Title: The Final Straw
Author/pseudonym: K9
Email address: K9@internetdump.com 
Rating: R
Pairings: Stuart/Vince
Fandom: Queer As Folk
Date: February 11th 2000
Archive: Britslash archive and QAFFIC archive only please
Category: Drama
Author's website: http://internetdump.com/users/k9  or
http://homes.arealcity.com/Kennel/ 

Final part of a three part story 'The Stand Off' and 'Second Chances' should be read first. Available at both mentioned archives or on the website above.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Russell T Davies and Channel 4 and bless them for letting us play with them!

Notes: Thanks to Bast for beta-ing again, for all suggestions and help. You are much appreciated as always!

Summary: Stuart is feeling a rare pang of guilt and things just keep going wrong for him.
Will Vince be his saviour yet again?


The Final Straw


By K9


Climbing into the jeep, Stuart shot Vince a sly glance, but turned his head
towards the window.

"God, the traffic's bad today. I've just sat ten minutes at the crossing
waiting for the damned train to crawl past." Vince began his usual tirade of
early morning niggles. Suddenly he stopped, "Thanks for letting me use the
jeep last night, by the way. You all right?"

"What?" Stuart turned slightly, "Oh, yeah, I'm okay. Just tired."

"Oh yeah, who was he? Or should I say 'who were they?'" Vince laughed.

Swallowing hard past the lump in his throat, Stuart continued to glare out
of the window at the traffic whizzing by, "Can we just drive and forget the
funnies? I'm not in the mood."

The smile dissolved from Vince's face, "I'm sorry. Look, Stuart, I'm sorry
about missing the meal you'd prepared, but I couldn't leave Hazel."

"I know, okay? I never said anything about you missing the meal, it's no big
deal!"

"I know you went to a lot of trouble..."

"Fuck, Vince. Let it drop will you? It doesn't fucking matter, just *forget*
it!"

With a shrug of the shoulders, Vince pulled out into the traffic. "They say
that Bernie should be okay, by the way. This was a 'warning' and as long as
he stops smoking, stops drinking and loses weight he should make a full
recovery."

"Why don't they just add 'cut off your dick and take up fucking dominoes'
while they're on?" Stuart snarled, "Let's face it, if you're going to live
your life like that you may as well be fucking dead!"

Casting a worried glance in his friend's direction, Vince cleared his
throat, "So, you want to tell me why you're so pissed off at me this morning
or have I got to spend all day trying to guess?"

"I'm *not* pissed off at *you*. I'm pissed off at *me*, okay?"

"Why, what did you do this time?"

Stuart's head snapped around and the stinging reply teetered on the edge of
his tongue, "I'm just a no good, cheap, fucking bastard, okay?"

"Okay."

"You're supposed to argue with that, Vince."

"Why?"

Stuart felt himself smile, despite the anger still bubbling barely beneath
the surface, "Y'see, that's what I mean? You're my best friend and even
*you* know it."

"Well, yeah. But I know it and accept it, that's part of what makes you...
'you'!"

"Vince?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

"Yeah I know and *no* I'm not driving tonight if we're going to Babylon,
we're taking a taxi."

"Why do you always think I want something when I say that?" Stuart asked,
for once so serious.

"Because you always do. It's like training a puppy, you give it a biscuit
when it sits on command."

"Is that how you see yourself, Vince, my little lap dog?"

Realising that Stuart was serious and the conversation had strayed from its
usual banter, Vince frowned and turned to face his friend as they pulled up
at a red light. "What's all this about, Stuart?"

"I love you Vince."

"I know."

"No, I mean I really do. But, I'll always hurt you, won't I?"

"Why should you hurt me?"

"Because I can't help it. Because I'm so fucking sad and weak that I'll do
it before I know. You deserve so much more than I can give you."

"Stuart, you're really scaring me. What's all this about?"

A sudden hooting from behind the jeep reminded them that the lights had
changed, and Vince hastily slipped the vehicle in gear, moving forward with
a start.

"Stuart?" Vince tried to coax the other man to continue, but it was clear
that Stuart Alan Jones had 'closed shop' and there was no more to be said.
As Vince's place of work hove into view, he slowed and pulled the jeep into
the kerb.
"Stuart, I'll call you later, okay? Tonight we'll go have a takeaway then
hit the clubs maybe? Or maybe we should talk?"

"Nothing left to say, mate," Stuart slid over into the driving seat as Vince
climbed out, slamming the door quickly, before speeding off into the
distance.



