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[personal profile] obstinatrix
Title: Backwards Traveller
Rating: PG-13 (this chapter)
Pairing: John/Paul
Authors: [livejournal.com profile] tini_91 and [livejournal.com profile] obstinatrix
Summary/Notes: New York in the late 70s feels like a world away from Europe almost two decades earlier, but when John settles down to write some more of his short 'fiction', he finds that, frankly, he misses Paris. This is 1961, in retrospective.



Outside, it wasn't particularly sunny as John had hoped but he found that he didn't mind in the slightest. He felt warm and happy and if he wanted to know why, he only needed to look to his left -- where Paul was walking right next to him, occasionally bumping his shoulder against John's with a bright smile that made up for the lack of sun. They easily found a place to eat at before they set off to find Jürgen and see if he was free. And while they were eating, they hardly noticed the looks they received from the girls that happened to pass them or who sat at other tables. Eventually, though, Paul looked up from his meal, chewing slowly as his eyes focused in on something beyond John.

"Oy, do you feel something burn into your skull?" he asked, tossing John a secretive little grin before he took another forkful and shoved it into his mouth.

"Huh?" John only looked at him in confusion, eyebrows knit. "What are you talking about, son?"

"Those girls over there," Paul said and pointed with his fork at the table behind John. "They're watching us. Or, well, they're staring at you, Johnny."

"Are you serious?"

Paul nodded, chewing in silence.

"Are they good-looking?"

"Well, better than what you'd find home in Liverpool, definitely." The corners of Paul's mouth curved up into a half-hearted smile but he lowered his head again and poked listlessly at his salad with his fork.

John watched him as he wondered what that sudden change in Paul's behaviour was all about, chewing slowly. "Well," he sniffed with a shrug of his shoulders, "I don't really care. I'm not here to pick up birds, am I?"

When Paul glanced up at him, he leaned a bit forward with a smile that one would probably describe as flirtatious. "Birds are ten a penny, Macca, but holidays with my best mate? Who knows when the next time will be that we get to go to a city like this without anybody else, hm?"

Paul didn't say anything but from the way he quickly took his glass and tried to hide his smile, John could tell that the other was pleased with his answer.

It wasn't -- and John had been quite careful to make sure of this -- that he wasn't still attracted to birds. Of course, the leggy French girls with their long hair and neat waists still made him tingle when he turned his attention to them deliberately. He was still a red-blooded young man, after all. It was just that the urgency had gone out of it, somehow; it was a case of deliberately directing himself to look at them, just to check he still wanted to. Girls were great, their curves and pretty faces were lovely, but they were familiar, ordinary. Paul's flirtatious glances, on the other hand, and the giddy feeling he got at the thought of even so much as holding his hand - these things were new, even if Paul himself was familiar.

It wasn't, John thought to himself as they finished their meals and ambled off companionably down the boulevard, just a case of the thrill of the unknown, either. Paul wasn't unknown, and that was part of the joy of it. John could be himself with Paul, not have to worry about anything except what felt good, what might be fun. Part of that was probably only due to the permissiveness of this city, its romantic architecture and general air of openness towards physical affection. But most of it was just them, just him and Paul. It was only that it had taken this trip to show them how deep their connection really was.

***

Notre Dame was imposing, all Gothic turrets against the skyline, and dark inside, as if the windows hadn't been cleaned in some time. John had just wrinkled up his nose to complain about it when he felt Paul slip a hand slyly into his, squeezing gently.

"Should you be doing that," John asked, nudging him, "in a House of God, eh?"

Paul laughed softly. "Nobody's gonna see, are they? It's pitch black in here."

"When lightning hits the steeple, we'll know who to blame, son," John said wryly, but he squeezed Paul's hand back all the same, and they wandered around the rest of the cathedral together, fingers interlaced. It was out of tourist season, and the place was mainly deserted, but for the statues and crypts and tattered flags from foreign battlefields, all of which made the building rather more interesting to the two boys than it might otherwise have been. But the feeling of Paul's hand so easily tangled with his -- in public, no less -- was more interesting to John than any battle standard once carried by Napoleon. He wanted all sorts of things he couldn't put names to, but that was all right. There was no rush. They could figure everything out together.

***

Later that day, John and Paul met up with Jürgen again. It was at a small cosy-looking outdoor café in the Latin quarter of Paris and it all looked a bit different from cheerfully down-at-heel Montmartre. Just a tiny bit nicer, here in the university quarter where there were students everywhere, theatres, book shops and other establishments that guaranteed a good time for young people.

