Title: On the Stalls
By Jeff Creighton
Fandom: EastEnders
Characters: Sanjay/Simon/Tony
Rating: NC-17
Status: New
Archive: Britslash, EEslash; others please ask first

Feedback:  jeff.creighton@utoronto.ca 

Disclaimers: Characters are the property of the BBC, and were not created by me.

Notes: This is a non-canon story. Some liberties have been taken with plot and characterisation, in order to explore an alternative possibility in Tony's and Simon’s relationship. The general setting is late 1997-early 1998.

Thanks: to a small army of beta-readers: Corleone, Jon Snow, Anneli and David


On the Stalls

by Jeff Creighton


Sanjay leaned up against one of the clothing racks and stared across at Simon in frank admiration. He hadn't been too sure at first, when Gita had suggested taking him on; but now he had to admit, this lad was good. Five minutes ago, a young woman had been strolling by, not planning to buy anything. Simon had flashed those pearly-whites at her, started feeding her a line of chat--and gently directed her towards their most expensive line of blouses. And there she was, fingering them and looking like she was going to
buy. This was beautiful! Sanjay smiled and almost hugged himself as the woman dipped into her handbag, handed over the money and walked off, smiling, with her purchase.

When she was safely out of sight, Sanjay went over and clapped Simon heartily on the back.

"That was brilliant, mate! She never knew what hit her."

Simon gave Sanjay a puzzled look.

"She actually thinks she made the decision to buy that blouse. And she never knew that you made the decision for her. You had her eating out of the palm of your hand. It was beautiful to watch."

"I was just trying to find something that would look good on her," said Simon.

"That's exactly what I mean," said Sanjay exultantly. "Sincerity! You can't fake sincerity like that. And it's that kind of sincerity," he said, "that'll sucker the punters in every time."

"Er...thanks, Sanj...I suppose..." said Simon, as he began rearranging the clothing on one of the racks.

"I have to admit," said Sanjay, "Gita was right when she took you on."

"I thought both of you took me on," said Simon.

"Well," said Sanjay, "we did. Technically. But it was Gita's idea."

"Meaning you weren't too keen on it?" said Simon suspiciously.

Sanjay suddenly realised that he had just dug himself a hole and taken a flying leap into it. "No, it's not that," he said quickly. "It's just...I wasn't too sure...people's attitudes, you know."

"Oh," said Simon, "this is about me being gay, is it?"

"Listen," said Sanjay, "I'm totally cool about that. But when you're in this business, you have to care what the punters think."

"Hm," said Simon, "hand me that mirror."

"Why?"

"Just want to see if that 'I am gay' tattoo on my forehead is showing through again. I may have to go home and redo my makeup," said Simon witheringly.

"Okay, okay, point taken," said Sanjay. "I said I was wrong, didn't I?  You're brilliant at this. You're perfect for this job, that's what I'm saying."

"Yeah, okay," said Simon. "Thanks."

Sanjay turned away. Me and my big mouth, he thought to himself.

Simon stood and surveyed the passing crowd, looking for someone he could coax into buying. He shook his head as he thought of Sanjay. The man never ceased to amaze him. He looked like a Hindu god, but he had the heart and soul of an East London spiv. How did I end up working for a bloke like this?
he thought. I bet he'd sell his own mother if he thought there was a quid or two in it. But, Simon had to admit, there were worse places to work. Sanjay and Gita were fair, the money wasn't bad--and Sanjay was right about one thing. He was good at what he did. Damn good. And it gave his spirits a
lift, every time he convinced someone that they absolutely had to have something which, five minutes before, they hadn't had the slightest intention of buying. That was what Sanjay called making the punters eat out of his hand. Come to think of it, maybe he and Sanjay weren't as different as he liked to think. An uncomfortable thought. Simon began rearranging the blouses by colour, just to give himself something to do. Over on the other side, Sanjay had just spotted a prospect and was guiding her over to the
clothes racks. He moved with an easy grace, totally in his element. Simon became uncomfortably aware that his eyes kept drifting in Sanjay's direction, that he was enjoying watching the lithe movements of Sanjay's body. With some effort, he wrenched his eyes away; but they drifted back again.

"Glad to see someone's earning our keep," said a voice behind him. Simon started and turned around guiltily. It was Tony.

"Oh, yeah," he said, "trying to. No luck for you?"

"Nah," said Tony, "I looked in at the job centre, but it was all rubbish."  He sighed. "Anyway, fancy lunch with me in the caf?"

"Yeah," said Simon quickly, "Lunch it is, then. I'll see you over there about one, right?"

"Something wrong?" said Tony.

"We're just a little busy today, that's all," said Simon.

Tony looked around and shrugged. "Doesn't look like it," he said. "Anyway," he said, "don't want to disturb the hardest-working man in Walford. See you at one."

Tony wandered off and Simon breathed a sigh of relief. Simon was monogamous by principle and inclination. Not only that: he loved Tony, and he was horrified that Tony had almost caught him eyeing up another bloke. For the rest of the morning, Simon made sure he didn't even look in Sanjay's direction. He wasn't going to take any chances.

When Simon returned from lunch, Sanjay was leaning up against the clothes racks with an irritated expression. Simon glanced uneasily at his watch. "I was only gone an hour," he said.