"Honest, I just don't know what's got into him, he was acting really weird
this morning," Vince spoke into the phone as he wandered through the shop.

"Look love, you know Stuart, he's strange on a good day, but on a bad day
he's bloody indecipherable. Just don't worry about it, he'll be okay. Stuart
Jones will always come up smelling of roses."

"Yeah, but this seems really different, like he was dead serious!"

"About what?" Hazel asked, her voice betraying true curiosity.

"When he said he loved me, for a minute, I thought he was being serious."

"Oh Vince love, you know Stuart. Just... just don't worry about it."

"No, I'm not. How's Bernie today?"

"Okay, moaning that they won't let him smoke and he's dying for a pint of
Guinness!"

Vince smiled, "That's a good sign anyway. Look I'll call you later." He
clicked off the phone and slipped it into his pocket. There were times when
his life was weirder than any episode of Dr Who.




Stuart had been edgy all day. Even the fact that the new delivery boy had
*the* most impressive arse he'd ever seen, couldn't shake him from his black
mood. Though he had taken a moment to watch the kid wander through the lobby
in those skin-tight leathers before going outside and flinging his long leg
across the motorbike. The action made the supple fabric stretch across his
groin, outlining the promises beneath, before he kicked the machine into
life and roared away.

<Yeah, they always 'roar away' from you, don't they Stuart? > A voice in his
head taunted. <All except Vince, he sticks in there like the faithful hound
that he is and you treat him like a piece of shit. You were all set to drop
to one knee and announce your undying love until Nathan walks in and waggles
his dick in your face, then you're in like the old dog that you are. Yeah,
'old dog', that about sums it up. How long before you're one of those sad
bastards hanging about down Canal St, waiting for some desperate half-pissed
kid to 'throw you a bone', eh? When you'll be grateful that someone gives
you the time to wank you off in a doorway. It's coming Stuart, that time is
coming fast.>

Running his fingers through his hair, Stuart closed his eyes for a moment,
trying desperately to shut out the mocking tone.

"You all right, Stuart?" Sandra, his assistant and confidante, rested a hand
on his shoulder, "You look awful!"

"Well thank you for that vote of confidence, even if I wasn't feeling bad
before, I am now!" Stuart snapped.

"What is it?" she snorted derisively, "Guilty conscience troubling you?"

"What the fuck's *that* supposed to mean?"

"I don't know, you tell me! Anyway, you've got a call on line three from
Maybank." With that final message, she walked away, leaving Stuart stinging
at the taunt, which unknown to her had fallen so close to the mark.

How much worse could his life get?

The answer to that question was quickly answered as Stuart pulled up outside
the usual place he'd agreed to meet Vince for lunch, to find Nathan standing
waiting. Pointedly ignoring the younger man, Stuart locked the car and tried
to walk past nonchalantly, without looking in his direction.

"Not even a hello kiss?" Nathan taunted.

"Fuck off Nathan."

"Like last night you mean?"

With more anger than he thought he contained, Stuart rounded on the youth,
"Why don't you just go away and leave me the fuck alone? I don't *want* you,
Nathan, isn't that enough to make you go away?"

"So what was last night then?"

"A *mistake*."

Nathan grinned and slid a hand across Stuart's chest, "Didn't feel like a
mistake to me, it felt pretty wonderful."

Stuart grabbed the roaming hand and hurled it away from him, "Why won't you
listen? Why are you being so fucking *stupid* about this? I don't love you,
I don't want you and I don't want to ever touch you again. Got it?" he
snarled into the grinning face, "Now fuck off and let me have my lunch."

"With Vince?"

"None of your business."

Nathan shook himself down and took a few steps away. "I think I'll go and
visit Hazel then. Oh, doesn't Vince usually pop in to see her this
afternoon? That'll be nice, we can have a chat... about stuff, ya know...
things!"

Stuart tried to clamp down on the fury that was building inside him. Here he
was being held to ransom by some fucking *kid*. If he didn't tell Vince
first about last nights little tryst, then Nathan would and that would be so
much worse. But, how could he tell Vince that he was in love with him in one
breath and that he'd had Nathan the night before in the next? Nathan of all
people, rubbed Vince up the wrong way. If it had been some faceless shag,
then it was doubtful that Vince would have been more than slightly upset,
but Nathan...

Without another word, Stuart walked into the café, spotting Vince in their
usual seat, as ever reading a paper and smiling patiently as the waitress
fluttered around him. As Stuart reached the table, Vince looked up.

