

John frowned as the priest carefully stored the remainders away. “Will that be enough?”

“Oh, the tiniest bit of Christ is Christ entire,” he smiled. “Let’s finish, shall we?” With that he pronounced the concluding prayer, signed one more blessing over the patient and returned his oils to a pocket.

“Thank you, lads,” he said. “You were an enormous help, and I hope your mate James Paul quickly improves. You can ask your own Guardian Angels to pray for him too, you know – they remain before the throne of heaven, and that's a powerful spot. Now, I believe I have two more to see down here…”

As he pulled the curtain to make his exit, John couldn’t help asking. “Will this help him? Can he -- will he be healed?”

The priest turned back and looked at John for a moment, fully taking in the desperate hope behind the plea. “If God wills..."

Flynn paused, considering the distraught man before him, and realized that platitudes would be of no use to him, that this was a man who needed a solid answer. With the same maddeningly casual composure with which he had anointed Paul, he shrugged. "It’s a crazy thing, this sacrament,” he smiled slightly. “We may not ever see the exact result we hope for, but something always does happen, even if we only realize it later. Some kind of healing, of body, or mind or spirit, always does come.”

With that, he closed the curtain and was gone. Mere seconds later, the Matron returned, signaling the two young men out with a jerk of her head. George, seeming more at peace than he had earlier, quietly obeyed. John, ever the renegade, pressed his lips together. “Can’t I stay, Mother?”

“I’ve already given you too much access--” she began, too startled to continue when she observed how quickly tears arose in his eyes, and how his throat seemed too tight to allow a swallow.

“Just one minute, please,” he pled in a ragged whisper. “He’s my partner, my best mate, my –" he shook his head, unable to get the words out, before finally managing to release the knot in his throat. “Sixty seconds and you can time me. I’m beggin’ you, Missus.”

With a set of her chin all at war with the sympathy in her eyes, she lowered her voice. “Sixty seconds, then, and I’ll drag you out by your ear if you--”

“I won’t--” John rushed her, hands up in surrender. “I promise, I won’t. I’ll leave just when you say, I swear! Thank you! Thank you!”

At last alone with his partner, John bent down, delicately stroking Paul’s face with the back of his fingers. “Paul,” he whispered into the shell of his ear. “It’s me, John. I’m here. They’re gonna make me leave your side in a minute, but I’ll still be here, Baby. Just outside. I won’t go anywhere”

He sniffled for a moment, wiping his nose on his sleeve, and then hot tears that had been threatening all day finally had their way, falling one after another, all out of his control. “Please don’t leave me,” he keened as quietly as he could manage. “My Macca…”

He pulled back, angrily wiping both of his eyes with his fingers, realizing how close he was to losing it with the matron just outside. He hated that he was wasting precious seconds crying when he had something so important to say. With another sniff and a shuddery exhale, he bent once more to Paul, his partner, his best mate, his love. “Baby, you know I love you. If you have to go…”

No.

No.

He knew he should say the words, the generous words, the ones that said “I love you enough to let you go if you need to…” But he couldn’t do it. “I don’t want to lose you,” he sobbed quietly, aware that he was losing the battle with his running nose, and not caring. “Please stay. My darling,” he whispered, “please stay…

He was out of words, then, and was simply pressing his forehead to the pillow to be near Paul when he heard a small, sharp “snick” -- like a quick uptick of a breath. Just a little thing, but it felt like something good, like energy that had been missing even ten minutes before. “Good, baby,” he encouraged in a soft voice. He thought of something that might bring on even more good. “Your Da is coming. You hear me, Paul? We’re flyin’ him in for you, love. You’ve gotta stick around for Jim, aye? Baby?”

Expecting to hear the curtain move any second, John planted a soft kiss on Paul’s forehead, pushing aside his fringe. “I love you, James Paul McCartney,” he declared, managing to straighten up a mere moment before the matron made her appearance, her eyebrows pulled all the way up to her hairline, and the curtain held ajar.

He stepped out to find Brian there, grabbing his arm and hurrying him toward what turned out to be the nurse’s break room, where a crowd of sisters in white were gathered around a clunker of a television.

“Oh, no,” John said.

“Oh, yes. I’ll have to make a statement. It’s going to be everywhere.”

Images flashed on the screen. Paul, blanketed to his chin, a bandage on his head, lying on a gurney. John, looking utterly spooked, climbing into the ambulance. A file image of the Beatles, smiling as they held out their medals. A shot of the front of the hotel. Another of the hospital. The picture of Paul, bloody, again. And all the while a voice oozing sensationalism and faux concern.

“To repeat, it is rumored that Beatle Paul McCartney lies near death tonight, after falling in a hotel bath and taking a serious blow to the head. We are still awaiting official confirmation of this story but these images are evidence that something dreadful has happened to the twenty-three-year-old bass-player -- the second half of the wildly successful Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership. Just how badly is Paul McCartney injured? Is there a possibility of brain damage? Will he be able to continue with the band? Will the so-called "cute" Beatle's looks looks be altered? We will have a live report next hour, and will hear from fans who are demanding to know the truth.”

“Christ, the press… a bunch of jackals,” John bit out.

“Fans are outside the hospital already,” Brian muttered into his ear. “They’re crying and blocking emergency vehicles. This is a mess.”

“Aye,” John agreed in the same low tone. “This might be the thousandth time I’ve thanked God, though, that Dawson put that blood on him.”

“I’m worried about it.” Brian turned to him. “John, I doubt we can keep the real story under wraps with so many people about. You know, anyone here could pull that curtain and take a snapshot…anyone can sell a story.”

Lennon pressed his hands to his temple, letting his fingers drag his hair.

Stop, just stop Eppy,” he hissed, loud enough for several nurses to turn and stare.

“I need a phone,” he said aloud. “Can someone show me where I can make a phone call? In private?”

Chapter Text

He kept dialing the number wrong. He’d get halfway through and suddenly go for a 5 instead of a 7, or he’d transpose the last two digits. On the third try, John simply slammed down the phone receiver, pressing his hands into the desk as he tried to stop shaking.

Something like this had happened to him once before, back when it seemed almost as if the band could not continue. George had been deported from Hamburg for being underage – a spiteful move by Bruno Koschmider, who’d been happy to break the law as long as the Beatles played at his stinking, fetid Kaiserkeller but then had no problem breaking the band when they tried to move to a better venue.  And then Paul and Pete had started that little fire with the rubber, over at the Bambi Kino and they were arrested and flown out of Hamburg within hours, as though they were violent undesirables, too dangerous even to be tolerated in a squalid place like the St. Pauli district -- or naïve idiots spirited out of the country at midnight, for their own good.

His own working papers had been withdrawn, so remaining in Hamburg made no sense of him, either, but John had stayed another ten days for no good reason, intruding on a flu-ridden Stu and his Astrid, drinking and getting into fights and making a general nuisance of himself, because he couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t handle the idea of going back to Liverpool with his tail between his legs – the band not triumphant but merely troubled, with the future before them looking like nothing but a bleak, repetitious loop of second and third class venues. The rest of his life looking like nothing he wanted to live. It had been too much for him to face. He needed to drink his way up to even trying.

Even then, after returning to Liverpool, he’d waited another week before finally calling Paul.

And when he’d found the nerve to do that, when he felt strong enough to face Macca and the others -- strong enough to start again -- he discovered he couldn’t dial the phone. Each time he would try to ring up Paul’s house, his fingers seemed to become too fat to work the rotary, his mind too benumbed with fear. He’d been a bastard to the band in those last days – leaving the others to remain at the foul Bambi Kino while living more comfortably with Stu and Astrid. He’d ignored Paul for no good reason, treating him almost like an afterthought to his own capricious ideas and jealousies. And now he had to try to pull them all together again, convince the others that he could be trusted to lead the band.

He’d heard George was already looking around for another opportunity. If Paul was looking to leave, too – and John had given him no good reason to stay – then it would be all over for him, and forever. And he knew it. He knew it so well that he kept misdialing, feeling disoriented and scared shitless.

And here he was, once again unable to dial a phone; once again feeling that brain-pulled sensation of not really understanding where he was or why he had to be here; once again feeling scared shitless. Scared to say the words that needed saying. Scared of breaking down, if the response on the other end of the line wasn’t the one he so badly needed.   

But he had to say the words. Had to tell her. Before she saw it on the telly.

The other side of the line – the other side of the world, it felt like – picked up after three rings. He rushed into her greeting. “Mimi!” he called out. “Mimi, it’s me…”

“John, it’s been weeks. I could have died waiting for you to check in with me.” Mimi greeted him with her customary harangue.

“Mimi--” John suddenly found he had no words. Simply hearing Mimi’s voice sent him into a different state, brought every vulnerability within him out to the fore. He felt naked in grief.

Mimi--” he could barely get it out.

“John, are you alright,” his aunt's voice danced just on the edge of scorn. "Are you in your cups, again? Had a few beers to work up the nerve to call your tough old auntie?”

She was teasing him. Then she hadn’t seen the telly, yet.

“Mimi, please, I have news. Bad news.”

“Well, what is it, John, is it Julian? Is the child ill?”

Julian! John felt himself immediately spiral down to a new level of guilt-fed misery. He’d barely spared a thought for his own wife and child these two days.

Two days. Was it only two days since everything had changed?  Was it still today? The same today where Paul had managed to shower and dress himself by sheer force of will, and Ringo and George had only just been told? That today? He felt like he’d lived two miserable lifetimes during this today. And had Cyn seen the telly? Christ, everything was falling out of control.

