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Everything fades when you don't smile

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Maybe it's Ringo's sentimental character heightened by the years spent in hospitals, maybe it's just the price to pay for travelling the world at a pace so rapid their heads rarely rest on the same pillow twice, but if he ever had to describe a perfect holiday, even Bahamas can't compete with the tranquillity of mundane days.

He doesn't consider it a rare quirk, the existence of many quotes along the lines of "home sweet home" the evidence of many people gazing at the world through similar lenses. There isn't much to discuss, really, laying in one's bed located in one's bedroom oozes a certain charm even to an insomniac like himself.

He must own up to a strange tingle of discomfort when they agreed to stop touring for a while which meant the life as he had known it was about to change. But now, a couple months later, the newer, rather simpler, way of spending time hasn't ceased to amaze Ringo. 

Practising the drums without the urgent pressure to accommodate everyone's idea of the song? Wonderful. Being able to decide about his daily schedule? Shocking. The absence of strangers pawning at every body part within their reach? Lovely. Diddling with new techniques and tricks without worrying whether it's up to their audience's taste? Fun!

Well, it was all of it and more at the beginning, but dating someone meant sharing their worries and joys, and Ringo would have to be blind or heartless to ignore Paul's struggles.

The initial phase of saturating their basic needs of privacy, leisure time and sleep got replaced by the one fueled by curiosity. Paul spent ages picking up interesting venues for them to attend -- galleries, cafés, small villages with unearthly sceneries, concerts and readings. Life seemed to run in the tempo of frantic breaths, gleeful smiles and tender love for it to abruptly halt when it lost the spark of novelty.

As much as Ringo likes to think his capability of empathy above average, the shadow game Paul utilised has tricked him.

There were grains of evidence; Paul's ceasing interest in fiddling with his guitar, the effort put into looking good and proper losing its shine, an unregular pattern of eating and, least but not last, the occasional emptiness flickering behind those expressive eyes...but Ringo's inner voice told him not to nag, familiar with Paul's distaste to be labelled as someone in need of assistance. 

The alarm in the drummer's head went buzzing when one evening, just seconds away from drifting to sleep, a timid voice asked whether he was annoying. No longer inching to a peaceful slumber, Ringo perched on his elbows double-checking he didn't react to an illusion of his mind. His eyes met a sign of his boyfriend's stubbornly looking away.

"Why would I think that?" Ringo replied, reaching to touch the curve of Paul's cheek then hoisted the younger man closer when he attempted to scoot away.

He didn't receive an answer, nor did they returned to the conversation the day after. 

A few days have passed without change, evoking an unfamiliar sense of determination. Ringo wouldn't dab himself and organiser, he prefers to adjust himself to the plans of others, contributing a few tweaks if required but content to follow the draft otherwise. Not now, his gaze is focused, the clogs inside his head turning while he drums his fingers absentmindedly against the cupboard, waiting for the kettle to boil. 

A cup for him to nudge his brain into action and one for Paul who is now a dark figure in the dark living room indulging in his favourite activity -- starring from the window while patting Martha.

He jolts when Ringo places the kitchenware on the windowsill with a clack. A mixture of genuine shock and humiliation of being caught covers the pale face before it's tucked away with a blink. 

"I-I was just thinkin--"

"I know. Don't do it too long though, I sleep the best when you're close," Ringo interrupts the apologetic explanation with a squeeze to Paul's shoulder and a brief kiss. 

It takes another hour before another body joins him under the covers and he fakes being asleep despite Martha's bum an inch from his nose to maintain the air of routine. A hand drapes itself around his waist before Paul tucks himself under Ringo's arm, whispering good night.

 ~~~

The six am the usual hour for sleep to bid him goodbye allows the plan to run smoothly. Paul insists on getting up at half past six despite making it to bed at two, clinging to the merciless alarm as a drowning man to the straw. This time, however, Ringo uses thirty minutes to get ready as quietly as possible, waiting for his chance.

It's an awful sound, pointlessly loud, and he cringes upon seeing Paul jolt up in distress turning it off then tugs him back to bed just as he launches forward and up, causing him to lose balance and fall back. 

Paul shrieks, turning around to seize his boyfriend with a disapproving leer. "You! You've been up the entire time?"

Ringo hums, wrapping his arms around Paul's form and kissing the crown of his head. "How else was I going to corrupt you for a lie-in, session?"

"It-that's not possible, there things to do, breakfast and...I can't, Martha needs to go for a walk too. I haven't written a bloody verse in ages, need to practise, c'mon, we can't stay in bed. Martha's not used to that. Ritchie."

"I'm getting up, you on the other hand--" Ringo patted Paul's back "--need to catch up on sleep. Those bags under your eyes aren't going to give you an idea for another hit." 

"I am not even tired," the dark-haired man protests before dozing off, Ringo's hand rubbing shapes on the small of his back. 

No matter how nice it feels, as soon as Paul's breath deepens and a gentle snore escapes his slightly parted lips, Ringo untangles himself and rushes to fulfil other steps. 

When he comes back with a panting Martha who didn't expect to be beaten in a park chase in tow, Paul's still out, spread all over the bed like a starfish. 

Ringo's dedication wavers when he attempts to cook a proper brekky with pancakes, fresh yoghurts and fruit, following an allegedly easy but absolutely impossible recipe. 

It's with George's help via phone that he achieves the goal and delivers it in time as Paul stirs awake. 

For a while, only the sound of chewing fills the room. Ringo's eyes are glued to his partner's face and his lips curl upwards when he notices a colour returned to those lovely cheeks. 

"Did I forget something?" 

Ringo furrows his eyebrows, excusing himself from the fairyland where Paul laughs again and doesn't sound so unsure.

"Like, it's not our anniversary or something? I-If I forgot, I swear I can make it up to you! Really." 

The situation craves a deep breath, nice and steady before Ringo's mouth opens.

"Well, you forgot to take care of yourself a bit, haven't you? So little sleep, so many things to do, and none of it makes you happy. And since it crushes me, I am here to help, if you let me." 

A stain of jam adorns Paul's chin, but that bears no importance because after trying to formulate a sentence, probably assurance of how splendid he has been doing, he gives up and nods.

"Right," Ringo exclaims, fishing up a chunk of paper. "I wrote a list of activities I'd like to do with you, you can't say no, of course, but I'd mean a world to me if you tried it before."

"A list?" Paul repeats, lifting his gaze from his fingers. A glimpse of his old persona, loving the control, loving the challenge and most importantly enjoying the company of others. 

"A list," Ringo confirms, smoothening it down and reading the first article. 

"I'd appreciate it if you help me to organise the photos."

