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Paul watches as Emily, giggling like a hen after a lobotomy, climbs over to John who dismisses her attempts at fake modesty and tugs the girl into his lap. Then they kiss.

 

His head spins like the bottle. Round and round,  turning always into morning. And from morning into night. ..

 

It's wet and sloppy, and if Paul's ears serve him right, he hears one or two moans. Obscene. He should look away but cannot, his eyes insisting on drinking up the scene to assure there's a source for all those angry, bitter tears that will come later. If he leaned into the desire burning in the back of his head, he would march over there, interrupt their little pervert show before grabbing John's jaw and smacking their lips together.

 

Maybe he would taste Emily's chopstick. Maybe John's hands would shoot to his hips, bringing their bodies flush together...maybe Paul should give his head a good shake instead of fantasizing about his best friend. 

 

His dick twitches, as if the thoughts aren't torturous enough. Paul's heart is broken or breaking, perhaps both -- an endless cycle of hitting the bottom and discovering one could drag themself even lower each time. 

 

The game goes on without demanding Paul's participation, and he waits 5 minutes before theatrically shaking the empty can he's been clutching to create an excuse to leave the room. Nobody cares, but etiquette exists even if one's half hard in the room full of sloshed friends.

 

The rest of the house basks in silence, perfect scenery for Paul to lick his wounds. It'll improve. He just needs to add a pinch of determination to focus on John as his friend and his friend only.

 

Paul's steps steer him into the kitchen, his favourite room -- busy during the day, gentle during the evening. Or maybe that's just his mum's presence. If he needs anything, be it a snack or a piece of advice without any judgment, Mary is there -- warm, caring, seeing him. 

 

Sometimes he thinks she's the only person who bothers to glance past the curtain of proper smiles and strings of "yessir's".

 

Jim's a good father, that cannot be attacked, but he wears an invisible coat of sternness. Grades matter. Not hunching when eating matters. A shirt collar folded properly matters. Who inhabits his son's mind at night has been reduced to the very last spot on the list of priorities.

 

It induces an odd sense of relief. If nobody asks, he can sweep everything under the carpet, put a nice table at the top, and enjoy the illusion of not feeling anything. 

 

He hopes the invisible gap between a father and sons collapses in the future as much as he prays for somebody less complicated than Lennon, preferably a girl, to sweep him off his feet.

 

It hasn't happened yet.

 

Then there's George. A lad too wise for his age who could produce a whole book about Paul's personality but doesn't because his sense of friendship consists of gentle support. 

 

And, of course, John. The person Paul considered his soulmate not so long ago. They communicate without words -- glances, quick quirks of lips, nods, music. Paul likes to think their souls must overlap, deeming any effort at hiding pointless. Constructing a scaffold of secrets insinuates the connection has received its first cracks. 

 

Those could easily grow bigger until the once-cherished closeness would turn into a fading memory.

 

When everything borders on suffocating despair, a particular conclusion taps on Paul's shoulder. If John hasn't discovered the mess tucked away behind the friendly behaviour, maybe they don't know each other as Paul chooses to believe.

 

A sign resonates through the room, highlighting the hopelessness of the battle Paul cannot win. Regrets of not staying home start to creep up. The absence of witnesses usually takes away the humiliation of failing to act like a mentally poised person. 

 

It's an odd thing, his relationship with other people. Some would view the ability to turn anybody into an audience as a desirable trait, but at this age Paul understands it's a burden as much as a blessing. 

 

He doesn't need to chase them, for they find him every time, incapable of resistance like rodents lured by the ratcatcher's flute. It becomes a wicked game, full of fluctuating roles. If the ratcatcher doesn't pay attention, he might wake up in vermin's body one day. 

 

Drops of loneliness taste bitter on Paul's tongue whenever he doesn't halt the trail of thoughts. Not many people fall into the category of close friends, the word acquaintances fits better, or more accurately spectators. Even now he's merely an actor getting a breather backstage than himself, ready to turn around and wink should anyone stumble inside. 