He gripped the receiver hard enough to turn his knuckles white, because he was suddenly sweating so much it threatened to slip from his hands.

“No…no, Julian’s fine,” he answered, presuming to be right, since he’d not heard otherwise. “It’s…it’s Paul, Mimi…”

“Paul?” Mimi’s voice tensed and rose up a tone. “Has something happened to Paul? What it is, John?”

“He’s…” John’s voice broke as he extended his arm, as though reaching out through time and space, for Mimi. His hand grasped only air and he collapsed, leaning fully on the desk, telephone to his ear, eyes opened, seeing nothing. “Mimi, he’s sick. He’s really, really sick.”

He started to weep openly, sounding watery and snot-ridden as he spoke the dreaded words. “He’s…I’m afraid he’s going to die. He’s going to die on me, Mimi…”

“Oh, John, my dear.” John didn’t even hear it.

“He’s suffering, Mimi, and he’s going to die. And I don’t know how…” John fell apart, barely able to speak over his full-on sobbing. “I don’t know how I’m going to live. Oh, Mimi,” he wailed. “How am I going to live if Macca dies?”

Mimi let him cry, listened to him weep across the miles, forcing herself to hold back the burning questions. Paul McCartney dying? That bold, maneuvering, over-confident, bossy little piece of work, dying so young? Unthinkable! An unnatural thing in the natural world.

Her hands were suddenly shaking. Mimi – the unflappable Mimi Smith -- heard a quiver in her own voice as she tried to calm John down enough to make some sort of sense. “What has happened, John? Pull yourself together, son, and tell me what is going on? What is he sick with? Is it an influenza?”

‘He’s…” John swallowed hugely. “Mimi, it’s an infection. He’s a high fever, and…and he’s got to have surgery but they can’t do it because he’s too hot. And if it gets into his blood…and he’s bleeding, Mimi, he’s takin’ blood transfusions like he hasn’t a drop of his own left…”

“John…” Mimi started. “John, slow down. You’re incoherent. Why is Paul bleeding? What has happened to him? Stop this crying,” she suddenly scolded as she reverted to type. “You sit up straight, now, and tell me what in God’s name is going on over there?”

So accustomed was he to obeying Mimi’s commands that her flinty adjuration worked like a hypnotic suggestion on John. Before he realized what he was doing, he had unsprawled himself from the desk and thrown his shoulders back, adjusting his seat. “Mimi…”

“Take a breath, child,” she counselled, softening her tone just. “I’m here. There you are, now. A good breath. Take another one.”

“Mimi…”

“Do you want me to come down to you,” she asked in a quiet voice.

“I…” After taking another deep breath, this time really emptying his lungs, he felt a little clearer. John grabbed around until he found a box of tissues. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything, Mimi. I don’t know what I want.”

“Well, you do know what has happened to Paul, do you not?”

“Yes…”

She heard him blow his nose, loudly. “Ugh! Do that away from the phone, John!”

John closed his eyes and hugged the phone receiver with both hands, wishing he was hugging his aunt. He needed this, needed her. Just hearing Mimi and getting a dose of her salt, her steadfast, no-nonsense manner, was grounding him, giving him a familiar place in the world in which to stand, a place where there was a little air, a little room to breathe. He used some of that room to take a shuddery breath and let it out slowly.

“Mimi,” he began, mopping at his eyes. “I don’t say it enough. You are a champion. You’re tougher than the queen.”

“Well, that’s fine,” she answered, “but I’m still in the dark over here, and very worried. John, please… I must know what has happened to Paul.”

John bit his lip and patted around until he found his last cigarette. He managed one puff before settling down enough to speak clearly between sniffles. “You’re going to hear a report on the telly, tonight, and probably a statement from Brian, that Paul fell in the bath and broke his head... but none of that is true. It’s…” Another calming breath. “Mimi, it’s all so much worse than that…”

“Oh, John,” Mimi’s voice shook. “What is it? What has happened to our darling boy?”

***

Take no questions. Just say the words and get out, get away, before it becomes complicated, he told himself. Brian Epstein was standing behind a podium bearing the name of the hospital, trying to look calm as he adjusted the microphone with a shaking hand. Before him seemed to be all of Fleet Street, every reporter in the United Kingdom, all shouting questions at him.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will permit me, I have a statement to make on the condition of Paul McC--”

“Where are the rest of the Beatles,” rang out one voice. “Why aren’t they with you?”

“Where’s Lennon,” called another.

A cacophony of voices followed and Brian stepped away from the mic, momentarily rattled. Should I have asked the lads to join me, he wondered, immediately rejecting the idea. Not only would all three of them have objected to being mauled by the press and photographed at a time like this – and he didn’t even know where Lennon was, at the moment -- but it would draw out a task that he really wanted to be over as quickly as possible, with as few slips into reality as possible.

He hated lying.

He would have hated telling the truth even more, though.

Reapproaching the microphone, he found himself using a tactic that Paul McCartney himself had once recommended to him. “If you want the pack to stop howling, speak softly. They’ll shut up in order to hear.”

And so, Eppy simply began talking, very quietly, reading from the statement he had prepared just minutes earlier.

“Speak up!” Came the call.

“Can’t hear you!”

“Shut up, then, why don’t you and then maybe all of us can hear!”

Epstein deliberately cleared his throat. Trust Macca to know, he thought, and began again.

“Earlier, today,” he announced, “Paul McCartney slipped in the bath and sustained a severe head injury. While emergency workers were quick to arrive, there has been a significant loss of blood, and at this moment, doctors are unable to answer with any certainty whether there will be lasting effects from this terrible accident. Right now, he is being stabilized with blood transfusions, and his condition is being closely monitored. Certainly, we are all praying for his quick recovery. That is, unfortunately, all of the information I can provide to you at this time.”

“Why was McCartney at the hotel to begin with,” called out a deep voice from the front.

Brian was taken aback for a moment, having not anticipated the question at all. He leaned back into the mic. “Paul and John Lennon had been attending a gathering of Her Majesties honorees a couple of evenings back…” he trailed off helplessly, until inspiration struck. “Having picked up a stomach ailment, which you all probably know he is quite prone to, Paul stayed over for a few days. Apparently he was still dizzy this morning, and he took a bad fall.”

“What about Lennon, why was he with him? Was he sick, too?”

Ignore that one, his gut told him, that one’s trouble and there are plenty of others coming.

“Mr. Epstein”, a woman’s voice. “Is there any truth to the rumor that Paul McCartney has received Last Rites, and if so does that not suggest that his condition is much more serious than you are letting on?”

Un-ignorable. That needs a response.

“Well, yes,” Eppy dawdled, trying to sound like he was brushing off a minor detail. “You might say that occurred out of an overabundance of caution, though. Due to blood loss, you know. A priest was available and did see him.”

His confirmation brought a general murmur between the members of the press, and Brian took that opportunity to get away from the pack. “I’m sorry, those are all the questions I can answer at this time. You will know more when we do,” he said, immediately striding out of the room.

“Who did it,” he stormed as he returned to the Emergency Room, surprising the whole staff with the fury behind his words. “Who told someone, who then blabbed to someone else, about the priest?”

***

John Dawson let himself into the hotel room, dragging a bellhop’s trolley behind him. All day his mind had been returning to it, worrying about opportunistic hotel staff helping themselves to something that might have been touched by a Beatle, or snapping pictures to sell to tabloids. Management had offered to see to it, to deliver everything to his rooms in residency, but no. He wanted to do it himself -- clear out everything that wasn’t perishable, and everything that no one else ever needed to see. Brian Epstein’s collection of books, and all his clothes as well as John’s and Paul’s. The bloody towel he’d shown to Paul, only this morning, hoping to convince him to have a doctor. All of George’s snacks and sweets, which that lad would probably need to sustain him through the night.

He stepped into the loo to collect the men’s grooming things – toothbrushes, after shave -- and decided to lend housekeeping a hand. No one is paid enough to clean dried blood and clots, he thought. Clots…so much blood…

Sleeves rolled up, he bent to the task, using wet towels to clean up the greater portion of the mess and grunting a little with the effort. Getting old, he thought to himself. You’re no young man, anymore.

The thought brought up images from the past that he had been successfully working to suppress over the past few day – himself as a young man, a young copper, keen for the job, sometimes too keen, so inculcated in police culture, police reasoning, police cynicism, that he’d not asked all of the questions he ought to have – the right questions, which sometimes were more about humanity than mere facts. He had not always said the right words, especially when it came to victims of rape.

Especially when it came to one such victim, one who certainly had deserved his best efforts, his best…well…the best of himself.

He’d said the right words to McCartney, he knew that. He’d had the right thoughts, brought the right message to his work, and taken together, it had all created an unusual sense of intimacy between the two men. “He’s more than just my partner, you know,” Paul had volunteered of Lennon, those big dark eyes going wide with surprise at how readily he’d shared that with Dawson.

But he’d felt comfortable enough to say it, to invite me into this most secret part of his life, because I’d said all the right things, for once...

Yes, he’d done right by McCartney.

Then why was it his heart felt so heavy, right now? Why did he feel as though he was constantly on the verge of falling apart, of tumbling into tears, like a great gabby?

And why in the name of all that was holy was he constantly beating back an instinct to haul that dying young man into his arms and hold him against his broad chest in a crushing hug, and beg his forgiveness?

You know why, he scolded himself. But you can never make it right.

How remiss he had been twenty-five years earlier – much too slow to find his voice -- having had left far too much unsaid to one who had been every bit as courageous as Paul McCartney, but had never been told it.

