Noel had been talking to a pretty blonde in a bikini. He didn't even fancy her—he liked his girls with a bit more edge—but she was friendly and flirtatious. He was telling her where she could see him perform, and ignoring her hints that he get her a free ticket, when the yelling began.

The blonde laughed. "Looks like some of your friends have been swept out to sea."

Noel scanned the water for familiar faces. There were people too far out to identify, but he could see Lee Mack waving for help. Noel wasn't an especially strong swimmer and there were already professionals swimming out to his rescue, so there wasn't much left to do but watch and be useless. He looked for Mike, who was a truly crap swimmer, and was relieved to see him on the beach with Pete and Dave. He relaxed for a moment, until Dave jumped to his feet. He was too far away to hear, and he could barely make out the movement of his lips, but he knew in his bones that Julian was in the water.

Lee was being hauled onto the shore when one of the distant figures began waving his arms. The burly lifeguards were back in the water, looking like real-life superheroes. They were all beautiful and tanned, with pastel-colored, sun-blocked noses. Watching them slice through the water like tiny chainsaws on an enormous pat of butter, Noel felt his fear pulling further away. He was still worried, but he had the reassuring feeling that there were 'responsible people' in charge. It was like when he was a child and his dad had helped him set up a monster-proof force field around his bed. Julian was not going to drown, because there were professionals on hand. There were grown-ups ready to sort things out.

"Julian's going to be fine. Those guys swim through a riptide to wake up in the morning," Dave said in his calm and mature voice. Noel jumped, wondering how long he'd been in a daze, to miss the fact that Dave had appeared at his side. He wrapped an arm around Dave's solid frame, feeling immediately soothed, but he didn't take his eyes off of Julian.

Noel stared at Julian as he was dragged back to shore, not wanting to blink, for fear his partner would disappear under the water. As long as he kept Julian in his sight, he could will him back to safety.

When Julian was embarrassed, he looked annoyed. When he was beyond mortified and wanted to dig a hole and bury himself, he looked embarrassed. He was blushing and laughing nervously as he cracked jokes about his near-drowning.

"When I had to choose between death and making a fuss... I very nearly chose death," Julian joked when Lee Mack patted him on the back. The two joked about the awkwardness of begging for your life.

"Could you be a lamb and save me?" Lee called to an imaginary lifeguard. "When you're free, of course."

Julian laughed and gave Lee a bear hug. It made Noel smile to see Lee look shy about the affectionate display. It also made him jealous, so he went in for his own hug.

"You almost became a solo act," Julian teased, wrapping an arm around Noel's shoulders. "You'd have had to hire someone to drive you around."

"And someone to reach things on really high shelves," Noel added, leaning his head against Julian's chest. Barefoot, the height difference between them was much more significant. Julian seemed so tall and strong, and yet he could have died on a beautiful beach in Australia while having a good time. It was one thing to worry about Julian's drinking and stress catching up with him; those were 'down-the-line' concerns that could be dealt with at some unspecified date in the future.

But if Julian had been pulled under, he could have drowned while Noel chatted to a nameless girl in a bikini.

Dave ruffled Noel's hair and gave him a smile, as though reading his thoughts.

"Without your long legs, we could start renting a car," Dave teased. "No more buses or vans. Just the group of us stuffed into a Mini, like clowns in a clown car."

Julian pointed out Noel's luggage would no sooner be strapped to the top of the Mini than the roof would buckle under the weight. They joked about the sad but hilarious task of pulling their mangled bodies from the clown car wreckage.

Rich looked worried as he approached, but he immediately jumped in on the joke.

"Oh, this one doesn't have a face! Oh, the horror... look at all the handkerchiefs he has stuffed in his pocket! That's way too many handkerchiefs to be practical! Look at the size of his shoes! How comically out of proportion. Clown corpses are hilarious."