 

Someone does. Closing the door before glaring at the back of Paul's neck. 

 

His face muscles produce a fake smile, its light glossing over the fact it doesn't reflect in the eyes. The strain continues to the shoulders where it hides from enquiring glances. 

 

"Is everything alright?"

 

As if on autopilot, Paul pivots, wide stretched lips consuming every trace of the previous distress. Not even the sound of a familiar voice followed by a matching face could halt the process.

 

"Great!" he chirps in the hopes of keeping the pretence up even in front of George. 

 

"Haha," the younger boy retorts in a monotone voice without breaking eye contact. "I'm glad to notice your acting skills haven't improved a bit, quite the contrary."

 

"Just tired, 's all."

 

"Hmm-mmmh."

 

A flushed face as a reaction to getting caught seems childish, so do eye rolls. Paul executes one nevertheless, a perfect reminder that he can in George's presence and doesn't have to fear getting labelled as an arrogant prick. If only his friend's wit would slow down occasionally. 

 

"Are you going to tell him?"

 

Or his mouth. Oh, to belong to naive people who think George doesn't talk.

 

"What?" Paul feigns puzzlement like it refers to a planned trip that he is yet to inform Jim about.

 

"You know very well what, McCartney. Unless you haven't moved on, John is still waiting-"

 

"Shut up," Paul's hands fly up in a frantic gesture, "shut up, someone can hear you." George merely lifts an eyebrow, subtly pointing out the outburst supports his previous statement.

 

"Are you insane? Tell him? Are you fucking dumb?" Paul hisses.

 

"Yeah, I am," the other boy deadpans, chuckling when Paul starts to massage the root of his nose. "So?"

 

"So, I'm not going to tell him."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because I'm not going to ruin our friendship? I don't even know if he likes men, could you imagine the consequences? The band would go to hell."

 

"Rumour has it he's anything but straight."

 

"Right, you're supposed to be a gentle, quiet soul too."

 

"Well, if the rumours about you ring true, you should have enough charm and confidence to blow John's mind. Or blow him, whatever you prefer."

 

"WELL, IF THE RUMOURS ABOUT-"

 

"Paul? George? You there?"

 

"Yep, come in, we were just discussing music," George calls back, ignoring the way Paul zips up his turn of 'well, if the rumours about you are true', not having a moment to seize him with a dirty leer as John struts in.

 

"Discussing...more like screaming your heads off."

 

"We got a bit passionate," Paul allows.

 

George giggles, actually giggles, like he can't believe they forgot they were at a party. And he calls Paul the PR man! "Yeah, you know how it gets, one wrong word about sitar, one remark about Presley, and suddenly we're recreating fight club." 

 

"Sounded like Mozart's opera to me," John mumbles. "Anyway, Ringo's lost his phone, thought you could help us, I'm, ehm, not very good at calming people. You alright?" he directs at Paul, who ponders if John sounded a little jealous or whether it was the first sign of losing his sanity. "Seem a bit...off."

 

"Just tired," he replies, not paying attention to George's cough in the background. 

 

~~~~~

 

Unsurprisingly, Ringo's nerves subdue only when George joins the quest, the duo creating a world excluding anyone else, John and Paul not an exception.

 

They sit on the worn-out sofa, becoming another small group that has formed as the party's fire died out. It's not the first time it has happened, but it's the first time Paul's emotions resist his attempts to tame them.

 

Even when their friends come back, the anxiety occupying Paul's stomach doesn't ease. The proximity is too much. Their legs press together despite the generous space for all of them; he can hear every John's breath and, if he indulges the masochist inside, the smell -- cheap tobacco, sweat and the remnants of John's perfume -- tantalises his nose with a silent song of 'just a friend? just a friend? just a friend?'.

 

Running away seems like the only way to escape, for the second time this night. 

 

He contemplates staying, eyes darting around, landing on a couple of tipsy strangers making out, on Ringo's head on George's shoulder, the latter playing with brown strands of hair.

 

No way.

 

"Okay," he breaks the spell of silence, forcing a yawn. "I'm off, be safe and all that."

 

If John didn't stir, Paul's performance could be called flawless, a victorious smirk to the face of George's poor judgement. Except the second oldest of their friend circle jerks awake and grumbles bye, carelessly crushing the perfect plan. 

 

"Where are you going?" 

 

"Huh?" John blinks, staring at Paul then George, who shakes his head behind John's back. "We agreed on a sleepover? I literally dropped my things at your place before this."

 

It's not that Paul forgot. He just presumed John would either get too sloshed to notice anything weird about his best mate or disappear with a girl.

 

A minute of Paul's mouth going slack, and George's snicker passes before he snaps back. John's cluelessness determines the nature of their relationship, just two friends having a good time.

 

"Shit, sorry, course, course, I'm just--tired, yeah, come on."

 