He’d been too slow to bring a doctor that time, too. “A man your size should have dragged him to it,” the doctor had railed at him only this morning, and the words had been a blow to his conscience, and his psyche. It had run an old memory of failure into a new reality of…well…maybe failure, again, after all.

If that lad dies, I will never forgive myself.

Because some things could not be easily – or ever -- forgiven. Some neglectful failures needed to be remembered, revisited on dark and lonely nights, the way one's tongue revisits the space left behind when an old rotted molar had been pulled. Pain born of one's own failure, therefore born of one's own making... it deserved to be brought to the fore, retasted and relived, so the same errors are not ever repeated.  

And yet, for all his good intentions, he may have done just that. Repeated a grave error. Should he have just picked the lad up and carried him to hospital? It could never have been. But he should have done more, been more aggressive, found a doctor and brought him…if one could be persuaded to come, that is… for such a thing.

Resting back on his haunches, feeling just a little bit breathless and not sure whether it was due to mere exertion or because of the bubble of regret rising within him, and not for the first time, or the hundredth.

Because John Dawson may have done better with McCartney – had said all of the right things about blame and evil, and had praised his brave resolve. But he had not done so well for the love of his life. Had not found the words that helped to encourage such resolve. Words that, perhaps even at this very moment, were repeating somewhere in Paul McCartney’s fevered brain, or subconsciously feeding his will to stay alive.

No, he’d not said the words. He had failed, failed to understand.

And then, suddenly, so quickly, it had been too late to say anything more.

***

Oh, my poor child…

He could hear the voice, as though from a distance – warm, feminine, her words so ripe with pity as to seem almost liquid in his mind, as though they poured forth from her, and then rippled about him in rivers of pink and yellow, pretty currents, buoying him up. Painted words, swirling all around him, carrying him along. “You poor boy.”

Mum?

You stay with us, lad,” almost a whisper, as a wonderfully cool cloth was pressed against his wrists, and then to his temples.

No, not Mum, then. He’d been looking for her, searching for what seemed a very long time, walking in this strange place where there was light all about, but no sort of sun. There was a sense of warmth, but also a road too slippy to be rightly managed, as though there had been rain, but it had left behind no refreshment, only a bit of ice, or mud or whatever it was that was keeping him off kilter, unable to make any progress forward, unable to grab on to a strong hold and pull himself up.

Unable to find her.

Mum?

He didn’t know where he was going. Off to find the sun where it was brightest, he supposed. I’ll follow the sun. But he kept losing his feet, somehow, feeling himself slide, down, slide back, slide, glide, ride it honey, but no, he was losing ground. And then the voice, and the colors, pulling him here and there. It felt nice. Nice just to float, to come off his feet, because there was pain, sometimes.

That’s where it came from, right, his feet? But he kept losing them.

Sometimes it felt like his legs were being moved about – as though they were stirring up the liquid, bringing all the colors together – and then there would be pain, and more of those water-words, those soothing notes behind it. Dip a paintbrush into the pain and write a word of love.

But he hated the pain. No more of that, please. Yellow, thick, liquid. He was floating back to Paris. Sitting in the sun, with John smiling at him, biting his lip, touching his thigh. Watching Paul pulling on a straw as he drank a banana milkshake.

A banana milkshake, thick and yellow. But there was no sweetness. Is this what pus tastes like? Was he drinking a pus milkshake?

It was vile. It was bile. He had miles to go. But he was so tired. So, so tired.

Mum? Are you there? Can you see me?

The milkshake fell from his hands and he was floating again, on that fluidy current, so warm, so chilly at the edge, though. I’m reaching out, Mum…

John was gone, now. Paul watched him float away, arm outstretched, but his face completely passive, as though nothing mattered. The Eiffel tower floating off with him. He was on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, I want to marry you, so white, so pretty, and George was with him, now, running ahead, making it to the top of the stairs and motioning him to come through the doors. Let's go get married, then.

But these steps were melting under Paul’s feet, too. He was too tired to climb, and so he sat on…something. He watched it all blow away, like a billowing, creamy-colored cloud, a cloud with fiery red tendrils.

Goodbye, Paris… hello, Jane. Hello, Janey-waney, my little elf-princess, my game little Lady Viking Warrior Princess, I’ve neglected you, love, I’m sorry. So pretty on my thighs, so pretty when you straddle me and move and coo like that, and yeah, let’s be happy…we might have been happy making babies and calling all of them James…

But where was she, where was Mary? Would she never come? Could she still not see him? Did she see? It? Did she see it?

Bit me? Well then, you’ll have it rough, rough, rough little man.

He had never liked the comb. But he didn’t deserve it, no one did, and the sound came to him again, the breaking, the snap of it. The snap of a horn, all inside of him.

Just grab my hand, Mum, lift me up.

It was all so strange. Everything hurt, now…Ritchie’s big blue eyes, bright as a gas flame. Warm. So warm, Ritchie. That’s what he needed, a fire, and more warmth. Had John been naughty, then, and slipped him some acid? Was he tripping, after all? He knew this shit was not for him.

Jamie…

The call, from so far away. Her voice. Her sweet nurse’s voice, soft but knowing. He could hear her! Truly, he could, now. And Jamie McCartney, how adorable was that?

Oh, my Jamie…

If only he could get there, get to where she was. What direction would that be? Forward? Backward? He kept being pulled backward, and off his feet. Was she in the sun? Is that why he was following? But there was the moon, and the moon was John, his Johnny, his night, his nightlight, his light knight. These medals are so stupid…he looked down and watched wooden stars fall from his chest by the thousands. He was suddenly huge. He felt colossal, like a planet circling about the sun. Finally, the sun.

Mum?

There was a tunnel. There was light, light, so much light, everywhere. But he was big, so immense.

I contain multitudes.

Too big for the tunnel. He felt like Alice, able to see the garden, but too big to fit through the door. He needed to drink the thing, needed to eat the little cake, needed to cry until his saltwater filled the hallways and warped the doors.

Mum?

The pain again. Don’t, don’t, don’t move my legs, no, don’t. Janey, honey, climb on my lap to stop the pain, stop the pain and help me get small, so I can go. I want to go! Goodbye John, my love, let me see you like that one more time, so under me, so soft for me…goodbye, goodbye, I’ve loved you all… In myyyyyy life, I've loved you more. Oh, and we've only just recorded it and Stop holding my hand, no, no, don't stop it.  It's all for me. Hold on, hold on, Johnny, Johnny, you're my Johnny, Johnny, Johnny whoops, Johnny, Johnny...never let me go....

Jamie, darling…

He was back in the swirling warmth, back in the yellow and the pink, and the stream he was riding was all gold, all golden, with the voices calling his name.

Mum...I’ve missed you. I’ve been missing you for so, so long…

***

Fog, the endless fog of Liverpool had delayed the flight, but the plane had just landed, and John Dawson was looking forward to meeting the man he'd been sent to collect after Brian, so furious he'd barely been able to speak, had telephoned him as he was leaving the hotel. The press conference had been difficult. The news of Paul's anointing had gotten out. The staff at this hospital could not be trusted, and yet Paul was too ill to be moved. Dawson had listened to the manager sputtering and had immediately agreed to pick up Paul's father. In his imagination, Brian Epstein behind a wheel while in that condition would qualify as a public threat. 

So he had pulled the bellhop trolley behind him and waited as the valet brought his car around and cheerfully helped him load everything into the boot -- books and sweets and numerous bags full of clothes and bloody towels. Christ, if I were pulled over I'd look like a madman on the run -- The Books and Biscuits Killer, apprehended with bags full of bloody clothes and toweling...

"Goin' off on holiday," the valet wondered. He was a tall, good looking young fellow, unknown to Dawson, but with a familiar way about him. "Edward", read his badge. A Ned, probably. There were no proper Edward's anymore. Neddy, my Neddy...

"No," he responded with a casual air despite a sharp twinge in his chest. "Returning some little items to a friend is all. Are you new here?"

"About a month, sir," the boy said, taking the books from him. "Workin' a year or so to save up for school. Oops, sorry, sir, if you could?" A book had slipped from the pile, and Dawson reached down to retrieve it. "I thank you, sir. You're all set then."

Dawson had tipped him well -- a lad headed to school, after all -- and made a mental note to check out the new employee when he returned to the hotel, see what he was all about, what he meant to study. But something else had been nipping at his heels about the exchange, and as he'd waited, he'd he kept replaying it through his memory, like a tape loop.

"Off on holiday?" No, it wasn't that. Not a bright question but not entirely stupid. He did have luggage and books, after all. No...it was something else. Closing his eyes, he watched the car come around, the eager hands unlocking the boot. A book slides from the pile, landing at his feet. Stooping down. Picking it up. Yes, his feet. He could see them clearly.

Tomorrow morning he would check the lad's file. Would find a moment to speak with him again, friendly-like. Would take another look at the rather expensive-looking slippers on his feet, fine leather, with a kind of braiding on top.

His attention was drawn to the line of travelers, coming off the tarmac and through the door. He spied the man he was waiting for, a fedora on his head, slightly tipped, but there was no missing that eyebrow, so like a question mark.

“Mr. McCartney?”

Jim McCartney looked around with a frown. Before him loomed a giant of a man, slipping off his hat and offering a hand. “I recognized you from your pictures, sir. My name is John Dawson, and I’ll be bringing you to your son.”

“How do you do,” the old man said perfunctorily, moving his small bag to the left in order to shake his hand. “Were you hired by Brian to collect me, then?”

“Here, let me have that,” Dawson offered, taking the suitcase from him and gesturing them forward. “You might say we’re friendly, Brian and I. Traveling alone, sir?”