"No, it's not that, mate," said Sanjay. "It's just...look at this, will you?  It's all dried up. I didn't get one punter the whole time you were gone. I could fire a cannon down this street and not even hit anyone!"

"Even so, I wouldn't recommend trying it," said Simon.

"What?" said Sanjay. "Are you trying to be funny?"

"Sorry," said Simon. He kept forgetting how prickly Sanjay could get, when the universe wasn't unfolding exactly according to his will and pleasure.

That was the worst part of being on the stalls: when the punters weren't buying. Sanjay sat around grumpily reading the paper. Simon, who hated not being busy, kept trying to think of things he could do. He'd already arranged the blouses by colour; now he thought he might arrange the colours according to the order of the spectrum. If only he could remember the order of the spectrum. He was just trying to work it out, when Sanjay clicked his tongue, and said: "Look at this!" He pointed to a paragraph in an article:
something about Arsenal. Simon looked at it absently. "Can you believe that?" said Sanjay.

"Yeah, well," said Simon, "I don't really follow football, anyway."

"Oh, right," said Sanjay. "Sorry. I forgot."

Simon looked at him sharply. "You forgot what? I never told you I didn't follow football. What was it you forgot?"

"I just meant..." said Sanjay, "I mean, you wouldn't, would you?"

Simon rolled his eyes. "I don't believe this!" he said. "This is the gay thing again, isn't it? Sanj, for your information there are lots of gay football fans. Every time you go to a match, they're probably all around
you." Simon made his eyes bug out and spoke in a low, threatening voice.  "Resistance is useless. Ve haf you surrounded."

"Yeah," said Sanjay, "very funny." He went back to reading the paper. "It is weird, though," he said a moment later, "I never really thought of that."

"What?"

"All around me. I mean, I suppose they probably are, and I don't even know it. Never really thought about it before."

"Hm," said Simon, "glad this has been an educational experience for you."

"Is it like..." Sanjay was looking at Simon now, suddenly curious. "Is it like something you've always known? When you're gay, I mean?"

Simon shrugged. "Depends on the person, I suppose. I always knew."

"Always?"

"Nearly always. As long as I can remember."

"Oh, come on!" said Sanjay. "Don't tell me you were fancying blokes when you were five years old!"

"Well, no, not exactly," said Simon. "But they did make me feel a certain way. It's hard to explain. It wasn't until years later that I knew what the feeling was."

Sanjay shook his head. "I don't think I was fancying any birds when I was five."

"No," Simon agreed, "most straight blokes say that. But a lot of gay guys will say they can always remember feeling like that, almost right from the beginning. I don't know how to explain it, I'm not a psychologist." Simon was not entirely comfortable having this conversation with Sanjay. He began
wishing a punter would come along. But the street was as deserted as before, and Sanjay was persisting.

"But they don't all know right from the beginning," he said, "do they?"

"No, that's true," said Simon. He thought of Tony, who had only begun thinking he might be gay the year before. "Some don't realise it till much later. Anyway," he said, feeling a little desperate to change the subject, "what was this you were on about in the paper?"

"The thing I'm wondering," said Sanjay, "is, if they don't realise it till later, does that mean they aren't really gay? What I mean is, a lot of straight blokes do fancy guys once in a while, but that doesn't necessarily
mean that they're really...you know..."

"I don't know, Sanj," said Simon. "You're the heterosexual around here, you tell me."

"Well, I don't know, do I?" said Sanjay. "It's not as if I've ever... It's just something I've heard, that's all."

"I really wouldn't know," said Simon.

"Yeah. Well," said Sanjay. "I suppose there are some advantages to it, when you think about it. Blokes don't make you crazy."

"How do you mean?" said Simon.

"I mean, take Gita," said Sanjay. "I can never figure out what's going on in her head. I look at her sometimes and think, exactly what planet are you from? You're not going to have that problem with a bloke, are you?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Simon. "Sometimes I wonder what planet Tony's from." Planet Layabout, he thought to himself; but he would never say that in front of Sanjay. That would be disloyal. "I find women a lot easier to understand, a lot of the time."

"Hm," said Sanjay. "Well, maybe that's it, then."

"What's it?"

"We're attracted to what we don't understand."

"I think there's a little more to it than that, Sanjay," said Simon. "But there may be something in that, all the same. But you're paying me to sell clothes, not do a psychology seminar."

"Yeah," said Sanjay, "I think I'll take my tea-break now. Think you can handle the throngs while I'm gone?"

"I'll do my best," Simon smiled.

"I'll be back in a quarter of an hour. Then you can have your break."

Simon shrugged. "Break from what? I'm not doing anything here anyway. I might as well stay here."

"Yeah, come to think of it," said Sanjay, "I don't know why I'm going either. At least here I have someone to talk to. I'll just go over to the caf and get two teas to take away, shall I?"

"Well..." said Simon.

Sanjay laid his hand companionably on Simon's shoulder. "Sugar in yours?"

"Erm...yeah..." said Simon.

"Okay," said Sanjay, "be right back."

