Stuart wasn't too sure what the time was anymore. Jerking awake on hearing the rattle of a hospital trolley trundling along the corridor, he found Romey opposite, asleep in Lisa's arms, her hand still beneath the tent, gently touching Alfred.
Lisa looked up, "He's gone outside to call into work, tell then there's a family emergency and to let Hazel know what's going on."
"It's okay, Stuart, he's not going to leave you."
Lisa's tone lacked its usual sting, but Stuart knew she was using even this moment to taunt him.
"He'll never leave you, I don't get why you can't see that you have the perfect man right under your nose. Vince is a one-in-a-lifetime catch. Don't be an arrogant idiot all your life, Stuart." She said softly.
"None of your fucking business," he replied without any venom, all the fight he usually had was gone.
"No it isn't, I just hate to see even you make the biggest mistake of your life."
Both of them halted the conversation as the nurse entered to check on the baby.
"I won't be long," Stuart got to his feet, tenderly touching the baby's forehead before walking out of the room. He saw Vince coming along the corridor and smiled.
"What happened to you? Find yourself a nice little male nurse?"
"Male nurse? I wouldn't settle for anything less than a brain surgeon, me." Vince smiled and reached out for Stuart, grasping his arm, "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. The nurse just came to check on Alfred, so I thought I'd get out of the way for a minute, go have a piss."
"I'm just going to the machine, you want a coffee?"
"Yeah, hot and sweet... like me!"
The last comment made Vince snigger, "I'll take some back for Romey and Lisa as well."
"Make sure it's lesbian coffee, don't want any of that straight stuff. Wouldn't want them getting the taste for cock, would we?"
"You are *so* weird sometimes," Vince laughed as a little of the tension eased between them.
"Vince? Thanks, for everything, for being here and... for putting up with me even though I'm a complete prick." Stuart squirmed slightly at letting his feelings show, especially now while he was so open to attack.
Vince ran his hand quickly down Stuart's face, "Go take a piss. I'll bring you a sandwich back too if you want, cheese do?"
Stuart grabbed the hand and quickly kissed the fingers, "Yeah, that'll do."
As usual the coffee machine was broken, so Vince had made his way to the hospital café, which was just opening, to get refreshments for everyone. He was tired and weary, but his place was with Stuart, and as much as he hated that thought sometimes, that's where he belonged.
A part of him had been nagging about how he'd reacted towards the knowledge that Stuart had shagged Nathan that night, when it should have been him. Yeah, that was it. That was the crux of the matter.
If things hadn't gone awry and Bernie hadn't been taken sick, *he* would have been with Stuart that night, drinking champagne and falling giggling into his bed, not the 'boy wonder'. Yep, if only he hadn't had to stand Stuart up... and if wishes were horses...
<Get real, Vince, > he groaned to himself. <It happened, it's not like it's the first time, big deal! Like Stuart Jones is going to become a monk just to please you, while you play hard to get? >
With a tray full of coffee and sandwiches, Vince made his way back up to the I.C.U. As he neared the room, he spotted a tall, slim figure standing in the doorway, alone.
The boy turned around. It was clear he'd been crying and for the first time in so long, he looked what he was; a lonely child, just as vulnerable and helpless as the one lying in the bed.
"Vince? Is he all right? Alfred, I mean... he's not gonna die is he? I didn't want to go in and disturb them, 'cos I know I don't belong here, not really, not like you. I mean, you're family. Me, I'm nobody. But I had to come and see, when Hazel told me, I had to know."
Vince put the tray down and moved over to where Nathan stood, tears again beginning to fall. Without a thought he gathered the youth into his arms and hugged him. "I was there after all, when he was just born, I was one of the first to see him. And although I know I can't love him like you and Stuart, I do love him, Vince." He sniffled into the older mans shoulder.
"I know you do, we all do. But I *know* he's going to be all right, I just *know* it, okay?"
Nathan pulled back and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, "Yeah, I believe you. Is... is Stuart okay?"
"Not really, but he'll survive, he always does. Here, have a cup of coffee and sit down, I'll go in and see if it's okay for you to go in and see Alfred, okay?"