After they had ordered their drinks and lunch, Jürgen told them about his studies in Paris and how different it all was from Germany, especially his life as a student.

"You can't imagine how free I feel in this city!" he grinned at the two boys, looking like the happiest man on earth.

"Oh, to me it's quite obvious, isn't it, Paul?" John waggled his eyebrows in Paul's direction, feeling warmly gratified when Paul laughed and nodded.

"And, have you already managed to pick up a girl?" Paul asked as he reached for his drink and took a sip from it.

Jürgen's grin only widened. "Oh I have."

"And? What's she like?"

"You'll see yourself. In fact she'll join us. She should be here soon."

When John and Paul only looked at each other with their eyebrows raised, seemingly impressed, Jürgen laughed.

Only ten minutes later, a beautiful curvy woman with long black hair approached them, her hips swaying from side to side in an almost hypnotising way. The look on Jürgen's face was unmistakably pride in its purest form. Her name was Alice, and as nice as she looked and as nice her name sounded -- she was anything but nice. Alice was a bitch, actually. As soon as she had arrived at their table, her face immediately fell, turning into a somewhat disgusted grimace as she scrutinised John and Paul. It was the sort of look one might turn on an unexpected invasion of insects into an otherwise pristine room. The way she yelled at Jürgen after he had introduced her to John and Paul only confirmed their suspicions about her.

John leaned in towards Paul, shielding his mouth as he whispered into Paul's ear, "What a cunt."

Gesticulating wildly, Alice put on a show which amused the two boys to no end while Jürgen got more and more distraught.

"C'est fini!" yelled Alice at last and tossed her long hair before she turned around on her heel and teetered away.

A moment of silence passed until Paul ventured, "Did she just break up with you?"

"I don't know. I guess I'll find out soon," Jürgen sighed and rubbed his neck.

John and Paul shared a pitying look which was John's cue to light up the mood. "Oy, Jürgen. Do you think you can get us a fancy hair cut like yours?"

While Jürgen looked up at John with a slight smile, Paul only stared at him in shock.

"Are you kidding?" Paul demanded.

John shrugged. "Nobody's going for the rocker look around here, are they? Apparently we look dead common."

"Oh, I like you boys as rockers," Jürgen interjected, and Paul nodded vehemently.

"Thank you! Anyway, we are dead common. What's wrong with that?"

John shrugged. "I'm just saying, Paul. Got to move with the times, haven't you? Anyway, looks like it might be a lot less fuss, that haircut." He indicated the soft fringe of hair Jürgen wore across his forehead, devoid of all the greases and creams that went into keeping their rocker quiffs intact. "Yours has always been too soft to stand up properly as it is. Your hair, I mean," John added slyly, with a grin.

Paul went immediately pink, his hands going to his hair. "John," he said, in a cautionary tone, but John could see there was more than embarrassment behind his blush. He laughed.

"Come on, love, it'll be good. We'll go home to Liddypool and start a new trend, what do you say?"

"What if it looks shit?" Paul demanded.

John shrugged. "You can blame it on me. And anyway, if it looks shit we can always just comb it up again with a shitload of Brylcreem, can't we?"

Paul sighed in defeat. "Jürgen?"

"I have never cut hair before," Jürgen confessed, "but I have seen it done. If you are sure about this, boys..."

"We're sure," John cut in firmly, and Jürgen smiled.

"Then I will give it a try."

***

After their last experience at Jürgen's boarding house, they were particularly careful to be quiet as they went up the stairs. Once in the room, Jürgen got out a wooden chair and an old towel, which he brandished like a bullfighter waving a red flag. "Who goes first?"

"John," Paul said immediately, throwing John a suspicious look.

John rolled his eyes and sat down in the chair without protest, shrugging off his jacket and tossing it aside. "Was my idea, wasn't it? I don't mind." He reached up to touch his hair, fingers coming into contact with the grease that held it in place, and frowned. "Should I duck it under the sink first?"

"That would probably be helpful," Jürgen said with a little smile.

Five minutes and a blast of cold water later, John was back in the chair again, his hair rinsed and towelled dry. Jürgen approached with a pair of scissors and a comb, and at the flash of silver, John felt, for a second, his first flush of anxiety about this idea.

"Be careful, eh?"

"Don't worry," Jürgen told him, "you will still have two whole ears when I finish." He set the comb against John's scalp and began gently combing the damp hair into place. "I promise."

Snip, snip, snip.