Simon found himself wishing that Sanjay had taken the break after all. He could have done with a few minutes to himself, to get himself back under control. There was a definite attraction there, he had to admit. He may have
been uncomfortable talking about such things with Sanjay; but having Sanjay pay attention to him was something he was enjoying a little more than he thought he should. It was a long time since he'd had a good talk with a man about something that mattered. For the last few weeks, it seemed that all he
and Tony could do was argue about money and when Tony was going to get a job, and who was going to do the chores around the flat. They'd be okay for the first five minutes or so--being nice to each other, trying to enjoy the time they spent together--and then, before you knew it, the bickering would
start again. Honeymoon's over, he thought wistfully. And that's always a danger spot, isn't it?

Well, Simon thought, at least the bloke I seem to be hankering after is straight and married. Not much danger there. And a good thing it is, too.  Not too sure how well I'd do resisting.

Sanjay arrived back with two teas and a couple of cakes. "Hope you're hungry," he said. "I saw these and I couldn't resist them."

"I can resist anything except temptation," said Simon automatically.

"What?" said Sanjay."

Simon shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Famous quote. Oscar Wilde."

"Oh, right," said Sanjay. "One of your lot."

Simon rolled his eyes. "I wish you'd stop doing that, Sanj."

"Doing what?"

"Talking like that. Like we're some other species."

"No, I don't mean that, it's just interesting. And you've got to admit, it does make a difference. I mean," said Sanjay, "in a way, it's just the same as being any other bloke. But in another way, it must make everything different." His eyes gleamed as the idea dawned on him. "Everything."

Simon stared at Sanjay. He was impressed at the insight. "Anyway," he said, breaking off the glance, "Oscar Wilde was married, actually."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, fairly happily I think, for a number of years. It was only later that he began to feel..." Simon's voice faltered. Sanjay was gazing at him intently. Did Sanjay think that he was driving at something here? Trying to plant an idea in Sanjay's head? Why, oh why had he started to say this? He stopped in embarrassment, and began examining the clothes racks.

But Sanjay apparently had not noticed a thing. "See," he said, "that's the bit I can't understand. Going on for years without even realising, and then suddenly... I mean, it's just so weird. I can't believe that actually
happens to anybody."

Simon shrugged, and continued to look away.

"I mean," said Sanjay, "you don't mean to tell me that there are happily married blokes, wandering all over the place, who are going to wake up tomorrow and start fancying other blokes! I just don't get it."

"I don't know, Sanj," said Simon.

"Like..." Sanjay looked around the market, and caught sight of Mark Fowler at the fruit and veg stall across the way. "take Mark, for instance. You don't suppose he's ever fancied a bloke, do you?"

"Who knows?" said Simon.

"I know," said Sanjay, grinning. "Let's ask him."

Simon stared at Sanjay in disbelief. "I don't think..." he began.

"Hey, Mark, mate!" Sanjay called across. "Come over here a second!"

"Sanj," said Simon desperately, "I don't think this is such a good idea."

Mark wandered across. "Mark," said Sanjay, "you ever fancied a bloke?"

"What?" said Mark.

"Simon and me have got this little bet going," said Sanjay, with a wicked grin in Simon's direction. "So: have you ever fancied a bloke?"

Simon felt utterly embarrassed and humiliated. He was about to protest to Mark that he had had nothing to do with this. But Mark had caught the gleam in Sanjay's eye. He knew the point of the game was to wind Simon up, and he didn't mind joining in. He made a couple of little kissing noises in Sanjay's direction.

"Nobody but you, mate," said Mark. "You know there's never been anyone else."

Sanjay grinned. "Yeah, well, you just keep it that way, or you'll have me to answer to."

Mark turned to Simon. "I love it when he's masterful," he said, and strolled back to his stall.

"There," said Sanjay, cackling, "you see?"

"Thanks, Sanjay," said Simon. "Thanks a lot." He looked at Sanjay and thought to himself how sometimes he really hated hetero blokes. Some were better than others, but they all had that one trump card they could play.  The one thing that had been at the centre of his life for as long as he could remember, and to them it was just good for a laugh. He glared at Sanjay. Sanjay looked back, a little surprised. He came over and put his hand on Simon's shoulder.

"Just a joke, mate," he said.

"Yeah," said Simon, "I've heard better."

"Sorry," said Sanjay, and looking a little chastened. "I didn't mean to...  Anyway, sorry. Friends?"

Simon felt the pressure of the hand on his shoulder. He looked into Sanjay's wondrous brown eyes, and he heard a small weak voice saying: "Yeah, okay.  Friends." He gathered it was his own voice, but he wasn't too clear on what was happening.


Simon was applying himself to a bowl of corn flakes when Tony stumbled in from the bedroom, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"A little early for you, isn't it?" said Simon.

"Don't start," said Tony grumpily. "Must have been the noise of your chewing woke me up. Any tea in the pot?"

"Should be," said Simon.

Tony poured himself a mug of tea and sat staring vacantly into space. "What sadist invented these things?" he said.

"What?" said Simon. "Mugs of tea?"

"No, mornings."

"Oh, right. You get used to them after a while. Listen, Tony, there's something I wanted to talk to you about."

"And this seems like the ideal time?" said Tony. "When I can hardly see out of my eyes?"

"Well, maybe not," said Simon. "But it's been on my mind, and I thought I should mention it. I'm thinking...I'm thinking maybe it's time I jacked in my job on the stall."

"What?" said Tony. "But that's the only money we've got coming in!"

"Well, it wouldn't have to be," said Simon, "if you found yourself a job."

