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If I could choose my own name, it'd be the one that falls best from your lips

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Nicolas Brenshaw was born the day Sir Paul McCartney passed away in his sleep - the first peaceful death, but not the first death, of his fellows. Nicolas was born with a head of auburn hair and brown eyes, and his mother claimed it was the happiest day of her life, because she didn't care about the death of Sir Paul McCartney. She had a son, a beautiful son, and was content.

Her son was born screaming and crying, which wasn't unusual. Her son kept crying, however, and wouldn't sleep, though being born seemed like an awfully tiring ordeal. Nicolas Brenshaw cried as though he was mourning, and turned his face away from his mother as if it were not her arms he wanted to seek comfort from.

***

James Ray Mackey was born two years after Sir Paul McCartney passed away in his sleep. He was born with light eyes that turned brown, and green, and some mixture of brown and green and blue. James's mother said he was a good baby, with a small pouty mouth and those big expressive eyes, and he hardly cried, except for the few traumatizing moments of being born.

James didn’t turn away from his mother, and fell asleep in her arms as if the hard times had passed for him.  

***

“I don't like the name Nick,” Nicolas Brenshaw announced on the day of his fifth birthday. He had no reason for such a declaration, but seemed so determined to not be called by the name his mother and father, both present, hadn't the heart to fight him on it.

“What would you rather be called?” His father asked, curiously.

Nicolas hadn't an answer for him, and mumbled his given name hesitantly, still not quite comfortable or pleased.

***

James Mackey was content to be called James. It didn’t feel quite right, or even familiar in spite of the fact he’d been called by it his whole life, but it was okay, as far as names went. There was a small part of him that often felt like being contrary about it, but he was mostly agreeable, and didn’t see the point in huffing over something he didn’t have the power to change.

Besides. Ray was a perfectly awful middle name. James would have to do.

***

Nicolas was eight years old, and there was a boy at his school that seemed to like him. Nicolas wasn’t good at making friends yet, his mother said, even though he would grow into his surly eyebrows, probably, and would learn to smile when people were nice to him. He wasn’t a completely unsociable person, Nicolas. Just a little rough around the edges, as his father put it. A fucking charmer when he tried, his father would add - but Nicolas wasn’t allowed to repeat that bit.

“Your nose is quite large,” the Boy at School told him one day, standing over him while he played in the sandbox. He was alone in the box, because the other children tended to be clumsy and fall on him, and he usually glared at them until they went away. He was slowly learning how to treat them nice and get them to leave anyway.

“My nose is fine,” Nicolas sniffed up at the Boy from School, but the Boy didn’t look like he was saying it to be mean. He had a small mouth but a wide smile that made his round cheeks look rounder. Nicolas thought it was a nice face, if you were into that sort of thing.

“Sure, fine,” the Boy agreed. “But large.”

“Well, your nose is small,” Nicolas said, squinting up at him. The sun was in his eyes, and no, he didn’t need glasses, thank you. But he wanted to see the Boy clearly all the same. “Sit down, then.”

The Boy did, happily. “I’m James,” he introduced himself cheerily, and Nicolas didn’t know why he wasn’t telling the boy to go away. He could see, over the Boy’s shoulder (and Boy he would remain, because he didn’t look like a James to Nicolas), Nicolas’ teacher making uncomfortable, wary faces at them. She’d had enough experience dealing with the backlash of kids bothering Nicolas, but Nicolas just glared at her and turned his face away, nose in the air to show her that he didn’t care about her bloody opinion of his activities. He could choose to socialize if he wanted.

“I’m Nicolas,” he replied, still squinting a little, but that was because there was something awfully familiar about James’ face. “But your name is stupid.”

James looked like he couldn’t quite figure out if he wanted to be insulted or not, but eventually settled on a sort of confusion. “Your name is stupid, too,” he pointed out, and normally that was the sort of remark that would have Nicolas’ hackles rising, but he was quite right, and Nicolas appreciated the honesty. At least, honesty that backed up his own opinions.

“We should find new names for each other,” Nicolas said instead of what he was thinking, and it was then that Nicolas realized something strange was going on, mostly because he didn’t at all feel the urge to push the boy away.

