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[personal profile] obstinatrix
Title: Backwards Traveller
Rating: PG-13
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.



"Happy birthday, John."

"Ta, love," John smiled back before he took his birthday gift from Paul --a rather impressive hamburger -- and took a bite from it. He hummed his contentment as he chewed on it and watched with attentive eyes as Paul sat down slowly, wincing slightly as he was finally seated.

"You all right?" John mumbled and there was a look of concern on his face that touched Paul.

"Yeah, don't worry. How's the burger?" Paul asked and took a sip from his banana milkshake.

"Very good. Best birthday present I've ever had."

"Oh really?" Arching his eyebrows at John, Paul leaned forward on the table with his elbow resting on it and his hand supporting his head.

John smiled back at him and reached out to graze his knuckles briefly across Paul's cheek. "You know what I mean, Paul."

The other merely closed his eyes briefly at the contact and nodded.

They continued to eat in silence -- Paul watching John happily munching away his burger while he sipped on his Coke. His eyes briefly flickered to the other people that surrounded their table, some couples amongst them. When he witnessed a sweet kiss shared by one of the couples, Paul looked back to John, and stated matter-of-factly, "I think I love you, John."

With burger poised halfway between his plate and his mouth, John hesitated for a moment at those words, but only a moment. Paul's face, when John glanced up at it, was calm, frankly open. Earnest, certainly, but nothing about it shot panic into John's heart; nothing in what Paul had thrown out so casually, after all, could be more earth-shattering than the way it had felt last night when John had lost himself in the heat of Paul's body, the completeness of Paul's trust. Thinking about it, he realised that he had known then what Paul had just told him: it was in Paul's face, in the way Paul's barriers had all fallen down with only the slightest protest. Moreover, when he rolled the thought over in his head -- Paul loves me...I love Paul...-- it no longer felt jarring or strange. It had been a truth for a long time, just recently uncovered, but not new. Things didn't have to change for them. Their lives, and careers, were just beginning. Cyn had always known how invested John was in Paul; he'd been that way as long as he'd known her, and this was barely different. Paul by his side was all John needed. Nobody had ever understood them. They'd never let anyone into their secrets. This was only one more.

"I should hope so," John threw back after a second, smiling at Paul as he set the burger down again and reached for his napkin. "What kind of tart would you be if you let just anyone bugger you, Macca?"

Paul coloured immediately, and John found himself deeply endeared by it.

"John," Paul hissed, glancing around the little diner as if he expected his dad to walk in any moment with a frown and a newspaper to administer a beating with.

"Well," John said, and sat back in his chair. Then, nonchalantly, "Course I do too, Paul."

Paul's face shifted immediately at that, his eyes turning shrewd and alert. "Do what?" he nudged. Typical Macca. John almost rolled his eyes, but stopped himself just in time and caught Paul's foot between both of his instead, squeezing it firmly under the table. Anything Paul could say, after all, he could say too. John wasn't about to be outdone.

"Love you," he said, firm and blunt, and then cleared his throat. "You got any ketchup left? I've run out."

"Anything for the birthday boy," Paul said. He smiled beatifically as he passed the little sauce-filled tub, and John heard in the words the echo of what he really meant: anything for you.

***


When John went back to his room, he was lost in thought, eyebrows tightly knit as he reflected on this particular memory. It was a beautiful memory, but that was exactly why his chest hurt to think of it now, that peak of bright hope before all the tumults that had followed. He almost didn't hear the phone ring and quickly hurried over to it, wondering at the back of his mind where Yoko was as he picked up the receiver.

“Hello..?” he asked, careful and slightly sceptical. It was past ten in the evening, almost eleven and usually he never received any phone calls at this time of the day. Not without having Yoko answer them first, anyway.

However, nothing came. John could hear a bit of breathing and just when he was about to say something, he suddenly heard a melody. Quite a well-known at that, too.

“Is this some sick joke?” he groused, “Who the hell is there?”

But no answer. From the other end of the line, John could only hear a man with an Italian voice singing, “Oh this is the night, it's a beautiful night, and we call it bella notte.”

John frowned, feeling his heart tighten. “Alright, enough. I'll hang up.”

And then, then there was suddenly a cough and a light, sleepy giggle, the music stopped playing and John heard a tired voice saying his name.

“Johnny? It's me.”

“Paul? What the--? What the fuck are you doing?” John looked briefly at his watch. “It's fucking half past three in the morning for you! Why aren't you in bed?”