"Si," said Tony, "I've been down to that job centre every day this week.  There's nothing there. Nothing I'd want, anyway. I mean, I want something where I can use my brain a bit. Something with some opportunities. I'm not going to get stuck in some dead-end job like..." he waved his hand, "like
Mark Fowler."

"Or like me, you mean?" said Simon. "In case you hadn't noticed, it's my dead-end job that's keeping you. That doesn't seem to bother you so much, does it?"

"I don't need to listen to this," said Tony. He grabbed his mug of tea and headed back to the bedroom.

"Yeah, well maybe you should listen to me..." said Simon. The bedroom door slammed. "Every once in a while," he said quietly, to the kitchen wall.

When Simon arrived at the stall, Gita was there on her own.

"Morning," said Simon. "Just the two of us today?" he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

Gita rolled her eyes. "Don't ask me," she said. "He says he's got this breakthrough deal, and he's going to be busy all day chasing it down. I'll believe it when I see it."

"Oh," said Simon. He cursed himself for feeling disappointed.

"What he probably means is, he's going to take an hour or two for a meeting in the morning, then head off to the betting shop. Men are impossible."

"Hm," said Simon, nodding.

Gita smiled and laid her hand on Simon's arm. "I don't have to tell you that, I suppose. You probably know it as well as I do."

"Yeah," said Simon. "Something like that."

"Oh," said Gita, "before I forget, Sanjay had some message for you."

"Oh?" said Simon.

"Yeah, he wanted me to ask you if you could come in an hour early tomorrow."

"An hour early? Why?"

Gita shrugged. "He said you were giving him some ideas yesterday. He said he wanted to see if the two of you could work some of them out."

Simon stared at Gita for one very long moment. "Ideas?"

"He's got this idea, about how we'll get more punters if we rearrange the stock, make it look more attractive. Anyway, he said you were rearranging things yesterday, and it looked better. So, he figured if the two of you get here an hour early tomorrow, before any of the other stall-keepers are here,
you can get the whole thing done by opening time."

"Oh," said Simon. "I see."

"Not a problem, is it?"

"No," said Simon. "Fine. I'll be there."

Gita smiled. "I know Sanjay doesn't show his feelings much. But he really does like you, you know."

Simon smiled weakly.

"He talks about you a lot," said Gita. "How good you are on the stall. He has a lot of respect for you. He was going on and on about you last night."

"Must be a bit of a bore for you," said Simon.

"It's a bit of a relief, actually," said Gita. "You're the first one he's ever really liked. He never trusted Bianca, and he thought Lydia was an airhead. You're the first assistant we've ever had who actually puts a smile on his face. I don't know what you're doing," Gita smiled, "but whatever it is, keep doing it. Please."

The next morning, Simon woke up at three o'clock and couldn't get back to sleep. Tony was snoring gently beside him. He stared at the ceiling, trying to will all those unruly thoughts out of his head. This is stupid, he
thought. All I'm doing is going into work an hour early; and here I am, feeling like a sixteen-year-old about to go on his first date. Why can't I get this man out of my head? I don't even like him all that much. Not
like... He looked over at Tony a little wistfully. Gently, he stroked Tony's cheek with the back of his hand. Tony murmured in his sleep and pushed the hand away. Not like you, he thought, as he regarded his lover. Not even close. So why can't I stop thinking about him?

He was shivering as he walked through the silent grey pre-dawn of autumn. He hadn't expected it to be so cold. When he rounded the corner and saw Sanjay standing alone among the racks of clothes, he stopped and almost turned back. But that would have done no good; Sanjay had seen him, and greeted him
with a wave of his hand. Simon took a deep breath and walked firmly up to him.

"Morning," said Sanjay. He had just unloaded the racks from the van. "You wait here and watch these things, while I go and park," he said.

When Sanjay came back, he found Simon shivering.

"What's the matter?" Sanjay said.

"Nothing," said Simon, "Just a little cold. I should have worn something warmer."

"If you're going to last through the winter on the stalls, you're going to have to learn how to dress," said Sanjay. "Always dress in layers, and always wear more clothes than you think you need. Then if you're too warm, you can strip off. Like me. I've got two jumpers on."

"I can nip home and get one," said Simon.

"Not a chance. You're on my time now, and I'm not paying you to run home," he said rather severely.

Simon looked annoyed. "Thanks a lot," he grumbled.

Sanjay smiled. "Joke, mate," he said. "Did anybody ever tell you you're the easiest bloke in the world to wind up?"

"Yeah," said Simon, a little sheepishly, "several people, actually."

"What I meant," said Sanjay, "is that you can wear this." He stripped off his outer jumper and handed it to Simon.

Simon looked at the jumper being stretched out to him. Suddenly he felt terribly shy about this whole thing. "It's okay," he said, "I'm not really all that cold."

"Don't be stupid," said Sanjay. "Stand still." He slipped the jumper onto Simon, then stood back and surveyed the effect. "Not bad," he said. "You look almost as good in that as I do. Almost."

Simon looked down at his body. It was strange, seeing his own torso wrapped in the same jumper he had seen on Sanjay a moment before. Strange and a little exciting. He brushed the sleeve against his cheek and caught a whiff of the smell of Sanjay's body off the jumper. He immediately dropped his arm
to his side; but when Sanjay turned away and began arranging the clothes racks, he brought the sleeve up again, and inhaled deeply. Stupid! he thought. Why do I keep torturing myself like this?