"At last, I thought you'd changed your mind."

"I got held up, some wanker on the phone with a list of complaints he wanted
sorted as of *yesterday*," Stuart whined.

"And did you sort them?"

"No I fucking didn't, I passed the job on to that new temp we've got. Just
call it teaching her the art of delegation."

Vince smiled warmly, "I ordered the usual because I was starving, should be
here in a minute."

"Yeah, that's okay," Stuart mumbled and stole a glance from beneath lowered
eyes, "Vince, I'm sorry about last night. And about being a miserable
bastard today."

"That's okay, why change the habits of a lifetime?" Vince grinned and took a
long drink of his Cola.

"I'm serious," Stuart fidgeted slightly, "I've been thinking, about the
future."

"Oh God, that *is* bad!"

"Vince, don't you ever try to imagine where you'll be in twenty years? Who
you'll be with?"

"Sometimes, but I usually come up with the vision of: still in the same
grotty flat, but I'll probably have a cat."

Stuart smiled, trying to hide the fact that he could so easily see the same
thing for Vince, "Don't you want more though? You know, 'somebody'?"

"I suppose so, yeah. But you know me," Vince sighed and both men stopped
speaking as their food was delivered, immediately taking the conversation
back up as the waitress wondered away.

"Yeah, well, that's what I want too. I've decided that it's about time I
considered 'settling down'."

"Oh fuck, are we back to that again? Have you been drinking?"

"No!" Stuart hissed, "I have *not* been drinking. I'm serious, Vince."

Suddenly the food in Vince's mouth seemed to lose all taste, "So, what you
trying to tell me? Who is he?" he asked through a tight throat.

"What?"

"The man of your dreams that's suddenly made you want to give up everything
and be 'faithful'. By the way, have you looked up the word 'faithful' in the
dictionary? It means you can't shag half of Babylon every night, it's a big
step, mate."

Taking a deep breath, Stuart rolled the words over in his mind, "It... it.."

"And the 'gaymanchester' shag list online, you'd have to give that up
too..."

"It..."

"Oh, and don't forget those 'raiding parties' you do down South, just so
they shout 'fuck harder' in a posh accent."

"Vince!"

"What?" Vince looked up and frowned.

"It's you, you useless twat!"

"What's me?"

Stuart groaned out loud and shook his head, "I must be fucking losing my
head," he mumbled, "You're the one I want to settle down with."

There... he'd said it.

Vince stopped dead, his Cola poised half way between table and mouth. A
blank expression written all over his face as the words struggled to sink
in.

"Say something," Stuart squirmed, "Anything, even 'fuck off'."

"Is this another one of your stupid games, Stuart? Because I really don't
have the time or energy..."

"No, it's not!"

"I wish I could believe you," Vince shook his head sadly and took a drink.

"Why can't you?"

"Oh do me a favour, Stuart. I *know* you, remember? You don't *do*
faithful."

"That was then, this is now."

"And what's changed? You want a nice cosy domestic arrangement? What about
the first time some good-looking bloke comes on to you in Babylon? You'd be
like a ferret down a rabbit hole!"

"I mean it, Vince. I can be different, I can't do what I'm doing forever,
I'm getting older."

"Yeah, so am I. Older *and* 'wiser'."


"Vince, why don't you give me a chance? I can't promise that I'll turn into
a saint overnight, but maybe let me try?"

Vince thought for a moment, "What aren't you telling me?"

"What?" Stuart felt his stomach leap into his mouth. Was Vince really so
attuned with him that he knew when he was hiding something?

"I dunno, I just get the feeling that there's a big 'but' coming in this
conversation, like there's something 'else'."

"No," Stuart looked away, but that rare beast, guilt, was already gnawing at
him. "Nathan came over to my place last night, little shit. I'd drunk half
the champagne because *someone* didn't turn up for our dinner!"

The colour drained from Vince's face as Stuart danced around the punch line
that he knew was coming.

"And next thing I know, the little prick was stark bollock naked, humping at
me..."

Reaching into his pocket, Vince pulled out some money and threw it on the
table, "This is for lunch, I've gotta go."

"Vince?" Stuart looked up in alarm.

"See you, Stuart."

"Vince, wait!" Stuart fumbled with his wallet, throwing his share of the
bill together with Vince's and gesturing for the waitress to collect it.
"Vince!"

