Cameron looked at Vince with a sudden sense of defeat. He was losing to Stuart and he knew it.
Vince stood by the railing, whispering something to his friend and obviously making no impact on the other man's sullen mood.
<Christ, you know how to manipulate him, don't you Stuart?> Cameron thought with a grimace, <Why don't you just get him to sit up and beg?>
Stuart pouted and shook his head. Twinned with a nonchalant shrug, it completed the image of a petulant child about to get exactly what he wanted. Vince touched his arm gently and wandered back to where Cameron stood watching.
"I'll have to take him home, he's pissed again," Vince sighed.
Cameron glanced over Vince's shoulder, just in time to catch a look of triumph flash across Stuart's face, "You're not his keeper, you know," he said softly.
"I know, but he's my mate and I can't leave him here like this, he'll get into trouble. I know him," Vince said sadly, "Look, I'm really sorry. You know how it is."
"He's using you, Vince," Cameron said suddenly. The flash of surprise that flitted across the younger mans face made Cameron catch his breath, "He's playing a game."
"He's my mate," Vince implored.
"And I'm your lover, doesn't that count for anything?" The older man grasped
Vince's arm, "He's playing games because he's jealous."
Vince shook his head, "No, he's not. He... he just *needs* me, that's all. Look, I'll get him home and I'll be at your place in half an hour. I'll just put him to bed...."
Cameron gave Vince the slightest of shakes, "Don't you understand that you'll never be invited in there, so why keep trying?" he said angrily.
"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?" Vince raged.
"He's stringing you along, hoping that I'll leave you and then he can have you all to himself again. To use and discard as he pleases and you'll just keep running right back to hold his hand when he screws up. Wake up, Vince. You deserve better than that!"
Vince pulled from Cameron's grip with a growl, "He's my friend and he *doesn't* use me. We've been together a long time, Cameron. You don't understand."
"No, I don't. I don't understand what such a selfish, arrogant little shit like Stuart Jones has, that I don't. But, whatever it is... I envy him," Cameron turned on his heels and walked away.
Vince watched him go sadly. Suddenly remembering Stuart, he turned just in time to see his friend almost topple over the rail onto the dance-floor below. Rushing to his side, he hauled him back into his arms.
"Come on, Stuart. I'd better get you home," he muttered.
Pointing at a young fair-haired man on the dance-floor Stuart grinned, "Have that one stripped, washed and brought to my tent, forthwith!" he hiccupped.
"Not tonight, Josephine," Vince smiled weakly.
Stuart threw his arm around Vince's neck and whispered in his ear, "What would I do without you, Vince? You're my saviour."
With a sigh, Vince nodded and half carried his companion from the dimly lit room.
Pushing Stuart upright in the car, for the third time, Vince started the engine.
"Did I fuck up your cosy evening with 'Cameron'?" Stuart almost spat out the other man's name.
"Yeah, you did. As usual," Vince said irritably, jamming the jeep into gear, "You're going to have to pull yourself together, mate. You're self-destructing. What *is* up with you?"
"I'm a total fuck-up," Stuart giggled inanely.
"You can say that again," Vince muttered.
"I'm a total fuck-up."
"Yeah, very funny. But really, what has gotten into you?"
Stuart fell silent. Glancing at his friend from beneath hooded eyes, he desperately wished he could explain the reason behind his behaviour without sounding like an idiot. "Do you like him? Cameron?" he asked suddenly.
"Yeah, of course I do," Vince replied with a frown.
"You don't... *love* him do you?" Stuart's voice dripped sarcasm.
Vince felt himself blush slightly, "Just do me a favour and sit there, shut up and let me get you home," he said irritably.
"You haven't answered the question," Stuart pushed, "Don't tell me it's *love*!" he taunted.
"And what exactly would you know about that?" Vince replied, his voice edged with anger, "Stuart Jones is the only person you love. And you treat *him* like shit."
Stuart winced as Vince's words struck a nerve, but remained silent.