“My son, Michael is away at the moment, and I thought it best to leave my wife with her daughter. School, you know. Can you tell me what is wrong with my Paul, then?”

“Let’s get in the car, first, shall we? There’s a lot to tell. How much information did Brian give you?”

“Very little, to be honest, and I am needless to say very concerned.” Jim was trying not to show his irritation at being left so much in the dark. “I know only that he’s in serious enough condition that my presence is wanted. And I know Brian sent someone else to tell it to me, which means it was more than he could bear doing, himself. So, you might say I know you will be telling me very bad news, once you stop stalling and actually start that engine.”

Ah. And here is where the strong deductive reasoning came from, and the diplomatic skills. And the wit. Paul came by those strengths honestly, through his father, Dawson observed, although he believed Paul would be less politic at this moment – would be flashing his dark eyes and demanding real answers. Still…his father wasn't exactly pulling his punches, either.

“I will tell you everything I know, sir, as soon as we get on the road.”

It was a stalling tactic, yes. The elder McCartney had nailed it. But it would be much easier to tell this man the whole of his son’s sorry story, Dawson knew, if both men could busy their eyes with watching the road, rather than looking at each other, and reading all the unsaid words that might flash across their features, all unbidden, and telling more than one wanted to say, or the other wanted to hear.

“I will tell you this much,” he huffed as they walked at a good clip. “You’ve raised a very fine young man, there, sir. And a strong one.”

Jim McCartney seemed heartened by the words, a small, grim smile playing at his lips. “Aye, he’s always been stronger than he’s looked,” he agreed.

Let us hope, John Dawson thought as he opened the passenger door for Jim McCartney, that he’s strong enough, then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Calling Mimi had been exactly the right thing for John to do. She had impacted him like ballast on a ship, making him feel weighted to something, and thus stabilized. As he had shared some (not all) of the details, John had felt himself growing calmer – as though pronouncing true things rather than fears (real as they were) could put one on surer footing.

It helped that Mimi, for all her voice quavered, still managed to interrupt him with intelligent or impatient questions, and spat out a seething, “Monsters! When they are found out drawing and quartering will not be enough!”

John had actually smiled. Such a Mimi thing to say.

But she had wept, and that was not a Mimi thing to do. Even when her husband and her sister had died, she had managed her usual stoicism, showing “appropriate” grief, which meant mostly silent tears, spilled behind a black veil and quickly wiped away.

For Paul and his circumstances, though, Mimi wept – quietly, but John could tell by her wavering tone, her hesitation in responding a few times, and the sniffles she was clearly dabbing at with a hankie.

Still, she had that Mimi-knack of keeping things conversational, which is exactly what was so helpful to John. At one point she lit a cigarette and then mentioned that she was using the slim, gold “ladylike” lighter Paul had brought her back from their second residency in Hamburg.  “It called to me,” he had told her as she’d unwrapped the package. “It said, ‘I’ve an enamel flower decoration and can fit a small hand! I’m meant for Mimi!’” And then he had startled the woman by daring to pull her into his arms for a hug until she’d pushed him away, calling him a “ridiculous, sentimental idiot” who should be saving his money.

“Aye,” John recalled. “He laughed at you and said you should come with us to Hamburg next time because you could teach the Germans there a few things about being rigid.”

“Cheeky, impudent boy.” Mimi’s smile translated over the miles, to John. “He was always so cheeky.”

Is, Mimi. He is cheeky and impudent.”

“Of course he is, dear. I didn’t mean to say ‘was’. We mustn’t give up hope. I’m sure he will bounce back. You’ll see. Paul is so resilient. And stubborn. I’m sure some part of him is so furious and obstinate right now that he will wear down that infection…”

“In the same way as he wore down you…”

They both sighed, sharing a moment’s hopefulness and remembering Paul’s tireless campaign to win Mimi over by alternately flattering her and bossing her around, which kept her on her toes, and therefore had amused the woman enough that she – like everyone else – eventually found her defenses routed by the sustained McCharmly offense.

Mimi broke the silence, getting down to business. “Do you want me to come to you, John? If that will help you, I will come down tomorrow, first flight.”

“No, love,” John decided after a minute’s deliberate thought. “I’d rather you stayed near the phone, so I know I can reach you in a moment. If you’re traveling and something happens…”

“Nothing will happen, son…”

John closed his eyes, pressing the receiver into his forehead for a moment, the pain helping him stay in control. “You can’t know that, Mimi. I… I’m going to need to reach you right away if…if”

“Then I will be here,” she finished for him. “I’ll bring the phone into the loo with me, if I must, to be sure to answer your call.”

“Mimi!” John sounded sincerely shocked. “I can’t believe you’d even entertain the notion of a phone in the loo!”

“You see what I do for you, John,” she chided. “You’ve never appreciated me.”

“Well…I’ve never appreciated you more than this very minute, anyhow. Daft woman.”

Finally ringing off from his auntie, he rubbed his face and stared at the phone for a minute before finally feeling strong enough to call his wife.

Cynthia picked up on first ring, and began haranguing John as soon as she heard his voice. “Oh my God, John! Why haven’t you called me? It’s all over the news, is it true? Is it true? What’s happened to Paul?”

“Cyn, Cyn, love…yes. Calm down, now…”

“I called Brian’s office but no one seems to know anything! You should have called me!”

Her frustration spent, she finally heard him apologizing. “I know I should have called you, love, but, it’s more complicated than what you’re hearing --.”

“Is he going to be brain-damaged? Is he really dying? What’s happened, John?”

He was out of cigarettes and suddenly felt like he couldn’t possibly play the narrator again. “It’s a long story, Cyn. But yes…it’s bad. I feel like if he can just get through the night…”

“Through the night?” Cynthia gasped, nearly dropping the phone. “Are you saying you don’t know if he’ll live the night?”

John felt himself losing some of the bracing he’d just gotten from Mimi. “Like I said, love, it’s bad,” he sighed.

“Well, then you can tell me when I get there, because I’m coming straight over,” his wife declared.

“No, Cyn, don’t--” he started. “We’re all here, and there’s so many nurses, and Jim McCartney is being brought in, and--”

“John, listen to me,” Cynthia was using the Head Mistress voice he always took seriously when she dared to haul it out. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“I am coming and you will not stop me. I know he is your friend and your best mate. I know how much he means to you.”

You can’t begin to… John thought.

“But Paul is my friend, too. You’re not the only one who loves him. And I need to see him.”

God, the unwelcome thought came, Julian will never remember him if he dies… He’ll forget ‘Unca Pawh’…

“And I’d think – I’d hope, love -- that you’d want me there, too, with you.” The very real hurt in her voice brought John back to the conversation.

“I do want you here,” he said, suddenly realizing it was true. He wanted Cynthia there. “Sorry, I was just thinking… Julian, you know…”

“Oh, God, yes…” She immediately understood his meaning. “He’ll never understand…”

“He’s been like the boy’s ‘second father’ since the moment they met, remember?”

She did, of course. The memory was too vivid to ever forget. Herself lying-in, John lifting Julian from the bassinet by her bed, so carefully and nervously, barely breathing as he turned to show him off to Paul, who – in his eagerness to get to the newborn -- was nearly on top of his partner.

“God, look at him,” he had purred to Lennon, all besotted as he’d stroked the baby’s cheek. “He looks just like you, love. He’s a little miracle!”

He’d been standing with one arm braced around John’s shoulder, practically glowing -- his megawatt grin so huge anyone would think it was his own son – and the two men had simply gazed in wonder at this tiny, brand-new creature.

When the baby wrapped his hand around his callused finger Paul had let out the purest, silliest giggle Cynthia had ever heard come from an adult, and then he’d turned and kissed John’s cheek, which John barely seemed to notice, so entranced was he by his little son.

Cynthia had noticed, though. She’d been jolted to see the kiss; she’d never seen a man kiss another man before, and she was frowning a little at Paul’s display until he left her husband’s side and came to her, still with that excited grin, and kissed her twice, first on her forehead, then on her cheek, and pressed her arm gently. “He’s so, so beautiful, Cyn! And you’re going to be such a great little mum…”

Her eyes were watering at the recalled moment, and all of the sudden images that flooded her memory: Paul taking a crying Julian from her exhausted arms and bouncing around the room with him, crooning at him softly, until the baby grew quiet.

Paul showing John how to change a nappie and explaining that he’d changed “hundreds of ‘em thanks to all my shitty and pissy little cousins…”

Paul playing in the back garden with a barely-walking Julian while both she and John nursed an anniversary-dinner-led hangover. The baby laughing and laughing, and Paul along with him. Second father? Yes. And so often the more naturally engaged one…

Oh, Paul.

He couldn’t be dying. He just couldn’t.

“Alright, then,” she said, shaking herself away from the thought. “I’ll have Julian seen to and then come straight over. Do you want me to bring you anything? Change of clothes?”

“Bring chocolate,” he said without thinking. “We’ll need it. And ciggies. Can you bring a few cartons of ciggies?”

“John, cartons?”

“We’re smokin’ our lungs black, Cyn, all of us. All the waiting and the not-knowing.”

“I’ll bring them,” she understood. “What about Jane, is she there?”

“Honestly, I’ve been on the phone…I have no idea if anyone’s called her. I assume Brian must have. As far as I know, she’s not here.”

“God, the poor girl, she must be so worried. It’s really very wrong of you not to have called either of us right away.”

“Cyn, please,” John begged quietly. “We may have been wrong but we didn’t mean to be. You will understand when you get here…”

“That…sounds very bad.”