“Do you like Nick?” James asked, cocking his head to the side. “Or do you have a middle name? Mine is stupid. I would use my middle name, but ‘Ray’ is a stupid middle name.”

Nicolas made a face. “I don’t like Nick. And I don’t have a middle name.” He paused. “But ‘Ray’ is a stupid middle name. It doesn’t seem right.”

James sighed heavily, like his name put the weight of the world on his shoulders. What an awful burden for an six year old boy. “My full name is James Ray Mackey,” he admitted, pronouncing each word with precision, the way small boys were taught to learn their names. “It’s a stupid name,” he repeated, because it bore repeating.

Nicolas cocked his head to the side a little. “Mackey…” he repeated, humming thoughtfully. “Well. Macca will have to do, won’t it?”

James smiled at him, big and bright with all his rather small teeth, to match his rather small mouth. For some reason, Nicolas smiled back.

“It’s still not quite fitting,” James told him in a confiding tone. “But it sounds so much better. Feels right.”

They didn’t find a suitable nickname for Nicolas, but that was alright.

***

James didn’t know why he liked it so much when Nicolas called him Macca, but it felt so much more comfortable than his name. He wished he had something to call Nicolas, but they didn’t have any ideas. Nicolas refused to help him, saying he’d come up with James’ nickname on his own, and to James, the logic made perfect sense.

To James, Nicolas could say anything and he’d be convinced it was the word of God. Nicolas was older and cooler and smarter, and there was sometimes a glint in his eyes like he knew all sorts of things James didn’t. He probably did, because he was a whole two years older, but he never made James feel stupid because of it. Or, at least not seriously. The other boys in Nicolas’ year made fun of him sometimes, for hanging out with a six year old, but as Nicolas pointed out, James could talk and have conversation better than any of them, so who was really winning there?

It seemed like the wittiest comeback in the world to James, and he’d wrapped his hand around Nicolas’ wrist with a smug smile, that point of contact a small claim.

“Come on then, Macca,” Nicolas huffed, and dragged them toward the sandbox, where they usually spent their mixed year recess playing.

***

One day, his Macca came up to him with a wide smile. He’d been late to recess, and found Nicolas already in the sandbox. Macca came up to him, nearly running, and had dropped to his knees in front of Nicolas, sand spraying at the impact.

“I had a dream,” Macca told him, still grinning. He’d lost a tooth, Nicolas noted. Nicolas had lost a tooth not long ago, too, and wondered if Macca was in much pain because of it.

“Go on then, Martin Luther King, Jr,” Nicolas told him, even though Macca wouldn’t get the reference. Nicolas knew lots of things other kids didn’t.

Macca rolled his eyes, and continued. “I had a dream, about you. I think. But it was a boy, like you, called John! And I thought, that’s a good name! Do you like that, then?”

Macca brought him names every now and again, and he was always quick to shoot them down.

Nicolas stared at him for several long moments.

“John,” he repeated, and it was a perfectly normal name, so Nicolas couldn’t understand why it made something click in the back of his mind.

Macca shook him a little, hands on Nicolas’ shoulders. “What do you think?”

Nicolas shook his head a little, clearing it, then slowly started to grin. “John could work.”

***

When John was ten and Macca was eight, John’s mother bought him a guitar. It wasn’t a very fancy guitar, but it was tuned right and had new strings, and John was very protective of it. In front of his mother, he pretended not to know how to play it, but when Macca came over the night he got it, with a bag of overnight things and permission from his parents to stay, he’d grinned and pulled Macca into his room.

“Look what I can do,” John said breathlessly, and put his fingers to the strings.

He couldn’t keep it up for long, because as he explained later, the strings hurt his fingers when he pressed down on them, but what came out was a full-fledged melody, his hands picking out a real tune with little effort.

“How did you do that?” Macca asked, incredulous, but he only got a grin and a shrug in response. “I wanna try!” He made grabby hands at the guitar, without touching - because he didn’t want John to kill him, thank you very much - and smiled just as widely as John when he just handed the guitar over, trust inherent.

He tried to situate the guitar like John had, and eventually frowned over at him. “John,” he said, realizing. “I’m left handed.” And the guitar, he thought, was certainly not made for left-handed people.