"Now," said Sanjay, apparently oblivious as always to everything that was going on in Simon's head, "let's get started on this."

For the next half-hour or so, they were rearranging clothes. Moving the racks around, trying to figure out the best effect. When it came to this sort of thing, Sanjay trusted Simon's judgement implicitly. Every decision was referred to him.

Finally they had got everything more or less the way Simon thought it should be. Sanjay slipped his arm companionably around Simon's shoulders and stood back and to look it all over.

"Yeah, it's better. A lot better. But I'm not sure...it still doesn't look quite right," said Sanjay. "What do you think?"

"Hm," said Simon. "I know what you mean. It's too straight."

Sanjay gave a slight giggle. "If you say so, mate."

"Yeah, very funny. I mean it's too many right angles. See, if you just shifted that rack into a diagonal, that way," he demonstrated with a wave of his hand, "everything would look more open, and people could see the stock better. Whatever side they were coming from. See what I mean?"

"Yeah," said Sanjay reflectively, "I suppose." He looked at the clothes rack discontentedly. "You would pick the one with the busted wheel." He kicked at it. "This one's a bugger to move. Here, help me shift it, will you?"

Sanjay got on one side of the rack, and Simon on the other. "No, you're just going to be in the way there," said Sanjay. "We've got to both be on the same side. Come around and grab it here." He indicated a spot directly in front of him.

Slowly, Simon came around and stood directly in front of Sanjay. They were both facing the same way, their bodies almost touching. "Okay, on three," Sanjay said. "One, two, three."

Sanjay promptly lost his grip and went plummeting forward into Simon's back.  "Oops, sorry mate," he muttered. Simon jumped away, as though he'd just been given an electric shock. He turned and stared at Sanjay in amazement.  Involuntarily, his eyes went to Sanjay's crotch, looking for signs of the
erection he'd just felt when Sanjay had tumbled into him.

"Sanjay..." he said.

Sanjay could see where Simon was looking. "Yeah," he said, leaning up against the clothes rack and shrugging, "well...these things happen." There was a long and uncomfortable pause. "You could at least feel flattered."

Simon stared at Sanjay in silence.

"Look," said Sanjay, "it's not a big deal. I mean, it doesn't have to be.  Just forget about it." He paused, then added quietly, "if you want to."

Simon shook his head. "I don't believe this. You were going on at me all afternoon about how you couldn't understand it."

"Yeah, well," said Sanjay, "you weren't a lot of help, were you? I didn't understand it, as it goes. I still don't. Is that a crime? Anyway," he said, looking Simon straight in the eye, "I think it's going to take a little more than understanding to make this go away. Maybe even a little...help, don't you think?"

Simon had to swallow hard before he could reply. "Sanjay," he said, "I...I think maybe you need to think about this a little more."

But Sanjay's killer instinct had caught the indecision in Simon's voice. His eyes gleamed. He took a step towards Simon and said: "Yeah, possibly. On the other hand, maybe you need to think about it a little less, mate."

Simon stood rooted to the spot. Sanjay glanced around quickly, to see if anyone was up and about yet, but the square was still deserted. Then he grabbed Simon's arm and pulled him between two of the tall clothes racks, where they would be completely hidden from view. "Let's work on my theory first," he said, smiling.

In a moment, Sanjay's arms were around him, their hips grinding together.  Sanjay's mouth was on his, his tongue pressing for admittance. All of Simon's misgivings fell away into sheer hunger. Sanjay's tongue was in his mouth, Sanjay's hands were cupping his buttocks and pulling their two bodies together. Simon moaned, and pressed his now throbbing erection against Sanjay's thigh. He could almost feel a jolt of energy shoot through Sanjay's body at the realisation that Simon wanted it as much as he did. Sanjay broke the kiss to catch his breath and looked at Simon exultantly. His hand strayed down to the spot where Simon's hard-on was now straining at his jeans. "What's this, then? Looks like you're going to need some help, and all," he laughed.

In answer, Simon pulled Sanjay towards him, and their mouths melted together again. Simon was totally lost in what he was feeling, until Sanjay pulled back slightly and began working at Simon's belt buckle. In a moment, he had undone the belt and was unzipping Simon's fly. Simon froze in fear and began
to pull away.

"Sanj..." he said.

"Shut up," said Sanjay. "What did I tell you about thinking too much?  There's no one around. No one can see. Just trust me."

Deftly, Sanjay worked Simon's jeans and pants down to his hips, and watched his erect cock spring free. He regarded it with some interest, a slight smile curving his lips.

"I should warn you," he said, "I've never actually had to deal with one of these before. Except my own. Oh well, in for a penny, right?"

Simon was too gripped with excitement to say anything. He couldn't believe he was actually doing this--out in the street, between two racks of clothes.  Sanjay slipped his left arm around him, and once again began kissing him voraciously, plunging his tongue deeper into Simon's mouth. At the same time, with his right hand, he began firmly stroking Simon's manhood. It wasn't the most sophisticated of techniques--it was probably the only thing Sanjay knew how to do with a cock--but it seemed to be doing the trick. In a
few moments, Simon had no fear or resistance left. His body and mind were totally surrendered to what Sanjay was doing. He moaned--he could no longer help himself--and Sanjay, delighted with this evidence of further arousal, began redoubling his efforts on Simon's mouth and cock. Almost before he
realised what was happening, Simon was bucking in his arms. He broke free from the kiss, buried his face in Sanjay's chest, and gave out a muffled, sobbing cry as he came. He sagged against Sanjay's breast.