John wanted off the phone. He’d been too long away from Paul’s bedside and it suddenly occurred to him that no one knew where he was – a matron had just shown him to a random unoccupied office when he’d called for a phone, and he barely knew where he was, himself. If he was needed, he’d been useless this half-hour or more. As he tried to end the call, though, an idea struck him.

“You know, love, maybe have the car stop by Jane’s and see if she’s there. Bring her over with you so you have some company together?”

“That’s a good idea,” Cynthia agreed, sounding surprised she hadn’t thought of it herself. “I’ll call her right now, and if she’s home, I’ll do that.”

“Good girl,” John said absently. “Come through the emergency side, because I’m sure the crowds will be coming.”

His wife gasped. “Will be coming? John, haven’t you seen the telly? You’re being invaded.”

“Shit,” he spat out. “That’s exactly what we don’t need. Look, I’m going to go see how Paul is doing and I’ll let Brian know you’re on your way and all…just don’t forget the ciggies, yeah?”

“Ciggies…cartons, chocolates and Jane. I’ll bring them all,” Cynthia promised.

Finishing his call with Cynthia, John wended his way through the hallway, and things began to look familiar for him. Not so lost after all, then…

He reached the emergency area hoping to work on that head matron again – to get some access to Paul’s bedside – and froze in the doorway, his eyes going wide, a sharp sense of disorientation hitting him like a brick, and overwhelming him.

The curtain was open. That was where Paul had been, wasn’t it? That spot, not some other. He glanced around the room, suddenly unsure. That’s where Paul had been, wasn’t it?

But…but the curtain was open.

The curtain was open, and the spot was empty.

The spot was empty.

The spot was empty. There was no Paul.

There was no Paul. Paul was gone.

Paul was gone...

Chapter Text

Wow…I’m flying…flying mum…just let me take your hand. Flying, John, hold my hand, love, before you bang into the boom. Flying mum, so slowly…I’m reaching out. Where is your hand? I’m flyyyying….

It was a slow business moving Paul out of the emergency area, but Brian was glad to have him relocated to a place with more privacy and less access. He’d been contemplating asking for such a move only to find himself taken aside by a well-dressed, very soft-spoken gentleman who had introduced himself very vaguely and then explained a few things. Namely, that by high order – very high – Macca was to be moved to rooms reserved for members of the royal household. “It is secure and there will be room for all of you to be comfortable while you are waiting. Also, some particularly gifted medical people, who are not usually on staff here, will soon be in attendance. The gravity of this situation is understood.”

And now he watched as Paul, covered to his nose in blankets, shielded by a makeshift canopy and surrounded by both medical personnel and a few serious looking men in suits, was being wheeled into a restricted area.

At first there had been some question as to whether the bassist was strong enough even to endure such a careful and slow transfer. “He is in very grave condition,” Dr. Richmond had cautioned. “His blood pressure is dangerously low, his heartbeat is slow, his breathing is--”

But moved he had been, and Brian was grateful beyond words for it, thinking that if – God forbid! – Paul should die, at least the group wouldn’t have to worry about seeing a “death photo” of him leaked to tabloids. The lad would be spared that final indignity, at least.

The brief press conference had completely shattered Eppy, who no longer felt confident about anything. He realized now that hour-by-hour he had been losing the tight hold he’d tried to keep on this situation. The clumsy handling of the Last Rites question – in hindsight he knew he should have outright denied it and called it “reckless rumor-mongering” – had confirmed the seriousness of Paul’s condition, and now there was a crowd gathering around the hospital, growing by the minute. Teenagers, of course, but also men and women. It felt like all of London was descending, encircling the building as though keeping a death watch while making things more difficult for emergency vehicles, staffers and all the usual people who just wanted to visit a sick relative – or deliver a  baby – and now had to first work their way through a mob crying over here, praying over there, and singing out Beatles songs, one after another.

Oh, I believe in yesterday…

It was getting all inside Brian. He was barely keeping it together. Thousands of voices were outside, singing the words, while inside their author was hanging on to life by a thread, and who knew if that young lad would ever have a tomorrow, and it was all so awful. But at least they were all around Paul, now, George, Ritchie, himself, and – finally – John.  

Lennon had been delivered to the rooms only minutes earlier by the matron who had found him in a corner of the emergency sector, grasping a doorframe, trembling and staring at the empty space where Paul had been – his eyes wide, his body too terrified to permit the question burning in his throat and tearing at his heart.

“There he is, love,” the matron had said to John as he’d stumbled in blindly and gone directly to Paul’s side, his body still shaking from the jolt of fear that had completely owned him. “All right and tight…” she added, as though she actually believed it.

John was immediately in the way of a young-looking nurse who was gently bathing Paul’s face in an attempt to help lower his fever.

He didn’t care if he was in the way, was too shaken to care. As the nurse carefully ran a sponge down one of his partner’s arms, John went to the other, laying his trembling hand over Paul’s hot, lifeless one, and giving it the barest squeeze as he gulped hugely and let his tears flow. “Thought I’d lost you, Jamie,” he whispered, close to Macca’s ear. “Stick with me, eh, doll? We’re all here, now. We’re together.”

The nurse reached behind Paul to lower his gown and John helped her from his side, carefully folding the fabric down and out of the way, until Paul’s full chest and abdomen were exposed. He saw the nurse blink and step back for a moment, a low exclamation escaping from her as the discolored bruises and bites came into view. “Sorry,” she whispered to John, knowing she’d betrayed her surprise.

“It’s alright,” he nodded at her consolingly. "It is shocking." He watched, still holding his partner’s hand, as she ran the sponge over Paul’s shoulder then moved to his chest and below. When she had rewet the thing and wrung it out, John stayed her hand. “C-can I do it,” he begged her. “I’ll do this side, okay? Please?”

He looked so woebegone it was impossible to refuse him. Casting a glance about the room to be sure the matron was gone, the girl handed the sponge off to John with a sympathetic look.

“Thank you, sister.” His tone was touchingly sincere as he took it and began copying her actions, running the sponge over Paul’s shoulders and down his arm, then to his chest. “Paulie, I’m giving you a sponge bath,” he said in a more normal voice, coughing a bit when it broke. “Who’d have thunk it, eh, love? ‘Big bad Lennon’ playin’ nursemaid to the ‘sweet-natured McCartney’. Aye, so sweet. Imagine what would happen to our image, love, if they ever figured out you’re the tough nut-and-chocolate outside and I’m the marshmallow inside…whole world-views would shatter, wouldn’t they?”

He paused his motion for a moment, gazing at Paul's face with naked pain and longing, then shaking his head sadly and continuing with a sigh. “Cyn’s on her way here,” he continued, hoping to say something, anything, that might draw a response from the battered figure before him. Macca was so hot the sponge needed another rewetting. “Just got off the phone with her, and also with Mimi, who said that if you don’t get better instantly it will only prove that you’re still as impertinent as you ever were.”

The nurse was gently patting down the area she’d washed, laying the towel across her half of Paul, to prevent a chill. Though trying not to eavesdrop, she observed John’s careful ministrations with a professional eye and was astonished by the gentle way he was touching his partner -- moving so carefully, and all while watching Paul’s face for any sort of reaction. No one has ever looked at me with that much tenderness, she thought to herself, surprised to even find that word, ‘tenderness’, in her own thinking. It was not a word she commonly used, but she knew it was the right word for what she was seeing, and her throat tightened, her eyes watered at the knowing of it.

It was a privileged and moving thing, she thought, to witness something as private and intimate as this. It made her feel strangely protective of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. She had always been a fan, of course. But somehow it felt like now the partners were hers to defend against the careless world.

“She’s still tough as nails, is Mimi, Paul.” John was saying. “But she wants you to know she loves you. Did you hear what I said, Macca? ‘Mimi loves Paul McCartney’. She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah…’” He sang it softly and then winked at the nurse, marveling at his own composure. “As do we all, aye, Sister? You love him, too, right?”

The girl betrayed herself, nodding and letting loose with a small chuckle, utterly disarmed by the charisma of John Lennon when he was fully in control of himself.

“Thank you for letting me help you,” he said to her as he finished up, giving her the sponge and accepting a towel. “It’s – it was just what I needed. Nearly passed out when I didn’t find him where I expected to, you know. I thought…” He swallowed noisily. “Thought the worst. Felt like I was shutting down. Being able to do this for him…”

He couldn’t speak further, but the girl saw his eyes, round and wet, and she nodded in complete understanding.

“Your welcome,” she said so softly only John could hear, as they raised Paul’s gown over his shoulders again and then covered him with a blanket. “You can help me again tomorrow, if you like.”

“Tomorrow…” Lennon bit his lip. “Tell me it’s a promise that we’ll do this again tomorrow,” he pled in a low voice. “That means tomorrow will actually come. For me and for Paul.”

The nurse nodded as she gathered her things together. “It’s a promise. You can help me again, tomorrow.”

When he was sure she had gone, John leaned down, his forehead touching Paul’s. “Did you hear that, Macca? You get to be hand-bathed by Johnny again tomorrow, so you need to stick around for the show, aye, babe? And you know, Jane’s coming. Cyn’s bringing her. We two redheads can fight over who gets to wipe your brow.”

He kissed the closed eyes, very softly, not caring if George or Ringo or Brian saw. “Doesn’t that sound like a show you won’t want to miss? Lennon and Lady Jane squaring off to determine which one can give a bath to The McCartney. She’s only a wee thing, though. I’ll have her on a TKO, love, if she tries to touch that sponge. We’ll need you awake to count it off. And your dad, don’t forget. Old Jim is on his way. If you wake up you can watch the bloodbath when he kicks my ass…”

“John stop.” He felt Ringo at his elbow. “Jim is not going to blame any of this on you. You did nothing wrong.”