John frowned a little too, but went to take it back after a moment of making faces. “That’s okay, Macca,” he said soothingly, but Macca jerked it back, into his torso.

“I’m gonna try anyway,” he said determinedly, and squinted at the neck a little. He turned the guitar upside down, and John watched him with a raised eyebrow. His fingers itched to move, and he placed them down.

The melody wasn’t the same as John’s, and it was a little garbled as he picked it out upside down, but there was a melody there, and John smiled at him proudly.

“I knew you were like me,” John said happily. “We’re both special.”

Macca handed the guitar back over, endlessly flattered, and trying not to blush.

***

John didn’t stay proud for long. He tried, he really did, because it was something he could share with his Macca. They both loved music, and both played John’s guitar often, but it soon became apparent that Macca was a little smoother at it than John was. They were both new to it, and building calluses, and Macca was still playing upside down on John’s guitar, but when his mother finally caved and talked his dad into buying Macca his own - left-handed and all - it became clear that Macca’s talent surpassed John’s. Not by a lot, and John wasn’t bad at it at all, but there was a definite grace and familiarity in Macca’s hands that John couldn’t match.

John had always been a words person, rather than a handsy person, but it didn’t stop a flame of jealousy from burning up in his stomach.

“Oh, piss off, Macca,” he snapped one day, finally done watching Macca mindlessly play pretty melodies. “Stop showing off.”

Macca looked up at him, frowning. “What’s got your knickers in a twist, Johnny?”

“You,” he sneered. “Being all up yourself because you can play so well.”

Macca glared at him, nose scrunching. “I’m not being up myself. You’re being up yourself! I’m just playing. If you don’t want me to come and play anymore, you should just say so.”

John knew as he said it that he was being nasty, and that he’d regret it. He seemed to have an awful sort of pleasure in saying things sometimes he knew he’d regret having said.

“I don’t want you to come here anymore,” he said with a sneer. “You’re always around, always playing and showing off, and I can’t get anything done.” Macca, for a moment, looked ready to cry, and then glared properly. He turned away from John, packing his guitar away, and stomped to the door.

“You’re the worst, John,” Macca said, voice kind of tight and scratchy, and then he disappeared through the door, slamming it behind him.

***

It took less than a week for John to realize that he couldn’t sleep properly knowing that Macca was out there, angry at him. There was no closure, just the niggling feeling like he’d made a mistake he’d promised he’d never make again, which was silly, because he’d never made a promise like that to Macca or to himself concerning Macca.

He was being stupid, he told himself, and when his uncle came to visit, he put the thought firmly out of his mind.

His uncle was funny and friendly and frankly a little too chummy, but that was okay, because he offered to talk about what was bothering him, and John had precious few people to talk to. He was gathering more friends, but he never let them close, and he didn’t trust one of them the way he trusted Macca. That made it hard, when Macca wasn’t speaking with him.

“My friend is angry with me,” he admitted when his uncle asked properly. “It’s my fault, because he’s very good at guitar, and I got jealous and snapped at him. He’s my best friend.” He mumbled the last part into his knees.

“Oh, Nicolas,” his uncle sighed, and John couldn’t help it, he looked up with a grimace.

“Call me John,” he said, and his uncle paused, going still, then giving him a curious look. “‘Nicolas’ has never felt right,” he answered the unspoken question. “But Macca - my friend - felt the same way. We found him a nickname, even though it’s not quite right, and he thought up John for me, and it fits. It doesn’t feel weird, like when people call me Nicolas.”

“Have you talked to your parents about this?” His uncle asked him, and John shrugged. “They wouldn’t understand. I can’t tell them anything.”

“What else haven’t you told them?”

John laughed, and his uncle made a surprised face. “I’m not stupid; you’ll just go tell them both.” But John was still a boy, and impressionable, and when his uncle insisted he wouldn’t, he admitted quietly his feat with the guitar. “... I don’t know how I could play it right away, but I could,” he insisted. “And I was good at it! Macca is better, now, but I’m still good.”

His uncle looked a little uneasy then, but he promised John he wouldn’t tell.