"This is *it* Stuart. I'm fed up of having to keep dragging your arse out of trouble and running around after you like some lap dog. From now on, You're on your own!"
Twelve Months Later:
Sitting in the same seat, in Stuart's jeep, Vince thought about that night a year before. He peered into the darkness and waited... just like every other fucking night, he waited around for Stuart Jones.
Cameron had been right about a few things... but not about Vince.
When it came down to it, Vince thought, all he'd done was swap one manipulative bastard for another and he didn't want that. At least with Stuart, he knew where he was, he knew *exactly* what was expected of him.
Suddenly a familiar figure hove into view.
"Oh my God, not another one," Vince sighed.
Stuart emerged from the crowd, arm slung around the shoulders of a young fair haired..'boy'. The predatory look on his face said it all.
Dinner was about to be served.
He pulled open the door of the jeep and pushed the young man into the rear seat, "Vince meet Sean, Sean... Vince," he grinned.
"We having a threesome?" the boy whispered.
"What? With Vince?" Stuart chuckled, "Fuck no!"
"Stuart, how old is he?" Vince demanded, "Because I'm starting to feel like a paedophile hanging around on street corners waiting for you to cruise some kid."
"He's old enough to get it up, that's good enough for me," Stuart replied.
"Is he high or pissed?" Vince turned around to see the young man slump against Stuart's chest, "Stuart, for Christ's sake, he's just a kid. Didn't you learn *anything* from that fiasco with Nathan?"
"Look, if you don't want to drive us, we can call a taxi, just stop being so fucking holier than thou. I'm having him tonight and I don't need your permission!"
Angrily slamming the jeep into first gear, Vince tore away from Babylon and headed out into the city.
Despite the fact that he tried not to listen, he could hear the low moans and sounds of wet kisses. The air was becoming heavy with the smell of alcohol and sex.
Why did he do it? Why, even though he knew he'd end up going home... alone... and hating himself for it, did he continue to play Stuart's game?
Because Stuart was his mate.
He remembered back to that conversation with Cameron and many more that had come afterwards, when all he could conceivably come up with as a reason for being treated like shit was that they were 'mates'.
"For Gods sake, Vince," Cameron had raged one evening, "If you were a dog, the R.S.P.C.A would have raided this place by now and put you out of your misery. The way that man treats you is a crime!"
Vince smiled to himself, he'd been really pissed with Cameron at the time, but in hindsight, he could see why Stuart infuriated his old lover so much.
Suddenly Vince was shaken from his musing by the sound of the young man in the rear seat getting close to shooting his load. Glancing in the mirror, he saw Stuart grinning as he pumped the boy's dick. Sean's face was twisted in a grimace borne of pleasure and fear. Oh yeah... another virgin to the slaughter.
"I'm going to start stocking this fucking car with Pampers," Vince muttered.
The remark had not gone unnoticed, Stuart glanced up and leered into the mirror, just as Sean groaned and thrust his hips violently.
"If he's just dumped all over the seat, I'm not cleaning the upholstery," Vince growled.
"Oh, go fuck," Stuart sniggered, "If you got yourself laid more often you wouldn't be such a miserable bastard."
"And if you went cruising for something out of nappies, I wouldn't have to keep a look out for the law when you're shagging them in the back seat. Christ, Stuart, if he's fifteen that's pushing it."
"I'm almost sixteen," the boy slurred.
"Oh *fuck*!" Vince gasped, "I *was* joking... I thought he was sixteen at least... oh fuck!"
"Will you calm down you shit?" Stuart laughed, "It's not your dick that's going to be up his arse tonight, so just shut up and drive."
As he pulled the car into the kerb, Vince peered at a figure half hidden in shadow.
Sometimes, Stuart's 'appetites' and open gayness made him the target for 'queer bashers' and pissed-off boyfriends alike. "Hey, there's someone in your doorway," he said quietly.
"If it's male and got an arsehole then I'll fuck it," Stuart sniggered.