He was ranting, he knew it. Instead of feeling happy or excited that Paul called him, John couldn't help but feel angry that Paul called him that late. Late for Paul, that was, not for John. It was irrational, but there it was. Paul didn't have the right to call John up at all hours, not any more. He had forfeited that right, and thinking about that, after all his days and nights reminiscing about that long-ago Paul with whom he'd shared everything, was what hurt John most.

"Couldn't sleep," Paul said, after a moment. That unexpectedly deep voice, made rough by the late hour. John remembered that voice, saying sweet sleepy things across the pillow. In Paris, and after. John could just picture Paul, softly hooded eyes and his five o'clock shadow dark on his cheeks.

Sternly, John shook his head, shaking the image away. That was all long ago now. His reminiscing had been making him soft.

"You couldn't sleep, so you called me? What do you want, Paul?"

A pause, and then a snatch of that damn giggle again. John sighed, partly at the little wave of fondness that skittered through him at the sound.

"Are you pissed?" he demanded.

"No!" Paul retorted, indignant. Then, "I had a bit of wine a while ago...but that was hours and hours, it's worn off now."

"I forgot alcohol gives you insomnia sometimes," John said. "Stead of passing out like a decent human being, you get all scratchy-eyed and whiny."

Paul laughed softly. "Surprised you remembered that."

"I'm like an elephant, me," John said. "Never forget a thing."

He'd meant it to come out a little ominously, but Paul only laughed again, and John knew he hadn't quite hit the right tone. It was too hard. He'd been feeling horribly fond of Paul this past week, and although he knew it was practically a different Paul entirely, a different world, the man on the other end of the phone still sounded infuriatingly like the boy who'd sucked bruises into John's neck and panted his name.

Fuck. John couldn't think about that now, not with Paul, real Paul, no-longer-his Paul, on the other end of the phone. He tamped down the little flare of heat at the memory and cleared his throat.

"Been remembering lots of things lately."

Why did he say that? Bloody hell.

But he could hear the smile in Paul's voice. "Oh, yeah?" If it had been anyone else, John would have said he sounded almost flirtatious now. But this was Paul, he always sounded like that. Couldn't bloody help it, it seemed.

Still, John had burned his boats now, might as well go on. "Yeah," he said. "Remember Paris?"

There was a short pause – John could hear Paul inhaling sharply, briefly – and then Paul said in a soft, tentative voice, “How could I ever forget that?”

John nodded with a soft hum, feeling slightly pleased with that answer. “Anyway, I --”

“Actually,” Paul interrupted him, his voice turning into a mumble as he continued, “Been thinking about it as well...”

“When?” John asked and he cursed himself for letting his curiosity show. Paul, though, didn't seem to notice it or acknowledge it, which John was quite thankful for.

“In fact... this evening. Or, well...” And now Paul let out a small embarrassed laugh. John could picture so well how he was probably scratching his nose right now. “I dreamed of it.”

John breathed out softly. “And?”

“And, you know, I—I missed you. S'all. I just... miss you.”

In that moment, John was glad Paul wasn't able to see his grin. The embarrassment in the other's voice was more than evident, though, and for a moment John felt like he was twenty-one again and trying to deal with a flustered Paul as he stumbled through their very first, terrible attempt at phone sex.

Not that there was any reason for him to be thinking of that right now, except that, now that the thought was in his mind, he found himself laughing softly at the memory.

"What's funny?" Paul demanded, sounding slightly affronted, and John realised belatedly how ill-timed that laughter might have been.

"Oh -- nothing," he said quickly. "I wasn't...I wasn't laughing at you, Paul." A pause, and then -- might as well out with it -- "I miss you too. Especially when I get to thinking about things, y'know. How stuff used to be."

"Like what?" The trepidation had fallen out of Paul's voice now, to be replaced by an obvious curiosity, tentative and warm. "What were you laughing at just then, eh?"

John bit his lip on a grin. "Remember when we'd just come home?"

Paul snorted. "You avoided me for a week."

"You avoided me, you mean," John protested.

"We avoided each other," Paul said diplomatically, which made John smile more. Typical Paul.

"Then I rang you and you stuttered down the phone for ten minutes like a broken record."

"Well!" Paul was waking up, now, John could tell, his voice more animated, no longer slurry with sleep. "That's because you tried to give me a dirty phone call when I was standing in the kitchen with Dad's tea-plate in my hand. Didn't expect it, did I?"

Paul's outrage was almost as entertaining as the memory. He'd never quite forgiven John for that. "Aw, you were cute, though. Worst phone sex I've ever had."