Racing from the cafe, he saw Vince just disappearing onto the main road.
Swearing under his breath, he ran off down the road to catch up.

"Will you wait? Vince!" Breathlessly he grabbed his friend's arm, pulling
him to a halt. "Where are you going?"

"Back to work." Vince's voice was flat and unemotional.

"Look, I'm sorry... about Nathan."

"No you're not. Just don't say those things, Stuart, you are *not* fucking
sorry, you are *never* fucking sorry about anything you do because Stuart
Jones is *never* to blame. Oh yeah, it was Nathan's fault, a sixteen year
old boy forced you to have sex. My sympathies!"

"You don't understand."

"No I don't. I know that now, that I really *don't* understand you and I
never will. What I *really* don't understand is what I've done in wasting
nearly twenty years on you?" Vince looked into Stuart's face and for the
first time, maybe he saw the truth, "I'm not the sad bastard here, Stuart.
You are!" With a jerk, he pulled out of Stuart's grip and walked away.



The office seemed so vast and empty, much like his life, Stuart thought with
an ever-sinking feeling.

"Stuart!" Sandra stormed into the office and slammed a file down on the
desk, "Did you leave the temp to sort out your mess with Maybank?"

"So, what if I did?"

"It's not *her* job, it's *yours*. That's what they over-pay you for. I'm in
charge of the junior staff here and I assign them any jobs I think they're
capable of handling. So here, do your own dirty work for a change." She
swept from the room riding an air of barely contained fury, leaving Stuart
to smart alone.

He sat and stared at the file, the last straw. Without another thought,
Stuart grabbed his jacket and headed out, away from his job and away from
his life.



Vince slipped the key in the lock with one hand while balancing the box of
groceries with the other. As the door swung open he yell, 'Only me!"

Hazel appeared and rushed to help, "Hello love, you're early."

"Yeah, they owed me some time, I went in for stocktaking last Sunday, so I
said I'd take it today. I'm feeling a bit 'off'."

"You haven't caught this flu have you?" Hazel lapsed into one of her rare
motherly moments.

"No, I'm just tired," Suddenly Vince stopped dead. In the living room sat
Nathan. "What's *he* doing here?"

"I just popped in to see Hazel. How you doin', Vince?" Nathan smiled a
knowing, triumphant smile.

"Fine."

Nathan's smile turned to a grin, "How's Stuart?"

Vince pushed his way through the room to the kitchen, placing the box down,
followed by a suspicious Hazel.

"What's going on, love?" she asked, noting the tension rolling off her son
at the sight of Nathan.

"Nothing," Vince's voice was just a note too cheerful.

"What's happened? And don't say 'nothing' again or I swear I'll clout ya!"

"Look, you know I don't like *him*," Vince gestured to the other room and
Nathan, "He just puts my back up, that's all."

"This hasn't got anything to do with Nathan, this is about Stuart bloody
Jones isn't it?"

"No."

"Don't you lie to me!" Hazel tried to control her temper, "What has he done
this time?"

"Nothing, look I just need a break. Now I think I remembered everything, oh
and the biscuits are two for one..."

"Vince!"

Turning towards his mother, Vince for the first time bit back the tears,
"Please don't do this now? I need to go." He pushed past her and headed for
the door, leaving Hazel seething at Stuart and determined to get to the
bottom of this whole mess.



Stuart finally slumped down in the chair and threw the mail on the table in
front of him. He'd walked until his feet ached, just walked and let his mind
run free.

Over the years, he'd fucked his way through half of Britain's gay men and
never for a moment had the slightest twinge of conscience at the wake he'd
left behind him. They knew what he was and what he wanted, anything else
anyone saw in their brief liaisons was their problem, not Stuart's. He never
promised anyone romance, never offered to be faithful and never said he was
'in love' with *anyone*.

Vince had been there through all of that, seen every shag come and go and
just smiled, shaking his head in mock disgust and quiet admiration.

Until Nathan.

Stuart was never quite sure why Nathan evoked such dislike in Vince. But he
had from that first night when Stuart had picked him up in Canal St. They
had both joked at the time that he had all the thing that were slipping away
from them in their 'old age'; youth, looks and enthusiasm. But it was more
than that.

It was as though Vince saw more than the usual 'shag' between them? Maybe
more feeling and emotion than Stuart usually showed towards his conquests?
Though he'd never really considered what Nathan meant to him, Stuart had to
admit to himself that the kid had been something more than just sex. He
didn't feel for Nathan what he felt for Vince, but there was *something*
there, something that made last night so easy, that caused the Stuart Jones'
barriers to crumble so damned quickly and something that said to Vince; he's
a threat.