"Stuart, I'm serious," Vince turned the jeeps headlights onto full beam.
From the shadows, strolled a very familiar figure.
"Nathan?" the two men gasped together.
Stuart dropped back onto the seat wearily, "Oh *shit* no!"
Climbing out of the car, Stuart pushed past the young man and headed for the door, dragging Sean along with him.
"Not even going to say hello?" Nathan pouted.
Stuart stopped and turned, "What are you doing back here?" he asked coldly.
The young man shrugged.
Ignoring the gesture, Stuart keyed the code in the door, pushing Sean through, he slipped in, letting the door slam behind him.
Nathan watched the closed door for a long moment, before turning and glancing at Vince.
"You never learn, do you?" Vince said with a shake of the head.
"Oh and you do, I suppose? That why you're still chauffeuring him around with his pick ups?"
Vince glared, he and Nathan had never really seen eye to eye, and in fact the only thing they shared was that Stuart Jones had treated them both like shit. "Where you staying?" he asked.
Once again, the young man shrugged.
Against his better judgement, Vince made a decision, "You can doss on my sofa for the night, if you want?"
Nathan tried not to let the smile show, "Mmm, okay," he mumbled.
As the jeep pulled away, neither man saw the figure in the window watching them go.
Vince handed Nathan a cup, "Here, hot and sweet," he said with a sigh as he slumped down on the chair.
"Like me," Nathan sniggered.
Vince snorted derisively and shot the young man a black look, "What *are * you doing back here, Nathan?"
"Just wanted to come home."
"Then why were you hanging around outside Stuart's place? Why didn't you go home to your Moms?"
Nathan traced the rim of the cup with his finger, "I did. My Dad wouldn't let me in. He said that he hadn't got a son."
Vince grimaced, "I know he was pissed, he wouldn't let your Mom have anything to do with Hazel anymore... said she was a 'bad influence'," he grinned at the thought.
Nathan laughed lightly, "Yeah well... she *was*," he added with a fond chuckle, "How is she anyway?"
"Oh same as ever. Totally mental and I love her to death," Vince smiled, "So, what you been doing with yourself the past year?"
"I got a job as a dancer," the young man said proudly.
"Yeah. Well... erotic dancer."
"A stripper, you mean," Vince said with a smirk.
"S'pose so. It made me enough money to eat and I got a bedsit."
"If things are going so well, what the hell brings you back here?" Vince asked watching unnamed worries flit across the younger mans face.
"I missed everybody. It's lonely down there," Nathan mumbled.
"Don't tell me that you didn't cop off a few times?"
"I don't mean shagging, I mean mates. Somebody to talk to."
Sitting there in the dim light it happened. For the first time Vince saw a sad and lonely young man who just needed someone to understand, not to question his motives or condemn his lifestyle, just to listen to him and not judge. It was at that moment that he realised it.
That's exactly what he and Stuart had... that 'understanding'.
Nothing Stuart did or said ever made a significant difference to how they felt about each other. And Stuart Jones had certainly tested that rule a few times.
"D'ya think he hates me?" Nathan said suddenly.
"No, he doesn't hate you. He just doesn't know what to do with you," Vince smiled.
"Never stopped him before," Nathan laughed.
Vince grinned, "You need to get some sleep, you look like shit."
At that moment the telephone rang, lifting the receiver Vince mumbled 'Yeah?'
"Is he all right?" Stuart's voice echoed.
"Why? Do you care?"
"I wouldn't be fucking phoning if I didn't, now stop trying to be a smart arse and answer the question."
"Yeah, he's okay."
"Is that Stuart?" Nathan beamed, "Can I talk to him?"
"I don't want to talk to him, Vince. I just wanted to know if he was okay. That he's not in any trouble."
"Ask him yourself," Vince handed the phone over to the eagerly waiting Nathan.
"Hello? Stuart?" Nathan's voice trembled slightly.
There was a silence at the other end. Then, a tentative, "Yeah, I'm here."
"How are you? You okay?"