Huddled protectively around Julian, Noel thought (and observed aloud) that they looked a bit like they were posing with a Christmas tree. Julian said he would start wearing a hat with a massive, lit-up star, but only when Noel allowed him to borrow it.

xxx

Noel and Julian hadn't had a single disagreement since Andy had inadvertently spilled the beans on Julian's movie role. Since then, contracts had been signed and Julian had been measured for wardrobe, but he still refused to acknowledge that the movie was really going to happen. All his anxiety was reserved for the stage, where Howard Moon's "Russian play" that he "wrote with a pen" got more ridiculous with each performance. Noel couldn't remember how, but Julian's line, "I make you a pie because I love you!" had morphed into at least a minute of Noel yelling, "Why can't you just say you love me?" while Julian wailed that his pies showed his love. People were either drawn to or repelled by the fact that at least 20% of their show made no sense to anyone but Noel and Julian. The audience was either charmed by the intimacy, or annoyed by feeling left out. It was where Julian's constant fear of appearing too eager to please met with Noel's love of performance art. You couldn't become a star in comedy just by being funny. Loads of people were funny; you had to have something unique to offer. The Boosh offered a peek into their complicated relationship, as well as a series of inscrutable in-jokes. There were jokes that referenced bits that had been cut from the show, but if they still made Noel and Julian laugh - they stayed in. Julian occasionally grew a mustache for Howard, saying it was the most pompous of all facial hair formations. It had been years since Julian had had trouble growing his facial hair, but they still made jokes about his mustache being a cappuccino stain. It didn't really make sense, but cappuccino was a funny word, and Noel worked it into any joke he could. Cappuccinos and lattes: comedy gold. It didn't matter if Howard's mustache was dark and full; the audience still laughed when Vince mocked it. Vince teasing Howard was usually a winner. Noel could be much bolder with Julian on stage than in real life.

They were all about chemistry, and Julian was right to be protective of that dynamic, even if he took it to extremes at times.

By the time they got to their hotel room, Julian's embarrassment had faded into apparent annoyance. He was snappish and irritable, arguing with everything Noel said.

"Fine, we'll eat kangaroo tongue!" Noel yelled after having every other dinner suggestion shot down. "They don't have that 'back home.'"

Julian was frowning, but there was a twitch in his lips. He was about to laugh.

"I'll order us some kangaroo tongue with a side of mashed wallaby."

Julian was smiling.

"And I'll get the grated surfboard on the side..."

Julian pushed Noel onto his bed and announced he was going to take a shower. Noel suggested he wear a life jacket.

"Enough of that, sir!" Julian demanded, trying not to laugh. It had been a year since their tryst on an Australian beach. It was a no-brainer to work on the show in Australia again; they had a big following there and always got a warm response. Noel had been trying very hard not to associate Australian beaches with anything but surfing, but his powers of denial weren't nearly as strong as Julian's.

Noel crawled across the bed to where Julian was rifling through a suitcase. He couldn't help but put his hand on Julian's chest, reassuring himself that his partner was alive and well.

Julian went red, but didn't pull away. Noel didn't need to break out his Ju decoder ring to know that if Julian didn't want to be touched, he moved out of the way. He twitched and looked uncomfortable as Noel's hand moved to his face, but he remained where he was, allowing himself to be caressed. It was Noel who got self-conscious and retreated, ready to return to some non-threatening banter, but Julian held his hand in place. His dark eyes were unreadable, and Noel staggered a bit when Julian's lips covered his own.

"Are you going to faint?" Julian teased, making a show of holding Noel up. "Overwhelmed by my pure animal magnetism?"

Noel laughed and clutched Julian's biceps, wondering if the kissing was over. "Some of the grease from your hair got in my eye! I'm in pain, you berk! The ocean was just trying to make you look less like a tramp."

Julian climbed onto the bed, forcing Noel down onto his back.

"Am I too dirty for you, Fielding?" Julian asked in his deepest and most chocolaty tone. If he meant to make Noel laugh, he failed miserably. He was trying to keep his hard-on from pressing into Julian's hip, but the bigger man wasn't giving him any leverage.