“I don’t want Macca to be angry with me,” he said quietly. “He’s my best friend. I dream about him when he’s not here, and the dreams aren’t quite right, because we’re always wearing funny clothes and we’re older. But I don’t like him being angry with me.”

“You should apologize,” his uncle said gently, and John realized somewhere in the back of his mind that the things he’d said were ridiculous. Too attached, his father had said one night, and John wondered if he was right.

“I should,” he agreed, still quiet, and buried his face in his knees.

***

Macca knew it was John when there were pebbles thrown at his window, and there was a sense of deja vu that sent shivers up his spine.

He opened the window anyway.

“I’m sorry, Macca,” John called up at him, too loud, and winced when he realized it. “I’m sorry,” he said again, softer.

Macca helped him up through the window.

“You can be a real prick, John,” Macca told him reproachfully, still hurt, when John was standing on his own two feet in Macca’s bedroom.

“I say cruel things sometimes,” John told him, instead of apologizing again. “But I don’t mean them. Sometimes I say those things just to be cruel, but you shouldn’t let me get away with it. Please don’t let me push you away.”

To Macca, it seemed like an awfully profound thing to say, but there was a part of him whispering I know. I’ve always known. That part seemed much older than the rest of him.

“I’m always here,” he scoffed instead, tone not quite as serious as his thoughts. “Daft, you are.”

But John grinned at him, relieved, and pulled him in for a hug. “You’re m’ best mate, Macca.”

“You’re mine, too, Johnny,” he sighed, the nickname slipping out. He’d never called John that before, but it was okay. “Come on. I’m tired, and you look bad.”

“Oi!”

“Don’t ‘oi’ me,” Macca huffed. “Go ‘oi’ the bags under your eyes.” But he was still young and weak and smiled disarmingly at John, knowing he couldn’t stay angry at Macca for long.

“I haven’t been able to sleep,” John admitted, letting Macca pull him toward the bed. He knew that it wasn’t something lads did, cuddling in bed, but it seemed like second nature to arrange John on his back, sidling up to his side and resting his head on John’s shoulder. John sighed, far from complaining, and angled his body toward Macca. “I think I can, now, though.”

***

John woke up comfortable and warm, a name on his tongue and the vague memory of a song in his head.

“Macca,” he whispered, jostling him just a little bit. “Macca!” Macca grumbled, and turned over, his back to John and yet still close enough they were still connected. John huffed, not quite able to stop smiling, and leaned in, shaking his shoulder a little. “Paul.”

“Wass’it, John,” Macca groaned, eyeing John over his shoulder with one bleary, half-opened green-brown eye. “Why’re you waking me? It’s Sunday. Day of rest, you wanker.”

“Paulie,” John said, giving Macca his biggest grin.

Wass’it, John,” he repeated, and John laughed, popping his friend on the cheek.

“Thassit, then?” he asked. “Paul? That sounds right, doesn’t it?”

Macca paused. The whole situation was confusing, too much to wrap the mind of an eight year old around, but part of him understood. “You called me that in my dream,” he said dumbly, and John paused.

“I called you that in my dream,” he said.

Macca chose not to make a bother of it, but he smiled. “Paul is right, John.”

***

It came to a head when John was out with his father.

It had been an otherwise uneventful day, but they were finally at a music store, John having begged his father to take him inside. He didn’t have any money, but John had vague plans to wheedle his father into buying him new strings.

He ended up playing one of the guitars in the store for a bit, playing a little melody he half-remembered from a dream. He’d gotten really into it, words forming on the tip of his tongue though John hadn’t actively thought of any, when the shop owner wandered in their direction, recognizing John and giving them a smile. John liked the shop owner, insomuch as he could really like a stranger who wasn’t Paul.

“Excellent playing,” the shop owner complimented, and there was a sort of vicious pleasure in John’s chest from the praise. He just ducked his head, humming, fighting a pleased smile. “Proper little John Lennon you have here, sir,” he said to John’s father, and John paused.

He turned a suspicious gaze on the shop owner. “How did you know my name?” He demanded, and glared harder when the shop owner laughed a little.

John’s father looked confused, his eyes going back and forth being the owner and John. The owner seemed not to notice that John was being genuine, and smiled at them both, saying, “It’s so nice to see young lads interested in the classics. Lovely rendition of Anna, I must say, especially for one so young.” He chuckled again. “I wanted to be John Lennon, too, when I was a lad.”