"I'm always okay, you know that," Stuart sneered slightly, "What brings you back, Nathan?"
"I just wanted to see everybody. You know... say hello an' all that."
The sarcasm in the older man's voice almost made Nathan angry, "Yeah. I miss my friends," he said sharply, then his voice softened, "And I really missed you."
"You're okay then?" Stuart consciously ignored the pleading tone to Nathan's voice.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Can I see you? Tomorrow, maybe? Can I?"
"I'm busy, Nathan. You know me."
"Yeah, I do. Better than you think. Good night, Stuart," With a click Nathan disconnected the line and smiled.
"You cut him off?" Vince gasped.
Smugly the young man looked up, "Yeah, I did didn't I?" he grinned, "Stuart Jones is going to discover that he's not the only one who can play games."
"No, but *he's* good at them."
"So am I. But then, I had a good teacher. Thanks for letting me doss here, Vince. Really... I appreciate it."
Vince nodded and climbed to his feet, "Why do I get the feeling that I'm about to get caught in the crossfire.... *again*?"
"Stuart might have won the first battle, but the war has only just started. I've had a year to plan my strategy," Nathan chuckled. He stood and moved over to Vince, "Thanks," he breathed seductively playing with the other mans shirt buttons.
"Don't!" Vince demanded, pulling back, "Don't even think about it. You can sleep here, but I don't want that kind of payment from you or anyone."
Nathan shot him a wide smile, "Okay, but don't say I didn't offer."
"Fuckin' hell," Vince muttered under his breath as he reached into the cupboard and pulled out a blanket. Throwing the blanket and pillow at the younger man, Vince wandered into his bedroom and shut the door.
Who said his life was dull?
Sitting outside Stuart's place was an occupational hazard for Vince. <Well, it is when you're a jumped up fucking taxi driver> he thought with a frown. Honking the horn again, he finally saw Stuart appear at the door.
"About bloody time, I've been sitting here for over ten minutes. What's the matter? Did it take longer than you thought to give Sean his bottle?" Vince snarled as Stuart dropped miserably into the passenger seat.
"Oh fuck you," Stuart growled, "And for your information I sent the little bastard home just after you left last night still virginal and untouched," he sneered.
"Except for you wanking him off in the backseat of this thing last night. Speaking of which, I can still smell it!"
"Aren't you a bitchy little queen today?"
"Yeah, well you should try being stuck with Nathan at your place, you'd bitch as well," Vince complained as they pulled out and headed into town.
"I hope he came across for you?" Stuart teased gently, already knowing the reaction the suggestion would bring.
"You *must* be joking. I'm not desperate enough to go trawling for your cast off's yet. He really gets on my tits."
"He's pretty to look at," Stuart added gleefully.
"He's a fucking pain, Stuart, and I want him *gone*. My home is not a shelter for the Stuart Jones waifs and strays society. Tonight you go see him, talk to him and then get him out of my hair."
"No fucking way. You took him home!"
Vince gasped, "Stuart, he's still only sixteen. He had no where to go, his dad won't let him go home, gave him some shit about being 'no son of mine'."
"Now there's a man who deserves a good sound fucking with a road cone," Stuart spat, "Tight arsed, arrogant, bigoted little shit!"
"So what was I suppose to do? Leave Nathan to sleep in a doorway? We're not all as cold and hard hearted as you, mate. Even if he does give me murderous thoughts after spending five minutes in his company."
Stuart laughed, "You really can't stand him, can you? I always found him... 'entertaining'," he leered.
"Yeah, but you weren't exactly *talking* to him were you? Except for basic phrases like 'Get your arse up higher' or 'Oh fuck..harder'. It's not like having to listen to him *bleat*," Vince groaned at the memory.
Reaching over, Stuart grabbed Vince's head, pulling him close and kissing him hard on the cheek, "I love you Vince, what would I do without you?" he chuckled.
"Feed your own sodding strays and bloody well drive yourself to work," Vince answered.