"I got better," Paul shot back, darkly, and John felt the impact of the words thunder through him in inappropriate, impossible ways.

"Yeah," he said, slightly shakily, "you did."

Maybe it was the way John's voice had unintentionally changed but he could hear how Paul sucked in the air rather harshly as he realised that they were entering dangerous territory.

“You, too, Johnny,” he replied after a short moment, “Although you were always quite gifted with that mouth of yours.”

That had John laughing. “I know that you appreciated it, Paul. In any way possible, right?”

The other had joined John’s laughter, even though there was a hint of remorse in it. “You know I did, love.” There was something left unsaid between them that hung in the air, had John waiting and hoping for something but both men were apparently too afraid of it. Just when John was thinking he should send Paul back to bed and say goodnight to him, the latter suddenly blurted out, “I want to see you again, John.”

“…What?”

Paul sighed and repeated in a softer, calmer voice, “I said I want to see you again. I can’t fucking believe that my best friend lives at the other end of the world and that I only ever get to see you in newspapers or on the bloody telly. I’m sick of it, to be frank…”

“Well,” John cleared his throat, the feeling of embarrassment washing over him, “What do you want me to say, Paul? I have a toddler here at home, and a wife who’s absent for most of the time.” He didn’t want to sound that harsh, though, and so he quickly added with a wry smile, “I guess that’s what Cyn felt like back then.”

He could hear Paul’s slightly uneasy chuckle at that, and when he spoke again, he sounded sadder than before.

“I was just saying, John. It’s not as if I could do anything about it, anyway. I’ve asked you often enough to meet up again, so…”

“I want to.” John cut in quickly, the words tumbling out of his mouth.

“Want what?”

“Meet up. With you. See you.”

For a moment, there was an anxious silence on both sides of the line. John could hear Paul's breathing, the hesitancy in it. His heart was beating very fast. Things had ended a little unceremoniously with Paul the last time they'd seen each other in person, John knew that. And he knew, too, what it must have cost Paul to even suggest meeting again, after that. He silently thanked whatever powers the universe might hold for the fact that Paul was braver than he was.

"The last time..." Paul began, tentatively, and John leapt in, wanting to make this as easy for Paul as possible.

"I didn't mean what you thought I meant, you know. I didn't mean never come back, you daft git. It was just -- the baby, and I'd had a long day, and..." John sighed. "I thought everything would've blown over by now. The distance stuff."

"You thought the Atlantic Ocean would've blown over by now?" The laughter in Paul's voice was evident, and John's chest thudded with relief. "Yeah, I'm pretty sick of it, myself. Think we could do without it."

"Shut up," John said, but he didn't mean it really. This, this was his Paul, this was JohnandPaul, this was them. Fuck, what had they done? Why had they wasted all this time? "Will you -- will you be over here any time soon, d'you think?"

"I'm sure I will be," Paul said easily. "I often am, for business reasons, as you know. You're not still having trouble with immigration, are you?"

John hesitated. "No, but --"

"But Yoko," Paul finished for him, and sighed. There was a little pause; John could hear Paul holding himself back from some comment, and equal parts of him feared and yearned for him to say it. But Paul was too diplomatic for that; he moved on: "That's all right. Look, John, I'll have a look in the morning, and then I'll ring you up and we can have a chat about it. Yeah?"

"I'll ring you," John said quickly. The last thing he wanted was to mysteriously lose this telephone call to Yoko's machinations. "And yeah, I'd -- I'd like that, Paul." Already, John could feel his chest lightening. This wasn't, should not have been, a huge thing, chatting on the phone with an old friend, but Paul was more than that, meant more than that, and this felt enormous. "Now, shouldn't you be getting back to your bed, you silly bugger?"

"Yeah," Paul said softly, and then paused.

"What?" John prompted, after a long moment. He felt sure Paul had been going to say something else.

"Nothing," Paul said, and this time his voice was unguarded as John hadn't heard it in a long time -- as John remembered it from once upon a time. "Just didn't want to hang up just yet, that's all. Night, Johnny."

"Night, Paul. Sleep tight." And, decisively, John made himself hang up the receiver.

Earlier, when John had picked up the phone, there had been an aching sense of loss in him, even under all the sweet memories, at the thought of Paul. Now, as he headed to bed, his heart felt lighter. Yes, they had lost a lot of themselves. Thrown a lot away, even. But maybe, John thought, as he turned back the covers, something of it could be clawed back. It wasn't too late.

My best friend, Paul had said.

John was smiling as he fell asleep, buoyed by the promise of hope.

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