“How did you know my name?” John repeated, putting the guitar down and slipping over to his father’s side, an automatic response to threat.

John’s father, unlike the shop keeper, recognized John’s distress for the genuine response it was, and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Nicolas,” he said uneasily, and John recognized his mistake immediately, looking down at his shoes.

“I don’t wanna be here anymore,” John said quickly, and pulled his father toward the door.

His father led him to their car, and on the drive back home, he asked quietly, “Who’s John Lennon?”

His father glanced over at him and back at the road quickly. “He was a musician. Member of the Beatles. Songwriter.” John didn’t say anything, and eventually his father quietly added, “Don’t think I’ve not noticed you’ve been calling yourself John recently. What’s going on, son?”

John’s head was swimming, but he still managed to respond. “I don’t like my name,” he said, a little absently, still confused. “Paul had a dream where he called me John, and he told me about it, and that was better, like it was supposed to be my name. Paul always calls me John.”

His father’s confused face was getting more serious. “Who is Paul?” He asked, glancing over at John again. He squinted at his father.

“My - you know who Paul is!” He insisted. “He’s over all the bloody time, needy little brat,” John said with the sort of affectionate huff of a long-suffering companion. When his father’s expression didn’t clear, he added, “Macca? You know Paul!”

“James?” His father stressed the name. “Are you talking about James?”

John wrinkled his nose. “James is such a stupid name,” he huffed. “Paul sounds like an old man’s name, but it’s so much better. He looks like a Paul, doesn’t he?” He shrugged. “I had a dream, like Paul had about me, where I called him Paul. We were bigger, but it still fits.”

His father dropped it. John didn't.

***

By the time John was sixteen, he knew all about John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He knew what was going on with him and his Paul, he thought - there weren't that many explanations for how he could listen to a Beatles song once and be able to remember how to play it. That was what was happening. He remembered how to play songs, even vague snippets of writing the damn things, and he remembered Paul being his best friend.

Paul remembered too, and the older he got the more he looked like the Paul from John’s dreams. He didn't have the stubble, John pointed out gleefully when Paul started to act older than his age, or the shoulders, but he was getting there, and sometimes John saw Paul examining him out of the corner of his eye and knew that Paul saw the same similarities in him.

Neither of them knew how it was happening, or why they seemed to be themselves, but also people who were dead. The Beatle Sir Paul McCartney died the day John was born he learned, and he thought maybe he came back as the start of a cycle. Paul died, and John came back, then Paul came back. Maybe they had been doing it for eons.

That wasn't to say John wasn't worried about some things. He knew that historically, Paul McCartney and John Lennon had stopped being friends. They’d fought a lot and broken up their band, and John Lennon gets shot. John worried about that sometimes, about remembering being shot and killed. About remembering years of his life that didn't have Paul in them. Paul, though he never said so, worried about the same things.

People told them that they looked like the Beatles now that they were old enough for the resemblance to get uncanny. John knew who he was, but he also wasn’t. It was a strange split, knowing he was John Lennon and knowing that he wasn’t, really. He didn't quite remember enough, though the older he got the more memories filled in blank spaces. Sometimes, he forgot what he had done in this life or the last.

He was getting there.

***

When John was eighteen, and Paul was sixteen, Paul stayed the night at John’s house. When he woke up in the middle of the night, John kissed him gently and said, “Shhh, Paulie. You’re fine. S’just me.”

They didn't realize until the morning that John had kissed him, and that seamlessly they both remembered falling in love as if the memory had been there all along, like a vague thought that had slipped the mind.

***

Paul’s mother was passing outside his door when she heard him tell his friend, “I miss my bass.” She stopped, confused - he’d never had a bass, just a guitar.

“So get a new one, you twat,” Nicolas had snorted. “They’re not that hard to come by. If you can whine at your mum for a guitar, you can whine for a bass.”

“I want my bass,” her son grumbled. “Like, my Höfner bass, the first one.”