He continued to worry about making things "weird," when Julian suddenly sat up, straddling Noel's waist. He looked like he was thinking very hard.

It wasn't just Julian's thinking that was hard. They were in a hotel room, wearing nothing but swim trunks and a t-shirts. Julian had nearly drowned an hour before, and they were both full of adrenaline. There was only one reason they weren't already snogging.

They were both dead sober. Noel didn't dare make a move, and Julian only got romantic when he was at least half in the bag. It was time to destroy the moment with a joke.

Noel desperately tried to think of something funny, before things become irreparably awkward, but his mind was blank. He could only think about Julian, who always seemed so strong and solid, nearly disappearing from his life forever.

"Don't you dare cry," Julian ordered gruffly. Noel closed his eyes and tried to think about something happy. Something like Julian's lips, warm and very much alive, sucking on his neck. He couldn't even scold Julian for trying to give him a love bite; if he opened his mouth, he was really going to start crying.

He sniffed as Julian started pulling off their clothes.

"Seriously, the weeping is putting me off a bit," Julian teased, while looking sincerely concerned. Noel pulled Julian down on top of him, awkwardly trying to get their shorts out of the way.

"Noel?"

"Yeah?"

Julian ran his thumb over Noel's cheekbone and shook his head. There was no way he would ever know what Julian was thinking. When Ju shut down, he was an unbreachable fortress. By the time he relaxed enough to talk, he wouldn't remember what he'd been thinking. Julian could remember things Noel had said to him years ago, but would forget a whole conversation over the course of hours.

Julian wasn't talking, but he was kissing Noel with unrestrained enthusiasm, the way he had the night he'd finally seen Noel's stand up. That night had been filled with so much promise, and yet Noel could have never have guessed what was to come. He'd been fantasizing about a few hours of passion, leading to a repeat performance. He would never have believed they would still be together years later. He certainly would not have imagined there would be a year between the first time they got off together and the first time they kissed without their shirts on.

He certainly didn't think it would take so long for Julian to finally press a wet finger against Noel's entrance. He'd been expecting that since the first time they'd kissed. Julian was a bit too gangly to be a strapping man, but he was approaching the strapping male type. He was a man's man who drank beer, hid his emotions, and treated his androgynous friends like ladies. Everyone assumed Julian was fucking Noel, so the whole thing had a feeling of destiny. That didn't keep Noel's entire body from tensing up until he must have felt as stiff and brittle as a Brandy Snap. To Noel's mortification, Julian quickly withdrew his finger. While it was true he was a bit frightened by the idea of actually doing that, no one else was supposed to know. If you had the balls to wear make-up, you couldn't be afraid of a bumming. You could choose not to bum, but you couldn't be scared. It was like being a punk who was afraid of needles. It simply was not on.

"Ju?"

Noel's attempt to speak was thwarted by Julian's advanced skills at avoiding conversation. Once Julian's hand was wrapped around his cock, Noel couldn't remember any words with more than four letters. When it was over, and there was some blood returning to Noel's brain, he tried again.

"Ju?"

"Leave it."

So Noel left it. Once Julian had decided to shelve a conversation, it was useless to bring it back up again. Noel had spent years worrying about what he would do when Julian finally tried to top him, and now he knew he would never, ever have to think about it again. A second chance at bumming would basically involve begging. Julian would never again make a spontaneous effort, and he would shut down all efforts to broach the subject he had filed under, "done deal".

Holding Julian, who still felt indestructible and safe despite evidence to the contrary, Noel was mortified to realize he was crying. Julian laughed and called him a girl. When Noel squeezed him tightly and whispered, "I love you so much," Julian laughed again. It was a warm chuckle that vibrated through his chest and into Noel's. He didn't know why Julian was laughing, but he knew what the laugh meant. It meant that, for now, there was nothing to worry about.