“I left him alone,” John told him, head still on Paul’s. “And if Jim ever believed one good thing about me, it was that I’d never leave Paulie alone, put him in a position where he'd get hurt…”

“John,” George’s frown was deep, as was his voice. “Leave off with that nonsense. You could have gone for a pee and they’ve had taken him, you know? Look, they’ve put tea stuff in the next room and it seems like you could stand a cup. Go get one and Ritchie and I will stay with him.”

John raised his head, noticing for the first time that this new room had, quite luxuriously, its own waiting-place – a connecting room with a full-glass wall, comfortable chairs, a large sofa and a tea service set out, including small cakes.  

“Tea,” he sighed, suddenly feeling ravenous. “Wouldn’t you like to wake up and have some tea with us, love,” he asked Paul, looking at him for a moment as though he really expected an answer. He kissed Paul’s forehead softly before leaving. “You two will keep talking to him, aye?”

“Of course,” Ringo frowned at him. “What else are we going to do?”

John could hear the drummer begin his spiel right away. “Because this Dingle lad has a few things to say to you, Mr. James Paul McCartney, so you lend me an ear, then, yeah? You should see the birds outside, thousands of ‘em, all yours for the pickin’ as soon as you open your eyes.”

“Aye,” George added, “Got all of London outside singin’ yer bleedin’ songs, dontcha, you attention hog.”

Tea…I would love tea…Johnny, Johnny, Johnny bring me tea, Johnny whoops, Johnny, flirtin’ with the girl… I felt that, love… kissed me…like you mean it…that’s a song title, that is… if I had my notebook…Cyn’s comin’…Mum, you hear that? Bringin’ Janey, my Janey, Janey, never feels the pain-y and I love her… she could fetch my notebook… God Save the Queen of Hearts she made some tarts…I’m so tired…so tired, Mum… Kiss me like you mean it, Sister, and I’d really love a cuppa… Da could bring it… maybe Da can bring a cuppa… so tired, Ritchie…tired, Geo…

“I’m so glad Cynthia is bringing Jane,” Brian said to John as they both fixed their cups.

“Didn’t know if you’d called her,” John began.

“I hadn’t. I was just going to when they pulled me aside to talk about moving Paul, and then… It just…fell out of my head.”

“Aye, I get that. Jane does live more or less on our peripheries, doesn’t she,” John nodded. “Sometimes I think she’s the farthest thing on Paul’s radar, too. But I’m certain he’d want her here,” he added quickly. “I didn’t explain anything to Cyn, so we’ll get to tell it all to both of them at once, then.”

“One and done,” Brian mused. “If only everything were that neat. Speaking of neat… let me tell you why we’re in this room.”

***

Christ. Word’s gotten out,” John Dawson muttered as he began to encounter the crowds well before he had reached the hospital grounds. He slowed down, mindful of emotional pedestrians all too willing to fling themselves over any car that seemed interesting. “You might want to bring your hat low on you, sir. Don’t need to be spotted.”

Jim McCartney was staring straight ahead, seeing nothing before him. Sparing him a glance, Dawson realized the older man hadn’t heard a word, wasn’t seeing the crowd at all, because if his body was present, his mind was in some other place and time. Good, Lord, Dawson thought. He’s aged twenty years since he came off that plane.

“You’re telling me my boy was drugged and set upon by these monsters,” he had said earlier in the barest whisper, “and there was no one near him, no one to help? And now he is dying…that my son has been…this badly… assaulted…raped? Enough to kill him?” His hands had been shaking so uncontrollably that he’d broken a cigarette while putting it in his mouth, and had not tried for another.

He’d not spoken another word since those awful few.

It took some minutes before they finally reached a bobby directing traffic. Quickly explaining his business and who he was transporting, Dawson was directed to the emergency entrance, which was being kept as clear as possible. As they emerged from the car, a younger man in a dark suit approached. Dawson recognized him as the same fellow he’d passed off the packet of photos to earlier in the day. “He’s been moved, and let’s get the father up there quickly, because it seems he won’t last.” The detective nodded, taking a dazed-looking Jim McCartney by the elbow, and following.

“So, you’re here, now?” He asked discretely.

“Singular attention is being paid.” Came the answer.

“And we’re very thankful for that,” Dawson nodded. “We’ll talk in a bit. I may have spotted something.”

The suit gave a barely perceptible nod. “I’ll be nearby.”

He walked them quickly through the hallway to the secure area, depositing them with a subdued knock at the door and then disappearing.

Before Dawson had a chance to buck up the elder McCartney, a new sister, who had just finished fussing with Paul’s IV lines and reassuring John and George about what looked like little bubbles within it, opened the door.

John instantly found George’s wrist and grabbed on to it with a death grip. Both young men stared at McCartney, having no idea what to expect, but anticipating heat.

Instead, they both ended up rushing to help the man, whose knees seemed to have given out the instant he saw the bed -- so many tubes and wires. With Dawson beside them, and Brian and Ritchie rushing in from the other room, Jim McCartney was helped over to Paul with his son’s oldest friend on one side, and his dearest friend on the other.

In truth, the man had no awareness of them. His whole attention, his whole heart and mind, were focused on the sight before him.

His son, his beautiful boy (“Who’s the prettiest lad in Liverpool, then?” he could hear Mary’s voice asking it of their lovely baby), face bruised, both arms hooked up to wires feeding him blood and medicine meant to keep him alive.

His Paul, lying there, so pale. As still as death.

His hat fell from his grasp as his hand went over his mouth, meant to hold back the wordless keen that was rising from his depths. My boy…my Paul…

Ringo had brought a chair, but the older man did not sit. Still supported by the band members, he reached over, one hand leaning on the mattress, and stroked Paul’s face, skimming the purple near his eye with the back of his hand, letting his fingers trace the swollen lips. The wounded sound he’d been trying to bury inside him began to rise, until he betrayed himself with a quiet but real sob. “Oh, Mary,” he gasped. “Look at our boy. What they’ve done to our boy.”

George felt like he was losing it. He’d always thought of himself as a fairly strong chap, but he’d known Jim McCartney since he was eleven years old, and he’d never seen the man looking anything but strong and optimistic, even if he was being serious over something. Seeing him like this – suddenly old, withered in grief, and nearly defeated -- it was more terrifying than any enraged rant they might have expected from him.  Looking over Jim’s head, he could see John watching Paul’s father with wide eyes. He too looked ready to bolt -- barely breathing as he watched the scene before him.

“Paul…Christ Almighty…” Jim uttered, leaning over shakily on arthritic hips to speak into Paul’s ear. “Son…Daddy’s here…your Pa is here.”

From a corner of the room there came another sound, a kind of strained whoop as Brian, of all people, lost his composure, bawling in ever-louder gasps. It was the sound of a man who was not used to crying and had no idea how to let himself do it – a terrible, heart-wrenching mixture of pain and abject fear. Every man there recognized it, because they all felt it rising within themselves, too.

Ringo went to him, putting a hand to his back and murmuring something low as he led their manager into the other room, making sure to close the door against Eppy’s noisy breakdown.

Jim McCartney never heard him. Every bit of his energy was directed toward the figure on the bed. “Oh, Paul…” he repeated, still stroking his face. He brought his cheek to his son’s forehead and grimaced at the heat. “It’s no good, son, this fever,” he whispered, “no good. But we’ve been here before, aye? You beat it back when you were little. Now you’re a grown man, you can do it again.”

Before he began to babble from sheer panic, the older man took a moment to find something, someone, to ground his thoughts on. John Dawson was the other side of the bed, and caught his eye. “He had a rheumatic fever when he was a boy, didn’t he?” Jim explained. “We nearly lost him, then. Took two weeks but he fought through it.”

Standing at attention like the eagle-eyed ex-copper that he was, Dawson nodded reassuringly. “A strong lad,” he agreed. “I’m sure he’ll perk up, now you’re here.”

McCartney kissed his son’s forehead. “Aye, you’ll have to do battle again, my dear boy. But I am with you, now. Daddy’s here.” He sniffed, shaking off George’s support to find his handkerchief. “And your mates are with you. And you must be very strong for us, lad – braw as you have it in you to be – and come back to us, now. He glanced at each of the young men beside him. “Isn’t that right, boys? Tell him.”

John, feeling as though he were in a dream, swallowed back a throat full of tears. “Listen to Jim, Paul. You can’t leave us now your Da’s here, yeah?”

“Aye,” George chimed in. “And Patti and I need our Best Man, don’t we?”

Finally, too exhausted to continue to stand, Jim lowered himself into the chair with a resigned sigh. He looked up at the three men still with him, and the nurse standing nearly hidden in the corner, as he unbuttoned his coat, prepared to settle in for a long haul. “Would you give me a little time alone with him, please,” he asked, demonstrating exactly where Paul’s impeccable manners came from. The three men nodded, quickly joining Brian and Ritchie.

When the nurse didn’t move, he looked at her pointedly, one eyebrow raised.

“I can’t leave, sir. One of us must always be here with him.”

“A few minutes, please --” he began.

“It’s my job if I’m caught,” she insisted, “I’d be sacked. Although,” she offered, after a beat. “I suppose if I’m just on the other side of the window, there…that might be alright.”

With a slip of white, she too was in the suddenly crowded waiting room, and Jim had to content himself with many pairs of eyes watching as he took his son’s hand into his own, and kissed it, and then gave himself over to silent, unfamiliar tears.