Paul watched John with big eyes while Jürgen tried to cut his hair as best he could. John smiled at Paul expectantly. "You look scared, Macca."

"I'm just trying to imagine what it'll look like when it's done," Paul mumbled, eyebrows creased in mild worry.

"Of course it'll look good, Paul. Stop acting like a bird." John winked at him before he closed his eyes when Jürgen started to cut his fringe. Paul only nibbled nervously on his thumb, hating the fact that John had dragged him into something again that might end horribly for both of them.

However, when Jürgen was finished, Paul was pleasantly surprised.

"How do I look?" John asked, running his fingers through his new hair cut over and over again. His hair looked so soft. Paul wanted to reach out and touch it.

"Great," he said, walking over to his friend, reaching out and running his fingertips lightly across John's hair, "It looks good, Johnny."

"Told you so," was John's smug reply. "Let me get up so I can take a look at it in the bathroom, love."

Paul obediently stepped aside as John got up and shoved his way past Paul. As he passed him, he patted Paul's side and let his hand graze lightly across Paul's stomach. Luckily, their German friend didn't seem to notice that small affectionate gesture as he was crouched on the floor, sweeping up John's hair.

"Come on, Paul, take a seat. You're next." Jürgen laughed once he got up, and Paul sighed heavily, muttering silent curses in an extra thick accent just in case Jürgen understood any of those swear words.

Paul had always taken good care of his hair. He loved his DA which he had groomed under the most difficult circumstances at home, with his dad threatening him to cut his hair like a proper young man or he would throw him out. Paul had fought for it, just like he had fought for his tight drainies, his leather jacket and his friendship with John. And now he was supposed to let go of one of his most beloved aspects of his self-image? It didn't seem fair to him, but then John had survived it, and he looked good. Not only good, but good in a new way that Paul hadn't thought possible. Paul had taken the opportunity to quickly wash his hair when John's was being cut, and when Jürgen started to cut off Paul's hair now, he just took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Childishly, he felt somehow that if he didn't see it, it wasn't real.

It was over quicker than he'd expected. And he wouldn't have thought that he would feel so naked with his new hair.

"Fucking hell, you look bloody grand!" John's voice suddenly boomed up from the bathroom and when Paul opened his eyes, he saw his friend standing at the door frame, leaning against it with his arms crossed in front of his chest and smiling that smile that had Paul blushing within a split-second.

"Really?" Paul lifted his hands self-consciously to his hair. It felt -- there was no other word for it -- weird, all soft and fine under his fingers, like a girl's. Despite John's sincere expression of appreciation, Paul felt a sliver of concern. "You sure it doesn't make me look soft?"

John shrugged languidly. "Why, do you think mine makes me look soft?"

"No!" Paul shot back immediately, and it honestly didn't -- John looked, if anything, more grown up with his new hair, edgier. The era of the DA was on its way out, and the new hair cut made John look as if he was riding the wave of something new and interesting, the look of the new decade. But that was John. John could carry anything off. Paul had wished often enough for shoulders like his, or a nose like his, or a swagger like his. John didn't have to worry that much about looking soft. But Paul...

"Seriously, Paul," John cut in, as if he could read Paul's thoughts, "it doesn't make you look like a bird or owt. Well --" He paused, grinning -- "No more than usual, anyway. Come and look."

"Shut up," Paul mumbled automatically, but he got up obligingly and followed John into the bathroom.

"See," John said, his voice soft as he positioned Paul in front of the mirror, hands on his shoulders. "We match. Don't you like it?"

"We already matched before," Paul muttered, but -- to his great relief -- he did quite like it. Jürgen had done a good job for someone who'd never cut hair before. Curiously enough, Paul felt suddenly more himself like this than he ever had with the carefully constructed DA he'd been so proud of. Meeting John's eyes in the mirror, he smiled slightly. "Yeah. It's good."

John smiled back, and his hands slipped from Paul's shoulders to his waist, creeping around to his hips. Paul could feel that the movement was unintentional, but when John stepped a little closer, breath warm on the back of Paul's neck, Paul couldn't help but gasp a little, eyes closing. Behind him, John breathed, "Paul," and pressed his lips gently to the nape of Paul's neck.

Not here was on the tip of Paul's tongue, but then John kissed him again, properly this time, mouth half open, and a shudder raked through Paul's body from his neck to his toes. He clutched at John's hands, holding them in place, and tipped his head back slightly. As if encouraged, John's mouth shifted to the base of Paul's jaw, the soft place below his ear, and then he was tilting his head and Paul turned to meet him, catching his mouth in a soft, slow kiss.