Nathan smiled and nodded, sitting himself on the hard plastic chair outside the ward. He picked up a cup and sipped at the liquid, watching Vince disappear inside.
"Stuart?" Vince whispered into his ear, "Nathan's outside. Is it okay if he comes in to see Alfred?"
"What?" A momentary flash of anger in Stuart's face alerted Romey and Lisa to the conversation.
"Look, he's upset, you know how fond he's always been of Alfred..."
"No!" Stuart spat.
Romey sighed, "No one should feel more bitter towards him than me, Stuart, after what happened with Lance, but I'm too tired and scared to hold petty grudges now. What does all that matter? If he wants to come in and see the baby, let him."
Feeling outvoted and still a little scared and confused, Stuart shrugged, "Whatever."
Vince called out to Nathan, the boy tentatively crept in, smiling nervously at the two women and shooting Stuart a sympathetic glance before settling his eyes on the child lying in the bed. "Oh God, he's so tiny in that bed," he whispered, "Is... is it all right if I stay a bit?"
Melting slightly at Nathan's youthful sincerity, Romey nodded and smiled, making room for him to sit next to her.
A couple of hours later, Stuart, Vince and Nathan stood in the corridor, drowning in an uneasy silence.
"Just in case you had any ideas of making trouble, Vince knows about the other night," Stuart said finally, deciding that attack was the best defence.
Nathan frowned, looking genuinely hurt by the remark, "You really think I came here to do *that*? What do you think I'm like, Stuart? I wouldn't have told him *ever*."
"Don't suppose you can write letters either?"
"Letters? What you on about now?"
Listening to the exchange, Vince was becoming more confused by the minute.
"So, you're saying that you haven't moved into the blackmail trade?" Stuart faced the younger man angrily.
"No I haven't! Why would I do that? What could *I* blackmail *you* with?"
Turning away, Stuart shook his head, "It doesn't matter."
"I know you hate me, Stuart, but I don't care... I still *love* you and I wouldn't ever do anything to hurt you. I know you love Vince and not me, I'm not *totally* stupid. And I admit that what I did the other night was spiteful and mean, I came to your place determined to have you, because I knew Vince wasn't there. I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. To both of you, I'm *really* sorry."
Vince rested a hand on Nathan's shoulder, "It's all right, it's past. You can't change what happened and despite what Stuart might like you to believe, you weren't solely responsible, I'm sure. But that's all gone, let's forget it. What matters now is getting Alfred well and getting on with our lives, not trying to score points off one another, right?"
Nodding, Nathan stole a look at Stuart, still stony faced.
"Stuart!" Vince hissed.
"Yes, all right. I'm too tired to argue."
"Come on, Siobhan and Suzie are going to be here in a minute to take over a while, give you and Romey a chance to get some rest," Vince looked at Stuart and sighed, "You look dead on your feet."
All three turned together and headed back to the room, an uneasy truce finally in place.
Twenty four hours later
Vince pushed the door of Stuart's flat open and shoved his friend through. "You heard what they said, Alfred's doing fine, he's out of danger. Now *you* need a shower and a good sleep."
"I never knew you could be so fucking 'Mumsy'," Stuart grumbled, half-pleased at being 'taken care of'.
"Huh, if you were my 'kid' I'd put you over my knee, spoilt brat!" Vince laughed.
Suddenly, Stuart turned on him, moving in close, "Promise? You going to paddle my naked arse for me?"
A flush quickly worked its way North, turning Vince beet red and causing Stuart to hoot with laughter.
"You are so *easy* Vince. God I love it when you blush!"
"Do you blush all the way down? Let's see." Stuart pulled Vince's tee shirt up and peered beneath.
"Will you behave? I know you're relieved now we know he's okay, but you don't have to turn into an old dog! Now go and get cleaned up."
"You coming with me?"
"Why not? Come on, Vince let's get naked in the shower together!" Stuart teased, "I promise I won't look and if I do I won't laugh."
"Bastard!" Vince laughed and shoved Stuart away.