Daddy…daddy… I’m dyin’… I’m dyin’ for a cuppa, you know… Mum, Da’s here. Da’s here and he’s here, and I might be queer and he can’t know it. Daddy… Was that Brian cryin’… It’s another song, Brian’s cryin’ cause baby is dyin’… Johnny calls me baby...Johnny knows I'm Jamie, and Da’s here, Mum, he’s here and we’re all so near… It’s another song… Johnny would love it… In death we are in life…  Mum? … Mummy? And in life we are in death, aye… John? Da’s here, Mum… Mum?

… Mum?

***

It was a stultifying thing, John thought, to wait in hospital with no idea how long one will be there, what to expect within the next hour, and the hour after that. The band, Brian, Dawson, they’d all taken turns going back and forth to sit at Paul’s bedside, directly across from Jim who – beyond saying ‘thank you’ when handed a cup of tea – was keeping his own council, alternately staring at Paul as though literally willing him to get better and open his eyes, or holding his head in his hand. Not being a religious man, if he was praying, it was not obvious.

The boys had risen when Jane and Cynthia showed up, John hugging first his wife and then Paul’s girlfriend with a similar clinginess. He hadn’t realized how badly he needed to hold someone, and Cyn’s embrace seemed to sow needed strength into him. All of my women are strong women, he thought to himself. And thank God for that, because I a weak, weak man.

Jim, too, had shakily begun to stand but Jane immediately went to him, patting his shoulders and encouraging him to sit, even as her eyes were consumed by Paul’s still form, before her.

“Paul,” she gasped before bringing both hands up to her mouth and then breathing deeply through them, as though to stop herself from saying anything more, or to enforce some self-control. Like Jim before her, she stroked Paul’s face with her fingertips, wincing at his heat. “He’s a fever,” she said to the room. “How does a cracked head bring a fever? And where are the bandages?” She turned to Brian and John, her blue eyes bright with growing anger. “You didn’t even call me,” she said. “And now, what? Are you lying to everyone? Tell me what is happening.”

“Not here, Jane,” Brian said, interrupting her as she was about to light into him. He motioned the nurse with his head, and also made a slight gesture toward Paul’s father. “You’re perfectly right to be angry but I think you’ll understand once we explain. But not here,” he repeated. He took her hand. Jane snatched it away, folding her arms before her in a very Paul-like gesture. “The both of you had better give me some answers, and quickly.”

Brian again motioned his head toward the waiting room. “The both of you come into the next room, and we’ll explain all of it. In detail. Come, now.”

John and Cynthia moved to the other room, Jane following Brian, reluctantly, after casting another look at Paul. Ringo and George came out, preferring Jim’s silence over being forced to hear the whole ugly tale again. “Coming with?” They asked Dawson.

“I need him here,” Brian answered.

It was a long, long session with the girls. George and Ringo sat with their backs to the window, preferring sound over sight, but soon enough wishing the other room had been sound-proofed.

“No!” They heard the word repeated emphatically over and over by both women, as they struggled with what they were being told. Cynthia’s tone was wet and unbelieving, and often muffled. Likely she had buried herself in John’s chest as she cried. Jane’s voice, however was both tearful and furious. “No! You are not telling me this!” It was an unexpectedly huge bellow from such a small girl. But then, she was trained to project her voice, and she wasn’t holding back.

“Oh, God,” came a moan. That was Cynthia.

“Fuckers!” That was Jane. “And where were you,” came the furious question. That sounded like Jane, too.

“Poor John,” Geo murmured to Ritchie, who nodded. John’s low-voiced response was unintelligible but the sound of a hand smaking his face – flesh on flesh contact and wholly unrestrained – came through loud and clear. So did the second one, a few minutes later.

“Is she gonna beat him to a pulp,” George wondered.

“Unless that one was Cyn,” Ritchie answered. The younger man considered a moment and then nodded in agreement. “Cyn might’ve hit him, too. And he’ll let them, you know. He’ll let ‘em both beat him bloody if they want to. He’s eating himself alive with guilt and thinks he’s got it comin’, when he’s none to blame for any of it.”

“Aye, but that’s John, though. And especially about Paul?” George sighed, shaking his head. “Sometimes I think Paul’s his whole word, even beyond Cyn and the boy.”

“I know,” Ringo was leaning forward, elbows on his knees as he nodded at his best mate. “I’m worried he’ll fall apart, hurt himself, if Paulie…”

George met his eyes. “I know, I know. And me, too. He’s been with me almost all my life. I might fall apart too, Ritchie, I know it. And so maybe will the whole fuckin’ world if that crowd out there is any indicator. Can you imagine it? They’ll be fuckin’ suicides.”

They’d been talking very quietly and intently to each other, their voices barely raising above a whisper. Neither of the young men, engrossed in their shared thoughts – thoughts they’d had no chance to express otherwise -- knew how attentively they were being watched, and heard, by Jim McCartney, whose face was becoming harder and more stone-like by the minute.

They were interrupted by a whirlwind as Jane Asher pulled open the door and rushed back in, her flaming hair making her seem like a ball of fire launched Paul’s way. She all but threw herself upon her unmoving lover. “Paulie, please, darling. Please…”

Her words were incoherent – she seemed a begger who wanted something but couldn’t actually say what. But her tears were real, and flowing down her alabaster face in a torrent. “Darling... please…”

Janey… Janey… come sit here on my lap… so pretty…

“Miss, you cannot do that,” the nurse was on her instantly, wrestling her away from Paul. “Please, Miss,” the sister was grunting with the effort. “He’s in very delicate condition, and you’ll ruin the tubes…”

Two strong hands managed to grasp her by the shoulders. “Jane, Jane, love. Come away…” It was Jim McCartney, who adored the tiny redhead. He had warm hands and a soothing voice and – like his son – was using them to take control where he could. “Come away, little girl. You’re much too strong for him, right now…”

“He’s so hot,” Jane cried as the older man enfolded in his arms. “Jim, he’s much too hot!”

“Aye, love. He is, you’re perfectly right, and you’re also right to be angry.” He let the young woman cry into his chest for a good long while, until she had settled into long shuddering breathes. “Come, let’s walk, you and I,” he said gently, “just in the hallway, here. I’m better walking than standing still like this, and I do need to stretch my legs. You’ll help me, yeah?”

Still stuttering as she breathed, Jane nodded, taking Jim’s arm. “You’ll stay with him,” he turned and said to George. It was not a question.

“We’ll be here, Jim.”

“Aye, then, come on Little Red -- that’s what he calls you, yes? Let’s have a turn.”

The door closed behind them and John Lennon, who’d been watching in the doorway with a sniffling Cyn still attached to his side, let out a huge sigh. “Fucking masterful, that was.”

John Dawson came up behind him, placing one large hand on his shoulder. “Truly, it was,” he agreed, sounding ever so slightly amused.

When the two returned a quarter-hour later they were followed in by two nurses bearing trays and towels and another bringing fresh tea, which even Jane seemed eager for, readily accepting a cup from Cynthia, even as she avoided John.

Jim McCartney, though, was following the nurses, and John followed him. The women had neatly set out their instruments, including a rather large syringe that looked more like a turkey baster than any proper sort of needle.

“What’s this, then? What are you doing to my son?”

“I’m sorry sirs, you’ll have to leave us for a few minutes.” One of the nurses was at the window, drawing a drape across it.

“But what are you doing,” Jim repeated.

“Sir --” the more senior of the women seemed like she was about to lose patience with the man.

“This is Paul’s father,” John piped up. “He deserves to know, and for that matter, so do I. I’m his partner, and I don’t intend to take my eyes off him, so you might as well tell us what are you doing.” He led an exhausted looking Jim to a chair near the now-hidden window, and helped him to sit. “As you see, his Da’s not going anywhere, either.”

The woman glared at him. John glared back.

“This is highly unusual,” she said through her teeth as her spine stiffened. “I could have you removed.”

“Please,” John said more softly, his vulnerability showing itself. “Just, tell us.”

Making it clear that she was giving more information than she thought either man deserved, the nurse nevertheless answered as the other began to fold the blanket up from Paul’s feet, to the top of his thighs.

“It’s time for his topical antibiotic,” she said. “Dr. Richmond prescribed it every four hours.”

“Yes, I remember,” John interrupted, glad to give evidence that he’d already been privy to some information. “He said this plus some kind of herbal compound, to soothe him.”

“That’s right,” the woman relaxed a little. “This is how we apply all of it as well as we can, directly to his wounds, his infection, without disturbing the abscess.”

“Will it hurt him,” Jim spoke up with concern. “I don’t want him hurting.”

“It will not hurt him,” she sounded certain.

“Nae, the – the medicine might not hurt him,” John said, “but he’s…he’s badly injured, you know. Moving his legs about – if you do it wrong – it might hurt him.”

“I assure you, Mr. Lennon,” the younger nurse said, “we are as gentle as we can be.”

“It might not be enough, though” John’s worry made his voice sound tight. “Maybe I can help. I could…hold him for you.”

He felt Jim’s hand on his own. “Let it be, lad.”

“But… if they move him wrong…”

“Shesh, John,” Jim counselled in a soft voice that nevertheless carried. “I’m sure these sisters will be as kind and careful with our Paul as his own mother was with all of her patients. She was a sister, too, as you know.”

At his words, both nurses immediately softened in their looks, glancing at each other in unspoken communication. “You may stay,” the older women decided, “but you must be quiet as mice, and not interrupt us in any way.”

“We’ll be good.” John promised.