When John pulled away, he met Paul's eyes again in the mirror, and both of them looked flushed, bright-eyed. "See," John said, in a slightly rough voice, "we look good, don't we, love?"

Paul knew he wasn't talking about the hair any more. He smiled, and squeezed John's hands before he stepped away. "Yeah," he said, "we do."

**

"I didn't know French food could be that good!" John sighed happily when he, Paul and Jürgen stepped out of the restaurant. He patted his stomach, giving Paul a wide grin. Paul looked just as contented.

"And it wasn't even expensive," Paul added, zipping up his jacket.

Jürgen smiled at his friends, obviously pleased. "Told you so. It's not all just frog legs and snails," he said with a wink. "Do you want to go home now or can I show you one of my favourite places here in Paris?"

The boys looked at each other and shrugged.

"An after-dinner walk won't hurt, will it, John?" Paul smirked at John's eye-roll. He could read him like a book, and right now it was more than clear to him that John would rather go back to their hotel and maybe even sleep like an old man.

"Suppose so," he grumbled but followed Jürgen without further ado, except for a tiny poke in Paul's ribs.

Dusk was slowly setting in when they arrived a while later, and John and Paul could understand why Jürgen loved this place so much -- the Parisian opera was really a sight to behold. They didn't have buildings like that in Liverpool nor had they seen such architecture in dirty old Hamburg. This was something else, and with the red and orange coloured sky on this clear day, it looked even more magnificent still.

"Do you like it?" Jürgen asked after a little moment of silence, even though he could surely see the answer on their faces already.

"It's bloody terrific," Paul replied with a smile. "Don't you think, Johnny?"

But John only stared back at Paul, the corners of his mouth twitching, and before Paul was given the chance to recognise the mischievous glimmer in the other's eyes, John put one hand on his chest, thrust out the other towards Paul and began to sing in a thick Italian accent -- "Oh, this is the night, it's a beautiful night, and we call it bella notteee!"

Usually, Paul would have just laughed or rolled his eyes at him or felt embarrassed, but this was Paris and he recognised that song instantly -- he and Mike used to sing it as children, calling themselves the Nerk Twins before he and John requisitioned that moniker for themselves. It also came in handy that Paul loved this Disney song, just as much as John did.

Without thinking twice, he mimicked John's pose and joined in, "Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes on this lovely bella notte."

They both pretended that they were serenading Jürgen, who was visibly on the verge of dying of embarrassment while people around them were giving them funny looks. At this very moment, though, they couldn't have cared less. It was a foreign city, nobody apart from their German friend knew them and they were just so fucking happy at this very moment that singing some corny Disney song about love seemed to be the only appropriate thing to do. Eventually, they ended up dancing like madmen around and with each other and Jürgen couldn't help himself; he took a few pictures of them with Paul's camera and let them entertain themselves with acting like clowns or fake lovers or whatever they were trying to be.

"Hey, if those come out good," John said, panting, as he stumbled over to Jürgen after the final notes of their song had died away, "make sure you send us copies, eh?"

"We'll need 'em for advertising," Paul chimed in gravely, nodding as he caught up to John, but the gleam in his eye betrayed him, especially when John glanced sidelong at him and they both collapsed in laughter again.

"Advertising or not," Jürgen said, smiling, "They are on Paul's camera," he reminded them, holding it out. "But there are others, from the other day, which I will send if you like. You will be in the same place, in Liverpool, I presume?"

"Yeah," John said, after a minute, but Paul caught the hesitation. He didn't blame John. In the Parisian evening, with the sky turning colours all around them and the gorgeous domed roofs of the city silhouetted against it, the prospect of going back to dreary old Liverpool was not an appealing one. Nor, he had to admit, was the prospect of returning to their old selves, the ones who didn't hold each other's hands or touch like -- like they'd been doing. When they went home, they would have to talk about it. All Paul wanted for now was to take John's hand and dance off with him around this strange and beautiful city as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Still, they had time. They wouldn't have to go back for a while yet.

"Well," Paul said, looking at John, "it's getting a bit late. Thanks for showing us this place, though, Jürgen, mate. We really appreciate it. It was really worth seeing."

As if he had caught on to Paul's intention, John nodded and chimed in, "Yeah, cracking view. Sorry for the, uh..."

"The singing?" Jürgen waved a hand. "I should have known to expect it." He inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement. "Goodnight, then. I'm sure I will see you again before you go."
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