Stuart rubbed his temples and rolled his neck, listening to the creaking of
his spinal chord and feeling the tightness of his shoulder muscles as he
tried to shake them out.

Wanting a diversion, he picked up the mail and began to leaf through it.
Bill after bill, life insurance offer, another credit card offer...

Suddenly he stopped. The letter was hand written on good quality paper. He
stared at the page until his eyes hurt.

'Dear Mr Jones

Do your parents know that they gave life to a filthy, dirty, disease ridden
little queer?

What do you think they'd say?'

Unable to tear his eyes away from the letter, Stuart began to tremble
slightly. It was possibly the only real fear he had left in this world, that
his parents would realise he was anything other than perfect.

'Gay' did not come under their 'perfect' image.

Angry suddenly, he screwed up the paper and hurled it at the waste paper
basket, before burying his head in his hands. He'd never felt so weary, so
old or so alone in his life as he did right now.

Once again, he tried Vince's number, but there was no answer. He knew Vince
never went anywhere without his mobile phone, even to buying a special
waterproof case for it so he could hang it in the bathroom while he had a
shower. He just didn't want to speak to him, and who the hell could blame
him?

At that moment, the phone began to ring, without looking at the callers
name, he snatched it up, "Vince?"

"No, it's me," Hazel's tone was deadly; still and controlled. "What have
done this time, you little shit?"

"Nothing, I haven't done *anything*," he snapped back.

"Our Vince just left here almost in tears and you're the only person who can
do that to him. What games are you playing this time? And what's Nathan got
to do with it? He's sitting here looking like the cat who licked the
cream... and I'll bet he damned well did, didn't he?"

"It's none of your fucking business. Vince is an adult."

"It's a pity *you* aren't."

"Just leave me alone," Stuart slammed the phone off, hurling it onto the
table angrily.

Feeling like the world was conspiring against him, he stumbled into the
shower and turned on the water, letting the heat flow across his tired,
aching muscles.

He wasn't sure how long he was in there, but as he heard the phone ring, he
realised that the water was running almost cold. Grabbing a towel to dry the
water out of his eyes, he snatched the phone up. "Yeah?"

"Stuart?"

"Romey? What's up?"

The woman's voice was shaky and clearly upset, "It's Alfred, he's in
hospital. He... he's got meningitis, Stuart."

For a moment, Stuart felt dizzy, the words were ringing like bells in his
head.

"Stuart, did you hear me?" Romey's voice was clearly now angry, "I'm sorry
if I've interrupted your early evening shag with the news that our son could
be dying!"

"No!" He exclaimed, clearly shocked and horrified at the suggestion, "I'm
coming right over, which hospital?"



Vince watched the phone trill, he saw Stuart's number come up again, but he
couldn't handle listening to him any more. Almost immediately that stopped,
the static phone began, but he'd disabled the answering machine too.

It hurt sometimes, just how much he loved Stuart. It always had. It had
never been 'easy' watching him with other men, but he knew that they meant
nothing, they were sex... sex and love didn't inhabit the same realm in
Stuart Jones' world. He'd always known Stuart 'loved' him, but that love was
different from the one Stuart was now proposing. This new version included
sex and commitment and it scared the shit out of him.

What if he couldn't live up to it? No way could he compete with all those
fantastic looking blokes Stuart shagged. He was *bound* to be a
disappointment, then he'd lose everything.

Why couldn't Stuart just leave things be? Why couldn't he be satisfied with
just their friendship, it had lasted all these years, why not let sleeping
dogs lie?

But, what must it be like to have all that *and* spend every night in
Stuart's bed? Vince groaned at the thought and unconsciously rubbed his
groin. "Stupid, sad bastard!" he spat at himself and headed for the kitchen
and a beer.

Again the mobile phone began. As Vince settled back down with his can, he
glanced at the display... Hazel.

"Yeah, what's up? Everything okay?" he spoke quickly into the phone.

"Love, it's Stuart, he needs you."

"I don't want to talk to him."

"It's Alfred, he's been rushed into hospital, suspected meningitis. I know
he's a bastard love, but he's falling apart, he really needs you."

"Where is he?"

"Still at home, I told him to stay there until you got to him, he shouldn't
drive in that state, he's even more dangerous than usual."

"I'm on my way."