 ~~~

To the outsiders, it would seem like the most ordinary bordering on boring moment, but it proves to be an excellent choice to warm Paul up.

Ringo picks photos he wants to feature in the book for his parents he has been slowly working on, and Paul goes through everything with timid curiosity, creating carefully organised piles. Every now and then when either of them stumbles upon a photo that evokes memories and rushes to show the other. 

When it's finished, Ringo beams at his boyfriend, who hasn't yet escaped the claws of lethargy, but those few giggles he didn't stifle showed he could get there.

They cook a lunch next, this without any assistance from the outer world, because Paul scrutinises the recipe, step by step, while Ringo operates the bowls and ingredients. 

If there are too many smudges of sauce and Martha managed to steal the whole broccoli, it only becomes more memorable in Ringo's eyes.

For the first time in weeks, they eat on the floor in the living room, resting against soft cushions and listening to a cheesy radio station. 

Ringo has always awed at the way the sunlight sought Paul's presence and complemented it. Even now, with his hair tousled and face covered in something that hangs between a stuble and a beard he looks divine, the colours of his eyes changing every second. As if hypnotised, Ringo takes the empty plate from Paul's hands before leaning closer and kissing him.

Gently at first, because he longs to savour every second of it -- the slightly surprised exhale Paul so-so swallows before he leans into the touch, the drag of his eyelashes against Ringo's cheek as his eyes flutter close -- he only pulls back to climb into Paul's lap, holding onto his shoulders as if he shrunk back into his head if the contact wasn't maintained.

It's unsettling how restricted the range of their intimacy has become, and Ringo doesn't want to step back, not now when he finally feels like Paul is right there. He plants a small kiss to his nose, forehead then trails down -- one chubby cheek, another -- back to the lips where he lingers, peppering them with closed mouth pecks. 

When they part, Paul's eyes remain closed, and only a little smirk betrays that he hasn't fallen asleep. 

"You look gorgeous," Ringo whispers, burying his face into Paul's chest when he wordlessly brings him close.

"What would I do without you?" his lover asks in return.

Despite not being on Ringo's list the cuddling swallows up a few hours when they occupy the croaky floor with zero shame, alternating between sweet touches and naps. The seriousness of the situation dawns on Martha as well and she chooses not to disturb her owners with her squeaky toys in favour of evenly disturbing pieces of the stolen vegetable around the house.

 ~~~

"What's next?" 

Ringo looks up lazily, concealing the fleeting fear of what he's about to suggest.

"Actually--" he focuses on Paul's face, hoping he wouldn't poke a sore spot "--I was going to ask you to help me with a song?"

Ah, yeah, here it is. Mouth turned into a straight line, unreadable eyes and clenched jaw. 

"Please?" He clasps his hands together and hopes Paul would give in. He just needs to get his boyfriend to enjoy strumming without a goal again. 

 "I, ehm, I think I lost my spark, so don't expect much," Paul clears his throat but stands up and brings two guitars and a stack of papers with pens. 

The little detail of not having any song on mind does complicate the situation a little but Ringo thinks of random melodies he has banged on his drums, twisting the melody and helping Paul to understand with sounds that would put a group of wild lemurs in their place. 

"Like this?" Paul hums then tries to sing a string up made-up syllables. 

"Almost, but a bit lower," Ringo considers it, repeating the melody. 

Martha howls from distance, interrupting the task of peeling a head of cabbage she stole from the fridge somebody forgot to close. 

As time flies, a skeleton of a tune Ringo has come with graces the blank page, accompanied by a giddiness blossoming in his chest when Paul suggests an improvised guitar lesson on his own accord.

 ~~~

Their evening walk is different today, not because picking up little pieces of what once was broccoli coated in dog's saliva preceded the routine of putting on Martha's harness, but Paul keeps an arm around Ringo's shoulder, sneaking in a little kiss every time the four-legged animal slows down.

The air smells of spring, unknown future and promises of warm days and Ringo thinks it's a fitting metaphor for his relationship. Of course, he cannot sing of success this early, but a little seed of hope has been planted. 

"A new song?" he hugs Paul from behind when he hears him murmur something of no relation to the ordered dinner he's unwrapping. 

"Perhaps," the man in question shrugs. "Something about love, luck and how I cannot believe I have someone like you in my life."

 ~~~

There's no alarm set for tomorrow. 

Ringo dreams of his first single on an album while an idea for a dinner party sprouts in Paul's head.

Martha appreciates her owner not hovering around the window tonight, for she can dissect the eggplant she nicked earlier in peace.