Jim McCartney, sending a small but cherubic smile of thanks in their direction agreed. “Indeed,” he assured them. “We will be very good. Thank you.”

For the first time in all the years he’d known him, John looked at Paul’s father with a sincere and unbegrudged respect. So much of what he loved about Paul, he suddenly realized, was rooted in what his partner had learned from this man. His delicate touch, his manners, his ability to deploy charm like a weapon in order to get his way, his ready compassion – it had lived in Jim before it ever could live in Paul. “Masterful,” he thought once again, suddenly wishing he had taken the time to know Jim McCartney better, maybe even know him as a father.

It was not an easy procedure to watch, even from a distance and with both nurses deliberately shielding as much as they could from the men’s view. Two of the strangely oversized plastic syringes had been prepared. One, John assumed, with the antibiotic, and the other with the herbal balm, which looked thick and creamy. Very soothing, indeed.

But he was wincing as they moved Paul’s legs, setting them wide apart, and raising them at the knees. He remembered all the times he’d seen his lover similarly posed, but never looking so terribly vulnerable, and he found himself nearly unable to watch. “Don’t hurt him.” He hadn’t realized he’d spoken the words aloud, on a flinching intake of breath.

“Steady on, son,” Jim said, giving his knee a squeeze. “They’ll be done quickly.”

He was correct. After seeing to details – lubrication and such – the sisters managed one application within mere minutes of the other, tending to their job with great attention and professionalism yet glancing frequently at Paul’s face, hoping to read any sign of discomfort, there. Like sisters. Like real caregivers. Like the sort of women Paul had said his mother was.

Still, when they lowered Paul’s legs, and straightened them and brought them together, John could swear he saw Paul wince. Just a twinge, but he knew Macca’s face, his every expression so well…and he’d seen that same grimace on the night – that terrible night – when Brian had so gently, and so slightly, moved his legs to gauge the damage.

John, he’s a mess…

It was seared into his memory, that night, and please God, just give him back to us, came the thought.

Lennon had no idea that he had watched it all while twisting himself into a tense ball of anxiety and worry for Paul’s sake -- both hands clenched together and raised to his face, his legs crossed, his body twisting and his face scowling as he followed each movement the women made, his eyes moving continually from them to Paul and back, as he held his breath. 

Their treatment finished, both nurses took some time to examine Paul’s IV sites, and to bathe his brow and wrists with moist flannels. The younger nurse, before covering his feet with a blanket, delicately turned his leg, seeking to do the same on an artery in Paul’s foot. She looked up suddenly, gasping as if she’d heard something.  

“S-stop.” It was so quiet.

The nurse straightened as both women stared. “Did he say…” she asked.

John looked up sharply, straining to hear.

“Stop. Hurts.”

He grabbed Jim’s hand, hardly daring to believe it. But he recognized the groggy sound of Paul’s voice rising from his drugged and feverish depths. He’d sounded the same on that night, had said nearly the same words.

“Mr. McCartney,” one of the nurses said in a wary voice as she moved to the head of the bed. “Are you with us?”

Paul groaned, a long, low, sound – feral and a little frightening.

The nurse looked at Jim, and then nodded, waving him over silently, and John took the older man’s elbow as they approached the bed. “Speak to your son, sir,” she whispered. “It might bring him up, to hear you.”

There was another groan, sustained and ugly, a sound like an animal, trapped and wounded.

“Paul…” Jim said softly, taking his hand. “I’m here. Will you come ‘round for your old dad, then? Let me know you hear me?”

With some difficulty, Jim gingerly brought himself up to the mattress, fitting himself there as he avoided all the tubes. He stroked Paul’s fringe from his forehead and left his hand there a moment. “His seems less hot then before,” he said to John.

“He is, a little,” the nurse confirmed in a soft voice. “Still fevered, but it’s a lower temperature than it was.”

“That’s a good sign, then, yes?” John raised his eyebrows. “Means the medicine’s working?”

“It’s…hopeful,” she allowed. “But it’s very early, yet, he’s only had a few doses.”

“But they’re extremely large dosages, so it’s a good sign, yes,” he repeated, no longer asking and determined to think as he pleased.

She nodded slightly as their attention was again turned to Paul, whose moans were growing louder.

“Son, I’m here,” Jim said, his own voice raised a bit. “Can you hear me, Paul? I’m right here, on your very bed I am. And John’s here with me.”

“I’m not on your bed, though,” John spoke up. “But come on, love, snap to it. Dad’s here. Jane’s here and Cyn, too,” he cajoled his mate and squeezed his hand. “The lads and Brian are all here. Everyone is waiting for you to show up, now. I’m here,” he repeated, more quietly.

“Aye, John’s here,” Jim McCartney said again, dangling Paul’s partner before him like a promised sweet. “All we need is you, son.”

And then Paul’s dry lips parted.

“Da…”

His voice was weak. John noticed Paul’s eyes moving quickly under his lids, as though he were dreaming deeply. “Mum…”

Jim looked at John, blinking hard. He’s been very close to death, then, he thought, if he’s calling Mary.

The younger man nodded, as though he’d not only heard the unspoken thought, but agreed with it. That spooky Lennon/McCartney communications voodoo, suddenly alive between them.

“Don’t touch me.” Paul slurred deeply. “Hurts.”

Jim quickly pulled his hand from his son’s, realizing too late that he wasn’t the one being addressed. The words were meant for others, and in that context they were repulsive to hear.

“Mum…” Paul seemed to be stretching out an arm, as though grasping for something just outside his reach. He raised it – held his arm above the mattress for just a moment -- before the effort ended. He looked and sounded utterly exhausted.

“Goodbye…”

“No,” John gasped. “No, Paul…”

Jim reached out a hand, grasping John’s wrist and stilling him as he shook his head.

“Are you still with us, Paul? Are you with us, son?”

They could see his adam’s apple move up and down as the pale lad swallowed hugely.

“He’s coming up,” one of the nurses said excitedly.

“Da…” Paul croaked, his arm raised again, reaching out.

Jim grabbed at it, squeezing his hand. “I’m here, son. I’m right here with you. We’re all here.”

And with that, Paul McCartney finally seemed to surface, his eyelashes first fluttering and then parting – closing and parting, over and over -- his eyes opening a little bit wider each time, until their rich chocolate-and-honey coloring showed in the light.

“Paul!” Jim McCartney and John both exclaimed as one.

“Paul…you’re here!” John sobbed, unable to stop his grateful tears.

“There you are, my boy,” Jim said, sounding old and gruff and tender, all at once.

“Da…”

“Yes, I’m here.”

It seemed Paul was not quite with them, yet. His eyes were unfocused as he stared at his father. “Da…”

Jim brought Paul’s hand up to his own cheek and nodded. “Yes. Here I am, then.”

Paul frowned then, as if confused, as though he was just waking up.

“Wha-- Da?”

“Paul. You’re awake. I’m right here.”

His son, his beautiful son, looked directly at him, and suddenly there he was, fully cognizant, recognition dawning on his face, which instantly crumbled. Tears rushed to Paul’s eyes. “Da…” he whispered, trying to move forward, trying to hug his father.

Jim McCartney breached the distance, pressing his head to his son’s, wrapping his arms around him as best he could. Making those soft Irish sounds of consolation that went beyond actual words, Jim leaned in, finally managing to bring Paul fully into his embrace amid all the tubes and wires. He hugged his son closely. “I’ve got you, son.”

“Da…”

“Sesh, shesh you, boyo.”

It went on like that. Jim McCartney murmuring nothing words to his son, Paul burying his face into his father’s neck, his voice strained, seeming incapable of doing anything beyond calling out to him.

With every repetition, though, John noticed Paul’s breath going deeper, as though he were working himself up to something.

“Da…”

“Yes, Paul, I’m here. You’re going to be alright, now.”

 “Da…” Paul breathed, and then his voice cracked and went high, became a weeping, keening sound. “Daddy.”

“Yes… my boy…”

“Daddy…”

“Oh, Paul…”

“They hurt me…oh... so bad, Daddy…”

And then both men were bawling. Crying together within their embrace.

“Daddy…how…”

“It’s going to be alright, Paulie…it will…”

John was wiping his tears away with both sleeves. The scene was so poignant and raw it was ripping him to shreds.

Paul was back. He was back, thank God, he was back.

But he was a wreck.

And he had called out, “Daddy” and his daddy had answered, “Here I am!”

John couldn’t have said why he was crying – whether for the return of his beloved Paul or the knowledge that if he cried out for love, for reassurance, for safety, no man would ever say “here I am” to him. Not unless it was Paul, himself… someday, someday, again.

But the tears would not stop.

He wasn’t alone in that. The nurses, deeply moved by the reunion played out before them, had receded into the background -- sniffling and smiling and holding each other in the way that women do. At his side, he was aware that Cynthia was touching him, pulling him back, away from the scene. Away from the shoulders -- the shuddering shoulders, those words, wept out, again and again, “Da…Daddy…”

She led her husband to the doorway, crowded now with faces, all of them covered in tears. Ringo and George were sharing a tight and weepy embrace. Jane’s face was nearly unrecognizable, swollen and contorted with emotion, and she was reaching out to Brian.

The group made room for him to enter, but he hesitated a moment, looking back at Paul and his father. He pulled aside the drapes, re-opening the observation window and letting light into the room.

It was enough to see, to keep a watch on Paul. They didn’t need to hear the exchange between father and son. Whatever the actual words between them, John thought, all they were really saying to each other was all that ever needed saying:

“Daddy, my Daddy”

And, “My son. Oh, my son.”