Nicolas laughed. “Paulie my dear, I think you’re probably shit out of luck. You can’t afford your Höfner bass.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d heard Nicolas call James “Paul,” but it was the first time it put a pit in her stomach. It only got worse when James continued, “Don’t suppose I could ring up Nancy and ask for my ‘63 back, thank you very much.”

Nicolas gave a loud, somewhat nasally laugh. “‘Hi love, yeah it’s me, in the body of a sixteen year old boy. Yeah, I’d like my bass back, assuming you’ve not sold it off,’” Nicolas said in a mocking imitation of James’ voice. “I mean, your old lady’s proper old now - even if you rang her, do you think she’d be able to hear you over the phone?”

“Oh, sod off. She wouldn’t have sold it,” her son said, knowing him matched with a sharp glare.

“That’d be a drag, wouldn’t it?” Nicolas said mockingly, and she shifted uncomfortably at the sharpness in his tone, seeming so much older than he was suddenly. James was just as uncomfortably older seeming when he replied.

“Would you get over it, Johnny?” James said, seemingly playful, but there was an edge to it. “I’d just found out and they’d shoved a mic in my face! What did you expect me to say?”

“Something other than ‘it’s a drag!’ If my death was a drag, your losing your bass is practically irrelevant.”

Paul’s mother’s heart was pounding in her chest, and she backed up, unsure of whether she wanted to hear more.

“Your death was more than a drag,” she caught James saying softly, and there was a very adult grief in his tone. She turned, and fled down the stairs.

***

Paul’s mother didn’t tell her husband what she’d overheard, but a little research made her reasonably sure of her theory. “It’s a drag” had been such a big event, and her mother had always been such a big fan, though she’d never caught onto it. Her son’s conversation with Nicolas… with John… had given her just enough clues to put it all together.

That night, she took a deep breath to call her son to dinner.

“James Paul McCartney!” She shouted up the staircase, her voice cracking a little. “Dinner’s ready!”

“Coming!” He replied shortly, and didn’t seem at all surprised by what she’d called him when he came down. As a matter of fact, he didn’t seem to even realize something was off about it. “Goodness, mum, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

She didn’t say she felt like she had.

***

Paul found out his mother knew the night he dreamed about his mother’s death.

He’d shot up in bed, making loud, awful sounds that tore out of his chest without his consent. He had less than a minute to try and breathe before his mother, his mother now, came in, looking harried, her expression softening when her eyes found his shaking form. She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled him into her arms, and he sobbed into her shoulder.

“I had a dream about me mum dyin’ - I mean, you-” It took four tries to get the word ‘you’ out, and his mother hushed him softly, sadly.

“It’s okay, love,” she hummed gently. “I know, I know. I’m sorry, love.”

He sobbed harder. “Just - out of nowhere -”

“Death is hard, lovely, especially when it’s so sudden,” she murmured. “I’m sorry you had to dream about it, even if it happened so long ago.”

He’d pulled away, staring at her with wide eyes. “You… what?” He asked. She bit her lip, still rubbing his shoulder, and confessed to him.

“I did some research,” she said, which didn’t make sense. “Once I figured it out. I wanted to know more, about what you remembered, so I was… so I would know about your life, because it’s still a part of you. And I guess losing a mum is hard, even if you technically still have one.”

“You know?” He whispered, and she nodded.

“I’ve been calling you Paul for weeks now,” she pointed out softly. “Said a lot that you hadn’t even noticed, don’t you think?” He was frozen, looking up at her with huge eyes. “Could put a picture of you side by side with Paul McCartney and couldn’t tell the difference. There isn’t a difference.”

“You know,” he repeated, stunned, and she hummed comfortingly. Suddenly, the tears welled up again. “You’re still my mum,” he said, and she hadn’t even really been worried about that. “It’s not - it’s not like one of you is more my mum. But I remember both, and -”

She pulled him back into a hug. “Oh, love, I know. I’m not upset.”

And she comforted him when he cried, without judgement. What a strange feeling, to mourn his mum in the arms of his mum - but soothing, at the same time.

***

When John was twenty-four and Paul was twenty-two, they moved into a London apartment together. John couldn’t handle his father’s discomfort whenever he called himself John, or Paul “Paul,” and it was even worse to have his oblivious mother call him Nicolas. Besides, it was time for him and Paul to finally get their happy life together. “We never got this, before,” John commented as they moved in the last couple boxes. “The chance to just be ourselves, live together and be happy.”