"Man!" said Sanjay, amazed, and amused, at the intensity of Simon's orgasm, "You just get off a desert island?"

Simon didn't say a word. He remained with his face pressed against Sanjay's chest, as if afraid to look up. Gazing down at him, Sanjay felt a moment of tenderness. He gently stroked the back of Simon's neck, and said soothingly, "It's okay. Everything's okay." He had no idea what he meant by "everything", but it seemed like the right thing to say.

After a few moments, Simon raised his head. He looked at Sanjay in dazed bewilderment.

"You okay?" said Sanjay.

"I...I think so," said Simon.

"Good," said Sanjay. "We have some unfinished business here."

Simon looked puzzled. Sanjay pointed down to his own cock. "You haven't forgotten?"

Simon took a deep breath. He knew he could hardly refuse now. At that moment, he didn't even want to refuse. He did up his own jeans and belt.  Then he slipped his hands underneath Sanjay's shirt and began caressing his torso, running his hands around Sanjay's trim, athletic waist. He slipped to his knees and began undoing Sanjay's fly.

Sanjay gazed down. That first bit had been a little strange, but now he knew where he was. Simon wasn't the first person to have done this to him, even if he was the first man. He watched as Simon freed his cock, then touched it, teasingly, with his tongue, then looked up at Sanjay as if asking for approval.

"Yes," said Sanjay breathlessly, "please."

Simon began licking around Sanjay's cock. Sanjay leaned back against the rack of clothes and shut his eyes. This lad really knew what he was doing!  At the same time, he knew that they didn't have much time to fool around. He reached down, took Simon by the shoulders, and guided him firmly onto his
erect member. Without a murmur, Simon began swallowing him. Sanjay began thrusting with his hips; a little cautiously at first, but then more confidently, as he realised that Simon was now fully accepting the
situation. He'd never known anyone who could take it like this, he thought; he was obviously a pro at this game. He began thrusting further and further into Simon, at the same time checking to see if Simon was showing any signs of gagging or choking. But Simon was giving him everything he wanted now.  Sheer bloody heaven! thought Sanjay. This man is amazing. Holding Simon firmly by the shoulders, he kept thrusting into him, slower at first, then with increasingly frantic energy as he felt himself drawing closer and
closer. Simon, his arms wrapped around Sanjay's knees, was taking everything Sanjay could give. Then suddenly, he felt that he was about to come straight into Simon's mouth. "Now," he said hoarsely. Simon slipped off Sanjay's cock. The liquid spattered his cheek.

Sanjay didn't let go of Simon's shoulders for a few seconds. He hung there, his body slightly bent over Simon's kneeling form, and held on tight until he was sure he could stand on his own. Only then did he release Simon and stood, gazing at him in amazement, trying to catch his breath.

Simon stood and looked back at him. He looked a little confused, as if still trying to take in the significance of what he had just done.

"My God," said Sanjay, shaking his head. "You..." He didn't know how to finish the sentence, so he just repeated: "My God."

"You'd better..." said Simon, "you'd better do yourself up."

"Oh, yeah," said Sanjay, snapping back to reality. He began zipping up his fly, when they heard a voice calling his name. "Sanjay!"

Gita's voice. Simon and Sanjay looked at one another in terror. Sanjay was now frantically trying to re-buckle his belt, his fingers fumbling at the clasp. Simon pushed his hands out of the way, and buckled it up for him.

"Thanks, mate," Sanjay whispered.

A moment later, they both came strolling out from between the two clothes racks, to find Gita staring around in perplexity.

"Oh, there you are," said Gita. "Are you done?"

"For now," said Sanjay, stealing a glance at Simon. "What do you think?" He gestured towards the clothes racks.

"A lot of fuss over nothing, if you ask me," said Gita. "I don't see much difference."

"See, mate," said Sanjay, clapping Simon on the shoulder, "this is what all us artistic geniuses have to put up with."

Simon forced a very awkward smile.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" said Sanjay to Gita.

"Someone rang," said Gita. "He wants you to ring him back." She handed Sanjay a slip of paper.

"The new supplier!" said Sanjay. "Brilliant! I'll go ring him right now." He took a few steps, then turned back and said, hesitantly, "He'll...erm...probably want me to go see him now, finalise the details. You
and Simon will be able to manage for an hour or so, right?"

"It doesn't look like we've got a lot of choice," said Gita grumpily.  "Fine," she said, in a way that clearly meant "Bloody well not fine at all."

"Yeah, right. Cheers," said Sanjay with obvious disinterest, turning and walking away.

"So this is it?" said Gita, turning to Simon.

"Yeah, almost," said Simon. "Actually, we were going to put that rack," he pointed to the one Sanjay had just been leaning against, "a little more on a diagonal but we...ran out of time."

Gita clucked her tongue when she saw the disordered rack of clothes. She went over and began straightening them. "What did you do, fall into it?"