"I dunno, maybe it's about time I settled down?" Stuart said suddenly.
The jeep veered dangerously onto the wrong side of the road as Vince stared inexorably at his friend.
"Hey, watch the road!"
"Shit!" Vince exclaimed, swerving the vehicle back into the left-hand lane and attempting to quell his trembling hands. "You can't be serious?"
"Okay, what did you take?"
Stuart laughed and shook his head, "I haven't taken *anything*. I just thought that maybe at my age I should think about settling down with... one man," he shrugged and looked out of the window.
"It's a Millenium thing. That's it, Nostradamus predicted that life as we know it would cease to exist. That must be it," Vince sighed, "There can be no other excuse for Stuart Jones uttering the words 'Maybe I should think about settling down'. It's obviously due to some weird cosmic forces."
"I always knew that all that science fiction shit you watch would rot your brain.
Why the hell you can't be satisfied with good old-fashioned porn like the rest of us, I don't know." Stuart shook his head and gleefully watched the disgusted frown wrinkle Vince's forehead. "And why shouldn't I be serious? Maybe I've had enough of the endless, faceless shags. Maybe I fancy coming home to the same man every night knowing he'll be there when I wake up in the morning and that he might possibly 'love' me?"
"That's it," Vince said finally, clicking on the indicator and pulling off the ring-road, heading North.
"Where are you going? I'll be late for work?"
"I'm taking you to the fucking hospital!"
It had taken a day of threats, pleading and when all else failed plain whining for Vince to get Stuart to agree to come see Nathan that evening. Vince wasn't sure that he could handle another night of the young mans love struck simpering about Stuart without getting homicidal. Eventually, Stuart hhad capitulated and agreed to come to Vince's place and put Nathan right, once and for all.
Surprisingly, Stuart was on time, and Vince smiled as he wandered through the door with a painful expression on his face which read, 'I really don't want to do this, you know that don't you? I hope you appreciate me!'
Nathan bounced to his feet as Stuart walked through the door, "Hello!" he beamed.
Nodding sullenly, Stuart dropped into the chair opposite the sofa where Nathan had been sitting.
"How you been?" the young man asked.
In the kitchen, Vince sighed. Stuart was reduced to one-syllable word answers and something told him that this was going nowhere. Strolling back into the living room, he inwardly groaned, this was one of those 'stand-offs' that Stuart was so good at. If Nathan really thought he stood a chance of beating the master at his own game, then he was in for a hell of a fall. But then, he *was* sixteen and everyone knows that at sixteen you know *everything* there is to be learned about everything.
"I'm just going to pop out and pick up some take-away, I won't be long," Vince announced.
Stuart leaped from the chair and grabbed his friends jacket as he was opening the front door, "What are you playing at?" he hissed.
"Nothing. I'm just going out to get some food for the three of us, and it will give you two time to talk."
"I don't *want* to talk to him on my own."
"Tough shit. You caused the problem, it's up to you to put him straight.. pardon the pun!"
"I won't be long. Just watch it when he starts humping your leg," Vince sniggered and pulled to door closed behind him.
Twenty minutes standing in the Chinese take away had left Vince feeling irritable and the tiny voice in his brain was whispering, 'I'll bet they're shagging on your new sofa.' Despite what Stuart had said that morning, Vince knew that it was all just hot air.
Stuart wasn't the settling down kind and he wasn't convinced that he knew what the word 'faithful' meant.
The small and long denied thought that he'd locked away back in his teens kept nagging today. Stuart and Vince... Stuart and Vince, it was already accepted that they were mates who'd go to the wire for one another, but in Vince's most forbidden fantasies, they were so much more.
He'd never even quite admitted it to himself before, but what he felt for Stuart went much further than friendship. He'd loved Stuart Jones since the day he first spoke to that cocky, quirky Irish kid who had just started at his school.
The local secondary modern wasn't well known for it's gentle handling of 'foreigners' and Stuart had attracted more than his fair share of negative attention.