~~~~~

 

The night hints at summer around the corner with its warm breeze. Something that only infuriates Paul further. 

 

He should be counting down the remaining days till the end of school. Look forward to no early morning alarms. Celebrate summer clothing in its lightness. Forget the awful school uniform.

 

Instead, he controls the pace of his strut, the most deceptive trait inserted into his cradle. Smiles come easy, so does a soft voice to cover the urge to scream, but the way of walking has always betrayed Paul. 

 

If John notices, he will ask what's wrong and then get annoyed at the lack of explanation. Paul wouldn't blame him. The roles have been reversed enough times to prove a friend battling emotions they don't grasp themselves is irritating at least, if not outright devastating. 

 

The change of their routine blazes across Paul's life, swallows everything and spits it back slick with confusion.

 

Their hands brush, and by the time they arrive at the bus stop, Paul is fully immersed in fake scenarios in which they're coming home as boyfriends. 

 

He catches John observing him when the echo of their shoes clicking against the pavement no longer provides a distraction. 

 

"You sure you feel alright?"

 

A nod doesn't trick him. When Paul sprinkles it with a smile, the crease between John's brows deepens.

 

Fortunately, any further questions are silenced by the arrival of their bus, stuffed with too many groups of drunk people that leave no space for them to sit, let alone to talk. 

 

He cannot decide if the heat spreading over his nape is the result of John's gaze or the shame curling around his abdomen. 

 

As the vehicle continues its ride, someone's stinky armpit hanging above his head and a stranger's elbow digging into his guts, it dawns on Paul how utterly fucked he is. 