"Erm...yeah," said Simon, relieved that he could tell at least part of the truth, "Sanjay slipped and fell into me when we were trying to move it."

Gita shook her head. "Men," she muttered.

The next hour passed with a slowness Simon would hardly have believed possible. The other stall-keepers were setting up now, and the square was filling with people. Luckily, there were some punters to distract them from having to make conversation with each other.

Finally, Sanjay reappeared, strolling down the street. He paused at Mark Fowler's stall, bought an apple, and spent a while polishing it on his jumper. Then he came slowly over to them.

"About time," said Gita. "You can take over from here."

"Yeah, well," said Sanjay, "doing business takes time."

"Well, we'd better see some results," said Gita. "I'm off, anyway."

When Gita was gone, Sanjay turned to Simon. "So," he said, "how did things go?"

"About as well as could be expected," said Simon, looking daggers at Sanjay, "under the circumstances."

"Yeah," said Sanjay, "sorry if I dropped you in it. There was no meeting. I just needed to get away on my own for a bit, and do some thinking."

"I know the feeling," said Simon. "I might have liked to do a bit of that myself. But instead, I had to stay here and make small-talk with the wife of the man I just..." He didn't even bother to finish the sentence.

"Yeah, sorry mate," said Sanjay. "But I've been thinking about it, and I think I've got it worked out."

"Got it worked out?" said Simon.

"Yeah," said Sanjay. "I admit, it's going to be tricky. But it doesn't have to be impossible. Not if we're clever about it. Agreed?"

"Sanjay, what the hell are you talking about?"

Sanjay grinned at him. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm going to tell Gita that I figure it's time you learned more about the buying side of the business. And that I want her to hold down the stall on her own the occasional afternoon, so that I can take you around and show you the ropes.  Then we'll have the whole afternoon to ourselves. What do you think?  Brilliant, huh?"

"Are you crazy?" said Simon. "Look, Sanjay, this was a mistake. A total bloody stupid mistake. I got carried away. I shouldn't have done it."

"Hm," said Sanjay, "and I suppose that means you wouldn't be up for a repeat performance some time?" He laid an insinuating stress on the word "up".

Simon looked at Sanjay angrily. "I told you I was in a relationship. What do you think, I'm going to be available every time you're a little randy and Gita's not around? I'm not providing a public service, you know!" There was a sob trying to break through, and he was having trouble keeping it back.

"All right," said Sanjay. "Keep your hair on. I know you're with Tony, and you want to stay with him. And I'm with Gita. So what? I'm just saying...well, I'm just saying we might have something good here. Something that deserves a little more attention than a quick knee-trembler behind the stalls. As for Gita, what she doesn't know won't hurt her. You really ought to learn to take the same attitude towards Tony," he smiled.

"Yeah, well," said Simon bitterly, "I'm glad I'm not Gita, that's all I can say. And I don't operate like that. This was a one-off, and it's never going to happen again."

"Right," said Sanjay, grinning slyly, "if you say so."

"I do say so," said Simon. "It's never going to happen again."

"Never say never," said Sanjay, punching Simon playfully in the shoulder. "Oh, and if you ever want to take back that 'never again' bit," he grinned, "feel free. Any time. Just say the word."

"Yeah, well," said Simon, "I think I'll resist temptation, if it's all the same to you."

"Fine," said Sanjay, "you go and resist all you want. But don't expect me to make it easy for you, because I'm not going to." He grinned. "You're not a betting man, are you?"

"Not particularly," said Simon. "Why?"

"Just thinking of a little gentlemen's wager," said Sanjay. "How about this?  You try as hard as possible to resist, and I'll try to make you fail. Then we see who wins."

"Oh, great," said Simon. "And what are the stakes?"

"That's the beauty of it," said Sanjay. "We don't need any stakes. If you win, your reward is keeping up this fidelity thing. And if I win..." he grinned.

"I can see where this is going," said Simon.

"Yeah, if I win, we both win, come to think of it," said Sanjay. "But that's okay." He eyed Simon up happily. "From that look in your eyes, I'd say you're not going to hold out very long."

Simon took a deep breath. "I'm planning to hold out forever," he said.

"Yeah, right," said Sanjay, biting into the apple. "You just keep telling yourself that, mate, you might even start to believe it." He gave Simon a self-confident smirk.

Simon didn't go straight home after work. Instead, he wandered into the playground, and sat down on one of the swings. He began gently rocking himself back and forth, dragging one foot in the dirt as he went. He was still wearing Sanjay's jumper. He'd tried to give it back at the end of the day, but Sanjay would have none of it. "Keep it," he said. "Wear it. That way, you can think of me every time you put it on," and winked. Simon knew that Sanjay had every confidence that he was going to win their little bet.
Deep down, Simon was afraid that Sanjay was right. He hadn't been able to muster up one ounce of resistance that morning; how much chance was he going to stand, the next time around? And there was no doubt that there would be a next time. Sanjay clearly intended to make sure of that. The thing he hated
the most was that even if he managed to resist the next time, it wouldn't really change anything. He could resist all he wanted from now on; it wasn't going to change what had happened.

I've spoiled everything, he thought. I've betrayed Tony's trust. Even if he never knows, I always will.