"Vince, will you stay? Just... stay, in case they ring from the hospital again?" Stuart asked suddenly. "I don't really want to be on my own."
"Yeah, course I will."
Ten minutes later, Stuart appeared showered and looking more relaxed, wrapped in a towel, rubbing at his hair with another. "You want a quickie?" he asked with an innocent air.
Vince grinned, "If you mean 'shower' then yeah, thanks."
"I'll dig you out some new boxers and a tee shirt," Stuart walked over to the bedroom area and opened a cupboard, dragging out clean clothes and flinging them at Vince.
Finally showered and sporting Stuart's clean clothes, Vince wandered back in to find Stuart swallowing a Scotch, neat.
"You should have something to eat with that," he remarked.
"It's okay, I'm only having one, just to relax me. Fuck I'm tired!"
"Get some sleep, you deserve it." Vince dropped down on the sofa beside his friend, "I'll doss on here."
"No you won't."
"You can sleep in there with me."
"It's all right, I'll be fine here."
"No!" Stuart insisted then turned slightly to smirk in Vince's direction, "It's okay, your honour is safe with me, I'm too knackered to do much."
"I didn't mean that."
"Yes you fucking did, don't lie. You thought I meant 'lets go in there and shag' and for probably the first time in my life, I didn't. I'm exhausted and so are you, we need some rest before we head back to the hospital to take over from the lesbian militia. So I don't see why we can't just share the bed."
Vince picked at his fingers nervously, "Okay, no big deal," he shrugged.
"Good, come on, let's go to bed, Vince," Stuart growled the words teasingly.
Vince grabbed at Stuart and threw his arm around him, "You are such a prat, I don't know why I stick with you."
"Because you love me."
"Yeah, I do."
Stuart threw back the covers and climbed into the bed, watching with a sly glee as Vince nervously slipped under the duvet.
Scooting over until he lay next to his long time best friend, Stuart cuddled down at Vince's side. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, Vince pulled Stuart into his side and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
Head resting on Vince's tee shirted chest, Stuart relaxed. "Did I ever tell you that you're wonderful?" he asked.
"Well you are. I don't know what I'd have done without you at the hospital. Thanks."
"That's what friends are for. Now, get some sleep."
"If you wake up with a hard-on and don't know what to do with it, just let me know, I'll think of something, okay?"
When Vince finally struggled back to consciousness, Stuart was gone and it took several moments to realise where he was. Suddenly Stuart appeared; tray in hand, sporting only a pair of his finest silk boxers and a smile.
"God, you sleep heavy! I could have shagged half of Manchester in this bed and you'd have snored through it."
"I don't snore," Vince shoved himself into a sitting position and rubbed his face wearily.
"Yes you do, but that's okay, I can get used to that." Stuart placed the tray on the bed and slid back in. "Here, tea and croissants."
"I usually have Cornflakes."
"How 'working class' of you," Stuart teased, "I don't allow Cornflakes in bed, they're a bugger to get out of your intimate little places when they get spilled."
Vince smiled and sipped at the tea, testing the croissant as though it would bite back.
Breakfast in bed was a surprising comfortable affair for both of them, they ate and joked and just relaxed the way only *they* really could. Placing the empty tray aside, Stuart stretched out, "I needed that."
"Yeah, they're nice... where'd you get them from? Are they the ones from that posh French bakery in the centre? I shall have to pick some up, I could get a taste for 'continental breakfast'. Never replace Cornflakes, mind."
Suddenly Stuart was there, kissing Vince. A serious kiss, not the playful teasing he usually indulged in, but a toe curling, tongue duelling, *serious* kiss.
When it broke, Vince leaned back and blushed.
"Vince, I'm serious. For the first time in my life I'm really serious about this. It's not just the sex, although I want that, it's you... I really want *you*." Stuart looked at the bewildered face of his best friend, "Vince, you've reduced me to sounding like a fucking Mills and Boon novel, short of describing your eyes like 'limpid pools of loveliness', which they are, but... I can't *get* any more gut churningly romantic than this!"
Laughing despite himself, Vince stroked Stuart's face, "Limpid pools, eh?"