Vince leaped to his feet and grabbed his jacket, punching in the key for
Stuart's number he spoke into the phone as he left the flat. "Stuart, it's
me. Hazel told me, I'm on my way, don't go *anywhere* until I get there,
right?"

"Yeah... okay." Stuart's voice was timid and frighteningly calm.

"I'm coming, okay? I'll be five minutes. It'll be all right."

"Thanks Vince."



Stuart already had the door open when Vince arrived. Wordlessly, he handed
Vince the jeep keys.

"You okay?" Vince touched Stuart's arm gently.

In one slow movement, Stuart moved into Vince's arms. "What if he dies?" he
mumbled.

Vince wrapped his arms tightly around his best friend and hugged, hard. "He
won't die, most babies get better, he's tough. He's a little Stuart,
remember?"

"It's my fault, I said that kids don't always live... the night he was born,
I said that."

Vince remembered back to Stuart's words as he sat snogging Nathan in the
back seat of the jeep that night, high on dog wormers mixed with E.

"It's not your fault and he won't die. Come on let's get to the hospital."
He pushed Stuart back and looked into his eyes. The sheer vulnerability he
found there scared him. Gone was the cocky, arrogant egotistical Stuart he
knew and sometimes loved. All that remained was a frail and frightened man
in need of his friend's support. "Come on."



Stuart hated hospitals. Even the few very sexy white-coated doctors couldn't
make up for all of that sickness and despair. He and Vince hurried through
the corridors to reception with an air of nervous tension emanating from
them both.

Stuart gave the woman the baby's details and stood impatiently tapping his
foot while she accessed the files on the computer.

"And who are you to the child?" She asked, peering over her glasses with
menace.

"I'm his fucking father, that good enough?" Stuart began to rant.

Vince gripped his arm and smiled at the woman, "He's very worried, and he
really is the child's father. Just check with Romey, the mother, she'll tell
you!"

Suddenly Lisa hove into view, "Stuart? This way."

Stuart shot the woman on the reception desk an evil look and stormed off
after Lisa.

"What's going on? How is he?" Stuart's voice was trembling and even Lisa
appeared shocked at the emotion that was so badly being masked by
irritation.

"He's stable at the moment."

"How did he get it? I mean, it's not like he could have picked it up
clubbing or anything. Where did he get it from?" Stuart was beginning to
become almost hysterical.

"Stuart, you know very well that kids can pick this up anywhere. When we
take them out to the shops, at the doctors surgery when he went in for his
vaccinations, anywhere." Lisa shot Stuart a look, then her face softened,
"No one's to 'blame' in this, Stuart, not even you."

As they neared the I.C.U, Stuart trembled almost uncontrollably. Suddenly he
could see Romey sitting next to the huge bed, a tiny figure lying in the
middle, covered with an oxygen tent, attached to pipes.

"Oh fuck!" he gasped in horror, "Just look at him, Vince! Oh my God, just
look at him."

"I know, but he'll be okay. You go on in, I'll be there in a minute."

Lisa and Vince watched Stuart tentatively move into the room, to be greeted
by a tear streaked Romey.

"If I don't remember today for anything else, I'll remember it as the day
that bastard Stuart Jones made me feel a shred of pity for him," Lisa said
suddenly with a tearful, nervous chuckle.

Vince half smiled, he knew exactly what she meant. At that moment, they were
all getting a view of Stuart Jones laid bare, no barriers, no shield, just
the incredibly vulnerable and insecure inner shell.

He looked up at Lisa; tears streaming down her face and gently put his arm
around her shoulder.

"He's *my* son too," she whispered, "They forget that he's my son too."

"Not everyone forgets," Vince whispered, his hand stroking the woman's arm
tenderly.

"You're far too nice to be a gay man, Vince," Lisa smiled.

With a smile Vince pulled her closer and they watched as Stuart and Romey
cried on each other's shoulder.


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.

"Where's Vince?"

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."

"Oh, right."

"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.

"Nathan?"

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 man's 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!"

"Twat!"

"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?"

"No."

"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."

"What?"

"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.

"No."

"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."

"Okay. Vince?"

"Yeah?"

"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'."

"Which one?"

"The old bloke, who was supposed to be William Hartnell, *he* had faith in
his belief and didn't end up in Rassillon's 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."

"Agreed!"

"And you stay *away* from Nathan Maloney."

"Agreed."

"Okay then."

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?"

"I won't."

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.

The End


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