He thought back a few months, when he and Tony had had a major row, and he had done a runner and gone to Manchester for a few days. There had been a bloke there who had fancied him, and Simon had been interested; but at the last minute, he'd shied away. Why? Because he knew, deep down, that the only
reason he'd left Tony was to give him a good scare, and find out if Tony really cared about him. No matter how angry he was at Tony, he knew he could never let anything come between them.

But now he had.

And for what? He didn't want to be some married bloke's bit on the side. All he wanted was for things to be back the way they were, before Tony had begun moping about his unemployment, before they'd begun snapping and sniping at each other all the time. All he wanted was his old lover back: the one he'd
fallen in love with in Blackpool, the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. And he wanted himself back: single-hearted, monogamous, and totally in love with Tony. What he wanted was so simple, and so obvious: everything put back the way it was. Yeah, he thought, I might as well try flapping my arms and flying to the moon.

Slowly, he got up and began strolling back to the flat. He knew what was going to greet him: the place looking like a tip, Tony (probably) in bed having one of his endless afternoon naps. He'd been doing that more and more lately, as his hope of finding a job faded. Then the usual row, and another night with the two of them lying side by side in their double bed, their bodies not touching, each staring at the ceiling, each as far from the other as if he had been on the other side of the world. He knew the scenario all
too well.

When Simon let himself into the flat, a strange aroma greeted him. Tony was in the kitchen and cooking something. He stuck his head through the doorway.

"Hi," he said, a little nervously.

"Hi," said Tony. He was dressed in, of all things, a pinny, and stirring a pot on the stove. "This is almost done. Can you open the wine?"

Simon stared at him in disbelief. "Wine?"

"Yeah," he said, "I got a bottle from the corner shop. Nothing too expensive, but I wanted something to go with the spaghetti bolognese."

"Spaghetti bolognese?" said Simon, blinking stupidly. He had the feeling he'd just walked into a hallucination.

"Little celebration," said Tony, smiling. "I've got some news."

"Oh?"

"I've got a job interview tomorrow," said Tony, grinning broadly. "Just fetching and carrying, office-boy stuff. But it's the sort of thing that could lead to something. I don't know whether I'll get it. But...I don't
know...I've got a good feeling about it. So..." he said, "I thought it was time to push the boat out a bit. Spag bol, a bottle of wine, then I thought maybe we could go to a club tonight. It's been a long time since we've done that."

"Yeah," said Simon, "it has." He didn't know what else to say.

"And then," said Tony, putting down the stirring spoon and taking Simon into his arms, "I thought we could come back here, for our own personal celebration." He pressed his body against Simon's and looked earnestly into his eyes. "I know I've been neglecting you. I just haven't felt up to much,
the last few weeks. But ever since I got the call for that interview...well..." he regarded Simon with a sly grin, "let's just say I've been thinking about you. All afternoon."

"Yeah?" said Simon. He found he could not meet Tony's eyes.

"Aww," said Tony. "Going all shy on me, are you?" He assumed his best butter-wouldn't-melt expression. "I think it's a little late for that, don't you?" He made a playful grab at Simon's crotch.

"Listen," said Simon. He disentangled himself from Tony's arms and began fussing with the bottle of wine. "I'm not sure I'm up for the club thing. I have to get up awfully early for work in the morning. Besides," he said, "you don't want to be hung-over for your interview."

"Yeah, the ever sensible Simon," said Tony, coming up behind him, slipping his arms around him and kissing his neck. "Always keeping me on the straight and narrow. If it wasn't for you, God knows what I'd be getting up to.  You're right. We'll save the club for tomorrow night. When I've actually got
the job," he added cockily. "But if you have to get up so early for work tomorrow, it sounds like what you need is an early night," he chuckled.  "Right after dinner, off to bed like a good little boy, right? Then I'll
come and tuck you in. And give you one of my special bedtime stories." Simon could feel Tony's erection pressed against his thigh. "I seem to remember you enjoy those." Simon knew how he should react, but it wasn't in him.  Instead, he began rooting in the drawer frantically. "Where's the
corkscrew?" he said.

"Right in front of you," said Tony, pulling it out and handing it to him with a puzzled look.

"Oh. Right," said Simon sheepishly. He uncorked the wine, poured out two glasses, and handed one to Tony. He forced a smile. "Here's to you getting that job," he said. Even as he said it, he thought his voice sounded false and hollow.

"And to us," said Tony.

"To us," said Simon. They clinked glasses.

"I just have to finish up here," said Tony. "You go on through to the living room and put your feet up."

"I can help," said Simon.

"Naw," said Tony, "you've been working all day. I'm taking care of things tonight. You go and relax." And he bundled Simon off to the living room.

Simon sat on the sofa, sipping his wine and staring off into space. The universe had an odd sense of humour at times. No chance of things being put back the same as they were? And now, somebody seemed to have put them back.  The same, and not the same. Never the same, now that he was carrying this
secret inside himself. He wanted to rush into the kitchen, grab Tony by the shoulders and shake him. Why couldn't you have done this-said this-last week, yesterday? Even yesterday would have been good enough. Why, of all days, did it have to be today?

"Dinner's ready." Tony stuck his head through the doorway.

Simon turned his face away and dabbed discreetly at his eyes with his sleeve.

"Great," he said, without turning around. "I'll be right there."


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