"Yeah, like the ones down by the canal, the ones we used to put tadpoles and guppies in."
"They smelled bad and had toxic waste from the factory in them. Those tadpoles and guppies croaked within an hour."
Stuart let free a boyish giggle, "Well yeah, but you *know* what I mean, damn it. I love you. Gimme a chance?"
"I want to..."
"Then do it, Vince. Be *me* for once in your life and take a chance, throw caution to the wind and put your faith in the lap of the gods. Just like the Doctor did in the 'Five doctors'."
"The old bloke, who was supposed to be William Hartnell, *he* had faith in his belief and didn't end up in Rassillons trap."
"You know, I'm getting really worried about you. I can't see you in an anorak, somehow," Vince leaned over and kissed Stuart back, "What would all those trendy blokes say if they knew you knew stuff like that?"
"They'd say 'He's been hanging around with Vince Tyler too long, maybe they should get together after pissing around all these years'."
"Are you *really* serious about this 'boyfriend' stuff?"
"Yes, Vince, I'm 'serious about this boyfriend stuff'. What do you say? Give me a try? I can be very domesticated and I'm fantastic in bed, what more do you want?" Stuart grinned.
"I *have* to be insane to even consider this," Vince shook his head but his whole demeanour was that of a man who had made up his mind.
"Y'are insane! You wouldn't have stuck with *me* for all these years if you hadn't been totally off your head."
"True," Vince sighed, then grabbed Stuart and wrestled him flat on the bed, "You mess me around and you're dead."
"And you stay *away* from Nathan Maloney."
Stuart's face broke into a grin, "Excellent!" He pulled Vince close, "How about a quick shag before we go to the hospital?"
"A 'quick shag'?" Vince frowned and Stuart visibly winced.
"I didn't mean it like that, I just meant..."
Vince's face broke into a grin and he slipped his hand down into Stuart's briefs, "It'd better not be 'quick'."
"You bastard, I thought..."
"Well *stop* thinking and get to the action!"
"Vince Tyler, you sex maniac you! Now I know I love you," Stuart hooted with laughter and wrestled with Vince, trying to push him back on the bed, but a playful fight broke out. The two men struggled, laughing and cursing between kisses. When the need finally overcame the playfulness and Vince collapsed back against the pillows, Stuart melted into his arms already thrusting against the body beneath him.
"I'm going to get it right this time," Stuart whispered, "Don't let me fuck up, Vince?"
The actual sex seemed so frighteningly easy, so natural. It wasn't wild shagging either, but a slow and quiet lovemaking.
Stuart pushed into Vince with long, steady strokes, hitting the spot every time,
watching the pleasure wash across Vince's face as he relaxed into the rhythm.
It surely should have felt so strange, so 'alien' to be doing this to his best friend? The man who knew him better than he knew himself, but it wasn't, it was like suddenly everything fit into place.
Beaming as Vince panted out his name, growling it from between clenched teeth as he came, Stuart followed close behind. All those years he'd mocked the people who told him he was missing the point, that the 'love' part made all the difference. But it did.
As the pleasant buzz faded away, the two men lay wrapped in each other's arms, quiet and unmoving.
It had been a long day, but Alfred was now on the mend, bawling at the top of his lungs.
Romey was back to blaming Stuart for everything up to and including nuclear fission and the flu virus.
Hazel had snarled a warning as he and Vince had kissed goodbye, swearing to have his testicles for earrings if he ever hurt her son.
And he'd had another of these fucking letters, telling him what a disgusting human being he was and how his parents were heading for a shock. But, he and Vince were together, his son was alive and there suddenly felt like there was a future.
Screwing the poison letter into a ball he hurled it into the waste paper bin. He didn't want to think any bad thoughts, not now.
He'd ask Vince tonight about the possibility of them both going to visit his Mom and Dad, maybe, finally, he could tell them everything. With Vince there, it might not be so difficult, he was always so solid and reliable and he wouldn't let Stuart chicken out.
New day, new life. Not that it was going to be easy, but then, nothing you really want ever is.