He'd coped with everything from taunts about him being an I.R.A sympathiser to being bent, a nancy-boy and 'fucking little queer'. But in his own inimitable way, he'd ridden every insult and still come out on top. That was his talent and it had served him well over the years.
Ironically, since that time, most people had assumed that Vince and Stuart *must* have shagged regularly. It was one of those foregone conclusions, Stuart Jones didn't *have* 'platonic' relationships, he wasn't capable of keeping it wrapped long enough.
But, they had always been just friends. As lovers and one-nighters came and went, the unchanging constant of Stuart and Vince remained.
When he eventually reached home, Vince opened the door to hear Stuart's raised voice. Well, he was using more than one syllable words, anyway.
He couldn't help but stop dead in his tracks when he heard the thread of the conversation.
"What does it take to make you understand, Nathan?" Stuart raged, "I *don't* love you, I never will. You were a shag, a nice diversion, that's *all*."
"I don't believe you," Nathan replied, his voice heavy with emotion, "You phoned last night to see how I was."
"Nathan, being concerned that a sixteen year old boy is safe and off the streets, does *not* count as confessing undying love!"
"So you just used me then?"
"Yes!" Stuart hissed. Tiredly he ran his fingers through his hair, "I'm sorry I can't be what you want me to be, Nathan."
"So you never loved me for a minute? It really didn't mean a thing to you did it?"
"It was great sex, that's all. I *liked* you Nathan. Like and love are very different things for me. I still 'like' you, but I 'love' Vince."
In the hallway, Vince's jaw dropped and he felt compelled to continue listening in.
"Vince?" Nathan almost spat.
"Yeah, Vince. I'd do anything for him, back him up in any fight and be there if ever he really needed me, no matter what the cost. *That's* love, Nathan. What we had was sex."
"And you can't have both?"
"Not with you."
Vince swallowed at the icy silence that had just descended. 'Coughing' he called out, "I'm back!" and wandered into the room, to be faced with the sight of two glowering pouting men, deliberately not looking at each other. "Anyone for Chinese?" he smiled weakly.
Nathan leaped to his feet, grabbing his denim jacket, he stormed out, slamming the front door loudly behind him.
"I'll take that as a no then," Vince sighed. Looking down at Stuart, he slapped his friends shoulder, "I hope you're sticking around to help with this. I'm not eating it all myself?"
"Yeah, thanks. What do I owe you?"
"Nothing, my shout," Vince said lowering the bag onto the coffee table.
Stuart looked up, puzzlement all over his face. Then, realisation dawned, "You heard didn't you?" he said in a whisper.
"Heard what?" Vince replied, popping the top from the cartons and sharing the food out equally.
"Don't fuck about, Vince. You heard what I just said to Nathan... about you?"
"It's no big deal," Vince shrugged, praying that he appeared as nonchalant and easy about the revelations as he wanted to, and wasn't displaying the stomach churning, dizzying pleasure he felt.
"Oh you are *such* a fucking lousy liar," Stuart laughed, "Hey, don't take all the noodles you greedy bastard."
"Don't suppose Nathan took it too well?"
"He'll learn to live with life's little disappointments," Stuart said scooping noodles into his mouth from Vince's container.
"You can be a cold bastard," Vince replied.
"Yeah, but *you* love me," Stuart mumbled through a mouth full of noodles.
Vince blushed slightly, "I suppose I do," he said quietly.
"You and me? We're doomed. We'll get old together, still bickering and bitching at one another. We know what makes one another tick."
"What you said this morning? About settling down? You didn't mean it did you?"
Stuart smiled. He ran a finger lightly across Vince's cheek, the gesture was so simple and uncomplicated that it required no explanation. "Funnier things have happened at sea," he laughed lightly.
"Yeah, well you'd know more about that than me, the number of sailors you've shagged," Vince grinned.
With a hoot of laughter, Stuart picked up the food container and began to heartily dig in.
As Vince watched Stuart, that sly smile and the wicked humour in his eyes, for the first time, he really wondered.