 

~~~~~

 

As soon as the door clicks shut, John picks the topic without missing a beat. If anyone predicted that at some point the presence of his parents would ooze more appeal than an empty house, Paul would snicker into their face in amused disbelief. Now, he would welcome the interactions with his annoying brother as an escape route.

 

"What's bothering you then?"

 

"Nothing I--"

 

"Come off it, it's all over yer face since we arrived at Pete's," John's voice rises a few decibels before growing into a whisper. "It isn't...I mean I haven't said anything, haven't done anything, right, I haven't?"

 

The last words splay the well-known fear over the auburnette's face, causing Paul to flinch and remember his promise to do the exact opposite. It deepens the hole he's been digging for himself, for them both, he sees it clearly now. 

 

"It's not you, I don't want to talk about it--but it's not you. You haven't done anything wrong." 

 

He expects a remark about being on his period that doesn't come. Instead, John responds with a quiet okay, and Paul wants to hug him. He wants to cry as well, but either would complicate the already complex affairs, so he settles for an awkward gesture upstairs.

 

The tiredness used as a cover develops into the real one, as he waits for John to shower. By the time they are top tailing, unusually quiet, a light headache nestles in his skull. 

 

Maybe a different position could help? A little wiggle perhaps? How about a song. A nice rhythm for the fidgeting limbs to follow. 

 

"Fucking hell," John grumbles and before Paul has time to register what's going on, leaves the bed, turns on the lamp and climbs back into the opposite position. Their bodies lie parallelly -- shoulder to shoulder, head to head. 

 

"If you are planning on tossing the entire night, you can very well tell me what's happening."

 

"It's not-John, it's not you--"

 

"I'm not asking if it's me. I'm asking you to stop bluffing and tell me what's the problem. Paul?...Hello? You always pester me with the importance of talking about feelings, but you don't stick to it yourself, do you?"

 

Funny, how the mind overpowers the body. The mayhem of neutrons transmitting too many stimuli clenches Paul's muscles and deprives him of the strength to protest. He hopes John will get bored of the one-sided conversation as he does with so many things that don't overrun him.

 

"Keepin' still, aren't we? I know you aren't asleep, you twat. Your eyes are twitching. Paul, c'mon, let me in." 

 

His nose has to flare comically as he inhales deeply before peeling his eyes open. It's the way his name lingers on John's tongue -- sweet with a bitter undertone. 

 

"So, it has nothing to do with the booze drunk, right?"

 

"How many times do I ha--"

 

"Shh, it's either yes or no."

 

Paul shakes his head. John hums.

 

"Right. You didn't argue with George either? Back in the kitchen, I mean?"

 

Another no. 

 

"Stuart? No, no, he wasn't there, yes, I know. Something at home? Jim agitating you to become a doctor?"

 

Minutes of John listing potential causes of Paul's melancholy stretch forever, furnishing a sense of hope. The constant unsuccess can wear John down, they will sleep, and tomorrow it's a nice bright day to start anew. 

 

"...Ringo couldn't do anything, hang on, Emily?"

 

Paul's heart hammers against his ribcage, rushing the blood into his heart where it echoes the horrendous 'tap-tap-tap.

 

"I didn't know you fancy her, would refuse the kiss, wouldn't I? You--you left right after that, I remember--"

 

"It's not Emily."

 

John's mouth freezes, and a wave of nausea informs Paul about the mistake.

 

"I-it has nothing to do with Emily, I don't...it, this is mad, we aren't Holmes and Watson."

 

"Is it me?" 

 

Paul doesn't reply, doesn't scoot up for the sake of saving his dignity on a face-to-face level. His whole body is pressed down by the paralysis while John's towers over him.

 

"Would you like me to kiss you?" 

 

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp...

 

"Because I would, you know. If you told me. I would." 

 

"John…" Paul half keens, half protests, startling when his best friend begins to lean in.

 

...a gesture waves us on

answering our own wave…

but what we feel is the wind in our faces...

 

Fingers touch his cheek lightly, travelling up and down before settling on his jawline. John's gaze is like a sharp needle pricking every fibre of Paul's body. 

 

 He nods to an unspoken question, watches John's Adam's apple bob before a pair of thin lips covers his own.

 

They stay like that -- little puffs of breaths filling the air, deadly still -- then John tilts his head, presses a little harder, and Paul's hands drape themselves around his neck, bringing him close.

 

A raspy groan pushes past John's mouth, shattering Paul into a million pieces. He glues them together by reciprocating eagerly, deepening the kiss with a slide of his tongue. 

 

"You could just tell me," John mumbles into Paul's shirt when they part. The hours wasted on anything but sleep contribute to the mutual dizziness. 

 

"Yeah," he chuckles, casting a look at his hand buried within the reddish tuft like he requires a physical reminder. "So could you." 

 

"I didn't know...," John reasons, abandoning the sentence when their eyes meet. "Yeah, yeah, okay, you didn't either, fair enough, I'll just--" he switches off the light before resuming his position on Paul's chest. "It's nice, you know?" 

 

Paul knows, still wonders if the newly found intimacy vanishes in the morning.

 

~~~~~

 

It doesn't. He wakes up to John playing with his hair, careful movements like he tends a china doll, not a friend he used to get into street fights with. 

 

Outside, birds are welcoming the Sun with enthusiastic songs, the sunbeams sneaking in through the flimsily shut window. 

 

John smiles and Paul reciprocates, daring to steal the first kiss of today.