Paul wasn’t even really paying attention. “Yeah, that’s because you were a fucking prick and knocked up poor Cyn and got married.”

“Right,” John snorted. “Because that was the issue. Not because we’d have been thrown in jail for being poofs.” He flopped down onto their couch.

“The one thing caused the other,” Paul said, which was perfectly vague and didn’t quite make sense. John still smiled a little.

“It wouldn’t have worked then,” John said finally, after a little silence. “We were both so bloody stubborn, too eager to ram heads and get competitive.” He stood again and went up behind Paul, smirking into the back of his neck. His hands cradled Paul’s hips. “But no records to make or a-sides to fight over now, love. Just you, me, and your delectable -”

Paul laughed, swatting him off, but he turned around and wrapped his own arms around John’s neck. “One thought on the mind, you have,” he huffed, but kissed John lightly.

***

Paul woke up one night to John in bed next to him, crying silently, staring up at the ceiling. He had no clue what had woken him, but he took it in stride, turning to press his nose into John’s naked shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” he asked quietly after John wordlessly brought his opposite hand up to cup Paul’s cheek. John shook his head, leaning his head against Paul’s and pressing a kiss to his hair. His fingers trembled against Paul’s face. “Johnny?”

“I remember such a long time,” John whispered against his hair. “That I wasn’t with you. And I wasn’t with Yoko, or Sean. I was just watching you, from a foggy sort of place, and I knew I couldn’t get anywhere, because I was waiting.”

Paul had stiffened against his side, knowing what he was talking about and not wanting to hear more about it but knowing that John needed to talk about it.

“I was so lonely,” John choked. His hand petted lightly at Paul’s hair. “And you’re here with me, now, but you weren’t, and I missed you a lot. I don’t know why but I kept thinking about you, I did.” He sobbed a little, and Paul wrapped an arm around his heaving middle, his chest rising and falling. “I was just waiting for you, and you never came, Paul.”

“I did come,” he whispered, tears welling in his own eyes. “But I did, John.”

“But I waited,” he cried softly. “And you never came, and I waited. For so long. And then things changed, and I wasn’t there anymore, but the first thing I knew, even though I didn’t really understand it because I was small, was that you still weren’t there, and I all I wanted was you. I was supposed to wait for you, and I finally went somewhere else, but you weren’t there either.”

“The day I died…”

“I came back, but you weren’t there. I was gonna wait for you, and then when you joined me we could go find some sort of afterlife, but you never came.” John scooped Paul up properly, finally, pulling him into his chest. “The day you came back into my life was the best day of it,” John whispered to him, and Paul hugged him back, tightly.  

“You’re the best part of my life,” Paul told him firmly. “And the next time, we go together, or we don’t go at all.”

John laughed wetly against his temple. “Sounds perfectly fine to me, Macca.”

***

When John was twenty-five and Paul was twenty-three, George and Ringo spotted them from their seat at a cafe. John and Paul were wandering, seemingly aimlessly, down the street with their hands tightly clasped, giggling at something between them. They stopped to share a kiss, like proper newlyweds, though there was a familiarity between them that belied the ridiculousness of their closeness.

“They never fuckin’ change,” George groaned, watching his friends be stupidly in love, walking further away down the street. “Look at that. In public and all.”

“It’s legal now,” Ringo reminded him, smiling to himself as he watched Paul and John swing their hands gently. He caught George smiling as well, probably against his will. “You think we should go after them? Get their attention or summat?”

George snorted. “They’d probably be all shocked. Thought they were the special ones, brought back just so they could have their little love story.” He called after them halfheartedly, knowing they wouldn’t hear him. “It’s a Beatles thing, you self-centered bastards, not a Lennon-McCartney thing!” But when they didn’t respond, as he knew they wouldn’t, he just huffed and flapped a hand in their direction.

“Not like they’ll be hard to find later,” Ringo chuckled, and George finally cracked a real smile. “We can always find them to say hi some other time.”

“Yeah,” George said, grinning back. “We can catch up later.”